Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruise Line
Date of Cruise: August 26 - September 2, 2000
Eastern Caribbean on the Century
This was our 4th cruise, the other 3 were to the Greek Islands, NY-Bermuda, and the western Caribbean. We are 2 adults and 2 teen sons, and had an inside quad cabin. The cruise itinerary was Ft. Lauderdale, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, Nassau, and Ft. Lauderdale.
The cruise docs say embarkation starts at 2pm, but if you want time for the buffet lunch you need to show up sooner. We arrived at 11:00, and there were about 100 people already there. Porters put your luggage into loading containers for a buck a bag, and you proceed inside the terminal. Boarding is by priority number, and we were given a 1. Judging by announcements, people arriving after 11:45 were given a 2. The terminal has very comfortable seats, and staff come around to look at your docs and make sure you have filled them out correctly, a big improvement over the lineups at Carnival. At 11:40 the number 1's were called to the next room, where we had a brief wait before going into a third room where they processed our docs and shipboard card, and took our passport/birth cert. We waited in a 4th room for our group to finish this, and then a crew member took each of us to our cabin. We were on board before 1pm. Celebrity has the smoothest embarkation we ever had.
The ship was lovely, a cut above Carnival. As advertised, there was exquisite art everywhere, paintings, sculptures, and other interesting pieces that we found ourselves stopping to just look at for awhile. The ship was also very clean, you'd be hard pressed to find a piece of lint on the carpet anywhere, the crew is always vacuuming. It looks like the crew has had the Disney employee program, they always greet passengers around the ship, very friendly. The impressive thing about the dining room is the floor to ceiling windows, especially if leaving port during a meal. Of course the better tables are closer to the windows, and the captain's table is at the very stern end, right beside the largest window. If there is glare from the sun they have different types of lovely curtains that scroll down the windows, different thicknesses depending on the glare. If you aren't happy with your table or seating time the maitre d' is available in a salon room from about 3pm to perhaps 5pm the first day to try to fix you up, the location is listed on the welcome newsletter. Some of our friends were successful in changing their seating time. Ship policy is to make as few general announcements as possible, which passengers prefer. But the captain kept us up on what was happening, and even made a general announcement one afternoon that there was a whale off the port side. Half the ship ran over to watch it, I'm surprised the ship didn't roll over :-) The whale didn't pay us much attention, he just lolled along wagging his tail, I guess he wasn't as interested in us as we were in him. Us camera buffs were going nuts trying to time our shots to when he was blowing ... lots of wasted shots :-)
The cabin was great, lots of storage space, and nicely appointed with stainless steel accessories. Big shower, more water than Niagara Falls, bath robes, free safe. The hair dryer was rather weak, and if you have a good head of hair you should bring your own. Bring a power bar so you can have several things plugged into the one desk outlet. You can check your ship account and book tours on the cabin TV. Check your account frequently, we found 2 errors where others had charged stuff to our cabin by putting the wrong cabin number on the bill. When you report this to the Info Desk it takes a day or so for them to obtain a copy of the bill and send it to your cabin. If it's not your bill you take it back to them and they proceed to cancel the charge. Our were fixed after a few days.
You can also use the TV to book tours, saving standing in line. Our tickets were delivered the same night. Using this interactive method can be a bit slow, sometimes you click on a choice and it won't work, the server seems slow at times, and sometimes we even got a WIN 98 error or shutdown box, but decided it would be bad manners to shut down their network server :-) But if you just keep trying every few seconds you will get a beep and it will connect or move to the next step.
The dining room meals were great, like upscale city restaurants. Lots of choices, and you can get 2 entrees if you want, but order them together, because by the time you are done with one entree the galley will have switched to the next course, and the waiter won't be able to get another one. Some were quail, lobster, prime rib, many wonderful pasta dishes, many types of steaks, duck, pork, different types of lamb, fish, all delicious. A few of us would always order a second pasta entrée so we all could try it. Try the soups, many originals, and try the 'home-made' ice cream, of course made with real fruit and cream, it will totally spoil your for that stuff in the grocery stores. The trick is to match the ice cream choices with the dessert choices and get both. We made some crazy matches, but there was never a drop left. The blueberry ice cream was to die for.
