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Cruising has become a very popular travel option. Here we share our Caribbean cruise experience aboard Celebrity Zenith and hopefully answer many of the questions you might have.

Celebrity Zenith and Nine Caribbean Ports

Celebrity Zenith
November 3 - November 17, 2006
“Special” Caribbean

Executive Summary
My wife and I spent 14 days on Zenith. We hit favorite ports from previous cruises as well as 3 new ports. Zenith is an older, more intimate ship. The food was good, and the service was friendly. This was our second voyage on Zenith, having previously sailed on her to Bermuda last year. Overall, we had an enjoyable trip.

Part I - Precruise
A. Inception
We chose Celebrity due to our prior experience. We chose Zenith due to it’s smaller, more intimate size which makes it easier to meet fellow cruisers.

B. Cruise Critic
Cruisecritic.com was very helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.

C. Choice of Route
We have cruised the Western Caribbean and the Eastern Caribbean. We have found the Eastern ports have the best beaches and are generally more hospitable. This itinerary was “special” in that it included 9 ports in the Western and Eastern Caribbean. The route began and concluded in Tampa and included Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Isle Catalina, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Antigua, St. Maarten, Tortola, and Key West.

D. Choice of Cabin
We booked this cruise about nine months before departure, and then rebooked during a Celebrity Tuesday "Happy Hour" Sale less than 30 days before the cruise. We ended up with an outside cabin on the Bahamas Deck (Deck 9) with a 60% obstructed view due to a life boat outside our window. Each cabin has 172 square feet of space. Our cabin (9028) was spacious. It is also in a great location, sandwiched between a deck full of cabins above and a foyer below. In addition, it was just two decks up or down to the restaurants and most of the activity rooms.

E. Price
We originally paid about $1480 per person ($107/day/person) including port fees and taxes (but not including tips and incidentals) and booked an outside unobstructed view cabin on the Caribbean Deck (Deck 6). When the Happy Hour pricing came out, we opted to forego our cabin and agreed to a “Outside Guarantee” at a new price of $1000 per person ($71/day/person). We were assigned a partially obstructed outside cabin which we felt was a reasonable sacrifice in return for almost $1000 in savings! Note: I only include price information because it was requested by fellow travelers following my previous reviews.

F. Passports
We brought our passports which we got four years ago.

G. Insurance
I insured the trip through Travelex, opting for their TraveLite product, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process. I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance. Here are 16 great tips on How to Select Cruise Insurance.

H. Prebooking Excursions
All of our port excursions were arranged privately. We have never had a problem with our well-researched excursions, and find they are always less crowed, less expensive, and more rewarding than excursions booked on the ship. More details below.

I. Packing
Packing hints came from this board. We packed for 3 Formal nights (black tux / fine dinner dress), 4 Semi-Formal nights (aloha shirt with dinner jacket / dinner dress), and 7 Casual nights (aloha shirts and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 14 days. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack, rounded scissors (under 6-inches), bottled water, cards, film, sunscreen, binoculars, highlighters, collapsible dirty clothes bag, and a new water camera. We also made seven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Sunday, it must be Grand Cayman!" and the like) and mentioning Cruise Critic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. The cabin doors and walls are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets.

J. Water Camera
I had been looking for a reasonably priced digital water camera for months. I found exactly what I wanted at Costco. I paid $269 for the Pentax Optio W10 digital camera. It features a 6 megapixel, 3x optical zoom, 4x digital zoom, rated JIS Class 8 waterproof (to 5 feet), JIS Class 5 dustproof, and a large 2.5-inch LCD screen. I paid another $40 for a 1GB memory card. It even has a built-in image editor. This was a great camera for snorkeling and beach use as well as all of our land and ship shots. Note: I understand Pentax has recently released a newer version of this camera. We were very pleased with the quality of the pictures. We took all of our shots in the highest quality mode. A 1GB memory card will hold about 300 images.

Part II - Embarkation
A. Precruise Hotel
We flew from Charlotte, NC to Tampa, FL one day early to avoid any stress from possible travel delays. We stayed at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel which we picked up on Priceline for $75 (all fees and taxes included). The Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel is owned by New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. They provide free airport van pickup and transportation to the port for $10 per person. Our van drivers and front desk personal were very helpful and friendly. Our room was good sized with a king bed and a nice bathroom. The crown jewel of this hotel is the attached restaurant named Crabby Bills. At night, it’s a popular sports bar with really good seafood and great service. I highly recommend the crab cakes for dinner and the crab omelet for breakfast.

B. The Port of Tampa
Celebrity Zenith was berthed at Terminal 3 at 815 Channelside Drive, next door to the Aquarium. We arrived at about 10:40 am which was a little too early to begin the check-in process, but not too early to drop off our bags. We tipped our van driver $5 and our porter $10 for handling 5 bags. Ten minutes later, we were informed we could check-in.

C. Security Processing and Boarding
We were directed up an escalator, then through security, to a very spacious cruise terminal lounge. There were separate lines for suites, and non-suite, passengers. All lines fed into a very long table of friendly folks processing your boarding documents. It took about 10 minutes to check in. It would have been faster, but they were experiencing some problems with their new computer equipment. At check-in, they confirm your information and credit card, and issue you your sea pass card. The sea pass card acts as your ship ID and charge card. On most ships it is also your cabin key. (Zenith requires a separate cabin key however).

