Year Started: 1988
Ships in Fleet: 10
Summary: This premium cruise line features beautiful ships on itineraries world-wide. Excellent cuisine, great service, roomy staterooms. Modern Luxury at value prices.
Regions:Caribbean Western, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Overall Service. Foodies. Seniors.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Seniors. Foodies. Overall Service.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Foodies. Value for Money.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii, Inland Waterways
Good for: Seniors. Families. Foodies.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Mediterranean Eastern, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Foodies. Overall Service. Value for Money.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Panama Canal, Europe
Good for: Seniors. Luxury Travelers. Singles.
Regions:Bermuda, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Good for: Group. Singles. First-time Cruisers.
London -- Harwich We thought we were lucky to discover "cruise trains" run by National Express, one per major sailing date this summer. We stayed at the Hyatt Andaz one block from the Liverpool Street Station, terminus for the "cruise trains" to Harwich. The Andaz is a very high tech, mod version of the old Great Eastern Hotel.
However, you can NOT count on the trains to run. Folks on the previous sailing had no trains TO the ship per the online reviews. We found out at the end of the cruise when they decided to work on the tracks (some Brits told us that was a ruse -- they just didn't want to pay the weekend labor). So now instead of a train to hold all of us and 2 weeks' cruise worth of luggage -- they sent a bus. Few could board that one. The next had no luggage hold -- so we stood out there another 2 hours til busses could hold us and our luggage.
Solution is to buy the ship's transfer. We balked at the price but regret that now. Not worth doing it on yourown when you don't know the port and you have to rely on small town transport.
Embarkation The train pulls up right next to the ship docks. Easy walk of one long block or so. No steps or stairs required for those so challenged. Some folks had paid no attention to the luggage tags given out in advance by Celebrity so that caused a hang-up as the porters had no clue who was coming or going, etc. Read your instructions, folks.
We arrived around 1:00 and had no trouble checking in. Heading up the gangplank was maybe a ten minute delay for security checks. Printing up the paperwork in advance off the Celebrity website made it smooth. We were greeted in the very attractive atrium by staff bearing platters of champagne. Period. No water or sparkling cider or juice. Everyone doesn't drink alcohol. It would have been nice to offer everyone a beverage after traipsing all the way to the coast and having paid lots of money for this cruise. Minor complaint.
Stateroom 6087 Easy to find. Mid-ship. Balcony was nice and felt more private than some on other lines. Well designed. Tasteful, clean, modern look - nothing garish or too mod. Bathroom is THE best of my ten cruises. Perfect sized shower for a non-suite category. Love that the shower curtain is affixed to the wall at one end so water can't easily flood the floor. Soaps provided. Hairdryer provided. Shaver outlets provided. Combination shampoo/conditioner in shower dispenser. Bathrobes provided. Umbrellas provided (and never used - hooray). One gifted canvas shoulder bag for going ashore. Ice bucket filled twice per day. Less movies on the tv than in years past unless you now want to pay. We never lost CNN coverage on this itinerary. Also some CBS comedy shows, sports and lots of ship info channels. View the enrichment lectures on upcoming ports from the comfort of your stateroom.
Cabin Attendant Fabian The best of my ten cruises. Service is what makes Celebrity so special, in my opinion. I also love the look of the ships, the cleanliness and the food - but the service overall is just so nice. Esp. after last sailing on a Holland America ship with an intentionally antagonistic F&B manager. And a cabin attendant we never knew the name of. Celebrity is number one in my book for service so thanks again Fabian.
One of the special things he did for us was to re-arrange the beds. They were not separated as we had requested. Nor had they been at the $500 a nite Andaz in London. No biggie so long as corrected before bed. What we changed after the first nite was keep Patty's bed adjacent to the bathroom and move the head of my bed up against the verandah window. This was the fix for my snoring that I am told penetrates right thru the ear plugs. Put the couch between the two beds so it all fits. Then the couch looks straight out the verandah rather than a side view so some folks would prefer that anyway. Each nite I pushed the heavy glass coffee table against the sliding glass door so I wouldn't hit it en route to the bathroom. The only thing I couldn't do in that configuration was use the bedside lamp. No biggie. And now I could peer out the window at the moon, bridges, islands, etc. Loved it.
Dining One of the reasons I love to cruise. Somehow I managed not to gain my usual pound per day on this one. Perhaps all the walking in Russia helped. We had the early seating for dinner. Very nice room as far as visuals. Not conducive to chat though. Noise level too high with so many folks coming and going and tableware clanking. Service was very pleasant but an occasional mistake in getting the right dish to the right patron. You could always choose from a standard selection menu if nothing appealed to you that night. New York steak, Caesar salad, etc. Nice backup plan.
Had some lovely entrees -- fish and steaks are certainly good enough for me. Midwestern tastes and not a gourmet. Willing to try the chilled fruit soups and some other rarities and enjoyed them. Everyone at our table agreed the soups are the best course on Celebrity - hot or cold - try em all. People seemed to concur that the seafood was high caliber. Loved the fish but can't testify to any shellfish myself. Pork chop one night was so juicy and tender. One woman at our table charmed the waiter into bringing an extra entrée for the table to share when we had trouble making a decision. Several nights people ordered a second serving of the entrée - and the plates were never left empty. We were quite pleased. Baked Alaska for the final formal dinner (of three). Nice coconut and exotic fruit desserts the other nights were superb.
Four of us went to the OceanLiners restaurant for dinner in memory of my mom's birthday. The room is dedicated to grand liners of the past, with panels from the Ile de France on one wall and display cases of historic ship memorabilia in the mosaic tiled foyer. Perfect way to sail out of St. Petersburg, dining to harp music, light in the air (sunset at nearly 11 p.m.) and the table surrounded by four or five handsome fellows so they could serve each course in unison to their eager patrons. Patty said it was the best steak she has had in her life. My fish dish was delicious. They added a free appetizer. Free petits fours. You felt very satisfied for this elegant change of pace one special evening. The $30 sounds steep but was worth every penny. I loved my chocolate soufflé. May I order one by mail??
Here is the menu for you to start salivating over: Starters: Classic Lobster Bisque, Tomato, Red Pepper & Mozzarella Soup, Caesar Salad, Salad of Diced Vegetables and Lobster, Smoked Salmon with Tuna Carpaccio, Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle, Frog Legs Provencale, Escalope of Foie Gras Normandy, Chilled Asparagus - sauce Gribiche. Entrees: Whole Dover sole Meuniere (YUM-O), Grilled Filet of Sea Bass, Scallops & Lobster, Magret of duck with sliced pears, Rack of Lamb in Puff Pastry, Large Shrimps Flambee, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Risotto al Funghi, Tenderloin Steak Diane. Cheese: A selection of Fine French Cheeses, apples, grapes and walnut bread. Desserts: Zabaglione with marsala, Coconut Crème Brulee, Chocolate Souffle, Chocolate and Orange Segment Mousse Cake, Light Lemon and Lime Mascarpone cheesecake, Ice creams and sorbets, bite-size surprises, coffee and petits fours.
From the sublime to the not, my reality check for Celebrity F&B folks. Room service quality has gone way down. Not only has the portion size decreased a third, the quality has too. The pepperoni pizza was decent, the tuna sandwich passable, the chefs salad not. The cookies are good. Beverage selection meager. I know - with all that good food in other venues, why whine about this? In certain ports, odd timing and all - you really need something delivered on occasion. One GOOD thing about room service in 08 versus my last Celebrity cruise in 04, you can now get the deluxe dinner from the main dining room menu. Just let your cabin attendant know before dinner service has begun. That was nice. Room service otherwise needs improvement.
Buffets were better than in past. More variety. Salads seemed more inventive here than in the main dining room. Lots of fresh fruits and cheeses. LOVE the POG - passion fruit, orange and guava juice, as well as lemonade in the self serve dispensers next to the iced tea, coffee, and water. Omelet station was very popular and for good reason. Also high quality for the waffles and French toast served at the rear of the other dining lines. Had some delicious BBQ and beef dishes worthy of the main dining room. Very nice quality overall. A healthy spa cuisine option at their end of the deck. The pool area right outside the main buffet has burgers, hot dogs and tacos. Also potato salad, other salad fixings too up until 6 pm daily. Or was it 5?
One downside re: buffet service -- some of the guys did not have the English skills to tell me what I was ordering. This happened more than once. They smiled and tried - but I really couldn't grasp what was being served and no identifying labels out front in the dessert section in particular. Ah well -ate it anyway! Separate ice cream areas were very popular. Several exotic fruit and non-sugar options to choose from as well as the usual favorites. Cups or cones, your choice.
My overall take on the food this cruise, I am very pleased. When about 50 pct. of what I taste is delicious, and another 25 pct. very good - I can easily forgive the remainder being average or even on rare occasion just not worth having. The one area I would skip in future was the do it yourself pasta bar. Once they add the veggies- you have an inch of water in the bottom. But again, I focus on the 50 pct delicious mark and ache to return when I am so fortunate. On the other cruise lines, I am afraid they hit delicious maybe 10 pct of the time. Not Celebrity. YUM.
Public Areas Lumping a lot of things together here for brevity so I can cover the Shore Excursions at more length on this port-intensive cruise. The theater is top notch - great lighting and sight lines. Well attended. Some of the solo acts were world class - the man who played Phantom in Australia, the gal who did Evita in the West End, classical musicians from top circuits in the world. Entertainment gets a high mark. The regular show cast has very talented singers and dancers - well choreographed, lavishly costumed, and most shows a real winner. The Broadway show rates 8 or 9 out of ten. The finale from around the world had dancers doing Irish and Can Can and Russian and Jazz - well done. Singers do Verdi arias as well as heartfelt national tunes. The aerialists were of the Cirque de Soleil genre and a big hit. The Latin theme show was not quite up to the same level. How many Ricky Martin numbers can one endure. There is only one Ricky and he wasn't on board, sorry to say.
Spa was wildly popular. Nice facilities. Hard to book so don't delay once you get onboard. One fun feature was a silent auction near the end of the cruise. You can bid for any spa treatments, including the teeth whitening at a bargain price. Women looked great coming out with their hair and nails done.
Lounges were very tasteful, pleasant music, nice art throughout the ship -- some of it a bit too modern for me but most of it quite interesting and well positioned. Shops had some fun events - Russian fashion show and "spot the fake amber" and so on. They brought out lots of Russian dolls,hats,chocolates,jewelry, etc. so you had plenty of shopping opportunities right on board.
