by David Miklas
May 5, 2001
My wife and I cruised on the Century from May 5-12, 2001 on the Eastern Caribbean cruise (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau). I will give some info & tips about the ship first and then some info & tips about each of the ports. My goal in writing this is to give an overview of what I would have found helpful prior to cruising. If this is your first cruise and you do not understand how the tipping works or what an excursion is, or how you can order multiple entrees if you like, then please read some of the other postings concerning this cruise ship as well as the travel forums. If you have time, I suggest reading about 10 other cruise review postings to get a flavor of what other people have to offer as suggestions. This can be helpful because people don't always mention the same things (like you can buy loose gemstones such as topaz and amethyst for $10/carat on the ship) because it did not matter to them, or they had not even known about it. For example, I am certain that people who actually used the spa (unlike me) can give some insight to you as to the value of the massages (which appeared to be priced at the same rate as a massage in the states).
Info / tips about the Ship:
The Century is very clean and the crew is always cleaning it. The ship is very well kept - However, do not expect the same level of "fun" that you would get from Carnival. Although Century has plenty of events planned, it is a little more of a relaxing ship than you would get if you traveled on Carnival, which bills itself as the "fun" line.
For example, on the Century, you will receive NO announcements to let you know that there is a pool party going on at 2pm or that there will be an excursion talk at 4pm - just read your little daily newsletter that they give you and you will be kept up to date. However, the ship does record the excursion talks and the shopping advice talks and replays them all day long (which you can view on one of the channels on your cabin TV).
The crew is all very polite. The ship is focused on the 30-50 age group and that is about what the majority of people on it are. There were a handful of children on the ship - but hardly any - so if you don't like to hear kids screaming and whining, this is a pretty good cruise for you.
The cabin was great. We had an inside statesroom on the 9th floor and it was wonderful. 3 big closets for storage and our 3 big suitcases fit under the bed. The bathroom is equipped with a hairdryer (but my wife still brought her own from home and used her own because it was more powerful). They also give you shampoo and soap (but my wife still used her own shampoo & conditioner from home). They also provide terrycloth robes ($50 each if you try to steal them), a safe to store your jewelry and passports (about the size of a shoebox), and about 12 hangers for the closet (if you want to hang more than that, bring some hangers from home). They give you a free canvas carrying bag (that you can use to carry beach stuff (such as sunscreen)). They also provide you with big beach towels that you can take on the islands (but if you lose them, expect to pay $26 / towel). Out by the pool, they provide smaller towels, so don't worry about that.
Our cabin steward also brought us ice and fresh water twice a day and at night gave us a mint and a card that informed us what the next day's weather was expected to be.
The ship has a gym that is pretty nice as far as cruise ships go. It had three stair climbers, about 15 treadmills and 15 bikes and about 15 pieces of Nautilus equipment and a few benches and freeweight dumbbells. The view is great while working out, but if the seas are rough, then it will be hard to do the treadmill!
The ship has a movie theatre (a room with seats that are the same kind that you find in a real movie theater) and shows 2 different movies daily (I am not positive but there are about 10 different movies that will be shown during the week) - 2 different movies each day but they replay a couple of them later in the week. They always showed one of the movies in the early evening (beginning around 6 or 7 or 8 p.m.). Since we had second seating dinner (8:30 p.m.) we pretty much were not able to make the second movie. Furthermore, we were usually too busy to even make the first one that was showing (showing earlier in the day - such as at 10:30 a.m. and again at 3:30 p.m.).
As you walk around the ship, you will see about $1.5 million worth of art throughout the ship. Also, there are several art auctions (selling other pieces). The ship also provides seminars at the AquaSpa (such as tips on eating habits and how to take care of your nails) but expect them to use this as an opportunity to offer their services to you (such as a fat reduction wrap and cream).
The ship has a nice library from which you can check out books and even play board games such as checkers or scrabble. There is also a separate card room, a basketball court, a video arcade (which takes quarters) and shuffleboard. The ship has some festivities by the pool (such as pool volleyball) and there is a mediocre band out by the pool that plays music such as Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley. The selection of music is apropos for a cruise (such as "Hot Hot Hot"), but the quality of the band was just so/so - unless you get really drunk, then they will undoubtedly sound better.
