William H Cavitt
Number of Cruises: Six
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 31st, 2004
Itinerary: Eastern Mediterranean
My wife, Aunt and I cruised the Eastern Mediterranean on Celebrity’s MV Galaxy, May 31 - June 11, 2004. Galaxy was not a happy ship. On the last day, during his disembarkation briefing, the Cruise Director asked the question, has everyone had a great time aboard Galaxy? Usually there would be shouts and applause in affirmation. This time there was an embarrassing dead silence. Not one person applauded. That says a lot.
Things went badly from the beginning. Boarding time was to have been noon on May 31. We and hundreds of others arrived about that time to be greeted with a letter from the Captain handed to each person in line, saying that boarding would be delayed until 3:15pm, because of a water problem. Everyone was invited to board buses and be taken to nearby hotels for refreshments. We chose to wait it out in the terminal in hopes that we would actually begin boarding earlier than 3:15pm.
In the event, boarding did not begin until 4:30pm. By that time about two thousand people were fit to be tied. Many had flown overnight from the States, were exhausted, and had no place to clean up and refresh themselves. Some had been awake for 36-hours. We had been in Rome for five days before the cruise began, and in London a week before that, so we were in relatively good shape.
Later, one of our table mates, in talking to her steward, was told that it wasn’t so much a water problem as “Galaxy has personnel problems.” That was clear from the beginning. The toilet in our stateroom had feces smeared in it. Other shipmates reported similar experiences. Two pillows had no pillow cases. The flowers in the room obviously were not fresh, but left over from the previous occupants. “Fresh fruit” included overripe bananas and was rarely refreshed. The rugs/bath mats were shabby and ought to have been thrown away long ago. More about Concierge Class later.
One explanation provided by a friendly and sympathetic crew member was that the crew recently had been informed that they no longer would be paid in their national currencies, but would be paid in U.S. dollars. This reportedly caused widespread anger and dissatisfaction, because for many of them the weakness of the U.S. dollar meant that they would get pay cuts, presumably when their contracts came up for renewal, but I am just guessing about the timing.
So many thing were wrong that the entire cruise was spent with passengers comparing notes about their unhappy experiences. One table of six had five meals unacceptable and sent all five back. An Assistant Maitre d’hotel “screamed” at them, "isn’t there anything that will satisfy you people?!" They promptly filed a complaint and the maitre d’hotel was not seen again. We don’t know whether he was assigned to a different part of the dining room, or if some disciplinary action was taken.
I personally had my dinner entrees overcooked three nights in a row and sent each back. Thereafter, our waiter, who was outstanding, saw to it that my red meat always was the appropriate color of red. Another night the veal was so overcooked as to be chewy like jerky. Many people complained. I did not bother, having had so many such experiences already, I was worn down by it all.
I became ill during the trip and was unable to participate in the final formal night. I ordered dinner from the so-called expanded Concierge Class menu. My clam chowder tasted wonderful, but was stone cold. (I ate one spoonful.) Clearly it had left the kitchen that way, because I knew our Steward had picked in up and brought it to me directly and expeditiously. A tuna sandwich came on a heavy dry dark bun that had to be a day old and barely edible. The chocolate chip cookie had too little sugar and chocolate chips were few and far between. Pathetic.
Breakfast became something of a bad joke. Passengers were forever trading stories. We and Aunt Helen usually had breakfast delivered to our rooms. Twice, Aunt Helen received empty coffee pots. Once she was awakened when her breakfast arrived an hour early. Sarah and I routinely got one napkin for two people and not enough (or any) utensils. Inattention to detail was routine.
For three days breakfast arrived promptly at the requested hour. Thereafter, it was 20-30 minutes late and something was always missing from the tray. Breakfast at the buffet was such a mess of angry people and cold food that we went only once, but we heard the daily horror stories from other passengers. The closest thing to a good breakfast was our last sea day when we went to the main dining room where I got excellent Eggs Benedict.
Concierge Class is something of a fraud. I would not pay extra again, nor would many others. Somewhere on the Celebrity web site it showed a diagram of a Concierge Class stateroom that was 191 square feet, and not the standard 171 square feet of most staterooms. Accordingly, I expected that the principal benefit of paying more was to enjoy a larger room. Wrong. It was the same 171 square feet.
Over dinner I expressed my confusion to our table of 10, thinking that maybe I had dreamed it. Others promptly spoke up and said they too had seen such a diagram. The only thing we could figure out was that perhaps the diagram applied to the Millennium Class ships, but not to the smaller ships. If so, Celebrity ought to have said so.
For the “glamour” of Concierge Class, we received the shabby rugs and tired fruit mentioned above. When four already-tired tiny white roses in a bud vase in the bathroom died, they sat for two days before being thrown out, at which time the fading flowers in the cabin were raided for one stem, which was placed in the bud vase in the bathroom. Tacky.
There was no plush duvet as advertised, but something that looked suspiciously like a mattress cover between two short sheets. We did not strip the bed to see if we had a pillow-top mattress, but I doubt it. We have one at home and had one at the Marriott in London. The feel of a pillow-top mattress is unmistakable. Celebrity’s mattress was hard, uneven, and uncomfortable.
There was no pillow menu, nor was one ever offered. Two pillows had no cases. The mini-bar was never restocked after we used two items early in the cruise. Windows and glass doors were dirty throughout the ship, including those in the main dining room. When forms for ordering breakfast were exhausted, one had to ask for more. They should have been re-supplied automatically. In our room the air conditioning roared so loudly that it was hard to hear the already poor quality sound of the television/radio. The picture quality also was poor and unstable. Shipmates had similar reports.