Disappointed in the highly touted arboretum. They're silks, not live flowers.
I went to one of the ship's free classes. Most now come with a charge. Dino was very good with explaining how to store your photos online at home with various programming tips. Class was full so book early.
Casino had a lot of jackpots coming and going. I had the feeling I would hit my mom's favorite numbers on keno on her birthday. And sure enough, I put in $60 and all five came in for nearly $800. Tasty treats on trays in the casino late nites - but that does NOT make up for the lack of a midnight buffet. None - all gone. Kaput. The previous sailing had the final one under new policy. I know we are all eating less, and being more green and so on - but not ONE on a 2 wk. premium cruise? When they announced the ice carving display near the pool it felt like a slap that they still show off these skills but with NO buffet?? Sigh -- an unexpected change.
Shore Excursions/Ports Amsterdam: Been numerous times before so I didn't get off. I was lazy that day. Also we were given the impression the ship was far from the Central Station and central area I was familiar with. Our view was of modern apartments and minimal dock facilities. Once we went up to the buffet (an hour before sailing away) I could see we actually were close to some interesting ship museums, etc. and not so far away for one to walk it. Sigh. This was an ongoing source of frustration. Various staff members would guess how far we docked from port cities and some were so far off base, I'd prefer they had said they just didn't know. I like to get off and do some exploring on my own even though I also bought tours in every port. You might as well buy the ship's shuttle passes with the exceptions of Copenhagen, Tallinn and Stockholm. An easy 20 minute walk can get you somewhere in those ports, esp. Copenhagen where you are just 10 min. from the Little Mermaid along the water.
Warnemunde: We bought the ship's excursion to Berlin. Train was within easy walking distance from the ship. Chaos in the main theater where ALL the Berlin tours were to gather simultaneously. Why they didn't deploy some in the other empty areas of the ship I don't know. Casino was closed, the lounges were closed at 8 a.m. so split things up rather than having 1500 people walk down one aisle of the theater to get boarding passes. Other ports were less of a madhouse but it was a bad start to the day. The train was satisfactory - rather crowded. Not as much leg room as I recall on trains in Europe. Coffees, water and fruits were dispensed as part of the $300 tour. We chose the tour that included luncheon at a brewery, a riverboat tour, a bus tour by Checkpoint Charlie, and walking near Charlottenburg Palace, the main shopping street with KaDeWe, the Brandenburg Gates and the Reichstag. Walking rapidly we could barely see all of this interesting city in the time given. 3 hrs each way by train - a nice big German lunch served family style - platters of sausages, two kinds of potatoes, and apple strudel - very nice. A snack bag on the train ride home and the ship buffet served late for us. A good but tiring day and a nice intro to Berlin.
Stockholm: One of the great things about this port was getting there. The ship comes off the Baltic Sea into the archipelago of thousands of islands at around 3 a.m. For our sailing, the full moon was shining across the water so I had to sit up and gaze. Docked around sunrise. A rather difficult 20 min. walk to the main part of old town but I had some shopping to do in one of the countries of my ancestors. What made the walk tricky was winding thru an industrial port that isn't clearly marked while they build a new cruise port there. Also building a large ABBA museum there for future cruise patrons to enjoy.
Across the water you can see their small version of Tivoli Gardens, the Vasa historic Ship Museum, etc. Expect some sticker shock given the poor exchange rate of the US dollar. Scandinavia is costly. Think Switzerland. COSTLY. But you can still pick up trinkets and candies, etc for a few bucks. We took the Waterways tour in the afternoon. Leaves right from the ship's dock. Walking past the bow we got doused with water. The crew didn't realize anyone was walking there as all the other tours and paths into town left mid-ship. We complained and in typical Celebrity good customer service, they gave us free dry cleaning for those outfits. Several people with mobility problems had chosen this tour since they didn't have to board a bus. It was still a challenge as there was a short but rather steep gangplank. The crew helped and everyone made it -- but just barely. Out on the water for a couple hours got nippy (we didn't have any rain in 14 days -- or the snows that hit St P in mid-May, but it is NOT a warm weather cruise). Saw the old hotels and palace downtown, the newer housing area where they built an "Olympic Village" but never got the bid from the IOC, and some really lovely large buildings along the waterway. Not an earth shattering port but very nice to look at and worth exploring. Again -- the sailing out was great to watch -- dining on the verandah with a sweater on was perfect. Never knew about the Swedish archipelago but a very pleasant surprise to have seen.
Helsinki: Loved Finland. Just the whole north woods, clean air look and feel of the place. Very attractive and outgoing people. Nothing in the way of a skyline -- it's not that type of city. Nice sized port -- too far to walk into town on your own. The buildings are low rise and modern as the oldest building dates back just to 1740 or so. They only used wood to build at that point and it just didn't survive for long. We chose one of the "specialty" tours that day. We went out of the city to HVittrask, the home of the leading architects of early 1900's. The one that Americans will know best is Saarinen, whose son also became famous in the US after they emigrated. They designed the classic Pan Am building at JFK, the Dulles airport outside D.C., and the St. Louis Arch. They had a large studio and several homes in a compound out on a lake with birch and pine trees north of the big city maybe 20 miles. The home has some great design features of course, built on 7 levels within a 3 story home. Very nice for those with any interest in seeing some of the countryside as well as the design aspects. We then came back into town, the guide pointing out the old train station and other buildings done by the same trio of architects, the new Concert hall, the old Cathedral built by a friendly Czar (Peter the Great?). You then had the option of staying in town to shop. I wanted my buffet so back to the ship we went. And thus we found something you too might enjoy. Across the parking lot from our dock were two little souvenir shops with nice books, art and some clothing for sale. They took any currency -- dollars, euros, pounds, and that would turn out to be rare in other ports. And they had a little P C set up and I thought maybe they let you surf online for a few Euros -- but it was FREE. So rather than pay what the ship charges, do a quick check of mail, etc. online there. I had seen one opportunity like that in Stockholm at the 7-11 grocery, but not free, about 3 Euros for a half hour.
St. Petersburg: At last. This was what it all builds up to, two days in this historic capital of arts and politics of the old Russia. We learned early on how serious they were about the "visa" situation. There was a souvenir shop across the parking lot from the dock. Thinking it was similar to Helsinki, and we could just stroll across, we tried but were thwarted by the frowning guards: "Russian visa?" No. "You can't go." Okay -- we tried. I took an afternoon tour while Patty rested up for our big night in town. I went on a tour of the Russian Museum and the Church on Spilled Blood. There were very few tours left once we boarded in Harwich, so I advise you go right away if you have any special tours picked out. Most will sell out in every port. We later learned there was a board on the counter stating which were sold out, which took waiting lists, and which (rarely) had been cancelled (lack of sufficient interest). The interactive TV in your stateroom allows you to book right on the screen. The info would sometimes make it look as if it were sold out but if you went to the desk you could sometimes still get booked.
The day we docked was the biggest festival of the year in St P., commemorating the city's birthday anniv. Why did someone NOT know this in advance? Our tour bus could not cross the parade route. We could not walk across the parade route. Had someone thought of this in advance, the tour could have been moved to morning, before the parade route became an issue. Needless to say it was chaos, We had to walk an extra mile, then go through a packed sidewalk crowd of parade viewers for blocks, walk under the street via a Metro tunnel, back up, and then towards the Museum. The museum was worth it but we lost about 1.5 hours of tour time and were panicked about getting back in time for the grand evening tours. Loved the museum, displaying all these grand Russian artists we had never heard of. Really a pleasant surprise, other than the parade fiasco of course. Then we strolled across a park right to the Church on Spilled Blood, a work of art itself. This was built on the actual site of the Czar's shooting in the 1880's. He was standing next to the canal and so they had to build out into the canal to make room for this stunning church to be built, housing a shrine to him on the actual spot where his blood spilled. The church is made of millions of mosaic tiles all the way up to the onion domes, depicting Biblical scenes. Some of the walls are made of stunning semi-precious minerals jasper and rhodolite -- like a poor man's emerald and ruby. Really wonderful to see the inside of this place. And shopping nearby afterwards.
That night was the piece de resistance. We did the tour that you MUST try and do. So many people later said they wished they had gone. It was a Night of Splendour at the Hermitage, with the climax being a private ballet performance in what was Catherine's private theater. Two busses of people from our ship were the entire crowd that night. So approx. 75 lucky people were given a private tour thru all four main buildings of the Hermitage Museum, seeing all the highlights without spending hours crushed between other tour groups. Mind you, we were the second sailing of the season, so there were 4 large ships in town. By the height of the season, that grows to 7 ships. Any chance you have to see any palace without the throngs, DO IT. We only wish we had an extra nite so we could have done the other grand evening event at the Summer Palace as it was a madhouse the next day. After seeing the Michelangelos and Raphaels and rooms full of impressionist masters, we were treated to the ballet -- seven vignettes from the great ballets. Most were danced as a pas de deux, some solos, and also the flanking 8 swans for Swan Lake in addition to the prima ballerina.
Fantastic orchestra, awesome dancers, and in that special setting -- what a night to remember. We walked out to see the sun still in the sky at 10 p.m. and many crowds for the Festival night. We did the nine hour tour the next day entitled Pushkin and Peterhof. This allowed us to see both Summer palaces -- the first in the Czars Village 20 miles south of St. P. This is the blue palace -- nearly destroyed by Nazi bombs. The majority of arts and ceiling panels were evacuated far into the countryside and thus preserved. The amazing Amber Room panels are still missing. What you see now is a replication. Stunning. Great palace to see -- but the crowds, and the walking are starting to get to us. Then our guide wants us to see one more garden, one more statue. Very nice and enthusiastic girl but the audio system didn't always work and we were weary long before Peterhof, the next Palace out on the Gulf of Finland. If you read the tour description, you expect to walk around 2.5 or 3 miles -- forget about it. We had to walk double that by the time we got thru all the upper gardens, lower gardens, inner gardens and the truly comical and impressive fountains Peter built to amuse himself. This is the yellow palace with the Cascades flowing behind. You must put on these little booties to tour inside. And some folks slipped. The floors are slick and we were tired so it was a real challenge. We did get some good prices on souvenirs from hucksters outside. The old dark "fur" hats and souvenir scarves and postcards, all about half what the ship charged. (The ship did have very nice shops and not terribly overpriced really.)
