This was a 7-day western Caribbean cruise that stopped at Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Key West. There were also two days at sea. I was generally pleased with this cruise. This was our second cruise with Celebrity within the past year, with our previous one being with the SeaLetter Cruise Bashers on the Mercury in October of 1999. This was also our second cruise on the Century -- we had cruised on this ship in its inaugural year of 1996.
My sister and her husband were on this cruise, which was their first time. As you would expect, they are now addicted to cruising and are already planning to do another one next year.
We found the ship to be immaculate and the service staff very helpful and courteous. It was a very relaxing cruise, with no real problems to speak of. The food was good, not great, and was available almost continuously. Celebrity Cruises offers a low-key cruising experience without a lot of noise and glitz. This was certainly the case for our cruise, and is what I prefer when it comes to cruising.
We arrived at the pier at 1 PM. I have never been impressed with Celebrity's embarkation operation, so I had recently paid the one-time $35 fee to join their Captain's Club. Although charging a fee is really outrageous, I have to admit that it was money well spent. Club members, along with suite passengers, get priority embarkation and we breezed through a side door, past hundreds of waiting passengers, and walked right up to the check-in desk. Captain's Club members also can get a one-category upgrade (with restrictions), and they also have a cocktail party for you during the cruise. You also get priority debarkation. I noted that no one asked to see our Captain's Club card or to see our tickets, because we also had a suite. We simply told the Celebrity employee at the door "we are Captain's Club members" and she waved us through.
I later found out that when my sister and her husband arrived, they had asked if we had checked in yet, and they mentioned we were in a suite. The employee apparently misunderstood them and waved them through the secret door too! When we checked in, I was impressed to find out that the clerk who had processed us told us my sister's party had already embarked and he even had their cabin number for us. (They had booked a guaranteed inside cabin and didn't know their cabin number until they got to the pier).
After being accosted by a spa employee as we walked to the ship, we boarded and were escorted by a white-gloved cabin attendant to our cabin. This guy knew what he was doing. The elevator area at the entrance was jammed, so he took us down one deck and aft to the next elevator station. We easily got an elevator and were at our cabin in a couple of minutes.
The Cabin and Service
Our mini-suite was on the Penthouse Deck, cabin 1144. There are only nine of these cabins, and they are lined up along the aft end with small balconies overlooking the rear of the ship. Celebrity calls them mini-suites in the brochures, which means you also have a butler and some personalized stationery. They are not truly suites, but rather deluxe cabins. Indeed, a handout we received in one of the daily activity sheets called them deluxe cabins, and not suites. The cabin measured 210 square feet, with a balcony of 36 square feet. This was plenty of room for my wife, our six year-old son, and me.
It was an attractive room, with two beds combined to form a queen-sized, and a single bed that could also be made into a sofa. The cabin stewardess always kept it as a bed, and never made it into a sofa; she didn't ask us about it, and it really didn't bother me that much. All rooms have a mini-bar and interactive TV. We also had a VCR. Our bathroom was good sized, with a shower (no tub). There is a bathroom scale, too! This is the first cabin I have had with that item! [Editor: If there's anything we DON'T need on a cruise . . . ] There was a full complement of quality toiletries. A bowl of fruit and a chilled bottle of champagne were waiting for us in the cabin. The fruit was replenished daily. Drawer and closet space is good.
The private balcony, with a table and two chairs was nice, with a great view. Actually, I think having a balcony looking out over the aft end is preferable to one on the side of the ship. We never had to contend with the wind, which can make other balconies useless at times. It also has lights for night use.
As I mentioned earlier, suites have both a stewardess and a butler. Other than delivering tea sandwiches and canapés in the afternoon, and keeping the mini-bar stocked, the butler did nothing else for us. These were duties he did daily for all suites, without asking. We really aren't "into" using a butler, but he comes with the suite, so even if you don't want one you are expected to tip him. Most of what the butler does can be done by the stewardess; after all, the stewardess does the fruit and mini-bar for the standard cabins. Essentially, all the butler did was double my tip obligation for the cabin.
Our stewardess, Firuta, and the butler, Hiriberto, were pleasant and efficient. They appeared to be happy with their jobs and always had a cheerful greeting for us. Both were from Colombia.
