We just returned from a two-night short cruise to Nassau, Bahamas on Celebrity Century. While we had a good time, several aspects of the experience left us largely dissatisfied. I will try to highlight those aspects as specifically as possible, so that a reader can make his or her judgment about Century based on our encounters.
Background: I enjoy reading detailed cruise reviews and I think it's valuable when the author provides his or her background. The more you know about the person, the more you can judge whether those experiences will matter for you. My wife (26) and I (32) have cruised previously just once: last April on a weeklong Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Caribbean Princess as part of our honeymoon (my review of that ship is also on Cruise Critic). We are both employed professionals living in greater Washington, DC. We have no children. Sure, conga lines and hairy back contests are not our thing, but I'd like to think we have a sense of humor about going with the flow. While we often go for mellower pursuits like reading and watching films, we do appreciate various forms entertainment, whether that's listening to a jazz trio in a clubby bar while sipping cocktails, going to see a loud hard-rock band while drinking Pabst in a dive bar, seeing a comedian (bawdy or otherwise) at a club, or going to a Las Vegas show or casino. We are booked on an Alaskan cruise on Infinity for this upcoming summer, and we saw this short cruise as both a nice mid-winter break and a chance to "test out" Celebrity.
Before going straight into the details about our cruise on the Century, I think it's important to contrast it with our experience on the Caribbean Princess. I don't pretend that these reviews are the authoritative sources on these ships—much less their cruise lines—but I think there were enough palpable differences to rank the two "products" somewhat objectively. As a result, the review of this rather short cruise will be long.
My wife and I enjoyed our Princess cruise, by in large. It was our first cruise, and neither of us entirely knew what to expect. By far, my biggest complaint was that, because we sailed during my wife's (a teacher) spring break, there were (an apparent record) 1,000 children onboard; and the behavior of the passengers, especially the young ones, detracted from our experience considerably (again, see my review for more details). My impression of the Princess product (outside of this issue) was almost uniformly positive: friendly, professional service, good dining, nice ship, entertainment, etc.
In many respects, our experience on the Century was largely the reverse of our Princess cruise. There were very few children onboard—I would guess 50, at most. All the ones I saw were well behaved, spending time with their families enjoyably. No roaming gangs of pre-adolescents or teens running around the ship wrecking havoc. Not once were we awakened or disturbed by children running down the hallways yelling—something that happened frequently on Princess. Granted, it wasn't spring break, but it was a short cruise over MLK weekend, and the difference was huge. Perhaps just as important, it seemed that the crowd on the Century cruise was more diverse and—if I may say—more sophisticated. I saw a better range of ages, ethnicities, family types and backgrounds than on Princess. People were generally well behaved, polite to one another and—one or two exceptions notwithstanding—respectful towards the staff, something I deem important.
For what it's worth, the two day cruise had no formal nights, yet there were a large number of cocktail dresses, sport jackets, and even suits. Even less formally clothed people took the time to appear dressy. On Princess, the dress code was often ignored—not by a majority, but by a considerable number of people. This difference isn't of huge importance to me, but I know it's an issue for many.
Despite all this, our experience on the Century was considerably the lesser of the two. It was by no means awful, but it failed to provide the positive feeling we had associated with cruising after our Princess sailing. Indeed, were this our first cruise, we would likely have concluded that cruising is not for us. Moreover, this experience with Celebrity gives us pause as to what kind of experience we should expect for our upcoming Alaskan cruise (though, in fairness, the fact that it was only a two night cruise is likely significant). If I had to sum it up in one sentence I would say, as a general rule, Celebrity failed to provide the sense that they were interested in taking care of their passengers on this cruise. That said, it's more important to discuss the specifics of this cruise, and how they differed (or didn't) from our Princess cruise, so that I can illustrate why I felt this one sufficiently inferior. The reasons, of course, may not be as important to everyone, so I will try to be as specific as possible to let each person make his own determination.
Embarkation: This went well, at least until we got on the ship. We arrived at the port a little later than most people did (around 2:45 or so), flying in that day. We had to wait in line, perhaps five minutes, and dealt with an agent who was friendly enough. We later discovered that the map of the ship she gave us was in French; not speaking the erstwhile international language required that we procure one in English from the front desk.
