This was my sixth cruise, but just our second cruise together, and the first on Celebrity. We took RCCL's Nordic Empress on a 4-night Eastern itinerary out of San Juan last year. Neither of us had sailed the Western Caribbean before. Though still partial to the Eastern islands, we loved this cruise and the ship. We did find by the end of the week that we craved a little more quiet and solitude than this very full ship provided. Otherwise, everything was top-notch, and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend this cruise, or take it again ourselves.
We arrived at Port Everglades at 10:45 a.m. and waited in the main terminal until 11:00 when they let us into the inside room to wait a bit more. Ten minutes later we were on board, after the first of many encounters with the cruise photographers. No passes, no lines, very simple and efficient; other cruise lines could benefit from a similar policy. Because the ship was still being cleaned, they did not escort us to our cabin. However, there were so few people on board, it seemed we had the entire ship to ourselves. We spent over an hour exploring, and saw few people until afternoon. Little did we realize how precious that solitude would be by the end of the week.
We heard that they discourage putting bags in staterooms until the ship has been cleared by the Coast Guard, but we dropped off our carry-on bags around noon, and just left the door ajar as we'd found it. All our luggage was at our cabin by 1:30. We were impressed.
There is a duty free shop in the main terminal where one can purchase liquor and cigarettes. Reserve and pre-pay when boarding, then pick up the goods back inside the terminal between 3 and 4 p.m. just prior to sailing. We didn't get liquor there, but a carton of Kools cost $17.00.
Ship & Cabin
The details of the Century are well detailed elsewhere, so I will just confirm that everything heard about her being spotless and absolutely beautiful are true. One cannot tell that this ship is six years old. We saw staff dusting ceilings, and the tops of baseboards(!). We had absolutely no complaints about the condition of the ship or our cabin.
We had cabin 8026, Category 5, Deck 8 outside forward starboard, and were very happy with the location. The cabins are indeed very efficient and roomier than one would expect; the bathroom was easily twice the size of the one in our cabin on the Nordic Empress. I cannot, however, figure out what the deal is with the 'mummy-you-up' shower curtains on ships. There must be something better. However, the shower itself was the best. It had very strong pressure and a good showerhead. We loved the shampoo and lotion dispensers on the wall. Do take your own hair dryer, as the one provided is weak.
The very large window was wonderful! We opened the shade at night and could look up at the sky from the bed. A bit of serendipity: there was a full moon, which shone into our room every night. It was lovely, and we enjoyed the window throughout the cruise. Not sure we could do another inside cabin.
Steward Rowell (Philippines) was helpful when needed, but otherwise was unobtrusive and the cabin was very well kept. I am embarrassed to say we never learned the name of his assistant, a very pleasant guy with poor English who was actually much more visible than Rowell. It seemed he was folding towels in the hall every time we passed by, whether 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. We wanted to store our own soda in the refrigerator, so we asked Rowell to remove the items in the "pay as you go" room refrigerator, which he did. At $1.95 + 18% gratuity per can, we brought our own. Soda is never free on this ship. It is highway robbery.
The Sony interactive TV is great when it works, but it was temperamental and tended to "hang up" like a computer crash. We frequently had to turn the TV off, then on again to use the various functions. That said, it was very handy to periodically check our ship bill. Curiously, our movie channel broadcast was in dubbed German, even though every other channel was in English.
Well, what can I tell ya. It's a cruise ship casino, characteristically small, but staff was extremely friendly and overall, it was a fun place. Has the usual slots, blackjack, roulette, poker and craps. There were many more slot jackpots over the week than we expected, and fairly good action most nights on the tables. There were a few dismal nights in the middle of the week, where no one seemed to be winning, but things picked up. We lost more than we budgeted, of course, but the roulette wheel was very kind the last night, and I ended up ... um ... almost even for the week.
Overall, everyone we met was very nice. In a group so large, there are always a few who are annoying, and they always seem to be nearby, don't they? Oh well. We just avoid them. There was a full range of ages, from small kids to elderly, but the majority appeared to be 40-80, many at the upper end of that. We talk to everyone, and are not very age-conscious, so don't notice things like that much. Most were American, but there was a large German contingent on board as well.
Days at Sea
We'd never been on a seven-night in the Caribbean, so never had days at sea before. What a treat. We might just seek out cruises with more sea days and fewer ports next time. We sunned, swam, sat in the hot tub, wandered the ship, did spa treatments, napped ... it doesn't get much better.
