by Thomas Treimel Panama Canal February 25, 2006
The travel oddesy began when we booked the Celebrity air for this trip. Celebrity flights to the ship from Newark that day were or Delta. One stop going from Newark to Atlanta then Atlanta to Houston. I like to use Continental direct flights - Newark is their hub. But only got one of the flights for the trip home. The Celebrity air also provides insurance to make sure you will get to the boat no matter what. They also supply the transfers from the ship to the pier and back. We used this because of the dire bad winter predictions in the North East for this winter - but this was not a bad winter at all. We got dropped off at the airport about 1:00am and got as comfortable as we could in the airline chairs. Catch a little nap.
The Delta check in opens at 4:00am - through there by 4:10am. The TSA does not allow you to go down to the gates till 4:30AM or so. Wait some more. We took off right on time and were right on schedule landing in Atlanta. Sunny when we landed but rained hard later. We had an hour between flights - took out time to find the next gate. Get the wife a hot chocolate as it seemed chilly in the airport. The plane we were to depart on was a few minutes late arriving so we were a few minutes late departing Atlanta. Plus a long queue on waiting to take off did not help. We, I was picked off right away by, were noticed by our instant friends Marsha and Hank from the Cruise Critic group. They were connecting from North Carolina. Not a problem on the trip to Houston. Where we were a little late landing. Then the fun began. All the luggage came down - great no problem there. But a piece of Marsha's luggage was missing. Great. Now it's go back and find the person to talk to and back track it. We then register with the Celebrity person to get onto a bus. But wait - there are no busses at this time. So we have to wait 1 1/2 hours till a bus comes to pick us up. In-between help Marsha try to locate the missing bag. Found out it was still in Atlanta and did not want to make our flight. Their missing bag was returned to them later that night on the ship. Tote all the luggage to the bus. Get it packed and away we go. I was hoping for a quick transfer from the airport to the ship. But... Did not read the Cruise Critic suggestion to use Enterprise rental to the pier and back till it was too late. Would have cost less. Been a lot faster. I had wanted to take a walk into the Strand District which is near the pier area. But it rained on the way down to Galveston from the airport and was raining when we arrived. Plus it was after 3:00pm so - forgot about that.
Onto the Ship.
Cabin: #8155, cat. 5, Panorama Deck. This is one of the regular sized cabins on the ship. 170 sq. ft. We have always found the Celebrity cabins to fit us perfectly. Slightly larger than some of the other industry standard cabins at this level. Very roomy for two. We had the two beds made into a king. The one small one person sofa-sleeper/couch there the wife used to put her large suitcase on and work out of it for most of the cruise. There were also 2 large closets with a hanging bar in each for your formal wear and other hanging garments. The third closet has 6 drawers to store other things in. There is also a cabin safe with a keypad to enter your own code, an interactive TV which we used for the music and seeing some of the old time comedy shows while getting ready for dinner or bed. You can also use the interactive TV for access to your shipboard account, book excursions, order room service, pay-per-view movies (also, newly released movie videos - no charge, dresser/desk with chair, small glass coffee table, plenty of mirrors in front of the desk and the wall the bed is on. The light wood panel tones were the same we have seen on most of the Celebrity ships. Also each night stand has it's own table lamp for night reading. The bathroom is perfectly sized for the room. If you bring any beer or wine onto the ship just ask your cabin steward to open the refrigerator under the TV. Then stow your wine or beer in the fridge. If you remove and keep / use any of the items they will be charged to your shipboard account at the end of the cruise. Just tell the cabin steward you are doing this so he will know not to replace missing items. We opened the fridge about two times during the cruise.
