We are four star mariners and decided to try Celebrity once again (we sailed with them one time prior many years ago for an Alaskan cruise). We do enjoy HAL and find the crew almost always a pleasure to interact with and always have a good time. Tastes, whether it be in music, food or wine, is all subjective and varies from individual, so what we may find disagreeable, others may love, as is their right. The cruise lines are different and I will try to point out a few of the differences we observed and our take. First, we were on the Equinox, which is larger than the largest HAL ship by about 500 passengers. When we were on Nieuw Statendam, I believe the crew complement was about 900 to 2600 passengers, while the Equinox has 1288 crew to 3100 passengers, which gives Celebrity a much higher staff to passenger ratio. Where HAL seems to be trimming the Cruise Director staff and consolidating positions, the Cruise Director on the Equinox seemed to have several staff members to assist him. There were many more activities going on during the day than on HAL. We enjoy playing trivia on occasion and on HAL the last few cruises, there were actually no prizes, just a trophy that they handed to the team that won that round that was taken back until the next game. On Equinox, we were given a punch card and each time we won the card was punched and the next to last day, they set up a prize table and you could collect a prize(s) depending on how many punches were on the card. Nothing spectacular, decks of cards, a USB memory stick, etc., but at least it was something.
The main show room entertainment we enjoyed more on the Equinox. They still have productions shows, and while the HAL shows are a bit better than some give them credit for, we have seen the dance show Humanity about 6 times, so we would just skip it if we were on another HAL ship. The music walk, which seems to be where HAL has placed its emphasis, is something we enjoy. We do hear the complaints about the loudness of the BB King and Rolling Stone Rock Room, but having been to a few Springsteen, Doobie Brothers, and other concerts, the volume did not really bother us. Rock is meant to be loud. The Equinox did seem to have the band playing in more locales at different times which encouraged dancing which was fun. They have a "white party" by the pool with the band playing, drink mixing contests and the dance troupe putting on a show between the passengers dance times. Also, the dance troupe from the main stage shows works with the Cruise Director and gives dance lessons at different times of day.
Food is very subjective, we found the variety and quality to be somewhat equal to HAL. We were in an Aqua Class cabin so Blu was our main dining room and it was quite good. We ate in Murano which I would equate to Pinnacle, with a slight edge to Murano as they prepared our lobster tails table side. We found the Tuscan Grill on the Equinox to be superior to Canaletto. As far as the buffet, each has several stations with a fair variety of food if one takes the time to look around. We do prefer HAL in having them serve the food as we see people who get caught up in the moment and do some unsanitary practices when they self serve.
Our room was about the same size as on HAL, but with more limited closet space and a smaller shower. The bed was equally comfortable and we really enjoyed having a sliding door for our balcony (on our last HAL cruise, our neighbors were constantly slamming their balcony door and with 3 kids it would happen several times in a short period).
We have enjoyed all our cruises and we have opted to book a couple more Celebrity Cruises, but I am sure we will be using HAL again. If you peruse the boards, it seems to be universal that all the mid market cruise lines are offering less, but, in our opinion, it still is a bargain.