Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: June 2nd, 2001
Itinerary: Eastern Carribean
After experiencing NCL Norway and Holland America Rotterdam on two previous Caribbean Cruises more than 20 years ago, I was looking for something at least as good, if not better, for this trip. I specifically wanted to avoid the new mega-ships or anything catering to 20-something party animals (i.e., Carnival). After spending some time reading the reviews here and elsewhere and talking with my travel agent, I decided on Celebrity Century. I was glad I did.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience that truly exceeded my expectations. The ship is gorgeous, extremely clean and well maintained, the service was impeccable, the food was delicious and the entertainment was wonderful.
It's been a long time since I'd taken a cruise, but I recall embarkation being a rather hectic, crowded affair. But not so with this cruise. We arrived at about 12:30, and were on the ship by 12:45. Everything went smoothly. Our luggage was taken from the cab and the next time we saw it was several hours later in front of our cabin. Our papers and passports were checked, room keys activated and a few other details taken care of quickly and efficiently. The only disconcerting moment came when my girlfriend had to surrender her passport (she's a Japanese national), but we were assured this was all routine, and it was. I felt sorry for the guy serving refreshments in the embarkation area - no one was there long enough to care about it.
Our cabin was ready when we got there, so we went there immediately upon boarding, but don't be surprised if you have to wait a little. If you do, there's a buffet lunch being served.
We were pleasantly surprised by our cabin. Although it was a standard, category 5 outside cabin, it was very nicely decorated, and felt very comfortable. My girlfriend joked it was about the size of a studio apartment in Tokyo. A lot of thought has obviously gone into the design of the cabin, making use of every possible inch while providing the feeling of spaciousness, even is such a small area. I never felt particularly cramped, although I suspect 'larger' people might bump into each other if they're both moving about the cabin at the same time. Three closets with built-in drawers, a desk with draws, two night stands with drawers, a safe and some shelves provide plenty of storage space, and there's room under the beds for suitcases and other stuff you don't need during the cruise. Plenty of storage in the bathroom, too, and the towels were quite plush and changed at least once a day. The shower, by the way, was great -- roomy, lots of pressure and lots of hot water.
The cabin was very quiet, but occasionally we heard banging sounds from above. It turns out our cabin, on deck 5, was right below the outdoor public deck area on deck 6, and some repair work was going on during the day. We'd also hear footfalls if someone ran across the deck. But none of this was a real problem. We both slept like the dead.
We hardly saw our cabin crew. It's not that they weren't around, they were. It's just that they were very efficient and unobtrusive. You just don't see pushcarts in the hallways like you do in hotels, and the staff doesn't go around chattering like attendants in a hospital ward. Our cabin was always clean, tidied up, trash emptied, beds turned down, etc. First rate service. Don't miss reading the gray, hardbound book provided in each cabin that describes how Century came to be. It's a fascinating look at all the effort and creativity that went into it.
My girlfriend and I live near San Francisco, and we are accustomed to some pretty sophisticated dining. I had no expectation that the food on the ship would compare to that found in the better restaurants here. But I was pleasantly surprised again. While one has to make allowances for the sheer volume of food handled onboard, I found little fault with the selection, the preparation, the taste or the quality of the food we experienced.
While the way food is served in the Islands Cafe (deck 11) may resemble a cafeteria, the food certainly does not. We had several lunches and late breakfasts there, and found the dishes to be delicious, with lots of variety.
We ate all our dinners in the main dining room. It was gorgeous, although a bit noisy, making it sometimes difficult to hear others at the table. It also vibrated more than any other part of the ship. The seating was comfortable, and I never had a sense of sharing my meal with 1734 others. True, European service sets the tone.
Our waiter was a young Romanian fellow named DoDo, a not-uncommon nickname in that part of the world. He was anything but a dodo. College educated, articulate, personable, entertaining and quite good looking, DoDo was a master at ensuring that our meals progressed smoothly and unobtrusively without being rushed, and that our special requests were delivered whenever possible. His assistant, Miguel, from Columbia, made sure we had everything we needed, and was so good I often was shocked to see my water glass had been refilled, or a plate removed without my even being aware of it. Paolo, our sommelier, was very nice, but still needs some more experience. While it is customary for the wine steward to show the bottle to the customer before uncorking it, one night he brought the wrong wine already uncorked. Still, he quickly realized his mistake and returned with the correct wine without any discussion. Otherwise, his service was very good, too, and he ensured our glasses were never empty. He also remembered to bring two glasses of champagne at the beginning of each dinner (this was a birthday celebration - and Celebrity remembered the cake!).
