Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: July 8th, 2002
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: We drove to Baltimore from Philly in about 2 hours arriving about 1 PM. There was about a 30 minute wait in the parking lot to unload our luggage which is put on large containers to be taken to the ship. We parked the car and then boarded an air-conditioned bus for the 5 minute ride to the ship. Once inside the "shed" the lines were very long. But a greeter asked if we were Captains Club and when we said "yes" we were taken to the front of the line for the next available rep. for check-in. I had already completed the new on-line form and then printed it. I e-mailed Celebrity to make sure that it was not necessary to complete Form A in our cruise docs. They confirmed that it was not. Unfortunately the guy who checked us in did not have a clue. He set my printout aside and then proceeded to copy the information from our drivers licenses and birth certificates to...you guessed it....FORM A! It took him about 10 minutes. Once this was complete we were taken to the front of another long line for the mandatory and dreaded “boarding the ship” picture. Five minutes later we were in our stateroom. I would say that our Captains Club membership saved us at least 45 minutes of waiting time.
Our stateroom: We were in 1211 - a Sky Suite. This was the same category we had on our previous Galaxy cruise. The only difference between this category and the next one down is the size of the verandah. What I did not realize is that the verandahs follow the contour of the bay windows of the Oasis Cafe one deck below. If you happen to be above the area between those windows (as we were) the verandah is virtually the same size as the lower category. And the partitions jut out so you can't see forward or aft unless you lean way out over the railing. I should have checked the deck plan more carefully. We also noticed that the deck of the verandah was filthy - crushed peanuts, cellophane wrappers, and burnt matchsticks all remained for an entire week before the verandah was finally cleaned. Our safe was locked when we arrived and it took two days and three requests to get it unlocked. The upholstery on the sofa was worn through to the wood on one of the arms and was also ripped in three places. The seat of one of the armchairs was badly stained. With a suite on Celebrity you get a butler. On previous cruises these guys were amazing. We would ask for a pot of coffee at "tea time" the first couple of days, and after that it was there every day. They would ask us which canapés we liked and would make sure that is what we would get. The one we had this time was a very nice guy, but he was clueless. The first time he came to change the fruit bowl I asked if we could get green grapes instead of red. Sure enough he brought back a bowl with green grapes....for one day, then after that only red. I told him the first evening when he brought canapés that my wife was allergic to nuts. Still, every night we got brie cheese canapés with nuts. This may sound picky, but I don't think it is unreasonable when you are paying a premium to be pampered. This is the first time my wife didn't want to take the butler home with us.
This was also the first time that our luggage did not arrive at our stateroom before our late seating dinner. We were really starting to get worried, but when we returned from dinner about 10 o’clock, it had arrived.
The ship: The public spaces are still immaculate. There are some areas that are showing some age - virtually all of the mirrored doors on the elevators are etched with graffiti. On some of them the computerized displays (date, time, floor, etc.) was either wrong or not working at all. This meant that you had to stick your head out and look for the sign on the wall in the stairwell to see what floor you were on. Some would also start sounding the excess weight alarm when they were not close to being filled to capacity. On at least two occasions, pipes burst cutting off all plumbing in some sections of the ship (including our stateroom) for two hours. The air conditioning in our hallway did not work for the entire cruise. Some friends were standing outside on deck 6 watching shuffleboard when the heard a loud bang and they were showered with chips of dark blue paint. We never did find out what that was. But in general the Galaxy was as we remembered it - elegant and comfortable.
Entertainment: We are not big on the stage shows, but we did manage it take in few of them. Cirque du Galaxy was a mixed bag. The Chinese acrobats were excellent. But when the Celebrity singers and dancers doubled as acrobats it was very lame. Pianist Elliot Finkle was a featured entertainer and he was excellent, playing a collection of standards and show tunes accompanied by the Celebrity orchestra. Incidentally, he is the son of Fivish Finkle of Picket Fences and Boston Public. He also did an afternoon performance of classical music which was also excellent. Also featured was a Sinatra wannabe named Tony B. He was also excellent. On the last night they had a show which featured all three doing additional numbers - Elliot Finkle, Tony B, and the acrobats - it was outstanding! Elliot Finkle will not be continuing on Galaxy, but his brother, Ian, who plays the xylophone will be taking his place. The lounge entertainment was mixed. Legacy, the band that played at the pool and the nightclub was excellent. The Starlite Duo did primarily Country and Western stuff (not our thing). The Simon Chil duo played at Rendez-Vous Square before dinner. They are an embarrassment. The keyboard player/singer (I assume he is Simon) has the accent of Julio Iglesias and the nasal twang of Willy Nelson. Now try to imagine him trying to do an impersonation of Louis Armstrong singing Hello Dolly or John Denver doing Country Road. I guarantee it was more painful than it sounds. I think the only possible reason for having them there is to keep people in the casino before dinner.
