Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: n/a
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 17th, 2002
Warning: This is a long review! It wasn’t intended to be in the beginning, but as I got going, I realized there was a lot to say. I also realized that I wished other reviews I came across before I traveled on this cruise went into more detail. So, in an effort to help those “in the dark” so to speak, I included as much as I thought practical. Be aware that one experience does not foretell another’s, and that ship employees and entertainment may change frequently. Nevertheless, the following should give a good overall idea of what to expect on this cruise. Special tips are offered and noted with a bolded “TIP” next to them. Happy Sailing.
My wife and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary with this 10-day Caribbean cruise out of Baltimore, Md. After researching lots of options, we decided on this cruise based on two major points – it left out of Baltimore (we are from DC and only had to drive an hour to the port), and it was on Celebrity, of which we had heard many good things. We booked fairly close to the sailing date – in April for a May sailing – so we didn’t get a great discount, but considering the length of the cruise, the fact that we didn’t have to fly to a port, and the overall distance traveled, we still thought the price to be reasonable. Our closest alternative booking was a western Caribbean cruise on the Grand Princess. For the price we paid for the Celebrity cruise, we could have gotten a mini-suite on Princess, but it was only a 7 day cruise and left out of Miami – so we decided to forgo a more luxurious cabin in favor of a longer trip.
In sum, this was a great cruise and a great experience. Despite a few snafus (details later), we would still recommend this cruise to anyone considering it. Celebrity did an excellent job at servicing us, and an awesome job feeding us. Activities and port information were not great, but the ship was spotless, and the food generally fantastic. Following are more details. I’ve tried to be thorough but of course this level of detail is not for everyone – if you get bored, skip ahead to what you’re interested in…
As mentioned above, we live in DC and the attraction of leaving out of Baltimore was strong. Our sailing was only the 3rd or 4th out of Baltimore for Celebrity and our travel agent had warned us that the first one or two departures were not well organized by the port or Celebrity, but we were happy to learn that things seemed to be better by our cruise. We arrived at the port at about 3 or 3:30 pm for a 6 pm sailing. Celebrity discourages people from arriving early to spread out the loading. That was fine with us as it gave us a leisurely morning to prepare. Upon arriving at the Seagirt Marine Terminal, we prepaid $50 for parking at a security gate, and were directed to drive our car to a lot ahead. Once there, we got in a car line. Although you have to wait about 15-20 minutes to get to the front of this line, it’s worth it. At the front were porters who unloaded our bags directly from our car, placing them into containers for transfer to the ship. We thought this was nice as we didn’t have to lug our bags anywhere from the car. We then got on a free shuttle that took us to the “terminal.” The Baltimore passenger terminal is really a large shed and quite spartan. It reminded me of some very small airports that I’ve seen. I didn’t see any food or waiting facilities, although others have reported snack machines, so make sure you’ve got enough juice to carry you through the boarding process. Once inside, we got in a line, again not unlike that of an airport check-in, which moved fairly quickly. When we got to the front, we went to an agent, showed our documents, and were given our shipboard charge cards. We booked an inside cabin and had hoped for an upgrade at this point, but didn’t get one. This was probably because the ship was full and we booked pretty late. We were then directed towards security. It’s here that Celebrity grabs you for the obligatory photograph. You can decline if you want to and go right by, but you might as well have your picture taken as it costs nothing unless you buy it (you have the option of looking at the picture onboard first).
Security was tight and included x-ray machines for carry-ons and a check of identification documents both exiting the terminal and entering the gangplank. Once outside, we walked right onto the gangplank to board the ship. On board, we were met by a cabin attendant who accompanied us to our cabin. Galaxy’s elevators are not well equipped to handle a constant flow from one point, and we waited a long time to get on one. Finally, our attendant told us to follow him to another set of elevators, closer to the front of the ship. As we still had fairly heavy carry on bags, I wasn’t too happy about walking almost the whole length of the ship to get on an elevator...but hey, if it gets me to my room…
As mentioned, we booked an inside cabin. It was on the Penthouse Deck, #1106, pretty close to the aft elevators and just one deck below the Oasis Restaurant and pool deck. This proved to be an advantage as we spent a lot of time on this deck, which serves as an entertainment deck during the day. The location of our cabin allowed us to simply walk up one flight if we didn’t want to wait for an elevator (though the waits were never that long). Our attendant showed us around our cabin and then left us to marvel at the design. Yes, it was small – about 170 sq. feet, but not so small for us to question whether we should have booked a larger cabin. All of the cabins on Galaxy, except for the suites, are the same size – inside or outside, verandah or not.
