Number of Cruises: n/a
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: January 28th, 2006
Introduction This is a travelogue of our first cruise vacation, January 27 to February 5, 2006. We flew from Boise, Idaho to Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Delta Airlines, using frequent flyer miles transferred from our American Express mileage plus account and cruised on Celebrity Cruise Lines MV Century from Port Everglades. Our ports of call were Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico and Key West, Florida, with return to Fort Lauderdale. We traveled with six good friends (Craig and Sherrie, Barry and Lenore, and Terry and Pat) and three acquaintances (Lenore’s sister, Rachel and Sherrie’s sister and brother-in-law, BJ and Len).
This travelogue reflects my personal experiences and recollections. Even though the 11 of us traveled as a group, we were not together at all times and, even if we had been, I have no doubt that our experiences and impressions would have been as individual as we are. The purpose of this memoir is to help me remember this wonderful experience and to assist in planning future vacations. I wrote this by referring to brief notes that I made every day or two throughout the trip, but I am sure inaccuracies have crept in – it is amazing how fleeting memory becomes.
Day One – Getting to Fort Lauderdale
After spending months planning and dreaming, scrimping and saving, we started our cruise vacation on Friday, January 27, 2006. We had arranged to have our daughter, Sarah, stay in our home and watch our dogs. She was going to spend the night Thursday and take us to the airport Friday morning. Unfortunately, she became ill with a bad cold – one that we did not want to take cruising with us. So, at the last minute, we decided to have her come after we left on Friday.
We arranged for a cab to pick us up at 5:00 a.m. and take us to the airport. On going to bed Thursday night, we set an alarm clock for the first time in perhaps a decade. Though we had a very restless night, we were both asleep at 4:00 when the alarm radio came on. Kay was startled and sprang out of bed, wrenching her back in the process. This unfortunate injury dogged her for the entire vacation.
As it happened, the alarm was probably unnecessary, as the cab company called at 4:40, ostensibly to get directions to our home, but probably to make sure we were up. The cab ride cost $25, including tip, and got us to the Boise airport at about 5:20 without incident in a light snow. We had checked in online the night before, so all we had to do was check our luggage (two large rolling suit cases and one rolling duffel) and clear security. We were at our gate shortly after 5:30, waiting for our 6:30 flight. The flight to Salt Lake City (SLC) was uneventful on a Boeing 737-300 that was only about 60% full. We were as comfortable as was possible for us in modern airline seats, with an empty seat between us. Of the five flights we would take on this vacation, this was the only one on which we had that luxury.
Our flight from SLC to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood (FLL) was aboard a 737-800 with no empty seats. During the two hour and 40 minute layover at SLC, I attempted to upgrade our seats to first class so that we would have more room. I discovered, however, that seats purchased with frequent flyer miles are not upgradeable at any price and that first class was also full in any event. I traded seats with the unfortunate lady who would otherwise have been sandwiched between Kay and me and we suffered through the 4 and a half hour flight as best we could. Actually, our time on the plane was considerably longer, as we boarded at about 9:45 a.m. for a flight that was to take off at 10:13, and then the plane had to go through de-icing because of the light snow and freezing temperatures. We were about 45 minutes late taking off and landed at FLL at 5:10 p.m. Eastern time instead of the scheduled 4:41. All told, we were in our seats at least five and one-half hours.
After landing at FLL, I used the courtesy phone to call the La Quinta Hollywood Airport to request their courtesy van while Kay waited for our luggage. When I spoke with the hotel representative, she asked if we had our luggage yet, which I denied but said we were waiting for it. She said to call back after we had our luggage. We got our luggage – the very last bags off the plane! I called back. The La Quinta employee told us where to wait for the courtesy van and that it would be about 20 minutes. We waited at the designated spot for hotel shuttles in comfortable, if muggy mid-70-degree temperatures. We had left winter behind and were on vacation! More than 45 minutes later, the van finally showed up, pulling a covered utility trailer for the luggage.
While we were waiting for the hotel van, Lenore called – our friends were waiting for us so that we could go to dinner together. We arrived at the hotel to find them all waiting out front for us. After a quick check-in, we took our luggage to our room, which was a surprisingly roomy and well-appointed room. It had a king bed, big desk, comfortable recliner, refrigerator, and microwave – all the comforts of home. The hotel suffered some damage, primarily water damage, in a recent hurricane and repairs were underway, but our over-all impression was a positive one.
After dropping off our luggage in our room, we all walked a fairly short distance to the Red Lobster restaurant at 2900 Oakwood Blvd. in Hollywood. There, we had the most disappointing dining experience of our trip. First, there was a 45 minute wait for a table – this was not surprising at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday – then the real fun began. Our waiter was clearly unfamiliar with the menu and we had to point things out to him to explain our orders. Then, he came back to tell us that Kay’s and my coconut shrimp orders did not come with potato or salad, as they are appetizers. He did not accept our statement that they had entrées of the same dish and we had to point it out to him on the menu, where it was a special printed in red ink. He then brought our dinners substantially before those of our friends and never did bring Barry’s lobster. He didn’t return to our table to check on us or refill beverages. After dinner, we waited – and waited – and waited some more for our ticket. Finally, one of our group went to find a manger to explain that we need our bill. After waiting still longer, we finally went to the front of the restaurant and waited at the hostess stand. When we finally got our bills from our waiter, he said that a lot of things had been taken off the bill. Not so. The only reduction was that Kay and I were charged for the appetizer shrimp rather than the entrées. There was no station at which to pay and we were told we had to pay our waiter. Another waiter finally came and took our payment, then there was another wait of 10 or 15 minutes for change. This was a frustrating and discouraging start to our vacation.
After dinner, we walked back to the La Quinta and went to bed, as it was after 10:00 p.m. (okay, only 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time) and we had been up since 4:00 a.m. Kay and I were both too excited to sleep, so we tossed and turned for a good part of the night. Day Two – Getting Acquainted with the MV Century.
After a largely restless night, we got up early to repack for the ship. At 7:00 a.m., we went downstairs for the continental breakfast that was included with our stay at the La Quinta. The food was not great, but there were waffles, French toast (to be heated in the microwave), muffins, cold cereal, juices and coffee. We ate with a big crowd of other people, all of whom were going on cruises that day. After breakfast, we hung out in one of the hotel rooms, snacking and being silly, then went out by the pool for a while. Finally, at about noon, we took all the luggage to the lobby. Everyone was excited as they milled around waiting for the hotel’s shuttle to take them to their cruise ships. We were scheduled for a 1:00 shuttle, but there were so many waiting that the hotel arranged for a special, larger bus that arrived at about 12:40. We piled on the bus along with a few people going on the Caribbean Princess and some others going on the MV (Motor Vessel) Century with us. The drive to Port Everglades was interesting, as there was a traffic jam of people wanting to get into the port. Cabs, vans and busses were vying with private autos and delivery trucks, merging into a single lane to get through the security gate. The taxi drivers were particularly aggressive, driving on the shoulder and through private business drives to crowd ahead in the line. It was exciting to catch glimpses of the large white “X” on the stack of the Century as we navigated the port area.