Cruise Staff and Cruise Director: John Howell…where’d they get this guy? There is no nice way to say it. He has the most annoying egocentric personality of any Cruise Director we have ever encountered. Jim Cannon, where are you when we need you? The rest of the staff, on the other hand, was excellent – friendly, courteous, and helpful.
Food: This was one area which did not disappoint. Rumors of Celebrity downgrading their cuisine are IMHO untrue. The food was excellent and as we discovered by accident on our Summit cruise last year, you can always get a shrimp cocktail for an appetizer, a Caesar salad, or a strip steak for an entree if the menu choices don't tickle your fancy. This was pointed out to us on the first night by our outstanding waiter Dominic. While we usually enjoy sitting at a large table and meeting new friends, we ended up with three people at a table for seven. Our sole tablemate was a young lady who is a travel agent for a cruise agency. As it turned out, she lives about 15 minutes from us in Buck County, PA. The wait staff - Dominic our waiter, and Dijan our assistant waiter were wonderful. The Sommelier, Simon was terrific - friendly, helpful, and very personable - not at all like the stuffy ones from previous cruises. Even the cocktail waiter, Wilfredo, was great. We were amazed to learn on the last night that he is only two months into his first contract. He did not seem like a rookie. It was also nice to renew an acquaintance with Arsinio, the bartender in Rendez-Vous square, who we met on the Horizon two years ago. He is a great guy who as been with Celebrity for 16 years. The buffet food (Oasis restaurant) was as good or better than on previous Celebrity cruises and they seem to have streamlined their operation. There were very few long lines, and they did not run out of glasses or coffee cups. My wife loved the pasta station. The burgers at the Ocean grill were much better than we remembered, and the pizza was also very good. Since we had late seating for dinner, we did not partake of any of the midnight buffets except for the Gourmet Bites which were served in the casino.
Charleston - We took the horse and carriage excursion. It was an excellent way of seeing Old Charleston where almost every building has a story. The driver/guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining if you could put up with some cornball humor. I think we made a good choice to book this through the ship. We stepped right of the ship and onto the carriage - no wait. If we had done it on our own, there would have been a long wait, sitting in a carriage on a hot day, because they limit the number that can be on the streets at one time. We walked through the old market and had a decent lunch at a place called A.W. Shucks. Even though it was 90+ outside, I had to try the she-crab soup - a Charleston tradition. It was excellent.
St. Thomas - We usually just shop or take a cab to Magens Bay. This time we decided to see the rest of the island so we hired an open-air cab to take us on a tour. It was very interesting with some spectacular views and white knuckles holding on through some steep hills and hairpin curves. He charged us $30 for about an hour and a half drive.
St. Martin - We opted to try the Beach Rendezvous excursion to Orient Bay for the fourth time. The first time we were there it was cloudy and very windy and cold - too cold to even sit on the beach. The second and third time it rained most of the time we were there. But it is a beautiful beach and the lunch that comes with the excursion is very good, so we decided to give it one more try. This time we hit the jackpot. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and there were some pretty big waves due to a strong breeze. The water was great. The vendors bugged us a bit, but only for about the first 30 minutes then they went away. The lunch, as always, was good. There was a choice of Mahi Mahi, ribs, or grilled marinated chicken. We both had the chicken which was great and you also get fries and a small salad as well as a beverage - even beer or wine. There were not many strays from the nudist portion of the beach...guess they only come out in bad weather. On the way back we stopped in Philipsburg for some minor shopping, but with only one ship in port it was like a ghost town. The normally crowded street was virtually empty and a number of stores were closed. We took the water taxi back to the ship. It's $3/person one way, or $5/person for a day pass. It's the best way to get back and forth between the dock and town. This is not the itinerary for seeing Marigot on the French side. The stores are closed on Sunday.
San Juan - We took a leisurely stroll through Old San Juan and did a little shopping. It seemed a lot cleaner than the last time we were there.
