Pros: Well-run ship, crew, beautiful ship, great-to-above-average food, lots of activities, pampering, beaches at the ports
Cons: Too short of time in some ports, vibrations in ship, ports kind of bland
My Background: I just returned from my third cruise as an adult. This one was to the eastern Caribbean aboard Celebritys Century. Accompanying me were my partner and our friends Chris and Cory. I should add that Cory is 4 months pregnant. When a child, I went on two cruises with my family, but I was very young. As an adult, I have been on three cruises and all were on Celebrity:
Alaska aboard the Mercury in 1999
The Mediterranean aboard the Millennium in 2001
Eastern Mediterranean aboard the Century in 2005 (April 2-9)
So, while I can compare between Centurys ships and itineraries, I cannot comment on how Celebrity compares to other lines. My mom, aunt, and uncle have been on far more cruises and find that Celebrity is the most consistently best in overall quality.
The Ship: The ship is medium-sized compared to many of the behemoth cruise ships today. The number of guests is about 1800 maximum. The Millennium is a bigger ship. I found both Mercury and Century to be better in that they were smaller, appeared to have better timing of activities, and a more personable crew.
Built in 1995, the Century is well maintained from what I saw. While still a beautiful ship, some of the artwork and decor are a tad dated, but I doubt most people would even have noticed. I found the ship beautiful and easy to navigate between decks. Unlike prior cruises, I rarely encountered any traffic jams at the elevators. For a ship with so many people on board, we often would comment to each other that we felt like there were only several hundred people on board.
One drawback of the Century is its apparently notoriety for its vibrating when sailing. I read several comments before going on the trip about this. Our table mate at dinner had experienced this on a prior cruise on Century, and we definitely noticed it on this cruise. Our cabin was on the aft end and thus at the part of the ship said to vibrate most. The vibrations are worst when the ship is accelerating out of port. We were told that the ship had thrusters that were used to get the ship up to speed and then the thrusters were turned off. Whether this is true, I dont know. I can say that after an hour or two of heavy vibrating, the ships ride would become calmer eventually once we got out of port and on our way. I also noticed more swaying to this boat than the others I have been on. Whether the ship doesnt have stabilizers or the currents were just stronger, I cannot say. Several people on board had those Dramamine patches on behind their ears. They likely bring them regardless of which ship they are on.
Health Issues/Access: Every food station except I believe the main dining room has anti-bacterial sanitizers set up on stands for guests and crew to wash their hands so as to avoid the Norovirus. There were several guests in wheel chairs on the cruise who seemed to have few problems in navigating the ship. One side of the ship (port) is smoking and the starboard side is non-smoking. The dining rooms are all non-smoking. Most smokers seemed to respect non-smokers by keeping to these rules except in the casino. Several times you would be sitting at the slot machines with a clear no smoking symbol and have someone light up next to you. Like urinating in a common pool, their smoke unfortunately filled my lungs and I had to get up and leave.
Cabin: We found a great deal where we were able to get a concierge class cabin on the Penthouse deck for only $100 per person more. We decided to try Concierge class. On Celebrity, there are several different levels of service ranging from large suites with their own butlers to concierge class to regular rooms. Captains Club members do get some extra services if they either joined years ago and are Founders or have taken several cruises.
Our cabin was surprisingly large with a big window looking out the starboard side. Right around the corner from our room was the emergency door to a small deck and stairs one flight up to the Islands cafe. This deck was like having your own balcony without paying for it.
The cabin seemed typical of the ships Ive been on: small, compact, and with lots of storage space. We had 3 large closets. The bathroom is compact but the shower is roomy enough for 2 people if a couple were so inclined ;)
Shelf space is at a premium in the bathroom, so I would definitely buy one of the toiletries bags that can be hanged from the towel rack.
