I am submitting this cruise review because I found previous reviews to be very helpful in planning my last cruise, especially for the shore excursions. I read many of the reviews for Century's cruise to the Western Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale and chose the excursions that seemed to appeal to me and my partner's interests. We are a young couple in our 50's who love cruising, dancing, snorkeling, hiking, etc.
I had never been to Ft. Lauderdale airport, but it was very easy to pick up our luggage, hail a taxi and, for $10, get to the ship's berth. (You can see the ship as you land.) The driver dropped us off right at the ship's loading area (small tip), the porters checked us off their manifest and we entered for sign-in with our carry-on bags. I always carry on a day's worth of active clothes because we are never sure how long it will take for our bags to arrive at our room. At least we have swimsuits, shorts, etc. before sailing.
When you first enter the check-in area, it will appear hectic, but just seek out one of the many Celebrity reps and they will provide you with forms to fill out (some are the same as those which come in the packet from the travel agent regarding Customs, credit card information, returning flight, etc.) We arrived at noon and had four hours until sailing. Large groups were arriving, but everything ran smoothly. We walked right up to the counter to get checked in and get our signature cards and account set up. The reps are extremely nice and helpful. It took about five minutes and we were on our way up the gangway. Of course, on your way you are stopped for a picture before you enter the ship.
A side note: If you wish to purchase liquor or wine, you may do so at a very convenient booth that is very obvious when you first enter the booking area. There is a nice selection and it is very reasonable, considering what the ship charges for similar wine and liquor. We saw brandy for $10, and a bottle of Merlot for $8; the ship's wine is $18-25 and up. The only catch is that you must return about 20 minutes prior to sailing to pick up your order. It went as they stated and the four bottles we purchased were packaged and ready for us. The ship did not check our purchase or disallow it being brought aboard as I hear some cruise lines do. So, we always had a nice pre-dinner shot or mixer, and you can bring your wine to dinner. (When you purchase the wine they will tell you that there is not a 'corking fee' onboard, but there certainly is. If you do not finish your wine, they will save it for you until the next evening's dinner; I think it was $6 per bottle, but it still came out to be much less expensive to do it this way than to purchase at the table from your wine steward. Our wine steward did not care and it seemed quite normal to her. We felt a little funny walking in with a wine bottle but afterwards I felt we had made the right choice.
When you first walk on board you are greeted by a ship's officer, then escorted to your room by a steward. When the steward opened our room, we were surprised by a huge window overlooking the water, big enough to sit in! This is the second time that Celebrity has upgraded us after we were originally assigned an inside cabin. Deck 9, aft, is an ideal location because you only walk up two decks to the Pool Deck and the Islands Café for breakfast and lunch.
Leaving port in Ft. Lauderdale is a spectacular sight as you view the hotels and beaches -- it's worth going on deck to watch. The emergency life boat drill takes place at 4PM. Book your shore excursions right after the lifeboat drill -- they fill up fast and you may not get your choice of trips.
The rooms are very spacious for two if you store your suitcases under the double bed. There is plenty of space for hanging clothes, suits, etc., and of course, the terry cloth robes that Celebrity provides (a very nice touch). The bathroom is much larger than the bathroom on RCL's Rhapsody of the Seas. On that ship I was unable to shower without my arms and head pushing out of the shower curtain. (I am 6' tall, 200 pounds.) There is a nice hair dryer provided, along with liquid soap dispenser and shampoo.
Our room steward was efficient and helpful. He provided us with a filled ice bucket to chill our wine, glasses, chocolates before bedtime, extra towels -- whatever we asked for.
The dining room has two levels, with plenty of glass. I never felt crowded or uncomfortably warm even during the formal attire evenings. During the first afternoon we were directed to sign up for our dinner table. Late seating is 8:30PM and recommended if you are active during the day and have no children with you -- you do not have to be rushed upon your return from an excursion to get ready for the 6PM seating. We were seated with three other couples, matched in age, who were nice folks, but only one couple seemed very sociable. This has been my biggest complaint on our cruises so far. Other people that we have talked to have been luckier than we have in their dining companions. Our next cruise will be one offering open dining and should help alleviate this problem, since you can change tables and change dining times. [Changing your table or dining time is easily done in the traditional dining situation, too: speak to your Maitre d' -- Ed.]
Our waiter turned out to be fantastic. He was from India and, along with his assistant, knew exactly what we wanted and provided us with little things before we asked. He had the chef make up special appetizers for our table to suit the varied tastes. The dinners were always hot, delivered in a timely manner and with good portions. It is a 5-star process and continues to be so through all my experiences with Celebrity. You can order seconds, or any combination of entrées. The menu is varied for different tastes, such as vegetarian and 'heart healthy,' while beef, fish, lamb and chicken are available for your choosing with each meal. The second-to-last night, the norm is for lobster to be offered -- ask the waiter for a second tail after you order your first so he will be able to get it as soon as it is available. The final evening is the special night when flaming 'Baked Alaska' is served for dessert after much fanfare and pomp. It is fun for the waiters and all alike.
