My wife and I are closing in on 60 and have been long time HAL customers, always picking trips for destinations rather than ships.
A couple we have been fortunate enough to meet on two transatlantic HAL cruises recommended we try Celebrity, which was their favorite line.
We booked the 14-day cruise on the Century from Vancouver to Alaska and then to San Diego with stops in Seattle and 2-days in San Francisco. We were in a Sky Suite on Deck 10 with the butler service.
Century is the oldest ship in the Celebrity fleet and it showed. Here are a few examples:
The bathroom sink had a large crack in it.
The front of a drawer came off in our hands.
The suite’s furniture was worn out. The chairs were wobbly and uncomfortable.
Compared to a similar suite on HAL the suite on Century was very small…almost half the size as on small or large ships with HAL. However the balcony was HUGE on the Century! If you plan a trip where you will spend a lot of time on the balcony…the Century might be right for you.
If you are from the US or Canada and plan on bringing something requiring an electrical outlet, bring adapters, the rooms are wired with Northern Europe outlets.
Several guests who we spent some time with reported serious water leaks in their lower deck staterooms. The leaks were serious enough they were forced to move out of their stateroom for at least a night.
One group that reported these leaks included travel agents and writers who were comp’ed on the trip. Okay they were getting a discounted or free ride, but you would think Celebrity would be sure these people were in problem free staterooms. This was like shooting yourself in the foot. Inviting people on board that can positively or negatively affect your future business and then giving them something bad to write about.
BEDS: The beds in our suite where okay, but paled in comparison to HAL beds.
PUBLIC ROOMS: Some public rooms were dirty. The white chairs in the Martini Bar were a big mistake. They were filthy with white fabric covered in dirt. Also the Martini Bar had very annoying colored lights that changed every few minutes. The average age on the cruise was probably around 60. I think martini bars should have a certain level of sophistication. This was not the case here. But it was popular with younger crew members late at night.
We did notice a whiff of sewage several times in the hallway on our deck and also when walking past staterooms on Deck 5.
All the other public rooms were very nice. Michael’s piano bar was extremely nice with comfortable chairs, carpeting which gave it a warm feeling. The theater sitting was excellent, especially if you liked balcony seats.
The nightclub area was very nice.
Frankly some of the problems with the ship gave me the impression Celebrity might be selling it soon and not bothering to fix things.
SERVICE: Hands down the Celebrity service was far superior to that witnessed on our HAL cruises after the start of current recession. On every level the service was outstanding.
I had noticed that on HAL ships the sudden drop in service could be connected to room attendants having their work load double or triple with the amount of rooms they were assigned. I have been on recent HAL cruises where I did not meet our room attendant for the first four days of the cruise. I saw my Celebrity attendants several times every day. They were very responsive to any calls for additional service.
The buffet wait staff was very good and the dining room staff was excellent. Again on recent HAL cruises we had observed where waiters had their number of tables double. This was not the case on Celebrity. If I had any complaint it would have been witnessing dining room supervisors chew out waiters in front of passengers. It was definitely not good management style and it made this customer uncomfortable.
I think another reason for the good service on Celebrity was because the staff’s contracts were for six months, while HAL contracts have been recently for 10 months. Celebrity service staffers had either just returned from being at home or could look forward to going home in a reasonable amount of time. On HAL ships recently we had noticed staffers grumbling and seeming to be down in the dumps.
The only service negatives on the Century was that we found about five weeks of litter missed by the room attendant in an area between the dresser and the balcony window. We could tell it had been a while, because it was next to where the Champaign was placed. There were at least five foils from bottles, plus a used Q-Tip and a prescription medicine pill on the floor. After we pointed it out it was cleaned up in minutes.
The Butler service to the Sky Suites was fine. My wife really enjoyed the 4pm tea and small sandwiches and sweets delivered to the room. The butler would also fill her tall coffee mug with cappuccino every morning. The one day we had guests on the balcony the butler did a nice job taking care of our guests. I, however, preferred the Deluxe Suite Lounge on Holland America ships.
FOOD: Celebrity wins this hands down over HAL. The buffet food was always hot and was still warm on your plate after you wondered around getting your drink and finding a table.
One complaint in the buffet area was the water dispensers. They were all amazingly slow. Lines would form as people tried to fill up small drinking glasses. My home refrigerator dispensed water faster. Crew members admitted this had been a problem for some time and one told me it was as bad or worse in the crew’s mess.
The main dining room food was so good there was absolutely no reason to waste our money on a specialty restaurant. I mean it. The food was excellent and so was the service. We were also fortunate to have four funny and entertaining tablemates from Ireland and England.
On our last HAL cruise the main dining room food was average at best and service was below average. It forced us to try a couple of the specialty venues only to find them lacking in both food quality and service.
