Galaxy Deep Caribbean Cruise November 1997
I sailed on the Galaxy's Deep Caribbean itinerary from 11/1-11/8/97 as part of a group of 10 that I coordinated. The ports of call included Catalina Island (Celebrity's private port of call), Barbados, Martinique, Antigua, and St. Thomas. As is typical with southern Caribbean sailings, this was a port intensive week with only one of those beloved sea days. Overall, that is my biggest disappointment as for me the ship and the sea are my ultimate destination. Ports are secondary.
BackgroundThree of us flew to Puerto Rico on Friday on Continental Airlines and stayed at the San Juan Marriott. The hotel is about 10 minutes from the port and the ships were visible from the windows in the Concierge Lounge. The hotel was quite nice and I was given a corner room on the 11th floor with 2 large balconies and walls of windows. One side overlooked the pool area and the ships in the distance, the other side overlooked the beach and ocean. It was great sitting out there Friday night to watch RCI's Nordic Empress venture out to sea and see the other ships arrive on Saturday morning.
The rest of the group used Celebrity's air/sea arrangements and arrived in San Juan Saturday afternoon via UPS Charter Air. When I was first informed of their reservations on UPS, I was quite upset, but was unable to secure desirable flight times on other airlines. As it turns out, the group was absolutely thrilled with UPS and apparently had much better service than the First Class service I had on Continental. Each and every one of my group (as well as other UPS passengers I spoke with) would definitely request UPS whenever possible.
Day 1 - Saturday - Embarkation/Ship ImpressionsI arrived at the pier at 12:20, only to realize that the Galaxy was not docked in Old San Juan. She was across the way in an industrial area, accessible to Old San Juan only by taxi. I had hoped to settle in and walk around the town, but I was so mesmerized by the ship, I had no desire to leave. Official embarkation time is 3:00, but as soon as we arrived, the 3 of us were checked in and on board by 12:30. Our luggage was delivered to the cabins by 2:00. This was great and we had ample time to have lunch in the Oasis Cafe and explore our home for the next 7 days. The lunch buffet was terrific, with many choices of hot and cold entrees, several meats being carved on request, and a selection of wonderful Celebrity desserts.
My cabin was a Cat 5 on deck 8, considered to be a deluxe outside stateroom. It was the same square footage as standard outside cabins, but the floor plan was different. Celebrity took away a little closet space (still leaving plenty for 2 clotheshorses) and increased the "living" are to include a love seat by the large window. It felt much more spacious than the standard. The remaining 7 people arrived at the pier around 4:00. Embarkation was very smooth for them also. They were rapidly checked-in, photographed, and escorted by white-gloved Celebrity personnel to their cabins.
By the time the rest of the group arrived, I had done a rapid tour of the entire ship. I was quite impressed with many areas including the Grand Foyer, the Celebrity Theater, the Savoy Lounge, the Oasis Cafe and the Oasis Pool with it's retractable glass roof. My first impression of the stairways and the Orion Restaurant were OK, but not up to my first impressions of these spaces on Celebrity's Century. Where the Century used more woods in these spaces, the Galaxy was lighter and a little more deco/modern. These spaces grew on me, however. Each of the landings of the stairways is backed by a 2-story circular illuminating "window" whose panes change lighting effects in the evening. The walls surrounding the landings appear to be more of a vanilla-colored mica surface. The interiors of the elevators throughout the ship are mirrored on the sides, but not the back wall. This makes for a much smaller feel. Above the inside of the doors is an illuminated panel with the current floor number as well as the day, date, and time. The floors of the elevators are two-toned marble with an abstract "compass" effect mimicking the ceiling in the Grand Foyer.