The ship always has a drink of the day, which costs $7.00 each, and you get to keep the souvenir glass (which you will probably sell at your next garage sale). The first day that you board the ship, they really push the drink of the day and many people do not realize that it is not free. You do not need to carry any cash on the ship (obviously you will need to bring some cash for the taxis and stuff on the islands). On the ship you just use your room key for all purchases (including drink purchases).
The ship has a photographer and as is to be expected, the prices of the pictures are expensive. Bring a camera with you to dinner (at least on the formal nights) and have one of your tablemates (or better yet, the busboy) take a picture of you all dressed up.
There is a golf pro on the ship and you can get golf lessons and use a simulator to improve your swing (I have no idea how much that cost). There is a comedian (who does an act involving balancing on a ladder) which was enjoyable, and a singer (Mark Preston) which we missed. There are a few "shows" which are Las Vegas style shows, which involved 4 singers and about 10 dancers. Their performances were nice to watch but not worth missing anything else for. Although some of the singers and dancers were really good, the rest were just average, college level performances. I overheard a few people commenting that the shows would have been more enjoyable if the dancers lost some weight.
The disco opened at 11:00 p.m. and there were at least 2 nights where people sang Karaoke. There were dance lessons available but it is scheduled when other things are going on, so you may have to choose. You can watch pay-per-view videos in your cabin and can even play casino games in the cabin (which charge your losses to your beverage card). The ship's casino is pretty nice and on the very first day of the cruise they give out instructions on how to play some of the popular games (such as Blackjack). You can buy fresh flowers on the ship (also no clue as to the price), and one of the last few days there are designer watches on sale for $70. They also sell some fake costume jewelry (I think the rings were $25) and real loose gemstones for $10 per carat (obviously the gemstones available at this price do not include the emeralds, sapphires or rubies (but did include blue topaz, amethyst, garnet and one of the ugly yellow stones). There is an opportunity to "guess the fake" ring (most people guessed the largest stone as being fake, but it was actually a real stone that cost about $9,000).
They also sell something called "inch of gold" and I don't care what they tell you, it is not real gold if it only costs $1.00 per inch. Anyway, if you ran out of money - this may be an option. Also, it is a neat gag gift. You can select one of the gaudy types of chains that they have and for about 10 bucks you can have a nice gag gift to give someone when you return and tell them that you got it for them in St. Thomas.
The ship has designated smoking areas and smoking is forbidden in the library, theatre, Grand Restaurant and the Islands Cafe. In the pool area (there are 2 saltwater pools and 4 hot tubs (at different temperatures) smoking is permitted on the port (left) side of the ship (and that is where the ash trays are located).
There is an ATM on board and if you blow all your money in the casino, they will even extend a $1500 per day advance to you. I even overheard some lady telling someone that they even would give her a title loan on her car!
EMBARKATION - This was very well organized and went very smoothly. We arrived at the port at 11:00 am and we filled out some paperwork and we were on the ship by 11:15 am. The cruise documents say that you can start boarding at 2pm, but if you get there earlier, you get on earlier. They claim that Captain's Club members (pay $35 and you are in the Captain's Club for life) get priority boarding, but if you get to the port early enough, you will get on the same time as the Captain's Club members.
Bringing on Soda and Booze - Your cruise documents tell you that soda and booze is not permitted to be brought on the ship, but if you put it in your suitcases (which you check curbside) it will make it on the ship without any hassles. I brought a 12 pack of Pepsi (they only sell coke products on the ship ($1.95 per can)) and a bottle of wine (I bought the exact same bottle of red Georges DeBeuf wine that they sell on the ship for $23 except that I paid $8.95 at the grocery store and then a $6 fee for them to open the bottle at dinner).
Excursions - I had planned on going on one or two shore excursions prior to taking my cruise, but when we got on and saw the excursion talk, the woman was so boring and unexciting that we lost the excitement that we had prior to boarding (Celebrity really should replace the lady who gives the excursion talks on the Century). Also, it rained when we were in St. Maarten, so they had to cancel the only snorkeling excursion that we planned on attending. If you are interested in the excursions offered, I think Celebrity's website covers that material.
