by Connie Blaine
September 15, 2001
My husband and I took Celebrity's Century "Western Caribbean" cruise September 15-22, 2001 - days following the attack on America. Needless to say, the first few days we weren't even sure if we would be able to sail or not. However, Celebrity assured us, we would. We ended up having to drive to Ft. Lauderdale, as the airlines were not 100% back in operation, but were able to fly home. This was our first cruise experience and I think we got really spoiled. The ship was only about 65% full as so many people had to cancel or postpone their trip due to the tragedy.
Embarkation was very smooth. Even with all the heightened security, we were probably the first 10 or so on board by 12:45 and it only took us minutes. The people who disembarked earlier that morning had taken extra hours therefore delaying us a bit. Even though your cruise documents tell you not to arrive until 2:00 or so, under normal circumstances, you can get on board by as early as 11:00 from what I've read. It's a great time to explore the ship - you practically have it all to yourself. Of course, there's a big luncheon buffet set up for you as well for when you arrive - so there is plenty to do to keep yourself occupied.
As so many of the other reviews you've no doubt read, a lot of what I will say will be repetitive. But I just have to say that the ship was absolutely awesome! Couldn't have been more clean and the staff was out of this world. We especially came to love our waiter, Caner Egin, from Turkey. We looked forward to our dinners each evening thanks to him. His assistant and our Maitre' de were also great. We had 2 other couples as our table mates and thoroughly enjoyed their company and all got along great. The food was awesome - definitely plan on gaining some weight! We ate each morning at the Islands Cafe buffet and also for lunch on the days that we were at sea. The burgers at the grill outside by the pool were very good too. Then of course there's the pizza offered in the late afternoon, frozen yogurt, bite size sandwiches and pastries... shall I go on? We did not order room service, so can't tell you anything there.
My husband and I each spoiled ourselves to a spa treatment the first day at sea by both having massages. With any spa treatment, you are allowed 30 minutes prior to use their Thalassotherapy pool. That was as great as other people have said in their reviews. Like a giant jacuzzi, only with super powerful jets shooting out from all over. The water could have been a little warmer, for my liking. The massages were very nice and relaxing. The only thing I didn't like was at the end when they are writing out your bill, I was told that gratuity was included, but if I "wanted to give a little extra", to put it down in this one section. After a comment like that, I sort of felt compelled to do it.
We are both 34 years old and weren't quite sure what to expect as I heard several comments that this particular cruise line was geared more for the "mature". Well, surprisingly we fit right in! I only saw about a handful of children, and the rest were a mix of ages. All we knew, was that we definitely didn't want a "party" atmosphere like we've heard Carnival is about. We felt we did the right thing by going with Celebrity. In fact, we spoke with several others on this trip who have sailed with Carnival before and said there is no comparison and they would always go with Celebrity for now on. Some people we met in Cozumel who had pulled in on a ship from Carnival commented to us how they wished they were on our ship and wandered what they could do to switch over.
Our room was very nice - an outside cabin, on the penthouse deck, aft. The picture window was HUGE! And there is tones of storage like everyone says. Being the ship was quite empty; we were offered the chance to upgrade to a sky suite with a butler for only $ 200.00 extra each person. We went and had a look at the room and it was very nice but decided that we wouldn't be in the room enough to make it worthwhile.
The vibrations... yup, they're bad. However, the only times we felt them were in the mornings, pulling into the ports. We were always awakened by it and the noise and vibrations seemed to go on forever, tough I'm sure it wasn't more than 30 minutes.
Thought I would now fill you in a bit on our excursions. We did not book anything with the cruise line, we did it on our own and saved about 50%. Our excursions lasted much longer than the ships, and of course were less crowded.
Ocho Rios - Here we had lined up our excursion ahead of time with Peat Taylor who we heard so much about in different reviews on the internet. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org and I HIGHLY recommend him! He was so great and we felt very safe in what felt like a pretty unsafe city. He met us first thing in the morning when the ship pulled in and we were with him literally all day. Cost was $ 25.00/each, which included the $ 6.00 entrance fee to Dunns Rivers Falls. (This was awesome too and the most exhilarating climb!) For those who don't think they can handle the climb, just go for the walk down and enjoy the scenery. You don't have to climb the falls; you can just walk back. Peat dropped us off at the falls first and came back for us an hour or so later. Then took us on a tour around the city (and Fern Gully) showing us both the good and bad so we really got a feel of it. Dropped us off then for shopping and came back for us whenever we wanted. And finally took those of us who still wanted, to a private beach for the final few hours before coming back again to pick us up and return us to the ship on time. Anything we wanted, any time schedule, he worked with us all. Of course we gave him a nice tip at the end of the day and told him we'll tell everyone we can about his company and to be sure to use him!
