Zenith Southern Caribbean Cruise April 1997
My wife and I just returned from a cruise on Celebrity's Zenith, April 5-12, and thought we should write up a review to repay all those that have written reviews that we've enjoyed reading!
A little background:We are both in our mid 30's and took our first cruise last year on Celebrity's Horizon (Deep Carribean) as a 10 year aniversery celebration (more on that later). We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and are now hooked on cruising. We actually wanted to try a different line, but we went with two other couples; and for much the same reason my wife and I chose Celebrity last year, the three couples agreed on Celebrity this year. Actually, the rest of the group wanted to go on Horizon's itinerary, but we wanted to do SOMETHING different, so we all agreed on the Zenith.
The flights down and back were not bad, but this seems to be beyond the control of the cruise line. To quote Forrest Gump "and that's all I have to say about that".
The Ship:As I mentioned above, we sailed the Horizon last year and there was really no difference between it and the Zenith so the following comments actually apply to both unless otherwise noted.
The rooms seem plenty big enough for two people for a week. We had plenty of closet space and even a few empty drawers. The hairdryer is a total waste of time; bring your own if you use one. We were on the Europa deck near the back. Every morning we could hear the thrusters open up as the ship docked; I recommend you try to get a room in the middle of the ship. We did not notice this at all on the Horizon last year.
A new addition this time was the interactive TV. In addition to the standard set of channels (2 movies, CNN, and replays of some of the talks given by the crew) you could:
The public areas were identical to the Horizon from my point of view, although "purists" may point out that one of these ships has more bars than the other. The theater never seemed too crowded, although in order to get six seats together we usually went a few minutes (10-15) early to get a block of seats. We never saw too much action in the disco, but we tended to go to bed before 11PM, so perhaps it livened up later. My wife and I enjoy playing video poker in the casino and never really had a problem finding a quarter machine to play. If you are a really low roller and like the nickel slots, you'll have to get to the casino early, otherwise you should have no problem playing anything else (blackjack, quarter+ slots, roulette...).
We had no trouble getting a place near the pool on the Caracus day or the sea day, although you may not want to be too near the pool on the sea day as the water does slosh around a bit and occasionally will spray you.
Otherwise we really didn't spend much time in the public areas (except to eat!!) We did go to the Rainbow Room for a cocktail party and the Fleet Bar for another cocktail party, I worked out twice in the spa, we browsed the shops a couple of times, and of course visited the photo gallery. Since I don't have an "artist's eye" I really can't comment more on colors, decor, ambiance.
The Food:The food is not your typical American "meat and potatoes" stuff, but is more complicated; like French food. My wife and I really enjoyed this, but some of our traveling companions did not. Everyone liked the main course and desserts, but some of the earlier courses were a little "too different" for some. Most of the time our group had breakfast and lunch at the buffets, but of course had dinner in the dining room. Of our group, only my wife and I had breakfast (once) and lunch (once) in the dining room.
The dinner menu changes nightly and always had 3-4 appetizers, 2-3 soups (often including a "fruit soup"), a couple of salads, 4-5 main courses (as far as I can remember at least one fish, one foul, and one beef), and 4-5 desserts.
The buffets were a little more "typical" and, other than the breakfast buffet on the last day, there was little or no line. The lunch buffet had light food (salads, cold cuts...), two or three main dishes (fish, lamb stew...) and of course a great dessert section! In addition to standard breakfast food (scrambled eggs, bacon, bagles, pastries...) the breakfast buffet included smoked salmon/pickled herring and a made-to-order omlette (done at the bar at the end of the room, I didn't notice it at first). Again, no complaints for the buffets.
The dining room staff was excellent. We were 6 southerners, used to having our iced tea continously full. After the first night, our busboy kept them that way without asking, just like "back home" (only "sweet tea" wasn't available). The maitre'd even agreed to an "unusual request" for a photo pose with one of us that I just can't elaborate on. (What a sport!)
One last note on the dining. If you are celebrating a special occasion, the entire (almost) wait staff will present you with a cake and sing "Happy Birthday/Anniversary". Last year my wife and I took a criuse in April for our 10th Anniversary in August. This was because we wanted a Celebrity Carribean cruise and it was either April or wait til October. Anyway, during this cruise a year later, again in April, we were presented with ANOTHER CAKE/SINGING CELEBRATION! I guess Celebrity now thinks our anniversary in in April!
The Entertainment:This is one area where we noticed some difference from the Horizon last year. I'll start by saying my wife and I really don't care for the production shows. The Horizon had two last year, but the Zenith had THREE. The first one (production show) was ok, the second one not good and we didn't go to the third one. Because of this, the jugglers/comedian were on the same night. The comedian also did a midnight "adult" show later in the cruise. Neither of these acts were as good as the Horizon last year. Finally the magician was the same as the Horizon's and, in our opinion was OK.
