We recently returned from a Holiday cruise through the Panama Canal on Celebrity Century – Dec 21 – Jan 5. We are a family of 5 (2 forty somethings, 2 teenagers and a Grandma) who have cruised 12 times previously with different lines.
We stayed 2 nights at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. Beautiful hotel with very reasonable rates on the weekends. I think we paid around $95 per room. Location was great with restaurants and attractions nearby.
We went to the pier at around 12:00. The line to check in was quite long and it took about 1 ½ hours before we were aboard. With the amount of elderly people travelling it might be nicer to assign people numbers then let them sit down in a waiting area rather than having everyone stand in line for that long. Some of the delay could have been removed by having people fill out the health questionnaire before they reached the check in desk. Other than that, check in was smooth and we were greeted with “champagne” on board and our room was ready.
We dropped off our things in our rooms (2 inside cabins on the 9th floor) and our luggage was already there. This is the first time we have travelled with inside rooms and had no problems. We are in the room so little that the only thing we missed was the daylight when the sun rose in the morning. Easily fixed by turning the TV to the bridge cam on silent. It’s dark at night then slowly gets light in the morning. Tons of storage in the room. We had three people in one cabin and had no problem with space. Please be aware there is only one US style electric plug. Bring a power bar if you need to charge cameras etc. Our room steward Sheldon was amazing.
We had Select Dining because we had booked later and could not get assigned seating. It turned out to be fabulous. Not once did we have to wait for a table and we had fantastic wait staff. The maitre’d Jason was fantastic and showed special attention to my mom every night. He made every guest feel like they were the most important person in the dining room. We ate here for most meals except when we were leaving the ship early or ran out of energy to change. All meals were exceptional. There was always sufficient choice even after 15 nights. One night I had a meal that was just too rare for my tastes and they couldn’t do enough to make it right. Almost to the point I felt bad for asking for it to be cooked a bit more.
Daren our “regular” bar tender in the dining room was especially attentive and remembered what we liked. My son loves rootbeer and they never seemed to have it – Daren went out of his way and made sure there was some in the fridge for him in the dining room. Service over and above.
Island Café (Buffet)
Sufficient choices all the time. Food was always fresh and well prepared. Sushi every night at 5:30 was always a nice predinner treat. First time we’ve had sushi with mango which was surprisingly good. The waffles freshly made, pizza and pasta station were always fantastic. We never had a problem with finding a table by the window.
Somehow on this trip we made it to most of the shows. They were all very entertaining. The Comedian Steve Brunner was right on the money. We all laughed out loud especially to his airplane jokes. I even chuckled to myself on the way home on the plane when the pilot said we’d reached cruising altitude. Thanks Steve. The only night we didn’t care for was a duo of acrobatics. It was just a personal opinion but it seemed aimed more at a juvenile audience. I felt I had stumbled across a children’s birthday party.
Compared to other casinos on other ships this seemed very dated and old fashioned The slot machines actually spit out quarters when you win rather than the electronic ticket system. The slot machines were dated and there were none of the current machines that are in most casinos. Generally the casino seemed very quiet. We played the table games a few times and the dealers were always very personable and friendly while they took our money. â˜º
State of the Ship
I had read many reviews saying the ship is worn and in need of repair. Yes, the ship is older and the style is different from the solstice ships BUT I have never seen such a well looked after ship. Everything was very clean and maintained. One morning I say crew cleaning the stair cases with a brush about the size of a tooth brush to get around the edge of the stanchions. We have cruised on the Solstice class before and didn’t miss anything on this ship. It has all the same things (minus hot glass and lawn) but in slightly smaller dimensions.
All the staff we encountered were incredibly pleasant and personable. It is always amazing how hard they all work and how much they seem to enjoy themselves. The Cruise Director John Grantham was by far the best CD I have encountered. That job was made for him. The dining room staff, room stewards, guest relations, everyone we encountered was pleasant and hard working. Kudos to Celebrity.
One point not specific to Celebrity, it would be helpful if Shore Excursion staff had more knowledge of the different Shore Excursions. When I asked questions about the difference between certain SE’s they did not ever know. Most cruise lines have been the same and the information on the trips is pretty vague. This cruise we chose to do all our trips with Celebrity because of the security in some of the ports.
Cabo San Lucas
We did the Deluxe Chileno Bay Snorkeling trip with Celebrity. Fantastic day out. Professional crew, nice enough boat, lots of fish. Unfortunately we didn’t get to actually sail because of wind conditions. Tendering into Cabo was smooth and organized. It was interesting to watch the sea lions in the port. They were actually jumping up on the swim grids of returning boats hoping to get fish.
