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Cruise Ship Review
Celebrity Cruises

Horizon

by Peg Leeds

[Horizon]


Overview

January 19-26, 2003

This was my ninth cruise and my partner John's fifth. We wanted a relatively inexpensive cruise out of Tampa, since we live in the area. Having loved Celebrity's Century two years ago, we went with the Horizon. Overall, we liked the ship and the cruise. She is very clean, well kept and nicely, if simply appointed; there do seem to be more dead ends and odd configurations than on other ships on which we've sailed. Elevators are incredibly slow. We had no plumbing or other mechanical issues.

We did not have terrific weather. It was cool but sunny in Key West, perfect in Costa Maya and Cozumel, but chilly, overcast and very windy with high seas the last two days. I took half a Bonine both of these days and was glad I had brought it; it very effectively eliminates ship movement. The stop in Cayman was cancelled due to weather. We estimated the average age of the passengers at 60-65; we are mid-40ís and felt we were among the youngest on board. The relatively smaller size of the ship may be an attraction to the mobility impaired -- there were a lot of slow walkers, canes and wheelchairs. [Another possibility is a last-minute Florida resident sale. -Ed.] I do not recommend this ship for kids or teens, or major party-ers. It's a good ship for a quiet week.

Embarkation

A friend dropped us at the port around 11:00am. There were people lined up to go in near a garage-like door, thinking that was the entrance, and folks were still getting off the ship. As we waited, we learned the ship had been two hours late arriving. Around 11:30, a porter took our luggage, and we then learned the actual entrance was upstairs at the far left end as you face the terminal! Better signage would have been nice.

We got checked in, and then waited in the very new and nice terminal for about an hour; Iím sure the delay was because the ship was late. Be advised there is a separate line for members of the Captain's Club that gives you preferential boarding. That line was long when we entered, so we went to another, and thus missed being in the first group aboard. Nonetheless, by 1:00pm we were on board. We were escorted to our cabin; a first for us, and somewhat awkward as we felt he expected a tip, which he wasn't going to get from us for this un-requested and (for us) unnecessary service. Our bags arrived by 3:00.

Our Cabin

[OceanView Cabin]Cabin 5161, portside aft (actually on the stern) on Europa Deck, was fine -- well appointed and relatively spacious. This cabin is directly under an overhang, which obscures any view of sky (and stars and moon), but watching the surf, and the many birds following us as we left Tampa, was cool. Also, it is directly under the winches with the tie-down ropes, which makes it very noisy when coming into port. It was also noisy when we were underway at top speed. Generally the noise didnít bother us, as we sleep like babies on ships, but there were a few times when the noise was quite bothersome. I'm not sure I would recommend these after cabins to anyone, and we wouldn't take one again.

The cabin does have a small refrigerator. We do take our own soda, and just load a couple into the cooler each day. There is no sense in paying $2 or whatever they charge for a can of soda, when we can take our own at about 35¢ each. Our steward was unobtrusive and efficient. We left a note the first day asking for extra towels and ice in our cooler every day, and these requests were taken care of with regularity.

The shower was strong and hot, and I finally figured out how to keep that blasted shower curtain from blowing in and wrapping around me: just keep one foot firmly pressed against it at the center bottom. Don't laugh -- it works.

Casino

Dismal. Cheap. Tight. A smarter person than I would have stopped after the first night. I did hit a straight flush on 25¢ video poker, a rarity, for about $65, hit $345 on "X-Factor," and a few $100-$200 slot hits, but was waa-aay down at the end of the week. It was terrible. I couldn't even get a decent run going on roulette, which is usually a good game for both of us. My partner ran through $20 at Blackjack in four hands, and gave up on table games. I saw one woman hit $10,000 on one game; she didn't even realize what she had hit . . . theyíre always the ones who win, arenít they? So there were some big hits ≠- I heard about a few, and saw a few -≠ but overall, it was pathetic.

For the first time, I played in one of the slots tourneys just for fun. I got a machine that was the hottest in the first round, and the coldest in the second round, which was, of course, when I was playing it -- so I was out quickly. It was still fun, and I imagine I would participate in one of these again. We did not play any bingo.

