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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman


Celebrity Cruises' GALAXY
San Juan/Galveston
October 25, 2004

by Randall R. Jinkins

This was our seventh cruise and our first cruise on Celebrity. Our previous six cruises were split; three on Carnival and three on Royal Caribbean. We are fairly new to cruising, having only started four years ago. We are self-employed business people in our mid-40’s. Our traveling companions are a couple, also self-employed and in their mid-40’s. This cruise was their fifth, also their first on Celebrity.

This cruise was a repositioning cruise, bringing Galaxy to Galveston from Baltimore, where she will do eleven and twelve night Panama Canal cruises from Galveston until early May, when she will move to Europe for the Summer and early Fall. She will then return to Galveston and run similar itineraries next winter.

We did a two-day pre-cruise in San Juan, which we had only visited as a port on an earlier cruise. We got a good price on a one-way ticket on Delta from Expedia and a good price on a hotel from Priceline. We had used Expedia before but had not used Priceline. We were very satisfied with both. We arrived around 8:30 PM and transferred to our hotel, The Radisson Ambassador, in Condado. Condado is an affluent area of San Juan. We arrived on Saturday night and it was lively. We walked to a local restaurant for dinner. The food was good but a little pricey. All our meals in San Juan were at local places, no chains, and very good. 

On Sunday, we decided to go to Old San Juan and visit the fort, El Morro. We enjoy history and the fort was just the trick. We spent several hours there. The United States Forestry Service operates the fort and they do a great job of keeping it up. We used the public transportation and it cost only $0.25 per person each way to and from Condado. On our previous stop in San Juan, we visited El Yunque, the only rainforest in the United States. It was also quite interesting. On Monday we got up and had breakfast before checking out of the hotel at 11:30 and heading for the ship.

Embarkation was a breeze. There are two piers in San Juan. The pier in Old San Juan is only for ships that are in port for the day while on cruises that do not originate in San Juan. The Pan American pier is for ships that originate cruises in San Juan. These piers are nowhere near each other. The Pan American pier is across San Juan Bay and is not near any of the tourist areas. It was about a 20-minute taxi ride from our hotel. We were some of the first passengers to arrive and there were no lines anywhere. We checked the manifest and found out what cabins we were in and proceeded to check-in. As there were no lines, we walked directly to the counter and within five minutes we were on board. We were given a note that the cabins would not be ready until 1:00 PM, so we proceeded to the buffet for lunch. While we were eating they announced that the cabins were ready. So, after lunch we made our way there.

We really liked everything about Galaxy. The warm wood throughout and the use of marble in the Grand Foyer, and other places really set the mood for cruising. We have sailed on some ships where the neon and bright colors were almost intrusive. There was none of that on Galaxy.

We had an Oceanview Stateroom on Deck Four. We had booked a Guarantee and got what we paid for. Our companions booked an Inside and were upgraded to an Oceanview. Both couples were happy with the cabins. The cabin was laid out nicely and actually seemed bigger than cabins on other ships. I don’t think the cabin was any bigger, just a better use of space. Our cabin had two closets for hanging clothes and around sixteen drawers for folded clothes and other items. Our luggage fit completely under the beds and took up no room in the cabin. The cabin had a safe behind the mirror along with several shelves for knick-knacks. The television was in an alcove built into the closet, so it took up no floor space. The cabin was clean and in good repair. Our Cabin Steward, Anthony, was amazing. He operated in complete stealth mode. We met him right after we boarded and only saw him once or twice the rest of the trip. He kept our portable cooler full of ice and cleaned our cabin twice a day. It seems that we would leave the room for a few minutes and the cabin was clean when we returned. The only complaint we had about the cabin was the bed. It was not very comfortable. Our pull out bed at home has a better mattress. Everything else was just right.

We requested early dining at a table with our traveling companions, but discovered that we were not seated with them. When we arrived at the Orion Restaurant on the first evening, we asked the Maitre d' if we could make arrangements to sit together and he put us at a table for four, which is what we preferred anyway. The Maitre d' was much more involved with the guests than on any cruise we have taken so far. He came by our table and talked with us every night. On some cruises we have taken you would only see the Maitre d' on lobster night and the last night of the cruise. He had close to one thousand people in the main seating and around eight hundred in the second seating. Yet, he noticed when two ladies at the table next to us were not at dinner and told them that he missed them the next evening. I thought that was classy. 