After finally getting through the security gate, we dropped off the Caribbean Princess passengers first, then went to the pier where the Century was docked, arriving shortly after 2:00. We were required to wait on the bus until all the luggage was off-loaded – a process apparently mandated by some authority, as it was consistent on all our Fort Lauderdale bus rides, to our eventual chagrin. Once we were allowed to leave the bus, we each had to find our own luggage and give it to a porter, whom we tipped $1 per bag is spite of the many signs saying that the porters are salaried and no tipping is required. We made our way into the port building with only our carry-on luggage. We had been prepared for a lengthy boarding process, with many long lines to clear security. In fact, the process went very smoothly and quickly. The Express Pass obtained through online check-in was a definite plus here. We were walking across the covered walkway onto the ship within 10 minutes of leaving our luggage with the porter, at about 2:45 p.m. We entered the Century on deck 5, the Plaza deck, in the Grand Foyer near the jewelry store and were immediately offered our choice of champagne or orange juice. We were then given directions to our stateroom, #5060, which was perhaps 50 or 60 feet from where we entered the ship, just forward of the guest relations desk.
Our stateroom was a pleasant surprise. It was small – barely larger than our 19 ½’ camp trailer – but nicely arranged with lots of closet and storage space. The bathroom was compact and efficient, but also had plenty of room to take care of the business conducted there. The only disappointment was in the arrangement of the bed. Every second room on our side of the wide hallway, including ours, had a support pillar that limited the arrangement of the bed. The bed was crosswise at the end of the room, with the pillar partially blocking the near side, a fixed nightstand taking up half of the foot, and the far side up against the wall. To get into my side of the bed, I had to crawl over Kay’s feet. The rooms between had no support pillar, so had more usable space and allowed for a more conventional arrangement of the bed with room to get in on both sides. Also, those rooms had two smaller nightstands with drawers, giving additional storage space as well. An additional advantage of the rooms without the pillars was that they allowed better access for the cabin steward, allowing him to creatively fold the blankets each evening – a fun service that we did not get. We enjoyed the location of our staterooms – they were near all guest services, situated on a wide hallway, and close to the theater in the bow and the restaurant in the stern. Access to gathering areas was quick and we were not bothered by noise. Since we spent very little time in the room, I would not have paid much extra for the privilege of a port, though a balcony would have been very nice. In the future, I would gladly take a stateroom in the same area on deck 5, though I would prefer to avoid staterooms 5066, 5060 and 5054 because of the intrusive pillars. As I suspect the same issue applies on the other side of the ship, I would also try to avoid 5071, 5065 and 5057. While getting settled in our stateroom and waiting for our friends, we became acquainted with Danilo, our stateroom attendant. He was very friendly and made a good first impression, impeccably dressed in his white uniform. He did not let us down, being very efficient and inconspicuous. Every time we returned to our room, we found that he had been there, straightening, replacing towels, and leaving various documents. There was always water in the insulated pitcher and ice in the ice bucket. For those in rooms with easy access to the bed, the blankets were creatively folded, sometimes more than once, before bed time. Danilo learned our names instantly and always called us by name when we ran into him in the hall. We gladly added a little extra to the recommended gratuity at the end of the cruise.
After getting settled in our stateroom, we went to deck 11, the Resort deck, where tables were set up to get acquainted with the various services offered on the ship and get coupons for drawings for freebies. The primary purpose of this activity was to sell services that I did not want at pretty exorbitant prices. I will skip this activity on my next cruise. At 4:00, there was a mandatory lifeboat drill that took perhaps a half hour or 45 minutes. After the drill, we wandered around the ship a bit, getting acquainted with its layout, and then got ready for our first dinner in the Grand Restaurant.
In our room, we found a card indicating that our table was #608 for the early seating. We knew that the restaurant was on decks 5 and 6, so we assumed we could get to it by walking aft on our deck. As it turned out, we had to go up to deck 6 to get to the restaurant, as the kitchen was between it and us on deck 5 and there was no access through or around the kitchen. The kitchen is the large blank space on the deck plan for the Plaza deck. The deck layout drawings accurately depict the restaurant tables and table 608 is on the starboard (right) side, second from the stern and adjacent to the opening to the deck below. It is designed for 10 diners, but was set for 11 to accommodate our entire party. We showed up 15 minutes early for dinner and found that the doors open promptly for dining at 6:00. We were escorted to our table, where we met for the first time our waiter, Dragan from Belgrade, Serbia, and assistant waiter, Luis from Santiago, Chile. Dragan is a very handsome and pleasant gentleman with a very correct posture, proper bearing and genuine smile. He assisted us in taking pictures as we were seated, spread our napkins on our laps and presented the dinner menu. As we got to know him, we discovered that Dragan is a former aircraft mechanic for the MIG 29 (the Russian plane featured in the movie, Top Gun) and has been working on the Century for seven years. This was his 10th contract (the first was for a year and the subsequent ones approximately seven months each) and he insisted it is his last. He enjoys waiting tables and is very good at it – he says he likes having a job where his hands are clean. He has a girlfriend, though, and wants a job where he can spend more time with her. We sincerely encouraged him to consider looking for a job at a fine restaurant in Boise, as his service was impeccable and we would very much like the opportunity to dine with him again. Luis was friendly and performed his job unobtrusively and generally competently, though not with the panache and good humor of Dragan. On one occasion, he gave Terry mint jelly (rather than the requested horseradish) to go with his roast beef. While he was obviously embarrassed about the error at the time, he recovered nicely the next evening when he jokingly offered Terry cranberry sauce to go with his beef. Our first dinner was every bit as nice as I had hoped. Kay and I each had Veal Scaloppini and finished our meal with two deserts – we had to have the crème brûlée, and tried one of the other tasty creations to go with it. This was not the last time we had two deserts, and we often chose one of the daily selection of home made ice creams to go with another desert. Terry, with the help of our sommelier, selected a very nice California Cabernet to go with dinner, which was shared with Barry and me. This started a tradition, where the three of us took turns ordering wine for each dinner. Kay had the sommelier select a late harvest Johannesburg Riesling for her, which was sweet but not a syrupy desert wine. He corked it for her and she had a glass or two every evening. When that bottle was gone, on Tuesday, we got a second of the same that lasted her through the end of the cruise.
