Eight days in the Caribbean…leaving 13 inches of snow and a winter storm warning! What could be better?
Flew into FLL and took a ten minute taxi ride from the airport to port. Cost was $16 on the meter. Luggage drop-off was easy and within minutes I was aboard the Celebrity Century ensconced on its tail deck and enjoying food and the view.
We booked this cruise on a bit of a whim, responding to a Captain’s Club e-mail offering. We took our usual budget inside cabin. Once on-board we met several who had done the same and were met by the “upgrade fairy” that took them up to Oceanview. The fairy missed us. We got what we paid for: Cabin #4028, which has two extra “family” bunks flanking either side of the main bed that makes access a bit dicey. Our companions, in #4024, only got a pole running through theirs. The perks of being a loyalist… The cabins were crosswise to the ship, and were convenient to everything, with no issues of noise or vibration.
It was our first time on Century, fourth cruise with Celebrity. Embarkation at Fort Lauderdale was a breeze – we were nearly the only ones at the terminal noonish. I understood the ship to be “sold out” but there never seemed a moment where anything was overcrowded or stressed. Maybe the charm of an older, smaller ship! Still, the ship was looking tired, déjà vu as we sailed Mercury just before her sale. The 19-year-old Century is leaving the Celebrity fleet in April ‘15. Fixtures, paint, exterior wood, outdoor tables, door thresholds and even the rubberized deck surface were beyond service life. Watch the deck chairs – some had loose bolts and rusted parts looking to break. The ship’s condition was not so bad as to ruin the cruise, but it’s not a good impression of the line for new customers. Certainly things will be spiffed up for the so-called “Celebration of the Century” cruise over the next year.
We spent the first two days at sea en route to St. Bart’s. The hot tubs were hot, the pools (too) cold. The tubs got lots of action, the pools not so much. The sunbathers were out in force. It seemed everyone was having a good time. Lots of music and activities; always something to do.
St. Bart’s was our first stop, and a main reason we took the cruise. First impressions were not so hot. It started with an announcement that public toilets on the island were out of order. Some translated this to mean including those in restaurants, when the closure was at the tendering point. It was the first of many Gallic shrugs encountered. Window shopping is fun – Hermes, Cartier, and like boutiques line the street. We walked down the marina walk to Shell Beach, about a mile of easy, flat ambulating. (Follow the “Plage” directional signs.) It’s a great little beach, and wear watershoes because you will be mostly walking over crushed shells, and they are sharp. The water was azure, nice to swim, and a few yachts were anchored off-shore lending some Côte d'Azur ambiance. Across the waters one could see the outline of Saba’s volcano. HINT: Buy yourself a baguette, some ham and cheese, a bottle of wine, and enjoy lunch on the beach or in one of the marina gazebos as you would in Nice along the Med seawall. It’s very affordable, and the fresh fixings available at the grocery store on the marina street. Look for the “Libre Service” sign on the blue building. (They take credit cards, or dollars at a $1.50 per Euro exchange rate.) Others have advised to rent a car rather than taxis for an island tour. Cars cost about $55/day for the micro-sized, which is all one needs. Tales of $140 fares for rides around the island were not unusual. Oh, and lunch is from 1 to 3 o’clock, more or less, part of the Gallic sanssoucience one encounters. Nothing gets done during lunch, not even a taxi ride! C’est la vie! If St. Bart’s is going to allow the cruise industry even limited access, they had better understand most arrivals do not include the Rockefellers, Gates or DiCaprios. I would not make a “special trip” to visit again.
St. Croix and San Juan were our next stops. If it’s your first trip to St. Croix I’d suggest the Tour #3 offered at the foot of the pier. A 12-passenger van takes you everywhere worth seeing on the island, including the Cruzon Rum distillery, with the driver providing commentary. For an inexpensive day at the beach, there is one just off the pier that is just fine, with easy access to the ship, if needed. San Juan is San Juan…first-timers can save time and money by taking the free trolley around the Old Town. The problem is time – San Juan is usually a short stop, and there is much to see and do.
Grand Turk was our final port of call, another new one for us. Carnival Corp. built a cruise entertainment complex anchored by a Parrot Head-ville, with a huge pool. The beach is very nice sand, but the swimming area rock floor bothered some bathers. Just watch your step as you wade to deeper waters and you’ll be fine. Down the beach is a private competitor. Chairs but no shade or umbrellas there; beer and drinks slightly less. We were in port with Carnival Conquest, and I advise getting a place on the beach early…it was full by the time we arrived at noonish. For about $20 you can take a “trolley tour” of the island. The official carrier lost its computer and wouldn’t take cash. The two brothers had their own problems. Still, it was a good time riding with the brothers, and worth the price to see island life “behind the scenes”. So, go pet a wild burro, and enjoy a Turk’s Head beer and conch fritters before someone realizes the potential of the place, which is very like the “Old Keys” away from the commercial ship docks.
Back at the ship…despite the shortcomings, the vessel’s public areas were in good repair. The service was generally excellent, with the service crew engaging and eager to please. It seems Celebrity might be stretching its room crews a bit, and they were hustling. In the Islands Café, the food was good, the table s cleared and always available whether breakfast, lunch or odd hours. The Dutch-roasted coffee served shipwide was slightly better, and remains borderline undrinkable. Maybe a lighter roast would improve the taste.
Dining was a pleasure again. After our over-garlicked culinary adventure on Constellation a few months ago, I was wary. Century’s galley put out very tasty food. The beef was invariably cooked to the proper doneness, and lightly seasoned. The steaks were uniformly excellent ordered from the changing-nightly side. Service by Viktor and Marlene was friendly, prompt and with a smile.
Entertainment was also very good. “The Stars of the Century” (singers and dancers) did the usual evening shows with aplomb, and were hits at “interactive parties” that each featured music from different eras from the ‘40s to the ‘80s. The excellent ship band was also much in evidence on their nights off the main stage. And the house “party band” could play anything well. They were amazing as the musicians of the rock ‘n roll stage show, switching styles seamlessly backing the Stars. All-around best in awhile. Activities Director Rick and his staff earned their pay this cruise by keeping the nightlife interesting and using the talent well.
One more thing, for other budget-minded cruisers: There are specials in the bars, like large (half-litre) $3 draft beers and $5 cocktails and wine, during afternoon and night hours. They are not particularly well-promoted, but take advantage of the bargains and enjoy the entertainment. And Celebrity allows wine aboard at embarkation, subject to their rules.
Disembarkation was a breeze, and ran on schedule. ICE was very efficient moving departing passengers along. Luggage was easy to find and taxi’s plentiful.
On the whole, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.