We had tried to get a balcony cabin this time but they were all sold out when my wife booked the cruise while on the Zenith on the Bermuda run in the summer. The cruise sold out about a month before sailing. This was our 18th cruise or so cruise with Celebrity. We have booked and split about half the time between inside and outside cabins. The only room preference is that we are on the ship. The cabin was in a great location for both of us. Just up three decks to the Oasis for breakfast, lunch or the pool. Down two for the dining room. We both like to walk a bit more on the ship when we can. This could be the fewest times we have used the elevators on a cruise. One time. And it was the wife this time. Barbara used it with Hank when coming back onto the ship in Jamaica on day. From level 2 to level 8. Yes. This would have been a lot of steps. The location we had got us to walk up and down the stairs a lot of times. Being right next to the central stair case. The Casino was right below our room so after dinner it was not a long walk to pick up Barbara's quarters for the slots. I have only one type of luck in the Casino - Bad. Plus I work in computers and understand the odds on the slots and most games. So I don't play that much. The library is also located just off the central staircase on deck 8. We used this to cut through to the main staircase for the grand foyer of the ship. Quick way to the shops, main lobby or the theater. The card room is just opposite the library on deck 8 also. Some days both the library and the card room were very busy other days not.
Deck 5 is where you will find all the ship services areas. The reception desk, Shore Excursion, Bank, shopping guide information, concierge desk, future cruise sales - Laura - and the Captains Club Hostess desk - Melanie Mowat. We did have a golf tourney a few days in the lobby area with Zsolt the Sports coordinator on the ship. This was for our Ryder cup golf putting. A lot of fun to putt the ball around on 50 to 70 feet of carpet - most times when we were at sea. The first day we were really rolling a bit. Hey how did I end up under the couch. There were about 20 of the faithful playing each time. One of the ladies actually got a hole in on a rolling sea day. Great shot.
Deck 6 off the central staircase is the Cova Cafe Milano. As with all Celebrity ships this is a nice area to sit and watch the people go by. They had some tasty baked treats - you could only get there served every day. Right across from there was the Michaels club. They had some of the specialty wine tasting and art auction run by Jane. I popped in one day at the wine tasting while Malcolm and Pam were there. This was where they got to try six white and six red wines. Not a bad way to spend a hour or two. I also happened by just after the Champagne art auction run by Jane near the end of the cruise. They needed someone to help them dispose of the extra champagne and snacks they had left there. Someone's got to volunteer for these tough jobs. Just moving forward from deck 6 on the starboard side is the On-Line computer center where there were classes given on how to make your digital pictures better. Across from here was the Cinema. Anyone up for a first run movie. Large area that would have easily seated 200 people. Large comfy chairs.
Up on deck 7 is the shopping areas. There are a few distinct areas in the shopping area. The one I went into most was the place where the duty free liquor was on sale. And I get to look and dream. Rum...Rum...Rum.... Wake up!!!! Darn. They had most of the major brand names here and from what I could tell the prices were just about what you could buy on the islands - without the hassle and carrying back to the ship. Be aware anything bought here is sent to your room on the last day of the trip. They do not carry the local brands of liquor in the shop so you may want to watch and buy them in the islands where you stop. There were also other things here you may have not brought from home and needed. Tylenol, film, swim goggles, and a lot of other things. The other shop areas are divided into clothes, jewelry, perfume, statues. All good prices from what my wife tells me. They also had sales running just about every day in this area during the week. One sale was on $10 watches, one on clothes, another for gold by the inch, and a few others. All of the sale information is sent to your cabin by the staff in your daily program to watch out for. We had a $200 plus room credit - but that disappeared when the wife saw a nice pair of pearl earrings and a double heart gold pendent with three diamond chips. So much for me using that credit.
The last area off main staircase is deck 8. The starboard side is the card room and the port side is the library. Both nice places to hide and read. The Library has daily quizzes and crosswords you can get. They have not yet gotten Suduko - the number puzzle game. The game room has decks of cards and a few board games you may want to use. You can borrow and return them when done. Barbara brought her Rummy-O tile game. This is a gin rummy type game where you have tiles and try to be the first person to get all you tiles down in combinations. I won the first two games of this. But lost the next 9. Our waiter saw us playing it one day up at the lunch buffet. He and a few of the other waiters were commenting there is a similar game at home they have. I suggested we give them the game, as I was having no luck playing it, and Barbara agreed. With my bad luck aspect as she was reveling in spanking me every time we played and giving it to our waiter as a small gift. Onto a few more of the public areas.