Dinner was finished at about 8:00 p.m. and Dragan thanked us for being on time for dinner, as he had to set up for the 8:30 seating after we finished. Except for Wednesday, when our excursion schedule would not permit it, we began every dinner promptly at 6:00 and completed at about 8:00. Service was always prompt and each course was presented without rush, but with no delays. Never have I experienced such consistently good service.
We attended the 8:45 show in the Celebrity Theater. This show was primarily a preview of the shows to come and was titled A Taste of Things to Come. We were quite impressed with the athleticism of the two aerialists, The Adagio Flyers - David Lange and Esther, and the quality of the Celebrity Dancers and Celebrity Singers. The theater was nicely designed, but this is the one area of the ship that is definitely showing its age. The upholstery is badly worn and the whole theater feels a little shabby. I presume this will be rectified in the refit of the ship scheduled for the Spring of 2006. After the show, we explored the ship further, and then went to the Cova Café to sample the late night hors d’oeuvres. After waiting some time without seeing any waiters with trays of goodies, we moved into the Rendezvous lounge, where we found a number of such waiters. The hot and cold hors d’oeuvres were very good and we especially enjoyed the slices of miniature beef Wellington.
During that first day about ship, Kay was moving awkwardly because of her very painful back. The seas were also very rough, causing a great deal of movement of the ship. This apparently caused her to misstep, injuring her knee. The injured knee caused her a great deal of pain and created swelling from her knee to her ankle. For the rest of the vacation, her activities were severely limited by this injury. While nothing could spoil such a wonderful vacation, Kay certainly enjoyed it less than she would have had she not injured herself. Other than some difficulty walking, however, we were unaffected by the motion of the ship. At no time during the cruise was either of us in the least queasy from motion sickness and we found the gentle rocking at night quite soothing. We turned in at about 12:30 a.m. Neither of us slept well the first night, both because of Kay’s injuries and as a result of the excitement and strange surroundings. So ended our first day of becoming acquainted with the MV Century. Day Three – The First Full Day at Sea Rough seas and high winds continued all day Sunday, January 29. A couple members of our group experienced some discomfort due to motion sickness, but were able to control it with medication. We began by going to the Grand Restaurant for breakfast. It was every bit as elegant as was dinner, though it was open seating. Kay and I were seated with a number of other people and enjoyed getting to know them over a leisurely meal. I had a bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese, while Kay had broiled kippers. She had a difficult time with the multitude of tiny bones in the kippers and only ate half of them. After breakfast, we took advantage of some of the coupons from the day before by going to the theater for bingo with Bingo Bruce, the activities director. Bingo was fun but expensive. Several of the women got hooked and played often, while I calculated the odds of winning and determined that it was a black hole sucking money out of our pockets and depositing it in the account of Celebrity. I was also disappointed to find that the promised bingo game for a free upgrade to a sky suite would be at an afternoon bingo session and we would have to come back and buy more bingo cards if we wanted to try for the upgrade. This is when it began to come clear to me that the cruise line was selling hard all the time and it was best to avoid their sales pitches. Bingo was followed by a Discover Shopping seminar. At this event in the Celebrity Theater, an obnoxious salesman used every superlative in the dictionary to describe the shops at each port with which the cruise line has a relationship and pushed coupon books at $20 each – only 200 available for the entire cruise so get yours now! We bought his spiel – and his books. This was not a good use of either our time or our money. Though serious jewelry shoppers may have profited from it, we did not have time to spend searching out the recommended shops or dealing with the sales pitches that went with the free or discount coupons. I don’t recommend either this program or the coupon books to the average cruiser.
Lunch was also in the Grand Restaurant for Kay and me. Again, it was a very satisfying experience and the food was excellent. For the first time, but certainly not the last, I tried one of the cold fruit soups. It was very good and a new gastronomic experience for me.
After lunch, Craig, Barry, Terry and I participated in a wine tasting class taught by the ship’s chief wine steward. It was fun and educational, but I confess I am still not very good at either experiencing what the experts indicate I should experience or at describing the subtleties I do taste. After the wine tasting, we had one of the few disappointments of the shipboard part of the vacation. Craig accidentally left his leather cowboy hat under his chair in the Grand Restaurant during the wine tasting. He went back within five minutes to get it and found the room locked. When he asked to be let in, he was denied admittance and was told that his hat would be turned in to the Guest Relations desk. He repeatedly asked during the remainder of the trip, but it was never turned in. As only employees were left in the restaurant after the wine tasting, we can’t help but think that one of the kitchen staff is richer by one leather hat. Following the wine tasting, there was another session of bingo – my last but not Kay’s. Dinner Sunday was the first formal night of the cruise. Terry wore his rental tuxedo and looked very nice. Most of the rest of the guys wore dark suits and the ladies wore fancy dresses. We met before dinner to have pictures taken on the staircase in the Grand Foyer. A note about pictures – there is no end of opportunities to pay the ship’s photographers for photos. They take pictures when you get on the ship, at each formal night, at various activities throughout the cruise and as you exit the ship at each port. Then, they line the hallways outside the Grand Restaurant with the pictures every night. If you find a particularly nice shot, the prices are not unreasonable for professional photographs. On the other hand, the shots are generally hurried and most are not particularly good. It becomes a real annoyance to have lines slowed for pictures so often. Even more annoying is the same process used at the beginning of each excursion, this time by the excursion company. They waste your time posing the corny photos, then again at the end of the excursion trying to sell the final product. The pictures can be a nice memento, but the process is annoying, especially if you don’t want the picture.
Enough of the rant. Dinner was fabulous. It was fun to be all dressed up like grown-ups – something I think we ought to do a little more often when at home. I started with escargot baked in garlic butter. They were very tender and delicious; in fact, I had never before had escargot that were not a little tough and these have to rate as the best I have ever eaten. Dragan did an excellent job of remembering our names, though he referred to a cheat sheet a time or two. We joked with him and told him there would be a quiz the next night. The bartender and the sommelier were also very attentive and remembered both our prior drink orders and Kay’s left-over bottle of wine. This fancy cruise dining is something I could get used to! After dinner, we again went to the Celebrity Theater for a show. This was a production show by the Celebrity Dancers and Celebrity Singers called, I think, A Taste of Broadway. It consisted of song and dance numbers from a number of past and current Broadway shows, complete with elaborate stage settings. The performers were very good and the program was very enjoyable. The main show was preceded by a performance by the The Adagio Flyers, which was a remarkable show in itself. The seas were very rough during the show, making the acrobatics even more amazing to watch. The seas continued to be high all night, causing a pleasant rocking of the bed. Unfortunately neither of us slept very well – Kay because of her back and knee pain, me because of constipation and both of us because the bed was a bit too hard and caused us back aches.
