We are three women from Boston, who traveled on a 15 day cruise from San Diego to Hawaii on the Celebrity Century in early April, 2013. We booked the cruise a year ago at an unbelievable price and we are delighted to say we had a blast!!! Below is our detailed trip report which includes a 3-day visit in San Diego pre-cruise:
Two of us traveled on United (uneventful flight, thankfully) to San Diego, as we had never visited the area before. We arrived mid-day and went directly to our hotel, The Keating, conveniently located in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter where there are lots of shops (Horton Plaza is just up the street -- you can also hop on the trolley here too), restaurants and bars close by (although the night revelers can cause a bit of noise to filter into your room). The hotel is housed in an older building, yet the rooms are modern and lush (note: there are no rugs on the floors -- concrete and painted gray which we got used to and actually liked it that way). Our room had a large flat-screen, entertainment center, espresso machine, etc. The shower is glass enclosed yet open to the bedroom -- something you should be warned about. The staff was the highlight of our stay. Everyone was so friendly and helpful -- even with our complaints -- which I will explain now in more detail. We "won" this 3 night stay (as in cheaper than the normally charged rate, but still we were charged a hefty price) from Luxury Link, which was supposed to include the following for two: Welcoming drinks (we never got), a bottle of wine and select cheeses (did not receive upon arrival, but did finally get on our last night after requesting it several times), breakfast daily (never got) and $100 towards dinner at their affiliated restaurant (presently the Brick & Mortar -- which we did receive and will post a positive review of same). When we complained, we were told various stories with the most often one being the restaurant affiliated with the hotel at the time of our winning the stay had changed hands and they no longer served breakfast. After several attempts to resolve the situation, they finally gave us a $21 gift certificate to the 21 Cafe down the street. $21 did NOT get us much at this place (although the food and atmosphere was wonderful -- try it if you ever get the chance!). We're still communicating with both the hotel and Luxury Link to get what we agreed to, but we fear we will not be compensated for their breach of our contract -- an unfortunate situation.
Back to the trip report: After checking in, we grabbed a cab to Balboa Park. It was Easter Sunday and the park was quite crowded. It had many activities for families and children planned for the day i.e., egg hunt, bunnies and performers on the lawn areas of the park, etc. We went directly to guest information (who were so very kind and helpful) and planned our day in the park. This Hospitality Building also housed Prado, a full-service restaurant that came highly recommended to us, which we unfortunately did not eat at, but we did take a peek and it looked lovely -- filled with families enjoying their Easter brunch. We visited in the park for several hours which included:
The Botanical Gardens: this building and its lily pond are a must-see in the park! The plantings were incredible, nicely including traditional Easter lilies, tulips and daffies along with the regularly housed orchids, ferns, and other tropical plants and palms from around the world.
Exposition Cottages: representing countries around the world in an effort to promote understanding and good will. Each had wonderful displays of their country, including food and drink. On this particular Sunday, the host country was India so they had a lawn program which featured music, dance, traditional costumes, arts, crafts, and ethnic foods -- it was a delight to watch!
Spanish Village: Spanish-styled buildings around a colorful, checkered patio which also houses an art center featuring all kinds of juried local crafters, including painters, sculptures, jewelers, glass blowers, and so many more unique craft persons -- all busily creating and selling their wares.
Spreckles Organ: we were fortunate enough to attend a free concert here as Mr. Speckles, who donated this unique organ containing over 4,000 pipes housed within an ornate vaulted structure, did so with the one requirement that these concerts were to be performed for free on every Sunday and they have been going on since 1917.
Time was running short and our tired old feet got the best of us. We cabbed it back to the hotel and decided to use our $100 certificate to Brick and Mortar for dinner. We chose to eat outside and do our "people watching" from there. Let us say the staff was outstanding and very, very friendly. One server, who was off duty, heard another say there were a couple of ladies from Boston and she came directly over to visit, as she was a native to MA as well. We enjoyed several Cosmos and a delicious dinner here. The food was fresh, tasty and uniquely prepared. We were also serenaded by a Mexican trio which was delightful! We do recommend this restaurant to anyone who is in the area. Early to bed and early to rise...
Today, after finding out our promised breakfast was not going to happen, we went down the street to Cafe 21 which is a great, funky place featuring unusual fare including homemade bread sandwiches, fresh organic salads, hearty breakfasts, and wide selection of organic coffees, and so much more. Seriously, they create the most satisfying dishes from the finest ingredients--straight from the earth. We then were directed to Horton Plaza where we purchased our Hop On-Off Shuttle tickets and began our day's adventure by riding the shuttle completely though its route the first time around to hear the history and take in all the sights before deciding what was a must-see for us - the tickets were good all day! We were able to take lots of pictures and see lots of sights from the trolley (Convention Center, Pride of India, USS Medway, Little Italy, etc.).