Even the hamburgers on the pool grill on the Century were excellent. On most cruise ships the pool side burgers were a last resort if you missed the regular lunch. On the Century the burgers with your choice of sautéed onions or mushrooms, were something I would be happy to pay full price for if on land and were a fine alternative to the regular lunch fare.
ACTIVITIES STAFF: The staff was GREAT. Matt, Charlotte and Juliana were the staffers we saw the most and they were all very good. The trivia contests had the usual over-competitive types questioning answers and demanding recounts, but Matt would tone them down by pointing out how cheap the prizes were and asking if it was worth belittling yourself for a luggage tag.
Charlotte was perhaps one of the most pleasant and upbeat staff person I have ever seen on a cruise ship.
ENTERTAINMENT: The fly-in headline guests were not very good. The comics the first two nights were truly awful.
Richard Rubin who successfully included his youthfulness, Jewish-ness and neurotic self absorbed personality into his nightly act at the piano bar, had the funniest and most entertaining feature show on the main stage over two weeks. The onboard guy was better than the fly-in talent.
Unlike HAL where the stage band on ships had the brass players laid off, the Century had two saxophone players, a very talented trumpet player and a trombonist.
The Pilipino cover band was average at best, but the A Cappella singing group that performed on the ship was unique.
The fact there was NOT AN ART AUCTION was noticed and appreciated.
PITCH AND SELL: No Art Auction, did not mean there was not a constant amount of pitching and selling associated with most cruise ships. Celebrity did not set themselves apart from all the others. Constant announcements and envelopes for “free this” and “free that” in the ship’s shops and spas were nonstop.
Perhaps the worst case of over selling I have ever experienced on a cruise ship was pitch and selling during the lifeboat assembly drill on the Century. Yes, I kid you not, interspersed with instructions were suggestions to try the shops and tempt lady luck at the casino. It caused the cruise to start on a down note for me as the ship seemed more interested in selling junk or empty my wallet at the tables, than being sure I could get to a lifeboat in an emergency.
EXCURSIONS: We learned early on in our cruising days to avoid ship excursions, especially after buying an expensive excursion around Bar Harbor only to find that the transit buses went to the same locations for free.
We rented cars and saw so much more for so much less. In Skagway we drove to same places as the excursions and beyond. We went over the mountain pass, into Canada, then from British Columbia into the Yukon Territory, seeing amazing scenery and stopping when and where we wanted to. We drove all the way to Whitehorse, for far less money than one excursion.
In Ketchikan, Alaskan Rental Car picked us up at the ship. We hit every spot every excursion went to, explored neighborhoods and went to a dozen “end of the roads” all on our schedule.
In Juneau, we drove to spots none of the busses went to, plus stopped at a couple of Saturday garage sales.
But the best day was when we rented a car in San Francisco and drove to the Napa Valley, then cut over a mountain road to Santa Rosa…then to Bodega Bay. From Bodega Bay it was south on California Highway 1. We had driven Highway 1 south from San Francisco a number times, but our first drive from the north was more spectacular with maybe the exception of the drive through Big Sur.
We saved a fortune and saw so much more on our own schedule.
We did not get off the ship at the Icy Point stop. This was clearly a TOURIST TRAP in capital letters.
PRE CRUISE: The one thing that ticked me off prior to the cruise was the fact I could not get some simple information from Celebrity. I like to take maybe 30 CDs with me to listen to in our room or in a rental car. The Celebrity website claimed our suite came with a VCR. This struck me as odd for a ship that was updated in 2005 to have VCRs in suites. If it had a DVD player, I could play my CDs.
My travel experts at Celebrity said the same thing as the website…the sky suites had VCRs. So I packed up a walkman with speakers and external power cord and dragged that along. Of course in the sky suite was a DVD player and not a VCR.
Also we saved some money by flying Southwest into Seattle and renting a car for several days driving to Vancouver. There was an up-charge for dropping the car off in Canada but it was worth it. The return trip on Southwest was also cheaper and more convenient than what the cruise line could offer.
The highlight of the 2-day pre cruise drive was the stop at the Butchart Gardens. It wasn’t cheap. I think we paid $29 entry fees. The 55 acre garden is tended by 300 gardeners. I am not a garden kind of guy. My wife certainly is. But even I was impressed with the Butchart Gardens south of Sidney. Now any time my wifes wants to drang me to a garden, I can ask if it is as nice as the Butchart Gardens. When she says, "of course it isn't"...I'll decline.
If you decide to stay overnight and catch a morning ferry to Vancouver, the Best Western in Sidney, BC was an excellent hotel that had a lobby computer with free internet for guests. Sidney was a nice town that was fun to walk around with a number of bookstores offering used and new books.