Day Four – Jamaica
Monday morning, we awoke expecting to arrive at Ocho Rios shortly after breakfast. We started the day with a light breakfast in our room, and then joined others of our group at the buffet, where they had breakfast and we had coffee. During breakfast, there was an announcement that we would be late getting into Ocho Rios because of the strong winds over the previous day and a half. We arrived about an hour and a half late and there were many people already late for there scheduled excursions. All of the excursions met in the theater and groups were called one at a time to get stickers, then led to the deck 3 exits to the pier. Because of Kay’s injured knee, we had to take the elevator down, rather than sticking with our group. We got separated from the others taking the Brimmer Hall Plantation and Dunns River Falls tour with us and, consequently, ended up on a small van with just four other passengers rather than the main bus with the others. This actually turned out to our advantage, as our driver (Monroe) and tour guide (Karen) were very pleasant and had time to answer many questions for us. The van ride was memorable for a number of reasons. First, it was my first experience with driving on the left side of the road. Next, the roads were narrow, unlined and covered with potholes, resulting in very erratic driving. Finally, the natives drive at break-neck speeds and pass each other with the slimmest of margins for error. Despite this, the drivers seem to be very courteous to each other, frequently yielding to traffic dodging potholes in the wrong lane and giving friendly waves to each other. On the drive, we learned a great deal about the Jamaican educational system, some about the legal system, and many tidbits of local lore. The drive to Brimmer Hall Plantation took perhaps 45 minutes and was the most enjoyable aspect of that part of the excursion. The plantation tour itself was a huge disappointment. Very little history of the plantation was presented and the guides were surly at best. They would smile for photo ops, but otherwise seemed uninterested in providing a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, they were very demanding about asking for tips near the end of the tour. The plantation house had no historical information, either through signs or from tour guides. The main emphasis was the gift shops, which had outrageously high prices. We found identical merchandise later in Ocho Rios for less than one third of the cost at the plantation. In fairness, though, we learned interesting things about coconut, banana and pimento plants (not to be confused with pimiento). For instance, I learned that the small fruit of the pimento is allspice and the oil in the leaf is bay oil or bay rum, the essential ingredient in Old Spice aftershave.
From the plantation, we drove back to Ocho Rios and to a duty-free shopping area where we had exactly 30 minutes to shop. We parked directly in front of one small shop and were told it had the best prices of all and that we could get anything we wanted there. Kay found a bag that was offered for $20 at Brimmer Hall Plantation. We were told the price was $12 here. When I said we would stop back in after shopping elsewhere in the shopping center, the price went down to $8. I was then hooked and bought that and four different bottles of liquor, after bargaining over each item. Imagine my chagrin that all the liquor was available for less money without negotiating at a shop right at the pier… I also went to one of the “must see” shops from the coupon book and negotiated for the purchase of a beautiful 1-carat oval cut emerald. After starting at $1,700, the dealer eventually came down to $850 and I stuck at $500. We were unable to make a deal, though I think the $850 was probably a good price. While I was bargaining for the emerald, Kay went to another shop and bought t-shirts and a trio of small Tortuga Rum Cakes.
After visiting the shopping area, our van took us to Dunns River Falls, which is a national park. The falls were beautiful and I enjoyed both the beauty and the experience of the climb through the water while Kay waited at the top. Again, though, I was annoyed by the picture taking delays and, particularly, by the rude and demanding guides. At the top of the falls, it is designed to herd the visitors through a craft and gift shop area before they get back to their tour buses. I avoided this money trap by using a very poorly marked exit, but those who went through the shopping area described sales persons and supposed artisans who were, if anything, even more pushy and aggressive than others we encountered.
Back at the ship, we realized we had not eaten anything since a very light breakfast and it was nearly dinner time! Dinner was excellent, as usual. I had braised lamb shank, which was truly superb, but Kay described her slices of beef sirloin as only “okay.” We “quizzed” Dragan by sitting at different places than during the previous two evenings. He was a good sport about it and proved to us that he really did know most of our names. After that, we sat at different places nearly every evening. The evening show was preceded by a brief single card of bingo for a $500 prize. The performer was a musician by the name of Antonio Salci who was just on the ship for the one evening. He arranged a number of popular movie themes and other tunes for piano and orchestra. He played the grand piano while the ships small orchestra backed him up. While this does not sound like much, he was a dynamic entertainer and an excellent musician we all enjoyed it immensely and he earned a standing ovation at the end of the show. After the show, Kay went to bed while I worked on notes for my travelogue. I had intended to turn in early, but was still up at 11:15 p.m., so went with others to watch an ice carving demonstration by the ship’s master carver next to the swimming pool. This was followed by a parade of watermelon carvings and a fruit and desert buffet. I did not partake of the buffet, being still full from dinner, but I enjoyed looking at the artistry.
