As I start writing this it has been almost a month since we disembarked from Celebrity's Century in San Diego after spending 15 days on board sailing to and from Hawaii. This is not like me. Normally I want to write all about a cruise as soon as we are back but not this time. I have had the hardest time getting this one started for a lot of reasons. We came back three days before Thanksgiving so the holidays filled our days almost immediately. Then my buddy Mike Preisman got his review done with all his great pictures and I just decided that his was so good, I could just link to it (click here to read it). And to be honest, Mike was more excited about this cruise than I was.
Why wasn't I excited about this cruise and this review? First, we have been on Century three times in the last 16 months. First in September 2011 to Alaska, then in January 2012 sailing from Auckland, NZ to Sydney, AU and then this cruise, a round-trip from San Diego to Hawaii. I really didn't have anything special to say about Century that hadn't been said before. We love the ship and we love her crew. But to be honest, we are kind of tired of her. We will be sailing on the larger Celebrity Eclipse in June and it is a port intensive cruise to The Baltic so I know I will be truly enthused about that one.
I think the other reason I didn't jump right in to write this review was that we were going to Hawaii. It needs to be stated here that I am one of the few citizens of the United States that had not been to Hawaii before this trip. My DW had been there in her previous, pre-me life but not me. Why? Just never interested me. And still doesn't. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the islands but for me this cruise was all about just being with our friends and having a great time which we did. I have to say that I really am totally ambivalent about Hawaii. Certainly parts of what we saw were beautiful but I am not a beach person and not a fan of the entire Hawaiian "hang loose" mentality. When I tour, I like to TOUR! I want to see it all. I don't think that's possible in Hawaii. Not without a long stay.
Another thing is my philosophy of being onshore when on cruises. One of my good friends with us on the cruise kept telling me that, "It's not a race." But for me it is. I think one of my biggest disappointments was what we didn't get to see. After we got back I looked back at our previous cruise to New Zealand and Australia. On that cruise when we hit a port, we HIT the port. We were off the ship as soon as we could be, jumped in a van with a tour guide and did an absolute ton of activities until we returned to the ship. When we were in Hawaii I felt like we got off late, by the time we had picked up our rental car and gotten back to pick up the rest of our party and got out on the road the day was half or more than half over. I learned something really important on this cruise.
We arrived in San Diego two days early so we could drive out to Palm Springs and see my father which we did. We did that and headed back to San DIego and arrived the day before the cruise. We had rooms reserved at The Holiday Inn on the Bay. If you are cruising from San Diego, this is the perfect hotel as it is across the street from the cruise port. (If you are thinking about booking this, make sure you get the Holiday Inn ON THE BAY and not the Holiday Inn BAYSIDE. The Bayside is near the airport, not the cruiseport.) We were actually able to walk to the ship for the first time ever. After we had checked in we found our other best buddies who had arrived from sunny Florida and headed out to look at some San Diego sights. We hit the Cabrillo National Monument first and the for a completely different view of the city, we headed across the big bridge to Coronado. After that everyone decided that even though it was early, we were all hungry (especially our friends who were still on East coast time) so we headed off to dinner at Tabule, a restaurant that my DW and I had been to on a previous San Diego trip. We had loved it, especially the service by our amazing waiter, Jorge. I could and would go on and on about Tabule, encouraging you to try a meal there (especially the raspberry-chipolte duck) but Jorge told us that it was their last night as a fine-dining restaurant. After more than 15 years, they were closing that night to reopen in a few weeks as a Sports Bar. How sad. But I understand, as that part of the Gaslamp district is more about bars and saloons rather than fine dining restaurants.
The next morning I was up early to take our rental car back. We had rented a Hertz mini-van for our trip to Palm Springs and I had originally planned on taking it back on Saturday afternoon but decided to keep it so we could take our friends to see some of San Diego and go to dinner. One of the best things about San Diego is how close the airport is to the cruise port. That would be even more important at disembarkation (more on that later) but I was able to drop off the van and it was an easy walk for me back to hotel which was across the street from the cruise terminal where Century was moored. I met the other two guys in our party out by Century and we compared notes and discussed how we would get across the street with our bags to board. After breakfast and a short photo walk we went and grabbed the luggage and walked it over. I stayed with the big bags while the two guys went back to get the ladies and the carry ons (except for mine). Within minutes they were back, I ran back to the hotel and when I got back we all headed to check in. One of the best embarkations ever. Dropped the luggage, checked in (always fun to decide what is faster, the Elite line, the Suite line or just regular line) and waited about 30 minutes before we were escorted on board.