Deck Chairs at Sea
Dining and Food
We have booked early seating on both our cruises. When we sailed the Nordic Empress last year, we booked a table for 10, and only one couple showed up, so we had just a foursome. Granted, we got serendipity in the form of a windowside table, so we're not complaining. This time we booked a table for 6, and just one other couple showed up, so we had a foursome again. While we enjoyed our table partners both times, we think we'll book for 8 next time to increase our options. It's nice to meet others and compare notes about ports and activities.
We are not fussy eaters or gourmands, but enjoy a decent meal. We thought the food overall was wonderful. We do not expect 5-star food in what is essentially a banquet setting, and thought they did a great job. Meals appeared cooked to order, fresh, hot, and beautifully presented. We were not really disappointed in anything we had, though I did have ginger chicken one night that was a little overwhelming. Desserts, as anticipated, were wonderful.
Our waiter, Timothy Codner (Jamaica), and assistant, Made (Philippines) were both fantastic and they brightened every evening. Timothy was working on the Seabreeze when Premier Cruise Lines went bankrupt. They spent three weeks in Halifax waiting for a decision as to their next stop; I'm not sure he ever got paid. He had only been on the Century for a month or so, and this was the first week he and Made had worked together, but we sure couldn't tell. Timothy is absolutely a class act, and we had superb service the entire week. Both were well spoken and had a great sense of humor. Can't say enough positive about the two of them.
We had breakfast in the dining room two times, and while it was nice to order French toast off a menu, breakfast is pretty much breakfast. With semi-open seating (they do seat you, but it's not at your regular table), this allowed us to meet some new people, and we enjoyed that.
Breakfast and lunch buffets were standard cruise fare. Some okay, some not so, but no one appeared to be starving. The burger/hot dog bar at the pool area mid-day is very good. The pizza, served from 4:00 on, is surprisingly good, and we even had one delivered to our cabin one night for dinner. Next time we'll order two -- it was really too small for both of us.
We went to the evening entertainment all but two nights, and enjoyed all of it. We both enjoy music, and can find something of merit in just about any show. The song and dance troupe was young, energetic, quite talented, and we thought they did a good job. In my very humble opinion, the nature of this setting lends itself to cheesiness, and the Vegas show did not disappoint, but it was still good. There was a show called, "The Beat Goes On" where they never did that song, but they did sing "Daydream Believer" while slides of the Mamas and Papas appeared on the big side screens. I resisted the urge to tell them that that song was by the Monkees. ;-)
The comedy show with Jim McDonald was just okay -- a little tame for our tastes, but probably suitable to the majority of the audience. He did do a slide show toward the end that was hilarious. In sum, I suppose he had his moments. The cheesiest of the cheesy was Mark Preston of the Lettermen, who wore a sequined black tux and diamond jewelry, and worked the crowd shaking hands throughout the house as he sang "Copacabana." He got a guy in the audience singing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" to his wife, which was a huge hit with the crowd. That guy was a real sport. Despite the ultra-Vegas atmosphere, I enjoyed the show (though John didn't particularly); Preston has a wonderful voice and had a good selection of music. Think Tom Jones without the hips.
What little other on-board music we heard was good. This included a band that played at the pool, a duo that played in the lounge prior to dinner, and an a capella group we heard sing one song. I imagine there were others as well, but we didn't spend much time sitting in lounges, and we don't disco.
Expenses on Board
You already know my thoughts about paying for soda, and the spa details are below.
The only other comment: we asked about having our formal clothes pressed the first day on board, and Rowell told us to give him the clothing the next morning, once we were at sea. After reviewing the price sheet as we were putting the items together to give to him, I realized they charge a 50% surcharge for same-day service. So ... if you want your formal clothes pressed for the first formal dinner on the first day at sea, you will pay 150% of the usually fairly reasonable charges. They know people will want clothes pressed for formal night, and it just seemed deceptive to me. I'm embarrassed to say I gave Rowell quite a hard time about this (but sheepishly and contritely apologized immediately afterward). Not a huge economic deal -- paying $7.50 instead of $5 for something -- on a $1000 cruise -- but it's the principle. Just be aware.
