Zenith 7 Day New Years Cruise December 28, 1996
Saturday Dec 28 Board in San Juan, sail 11:30 PM
The Zenith New Year's Cruise was truly a wonderful trip. The ship is beautiful, the ports of call are charming and very different from each other, and the count down to midnight on December 31st was generally tasteful and fun.
Although the week we traveled is the rainy season in the southern Caribbean, we had only 2 days lost to overcast skies and rain, out of a seven night cruise. One of the rainy days was in St Thomas, so we were able to do lots of shopping, and we got great buys on liquor and shoes. Another rainy day occurred when we visited the Rain Forest on Guadeloupe. In the description for the excursion, we were advised to bring good walking shoes, although given the terrain, good insurance is a better recommendation. We were not told to bring an umbrella for a walk in the Rain Forest in rainy season. Since no one else did, we didn't feel so stupid when we were drenched. By the way, the Rain Forest is beautiful, but we could not see the waterfall because three quarters of the way along, our guide had us turn back because the wind and rain were too dangerous (we were told this as we stood on a swaying cable bridge over a rushing river).
ranged from toddlers to middle aged folk). The smaller children were quite well behaved, although we sensed that some American kids were allowed to run around the ship without their parents, and were mostly found around the pools and staircases. The nationalities of the passengers were from all over the world -- Japan, South America, Australia, Germany, France, Canada, Sweden, Africa and the US. Americans seemed to be the largest contingent from one country. The international mix seemed to help keep the boat more sedate. Although the cruise was fully booked, it never felt crowded, generally because the passengers were so polite and quiet.
The food was generally wonderful, and the late night buffets were quite good. It appears that Celebrity is modifying the late night buffet program, so it's not a smorgasbord every night. Some nights, waiters were serving hors d'oeuvre and sandwiches to patrons seated in the various public rooms. One disappointment for us was the bakery items. We had really loved the breads on the Horizon, but the Zenith's rolls and croissants, while acceptable, were not what we anticipated.
One of our favorite ports was Aruba. The island does not have much there, except what may be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The island is a renowned honeymoon destination, and it definitely is perfect for that. There is a wonderful, clean and safe downtown shopping and hotel area right where the cruise ships dock. But beware, there are plenty of American franchise businesses. If that does not faze you, then make a point to stop by the Dunkin' Donuts. Their best selling item is not a donut, or coffee; it is a T-shirt which says "Dunkin Donuts/Aruba/Its Worth The Trip". At just $5, it has lines of people waiting to buy it!
Another port we really enjoyed was Caracas. It is a beautiful city hidden in a valley, and because it was New Year's Day when we were there, we did not have to contend with what we heard was excessive traffic. We were very impressed with Plaza Vargas in the center of town, and the magnificent government buildings. There was also a stop at the Murano Glass Factory. While we generally frown upon excursion trips for shopping, this was truly wonderful. The factory and shop were open for the benefit of the cruise ship passengers (although there were only 3 fellows working in the factory to demonstrate the glass making process). The demonstration was marvelous, as the main glass maker created small birds, animals and fish out of molten glass. The shop is large, but was jammed with tourists. The work of Murano is beautiful, and the prices seemed very reasonable.
The port we found "funniest" was Grenada. It was described in the excursion brochures as having "lush mountains and spectacular white beaches". We decided to go inland, to see the Grand Etang National Park and Annadale Falls. What it generally was, was a wild van ride on narrow mountain roads to visit poor souvenir stands. When we got to Annadale Falls, we were descended upon by local teenagers who will jump off the falls for $1, and elderly singers (with guitar) who will serenade you right in your face, again for a small fee. Fortunately, the local police are on hand to keep these fellows from paying themselves right from your pocket. In summary, this is a sad, poor country that had been taken over by the Cubans in the early eighties, and 'liberated' by the US in 1983. It was heartbreaking. Although we did determine that while most of the best baseball players in the US have come from the Dominican Republic, the craziest New York City cab drivers have to have come from Grenada.
