Carnival Cruise Lines
by Alan Walker
Celebration 7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise from New Orleans
Carnival's Celebration has a Mardi Gras decor scheme - not surprising for a ship that is presently based year-round in New Orleans. In the main inside promenade of the ship (the "Bourbon Street Boulevard"), there is a full-size streetcar, just like the ones you can ride along St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. The festive party atmosphere of New Orleans carries right over to a cruise on the Celebration.
New Orleans Cruise Terminal
A huge dockside mall called "Riverwalk" is also the site of the New Orleans cruise terminal, and if you're waiting to board the ship, it's fun to go into the mall, grab a coffee on one of the balconies, and admire the Celebration, right in front of you. It will certainly give you an idea how large it is (47,000 tons, that's 4.7 million cubic feet). Of course, if you haven't visited New Orleans before, you'll really want to spend a day or two in the city before your cruise. It's rightfully one of the most famous cities in the world, and you can't do it justice in a few hours' visiting. I'm hoping to write a separate article on New Orleans for The SeaLetter.
To get the maximum enjoyment out of New Orleans, our group of four checked out as late as we could from our hotel, took a taxi to the cruise terminal and dumped our bags with the dockside porters, took a stroll around Riverwalk and admired the Celebration from the balcony, and then took the waterfront streetcar back to the French Quarter. The streetcar costs $1.25, and it's a fun ride in itself. It's an easy trip back downtown, but certainly not one that you would want to walk. We came back at 4:00 and by that time, the line-up to go through the embarkation process was very short. At the moment (February, 1999), the Celebration sails at 6:00, even though some brochures and Carnival's internet site show it leaving at 5:00 p.m.
We found the process pretty easy, and there were a large number of personnel available to look after the boarding passengers (about 1,500 of them). It's smart to have all the paperwork done (inside your Carnival cruise ticket) before you get in line, to avoid the last minute stress of trying to fill in the forms in a hurry. As you book in, you make arrangements to settle your account for the end of the cruise, either by giving your credit card, or making a cash deposit (I believe a minimum deposit of $150 was necessary). You are then given a receipt, which acts as your temporary boarding pass. On the way into the ship, you stop to pick up your room keys (which are the hotel type of plastic cards, with multiple holes in them). Once you get to your cabin, you'll find your "Sail and Sign" card which is like your credit card for the duration of the cruise, and just about anything on board can be charged to that card. There are security procedures at the dock, much like you would find in an airport.
We found our cabin (Upper Deck, 72) without any trouble, and we found it a perfect location. It was in the middle of the ship, right near one of the elevators, and very easy to get to. If you ever have any rough weather on your cruise, a cabin in the middle of the ship is certainly the best to have (a lower Deck is also preferable for anti-seasickness). Like most others, we went off to tour the ship while waiting for our bags to be delivered (this can take anywhere up to three or four hours). Food was being served in the Wheelhouse Bar & Grill up on the Lido Deck, and a number of bars were open. From the Wheelhouse Bar, you can look back at all the people sitting on the Riverwalk balconies, and you have the fun of knowing that they are very envious of you being on board (grin).
The Celebration has very few cabins with balconies, with the result that most everybody is up on deck to enjoy the sailaway party. Although the ship docks right next to the giant Crescent City Connection bridge, the exit to the Mississippi mouth is the other direction, and you don't pass under the bridge. The Mississippi loops around a lot near New Orleans, and more than an hour and a half after you leave, you can see the New Orleans waterfront in the distance, and the same bridge, and you would swear you had hardly left the dock. One disappointment of leaving New Orleans as late as 6:00 is that it gets dark fairly quickly, and while you will know that you're on the Mississippi because the ship heels over every now and then as it goes around sharp bends, you're mostly looking at lights on either banks, and are not really sure what you are looking at.
I was lucky enough to be on a cruise another time when we went up the Mississippi during the day, and I found it fascinating. It's a long trip down the Mississippi, but by the time you wake up the next morning, you are out into the Gulf of Mexico. Those who were scheduled for the main sitting of dinner missed all the sailaway fun, because dinner started at 6:00. Main (sometimes called "first") sitting diners miss a lot of sailaways, and that's one of the reasons why I always pick second sitting. There is alternative dining to the main sitting room, which I will mention later, but it is not considered too polite to take advantage of it on the first night when you are supposed to find out where your dining room table is, and who are your tablemates.