At the risk of writing too much, below is a guided tour followed by highlights of the daily activities and meals:
The Grand FoyerThis was a four-deck atrium spanning from Deck 5 through Deck 8. This area was anchored by a 4 story marble wall with water falling the entire length from Deck 8 to the Guest Relations area on Deck 5. In front of this waterfall was a 3 story "antique painting" in a gilded frame of a frilly frocked girl in swing suspended from a tree. At night, the painting was replaced with video screens and the overall lighting and mood changed, including the illumination of "stars" in the silver leafed ceiling, which was crowned an illuminated compass. The staircase was made up of circular landings mid-way between each deck that afforded a wonderful view of the atrium. The "walls" of the staircases were finished in bright steel, but were quite attractive IMHO. The Guest Relations area at the base of the atrium was very brightly finished in a white marble, with numerous conversation areas of leather seating off to the sides.
Grand Foyer Deck 6 - Tastings, Michael's ClubOff the Grand Foyer on deck 6 were Michael's Club and Tastings. Michael's Club was much more contemporary (deco?) than the gentleman's club feel of the Century version, but it had a great look from the foyer. The main entrance wall was stainless steel paned windows leading to a semi-circular wood wall with "portholes". Inside this area was a very cozy overstuffed sectional conforming to the shape of the wall, with very seductive lighting and atmosphere. Unfortunately, I'm not a cigar smoker, or this would have been one of my hideaways. Tastings was also very deco, with sand-blasted glass forming the base of the semi-circular bar. This instantly became a nightly gathering spot for members of my group. It was a great place to watch the traffic flow between the restaurant and the theater from the very comfortable leather chairs. Tastings' seating lined both sides of the atrium with non-smoking on the starboard side and smoking on the port side. One of the great bargains of the ship was our nightly cappuccino at $1.75, prepared by the wonderful Mary Ann. Mid-mornings, the awninged carts on either side of the bar were filled with complimentary pastries. In the mid afternoon, these were replaces by desserts and other confections.
Grand Foyer Deck 7 - Shops, Interlude BarThe layout of the shops off of the Grand Foyer on deck 7 was a great improvement over the Century and was quite attractive. For those who have sailed on the Grandeur of the Seas, the layout is quite similar. Tucked away between the shops is the Interlude Bar, also filled with leather seats around bistro tables. One could easily miss this wonderful little spot with the second Celebrity bargain. Each night the bar comes alive as Oscar prepares GIGANTIC frozen margaritas and daiquiris in double-sized glasses for $4.95. On one evening I carried my exaggerated peach daiquiri into the casino to the amazement of many. In fact, one bar waitress (Nina) came over to me in amazement at the size of the glass, only to return with a straw to help me finish it. This was a bit surprising, and I couldn't decide if it was funny or a little over the edge.
Grand Foyer Deck 8 - Library, Sony WonderOn deck 8, the top deck of the foyer, the atrium was flanked with the glass-walled library and Sony Wonder. In between the two glass-enclosed rooms was another secluded hideaway of a semi-circular leather seating area backed by wood paneling and models of old sailing ships encased in glass. This was a great quiet space from which you could watch the waterfall and stair at the "stars" around the compass. The view down to Deck 5 was beautiful.
Decks 5 & 6 - The Orion Restaurant, The Champagne Bar, Rendezvous Square, The Celebrity TheaterFrom the Grand Foyer aft, you would proceed through photo gallery on both the port and starboard sides and into Rendezvous Square. Carpeting in areas like the Rendezvous Square, the Champagne Bar, the Orion Foyer, and the Orion Restaurant were rather bright and wild. Some was confetti-strewn, while the other part was a Bengal strip in shades of orange/red. Quite different from the Century. While I did not dislike them, it took some time for them to grow on me.