The Savoy lounge located in the Aft Section of deck 7. This is where we had our cruise critic meet in the group. There were 50 plus registered for the party. And about 40 plus actually showed up. Our host was the cruise director. We all talked a bit and he answered some questions we all had. This room also is where the "Battle of the Sexes Trivia" contest was held. I was the captain of the men's team. We would play every sea day here. We had about 25 men and 30 women playing each time we met. Made for a lot of fun between the teams. There were also the cooking demonstrations here as part of the Celebrity Enrichment program. This was also where they held some of the private parties for the Captains club members.
Just outside the Savoy lounge moving forward is the Art auction area. You can view all the work on display and for auction on the cruise. There is artwork place in a few different areas about the ship. Not just in this one place. The art auctions are run by Jane Lodge. A friendly young lady from the UK. I had met Jane on the Zenith in 2004. She was then part of the cruise staff. Has since moved positions within Celebrity. And she remembered me. Hmmm... There's a trend forming here. If you caught Jane without her raffle tickets you get a free piece of art work - a small reproduction.
As you move forward again into the next area you would walk into the Casino. The land of the lost money. For me at least. Barbara plays the video slots when we cruise and does well enough to break even most times. Me - if it were not for bad luck. I'd have no luck at all. This is where I should just go in and give them the money and be done with it. I just stroll around and watch the black jack players and the craps table. I'm still in the learning stages of this. Celebrity does have short classes on the TV for the casino games. But I still was not sure about how you could bet and the odds. I did get a little help on afternoon from one of my ship friends and the dealers working the table - when no one was there. There is so much activity going on when the dice are flying it is hard for me to follow the complete table and what is being bet and why. Maybe the next trip I will catch on and understand better. For now I just stand back a few feet and watch. All the people who work in the casino are willing to help you learn to play the games a bit better.
One of the best things I do get from being in the Captains club is coupons for $5 match play at selected games and getting $12 for the slots for $10. I also use the casino as my ATM machine. You are allowed to get up to $2000 each day from here. I use this service to get my $ for the tips for the trip. It's easier than carrying any form of money. And it goes as a ship board charge on you credit card. Not a cash advance. There are plenty of slots to play along with the standard table games. They have not yet put in the Texas Hold'em table(s). As I feel there would be too much of a range for players here. Going forward as you exit the casino are the shops. Then just past the shops forward is the Celebrity Theater. We are into the shows. Being we have been on a lot of cruises. But the theater is great. And they always look great. The chairs are way too comfortable. We just went in to see the welcome aboard show. And took one of the dance lessons offered while on the trip. They offered 5 free dance classes. But after the first one with Barbara. We both decided we have four left feet in the family and no rhythm. At dancing. The classes are hosted by the dance teams choreographer. There were about 35 couples who attended the first lesson. We missed out on the comedy acts they had on the ship. But meeting the dancers and performers about the ship is very nice.
