JBom (my DH) and I are recently back from our Celebrity Century cruise to the Caribbean… 5 days in the sun with a little fun! Ports of call included Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Georgetown, Grand Cayman.

This was our first Celebrity cruise and after being on Oceania in ’08 to the Med, which I’ve previously written about here on this blog, we found that we were comparing every Celebrity experience to that of Oceania. Admittedly, the two cannot be compared. Oceania is considered to be in the mid-luxury group of ships, while Celebrity sails in the market one step below. I would say that we would have gone on an Oceania cruise in the Caribbean to escape the Michigan winter, but we chose Celebrity based on the recommendation of our outstanding TA, Esther, as well as the fact that Celebrity offers 5-day cruises and the shortest Oceania offers is 10 days. And well, in looking for a quick mini-break, we decided to give Celebrity a shot…. and we are glad that we did!

The trip down from DTW was uneventful and we arrived earlier than expected. Fortunately, no weather delays on either end, so that was a good way to start out the trip. We planned to take a taxi right to the Port of Miami to meet the ship, but ended up signing up for the Celebrity coach transfer. The price was about $18pp, so the price was reasonable and the benefit was that our luggage would be dropped off in front of our cabin and we didn’t need to worry about it. We decided to sign up for the transfer and the agent said that the coach would arrive in 5-10 minutes and was “on its way”. With nowhere to go, we sat and waited… almost 50 minutes before the coach showed up. Obviously we should have questioned “5-10 minutes”, but the agent’s job is to fill the busses and once we had signed up, we just had to wait it out. JBom and I were not happy about this delay, but we took it in stride and chatted with the rest of the guests that were waiting with us.

I wanted to be sure to note that although it was convenient to take the coach provided by Celebrity, we didn’t choose to use the coach when we disembarked the ship at the end of the cruise. We took a taxi to the airport which was $24… a flat fee that is charged the same to everyone. This includes a $2 port charge that you pay when you leave the Port of Miami. Consequently with tip, the total cost is about $28, saving you about $10 or more depending on how much you choose to tip the taxi driver. Next time, we will definitely take the taxi round trip.

The coach arrived, we boarded, and as we were the last terminal at MIA, the coach continued directly to the Port of Miami, about a 15 minute ride… pretty quick.

Once we arrived, the embarkation process was smooth, including filling out a health form about our current status. The Celebrity Mercury ship had recently experience Noro virus (a continuous issue for this ship), and I was glad to see that they were checking the general health of passengers prior to embarkation.

Celebrity provides an opportunity to do online “check-in”, providing your passport information as well as your credit card info for onboard charges in advance. I provided this information in advance and it seemed to move the process along more quickly. We received our Sea Pass (room key and charge card) for the cruise, and we were on our way! The rest of the process was smooth, quick and efficient and there were no delays whatsoever in boarding the ship.

Off the gangway and onto the ship, we were met by a staff person that required that we sanitized our hands (ie. Purell). This was mandatory and was a little awkward with everything in our hands, but we made it work. It was about 12:30pm by now and as our cabins were not ready, we were directed to the pool deck (deck 11) for lunch and to hang out until the announcement was made. We had cocktails and hamburgers… and we found that the hamburgers from the poolside grill were really consistently good throughout the cruise.

Once the announcement was made, we proceeded down to our cabin on Deck 9. We were in the Concierge Class (CC) mid-ship. First impressions of the ship and our cabin, was that they were very, very clean. The entire ship had had a major ($50 million) makeover (not sure how recently), but even though this was an older ship, it was very well maintained and people were always cleaning.

Our stateroom was clean and tidy, but I was surprised that with the recent makeover, that the linens and duvet were a bit shabby looking as compared with what was shown on the Celebrity website. The balcony had a table and chairs and we enjoyed hanging out there throughout the cruise.

Our bathroom was a good size (good shower, too!) and clean, clean, clean. You could smell the disinfectant. Perhaps this was because of the Celebrity Mercury having Noro virus recently, but they maintained a very high cleanliness standard throughout our stay and had sanitizers throughout the ship, especially at the entrances to the dining areas.