The Food and Dining
The Grand Restaurant
Soups were the strong point, and I particularly liked the gumbo they served on the first formal night. Appetizers and salads were just average, and some appetizers had very skimpy servings. Sweetbreads were an appetizer on one night; an unusual offering for a cruise ship. However, the serving had but three very tiny breaded slices, with each slice the size of a quarter. The escargot was superb. The conch fritters were over-peppered and almost painful to eat.
Entrées were only average in taste and presentation. Steaks were cooked to order quite nicely, but they were a tad tough. Fish dishes were a little dry. My sister ordered the lamb one night, and her serving had three tiny chops that provided only three forkfuls of meat total. The lobster tails were good-sized though, and quite tasty. The Prime Rib was tender and juicy, and you got it just the way you ordered it. In my case, that is medium-rare. Desserts were good, and the ice cream and sherbet are made on the ship.
Overall, I was not impressed by the dinners, mostly because Celebrity makes such a big deal over their cuisine. It was certainly better when we cruised on the Century back in 1996. Since then, things have gone downhill. With few exceptions, the food was very bland in taste; the kitchen seems to have a problem with using seasonings. I hardly ever reach for the salt and pepper, but on this cruise I had to do so at every dinner. So did everyone else at our table. Let me be clear: the dining room food is good, but is not the haute cuisine Celebrity crows about. I find it no better than the food found on the other mainstream cruise lines, and in some cases it is not as good. Consistency of portion size is a problem. Vegetables served with the entrées were little more than decoration.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were truly outstanding -- easily the best team we have encountered on a cruise. The waiter, Ibrahim, is from Turkey, as is his assistant, Ugur. They worked great together and both had outgoing personalities. Ibrahim had been promoted to waiter a month earlier, but you wouldn't have known it. He handled the job like a seasoned veteran (he was only 22 years old). He entertained us every night with various puzzles he devised with toothpicks. Both of these fellows received generous tips from everyone, along with individual praise on the comment cards.
The assistant Maitre d' for our section was a gregarious Polish man who had been at sea for 34 years! He said he needed one more year in order to retire with a full pension from the Polish Seaman's Union. He did the usual glad-handing (in hopes of a tip) every night, and seemed to relish singing at birthday and anniversary cake presentations. Although I usually advise against it, I did tip this man, even though he did nothing special for us. I guess I felt some respect for his many years at sea.
We never ate lunch in the Grand Restaurant, and only had breakfast there once. The breakfast we attended was open seating, which meant we did not have our usual table or wait staff. My wife ordered the Eggs Benedict, and the poached eggs were cooked rock-hard. I ordered poached eggs on toast, and was served eggs over-easy (sigh).
Breakfast was okay, but expect the same buffet menu every day. They had the typical breakfast buffet items. They also had cooked-to-order omelets, but no cooked-to-order fried eggs. Omelets were cooked too long, and as a result were very dry. (Salmonella paranoia, I guess.) They also had cheese and cold-cuts for the European passengers. The food was always at the appropriate temperature. It was good, and quick to eat and go, but that is all. The coffee, made from a syrup, is horrid.
Lunch in the Islands Cafe was good. The salad bar seemed light on traditional salad items, and instead had a lot of space taken up by trays of cold cuts and pasta salads. The steam table always had a pasta dish, some sort of fish, a casserole type dish (great moussaka), potatoes, and a couple of vegetables. They always had a carving board with ham, turkey, pork, or roast beef. We ate lunch there on most days. Iced tea and fruit punches were available during meal times only.
Out behind the pools, the Century has two grill lines. These serve burgers, hot dogs, and fries. Boca burgers, and turkey burgers are available, too. They also had something else every day, such as gyros, grilled chicken, or tacos. They served the pasta of the day. The food was always hot and really of good quality. The burgers were juicy and the hot dogs were also very good; the fries were good and crisp, not greasy or limp. The grill on the port side re-opens at 3PM everyday to serve freshly baked pizzas. The pizzas were pretty good, but not as good as the ones served on Princess ships. There were sometimes some fairly long lines when the pizza service commenced. The pizzas are made and baked at the grill.
