by Paul Kennedy
December 18, 2004
We flew into George Bush Intercontinental in Houston from the UK via Amsterdam and cleared immigration and customs about 3pm. We made ourselves known to one of the several Celebrity representatives who managed to rustle up a bus and get us on our way to Galveston by 3.30. We were booked into the Hotel Galvez for the night prior to embarkation and had a very comfortable room overlooking the sea.
We were told by another Celebrity representative that our luggage would be taken from our room the following morning and would go straight to the ship. However, this was not the case and we had to identify our cases in a storage area and take them out to the hotel shuttle. We thought by booking the shuttle early before breakfast, we would get to the ship early and have time to explore, but on trying to book, we were told the earliest shuttle was 2pm! We met up with the friends from North Carolina we were sailing with and took ourselves off to the Moody Gardens for the morning.
Getting back for our 2 o'clock shuttle, it hadn't materialised by 2.15, so we took the opportunity to grab a cab that became free. It was only a few minutes to the cruise terminal, although traffic on the roads to the terminal was heavy and very slow. Our luggage was taken immediately and we joined quite a long queue for check in, but this moved smoothly and quickly and we were on board by 3pm.
We were welcomed on board with a glass of champagne which we felt obliged to sup on the spot. It therefore got rather crowded as more passengers arrived. We then set off to find our cabin - the first time we've had to do so, always having been escorted on previous trips. Not a problem, really, because I had studied the deck plans beforehand.
Our cabin was an ocean view cabin on deck 9, clean and spacious, with a comfortable armchair and sofa and a large window. There was ample storage space for our 12-night cruise. Celebrity claims to attend to the cabins twice a day, but no matter how many times we went to the cabin during the course of the day, it was always tidied by our next return and towels replaced if we had used them. Our stewards, Bernard and Franciso, were excellent. The beds (pushed together to form a king-sized bed) were comfortable and high enough to enable us to get our enormous cases under them.
The four of us elected for the second sitting for dinner and had a table to ourselves on the upper level of the Orion Restaurant, although we were close enough to our neighbours on the banquette seating to be able to get to know them. Mention has been made by other reviewers about vibration on Galaxy. I was aware of it all the time in the restaurant, but it was not particularly obtrusive, except one morning approaching Montego Bay when the noise of crockery and cutlery rattling was deafening!
We ate nearly all our meals in the Orion Restaurant and I must say the service was excellent, the waiters (at dinner, Camillo and Cesar) very quickly learning our names and likes and dislikes. Amusingly, I was Mr. Paul to the assistant waiter, Mr. Paul Kennedy to the head waiter and Mr. Kennedy to the sommelier. Food was consistently good and there was a reasonable choice of dishes. What I didn't like were the menus themselves - they were numbered day 1, day 2, day 3, etc. and some of them were decidedly grubby from previous use. A freshly printed daily menu would have been much nicer and given a better feeling of quality.
We tried the Oasis Café a couple of times. The food was well presented, but the self-service layout left a lot to be desired. By the time you put together a complete meal, the food was generally cold and there always seemed to be a shortage of cutlery, plates, cups, saucers and glasses which meant further waiting. On those mornings we had to breakfast there prior to land excursions, I limited myself to orange juice and coffee to avoid the queues. We also had a couple of meals from the Oasis Pool grill and ate these outside on Deck 11 aft. I must say, this is the nicest outdoor spot on the ship. Quiet, not crowded and, best of all, no smell of cooking which pervades a lot of the ship both inside and out.
I found the ship very nicely appointed and the public areas comfortable, although it was extremely difficult to find a spot that stayed quiet for very long. In the evenings, there was always live music which, whilst very good, was very loud. During the days, there was a lot of use of microphones by those running indoor activities. I thought the StratosphereLounge was spectacular and very underused during the day. I guess on a hot weather cruise, everybody is on deck. Carpets throughout the ship looked as though they were quite new and despite some pretty violent patterns and colours and the modern artwork, none of the décor was that obtrusive. Where the ship was let down badly was that virtually every piece of upholstered furniture was stained and sticky. I suppose it's unavoidable where passengers spend all day covering themselves with sun oil and sun cream, but I have been on other ships where a different area of seating was shampooed each day.
Our itinerary of shore excursions covered Cozumel and Costa Maya where we saw Mayan ruins and were lectured on Mayan history to excess. Both of these were day-long trips, the first one entailed crossing from Cozumel Island to Playa del Carmen in a very small boat in very rough water, sufficiently so that several breakfasts made a return trip! The four of us thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was tiring keeping ones balance.