Our waiter was Ey Up from Turkey and his assistant was Tony from India. Ey Up learned our names and called us by name from the second night on. Both guys did a marvelous job. We are from Texas and enjoy beef dishes over fish or fowl. On Galaxy, they offer a New York strip every evening. It’s not on the menu every evening, but you can order it just the same. You can also get a shrimp cocktail or a Caesar salad every night if you like. We thought the food was some of the best we had on a cruise. It is on par with some of the better restaurants around. All of the beef dishes were well prepared and tasty. The fish and pasta dishes were also very good. The buffet was located in the Oasis Café. The selections there were typical buffet items but good. Breakfast is also served in both the dining room and the buffet area. There is a waffle station and two omelet stations. Both the waffles and the omelets were very good. The area where the waffle station is located is turned into a pizza buffet during the day. There is also an Oasis Grill that serves burgers and hot dogs during the day. There is no buffet during dinner. A part of the Oasis Café is turned into the casual dining venue for dinner.

Celebrity has not been known for its entertainment but we thought the entertainment was good. The troupe of singers and dancers put on three shows during the week and all were good. This troupe had only been on Galaxy for three weeks and were working on an additional show for the eleven and twelve day cruises that Galaxy will be doing from Galveston. There were comedians on two nights and they were funny without being vulgar. On a couple of Carnival cruises, the comedians were so vulgar that people actually walked out. We thought that the singers were very good and there was a couple that performed ballet that was awesome. The last show incorporated an acrobat and she was very good as well. Celebrity has just entered into a contract with Cirque de Soleil. They will be doing shows on select ships and that should be a treat. I’ve never watched them in person but my son and his wife have and they enjoyed them immensely.

Celebrity offers all of the little extra entertainment that is offered on Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but they don’t inundate you with announcements about them. My wife likes to play Bingo, but I don’t care about hearing the Assistant Cruise Director “hawking” it on the intercom every fifteen minutes. On Celebrity, if you want to play Bingo or see the ice carving display or participate in line dancing, etc., just find it in your daily guide and show up. You won’t hear announcements over the intercom begging you to come. I can’t tell you how much more enjoyable that made the whole cruise experience.

When we booked our cruise, the ship was supposed to port in Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel, Mexico. Somewhere along the way the itinerary was changed to Oranjestad, Aruba, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, and Cozumel, Mexico. Mother Nature decided to delete Grand Cayman from our itinerary. We watched the Internet daily for updates on our itinerary but discovered nothing. Celebrity told us that we would have an extra day at sea instead of another port. We had been hoping for Belize, but that didn’t happen. When we boarded we were told that we would be stopping in Casa de Campo after all and that we would spend some extra time in Aruba.

Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic – We had never been to the Dominican Republic before and were excited about stopping there. A word to the wise, if you don’t golf or scuba dive– don’t go. I have never been so disappointed with a port in all my life. The Dominican Republic shares an island with Haiti. Political unrest is evident everywhere except the resort areas. We had not booked any excursions because we like to book on our own and not through the ship. We took the free shuttle to the two tourist resorts that the ship recommended and were not impressed. If you like tourist areas, you will enjoy it. We may as well have been shopping on board. You are warned repeatedly not to venture out on your own and with good reason. My wife and our traveling companions decided to take a taxi into the small town that was near the pier. Instead of taking a taxi, they had to hire a taxi. That was their only option. The driver stayed with them the entire time and, again, with good reason. They saw a man with a pistol, another man with a rifle and another man with a shotgun in the streets. Had I known, I wouldn’t have let my wife off the ship. The driver asked what they were looking for and took them to a couple of places where they could get those items. He bargained for them to get the best price. They do have one of the better golf courses around, The Teeth of the Dog, and some excellent scuba diving. As far as a cruise port, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Oranjestad, Aruba
– We had never been to Aruba before and were also excited about visiting there. We scuba dive and usually make arrangements in advance with local dive shops. The cruise ships have most of the dive shops locked up and they will not take a cruise passenger unless they book onboard. I searched for weeks before I found a dive master who would take us on a private dive. The two guys wanted to dive and our wives wanted to snorkel. Its hard to find an excursion onboard where you can do that together. If you do it will be expensive. I finally contacted a dive master, Raoul du Puy, who would do a private trip for us. I can get you his email on request. Raoul is an elementary teacher. School lets out at 1:00 PM, (13:00), local time. He picked us up at the pier at 1:30PM, (13:30), and took us to his shop where he outfitted us with the equipment that we didn’t bring. The dive site was a short drive from his shop. Red Sail Sports, the dive shop that the ship used, was diving nearby. Aruba must be the Brain Coral capital of the world. I have never seen so much in any one place. The fish were abundant but small. The girls followed us on the surface and all of us had a great time. We took the cheap underwater box cameras and got some great photos. Raoul drove us back to the pier and the girls shopped before boarding for dinner. I highly recommend Raoul to any small group.