Our preference of stops included:
Coronado Island --wonderful. We were in awe of the vista before us as we crossed the soaring bridge from San Diego onto this relaxed beach town island. The views from the bridge back onto San Diego's skyline were breathtaking. From this lovely little island we enjoyed a day of endless sunshine visiting the Del with its flat-sand, family-friendly beach and iconic red roof. This Victorian beach-front masterpiece is truly a treasure. We enjoyed strolling around checking out the entire property, making a few modest purchases, and then settled back on their outside deck overlooking the ocean for a few well-enjoyed cocktails. Later we strolled along Coronado's shop-lined main street back to the trolley stop and continued on.
Old Town: this uniquely Californian town offers it all - historic sites, authentic cuisine, and unique shopping. Although while planning our day we were not really interested in this area, we were surprised at what a great spot it turned out to be. If you are looking for unique gifts or souvenirs, a wide variety of shops are ready to tempt you: historic reproductions, books, leather goods, Indian art, jewelry, trinkets and bobbles, clothing, etc. It has a festival atmosphere with local artists and street entertainers. We had dinner and margaritas at Cafe Coyote and you'll hear nothing but positives from us on their food, drink and presentation...it was another outstanding dinner in Southern California...Mexican style all the way!
After dinner we wandered around a little and then taxied back to the hotel and a good night sleep.
Today we grabbed a quick cup of Jo and a muffin from Starbucks which was located across the street from the Keating. We were directed to a bus stop (Bus 30) for our trip to La Jolla. After several people from back home suggested we check out this upscale area of San Diego, we ventured there, and we must say it was definitely well worth it! Located just 15 mi. north of San Diego, it was about an hour's ride by bus (on 1-5 for a mere $1.10 each way -- senior discount included -- such a deal!). La Jolla has wonderful beaches (many taken over by the sea lions -- which were amazing to watch), fine restaurants, art galleries and exclusive designer shops along Prospect Street (did quite a bit of shopping here and were delighted with each and every purchase). We also went to George's for a late lunch out on their upper, outside deck with a view to die for. All was delish! Oh, the bartenders were friendly and a bit of eye candy for the ole ladies! Although an affluent community, La Jolla has a down-to-earth feel about it and we enjoyed our visit immensely.
After checking out of the Keating, we grabbed a cab to the waterfront to check in for our cruise. Only mishap was I had packed my passport and sent it through w/out realizing I needed it to check-in. We were told it wouldn't be a too much of a problem for them to find my bag and retrieve it but it could take a few hours. They also told us it was perfectly alright for us to visit the aircraft carrier USS Midway first and then return and all should be good (which it was). So, we ventured over to the Midway and took a tour -- outstanding! We took the audio guide which guided us through it all -- from the ship's bridge, to the jail, to massive galleys, to sailors' bunks, the laundry rooms, it's all aboard the Midway, now a museum, and we saw it all. Very, very impressive!
Time to board the cruise -- effortlessly once they found my passport and we immediately checked out our cabins -- which were lovely -- and then made it to the Mast Bar to meet up with our third traveler and the entire cruise critic crew directly after Muster.
Our Ship: Celebrity Century: Although quite a bit smaller than other ships we've sailed, the Century (more a mid-size vessel) proved to be more than adequate and in general we now prefer this size to others in that you actually do get to meet people and see them on a more regular basis than the larger ships. It provides more of an intimate ambience than the larger vessels. Overall, the wood-decor of the ship is very nice, although the upholstery and rugs are in dire straits! I understand she is going into refub soon and in some areas it is greatly needed. The crew, however, keeps everything spic and span. The cabins consist of comfortable beds, pillows and fresh linens, flat screen TV, plenty of closets, bureau, end tables, etc. One of our cabins was a balcony and the other an inside. Both fulfilled our needs perfectly. The room stewards were prompt with cleaning our cabins and offered many suggestions to make our stay perfect. Oh, a little pre-tip always helps in that area too! The food was delish, not only in the dining room (anytime for us) but also the buffet. Murano was simply put -- outstanding! We booked for our last night and had a wonderful 3+ hour experience. YUMMY! The entertainment was varied and overall very, very good. In the dining room, we enjoyed all of the team work that went on there as well as the delicious dinners. Each server -- was top notch and friendly. We also like the high visibility of the Captain and his crew. All were present and engaging daily. Hats off to other crew members we enjoyed: Happy, Pretty, Dani, Volcan and all the others who made sure our trip was memorable! Our days were filled with many activities including hula classes, ukulele lessons, crafts, talks, presentations, movies, pool, spa, etc. The spa, I should mention, had a special deal for the Persian Garden which we took advantage of. Each day we would go and use the saunas (dry/wet) and heated tiled chairs...how relaxing it was! We also indulged in seaweed massages as well as manis and pedis. Our favorite place to hang was the Mast Bar at the back of the ship -- spent many hours there (day/night) with our two favorite bartenders -- Milos and Nicholas -- they were the best! We met lots of good, down-to-earth folks there too. Cova Cafe is also worth mentioning...great drinks with great entertainment and the people watching is always great here...