So there was much to see -- and whether you did a Celebrity tour or the private tours, we all want to come back and see more of St Petersburg and Russia. The included lunch was bland -- they put out some caviar and vodka to dress it up -- but the rest was not close to what we had become accustomed to on the Constellation.
Tallinn: Okay it was interesting. Mind you we have just seen St Petersburg. Why we thought this little palace tour here (we chose the Upper Town tour) would be of any interest, I don't know. The old town was quite something -- the best preserved fortress walled town I have ever seen. More than a dozen of the huge towers still standing guard over the old town. Medieval church full of coats of arms was interesting. The palace -- not so much. This was the spare Motel Six palace I think -- only for passing thru Estonia or harboring a mistress or whatever. A few nice paintings, a nice chandelier, some truly nice gardens yes -- but after Peterhof, sorry. Pick another tour. Shopping in Estonia was a challenge. They just stared at my VISA card -- not seeming to know what one would do with it. This was in the premier modern shopping mall mind you, not some goat stall. The only place I could actually make a transaction was at the post office so I could mail some cards with their postmark. The ship charges TWO DOLLARS per foreign stamp -- any country, and in some countries that really is the going rate -- but in others like Estonia you save if you get your own. The ship will mail them when they pass thru that country again if you miss the deadline -- so they could still have the postmark of your choice -- just two wks. after you disembarked. Russia and Estonia -- best prices. Some places took all currencies, some only took their local monies. Hard to know in advance so be prepared for anything. Except VISA in Estonia -- they don't know what it means.
Copenhagen: Loved the place. The most expensive place but still great just to walk around -- great old buildings, great new buildings, friendly people. Amazing Tivoli Gardens. (amazing that a medium diet Coke was 7 dollars US, ouch) Definitely buy the ships' transfer as it includes the admission and the bus back. I walked the 75 min. back cuz I had not purchased it. And it's a long hike. The Gardens were full of stage performances, a variety of restaurants and rides and shops and great lighting and flower designs. Don't miss it. We did another specialty tour here, to the village of Dragor. Historic farming village out 15 miles or so along the sea. No cars allowed in their narrow streets so you could see thick thatched roofs, huge flowers blooming, wondrous old style homes, and also the ship that was used to smuggle Jews across the sea, one or two at a time lying in the back of this inauspicious little fishing boat. Loved strolling here for an hour or so. The tour included coffee and a pastry -- they don't call them Danish in Denmark, but instead "Vienna bread" and good it was. Then back through the very modern airport area of high speed trains and apartments and finally back through the old town of palaces and museums. Unfortunately our table mate was among 3 women who were pickpocketed here on the palace tours. Throngs of people pressing against you and all the victims had zippers unzipped on backpacks or bags. One man was also prey in either St P or Tallinn -- his cargo pants zipper was undone and the wallet taken. The guides were constantly warning us to watch our surroundings in St P and we were fine. But the guide in Denmark said that professional criminals bus in to target the crowds in summer and then again at Christmas markets. Otherwise it is the 2nd safest country in the world, after Iceland. Non-violent snatch and grabs but not a happy day for some.
Disembarkation Couldn't be smoother. People were off the ship early actually. Didn't do us any good given the lack of train service but nothing Celerity could have done other than beg us to buy their transfers. Actually we were still pondering that as Patty wasn't walking that smoothly after the Russian hikes -- but the ship cuts off those sales a couple of nites before the cruise ends -- so be forewarned.
What more to say. Loved the ship. Loved the cruise line. Loved the ports. Was it perfect? No, of course not. But I wish all cruises were this nice -- and that I could go more often. Keep up the good work Celebrity, but bring back a midnight buffet every couple of weeks okay?
We returned yesterday from a splendid cruise to St. Petersberg, etc.
The food, the ship, the entertainment, the excursions and the staff were totally excellent for 13 days.
After the tips were organised (we gave the maximum on our account, plus extras), the whole atmosphere changes.
On the last evening, while at dinner, our mini-bar was locked, fruit was removed, there was no room service breakfast on the last day, and we were woken at 4 am with noisy docking procedures. We were off the ship by 7.50am.
This left a very bad taste after a very good experience. It was sort of we`ve got your money -- now get lost!
Is it like this on all cruises?
Embarkation This cruise departed from Fort Lauderdale and we arrived at the port about 2PM. There were already plenty of people at the pier, but we had no problem getting through the check in process. Within 30 minutes we were onboard the ship and we were able to go directly to the staterooms. Was a little dissappointed that our luggage took as long as it did to get to the cabin. The boat drill was done at 6PM and while waiting for the drill on the balcony, we could actually see our bags still sitting in one of the bag cars on the pier. It was about 8PM when our bags finally arrived to the cabin.
Stateroom We had a balcony cabin, port side forward. The cabin was nearby to stairs and elevator bank, so it was always convenient to get to pool deck or below decks. Our stateroom attendant was great!! He made sure everything was acceptable and did a great job throughout the week to ensure our satisfaction.
The bed was great, except I will never get used to the rounded corners that they seem to use on thebeds. Was actually quite suprised at the size of the bathroom. The shower was bigger than any other cruise I had been on and was a pleasant suprise to be able to turn around without bumping against the walls.
Dining Rooms/Food The food was excellent. We ate in the dining rooms 4 nights and then ate in the buffet area the other evenings. Not sure which I enjoyed more!!! The buffet food was excellent each time we ate there. The only thing that probably made the dining room better was the personalized attention from the waiter. Breakfast in the buffet was also very good and had a wide variety of options each morning. Had lunch two days in the spa cafe, which offered healthier selections. It was unbelievalbe!!
Crew and Ship Shape Dru, the CD was great and very personable. Ran into him the first day and he took the time to talk and welcome us aboard. He also acknowledged us later in the week when we bumped into him again! The rest of the crew was also great and always did what it took to ensure you were satisfied. One night the bartender had to run to get another bottle to make my drink. He apologized numerous times for making me wait! Likewise, Luka at the pool bar was an exceptional bartender, both during the daytime and evening events held poolside.
The ship was in excellent condition. The crew does a great job keeping it clean and well maintained. The public areas were in great shape and you would never know that the ship was as old as it was. Everything looked brand new.
The casino was good and I won some money back by the end of the week, so that was a good thing!
The only complaint that I really had was that they were selling the soda package before the ship left port, but they had no cups! They continued to sell the packages and said we would get the cups the next day while in port in Key West, but we never got them. However, the bartenders just filled up a glass for us anytime we wanted. The larger cups would have been handier as we wouldn't have had to go back to get refills as often.
Ports of Call Key West: We just walked Duvall Street and did some shopping there.
Grand Cayman: We decided to take the tour out to Hell and back. It was very entertaining.
Cozumel: Fifth visit here, so we stayed onboard the ship and took advantage of the spa that day.
Belize City: We did the canopy tour and had a blast on the zip lines. Only disappointment was that we were not there long enough and when we got back to the port from the tour, all the shops had closed and the last tender was waiting to take us back to the ship.
Debarkation This went very smooth as we were on a departure prior to noon, and we were one of the first groups off the ship. However, getting a cab to the airport proved to be a challenge as the taxi stand guys were not taking people first come, first served. It took probably an additional 25 minutes to get out of the port than it should have taken due to the line for cabs and some people walking right up to the front of line and getting a cab ahead of others.
Perhaps the only thing as much fun as going on a cruise, is the anticipation of going on a cruise. It starts with exotic pictures in cruise brochures, and ends with the final step off the gangplank and onto your ship. In between are mentally "walking the ship" via deck plans, day dreams about perfect days at sea, and of course, the step you're enjoying now, reading reviews. While my memory is fresh and my body still automatically craves sushi at 5:30pm, I will do my best to give my impressions of Celebrity's Millennium.
Forgive me if I skip how many pairs of underwear I packed. The same goes for the co-pilot's name on my flight, what I had as an appetizer, or why I didn't wear my wife's stockings with my tux this trip (a long story). I will focus on the ship, the service and what you can expect YOUR vacation to be like.
To set a base line, we were a group of 24 Fiftyish friends with most of us having known each other almost 30 years and on some years with as many as 44 going. Ourgroup cruises every other year President's week to celebrate being friends and not being dead yet. The cruises began as a "once in a life time" year 2000 group vacation, aboard the SS Norway. Deciding cruising wasn't the worst thing in the world, we followed that with Grand Princess, Explorer of the Seas, and Infinity. This was our fifth, "once in a lifetime cruise".
We were so impressed with Celebrity on our last outing, that for the first time we repeated a cruise line. Keep in mind these are my impressions. I'm a 53 year old guy from the New York area. I eat in some of the best restaurants and see the best shows. I also love mystery meat on a stick from a sidewalk vendor and laugh at a well executed pratfall. You are not me. Your mileage may vary
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Millennium being tired and old have been greatly exaggerated.
THE SHIP While all Millennium Class ships are virtually the same, I would be depriving a future cruiser hungry for information if I didn't describe it.
The moment you swipe your seapass and cross off Millennium's gangplank you know you're in for a wonderful time. The Grand Foyer is a classic study of perfect "Goldilocks Elegance".
Don't look for that term in any architectural glossary, I made it up after two martinis. It means, not too much, not too little, but just right.
The marble on the deck three floor of the atrium absolutely sparkles, reflecting the dark wood and gold lettering of surrounding guest services desks. The backlit marble Grand Staircase glows soft amber and large swathes of tapered cloth form columns on each side.
From above the fat and juicy sound of a clarinet spirals down from the quartet that is playing. To the right of the stairs, the Olympic dining room with the lush wood and gold trim from the White Star Liner "Olympic" and tables set with fine crystal seems almost surreal. It is 11:30 AM and I'm drinking champagne that was handed to me with a warm "Welcome Aboard" from a white suited crew member. If I died then, it would be with a smile.
Beyond the Grand Foyer, the ship is just full of comfortable spaces that entice you to sit down, have a drink, eat some food, relax and enjoy. Almost every space is a gem, and it will be very easy for you to find your own personal favorite.
The Main restaurant, The Metropolitan, could almost be a stage set for the sea-going Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes".