I used this only the first morning; my intentions were good, anyway. It's a decent facility with great views off the bow of the ship. It seemed to get heavy use, and the equipment seemed somewhat worn. I also did one stretching class that was well attended, mostly by females (go figure). There are free classes and activities every day.
This is an attractive spa with nice facilities and pleasant staff. A basket with towel and bathrobe is provided when entering, and lockers are available. The locker rooms each had a steam room, and toiletries and the usual shampoo dispenser in the shower.
The first day at sea, we couldn't resist the Rasul Mud Treatment for couples. An attendant took us into a multi-chamber room. The first area has cabinets and stools; it's a place for talking to the spa staff and undressing/dressing. They offer little paper g-strings if you're modest, but frankly, I doubt they'd hold up to the process. Best to go naked. The middle room has two showerheads, shower stuff and benches. The inner room is a steam room.
After undressing, you go into the middle room, shower just to wet the skin, then use Dead Sea salt, facial scrub, and body scrub to exfoliate (each other). After rinsing, move into the steam room, where there are three bowls of mud. One is for faces, one for front of the body, the other for the backside. You smear this mud all over (each other), and sit in the steam room while the mud conditions your skin and runs all over the place (it's fun, really). About 15 minutes later, showers in the steam room ceiling come on and rinse most of the mud off. That rinse is about the best feeling in the world. You then go back into the middle area, and shower from head to toe. The attendant knocks when the shower goes off, you go back into the outer room wrapped in towels, and are given oils and lotions to put on (each other). We were both soft as a baby's behind. Incredible.
Before and after, we spent about 1/2 hour at the Thalassotherapy Pool (T-pool), which contrary to some reports, is not just your average Jacuzzi. It's difficult to describe, but I'll try: it is approximately 10' x 20' and has several stations with varying arrangements of strong water jets. There is an area at one end with horizontal metal bars that form a seat spanning the width of the pool. You lay on it, and bubbles come up between the bars, pretty much massaging you all over. There is an area at the other end with tremendous 'surf' that would have carried me across the pool had I not hung on. As I said, it's difficult to describe -- best to experience it, but trust us: if you like hot tubs, this will knock you out. It's simply wonderful.
The whole spa experience was very relaxing. If purchasing a spa treatment, the T-pool is available for about 1/2 hour on either end of the treatment. And unless booked in a suite, the T-pool normally costs $15/day (or $80/week). Well worth whatever it takes, and highly recommended.
Rasul is offered to singles with an attendant doing all the "partner" scrubbing and mud application for $75 (I assume they don't actually participate ...), or do it as a couple for $80, plus the usual 10% service fee, for what we're not sure. We thought for $44 each it was a good deal, especially with the T-pool. The attendant asked about our skin types, do we have stress (uh, yeah), etc., then plugged a few products at the end. We didn't buy, and she didn't push. We also didn't tip, since they added the 10% and after all, we did everything. That said, it wasn't exactly a hardship.
My understanding is that on the Millennium, this is called the "Etruscan Chamber" and it's $83 per person. It was worth $44 each to us, but not sure we'd spend twice that for it.
These folks make me crazy. They are everywhere on every cruise, and in my experience, there usually isn't one photo worth buying. This time we actually had one formal shot and two others that were good enough to buy, despite the ransom. With 8 x 10's costing $24.95, and reprints for $20 each, one can drop a good amount just on pictures. At the risk of admitting copyright infringement, I bought the photos and had a friend scan them onto a disk for me.
We did not pre-plan anything, and took no cruise line excursions. In the past, we found group tours crowded and unpleasant. We knew what we hoped to do in each port, and decided to wait until we were on shore to arrange anything. If we were not able to do what we had planned, we would find a beach or something. And, we are not drinkers, nor do we generally visit the usual tourist spots, e.g., Carlos & Charlie's. Sorry.
Monday, Feb 5, Jamaica
The driver (John W. Edwards, aka Slow Eddie, JUTA tours, 917-2140 (his card does not have area code), was polite, informative and humorous, and we highly recommend him. He drove into the mountains, through Fern Gully, the rainforest, and several small villages. He took us to the so-called "Blue Hole," a spring-fed swimming hole and water source. We stopped at the base of Dunn's Falls to take some pictures (no charge, except the $1 tip to the guy at the door who did nothing but sit at the door), and at the Dolphin Encounter overlook. He also took us through St. Ann's Bay, where Columbus is said to have landed, making a few more photo stops along the way. We also shopped briefly near port to get coffee and cigars. Got coffee haggled down to $12.95 per pound (was twice that the next day on Grand Cayman), and Macanudo cigars about $12 for 10, against $7 each on the ship.