My wife and I have found our cabin had more room, and was better organized, than a number of other ships we have been on. Although the twin beds could be pushed together, they are made up as individual beds, and the layout is not convenient because they are in front of the cabin windows. We found it better to leave the beds in their original arrangement, at right angles to each other. Between the beds there is a large corner table, and after a while we realized that half the top hinges up, and your life jackets are underneath. It also took us a while to find out that the plastic picture in the corner has a light behind it, and makes a good low-level light when you are watching the TV. There is a "call" button for the steward on the wall, near the desk, which we didn't notice at first.
One disadvantage of the cabin was that the beds were too low to the floor to be able to put a large suitcase underneath. We asked our steward if he could store the cases for the duration of the cruise, but this is a service that the Celebration doesn't provide. As we had plenty of room in our cabin, it really wasn't a big inconvenience to have our two large suitcases sitting in a corner. The lighting in the cabin was excellent. We noticed that there were sprinklers and smoke detectors. The telephone was over the desk, and not near the bed, so if anybody phones you early in the morning, you were certainly going to get out of bed. There was a TV in the corner, but no remote control. We thought ours might just be missing, but it appears nobody has them. Imagine having to actually stand up and change the TV channel! There is a small safe in the cabin, semi-hidden at the back of one of the closets. You had to ask your cabin steward to get you a key for the safe. The safe was very small, so small that you even had to fold travelers' checks to get them into the safe.
There was a large gap under the cabin door (presumably so things could be stuffed under the door), but unfortunately it let in a lot of light, so we ended up putting towels along the bottom of the door. Some ships provide shampoo and other toiletries in small packages; the Celebration did not. Nor were there any bathrobes, hair dryers, laundry bags or a fridge. The book of "services" you find in your cabin specified that your cabin steward would loan you a hair dryer if you forgot to bring one. It appears you can, with some effort, get dry cleaning and laundry done on board - my friend managed to get his tuxedo shirt laundered. The décor of the cabin was attractive, and not garish like the colors we found when we cruised on the Sensation. We found plenty of room to store our belongings; there were two wide closets, plus a further closet with shelves. The desk had five drawers to store smaller items. There was a chair for the desk, and two round coffee tables that also doubled as seats, or as a place to put your breakfast tray. The bathroom was roomy, unlike many we have experienced on other cruises.
The Celebration, at 47,262 tons, is a sister ship of the Holiday and the Jubilee, and carries 1,486 passengers. Although the ship will look big to a first time cruiser, the Celebration is now one of Carnival's smallest ships, with only the Tropicale being smaller. The bulk of Carnival's ships are now in the "Fantasy Class," which are half as big again as the Celebration. Carnival's new class of ships, the Destiny Class, are half as big again as the Fantasy class, in other words, twice as big as the Celebration. The Celebration looked well maintained to us, although it's now 12 years old. When the Celebration and her sister ships first debuted, the design schemes were considered avant garde, but now they look pretty tame.
There were several channels with free movies on them, but none of the movies that were scheduled were particularly outstanding, so far as we were concerned. One channel is a special satellite feed and featured various games and talk shows during the day, typical night time entertainment in the evening, and finished up with the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Another channel had repeats of various events around the ship including shore excursion talks, the disembarkation lecture, and various passenger activities on board. It was fun to catch up on some of the activities while you were getting ready for dinner.
Food, Food, Food!
If you like to get up early (and we don't) Continental breakfast could be had on deck as early as 7:00 a.m. Main sitting breakfast was at 7:45, and late sitting breakfast at 9:00. It seemed the majority of passengers opted to have breakfast in the Wheelhouse Bar & Grill, between 8:00 and 10:30 a.m. You could also get a Continental breakfast served in your cabin, either by ordering it the night before and putting the card on the outside of your door, or calling Room Service when you finally got up.
Lunch also had the alternatives of going to the formal dining room with main sitting at noon, and late sitting at 1:30. If you preferred to eat lunch informally in the Wheelhouse Bar & Grill, lunch was available between 12:00 and 2:30. The pizzeria in the Wheelhouse Bar & Grill was open 24 hours a day, and the pizza was pretty good. The pizzeria must have been an afterthought, because the area where you pick up the pizza looks like you're in the ship's galley.