Next stop was Grand Cayman and snorkeling with the stingrays. Here also, we had booked ahead on email with Captain Larabee and Sons as I heard through a friend, that he did a great tour. We were quite disappointed however as when we arrived; he was no where in sight, even though we were told he would be waiting for us holding a sign with our names. Another tour company asked if they could help us and I commented we were waiting on Captain Larabee. They told me they saw him and he was waiting inside this little visitor house off to the side. I thought how interesting... how on earth would we have known! It was like he didn't care if he took us or not. Come to find out, he said the 2 of us were the only ones he had booked, so didn't want to take us and ended up passing us on to another company. I wasn't very impressed. He assured us all the companies are the same and have to charge the same rate, so we would be OK. It ended up being OK, however there were tones of us packed on their 40' boat. When we arrived to Stingray City, we saw another boat with only a handful of people, which would have been much nicer. The stingrays were awesome! I definitely recommend this trip. You stand in about 3-4' of water on a sand bar and the stingrays swim around you hoping you'll feed them. It is a bit overwhelming at first seeing these big black stingrays coming at you, but after the first nudge or two, it's OK. We were then taken to a 2nd location for additional snorkeling for about a ½ hour and finally dropped off at Seven Mile beach. Comparing this tour with Peat Taylor, they don't come close. Once they drop you off at the beach, you are on your own to find your way back to the ship with a cab - which we did, no problem. We also found out that even though this trip cost us $ 30.00 per person, several other people paid $ 35.00 or $ 40.00. Nothing seemed consistent with this company, but we were happy.
Next stop was Cozumel and I think this may have been my favorite day. We had the most time in port this day and really had nothing planned. We just winged it. We wanted to go somewhere that offered snorkeling and had a beach. We read about Chankanaab Park lagoon for awesome snorkeling, but found out there really was no beach area, just the lagoon. We asked the cabbies and were told about "Mr. Sanchez's beach". It was about 10 miles away and we loved it! You get dropped off right at this little village with local shopping - this is all on the sand, right before the beach, so it's very convenient. There is an outdoor bar and swimming pool with a waterfall. And the best part is, there is no charge! There is an outdoor adventure water sport company also set up there to rent you snorkeling gear, jet skis, etc. I found that the price they first tell you, don't pay it - you can almost cut it in half. The snorkeling wasn't the greatest, but it was still OK and you get to see some fish. The beach was awesome! Our tablemates had gone to the Chankanaab Park lagoon (must pay an entrance fee) and said they saw the most awesome brilliant colored fish. Oh well, can't have it all I guess. We then went back into town and shopped. Had lunch at a Mexican restaurant before heading back to the ship. The shopping in town didn't compare to our shopping in the little local village. The prices in town seemed to be more set and you couldn't bargain with them much. I felt extremely safe here in Cozumel, which was a nice surprise, as I wasn't sure what to expect.
Our last stop, the day before our cruise ended, was Key West. This was my least favorite day. I'm not sure if part of the reason was just knowing the cruise was almost over, or maybe it was just too much already. We had 3 really great, jammed pack days, so this was sort of a let down to me. We had gotten off the ship and just started to wander around when we were approached by a lady who worked with Hyatt's "vacation club" She asked us if we would give her a couple hours of time, we would end up getting a little tour of the city along with $ 75.00 to spend at almost any vendor in town. Why not, we thought So that is what we did. We drove over to their property that they were trying to sell (time-share deal) and looked it over. It was very nice, only we have no interest in buying into a time-share deal at the moment. We said thanks, but no thanks basically and were off to spend our $ 75.00. We headed over to Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville for lunch then picked up souvenirs. Not a bad way to spend the day!
Disembarkation also went smoothly. I was expecting it to be a lot worse and figured we would all be searched. Nothing - zipped right on through, just handed the immigration officer our declaration form and kept on walking to collect our bags. You'll have to give up your bags at midnight the night before, so be sure to have a small travel bag with you for your toiletries the next morning.
And that was it - we were at the airport by probably 9am and were able to catch an earlier fight home.
Of course it was depressing returning home, but all we could think of was planning where our next cruise will be... with Celebrity!