Beef was probably prepared the best, but I happen to prefer fish. The fish is frozen, and must be cooked to 140 degrees for health reasons, so getting your fish served more on the rare side, as I like it, is virtually impossible. Still, the fish was quite good, and DoDo did his best to get me fish cooked somewhat less than well done. Unfortunately, he was not so successful in getting me less well done lobster tail, which I found tough. And while almost all the menu descriptions of the pastas say they are cooked al dente, they were a bit overcooked for my taste, though not mushy. And some of the food was a little salty, again by my tastes. The vegetables were well prepared.
We shared our table with three other couples of roughly the same age, one from England, one from Canada and one from Virginia. It was a match made in heaven. I don't know if it was luck or some sort of profiling software Celebrity uses, but we all got along great and became fast friends. This can make a big difference in a cruise experience, and I did see other tables where the chemistry was not as good.
When not eating or sleeping, we took pleasure in the variety of choices we had for occupying our time. You can do as much or as little as you like. If we wanted to mingle, there was always thepool area, which was quite busy on the two days at sea. At these times, it was a bit difficult tofind a chair in the shade, but with a little persistence, we always managed to find a couple. Sitting in the sun was just too hot for us. But we also enjoyed the peaceful areas along the sidesof deck 6, a stark contrast to the activity by the pool. The area on the stern outside the IslandsCafe on deck 11 was shaded and also quite a nice place to sit and enjoy some food or coffee. My girlfriend an I are not big drinkers, and I don't gamble, so we spent little time in the casino or lounges except when they had karaoke singing, which my girlfriend enjoys very much, or late at night dancing. We both enjoyed the entertainment in the main theater very much, especially the Broadway review they had on our cruise and the comedian.
Others here have criticized the itinerary, and I can understand their points of view. But for us, the times in port were adequate for some shopping, a little sightseeing and maybe laying on the beach a bit. Our approach to cruising is to relax and enjoy ourselves at a slower pace. Trying to do too many things in too little time will always result in frustration. We found some good deals on jewelry (better in St. Maarten than St. Thomas - no Uncle Sam taking a piece), and I got a great price on some 16-year-old Lagavulen single malt scotch ($22/fifth). We had nice time in San Juan visiting the Morro Castle and a few other points, and then sitting outside at a nice cafe and eating ceviche with a cold beer. Nassau was probably our least favorite place, perhaps because the heat was brutal that day, or maybe because we were shopped out by then.
The only optional excursion we took was a boat ride to Turtle Bay in St. Thomas for snorkeling. I would not recommend it. Apparently, the operator felt it was more important to sail back at a snail's pace rather than offer us more time for snorkeling. While it took us only about 30 minutes to get there, the return trip was nearly an hour, during which time they tried to sell us tee shirts and solicit tips. They also succeeded in making several people seasick, as will happen when you sail more slowly in the ocean. Also, there was little room left inside the boat for maneuvering while putting on our gear, and both our requests for drinking water went unheeded. The quality of this offering was certainly not up to Celebrity standards.
Many of the service crew are from Central Europe, the former communist countries of Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, etc. Many of these are still very poor countries, and yet their populations are also quite well educated. I came upon many crew members who were college educated, professionals in many cases, who could not earn a decent living in their home countries. One bartender at the Tastings bar was an economist in Romania (she comes from the same village in Transylvania as DoDo, our waiter), was recently divorced, and is trying to support herself and her young son (who is back in Romania with her parents). This was her first trip, and she was worried her son would grow up without her, but she said she could not save any money working in Romania. These people work long, hard hours, seven days a week on Century, but in general, think it's a good place to work. They sign up for seven-month contracts, and while many leave before even one contract has ended, our waiter DoDo said he was on his sixth contract. Yes, some have accents, and yes, their style may be a little different from what we experience in the US, but everyone I met tried awfully hard to please and to ensure I had everything I needed when I needed it. I think the service crew was first rate.
I rented a tuxedo for the formal nights using the service recommended by Celebrity. I called up, gave them my critical measurements according to the form supplied in the cruise guide, and the tuxedo was delivered to our cabin the first day. It fit perfectly, and they even provided two shirts, just in case. At $75 for the week, it was a bargain, and you don't have to pack it. Minor alterations can be made on board, so try it on right away.
I also ordered a dozen roses for the cabin to celebrate my girlfriend's birthday. They arrived in excellent condition at what I considered a reasonable price.
We've been back just a few days, but already we're talking about our next Celebrity cruise. In the fall months it's truly a bargain. Where else can you get a week in a luxury hotel, with all your meals and more, transportation to four countries and entertainment for just over $100/day per person? Unbelievable.