Speaking of dining, I would say that our experience was very mixed. This is probably consistent with most cruisers as you can’t hit it out of the ballpark every day. Admittedly, JBom and I are pretty big “foodies” and we enjoy cooking and watching the Food Network. We also host parties and I worked as a pasty chef years ago. So you could say that we are experienced diners and we know a good experience from a bad one. So as far as our experience with food (one of the top areas of interest on a ship), it would be probably best for me to break it down by location:

POOLSIDE GRILL — This was probably one of our favorite places to eat. Just because we are foodies, doesn’t mean that we need to eat gourmet all the time. The Grill was great, and had really top notch hamburgers and hotdogs. They also had great chicken wings (either mild or hot) and their salads (pasta and potato), were really well made. Considering that they were outside poolside, they did all the right things and kept the hot food hot and the cold food cold.

MAIN DINING ROOM — SELECT DINING: We booked Select Dining which allowed us the flexibility to reserve a dinner time for each night and select the time according to our schedule. This is a new option on Celebrity and one of the main reasons we selected this cruise as we preferred to sit by ourselves and not be required to eat either at one seating or another. So online before the cruise I went and booked a reservation for each and every night that we planned to eat in the MDR. The experience of this alternate dining worked well for us as we preferred to sit at a table for 2 and in the two occasions that we ate in the MDR, we were able to get seated on time at a table for 2.

What didn’t work well for Select Dining for us was that during the meal we felt incredibly rushed throughout the process. When you have assigned dining… ie the Early Dining time (6pm) or the Late Dining time (8pm), you know that you have a good 1-1/2 hours to enjoy your meal. Celebrity has only allocated 1/4 of the dining room (or a bit less, I believe) to Select Dining, so the experience is thoroughly rushed and their goal is turnover, turnover, turnover.

The Select Dining area is also on the upper level of the MDR and the area (a two-story dining room with views off the back of the ship) is incredibly loud when full of guests. You have to speak up in order to have a conversation with your tablemate. On the first evening we were placed at a table in-between two bus stations and the fourth night of the cruise, we were next to the main aisle. The hostess did give us the option on the fourth night to wait a few minutes for another table, but we were okay with where she sat us.

MAIN DINING ROOM — FOOD EXPERIENCE: The first night of the cruise we had a wonderful meal. JBom had Coq au Vin and I had a lamb shank. Both were of a very high standard and we were very pleasantly surprised. We did our best not to deliberately over eat on the this cruise, so the server was surprised when we only had one app and the entrée and skipped dessert 😉

The second night was formal night and we had planned to skip that meal altogether and ended up eating in the Island Cafe (buffet). The third night we were at Murano, the specialty restaurant and so our last experience in the MDR was on the fourth evening of the cruise.

The fourth evening was unfortunately a disappointment. JBom had Ossobucco and I had salmon. Both were lackluster. i will say that the Onion Soup was good as well as the escargot… so after a great first meal in the MDR, the fourth evening was anything but. We decided right then and there that our last evening would be in Island Café.

ISLAND CAFÉ: The traditional buffet on a cruise ship, I would call this anything but. Yes, this is a buffet, but the quality of the food is very, very good. In learning from the executive chef on the ship, Island Café has their own kitchen where everything is prepped for the three meals that it serves. As on the rest of the ship, they make all the bread and rolls from scratch each day as well as all of the pastry and desserts. The cheese board was a personal favorite with the wide selection to choose from.

In the morning they made omelets to order, at lunch there was a carving station and in the evening, they had a pasta station as well as a stir fry station… which were very popular. A number of items in the evening were similar to what they were serving in the MDR.

SUSHI CAFÉ: In the evening, the back of Island’s Café is turned into a sushi bar – a place that I visited on more than a few occasions. The sushi is fresh and they did a great job of changing up the selections each night. They also made sure to provide the standard fare that everyone likes: spicy tuna, California roll, etc. The tuna is of a very high quality and I enjoyed it very much.

