Celebrity Century Cruise Review by willden
- Sail Date: March 2015
- Destination: Asia
- Cabin Type: Concierge Class
Notwithstanding some serious misgivings we had about certain aspects of the cruise discussed later in the review, we thoroughly enjoyed our adventure to the sub-continent. The good stuff quite definitively out-weighed any perceived shortcomings.
The crew: We thought the crew from senior officers through to pool butlers, stateroom attendants, wine stewards, waiters etc., to be outstanding and one of the best crews we have experienced on any of our previous cruises. The Master of the ship Captain George Iatrou and his highly visible officers clearly lead by example. Virtually all the crew we encountered were invariably polite, cheerful, accommodating and efficient always being prepared to “go the extra mile” with a smile.
The ship: We were pleasantly surprised at the overall condition of the Century. From reports we had perused we had expected her to be somewhat rundown and dilapidated. However, while she obviously showed signs of her age we found her to be pretty well maintained, scrupulously clean and possessing of a refined ambience that one seldom finds on the more modern, glitzy cruise ships.
Food: Quality, variety and presentation of food in all the restaurants on board was more than satisfactory. We had only two relatively poor dining experiences throughout the two week cruise and generally found the standard of fare on offer to be good to very good with some exceptional meals.
Fellow passengers: We met and enjoyed the company of many wonderful people on board from a number of countries including Canada, Britain, Australia, Germany and the USA, especially during the nightly Elite member “happy hour”. The mix of passengers both in terms of ethnicity and age was broader and more diverse than we have experienced in most of our cruises.
The weather: Not one bad day during the entire two week cruise! Generally flat seas, long warm to hot days and virtually no precipitation. The heat and humidity was oppressive at times especially in Goa and Oman but who’s complaining!
Embarkation/disembarkation: Both embarkation and disembarkation procedures were smooth and efficient. We arrived at the cruise terminal in Singapore shortly after 11h00 and were on board quaffing a welcoming glass of champagne twenty minutes later. We disembarked quite late in the process so did not experience any congestion at the arrivals terminal at all.
Indian immigration system: The mindless bureaucracy of the Indian immigration authorities and the complex, repetitive, paper driven immigration system were mind boggling. Apart from already having to acquire a costly visa, the authorities also required each passenger to complete documentation for individual shore passes for each of the four ports on the Indian itinerary – an irritatingly laborious, time-consuming and shambolic procedure. A copy of the passport had to be affixed to each individual shore pass and on two occasions, passengers had to line up for a face to face inspection by the immigration authorities before being allowed on shore. This in addition to having to produce the Celebrity SeaPass which is accepted by immigration authorities in virtually all other places we have visited worldwide!
Then, to compound matters, all documentation had to be checked again at the port entry/exit point. In Mangalore this incredibly entailed a uniformed immigration officer actually manually writing down each person’s passport details which presumably had to be reconciled manually on return to the ship. Who designed this process? And what earthly purpose can it possibly hope to achieve?
India is one of the most technologically savvy nations on earth and, even if the authorities could see some value in the complex system they have installed, one would have thought in this technological age, that a simple software programme could be devised and installed to at least remove the endless paperwork from the system. In the private sector companies have been forced to question the purpose and validity of all their systems and to re-engineer and simplify those that are deemed to be essential in order to remain relevant and competitive. This is the antithesis of the Indian immigration process.
We had been previously informed that India had inherited bureaucracy from their previous colonial masters the British. Given the pointless stupidity of the immigration system that passengers had to endure on this trip, it is clear India has taken bureaucratic complexity to a new level!
The convoluted immigration process is a major inconvenience and disincentive to visitors to India which should be doing everything it can to encourage more tourists to its shores. India has until only recently become a cruising destination and quite frankly we feel the cruise companies should advise the Indian authorities that unless they are willing to simplify and make their immigration process less onerous on the cruising tourist, they will seriously reconsider retaining India as a cruise ship destination of choice.
Ports information: Information on the ports visited was minimal and in some cases inaccurate. Ship shore excursions were, to our mind, pushed far too aggressively with virtually no alternative information being offered to help passengers to tour on their own. The docking location in many of the ports visited also necessitated taking a shuttle or taxi to get to the downtown areas. It appeared that Celebrity made no effort to lay on appropriate shuttle facilities notwithstanding the remote location of the docking pier to the actual port of call in most instances. If India is to remain a cruise destination, cruise ship companies need to seriously investigate alternative, more accessible cruise ports to visit.
Indian ports: Apart from Mumbai which we thought was an impressive city, we were disappointed in the other ports visited on the Indian leg of the cruise.
