The Mates go to Hawaii
Not my favorite cruise but FUN!
My post cruise overall thoughts
As I start writing this it has been almost a month since we disembarked from Celebrity’s Century in San Diego after spending 15 days on board sailing to and from Hawaii. This is not like me. Normally I want to write all about a cruise as soon as we are back but not this time. I have had the hardest time getting this one started for a lot of reasons. First I took a while getting started because we came back three days before Thanksgiving so the holidays filled our days almost immediately. Then my good friend Mike Preisman got his review done with all his great pictures and I just decided that his was so good, I could just link to it (click here to read it). And to be honest, Mike was more excited about this cruise than I was once we got home. Lastly, since Apple had pretty much killed Mobile Me and iWeb I decided to do this site in Adobe Muse which meant some more learning on a new piece of software and finding the time to do that wasn't easy.
Why wasn’t I excited about this cruise and this review? First, we have been on Century three times in the last 16 months. First in September 2011 to Alaska, then in January 2012 sailing from Auckland, NZ to Sydney, AU and then this cruise, a round-trip from San Diego to Hawaii. I really didn’t have anything special to say about Century that hadn’t been said before. We love the ship and we love her crew. But to be honest, we are kind of tired of her. We will be sailing on the larger Celebrity Eclipse in June and it is a port intensive cruise to The Baltic so I know I will be truly enthused about that one. You can look for a big review when we get home in July.
I think the other reason I didn’t jump right in to write this review was that we were going to...Hawaii. It needs to be stated here that I before this cruise, I was one of the few citizens of the United States that had not been to Hawaii. Kathleen had been there in her previous, (pre-Jim) life but not me. Why? Just never interested me. And still doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the islands but for me this cruise was all about just being with our friends and having a great time which we did. I have to say that I really am totally ambivalent about Hawaii. Certainly parts of what we saw were beautiful but I am not a beach person and not a fan of the entire Hawaiian “hang loose” mentality. When I tour, I like to TOUR! I want to see it all. I don’t think that’s possible in Hawaii. Not without a long stay. It's reminds me of the Caribbean and I do not like to sail or tour in the Caribbean. Too many beaches, trees and water views.
Another thing is my philosophy of being onshore when on cruises. My good buddy Bob kept telling me that, “It’s not a race.” This became the mantra for our cruise. It was funny but to be honest, for me it is. It is a race. A race to see it all in a very short amount of time. I think one of my biggest disappointments was what we didn’t get to see. After we got back I looked back at our previous cruise to New Zealand and Australia. On that cruise when we hit a port, we HIT the port. We were off the ship as soon as we could be, jumped in a van with a tour guide and did an absolute ton of activities until we returned to the ship. When we were in Hawaii I felt like we got off late, by the time we had picked up our rental car and gotten back to pick up the rest of our party and got out on the road the day was half or more than half over. I learned something really important on this cruise. I need to plan EVERYTHING. Where we are going to tour, when we are going to tour and most especially, where we are having lunch.
The cruise part of this cruise was outstanding. We did as we always do--we laughed, played games, laughed, ate great food, laughed, played the ship's triva, laughed, dressed up, laughed, did the gym, spa or pool/hot tub and did I mention, we laughed...a lot.
We flew down to San Diego two days before the cruise. We arrived in San Diego about noon and immediately headed out to see my dad in Palm Springs. Got there very late in the day due to traffic (Hadn’t done that drive during rush hour before. Big mistake!). Checked in to the Marriott Courtyard in Palm Springs. I had gotten a great deal on Kayak with each room running less than $100. It’s a typical Courtyard, so nothing special but it is half way between my Dad’s house and downtown so it was a great deal. We did dinner at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants, The Blue Coyote. Food was good but to be honest the best part of the night was the fact that we could eat outdoors, in shirt sleeves in November. It was a gorgeous night. Thankfully I had made reservations because it was Gay Pride weekend in Palm Springs and the place was PACKED with a BUNCH of happy fellows.
