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John Watson

Age: 54

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Horizon

Sailing Date: November 19th, 2004

Itinerary: Deep Western Caribbean / Panama Canal

We were very late in booking this cruise and left home, in the north of Scotland, with just booking references and a little trepidation. However, everything went well and our flights from Edinburgh via London Gatwick to Tampa were very uneventful.

We had to arrange our own transfer to our hotel, the Hyatt Regency, in downtown Tampa and agreed a fare of $20 with the cab driver on leaving the airport.

The hotel is quite good but there appears to be a major hassle with the swipe card keys that are not only the key to the door of your room but are also required in the elevator to get it to stop at your floor. We had to get both of our keys changed and even then only one of them worked. We heard lots of people complaining of the same trouble.

We walked about downtown Tampa in the evening, and felt very safe doing so, but couldn’t find a restaurant close by and returned to the hotel where we had dinner. My wife had what she described as one of the best meals she has ever had in a fish dish we had never heard of before. My own meal was also quite excellent and the 2 main courses plus a glass of wine each came to a total of $60. The bar in the hotel is quite busy, being very close to the major banks and law firms that inhabit this area of high rise buildings.

The breakfast buffet was a major disappointment following our experience in the same restaurant the previous evening and although quite cheap at $10 each for all you can eat the quality was at best ordinary.

Our transfer to the ship was at 11:30 and we filled in the time by walking to the nearby Tampa Museum of Art. Not normally my cup of tea this type of venue but in a glorious sunny day and with just a couple of hours to kill it fitted the bill quite well and I did enjoy some of the exhibits but others did not inspire me at all. If you have an interest in Greek and Roman architecture and coins there is a very good exhibition in one of the halls of the museum.

Transfer to the ship took all of 10 minutes, we could see the hotel from the dock, and having no paperwork we simply had to fill in the credit card authorisation form and we were very quickly processed and on to the ship before noon. This was easily the easiest boarding routine that we have experienced.

None of the staterooms were ready and so the Coral Seas buffet restaurant was very busy with all boarded passengers milling around waiting to get rid of their hand luggage. After about an hour the announcement came that all rooms were ready and off we went to discover our cabin.

Immediate impression of Horizon is that it badly needs a makeover. The carpets are stained the fitments are a bit dated. We subsequently discovered that Celebrity have agreed to sell the ship soon. Our last ship was the Constellation and even with about twice the number of passengers there was much more space on the bigger ship than the small Horizon.

We set sail from Tampa at 4:30pm and enjoyed the transit out into Tampa Bay before sunset. I went up on deck just as the ship passed under the Skybridge that connects Clearwater and Sarasota etc to discover that there appeared to be a maximum of about 6 feet of clearance between the top of the ships funnel and the span of the bridge. Clearly Tampa cannot cater for cruise ships more than a little bigger than the small Horizon, something to be borne in mind in booking a cruise from this port.

Our first day was a “sea” day in the Gulf of Mexico and we had our first navigation lesson shortly after midday when the captain, who like most of the officers who run the ship is Greek, told us about the ships position depth of water under the keel, wind speed and direction.

We found that there was enough entertainment to pass the time at sea very easily and discovered that we missed a real gem in not attending one of the lectures.

Sarah and Bradley Weber were giving a series of lectures on “How to get the best from your digital camera” We caught the next 3 in the series and quite simply Sarah is the most authoritative speaker with an evident wealth of knowledge and understanding of her subject and, most importantly, a very competent presenter who ran these very well attended lectures without fuss and also made time to answer individuals’ questions after the lecture rather than constantly being disrupted. Easily the best lecturer we have seen on any cruise that we have been on.

The port lecturer didn’t fall in to either of the 2 categories that we have observed on previous cruises. He didn’t just deal with shopping, there was a separate presenter for that topic, nor did he tell us about all of the places we could find and how to get there when we got off the ship. He dealt with the history etc of the ports. Now this was fine if you wanted a history lecture on the Panama Canal, for instance, but not of much use if you wanted to do your own thing rather than take a ships tour, which we all know are very expensive.

This was the first time we had the late seating for dinner and I didn’t miss the rush to get ready for early dinner. On formal nights it takes me longer to get ready, kilt and all the rest of the gear, than my wife. We had great company for dinner in 3 ladies from New Jersey and the most excellent pair of waiters in a Filipino heat waiter and a second waiter from Bali in Indonesia. These guys were first class and a great laugh and together with our new American friends made dinner very enjoyable.

The meals were good but not outstanding and for me to take beef on the first 4 nights says a lot about the other choices not being to inspiring. Mostly the beef was very well cooked and very tasty. But we decided that we really should go back and try P&O where we thought the meals were of excellent quality and variety.

We missed the show in the theatre on the first night.

Our first port of call was Georgetown in Grand Cayman, where as normal we didn’t take a ships tour. Hurricane Ivan had visited the island some 6 weeks before and we were told that the recovery was well under way and that we wouldn’t see much signs of the damage. We chose to walk to 7 Mile Beach and we saw lots of devastation in trees blown down all over the place, lots and lots of houses and hotels with most of the tiles blown off and even a roof lying on the ground having been lifted off the building and laid on the grass. One building had one of its walls blown out and the building was completely unstable. We met a Canadian who was there as part of a team helping to refurbish the hotels along the beach and he reckons it will take about 2 years for the island to get back to its pre-Ivan state. It all makes the wind, rain, snow etc in Scotland seem very minor.