If you want to avoid the dress code in the dining room you can have a buffet breakfast and lunch in the Island Cafe, but not dinner. The buffets had tons of choices, something for everyone, including made to order omelets. A lovely place to eat here is outside the back doors on the covered deck, looking over the ocean. You can also get burgers and fries in the Grill beside the pool from about noon till 3pm. There is a free juice bar that is a bit hard to find, located behind the pool bandstand. It's got lemonade, punch, ice tea, and water, but it closes at 3pm. If you want informal dinners (not in the dining room), you have to reserve a table in another room (forget which one), not as many food choices, and sort of a nuisance. We never tried this alternative. The midnight buffets were good, and several had a theme with entertainment and fun stuff for the passengers. On Tex-Mex night there were line dance lessons and everyone got into it. Great ribs that night. A few nights were called Gourmet Bites, and the waiters came around to the various public rooms after midnight with hors d'oeuvres on trays. The Grand Buffet night had tons of choices, including shrimp and lobster, but not unlimited and whether you got some depended on the supply when your spot in the line came up. Beef Wellington was another good choice that night.
The entertainment was ok, like mid-level Vegas. Adequate song and dance acts, comedians, magic acts. The theatre is great, no really bad seats like Carnival Cruise Line (CCL), but marginal seats at the ends of the balconies. Celebrity has just as much a party atmosphere as CCL, and just as many activities, something for everyone. Karaoke was quite a hoot. And some of the best entertainment was provided by Egbert, a Jamaican drink waiter, who worked the pool in the daytime and events at night, and danced with all sorts of things on his head, bottles, pineapples, you name it. A real party guy, there was a picture of him on everyone's camera.
If you like a few good free drinks and hors d'oeuvres, hit the captain's reception before dinner, I think it was Monday. Take your camera and you can get a shot with him in the reception line, or you can buy the picture the pro takes.
Lounges and chairs at pool level have blue padded cushions, but are mostly taken after midmorning. Loungers on the deck looking down on the pool, and other decks, have those stretch straps, but no padding, and it's not hard to get them any time of day, and they are comfortable. Passengers are told not to 'save' chairs, but everyone tries to save the padded ones. If people leave just a ship towel on a chair others would toss it off and take the chair, or the staff will pick them up, but if books, clothing, etc were on the chair it was left alone. There were a few incidents over this between passengers.
GET IN SHAPE
The gym is nice, not large but never crowded. Treadmills are booked ahead of time for 30 min max, but if no one kicks you off you can keep going. There are weights and several types of workout machines, and the staff run aerobics workouts. There is a jogging track on the top deck, with a sort of canvas/hemp surface, which at first we thought would not be as nice as the rubberized CCL tracks, but it turned out to be a nice surface, easy on the feet and knees.
Great running with the sea breezes in your face. This deck doubles as the topless deck, so we had to be careful to keep our eyes on the track and not to run off the side of the ship :-)
Celebrity's daily newsletter says that liquor brought on board will be confiscated and returned to the passengers at the end of the cruise, but they didn't search or x-ray anyone's bags, and there were no restrictions, which made it nice for cabin drinks. To take drinks on the upper decks you need plastic glasses. The ones at the free juice bar are too small, so get the larger size from the poolside bars, there are stacks of them there. The cabin has breakable glasses.
What we wanted to do in each port was shop, hit a beach, and take a tour. That was only possible in St. Thomas where the ship stays the whole day. There wasn't time for all that in the other ports. We should also mention that there were no bugs on the islands, no sand flies or mosquitoes like Jamaica has, so bug repellant wasn't necessary. Cabs on all the islands charge per person, so there is no advantage to sharing a cab with someone.
Puerto Rico is the first stop, but arriving at 4:30pm and departing after midnight doesn't leave much time. Be sure to watch the ship enter port, and get on the port side for excellent shots of the fort. The El Yunque rain forest is a major attraction, but the last tour is about 4, and the same for the underground caves. The crew said the ship often arrives earlier, about 3pm. The ship had to alter course closer to Dominican to med-evac a passenger with a serious medical problem, to be within range of the chopper, so we lost time and didn't arrive till 5pm. Most of the shops close at 6, so we only got a bit of shopping done. There are 2 tours available that evening, a rumba show, and a night tour of the city. There is a nice little casino just a couple blocks from the ship at the Wyndam Hotel, so we went there to make a donation. The ship docs at Old San Juan so walking around is picturesque, sort of like the French Quarter in New Orleans, but not as smelly.
