March 9, 2003
Western Caribbean itinerary: Tampa - Key West, FL - At Sea - Costa Maya, Mexico - Cozumel, Mexico - At Sea - Tampa
I booked a cruise on Celebrity's HORIZON because the price just could not be beat, and I knew we'd enjoy the outstanding cruise experience we've come to rely on Celebrity to provide. Having sailed on the entire fleet of Celebrity except for HORIZON, and some of their ships two and three times, I am in love with the CENTURY and MILLENNIUM class ships. I wondered how HORIZON, built in 1990, would look and feel in comparison.
For those of you who want to cut to the chase, the ship is in very good condition, the cuisine lives up to Celebrity's standard of excellence, and the staff at all levels on board HORIZON was friendly and obviously understand what customer service means. It was a terrific cruise.
To make the most of your cruise vacation, I believe you should always select a knowledgeable cruise specialist who should be responsible for matching your budget, interests, and preferences with the best available ship and ports. There are many terrific sounding cruise deals, but the insight of a cruise specialist is invaluable, especially if you haven't cruised before, or if you're trying out a different cruise line or itinerary. HORIZON lacks the soaring atriums and huge, open deck space of larger ships, and there are no verandas and limited on board shopping, so if you're looking for mega ship and mega space, this may not be a good choice for you.
Our pre-cruise stay was at the Marriott Courtyard Downtown, Tampa, FL. I commend their staff for being courteous and efficient, and the hotel is comfortable and clean. The usual amenities are provided: iron and ironing board, in room coffee maker, exercise room, outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. A nice breakfast buffet is available each morning in the hotel lobby ($8.95 per person), and a dinner buffet is also available. To leave the hotel in search of other dining options requires a walk of quite a number of blocks. Located less than 2 miles from the brand new terminal building where HORIZON is found, the hotel offers complimentary pick-up (use the courtesy phones on the baggage level) from Tampa International Airport, but it does not provide transportation to the pier. A taxi from this hotel to the Port of Tampa costs about $5 per person.
The newly-built cruise terminal where HORIZON calls is spacious and air conditioned. You leave your luggage with porters at the street level, and then take the escalator or elevator to the second level where the embarkation waiting area and check-in is located. Staff was friendly and eager to assist. Celebrity Captain's Club members do not have a designated area in which to sit, however, the boarding process began by staff asking the Captain's Club members to come forward. You show your documents and you're directed to the walkway that takes you onto the ship. We were on board 11:30 AM.
A word about Captain's Club membership. It's well worth the $35 one time payment you make. I recommend that you go to the www.celebrity.com web site to read all about it. There were so many private parties and functions held for Captain's Club members on HORIZON, we were unable to attend them all!
There is no multi-story, flashy atrium on HORIZON. Entry is onto Europa Deck #5, which brings you into a small area where you'll find Guest Relations, Shore Excursions, and the ship's bank. Under the supervision of Annette, the staff here was very cordial and asked daily in person (or called us) to inquire about our satisfaction with the cruise experience.
We were escorted by a white-gloved attendant to Presidential Suite 2, one of the two Presidential Suites on board HORIZON, Atlantic Deck #10. This is a Category 1, 340 sq. ft. suite with no veranda. There are no verandas on HORIZON at all, due to its age. The suite was a delight. (OK, we missed having a veranda a little bit, but we'll have one on SUMMIT later this year.) As you walk into the suite, there's a long wall with a floor to ceiling mirror opposite a wall with many cabinets and drawers, and a refrigerator with complimentary soft drinks and two bottles of liquor. Lovely roses had been placed on the table in the living room, plus chilled champagne, a bowl of fruit, and a box of Cova Pasticceria-Confetteria hand made Italian chocolates. More of these and other delicious treats and little gifts would arrive almost daily. A television, VCR, and CD player with a variety of music CD's was in the living room. The living room in the suite contains a couch, loveseat, and upholstered chair. It was in this comfortable setting that our Butler, Wilfred (from India), would deliver and set up our breakfast each morning.