We did a ship excursion in Cochin that included a ferry ride to the unique fishing nets as the highlight but was largely a waste of time as we had better views of the nets on the sail in to the port earlier that morning!
In Mangalore we opted to do our own thing as none of the ship’s excursions seemed that appealing. We took a taxi to downtown Mangalore – absolutely disgusting and filthy. Damaged and overgrown sidewalks with stinking litter and garbage strewn about everywhere. Amazingly, one of the ship’s excursions was “Downtown Mangalore on your own”! We frankly question whether anyone from Celebrity’s management had actually taken the time to visit downtown Mangalore. Had they done so they surely could not have marketed this as a recommended shore excursion?
The highlight of our Mangalore experience was a hair raising, white knuckle tuk-tuk ride back to the ship where our driver literally raced another tuk-tuk through the congested, pothole ridden street at high speed. Although potentially dangerous we somehow felt relatively safe throughout the journey. Quite an exhilarating experience!
We shared a taxi with a delightful Australian couple for a private tour of Goa which included visits to a couple of churches (that we could not visit internally as Palm Sunday services were underway during the time of our visit), plus a ride through the relatively bland countryside to visit some of Goa’s amazing beaches. We were impressed with the potential of Goa – with a bit of entrepreneurial vision and of course a large cash investment, Goa could, in our view, easily become a tropical paradise that could compete with Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Caribbean.
Mumbai was really impressive and interesting. The ship’s excursion, where we had an exceptionally knowledgeable tour guide, gave us a good insight into the city, its history and customs. Visits to the Gandhi museum, and exposure to the incredible “lunchbox” delivery service (that amazingly achieves six sigma status) and the unique laundry facility were notable highlights.
Although admittedly, we only had a snapshot of India, nothing prepared us for the squalor, filth, litter, poverty and environmental degradation in the ports and cities we visited, with the possible exception of the city of Mumbai. Downtown areas of the ports included in this itinerary (apart from Mumbai) had very little to offer making it almost mandatory to take a costly ship excursion or private tour to see the sights in the immediate hinterland and even then, if our taxi tour of the Goa area is anything to go by, is equally depressing from an environmental sustainability perspective
Overall, we enjoyed the cruise immensely. The cruise days were relaxing especially the four days at the commencement of the cruise that allowed us to unwind before taking on the rigours of India! While we were appalled at the abject poverty and squalor of many places in India, we were nonetheless humbled by the experience of visiting this vast, culturally diverse land and amazed by the resolve, fortitude and spirit of its people despite the conditions under which many of them live.
After the cruise we spent a further four days in Dubai experiencing this wonder of the modern world. Initial impressions of the city are breath-taking. It is hard to imagine that Dubai itself was an underdevelopment minor settlement in the barren desert until oil was discovered in the region less than fifty years ago. Since then the development of Dubai has been rapid and massive. We were overawed by the splendour and architectural diversity of the massive skyscrapers that adorn its impressive skyline and by the engineering ingenuity of many of its manmade marvels such as the Palm Jumeirah, the Marina and the towering Burj Khalifa. Development seems to have no bounds and shortly before we left Dubai the Prime Minister announced a further AED 14 billion was to be injected into new developments in the next five years. The sheer over the top opulence of the city was indeed something of a culture shock after the poverty we were exposed to in India.
Yet, despite the magnificence of its architecture and structures we were left with the impression that the monument to capitalist excesses modern Dubai represents somehow lacked soul. We much preferred the old part of the city where our hotel was situated overlooking the Deira Creek.
Getting around Dubai is easy with their extensive system of buses, taxis, subways, monorails and water taxis. However, as this was our first time in Dubai we opted for one of the two Hop-on, Hop-off buses to get a feel for the city. Our two day ticket gave us access to all four routes the system offers enabling us to visit most of the major highlights of both the old city and newer Dubai such as the gold, spice and textile souks, many of their huge malls (Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates), the Dubai fountain and Burj Khalifa precinct, the magic Garden, Marina and Palm Jumeirah areas and the Dubai Museum.
We also did the obligatory cruise of the Deira Creek and a desert safari that included an exciting dune bashing experience followed by a traditional dinner in a canned so-called Bedouin camp. Interesting but a bit too commercialised to our liking.
All in all a great vacation. We had always had India and Dubai on our bucket list so we can now tick off a few more boxes. As Dubai is a convenient transport hub for us South Africans, we will probably visit Dubai again. We may not be so enthusiastic to revisit India but it was an experience we are glad we have been able to undertake. It has certainly given us a new perspective on some of the similar issues we face in southern Africa.
A final note. We were saddened to learn that the Chinese consortium that has bought the Century apparently intends to convert this beautiful ship into a floating casino. This is a travesty. The Century frankly deserves a more dignified retirement!
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