Celebrity Century, Eastern Caribbean, March 15-22, 1997
We actually wrote this 7 years after the fact but we tried to be as accurate as we could remember.
Also note that this cruise took place in 1997 and not only is each cruise different and each experience different, but this was before Royal Caribbean bought Celebrity and much has changed since 1997 in cruising in general. Also, we had to laugh at some of our somewhat “newbie” reactions on a cruise so long ago.
But speaking of 7, we did remember that 7 months after our perfect honeymoon in Maui, we realized the only thing the honeymoon lacked was more time. So, we decided to book a second honeymoon in the form of a cruise. This would be Rich’s first cruise and my first in several years.
After researching all of the major mass market ships out there using Field’s Guide to Cruising and other expert opinions, we decided on Celebrity’s Century. It sounded like a wonderful, upscale experience. Conde Nast still calls it one of the best cruise ships afloat.”
We have to disagree. While the Century was stunning, we found that Celebrity is all about looks and they fall short when it comes time to deliver on their service. At least, in our experience and we can’t bring ourselves to try them again. It seems that you either have great service or poor service. There doesn’t seem to be much in-between. As Rich says, “All smoke and mirrors and no substance.”
Friday, March 14, 1997
Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had to fly across the country to Fort Lauderdale. Celebrity had booked our flight and put us up at the Airport Hilton in Fort Lauderdale. In the meantime, it was a long wait in the baggage claim area until the bus arrived and we all piled into the bus, heading for the Hilton. Since Rich’s parents were on their annual Florida vacation, they extended their trip somewhat and met us at the Hilton.
We spent the evening together visiting over dinner. I remember the Key Lime Pie I had for dessert—a must for every Florida trip. We ended up chatting until late at night in the parents’ room. I also remember getting hoarse from all of the talking and laughing, which we always do in large quantities when we’re with Rich’s parents.
We met again for breakfast the next morning but soon it was time to say good-bye to the parents who had to get going, heading for their home in New England at that time. It was hard to say good-bye but we were excited about seeing the Century for the first time.
But not so fast. All of the Century cruisers staying at the Hilton had to wait in the lobby until app. 1:30 p.m. It was exciting hanging out with other Century cruisers but we were anxious to go. Eventually, the bus picked us up and drove us to the Port. The first view of our ship was very exciting. It always is, no matter how many times we cruise.
This was the first time either of us cruised the Eastern Caribbean itinerary so each port was new to us, except for Nassau What was new at Nassau was being able to swim and tour at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino. Also, we liked have a day at sea right away. This gives us time to relax and explore the ship. The itinerary was as follows:
Saturday: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Sunday: At Sea
Monday: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Tuesday: Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas
Wednesday: Phillipsburg, St. Maarten
Thursday: At Sea
Friday: Nassau, Bahamas
Saturday: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Celebrity threw us a bit during embarkation. Right in the middle of lining up to check in, you had to stop, get out of line, pose for your embarkation photo and get back into line. This was a first and a bit odd. All other ships you do this at the top of the gangway. When we did reach the gangway, however, we were escorted to our room by a white-gloved steward. This was a nice touch.
Outside Cabin: A
The cabin was absolutely gorgeous! Upon entering, we practically gasped. It felt like we were in a private yacht. Beautiful mahogany appointments with an interesting angled layout. The bed was against the window with a nightstand on each side. There was a chair, desk, TV, mini-bar, closets, nice spacious bathroom, although the shower curtain did grab your butt while showering.
Looking back, we can say this was the worst shower curtain experience but there were nice shampoo/soap dispensers located in the shower. Unfortunately, I would get to know the porcelain god a little too much on this cruise. More on that later.
Cabin Steward: C-
Our cabin steward, Joseph, was grumpy. He didn’t like us intruding on his set routine. When we were in the cabin during dinner due to my sickness, he seemed put out. When we requested the newsletter that we saw in his hand, he said he couldn’t give it to us. He liked to slip it under the door instead. Strange.
After checking out our seating in the dining room (more on that later), we headed for the Welcome Aboard Buffet. The buffet area was crowded but this was the only time we saw this area crowded. We got in line but I was soon disappointed because there were no real salad selections, no pasta salad or pasta period. I don’t like heavy meats for lunch and being from California, was used to a wide selection of salads. On the plus side, a member of the staff would carry your tray for you and seat you in at the long, cafeteria-like tables, which were a minus for us. Felt too communal. (We would probably enjoy that more now.)
Lifeboat Drill: A-
Soon after lunch, it was time for the lifeboat drill. The lifeboat drill was a pleasant surprise. Instead of standing outside for the whole thing, we were directed to the Celebrity Theater for instruction and then led out to the actual station briefly. Princess has the best lifeboat drill. You don’t go outside at all.
Once the lifeboat drill is complete, you can start to relax because you know that sailaway is coming up and this is when the actual cruise begins. We headed for up top on the sun deck and found 2 deck chairs in the aft area overlooking the Sun Princess. This is still one of our favorite Century memories—the 2 of us sitting out on the aft deck in our deck chairs looking at the Sun Princess dreaming of cruising on all of our vacations.
