This was our first cruise with Celebrity, and the Century is the ideal sized ship with enough public space to comfortably accommodate 1750 passengers. This Christmas cruise was fully booked, but there were always enough deck chairs around the pool and during the day the Hemisphere Lounge was a wonderfully quiet place, with great views over the bow - however some front windows could do with a treatment to stop fogging.
The other large lounges, the Rendezvous and the Crystal Room, were never crowded. The Cova CafÃ© served the best coffee on board, but for the 950 Aussies on board, it wasn't quite up to our expectations of a good drop. Captain Isadore sat there most mornings and was happy for a chat. The complimentary morning snacks, afternoon tea cakes, and evening tapas there were marvellous.
The oak-shelved library is another quiet spot with a great selection of reading material and operates on an honesty system. The huge piles of books on the desk on disembarkation day proved that this system works.
The three card rooms weren't crowded either and there's also plenty of comfortable seating in the Grand Foyer. The Martini Bar was very popular for pre-dinner drinks with its colour-changing lighting and a counter top of real ice to keep the massive cocktails cold. During the day when the ice had melted this was the place for non-stop trivia quizzes.
A favourite place was Michael's Bar with the magical Richard Rubin playing the grand piano nightly and keeping us laughing with his quick wit. He can play and sing almost any tune and conducted some very entertaining music quizzes, for example "Name these songs from the Titanic" with music clues. Answers: "Help" "Michael row your boat ashore", "Nearer My God to Thee" etc.
He also featured on the big stage of the Celebrity Theatre. There were at least 30 full-time entertainers and four grand pianos on board, and the shows in the Theatre with the Celebrity Stars -- 8 dancers and 4 vocalists -- were first-class, although the resident band usually seemed rather disinterested. The Christmas night show let the side down and looked like it had been thrown together quickly without much thought for lighting or staging.
The ship was wildly decorated for Christmas with baubled trees and red poinsettias in tubs along corridors and beside the lifts. Santa and his elves entertained the children, officers sang carols in the Grand Foyer but sadly for the Aussies, there were no bon-bons on the dining tables for Christmas lunch or dinner. No Christmas pudding and no fresh seafood. With an Aussie head chef in charge, this was a very strange omission especially as a Rabbi was on board for Hannukah.
Generally the crew could not do enough to make you happy. There were rugs for our shoulders when we went through chilly but sunny Milford Sound, and silver canteens of complimentary hot bouillion, or hot chocolate with a dash of kahlua for sale. The Captain allowed us up onto the bow and tried to splash us by poking our nose into Stirling Falls. Unfortunately this tricky manoevre had to be aborted because five little yellow kayaks selfishly decided to paddle right in front of the ship, and safety concerns won out.
When we arrived back on board after a rain shower in Wellington, there were fresh towels and cheery glasses of champagne. Crew members called us by name and were unfailingly cheerful and had fun with each other. They seemed like a very happy, and very multicultural, family. Officers were always strolling around and were keen to have a chat.
In our stateroom there was an umbrella for our use and as a nice Christmas present, a huge glittery Celebrity carry bag. There was plenty of room to store two suitcases under the king sized bed, and so many drawers that we had some empty ones. There is no self-serve laundry and irons are prohibited but why would you put yourself through that whilst on holidays, when the on-board service is prompt, reasonably priced and clothes are returned with military-like creases in trousers and whiter than white shirts. Our steward Agus never seemed to sleep -- he was there to open the door when I returned from early morning stretch class with cups of tea in each hand, he was there each evening to turn down the bed and make a pretty design of my nightie and pop a chocolate on the pillow. The cabin was a good size, well designed and very clean, except for some discoloured grout on the shower floor tiles and some frayed carpet. Unfortunately and inexplicably for the Australians, the only TV coverage after Bass Strait was from the UK and US.
Stretch class was at 7 each morning in the Aqua Spa gym. More floor space is needed for this very popular morning activity because often someone had to put her mat off the floor and onto the carpet. The gym has a generous number of walking and weight machines which are well used, so perhaps stretch class could be held elsewhere - on deck or in one of the lounges.
The Spa area is beautifully and very tastefully designed, and treatment rooms and the manicure and hair salon have wide ocean views. During the cruise there were a couple of 'expo' sessions where free 10 minute trial massages and facials were offered. There is even acupunture and 'botox' treatment available and men have a separate treatment room for shaving. The neighbouring small Aqua CafÃ© offers egg-white omelettes for breakfast with delicious yoghurt and fresh fruit, and grilled salmon and other healthy alternatives for lunch.
Children seemed very well catered for, so that we rarely saw them. They weren't at the 8.30pm late sitting dinner and had use of two exclusive lounges. Being a Christmas cruise, there was a very wide age range, but Celebrity did a great job of providing entertainment for everyone. On New Years Eve they set up a beautifully lit pool party on the chilly upper deck and ice carvers worked on the new year's date.
One of the pools was heated for the final days making it nicer for swimming. It would be better if there were permanent pool attendants to warn against diving and splashing - signs say Do Not - and some parents did allow unaccompanied children occasionally to take over one of the four whirlpools. Pool towels are plentiful and complimentary and the poolside hamburger bar also serves hot dogs and fries all day -- great if you've missed lunch because you're been exploring on land.
The Island CafÃ© buffet serves absolutely everything from early morning freshly poached eggs and American and English breakfasts, to fresh salads and stir fries for lunch, then, following cakes for afternoon tea, a selection of sushi. Pizza and ice cream is always available and the curries in the evening were very tasty. Being an American company, the food on board was generally not as spicy as Australians are used to, but more garlic and chilli can be requested.
Going ashore was always easy, even at the two ports using tenders. Timed tickets were issued and queues were minimal. There was always a station set up on the dock by the waiters with chilled water and strangely flavoured cherry 'fruit juice'.
The shore excursion to Rotorua could have been reversed in its places to stop. It didn't depart Tauranga until noon, before lunch on board, and then stopped for included tea and scones about 2pm at the Blue Bath house. Afterwards we visited Te Puia, a rather disappointing geothermal 'theme park' - one mud pool, some geysers and hot steamy pools and a wood carving and weaving school. However there's a cafÃ© that would have been most welcome to pick up some lunch earlier in the day. We had to make do with icecreams.
Disembarkation was similarly painless -- notification of an allocated time was delivered to each stateroom the previous night along with numbered luggage labels for large suitcases to be left in the corridor. The next morning, passengers went to the lounge at the appropriate time and were allowed to disembark immediately. Our luggage was on the dock under the number.
After sailing out of sunny Sydney Harbour on Christmas Eve, the ports chosen were a great mixture. The small towns - French-influenced Akaroa, Russell and Paihia in the Bay of Islands, and Burnie, where the mayor in his gold chains was at the gangplank - were the highlight. But the best reception and farewell was at the art deco town of Napier, where the shuttle drivers wore straw boaters and ladies dressed in 30s furs and hats., and a jazz band played for our sailaway amid a dockside display of vintage cars. Luckily the weather all the way was blazingly sunny which surprised even the locals.
We can highly recommend the Celebrity Century, its crew and this itinerary, and we would definitely sail with Celebrity on one of its smaller ships again.