I will say as a possibly irrelevant aside that the Port of Miami officers we encountered were much friendlier than I expected when checking IDs ("Enjoy your cruise!"), and certainly nicer than the ones in Ft. Lauderdale. The luggage porter working outside was helpful in directing us. When we got on, things were a little less impressive. They did have a woman waiting with a tray of champagne-filled glasses, saying welcome, but after that, we were left to our own. There seemed to be a couple passengers congregating with another employee, discussing some matter. I proceeded (not at all forcefully) to walk towards the stairs with my wife. That employee said "Excuse me, sir…where are you going?" I told her my cabin number and she said "Downstairs." Now, I wasn't under the illusion that it was going to be a white-gloved-steward-escorting-us-to-our-cabin event (though there have been claims this is part of the Celebrity experience), but on Princess, a cruise director staff member welcomed us warmly and had a friendly employee take the elevator with us to our floor and politely pointed us towards our cabin. Perhaps a minor difference, but these minor differences set the tone for the cruise. The muster drill was longer and more complicated on Century than Princess. We had to walk onto the decks and look at our lifeboats for a while, and not sure why, since we didn't on Princess. It probably took 45 minutes start to finish—a significant time on a two-night cruise.
Public Rooms: I have concluded that either the public spaces on the Century and the Caribbean Princess were sufficiently similar or that I don't really care as much as some about this. The Century has nice public rooms. The modern, Scandinavian style appeals to me. It's a classy ship, for sure. To each his own, but I would say the public rooms were nicer than the ones on Caribbean Princess, and more importantly, less crowded. One exception was the casino. The casino was so crowded both nights on Century, you could hardly walk through it. $10 is the minimum blackjack table, and even then, seats were hard to come by. Craps was $5, but we couldn't get within four feet of the table, it was so crowded; so we didn't play at all. On the Caribbean Princess, we played several times, and almost never had to wait for $5 blackjack or craps table.
Cabin: Now, it's a little unfair comparing our Century cabin to our Princess one, since we had a balcony cabin on Princess and an oceanview on Century. But some comparisons are possible. Century has nicer beds. I think that's unambiguous. The Princess bed was a glorified cot. Century's was an actual bed. Again, I prefer the décor of Century's European styling to the slightly blander furnishings on Princess, but that's a minor point for me. Cleanliness of both cabins (I realize probably a result of who is your cabin steward) was comparable, and fully acceptable, except in the bathroom. It wasn't filthy, but Century's bathroom had signs of wear, rust, and a rather unsightly black ring of I-know-not-what in the toilet bowl. I don't know if they redid our bathroom during the 2006 dry dock, but if they did, boy it needs an overhaul again. The shower was considerably bigger on Century, which was a nice point. Also, I asked our cabin steward for a third towel (my wife uses two), which he promptly brought. However, I had to call the next day to get it replaced, as he had only supplied two replacements. By the way, there was a "Save the waves" notice in our bathroom about how to reuse towels in six languages, none of them English. Such minor mishaps are no big deal to me, but they add up after a while, and there were several like these on the cruise.
Unfortunately, both nights we heard strange noises in our room. After determining that it was not rogue closet hangers making noise, I discovered some kind of pipe noise coming from the ceiling near the closet. I am not a light sleeper, and this kept me up both nights. My wife, a lighter sleeper, faired even worse. We would have to have resolved this with our cabin steward were this a longer cruise.
Dining: this was one of the sore spots with me on this cruise—not the food itself, which I thought was pretty good, but by no means exceptional. I would rate the entrees, appetizers and desserts at dinner as comparable (or faintly superior) to those on Princess. But taste buds run the gamut, so this is only my impression. Century may have had slightly more interesting dishes, but a more limited selection. We had anytime dining on Princess and I think that made an enormous difference for us, one I did not fully appreciate until now. Although we liked our Century table (after some initial awkwardness due to people justifiably wanting some privacy), we prefer both being by ourselves (or with the flexibility to join fellow passengers as we wish) and have the time of our choosing. That said, the problems were in the execution of the traditional dining. The thing that disappointed us the most was the first night.
On Princess, we would start our dinner by going into the restaurant, being greeted by the headwaiter or maitre d'. The interaction was something like: "Good evening, sir." "Good evening. Would it be possible to get a table for two, possibly at one of Luis's tables?" "Uh…yes, sir. Mario, please seat these two guests at table XYZ." Occasionally we were given a pager and had to wait five minutes. Well, on Celebrity it went like this on the first night: We lined up at about 8:25. After a few minutes, someone came over, asked to see our card, then told us to wait on the other side of the ship (which floor to use was indicated on the card, but not which entrance). We waited there for a few minutes, people gathering. At some point, the headwaiters/maitre d's start yelling loudly "Get on this side for odd tables; even numbered tables on the other side." People were being told to go every which way. Three more people asked to see my card. A fair amount of chaos ensued, and the whole thing was very much like a cattle call. It was rather similar to the way passengers are told line up for boarding a flight on Southwest. Not exactly the kind of experience I was hoping for on a supposedly "premium" cruise line. Also, the card we received informing us of our table never indicated the size of the table. As a result, we went into the dining room the first night totally unaware we were at a table for 8. At a minimum, it would be nice to know this in advance so one can prepare psychologically for sitting at dinner with six strangers.