Our tour was very enjoyable, and we saw and learned things we would not have on an organized cruise line tour. We ended up paying him $70 for the two of us, figuring he could have made more than that running folks to and from the port during those three hours with us.
While touring, we talked with Eddie about life in Jamaica. The population is 2.2 million, unemployment is about 52%, minimum wage about $.80/hour U.S. and tax rate is about 60%. The schools are so crowded, the kids go in shifts -- some in the morning, some in the afternoon. Like most islands, there are problems with what to do with garbage, and the poverty seemed overwhelming to us, though probably not much worse than many Eastern Caribbean islands. It just seemed so much more crowded in Jamaica. As noted elsewhere, locals have to be extremely resourceful to make a living. Guys in costume on stilts (think Mocko Jumbie) dance in the streets in the mountains. If you take their picture, a tip is expected. Others with animals or birds also expect a tip if a photo is taken. Anyone who does anything for you expects a tip. We did not take any pictures of people in the streets, nor pay any tips, except to Slow Eddie and the guy at the door at Dunn's River Falls.
We are glad we went and learned what we did, because it did increase our appreciation for the hardships they face; however, we doubt we would return. We're not that interested in a place where however wonderful the resorts may be, visitors are discouraged from going outside the resort gates. Quite unfortunate. Though the country is geographically beautiful, we found people in the shops and walkways overbearing, and sorry to say, occasionally creepy in their pleas to "look at my goods." Our driver and those we met through him were very nice, but the grabbing and hard sell by others was a major turn-off.
While I respect their efforts to support themselves, there's got to be a better way. I wish I had the answer, but I don't. How Jamaica and the Cayman Islands -- both of which achieved independence from Britain at about the same time -- can be so economically divergent is a mystery to me. Maybe someone out there can explain it?
Tuesday, Feb 6, Grand Cayman
Wednesday, Feb 7, Cozumel
We stopped first at Playa San Francisco, which has a bar and facilities and rental chairs for about a buck. Snorkeling is only fair since it's not really near the reefs, but it was still very nice. The beach was free, but the guy in the parking lot expected a tip. We proceeded along the south to east shore, which is incredibly beautiful. The beaches are very long with huge crashing waves and blowholes. It looked too rough for good swimming, but the scenery is terrific. There is very little development on that side of the island except for a few bars and souvenir shops. We got a heavy, beautifully woven multi-color Mexican blanket for $20 at one stop. Do haggle: the first price given for the blanket was $45. Lighter weight blankets are available for just a few dollars, but we heard they shrink up like a cheap t-shirt.
Off the cross-island road on the way back to the pier, we stopped at San Gervasio ruins to explore (about $6/pp, well worth it). We also stopped briefly in town to shop. It took about five hours to do the entire tour, and we felt completely safe. People we met were very nice. Though the ship didn't leave until 8:00, with early seating we returned to the ship about 5:00. We were somewhat unhappy about this, since we didn't have time to do the snorkeling we had hoped to. We easily could have used several more hours there.
A caution: We put $5 gas in the jeep, which admittedly may have been a little less than needed to cover our travels, but National charged us $7 additional for gas. It was not worth fighting about, but it would be better to put a few extra dollars in before returning the jeep than get totally skewered (as it were) by the rental company.
Friday, Feb 9, Key West
Post-Cruise and MiscellaneousFollowing the cruise, we spent a few days in Clearwater. We love to ride motorcycles, but weather in Ohio has had John's bike garaged since last October. Craving a fix, as it were, he rented a Harley Davidson Heritage Softtail from Street Eagle of Tampa (17510-C US Hwy 41 N, Lutz (north Clearwater) FL, 877-305-8899, email@example.com). Owners Tony and Cindy Waters were great to work with, and we enjoyed our day of riding in sunny, 82-degree weather. Cost about $100 for the day. They do offer a 10% discount for HOG members. Highly recommended.
PHOTOS courtesy of Ken Smith & Celebrity Cruises.
This is Peg Leeds' first submission to the Sealetter. She travels less than she'd like to and may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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