The hors d’oeuvres were pathetic. The one I see most vividly in my memory is a small piece of lunch meat rolled up and skewered to a dry piece of bread with a toothpick. We got that one almost daily. Others included naked, undercooked shrimp, salmon paste, fish eggs, pieces of brie (only once), all on the same hard, dry, nearly tasteless bread. Four nights none were delivered. A fifth night they came after dinner. The other days they were delivered erratically between 4pm and 6pm.
There also is an hors d’oeuvres caste system. One day late in the cruise we were walking by the suites and saw the hors d’oeuvres being delivered to them. They were gorgeous! They also got delectable little pastries along with their upscale canapés. In short, Concierge Class was insulting and a rip-off.
We usually avoided the entertainment venues, because the music was so loud as to be deafening. It was even bad in the main dining room where we were about as far away from the origin of the music as we could get, yet the sound was so loud we had difficulty talking and hearing, especially at a table of 10. People at other tables similarly had to shout to be heard, which resulted in the dining room being a cacophony. Only when the music stopped did we have a pleasant dining environment.
Everyone had experiences to report with indifferent and/or insolent crew members. In our five previous cruises, we were greeted politely and pleasantly all over the ships by smiling crew. Not on Galaxy. Most were grim faced and went out of their way to avoid eye contact. I had a run-in with an insolent maitre d’hotel. I don’t tolerate that kind of behavior from anyone, and certainly not from that pompous ass, so I promptly turned on him and bit his head off. He steered clear of me thereafter.
The first night I sought to establish a good relationship with the wine steward. I took her aside and told her that we would be orderly a lot of wine, usually a bottle of red and of white every night, plus occasional drinks from the bar. I asked that our previously ordered wine be on the table when dinner began. It never was. Not once! Worse, she routinely pulled a disappearing act that resulted in our waiting 10- to 20-minutes into dinner before the wine was served.
Many passengers speculated that Galaxy was under-staffed with tired, angry crew working long hours and worried about their futures because of the pay issue cited above. One night I asked our always stern, unsmiling room Steward if there was a “labor action” underway on the ship? He needed no explanation of what I was asking. He firmly and quickly said, “No, Sir!” But his body language suggested otherwise and he was very uncomfortable with the question and with attempted conversation on the subject of all the things going wrong on the ship. He played ignorant of anything other than his immediate responsibilities.
Excursions were another source of unhappiness. The descriptions of how much walking was required, and the difficulty of it, were usually inaccurate. One excursion required a quarter-mile quick-march to get from the ship to a boat before the excursion even began (no mention of that!). We were the last aboard, with Aunt Helen (age 77) wheezing and reaching for her inhaler, while we and others sucked in as much air as we could to recover from the unwelcome and unexpected exertion.
Our previous cruising experiences are remembered for different reasons. Cunard to the Baltic forever will be remembered for the headquarters marketing people misleading us (lying?) about being able to purchase a cabin upgrade upon boarding, that was rudely denied aboard ship as totally contrary to their policy and practices. In consequence, we had an unpleasant stateroom that marred the trip.
Celebrity Zenith through the Panama Canal was a wonderful experience that we will forever cherish. That was because of the Celebrity on-board experience, not the ports we visited (other than Cartagena, Colombia, which was special). Our Eastern Mediterranean trip will be remembered favorably for the wonderful ports we visited and the charming shipmates whose company we enjoyed, in spite of a poor cruising experience aboard Galaxy.
As to the last, at High Tea we met a couple in a suite. He is a senior executive with American Express responsible for real estate, including rebuilding their New York headquarters after the destruction of 9/11. It was their first cruise. They were asking if this were a “typical” cruise, because so many things did not seem right or appropriate to them. We assured them that this cruise was anything but typical.
That sparked a long discussion during which he noted that his job entails “noticing things” like carpet coming up, windows dirty, peeling wall coverings, dirty and/or broken bathroom tile, etc. He observed that from his expert viewpoint, Galaxy was poorly maintained and needed a lot of work. He had a similar conversation with their butler, during which the butler said that Celebrity’s once high standards had been compromised and had been steadily declining ever since the merger with Royal Caribbean.
The executive also commented unfavorably on the decor and wondered if it too was typical. We shared his disappointment. On Constellation, Zenith, and Horizon, we considered the decor to be “understated elegance,” whereas the decor on Galaxy was abstract garish modern. We four agreed that we hated it.
One of our table mates was a travel agent from Atlanta and her mother. They cruise often. They were so disgusted and dismayed by all of the above (and much more) that the agent expressed concern for the reaction of four of her clients due to board the same day we disembarked. She recommended that for the future we consider cruising Radisson, Crystal, and/or Seabourn.
Another couple had taken Galaxy trans-Atlantic earlier in May and had an excellent experience. They were stunned by the difference just 10-days later when they returned aboard for the Eastern Mediterranean cruise. They too had a long list of complaints, none of which they had experienced previously. They were baffled how things could have gone so bad so quickly.
Celebrity took their sweet time about it, but a $200 shipboard credit promised by Celebrity upon booking was posted to our and Aunt Helen’s accounts a couple days before the end of the cruise. The reception person was snotty about it when I asked, although she did begrudgingly show me the book with all the un-posted credits.
Galaxy was a troubled ship. We had a good time, enjoyed each others company, and that of our shipmates, but that was inspite of, not because of, Galaxy.