Dining room service was also a bit spotty. It took three requests to order a bottle of wine on the first night, along with requesting that the wine list be returned to the table (I have no idea why it was removed). When our sommelier finally brought the bottle (right before the entrees came out), she left it on the table, telling me she'd be back to open it. Another sommelier (with better people skills) actually did the job a few minutes later, and sensed our irritation, though we assured him we knew it wasn't his fault. Our waiters worked hard and generally tried to satisfy theirs diners. That said, they were constantly busy and never inquired anyone as to whether the food was satisfying. They don't even offer to pepper your salads for you. Not a fine dining experience.
Entertainment: the entertainment on the ship seemed pretty good. The comedian was excellent; the magician not so much. There were jazz trios and string quartets. My complaint was with the lack of information and availability of the activities, rather than the entertainment itself. The Celebrity Today newsletter was not very thorough; the Princess Patters we received were much more informative. Also, the headline shows only appeared once, and the information about them prior to the show was almost non-existent.
Since this ship does not usually go to the Bahamas, I will skip reviewing our stay in Nassau, only to say we had a good few hours walking the streets and found the locals we encountered genuinely friendly and not at all pushy. I was glad to shop at stores that were owned (or at least run) by Bahamians. That was often not the case in St. Thomas or St. Maarten.
Some miscellaneous tidbits that detracted from our Century cruise: The pools were closed. Not just temporarily closed, but emptied. No explanation, or at least, none that we ever saw. This, while sailing away from Miami on an 80 degree, partly cloudy day while it's the middle of winter back home. Here's a milder annoyance, but one I don't understand, and I've seen mentioned before. Sometimes there was a "tax" added to the bill for bar drinks, but not always. I'm pretty certain Celebrity ain't paying Florida sales tax on their booze. Moreover, it wasn't always there. Sounds fishy to me. Also, I was annoyed by the extra gratuity line (above the fixed 15%) on every drink bill. It was annoying to blank it out every time (I actually added to it once for a small soda order), feeling like I'm stiffing the waiter if I leave it blank. Either make the entire gratuity optional, or have a fixed amount (as they did on Princess). Those wishing to tip extra for exceptional service have ample opportunities. The captain never made an announcement, or at least none that I ever heard. The rather bland cruise director made the navigational announcements about having landed in Nassau. Disappointing, since I enjoyed the captain coming on the PA during the Princess cruise; it gave the sense that the man was in charge. Also, Celebrity adds the gratuities to your account automatically (or they did for this trip), rather than having you pass them out by hand, as they were known to do. This fact in and of itself was not annoying, though I found the letter telling us this off-putting. It said something like "We now offer this option for your convenience" and then followed by saying "if you would like to pass gratuities out in person, please call the desk no latter than 11am tomorrow to have these charges removed from your stateroom account." Lovely.
Disembarkation went fine, but was not well communicated. We were told to wait "in our appointed lounge" but never informed which lounge that was, though I suspect it does not matter. Princess had a disembarkation schedule, so you had a rough estimate of when you would be called off. Century had an order, but we weren't sure when our group would be called. We were assured everyone would be off "by 9am". At 9am, we left the ship (after being told it was fine to do so) ahead of our called time. As we were walking down the plank, our color was called. I know they can't guarantee times, but having a schedule would have helped.
Ultimately, of course, my wife and I were happy to go on a cruise for the three-day weekend in the middle of January when it's 25 degrees in Washington. Our flights were on-time; we made it to the ship; we got home on time; we didn't get sick—none of these things one can take for granted. But ultimately, a review needs to assess the comparative value of the experience. Like I said, there was never the sense that you (collectively, even) mattered much to the cruise line. Most crewmembers performed their jobs competently, but somehow it felt like they failed to remember that the passengers on this cruise were on vacation, and wanted to be wined, dined and entertained, not just provided lodging and some food for a trip to Nassau. Princess tried to make their passengers feel like they were on vacation, and to enjoy it at that. I remember thinking that we paid little for Princess's accommodations, transportation to the ports, the food, and the entertainment, and that I would be hard-pressed to replicate that value on land. This was not the case on our Celebrity cruise. I don't regret going on it, but it seemed to provide relatively little value for what we paid. I can only hope that our Alaskan cruise on Infinity this summer shares little with our short experience on Century. Many concerns I outlined may not replicate themselves on a longer cruise, but it's hard to see how several issues will not repeat themselves if Celebrity has the same modus operandi on Infinity. As for our next Caribbean cruise, we are still looking for something approximating an ideal situation for us: the concerned staff, entertainment, and dining options of Princess with the more sophisticated, refined, adult-centric crowd and ambiance from our Century cruise. We're still looking.