On the second day of our trip we were lucky enough to be invited to the Captain's Table for dinner. There were about eight couples who all met at a special reserved table with drinks on the house and then the captain and his wife arrived. We were all led to the head table in the main dining room with each of us having our own waiter and plenty of red and white wine on the house again. Two days later we were invited to visit the bridge (off limits to guests) and get a first hand tour and a visit with the captain and his officers.
The midnight buffet starts about 11:30 and provides more FOOD. Personally, I barely could finish my late seating meal, attend the show and make it to eat again at midnight! Each night is a different theme, such as Caribbean night, Texmex, Italian, etc. The Texmex is followed by dancing, ice carvings and a real party, so don't miss it.
We suggest eating breakfast at the Islands Café. The selection is amazing, from all types of traditional foods to smoked salmon, mueslix, and made-to-order omelets (with smoked salmon, if you prefer). There are all types of fruits and pastries. Celebrity is great because there is always a waiter ready to carry your tray to a table and ready to refill your coffee cup. There was always a choice of seating inside or out -- we never had to wait for a seat. (On the Rhapsody of the Seas, we could walk in circles until a table became available. The waiters would just stand and look at you and never offer to help.) The food was always fresh and there was plenty of it. They varied the menu from day to day a little so you could change your breakfast choices.
Our first day at sea was a relaxing time. The Century has a magnificent Aqua Spa that you must try. It is a huge Jacuzzi that is heated to body temperature and contains salt water. It has all types of powered water jets and is an incredible experience. It is an additional $70 for an entire week or $15 for a day.
The gym/weight room is large and well-equipped with weight machines, bikes, treadmills and stair masters. They also have free weights, an aerobics class and a personal trainer who can provide nutritional and exercise regimens. The weight room is located at the very front of the ship, top deck, so the view is spectacular. The only complaint is that it got quite warm in the workout room. We never had to wait for a treadmill.
The jogging track is quite small and located forward ,so the wind is quite strong while underway. We found out later that this track is also the "topless" optional sunbathing area.
The two pools are amidships but rather small. One is used more often for games and events. There are 3-4 hot tubs located by one of the pools. There are many deck chairs, but you have to get there early or you will be waiting for one. There are waiters from whom you order drinks and a bar for cocktails. Remember, there is no cash on board -- everything is signed for on your signature card. The towels are clean and ready on deck. A complaint about the pool area is the marginal entertainment and the band that plays for about an hour. They are the same band that will show up at shows in the lounges.
Kids are not allowed to jump in the pools, but they were all doing so and it was quite annoying. The parents either were nowhere to be found or did not care. They did have two security guards walking about which was a change over previous cruises. I feel this a positive addition. They also serve pizza (good, too) in the pool area from 12-2PM and on some days, hamburgers and hot dogs. Another day was Mexican, with tacos and the like. It is great for kids and to hold you over until dinner. About 2PM or so they also serve soft ice cream which certainly is a treat when you are hot from the pool. By the way, it is a must that you put on sunscreen for protection from the direct sun in the Caribbean. Many people were burned the first day and it must have ruined their remaining vacation.
A children's program goes on daily. There are two or more teachers/crew members that take care of the activities. For teens, there are a variety of games and dancing in the early evening in the Disco lounge until 11PM.
Ports of Call
Ocho Rios, Jamaica
The falls have turned totally commercialized from 10 years earlier. They strongly suggest that you rent slip-on shoes to climb the falls. ($5) A decent pair of sandals will do. It was the day after Easter, and a national holiday for Jamaica, so every schools child and family was there for the day off. The falls were so crowded that it simply was a horde of people inching their way up the rocks. It is very steep and fairly treacherous. Once you begin, there is no turning back. The water is quite fast and pounding and it is difficult to tell where you are putting your foot down. Couple that with the throngs of people and it was not an exhilarating experience. There are guides willing to take your picture with your camera, they expect a tip. We did not use them. Some of the older visitors and ones not in good condition had some difficulties. The walk out is through a long procession of stands selling just about everything. If it is the day after Easter, forget it.
They provide all good snorkeling gear if you do not have yours. It is easy and the water is warm, with little to no current and all is quite effortless. The first stop puts you snorkeling at the edge of a coral reef in 10-20 feet of water. We saw many reef fish, coral heads and finally a huge, green moray eel that was enticed out of its hole by a mate from another boat using bait. Oh yes, there are many boats and snorkelers.
The next stop is Sting Ray City, which is a real experience. The water is only 3-4 feet deep and the rays are numerous. You are provided with squid to feed them and instructed how; make sure you listen. They are like big cats that rub up against you and nuzzle themselves up your back and legs. You can hold them under the wings and just about lift them out of the water. They weigh upwards of 40 pounds, so they can run into you quite hard. A great experience. The trip back is leisurely and the captain, who is quite informative, will suggest tips, of course. The drinks onboard are on the house.
