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Bill Wolf

Age: 55

Occupation:Travel Agent

Number of Cruises: Several

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Celebration

Sailing Date: April 29th, 2004

Itinerary: Western Caribbean


I recently sailed on the Carnival Celebration out of Galveston, TX. It was the ship’s five-night itinerary, which included stops in Cozumel and Calica (Playa del Carmen), MX. The ship also sails a 4-night itinerary calling on Cozumel only.

I am a cruise agent for a division of the world’s largest cruise agency and this cruise was company sponsored as a “Seminar at Sea” conference for us. The two sea days on the ship were spent attending seminar sessions but the days in port were our own. My youngest son who has just finished high school and will be entering the Army in June accompanied me.

Despite being an agent, this was my first cruise on Carnival. In this review I am striving to give my actual impressions of the ship and my experience as a passenger, not as a salesperson trying to sell it to potential clients.

The Celebration is one of the oldest and smallest ships in Carnival’s fleet. It is roughly 45000 tons and measures around 750’ long. Capacity is about 1450 passengers. The ship was extensively renovated last year.

I was pleasantly surprised with the ship. In fact, I really liked it. It had a more intimate feeling, the crew was friendly and helpful to a person, and my fellow passengers as a whole seemed to be having a great time.

The weather was good the entire time – with clouds and a little drizzle the day we left Galveston and also some rain the day we left Calica. It was sunny the rest of the time, however, including the full day we spent in Cozumel.

We pulled away from the pier in Galveston a few minutes ahead of schedule after a swift and efficient check-in. The highlight was watching the “pilot” boat catch up to the ship and maneuver along side where the harbor pilot, a large but nimble guy, hopped on after doing his thing. It’s obvious it was an exercise he had done many a time.

While the seas appeared pretty normal to me, there were times when you really noticed the movement of the ship – especially the first day out of Galveston when the captain was going “full speed ahead” (no icebergs in the Gulf of Mexico but lots of oil derricks lit up like Christmas trees at night). However, it was not objectionable or out of the ordinary. Coming back the last afternoon and evening when the captain seemed to cut the speed a little it was very smooth to the point that you didn’t even realize you were on a ship.

There is also the matter of the often-reported vibration at the rear of the ship. I really noticed it the first night we were in the dining room, but not so much after that so I guess I got used to it. Unless you are super sensitive to such things it is not a big deal.

The décor on this ship is more muted than the glitzy, neon covered Fantasy class ships of the 90’s, and the first Carnival ships to feature the large atriums so prevalent today.

All the public rooms are on the upper decks so it is a relatively easy ship to navigate.

The main deck for entertainment (including the casino) is the Promenade Deck, which runs the entire length of the ship. There are various lounges and entertainment venues as well as plenty of seating areas to relax and people watch.

Just above that the Lido deck featured the main and rear pool areas, as well as the buffet restaurant, including the 24-hour pizzeria.

The main pool area, just steps away from the buffet restaurant, was small and had limited sunbathing space. However, in the shade on either side of the pool were a generous amount of small tables. They were great for relaxing and enjoying a drink and a snack. Even on sea days you could find space to sit in this area. The aft (or rear) pool had a much larger area for sunbathing and featured great views off the back of the ship.

On the deck just below the aft pool was the Camp Carnival area for children including a small pool for them. There did not appear to be many children on this cruise.

Up further on the Verandah and Sun Decks there was ample room for sun bathing, jogging, walking, etc. The gym and spa were also up there. It was a great place to hang by the rails and watch the sea pass by or take in a gorgeous sunset (we had 2 of them on this cruise).

Unlike other older ships the cabins on the Celebration are large with plenty of storage space. They are very similar in size and layout to the newer Carnival ships. We were in an inside cabin but all cabins on this ship (with the exception of the suites) are the same size and layout. Some people consider Carnival cabins to be spartan, but I felt they were nicely appointed. The bathroom had a full sized shower – a real plus. The bed was softer than I’m used to but I had no trouble sleeping.

The only cabins with balconies on the Celebration were the limited number of suites far in front on the Verandah Deck.

Our cabin attendant was wonderful and always had a genuine smile on her face – not a forced one just for us. She kept the cabin immaculate and we really appreciated the little towel animals she left us each night.

In my opinion, food on a cruise is an entirely subjective matter. Many people expect gourmet food on their cruise, but if you do the math even a smaller ship such as the Celebration serves many thousand meals a day. So, even for “mass produced” food, I thought it was well presented and very good, especially in the dining rooms. The dining room servers were very attentive and they entertained us as well, dancing and singing on several of the nights, and inviting the diners to join in. It made for a lively and fun dining experience.

I freely admit that the fare offered in the buffet restaurant was typical of what you could get most anywhere, but in my opinion more consistent in quality than most places you might frequent on a land based vacation.

Carnival is particularly known for it’s 24 hour Pizzerias and I agree – the pizza was great.

Other food “events” included the late night buffets (the best being at the deck party when we left Cozumel which featured Mexican specialties). There was also a Gala Buffet on the 4th night out but it started too late for me and I didn’t partake.

The entertainment was high energy and varied.