After check-in we preceded towards the ship. There was a quick wait to get your cruise card data encrypted with your image at one of two stations, and then a very short wait for your first cruise photo (which can be skipped). We boarded Zenith and were greeted with a glass of champagne, mimosa, or orange juice. Cabins were to be ready at 1:00pm, so we were directed to the Windsurf Cafe on the Marina Deck - 11 for lunch. Hint: locate the “The Grill” aft for a grilled hamburger, or other daily special. While everyone else is in line at the buffet, you could be enjoying a great sandwich with no lines (the first day). The grill will get discovered by other passengers in a couple of days.

D. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 9028, an exterior cabin with 172 square feet. We were located slightly forward of amidships, in the middle of the ship, on the Bahamas Deck - 9. The cabin was extremely well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets for our clothes. The bathroom has lots of room, storage, and a shower. Our cabin also had a desk, TV, night stand, table and two chairs. Hangers and robes were provided. Hint: you can secure additional wire hangers from your cabin attendant. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Friday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today". Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the following day's gathering, but without the usual CruiseConnections pins and name tags. Your empty luggage is stored under your beds during the cruise. Our stateroom attendant did a wonderful job throughout our cruise.

E. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Windsurf Cafe on the Marina Deck—11 for a noon buffet lunch. The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. The entire week, without exception, we always took the stairs (and pretended that this was sufficient exercise to cover our food intake). Our luggage arrived at 2:30pm.

F. Lifeboat Drill
About 30 minutes prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. If you've never been through this drill, a loudspeaker announcement is made for all guests to don their orange life vests and gather at your assigned muster station (as directed by the sign on the back of your cabin door). After waiting for all passengers to arrive, you are directed on the proper use of the vest, and then directed to your assigned lifeboats for additional instructions. You do not board the life boats. A final announcement dismisses all passengers to return the vests to their cabins. The drill went smoothly and lasted about 20 minutes.

G. Dinner - 6:00pm First Seating
We were seated at a table for 8 (by request) in the omni level (Galaxy Deck - 7) of the Caravelle Restaurant, next to a window. Our server, assistant, and Maitre'd did a very good job throughout our cruise. We ended up with only 6 passengers at our table.

Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals generally met our expectations. There was good variety. Nice presentations at lunch and dinner. On the first night all the meats were cooked “well” due to an ongoing problem with the Novovirus which the ship was trying to prevent on this cruise. Cooking meat “well” absolutely ruined the prime rib. We revolted on day two and by day three you could order up your meat as rare as you liked. Our table only sent back one item, the salmon, which was habitually overcooked.

A. Always Available
The following items are advertised as available every night (even if they do not appear on the menu): escargot, shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, and a NY Strip steak. Shrimp cocktails were not available the first three days.

B. The Best Breakfast Items
Mixed berries, fresh tropical fruits, Belgian waffles, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, sticky buns, fresh omelets from “The Grill”, pancakes, and an array of pastries. See notes on the Cova Cafe.

C. The Best Lunch Items
The sandwich bar in the Windsurf Cafe (Deck 11 - Aft) is a must find early in the cruise. It is located next to a pasta bar which was also well received.

D. The Best Appetizer
The Escargot were incredible. All appetizers were well presented.

E. The Best Soups
Cream of Broccoli, Mushroom Bisque, and Louisiana Gumbo. The chilled soups were also good.

F. The Best Entrees
All of the Duck, Lamb and Veal dishes, and all of the steak offerings (Prime Rib, Tenderloins).

G. The Best Desserts
Fresh made ice creams, creme Brule, cherries jubilee, bananas Foster, all cheesecakes, and the incredible bread pudding.

H. Room Service
We didn't order anything from room service.

I. Midnight Buffets
All but one (Le Grande Buffet) were scheduled to take place by the pool on Deck 11. Usually served ice cream, an assortment of cookies, lots of fresh fruit, and some great beef ribs. The themes included a Sock Hop and a Caribbean Night. Le Grande Buffet took place on the last day at sea in the Caravelle Restaurant at 12:15 am following a 30-minute picture-taking preview. You will marvel at the beautiful ice carvings and food creations.

J. Sushi Bar
Beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi was available most nights from 5:00pm to 10:00pm in the Windsurf Grill (located Aft on Deck 11) which they decorated with a Japanese restaurant theme. It is a winner. An opening time of 5:00pm better accommodates passengers with the Main Seating for Dinner. The Sushi Bar opened around the 7th day and ran for the remainder of the cruise.

K. Cova Cafe
Hint: Locate this early in your voyage. The Cova Cafe is located amidships on Fantasy Deck - 8. They serve croissants and danish (like footlong cinnamon twists) from 8:30am to 11:00am most mornings and in the afternoons (3:00pm to 5:00pm) they serve cookies (Macaroons and Chocolate Chip cookies were delightful), fancy cheesecake, and other pastries. They offer fancy coffees and wines for sale. There is no additional charge for the food items. This is also one of the places you can pick up a "soda sticker". At a cost of $5.00/day (plus 15% gratuity) they will place a sticker on your sea card which entitles you to unlimited fountain sodas anywhere on the ship.