COVA CAFÉ: A great little café with cappuccino or mochas ($4 surcharge), pastries in the afternoon and tappas in the evening. We enjoyed the coffee very much and dropped by frequently in the afternoon to get our caffeine hit to keep us going through the evening! Barbara from Hungary was one of the crew members that worked this area and we enjoyed speaking with her very much, was very friendly and always took good care of us!

MURANO (SPECIALITY RESTAURANT): On our third evening, we ate in Murano, which is the only specialty restaurant on the ship. I made a reservation 6 weeks before we cruised, and the best time I could get was 6pm (which worked out well as we had a time change during the cruise which made it feel like it was 7pm). The surcharge was $35pp which was paid when I booked it online.

The restaurant was beautiful and….quiet…..compared to the MDR. Our table was right next to the window, so we had a lovely sunset view throughout our meal.

As for the meal itself, admittedly we took advantage of every course. We were totally “puffed out” (as my mother says) when we left, but it was a wonderful meal. Our entrees were excellent and I had Dover Sole, while JBom had Chateau Briand. We had the fabulous cheese course and ended with chocolate soufflé and Crème Brule. We had a great bottle of Shiraz from Australia and noted that the price of the wine was reasonable and not too “jacked up” in price as they could have easily done that.

THE MARTINI BAR: A very cool place with a cool vibe. When we were there, we saw the captain enjoying a visit with a fellow officer and a guest. The martini’s are really (really) good… especially the Chocotini (sp?). They are all $10 each and have several to choose from. This was a fun place to cap off the evening.

So enough about food!

As for the ports of call, we didn’t get off the ship! 😉 We found that all of the guests that got off of the ship allowed us to actually sit by the pool, read a book…and just relax. This is a cruise that has all sort of guests… spring breakers (but not a ton), families with a few small children but mostly teenagers, singles and couples in the their 30s and 40s, families (as in a reunion) and seniors as couples or in a group.

But when they returned in the late afternoon, our peace and tranquility vanished and the techno music returned. We found that as a married couple in our 40s we found our refuge at the rear of the ship in the SUNSET LOUNGE where we could have a cocktail (the margarita’s are fabulous… especially the mango), sit at a covered table and watch the wake off of the back of the ship and enjoy the end of the day before dinner. It was a lovely place that we could escape to that not a lot of people ventured to.

As for the ports of call Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Georgetown, Grand Cayman, we planned to skip Ocho Rios, but planned to visit Georgetown. We’ve been on several excursions in the past, but this trip was very much about relaxing for us and just enjoying the time together. We ended up skipping Georgetown as due to weather conditions, the captain made the decision to anchor on the opposite side of the island. The Carnival and Norwegian cruise ships joined us on the other side of the island and we heard that the other ships that stayed on the Georgetown side couldn’t tender guests to the shore as it was too rough to do so. Without excursions planned and a 15-minute taxi ride into town, we decided to skip it and just stay put. And we had just a great day.

So that was pretty much the cruise for us.

A couple of things not to leave out…

THE CASINO – We won $35 dollars… we are not big gamblers (well, we don’t gamble really) and we had a good hour+ of fun!

THE SHOWS – Were pretty good… and well done for a cruise ship, for sure. The juggler and the comedian were both fantastic and were well attended.

THE CULTURE SERIES – I only attended one event where the head chef’s from Murano and the MDR cook head-to-head a la Iron Chef. It was entertaining, especially with the inclusion of two selected guests as their sous chefs. They pretty much do it on the fly and have 15-minutes to turn out 3 courses. It was pretty entertaining.

At the beginning of this entry I said that JBom and I compared everything to our latest experience on Oceania. I will honestly tell you that we had a lovely time and it was a very good value for the money with all that we experienced on the ship.

Sure, the ambiance on Oceania is definitely different, as we found that the Celebrity cruise was much more of a party atmosphere – mostly around the pool area – but you could escape to quieter spots if you wanted to seek them out.

All in all… well done Celebrity… the experience was very enjoyable and you may see us in the future… JBom is already talking about another one at the end of the year!