There were a couple of better than average comics, each one presenting 2 shows – one for the general audience in the main show room, and then a late night R-rated show in a lounge.

There were also 2 fast paced Las Vegas style shows with lots of singing and dancing, multiple costume changes, etc., which were very entertaining. While not crossing the line, I thought these shows bordered on the risqué seeing as they are designed for general audiences that include children. Some of the female costumes were pretty revealing, with lots of cleavage and at least a hint of suspicion that some cosmetic surgery was involved. However, the most “skin” was by the guys who did a version of the “Full Monty” on one of the performances and the “hooting” was not coming from the men in the audience.

The cruise director and another one of the entertainers also did a “Blues Brother” show. Personally, it was my favorite.

Bottom line – when you go on vacation you want to be entertained and I was.

As I previously mentioned, the ports of call were the island of Cozumel, and Calica, an industrial port about 10 miles due west of Cozumel near the resort area of Playa del Carmen. In fact, you can see the ships docked in Cozumel from Calica.

We were in Cozumel all day until midnight. This allowed passengers to take advantage of the multitude of activities (scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, boating, etc.) and beaches available on this island during the early part of the day, while enjoying the shopping and entertainment in town the rest of the time.

Cab fares in Cozumel are fixed, and it is easy to get just about everywhere.

One advantage for us is that we were there at the start of the “slow” season and there were only 3 ships in port so the crowds were not as thick as during the winter.

My son and I did a power boating excursion and then spent time exploring the town and picking up a few items to take back to the family. Cozumel is strictly a tourist environment, but I did feel it had a certain charm to it.

While there is absolutely nothing to do at Calica, it is the drop off point for some great shore excursions on the mainland, including Xcaret, an archeological/ecological National Park, beach tours to Playa del Carmen, other water sports areas such as Xel Ha, Mayan ruins, and even a trip into Cancun.

The main advantage of using Calica is that you dock there as opposed to Playa del Carmen where you must tender to shore and the tides there often make that an iffy proposition.

Both my son and I received a serious sunburn the previous day in Cozumel so we did not leave the ship in Calica, but I would like to take in Xcaret the next time I am there.

I have been on some ships when they were brand spanking new, such as RCCL’s Radiance of the Sea and the Disney Magic, so you might think that I would be disappointed in a ship that is approaching 20 years of service. However, cruising to me is a state of mind, not a specific ship or location. I want to visit places without having to unpack. When on vacation I do not want to have to make my bed or worry about where I can get my next meal. I want to be entertained. In that regard, the Celebration met those requirements every bit as much as the newer, larger ships.

Carnival’s reputation is that of being the “fun ship” company. Many people think that means they are “party hardy” ships for the young only, but that’s not really the case. They no longer book large “youth only” groups, and unmarried passengers under 21 must be accompanied by an adult age 25 or older. Most sailings have a large “senior” contingent.

Carnival ships do have a lot of triple and quad cabins, even some that allow 5 passengers – thereby appealing to families. Therefore, during peak times such as Spring Break and the summer months there are lots of children on their ships who do tend to get out from under the thumbs of their parents and run rampant around the ship. This is bothersome to many adults traveling without children who are not willing to cope with this. It is a valid complaint, as sometimes the adults cannot even use the pools. I think it is interesting that on the newer Carnival ships there are fewer multiple capacity cabins, and none that will accommodate 5 passengers. Maybe Carnival is getting the message about this.

Also, Carnival does not have the more refined service or amenities of, say, Celebrity or Holland America. Most of their ships are pretty glitzy – some may say gaudy. Their target market is definitely that section of the middle class that works hard for a buck and who want a fast paced and fun filled vacation at a reasonable price. So the Carnival experience is not right for all the cruising population out there.

However, for most of us Carnival provides a lot of “bang for the buck” and I thought this cruise demonstrated that.

Both my son and I had a great time on this cruise. Since it is the last time we may be together like this for some time it was a special occasion.

For him it was a chance to test his passage into adulthood – having turned 18 in February. Against my rather strong wishes he ventured into the casino to play the slots and also tried that other money-losing venture - Bingo. Surprisingly he had a net gain in the casino and won at bingo and came home with more money than he took. The important thing is that he seemed to understand when to stop. He does not appear to be a future candidate for Gamblers Anonymous. It seems our efforts to teach him basic values as he grew up were at least somewhat successful.

For myself, I try to lead my life by example. By conscious choice I do not smoke, drink, or gamble, the latter two so-called vices being to many pre-requisites to a successful cruise. But even a “square” like me can have a great time on a cruise with plenty of things to occupy my time. You can just feel the stress of everyday life roll off you by standing on the deck and watching the sea pass by. And the total charges racked up on my shipboard charge account will not take years to pay off.

Hopefully, I also learned something in the seminar sessions that will aid me in my career. It sure beat being cooped up in a stuffy conference room at some hotel.

Later this year the Celebration will move to Jacksonville, Fl where it will offer 4 and 5 night cruises to the Bahamas and Key West. I’m sure the ship will be as popular there as it has been in Texas. The Carnival Ecstasy – a somewhat larger and slightly newer ship will replace the Celebration in Galveston.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to email me at bwolfstl@sbcglobal.net .

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