Day Five – Grand Cayman
We started Tuesday with breakfast at the buffet on deck 11. We were pleased to find Dragan pulling extra duty at the buffet, and he seated us with “Mr. Barry” and “Miss Lenore.” After having read reviews disparaging somewhat the food and, especially, the coffee at the buffet, we were very pleased with the offerings. The coffee was not as good as the excellent brew in the Grand Restaurant, but it was certainly not bad. The same can be said for the food. There was an excellent selection and several of us commented on the quality of the scrambled eggs, which was much better than is expected in a buffet line. Kay’s knee was really bothering her after the workout walking around Jamaica the day before, so she elected to stay aboard the ship. I went with Terry and Pat on the Stingray City Adventure excursion. We were at anchor off shore and went by ship’s tender to the dock. I was surprised at the size of the tender. If I read the information correctly, it is designed for 110 persons when being used as a tender and can accommodate up to 150 persons as a lifeboat. It is a twin-screw and double-keeled version of the similarly sized lifeboats. After arriving at shore and going through the obligatory photo line, we queued up for the excursions and went by charter van to a marina across the narrow island. There, we boarded a sight-seeing charter that took us across the bay about 25 minutes to a sandbar where a number of other boats were anchored. We backed into an opening while watching many stingrays lazing in the water around the boats. Suddenly, Pat noticed Sherrie on the catamaran Cockatoo nearby, and then we spotted Craig snorkeling in the water. Unknown to us, Barry and Lenore were in the water just the other side of the Cockatoo. We got off the boat in chest-deep water and watched the boat’s crew give a presentation about stingrays. Rather than lining up for photos with the rays, we snorkeled on our own and found many stingrays that allowed us to stroke them. Then, one of the crew came to us and gave us “back rubs” with the rays. The stingrays were very docile and amazingly soft, feeling something like wet velvet. Snorkeling was, hands down, my favorite excursion, even though we spent only an hour in the water with the rays. Next time I go to a tropical area I will most definitely spend more time in the water and less in educational pursuits. After returning to the island, we boarded a two-colored school bus for the return to George Town. My impression of Grand Cayman was that it is very American in look and feel, though there are definite Dutch influences in place names. While driving is still on the wrong side of the road, there is virtually nothing else similar to Jamaica. Where Jamaica is a lush, mountainous island, Grand Cayman is flat as a pancake and a desert. And, where Jamaica was plagued with poverty and squalor, Grand Cayman was clearly wealthy. Both were greatly damaged by recent hurricanes, though, with Grand Cayman suffering damages totaling $75,000 in value for every inhabitant according to our tour van operator. I did not experience the shopping on Grand Cayman, except to see that the shopping area near the dock was packed with people and the shops were clearly much nicer than those in Ocho Rios. I returned to the Century immediately after the excursion, leaving Pat and Terry to their shopping. When I got back to the cabin, it was 12:15 and Kay was waiting for me to take her to lunch. We had lunch in the Grand Restaurant, where Kay had a Reuben that was good but a bit dry. I had pork cutlets (I’d have called them pork chops, not knowing any better) that were excellent in flavor and had a very nice sauce, but were a little over-cooked for my taste. We sat at a table with several people, all substantially older than we, and I enjoyed conversation with a gentleman from England who had cruised at least 30 times with his wife, going on his first cruise at age 60. This was a recurring theme – we talked with many people on the ship who had been on many cruises and only a very few for whom this was the first cruise. In the afternoon, we met Pat and Terry for coffee in the buffet. Kay went with Pat for a soak in the Thalassotherapy pool of the Aqua Spa on the Resort Deck, deck 11. She enjoyed it so much that she bought an unlimited pass. Unfortunately, she was unable to take full advantage of the spa, both because she had already missed three days and because the spa was closed early on Friday for cleaning, much to the disappointment of the ladies. Dinner in the Grand Restaurant was a treat once again. Kay and I both had “hay and straw,” which was green and white fettuccini with Alfredo sauce and perfectly cooked sea scallops. I also ordered braised beef which was shared around the table. It was perfectly-cooked fall-apart beef in a wonderfully tasty wine sauce. After dinner, we went to the Celebrity Theater, where the Celebrity Singers and Celebrity Dancers put on an extremely energetic production of Shout! Their performance was outstanding and earned them an extended standing ovation. Following the show, we went to the Rendezvous Lounge for 50’s and 60’s music and drinks. It was a pleasant and fun evening. Before we went to bed, we set our clocks back one hour, to central time, in preparation for our arrival at Cozumel, Mexico. By “clocks,” I mean watches, as there are no clocks in the rooms or virtually anywhere else on the ship. This was a little disconcerting for those of us used to living by the clock and occasionally inconvenient as well. We did, however, get used to using the automated wake-up call system on the phones. We arranged a call for 6:30 a.m. and slept very well.
Day Six – Cozumel
Because of hurricane damage to the cruise ship piers at Cozumel, the ship did not dock at Cozumel but anchored off shore. Originally, we were scheduled for an excursion to the Mayan ruins at Tulum beginning at 9:30, even though we were scheduled to arrive at Cozumel at 10:00 I suspected that we might be let off with a tender nearer Playa del Carmen before the ship went on to Cozumel, but I was wrong. The excursion time was changed to 10:50 on the tickets delivered to our stateroom and, even though this was the longest excursion offered at Cozumel, we were among the last to leave the ship. We boarded a 500-passenger enclosed, jet-powered Mexican ferry from the ship and the ferry took us directly to Playa del Carmen in about 45 minutes. There, we had a fast hike of perhaps .5 mile to a bus parking lot, where we got on a very nice, large, new 42-passenger tour bus and were handed a box lunch. We boarded the bus at just about noon and drove about half way to Tulum to a rest stop/gift shop complex. As with the tour in Jamaica, this was clearly designed by the excursion company to force us to shop at a store that had a relationship with the excursion company. First, I used the restroom, which was not very clean and had strings of beads in place of a door. I was surprised to find that the washbasins were outside the restroom and that an attendant stood by the washbasins for no apparent purpose. This same arrangement was repeated at the restrooms at Tulum. At the halfway point market, I bargained half-heartedly for a silver necklace that Kay liked, but was not satisfied with the motivation of the salesman. We boarded the bus once again and continued to Tulum, where our tour guide, Armando, encouraged us to pay for a wagon ride to the actual ruin, which he claimed to be a mile away. While I don’t regret springing for the wagon ride because of Kay’s injured knee, the distance was probably less than .5 mile and there was plenty of time, so the extra expense was unnecessary for most. On the other hand, by riding on the wagon, we stayed with Armando, who really was an excellent and informative tour guide. I learned that he had attended 3 years of college to qualify for the guide position and had to take continuing education courses in order to renew his license. It seemed that Mexico is serious about its tourism industry and is working hard to handle it in a very professional manner. The ruins at Tulum were certainly impressive and Armando’s presentation was very helpful, but this site is not as extensive nor the buildings as large as other Mayan sites about which I have seen television programs. I was surprised to find no apparent security or on-site park rangers at Tulum, especially since Barry had been there 11 months earlier and found armed guards. We spent a couple hours walking around the ruins, but were disappointed that we were unable to get close to the main buildings or climb the steps. While at the ruins, we came on a cliff overlooking a small white sand beach and beautiful blue water. The scenery was gorgeous. I did buy a necklace for Kay at a store at Tulum. The original asking price was $90 and the eventual purchase price was $50, 55.6% of the starting price. By percentage, this beat the average bargain obtained by others of our group, who were paying 60% to 65% of original asking price. Of course, I have no way of knowing how good the deal actually was, but I was satisfied. Barry and I also each had a bottle of local beer at a cost of $3.00 per bottle. When I inquired of Armando what the beers should cost, he said about $2.00. Oh, well. It was hot, the beer was good, and beer was $4.50 on the ship. One couple on our tour bus was late returning – they had apparently got on a bus for a tour group from another ship and it took Armando a while to locate them. Because of that, we were unable to stop a second time at the mid-point shopping center, which pleased me. We went directly back to Playa del Carmen, where we were dropped off a couple blocks from the ferry dock with 45 minutes of shopping time. We did some shopping for gifts and mementos. I enjoyed bargaining and the shopkeepers