You may wonder why one of us rated the cruise a bit lower than the other (see ratings below), when there were so many wonderful things about this trip. Well, one of us is more forgiving.
The trip had a very rocky start at JFK airport in NYC. First, we didn't know we should have gone to the international gate for travel to Puerto Rico, so we had to schlep over to that gate. There were thousands of cruise passengers leaving the same morning and TWA couldn't handle it. Even arriving 1 hour early was not anywhere near enough time, because they were processing the passengers so slowly. As it turns out, the luggage belt was broken, and the luggage had to be carried out of the ticketing area one by one (and most people had a lot of luggage to check, since all the cruises were "formals" which necessitated extra gowns and tuxedos). We managed to fly out 1 and half hours late.
The San Juan airport is not passenger friendly. It is undergoing construction, and the old part that is open is mobbed with people. It was quite hard to find a Celebrity Cruise representative (Royal Caribbean's people were easy to spot), and we first hooked up with a Horizon rep (who turned her back on us when we asked where to go for the Zenith). We managed to locate the Zenith rep, and we were then hustled, with Horizon passengers, to a bus which was stopping at both ships (we lost our "guide" during the race through the airport, but we somehow recognized other Celebrity passengers, and so managed to get on the right bus. We heard from other Zenith passengers they had identical experiences.
The return trip through San Juan was nearly as horrendous. The airport was just as crowded, but fortunately we managed to stake out 2 chairs for the 2+ hour wait. This time we were told the flight's delay was a result of a "security problem" in New York. We sat and chatted with other flight passengers, and learned about the Fascination, which had sailed the same itinerary as the Zenith (FYI - a woman said it was great, but there were alot of unsupervised kids running through the halls at night, banging on the walls; we'd love to hear more about that trip from anyone who was on that trip and is reading this). One of us shopped at one of the duty free shops (perfume seemed to be a good buy) and swatted away the cockroaches running around where we were sitting.
Our overall ratings on a scale of 1 to 10: Male Passenger gives it an 8; Female Passenger gives it a 9.5.
Here are some of our differences of opinion...
The waiters were slow and unmotivated; during a lunch buffet, I saw them standing around, not hustling to help people with their trays as I've seen on other Celebrity cruises. In one instance, a woman asked a waiter where the condiments were, and he said "over there", and did not try to show her the way, or offer to bring her the condiment she needed.
The waiters were all from eastern european countries, so I didn't expect them to be that refined, given the recent liberation of the area. Besides, at the first dinner we had, there was a family from Long Island near us who tormented the waiter with some sort of "vhere are you vrom?" type humor, which no one, in particular the waiter, understood. The waiter was so distraught, he was removed from serving the table.
Well, what about that utility closet behind our table (we were in a corner) which the waiters and busboys used periodically to move furniture in and out of, disrupting our meals, and inconveniencing one person at our table in particular?
You got me there. Our waiter and busboy tried to stop the moves, but to no avail.
Remember the disgusting stale smoke smell that emerged around the door to our cabin half way through the cruise? The best response we got from the ship staff was "oh, somebody passed by your cabin smoking a cigarette."
Zenith Outside Cabin
Well, if they gave us any other answer, like, you have smokers in all the cabins around you, we would have demanded another cabin, which they didn't have because the cruise was fully booked, and we'd be in a position of confronting the neighbors.
Well, what about my getting sick New Year's Day probably from the stale air? And what about the fly in the bathroom when we first got on the ship.
You got sick on other cruises, and this sickness probably came from getting drenched in Guadeloupe. Besides, the cabin steward sanitized the bathroom nicely once you left the room. And about the fly, I killed it.
The entertainment was not very good.
The lounge singers were quite good but the main players, while energetic, were disappointing. Anyway you finally learned the Macarena!
We won't continue with all of you listening. It really was very nice.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please