The two levels of seating are surrounded by oversized portholes, and an entire two story glass wall facing aft. There is a wood steel grand staircase and those traditional curved "art deco-ish" steel railings are everywhere. Wood columns trimmed in gold support the ceiling, which is predominantly colorfully backlit glass. On two occasions a quartet played on the top level of the grand stair. Entering the Metropolitan on formal nights from the upper level with the orchestra playing, in my tux with the ever so ravishing "She who must be obeyed" on my arm, was about as good as a day in midwinter gets.
The Buffet area on deck 10 also doubles as a casual eating area at night. It is another wonderful windowed lined space. In the morning the way the sunlight plays around the room is very relaxing. Some very neat things in this room which are often overlooked, or perhaps overstepped, are the large acrylic portholes IN THE FLOOR which allow you to look straight down to the sea. I did notice, however, only few people liked to sit on them.
The Workout room on the ship seemed adequately equipped. I walk through it once with a drink while filming my wife's Pilates class. On a cruise I don't work out, I employ "Zamgwar-nomics" The more food I eat, the less the cruise cost. Those who did work out daily really enjoyed the space, with its' bow facing panoramas of windows. One member of our group did point out however, that if you're tall, and walk on the treadmill, you can't see out those same windows.
I meant to try the treadmill to see if it was true, but became detained on pool deck by a grilled burger and a perfect Bloody Mary.
Fortunes Casino is roomy and your typical ships' casino. Full of glitzy lights, big statues and ringing slot machines. It did have one large difference from all previous shipboard casinos I have been on. It gave me money, or rather returned a small portion of the vast sums of my money that have been living in ships casinos since 1990.
It was good to see my money again. I missed it.
Forward of the casino is the ship's piano bar, Michaels' Pub, which thus far, is the most beautiful a lounge as I have ever seen on a ship. White wooded panels line the room. Leather chairs and comfy couches are grouped in intimate settings. It is the kind of space you might mentally create if you envisioned what a classy room on a ship should look like. It never seemed very busy which struck me as odd because it is such a comfortable room. I actually wonder if it got more traffic when it was a cigar bar. My gang did have several rounds of after dinner drinks in the room one night and enjoyed it.
In fact this ship seemed full of small practically perfect, never crowded spaces. Considering we were there on peak vacation week, with a maximum passenger compliment, that says a lot for the ships design and flow.
Between decks eight and nine, was Words, the ship's Library. It is a surprisingly large and nicely decorated with globes and other "Library-obilia". The walls are rich wood. There are soft yet adequate reading lights, several big inviting chairs and plenty of books. The two floors are connected by a semi spiral stairwell. It is a really nice room and always one or two folks enjoying it.
Notes, the ships music library no longer exists. It is now an acupuncture area. I never had enough martinis this trip to pay to have pins stuck in my face. Perhaps next time.
The Emporium shopping area is really rather nice. It has the feeling of many small shops rather than some in your face ship's shopping area. Once again it was abundant with wood and brass, and the stores carried nice stuff. I actually purchased several things from the shops.
It was unique to see a ship purchase with my signature on it, without a bar tip added in
The Cova Café in the Grand Foyer falls under the category of a must visit spot.
Taking a break from the sun to enjoy a yummy cappuccino (extra charge) and some excellent music was heaven. Of course if you skip the music and coffee, the pastries (free) themselves are worth the visit.
Packed full of blooming flowers on Deck 11 is one real piece of eye candy, The Conservatory. While it is really just a flower shop, rather than a public room, entering it several times and smelling the fresh flowers caused my heart to skip a beat.
The heart skipping a beat may have also been caused by the amount of bacon and corned beef hash I was eating daily, but I prefer to think it was the flowers.
The pool decks are excellent. At first glance they seem to be too small for the size of the ship, but once again were just right. There are two main pools with two hot tubs. The lower level had plenty of padded lounge chairs, and upper level had an abundant amount of standard lounge chairs. The piercing blue of the sky and the water, the drinks from the mast bar, and reggae music made for two wonderful sea days. I could have used more.
If you want a deck chair poolside rather than in one of the many, many spaces with more than enough empty deck chairs around the ship, get your butt up early, and put it in one, as one member of our group faithfully did. Then share it when you go for lunch or a massage. Don't expect to saunter out at 11:30 after sleeping in and find prime seating left. Don't expect it after 9:30 for that matter.
My award for the most relaxing place on the ship goes to the thallasotherapy pool in the spa. Soft new age music fills the air. There are large plants hanging from the columns that support the glass roof. Padded teak lounges fill the room. To the side are linen cabanas with tables and chairs. No one under 18 is allowed in. The pool is really one giant salt water hot tub. On the sides are these "Bubble lounge benches". After fifteen minutes of sitting on one, every problem you've ever, had going clear back to that zit you had before the prom in High School, melts away. I visited it every day. I miss it now.
Thallasotherapy: It's as much fun to do as it is to say.
While I'm on the topic of the spa, most of our gang enjoyed the spa treatments, particularly the hot stone massages. I enjoyed the free sauna daily and showered in the men's changing room after, as they had very good showers. I once lucked into a free day pass for the Persian Garden. For free it was real nice, I wouldn't pay to do it twice.
Possibly the only disappointment in this ship (or any Millennium Class Ship) is that there is no wrap around exterior promenade. For me at least, walking around the top of the ship in the morning is not as "shippy" as doing miles around the ship on a promenade. Between the shade and the sea, it's hard to beat. It brings out a sense of a time when ships were "the only way to cross".
Any promenade however is better than hearing an alarm go off for work. I visited Millennium's promenade daily just to watch the sea woosh (surely a nautical term) by and feel what hair I still have, blow in the wind.
The open air cafe on deck 11 aft is better than a nice space on the ship, it's priceless. It pays homage to glory days of Ocean Liners with their huge teak fantails.
Although my experience is limited, the Oceanview cafe is as good an outdoor gathering space as I have seen on any newer ship. There was teak everywhere. It's in the tables, decking, rails, even the bar. The wood almost emits its own warm glow at sunset and sunrise. It was the perfect place to meet up with friends, have a drink and watch the stars and ships twinkle in the distance.
The Platinum Club is the ship's martini bar. It became a daily haunt all of us. The furniture is grouped in sets between large portholes which scream out "this is a ship damned it". The room is completed by the most perfect martinis, served perfectly.
In the day this area (and every area lined with these oversized portholes) is bathed in a wonderful wash of natural light and ocean views. At night the lighting is intimate enough to hide the fact that you have spilled gin on you tux.
Take this from one who knows.
On deck 11 forward is The Cosmos Lounge which during the day is just the GREATEST place to take a sun break and enjoy some outstanding views. It has floor to ceiling glass, a "starry theme" to it, comfy chairs and is a great place to sit and play captain and commander as you over look the bow. At night we had a blast dancing there. I also frequently crossed through the Rendez-Vous lounge, which was your average, comfortable, small show lounge. I never used the internet café, but I saw it. I also frequently passed through the Extreme Sports Bar, a small cocktail area on Deck 11 poolside, which seemed to be the "teen" place to hang.
SERVICE What seems to set Celebrity aside from the other cruise lines I've been on is how quickly everyone learns your name, and the genuinely warm way they greet you.
After one day, the Mast Barkeeps greeted us by name as we passed. Our beverage waiters no longer need our cards and the assistant waiter had the non-alcoholic drinks on the table as soon as we sat.
Our Martini waiter after one day had the name of each member of our large group memorized. He knew your drink. He knew approximately what time we would, like gin worshipping zombies, begin arriving each evening, and nightly reserved our drinking area. In fact crew members we didn't even know seemed to know us by name.
I found this amazing since I need to remember which way to put my pants on. I can only assume the ease of learning our names, had been reinforced by seeing them hundreds of times on bar receipts.
Some members of our group did have issues with their cabin steward, however, others wanted to take theirs home. One couple found CC service not worth the extra price, another found the CC service incredible. Their Steward actually tied their sons tie for formal night, and folded the kid's clothes that were on the floor.
I had a room charge issue at guest services which was resolved (at considerable length) but the staff was extremely courteous. At dinner, we were happily given a kid's only table for the children in our group. The table was (as requested) immediately next to the parents and with the same waiter. The waiter actually cut the youngest girl's meat. Our three tables were all located close enough for table banter during dinner. I didn't meet on person of the ship I wouldn't consider a professional
CABINS We were all on deck 7 aft and occupied standard balcony cabins, CC's and the FV on port side aft. The rooms were small, in fine shape, with no horrible wear and tear. One did have a moldy shower curtain that was quickly replaced. One had very worn deck furniture. They chose not to ask for it to be replaced. I'm certain it would have been. The Corner FV was fabulous with a HUGE balcony and if you can get it you should.
FOOD Buffet: I am not a big lunch buffet guy on any ship. That being said the lunch buffet is nothing special and in fact bland. What is special however is the "antiphonal" food that is available aside from the buffet. There are the waffles, pancakes and omelet stations in the morning. The Pizza, and pasta bar all day. The deck grill has French Fries that are akin to Belgium frits. The deck grill also has the crispiest bacon and all the fixin's for a perfect BLT. In the Spa Café I had a great grilled tuna and wonderful chicken wraps. My wife got a four cheese grilled cheese from the Deli aft. Then of course, there is the 5:30 sushi bar which was unique, wonderful, and sorely missed.
Main dining food was very good with some dishes (the Lamb Shank, and stuffed Cod) exceptional. The lamb Shank was so good, many of us asked to have it again another night. I personally noticed no drop in food quality since our '06 cruise. I did see many dinner offerings I don't remember. My tablemate (a meat and potatoes guy) however, felt some of the menu items had gotten too "fru-fru". Perhaps it is the fabled new menu slowly slipping in.
The Olympic was exceptional and the dining experience was as glorious and long as all other guests have indicated. We had no problem putting our Captain's Club reservation in well in advance.
ENTERTAINMENT Being lucky enough to make my living in the theater, I tend to be very picky about cruise ship shows. On Infinity in 2006, the entertainment was like the pizza, it was okay as long as you didn't come from New York or Chicago.
I can't be certain if it was the luck of my week, or the fullness of the martinis, but the caliber of entertainment on Millennium was for the most part, exceptional.
The Cova Café actually became a place I stopped at frequently, much more than on Infinity. It was a perfect venue for the superb A Cappella group which performed. It almost had the feeling of a private performance. I was sorry more from my group didn't get a chance to hear them. I also on two occasions relaxed to the quartet.
The musicians on the ship were unbelievable good.