We took the mountain tour in the morning, and got some great shots. We got back just before lunch, did a bit of shopping, had lunch on board, then took a $4 cab (per person) to the closest beach to save driving time (Morning Star), which is just a couple miles from the ship, left mid-afternoon to do some more shopping, and then back on the ship. The St. Thomas beaches are not the pink or white sand of places like Bermuda, but are a medium light tan color, and were ok to walk on. The drop off is a bit steep for pre-schoolers. At Morning Star beach you can rent loungers and umbrellas, and wave runners, and get drinks and snacks. Ask to be dropped off at the beach, not the huge Marriott Resort, which doesn't have a beach, just a pool complex. If you want to avoid paying to rent loungers and umbrellas there are a few free benches under the palm trees near the Marriott pool area, on the beach walkway. If you take a beach tour it will be to one of the bigger more popular beaches on the other side of the island, like Magen's Beach, but the driving time is much longer to get there and back.
The ship docks at Havensight Mall, a mile or 2 from Charlotte Amalie, but there are the same shops at Havensight as the town, and no need to go into the town to shop. Tons of shops, but we found the shopping was cheaper at St. Maarten.
The ship docks right at Philipsburg where the shopping is, and the prices were better than St. Thomas. The prices are also better the further you get from the pier. A bottle of Malibu rum was $10 at the pier, $9 a block from the pier, $8 about 2 blocks away, and we got ours for $6.25 several blocks away. The cheap shops are left of the dock. Tenders take you ashore here, the ship is at anchor, which kills time, and with a departure time of 3pm you don't have long to do much. We shopped in the morning and after lunch did the beach right beside the pier, called Everything Cool Beach, which had nice water and was fine. You can rent beach stuff there. This sand was also tan colored, not white or pink, but nice to walk on. You don't need to book the ship tour for this beach, just rent what you need yourself. Doing the shopping and the beach left no time for a tour.
Be sure to watch the ship enter Nassau, get on one of the upper decks at a forward railing for some good shots. You'll go by the Atlantis on Paradise Island, quite a sight from the port side, and watch the captain fit the ship between the rocks at the entrance to the harbor. There may be other ships there for you to dock beside, there were 3 others when we went in. Some ships dock bow in, and some stern in, and it's cool watching your ship turn in mid harbor. If he turns when departing it will be during early dinner seating, a nice sight from the dining room windows.
Forget shopping, prices were 2 to 3 times higher than the other ports. A $6 bottle we got in St. Maarten was $24 in Nassau. We took a $4 pp cab to Paradise Island to see the Atlantis. You can walk around the hotel and their casino, but not use their beach/pool, it's guarded, and they charge $25.
To do the beach, walk next door to the Sheraton, no restrictions. This was the best sand on the cruise, almost white, very fine texture. Tons of beach activities, the boys rented wave runners for $50/half hour. Several people got shorted on their time, so show the owner that you have a watch, and are noting the start time. We got shorted about 10 minutes, but complained and were given more time right away. As the ship docks you'll see a nice beach and large yellow hotel very near the pier, an easy walk, which would save time if you are rushed. From the ship we could see it had all the normal beach equipment, but we don't know the name of the place.
Debarking is by colors, according to when your flight leaves. No one leaves until everyone's account is settled. The first color was called at 8:40, ours was the 4th color and was called at 9:10. We were in a cab by 9:30, and it was $10 to the airport. Out at the cab line there are a few cab hailers who find you a cab, which is really not useful, there are lots of cabs, and then try to load a few of your bags before the cabbie gets out, and then collect a tip from you.
Then of course you are expected to tip the cabbie when he unloads them. So if you want to avoid 2 sets of tips, hold on to your bags and let the cabbie load them. After these few cruises we've learned that it's important to take a cruise that stays in the ports all day so you can get things done, and to also choose ports that aren't tendered, which also kills time. St. Maarten is working on their ship pier, but it doesn't look close to completion. On our other cruise, tendering killed a lot of time in Grand Cayman too.
If anyone wants more info here's our email. Be sure to take out the phrase "REMOVETHIS" before emailing. THANKS.
Bob and Wendy Evans