February 6, 2004
After reading many posts on this site before taking our first cruise, I wanted to post a review of our own for anyone taking your first Celebrity cruise or thinking about booking this line. As a travel agent, I believe it is helpful to share my experiences and insight with the traveling public.
Celebrity is an awesome cruise line and the Galaxy is an impressive ship. There is no glitz as on some other ships I have read about. Her public areas are tastefully decorated, the ship is clean, and the crew members go out of their way to make sure everyone is well taken care of. It is truly a five-star way to experience cruising the Caribbean.
To answer one question I have seen many times, this ship DOES sail from the Pan American Pier in San Juan. This is not the pier in Old San Juan across from the Wyndham Hotel; it is near the Isla Grande airport, across the bay from Old San Juan. You cannot walk to Old San Juan from here. If you do not book an airport transfer, a cab to and from San Juan's main airport will cost you about $18 (depending on the number of people and number of bags).
Embarkation began at 2 p.m. We arrived a few minutes before and quite a few people were lined up to check in. Everything went smoothly and we were on the ship within half an hour; our bags were delivered about an hour later. The ship was scheduled to sail at 11 p.m., but waited until midnight because of late flight arrivals from the east coast due to weather. I found it impressive that Celebrity tracked this information and waited for these people, as it would have been an awful start to some people's vacation had they not.
We booked a Category 9 inside stateroom (Vista Deck Cabin 9191). When we tried to upgrade at the pier, we were directed to the concierge desk aboard ship. This was our only negative experience the entire time on our vacation. The young lady at the concierge desk was extremely rude; she told us she could only put us on a waitlist, and would call our cabin after 8 p.m. to advise if an upgrade was available. We understand that many people make such a request, but she acted as if we were asking for her firstborn child. When we returned to our stateroom at 8:30 p.m., we had a message from her stating that the ship was full. We found out later the ship was not full, and there were balcony staterooms directly across from our inside cabin that went empty. Bottom line of advice: If you want something special, buy it from the beginning. We believe Celebrity only gives a person what they pay for and that upgrades on day of departure, even for those willing to pay, are not accommodated.
That said, our cabin turned out to be more than sufficient and we were only in there to sleep, shower, and change clothes. There was abundant closet and drawer storage space, and our bags fit nicely under our bed. These beds are twins, but with a quick phone call to our cabin attendant, they were converted to a queen while we were at dinner the first night. One thing, however -- the mattress was paper thin and no better than sleeping on a bad pullout sleeper sofa. We had read message board posts from people who said they brought inflatable air mattresses with them, and I would recommend this if comfort is a big issue.
The bathroom, while small, was more than efficient, and includes a shampoo/conditioner dispenser, a lotion dispenser, and hair dryer. I had also read posts from people complaining about a certain stateroom attendant they had on this deck. Ours was efficient and our room was cleaned twice a day, with fresh towels, water/ice, daily programs, and chocolates on the bed at turndown. We rarely saw her but we did not care as long as these tasks were performed.
The food is Celebrity's strongest point and deservedly so. Dining in the Orion Restaurant was like eating in a five-star restaurant every night. We never had a bad meal and the service was outstanding. The cuisine is French inspired and this means a lot of sauces. Choices for each of the five courses were plentiful and everything was delicious. If you are used to meat and potatoes or are a fast food junkie, book another cruise line with more standard (and less appealing, in my opinion) food. Or take a chance and order something you have never heard of…you may be pleasantly surprised! If not, your waiter will exchange it for something else.
As for bringing liquor aboard: We brought seven bottles of our favorite wine and took one each night to our table. Our wine steward did not bat an eye at this, but be warned there is a $12 corkage fee per bottle! The first night at sea is open seating beginning at 6 p.m. We arrived about 6:30 and it took a while for us to be seated. The maitre d' seemed confused where to seat us and the service was nowhere near what it was once we were at our assigned table for the rest of the cruise.
I am not going to detail our thoughts on each port as I have seen in previous posts, but I do have some advice. We prefer to travel independently in each port of call rather than book shore excursions. Most of those offered by Celebrity were expensive and we found that once we disembarked in any given port, there were plenty of reliable, independent tour guides to take us where we wanted. Mind you, we did not do any scuba diving, catamaran tours, submarine viewing of the ocean floor, etc., so if this is your thing, book what Celebrity offers.
We found many eager people who were more than happy to take us by private car and show us their respective islands at a much cheaper price. These people were truly proud of their island's history, culture, flora/fauna, etc. I want to mention one person in particular whom we met on St. Kitts. The ship docks on a Sunday at 9 a.m., and we found most of the stores to be closed. After walking around the town of Basseterre for about an hour, we decided to head back to ship and do some sunbathing. We were greeted in the town square by a lady offering us a four-hour tour of the whole island for $25 per person. Her name was Ilva Wallace and she gave us the most comprehensive tour of the island that we could have ever hoped for, in the comfort of her air conditioned car. She took us to all the pertinent destinations and gave us time to explore, take photos, and make purchases in gift shops. You can contact Ilva by phone in advance and she will be happy to meet you at the pier. She can be reached at (809) 465-1773, (809) 465-8437, or (809) 663-0475.
My only other recommendation for independent travelers is on Margarita Island, Venezuela. This island is beautiful but underdeveloped in terms of facilities and services. We got off the ship that day without any cash as the ship's ATM was out of service. There are no ATMs in the port either. (The ship's ATM, by the way, charges a whopping $5.50 fee for each transaction.) Here, I recommend you book one of Celebrity's many tours. This is the only place they are cheap (we paid $29 a person for a great tour of Tuguantar Village and Los Juncos).
As for onboard gratuities, Celebrity provides you with a form in your stateroom giving you the option of charging them to your onboard account. This was very convenient as opposed to stuffing envelopes with cash on the last night. If you choose this option, they provide you with little cards to give to your waiter/assistant waiter/stateroom attendant, etc. to advise them that you have done so.
For those of you who might be gay, we found Celebrity to be very accommodating in this regard. There was a FOD party scheduled on our second day at sea and while we did not attend, we were happy that it was posted in the daily program. There were many gays on board, and just like everyone else, we felt a good time was had by all.
In summation, Celebrity offers an above-average product and value, in our opinion. We were quite pleased and will definitely cruise with this line again. On a final note, after all of the negative posts I read prior to our cruise, if you go aboard expecting everything to be perfect then you are most definitely living in a dream world. The crew will do everything to make your vacation fun and memorable, but remember that you are not the only people they are trying to accommodate. If you expect the kind of service you receive from your favorite waiter at your country club, who has known you for 10+ years, you might be disappointed. If you go aboard with an open mind and a desire to have fun, leave all your cares at home, accept that things don't always go your way, that different cultures have different values, and that people are people, you WILL have an excellent time and create memories that last a lifetime.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be happy to answer as best I can.