Ice cream and cookies were available in the Wheelhouse Bar between 3:30 and 4:30, and you could have afternoon tea in the Red Hot Piano Bar between 4:00 and 5:00.
There are two dining rooms, the Vista and Horizon Restaurants, but I don't know how you get assigned to one or the other. Both are very attractive. Main sitting dinner was at 6:00, and late sitting dinner at 8:15. For the growing number of passengers who do not wish to sit through dinner which can take up to two hours, a "casual alternative dinner" was provided each night between 6:00 and 9:30 p.m., in the Wheelhouse Bar & Grill. The menu in the Wheelhouse Bar for dinner was somewhat limited, but you could always get meat, fish or pasta. There was nothing fancy about having dinner there, however, and you lined up at the buffet and sat at the same tables, as you would for breakfast or lunch.
Most nights there was a late night buffet, usually about 12:30 a.m. in the Horizon Restaurant, with various themes featured such as a pasta buffet, western buffet, dessert buffet and quiche buffet. We found all of the food on board quite good, although we never had enough room to try any of the buffets.
Here is the menu from "International" night on the Celebration:
- Hearts of baby palm and artichokes
- Gulf shrimp cocktail
- Satay chicken
- English beef and barley
- West Indian pumpkin
- Chilled gazpacho
- Tossed Salad
- Romaine lettuce salad
- Fresh fettucini alfredo
- Boneless breast of chicken a la Greque
- Ancho honey-based filet of fresh Atlantic salmon
- Ragout of Atlantic seafood
- New Zealand rack of lamb
- Tenderloin of beef Wellington
- Madras vegetable curry
- Orange cake
- Guava cheese Napoleon
- Chocolate mousse
- Swan chantilly
- Ice cream
- Cheeses (five types)
- Espresso, cappuccino, etc.
There was also a separate children's menu.
We enjoyed the service in our dining room. Our group of four were at a table for ten, and we met six other interesting passengers. Our waiter was excellent, and every night suggested what were the best choices and, more importantly, told us what we shouldn't order. The dining room waiters also entertained us from time to time. In honor of the majority of passengers, one night the waiters sang "God Bless America," and on another night they sang an Italian song, "O Sole Mio." Our waiter pointed out that the waiters had to rehearse for some time to be able to sing this song as there were no Italians among the 23 different nationalities which comprised the waiters.
Room Service was available 24 hours a day, but the menu was a modest one of juices, salads, sandwiches and desserts.
One thing that distinguishes the Celebration, its sister ships and many other ships of the Carnival fleet, is the main entertainment area called "Broadway" on some ships, but called "Bourbon Street Boulevard" on the Celebration. Instead of having a walkway on both sides of the main deck of the ship, Carnival puts the walking space all on one side, with the result that you have a wide, mall-type walkway, from which radiates most of the entertainment venues. You could sit in this area and listen to a musician near the Trolley Bar, or just a few feet away you could look into the other entertainment areas including the Islands in the Sky lounge, the Endless Summer lounge, and the Galax Z Dance Club. Or, you could go a bit further down the other end and look into the main show lounge, the Astoria lounge. The only entertainment area which was a small walk to get to was the Red Hot Piano Bar, where you could sing along with the resident piano player, Peter, from Australia.
Although the shopping area on board was not very big compared to some ships, you could buy the usual souvenir stuff as well as fancier clothes and jewelry. One store sold duty free liquor and sundries such as toiletries, film and batteries.
The main pool on the Lido Deck was the center of most daytime activities. The pool has a giant slide, but it is only open for a few hours a day, and a security guard makes sure that the pool is empty before somebody comes down the slide, and stops young children from trying out the slide. Other pools on the ship are a quieter swimming pool for adults who don't want to be in the midst of all of the entertainment, and a separate pool for young children. The main pool was the venue for on-deck games, including the bikini stuffing competition, pillow fights, hairy chest competition, and other intellectual games.
The ship's library had a marvelous nautical theme, and had paintings of various famous ships around the ceiling, and models of other famous ships set in display cases. The library collection was adequate, but it appeared the main use of the library was as a card-playing room. I'm not a fan myself of a gym on board ship, but my friend described the equipment there as being "adequate." There was a great view from the gymnasium looking down to the main pool when you were using a treadmill machine.