The beach was really quite spectacular and after a few beers and a rest we made our way back to the ship.

The show “Lights Camera Action” was a big disappointment. It doesn’t make the best use of the talents of the singers and dancers. The male lead singer doesn’t, to my ears, have the right voice for the choice of songs. I have to say that I was similarly unimpressed with the opening show on Constellation last year. Maybe it’s a Celebrity thing. We subsequently did not attend any of the shows which featured only the ship’s cast.

The juggler, Tibor, was quite exceptional and an act not to be missed. There were the usual juggling tricks but mixed with comedy and some special tricks this really was special and I will not spoil someone’s future enjoyment by telling here.

The ventriloquist/ comedian, Mike Ziegfeld was also quite special and not to be missed. Unfortunately he was on board for one night only and may be on other ships but don’t miss him if you get the chance. Quite the funniest American comedian I have ever seen.

The other comedian, was quite funny with a purely American act which we Brits could appreciate and after a slowish start he built up a head of steam and had us all laughing.

The musical act of Tom Keith and Sydney were OK, he could certainly play the piano and her signing was not bad but they spoiled it all by talking far too much about themselves and such a short show doesn’t warrant 3 changes of clothes each.

The entertainment in the lounges was also mixed. 2 for the Road, a brother and sister act from Poland in which he played piano and she played violin and flute were simply the best musical act we have seen on any ship anywhere. Just brilliant and not to be missed.

The guitarist was also excellent though his repertoire seemed a bit limited if you caught him too many times.

The 2 pianists were also quite good.

Next day was also a sea day before arrival in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

This is not a great port if you wish to get out and about but don’t want to take a tour, whether on your own, and there are lots of folks outside the gates willing to take on a tour, or a ship’s tour.

There is a post office where it is very cheap to send cards home. Ten stamps cost $1.50 and some had arrived by the time we got home. We have had much slower mail from Europe for much more money. The market is OK and the gardens close to the dock did allow the sighting of sloths, owls, grackles and other birds.

There is also a market in town which is similar to those in Barcelona etc. and worked out to be a very good shelter from the torrential rain we had for about half an hour.

Next day we were in Colon, Panama. Here we did take a ship’s tour and it appears that this is the only way to get away from the ship in Panama. There is a very good shopping area on the pier but outside of the fence Colon is easily the poorest area we have seen anywhere.

The trip we chose was to take a ferry from the Pacific half way through the Panama Canal. This entailed a bus journey of about an hour and a half from Colon to Panama City and our bus ended up being escorted to the docks by the “Tourist Police” after our driver had taken a wrong turning. The staff on the tour from Adventure 2000, were very knowledgeable and I really did enjoy this trip. I had always wanted to take a cruise that transits the canal but on retrospect I think this is possibly the best way to see the canal in operation as, unlike on a cruise ship, we got to meet and pass ships traveling in the opposite direction as we passed through the cut. Like the port lecturer I could warble on at length about the canal but it is best to see it for yourself and you will find that although the Chinese operate the ports at both ends of the canal the canal itself still belongs to Panama.

Next port of call was Roatan Island, Honduras. Be warned about the crowds outside the port gates. Many people found them to be overwhelming and frightening and they about turned and came straight back to the ship. We didn’t find them threatening in any way but they were a nuisance constantly harassing for us to take their tour etc. We took a taxi from inside the port gates and this really is a lovely island once you get away from the immediate area of the dock. We ended up at West Beach which has some beautiful shops and pubs overlooking an idyllic beach. We would have liked to stay longer but time moves on and the ship won’t wait, although a couple of girls pushed it right to the limit.

Our last port was Cozumel, Mexico where my wife had hoped to get the laundry done before our flight home. Unfortunately the laundry at International Pier only serves Royal Caribbean ships and none of the 4 ships at the pier on our day was from this line and so the guy didn’t turn up.

A free taxi is provided to take you the 3 miles into town where there are more than enough shops and restaurants to deal with the 7 cruise ships which were in port. However after walking about half a mile they just repeat themselves and there is not much variety to the shopping. The taxi back to the ship cost $6. There is quite a good variety of shops at the pier and it would be quite possible not to venture into town at all as there are also some watering holes and scuba diving etc very close by.

We had a day in Tampa before our flight home and we spent this in Busch Gardens. The queues for the rides were non existent and we had a great day. The taxi from the downtown hotel cost $20 plus tip but we caught a local bus from outside the gates which took us back into town at $1.30 each and this satisfied the Scot in us. Working out the bus service in Tampa takes a little doing but it is reliable. On the next day, we had an 8pm flight home, we walked to Ybor City, a Cuban city within the city of Tampa. It took about three quarters of an hour to get there and then we found the joy of the streetcars and trolley buses. A $3 ticket allows as much travel as you like up until midnight and we visited Channelside and then returned to Ybor City and finally back to town to pick up our shuttle bus to the airport for our flight home. If you make it to Ybor City do not go home without visiting the Tampa Brewing Company. The beer, brewed on site, is superb. I tried the porter which was as good as Guinness in Ireland.

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