Concierge Class: If affordable, I would urge folks to opt for Concierge Class. You get several extras including: A chilled bottle of champagne in your room to welcome you. Fresh fruit and flowers are in your room every day (if you need replacements). You get little chocolates and a daily weather forecast in a card on your pillow every night when the room attendant comes to prepare your bed every night. More usefully, you get priority boarding, tender service, and disembarkation. You also get a much expanded room service breakfast menu, a choice of pillows, nicer linens, a tote bag, and afternoon canapes. Mind you, the canapes were always little rounds of toast with some type of pate, fish, cheese, caviar, etc. While fancy, they often werent that good or at least not to my taste. If concierge service costs considerably more, I would not likely get it again, but if affordable, the little pampering would be quite worth the price.
Food: You definitely will not starve. You can order room service at any time. To get breakfast in bed, simply fill out a hanging card in your stateroom book and leave on your door the night before. There are regular buffets for breakfast and lunch in the Islands Cafe. You can also have a sit-down and order breakfast in the main dining room. At night from about 6-9pm, there is a sushi buffet. Hot dogs, hamburgers, fries, and pizza are served most of the day at the Veranda Grille beside the pool. There was a Mexican buffet one day for lunch and an Indian buffet beside the pool another day. There were no midnight buffets except for two nights: one a fruit and sherbet night and the big lavish midnight buffet in the main dining room. On other nights, waiters would circle the lounges throughout the ship with gourmet bites that were basically appetizers and small finger desserts. The bites varied in quality but many were quite good esp. the desserts.
Sodas and alcohol do cost extra and a 15% gratuity is added to almost anything you order on the ship (drinks, spa treatments, etc.). Coffee, hot tea, iced tea, a sugary fruit punch, and a bit too tart lemonade drink mix are almost always available in the Islands Cafe or at meal times throughout the ship. I was pleased to see that Century offered Splenda along with sugar and aspartame-based sweeteners.
Activities: One of my main complaints with the Millennium was that there were long periods with no activities of interest. Then, they would schedule several interesting activities all at the same time. Century did a marvelous job of having a range of activities spread throughout the day.
Entertainment: Ive found that cruise ship entertainment is usually enjoyable but mediocre. Dont expect Cirque du Soleil from the regular entertainers. (Interestingly, Celebrity is in the process of offering on some ships a Cirque du Soleil interactive experience. It appears they started and then stopped it on the Constellation. Perhaps they are working out some bugs.) Because we had late seating, we often missed the shows. The one we did attend, A Taste of Broadway, was OK. You have to give an A to the entertainers though for pure athleticism: they did what amounted to a power aerobics and dance workout for a solid hour. Some of the Broadway numbers had some slightly risque moments that I enjoyed as an adult but might not find suitable for young children. All in all, the show was decent, free, and entertaining.
Spa: We loved the gym and spa. We booked an all you can use package for the thalassotherapy pool. It is warm salt water with giant blasts of water...and no kids (who always took over the hot tubs by the pool every day)! It also included use of the steam room and sauna. Awesome!
Crew Life: Im always curious about what it is like to work and live on a cruise ship. So, Ive asked various crew on this and other ships about their lives. I thought Id pass this info along:
The crew usually signs on for 7 month contracts followed by 7-8 weeks off and then a new contract. In effect, they work EVERY day for 10 months of the year. A waiters work day often begins at 6:45am and ends at 11:30pm with sometimes a few hours break in the day. A day off for our waiter on the cruise consisted of being off duty from 11:30am to 3pm.
Most of the crew sleeps four to a cabin in the lower part of the ships. Their room and food is free, but they do not eat the fancier food served to the guests. A waiter may be assigned one set of tables on one cruise and another set on the next. A waiter and assistant waiter do not always work together. If they receive good reviews, the ship will often keep together. If one receives a bad review and the other a good, they may separate them.
There is a definite pattern to certain nationalities working certain jobs. Most of the officers are European with Greeks and Norwegians appearing to dominate among captains and top officers. The pastry chefs all were German it appeared on Century. The staff for the activities staff, child care program, spa, and retail shops usually were from English-speaking countries such as the US, Australia, Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, etc. Many of the cocktail waitresses and waiters were Jamaican. The room attendants were all from India. While our waiters were from Chile and the Philippines, many appeared from their name tags to be from eastern European countries.