We dropped our carry ons in our cabins (suites) and headed to lunch in the buffet. I love Century's buffet because they still have trays! Some people say that because it doesn't have islands (like the Solstice class ships) it is slower but I never have any problems with it. I do a quick circuit around the entire food service area to see what's available. Then unless I want salads or the main courses I just grab what I am after. Most days, it's a salad (takes no time to grab that) and then some roasted veggies from the pizza station and maybe a piece of pizza. That's it. We didn't eat breakfast in the buffet once on this trip except disembarkation day. So we had no troubles with the Century buffet. It's one of our favorites.
After lunch we wandered around until our cabins were ready (around 1:30) and then we headed that direction. I need to mention here that for this cruise (thanks to our Florida friends booking late and letting us know about an amazing deal) we were in Sky Suites. For a cruise with this many sea days, it was wonderful to have this big a room (246 square feet as opposed to 175 square feet for our regular cabin). The suite also had a good size verandah (almost as big as our regular cabin would have been). Our luggage was a tad late in arriving (just before the lifeboat drill) and we unpacked quickly and got to the drill and immediately after to our sailaway party for our Cruise Critic group. (Folks we had met in an online forum just for this group.)
Stopped writing there and resuming the next day decided that I would cut to the chase. The good, the bad and the ugly. That and the pictures, should do it.
As usual with Celebrity (and especially with Century) just about everything fits in this category. Her officers (probably the friendliest group of officers we have seen on any cruise as a group), her crew and just about everyone associated with the ship. There were a few exceptions but not many. We got incredible service from Timothy, our assistant maitre'd, Fabian our waiter, Walter our butler (in a suite, you get a butler), Lennox in the Martini Bar and two old friends we saw from previous cruises Leximan and Aurelie who were sommeliers in the dining room. Of course there were lots of other people on the ship who took good care of us but these folks really stood out.
One of the big highlights for us was the night we were leaving Hilo, our butler Walter (with the assistance of our friend's butlers) served us a complete 5 course dinner on our verandah for just the six of us. They brought tables and chairs from other cabins and just treated like royalty. Now if you cruise with Celebrity, we made a promise to Jamie (the hotel director) not to spread this around since everyone would ask for it. So if you do ask for it, you didn't read it here.
The Bad (not really bad, just so-so)
I have very few complaints about X. (For new-cruisers, that's what we call Celebrity.) My typical complaints have been around for a while and apply to most X ships. My biggest one is the lack of silence or not really silence, just quiet. We ate in Murano (Century's alternative restaurant) one night and one lunch as Bob often says, he thinks the food in the dining room is just as good as Murano. While I may agree with the food being as good the dining room, the reason I love going to Murano or any of Celebrity's other alternative restaurants is a chance to eat (or just be) in a quiet environment. The two meals we ate in Murano (one lunch and one dinner) were so nice because we could actually hear each other talk.
And it isn't just the dining room. It's especially bad in the Martini Bar where some marketing expert in X HQ in Miami has decided that the best kind of music for a Martini Bar full of 50+ folks buying drink after drink is LOUD techno. Some of it was so bad that we kept joking that they had an old-fashioned record player behind the bar because it always sounded like it was skipping and repeating itself. This situation has been discussed in depth and the two areas I mentioned are not the only problem. It is very hard to find almost any public lounge that doesn't have music playing most of the time. And it is often at a volume that makes it difficult to talk. We cruise (especially this one) to socialize and when we have to yell to each other to be heard, that is just wrong.
My other moderate complaints concerned two crew members that bothered me a bunch. I know that it was just me but I felt that our assistant waiter was way too familiar with us. I have a really hard time with a person who is barely in their twenties acting the way that he did. On a number of occasions I felt like our waiter Fabian, had to take him aside and tell him to calm down. On one occasion he grabbed my friend's Canon DSLR and started taking pictures with it. I can tell you if he had done that to my Nikon he would have heard a lot more from me. My friend is a better sport than I am. I will admit that I am still kind of ticked at him for a lost night's sleep on the cruise. He served me caffeinated coffee and not the decaf I ordered one night. Seriously, that's all it takes for me. One cup and I am up all night. At home I can't drink anything with caffeine after noon so I always make sure to tell whoever is pouring (numerous times) that it has to be decaf.