Not one of my favourite ports so we decided to get out of town and take the Colonial San Sebastion tour. It was a beautiful little town BUT because we were there on Christmas Eve, everything was closed. The lunch was OK but not great. It was a long drive to get there and was interesting but not a great tour.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day
These were sea days spent on the ship. It was a great combination of Christmas events like Santa visiting and caroling but not too much of it. The turkey served at dinner was delicious.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatamala
They have a very quaint looking tourist area built at the dock. Tons of vendors selling their wares. Outside of this there is nothing close by. We took a tour of Antigua self guided. Originally we had booked another tour of Antigua but decided that in the heat we might be better off going at our own pace. This is a very safe town that is enjoyable to just wander around and see the buildings and churches. On the earlier posts it was noted that there was a lot of crime and it was better to go on a tour but we didn’t see or experience anything of the sort. The Guatemalans we met were very friendly and kind. The sellers are a bit on the forward side but a polite ‘No’ is all it takes to be on your way. There is a huge artisan market off the square where we purchased some very nice blankets and souvenirs. The meeting place for the tours is at a Jade Factory/Museum. The people there were very friendly and not exceedingly pushy with the sales.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica
It is quite a long walk from end of the pier where the ship docks to the land but there is a small train/shuttle that will take you there and back. There are quite a few markets selling souvenirs right on the beach.
We took the train, bus, boat adventure. In my opinion the train part of this was a bit hokey. I was expecting to actually go into the wilderness a bit more. Perhaps I misread the information. It was an old historic train, which was fun. The actual trip felt more like we were peering into people’s backyards and farmer’s fields. Nothing of real interest on the train ride. Then we got back on the bus and went to a nature park type place with crocodiles which was interesting enough. We toured on boats and saw a few crocodiles and some birds. The driver of the boat ‘fed’ raw chicken to entice the crocodiles. Some of the people enjoyed this but I think it took away from the natural beauty of the place and made it more of a theme park atmosphere. The fruit served after the boat ride was amazing. Best part of the trip!
Panama Canal Crossing
Definitely worth the trip. We were the last passenger vessel to go through the locks in 2013. That was pretty cool. In the morning the public rooms were very crowded with many people forgetting their manners and standing in front of others and pushing. That being said, later in the day the public rooms thinned out and it was very easy to get a good view of what was happening. One of the best places we found for viewing was outside on Deck 6 near the Cova Café. It was covered; lots of chairs and you could easily see the side of the locks. If you don’t have a balcony room it isn’t a big deal. In fact, we actually found it more interesting to walk around the ship and watch the process from a few different spots. They had a someone from Panama come on board and give a very detailed step-by-step commentary on the process which was very interesting.
We were supposed to go on a tour to Panama City but decided to cancel it when we found out that all the stores etc would be closed because it was New Year’s Day. The boys went ahead and did the tour with the Expansion of the Panama Canal. They loved it.
In Colon, right at the terminal there are a few stores with the usual tourist things. There was also a small grocery store if you needed to pick up a few things. Panama hats were from available from $20 US.
A note about shore excursions here. Just because you book on a ship shore excursion do not think you are immune to being left behind. There was one tour that got caught in a huge amount of traffic because of the holiday and after much deliberation the ship left without them in order to make it to our next port. We were actually an hour late getting into Cartagena. Always take your passport when you leave the ship ….just in case – especially if you are going on a long tour. The tour was taken to Panama City and flown to Cartagena.
Although this is a smaller ship without all the new bells and whistles there are always a lot of things happening. Some may be to your taste, and others….well you don’t have to do them. There were quite a few Beyond the Podium lectures. We were hoping to enjoy them but found them a bit lacking in detailed content and too simplified. This would probably change on each cruise.
There were lots of fitness classes, mostly concentrated in the mornings. The only issue was in the hotter climates the AC in the gym didn’t seem able to keep up and it was really warm in there. They also had Zumba out on deck which a quite a few people loved. There were a lot of Celebrity Life seminars (cooking, tours of the galley, napkin folding, trivia games, arts and crafts, scapbooking etc). If these aren’t your thing, bring a book – there were always plenty of desk chairs.
The absolute best thing we did was go to a hands on cooking class in Murano. It was about 10 people and we got to go in the galley and prepare our own lunch with one of the chefs. I’m not 100% positive we learnt any real detailed skills but it was a lot of fun and a great memory. Afterwards we ate the lunch in Murano with way too much wine (included). Each pair of guests received one of the giant (and very heavy) cookbooks to take home. Cost was $139 for two people. When compared to a lot of other things onboard, it was excellent value. We were there 4 hours. If you are interested go to Murano right away and book. It fills up VERY quickly.