L. Pizza and Pasta
There is a dedicated Pizza Bar and a dedicated Pasta Bar aft in the Windsurf Cafe. Both are open generally 6:00pm to 1:00am. The pasta is also open for lunch. The pizza bar features a daily special and over a dozen toppings if you wish to create your own. The pasta bar features lots of garlic, several sauces, and at least three noodle selections.

Part IV - Entertainment
A. Movies
Movies were shown occasionally in the Celebrity Show Lounge, and generally when in port. All of the movies have been out on DVD for about 6 months.

B. Shows
The Celebrity Show Lounge is located forward and spans 2 decks (7 and 8). Seating is comfortable and sight lines are very good except in the balconies where the rail obstructs your view. The entertainment was very good. The Celebrity singers and dancers are very talented and performed 3 shows. The guest entertainment was very good as well. We enjoyed pianist Tommy Bond, ventriloquist Phil Hughes, illusionist Jamie Allen, comedian Michael James (“the ladder guy”), comedian Fred Klett, violinist twins Jason and Nolan Livesay. Our only complaint about the shows would be the occasional show where the stage lights swiveled during certain numbers and flashed into the audience. The lights were painfully blinding.

C. Casino
The Mayfair Casino on Fantasy Deck - 8 is filled with slot machines, one Craps table, one roulette table, and a few poker and blackjack tables. The casino was open while at sea. Closed while in ports. We were forced to avoid the casino most of the trip due of the very poor air quality resulting from cigarette smoke. Hint: you can get up to $2,000 in cash per day from the casino charged to your cruise card.

D. Spa
It is located aft on the Spa Deck-11. I enjoyed a one-hour body massage late one night when they were running a special.

E. Outdoor Pools and Hot Tubs
There are two pools amidships on the Marina Deck - 11, and a pair of hot tubs aft. We did not use the pool facilities.

F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra and pianist Paul Tosh were very good. Los Hernandez Trio was outstanding. Party Band Phoenix was good. The lead vocal of the “Kathy and Si Duo” was hard on the ears. Each performed in several venues.

G. In-room TV
There were a few of closed-circuit ship channels and satellite stations (namely ESPN, CNN, TBS, and a commercial-free channel showing select CBS programming) available on the TV in the cabin. A “front of the ship” cam channel allows you to watch our port arrival in your cabin. About a dozen free movies were also available daily on the TV. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well.

H. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service. We have used room service on prior cruises. They don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!

I. Discovery Shopping Show
It is suppose to be an opportunity to hear about the various shopping opportunities in each port. It’s actually a long infomercial for the vendors that pay the speaker to make baseless claims about their products. Amaze yourself as you listening to exaggerated claims about nonprecious stones which magically “appreciate in value 60% every 6 months” and how each port is THE place to buy a product, even if the last port or next port has a similar claim.

J. Art Auctions
This is a fairly interesting way to waste blocks of an hour or two on sea days. A lot of art goes up for auction. Very little is original paint on canvas. Most are numbered copies of original art pieces. Forgive me if I am a bit cynical when the auctioneer proclaims each piece a highly collectable piece of art that is sure to continue to appreciate. I am proud to have received not one, but two free 8x10 works of art “worth $100” each just for attending a couple of auctions. While the colorful pieces of cardboard are nice, the most I could get was a half-hearted bid of $5 from one of my tablemates at dinner. Oh, and be careful what you win in the raffles. Your “$500 work of art” will cost you either $35 for a cardboard mailing tube shipped to you or $235 and up to have it framed and shipped. (You can’t take most pieces off the ship with you). I almost think the auctions are a front for their framing business. Nonetheless, this can be an enjoyable diversion.

K. Liquor Tastings
Now these were downright fun. Every once and awhile there would be a liquor tasting in the onboard liquor store, usually around 4:00pm. The store is small so it gets crowded if a dozen folks or more show up. Everyone has an opportunity to taste most any liquor the ship carries (except obviously the really high priced bottles). It becomes a very social event. We were introduced to a couple liqueurs that were quite interesting, including a coffee and crème liqueur called Sheridan’s which we purchased. The tastings were often handled by Koral, a really talented and charismatic woman from Trinidad.

L. Monday Night Football
Monday Night football games were shown live in the Fleet Bar. Brats and Hotdogs were available but were inexplicably removed before halftime.

Part V - Parties
A. Cruise Critic Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. An invitation to the party, set for 9:30am on Saturday (our first day at sea) in the Fleet Bar (Marina Deck - 11) greeted us in our cabin upon arrival. At the appointed time we arrived at the Fleet Bar. In total, about 40 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other cruise critic members. Light refreshments were provided. Tuggers (a Cruise Critic member who was on a back-to-back cruise and providing very informative day-to-day postings online of the ship activity) organized a gift swap which was fun. Folks were asked to bring gifts that either represented their hometown or could be useful on the ship.

B. Captain's Club Parties
There is a party of some sort happening daily. These included a party for all Captain's Club Members, a party of Elite and Select Captain's Club Members, a Captain's Club Elegant Tea, a party celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and others. We did not make all of the parties. The Captain's Club events were well attended and top notch. Of note, we have been to events on other ships were you were basically limited to a few selected drinks. The bars at the Zenith’s Select and Elite Captain's Club cocktail party in the Fleet Bar was open wide --- there wasn't a drink we couldn't order.