Our next port of call was Gatun Lake in Panama where we disembarked and took a train on the Panama Railway across the isthmus and back. We had seats in the dome car and this was well worth the extra money - not only for the better views, but also for the presence of a bar! Our tour guide at this point, Marty, was a character to say the least! We had a bus tour at the Panama City end of the line, but some of the passengers had not been informed of the length of it and panicked about missing the train back. They then demanded to be taken back to the station where we sat in the bus for an hour before the return train. Despite the fact it was not Celebrity's fault, they gave each of us a $42 refund.
From Panama, we went on to Peurto Limon in Costa Rice and took the aerial tramway through the rain forest canopy. This was interesting and enjoyable, but again meant very long bus journeys to and from the location - guides in Central America talk very long and loud!
Christmas day was at sea - being at sea is the best part of a cruise - nothing to do and so little time to do it in. I never know where time goes on days at sea! Apart from the cringe-making arrival of Santa Claus and his little helpers, broadcast all over the ship, Christmas was pleasantly understated throughout the ship, and for us from England, sitting on deck on Christmas Eve and Christmas Night with a G&T watching the sun set over the Caribbean was a marvellous experience.
Our shore excursion in Jamaica, entitled "Best of Jamaica" was possibly anything but, although at the end of the day, we actually admitted to enjoying it. It started with our being herded on to a packed and cramped bus to take us to Ochi Rios - the roads were appalling (courtesy of the hurricanes) and the coach had no shocks or suspension and we had the very last seats at the back! However, a short (party) boat ride with some rum punch and the climb up the Dunns River Falls (by the steps rather than the river) gave us some exercise after the two hour journey, so we were ready for lunch at Dolphin Cove. Very pleasant sitting looking over the sea, and fascinating watching the dolphins (although we had already seen some by the ship in Galveston).
Our next scheduled stop was George Town, Grand Cayman but the sea proved too rough to tender us ashore, except for one unfortunate soul who had a heart problem, and had to be flown to Miami with her daughter. At dinner that night, it transpired she was from the next table!
The Captain initially announced that we would have an extra day at sea, but later told us we would call in at Cozumel again the following day. As a result, we were able to book a semi-submersible trip to replace the one we missed in Grand Cayman. There were five other ships in port that day and so the town was extremely busy. As a result, we were back on board by midday and spent a very pleasant afternoon sitting in the sun on Deck 11 aft.
Unfortunately, I can say very little about entertainment and activities on board. We went to one series of talks by one speaker, but she gave no introduction, read her notes (badly) and did not offer the opportunity to ask questions. We saw part of one show, but sitting in one of the balconies, we were too close to the loudspeakers to be able to stay. The only other talk was the Cruise Director's disembarkation lecture which hardly mentioned disembarkation. Instead he harangued us on the need to fill out the guest questionnaires and mark everything excellent so that everyone would get their money. That was one feature of all the shore excursions, the blatant demand for tips. It made a lot of people uncomfortable, as did our Cruise Director.
Arriving back in Galveston, we were breakfasted and out of our cabin by 9am and spent a pleasant 90 minutes in the Stratosphere Lounge reading and looking out at the first rain of the cruise (fortunately cleared by the time we went ashore). We reported to the Celebrity Theatre at 10.40, but it was some 50 minutes before we were called to disembark. Luggage collection was colour-coded and there was some considerable alarm amongst our group (Red 10) to fund only two suitcases set out under the red sign. Eventually, somebody spotted them stacked under purple!
Arriving outside the terminal, it was chaos, with buses, cars and taxis going in all directions with people arriving and trying to get away. Quite a large contingent was going back to the UK from George Bush Intercontinental and were directed from one bus to another to another and back to standing on the sidewalk. Eventually, about 12.30, we were boarded and had a quick trip to the airport where we checked in on time.
All in all, we had an enjoyable and interesting cruise but it did lack the WOW! factor I had been expecting from other reviews I have read. Our previous cruises have all been on Cunard ships (QE2, QM2 and Caronia) where I think there is a better feeling of quality, certainly in terms of the stability of true ocean liners, which Galaxy is not. It moved about quite markedly in what I thought were very calm seas. I would sail on Celebrity again, but the decision would be driven by the itinerary rather than the ship, whereas we did a transatlantic in 2003 just to be on the QE2 for five days. Having said that, I would certainly recommend Celebrity to others for a good all round package.