The tours in Cartagena all seemed very similar and we had a difficult time choosing. It is VERY hot there and you might want to think twice about doing the Deluxe Cartagena and Fortress….it includes a walk up the outside of the Fort which has lovely views but is a bit long and goes up ramps which isn’t the best for some people in the heat. Luckily we found this out after asking at Shore Excursions approximately 6 times for a tour that doesn’t involve a lot of walking because we had someone with us recovering from hip surgery. I was a bit disappointed with the Shore Excursions lack of knowledge about what the actual trip was. They just repeated what was on the form, which is very vague.
We went on the Best of Cartagena. Our guide Camillo was very interesting and entertaining. The first stop was the Fort, we just got out and took some pictures which was fine for us. As I said it was very hot. The sellers there are a bit pushy but not a huge problem. Second we went to the Dungeons. Interesting building but we really didn’t get much of the history there and it has been turned into small stores in each alcove…so it was a shopping stop. Oh well. Next we walked a short ways down a beautiful street and to the Inquisition Palace and a Church. Cartagena is VERY beautiful. The last stop involved about a 15 minute drive to a strip mall full of jewellery stores selling Colombian emeralds. We wasted 45 minutes of our tour there. Fine I guess if you want to purchase but not very interesting for the rest of us. On our bus I think only 1 person actually bought something. I really wish the cruiselines would stop doing this and have one tour available that stopped for jewellery. Most of us would have rather spent that time doing something else.
We were supposed to leave the ship at 9:00 but our number wasn’t called until 10:00. We went down, got our bags no problem then proceeded to join a long line that wasn’t moving. It was like being a Disney land without the fun part. They only had 3 immigration officers working the ship. I believe there was a delay in the process as there were 5 mega ships in port that day. When we got to the desk after 90 minutes, the only thing we were asked was our names. The delays and lines were no fault of Celebrity. I believe that Port Everglades is totally over selling the capacity that they are able to process in the port. There was a HUGE traffic bottleneck in the area where we were supposed to get taxis etc. Traffic was not even able to get in the area for the lines. There were people that were waiting 3 hours outside for their rides. The hotel shuttles had a hard time getting in. It was a complete mess outside. There were semi-trucks trying to get in to deliver goods to the ships going right through where people were walking over to the taxis etc. Total chaos. Port Everglades really needs to work on the system.
Some Advice to Travelers (Hopefully the majority already do this but there is a small minority on the ships that can make a holiday less enjoyable – sorry for the rant!)
The beauty of a cruise is you unpack in your room once and wake up in different ports of call. It is basically a nice hotel with a restaurant or two available. For some reason on cruises I’ve seen so many people be incredibly rude to the crew, treating them like slaves. It is not appropriate. The demands we saw people making were so ridiculous. Would you ask those things in a hotel? Remember you are one guest out of 2000. Please treat the people with respect and appreciation. They all work VERY hard and are away from their families in order to make your holiday wonderful. One night we saw this woman actually yell at someone in Guest Relations for about 10 minutes straight. I don’t care what has happened it is never OK to treat someone like that.
Please have consideration for your fellow travelers. Everyone is in a confined space for a prolonged period. Manners go a LONG way. Don’t push. I guarantee they will not run out of food at the buffet. More than once my mother got shoved at the buffet – so not necessary. Both my mother and son (who had a serious leg injury) got pushed and shoved going in the elevator to get off the boat. When the elevator stops, please let people get out before you try to push in.
Please be patient and courteous to older travelers. Step aside, let them go first. If you see someone struggling, offer to help. They may have more difficulties maneuvering than you. Show some common courtesy. Smile, say good morning. We are all on this lovely journey together.
Adhere to the hand washing policy. When going into public rooms/restaurants use the hand gel. The policy is there for your benefit to stop the spread of viruses like Norwalk. No one wants to get sick on holidays. PLEASE in the buffet do not take used cups, water bottles or personal cups up to the juice and ice machines to fill them up. There are signs there saying this and we saw sooooo many people doing it regardless. The policy is there for a reason. When you drink out of a cup or water bottle, your germs get on the bottle and get transferred to the machine for everyone to get. You may not think you are sick but you could easily carry germs that someone else is not immune to. Simple fill up a clean cup and pour the liquid into your own bottle if you need to. The rules are there for everyone.
Celebrity Century is an older ship with an amazing crew. Set your expectations accordingly and you will have an amazing trip. What she lacks in bells and whistles she more than makes up for in crew. We’ve been on some of the larger ships (including Solstice and Equinox) and loved them but we really enjoyed the smaller feel of Century and the personalized service. No trip is perfect, so concentrate on the goods things and ignore the minor problems. Thank you to everyone aboard Century for such a fantastic trip. We can’t wait to return.