Embarkation at Los Angeles was no problem as we had been staying in the area for a few days. After dropping our Hertz car at Long Beach Airport a helpful Hertz guy got us a shuttle bus to share with two other Cruise Critic members going on the same cruise, so we were there in no time and put faces to two Cruise Critic friends on the way. The lines at the terminal were quite long but we were on the ship and dropping our carry on bags in our cabins just after 1pm.
My wife and I were in inside cabin 3071 on Plaza Deck and our friend travelling on her own was in the adjacent cabin 3067. We discovered that 3067 is alongside a staff access door that leads behind the cabin to a working/storage area and a metal staircase. Staff running up and down the staircase late at night and early in the morning sound like thunder in these cabins, but particularly in 3067. 3067 also suffers from noisy early morning staff activity in the storage/working area but this is not evident in 3071. After being woken at around 6am by the noise we complained. According to our cabin stewards notices were put up asking staff to take care to avoid noise. This had no effect. A second complaint resulted in more notices but we were still being woken up. On being woken at 6.10am again I rang guest services immediately whereas we had previously gone there on our way to breakfast. This resulted in parts of the area being taped off and staff were instructed not to use the access door adjacent to 3067 at night. We were each sent a bottle of wine and basket of fruit by Guest Services who also offered us a change of cabins further down the corridor, but we decided to see what effect the new regime had before facing the hassle of packing and moving. While there was occasional noise it was muted and we were never woken again. Ironically the cabins were exceptionally well insulated from noise in the corridors or between cabins.
The cabin was quite spacious, with the beds arranged as a queen as we had requested, with a two drawer bedside unit on either side of the bed. There was a dressing table on one side of the cabin and a small two-seater convertible sofa on the opposite side. Then came the two double wardrobes, which were opposite the bathroom. There was a safe inside one of the wardrobes. The television and fridge were in an angled section of the wardrobe nearest the dressing table. We managed to find room for two weeks worth of clothes in the space provided, though with nothing to spare. Our cabin steward Sofyan from Indonesia and his assistant Godfrey from India kept the cabin spotlessly clean and were both very friendly.
We had requested first sitting for dinner and were on table 529 on the higher level of the dining room. It was a table for six, though there were only ever five of us, my wife and I, our friend and Frank and his wife Yolande from Detroit. Sadly one of their cases went astray on the flight to LA and it never caught up with them. Our waiter Lloyd from India and his assistant Arnold were excellent and very friendly, which is more than could be said for the wine waiter. This was our third cruise on Celebrity so the menus and food no longer had the wow factor of our first Celebrity cruise but were nevertheless very enjoyable, even if spoiled as we have been there often seemed to be only one thing we fancied each night. We prefer to have breakfast and lunch at the buffet. The breakfast choices are a delight, especially the waffles. Lunch however, like our cruise on Galaxy last summer seems to cater more for those wanting yet another hot meal rather than those wanting cold choices. Fortunately the Aquaspa Café offered a small rotating selection of additional cold menu choices. In our view Celebrity still doesn’t do as good a buffet as Holland America, even though it beats it hands down for the evening dining room food.
The ship itself is spacious and attractively decorated and furnished with some whimsical artwork and statues. I discovered that I could use my wireless notebook anywhere in the Grand Foyer atrium to check my e-mail and the satellite connection was surprisingly fast. The Bar at the Edge of The Earth on deck 11 at the bow of the ship is its forward observation lounge, but its Cirque de Soleil beds diminish the available seating for busy times like going through the Panama Canal locks. The lounge was only used once for a Cirque de Soleil White Masquerade Party during the 14-night voyage. It is sometimes used for ballroom dancing, but is mainly used at nights as the disco. We spent more time in the Rendezvous Lounge on the Promenade Deck where a ballroom dancing duo or band could be found every night and where the two dance hosts were available to dance with unaccompanied ladies like our friend. We also enjoyed Paul Strowe singing to his own guitar accompaniment by the pool in the day and outdoors on the rear Lido deck at night.
Like our cruise on Galaxy last summer we found the entertainment to be a mixed bag. The four production shows were superb, as was the first night’s show by two of the production shows lead singers, the ventriloquist and the local Mexican Folkloric troupe in Acapulco. We failed to find a seat for the comedian as my wife was having a winning streak on the slots in the casino. The sound on the third level balcony was rather unclear but it was better lower down but we didn’t feel like standing for the rest of the comedian’s show. The Cirque de Soleil show was disappointing. In fact the aerial artists in the production show Alex & Sally were far better than the Cirque de Soleil show. Then there were four instrumentalists, which is too many for our tastes, no matter how talented they are. We would rather have had a little more variety such as a magician and a solo vocalist.