C. Captain's Club Wine Blending Seminar
This is a really cool event which took place in the Caravelle Restaurant. A sommelier walks you through the finer points of wine growing and tasting, then, with the help of six white Kendall-Jackson wines allows you to craft different blended wines. This has traditionally been done with reds. We thoroughly enjoyed this event.

D. Wine and Food Pairing Seminar
$10 per person. We learned and experienced a good deal about pairing wines with food. We tasted two reds and two white wines with chicken, pesto chicken, tomatoes, cheese, olives, and chocolate. A very worthwhile event that is booked on a first come basis.

Part VI - Health Concerns
A. Smoking
There was no smoking in the restaurants, show lounge, Michael's Club, Library, or Card Room. Smoking was permitted in the night clubs, casino, outside, and the interior port side of the ship. The air circulation in the bars and especially the casino was generally poor. Therefore we generally avoided these areas. Although we are very sensitive to smoke, we could not detect any smoke smell in our cabin. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege. They had every right to smoke in various areas of the ship, and unfortunately they did. We would really like to see a non-smoking bar or two so that non-smokers could enjoy music and drinks too.

B. Pools and Hot Tubs
No concerns.

C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
In a word: impeccable. You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! A lot of bleach was used on the rails and left undiluted to dry. It caused some minor blistering of some passengers hands and can ruin clothes. While old, we did not witness any torn carpets or peeling paint. She really is in good shape.

D. Viruses
We did not personally know of anyone who got sick on this voyage despite numerous notes about the Novovirus problem and the ship’s attempts to control it. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence.

E. Seasickness
We had rough seas from Tampa to Grand Cayman and really rough seas from Key West to Tampa. A few passengers had a problem with sea sickness. I alternated a half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. I had no problems with seasickness or even queasiness until that return trip to Tampa. My wife had no problems at all.

Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship's Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew. Very friendly and competent. One of the bar servers, Magnolia, did an incredibly great job of keeping me fluid at dinner with as many as three glasses of Ginger Ale nightly. I asked for but one glass on the first night, and the rest arrived without comment.

B. Our Stateroom Attendant
He was very attentive. Kept the beds made and bathroom clean. Upon arrival we requested 24 wire hangers, and later we asked for an egg crate style foam mattress pad for the bed. The hangers arrived quickly, but no “egg crate” mattress pad could be located.

C. The Shops
Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. The booze prices on the ship were generally as good as, or better than, shops in the ports, and they will match any printed flyers you bring back from shore. Puerto Rico appeared to have had the best prices on the cruise.

D. Internet Service
There are 3 computers in the Library, and 4 more in the Celebrity Show Lounge. We did not use the internet service.

E. Kids
There were not more than a dozen or so kids on this ship. We did not witness any behavior problems.

F. Dress Code
Most men in the Main Seating wore a tux on Formal nights. Some wore coat and tie. Did not see any major violation of the dress code in the dining room.

G. Immigration
We went through immigration in Puerto Rico. Basically just got in a 5-minute line on the ship at our appointed time to show our passports and cruise cards to customs officials in the Celebrity Show Lounge. We felt this process was very well executed. In Puerto Rico we received an "exit pass" to disembark. We repeated the process in Key West. We had to stand in line about 20 minutes here. We also passed through customs upon disembarkation as we exited the terminal in Tampa. This was very fast.

Part VIII - The Ports
A. George Town, Grand Cayman
10:00am to 5:00pm. You have to tender at this port, which means securing a “tender ticket” for your chance to leave the ship in a lifeboat for a quick trip to shore. Hint: go down to the show lounge at least a 1/2-hour before the announced time to secure your tender tickets if you want to be among the first groups off the ship. Upon arrival, you wait in the show lounge (while CNN is displayed on the theater screen) until your group number is called. The groups were called two at a time and escorted to the tenders. Passengers with ship excursions have first priority on the tenders and they are further filled with non-excursion passengers from there. Approximately 100 passengers are loaded into each tender. It was a very short 5 minute ride to the shore.

We had prearranged with Native Way Watersports for their Rays, Reef and Rum Point Tour ($60/pp including lunch). Upon arrival we were informed the south wind and waves were to heavy to dock and Rum Point, so we only did the Stingray City Sandbar and Coral Reef Snorkel portions of the tour ($35/pp without lunch, or $40 pp if not arranged in advance). We did some shopping and returned to the pickup point at 11:30am to board a small bus. It took but 15 minutes to get to the marina where we boarded a boat. The trip to the sandbar took about 30 minutes. Our tour group consisted of 7 passengers and 3 crew. Once at the sandbar we had plenty of time to feed, pet, hold, and swim with the stingrays. About a dozen rays with 16” to 3’ wingspans greeted us. They would swim close by and brush the back of your legs with a wing. It is very exciting. Question: were we concerned that the stingrays might hurt us? Answer: never! These are very tame rays that have been in close contact with several hundred humans a day for the past several years. No worries. Next we headed to the Coral Reef where we snorkeled with fish and rays amongst the coral garden. 30 minutes later we were back in the marina. We recommend this excursion!

