by Carolyn Davenport
April 20, 2002
Taking our second cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Line's M/V Century was a little like going home. When we entered the gangway into the Grand Foyer, the familiarity was warm and welcoming. Let me share our voyage with you.
My first piece of advice is that if you have to fly to your port city, arriving the day before embarkation begins your vacation a lot more comfortably than arriving the day of boarding. For one thing, if your luggage should be misplaced by the airlines, then at least you have 24 hours for it to be located and returned to you in time, so you won't be inconvenienced for any part of your voyage. A second positive is that you also have 24 hours to unwind and catch your breath from your travels. This makes all the difference and eases you into your special vacation.
We left Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Saturday, April 20th for seven days of fun and relaxation in the Eastern Caribbean. Fort Lauderdale is a wonderful port city, as there are many hotels in close proximity to the Port Terminal. After spending Friday night at a local Marriott, we arrived at the Port around 10:30 a.m., a quick ten minute taxi ride away. It wasn't long before we were ushered into the Security area for clearance and through the short line to Passenger Check-in. It was like a well-oiled machine, reviewing and stamping boarding documents, provided you took the time to fill in all the required paperwork before you arrived at the Port. Then we were sent on our way up the escalator to the photographer waiting to take our souvenir "Bon Voyage" photo.
Finally the moment arrived when we stepped across the gangway and into that magical world of cruising. And Celebrity Cruise Lines definitely makes magic!
If you board before noon as we did, you are free to visit any of the public areas on the ship. by lunch time, our cabin was ready and we were able to drop off our carry-on luggage. We introduced ourselves to our Cabin Stewardess and her assistant, two very important crew members to get to know. And, if you don't see him in the passageway, ask to meet the Assistant Chief Housekeeper for your deck. If you should need anything during your cruise, these three people can be very helpful. And, again on this cruise, these folks went out of their way to make our stay comfortable. For example, we had a problem with a broken part on one of our suitcases. Christos, our Assistant Chief Housekeeper, not only had it repaired for us, but also gave us some lovely Celebrity gifts to take home as well. I'd say that is above and beyond the call of duty, wouldn't you!
We picked up our dining room reservation card that was left in our cabin and headed straight to the Maitre d', who is usually stationed outside the dining room or in one of the lounges, to find out where our table was located. He was happy to show us the location on a seating chart. If you are not satisfied with your assigned table, this is the best time to request another. Of course, you can change tables again after dinner if you find you are not comfortable with your table mates. The Maitre d' is very accommodating. The Century's dining room, the Grand Restaurant, is a beautiful two-tiered room with floor-to-ceiling windows sweeping across the stern of the ship. The views were a magnificent backdrop for dining. And the grand staircase that sweeps down the center of the room from the balcony made for a wonderful entrance for the ladies on formal nights to show off their evening gowns.
Once we had the practicalities of sailing out of the way, we made our way up to the pool deck and the Island Cafe for lunch, where we enjoyed an impressive buffet. Then, after a little while, our luggage was delivered to our cabin. There was ample closet space and a vanity that was nicely arranged in a corner of the cabin, to include a safe for our valuables. We had an outside cabin with a large window that featured a ledge with ample room to sit on if you just wanted to watch the seascape flow by. As members of Celebrity's Captain's Club, we were able to upgrade to this outside cabin at time of booking.
The Captain's Club is a generous program offered to anyone who sails with Celebrity just one time. For a lifetime $35 membership fee, you get two separate accounts that allow you special privileges while sailing with Celebrity. The biggest advantage is the cabin upgrade, which pays for the membership fee many times over itself. There are three membership levels within the Captain's Club that you attain the more cruises you take. So the higher up you go in the program, more special privileges are afforded to you. For all members, there is priority boarding and disembarkation (first on, first off), a special Captain's Club cocktail party on each cruise, invitations to sail on Captain's Club reunion cruises throughout the year, and newsletters mailed to you that contain information about the cruise line, as well as recipes from Michel Roux, the famous French chef whose dishes are served aboard the fleet. And there are special offer coupons included for discounts on future cruises.
Finally, we were at sea and slowly meeting passengers and crew members. Since this was our fourth sailing with Celebrity, we met several crew with whom we had sailed on previous voyages. Each time we ran into a familiar face, it was like seeing a long lost family member again, and made our week at sea that much more special.
We enjoyed our breakfasts and lunches outdoors by the pool. The Island Cafe served a generous buffet for each meal, and you have the option of eating indoors in the Cafe or outdoors poolside. There are plenty of tables and chairs under cover around the pool deck to dine al fresco, which seems to make the food especially delicious. There is something about sea air that enhances mealtime. And there is also an outdoor grill serving hot dogs and hamburgers with all the accoutrements for a lighter and more casual lunch.
Poolside usually had a very lively atmosphere. Celebrity's Calypso band played each day, and the entertainment staff got passengers moving teaching line dances and the latest steps. They also hosted various games and competitions in the pool to entertain everyone. It was like a non-stop party at sea.
We visited four ports-of-call on our Eastern Caribbean itinerary; San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Martin, and Nassau. You can conveniently book shore excursions in advance through Celebrity's website, www.celebritycruises.com, or you can visit the Shore Excursion desk in the Grand Foyer and book once you are on board. There are a wide variety of trips to choose from to satisfy each family member. Also, when you return to your home port, you can take one of their land-based tours on your day of disembarkation. It's a nice way to end your vacation and eases the let-down from the end of your cruise.