I wondered but never asked how much a crew member makes. To work these long stints away from family and for such long hours, they must make more than easier jobs at home. Based on the usual tips and number of guests served, I would say a waiter makes between $400 - $500 in tips per cruise or about $2000 per month. Whether they are obligated to pay taxes somewhere on this and whatever base salary they make, I do not know. For Americans, if you live outside of the country for 300 days, you do not pay most taxes. So, it may well be that a waiter clears at least $2000/month if there are no taxes. They certainly work and earn every bit of it!
Port of Call: This cruise stopped at four ports:
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Philipsburg, St. Maarten, the Netherlands Antilles
Nassau, New Providence Island, Bahamas
The ship really has to hustle to cover the distance to San Juan, and the Century was 1.5 hours late getting to port. Instead of arriving at 4:30pm, we docked at 6pm. The entrance to the harbor was the most beautiful of the trip. Dont miss it.
Unfortunately, by the time we docked, much of Old San Juan was closed for the night. By day I think the pastel houses would have been beautiful, but at night the area is kind of dark, scary, and smelly. It reminded me though of one of my favorite cities, New Orleans French Quarter, without all the nightlife and great restaurants. A number of our cruise mates went to Senor Frogs to drink. We walked up to the road to El Morro, but the fortress was already closed. Saw lots of stray cats. The restaurants that were open were either American fast food places (Wendys, Subways, etc.) or quite expensive. So, we walked around a few hours and went back to the boat.
Everyone we encountered spoke English and were patient with my attempts with my high school Spanish. The trolley/bus no longer goes on the road on the north side of Old San Juan because of some crime problems we were told. We were also told and I read online to avoid the extreme northern part of the peninsula that Old San Juan sits on. This area, La Perla, is apparently a rather dangerous neighborhood with a lot of drug deals, etc.
The ship left at midnight so San Juan wasnt a great stop. I think it would have been beautiful by day.
St. Thomas was really the highlight of our trip. I was surprised at how dry the area looked. The islands trees seemed to need rain. The island also has a lot of sprawl and cheap cinder block houses with rusting barrels out front at least from what I saw on my taxi ride across the island. I was surprised at the sprawl here in paradise.
We got off the ship and went to Coki Point/Coki Beach. It has some ramshackle huts run by great, friendly, Rastafarian-looking folk in marijuana-leaf shirts. The snorkel gear was $10. The Rastafarians will come take your order for drinks and cheeseburgers. Coki Beach is also right next to Coral World. You can view some incredible sea life at either end of the beach near the rocks. The best viewing is actually at the less visited side on the left as you face the sea. Be sure to wear sunscreen. Balding guys like me need to also wear a cap or really slather on the sunscreen up there. Ouch!
St. Thomas is supposed to be this great shopping place, but it and all the islands were a disappointment. Mind you, if you want to buy liquor and drag it home in big boxes, then the bargains are excellent. Every island on the cruise also offers the same selection of jewelry, liquor, t-shirts, and fake Prada/Kate Spade purses for the ladies. Most of the items like cologne that I priced were no cheaper than home or only a few dollars cheaper. In other words, snatch up a few t-shirts for the folks at home and head for the beach. If you want shopping, wait to go to the outlet malls back home!
Most of the cruise ships dock right near the shopping areas, but these docks were full. So, Century docked at Crown Point, a seemingly new secondary port. They are building new shops there but they are not finished yet. So, you will need a taxi to the shopping areas rather than being able to walk there.
Philipsburg on St. Maarten was probably the most beautiful stop. It is and seemed more European with a neat dock dividing a long line of beach. Along this beach are parallel lines of: beach, beach chairs/umbrellas, then hair-braiding and temporary henna tattoo artists, then bars/restaurants, and then the main street of shops. All very neat and compact. The stores sell the same things as on St. Thomas plus the local specialty, guavaberry liquor. Think fruit-flavored cough syrup. Be sure to get a free sample. Most of the shops are owned and ran by families from India originally.
A storekeeper on St. Maarten told me I could buy real Cuban cigars (which are contraband in the US because of the embargo of Cuba) and get them through customs if I removed the identifying bands and package. I dont smoke though.
Postcard stamps from the Netherlands Antilles are beautiful but a US $1 each.