The Champagne Bar on Deck 5 was the bottom floor of a 3-deck atrium, with the Orion Foyer on Deck 6 and the casino on Deck 7. There was a brightly colored mural of trapeze artists in red, orange, yellow, etc., on a turquoise background that spanned the 3 decks. Inside the Orion Restaurant, there was a double staircase from the upper level that met on a platform and continued in one set of stairs to the main dining level. The ceiling above the platform was a globe with constellations around it. As on the Century, there were 2-deck floor-to-ceiling windows all the way aft, and windows all around. There was also that serious vibration as we pulled out of port every evening. At other times, it was not felt. The Orion Restaurant was another elegantly simple room, however, I still believe the Grand Restaurant on the Century is the most beautiful dining room I have seen on a ship.
Forward on Decks 5 & 6 was the Celebrity Theater. This was a gorgeous showroom with wonderful sightlines and sound system. The color scheme here was bones, taupes, and brass, with harlequin-patterned seating areas in bone and taupe. This room was much more beautiful and lively than that on the Century.
Deck 7 - The Casino, The Savoy NightclubAft, the casino was bright and lively, without being gaudy. I honestly didn't come away with any lasting impression other than the slots are stingy. Forward on this deck is another beautiful room, the Savoy Nightclub. The decor is "Casablanca-inspired" with lots of bronze, black and white. The windows were covered in tasseled zebra-striped shades covered by beautiful draperies. The seating was punctuated every so often with a rich burgundy sofa interspersed between the predominately black and white chairs. Other than the main bar in this room, there was an intimate Martini Bar tucked off to the side.
Deck 11 - The AquaSpa, The Ocean Pools, The Oasis Cafe, The Oasis PoolAll the way forward is the wonderfully decadent AquaSpa. Stepping in here took me even farther away from the regular world with it's Japanese bathhouse-inspired decor. If you have never tried a Thallossotherapy pool, you must. There are numerous "stations" with pulsating jets of water to attack various areas of your body. The health club was also here, with various exercise equipment lining the forward floor to ceiling windows, affording a wonderful view over the bow.
Center on this deck were the two large pools and several hot tubs. This was a very popular spot every day, but never seemed to lack for a place to sit. Moving aft from the pools you enter the Oasis Cafe. This buffet area is lined with deck-high bay windows is decorated in rich woods and jewel tones. Traffic flow was excellent with 4 identical stations to eliminate any waiting. There were always busboys there to carry a tray or wondering around refilling coffee at your table. Service here was above expectations.
The Oasis Pool was just aft of the Cafe and is covered by a retractable glass roof. This pool area was very bright with lots of potted palms and white wicker furniture. There were cushioned chaises surrounding the pool, and tables and chairs on elevated areas around the sides. Here is were the pizza parlor was located. Just beyond the pool all the way aft was a deck area with tables and chairs. The busboys even meandered out here to ensure that coffee cups were full.
Deck 12 - The Stratosphere LoungeAll the way forward on deck 12 is the Stratosphere Lounge. This room has 2 story windows on 3 walls overlooking the sea with telescopes positioned in various locations. At night, the segregated center of the room became the disco. This place was filled every night with the sounds of both Voltz and a DJ. It proved to be a very popular and fun spot.
SummaryThroughout the ship, there was an air of elegance, class, and quality, without stuffiness. A definte A+ for me.
Day 1 - SaturdayDinner this night was a modified open seating. There were still two seatings, but waiters and bus boys had not been assigned yet, so it was the luck of the draw. Dinner was very good, and the service was excellent. Had we ended up with this waiter and bus boy, I would have been quite happy.
None of us made the show this night, but we were all up on deck for the sail away festivities. The band (Voltz) was great and the deck was packed, and waiters were walking around with really good pizza from the pizza parlor by the Oasis Pool. This was also the first of 5 pretty good midnight buffets. The other two nights were "light bites". This is where waiters and waitresses pass throughout the various public room with trays of foods. On these nights, there were quite a few people with one hand on the slot machine and the other grabbing food.