While I wouldn't normally know this, there was an excellent Beauty Salon on board, and my wife insisted I go for a manicure and a pedicure. As my wife brought me wine while I suffered through the treatment, I forgave her. I just hope that I don't have to reveal my colored toes before the polish wears off (grin).
As might be expected, daytime entertainment was mostly in evidence during the three sea days: the first two days and the last day. Not much of anything was happening on board while we were docked in port. Daytime activities included the games around the pool mentioned above, golf lessons, trivia, horse racing, weight loss seminar, children's talent show, a European skin clinic, ice carving demonstration, dance classes, golf putting, country line dancing, table tennis tournament, snorkel demonstrations, a ship's galley tour, and talks on shore tours.
The main Astoria lounge had two shows an evening (one for each dinner sitting) featuring Broadway-type singing and dancing, comedians, magicians and special acts. While my wife and I are not particularly fans of this type of entertainment, we thought those shows we saw were well done. One night there was only half a show, as the scheduled magician didn't make it to the ship because of a strike by the American Airlines pilots. The cruise director, Dave Armour, who was reasonably adequate as the cruise director, also doubled as a comedian one night, and he was less successful in that capacity.
The other venues on Bourbon Street which were mentioned earlier were busy each night with music. One lounge had a full band which played popular music which passengers danced to. Another lounge had a country and western duo, who seemed quite popular. The disco (unlike a lot of cruise ships) got under way immediately after dinner, and was very popular with the younger crowd. The best musical entertainment, in our view, was the solo singer near the Trolley Bar who had plenty of electronic backup, and was popular with just about everybody - in fact, people danced in the Trolley Bar area, even though it's not really set up for that.
Other evening activities included karaoke, a knobby knees contest, bingo (also sometimes during the day), a game show, a singles party, a love, sex and romance quiz, captain's cocktail party, Carnival repeaters' cocktail party, and a passenger talent show.
I didn't try out my luck on this cruise, but the casino looked pretty active, and was well set out. Unlike most casinos on board ship, you could look into the casino on the Celebration through the glass walls, as well as looking across the Trolley Bar, with the casino on one side. There were the usual table games, and slot machines which ranged from a nickel to $5 a pop.
I noticed very few children on this cruise. As mentioned before, there is a separate children's pool, and a children's menu for dinner. The ship's brochure indicated that baby-sitting was free until 10:00 p.m. with a nominal fee after that. There is a video games area for teenagers, but I did not notice any separate facility for younger children.
As this was a western Caribbean itinerary, there was much emphasis on snorkeling and diving. There was a separate desk for snorkeling/diving excursion on board for each of the three ports, Montego Bay, Jamaica; San Miguel, Cozumel; and Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. You could buy underwater cameras on board. Apart from the snorkeling desk, we found the rest of the shore excursion staff to be less than helpful, and it took forever for the shore excursion staff to put out the forms which you fill in to book the various shore excursions. It appeared that the staff was waiting for the cruise director to give his talk on the best shore excursions to take, before they were interested in taking any bookings. Unfortunately, if you wait too long, you can miss out on some of the more exciting shore excursions, such as Sting Ray City. I'm hoping to write separate reports on each of the three ports we visited, and those will set out in detail the various choices for shore excursions.
Tipping of the key personnel is expected from all passengers on the last night. The suggested tips are $3.50 per person per day each for your waiter and cabin steward, with an additional $2.00 per person per day for your busboy (and these tips are expected whether or not you use the dining room each night). Other personnel, like bellboys and room service, are tipped the same way as you would in any hotel. It is not necessary to tip the bartenders, drink waiters, or wine waiter, as the drink bills always include a fixed 15% tip. Tip: organize your tips early in the cruise, so you don't find it a hassle on the last evening. Tips usually add up to a lot more than you think, and you need to budget accordingly. You may also find difficulty getting the right change for your tips, and you don't want to be joining the long line-up of people at the purser's desk on the last night who have a similar problem. I find it's best to organize your tips, and get the necessary change, early in the cruise, and put money away in your safe. You've then got one less hassle for that unhappy last night when you have to get ready for disembarkation.
The purser's office is on the main deck, and is open 24 hours. Here you can get Band-Aids, Alka-Selzter, seasickness pills, cash your traveler's check, get postage stamps, and cash personal checks (but only if you have an American Express card, and only up to $250).
