Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: March 16th, 2002
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Since all of the flights fill up quickly going out of Des Moines for spring break, we decided to fly in to Ft. Lauderdale the day before the cruise. It ended up being a good idea since it allowed us to have a relaxed morning in Ft. Lauderdale prior to heading to Port Everglades. Our trip from the hotel to the port was hectic though. We thought we'd have plenty of time if we headed down to the lobby around 10 am to catch one of the hotel's courtesy vans. As it turned out, just about everybody staying at our hotel was going to be taking a cruise and we all decided to converge on the lobby at the same time. Fortunately, a shuttle arrived back within ten minutes and the driver asked first for passengers going on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We squeezed as many suitcases and people in the van as possible, leaving about 20 other people at the hotel waiting anxiously for the next shuttle!
The only other glitch that morning was a fuel tanker that had clipped a pole at a gas station and was spilling fuel all over the place. We diverted north a few blocks and eventually headed to the port in bumper to bumper traffic.
The embarkation process at Pier 18 was very smooth and we were pleased to see that the security procedures were similar to boarding a plane. We had to run our carry-on bags through an x-ray machine and there was an armed soldier standing not too far away. We were also asked to fill out a form indicating if we were leaving Ft. Lauderdale at the conclusion of the cruise on Saturday or Sunday. If you indicate that you have a Sunday flight, you will be placed in the last group to leave the ship when the cruise ends.
One bit of advice: If you don't have a passport, get one! You will be required to present it (or a valid drivers license) each time you exit or re-board the ship. This is the standard procedure now with most of the cruise lines. It just makes your life easier to have a passport with you during the entire trip, including when you board your flight to and from home.
When you board the Century, you will be given a plastic ID card with your name printed on it. They will take a digital photo of you which will be placed electronically on the black strip on the back side of the card. You will need to insert the card in a reader device each time you leave or re-board the ship, and the card will serve as your room key and charge card since Celebrity uses a cashless system aboard their ships.
We were impressed with the condition and overall appearance of the Century! The hallways were wider than what we were accustomed to on our previous cruises and all of the carpeting was in near-new condition. We were told there was lunch starting shortly on deck 11, so we headed there since our luggage had not arrived yet. We were surprised to find out that there were actually two lunches going on, one outside by the pool area serving hamburgers and fries and one inside in the Islands Cafe, serving an even bigger lunch selection!
There are two formal nights aboard the ship. A dark suit for men will be adequate. You may want to bring a tux from home or arrange to rent one through Celebrity prior to the cruise. If you have daughters that are high school age, this is a great time to bring along their favorite prom dresses. It was nice to see some formality aboard the Century vs. the "no dress code" we experienced on Carnival. The meal service aboard the Century was outstanding! Our waiter, Carmelo Morel, from the Dominican Republic was a delight, as was his assistant, Viktor Engler from Slovakia. Carmelo has been a waiter aboard the Century since it first sailed in December 1995. We were told that the staff turnover is very low aboard the Century, which I'm sure is the case since the tips for the staff are likely much better than what they can earn on the competing ships.
Celebrity does a good job of taking care of their employees. They have a high ratio of employees to passengers, almost 1:2. We were told this is one of the best in the industry. They allow their employees a decent amount of shore leave when the ship is in port. They have a high-caliber staff from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Poland and Slovakia, countries where jobs in the hospitality industry have always been held in high regard. Most of the staff are well educated and have a good command of the English language. The morale of the staff was excellent during the entire week we were aboard the ship.
Our family of five had it's own table in the dining room, so we didn't have to share with anyone else. This was also the situation for a family of four seated near us. I can't say that this is always going to be the case on the Century, but you might want to ask Celebrity about this when you book your cruise.
During the week, we spoke to several passengers who indicated this was their second cruise with Celebrity. One older couple told us their daughter and son-in-law who were traveling with them had sailed on the Century five times! I think they should have received some kind of special recognition during the cruise. The only complaint we overheard during the week was from someone who thought the sand in their cabin carpet hadn't been vacuumed adequately.
In spite of some of the lackluster comments you may have read about the entertainment aboard the Century, we thought it was excellent! Each show lasts about an hour, and the theater was full for each performance. We enjoyed Mark Preston, who replaced one of the original members of the Lettermen singing group back in the 70's. A word of advice: Sit away from the main aisles if you don't like being the center of attention when Mark comes down from the stage to banter with people in the audience. All of the shows during the week received standing ovations. Also, you will like the cruise director, David Cole, who is highly visible and accessible during the entire week. He has worked for Celebrity for 16 years.
Our itinerary was the western Caribbean. We prefer this route since it gives you more shore time than the eastern route the Century takes on alternating weeks. Since there is so much available on the Internet about what to do at the various destinations, I won't go into a lot of detail about the shore activities. When we arrived at Key West, which is the last destination of the cruise, we concluded that we could have saved most of our shopping time for this day. The prices and variety of things to buy in Key West are very good, and you don't get hassled by the vendors the way you do in Ocho Rios and Cozumel. Watch out for the hustle in Ocho Rios if you go to Dunn’s River Falls....you will go through a never ending maze of shops before you can leave to find your way back to your tour bus. Try to find the gate where you bought your entrance ticket to avoid this inconvenience.
When you are in Cozumel, look for the Viva Mexico store that is located on the main shopping avenue near where the ship docks. For $20, you can buy their big beach bag which they include in it a large blanket, a bottle of tequila, two shot glasses, a straw hat, and a maracca! Definitely the best deal you will find on the entire cruise!!
You will save about 20-50% booking your shore excursions over the Internet before you leave by contacting the local tour providers. You will usually pay the excursion guide at the end of the tour, and the vast majority of the operators are licensed and reputable. If you want the security of knowing the tour operator meets Celebrity's requirements, then book through them ahead of time or aboard the ship.
One of our tour guides, Peat Taylor, who operates his own excursion bus in Ocho Rios, has this saying: "The early bird gets the worm, but the early shopper gets the worst deal." Always save your shopping for the afternoon. The vendors aren't nearly as aggressive then.
The only suggestions we could think of to make this cruise even better would be for the Century to switch away from what tasted like instant coffee to fresh brewed in the Islands Cafe. The coffee at dinner is freshly brewed and much better. The ship also needs to depart Cozumel after the main seating dinner. Since the port is shallow, the ship has to do quite a bit of maneuvering to pull out of port while you are dining.
The Century also has an impressive Internet cafe area, but hardly anyone was using it during the cruise due to the high cost.
Another word to the wise: Although the Century's staff does a very good job of not bothering you if you don't want to purchase drinks or extra services, it's easy to get lulled into using your plastic card for purchases aboard the ship for drinks, massages, shore excursions, jewelry and photos. We saw many people on the last day of the trip commenting about the size of their bills, which totaled anywhere from $600-1,000!
Celebrity doesn't make a big deal about it, but they have recently received a best of class award from Condè Nast. We will definitely sail with Celebrity again and we plan to recommend the Century to anyone looking for a relaxing trip with comfortable surroundings and a great staff! The Century definitely exceeded our expectations!
Kevin, Deb, Elyse, Jenny and
West Des Moines, IA