In the spirit of the cruise community, I have decided to write an in-depth review of our experience aboard the Celebrity Century. Our particular cruise followed the Inside Passage and Hubbard Glacier itinerary, sailing from Vancouver and taking in stops at Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Being first-time cruisers, this was a step into the unknown for us, and having considered the alternatives in the form of Norwegian and Holland America Line, we opted for Celebrity on the advice of our travel agent.
In this review, I will go into as much detail as possible, and I will not hold back in referring to both the positives and negatives that we experienced during our cruise. I've broken my review down into three sections: the ship, the itinerary, and the onboard experience.
As is common knowledge, the Century is the oldest ship in the Celebrity fleet, having been launched in December of 1995. Prior to the cruise, I'd read various reviews describing the 'charm' of the ship and sadness that it would be leaving the Celebrity fleet in mid-2015. Having spent seven nights aboard, I can understand that opinion, however I also feel that in many regards, the transferring of the ship to another cruise line is something of a miscalculation. I will explain that in due course.
First things first, however, and to our cabin. Number 1249, located at the stern, on the sports deck above the aft bar. This, overall, is an excellent cabin and a very nice place to stay. We did request an outside cabin on a higher deck of the ship and we were rewarded. There is a good amount of space inside, with ample storage for regular-sized suitcases (we put ours into the wardrobe and made use of the many drawers and shelves inside the cabin). There is an in-room safe (which was somewhat temperamental), a compact, no-frills bathroom, and a useful air-conditioning system.
In terms of sleeping options, 1249 is probably one of the most flexible cabins aboard. Two twin beds, a fold-down single bunk, and a sofa that easily converts into a fourth bed. The beds are comfortable, although taller passengers may find them to be a little on the short side. There is also a handy curtain that can be used to divide the cabin into two, so those sleeping on the fold-down sofa bed can gain a little extra privacy. There is a single power-socket as well, which worked perfectly for us when we needed to charge our electronic equipment. The in-room TV allows you to check your onboard account, view shore excursions, and also view the current location of the ship on what I christened 'The Map Channel'. Other channels available for us included Sky and Fox News, although the TV channels are subject to the varying strength of the signal when at sea.
In terms of housekeeping, the staff are efficient and polite. They cleaned our cabin to an excellent standard and were also kind enough to fold down the sofa bed before we returned to our cabin each evening. This was a nice bonus and something unexpected. Also, the housekeeping staff do take the time to remember each of your names, which adds a personal touch, though you may find the daily greetings a little odd if you are used to hotel-style room service.
So, lots of space, a neat layout, and comfortable beds. Is cabin 1249 the perfect haven for passengers each night? No. Firstly, the cabin does feel like a room that has been welcoming passengers for almost twenty years. There are various scuffs and marks dotted around the cabin, and the bodged repair job on the shower support handle was more than a little obvious. While you may be thinking 'but that doesn't matter!' I don't feel that expecting high standards, even on a ship as old as the Century, is wrong. These things are not deal-breakers, by any means, but they are worth pointing out. It is obvious that with the launches of their newest ships, Celebrity have pushed the Century to the bottom of their priority list. These issues merely confirmed that to me.
Aesthetically, the rest of the ship follows much the same pattern; generally impressive but with some glaring negatives. The basketball court, for example, has clearly seen better days, and the pool area appeared tired and somewhat lifeless. The Hemisphere bar provides excellent views from the sweeping windows, but had the distinctly aged feel of a 90's Minorcan disco bar, while the sprawling Islands Cafe is showing signs of age. Overall, the ship generally feels like what it is; an ageing vessel at the lower end of the scale.
There are positives, however. The Cova Cafe is an excellent place to enjoy a drink, the size of the ship means that navigation is not overly difficult, and even though our cruise was fully booked, it never felt overly crowded.
Overall, the ship itself, on a 1-10 scale, hovers somewhere around the '6' mark. Not exceptional, but not a horrible environment either. I do believe, however, that it should be decommissioned as opposed to being transferred to another line. Only an extremely significant refurbishment will keep this ship attractive enough for passengers into the future, and I personally don't think it is worth the time or the money.
After ruling out the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, we discussed it, and decided that an Inside Passage cruise was what we wanted. We did this because A) It represents an opportunity to see beautiful areas of the world that we wouldn't be able to otherwise, B) We wanted to discover whether a cruise holiday was for us, and whether we would enjoy it after only taking land-based holidays previously.