I was prepared for the size of the cabin. It was bigger than my wife expected. The bathroom is small, but well laid out. The shower is rectangular and big enough to take a comfortable shower in. There is also enough counter space both in the bathroom and in the living area of the cabin. The only drawbacks we found to the room were that you can’t fit two people in the bathroom at the same time, there is a small step up into the bathroom (which I found odd), and because of the room design, the hallway between the closets and the bathroom gets congested with more than one person. Other than that, there were plenty of drawers, closet space and storage space. The room was very attractive – everything wood and mirrors. We put our suitcases (I highly recommend collapsible ones) under the king bed, which proved to be great storage space for such items.
TIP: Our cabin was near the utility closet, which was frequently accessed, especially at night. I wear earplugs to help me sleep and my wife isn’t bothered by small noises, but to those who are light sleepers, you may want to carefully consider the placement of your cabin as the opening and closing of these doors can be easily heard.
Our First Night
After checking out our cabin, we were called to the lifeboat drill. This took longer than we wanted and was somewhat uncomfortable as they cram as many people as possible onto the decks near your muster station. Since no one can leave before all stations report in, for about a half hour, we had to look at the sweaty backs of other cruise passengers pressed up against the deck wall. We were hot and tired and our feet hurt from standing still for so long, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. After the drill, we had hoped to go back to our cabin to find our bags delivered. They were not. This was the first “snafu” of the trip - we were told that our bags would be delivered to our cabins sometime that afternoon or evening. We waited but didn’t receive them until a few minutes before our dinner seating, which was at 8:30 pm. Given the fact that the ship doesn’t allow shorts and t-shirts in the main restaurant, we began wondering what we were supposed to do. Luckily, they appeared with just enough time for us to shower and change. I’m not sure how they decide which bags get delivered first, but since we were a category 9, I figured we were low on the totem pole and that was the reason. We had arrived at the pier at 3:30 pm – I couldn’t figure out any other reason.
The Orion Restaurant
The first evening on board, passengers are asked to go to the Orion Restaurant, the main dining room (though they don’t have to) to meet their waiter and tablemates, if any. Dress on the first night is casual (now I know why!). Since this was an anniversary trip, we had requested a table for two alone. The Orion is located on the bottom two decks of the ship in the aft section. It is quite striking to the eye and has a grand staircase between the two levels of seating in the center. We were a little late in getting to the restaurant. When we arrived, we were shown to our table for two. We figured we were lucky as we had been told that tables for two were very hard to come by. The table was on the bottom level of the restaurant. It was neat going down the staircase as people naturally look upwards to see whose descending. We felt special. However, our table was right next to the busing stand. I wasn’t too happy about that but figured we could deal with it. But the location turned out to be the least of our worries.
By this time, the ship was well underway at full speed and the floor of the restaurant was vibrating like crazy. I knew after sitting down that I wouldn’t be able to deal with this, and asked the maitre d’ what was going on. He told us that the noise and vibration was due to the fact that the propellers were at full speed and directly under the restaurant, and that the movement and noise would go away after a couple days when we were in smoother waters. Both of us were completely uncomfortable and I wasn’t about to take the man’s word about the problem going away, so I asked for another table on the second level of the restaurant. The maitre d’ was very polite and said that he would check on it and return in a couple of minutes. On his way, another couple stopped him and told him they were also
uncomfortable and wanted to move, so I know we weren’t the only ones that this bothered. Many didn’t seem to care, however. Perhaps they were veteran cruisers….