were friendly. I also had another beer - $1.50 this time! The ferry got us back to the Century at 6:55 p.m. – too late for our early dinner seating. Craig went directly to the theater for the early show, but Kay and I felt the need to clean up and missed the show – the only show we missed in seven nights. We found a note on our bed indicating that we would be seated at table 575 at the 8:30 dinner seating. As it happened, four of our group were at that table and others were seated at other tables, so this was the only dinner at which we were not all seated together. While Kay and I had enjoyed conversations with other folks at breakfast and lunch, our dinner companions Wednesday were not good company. One of our tablemates was an elderly lady who broke into tuneless song on three occasions to illustrate some point she was making. Her daughter was pleasant but spoke little and may have had some sort of mental disorder. The gentleman who may have been the younger woman’s husband or brother never spoke except to give his first name in response to my inquiry. This assortment of oddballs was accompanied by a church friend who was very pleasant and was the only one who mitigated the otherwise disastrous conversation. Dinner service was also a large step down from that which we had been enjoying with Dragan. There were mistakes in the salad orders, the waiter never offered a grind of pepper, and there was no appropriate knife for the meat course. The friendly exchanges we so enjoyed with Dragan were also absent. While our dining experiences were superb on all other occasions, the service by this waiter caused me to wonder which was closer to the norm. After dinner, we attended the ship’s version of the Newlywed Game, hosted by the entertainment director, Allan King. This was a marginally entertaining diversion, but I wouldn’t let it get in the way of other entertainment options that may be available. Before retiring, we were reminded to set our clocks forward for the return to Eastern Time, which I did. We arranged to meet others of our group for breakfast at 9:00 Day Seven – A Second Day At Sea After a restful sleep, we got up at 7:00 a.m. and discussed having breakfast on our own, as we did not want to wait two hours to eat. Kay was in the bathroom and I was just beginning to dress when Terry knocked on the door at nearly 7:10. He reminded me about breakfast, which I thought odd, since it was nearly two hours away. I asked him what time it was and he responded that it was 9:00. I assumed he was responding about the time for breakfast rather than the current time, so I told him I would be there. It was after he left that I realized I had set my watch back to Mountain Time instead of ahead to Eastern Time. We were already late for breakfast. We didn’t find the rest of the group and had breakfast on our own at the buffet at 9:30. After breakfast, it was clear that Kay’s knee and back were not improving. She was in considerable pain, so we went to the medical center, where we found the staff very pleasant and professional. They were all from South Africa and the handsome young doctor had a distinct accent. After an efficient exam, he explained that Kay had an injury to a lateral ligament. He said they could take an x-ray, but that they were not equipped to do anything about the ligament if it was torn. Instead, we opted for a wrap and Tylenol 3 with codeine and instructions that Kay should see her doctor as soon as she got home and stay off the knee as much as possible until then. Except for taking the medication, Kay did not do a very good job of following those sensible instructions. While we were in the medical center, the rest of our group were attending a disembarkation orientation. We did not suffer by missing this. We had a relaxing day at sea and Terry, Barry, Craig and I played several games of shuffleboard and drank several beers. We had lunch in the buffet, which was good but nothing special. In the afternoon, Barry, Terry and I participated in a wine and food pairing seminar that was fun and educational, but I still was not getting what I was “supposed” to from my wine tasting. While we were engaged in the wine class, several of the ladies dressed up and went to a high tea. They really enjoyed it and spoke at length about the service and the dainty deserts. Later in the afternoon, I spent some time beginning to teach Craig, Barry and Terry the variation of Rook that I have learned from Kay’s family. Thursday was our second formal dinner evening. Since some of the group were not thrilled with the pictures from Sunday night, we again agreed to meet at 5:30 for pictures, this time on deck 6 instead of on the stairs. Kay and I had some pictures of just us and just Kay, and then we had a group picture that turned out pretty nice. It was a pleasure to be seated with Dragan again for dinner. This was lobster night and most of us had the lobster. We also ordered two extra portions of lobster to be shared around the table. With the help of the sommelier, I selected a Chablis to go with the lobster, even though I had originally suggested a dry Chardonnay which I had understood the head wine steward to recommend (at least if we were not going to get a nice champagne, which was his first recommendation). The consensus of the three of us was that I probably should have overruled the sommelier and ordered the Chardonnay. The Chablis went very nicely with the superb sweet bread appetizer, did not go so well with the fruit some of us had, but was good with the lobster. Dinner was finished off with baked Alaska that was paraded around the dining room by the waiters. On the whole, this was my least favorite dinner. I like lobster, but not so much as some of the other entrees we had eaten, and the baked Alaska was good, but not the best desert I tried, either. Still, it was a pleasurable experience. After dinner, we went to the last production show by the Celebrity Dancers and Singers, Dance Around the World, which was great. They were given a standing ovation yet again. After dinner, we filled out customs forms and guest questionnaires and prepared tip envelopes. At 11:45, we went to the Grand Restaurant to take pictures of the absolutely incredible grand buffet. The food and ice carvings and other presentations were wonderful and things looked delicious. While some of our group stayed to eat from the buffet, Kay and I turned in, not being hungry.
Day Eight – Key West
On Friday morning, we arrived at the pier at Key West, where we were docked immediately behind the Celebrity ship, MV Zenith. We were scheduled for immigration screening at 8:00 and no one was allowed off the ship until all passengers had cleared immigration. We showed up early – before 7:30 – and went through immigration quickly in a fast-moving line. An announcement was made that immigration clearance was going faster than expected and everyone was invited to go through it early. Even so, we were not cleared to begin disembarking until 9:00. We went onto the pier with Lenore, Barry and Rachel and were doing a little shopping, when Barry, Kay and I came across the Conch Tour Train and the five of us decided to take the tour. The tour train ride cost $25 per person and lasted about 90 minutes. Except for the de rigueur tour photos, the tour train was fun and informative. We were able to get a real flavor for life in Key West from the open cars and had an interesting tutorial on local history and architecture. I particularly enjoyed learning about the origin of the Conch Republic and its motto, “where others failed, we seceded.” After the tour train, Barry, Kay and I went to the Hog’s Breath Saloon to shop for souvenirs and get a light lunch. I had a Hog’s Breath beer, which I enjoyed, and we split an order of clam strips (nothing special – standard bar fare) and conch fritters (tasty, but hard to chew – a one-time experience). Kay and I then headed back to the ship, stopping at a gift shop on the pier to get a card for Dragan and a map of the Caribbean for me (it later turned out the map was marked incorrectly – it was actually a map of the Florida keys). After a relaxing afternoon on the ship, we had our last dinner with Dragan. It was sad to realize the cruise was almost over. We gave Dragan a matted cartoon of a boat with 11 animals aboard and “Idaho” printed under it that Barry had bought and we all had signed. I also gave him a personal note in the tip envelope. Dragan seemed genuinely touched and said he would immediately hang the boat cartoon in his room. He said no one had ever given him such a memento. Most of us doubled the recommended tip for Dragan and it was still a bargain from my perspective. After dinner, we selected some of the various photos on display to purchase. It is worth remembering that, if you want to take advantage of their four-for-the-price-of-three offer, you must have your receipt for any prior purchases. We had not kept the receipt from a prior purchase, so bought three new ones and got our fifth picture free of charge. Following this purchase, we attended the final show in the Celebrity Theater, a reprise of the comedian/singer Kay and I had missed on Wednesday. It was entertaining, but certainly not up to the caliber of the production shows or Antonio Salci. The show was over at nearly 10:00 and we were supposed to have our bags packed and in the hall at 11:00 in preparation for disembarkation Saturday morning. Kay and I packed hurriedly, rolling the liquor bottles in dirty clothing and packing them in the middle of the suitcases. We were done packing just before 11:00. As I took the bags out to the hall, a bellman was collecting them. Not knowing the tipping protocol, I gave him $1 for each of the bags, which he did not refuse. We went to bed for our last night on the ship and set a wake-up call for 5:30 a.m.