On deck 5 just outside the restaurant is the Champagne bar. Our cruise table mates Malcolm and Pam used this area to wait in before dinner. They sampled some of the special Martini's that were listed on the Celebrity drink menu. We were told - none disappointed them. Just above this area is the Orion foyer. A long stairway connects these two areas. The foyer area is used as extra seating for the Champagne bar. You can hear some of the music from the piano playing below or the nightly dancing music from the Rendezvous lounge. We would walk down for dinner through this lounge area to enjoy some of the music and if early sit for a few minutes. The waiters were always attentive asking if we would like anything to order off the drink menu. Back to deck 6 just forward of the Orion foyer is the Rendezvous lounge. This is where we had most of our games on the ship. Taboo, Scatagories, Outburst and Pictonary. We would usually get at least 10 people at all the games. Sometimes we had groups of 30 or more where we broke into large teams to play. These were run by Halsey, Laura and Kevin of the cruise staff. Lots of good guessing and fun with the other passengers here. This room - with the correct lighting effects transforms at night to a dance club. The Black and White Duo performed here most nights. As you would exit this area to go forward there is the photography display area on both sides of the ship. They would be open at selected times when the ship was at sea. Those special pictures the ships photography staff would take of you about the ship and in the port area. They also had some great pictures of the Galaxy and the public rooms about the ship.
Going up to Deck 9 in the aft section of the ship is the Ship Mates Fun Factory. This is where the younger cruisers have their own area. The room area has a lot of toys and games for the young kids along with a slide, ball pit and a pool outside for them. The area is secure and only the parents or someone designated can remove a child from this area once they are in. There is a full staff on the ship to help the younger cruisers enjoy their time at sea. There were only 10 children on this cruise. One being from our Cruise Critic group. I only saw them about the ship one time while they were playing a search for information game. Up on deck 11 - the Resort deck are the pools, health club, grill, Oasis buffet area. Starting from the bow - front of the ship is the Aqua spa area. This contains the well used gym workout area. They have about 10 walking machines for daily use and about ten or so Universal workout machines. They also have some Elliptical trainers and lots of bikes for your use. There is a small free weight area also. But due to the times the ship may bounce about this is limited to just hand weights. The most used time of the day here is the early am from 7 till about 9. The Aqua spa staff does have free classes and some they charge for. There is a large wide open workout area for the classes they give. You can also have the trainer help you keep you on your workout schedule. One of the most unused areas here is the Thalassotherapy pool. I call it the T pool. This is the bubble pool where you can lie on a bed of stainless steel bars and there are soft bubble jets coming from them. A great way to relax. Barbara and I used this twice. Both times no one else was around. The T pool also has some other type of water jets you can use to relax from. An overhead water spout you could use to massage you neck and shoulders. The rest of the Aqua spa area is for the massage rooms and the other beauty salon services. Some of these are hair, nail, seaweed wrap, mud bath, aroma therapy and a lot of other exotic things.
As you leave this area going to amid ship you would walk into the pool area. This is the pool well as I call it. Here there are two pools to use. They are salt water but with chlorine in it to keep the water pure. The water temperature was cold the first day of the cruise but was warmer all the other days. One of the pools is about 50 feet long by 20 feet wide. It is also quite deep - more of an adult pool. I used this to swim in every day. When you get here about 8:00am there is no one in this bigger pool most days. There is a smaller pool here also. About 30 feet by 20 feet and a lot shallower. We had the pool games here. King of the Ship, passengers vs the crew water volleyball, and the passengers relay contest. No pillow pool contest as the pipe they used was broken. Please replace this as I'll be back next February. Nice area as you can watch all the going's on from you comfortable pool lounger or above at the rail looking down into this area. The pool area has a shaded overhang on both sides so you can be in the open and not is the sun. Getting the ship breezes to lay back and read that book you were trying to finish. The area has all glass windows enclosing it. So you can look out at the ocean as you cruise along.
There are also four hot tubs in the pool area.Their temperatures varied a little bit to give you a choice. I would use them to relax in after I finished my morning workout. There is also a fresh water rinse shower here to get any salt off you. There is an open deck area here that is used for some of the dance nights on deck and the dry games they had while on board. Next to the dance deck floor area is a raised band stand area the house bad would come out and play on during the afternoon. The grill is located here also on the starboard side of the ship. They opened about 11:00am and closed about 7:00pm every day. Hot Dogs, hamburgers, fries, some salads and all the fresh fixings you would need. Just what we needed another food station. :) To the port side of the ship is a drink station you could get lemonade, ice tea, coffee, and other types of drinks all day and into the night. To top off you pool enjoyment at 2:00pm they would have the sorbet parade. The wait staff would bring cold delicious sorbet around to you at the pool. Can you pamper me some more. And to tell it like it was. There were not many - under 6 from what I could tell - Chair Hogs. Those people who place their belongings on a chair but never return to use it. But their numbers were so few - it never mattered.