[Palladium Show Lounge]

Entertainment

We went to the show in the Palladium Show Lounge every night. The main floor of this venue has some of the best sight lines of any ship I've been on. The upper floor doesn't work for someone my size, even if I'm in the front row, because the railing is exactly in my sight line. The main floor is well laid out and it was rare when we couldn't find a seat. The talent of the song/dance troupe was very good, and though some of the choreography and costumes were excellent, more than once I winced at how amateur it seemed. Some of it was downright silly. Iíve never seen anyone do a 20-minute rendition of "Can-Can."

As Iíve seen on other ships, the selection of music was questionable more than once. The lead male singer had a fantastic voice. The female, who has a nice voice, unfortunately had to sing songs for which she just didnít have the range. I felt sorry for her. She reminded me a little, physically, of Carol Burnett, and had a similar aura, which could be good or bad, depending on your perspective (I happen to love Carol Burnett, but again, this woman had it rough).

The pianist was fantastic, if too much a name-dropper for me. She has played music for hundreds of movies, really had an interesting career, and while she was incredible while playing, her monologues were pretty bad. That said, others seemed to enjoy her chat more than I did (I'm picky). She did one show at night, and another on the afternoon of the second sea day. Some movie/show tunes, some classical stuff, but all were very good, and all were performed with the excellent Celebrity Orchestra. Do not miss her.

[Horizon club]Speaking of the Orchestra, one night they played a jazz set at the Admiral's Club which was excellent. The music director, a female pianist, has a beautiful sultry voice kind of like Diana Krall, which was showcased during this set. This band was very good,whether in the Palladium or elsewhere. I highly recommend seeing them anywhere they perform.

Comedian Janine Gardner had her moments, but neither of us was crazy about her. The magician was pretty good. The pianist at the Cova Café was very good. He drew me in one night by playing "Misty" then went into a 15-minute set of ragtime. I prefer "Misty," but he was still good, and he drew a decent crowd most of the time. The band in the Rendezvous Lounge was excellent, and this was an active spot most evenings before and after dinner; it's always fun watching folks dance the old-fashioned way. We stopped there most evenings. We only heard the pool band once or twice, and then only briefly. It seemed like a typical Caribbean cruise pool band.

The not-so-newlywed game was hilarious, as usual. One newly married couple, when asked, "What is the most unusual place you've ever made whoopee?" replied, "On the elevator, about 10 minutes ago," which was a little more information than we needed. At least that explained why the elevators were slow . . . .  As we left the show and were waiting for the elevator, we wondered which elevator they had been in, and the consensus was maybe the stairs were a better option at busy times like this. Another couple volunteered that the top of the washer during the spin cycle was great! Stop!

We saw karaoke once or twice; they had it almost every night, which was a hoot. There were some good and not so good voices on this ship, but I admire anyone who gets up and sings in public. The passenger talent show was good.

 

Food & Dining

  • [Starlight Restaurant]We found the food overall to be terrific. Buffet food at the Coral Seas was excellent the first day, but only so-so thereafter, in my opinion. The burgers and dogs at the grill were excellent, and we lunched there several times. We had breakfast in the main dining room almost every day, which we had never done that before. The orange juice was excellent, very sweet, and I had my favorite lox and bagels every day. Other than a lack of hot and nicely-toasted toast (no cruise seems to be able to provide this; cold and charcoaled seems to be the rule), breakfast was breakfast. Coffee was surprisingly good compared to other cruises we've been on.
  • Dinners overall were excellent. We had beef tournedos the second night, which were melt-in-your-mouth tender. The lobster on the second formal night was a little overcooked, but it was still lobster, and good enough to order a few extra tails to share. I did question the chef's judgment one night when the selections were frog legs, lamb, pork or sirloin (a substandard cut in any establishment). Desserts were fairly good, and something chocolate was offered most every night.
  • Our waiter, Loux (pronounced "Low") from South Africa was charming, and assistant waiter, Hakan from Turkey was delightful. We had very good service throughout, but still haven't found any waiter who comes close to the charm, style, personality and outstanding service we received from waiter Timothy on the Century. All waiters are compared to him -ó he set the bar, and none have met or exceeded him.
  • One night, we ate in the Coral Seas, the alternative dining venue. You need to make reservations, which I found bothersome and ridiculous, since the place was nearly empty. Salads, appetizers and desserts are self-serve, with table service for entrées. Even though they had tablecloths, if youíre looking for ambiance, this isn't the place. I think the intent is to provide a place for families to go when the kids just aren't of an age to behave in the main dining room. My partner liked it more than I did. They recommend a $2 tip to the server, but since we were carrying no cash, we were unable to tip. We felt bad about this, but mentioned it to the maitre d' and the waiter, and both seemed understanding. This ship could do well to provide a more intimate alternative dining service and a method for tipping that doesn't require cash.
  • We caught "late night bites" one evening coming out of a show. Servers walk around the ship with trays of small munchies. We had something called "Canadian Apple Pie," which was fantastic. We did not do any midnight buffets.

