CELEBRITY HORIZON TO BERMUDA Sept. 18-25, 2004
The remnants of Hurricane Ivan chased my companion Barbara and me all the way from Charlotte, NC, to Norfolk where we were scheduled to embark aboard Celebrity's Horizon for a ... Read More
CELEBRITY HORIZON TO BERMUDA Sept. 18-25, 2004
The remnants of Hurricane Ivan chased my companion Barbara and me all the way from Charlotte, NC, to Norfolk where we were scheduled to embark aboard Celebrity's Horizon for a week's cruise to Bermuda. The good news was that we were driving, not flying. In fact, that was one of the major attractions of this cruise: the opportunity to drive rather than hassle with airports, security, crowded airplanes and schlepping bags to and from the ship. Also, the Caribbean was a "been there, done that" destination, while Bermuda was a new and different experience. We spent the night in Norfolk at the Downtown Radisson, within walking distance (assuming you like to walk) of "Nauticus," the catchy name for the pier area from where the cruise ships depart. Having lived in the Tidewater area some 30 years ago, I thought the hotel seemed familiar. Lo and behold, a little research revealed that it was, in fact, formerly a Holiday Inn that had a gourmet restaurant that used to attract locals out for a special occasion. A Holiday Inn gourmet restaurant is somewhat of an oxymoron, but even more mind boggling is the question "who buys old Holiday Inns?" Obviously, Radisson did, probably for the excellent location in a reviving area of downtown Norfolk, but the bucks were apparently spent on the property, not maintenance to the hotel. The upside was that they let us park there for the duration of the cruise (actually they wanted to charge, but I had been told by an employee prior to booking the room that parking was included, so they honored that). If you want to drive in the same day, there is a lot right across the street from the Radisson that charges $10/day to park and has a shuttle (for those who don't like to walk) to the pier.
Embarkation the next day was a breeze - literally and figuratively! After dropping off Barbara and the bags at the pier, I returned to park the car at the hotel and walked back to the ship, fighting the drizzle and headwinds from the lingering presence of Hurricane Ivan. Norfolk was a great place to sail out of. With only one ship in at a time, getting on and off was simple and quick. Plus, Celebrity lets you board before the rooms are ready, so you can hang out in a lounge and have the buffet lunch rather than waiting in an uncomfortable boarding area.
Our room was ready shortly after we finished lunch, and our bags were waiting for us. Our room was an obstructed view, outside cabin on the Bermuda deck. This was a great deal for a Bermuda cruise. The location was optimum, amidships, up high and close to everything. The lifeboat obstructed the view, but not completely. Plenty of light still came in, and since Bermuda is the attraction on this cruise, the lack of view was no big deal. Can't beat the price, either!
By today's standard, Horizon is a small, older ship without many of the features of the newer ships such as verandah cabins, rock climbing walls or ice rinks. Having sailed almost exclusively on large "new builds" lately, we were curious to see how we would react to this 1990 vintage ship. Actually, we were quite pleased. Horizon had a facelift in 1998, adding several new public rooms and spiffing up the interior look. The ship is in a good state of repair, and is kept scrupulously clean. The smaller size made it easy to get around, and the fewer number of passengers simplified logistics such as getting on and off the ship. The crew was unflaggingly friendly, and overall, the ship and crew operated with the efficiency of a well broken in machine that has long since had the "new" bugs worked out.
But, there were also examples where the Horizon showed its age. The rooms, for example, while adequate in size were woefully lacking in soundproofing. You wanted to respond "Gesundheit" when the neighbors sneezed, because it sounded like they were right in the room. The problem was particularly acute in the bathroom. On the first night out, we encountered some choppy seas, and unfortunately, we were forced to share our neighbor's misery in the bathroom. The seas eventually smoothed out and the neighbors were quiet, so the poor soundproofing was not a major problem, but having inconsiderate neighbors or noisy kids next door would have been miserable.
Next, the mattresses were worn to the extent that you could feel the springs. The room steward did add additional padding, but it wasn't the same as a good mattress. Other than this, the cabins were satisfactory, with adequate storage and good sized (if noisy) bathrooms.
We departed Norfolk on schedule with the effects of Ivan producing low clouds, rain and wind. The ship pitched some the first night, but by the second day the weather started to clear and sun shined on the pool deck by afternoon. Interestingly, the lingering effects of Ivan produced a northwesterly wind, exactly opposite from the southeast winds that usually blow between Norfolk and Bermuda. The effect of this aberration was that the natural wind completely cancelled out the wind the ship made while sailing. Thus, you could stroll around the weather decks without being windblown or losing your hat. Or, you could have a quiet romantic moment on deck in the evening without a hair being blown awry, just like it always was on episodes of "The Love Boat." On the return trip from Bermuda, the winds were back to normal, from the southeast, and the same phenomenon existed as we sailed to the northwest.
Unfortunately, the wind was still blowing hard as we prepared to enter St. George Harbor in Bermuda, our first scheduled dock. So, the decision was made to bypass the St. George docking and proceed straight to Hamilton. The "Town Cut" that the ships have to sail through to dock at St. George is quite narrow, and these cancellations are quite common. But, Hamilton was certainly an acceptable alternative, although it would have been fun to go through the narrow entrance into the scenic harbor at St. George. Bermuda is a real jewel, with much to see and do.
Even with 3½ days in port, we didn't get to see and do all the things we wanted, despite a well planned and ambitious schedule. Nevertheless, we saw most of the island, and in no particular order, here are some of the things we enjoyed the most: the Crystal Caves, Gibbs Lighthouse, the South Beaches, Somerset Village, the railroad hiking trail in Sandy's Parish, Fort Hamilton, the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, and the Somerset Bridge. The Dockyard had some interesting exhibits in the museum, but we felt the area was over-commercialized and the least desirable of the 3 docks used by the cruise ships. Horseshoe Beach was certainly beautiful, but was by far the most crowded of the many beautiful beaches and not necessarily worth seeking out with so many wonderful alternatives, Warwick Long Beach, for one. Getting around the island can be done by moped or public transport. We had initially planned on renting a moped for one of the days, but the traffic was considerably heavier than I had anticipated, so we opted for the bus and ferry service. You can buy multiple day tickets for unlimited travel, and this proved to be cost effective and relatively convenient. There were, however, periodic long waits between busses, making it difficult to see multiple sights in one time period. Also, be mindful that if the buses are full, they will bypass the bus stops and keep going. This is always a problem on the South Road in the afternoon as tourists leave the beaches to head back to Hamilton. Since the Horseshoe Beach stop is the most crowded, if you get on the bus before that stop, you will be assured of getting a seat!
The cruise ship as a hotel is a great way to visit Bermuda. Bermuda is expensive, yet Bermuda cruises are relatively inexpensive. A 4-day package in an average priced Bermuda hotel costs about as much a 7-day cruise. When you factor in the food costs, transfer fees and other airport costs, the cruise wins out, hands down! Plus, you get the bonus of the days as sea!
We found the food on Horizon to be excellent, as was the service. Horizon still has the standard two-sitting arrangement with assigned tables, which we like. Tips are also dispensed based on service, not allocated via credit card, as is the current vogue. All in all, Celebrity is a notch above other "main line" cruise ships, in my opinion.
The trip back was relaxing, smooth and uneventful. We were off the ship by 9 a.m. and on the road back home by 10:00. Bermuda is a beautiful destination, Norfolk is a great port to sail out of and this is a cruise that should be on everyone's list. Read Less