In the meantime, our designated waiter for this table, Sergei, asked for our order. As we were unsure whether we would be staying at that table, we told him we wanted to wait and see if we could be moved. He apparently was offended at this and gave us a dirty look (yes, a dirty look), walking away without saying anything. I guess he was worried about losing a week’s worth of tips…but we thought that he behaved very unprofessionally. After about 10 minutes, the maitre d’ returned and informed us that he didn’t have a table for two available on the second level, but that he could seat us at one of several tables for four that only had two people seated at them. We really wanted to sit alone, but by this time, we were feeling somewhat queasy from all the movement, and agreed. He took us upstairs and allowed us to choose the people we wanted to sit with. I thought this was a nice gesture as he realized we were younger than most of those on the ship (more on that later) and might not be comfortable with an older couple throughout the cruise. As it turns out this was probably the best move of the entire trip. We selected a table that was next to the railing of the second level, so you could see down into the lower level, and also across to where the musicians played every night. The couple we sat with was on their honeymoon, and best of all, our waiter was Mile Matusko. Words can’t describe what a professional this man is. Suffice it to say, if you take this cruise, try to be served by Mile. He was one of the highlights of our trip and the best waiter I have ever had anywhere. Although the movement and vibration did continue throughout the trip (like I thought it would), it was significantly less felt on the second level of the restaurant, and tolerable at least to my wife. By the end of the trip, we had gotten somewhat used to the problem and were enjoying the food so much that it didn’t matter anymore, but it never went away like we were told it would.
An added important thing to note is that the second level is quieter than the 1st level. More people are on the lower level and it can get quite loud down there. To those who are perturbed by our reports of vibrations and movement: I guess this is just part of cruising. The best I can describe it is that it is like being on a train and plane at the same time – being jiggled side by side while going up and down a little, and feeling the vibration through your feet. Movement on the rest of the ship was different, which I’ll attend to shortly, but be warned about the Orion. It’s such a beautiful restaurant it’s too bad it is compromised by its lousy location. TIP: If you are concerned about the above, check with Celebrity’s dining coordinators a couple weeks before you depart to see if you can reserve a particular location in the dining room. They will probably not guarantee anything, but it’s worth a shot.
There are only two regular restaurants on the Galaxy, the Orion (main) Restaurant, and the Oasis Buffet. There are a few small places where you can get coffee and drinks, plus the pool bar and grill, but to eat a real meal, you have to go to one of the two full service restaurants, or order room service. The exception to this is the food bar at the back of the ship on the Resort Deck. In the morning, it serves up breakfast foods, with freshly cooked waffles. At night, it turns into a reservation only semi-casual eatery with a nightly menu. We never ate there at night, but did eat at the breakfast bar regularly. Note that this area is separate from the Oasis Café, but on the same deck at the aft pool. It is not big, so if you want to eat there at night, plan to make reservations early.
We ate dinners every night at the Orion Restaurant, the main dining room on the Galaxy. We figured we were paying for top-notch food and we might as well get it. On this 10-day cruise, there were 5 casual nights, 3 formal nights, and 2 “informal” nights. The formal nights brought out the best in everyone. There were some tuxes, but the majority of men wore dark suits and women wore their best dresses. “Informal” is a confusing term, as a jacket and tie are still required for men. A better term for this night would be “semi-formal”. Casual nights mean pants and sport or polo shirt for men, and attractive casual dress for women. Shorts and t-shirts were not allowed after lunch in the Orion.
We only ate breakfast one morning in the Orion. It was good, but the portions were small, and the vibrating was annoying first thing in the morning. After that we settled into eating at either the Oasis Café (buffet) or at the small breakfast bar behind the Oasis Café. The latter was generally quieter than the Oasis, was open later, and had a nice view of the indoor pool – or you could take your food outside on a nice day and sit on deck in the back of the ship. It was also vibration free. At times the line can get long for this station as others obviously agree that it is a good spot. This food was not spectacular – basic buffet but acceptable. The same goes for the food at the Oasis Café inside.
Presentation at the Oasis Cafe was excellent. TIP: Keep in mind that if you eat there, there are 4 stations with the same food. If you see one station with a long line, go around to the back. There probably won’t be anyone at those stations. The exception is for some desserts and food preparation stations. Those usually are limited to one or two spots (and the only place we saw cooking fresh waffles was at the aft breakfast bar).