Our embarkation at Vancouver was smooth and stress-free. Security and check-in were free from problems (our room keys, however, weren't. More on that later). After embarking the ship at around 11:30, we headed for the Islands Cafe, where we waited until around 4:00pm, when our stateroom became available. I would recommend using this time to familiarise yourself with the ship and its layout. It will certainly be of use to you.
The weather on our day of departure was wretched, and it wasn't until we sailed out from the Burrard Inlet that conditions improved enough to visit the outside decks and join the crowds taking in the views. Sunday night and Monday were spent at sea, as we made progress up the BC coastline and towards Alaskan waters. The views were often stunning and it was a very smooth journey, with little in the way of rough water. On Sunday evening, we also booked our shore excursions for Icy Strait Point and Juneau.
On Tuesday afternoon, we arrived at the beautiful, isolated and extremely evocative Icy Strait Point, an outpost of the Tlingit Indians, where we were tendered ashore at around 4:00pm. I had decided to take on the ZipRider, while my parents opted for a Forest Tram and Nature Tour. The ZipRider was exhilarating. After a spectacular bus ride to the summit of the mountain, I hurtled back down on the wire, with spectacular views of the strait and mountains as the backdrop. This was an fantastic experience and one I recommend highly. My parents also enjoyed themselves on their tour, with a knowledgable local guide and beautiful scenery to travel through.
For the rest of the day at Icy Strait, we explored the shops at the dock, ate a delicious meal (Alaskan cod and chips) and enjoyed the peacefulness of where we were. We loved it, because you really felt the spiritual significance that it holds, and it was a world away from the big cities we usually visit. Departure from Icy Strait Point was at 8:30, and we continued our journey north.
On Wednesday at around 9:30, we arrived at the spectacular Hubbard Glacier. I spent the majority of this morning outside, as the ship glided through the ice floes towards the glacier. An informative, interesting running commentary was provided by Milos, our local expert, and at 10:00am, the bow section of the ship was opened, allowing us to take photographs and video of this incredible part of the world. We were incredibly fortunate on two counts. Firstly, we were able to get within half a mile of the glacier (The closest so far this season) and as we watched, gigantic chunks of ice crumbled and fell into the sea, much to our astonishment. It really was a sight to behold, and we saw it from some excellent vantage points, both at the bow and the upper forward decks, due in no small part to the skill of the captain in manoeuvring the vessel. You simply do not see things like this anywhere else, which added to the experience for us. At around 12:30pm, the Captain turned the ship for the final time, and we departed, en-route to Juneau.
Thursday was an early start. We awoke at 6:00am, to be ready for the 7:00am docking and our next excursion: a jet boat adventure to the Tracy Arm Fjords and Sawyer Glacier. The organisation was excellent. We were met on the dock by a rep, who showed us to our bus which, after a journey of roughly five minutes (really!) dropped us off at the jetty for our tour
This was a truly incredible experience. Our two guides, Blake and Colt, were friendly and extremely knowledgable. They gave us tonnes of useful information as we headed towards Tracy Arm, the the boat was comfortable, with free hot chocolate and doughnuts! The journey and the scenery would have been spectacular enough, but we struck gold with the local wildlife, as well.
We were lucky enough to see humpback whales, bald eagles, seals, sea lions, and in the depths of Tracy Arm, two black bears. This was more than we could have hoped for, and we took a mountain of photographs. Our final destination, the Sawyer Glacier, was spectacular. Set deep at the head of an iceberg-filled fjord, it appeared even more colossal from our small boat, which was piloted skilfully through the ice by Rusty. Just to add a little more, a delicious lunch of a turkey wrap was included in the price, so you won't go hungry.
This particular excursion was long (7 and a half hours), but it was worth every second and every penny, and I would recommend it without hesitation. If you are an outdoor-oriented person, you will simple love it.
We arrived back in Juneau at around 3:15pm, and spent the remainder of the day exploring this beautiful town. Check out the Red Dog Saloon for some great gifts, and the Twisted Fish Company, for a prawn cocktail that must be seen (and tasted) to be believed. There are also a number of little gift shops located along the main waterfront street, selling a range of authentic Alaskan gifts and clothing. It's well worth the time to
explore, and it is an extremely easy place to find your way around, if you take some time. We departed Juneau at 7:00pm, and began the journey to our final port of call, Ketchikan.