Bars and Lounges
The Crystal Room
Pool Bar and Mast Bar
A 15% tip is added to all drink orders. For $4.50 a day, paid in full up front for the entire cruise, children can get a sticker on their cruise card that allows them to get unlimited soft drinks at designated bars. These are fountain drinks, and not cans. So, we paid $36.23 on the first day (remember, the 15% tip) and our son got soda whenever he wanted just by flashing his cruise card. (For some strange reason, the soda sticker can only be purchased at the Tastings coffee bar). Considering a small glass of soda costs $1.44 including tip, the drink sticker equates to 25 glasses for the whole cruise; we certainly exceeded that number.
There are two pools, both salt water. One is shallow, relatively speaking, going from 4 feet 3 inches to 4 feet 11 inches deep. The other pool is 5 feet 11 inches to 6 feet 7 inches deep. I wish they had a more shallow pool for the children, but when the Century was built Celebrity Cruises was not necessarily interested in having a lot of kids on board. It would also be nice if one of the pools was fresh water.
The pools were crowded during at-sea days, and getting a lounge chair required getting to the pool very early. As usual, the less-considerate passengers would run by and throw a beach bag or something on some chairs, then go off to have breakfast and come back at their leisure to take the chair. I don't know what can be done about keeping people from hoarding lounge chairs, but I wish someone would come up with a plan.
They had a lifeguard on duty every day. This is the first time I have noticed this on a cruise ship.
The main shows are in the Celebrity Theater. The shows were entertaining but nothing extraordinary. They use loud, flashy pyrotechnics at various points during the big shows, which has become very annoying to me. I don't like being startled to the point of spilling a drink. Please stop it, Celebrity.
The comedian (Noodles Levenstein) was a mix of Henny Youngman and Jerry Seinfeld. Sometimes he would pick on an audience member as the butt of a joke. I received this "honor" on the last night, when he gave me the moniker of "Buffet Bob." This annoys some people, but I am not afraid to laugh at myself, so I went along with him.
An a capella quartet, called Jump Start, wanders around the Grand Foyer at night interacting with the passengers and singing. They are absolutely superb.
Jim Cannon, the Cruise Director, was on the Mercury with us last fall. He emceed the nightly shows, and came around to all the tables at the special cocktail parties to talk to everyone. They held the usual activities, such as Bingo, pool games, dance classes, and so forth. Nothing special, though.
Fortunes is a good-sized casino with all the usual gaming. It was crowded at night, and there were not as many winners as I have seen on other cruises. An ATM is in the casino, but was out of order for the entire cruise. I wish to note that on our first cruise on the Century, in 1996, the ATM was also broken for the whole cruise; one wonders if it has ever worked. They also had two machines for getting large quantities of coins for the slot machines. As with the ATM, these change machines remained out of service for the whole cruise.
The ship has the "Fun Factory" on Deck 4. It is rather small, but seems brighter and larger in the brochures. They have programs for different age groups. There are SONY Playstations and one of those plastic ball pits. The staff was very pleasant and our son had a great time there. All the younger kids get a clear plastic Celebrity backpack on the last day of the cruise.
Exercise Program & Spa
I personally don't go on cruises to spend time in the gym. The Aqua Spa is a nice place, but their main concern is to relieve you of as much of your money as possible. Against my advice, my sister went to get a cellulite treatment that they claimed would make her thinner by inches. Once they had her covered in goo, wrapped up like a tamale, and hooked up to electrodes, they started a sales pitch about the home treatment items she would need to complete the treatment. Of course, this stuff added up to almost $500 dollars, on top of the $65 she spent for the initial treatment. She realized what was happening and didn't waste any more money.
My brother-in-law had a massage, and he said it was very relaxing. Of course, while he was having it they continued the sales barrage for various things.
The Celebrity Network is the interactive program that you access from you cabin's TV. On it, you can do a lot of things. You can order wine for dinner, order excursions (you can also watch videos of the excursions to preview them), order room service, play video gambling, and review the dinner entrées. You can also review your onboard charges. I won a few bucks playing video blackjack; winnings are credited to your shipboard account. The Celebrity Network was off-line on several occasions.
Other Thoughts and Asides
Tenders were needed in Grand Cayman. They used the ship's tenders, and service was quite good. You didn't have to wait long at either end. A downside is that the tenders are enclosed with no ventilation, so it was a hot ride. Grand Cayman is famous for snorkeling and diving, neither of which interests me. As usual, we went to the Turtle Farm so my son could hold the baby turtles. We then loaded up with rum cakes (good stuff) and headed back to the ship.