The bed and bathroom, and walk in closet side of the suite, is separated from the living room and its foyer by a frosted glass wall with a door. Fragrant, fresh pink tea roses were on the dressing table and other flowers were in the bathroom. The queen size bed was very comfortable, complete with premium linens and a duvet. Each evening, our Stateroom Attendant Pinto, and his Assistant, Gami (both from India), would place linen mats on the floor on the sides of the bed. What a charming touch. Specialty chocolates were placed on our pillows, along with a card giving the temperature and other weather conditions for the port we would visit the next morning. The large bathroom was all marble and had a Jacuzzi tub, upgraded toiletry articles, and thick Egyptian cotton towels. The walk in closet had a huge area for hanging clothes and many storage drawers and a safe.
Butler service is provided for the two Presidential Suites and the smaller, 18 Category 2 HORIZON suites. Your Butler will set up any meal you wish to enjoy in your suite, and he will also appear in the afternoon with tea and coffee plus delicious pastries and finger sandwiches. Early evenings, he brings you a pre-dinner plate of assorted appetizers. He will assist you with almost any service you need or want to arrange while on board.
Day #1 - Embarkation, Evening dress is Casual, leaving Tampa, FL. Our luggage was delivered promptly, and we headed up one deck to the Coral Seas Café for the welcome aboard luncheon. The selections of hot and cold dishes was impressive, and everything we sampled was tasty. White gloved waiters and assistants stand by to carry your linen-covered tray to a table. The disappointment here is certainly not in the food or service, but in the layout of the buffet due to the age and configuration of the ship. Some time ago in an attempt to improve this area's traffic flow, the serving tables were moved away from the service area which is behind closed doors. This, I think, was a mixed blessing because now, guests serve themselves with very long spoons and other utensils except for carved meats and some other specialty items. Some guests are not as neat when they help themselves to food as the ship's staff would be in serving them. Staff was in constant watch over this area and they quickly cleaned up spills (made by guests) going through the four buffet lines. There are two lines on each side of the ship in the Café, however, once through the lines, you're at the back (aft) part of the ship and also due to the only indoor beverage station being there, it was always crowded. Also here is the frozen yogurt machine, plus the pizza area. In the mornings, the pizza area serves as the omelet station. At lunch, it serves as the pasta and/or specialty food station. People with trays and beverages were trying to move against the flow of traffic at the end of the buffet lines in order to be seated. Also, the grill is located outside, all the way aft. They serve hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries here. This adds to the traffic congestion inside the Café. Guests from the pool area must walk through the Café to the aft grill, and then double back to the pool. There is limited outside seating aft. The tables have umbrellas.
A word here about precautions taken to keep cruise guests free from Norwalk, Norwalk-like, and other gastrointestinal illnesses. On embarkation, your cabin TV will be repeating a discussion on this topic, including information about what Celebrity Cruises does to protect guests. You will also read about it in the daily newsletter left in your cabin. You'll see that food service and other staff members wear disposable gloves, and disinfection of surfaces occurs often. As a Registered Nurse specializing in hospital infection control, I feel that Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean understands and has implemented many good procedures to protect their guests from illnesses. Of course, we all still have the personal responsibility of washing our hands often, especially after use of the bathroom and before eating. It's a good idea to have a small container of alcohol gel hand hygiene product with you, and use it often while on a cruise or traveling in general.
Muster to lifeboat stations for safety drill was held promptly at 4 PM. At 4:30, HORIZON left under overcast skies, heading out to Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Unfortunately, light rain began to fall and the skies became a grey muck, making the bridge impossible for viewing. On clear days, be out on deck to look at and take photos of this impressive bridge if you enjoy such things.
Once out to sea, the shops and casino sprung to life. The various bars, lounges, Cova Café (for specialty coffees, teas, and pastries), library with internet, and other rooms were open. Live music was played in several different areas. There were groups of Spring Breakers on board HORIZON, and some families with young children, babies, and toddlers. It was a nice mix of ages. We spent some time touring the ship and were really pleased at the clean and neat appearance of it.