Nassau - We took the "Historic Harbor Cruise and Discover Atlantis" excursion. This was the most disorganized excursion we have ever been on. We were following "Pedro" from the ship to the ferry, but another tour was taking the same walk and the two lines merged. Half of our people tried to get on their boat. The “Historic Harbor Cruise” consisted of nothing more than a ferry ride to Paradise Island accompanied by an uninspired narration describing a few landmarks on the way. When we finally got to Paradise Island, the Atlantis person who was supposed to meet us never showed up so after about 20 minutes, a person from the ferry terminal decided to walk us over to Atlantis (a fairly long walk on a hot day). When we got to Atlantis they were totally unprepared for us. Turns out they didn't expect us for another 45 minutes. This resulted in another wait of about 30 minutes for guides to show up to take us on the tour. The tour itself was mostly just the underwater stuff and a walk through the casino. We never did get to see the spectacular waterslides and other areas that we had seen on TV. We wanted to go back to Nassau to walk through town, but the earliest ferry we could get back was 11:30. Since we had to be back on the ship by 12:45 for our 1:00 departure we did not have much time in Nassau.
Disembarkation: This is never a pleasant experience. Check out time is 8:30, but we did not arrive in port until after 10. Captain's Club and Suite passengers are told to wait in the Celebrity Theater. If they think this is some kind of benefit, they are dead wrong. Lugging carry-ons up and down the dozens of steps and maneuvering around the glass cocktail tables was a pain in the neck. The only plus is that you get to watch CNN fade in and out on a projection TV. We eventually decided to wait outside on Deck 6. The heat was not too bad and we were just steps away from the stairway to Deck 5 for disembarkation. Because of the late arrival time full breakfast was served in the Oasis Cafe and then they put out a nice spread of mini sandwiches and pastries. Unfortunately, they only had one section open and there was a very long line. Coffee and iced tea, punch and lemonade are also available. Our color was called at around 12:15. Captains Club membership gave us priority. The only ones earlier were those with early flights. Once inside the "shed" we had no trouble finding our luggage (that was a first), but it was not easy to get a porter. I learned the hard way that you have to go out the front door, turn right, then go to the bottom of the ramp where the porters are returning to the shed and grab one and lead him back to where your bags are. You don't have to tip (bribe) him ahead of time, but have a few bills in your hand as bait. If you don't, he may get distracted by someone who does. Once our luggage was loaded on a shuttle bus (not air conditioned this time) we were taken back to the long term parking lot. About ten minutes later we were on our way home. Traffic north on I-95 on Friday afternoon was horrible but it was still much better than flying.
Random Thoughts: This was not our best cruise, but we did have a good time. There were a large number of kids on board…someone said about 300. For the first week they were very well behaved. But then they started to form “packs” and the trouble started, mostly by kids in the 12 to 15 age range. One was caught scratching new graffiti on one of the mirrored elevator doors. Stink bombs were set off in the dining room on the last two nights. Security had several run-ins with them at the pool. They also trashed the back row of the cinema during a movie – spilled drinks and broken glass all over the place. I think 11 nights is probably too long for kids in that age group. The younger kids and the older ones were very well behaved and seemed to be having a wonderful time.
The passenger demographics were also different from previous Celebrity cruises. There seemed to be a much larger than usual percentage of tee shirts on formal nights. There was a serious deck chair shortage on sea days and chair saving was at an all time high. The itinerary was OK, but the half day in Nassau is sort of a waste. The itinerary also requires that you go through US Customs twice – once upon arrival in San Juan (which, unlike St. Thomas is considered part of the US) and again after leaving Nassau. We had planned to sleep late on the San Juan day, but we were given a time of 7:15 AM to go to the Celebrity Theater to show our proof of citizenship. It was very quick – no lines to speak of, but that was awfully early. The second took place on the last sea day, but at least it wasn’t until 2:30 in the afternoon. This one took a little longer – about 20 minutes – because they checked our documents more carefully and then stamped our Customs Declaration form. In any event, it was much better than having to go through that upon arrival in Baltimore on Friday morning.
There was another thing we found to be very weird. On TV, on the first sea day, there was the usual description of the Charleston shore excursions by Excursion Director Tia Priebe who performed the same function on the Summit last winter. She was on the pier when we disembarked in Charleston. But after that, she was nowhere to be seen. And even more mysteriously, there were no more TV summaries of the excursions for any of the other ports except for some pre-packaged ones for Nassau.
On a positive note, there are a lot of things that we always like about Celebrity cruises. We love to eat breakfast and lunch on the outside deck at the back of the ship. We also like the fact that there are waiters to carry your tray to your table in the Oasis buffet restaurant. With a few exceptions, the staff was great – very personable and friendly, yet very professional. The ship, even with the problems I mentioned, is beautiful and comfortable. I would not hesitate to sail on Galaxy again, but I would probably stay away from 10 & 11 day cruises in the summer. I think the problems were magnified by the fact that we are accustomed to everything on Celebrity ships being very close to perfect.