We tipped the crew and were back in town by 2:30pm. We were hungry so we checked out the new Margaritaville Cafe. A raspberry margarita and a basket of fries set us back $18 including tip. Won’t do that again. The menu prices were displayed in Cayman dollars which are worth 20% more than US dollars, and we didn’t realize it until the adjusted bill with itemized tip arrived. We bought gifts at the conveniently located Tortuga Rum Company. They have a very nicely bottled Tortuga Citrus Honey for $8. They will also arrange to get any liquor you purchase delivered to the ship for free. We bought a couple bottles of Margaritaville Island Lime/Tequila Liqueur for $11 each as gifts.

B. Montego Bay, Jamaica
8:00am to 5:00pm. We prearranged for a Black River Safari and Pelican Beach Bar Tour with A-Z Planners ($60/pp). Two other cruise critic couples joined us. The six of us were the first passengers off the ship and we met our driver Clive who was waiting for us in the pier terminal. The seven of us got into a van and headed for the Black River, a scenic 90 minutes away. About 30 minutes into our tour, we busted a wheel on one of the many potholes that plague the island streets. This necessitated a 40 minute wait for a backup van and we proceeded on our way. (We were very thankful that A-Z Planners had a good contengency plan). Upon arrival at the Black River, we boarded a canopied pontoon boat with 6 other passengers and our captain for a pleasant cruise around the Black River where we saw birds, alligators, and interesting floral and trees. While you can’t see to the bottom of the river due to the black peat moss floor, the water itself is very clear. One of our braver cruise mates took a cool swim in the river. We tipped the boat captain and headed across the river for lunch at Riverside Dock.

While lunch was downright excellent (I had Guava Jerk Chicken with rice and peas) it took about an hour to get it out of the kitchen. We split the lunch ticket six ways. Lunch ran $11 including tip per person and that included picking up lunch for our driver as well. Pelican Bay was a relatively short drive, where we boarded a seemingly unstable, though eminently seaworthy, fishing boat for a quarter-mile trip to the Pelican Beach Bar. The elevated stick and thatch bar is located on a sandbar in the middle of the ocean! It is a sight to be seen. Running short on time, we left the bar after a brief stay. It would have been nice to kick back a little and maybe swim some too. We stopped at a local IGA grocery store for some Blue Mountain Coffee ($J 1065/lb, about $US 14/lb) and other provisions and rushed back to the port. We arrived at 4:35pm in time to make our 4:45pm deadline. We recommend A-Z Planners and this tour.

C. Isle Catalina, Dominican Republic
7:00am - 5:00pm. Catalina is a small island off the south shore of Dominican Republic. Upon arrival, the first tenders (lifeboats and larger local catamarans) to shore carried provisions for the day’s activities. The first passenger tenders left at 8:20am. It was a quick 5 minute cruise to the dock where we were greeted by 8 local dancers and musicians. This was a VERY nice touch. Our large section of the island featured a beautiful white sand beach (about a half-mile expanse), palm trees, free beach chairs, and umbrellas. Snorkeling was available along the left side of the beach next to a 12-foot cliff. A BBQ lunch, featuring hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs, chicken, salads, fruits, deserts, and drinks, was served beginning at 11:30am. Large tents with picnic tables were provided. No host bars, beach volleyball, and nice bathroom facilities were available. A quarter-mile walk past the restrooms to the old pier found you amongst cactus, scrub brush, lizards and nice views of the beach and ship.

We were not bothered by locals selling trinkets unless you ventured past security into the shopping hut area. Shops, numbered 1 to 15, were located on the far right side of the beach. They were very aggressive. “Come inside. No charge for look. For you best prices today. You are my first sale today”.

Tropical music played throughout our stay. Snorkeling was uneventful but the water was very clear and comfortable. We returned to the ship at 2:10 and received a cold towel to refresh ourselves upon arrival. This was a free excursion and a very enjoyable day at that.

D. San Juan, Puerto Rico
7:00am - 6:00pm. The ship arrived before 6:30am. There was a notice in our cabin to report to the Show Lounge for Immigration Inspection with our SeaPass card and passport at an assigned time. It went quickly and efficiently. Upon exiting the lounge we were given a pass to exit the ship. We did not need to wait until the entire ship cleared inspection like on other trips, which is nice because there is always a handful of completely clueless folks that don’t bother to show up. This voyage was no different. After several announcements for everyone to go through immigration, they began calling the clueless passenger’s names and cabin numbers. We got off the ship at 9:00am, walked over to the capital building and then some shops. Most do not open until 10. At 10:00am we met up with a group from the ship and our tour leader “Bob”. We visited the two forts (highly recommended) on our last two recent cruises so decided to hoof around town with a group instead to see something new. We shopped Bacardi for liquor, visited a local grocery store, a church, a street café for a local draft beer, zigzagged the town, lunched at Parrot Club (my wife’s new favorite eatery in San Juan), a few shops, and hit up a local microbrewery for another draft beer and then some more liquor shopping at Bacardi before reboarding the ship. Bacardi was offering fee Rum Punch and Rum and Cokes at the terminal building so we helped them out by drinking one. Bacardi Liquors offered some of the best prices on liquor that we saw at any port. We brought back a price circular from Bacardi and the ship indeed matched the price on a bottle of liqueur we wanted to purchase.

E. Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
7:00am - 5:00pm. We berthed at Havensight. Although we arrived at 7:00am, we learned today that Celebrity will not make any general announcements to leave the ship until 8:00am. We and another couple were first off the ship at 7:10am. Our destination this trip was Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay on the Island of St. John for snorkeling. Despite what everyone at the pier will tell you (and they will lie to you), you can get local transportation for $2 per person in an open-air taxi to Red Hook to catch a ferry to Cruz Bay on St. John. Simply walk out of the Havensight pier main gate, cross the street, turn left and walk until you get to the Bus Stop (there is a pullover area) across from K-Mart and cross the street so that you are standing on the K-Mart side of the street. It is a leisurely 15-minute level walk. When you see an open-air taxi drive up, flag him down, tell him where you wish to go and enjoy the trip. The drive takes about 20 to 30 minutes each way depending upon traffic. The taxi will drop you off at the Red Hook ferry terminal. Pay upon exiting the taxi, go through the gates and hop on the ferry to St. John. We caught the 8:00am ferry and paid our $5.00/pp fare. Normally, you would pay at the booth prior to boarding. The very pretty ride across the bay runs about 15 minutes.

Upon arrival at Cruz Bay, St. John, we caught a 10-minute taxi ride ($6.00/pp) to Trunk Bay, stopping once along the way to take pictures of Trunk Bay from a picturesque spot along the road. We arrived at 8:30am which allowed us to get in free. Once the admission booth opens, it costs $4.00/pp to enter this beautiful white sand beach with clear waters, awesome views of islands and cays, nice facilities, and an underwater snorkeling trail. The snorkeling trail can be found on the right hand side of the beach. It begins on the far side of the little island and works its way around the island and ends on the closer side. The snorkeling is very good, with lots of fish and colorful coral. Including the four of us, there was a total of 7 people enjoying this beach from 8:30am to 10:15am when larger groups began arriving —– at which time we left and caught a $4/pp taxi for Cinnamon Bay. (Trunk Bay is now one of our top three Caribbean beaches).

Cinnamon Bay is part of a campground with good facilities, snorkeling equipment rentals, and kayak rentals. The beach is not as pretty as Trunk Bay but offers good snorkeling as well. Sea Turtles can be spotted here in the middle of the bay feeding on the sea grass, but we did not spot any this trip. We caught a taxi back to Cruz Bay ($7/pp) at 11:40am. We just missed the noon ferry so we ate lunch at High Tide Bar and Grill adjacent to the pier. We enjoyed the Virgin Island Pale Ale (a fruity beer made for distribution in St. John by a brewery in Maine), and especially liked the sweet mango salsa which accompanies the chips and salsa appetizer. We shopped until 1:45pm and bought tickets for the 2:00pm ferry, which was 30 minutes late arriving. A very large crowd anxiously waited in a long line in the hot sun on the pier. There was no problem getting everyone on the ferry. We arrived back in Red Hook at 2:40pm. Ignore the $7/pp taxis and wait for a $2.00 taxi again EXACTLY where it dropped you off. (Do not cross the street). We got dropped off a couple blocks closer to Havensight than the K-Mart where we picked up the taxi. St. Thomas is a major shopping destination. Havensight has a large number of shops convenient to the ship, however, the real shoppers head into Charlotte Amalie to do their shopping. It is very easy to get to St. John from the ship. We look forward to doing this excursion on our own again.

F. St. Johns, Antigua
7:00am—5:00pm. (Do not confuse St. Johns, Antigua for St. John, USVI). We prearranged an island tour with Lawrence of Antigua ($35/pp + $5/pp entrance fee to the national park). Since our tour was not expected to start until 10:30am, we walked around the pierside shops. The taxi drivers and vendors are very aggressive. You’ll be offered a taxi ride at least a dozen times. Souvenirs and food are very expensive here. No bargains to be found. Most local shops carry the same trinkets and shirts. The shops carrying original merchandise are even more expensive.

We met Lawrence and the rest of our small (10 people) tour group at the pier and headed for Lawrence’s beautiful air conditioned bus with comfortable seats and large windows. Lawrence gave us a wonderful guided tour of the island including English Harbor, the Nelson dockyard, Shirley Heights, and a rain forest. Free range goats and sheep roam the countryside, streets, yards, and high school athletic fields. We also saw donkeys, cattle, and mongoose. We had an option ($10/pp) to stay at Turner’s Beach, a pretty shell-sand beach on the Caribbean side of the island with a bar and grill, and changing facilities. Due to the heat, we opted to return to the ship. After dropping of 6 of us back at the ship, Lawrence returned to the beach to pickup the 4 that stayed. We recommend Lawrence’s tour.