We requested and received a table for two in the Starlight Restaurant, and it was directly in the center of the restaurant. Excellent service was provided by Cassie (from Australia), and her Assistant, Edwin (from India). They were wonderful, cheerfully bringing whatever we asked for, and more of the things we really liked. Besides remembering our beverage preferences each evening, Edwin had lots of tricks up his sleeve, and we appreciated his enthusiastic entertainment at the end of most of our meals! Our Maitre D' was Nelson (from Portugal), a genuinely warm man who visited with us and all his other guests each evening. He surprised us with special treats even before our appetizers appeared. We 'adopted' a Waiter from another section in the restaurant. He was actually the first Waiter we met as we entered the Coral Seas Café earlier in the day. Oviedu (from Romania), is a charming young man who has a great sense of humor and was never without a big smile and pleasant conversation for the entire week. To our delight, the Restaurant Manager recognized us from one of our previous cruises on SUMMIT. Mr. Milovij Simunec is a shining example of professionalism. He is but one of the reasons the restaurants on board Celebrity ships are top notch, and we were delighted his talents were recognized and that he had been promoted from Maitre D' to Restaurant Manager. Besides engaging guests in conversation all throughout the week, he was also present to inspect and oversee service at the specialty buffets served late night in the Coral Seas Café. We would enjoy speaking with him many times throughout our stay on HORIZON. All of these people mentioned will not be forgotten. Their attention and fine service added so much to the enjoyment of our cruise.
As we didn't attend any of the nightly shows in the Palladium Theater, I can't comment directly on them. I will say from past experiences that this is an area in which Celebrity can make improvements. We've always thought that the Celebrity singers and dancers work hard, but it would be nice to see some headline entertainers as presented on Royal Caribbean.
Day #2, Evening dress is Formal, Key West, FL - We dock at Mallory Square, famous for the gathering of hundreds of people, street entertainers, and vendors each day as the sun sets and makes for a most spectacular show. A couple of other ships are in port with us, one from Costa and the other from NCL. Key West has a kind of appeal for being a quirky tourist attraction, lots of bars, lots of souvenir shops, etc. Be sure to have a frozen, chocolate covered key lime pie on a stick! Walk into town and catch a trolley to tour the area, or take advantage of one of the many water sports activities offered by the ship or private vendors at the pier.
Tonight is the Captain's Welcome Aboard cocktail party. Dress up and enjoy some cocktails and appetizers before dinner. Tuxedos are available for rent on board Celebrity ships. If the men don't want to wear them, dark suits will do just fine. Ladies wear cocktail dresses or gowns. The point is, this is a time to be a little bit elegant! Photos both casual and formal are taken many times during the course of a cruise. You are never obligated to buy any. Prices vary according to size and package.
Day #3, Evening dress is Casual, Costa Maya, Mexico - HORIZON is the only ship in port. This is a new port built for the cruise lines. The pier is quite long, but there's free transportation via open cart that takes guests to and from the Costa Maya shopping and entertainment area. A taxi to town costs about $5 per person. Within the entertainment area, there's a lovely salt water pool open to all guests. The sandy beach is on the other side of the shopping area. At this port, you'll find 'assertive' local hawkers who pursue you to come into their open air display areas to buy souvenirs. There are also air conditioned jewelry and other shops. In the years to come, this area will no doubt be packed with hotels and many more shopping areas like Cozumel.
Day #4, Evening dress is Informal, Cozumel, Mexico - Before arrival, HORIZON stopped near Playa Del Carmen to off load an injured Spring Breaker. Seems he had a bit too much to drink and lacerated his forearms and required evaluation landside. We were on our way quickly after this stop. We docked at the new International Pier and walked the short distance into town to check out the shopping. All but a couple of shops have adopted a 'fixed price' policy, eliminating the sometimes fun adventure of haggling for a bargain. Some shops that are not fixed price are located down the side streets, away from the waterfront. There is a mind boggling choice of water sports and other activities available in and near Cozumel. Remember, if you book with independent vendors at the pier, it's your responsibility to return to the ship in time for sailing. Take this into account if you'll be returning when traffic conditions near the pier may be heavy, especially when there are many ships in port as was the situation this day, with six other ships at Cozumel.