The party band at the pool has got to be one of the most versatile groups I had ever heard on a ship. Poolside, as a reggae band, they sounded as if they were all related to Bob Marley. At the night-time deck party- they were a hot dance band. Playing in the Rendez-Vous lounge or up in Cosmos, their range ran from smooth jazz to an absolutely astounding rendition of "unchained melody" that would have given the Righteous Brothers cause to pause.
By far the best group on the ship was the house band when it performed Big Band Classics on formal night. It absolutely changed the attitude of the whole ship. Both the Platinum Club and the Rendez-Vous lounge were packed to the max and people were dancing on both levels as Sing-Sing-Sing wailed away. We were sad when our 8:30 seating opened because we wanted more. If I had a vote I would say both formal nights should feature the House band. After their three sets, passengers in large numbers just wanted to dance. And we did.
There was guitarist who sang around the ship that this time out I really didn't get to enjoy much, as our schedules didn't match. However, judging by the several numbers I heard him sing, he was very good.
I only found the pianist in Michael's lacking. Not as a singer, or musician, but as a piano bar performer. He was not able to read his audience. Every time the whole place would be on the verge of a whopping big sing-a-long, he would switch to some low key dirge, to the confusion of all. I heard the comment "maybe he doesn't like sharing the spotlight with the audience".
The Magician and the comedian in the main theater were also both great. I stopped in on each show and stayed to the finish. The comedian actually almost caused me to be late for my martini seating.
I wouldn't have missed martinis in fear that the world would have turned upside down.
MAINTENANCE I've never put this category in a trip report HOWEVER, since there is so much scuttlebutt in regard to it, I'm throwing my two cents in.
I have yet to be on a ship that didn't have a nick or a ding somewhere. I'm in much worse shape than the Millennium is, and I do sit-ups.
Maintenance is constant. During last week while we were heading down the gangplank in Puerto Rico, they were ripping up the rugs in the Olympic, replacing the rugs in an aft elevator lobby, Glass was being broken out and replaced and the deck railings were being hit with varnish remover, scraped and sanded. And those are just the things I noticed. Yes, some wooden deck furniture I could see from my balcony was beat up from the salt air and the constant "bleaching" that goes on day in and out to kill germs. I'm sure anything that might bother anyone is on a list to be replaced, and probably will be before you cruise. If it isn't replaced and ruins your cruise when you catch sight of it, you need to spend more time in the martini bar.
One person in our group did say to me the rugs were in terrible shape. I never really noticed that, but am glad now that I didn't pass out on one.
OTHER STUFF For me the ship is the thing. I do know, however, for others it is merely transportation. For those who require this stuff I will gladly provide the following;
Casa De Campo: Beach break was great. We were on the beach at a beautiful resort from approximately 10AM until 1:30PM. Open bar- No food.
Others in my group also raved about the excursion to Catalina Island. They said the snorkeling was super, guides were great, also free drinks.
Tortola: Loved the Bathes. I didn't meet the virgin, Gorda.
Puerto Rico: We did a great hike (on our own) around Old San Juan, and had a wonderful Mojita in the fabulous courtyard setting of "Il Convento" hotel next to the cathedral. Those on the trip who went to the Rain Forest hated it. Too much bus- Too little rain forest.
Pre-Cruise Hotel: We Stayed in the Best Western Oakland Park Inn. We enjoyed it FAR more than the Holiday Inn Express on 17th Street. It had clean rooms, great food close by, a super pool, wonderful staff, free breakfast and a fun tikki bar. My Wife & I even enjoyed the area better that 17th Street. I would not hesitate to stay there again. It was VERY REASONABLE. You may read my review on TripAdvisor.com
WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THOUGHT Those who have followed any of my trip reports know that before I exit the particular vacation I'm on, I ask gaggles of perfect strangers as well as those I'm traveling with, "How did you enjoy the week?"
This time out I spoke to 35 shipmate strangers.
26 were predominantly prior Princess or Celebrity guests and found the ship, food and service wonderful.
2 were Royal Caribbean and NCL customers and enjoyed it so much, they doubted they would go back to RCCL or NCL.
1 was a Princess Cruiser who felt Princess ships were much nicer but the Celebrity food and service were much better. She indicated her next trip would be with Celebrity.
2 found the food and service wonderful but that the ship was old and needed a dry dock.
3 found the quality of the ship significantly less than their previous Celebrity and were very disappointed.
1 gave a response that indicated that this had been an awful week.
In our group of 24 almost everyone gave the ship an 8.5 out of ten. Three of The Newbie cruisers in the group gave it a 10. Two friends who were first time Celebrity Sailors gave it a 7 and felt they enjoyed Princess much better.
All the kids in our group (except 1) gave the ship 9.5 or higher. Their favorite things were the "free" food, pizza , pool and freedom. Todd Jr. Gave the ship a 6. He said the food was great, but the ship wasn't modern. Interesting thoughts indeed from a young man 1/5 my age on his first cruise.
For me, as long as I'm not sitting in a life boat singing "Nearer My God to thee" any cruise is great. While I love Celebrity (Celebrity is now the Official cruise line of me) I am all about the ships. The one negative I had, is that it for all purposes Millennium is a carbon copy of Infinity. THAT IS A BAD THING food and service wise. I'm sure I would find the same on Summit or the Constellation. As far as cruising in February goes, I do like exploring new spaces more than going new places. President's week 2010 Celebrity's Solstice class or one of the Expanded Grand Class ships of Princess will be getting my vote for or next "once in a life time cruise."
Until then, I wish you all full drinks, smooth seas, and happy sailings.
We booked this cruise as my daughter's high school graduation present. The flight from home to JFK in New York was delayed four hours and we would miss our non-stop connection to Venice, so I called the airline to rebook us and they found a flight on Air France with a plane change in Paris. The connection was tight but we made it dashing through the airport, and arrived in Venice, without our luggage. In fact, there were 50 cabins on the ship whose luggage did not arrive before sailing. It was not located and forwarded until 4 days later. I contacted the 24 hour assist line at Travel Guard and they tracked it down and arranged to have it forwarded to Santorini. The ship provided free overnight laundry and provided me a tux and my wife and daughter dress shoes for the formal night.
While my wife and I had packed 2 days clothes in our carryon, my daughter hadn't bothered and had almost nothing extra with her, so we spent the second day in Venice buying some clothes for my daughter, underwear and socks, and a dress shirt andtie for me. It did get us out of St Mark's Square and into the side streets and shops of Venice. The first informal night was that night. There were 3 informal nights and 3 formal nights on this itinerary.
We had booked a category 2C balcony cabin, 6047. The cabin had a single sofa bed and the queen. If the sofa bed was open there was no space for the coffee table, and the room steward put it on the balcony. Closet space was adequate for the three of us and there were robes. There is an interactive TV and besides free movies, CNN International was available.
We had been assigned to a table for six for dining, but after seeing the maître 'd the first afternoon, we were assigned to our own table, at a table for 4. As this was the longest cruise we had been on I was curious if there would be much repetition on the dinner menu. My wife prefers to eat fish, and there was a different fish offering every night, including lobster. Prime rib was offered 3 times, but there was a variety of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and even duck, as well as a pasta choice every night. They did offer on various nights crepe suzettes, cherries jubilee, and baked Alaska. Service was superb from our wait staff, wine steward, and bar waitress. The had a brunch one day in the dining room from 10 to 1pm with a wide variety of offerings from omelets to carving stations. They also had one night they called a "white night" where everyone was encouraged to wear white and they served an international buffet in the pool area with the lounges removed and tables and chairs provided, instead of dining room meals. There was musical entertainment and several international food stations, including Greek, Italian, and French.
There is a grill in the very back of the lido-like buffet area which some people overlook. In the mornings it has French toast and waffles, and made to order sandwiches at lunch. The pizza station offers 3 or 4 varieties of pizza by the slice and will even make a pizza to order. My wife was pleased that they often also offered grilled veggies.
There were 3 omelet stations in the morning that can make any eggs to order, and they offered smoked salmon or gravlox every day, something I have missed on some other cruise lines.
In the solarium pool area, near the spa, they also offer health conscious light lunch food for several hours at mid day. The warm thalassotherapy pool in the adults only solarium was my favorite spot on sea days.
Entertainment consisted of 2 review-style shows which also included two aerialists. The other nights were a variety of comedians, musicians, and singers. There were a variety of music and dancing venues, ranging from oldies, to rock and pop in the disco, to classical. The Martini Bar is a popular spot, and offers martini flights of 6 samplers, and a champagne flight. The Cova Café offers Italian wine flights. They had three wine tastings during the cruise in the dining room in the afternoons. The first was a festival style, the first we've encountered aboard ship. They had wine stations from Italy, France, Spain, Australia, and the New World and light appetizers and you could go from table to table for almost 2 hours. The second features Reidel glassware and premium wines, and the third was a food and wine pairing session with various food items to compare with three wines.
Although we were berthed in Venice, the ship provided shuttle tenders to/from the town for $20 per person per day. In Dubrovnik they provided shuttle buses for $10 per person. We tendered in Santorini, and Villefrance, but they used commercial tenders and service was quick. All other ports we were berthed at piers.
When the ship leaves Venice it sails right through Venice, past St Mark's and the other islands. The view from the ship is excellent.
I hadn't been to Dubrovnik in over 30 years and it is still a marvel. We toured the Franciscan Monastery, walked the town, had lunch, and found bathing suits for my wife and daughter who were still without luggage. They don't use Euro, but rather Kuna, and it is not usable elsewhere. Credit cards are widely accepted, however.
This was my first visit to Santorini and the scenery of this volcanic island is spectacular. The white painted masonery town on the top overlooks the steep cliffs with the ship anchored below. There is a funicular for 4 Euros or a donkey ride for 5 Euros up the side of the cliff. We shopped on cobblestone pedestrian only streets and visited several churches before having an outstanding lunch of tzatziki, grilled cheese, village salad, and local wine. The weather was very hot. We rode the donkeys down the hill at my daughter's urging. It might have been less intimidating riding them up!
In Athens we had hired in advance a half day tour with George the Taxi Driver, whom I had used before. We drove from Piraeus to the Acropolis where we purchased a ticket for 12 Euros, and only 4 for my 18 year old daughter, which also admitted us to the Agora and Museum later. From the Acropolis we went to the Temple of Zeus and the Olympic stadium where the modern Olympics were resumed in the early 1900's, and then to the funicular ride up Mt Lykovetos (6 Euros). We also stopped at Syntagma Square to watch the changing of the guard in costumes at the tomb of their unknown soldiers. We then spent the afternoon walking through the Plaka and the Monistraki flea market area and a late afternoon Greek lunch before taking the Metro back to Piraeus for .80 Euro each. The ship was docked too far to walk, so we took a taxi from the Metro station to the pier for 6 Euro.