Crusie Critic: Had a delightful sailing with them all. They had a meet and greet the first day after muster, which was fun. They scheduled a cabin crawl but there was a bit of mix up and some of us didn't see all the cabins (no big deal). There were several lunches in the main dining room and a captain greeting too. There was supposed to be a galley tour but we never did get our invites. In any event, most of the people were lots of fun and we enjoyed spending time with them at these events and often times at the pool, bars, etc. Nice way to make new friends too -- Pauline, Ron and Ruth, Neil and Andre, Timarie and Tom, just to name a few.
Now moving onto our adventures in Hawaii:
Oahu: Pearl Harbor: We booked out visit to this site on our own for a lot less than what the ship charged. It included a round trip transfer to/from via shuttle ($16/pp). We were picked up on the pier at 9:00ish and at the site by 9:20. We purchased tickets on-line, in advance, the One-Day Passport to Pearl Harbor which allowed us to visit all four Pearl Harbor Historic Sites and included admission to: the USS Arizona Memorial with Audio Tour, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum - $55. We picked up tickets and audio guide at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center's Information Desk. This memorial is a must-see to anyone visiting Hawaii. We cannot stress this enough. We spent the entire day there and we were truly impressed with it all (we didn't have time to visit the aviation museum).
After Pearl, we returned to the ship and grabbed a quick dinner. Two of us then decided to head to Waikiki for the evening. We took a cab from the pier to the Outrigger and Duke's. We first strolled the beach and watched the surfers and beach goers; there was an incredible sunset to view as well. Later we enjoyed a few Mai tais at Dukes. Later we crossed the street and did a bit of shopping before making it back in time for our departure - overall a wonderful day.
This was a tender port and it was just awful! Windy weather and lots of rolling of the waves made the tenders almost impossible to board. When we finally made it to shore, we grabbed a shuttle to the car rental agency and procured our vehicle. We then went back into town to rent our Gypsy Guide and snorkel gear. Soon we were on our way to sightsee and snorkel Maui. Total cost for this trip was $33/pp...and what a beautiful day we had. The gypsy guide directed us everywhere and we took in some amazing sights. Highly recommend the Gypsy Guide and wish they were available everywhere, as we learned so much about the history, culture and the many wonderful sights that others wouldn't have known how to get to w/o the gypsy. Our day plan included Lahaina, Ka'anapali, Kapalua, Honolua Bay, Nakele Blowhole, Kahakuloa. We stopped and snorkeled at Kapalua and saw beautiful fish and even a large turtle...a true highlight! All of the sites were spectacular. At Ka'anaplai we had lunch at the Hula Grill and enjoyed the sounds and sites of the beach from there...delish! We then finished our day by returning our rentals and heading to Old Lahaina Luau which was outstanding! The setting was lovely and the food delish. The show was incredible and followed a Hawaiian legend. Got back to the ship in time to have a few at the Mast Bar before retiring - another great day in paradise!
Today was another tender day and even worse than yesterday. The tenders were even shut down for a few hours as the sea was rough and it was quite dangerous. By the time we got to our destination, all Big Island Spectacular helicopter tours were cancelled due to bad weather. However, they compensated us by taking us on the Kohala coast helicopter tour -- a freebie! This included views over the island including the farm land and ranches to the valleys and waterfalls - spectacular scenery on the Big Island. The towering sea cliffs open into the dramatically deep and meandering valleys of the Kohala Mountains. Beautiful waterfalls cascade thousands of feet into the rainforest below and remnants of ancient Hawaiian settlements are still visible too. Two of us were lucky enough to draw Greg as our pilot -- an awesome, fun, friendly, knowledgeable young man. We were also lucky enough to draw 2 front seats beside Greg. Got tons of fabulous pictures and consider this to be another highlight of our trip. Upon returning to town, we did a bit of shopping and grabbed a bite at Kimo's -- fish tacos were Yum!
Again we did it on our own and it cost next to nothing....rented a car and headed to Volcano National Park. I had packed my Senior National Park Card so all of us got in for zippo, including the car! This park is unbelievable! We stopped first at the information center and watched the "Born of Fire" video which is a must...nicely done and you learn so much in just a few minutes. Outside we met a ranger who mapped the BEST route for us to take as we were only there for the day. We followed his route religiously and feel we saw so much of the park that we were totally amazed. We saw all of the following and so much more: We basically explored the summit of K?lauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive; an 11-mile road that encircles the summit caldera, passes through desert, lush tropical rain forest, traverses the caldera floor, and provides access to well-marked scenic stops and short walks. We witnessed the steam vents, devastation, lava tube, the crater itself, etc. - such a great day. We returned to Hilo and stopped at Hilo Hatties to make our last purchases from Hawaii. The ship left early so we returned to the Mast Bar and had a few cheerful drinks to Hawaii - an incredible, ever changing paradise.
The cruise home was another 5 days of restful bliss on board the Century. Eating, drinking, participating or not, watching shows, movies, whatever we wanted to do, we did...or not. Arrived back home via United flight to the frightening events surrounding the Marathon bombers...our lives have changed again, forever! Thank you law enforcement and first responders for capturing the bombers - you are all so brave beyond belief.