Cabo San Lucas: This is a small but fast growing town at the southern tip of the California Baja Peninsular. It is set on a beautiful bay with the famous Les Arches rock formation (also called Lands End) marking the meeting of the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez. We took a ship’s tour of the area that took us along the coast to the supposedly less commercialised town of San Jose del Cabo. Like Cabo there are lots of condos and hotels being built and it will soon be just another tourist haunt, but for now it does still have some semblance of an old Mexican town.
Acapulco: Set on a huge bay with mountains behind, Acapulco is a big city by comparison to all the other ports of call. We took the city tour that included the not-to-be-missed cliff divers. The city spreads for over 4 miles along the beaches in the bay. We enjoyed the visit but we are not city people so it is bigger than we prefer. We sailed from Acapulco at 11pm, which gave us a beautiful view of the twinkling lights of the city all the way up the mountains surrounding the bay.
Huatulco: This is one of our two favourite ports. It was originally a small fishing village that is now the location chosen by the Mexican government to develop an ecological tourist destination covering 27 miles of coastline. One third of the entire area is to be a nature reserve and no buildings are allowed to exceed 6 stories high. The whole area that we visited on a ships tour is beautiful, both naturally and in the quality of the development. If you want to see it at its best go soon because by 2030 the Mexican government expect it to be bigger than Cancun.
Puntarenas: We had expected more of this port of call after hearing how prosperous Cost Rica is compared to most Central and South American countries, but we were disappointed. The overwhelming impression was of garbage everywhere. It was a Sunday and the beach by the jetty was thronged with locals who seemed to delight in dropping garbage everywhere, despite plenty of bins to put it in. There were craft and souvenir stalls along the boardwalk at the back of the beach and we strolled among them looking at the goods on offer. The stallholders were very friendly and not at all pushy so it was a pleasant way of spending an hour or so, but the dirty condition of the town didn’t encourage us to linger. All the ship’s tours were far too long to appeal to us, so after our stroll ashore we enjoyed a lazy day on the ship.
Panama Canal: This was the purpose of the trip and it lived up to our wildest expectations. It is difficult to convey how fascinating it is to see it in real life and to take in what a colossal undertaking it was to build it ninety-nine years ago. I had read David McCullough’s book The Path Between The Seas – The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870 -1914 before the trip, (as I would advise anyone to do before making the canal cruise). So I knew the history of the 33 years of effort by the French and the Americans and the 25,000 lives that it cost to build it, but experiencing it gave it a whole new dimension. We went on deck before 6.30am so we could see Summit go under the Bridge of the Americas. The sun was just rising, reflecting off the skyscrapers of Panama City. Then we entered the first of the two locks at Miraflores at about 7.15am. After Miraflores we sailed the short distance to the Pedro Miguel lock which raised us the last step to enter the eight-mile passage through the mountains. The mountains looked surprisingly low, but this had been and remains the most difficult part of the construction effort. Landslides continue to this day, such is the unstable nature of the soil and rock in this area in the wet season. Then we arrived at Gatun Lake. Those going on shore excursions were tendered off about 2pm and the ship anchored for over two hours awaiting our 4.20pm slot through the three Gatun Locks. We came out of the final lock at 6.15pm just as we were starting dinner. The ship berthed at Cristobal at 7.15pm and after finishing dinner we went ashore to explore the craft and souvenir shops in the Duty Free area by the berth, bring to an end our long but fascinating day in Panama.
Aruba: This was our other favourite port. It is so clean with pretty Dutch style architecture and the people are so friendly. We walked into town the short distance from the berth, which was right by the marina in Oranjestad. The walk by the marina was punctuated by stops at the many craft and souvenir stalls where we made a contribution to the local economy. Then we found the pretty boardwalk that took us in front of the Radisson Hotel to their private beach before exploring the stores in the Seaport Marketplace by the hotel. The Radisson is on both sides of the road so we crossed to the side away from the beach to explore the Renaissance Mall that is an extension of the hotel. After taking pictures of the Dutch style buildings we also explored the Royal Plaza Mall before heading back to the ship. We were amazed to realise that we had been happily exploring for four hours though we did have two coffee stops during that time!
In summary it was a very enjoyable cruise. No cruise line we have been on so far is perfect, and we have experienced eight different ones on fifteen cruises, but Celebrity, despite its faults is the nearest to perfect for us.
p.s. I have also posted this as a reader review under CruiseReviews.com
Cunard QE2 1984 & 1990
Carnival Fantasy 2001, Inspiration 2003, Glory 2005,
Celebrity Horizon 2004, Galaxy 2005, Summit 2006, HAL Zuiderdam 2004, Veendam 2005
Princess Star 2003, Sun 2004
P&O Oceana 2004
RCCL Nordic Empress 2002
Regal Empress 2002
RCCL Legend of the Seas Apr 2006
Saga Ru** June 2006
P&O Arcadia July 2006
Carnival Miracle Oct 2006
RCCL Navigator Apr 2007
P&O Aurora Sep 2007
QM2 Sep 2007
Sapphire Princess Apr 2008