As you move to the aft - back section of the ship now you would walk past the ships center stairwell and into the Oasis restaurant area. This was the most used food area on the ship. They started serving at 7:00am and would barley close then open for the next round of food presentation. In the morning they would have four areas open here to get you breakfast when you wanted it without much of a wait. There were also two areas here that you could use to have specialty egg orders filled. Get the omelet you have been waiting for. I would order from here just about every day. They had about twenty different types of fixings you could request be added into the omelet. Cooked to order. The buffet line has a good selection of fresh fruits and the normal food selections, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hot cereal, and the french toast. Great morning treat. Have it with a little honey over the top. To die for. There was also a spot where you could get just about any type of toast or muffin. And there was a large cold cereal selection here. They also had two stations here where you could get a morning pastry or some of the fresh baked rolls and popovers - as I call them. The Oasis was much the same for lunch but one of the stations was transformed into a place where you could get your own specialty sandwich made. The lunch selections up here were right on the money every day I stopped by. About four or five cold salad selections. One was a seafood salad with baby shrimp, muscles, and diced calamari in a vinegar and oil dressing. That hit the spot. Went back for seconds on this. Yum.
There are also ten hot lunch selections to try each day. And at the end of the line a large selection of deserts. I swear that chocolate cake was calling my name every time I went by. The area where they had the omelet station in the am transformed into the ice cream bar for lunch and beyond. They had the standard flavors here each day with a lot of toppings. I usually like Rum Raisin only. And would stop by and ask for it each day. One day they had it and I want back for more. The last two areas they used this for was first the Alternative dining after 6:00pm each night. You could call ahead and come for dress down dinner. There is a limited menu I'm told and the selections repeat themselves every four days or so. But a nice place to have dinner if your late for your early dinner or just want to come as you are for dinner. The second and my favorite is the Sushi bar. They opened at 6:00pm and closed at 10:00pm. We stopped by here every night of the cruise. Great selections. The staff were very friendly and would make something special for you if you asked. We would get our sushi every night and play a few hands of gin rummy or a game of Rummy-O while enjoying the food.
When I did pry myself away from this area in the am or around lunch time and walk to the back of the ship I would hit the Oasis pool. This is a small pool area to cool yourself off in. The area is covered by a moveable canopy of frosted glass to cut down on the suns rays. They had a grill here also. This grill opened at about 7:00am every day and closed... I don't know when. In the morning they would make you waffles or pancakes as you showed up. With plenty of toping choices. For lunch this area would be converted into the pizza and pasta station. You could get your daily pasta fix here topped with some of the five different sauces they had. You could also have you own pizza made to order here with over 20 toppings you could request. The three standard types I tries were all good. They stayed open to the wee hours of the morning. So if you got done dancing late you could stop by for a quick slice. There was also a bar in this area and they prepared the drinks of the day. They have these available just after 5 pm or so. Some of them at 2 for one pricing. The last area on this deck is the very aft section just outside the Oasis pool area. A nice area to sit out in and enjoy the end of the day with a nice drink or greet the day with breakfast outside.