Day 2 - Sunday - Catalina IslandCatalina Island is Celebrity's private port of call in the Dominican Republic. We were tendered over on lifeboats. This was quite interesting. The water was very rough and it was really windy, so it made for an interesting journey to and from the ship. It was quite difficult maintaining your footing between the floating docks and the transports. In fact, one person in our group fell halfway into the water with his other foot on the tender. He got a little scraped up when the tender was thrown back into the dock and against his leg. On my trip to the island, more than one person got sick from the motion. Once ashore, I realized there was not much to explore and it felt pretty crowded, so I stayed briefly and returned to the ship.
Most of the group had breakfast at the buffet in the Oasis Cafe. Daily entrees generally mimicked those on the restaurant menu, and omelets were always prepared to order. I quickly fell in love with the French toast, which is not something I generally order. Lunch today was open seating in the dining room or a buffet at the Oasis or a beach BBQ. The BBQ was standard BBQ fare, with pretty good variety of sides to accompany the burgers, dogs, ribs, and chicken. The buffet in the Oasis Cafe was similar to the entrees in the Orion Restaurant, but the Oasis had a daily ice cream sundae bar.
Dinner tonight was "Informal" which meant jacket and tie for men. We had a great table for 10 on the first level, just to the side of the grand staircase. We were assigned Phillipe from Portugal as our waiter and George from Bulgaria as our busboy. Phillipe was leaving for vacation at the end of our week, so I worried that he had already mentally checked out (I know I did a week before my vacation started!). As it turned out, this was by far the best service I have had in 9 cruises. I knew of another table with another partnership that was less than pleased with their service, so unfortunately not everything was perfect.
The food was excellent. In fact throughout the week, every meal ranged from very good to excellent. Not a bad meal was reported by any of the folks in my group. Very few complaints were heard at all.
Day 3 - Monday - At SeaAs I mentioned earlier, the days at sea are my favorite days. I took advantage of some of the luxurious treatments offered at the AquaSpa and was sufficiently pampered. I also discovered several quiet little areas of the ship that were easily found. On deck 12 forward and starboard just above the pools was a little sitting alcove with a circular cushioned bench. It was a great respite from the sun and was even quieter when that fantastic poolside band was rockin' the ship.
In the past, I generally make a habit of having lunch at the buffet (Oasis Cafe) as the selections are basically the same as in the dining room. Well, this trip I got hooked on going to the Orion Restaurant for lunch (4 out of 6 days) as each day the one unique entree (not to mention the desserts) seemed irresistible. With the exception of today, every lunch was open seating, and I never had a complaint about the service. Tonight was formal night and dinner was again excellent. Celebrity's rack of lamb is among my favorite meals, and tonight I had a double order. The desserts tonight and every night were excellent. There was rarely a night when several people at my table had only one.
Entertainment tonight was Doug Cameron. He is a violinist that is heard on many major jazz stations. Suffice it to say I am not generally a fan of violin music and I now own 2 of his 5 CDs, with the others coming. His style ran from jazz to C&W to classical to.... He was absolutely wonderful, IMHO. He remained quite visible throughout the week and popped up in various places. One night he was in the Savoy with their dance band. Another afternoon he appeared poolside with Voltz. He seemed to be a tremendous hit with the majority of the passengers, and loved any opportunity to visit and chat with them.
Day 4 - Tuesday - BarbadosWe were cleared to disembark by 8:00, so after breakfast we ventured into Bridgetown to explore. The ship docked near a relatively new building filled with stores and phones. Just outside were many cabs waiting to take everyone into town. It was probably a 1-2 mile walk along the waterfront for those with a little energy. Bridgetown was OK, but I didn't find the shopping to be too enticing, with some of the same stores we'd see in Antigua and St. Thomas. There was the usual cast of cab drivers trying to get you to take a tour. The people in general seemed very friendly. 5 of us had arranged a tour of the island and a trip to the caves for the afternoon. Unfortunately, I never got to see the beaches up close and personal. The island was pleasant, but it's not one I would plan to spend a vacation on.