At Philipsburg we used a tender to get into port. It took awhile longer to get to the dock but was quite a fun adventure.
While braided hair looked beautiful on many of the Caribbean women of African descent, the Americans of pale, winter pasty European descent who had their hair braided looked pretty awful. Bo Derek must be an exception. Dont do it or do it for the adventure and realize you look like a shaved rat! Ha
Nassau: We were again late getting to port in Nassau. I think the Century just has a problem covering the large distance from the eastern Caribbean to the Bahamas/Florida. We only had 3 hours in port and it poured rain much of it. Be sure to check out the newly rebuilt Straw Market to the right of the docks. It is a big flea market of tourist junk under a big canvas tent. Lots of bargaining to be had as the Bahamian women say Hey handsome, want to buy a bag? The straw bags with Nemo are cute for any kids back home.
Nassau is actually quite beautiful but we did not have time to explore. I wanted to check out the Atlantis resort, but again, we didnt have enough time in port to get there, see much, and get back.
Overall, the ports of call were a nice break from ship life, but rather disappointing with the same items for sale. St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau all have glorious beaches if you have the time in port to use them. I would have rather seen an island near St. Maarten rather than rush to see Nassau for only 3 hours.
1. Unless there is a large group entering at the same time, there usually is no difference in the time it takes to board as a priority or regular boarding according to a man who worked there.
2. A passport is handy but not necessary for a cruise to the eastern Mediterranean. American citizens need only their original birth certificate, a photo ID (i.e. drivers license) and their marriage certificate (if they changed their name when they married such as a wife taking her husbands family name).
3. Dont eat lunch off the ship the day you board. When you board, there will be a large lunch buffet waiting for you.
4. Figuring out which side of the ship has your cabin can be confusing. Keep in mind that all EVEN numbered cabins are on one side and all ODD numbered cabins are on the other. Remember this tip and you can always find your way.
5. Book any spa or other special events on the ship early because they fill up fast. If they offer one, the galley tour is especially interesting. Days at sea fill up especially quickly but there are usually spa opening when the ship is in dock.
6. Folks say that the on board casinos tend to pay out more early in a cruise and then dont near the end. Ive never seen any pattern: we all lost! Ha
7. When I travel, I tend to leave things in my suitcase and live out of it. On a cruise, however, it pays to take a few minutes and unpack. You can store your suitcases in the closet.
8. Worried about the dress code? Dont. I wore khaki pants, my blue blazer, and a nice, long-sleeved shirt on both informal and formal nights. On formal nights I just added a tie. I saw most of the younger and middle-aged people did the same. Older guests were usually the ones who were the best dressed and most formal.
9. You have to leave your packed bags out on the night before you dock. So, take a smaller bag to pack your toiletries, any last dirty clothes, medicines, etc. that you will need the last night and day of disembarkation.
10. Unless it involves some complicated travel, Ive always been able to find much cheaper excursions right off the boat. Instead of booking one of the Celebrity excursions to go snorkeling, we simply got off the boat, asked a taxi to take us to the best snorkeling beach, and paid $10 each for our equipment there. Most people who cruise regularly tell me that they find the on board excursions more expensive.
11. Develop an on board routine. We would get up. Have breakfast or go to the gym. Clean up. Go play the daily puzzle in the library and then begin whatever activities we had planned. Shuffleboard is fun and easy. Be sure to play. The rules are posted on the ship right by the courts.
12. Dont try to do everything. Find some time to read a book, listen to some music, or simply watch the sea.
13. Say thank you. The crew really works hard.
14. Take your own medicine chest of sunscreen, Imodium, Tums, Ibuprofen, antibiotics, band aids, Benadryl, etc. These items cost a fortune on the ship. Also, the on board medical facilities do not take insurance but do provide you with a detailed bill you can submit for reimbursement from your insurance company.
15. Celebrity now allows you to charge your end-of-voyage gratuities if you pay at least the recommended minimum.
16. If youve got kids, be sure to check out the TV. All of the rooms are capable of getting 24 hour porn channels on the TV, and they are not always turned off between cruises.