Up to deck 12 the Running / Jogging / Walking track amid ship: A good place to stretch the legs out on those calm sea days. This place is for everyone. There are about 12 plus laps here to a mile. But this may not be quite correct. But your on vacation - so who cares. I would run up here about 7:00am daily when we were at sea. Done by about 7:20am or so. The walkers are out in force by about 7:30 am so be ready to dodge about a bit after that. I also like to reverse run some days. This because of the curves and stress on my knees. But if I time it right there is no problem doing this. This area is deserted after 5:00pm and if you want to walk around a bit can do so them. Barbara would walk a bit in the late afternoon to work on an appetite for sushi. There was a steady group of walkers out here every morning. On the port early days I would be the first off the ship run on land while the temperature was not unbearable. We came from the north in 30 degree weather to the south into 80 plus and humidity. So you have to be careful where to pick and choose your spots to do this. I ran on land in Mexico, Costa Rico, Jamaica. Sweated a lot on land in Panama and the Cayman Islands.
At the aft section of the ship are the two basketball courts you could use for playing and the volleyball courts. Under the overhang was the table tennis areas. And on the starboard side the dart board. Zsolt the sports coordinator ran all the games up here. I was lucky at darts a few time. And terrible at basketball and table tennis. But it's all in fun. The forward section of this deck is the Stratosphere lounge. They held some of the theme night dances hosted by the cruise staff. They also had a running feed from the satellite on ESPN here. Just wish I could have turned up the sound. We had our final Battle of the Sexes trivia contest up here. The men's team won the overall by about 16 points. But we lost the final question and the women won the day. Darn. We had a great time doing this with Mike on all the sea days. This was fun as it drew in a wide range of passengers to play.
The last upper deck area is deck 13. The forward area is for looking out way over the horizon to see other ships and land masses as you pass by. A nice spot for full quiet as there are some lounge chairs up here and it's way off the beaten path of most of the passengers. Get your tan in private and quietly. The Golf simulator was on the aft section of this deck. You could meet the onboard golf pro for lessons or sign up to play in one of the contests they had on ship.
*Dining room wait staff -waiter, assistant waiter, head waiter - Excellent. We saw the area Mater'd each night as we entered the main dining room. We were invited and sat at the Captains table the first formal night. The head Mater'd waited on us along with a few of the other staff. Our table waiter worked tirelessly for our group of four. Getting everything exactly right one time. Those 4 Lobster tails that I had the last formal night just capped off the trip. What a way to feel famous. Just ask and they bring it. I think we only double ordered one or two other meals the whole trip - where Barbara and I split another dinner. We are not wine drinkers so the wine steward was not around at all. Malcolm and Pam had their drinks brought into the main dining room by the wait staff in the lounge. Another nice extra Celebrity provided. On the first night we requested ice tea for the both of us. And the assistant waiter had them there every night as we would sit down. The waiter got so good on food recommends I would just let him pick out what he thought I would like off the menu the last few days. Great food and great service every dinner time in the main restaurant.
Our flight was booked through Celebrity air and was from GBI airport in Houston. This is about a an hour plus drive back. We dropped the luggage with the bus driver and climbed aboard. We waited about 20 minutes more for - who knows what - the bus to leave. At this point you are at the mercy of the group operating the busses to the airport - not Celebrity. We had air reservations out of Houston on Continental at 1:20pm for our direct flight home. We did not have to rush around now. We had the Concierge at Celebrity print up our Continental boarding passes the day before. So we went to the auto check in and went through this procedure. Not bad. It only took two tries with the computer to get it right. After we had the luggage tagged we dropped it off with the TSA people to scan and send it to the plane. All told it took about 15 minutes to do this. Then find the right gate to go to and take the tram to it. The plane was there right on time but waited to take off a few extra minutes. The flight time was right on schedule and we arrived just a few minutes late to the gate. Back out through Newark - it seems we get the longest gate to walk from to the luggage area. Picked up by Barbara's sister and her husband Tony. No problems. Back home to the master of the house - the dog Morgan. And he was happy to see us.
I hope this covered a lot of ground on what we did on the trip. We have already booked our next Celebrity trip - February 2, 2007 out of Puerto Rico - to the south. Keep planning - Keep Cruising.... With Celebrity.