As Celebrity's Century approaches her 10th birthday, we take a look back at her inaugural year, her present state, and the company's newly announced plans for a major overhaul to the ship next year.
It's December 1995, and I am about to set out on my second cruise aboard the new 70,600-ton Celebrity Century, on her second sailing. I had convinced a group of 11 friends and family that cruising was the best vacation value for the dollar, and that a new ship would be ideal for our mini-group.
As we approached the pier, seeing Century in her berth in Ft. Lauderdale left me somewhat under-whelmed. She didn't stand out as the most beautiful ship, but her abundant beauty became obvious as we crossed the gangway to her strikingly impressive interior.
As we entered the Grand Restaurant, the ship's main dining room, I felt it was indeed one of the grandest rooms I'd ever dined in. It is at the stern, with enormous two-story windows providing a magnificent view of where the ship has been. One of the earliest modern ships to feature a grand staircase from the upper level of the dining room to the lower, Century provided us with a thrill as we made our "entrance" to the dining room down that staircase each evening, past large columns and rich cherry woodwork.
At the time, Century was the most modern showpiece for Chandris Line. And at 70,606 tons, it was at the forefront of the coming trend to build more elaborate and larger ships, with increased passenger capacities. In 1995, she was on the cutting edge of the new style of vessels being referred to as mega-ships. The mass-market cruise lines were just beginning to take the economic "theory of scale" to heart as a business model. The industry was entering an unprecedented boom in consumer demand and in the number of new ships.
As much as we loved the Century, we found the officers and crew to be aloof, distant, and reserved. It was the second sailing of the ship, and we encountered some "new ship glitches" that we felt weren't handled well by the staff when we tried to solve problems.
After the horrendous events of 9-11, and in the midst of a boom of cruise line shipbuilding, the industry experienced a general slowdown in bookings, accompanied by fare discounting, and a result the cruise passenger market broadened even more.
In December of 2005, Century will celebrate her 10th anniversary. The road (sea) she's traveled has been interesting. As newer ships with more modern amenities and design were introduced, Century continued to have a loyal following of repeat passengers and satisfied new customers.
Some general maintenance issues are dealt with on the ship during her day-to-day sailings, but over her 10-year lifespan Century has also had several dry docks for refurbishment of public area carpeting, furnishings, fixtures, etc. However, her original design features were left intact -- a "classic liner" feel.
Returning to the Century now, in most public areas she looked and felt remarkably similar to when we first sailed her 10 years earlier. The public areas shine brightly as a result of a decade of excellent maintenance.
Admittedly, as we spent more time on the ship, we saw some furnishings beginning to show age. The cabins - particularly the bathrooms in some - are in need of replacement and/or refurbishment. The once-fashionable overstuffed sofas in the Rendezvous Square have lost much of their stuffing, so sitting on them can be uncomfortable.
The Islands Café, which serves the buffet, is the area most visibly in need of attention. The upholstery, though clean, appears and worn and dated.
Despite these shortcomings, the overall cruise experience, in my view, is better today than when the ship first sailed. The staff and crew members are now a happy, friendly bunch, and their good training shines through. Everyone we encountered was eager to please, and to take an extra step to make their guests happy. The fabulous attitude and service leads one to overlook the minor aging issues of the ship itself.
One thing the 10-year-old Century is missing compared with many ships that came after her is an abundance of cabins with private balconies. When she was built, the private balcony hadn't yet become the rage, and Century only featured them in her top 61 suites.
After sailing her recently, I am convinced that with some upgrading in a few areas, she'll provide as good a cruise experience as the modern new-builds.
In April 2006, during a five-week dry dock, Celebrity is going to add 314 balconies to outside staterooms. These balconies will be built onto the outside of the ship, and with changes necessary to cabin layouts, will make the interior cabin space slightly larger. The new balconies will be slightly larger than those on the existing balcony cabins.
On the present Sports Deck (Deck 12 aft), the cruise line will add 14 new Sky Suites, as well as several larger, family-style ocean-view cabins, and a few more inside cabins. This plan for additional cabins will require the removal of the Sky Bar on Deck 12. Some of these balcony cabins will have not only adjoining doors, but adjoining balconies to enlarge the areas for families or friends traveling together. A fully equipped sports deck with basketball and paddleball courts will be added above on Deck 13.
While construction takes place, changes will also be made to the interiors of some public rooms. The casual buffet, Islands Café, will be updated with the ambience of a Mediterranean café, and a permanent sushi bar will be added. Outside of Islands Café, on the stern on Deck 11, a new area for outdoor dining, complete with a new bar, will be added.
The popular Cova Café on Deck 6 will get a new look as well, to more closely resemble the atmosphere of a sidewalk café in Italy.
Good news for families sailing with Celebrity: A dedicated teen club will be carved out from part of the underutilized Crystal Lounge, on Deck 7 aft. Improvements are also planned for the "Fun Factory" for younger kids. Wireless Internet access will be made available throughout the ship if engineering limitations permit.
During the upgrade, Celebrity is not going to forget its dedicated employees, with plans to update the leisure areas for crew. They will also add new crew cabins forward on Decks 4 and 5 to accommodate the extra crew required by the additional passenger cabins.
The engineering required to bring this design plan together will necessitate adding some steel to the bow and stern of the ship. A 200 ton "ducktail" will be added at the stern, under the water line, to ensure greater stability. The marvel of all of this work is that it will reduce the ship's top speed by only 0.1 knot.
These ambitious plans should bring a beautiful ship into a position to provide Celebrity's passengers a 21st Century cruise experience, with all the amenities that implies. Yet I believe it will do so without altering the "heart" of Celebrity's original design theme.
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