Throughout the trip, the food at the Orion was fantastic. With the exception of one or two bad choices for lunch (an overdone piece of fish on the second day for lunch and a dry piece of chicken my wife had one night at dinner) every other meal we had there was excellent. Desserts, in our opinion, were an exception. They ranged from okay to great. However, this is probably due to taste. The cuisine is French influenced, and most of the desserts on this ship are quite French. We don’t necessarily like that style for dessert (but we sure enjoyed the chocolate torte cake they gave us for our anniversary!). By the end of the trip, I was hoping for a good old piece of apple pie with ice cream. You won’t find that at the Orion (but you probably will at the buffet).
The Orion seems to do beef and seafood the best. Every night offered a different type of fish prepared a different way, and they were all terrific. I was in heaven as I don’t get fish very often at home. The filet mignon my wife had one night was so good I had to order a second dinner for myself. It literally melted in my mouth. Other dishes included pasta variations, duckling, veal, etc. I can’t speak for those, but I didn’t hear many complaints. The only drawback I saw for the Orion food was that if you found something that you really liked one night, you couldn’t order it again, as the menu is changed nightly. Perhaps it is possible to ask for it and get it, but we didn’t try that. Order while you can – and don’t be afraid to order two dinners if you can’t decide! The price of the cruise justifies it -although your waist may suffer…
Of course, you can’t compare the Orion and the Oasis – they are two very different styles of service. But from what we saw, the ship did a good job of feeding people and keeping them happy.
Regarding comments I’ve seen on some review boards about short serving hours and not being able to get iced-tea – that was never a problem for us. The hours for the restaurants are reasonable, in our opinion. Breakfast is available until 10 am at the Oasis, and until 11 am at the indoor pool (nice for those who sleep in). The grill at the outdoor pool had short hours, but the food didn’t look all that great, so we didn’t care.
There are tons of bars on this ship. It is true that the free iced tea is only available at the buffet or at the Orion. If you ask for it at any of the bars, they will give you canned iced tea and charge you for it. No, that’s not a great thing, but hey, it’s a business. If you’re thirsty, water is always free! TIP: If you are a soda drinker, the ship offers a cruise length soda card. Unless you and the person you are traveling with are prolific sodaholics, buy one card and share it between the two of you. The cost was about $40 for 10 days and it covered our wants fine. Not bad considering you’d be charged probably $2.50 per soda if you ordered them separately. You can use the card in the restaurants as well.
There seemed to be a midnight buffet on most of the nights on the ship. There was a Tex-Mex theme, a Tropical theme, a Seafood theme, and other themes that I can’t remember. I’ve never understood the theory behind these events. Chances are you will be stuffed after dinner and won’t be able to eat another thing all night, but we saw tons of people (many overweight) shoveling it in at midnight. In our opinion, the midnight buffets are interesting to tour for presentation, but a waste of food otherwise. A better idea for the cruise line would be to offer the themed buffets at dinner-time as an alternative dining option.
As is tradition, a gala buffet is presented on the final night before the voyage ends. On Galaxy, it was presented in the Orion Restaurant, complete with unique ice carvings and arrangements of fruits and vegetables that are fun to look at. The feature of the final buffet seemed to be desserts. This was an interesting experience, but we thought it was not well organized. Instead of letting people wander in at their leisure, the ship required two lines of people to file past everything. As a result, it took forever to get in the restaurant and make the rounds. After the review is complete, they open the buffet for eating. Again, because of the way the tables were laid out, long lines were required. Everyone wanted to get to the desserts, but there were only two attendants at these stations and they insisted on serving each person individually. It took forever to get anything. One rude man simply walked to the head of the line and yelled over for his wife to join him. I said something in response as no one else seemed to have the guts. Of course, it didn’t do any good, but it was interesting to see how supposedly classy people act when they want a piece of chocolate torte (the guy was in a tux!). After finally getting our due course, we decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. The desserts weren’t any better than what they offer at the buffet or in the restaurant during the course of the cruise. Our opinion – look at the ice and vegetable carvings and then leave.
As mentioned earlier, we found the Galaxy to be a great ship. It was attractive, clean, and indeed “subdued” in atmosphere - not a ship full of glitz and mirrors.