On Friday, at 2:00pm, we arrived at Ketchikan. We did not have any excursions arranged, which allowed us to disembark and use the time to slow the pace down and explore. If Juneau was a diamond of Alaska, then Ketchikan is a pearl, and one which we all, particularly my dad, loved. Much like Juneau, it is mainly centred around the waterfront area, which contains a number of shops, and The Fish Pirates Saloon, which we ate at, and recommend highly, particularly their apple pie. Also take the time, if you can, to visit Ketchi Candies, a little sweet shop that sells a massive range of sweet treats. We all loved the charm and beauty of Ketchikan, particularly the postcard-esque way in which many of the houses clung to the mountainsides and the friendliness and welcoming nature of the people. It was sad, therefore, when we departed for the final time at 7:00pm for our journey southbound to Vancouver. Saturday was spent at sea, and we arrived in Canada at 7:00am on Sunday morning, feeling utterly thrilled at what we had seen and experienced.
On an overall scale, the itinerary of this cruise, the places it included, and the sights we were able to see, was superb. It allowed us to visit rugged, isolated places, experience new cultures, and discover brand new places. The three shore excursions were exceptional, the people we met were friendly, courteous, and welcoming, and we really felt as though we were experiencing something that we will never forget.
The Onboard Experience
Our experience aboard the Century ranged from extremely enjoyable to somewhat frustrating. The major problem we encountered came in the shape of our on-board account. As we boarded the ship, we told the staff that we would not be lodging a credit card and would settle the bill in cash, at the end of the cruise. We were told this would be fine and were given our cards. Shortly after boarding, we each purchased three drinks packages (two soda, and one water), at which point, everything appeared fine. On the Sunday evening, we booked three shore excursions at guest services, using our SeaPass card, again with no problems. It was on Monday when things began to go wrong. After purchasing drinks at Cova Cafe, we were told that our cards had been rejected and we were not ‘on the system’. We were told not to worry and assumed that this glitch would be sorted soon. However, on that same evening, I attempted to gain access to the internet, swiping my card to gain access. This failed to work, and after two visits to guest services (who were helpful and apologetic) we were given brand new cards which we were told would work. However, this was not the end of the problem. On Tuesday, we were at Cova Cafe again, buying drinks, and we were told that we STILL did not show up on the system, despite being given new key cards.
At this point, we were becoming frustrated. It made us feel as though the staff felt we were attempting to avoid paying for drinks and essentially ‘blah’ things for free. For a third time, we returned to guest services, and were told that there is a $500 dollar limit on our account, as we had agreed to pay cash to settle the bill. We decided to lodge a credit card, to save ourselves any further trouble and bypass the limit that had been set. At no point were we informed about the $500 limit during boarding, and it really irritated us. Fortunately, the situation was resolved to our satisfaction, after we lodged a credit card, and we encountered no further problems.
The food aboard the Century rarely rose above mediocrity. Breakfast was always something of a manic event, with large crowds forming at the various food stations that encircled the Island Cafe. There is good variety for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but the quality, taste, and certainly presentation of the food was far below what I would have expected. We had no choice but to use the Island Cafe, due to the outdated and preposterous dress code that applies at the Grand Restaurant. None of us had brought any clothing that could be remotely classified as ‘formal’, so we settled on the same eatery for the duration of the cruise. Watching the hordes of people waltzing around the ship in tuxedos and evening gowns amused us. The temptation to ask ‘You do know we’re in Alaska, and it’s not the 1930’s?’ was very strong!
Entertainment? There was some. Production shows in the theatre and an excellent live performance from magician Ryan Joyce. The production shows were exactly what I had expected; corny, with appalling choreography and all the cliches you would expect (a red telephone box on stage, when Beatles songs were being sung, for example). They did go down well with the majority of the audience, however, and nobody seemed too bothered by the lack of quality. We did find some quality entertainment in the Cova Cafe, in the shape of pianist Carlos Avalon and guitarist Josh Libiero. They were both excellent and provided us with some wonderful songs as we sat with our drinks.
Other aspects worth pointing out are the table-tennis table, which became immensely popular almost as soon as we set sail (although the way people simply left the balls scattered over the floor was disappointing), and also the views from the Hemisphere lounge, where you can gaze out at the views from the large, slanted windows. We did not make use of the pool, the onboard bars, or take part in any activities, so no comment can be made about them.
This was a learning experience in many ways. We discovered the benefits of cruising (less stress, stunning locations) and the pitfalls of cruising onboard an older vessel. Would we cruise again? Absolutely. Would we choose Celebrity? Possibly. We saw enough good things to be encouraged, but enough negatives to ensure that we plan our next cruise much more meticulously.