G. Phillipsburg, St. Maarten
This island half owned by the French and half owned by the Dutch. We dock on the southern Dutch side. The northern French side (actually a little more than half) is named St. Martin. We shared a taxi ($6.00 per person when you have at least 6 people) from the pier to Orient Beach. Hint: if you only have 2 people, wait a few minutes for someone else to join you. We got dropped off at Pedro's Bar which was empty upon our arrival at 9:30 am but considerably busier when we left the beach at 1:30 pm. Hint: tell your driver when you wish to leave and he’ll be waiting for you at the prearranged time. We settled in at The Pirate Beach Bar and Grill, which we enjoyed on our last trip. We got two lounge chairs on the waterfront with a 3-inch-thick chair pad, an umbrella, and two drinks for $14.00. Service by was great. He'd check on us and reposition our umbrella to allow for more shade or sun as desired. We also enjoyed a couple of grilled grouper sandwiches with fries and slaw for $20 including tip.

Orient Beach is a beautiful white sand beach with blue and green waters. This is a clothing-optional beach, and yes, folks exercising this option do walk the length of the beach or sunbathe along the beach. This beach had everything available for a price: jet ski, parasail, windsurfing, and more. To our surprise, we discovered that Orient Beach also has some good snorkeling. Head for the dark reef area to the right of Pedro's (as you face the ocean) in front of the nude beach area. Schools of fish and a ray could be spotted. Taxi prices have risen since our last trip. It now takes parties of 6 or more to get the best pricing ($6/pp) to Orient Beach, Dawn Beach, and Marigot.

H. Road Town, Tortola, B.V.I.
7:00am—5:00pm. There is no need to prearrange any excursions here. Taxis line up at the pier to take you anywhere you want to go. Our sights were set on visiting Virgin Gorda, our favorite beach in the Caribbean. We got off the ship just after 8:00 am and walked 15 minutes to the red-roofed ferry terminal off to the left of the pier. Speedy's and Smith's both offer service to Virgin Gorda. Speedy's schedule allowed us more time on Virgin Gorda. So we caught the 9:00 am Speedy's ferry over and the 3:30 pm ferry back. Cost is $25 per person roundtrip, including roundtrip Speedy's Taxi service from the Virgin Gorda docks to The Baths. (You will not want to attempt to walk to The Baths from the dock). We opted to pay $10 more ($35/pp total) for the “Sun and Fun” package which also included lunch and rum punch at The Bath & Turtle.

We brought our mask and snorkel with us. Rentals are available at The Baths for $10 plus a $30 deposit. Sit upstairs in the open air seating atop the ferry to enjoy cool winds and great views. 30-35 minute ride each way followed by a 10-minute taxi to The Baths. There is a $3.00 (adults) and $2.00 (children) entrance fee to The Baths which are part of the BVU National Parks Trust. (Interestingly, there is no entrance fee if you arrive at the Baths by sea, which numerous private excursions seemed to do). A restaurant appropriately named “Top of the Baths” is nearby and offers incredible views of the surrounding islands. A 5-minute walk (350 yards in length) down to The Baths was rocky and uneven. At the bottom, single-use-only lockers can be rented for $2.50 each, via a token that can be purchased at the shop nearby. They are large enough to hold a beach bag or backpack. Tokens are also required if you wish to take a shower. The Baths are an incredibly fun experience. The Baths were really fun to explore. Highly recommend water shoes, a water camera, and a swimsuit. A beautiful beach with crystal clear waters awaits visitors on the other side of the rock maze. The water was nice and clear. Visibility was easily more than 50 feet!

Our taxi driver returned for us at 1:30pm, as agreed, to take us into town to eat. The Bath and Turtle Bar and Grill, located in a small strip mall with a dive shop, bank, and a few other shops, has little atmosphere but they make it up with good food and friendly service. Our coupon indicated that we could spend up to $10/pp, but our waitress allowed $12/pp which covers most items on the menu. We enjoyed our rum punch with a lunch platter consisting of a Caribbean Jerk Chicken sandwich, coleslaw and potato salad. We shopped a little after our leisurely lunch, then headed for the pier. The pier is a short 5-minute walk across a parking lot, past a small grocery store, and beyond an old partially-fenced park. Our ferry was already at the dock when we arrived at 3:00pm. We promptly boarded and departed on time at 3:30pm, arriving back in Road Town at 4:05pm. We had no problem getting back to the ship before the 4:45pm cutoff. Highly recommended!

I. Key West, Florida, USA
7:00am—1:00pm. We spent 30 minutes going through immigration since it ran late. We got off the ship at 8:00am. This was our third trip to Key West. Since we had already done most of the tourist stops on our prior trips, we opted to simply walk around the port and shop. Most shops do not open until 9:00am or 10:00am. We bought a shirt at Buffet’s Margaritaville (using a 20% coupon we found online) and visited Kino’s Sandals. We were back on the ship by noon for lunch and we departed at 1:00pm.

J. Days At Sea
We had four days at sea. One was rough. One was very rough. The other two were fairly calm. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea Days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. It also helped pace the cruise. We slept in late. You can also eat, play games, attend art auctions, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), watch movies in the room, attend shows, eat, nap, blackjack tournament, slots tournament, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, “Battle of the Sexes” ongoing trivia sessions, shuffleboard, ping-pong, darts, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, Bingo, eat, rum tasting, shopping, gambling, exercise, live entertainment... the list goes on!