The next morning we had breakfast with my dad at Sherm’s, the almost historically-recognized deli in Palm Springs, my dad’s favorite restaurant. Then it was off to drive back to San Diego on the coast. We had rooms reserved at The Holiday Inn on the Bay. (If you are cruising from San Diego, this is the perfect hotel as it is across the street from the cruise port. Do not get this confused with the Holiday Inn Bayside which is about three miles away on the other side of the airport.) We were actually able to walk to the ship for the first time ever. After we had checked in we found our other best buddies who had arrived from sunny Florida, the aforementioned Mike and Carol, and headed out to look at some San Diego sights. We hit the Cabrillo National Monument first and the for a completely different view of the city, we headed across the big bridge to Coronado. After that everyone decided that even though it was early, we were all hungry (especially Mike and Carol who were still on East coast time) so we headed off to dinner at Tabule, a restaurant that Kathleen and I had been to on a previous San Diego trip. We had loved it, especially the service by our amazing waiter, Jorge. I could and would go on and on about Tabule, encouraging you to try a meal there (especially the raspberry-chipolte duck) but Jorge told us that it was their last night as a fine-dining restaurant. After more than 15 years, they were closing that night to reopen in a few weeks as a Sports Bar. How sad. But I understand, as that part of the Gaslamp district is more about bars and saloons rather than fine dining restaurants.
The next morning I was up early to take our rental car back. We had rented a Hertz mini-van for our trip to Palm Springs and I had originally planned on taking it back on Saturday afternoon but decided to keep it so we could take Mike and Carol to see some of San Diego and go to dinner. One of the best things about San Diego is how close the airport is to the cruise port. That would be even more important at disembarkation (more on that later) but I was able to drop off the van and it was an easy walk for me back to hotel which was across the street from the cruise terminal where Century was moored. I met Mike and Bob out by Century and we compared notes and discussed how we would get across the street with our bags to board. After breakfast and a short photo walk with Mike we went and grabbed the luggage and walked it over. I stayed with the big bags while Mike and Bob went back to get the ladies and the carry-ons (except for mine). Within minutes they were back, I ran back to the hotel and when I got back we all headed to check in. One of the best embarkations ever. Dropped the luggage, checked in (always fun to decide what is faster, the Elite line, the Suite line or just regular line) and waited about 30 minutes before we were escorted on board.
We dropped our carry-ons in our cabins (suites) and headed to lunch in the buffet. I love Century’s buffet because they still have trays! Some people say that because it doesn’t have islands (like the Solstice class ships) it is slower but I never have any problems with it. I do a quick circuit around the entire food service area to see what’s available. Then unless I want salads or the main courses I just grab what I am after. Most days, it’s a salad (takes no time to grab that) and then some roasted veggies from the pizza station and maybe a piece of pizza. That’s it. We didn’t eat breakfast in the buffet once on this trip except disembarkation day. So we had no troubles with the Century buffet. It’s one of our favorites.
After lunch we wandered around until our cabins were ready (around 1:30) and then we headed that direction. I need to mention here that for this cruise (thanks to Mike and Carol booking late and letting us know about an amazing deal) we were in Sky Suites. (Thats ours above.) For a cruise with this many sea days, it was wonderful to have this big a room (246 square feet as opposed to 175 square feet for our regular cabin). The suite also had a good size verandah (almost as big as our regular cabin would have been). Our luggage was a tad late in arriving (just before the lifeboat drill) and we unpacked quickly and got to the drill and immediately after to our sailaway party for our Cruise Critic group. (Folks we had met in an online forum just for this cruise at www.cruisecritic.com. If you are going to cruise you need to go to Cruise Critic.)
I stopped writing when I finished the above paragraph and resumed a few days later when I decided that I would cut to the chase. The good, the bad and the ugly. That, a brief note about the ports and my photos would do it. Note: Now it is almost 2 full weeks later and I am glad I did this.