In Naples we docked in an industrial port area, while the MSC and Costa ships were able to berth at the terminal. We walked to the train station and purchased train tickets for a round trip ride to Pompeii. The tickets were 4.8 Euros each and the train took 45 minutes. The entrance to Pompeii is a block from the train station and admission is 11 Euros per person. Another very hot day but we enjoyed the walk all around this amazing city destroyed by lava from Mt Vesuvius and not rediscovered until the 1800's.
After the train back to town we took a taxi from the station to the Castle of the Egg on the waterfront and walked along the waterfront, finding a sidewalk café for pizza and wine in the birthplace of pizza! After lunch we walked to the San Carlo Opera House, and by the castle area and took a taxi back to the ship. I had been to Naples many times while in the Navy, but this was my first trip to Pompeii.
The next day was an early arrival in Civitavecchia for the visit to Rome. We had hired a car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours, owned by an American, for 9 hours and a guided tour of the Vatican by a professional guide. We spent 4 hours touring churches, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, and more. At 2pm we met our guide and had a detailed explanation of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. We took time for a late afternoon lunch in a nearby trattoria and then the ride back to the ship.
Livorno was also an early arrival for our visit to Florence and Pisa. We had another car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours for 9 hours. We drove to Michaelango Plaza overlooking Florence and by the old walls and past Pitti Palace, then into the city. We had time to walk the pedestrian area by the churches, the Accademia, the Uffizi Gallery, and across the Ponti Vecchio. We then drove into the Tuscan countryside to a villa and estate winery where we had an Italian luncheon of antipasto, pasta, chicken and salad and three wines. After lunch we drove to Pisa for a brief photo opportunity with the leaning tower, the baptistery and the church, and then back to the ship. We actually had about a 10-1/2 hour tour, with the only delay due to heavy traffic heading into Florence in the morning.
In Villefrance we anchored and took a short tender ride from the waterfront. The beach is within easy walking distance. Instead we chose to walk to the train station and buy roundtrip train tickets to Cannes for 12.8 Euros per person. The trains are modern and air-conditioned. In Cannes we walked from the station to the waterfront and marina. The building where they hold the Cannes Film Festival has a red carpet on the stairs and everyone poses on it. After a walk along the waterfront by the classic hotels, we headed back to the train station and took the short ride back to Nice. Again we walked to the waterfront and stopped in a few stores and had lunch in a café on a plaza. We caught the train back for the very short trip to Villefrance and back to the ship.
For debarkation they provide everyone with a meeting place and time to be called to disembark. Since we had a post-cruise hotel booked by the cruise line, we were the last to leave. The transfer took us to the Grand Hotel Havana, about 4 blocks northeast of the Plaza de Cataluna. While the rooms weren't available till 3pm, they stored the luggage. We walked back to the Plaza and purchased tickets for the hop on/hop off double-decker tourist buses. There are three routes, and we rode them all, transferring from line to line. The tickets were 17 Euros each and it took about 4-1/2 hours to ride them all, taking photos along the way, but not getting off to sightsee. It was a great way to see the whole city, and in several previous visits to Barcelona I had not really gotten beyond the Ramblas and the Gothic quarter. After finishing the bus tour we strolled the Ramblas and had lunch at a sidewalk café there. Then we went back to the hotel for a swim in the rooftop pool and then to dinner at a restaurant that has been in business a very long time and has hundreds of photos of VIP's hung on the walls, Las Caracoles. We taxied back to the hotel as we were to be in the lobby for the airport transfer at 7:10am. As the hotel breakfast opened at 7 we asked for a bagged lunch. They had it ready in the morning but the transfer bus didn't show up on time and we had time eat in the dining room where a hot buffet breakfast was included. The ride to the airport is short. The flight back to Newark from Barcelona was uneventful, but once back in the US we were again at the mercy of the not on time domestic airlines and arrived home about 3 hours late.
In summary, we had a great time on the Celebrity Summit. The ship is in great condition and the service is excellent. Every crew member we met was very accommodating. The were trying some innovative things like a toga night in the disco, the White Night dining, a brunch, and the "wine festival" wine tasting. The florist was able to provide corsages for my wife and daughter. The Assistant Maitre 'd was at our table every night and ordered some special dishes for my daughter. Currency was exchanged on request at the Guest Relations desk, at the rate of about $1.61 USD to the Euro. The food was very good, but the presentation could have been with more flair. The itinerary was excellent with two ports I had not visited despite having lived in Greece for 3 years and visiting a number of ports while on Navy ships. Venice and Santorini were my first visits there. Well done, Celebrity, for a fine graduation trip for my daughter.
Returning to Celebrity Cruises after a number of years absence (sailed on Zenith six cruises) was somewhat of a disappointment. Since Celebrity Cruises was acquired by RCL, Celebrity has lost some of its gleam, no longer the fine Greek cruise line of the past. That being said, onto the position cruise on the Celebrity Millennium during April 2008.
The Millennium now eight years old is in need of a complete refurbishment from top to bottom, everything is worn and dated from the staterooms to the public areas and mostly the outside areas need maintenance.
Since either Carnival, RCL or NCL own the bulk of the cruise lines these days, the past grandeur of cruising with its service, excellent food, above average entertainment and traditional aspects, Celebrity Cruise Lines has joined the ranks of generic -- and I mean generic everything -- I truly missed the wonderful cruising experiences I had on numerous cruises on Celebrity's Zenith pre-RCL and miss Celebrity's touches a lot.
Embarkation at Ft. Lauderdale was quick and easy, since after 40 plus cruises I ignored the request by Celebrity to board after 1pm and arrived at the pier about 11am.
Buffet lunchon the Lido deck the day of departure was nothing special and remained so for the entire 15 day cruise.
Late sitting in the main dining room has its advantages and my waiter and wine staff were very attentive and dining was unhurried. The food is another review (good to fair) and I will avoid boring you in this review about what needs to be fixed. One bright spot is the Olympic Restaurant ($30 per person), where the service and food was a throwback to the "good old days" of cruising (thank you Royal Viking Line and Crystal Cruises) which was standard for them.
Entertainment is abundant each evening throughout the ship and most is good to very good. One exception is the production show "Classic" in the main show facility. The production was too highbrow for the audience and most left the performance before its end.
My stateroom (7003) was the surprise of the cruise because I selected the cabin overlooking the bow of ship for the Panama Canal transit since the Millennium has no forward outside observation areas. Anyhow, the cabin was the size of a mini suite on most ships (approx 230 sq feet) and had a huge four foot diameter window facing the bow.
Since this was a "position cruise" the ports of call were not important, the star was the Panama Canal and after eight transits the canal never ceases to excite me. What a wonderful day it is doing the transit.
I would have liked to have had a couple or three more ports of call added to the itinerary to break up the four 2 and 3 days each sea legs. The ports of call were nothing to speak about particularily in Mexico. Acapulco is tired, PV is better and poor Cabo, it is a tourist nightmare.
Debarkation in San Francisco was as good as can be expected given that in SF the pier is run by the local unions at their pace. I had to ask to leave the ship 45 minutes after my assigned time in order to get my luggage, taxi to the airport and make my return flight to Southern California.
All in all, Celebrity still outshines Carnival, NCL and Princess and is on a par with Holland America and RCL. Would I cruise again with Celebrity? The answer is YES and as a matter of fact I am taking the new ship Celebrity Solstice on her first scheduled Transatlantic/Mediterrean cruise in April 2009. Also have a group taking the Celebrity Mercury roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii in November 2008 (looking forward to seeing the Mercury again, it has been 8 years since I sailed on her).
It was a horrendous experience sailing on Celebrity's Infinity from April 13 to 28, 2008 on a Panama cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco.
Upon reaching the dining room table and pulling the chair out, the fingers became instantly dirty and sticky because the chairs were never cleaned. Upon seating, the hands were placed under the seat to move the chair forward. Now both hands were dirty and sticky. All over the dining room you could see that people were keeping the sanitary wipes, available at the door, to use to pull the chairs back and then forward.
The Maitre D' never made an appearance. The assistant Maitre D's took our special order for pasta puttanesca, a common Italian pasta. What was served the next night was veal Milanese. We reordered the pasta puttanesca and what came the next day was spaghetti with chopped tomatoes in water, a tasteless dish lacking capers, olives, garlic, and any seasoning. At another dinner, the farfalle came with the same tasteless "sauce" of chopped tomatoes and water. It made no difference what pasta was ordered, all pasta had the same tasteless, thin, watery, non-descript "sauce."
There wereno scones at a Captain's Club elegant tea; no grapefruit halves at a breakfast in the dining room; and no Mojitos, because they were out of mint (and no one was going to find some). There were no mints in the bowl after many dinners. Often, there was not even a bowl.
The wahoo fish was very fishy; the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail was fishy and mealy; the poached halibut at the spa lunch was fishy; and the crab in the farfalle was fishy.
Even though it was on the menu, there were no stuffed zucchini. The vegetables are all cooked the same way, limp and tasteless, but the matzo balls were hard as a golf ball.
Most meats were tough and cooked cafeteria style. The osso bucco, which should fall off the bone, was as tough as can be.
An entire tray of entrées fell on the back of the lady at the next table.
When I asked the waiter for a piece of fish that could be undercooked (that is not dry and tough), I was told to preorder it with the Assistant Maitre D'. When a common item like extra bread sticks were requested, we were told that it had to be requisitioned ahead of time from the assistant Maître 'D. The term "requisitioned" was used often to the point that the standing joke on the entire cruise was "I guess they have to requisition it."
On the Lido deck buffet, there were too many drink machines out of order. Others were unmarked, and/or dispensed drinks incorrectly, such as dilute and watery iced tea and orange juice. Several ice machines were inoperative and two dispensed water, not ice cubes.
There were massive pieces of paint chipped off of the side of the ship revealing a metal base.
The large map posted on deck 3 showing the ships location was incorrect. It was one of South America and we were traversing the Panama Canal.