K. Ships in Port
We had at most three ships in any port with us. Most ports were but one or two ships which was really nice. Visit CruiseCal.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise. Be careful about keeping your window shades closed when in port as the ships sometimes berth no more than 25-feet from each other and you can easily see the folks on the other ships. My wife got a shock as we were leaving St. Thomas. As my wife finished her shower and opened the bathroom door, she let our a shriek and quickly withdrew into the bathroom. Turns out we were passing another ship and a large number of passengers on the ship opposite us were out watching our departure, and she could see them waiving at us through the window!

Part IX - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. I say it's expected, but the ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers. They genuinely do everything they can to service your needs. We generally tipped better than the Celebrity guidelines, which are as follows for a party of two on an 14-day cruise: Waiter $98, Waiter's Assistant $56, Stateroom Attendant $98, Assistant Maitre'd $21, Assistant Chief Housekeeper $21, and additional tips for room service, bartenders (even though a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks) the Sommelier, Spa Personnel (note that they only tack on a 10% service charge) and any other personnel who you wish to tip. We also tipped Magnolia, our restaurant bar hostess. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. Early in the voyage, Celebrity gives you the option of charging all of the tips to your cruise account.

Part X - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a CC express line at Embarkation, priority Debarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts, casino and spa discounts, cocktail parties, free entrance into the wine-mixing seminar, a backstage tour, and a one cabin upgrade. (Some exclusions apply). The “Backstage Tour” of the Show Lounge is a very interesting and educational event. Your tour is conducted by one of the Celebrity dancers. Note that the Captain’s Club benefits have been declining for the past 3 years. The coupon booklet is now almost worthless. You have to spend money to get something of lesser value. Nothing in the coupon book is truly “free”.

Part XI - Debarkation and Customs
A. Debarkation
Room service was available, and breakfast was served in the Caravelle Restaurant and Windsurf Cafe. We ate in the Windsurf Cafe. Due to a late arrival, disembarkation was running about 75 minutes behind schedule which caused several passengers to miss morning flights. We had a morning flight which we rescheduled by phone with US Air while waiting on the ship. Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch plane and train connections or who were on escorted tours in Tampa had highest priority. Select and Elite members had elevated priority as well. Other Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Color-coded disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to attach the tags to their luggage and place them in the hallway for pickup before midnight the day before arrival. Debarkation was scheduled to begin at 8:15 am. All passengers were instructed to sit in specific public areas until their group color was called. Groups followed directions to exit the ship, clocking out with your sea pass one last time. Once you picked up your bags from the terminal, you declared your purchases by handing a Declaration slip to customs personnel and exited the terminal. Bags were arranged by color for easy retrieval in the terminal. Airport transportation includes bus service ($9.00/pp), Shuttle ($9.00/pp and faster than the busses), and taxis (look to the far left as you exit the terminal).

B. Customs
According to Celebrity, US citizens traveling to the Caribbean are permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 1 liter of alcohol per person. In the U.S. Virgin Islands (i.e. St. Thomas), travelers are allowed an additional $800 Duty Free exemption including up to 4 more liters of alcohol and 4 cartons of cigarettes per person. Since we traveled to both sets of islands on this cruise, we were permitted to take advantage of both allowances. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.

Part XII - Praises and Gripes
A. Praises
Zenith's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. The food was very good. The ship is well laid out, clean and in pretty good shape for its age. The terminal's personnel are also very nice and helpful. The Captain's Club events were top notch, especially the wine events.

B. Gripes
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about, although if you got any group of folks together, similar themes emerged: 1. While the photos were very professional and creative, the price of the photos was outrageous. I really don't understand the mentality of taking tons of pictures of passengers and then expecting us to pay a mint for each. We won't. 2. The ports of call Discovery Shopping talks were a waste of time and generally inaccurate. Claims were made (such as “Tortuga in Grand Cayman is THE cheapest place to buy liquor on this cruise”) which was simply not true in our experience. Guests were also promised enticements (like a free set of tanzanite earrings) just for attending the session, yet none were received. Obviously the trinkets were not of great value, but still an unfulfilled promise. Other guests complained about the treatment received at some of the “featured” vendors. One guest paid cash for a set of diamond earrings and they were taken into the back of the store to be boxed. Upon opening the box on the ship they found the earrings had been switched to a lesser set. In fairness, this was ultimately resolved, but it took two more ports before a sister store resolved the dispute. Lesson: Never pay cash, and do not let the purchase out of your sight. Check your purchase before leaving the store. 3. The ship cannot handle cigarette smoke. The exhaust systems in the ship are inadequate to clear air and it made the bars and casino uncomfortable for non-smokers.

Information is from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. The information presented is an opinion intended to assist travelers in preparing for their Eastern Caribbean cruise.

Since we do not have complete control over the "Ads by Google" appearing on this page, we do not directly endorse their sites or products. Please notify us if you find any of the advertisers to be misleading.
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Tips for First-time Western Caribbean Cruisers
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Celebrity Millennium and Four Eastern Caribbean Ports
Detailed information on the Celebrity Millennium and the ports of Dominican Republic, San Juan, St. Thomas, and Nassau

Tips for Southern Caribbean Cruisers
Detailed information on Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Tortola.

Feel free to contact me to correct any information in this article or to alert me to additional information one should consider.

© 2006 Topher
Updated 2019

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