Food - I have read postings about people complaining about the food on Celebrity not being that great, but this is nonsense. My wife is a very picky eater and she agrees with me that the dinners were really good. She ate red meat (mainly steak) everyday on the ship and it was always cooked to perfection and tasted great (I always tasted her food). I usually had seafood and was very happy. The lamb and veal are also really good. The one thing that I would avoid is the stuffing (available at the lunch buffet) which was quite spongy. The desserts could use some help. Although I am not complaining, the desserts really were not the greatest that I have had. Certainly the best desserts were available on the Thursday of the cruise (the grand midnight buffet) where they have 6 different types of cheesecake available. At this big buffet, they let you take pictures for about ½ hour prior to letting passengers eat the buffet.
My wife loves pizza and said the pizza (available from 3-5 p.m. By the pool) on the Century was edible, but not great. However the hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries were good. The fries really were pretty good - nice and crunchy. While my wife would usually grab a burger or hotdog outside by the pool, and I would get food just inside the doors by the pool (the Islands Cafe) I would usually come outside and get a helping of fries and we would carry our trays inside for a nice seat in the a/c. Generally after lunch there is frozen yogurt available. Unlike Carnival (which allows you to pump your own frozen yogurt from the machine that is on all day long) the yogurt is usually only available from about 3-4 in the afternoons (when the crewmember is there to pump it for you).
Concerning the dress code in the dining room, there are 2 formal nights and the rest of the nights are either informal or casual. However, there really is not that much of a difference between casual and informal. However, the Century does not provide irons or ironing boards for free, but you can have your clothes pressed (or even laundered) for a fee (I noticed that it cost about $5 to iron a shirt and pair of slacks). I suggest picking up a cheap travel iron to bring with you. Wal-Mart sells a small travel iron (with steam) for about $20.
Seasickness - FYI the worst part of the cruise is the first night because that is when you are in the Atlantic Ocean (as opposed to the Caribbean) and you are going "against" the waves (the gulf stream flows from the south to the north and the ship is heading south). Anyway, the 2nd day on the ship (first day of breakfast) found many people seasick. Although neither my wife nor I were sick (my wife enjoyed a greasy breakfast), but we witnessed some people visibly ill and the breakfast area was only partly full. We saw many people later wearing this wristband that touches some pressure points in the writs (available at the gift shop) and that supposedly worked for some. Also others talked about visiting the ship doctor for some shot (which is followed up by pills) and the visit ran $86.
Ports of Call
If you decide to walk from the ship - the main shopping district (which is mainly on a street called Calle Fortaleza) is a 10-minute walk (if you dock in one of the first 4 berths). Otherwise if you dock in berths 5-10 then you will have to take a taxi to get to old San Juan. Be warned, the walk from the ship to the shopping area is up hill (but the walk back to the ship is down hill!). Pretty much since several of the shops close at 6 p.m., you probably want to make a bee line to them first and then head up to El Morro (also up-hill). Even if you don't want to buy anything, there is a neat store/gallery called Butterfly People & they have a bunch of butterfly stuff (I know this sounds weird, but it is pretty neat) - essentially it is a bunch of dead butterflies that are mounted in such a manner that it looks like they are flying. This butterfly place is only open until about 6, so go there first and then head up to El Morro. After getting some pictures around El Morro & the cemetery, walk back to the shopping area and hit the rest of the shops that are open until 9pm. If you walk from El Morro to Calle Fortaleza street, make sure to take a look at Plaza de Armas (old San Juan's main square)-, which is just off of Calle San Jose. This 16th-century plaza was originally the grounds for training troops and later became the city's principal social gathering place. There are 4 statues, over 100-years old, which represent the 4 seasons.
I priced rum (Don Q and Bacardi) and actually found it to be cheaper in both St. Thomas and in St. Maarten than what was available in San Juan! However, there was one place that advertised Bacardi for $6.50 right when you get off the ship - but when I went to that store (Barrachinas) - which was recommended by Celebrity - the Bacardi was $8.95. Regardless, the Bacardi on St. Thomas and St. Maarten can be found at several locations for under $7.
The Shopping advice from Celebrity said that a store in San Juan called Touch of Gold had great prices and a big selection. Well, don't expect much here! There was an average selection and the prices were pretty much what you would pay in the states. My wife had priced a few specific pieces (bracelets and a gold Omega necklace) in the states and found them to be about the same price at Touch of Gold in San Juan. Specifically, a 16 inch 3mm Omega necklace in the US costs about $600. At Touch of Gold in San Juan I got them down to $590 (FYI - several shops in St. Thomas sold them from $200- 250).