Cozumel, Mexico – What can you say? Cozumel is Cozumel. We have been to Cozumel many times, either as a vacation stop or as a cruise port. We had planned on going to Chankanaab Park and making a day of it but heard of a shallow dive just down from the cruise pier that caught our attention. There is a sunken airplane that was used in a 1964 James Bond movie that we thought would be interesting. We found a tour host named Johnson Castillo who offered a tour there. Again, I can get Johnson email on request. We had thought about diving there with the girls following us on the surface and then trying to find something interesting to do. Johnson fixed us up with everything. We had thought about parasailing but the ship wanted $89 per person for their excursion. Johnson lined us up with Sand Dollar Sports for $60 per person. He arranged the diving and snorkeling, including a dive master for a total of $92 for the group. The ship wanted $55 per person just for the diving. We were the only ones in our group. We prefer small groups and despise cattle boats. The diving was great for a shallow dive. The fish were bigger than those in Aruba. There was a huge starfish right off the pier. We had been in the water about five minutes when an enormous Eagle Ray swam right up to where we were. It had a wingspan of probably five feet or better. The three Remora that were underneath the ray were probably three feet in length. It was an awesome sight. The ray circled us for over five minutes. We got some good shots of it from below and the girls got some good shots from the surface. The airplane has taken some damage from hurricanes but is still mostly intact. On our swim back we spotted a barracuda that was about four feet long. The girls, thankfully, did not see it. All in all, a good dive. We saw everything from a seahorse to a five-foot Eagle Ray. 

The only down side was that my dive buddy stepped on an urchin as he was taking his fins off to get out of the water. He was told to urinate on it, which he did not. I had some Purell anti-bacterial hand wash with aloe. He rubbed his foot down with that several times and, much to our surprise, it never swelled. Sand Dollar picked us up right where we scuba dove. The girls went tandem. The guys went solo. It was great. We were up about 450’ for around twelve minutes. We were the only ones on the boat and got some great pictures. We went back to the ship to get my buddy off his feet. The girls and I came back to do a little shopping before we had to be back on board. Cozumel is always a great port and you can always find something to do on your own.

Days at Sea
– The days at sea were relaxing. Announcements were at a minimum. The girls played Bingo. My wife won twice and her buddy won once. My wife also won three door prizes. There were lots of activities. I chose the computer classes, as they were offing Adobe Photoshop Elements and this is a program that I use every day in my work. The classes were good and I learned a few things about the program that I didn’t know. I tried to get my wife to go to the acupuncturist, but she declined. One of her door prizes was a facial in the spa. She enjoyed it very much. Of course they tried to sell her some other services, but they weren’t pushy like on some other ships.

Disembarkation – Galveston, Texas – Of course everyone hates disembarkation because they know that the vacation is coming to an end. This cruise was especially hard to leave. We had been treated famously for seven days and knew that the real world awaited us just beyond the gangway. We are from Texas and would be driving home from the port and, because we had no flight, we were some of the last to get off the ship. The ship arrived in Galveston to a torrential downpour. The pier is undergoing renovations which are not complete. The pier will be nice when renovations are done. We had to disembark through a maze of uncovered walkways to get to the luggage area. Celebrity offered umbrellas as you left the ship but mine was too wide for the walkway. I gave up and just got wet. I wouldn’t have gotten so wet, but the couple in front of me was elderly and a little slow. The walkway was narrow and I couldn’t pass. None of this is Celebrity’s fault. If the sun had been shining, the experience would have been fine. 

We found our luggage with no problems and then I tried to hail a taxi to go get the vehicle. We have sailed from Galveston several times and this is a point of contention that I have always had. You have passengers going and coming from the same area and there are not enough taxis to go around. This may be a common occurrence at other ports; I am just not familiar with them. Add the rain and you have a disaster. I finally suggested to the pier staff that several of us could take a single taxi van and we could all get out of there quicker which she did. She hailed a van and I shared it with three families. My vehicle was only about six blocks away and I was the first to be dropped off. Within ten minutes, I was back at the pier and loaded and on the way home.

We enjoyed our Galaxy cruise immensely. It is now our favorite ship of those we have sailed. A few observations about Celebrity... first, the crowd is generally older and more subdued, which is fine with us. We have done the Carnival-kids running wild thing and didn’t like it much. Secondly, Celebrity keeps the announcements to a minimum, which is fine with us. We know what we want to do and can find those things in the daily program. Thirdly, Celebrity does not try to entertain you 24 hours a day. This, too, is fine with us. We don’t require 24-hour entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to do, but you’re not bombarded with it 24 hours a day.