The best entertainment, however was not done by the "professionals" Three of the crew (plus an MC) did a remake of Liar's Club that was hilarious. This is an old game show where an unusual word is presented and three different definitions are given by the three panelists. The panelists were, Forrest Gump, Traveler Tim, and Trailer Park Bob (redneck belly and all). Also, one night they did a rendition of the newlywed (and not so newlywed game)...I didn't know 5C was a bra size!
The Captain's Club:As I said, my wife and I are hooked on cruising and decided to join the Captain's Club. This gets you off/on the ship quicker and a cocktail party. There is a cocktail party for repeat cruisers that is similiar to the Captain's welcome aboard party in that the free drinks are from a selection of 4 or 5 that they are carrying around. The Captain's Club cocktail party is open bar, and the waiters are very attentive! I had a Grand Marinier and a Pina Colada!
The unadvertised benefit was that we got a bridge tour during the sea day! We didn't even ask, just got an invitation the night before. My wife and I are both engineers, so we were very interested in the high tech gear they had. They basically just turn you loose with 20-30 other folks and let you roam around. There are a couple of junior officers around to answer questions, although while one was explaining something to me he HAD to answer the phone, so was still "on duty". We saw the Fascination on radar, the actual navigation map updated with a light underneath to show current position (via GPS), and the "steering wheel", which was actually a knob about the size of a volume control on a home stereo! We even had a nice view of the bow and could watch flying fish skittering off the side. They even allowed pictures and I took several! I asked my TA about this and she said that we were offered this because of our Captains Club membership, and a bridge tour may not always be offered, depending on how busy the crew is (weather...)
Other Activities:There were a few typical cruise activities available: trapshooting, putting, horse "racing", wine tasting (did that), ship sponsored games (did one, pictionary). I understand that other cruise lines (notably Carnival) do more of these type things, but it was enough for us.
St Thomas:Last year we did the ship's excursion to Trunk Bay, St. John and liked everything about it except the amount of time at Trunk Bay. This year we went to St. John on our own via cab ride to Charlotte Amalie ($2.50 ea), ferry to Cruz Bay ($7 ea), and cab ride to Cinnamon Bay ($3.50 ea). We decided to try Cinnamon Bay to be different. This was much the same as Trunk Bay, perhaps a little less crowded. We both enjoy snorkeling, but unfortunately, the seas were rough so the swim to the cay/reef was kinda hard and the water was cloudy. The locals said this was unusual and based on our experience last year we would say so as well. Later in the week we heard that there had been an earthquake in the Carribean (related to Montserrat I think) that was causing the rough seas.
Our traveling companions booked a trip on the "Wild Thing", but came back calling it the "Lame Thing". The engines weren't working right so instead of zipping along as advertised, they barely had time to go to St. John (Caneel Bay we think), one stop, and get back. They were expecting to go to Buck Island, and didn't. They also noticed later that the crew refered to it as "Private Buck Island" which leads us to believe that this is not THE Buck Island near St. Criox. Everyone on the excursion was offered a full refund before starting and a partial refund after it was over.
Guadeloupe:As I mentioned before, my wife and I wanted mostly to snorkel and no snorkel excursions were offered here by the ship. After some research, we found a dive shop at Malendure beach that offered glass bottom boat rides, along with a snorkel stop, to Pigeon Island. We rented a car and drove to Malendure beach from Pointe-a-Pitre. This was our first ever rental car in the Carribean, but we'd heard the roads weren't too bad and decided to try it. Actually, I've driven in South France some and Guadeloupe was actually easier. One thing about driving in France is that they don't tend to show the road numbers as much as signs pointing to the "next village". So the trick to navigating is to find all the towns along the way and follow the signs to each. The only bad part about renting a car in Guadeloupe was that it was a long wait to get our car (about 45 minutes). It actually took less driving time to get to Malendure beach (about 35 minutes, and my wife made me drive slow), across Basse Terre.
We got there just as the boat was leaving. They go out with two different boats every couple of hours. The glass bottom boat went almost all the way around Pigeon Island, and the crew narrated along the way. Problem is...this was in French (of course). We did get to see some large schools of fish, some large coral, and several other boats with scuba divers and snorkelers. Water was very clear! After the boat stopped, they threw over some baguettes to attract a TON of fish. Then we had 20 minutes to snorkel...wished it was longer. The area we were snorkeling in was quite deep (about 18-20 feet I'd guess).