So, the bottom line is don't expect too much from San Juan. Because this ship comes in so late in the day, you really can't go to the beaches or to the rain forest, so expect average shopping or a historical tour when you are in San Juan. Even if you don't get the excursion through Celebrity, there are about 30 taxi drivers and tour guides waiting for you right where you get off the ship.
FYI - on the walk back to the ship I stopped in a drug store and got a 2 liter of Pepsi for 69 cents and brought it right on the ship in my backpack. I saw several people in front of me carrying on several 6 packs of beer in white plastic shopping bags - no problem. This is a good way to minimize your bar bill.
Right around the docks there are some telephones. Since San Juan is under the American Flag, you can just use your normal calling card and expect the typical rates.
St. Thomas - this is the longest day that you will have in port so you will have time to get a lot done. This is a great island for shopping because of the selection, quality, prices, and the high duty free amount (totaling $1200 per person, which is much higher that the other islands). This means if a married couple buys jewelry on St. Thomas and it costs $2400 or less total, then you will not have to pay any duty (tax) on it. If it totals more than $2400 for 2 people, then you will have to pay duty on the part above the $2400. We shopped in the morning before it got hot and then we went to the beach in the afternoon. There is shopping right off the ship at the port. This area is called Havensight and is a cluster of about 6 large buildings that have a bunch of shops inside. Many of the jewelry stores that are located downtown have smaller shops right there at the portside in Havesnight - but the selection is not as good as downtown. Plus the portside shopping lacks the cobblestone streets, culture and history that the downtown shopping provides. If you decide to go to the Havensight shops, make sure to see the small fountain with the little mermaid. This is particularly neat for those who realize the significance. Although most people are aware of St. Thomas' pirate history, but see, St. Thomas has Danish influence (which is visible in the street names). Well, in Denmark, one of the attractions is a bronze mermaid that sits on a rock. Well, the mermaid at Havensight is much smaller but a neat reminder of the Danish heritage of the Island.
It is only $3/person to take a taxi to downtown Charlotte Amalie and the shops open around 9 a.m. (some earlier). There are great prices to be found on jewelry and booze. Try A.H. Riise for booze, and Diamonds International for diamonds. Other reputable stores are Columbian Emeralds (average prices for St. Thomas but great quality and selection), Cardow Jewelers (great quality and reputation), Little Switzerland, Omni Jewelers, Princess World Jewelers, and Amsterdam Sauer. There are also a bunch of smaller jewelry stores that may have even better prices than the big ones (but because they are smaller, their selection is not as broad). We saw good quality baseball caps for $7. Also of interest is the lace (there are a few different places, one of which is called Mr. Tablecloth) - but the prices are about average from what I have seen elsewhere (I have been to Belgium). A lot of people liked this store called Del Sol, which sold stuff that changed color in the sun (they also have the same store in St. Maarten and Nassau).
After a few hours of shopping, we took a taxi back to the ship (probably the best place to catch a taxi back to the ship is at Emancipation Gardens) and had lunch on the ship. After a quick lunch, we grabbed our beach gear and took another taxi from the port to Coki Beach. I had heard that this was a great place for snorkeling and I was very disappointed. There apparently used to be a reef right off the beach but the last hurricane that went through really wiped that out! Although you will see some fish when you snorkel here, very little coral or other reef life remains. Since Coral world is located right off Coki Beach (and Coral World feeds the fish) there will be more fish on the right side of the beach (near the rocks). Anyway, if you don't snorkel at this beach, don't expect too much else. The beach is only about 150 yards long, but there is an area for changing clothes and a hose to clean your feet/gear. There are plenty of venders across the street and taxis nearby to bring you back to the ship. The next time I go to St. Thomas, I will not be returning to Coki Beach - I will try one of the many other beaches. FYI - one of the excursions went to Coki Beach and cost a lot more than just taking a taxi there! However, I think the excursion included the snorkel, mask & fins and maybe a lunch. Since we brought our own snorkel gear, and had lunch on the ship, those aspects were not important to us. If you are not interested in snorkeling, and just want a great beach, head to Magens Bay (one of the top 10 beaches in the world).