Day Nine – Disembarkation and the Everglades
By the time I was up, dressed and ready for the world – about 6:00 a.m. – we were already docked at Port Everglades. We went to breakfast at the buffet at 6:10 while I lamented that the Grand Restaurant is not open that early in the morning. Had I read the special disembarkation issue of Celebrity Today!, I would have known that the Grand Restaurant had, in fact, opened at 6:00 that day. Darn! We could have eggs Benedict one more time. After breakfast, we packed the last few things in our overnight bags and I went to the library to meet with customs officials and admit to the six bottles of booze I was bringing into the country. While waiting my turn, I overheard one of the customs agents explaining to another passenger that there is no import duty for loose gemstones, no matter the value, but there is a duty on finished jewelry. While that didn’t apply to me this trip, it is certainly something to keep in mind. When the customs agent went over my list of purchases and asked me about the liquor, I was surprised that there was no charge, even though we were four bottles over the limit. If I understood correctly, there is no charge for up to $40 over the limit, but I am not certain that is right. We then met our friends in the Images bar to await disembarkation for our final excursion. Even though this was the only excursion in Fort Lauderdale, we were not the first off the ship. I suspect that certain levels of Captain’s Club members, or perhaps people in suites, got preferential treatment. When we did leave the ship, we found our bags in the lavender pile just off the gangway, then went through the final customs checkpoint, where they simply looked at my already-signed form and passed us through. On the way to that point, though, there was a little table with a sign saying we had to leave all fruit taken off the ship. I had a bag of dried fruit we had actually taken with us from home that I was keeping for snacks at the hotel and on the plane ride home, but I dutifully left it on the table. If I could do this over again, I would have kept the fruit, since nobody asked about it or looked in any bags. Once we were out of the terminal building, we were directed to one of several very nice buses lined up for the everglades airboat excursion. We got on one of two buses for people ending at FLL, both of which were completely filled before we left. From the terminal building, it was perhaps a 30-minute bus ride to a sportsmen’s “camp” along the highway. The excursion company had made no arrangements to reserve airboats for us, so we had to wait until there were two 30-passenger boats available for the 56 people on our bus. While we waited, we watched a presentation on the Florida panther, which is a smaller cousin of the western cougar or mountain lion, though it has larger and webbed feet. Then, we looked at some alligators in captivity and had another presentation about them. There was supposed to be a replica Indian village, but it had been destroyed in a hurricane.
Finally, there were airboats for us – but first the obligatory and by-now-loathsome photo line. We were handed soft foam earplugs before getting on the air boats, and they were certainly necessary. The airboats are powered by two V-8 engines, each with a wooden propeller. At speed, they sound very much like a twin-engine small airplane about two take off. The sky was overcast and threatening rain as we began the airboat tour, so most of us had bought thin rain slickers for $5.00 at the gift store, refundable if the jackets were not used. We began by scooting across clear channels then into reeds, where the operator turned the boat a few times so we could experience the boats skidding sideways through the water, then we went looking for an alligator. Given the cold temperature, which tends to keep the alligators on the bottom where they can stay up to 12 hours at a time, I think the boat operator was surprised when we came upon an alligator about seven feet long completely on the surface. As the boat came to a stop, the alligator swam right in front of us, then submerged so just its nose and eyes were above water as another air boat approached. Seeing the alligator in the wild was quite a thrill and made me feel better about an excursion that, on the whole, was badly organized and poorly operated. While we were looking at the alligator, it started to rain lightly and most of us put on our rain jackets. The boat operator asked if we wanted to go on, which we did. Within moments, though, the sky opened up to about as hard a rain as I have been in while we raced through the water at 25 or 30 miles per hour. In spite of the rain jackets, everyone was thoroughly soaked by the time our abbreviated boat ride got us back to the buses. The rain did not let up as we rode back to FLL and there were leaks that filled part of the overhead luggage bin with water and dripped on some of us. When we got to our stop at FLL, once again we were not allowed to get off the bus until all the baggage was offloaded. The driver was taking the bags off by himself, and none too quickly. Meanwhile, it was raining cats and dogs and we watched helplessly as all our luggage was soaked. Finally, Len offered to help unload the bags, which our tour guide allowed. Then, we were allowed to get off the bus and claim our bags and take them into the terminal. There, we said “good bye” to BJ and Len, who were flying out soon to their home in north Idaho. The rest of us took our bags down the elevator to the airport’s baggage claim area, where we used the courtesy phone to call La Quinta for a shuttle bus. We were told the bus would arrive in 20 minutes and we waited inside for a while before going out to the shuttle bus waiting area. The bus actually came in about 30 minutes because the driver thought we were at a different part of the terminal where he had waited for us for some time. We arrived back at the La Quinta at about 1:00 p.m. On arrival at the hotel, most of our rooms were not yet ready, so the guys all got in the outdoor hot tub in the rain. The water was hot – perhaps 105° – and very clean. After a good soak, we rejoined the ladies and decided to order pizza, since we did not want to walk to a restaurant in the rain. We had Domino’s pizza delivered and Barry went to a store for beer. It was a very satisfying supper. Then, we all watched a movie until I couldn’t keep my eyes open – about 6:30 – and Kay and I turned in. We had opened our suitcases on the bed and left them while we had supper and were dismayed to find that water had wicked out of the luggage and soaked the bed through, so we slept in a wet bed all night. Day Ten – The Long Trip Home We had arranged for a van to take all of us back to the airport Sunday morning, since our plane was at 7:00 and the rest were flying out at 6:30. The van was scheduled to pick us up at 5:00, so we got up at 3:30 and packed once again. Even though the hotel did not start its continental breakfast until 6:00, the night desk clerk hurried to get out muffins and other things for us to eat as we were gathering and loading the luggage on the van. The van to the airport cost $60 for the nine of us who were remaining. Our luggage was checked in at the curb and we had no problem getting through security, except that I had taken a previously-worn