For spa service, a 75 minute salt glow and massage was scheduled by my wife. Ten minutes were devoted to completing paper work all designed to sell products. When she asked to use the restroom, it took three different attendants to find the rest room. During the service, the attendant did not know where the light for the shower was or how to turn on the hot water. There was no floor mat placed outside the shower so my wife stepped back out on salt crystals. The total service, including the wasted 10 minutes trying to sell her products, came to 65 minutes, not 75 minutes. No one thanked her or escorted her out. The next day she was called and told she did not pay. My wife was not directed to the front desk for payment upon conclusion; she was just left alone to change and leave. The spa manager never called back as she promised.
The toilet in our suite was broken and took four days to repair. The sink drain mechanism did not work. The water in the Jacuzzi was black and brackish.
The television set did not function; the remote was replaced three times and still did not work correctly by the end of the cruise. One of the remotes was held together by Scotch tape. The ITV person said that someone would fix the TV set the next morning when we were ashore; it was not. An assistant housekeeping manager came the next day and said that he would send someone immediately to fix the television set; that never happened.
There were two broken ceiling lights (replaced) and when we departed, there was another broken ceiling light. The door locking mechanism was broken -- the metal plate in the door jamb came off and although it was repaired, locking the door securely required a hard slam of the door.
The deck on the veranda was filthy with either bird droppings or paint spots. The gutter on the veranda deck was filthy. The Jacuzzi on the veranda was dirty with debris in it. The windows on the sliding doors leading to the veranda had not been washed for months. The cushioned fabric on the chaise lounge was old, worn, and dirty. The railing on the veranda had old, dirty and chipped varnish, making it impossible to rest your arm on the scratchy railing.
The veranda is useless because the design of the royal suites veranda is such that all the rooms on the three decks above look directly down on the veranda. We never had a morning breakfast on the veranda and could not use the lounge chairs or the Jacuzzi for that reason as there was no privacy. People above would stare right down at you.
The advertised "walk in closet" is 4-feet by 4-feet, large enough for one person to stand in a fixed position. Upon taking something off of the clothes rod, that person would then have to hold the item of clothing against the chest and then slide sideways out of the closet. The closet had three small drawers, to be shared by two people, and half of one clothes hanger rod was hidden behind the cabinet containing the three drawers and safe.
The Infinity book on the shelf in the room was eight years outdated. The IBM computer in the suite is a dysfunctional and outdated computer. IBM has not made personal computers for five years.
When I called another room, not my name but an incorrect name showed on their readout. The daily announcement stated that an "Attention to Detail" card was included. It was not. An oxymoron. There was no evaluation or questionnaire form and no invoice delivered at the end of the cruise.
I shared these deficiencies, complete with pictures, with the CEO, Don Hanrahan, and never received a reply.
Simply, the Infinity is an outdated, dysfunctional, and irrelevant ship.
This is a brief review of a very enjoyable 11 day cruise. Rather than repeat the details of my extensive Constellation review from December 2004, which may still be available on this web site, I shall highlight some of our favorite aspects of this ship and these ports. In addition, I shall offer some inexpensive suggestions for those who enjoy adventuring (or relaxing) on their own when visiting Grand Cayman, Aruba, Panama, Cartagena, or Cozumel.
Images of our cruise are available at www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk.
I am not in the travel business but have taken 20 previous cruises on a variety of ships, three of them on the Constellation. Reviews are by nature subjective, and I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in this review. I shall HIGHLIGHT major topics in all caps so that readers can skip down to areas of particular interest.
At 90,000 tons and a full complement of 1,950 passengers, the Celebrity Constellation is large enough to provide a diversity of dining and entertainment options but small enough to avoid most of the frustrations associated with today's mega-ships.
This begins with EMBARKATION, which went quickly and smoothly for us, partly becausewe had pre-registered and pre-printed our boarding passes through Celebrity's web site, and partly because our Celebrity Captain's Club membership level gave us an express check-in line. Just like airlines, cruise lines offer perks to previous customers, and it is worth the effort to join the passenger club of each cruise line one sails on.
The Constellation entered service in 2002 and has been well maintained. The design and décor of the ship remain fresh and attractive. The PUBLIC AREAS did not seem crowded on our cruise, except during some concerts in the Cova Café or Michaels Club, where it pays to arrive early.
The ship's library ("Words") has a pleasant choice of books available on the honor system. The former music-listening room ("Notes") is no longer available, which is probably due to the emergence of iPods since our previous cruise. The fitness area is well equipped and is mercifully quiet during much of the day. The lockers, saunas, and fitness equipment remain free to all passengers, which is a plus in this day of nickel-and-diming by some cruise lines. Fitness classes ranging from low-key yoga to high-energy aerobics are available for a reasonable fee and appeared to be popular.
On all Celebrity ships we enjoy the interesting and sometimes quirky art collections (distinct from the commercial art auctions), parts of which are world class and quite valuable. Some cruise lines provide recorded tours of their art collections, and Celebrity should offer this in the future. This would make a worthwhile option during days at sea, especially since quirky art benefits from good background information.
Perhaps my major complaint about the public areas on the Constellation, and on some other Celebrity ships, is the absence of self-service laundry facilities. We have sailed on a variety of mainstream, premium, and ultra-luxury ships, and they all provided free washers and dryers for passenger use. Ironically, damage to cabin furnishings caused by passengers hanging wet clothes and trying to iron in their cabins probably costs Celebrity a good deal more than free laundry facilities would.
Standard CABINS are of reasonable size and convenient design. On this cruise, which we booked several weeks before departure, we opted for an inside cabin. On some older ships an inside cabin may be painfully small (we have had some nasty surprises on other cruise lines), but on the Constellation they measure an adequate 170 square feet (about 15.5 square meters). Granted, one does not have the pleasure of sunshine and sea breezes that a balcony cabin affords, but the absolute darkness of an inside cabin is great for catching up on one's sleep after a busy day in port or a late night out.
Our cabin steward and his assistant treated us royally. They kept our cabin immaculately clean, and they refreshed our towels frequently. The bathroom is small but efficiently designed, with a shower only. One no longer finds designer-brand bath amenities in small bottles, but shower gel, shampoo, and body lotion are available in wall mounted dispensers, which is a plus for the environment since it eliminates all the former packaging waste. Fortunately, bathrobes are still provided in all cabin classes.
Celebrity prides itself on its fine DINING, and we enjoyed their offerings on this cruise. The increasingly weak dollar and high commodity prices have become a challenge for executive chefs on all cruise lines. On the Constellation the executive chef met this challenge successfully, and in addition provided a very funny and instructive cooking course during one of our days at sea.
We sailed on a small ultra-luxury ship in the Persian Gulf during the month prior to this cruise, so our expectations on this cruise were set higher than usual. The menu in the Constellation's main dining room still provides several choices for each course, although the kitchen was understandably less able to deal with special requests and substitutions than on a smaller ship. Our waiter was commendable and was very eager to obtain our feedback in case anything was not up to our expectations.
The major drawback of the main dining room on the Constellation, as on other large ships, is the noise. We found it difficult to maintain a conversation at our table of eight without shouting, which was a disappointment since our tablemates, all from England, turned out to be good sports and excellent company. The excessive noise diminished the sense of elegance and detracted from our enjoyment of the evening meals. On top of the usual noise, at the end of each meal there were several birthdays being celebrated, each with raucous singing by the staff and passengers, a tradition hopefully forgotten in the future.
We dined at the Oceans Restaurant only once. This elegant surcharged restaurant recreates the atmosphere of a bygone era of ocean travel from the 1930s. We made reservations to dine there our first night onboard, since we feared that Oceans would be fully booked as the cruise progressed. Surprisingly, there were only two other occupied tables that evening, so we received special attention from the well-trained and personable staff.
The Oceans menu is fixed for the duration of the cruise, and we felt that we had sampled everything we wanted on our first visit. The cuisine, like the décor, favors traditional items with dramatic tableside preparation of such items as Caesar salad and shrimp flambe. The menu did not seem very adventurous or inventive. Showmanship sometimes trumps flavor in such restaurants.
Oceans Restaurant also offers the option of a tasting menu with wine pairings. We received a complimentary amuse bouche from the tasting menu, and it was enjoyable. We are not wine buffs so we decided not to try this option. The regular menu surcharge was about $30, and the tasting menu with wine pairings was about $60 per person.
On our final night at sea we opted for informal dining in the area used for the lunch buffet. In the evening this area has an attentive wait staff, full linen and crystal on the tables, and a fixed but enjoyable menu. There was almost no one else dining there that evening, and the resulting peace and quiet added immeasurably to the pleasure. Since the kitchen was smaller and less stressed than at the main dining room, it also did a better job of making a few substitutions in side dishes. Had we known about this option earlier in the cruise, we would have dined there more often.
Similarly, at breakfast and lunch we were pleased to see that the standard buffet line has been supplemented with various cooked-to-order specialty stations such as Asian stir fry, Italian pasta, and a delicatessen. We uniformly preferred the specialty food that was prepared individually or in small quantities. For this reason the Aqua Spa buffet, which is somewhat hidden behind the sculpture at the indoor pool, was also a favorite of ours.
Enjoyable dining is very important when selecting a cruise ship, and my hope is that in the future cruise lines will eliminate or at least downsize their main dining rooms and instead provide multiple smaller restaurants and bistros with attached smaller kitchens. This certainly would be much easier on the wait staff. Perhaps our expectations have risen, but it seems that over the years the larger and larger main dining rooms on cruise ships have become less and less enjoyable.
The best upgrade on this cruise was the ENTERTAINMENT. There were still high caliber Broadway reviews and lounge acts in the main theater. There were still two very good dance bands with vocalists in the lounges, in addition to the main theater band. Perry, the enjoyably over-the-top cabaret singer, still performed in Michaels Club. But now Celebrity has added a variety of musicians in smaller venues. They even presented a wonderful Chopin piano recital by a prize-winning Israeli pianist in the main theater.
There were multiple concerts in the Cova Café and Michaels Club by classical musicians (strings, piano, and guitar). The classical musicians were from Belarus, and they played everything from show tunes to dance melodies to classical chamber music, both ensemble and in solo recitals. Their talent was breathtaking, and they were the highlight of our cruise.
In addition, there were multiple concerts by an all-American a cappella quartet. The quartet was a delight to listen to and very personable to speak with. They were just out of college, and this was their first cruise contract.