St. Maarten - You will arrive at the port early and can get off the ship at 7:30 but this is pointless if you are going downtown to shop because the stores do not open until 9:15 - 9:30. The shopping is pretty much all on Front Street. In general, the prices downtown were about the same as on St. Thomas but the salespeople were not as friendly as on St. Thomas. My wife found them to be quite pushy (we went into approximately 30 jewelry stores) and the salespeople often tried to physically place pieces of jewelry on her fingers, wrists, etc. If you tell them that you are "just looking" this will not deter them from aggressively following you around and occasionally hounding you. Not all of the shops do this, but a surprisingly many did employ this tactic. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we cruised in May when the season had just ended and only 2 ships were in port (so there are many less shoppers than just the few weeks prior). However, we did get some really good deals on jewelry and booze (I got a 1.5-liter of Absolut Vodka for $6.50). Expect to see the following shops on (or just off of) Front Street: Tanzanite International, Little Europe, Del Sol, Columbian Emeralds, Little Switzerland, Amsterdam Diamond Gallery, Diamond Creations, Goldfinger Jewelry, Omni, about 4 different Joe's Jewelry stores, Majesty Jewelers, Gurlink, Kay's Fine Jewelry, and Super Jewelers.
We also bought some good chocolate at the Belgian Chocolate Shop. Directly across from the pier where the water taxi drops you, there is a courthouse (with a carved pineapple on the roof) and adjacent to the courthouse is a nice eatery called the Kangaroo Court cafe.
Since it rained when we were in port, we decided against the beach. Celebrity has umbrellas available as you get off the ship if it is raining (and if you lose the umbrella, you get charged $11). We saw the Norway in port and their passengers all had clear ponchos. The ponchos were a pain in the stores because if the person wearing a poncho bumped into anything (or anyone) the poncho was still wet and dripping - either way, don't wear shoes that can't get wet, because with an umbrella or a poncho, everyone's shoes were wet. We spoke with a couple that took a taxi to one of the beaches on the French side of the island in hopes that it would be dry, but when they arrived, it was still raining & the taxi dropped them off & left them there - in the rain. It took 3 hours for another taxi to come around & meanwhile they walked the beach with umbrellas.
In addition to taking a taxi somewhere, there are guys that solicit you in town (where the water taxi drops you off) and you can rent scooters or other vehicles. For example, an SUV type vehicle was $45 for the day. Also, there are several casinos downtown at which you can make donations.
The "new" pier is now open, and Celebrity has not gotten the proper info on the pricing for taxis yet. Celebrity advised us that we could take a water taxi into town for $3 / person or a land taxi for $5 / person, but Celebrity highly recommended the land taxi because the water taxi may drop you wherever they want and thus is unpredictable as to where you will end up. This was not accurate. When we got off the ship, the water taxi was not running (probably because it was raining), so we took a land taxi into the downtown shopping area and it cost $3 /person. When we got dropped off, we walked around a little and immediately saw the dock (where the water taxi would drop you off, called the town pier) which was located in the main shopping area, smack in the middle of things. Therefore, if you want to take a water taxi and they are running, don't be persuaded by Celebrity to take a land taxi if you don't want to.
If you want to make a telephone call back to the USA, this can be done at the main "new" port (there is a big room where they have about 20 phones) or at the little pier downtown (where the water taxi drops you). There are about 4 phones outside at the small pier and the phones at the "new" port are all inside in the quiet room with a/c. I made a call at the big pier in the room (they also had computer access). Beware of the pricing! You can call via your phone card (not a prepaid phone card though) or by buying a phone card from the attendant, or by putting coins into the phone. I asked the attendant how much it was to make a call to the US with my Sprint card & he didn't have a clue, he directed me on how to reach the operator and upon asking her, she informed me it would cost $21 to connect and for that price I could talk up to 5 minutes (that means a 30 second call will cost $21). I decided to put in quarters and it cost be $2.50 to make a 4-minute call (the attendant made change).
Nassau - You will be in port from 2:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Let me suggest that you go to a beach here and not plan on shopping the whole time you are in port. This port is your most expensive stop. Do not plan on buying any jewelry or booze here as it has even higher prices than does San Juan! See, there are many cheap cruises from Florida to Nassau, so they are used to American tourists who are willing to pay higher prices.