As usual with Celebrity (and especially with Century) just about everything fits in this category. Her officers (probably the friendliest group of officers as a group we have ever sailed with), her crew and just about everyone associated with the ship. There were a few exceptions but not many. We got incredible service from Timothy, our assistant maitre’d, Fabian our waiter, Walter our butler (in a suite, you get a butler), Lennox in the Martini Bar, Vulcan who served us in the Elite Breakfast Lounge and two old friends from previous cruises Leximan (who we met on Galaxy in 2006) and Aurelie (who had been with us on our previous two Century voyages) who were sommeliers in the dining room. Of course there were lots of other people on the ship who took good care of us but these folks really stood out.
Maybe the most special highlight for us happened the night we were leaving Hilo. Our butler Walter (with the assistance of Mike and Carol’s butler and Bob and Jude’s butler) served us a complete 5 course dinner on our verandah for just the six of us. They brought tables and chairs from other cabins and just treated us like royalty. Now if you cruise with Celebrity, we made a promise to Jamie (the hotel director) not to spread this around since everyone would ask for it. So if you do ask for it, you didn’t read about it here.
The Bad (not really the bad, just the so-so)
I have very few complaints about X. (For non-cruisers, X is what we call Celebrity.) My typical complaints have been around for a while and apply to most X ships. My biggest one is the lack of silence or not really silence, just quiet. We ate in Murano (Century’s alternative restaurant) one night and as Bob often says, he thinks the food in the dining room is just as good as Murano. While I may agree with the food being as good the dining room, the reason I love going to Murano or any of Celebrity’s other alternative restaurants is a chance to eat (or just be) in a quiet environment. The two meals we ate in Murano (one lunch and one dinner) were so nice because we could actually hear each other talk.
And it isn’t just the dining room. It’s especially bad in the Martini Bar where some marketing expert in Celebrity's HQ in Miami has decided that the best kind of music for a Martini Bar full of 55+ year-old folks buying drink after drink is LOUD techno. Some of it was so bad that we kept joking that they had an old-fashioned record player behind the bar because it always sounded like it was skipping and repeating itself. This situation has been discussed in depth and the two areas I mentioned are not the only problem. It is very hard to find almost any public lounge that doesn’t have music playing most of the time. And it is often at a volume that makes it difficult to talk. We cruise (especially this one) to socialize and when we have to yell to each other to be heard, that is just wrong.
My other moderate complaints concerned two crew members that bothered me a bunch. I know that it was just me but I felt that our assistant waiter (no names here) was way too familiar with us. I have a really hard time with a person who is barely in their twenties acting the way that he did. On a number of occasions I felt like our waiter Fabian, had to take him aside and tell him to calm down. He was really up one night and down the next. We kept joking that he beendrinking one too many Red Bulls or worse. On one occasion he grabbed Mike’s Canon DSLR and started taking pictures with it. I can tell you if he had done that to my Nikon he would have heard a lot more from me. Mike is a better sport than I am. I will admit that I am still kind of ticked at him for a lost night’s sleep on this cruise. He served me caffeinated coffee and not the decaf I ordered every night. Seriously, that’s all it takes for me. One cup and I am up all night. At home I can’t drink anything with caffeine after noon so I always make sure to tell whoever is pouring (numerous times) that it has to be decaf.
My other problem was with a member of the activity staff who shall also remain nameless who did some of the trivia contests. If you are at any of them you will know who I am talking about if I tell you that he always said the prizers were “UNBELIEVABLE.” That wasn’t my problem. My problem was his constant reference to guests on board as “rich people.” If you were sitting in the back of the room you were “rich people who didn’t like being in the front.” If you came in late or left early, it was “There goes the rich people,” or “Here comes the rich people. they can always be late.” It got very irritating the longer it would go on. By the last sea day I was skipping trivia (which I really like) because this guy was so offensive. I also had decided to discuss with John (our cruise director) but he was ill the last couple of days of the cruise so I wasn’t able to do that. I don’t think this young man deserves any punishment of any kind, just someone to take him aside and tell him what is and isn’t appropriate. Every time he would say “rich people,” it almost came out as an insult.