Entertainment on board ship was fabulous. The M/V Century featured Celebrity's headliner, Mark Preston, who is a former member of the singing group "The Lettermen." We have seen his show three times now, and each time he just gets better and better. Another show featured a comedian/juggler/acrobat/stunt man, Michael James, a.k.a. "the Ladder Man." He was hilarious, and we laughed until we cried. There were also two big production shows featuring the ship's singers and dancers that were as professional and entertaining as any you would see on Broadway or Las Vegas. The Celebrity Theater features a terrific layout, designed more like a night club with a large stage. You are seated at small cocktail tables along sweeping banquettes, and waiters circulate the room taking your drink orders. It's a great concept combining a night club atmosphere with a theatrical stage production. Finally, there was a group of four young gentlemen, the Fundamentals, who strolled around the ship entertaining us with acappella style singing.
The AquaSpa is a luxuriously pampering venue on board that shouldn't be missed. We enjoyed massages and manicures from a very attentive staff. And there is a wide variety of exercise equipment available in the Spa, which is located on the Pool Deck forward and is completely enclosed in floor-to-ceiling windows so you can watch the waves crest off the bow of the ship as you work out with the ship's personal trainers.
Another nice feature is the Cova Cafe. It's an espresso bar that serves specialty coffees and sweet treats, and is located on the first balcony above the Grand Foyer. There was usually either a quartet or a pianist playing background music, and it was a nice place for a relaxing break in the afternoon. On this same balcony, as well as the next balcony above, there are shops for browsing, and a library and card room to enjoy.
The M/V Century also has an inviting lounge, The Rendevous, located just forward of the Grand Restaurant. It's a nice gathering place before dinner, and a fun place to go dancing afterwards to live music. The Crystal Room, their night club, is an elegantly designed room featuring live music and special evenings of entertainment. The Hemisphere disco is located forward above the pool deck, and is open until the wee hours for the late partying crowd. And then, of course, there is Fortunes Casino, which is open to try your luck whenever the ship is not in port. We witnessed a couple of big winners at the slot machines while we were on board.
On one special afternoon, High Tea was served in the dining room. This was an exceptionally pleasant hour for the ladies, but I found that the men enjoyed it just as well particularly being in the company of all of the women. The atmosphere was decidedly Edwardian, with the staff being formal and solicitous in their demeanor. They began with tea service, offering a selection of teas from an old fashioned wooden tea chest. Then, we were offered a variety of tea sandwiches on one tray, and sweet treats on another. After all of this, they wheeled a large two-tiered cart to the table laden with scones, strawberry shortcake, chocolate cake, and fruit tarts. I highly recommend taking advantage of this occasion, that is if you have room for all of the treats that they serve you, and are then able to go into dinner.
Speaking of dinner, we enjoyed seven nights of gourmet dining from a wide variety of menus. Each evening, five delicious courses were offered with a supreme level of service. Our waiter and his assistant, Agostinho and Victor, could not have been more professional and attentive. And our Maitre d', Vasile, was one of our "family members" with whom we sailed four years ago. Seeing him again gave our evening meals something extra to look forward to.
One thing that is nice about cruising in general is that it is an excellent way to travel with senior family members. On board, they have the mobility and freedom of traveling with you without the many constraints and difficulties of land-based travel. The ships are completely wheelchair accessible and well equipped with handicapped facilities, if that is required. And I have found that crew members go out of their way to assist in any way they can with seniors moving about the ship. It's a nice way to travel together, but to enjoy your space and independence when you want it.
On another practical note, it is always prudent to pack extra medication and/or vitamins on the rare chance that something might happen to delay your return to port. You need not worry about provisions on board. The ships always stock an extra week's worth of food and fuel for emergencies. And there is a fully staffed hospital on board for passengers' convenience and safety.
As for security, this was absolutely no problem and caused no hassles, either in port or at sea. On departure day, we went through a metal detector and our carry-on's went through an x-ray machine. At the gangway, we entered our onboard charge card/cabin card into a machine and looked into a viewfinder as our photo was taken and matched to our cruise card. At the end of the cruise before disembarkation, every one had to walk in line through the Theater where a Customs Officer looked at our passport or driver's license as we moved past him. We didn't even slow down as we moved along. So the process was very fast. When we left the ship, we handed our Customs Declaration form over to another officer at the Port Terminal and that was it. Completely painless.
There is one last piece of advice that I'd like to share. Since you have to pack all of your clothes and have your suitcases outside your cabin by around 10:00 pm on your last evening at sea, I find it convenient to wear something lightweight that last night, which is always a casual dress night anyway. That way, if you want to party until very late and get the most out of your final evening on board, you can easily pack this outfit in your carry-on for departure the next day. Or like some people prefer, simply wear it again for disembarkation.
All in all, our week at sea on board the M/V Century was perfection. The ship is still in immaculate condition. Captain Athanasios Peppas was a gracious host, and his crew were attentive, hospitable, and indulgent in our every desire. We have traveled on other cruise lines, but I can genuinely say that Celebrity Cruises offers an extraordinary experience on the high seas. Their ships and crew are sophisticated, yet gracious and inviting. Whether you are married or single, young or old, you will come ashore having received five-star service and satiated with fabulous memories.