December 7, 2003
This was a 14-day cruise from Jacksonville, Florida on the Zenith, stopping at 6 foreign ports in 6 countries (plus a call at Key West, FL). It was our 14th cruise overall, first with Celebrity, and longest we had ever taken. We had looked forward to cruising on Celebrity for some time, and we weren't disappointed with the Zenith.
In attempting to touch upon the many facets of a cruise experience, I will emulate a method recently used by Chuck Palm and start by giving a grade (A-F) on approximately 20 categories relating to this ship, crew and voyage.
Overall, we were very pleased with our experience on Zenith. We arrived at the port about 1:30 pm, and embarkation was a breeze. We were in our cabin shortly after 2:00, and ten minutes later we met Francis, our cabin steward from India. Our accommodations (outside, Europa deck, midship) were were above average in size (172 sq. ft.), storage space, amenities and room comfort. The temperature controls were the best we've ever had on a cruise ship, and we were quite pleased to have a functional hair dryer, shampoo and lotion dispensers, and a cabin safe.
We found the service aboard Zenith to be superior for the most part. Francis, our cabin attendant, was absolutely the best we have ever had on any ship. He and his assistant had the ability to accomplish all their tasks invisibly, and yet they would magically appear at any moment when their services were needed (as if they could read our minds). When our safe malfunctioned one evening, a call to Francis resolved the problem within 15 minutes. The dining room staff (waiter Barbara from Croatia and assistant Stanislav from Czech Republic), although somewhat harried and perhaps spread too thin, were both friendly and efficient. And the Assistant Maitre d' (Gilroy from India) was an absolute delight who was ready to pitch in whenever he was needed. The ship's officers and crew were mostly courteous and helpful, and the Cruise Director (Shawn Cavanah from Seattle) was as good as they come. Unfortunately, we were disappointed with two of the six shows we attended. But the others were all 1st-rate.
Alas, all was not so perfect when it came to the quality of food in the dining room. I love to eat properly-cooked, tasty food, and I am anything but a fussy gourmand. Kim, on the other hand, has owned and operated several restaurants over the years and looks at food preparation and service with a very critical eye. We took dinner in the main dining room on 12 of the 14 nights of our cruise. I myself was disappointed with the quality of the entrée on 3 occasions, all of which were towards the end of the cruise. I found a codfish dish to be dry and utterly tasteless; the lobster (on the one night it was offered) to be bland and very chewy; and the meat in a lamb shish-kebab to be so tough as to be inedible. I returned two of the dishes which, for me, is practically unheard of.
On the other hand, I found the rack-of-lamb dishes (which I had twice) to be superb, as were many of the beef, chicken and pork dishes. But I feel that 3 misses out of 12 tries is a poor batting average for the dining room of a quality cruise line. As for my wife's opinion of the food quality, she found several of the soups to be without redeeming value, as well as two of her starters and three of her entrées. On a positive note, we found most of the appetizers and all of the desserts to be excellent in taste and creative in presentation. As for the buffet breakfasts and lunches, most of which we took in the Windsurf Café on Deck 11, we agreed they were consistently well varied, well presented and quite good tasting...and their cakes and pastries were to die for!
To be fair and objective about the entire dining experience, I would have to say that while it wasn't nearly as good as we had anticipated, it was about as good as we would expect on a fine cruise ship (with noted exceptions) and slightly better than we've experienced on other vessels. However, our four tablemates at dinner (one couple was on their 11th Celebrity cruise) agreed that the serving teams appeared to have too many tables to handle efficiently and expeditiously. Despite this, they did their best to please and all at our table cheered their efforts.
Our tablemates (Jeanie & Dick, Ren & Bob) were delightful at all times, and added much to our cruise experience. We met many nice folks on board (no CruiseMates, even though we wore our t-shirts on several occasions), especially Mary & André from Wisconsin, Marylou & Jim from Virginia, Sheila & Jerry from Virginia, and old friends Mary & Bob from The Villages, Florida. We took only one shore excursion (in Panama, an 8-hour tour of the country and Canal by motor coach), which we enjoyed very much. Our casino experiences were not so nice; the casino was small and not too busy and (needless to say) we lost our t-shirts. But at least they presented me with a HighRoller shirt to replace the shirt I lost.
Debarkation was handled very well by the Zenith, and was probably the most systematic we've ever experienced. The entire procedure was handled with great professionalism by all involved. Our assembly hour was 10:00 am, and we were off the ship by 10:30. We were permitted to remain in our cabins right up to assembly time, which was a pleasant surprise. Inside the terminal, the Customs formalities took only about 10 minutes, with no baggage inspection. The luggage was arranged by color code; it was very easy to locate our five pieces; and there were plenty of porters to assist those who required help.
Outside the terminal, things were extremely hectic with vehicles arriving with passengers for the afternoon departure of the Zenith vying for curb space with vehicles trying to pick up the arriving passengers. The officers who were responsible for traffic control did their best, but it was a bad scene at best. The shuttle buses would stop wherever they could (there were no designated pickup locations), board those people
All in all, this was a very enjoyable experience on a fine ship. We're now Captain's Club members, and look forward with anticipation to our next Celebrity cruise.