Day #5, Evening dress is Casual, Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island - All ships provide tender service to Georgetown, anchoring off shore as there are no docking facilities here. Tendering is done according to number. You present to the Palladium Theater and staff will give you a tender number. This helps organize an orderly exit off the ship. If you're a guest in a suite, your priority tender tickets will be delivered to you the night before, so you can proceed ashore quickly. Those guests having shore excursions arranged by Celebrity also receive tickets allowing them to tender to shore in plenty of time for their activities, but I believe participants in shore excursions meet in one of the lounges to receive tender tickets. The information will be included with your shore excursion ticket or on the daily newsletter. It's best to ask a staff member on board the ship if you have any questions at all about procedures on tendering days. On this cruise, today was the only day when tendering was required.
Georgetown is small, full of international banks, and you can easily walk around the downtown area. It gets uncomfortably crowded when a number of ships are in port. Taxis are available, but they sometimes require a certain number of people inside before they leave the pier. Walk a bit away from this area and you are more likely to get a taxi driver that's willing to leave with you right away. Seven Mile Beach is terrific for those who love the sun and surf. The sand becomes more white and powdery as you get away from town. The beach is public property, so don't be fooled by some who may try to get money from you to get onto the beach. Unless you're going to use a hotel's facilities, lounge chairs, etc., use one of the many public walkways to get onto the beach. As in Cozumel, there are lots of choices for island activities. Not to be missed is swimming/snorkeling with the sting rays.
Day #6, Evening dress is Formal, At Sea - This is the final formal evening on board HORIZON. The day was spent in the casino and shops, and enjoying the luxury of doing absolutely nothing at all in the warm sunshine! The pool was busy with Spring Breakers. Mid-morning, we had the distinct pleasure of being invited to enjoy coffee with The Master of HORIZON, Evangelos Georgiou, along with the lovely Social Hostess, Anneli Harper. We last saw Captain Georgiou on board SUMMIT when he was not yet a ship's Master. We discover that Captains will now be in place on the same Celebrity ships for a period of two years. Our Social Hostess, Anneli was once a dancer, but is now a seasoned hostess who sees to it that guests enjoy all that HORIZON has to offer. Both of these people were gracious and are wonderful examples of the best Celebrity has to offer. Tonight, we meet Anneli and several other guests in one of the lounges to enjoy champagne before dining at the Captain's Table hosted by the Hotel Manager, Mr. Miltos Papoukas. The conversation was lively, and Mr. Papoukas saw to it that all his guests were comfortable and having a great time. Wine selections with the meal were outstanding. The long stem red rose given to the ladies at the Captain's Table, and the complimentary photo, enhanced what was already a wonderful evening.
Day #7, Evening dress is Casual, At Sea towards Tampa, FL - This final day is dreaded by all of us who enjoy cruise vacations. It means packing and saying goodbye to new and old friends. We were invited to tour HORIZON's Bridge today, and to see these professionals guiding our ship was impressive. The safety of guests is their primary concern, as it should be. We spent a part of the day enjoying the ambiance of the Presidential Suite. We also prepared the tip envelopes for those who worked so hard (but without obvious effort) to make our cruise vacation so very enjoyable. We prefer the customary last night tipping instead of having tips automatically added to your credit card, as is the practice of some cruise lines. If you are in a suite, it is customary to tip your Butler in addition to the Cabin Attendant and his Assistant. Other tips are for your Waiter/Waitress, Assistant Waiter, Restaurant Manager, and the Maitre D'. Bar servers receive an automatic tip of 15% included on your charge. You may add to this if you wish, of course. Luggage tags had been delivered last night, and after packing, we placed the luggage outside the door of the suite and it was quickly picked up by attendants.
Arrival in Tampa, FL - One final breakfast, delivered and set up by Butler Wilfred. I will miss the Eggs Benedict and those luscious pastries, and so many other happy things about this cruise. It was nice to linger in the comfort of our suite until about 9:30 AM when we reluctantly left HORIZON. As you exit the ship, there are lines to go through for Immigration/Customs check. This took about ten minutes. Next, finding the luggage in the terminal was easy and took only a few minutes. There were lots of Celebrity Cruises representatives around to assist you, if needed. Porters were available, too.
Celebrity delivers a high quality product for those who wish to experience personalized service and great cuisine. For us, the ship has always been the destination. HORIZON and its staff and crew are wonderful. Please feel free to e-mail me with any questions.