We had great service from our cabin steward (who made animals out of towels and left them on our bed), and from our waiter and our busboy, but we were really disappointed with the level of service on deck, and around the bars. Carnival seems to have hired a lot of younger, East European waiters whom we found to be very slow and lazy, and who mixed up a lot of orders due to language difficulties. My wife's theory is that these former communists are not used to waiting on us capitalists (grin). In my view, tips are really the answer: those who were still expecting tips, give good service; and those who have built-in tips, such as drink waiters, just don't care.
- No shorts, T-shirts or tank tops were allowed in the dining room during dinner.
- Tip: bring a travel clock with you, as there is no clock in the cabin. There is, however, an automatic telephone wake up service.
- Unlike any other cruise I have been on, there were security guards around the ship, in uniform.
- Carnival Capers is the ship's daily program of events, and it's put under your door in the early evening of the night before.
- There was a separate satellite news report you could pick up each day in the library.
- Although you will find Evian water in your room, you should note that if you use it, you will have to pay for it.
- There is a doctor and nurse on board. The infirmary was open from 8:00 to 8:00 each day, although the doctor's hours themselves were only 9:00 to 11:00, and 3:00 to 5:00. You have to pay fees if you see the doctor.
- There are three launderettes on board, near the rear elevators on the E, U and M decks.
- Smoking was not allowed in the main dining rooms, or in the main show lounge. Other areas are divided up into one side smoking, and one not. Cigars could only be smoked out on an open deck.
- Life boat drill was held before the ship sailed. The life jackets were the most uncomfortable type I have ever used.
- On the Sunday night, the clocks were put a head one hour, and put back one hour on the second last night. That meant it was Eastern standard time in each of our three ports.
- You were not allowed to bring liquor on board when you embarked in New Orleans. It was also stated that any liquor brought on board elsewhere would be taken from you, and kept until the end of the cruise. I was unable to determine whether this was enforced or not. All bags brought back from on shore are X-rayed.
- You need photo ID as well as your "Sail and Sign" card to get back on the ship after you have been ashore.
- Although there was an art auction on board, it was not "in your face as it is on some other ships.
- While you can direct dial calls to anywhere in the world from your cabin, it cost $9.50 U.S. per minute to the U.S. or to Canada, and more to other areas.
- If you go all the way forward on the ship, you can actually see a part of the ship's bridge and equipment, although you can't see the whole thing unless you go on an organized tour (which are not always available).
- If you cancel a shore excursion, you are liable for a 25% cancellation fee.
- Tip: consider bringing your clothes on lightweight coat hangers. There are never enough coat hangers in the closet, and the ones they have are the wooden kind that take up way too much room.
- Tip: don't overlook the book in your cabin called "Carnival's Ports of Call." Although this book has a lot of advertising, it has some very good port information. Unfortunately, you can't take the book with you when you leave.
- There is an ATM on board, which will cost you $5 each time you use it, plus whatever fee your own bank charges you. You should be careful about relying on the machine as it sometimes doesn't work (because of satellite communication problems), and sometimes it runs out of money (same as I do!).
We had great weather on our cruise, except for the last day which was cloudy, and the water a little choppy.
As usual, there are ship's photographers always in evidence, especially on formal night. If you were willing to take the time to wade through all of the photographs that are put on display to find your own, you can pick them up for a reasonable price.
Disembarkation was relatively easy, after patiently waiting for about two hours after we docked back in New Orleans.
If you are a first time cruiser, I doubt that you will find anything wrong with the Celebration at all. It is a wonderful cruise experience, and I probably wouldn't have any criticisms at all if I hadn't cruised on a lot on other ships. Younger people who enjoy party times will love the Celebration. Older people who still like to party, will also enjoy it. If you are on the serious side, then try another ship. To my mind, nothing could be better than a cruise that begins and ends in New Orleans.
Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. He has been a SeaLetter columnist, reviewer and our resident humorist for some time now.
To find all of Alan's SeaLetter columns, featured and humorous articles, and cruise and port reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Alan Walker" as your search phrase.
Alan is also a member of the Cruise Staff of the CompuServe UK Travel Forum. Alan loves email, and can be reached at: Alan@sealetter.com.
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