We made our way to the Rendezvous Lounge for predinner cocktails. The Rendezvous Lounge is situated right outside the dining room and spans the width of the ship. There was music and a lot of people mingling but it didn’t feel as intimate as other lounges we’ve enjoyed.
Dining Room: D-
The dining room is 2-tiered and absolutely the most stunning dining room at sea that we’ve seen. But, this is where it all started to go downhill. We had originally requested early seating and since it was full, they stuck is at a table for 4, making it a table for 6 by squeezing us in. What made it worse was that we were now joining 2 couples traveling together.
What made it even worse than that, was that one of the men was a big buffoon. He thought it was cool to impress his first-time cruising friends with his “expertise,” which included ordering a cheap bottle of White Zinfandel, like he was a real wine connoisseur and flirting with the wine steward, making a big deal all week about getting the key to her room. All in front of his wife. It got more and more uncomfortable as the week progressed and even the friends were becoming visibly uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, at that time, we thought the right thing to do was to grin and bear it. Now we know that it would have been better all around had we made a request to change tables.
By the first formal night when I ordered Duck ala Orange for the first time, the meal made me sick and we didn’t make it to dinner on most nights. Had we had a more comfortable dining situation, I might have been able to force myself to make an appearance but knowing what I had to face, I couldn’t do it.
Unfortunately, Celebrity is not flexible at all when it comes to dining. The kitchen couldn’t make me broth (“what’s broth?” our lame inexperienced Eastern European waiter asked) and nobody could accommodate Rich to give him a alternative menu to order off of. The room service was quite limited: bland turkey or ham sandwich and a cookie was about all. Rich found himself trying to fill up on afternoon tea cakes and waiting for late-night pizza at 10 pm.
But the best photo of the cruise (or maybe on any cruise) was taken while we were seated at dinner (see above).
Before finding our sailaway spot on the aft deck, we had first gone to the pool area. But as soon as the waiters starting hawking, “Bahama Mamas,” and saw the cheesey metal deck chairs, we asked ourselves, “Just how upscale can this ship really be anyway?”
On our first sea day, we attempted to find a lounge chair by the pool but it was packed—wall to wall lounge chairs with no space in-between. This was definitely not a Vegas pool experience with nice lounge chairs, spaced apart and little umbrellas to indicate drink service. Besides the crowds, then there were the noisy pool games. We soon gave up and found other, quieter places to laze around in the sun.
Because I was sick for most of the cruise, we didn’t make it to many shows. The production show we saw was weak but the Broadway singer, Pamela Blake, was excellent!
We didn’t really find any one cozy lounge we were drawn to. The Observation Lounge was dead during the day and the other lounges were just too impersonal. That’s pretty much how we summed up the whole Celebrity experience. They pride themselves on their aloof, European experience so maybe that’s why we didn’t enjoy it. Michael’s Club was a very nice clubby, cigar lounge with a great atmosphere. We did enjoy that.
This was our first time in San Juan and, arriving late, we barely arrived in time to catch our tour. We did enjoy the minivan tour of the Fort and other historic buildings in Old San Juan. What we enjoyed most was the midnight sailing out of San Juan and the commencing of the ship rocking us to sleep. We couldn’t get to sleep until the ship started to move.
This was also our first time in St. Thomas. Such a pretty port with ships, boats, yachts of all sizes filling the harbor. This time we mostly walked around the town, peeking into shops.
Our favorite port on this itinerary was St. Martin, the French side. Our tour took us to Grand Case to board a glass-bottom boat. The beach was absolutely gorgeous here but unfortunately, Celebrity dropped the ball by just dropping us off and not sending a guide. The Holland America group had a guide and, even though they arrived after we did, they boarded first. After enjoying that tour, we walked around Marigot, ate an ice cream and hoped to return sometime when I was feeling better so that we could try one of the French restaurants. We did some shopping at an outdoor market and got a figure of a creche, which we still have.
Disembarkation didn’t change our impressions of Celebrity. We were just dumped in a huge warehouse left to search for our luggage. After some time, we realized we had to get in a long line in order to secure a porter. We then had to search all over the warehouse to find all of our pieces of luggage. Eventually, we did, boarded the Celebrity bus and dropped off at the airport to make that long, final trek back home that we could only think about in stages.
Because we love to be onboard a ship, for us, there is no such thing as a bad cruise. We love to be at sea and just relaxing out on deck is it for us. Our favorite moments were sitting out on the aft deck for Sailaway, Grand Case Beach on St. Martin, and swimming in the ocean at the beach at Atlantis in Nassau and drinking a Miami Vice. I was finally feeling better by the end of the cruise and so Atlantis was the best part of the cruise.
However, we were disappointed that Rich’s first cruise hadn’t gone better. Part of it was the disappointing Celebrity service and the other part was that I had gotten sick. The sickness part could have been offset had Celebrity been more flexible and service-oriented.
While the service we received in the medical center was quite helpful, there wasn’t any flexibility when it came to alternative dining. Celebrity’s options and dining hours are quite restrictive, especially compared to other ships. Another downer for us is that Celebrity ships do not have a wraparound promenade deck and we find that crucial because we love to walk laps around the ship.
We almost never cruised again. However, our next cruise on Holland America with their 5-star service that they deliver turned it all around for us.