Lastly, Century's gym needs refurbishing. I ride an upright bicycle about 75 miles a week and when we were onboard in September 2011 there were three but one was broken. When we were onboard Down Under, there were two and one was broken and now there was only one. After a lady gave me a really hard time about staying on it more than 20 minutes (I know I should share but if you know anything about fitness you know that you need to work out at least an hour a day) I talked to the gym boss who told me that "everytime I ask Celebrity mangement about getting new anything, they tell me the same thing. Wait until the dry dock." We keep hearing that she is scheduled for a major renovation in the coming year but nothing scheduled yet. It needs to be.
The Ugly: Disembarkation
First, I will admit one third of this is my fault because I booked a flight home at 10:00 am but I had reasons for doing that. One, we had disembarked in the port of San Diego two years earlier from HAL’s Oosterdam and not been in the first groups to get off and we were still able to be in Palm Springs at my Dad’s house by 11:00 am. That’s an almost three hour drive plus time to rent the car.
Second, the airport is close. A seven-minute cab ride away. Thank God!
Third, it was ugly because I just got fed up. I was nastier than I have ever been on a cruise. Shame on me. But I wasn't angry or fed up with X for the delay. The delay was due to Customs taking so long to clear the ship. We saw the Customs inspectors leave the room where they had been checking in non-US citizens at 7:45 and yet they did not clear the ship until almost 8:45. That is ridiculous. I am pretty sure they went to get coffee in the buffet before they cleared the ship.
No, I got mad at X for a different reason. They had NO ONE SUPERVISING the huge group of people waiting in line to disembark and that meant that even though we were in a line, people would just walk by with the excuse that they were going to the restroom or back to their cabins on a higher deck and then we would see them cut in line in front of us or just stand there and take up space that would later be filled with people trying to get off. It was ridiculous. X needed to have security or activity staff in those hallways leading to the gangplank to keep people in a line and tell others to go around or on another deck or to another restroom. Poor planning on their part. Very poor planning.
How should they have done this. They should have put security on the line asking to see airline boarding passes. Those with the earliest times, get off first and so on. We got off behind people we know who had 11:30 flights. Ridiculous!
I will say that we did make our plane by literally 3 minutes. When we got to the airport the person checking bags told us that we had made it with three minutes to spare. Had we been three minutes later we would not been able to board and would have had to go standby and pay $100+ per person to change our tickets. It was a totally frustrating end to a really great cruise and X could have made it work much better. But I am willing to take some of the blame and the Customs people ought to be reprimanded and/or fired. The entire Customs/ICE process in San Diego is ridiculous. We have sailed to Alaska out of Seattle and been off the ship by 7:30. How come our Customs/ICE people can do it better here than they can in San Diego.
The Canadians do a million percent better job in Vancouver where we have always been off the ship and most of the way back to Chilliwack by 8:30. Down Under, the Aussies board the ship in New Zealand and spend two days clearing people so when you arrive in Australia you can get right off the ship. Our customs people need to get a life. Typical American bureaucrats. You would think they worked at the Post Office. At least the one here in Redmond. Or the DMV. I fully believe that after checking all non-US passengers, they walked through the lounge where we were sitting, went up to the buffet, had a free breakfast and then released the ship as they left.
Summing it up
We had a great time on this cruise. Century and her crew were amazing. The food was as good as we have had before onboard. If you want to know more about the ship check out my review from our Australia/New Zealand cruise or our Alaskan cruise onboard. Or go and read Mike's review and see his pics. He has very detailed ship photos. If you want a great laugh, check out Bob's Bitz by Fitz blog where he has movies (he is posting more all the time) from this trip. They are short and hilarious and maybe me posting that here will get him to get going and post more. Check his blog for the videos and the Our Travels menu for his pics.
I loved having all the sea days to spend with our friends but I think that nine of them (especially four in a row getting there and then five in a row getting back) is too much. My perfect cruise (schedule-wise) is the the Panama Canal where you have a sea day and then a port day throughout the whole cruise. The same was true on our SE Asian cruise on Azamara's Quest. And for me the reward (Hawaii) just didn't do it. Give me Europe, Asia, Down Under or the Mediteranean anytime. Can't wait for the Baltic in June. A cruise like this (with most of the time spent on the ship) is perfect for Alaska where the weather is often yucky.