pair of pants out of the suitcase to wear home, not realizing that my pocket knife was in the pocket. Some security guard at FLL now owns my knife. The flight to Atlanta aboard a Delta 767-300 was completely full, but we were not too uncomfortable because the 767 has only two seats outside of the aisle, so we were not crowded against someone else. It was only 28° in Atlanta when we arrived, which surprised us. It was a long walk the length of the terminal at Atlanta, then a short train ride to another terminal for our next flight. We had another full flight for the 4-hour flight to SLC on another 767-300, again without incident. In SLC, we had another long walk to the gate for our flight to Boise. That flight was delayed from Sun Valley and we were 45 minutes late boarding. Once the plane arrived, we were surprised to find that the gate door actually led to a long concrete corridor, at the very end of which was the actual gate to our flight. It was a small Canadair Regional Jet and we were crammed in the back next to a small child, a screaming baby and two sick women. It was a very unpleasant final leg of the journey. Sarah was waiting for us at the airport in Boise. Unfortunately, our luggage was not. When all the luggage from our flight had come out on the carousel, we went to the Delta luggage desk and they were unable to determine where our bags had gone. After providing our information, we were told our luggage would be delivered to us, which it was at 7:30 that evening. As it happened, the luggage of all our friends from Boise was also misdirected by their airline and did not arrive until late that night. When our suitcases were opened, we found that one of our bottles of liquor had not survived the trip and there was quite a mess to clean up. I suppose bringing liquor home is not a very good idea, but it is hard to resist the prices, so I will probably do it again.
Impressions and Conclusions
So ended our first cruise. It was a fantastic vacation, and I certainly hope to do it again! While no experience is perfect, the overall experience on the Celebrity Century met my expectations and was well worth the fare. The experiences at port were, by-and-large, less pleasurable than I had expected, especially at Ocho Rios. Snorkeling with the stingrays at Grand Cayman was the single best shore experience, but I also enjoyed the Tulum ruins and walking and riding around Key West. The Everglades excursion was memorable, but I thought it was pretty poorly organized and run. As usual for me, I ended up thinking I had tried to do too much on my vacation and I would have enjoyed myself more if I had spent more time ashore lazing, swimming and snorkeling and less time trying to do the “important” things. I want to cruise again. In fact, I can see doing cruise vacations frequently if I can afford them. While I am sure there are other cruise lines I would enjoy, there is no question that Celebrity was a good “fit” for me and I will sail with them again if there itineraries and fares match my plans and means. I would not want cruising to be my exclusive form of vacationing, though, as I would also like to spend more time at places that interest me, and particularly more vacation time jut relaxing in warm sun and clear water. Things to Remember Next Time 1. The cruise was an incredible bargain. When you consider the wonderful dinners, the included entertainment and the total experience, $1,450 plus $200 in tips (we tipped over the suggested amount for our cabin attendant and fantastic waiter) is very little to spend for a 7-day vacation. 2. Travel to the cruise port is expensive. Airfare can be nearly as much as the cruise (though we used frequent flyer miles from our AmEx card). For that reason, it is worth considering cruise from a port closer to home. From Boise, a warm weather cruise to consider might be from San Diego to the Mexican Riviera and Gulf of California or from Seattle to Alaska. 3. The extras add up. Excursions, especially if booked through the cruise line, can cost as much as the cruise. Arranging your own side trips on arrival is more spontaneous and a lot cheaper. Wine, beer and liquor are available in abundance on the ship, but at significant cost. Drinks might be substantially cheaper at ports of call than onboard ship. While wine truly enhances a meal for me, this is another place where costs can be cut. The Thalassotherapy spa treatments at $20 each may be worth the cost, but the unlimited package for $89 is not – I don’t think any of our party used the spa enough to make this a good deal. 4. It’s okay to relax. As usual for me on vacation, I felt I had to see and experience as much as possible. While I enjoyed the cultural excursions, the most enjoyable parts of the trip were also the most relaxing – fine dining aboard ship, snorkeling, ship-board shows, shuffle board, socializing. The least enjoyable were among the most expensive – the Brimmer Hall Plantation excursion stands out. 5. Don’t miss dining in the main restaurant. This was the best part of the entire vacation for us. It was more fine restaurant dining than we usually do in two or three years. Also, I am sure I ate less at these dinners than I would have at the buffet. In fact, I didn’t gain any weight on the cruise. 6. Take advantage of the entertainment. We seldom get to go to production shows. While the Celebrity Theater was not Broadway, neither was it the Stage Coach Theater in Boise. The show were well done and well worth attending. While we did not spend much time in the bars and lounges, the entertainment in some of them was very good as well. 7. Avoid Jamaica. The people we encountered, with the exception of the tour guide and driver on our tour van, were pushy and rude. While the climate is nice and there are shopping bargains, the poverty and filth were unpleasantly distracting. If I were going back to Jamaica, it would be to a resort that I would not leave often. 8. Shop on your own. We spent valuable vacation time sitting through a shopping presentation where a cruise line salesperson pushed shops that have a relationship with the cruise line and talked us into buying coupon books that Kay and I didn’t come close to getting our money back from. With the little time ashore you have at the various ports, it is a tremendous waste of time to search out the recommended shops and the best bargains are not available there. For buying trinkets and clothing, it is much more fun and cheaper to just be spontaneous with little shops you come across. 9. Go back to places you want to spend more time. As much as we disliked Jamaica, we liked the Yucatan peninsula. The people were open and friendly. I particularly enjoy the sport of negotiating for souvenirs. There are beautiful beaches with perfect blue water and lots of historical and cultural sites. We need to go back, perhaps to an all-inclusive resort, and enjoy it in more detail. 10. Vacation with friends. Spending so much time in close proximity is bound to cause a little friction, but the camaraderie more than makes up for it. Our enjoyment of the vacation was enhanced by sharing it with our friends. It is important, though, to have the understanding that you need not do everything together and that you can enjoy time separately as well as together. We had that understanding and I think it worked well for all of us.