The Spa

[AquaSpa (R)]

We stopped at the spa the first day to check on Rasul® (a mud/steam/herbal treatment). We had done this on the Century and loved it. [See Century review link at bottom of this page.] While there, one of the women told me she needed a "model" and would I be interested in a free scalp treatment. At first I said no, not being one who likes being on display, but then my partner told me he didn't want to hear me complain all week because I'd turned down a freebie. So I did it. She put me in a chair just inside the entrance to the spa and applied hot frangipani oil to my hair and proceeded to give me a 25-minute scalp and neck massage. She then washed and dried my hair. Other than the weirdness of being on display to all who came in to tour the spa, it was heavenly. This is normally a $26 treatment, so it was nice to get something for free. Before leaving, we made an appointment for Rasul® for Monday, $75 for the two of us for an hour.

The Rasul was nice, but not as good as on the Century, for several reasons. One, all the activity takes place in one room, instead of three, which made everything cramped. Two, showers were hot only some of the time. Three, no Thallasotherapy pool -- we used this both before and after Rasul on the Century, and it was a very relaxing way to begin and end the process. Four, there were not as many different types of mud, and less of each overall. We almost ran out before we were covered. Still, this was a nice experience, and reasonably priced, considering the setting. The attendant did not even try to push us to buy anything, but I have a little problem with the automatic 10% gratuity that came with doing almost anything. That said, she did explain the process, and showed us all the various items we were to use in the process. We were given waffle-weave spa bathrobes and flip-flops to wear back to our cabin, and told they were ours to keep.

Ports

Key West

Key West was Key West. It was in the mid-60's: sunny but cool. We had been there before, so we stayed on board for the morning, then wandered around town for an hour or two. I think Key West is charming, but other than looking at the architecture and gardens, and the great people watching, it holds little interest for us. We're not drinkers, and that seems to be the primary activity. Just once though, I'd like to be there for sunset to see the festivities at Mallory Square. Too bad all the ships leave too early for that. [Fortunately, Peg, not always. It's impossible to exaggerate the beauty of a sunset seen from Key West. - Ed.]

Costa Maya

Costa Maya is a tourist trap; despite gorgeous turquoise waters and warm sunny weather, it's ugly now, and should be real ugly within a few years. We stayed on board for the morning and got some sun, then walked the pier to the pool/beach/shopping area. This stop has been well described on the boards, so I won't spend time detailing it. I will say that anyone wanting to shop would do better to wait for Cozumel or Grand Cayman. The shopkeepers were incredibly obnoxious, following us around, pushing us to buy, etc. And nothing is priced: "How much is this?" "$25" "Too much" (walk away) "No wait, $18" (keep walking) "For you, $10" We just kept walking. I wish they would just price items with their best price and save me the aggravation. Where did these shopkeepers get the idea that Americans like this kind of treatment? I've traveled a lot and seen a lot of pushy vendors, but these people were really bothersome. We spent maybe an hour there and returned to the ship. One thing though . . . if you have a spare $100K, you can buy some property and resell it real soon for a huge profit -- a great place to buy on spec. I give it 10 years to be another Cozumel, or worse, Cancún.