I took a few dives down (I can only get to about 12-14 feet) to get a closer look at the coral. However, the TON of fish were on the surface in easy viewing. We spent the rest of the day lounging at the beach. After lunch (ordering/paying taxed my limited French!) we snorkeled off the beach. Not much to see, but I did find a whole sand dollar. Problem is, I stuck it in my pocket and forgot about it. When I remembered and checked it out, it had become 10 sand "dimes" (oh well).
On the drive back we stopped at Cascade aux Ecrevisse. This is a fairly small waterfall less than a quarter of a mile off the road. The river/waterfall reminded us of the mountains back home in Norh Carolina.
Our traveling companions had a more hectic day. They also rented cars, but drove to the volcano at La Soufriere, hiked to the rim of the crater and then, on the way back hiked/jogged to Carbet Falls. The men folk were much impressed with the volcano/falls but the women folk seemed quite beat that night! Maybe I'm a wuss, but this seemed like a lot to do in one day. For a slower, typical vaction pace, I think the volcano is just doable in one day. The falls would be easy, with time to shop in Point-a-Pitre. There is actually an excellent web page about the volcano from someone else at: http://www.cieux.com/~philip/sfrr.html.
Grenada:We walked around the Carenage to Fort George in the morning. The view from the fort is spectacular, with St. George, the cruise pier, and the old volcano clearly in view. We then went to the market and bought a couple of spice baskets, then back to the ship to get our snorkel gear. The folks there pester you more than other islands, wanting to give you a walking tour, or taxi ride, or to buy something.
Carnival Fascination from Ft. George
At the recommendation of the shore excursion director on the ship, we told one of the water taxis that we wanted to go snorkeling. They took us to Point Salines after a stop at Grand Anse beach. Grand Anse has many activities and a lot of people. Point Salines was more laid back and had just a few people. Again, the conditions were too rough for good snorkeling, although there was a lot of large brain and elkhorn coral there. Again, the locals said that it usually wasn't so rough. At this beach we were only approached by one guy selling jewerly, but he was not near as pushy as the folks around the pier. The water taxi picked us back up at a pre-arranged time and didn't take our money until we completed the round trip ($10 each). If you like beaches with plenty of action, go to Grand Anse, if you like less crowd go to Point Salines.
Caracus:Stayed on the ship all day. We had planned to do a little shopping at the cruise pier, but my wife stubbed her toe on some coral in Grenada and didn't feel like walking much. Mostly just lazed around, watched a movie (Ransom) and worked out.
Aruba:We walked around Oranjestad in the morning and took our only ship-offered shore excursion in the afternoon. We took the snorkel excursion and this is the best snorkeling we've ever had. The boat anchored over the sunken ship Antilles, a freighter scuttled by its German captian during WWII. The starboard deck/hull line was right at the water line, with the deck and hull angling down to 50 ft of water. This was perfect for snorkeling as you could see and be close to some of the ship, but also peer into the bottom and see the ship below you (and sometimes spot a scuba diver). There were LOTS of fish and coral growing on the wreck. Also, unlike some of our other stops, the water was fairly clear. After a half hour of snorkeling around the wreck, the boat went towards shore and stopped in a shallow reef area near Arashi beach. Not much coral, but I did see some really bright fish, a snake (yes it really was a snake, I checked with a crew member..it was NOT poisionous), and a LARGE lobster. I found the lobster by diving down (only about 5-6 feet) and looking under some large, flat rocks. The excursion had an open bar with cokes, beer, and rum punch and gave us some local sandwich thing that kinda looked like a stuffed pita.
San Juan:Again, the Captain's Club paid off as we got off the ship fairly early. Our traveling companions said they were allowed to leave about 15 minutes later, but had a long wait to get their luggage checked in. We had enough time to tour Fort San Cristobal and met them at Fort El Morro. Both of these forts are similiar. They are very large, with 3-5 levels and 20 ft thick walls. Being somewhat of an amature military historian, I was impressed by the detailing that was done on these old (200+yrs) forts. It takes about 45 minutes each to tour the forts and 15 minutes to walk between them.
We wanted to eat lunch at Hard Rock Cafe in Old San Juan, but it was too busy and we ate at Lupis instead. This was very good if you like Mexican food. We then caught a cab and headed for the airport and then home.
To sum up our trip, we throughly enjoyed it and would recommend Celebrity to anyone who likes French style food and appreciates excellent service. The only down side is mediocre entertainment. We also would recommend the Captain's Club as it only costs $35 and is good for your whole family for life. Our next cruise will probably be on a different line, not because we don't like Celebrity, but because we want to try something different and plan on taking our kids (ages 2 and 7...they like plain food).
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please