Let's hope that both the classical musicians and the a cappella quartet have many future contracts with Celebrity. These alternative concerts were so popular and so crowded that Celebrity would do well to add a small concert venue or a small stage with café seating in their future cruise ships. CELEBRITY DESERVES AN AWARD (and will certainly get our return business) for thinking outside the box and providing such wonderful music alternatives, the best we have encountered on any cruise ship. In addition, Celebrity has made an effort to provide enrichment lectures during days at sea, for which they also deserve praise.
IN SUMMARY, Celebrity Constellation in the Southern Caribbean and Panama is a wonderful cruise choice if one wants a large cruise ship with good food and excellent entertainment at a reasonable price. It will be interesting to see if Celebrity's newer and larger ships (Solstice and Equinox) will be even better.
PORTS OF CALL We chose this cruise partly because of the ITINERARY, which provided alternating day in port and day at sea. From Ft. Lauderdale we stopped at Grand Cayman, Aruba, Colon (Panama), Cartagena (Columbia), and Cozumel.
We have never transited the Panama Canal, so this was the highlight of the itinerary for us. Some cruise lines pass through the locks from the Caribbean to Gatun Lake and then back to the Caribbean. Instead, the Constellation remains in port at Colon, and those passengers wishing to experience the canal locks can do so in a small ferry as part of an optional excursion. This excursion costs about $150 through the cruise line, but the canal tolls are so high that cruise ships entering Gatun Lake must charge passengers an additional $120 in taxes, so the excursion cost is almost a wash. More about that later.
GRAND CAYMAN was our first port of call. This is a relatively expensive port because of the international off-shore banking community, and the absence of a cruise pier necessitates tendering between the ship and Georgetown. In the past, long waits for tenders to shore and back have given this island a bad reputation. On our cruise large local tenders supplemented the ship's own tenders, making the transfers fast and trouble free, even for those passengers without shore excursion reservations.
The most popular excursion on this island is a boat trip to Stingray City, a shallow area in the North Sound where one can stand or snorkel among surprisingly tame and friendly stingrays. This trip is available through the ship, or it can be booked from a variety of tour companies when onshore.
When on Grand Cayman, my wife and I prefer to relax and snorkel on famous Seven Mile Beach north of Georgetown. Much of the beach is now lined by a solid wall of resorts and condominiums, but there is a small relatively undeveloped area with shade trees at the public Cemetery Beach. To get there one simply walks a few blocks inland from the tender port to the main square to catch a public minibus, which costs about $2.50 US each way for the West Bay route along Seven Mile Beach. If you ask, the driver or a fellow passenger will alert you at the Cemetery Beach bus stop.
These buses also continue north to the turtle farm and the town of Hell (for those who want to visit Hell without having to stay there). Minibus service is frequent and reliable. As on most Caribbean islands, it is customary to greet fellow passengers when boarding the minibuses and to make room for other passengers as they enter and leave. A bonus is that the downtown bus stop is near the public library, where free internet access is available (but may be fully booked). In general, we have found that any internet café on the islands is much cheaper than the internet service on cruise ships and just as fast.
Our second port was ARUBA. Cruise ships dock at Oranjestad. The town is quite pleasant and there are several nice beaches north of town. The public bus terminal is in a large square behind the façade across the street from the cruise dock. Buses to beautiful Arashi beach (the northern terminus) leave several times per hour. Again, most of the route is lined by large condominiums and resorts, but Arashi Beach is undeveloped, although there are shade huts and a restroom.
An easy walk north from Arashi Beach is the California lighthouse, with a nearby restaurant and a nice view over the island and shoreline. Small dunes nearby also provide interesting walks. A short walk along the road south of Arashi Beach brings one to an area for snorkeling at Malmok. Offshore is the wreck of the Antilia, but this is too far and too deep for safe off shore snorkeling.
Along the way, the bus stops at several large resorts with their own beaches, but we met several vacationers who left their resorts to spend the day at Arashi, which they preferred. Also along the way is a windsurf rental area for those who enjoy the sport.
Our third port was the city of COLON Panama, at the Atlantic entrance to the PANAMA CANAL. Because this was the most important port on our cruise, we booked the canal ferry excursion offered by Celebrity via their website booking service. This service requires immediate payment by credit card and cannot be charged to one's shipboard account. As outlined above, it costs $150 per person for a 7 hour journey by bus and then ferry through the San Pedro and San Miguel locks to the Pacific Ocean, and back to the cruise ship by bus.
As mentioned above, this excursion costs only a little more than the additional tax for cruise ships that pass into and back out of the Gatun locks, and costs only a little more than the same excursion when booked ashore, which we did not risk due to the tight schedule. For us this excursion was very enjoyable and worth every penny. In fact, it was the first time in 20 cruises that we booked an excursion through our cruise line rather than traveling independently. Being on a small ferry rather than a large ship makes the canal engineering all the more impressive, and the ferry transits two sets of locks and travels all the way to the Pacific.
We did not spend any time in the city of Colon itself, but the cruise terminal has a pleasant sheltered market for souvenir shopping, including handicrafts from the local Indians. Their embroidery is famous and makes excellent, easy-to-pack pillow covers and shirt appliques.
Our fourth port was CARTAGENA Columbia, the historic center of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, some passengers were spooked by the reputation of Columbia and did not leave the ship. They missed one of the most photogenic cruise ports in the western hemisphere.
We made an effort to go ashore as soon as the ship was cleared, and we were glad we did. The town was wonderfully peaceful for several hours until it began to fill with tour groups from our ship and from the QE2, which was docked with us. Street vendors will offer their wares but will not pressure you if you politely decline. Remember that they are simply trying to earn a living and merit your respect.
Colon has a very pleasant cruise terminal with a free shuttle from the ship and a taxi stand just outside. A taxi ride for three people to the old town clock tower gate costs a standard $15 US. The price is posted at the taxi stand, but should be confirmed with the driver before entering the taxi. Make certain that the driver takes you up to the gate and does not drop you a few blocks away at the convention center. Return taxis are easy to find, and when metered they are less than $15 for the return trip.
For those who prefer, local English speaking guides are available in the town and via the internet. They can add interesting information and a sense of security, but we preferred to wander on our own and were quite comfortable doing so. We even came across a movie being filmed near the town walls.
Our fifth port was COZUMEL. This can be a hectic port -- when there I counted seven other cruise ships, together off-loading more than 15,000 passengers. To avoid the crowds we simply snorkeled from a dive shop that was a short walk north of our cruise dock (the most southerly of the three Cozumel cruise docks).
While eating a late breakfast, we noticed several snorkel tour boats tied up not far from our ship. Assuming that the locals know the best snorkel spots, we walked north along the shore to a nearby dive shop diagonally across from the large thatch roof pyramid in front of one of the hotels. The dive shop is in a small whitewashed building down a short drive adjacent to a walled resort beach. It offers free lockers (bring your own padlocks), a changing area, and an easy water entry.
In the past we had taken taxis to various snorkel spots south of San Miguel town, but this snorkel site was just as enjoyable and could not have been more convenient. Those who want to relax on a beach, however, will still need to take a taxi several miles south.
Have a wonderful cruise and happy port adventures!
Beware of Celebrity!
Summit ship was a unsafe experience.
If you like to smoke and use illegal drugs, Celebrity is the cruise ship for you. We are non-smokers and quiet vacationers. The people next to us were abusive, drug users and violent to each other all day and night.
Security on the ship is way too slow to help. The management on the ship doesn't care. The people on the other side of the party room were upset. They were older people and they really got ignored. It was very upsetting to my vacation. Once they have your money, they ignore you.
Please be careful. This was not a happy vacation for us.
We will cruise again, but not with Celebrity. Last year we did a cruise on Princess. That was a better experience.
Also, the food quality on the Celebrity ship was very, very poor.
Embarkation The ship leaves at 11pm on a Saturday from San Juan, PR. For most people it might not be a problem to leave very early the day of the cruise, but from the West Coast or Canada this could be a problem. If you come the night before, be aware the cost of hotel rooms in San Juan is prohibitive!! Taxi TO port from Juan Marin: For two persons $21.50 including luggage. Very well organized taxi stand at Juan Marin. Make sure the dispatcher/taxi driver knows the pier to go to. Summit leaves from Pan American Pier. Port: There is no place around there to leave the stuff after checking in to spend some time in San Juan. You need to take a taxi for that. We elected to stay on the ship. Check in is anytime from 2pm onwards. Check in was very fast indeed and this set the tone for the cruise: Very relaxing, very well organized and an excellent vacation.
Ship There was a good welcome as you entered. The Room as you enter is very well set up with maple walls, polished nickel hardware, stylish lampsetc. However, the bathroom was an oddity. Specifically it was not well done at all. Chipped sink, basic apartment type hardware, caulking, tile work etc. Bear in mind they do not have very good storage of cosmetics, etc. You have to use the below sink cabinet.
Food The food was also an oddity. For what I would consider a premium cruise, the food at dinner was more like hospital food in terms of taste, not quality of ingredients. The latter was excellent and top notch, however very few of the dishes had any taste at all. I like my food heavily seasoned but it appeared they tend to cater to bland tasters. This was a disappointment. The food on deck 10 Waterfall Cafe was excellent. They had pasta (al dente always), sushi etc. Breakfast was very good.
Passengers My observation was this line caters to the 45 onwards crowd. At the dinner formal black tie night, I thought I was on a ship with CEO's. At one of the Frequent Cruiser Cocktail mixers, I entered when they were playing Moon River. Enough said. The rest of the events were better.
Entertainment Excellent theater shows, the magician and comedian was so so. Oddly, this ship for a Caribbean itinerary had NO Caribbean music or bands. Not sure why. In fact, the line appeared to deemphasize the Caribbean. Even the wait staff tended to be from Europe. Odd. The cuisine also had nothing to do with the Caribbean.
Itinerary Excellent and varied. We docked at Saint Maarten, Granada, Dominica (not Dominican Republic -- I wouldn't go there), Bonaire, Aruba. The best was Granada and Dominica. Both islands have the only rain forest in the islands except Puerto Rico. Bonaire and Aruba were great if all you wanted was the beach. I liked the varied landscapes rather than just beach.
Disembarkaton Very well organized. We should all remember that it's not the cruise ship that delays us off the boat. It is the long lines for Department of Border Security. Hope this helps.
Overall A very relaxing and above average cruise experience. We are doing this again on a different itinerary in a few months time with the same cruise line.