I stumbled upon a Galley tour as it was about to leave and joined in. Don't mis this if you have an opportunity. It is amazing to see the size of everything, not to mention the cleanliness. Sure makes me feel good to know that it looks just as clean behind the scenes as in front.
Tonight was the poolside fruit buffet. This is always my favorite of all midnight buffets on any cruise. It's much more the atmosphere than the pool. The waiters parade around both pool decks to Caribbean music carrying carved watermelons. The band was wild again, and there was no room to be found on the poolside dance floor.
Day 5 - Wednesday - Martinique4 of us took an island tour in the morning, stopping at the rainforest and the butterfly garden. This island was breathtakingly beautiful! I would definitely enjoy an extended trip here to sight see and relax -- not shop. In the afternoon, I ventured into town, which is walking distance from the dock. I was quite disappointed here as I found the people to be almost rude and the town to be dirty. There was a magnificent church there that was the highlight of my downtown excursion.
Day 6 - Thursday - AntiguaOnce again, the ship docked within walking distance of the town. We were in port with the Monarch of the Seas (our first port with another ship), so that made the town a little hectic. I really enjoyed this port, but never ventured further out on the island. The people were fun and there was a real fun atmosphere in the town.
Tonight was our second formal night and the Gala Buffet. Celebrity sure does a nice job with this. In between dinner and the buffet was the Cirque du Galaxy, the second Celebrity entertainer's show. This was wonderful! There were 6 Chinese acrobats that performed mixed in with the Celebrity singers and dancers. The Celebrity troupe performed numbers a la Riverdance, Stomp (from Broadway) and Cirque d'Soleil. It was quite an impressive show and some of the group went to see it again later that evening.
Cirque du Galaxy
Day 7 - Friday - St. ThomasI have been here several times both on cruises and for a land vacation (sorry - it's a necessary evil sometimes), so there was nothing new here. I did the usual shopping in the morning and just relaxed and enjoyed the ship this afternoon. I was beginning to get PCB (post-cruise blues) already, and just wanted to relax and replay the week in my mind.
Dinner was casual and very good, though my least favorite. Maybe it was my attitude and anticipation of tomorrow.
Day 8 - Saturday - DebarkationThis was the simplest debarkation I have experienced. Numbers were assigned last night and each group number was asked to report to a certain lounge at a certain time. For those of you who have sailed before, there were no passengers hanging around the halls or on the steps. It was very well organized and executed.
Just a couple of additional comments. Overall, I found the entertainment to be quite good. My past experiences with Celebrity entertainment were very disappointing. Not here. The service I experienced throughout the week was nothing short of excellent. My cabin stewardess came to introduce herself and her assistant and explain everything in the room, including how to use the phone and voicemail. She was incredibly responsive to requests and kept the room immaculate. The dining room staff was second to none in my 9 cruises.
I never received my invitation to the Captain's Club party and called Guest Relations to find out when the party was. Of course, they were very apologetic about the oversight on 3 cabins, but then followed it up with a chilled bottle of champagne and a very nice fruit basket for each of the cabins, accompanied by a hand-written note. Shortly after that, we each received a phone call from the hotel manager ensuring that we received the gift and apologizing yet again. One other day, a person in the group brought something to the attention of a waiter in the Oasis Cafe. Almost immediately, a Maitre'd came by, and that night there was wine flowing at the dinner table. Mind you, this was not a significant issue that was raised and not at all a complaint, and the response was greater than we ever expected.
If I have to find something to complain about, it would be that the Captain's Club and Repeater's Parties were held between the 2 dinner seatings. I found this to be undesirable for early seating guests. Also, the Captain was barely heard or seen. One of my biggest impressions on RCI's Grandeur was how the captain ended each day as we were preparing to sail with "Welcome home." The officers on the Galaxy (and on my other Celebrity cruises) seem to be less warm. All that said, it was a wonderful cruise that will be very hard to match, let alone beat.
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