Most of the people on the ship tended to hang out on the pool deck when the ship was not in port, and the weather was nice. As a consequence, it was often crowded. There are 3 pools. One is indoor at the back of the ship, and 2 are in the center. All three are on the Resort Deck. The Oasis is between these two areas. I was disappointed at the size of the pools. They looked bigger in the brochures (of course). In reality, they are adequate for kids to jump and splash around in, but not for anything else. The water was also very cold. As a result, we didn’t use them. There were several Jacuzzis near the center pools, but they were always overflowing with adults. I only went in one of those once. The indoor pool in the back of the ship was very small and seldom occupied. When it was, again it was kids. This is probably due to the fact that the small food bar and lots of tables are right near it (who wants to be the focus of attention?). The room also didn’t get much air circulation and thus it was rather hot most of the time. Although the brochures and books tout the fact that the glass ceiling over the pool can open up, it never did while we were on board.
The Thalasotherapy Pool in the Aqua Spa is a different story. This is available to those who wish to pay for access. You can pay $10 a session or buy a 5 or 10-day pass at a slightly reduced rate. When we saw the small size and crowded conditions of the regular pools, we decided to both buy a 5-day pass for this pool. The T. Pool is really just a fancy saltwater Jacuzzi. It is large, but not that large. It has a section where several people can lie on a shelf and feel jets hitting them from below, and another section with 3 or 4 positions that have jets shooting against the body. We bought the passes without using the pool first. As it turns out, we would have saved money by paying as we went. The main reason is that this pool, while not overly crowded, always had people in it and due to the way it is laid out, if more than 6 or 7 people were in it and occupying stations, you have to stand in waist deep water and wait for one to open up. We didn’t think it was very well designed. Plus the saltwater tended to really get to us after awhile. As a result, I only used 4 of my 5 days and my wife only used 3.
Organized activities on the Galaxy are not one of the ship’s strong points. This has been reported in other reviews online and in books. Unfortunately, it is true. There are some activities for children that I can’t report on, but for adults, organized activities were limited to a few mindless things like a scavenger hunt, country dancing at the pool (where there was hardly any space), word games in one of the bars, a couple shuffleboard games with staff, and karaoke at night. There were a couple things that were worth it – I went to a wine appreciation seminar (several tastings of very good wine), and we both enjoyed the TV trivia contest one night, but otherwise, there just weren’t enough options, especially on the days at sea. Does Celebrity feel people will be happy enough to lie in the sun? Perhaps. Not all people (us included) want to increase our chances of skin cancer.
Although the ship boasts that it has a “cinema” – this is really a tiered business conference room with a projection screen - the quality of which is simply awful. A couple times, they offered movies in the Celebrity Theatre, which is the perfect avenue for a film. It’s very large and comfortable. However, the screen there is puny for the size of the room. Had the ship invested in a wide screen and the proper equipment to project it, it would be perfect.
A very nice gym is located next to the Aqua Spa and T. pool. You don’t have to pay to use it and it is also in the bow, with a glass viewing area of the sea ahead. It was a popular place. I only went there twice on the trip, but both times, it was crowded. It could be a bit bigger for the number of people on board.
Areas to Relax
There always seemed to be lounge chairs available on the ship – just not beside the pool. These are placed in many locations on the sports deck and surrounding upper decks near the pool if you want sun. My favorite place was actually outside on the Promenade Deck. There was hardly anyone in this area most of the time, the chairs were cushioned (many of the others are not), it was open but covered, and you could sit back with a drink, read a book, and listen to the waves crash against the ship. Truly relaxing.
Another great place to relax was the Stratosphere Lounge at the very front of the ship, again on the Sports Deck. This spacious lounge wraps around the bow of the ship, high above the water. There is a 180-degree view of the ocean ahead and great lounge chairs, tables, and binocular scopes for checking out other ships or land. A band plays light music in the afternoon. This was often deserted during the day and was another place to get some peace and quiet. At night, the Lounge is a disco. We went one night and found the music not to our taste, so didn’t return, but it’s worth a shot.