We did not book any tours with the ship. For us, just picking up a taxi at the pier is cheaper and easier. The tours are the standard ones that all the ships sell. We stayed aboard ship in Ocho Rios. I have had my fill of Jamaica and like having the ship to myself (well, almost) on in-port days. This is a secret amongst us experienced cruisers, so don't tell anyone else, okay? :-)
Cozumel is our favorite port on the western itinerary. There is a really nice little beach called Playa del Sol. It has a sand beach, watercraft rentals, an open-air bar, a swimming pool, and a nice open-air restaurant with good food. There are also shops and a little zoo. All of this is just $5 per person, or you can pay $19 and have unlimited bar drinks, or $29 and add a lunch buffet. The $5 basic fee is the best deal. Mexican beer is only $2 a bottle, and soda is $1 a bottle. The taxi is $12 from International Pier. Playa del Sol is a great place to spend the day. The restrooms are immaculate, too.
To my thinking, Key West isn't a good choice for a cruise stop. Nothing really happens in Key West in the morning or afternoon, so other than making a pilgrimage to Margaritaville or to Sloppy Joe's, there just isn't much to do. You could rent watercraft, or participate in a sailboat race, if that excites you. I would like to see them eliminate Ocho Rios, and maybe go to Key West for an overnight stop so we could sample the night life. Be advised that if you dock at the Navy Annex you cannot walk to town. New Navy rules require you to use the Conch Train or bus -- no exceptions. Even taxis are forbidden.
On previous cruises with Celebrity, I found the lifeboat drill to be very long - annoyingly so. On this cruise it went quicker, although they still do a poor job out on the deck. Passengers were directed to stand very close together, pushed up very close to the bulkhead. We had a girl faint next to us. I realize it is a necessary drill, and don't wish to minimize the need for it, but the crew acted like they couldn't have cared less about passenger comfort. This time they reviewed everything in two languages. On our previous cruises with this company all the instructions were done in four languages.
The captain apparently is not one to mingle with the passengers. We went to both the Repeater's and the Captain's Club cocktail parties. In both cases the Hotel Manager was the only "officer" present. Funny, a Captain's Club meeting with no captain, or staff captain, for that matter. Another note about the repeat passengers -- a note appeared in the daily paper stating that if you were a repeater, please leave your name with Guest Relations. I find it hard to believe they didn't know who had cruised with them before. Invitations to the cocktail party were sent out based on your telling Guest Relations that you were a repeater. This is very tacky. About 120 people were at the repeater party, and maybe 50 people at the Captain's Club party.
All cabins are spacious and beautiful. The ship is kept spotlessly clean, although some wear and tear is evident. The beautiful chrome panels in some elevators have been defaced, apparently by some hoodlums who "keyed" them. Also, some of the "You are Here" signs are faded and you can't read them.
Debarkation went very smoothly. We found out that suite passengers had a higher debarkation priority than Captain's Club members did, so we left with the first group. We were off the ship and in a taxi in less than 10 minutes.
The Century is a nice ship, and Celebrity is a good cruise line. The dining room food has slipped over the past few years though, and I no longer consider it to be "better than all the rest" (to use Celebrity's words). The cabins are some of the best you will find, both in size and comfort.
We will cruise with Celebrity again, but our expectations will not be any higher than they would be with Royal Caribbean or some other mainstream line. By the way, as many of you know, Royal Caribbean now owns Celebrity Cruises. The differences between the two lines are quickly fading.
Photos courtesy of Celebrity Cruises, K L Smith & Dave Beers.
Dave Beers is the head administrator for the SeaLetter Cruise Forum and lives in Alabama with his wife, Vanessa, and young son Jacob. Dave served in both the Marines and the Navy, and spent a great deal of time in several far east and Mediterranean countries. He took his first "civilian" cruise in 1992 and cruising has been a primary interest for him ever since. He has written numerous reviews and articles about cruising. Dave and his family are also veteran SeaLetter Cruise Bashers.
In his professional life, Dave works for the federal government as a supervisor with the Tennessee Valley Authority. He may be reached for questions or comment at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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