Cozumel

Cozumel is lovely. We've been here three times, and despite a lack of fondness for Mexico in general, we really like Cozumel. Folks are friendly, and the island is nice. I had prearranged "Discover Scuba" with Shellie of Eagle Ray Divers, who came highly recommended on the cruise boards. It cost $71/pp, and included the lesson and a one-tank dive. This was a surprise for John, who was thrilled when he realized what we were going to do. I did this excursion about ten years ago in Hawaii, but he had never been diving. We cabbed to Caleta Marina (about 3 minutes from port, $7 each way including tip), found the Miguelito boat and headed out shortly thereafter to the reef just five minutes away for a snorkel. We snorkeled for a while, which was great. The water is crystal clear and there are a lot of fish. It was probably some of the best snorkeling I've ever done.

We returned to the marina to pick up some folks, and went back to the reef, where our scuba lesson began. Antonio is very patient. We suited up (my round 5'0" 125-lb. frame is quite a fashion statement in a wet suit), and got into the water. After a few minutes of practice, down we went. We had about 40 minutes in 20-30 feet of water with Antonio leading us through reefs and a sunken ship. This was a great experience, and highly recommended. The waters there are incredible. We'd like to go back to get certified, and that just might take priority over another cruise, but that's still up for debate. With more time, we would have purchased another tank ($43/pp), but it was already after 1:00 and we sailed at 3:45, and wanted to do some shopping.

We cabbed back to town and picked up a few things at the shops at the pier. I got a lovely silver necklace with a small tanzanite stone ($25), a marcasite ring ($15), and a small soapstone kitty for $5, similar to those we had seen at the shops in Costa Maya the day prior at $25 ("no, wait, $18 . . . no wait, $12 . . ."). John got a ring ($23). We then returned to the ship. We did not go into town on this trip. There were eight ships in port that day, and we heard town was packed, so it was just as well.

General Comments

  • On boarding day, they showed the Bucs/Philly game in the Palladium Lounge. I thought it was great that they showed the game, even if they had to turn it off for the 4:00 Muster. There was a good crowd there. Remember we were in Bucs territory, so this was a major event. GO BUCS!
  • The cruise staff seemed nice. We do not get involved in a lot of the extracurricular activities on board, so this usually doesn't matter much to us. But since we had so-so weather and an extra sea day, we did one trivia and one cooking demonstration, and were around the ship more, so we had more exposure to the staff than usual. Everyone was upbeat and friendly; I have great regard for these energetic folks who seem to be everywhere, all the time. They work very hard and it is commendable that they maintain such a positive attitude.
  • We did not swim, as the pool water was cold. But the Jacuzzi-style pool was nicer than I expected from what I had read. Warm enough (but not really hot), with good action from the jets. There were times it was really crowded, but we didn't use it then. I do not think kids should be allowed in these, but that's just my opinion.
  • There was the usual chair-saving scramble on the one decent sea day. We found a couple of seats with towels on them one deck up from the pool, and asked the adjacent folks if anyone was sitting there. They said to have a seat, the towels had been there well over an hour. So we sat down, and in about five minutes, a woman came up and got quite irate that weíd taken "her" chairs. Tough beans. And thatís all I'm gonna say about that.

Disembarkation

We were in port by 7:00am. We had until 8:00 to be out of the cabin, as Immigration and Customs are both done in the terminal instead of onboard, as I've seen on other ships. They started calling the first group ≠ those in wheelchairs ≠ about 9:00, and we were in the second group, either because we are Captain's Club members, or because we were local and didn't have a plane to catch. Customs was not stringent, and Immigration was quick. Again, we were surprised at what seemed to be lax security, but we heard that all the luggage is checked by dogs before the passengers get off, so perhaps there is more security behind the scenes than we realize. We were outside by 10:00. Celebrity is well organized on both loading and unloading processes.

[Signal Flags]

This is Peg's third contribution to The SeaLetter: Grand Princess (2002) and Century (2001) .
She will gladly answer questions at: mleeds@tampabay.rr.com . She still travels a lot less than she would like to.


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