It’s also been reported that the entertainment on board is subpar. We don’t agree with this. First of all, the Celebrity Theatre is a beautiful room. Located at the bow of the ship on the Entertainment Deck, it is large, attractive, cabaret-style theatre decked out with terraced, booth-like seating. It also has a balcony with entrances on the deck above – though we found the temperature to be a little warm there because of the chandeliers in the room. There was a show virtually every night, ranging from a variety type show with singing and acrobats, to a comedian, a singer, and a night with the Celebrity Orchestra (which was good). We thought the best of these were the comedian and the singer, Jeff Harnar. Bar service is offered and there were two shows a night scheduled around the early and late seatings for dinner, so you never had the problem of missing something. Now the bad part: like the Orion, the Celebrity is on the bottom passenger deck, only in the bow. This means it moves, baby. There are no propellers underneath, but you can definitely feel the boat going up and down, left and right. It’s a smoother, more graduated movement than in the Orion, but in rough seas, it is ever present. Again, you get used to this over time but it is something to consider.
There were also performances scheduled at various other lounges in the ship. One night there was a jazz performance by members of the Celebrity Orchestra in the aft lounge. They were very good. A reggae band plays reggae and other pop tunes poolside and they are good. We found that the only marginal performances were the “Duos”. One played in the lounge outside the Orion Restaurant prior to and after dinner. Known as the Starlight Duo, they sounded like your typically bad cheapo talent hired for a wedding. The other one played at the Stratosphere in the evening. They weren’t great either, but at least they didn’t murder vocal hits like the Starlight! (Sorry, guys.)
Special mention has to be made for the piano and string group that plays in the Orion Restaurant at dinner. They were terrific. Our waiter Mile explained that they were new and from Europe. They were perfect for the setting and added a very elegant factor to the meal. Pray that they are still there if you take this cruise. It really adds a nice touch to dinner.
Shopping on Board
There is a very nicely designed boutique arcade on the Entertainment Deck containing a store with sundries and souvenirs, a liquor store, and a jewelry store and there’s a cappuccino bar in the middle of all of them. If you go, be sure to take advantage of the free rum tastings (both liquor and cakes!) in the sundry store Rum Hut. A note regarding the purchase of liquor on board -- the store is not large, but they have a good basic selection of the types of liquor people are most often looking to purchase. In checking their prices with stores on shore, I noticed that the ship’s prices were as good or cheaper. In fact, the ship’s store offers a price match if you prove that you bought something they offer cheaper on shore. The catch: except for the last day of the voyage, you cannot take the liquor back to your cabin (they want you to buy drinks at the bars). They will deliver it to your cabin on the last day. So, if you want to purchase booze for consumption while on board, do so on shore. We purchased Absolut Vodka for around $11, two bottles of Bailey’s (litres!) for about $17 each, and a bottle of rum. I saw large bottles of Amaretto di Saronno for about $18 each at the beginning of the trip, but they were sold out by the time I got around to purchasing. TIP: Buy early for best selection as most people buy the last 1 or 2 days on board. I didn’t find any prices cheaper than Celebrity’s in any of the ports.
On the last two days of the cruise, the jewelry store conducted a watch sale. All watches were posted at $69 each. There was a huge selection of both men’s and women’s watches, including name brands. We both picked up watches that we’ve seen retailing at home for much more (and they work!).
On each of the formal nights, photographers were stationed outside the Orion for optional photographs. This is not like when you board the ship and you are almost forced to have your picture taken. Rather, there are 2-3 studio setups complete with lights and backgrounds for formal portraits. We had our picture taken at every opportunity as there was no obligation to buy and it was fun to see all the pictures posted later. If you liked what you saw, you could purchase the prints singly or in a package. We had some very nice portraits taken of us that we would not have otherwise had, so we liked this feature. Don’t feel pressured to buy the same day you see each set of prints – they leave them up for the length of the cruise. It’s best to choose which ones you want on the last day.
For detailed information on each of the ports visited on this cruise, and how Celebrity handled things, read on…For a conclusion, skip to the end.
This cruise went to Key West, Cancun, Belize City, Coco-Caye (at least it’s supposed to), and Nassau. Below is some brief information for each.
However, first I should address >>Celebrity’s Port Information Seminars.