My other problem was with a member of the activity staff who did some of the trivia contests. If you are at any of them you will know who I am talking about if I tell you that he always said the prizers were "UNBELIEVABLE." That wasn't my problem. My problem was his constant reference to guests on board as "rich people." If you were sitting in the back of the room you were "rich people who didn't like being in the front." If you came in late or left early, it was "There goes the rich people," or "Here comes the rich people. they can always be late." It got very irritating the longer it would go on. By the last sea day I was skipping trivia (which I really like) because this guy was so offensive. I also had decided to discuss with John (our cruise director) but he was ill the last couple of days of the cruise so I wasn't able to do that.
I don't think this young man deserves any punishment, just someone to take him aside and tell him what is and isn' t appropriate. Every time he would say "rich people," it almost came out as an insult.
OK, I will admit part of this is my fault because I booked a flight home at 10:00 am but I had reasons for doing that. One, we had disembarked in the port of San Diego two years earlier from HAL's Oosterdam and not been in the first groups to get off and we were still able to be in Palm Springs at my Dad's house by 11:00 am. That's an almost three hour drive plus time to rent the car.
Second, the airport is close. A 7 minute cab ride away.
Third, I was ugly because I just got fed up. I was nastier than I have ever been on a cruise. Not with X for the delay. The delay was due to Customs taking so long to clear the ship. We saw the Customs inspectors leave the room where they had been checking in non-US citizens at 7:45 and yet they did not clear the ship until almost 8:45. That is ridiculous. I got mad at X for a different reason. They had NO ONE SUPERVISING the huge group of people waiting in line to be released and that meant that even though we were in a line, people would just walk by with the excuse that they were going to the restroom or back to their cabins on a higher deck and then we would see them cut in line in front of us or just stand there and take up space that would later be filled people trying to get off. It was ridiculous. X needed to have security in those hallways leading to the gangplank to keep people in a line and tell others to go around or on another deck or to another restroom. Poor planning on their part.
I will say that we did make our plane by literally 3 minutes. When we got to the airport the person checking bags told us that we had made it with three minutes to spare. Had we been three minutes later we would not been able to board and would have had to standby and pay $100 per person to change our tickets. It was a totally frustrating end to a really great cruise and X could have made it work much better. But I am willing to take some of the blame and the Customs people ought to be reprimanded and/or fired. The entire Customs/ICE process in San Diego is ridiculous. We have sailed to Alaska out of Seattle and been off the ship by 7:30. How come our Customs/ICE people can do it better here than there.
There were four ports of call on this cruise. Two (Hilo and Kona) on the big island of Hawaii then a day each on Maui and Oahu. We did not have specific plans for each island and I am here to say that not only was that mostly my fault but IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN! Either we are doing nothing or we have a full day plan. Including where to have lunch.
My notes on them are in the Port Reviews section. Since this applies to all our ports, I wanted to add it here: Originally I had rented all our cars through Hawaii Car Rentals (http://www.hawaiicarrentals.net). They are a rental consolidator that allow you to book all your rental cars for all the islands on one website. Looked great. So I booked. Got really nice pricing and an e-mail back from them that said, "Please e-mail us with any questions. This e-mail address is monitored by a human." Well that human must be asleep because every time I would e-mail them for info I NEVER heard back from them. Finally I got so fed up I cancelled all our cars with them and rebooked them. I am really glad I did. For instance, on Maui they had us going all the way to Maui's main airport (Kahului Airport) to pick up our car. We found out from the folks who we rented a GPS from (more on that later) that we should not take a 45 minute drive in each direction (in a cab, on our own dime) when we are going to pick up and drop off the car. We ended up renting (with the other company) at Lahaina's small airport, only a 10 minute shuttle away.
There were other problems but suffice it to say we were NOT happy with them. We were happy with Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. (http://www.discounthawaiicarrental.com) They do exactly the same thing but they do it with GREAT customer service. Even after Celebrity changed our itinerary which forced us to rebook all but one of our rentals, they were OUTSTANDING! I would definitely use them again. They were totally responsive and got us great deals on our minivans. That is not to say that all was perfect on the rental car front. Just on booking them. I will cover that later as I get into each island.