Gear is provided. My partner and I own our own and are comfortable with bringing ours. It is more work to carry it all over and I wonder if it is worth it, since the gear provided is very good. The advantage would be if we decided to go to a beach on our own and snorkel.
This is a 'Drift Snorkel' type of trip; The boat drops you off on the reef, and one crewman leads the group and another trails behind. They insist that everyone stay together and drift along with the current. They stop and point out sights along the way. You are in the water at least an hour and even though the water is in the 80's, you will begin to feel chilled. I have a Lycra skin, which helped. If you try to 'swim' you will get more chilled and tired -- it is easier to drift along and keep up with the group. One complaint: the inexperienced snorkelers will run into you and kick you with their fins constantly. It is very annoying. They also swim erratically, when they should relax and use their fins in an effortless fashion, keep their heads in the water and look out for others.
The return trip was incredibly cold due to a downpour that we ran into with waves coming over the bow, but there was plenty of free beer and rum drinks on the house. After our return and a change into clean dry clothes, we took a cab into town. The town is a myriad of shops selling basically the same tourist items. I took an interest in a rose-colored star sapphire at $520. If you pay cash, there is a 20% discount; with a credit card, it is 10%. However, the price quickly dropped to $320 with or without payment options. Something was fishy, so I decided against this purchase. The salesman assured me it was genuine and would issue a 'certificate of authenticity' from the government, but then how real is this? What does one do when you are back home trying to make good on a phony gemstone? Upon returning home I discovered that it was probably a synthetic stone.
There are some good buys on liquor and merchandise at the head of the pier before you return to the ship, all duty free. Make sure you return to the ship on time. Two ladies missed the ship sailing and had to hire a private boat and race to catch up with the ship. They transferred from boat to ship while at full speed!
Key West, florida
You must see Key West Winery in town if you like exotic wines. Wines such as Kiwi, Carrot, Tangerine, Black Cherry, Chocolate, and on and on. They are not inexpensive, though. The salesman is very nice and informative -- get on his mailing list for when they start shipping to other states. On your way back, stop for true Key Lime pie. We were told to find the biking tour of the island, but we arrived to late and probably saw more on the train. There is snorkeling and scuba diving, if you prefer.
The shows after dinner were lackluster at best. The ventriloquist was fairly entertaining. If you are embarrassed easily, do not become his assistant. The sound of the 60's show was very well done. The lounge entertainment left much to be desired except for the night that the band played "oldies." They also have an Elvis contest that can be entertaining.
The Disco Lounge was a big disappointment. Only about eight couples were there and, after about an hour of decent dancing music suitable for middle-aged couples, the DJ began playing nothing but Techno and Rap sounds. That was our signal to call it a night. The Martini Bar, which is usually a relaxing stop before dinner, was located some distance from the main dining room and the service was not what we are used to. The Zenith and Galaxy offer a spectacular Martini Bar that becomes a ritual after a few trips.
Everyone must have their luggage packed by midnight the last night, and placed in the hall outside your door. It is taken and is ready once you disembark to the pier. You will be issued color tags to place on your luggage the night before based on your flight and other time requirements after you leave the ship. Get up early; pack your carry-on and leave it in the room while you eat an early breakfast. Everyone is directed to muster at the Rendezvous Lounge at 8AM and, after Customs is cleared, they begin to call colors for departure. Your bill must be cleared the night before and any charges made after midnight cleared. Everything went smoothly and we were called off approximately 30 minutes into the process.
Our luggage was easily found in the large holding area. On future cruises, I plan to put a brightly colored band on the luggage to make it easier to spot. After carrying all the bags to the curb, I was approached by a uniformed person who appeared to be a cab driver. Beware: he will carry your bags a few feet to a cab and then expect a tip. The cab driver takes over and expects a tip. The middle guy does not work for the cab company. I felt taken on that one. Again, the ride to the airport was about 10 minutes and we arrived in plenty of time for our departure. Like someone noted in a previous review: "take plenty of one dollar bills with you."
A Final Thought
This review started out as a narrative, but ended up more of a novel! Once I replayed our experiences, there were more memories, more than I could elaborate in a short essay. After my third Celebrity cruise, I can boast that this cruise line is heads above others in service, cleanliness, customer satisfaction and elegance. Celebrity and the Century certainly provide a great value for the money.
PHOTOS courtesy of Ken Smith & Celebrity Cruises
Chuck Stauffer is a baby-boomer and a school teacher who has previously sailed on Celebrity's Zenith & Galaxy and on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas. Chuck enjoys active vacations with snorkeling, diving, hiking, exploring, sailing, dining and dancing. Chuck may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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