FYI - Paradise Island is a small Island just off of the city called Nassau. The ship will dock in Nassau. I suggest getting on a deck in the front of the ship before the ship docks and you can see the ship come into port (Paradise Island will be on your left) and when the ship gets into the compact port, the ship actually will turn around and back in! This is really neat to watch. When the ship docks, you can grab your last slice of pizza to fill your belly and head off the ship.
When you get off the ship, you just walk to the end of the pier and voila - you are in downtown Nassau. Or the excursions are available right at the pier. Look at the map that the ship provides you and you will see Bay Street. Pretty much all of the shopping on and just off of Bay Street. This street has a bunch of jewelry stores that have fairly high prices and you will find that the rest of the shops along Bay street are pretty much tourist traps. If you want to buy 3 T-shirts for $9.00 there are several stores that will provide cheaply made shirts to meet your demand. Also, the typical tourist stuff is available (key chains, shot glasses, coffee mugs, etc).
As you walk around Bay Street, make sure that you take a left on Parliament Street and see the House of Assembly, the CourtHouse and the Public Library (which used to be a jail). These buildings are historic and located in a well-landscaped area which makes for a nice backdrop for pictures.
Just off of Bay Street is the Straw Market. This is pretty much an open-air market that sells some real junk. You can buy purses and hats that are made out of straw and will take up space in your closet when you get back home. I also noticed a lot of African type art. You can bargain with the venders if you like these wares. If you are interested in conch shells they are available at the straw market at one location for $15 each. If you keep walking through the straw market, you will see more conch shells priced 2 for $5. The entire straw market is only about 100 yards long and can be seen quite quickly (certainly you should not spend too long at this location).
You can go to Paradise Island 4 different ways (all of which are available right there at the pier): 1) Take an excursion; 2) Take a land taxi for $7 / person each way; 3) Take a ferry for $6 / person each way; or 4) Take a water taxi for $3 / person each way. If you take a land taxi, you will get dropped off right where you want to. If you take the ferry or water taxi, you will be dropped off at a dock that is about a 10-minute walk from the Atlantis hotel. FYI - they have ferries that charge $6 and drop you at the exact same location as the water taxis. Some people I saw thought that the $6 ferry was a price for round trip, but they later found out that it was a one-way price. If you go by water, make sure of what the price will be BEFORE you board the vessel (which sometimes may be overloaded in order to maximize profit).
I am aware of one of the excursions that is called the Dolphin Encounter where costs each person $100 and you get to enter a water pen (fenced area) and there is a dolphin there that you can pet. Don't expect to be able to swim with the dolphin by holding onto its fin or anything like that.
I had read of several postings on the bulletin boards prior to my cruise, which discussed the worth of the $25 to visit the Atlantis hotel. Let me explain - anyone can enter the Atlantis. In fact, they want everyone and their mother to visit the hotel because there are plenty of expensive shops inside the hotel and a fancy casino inside the hotel. The Atlantis is in fact, about 4 old hotels that Lloyds of London bought & gutted and made some additions to and painted the same color. It is a really neat collection of buildings and it is the first thing that you will see when the ship comes into port. If you just walk in the doors, you will pass the shops and reach the casino. After making a donation to the casino, you can continue your walk and you will arrive at the aquarium. Here you will find about 50 feet of floor to ceiling glass walls where you can see a bunch of cool-looking fish (they even have a big manta ray). You can take pictures of these fish (turn flash off or angle the camera so the flash doesn't reflect back into your picture and blind you). At this point you can decide whether you want to pay the $25 /person to go into a little tunnel and see more of the aquarium and here some info about it. Big money maker for the hotel. My advice . . . boycott their moneymaker and spend the money in the casino where you have a chance of winning (I played the quarter slots with $10 and walked out 10 minutes later with $45). I have heard that the Atlantis opens the $25 section up for free in the early evening (around 7 or 8 p.m.) when most cruise ships have left. I don't know if this is true or not, but if you are there in the evening on a different cruise, you may want to look into that.
Anyway, if you want to hit a beach or snorkel, go ahead & do it. It was cloudy and cold when I was there and we decided the beach was not the best idea for the day. Since we live in Florida, we will be back and do some of the other stuff available in the future.