by Joe Young
March 16, 2003
This was a first cruise for me, but my wife's fourth cruise, and her second on Celebrity. We were part of a "family reunion" cruise, so there were 18 of us, including 7 kids ranging in age from 2 to 16.
While the Horizon is one of the older ships in the Celebrity fleet, the crew appears to take great care in keeping it looking nice. In most ports, workers could be seen painting, polishing and cleaning. Public areas were downright plush. The ship may be older, but she certainly has aged well.
Service and entertainment:
We explored the various decks until our departure at 4:30. We headed up to the pool area on deck 11 and watched as we set sail. The party band, "Bona Fide" was playing and the atmosphere was one big party. It didn't take more than 10 minutes for me to realize that this was going to be a really fun trip. We had early seating for dinner in the Starlight restaurant. Our group had three tables with three different waiters serving us. The food presentation and quality were superb. The service from the wait staff was impeccible, and the staff provided extra attention to the kids, making them feel very special. Our assistant matre 'd, Lorenzo, charmed the girls in our group, and was at almost every meal...breakfast, and lunch in the Coral Seas cafe and dinner in the Starlight restaurant. He made an extra effort to ask the kids what they had planned that day, and how they were enjoying their trip so far. I did not attend all the shows, although many in our group did. All agreed the shows we did attend were top notch. The group Bona Fide, played in the Zodiac club and poolside on most days. This band was one of the highlights of the trip for many in our party. The bar staff were making rounds constantly, and if one wanted a drink, a member of the wait staff would soon be passing by.
Ports of Call: Key West
I am not much on shopping or getting falling down drunk, which appeared to be the two biggest attractions in Key West. Of course, there were the bars and we were there during Spring Break AND St. Patricks day, so the party atmosphere was everywhere. We made the obligatory trip to Sloppy Joe's and Jimmy Buffets restaurant. We bought a few souveniers in the shops and headed back to the ship.
We left Key West at about 5:00 p.m., headed for Costa Maya, Mexico. We were at sea the following day, and the winds were blowing very hard...making it difficult to walk the decks. Fortunatly, the pool area on deck 11 wasn't terribly windy, although the rougher seas turned the pool into a wave pool. We spoke with some passengers on the NCL "Norwegian Dawn" who were in port at Costa May with us and they said that because of rough seas, they could not get into Grand Cayman. We were scheduled for Grand Cayman in a couple of days, so we said a silent prayer that the weather would clear. Despite that, we had a lot of fun on the at sea day. The activities staff had a water volleyball competition and a "King of the Cruise" competition. It was most enjoyable.
Port of Call: Costa Maya, Mexico
As far as I am concerned, they could have skipped this port. It has a very nice pier, some shops and a nice pool in the port, but other than that, this stop offered nothing. My brother-in-law and I walked the coastline into town - the trash on the shoreline was horrible, and the main town was somewhat impoverished and depressing. Unfortunatly, this was the port where the ship was docked the longest. We walked back to the ship and enjoyed the onboard activities before setting out to Cozumel.
Port of Call: Cozumel
A wonderful stop. Several of us opted for the shore excurion for "Snuba", a combination of scuba diving and snorkeling. There were 13 cruise ships in port while we were there, and some of the scheduling got delayed a bit, but this excursion was awesome. The kids caught on as if they had done it all their lives, and there was a pretty good variety of sea life for them to see. When we got back to the ship and were seated at dinner, my 10 year old daughter looked at me and said "This is the best vacation ever". I couldn't disagree.
Port of Call: Grand Cayman
The seas were a little rough, slowing tender operations, but we were able to go ashore on our excursion - Reef snorkeling and Stingray City tour. If you take this cruise, this tour is a must - everyone, from kids to adults had a fantastic time. Feeding and holding the stingrays evoked much laughter (and a few screams at first), and the variety of sea life on the reef was incredible. The ship did a great job on the tender operations, despite the roughness, and we were underway to Tampa about two hours later than scheduled.
Our last day at sea couldn't have been nicer - calm winds, calm seas, bright sunshine, a great band, dancing, singing, playing in the pool or relaxing poolside. We kind of wished the day would never end. Our "last supper" on board was exquisite, as usual. The kids had to have their pictures made with our waiters and maitre'd - they made them feel just so special during the entire trip.
This was the only tense moment of the trip. The ship was scheduled to arrive in Tampa at 7:00 a.m., but didn't get docked until about 9:00 a.m. We had an 11:40 flight home booked. Customs would not release the ship for quite some time and as 10:00 o'clock came and went, we began to get worried. Finally the ship was cleared at 10:30 and we were in the first group off. Our luggage was waiting, and we cleared customs by about 10:45. A quick phone call to the airline, begging them not to give up our seats to standby passengers, and alerting them to our pending arrival at Tampa Airport provided for a smooth arrival. I can't really fault Celebrity for the delay, as during that week, the country went to war with Iraq. Next time though, I'll find a flight out just a bit later in the day.
Overall, this cruise was a fantastic experience. I boarded the ship wondering if I would enjoy myself. I left this ship ready to plan my next cruise. Bottom line, a five star experience all the way.