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Cruise Ship Review

Celebrity Century - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Even as Celebrity is boldly moving forward with the construction of the fleet's enormous new 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Solstice-class ships (second in size only to sister line Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships), the company's recent $55 million makeover of Century heralds a new initiative, too.

Widely thought to be a test case for the line -- the success of Century's massive refurbishment will determine whether its siblings Mercury and Galaxy get a new life as well -- this ship returned from five-week dry-dock in early June 2006 with 314 new verandahs.

Other new features include the addition of 14 suites and 10 more standard cabins (ranging from inside to verandah); expansion of Celebrity's ConciergeClass concept; and the introduction of Murano, a new specialty restaurant in the tradition of the Millennium-class' elegant alternative eateries. The existing AquaSpa was completely gutted and re-designed, and it's beautiful, one of the most serene spas in cruise-dom. It too got some new features; most notably the industry's first treatment room for folks with disabilities; the line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe (on other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area); a barber shop for men; and a separate but adjacent home for the fleet's burgeoning Acupuncture at Sea program.

All over the ship, public rooms have been spiffed up, with gorgeous, lush window treatments and fanciful new carpets. The Martini Bar (also dubbed the ice bar for its shivery color scheme) is easily the most popular lounge onboard -- the only shame is that the room is simply too small to handle the demand. The Islands' Cafe, located on the aft section of the Lido, has gotten the refurbishment treatment and serves as the ship's casual yet elegant restaurant at night (it abuts the exotic sushi cafe, which opens at 6 p.m. and is a favorite onboard). The teens have X-treme, their own dedicated hang-out, and the Fun Factory for the younger set has been expanded as a result of the removal of six passenger cabins.

Ultimately, one of the most pleasant new touches is the updating and upgrading of staterooms. Whether inside, outside, verandah or ConciergeClass, the standard staterooms are boutique hotel chic. Instead of simply sticking a new piece of art on the wall and changing bedding, designers have actually given these cabins a whole new vibe. Oak panels cover most of the walls and create an inset into which a new flat-screen television fits perfectly. Above the bed, a dark wood cabinet fixture -- centered by an intriguingly abstract tropical mural in warm colors -- offers a splash of joie de vivre. Bathrooms have the now-popular raised basins.

The refurbishment of Celebrity's Century certainly raises the profile of this 11-year old ship. And it now measures up to the more design-forward vessels of today's contemporary era (save, perhaps, for the casino; while it got new curtains and carpet, and have begun to offer the newer table games, its machines are amusingly of the original Century).

And while a ship of this size can't always compete with its bigger (but not necessarily better, mind you!) counterparts, where Century can excel is in offering a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (from private balconies to alternative dining) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels.

To that end, consistency of service on Century is key, and on our trip it wobbled. In some cases, it was excellent -- the staff of Murano is top-notch, the shore excursion department ran the smoothest operation I've encountered, and Celebrity's trademark Michael's Pub is still our favorite cozy bar, in large part because of the sweet (if oft-overwhelmed) bartender who took lovely care of all the patrons.

In other cases, service was so bad it bordered on ridiculous. Being seated alone and largely ignored at a table for six in the Grand Dining Room on the first formal night -- one in which the maitre 'd already knew that fellow tablemates were dining elsewhere that evening -- was an inexcusable lapse. And too many times, staffers -- mostly in the food and beverage area, from the main dining room to the Martini Bar -- ignored patrons, seemingly deigning to take a drink order or proffer a plate at the buffet. Cabin stewards you passed in the hallways looked at the floor rather than greet the passenger. These incidents were off-putting and unsettling.

If Celebrity can fix the service issues, Century is a ship that this fan of mid-sized vessels would return to in a heartbeat. Fail to address them? Then the home court advantage that this ship should enjoy via a size that encourages warmth and intimacy, will fail to materialize. Even with the fabulous new look.

Dining

The Grand, Century's sprawling, two-story dining room, is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and then offers two seatings for dinner at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

The cuisine offers a terrific blend -- particularly at dinner -- of both standards and, if you're feeling more adventurous, more exotic fare. Menus didn't particularly hew to our itinerary, but the emphasis on classic French cuisine with a down-home touch was consistently pleasing.

The dining room itself is very sparely decorated -- the eye candy in The Grand is its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's aft. It must be said though that it's a brilliant design. Beyond the magnificent sunsets at night -- the view lets you never forget you're on a cruise ship.

Service in The Grand was inconsistent. Presumably, once you settle in with an established table and tablemates at dinner, the waitstaff will be more personable. During lunch and breakfast, waitstaff typically was disinterested and a bit curt.

A note about seating: tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots (at the handful of breakfasts and lunches I was always seated in the midst of a waiter's station -- even when the restaurant was relatively empty -- or behind a covered up piano, which basically blocked the view of the grand window). Most tables were for six and eight with a sprinkling for larger groups.

Frankly, there were more pleasing places to dine on Century. The newly designed lido has been renamed "Casual Dining Boulevard" and offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Center (basically just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) was dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it was a great place for a before-dinner snack (taken out onto the aft deck's Sunset Bar -- bliss).

Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 - 5 p.m. (and also at The Grand).

Don't miss the fabulous Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 - 10 p.m., it's located at the very end of the "boulevard," right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste (and perhaps makes for a slightly healthier pre-dinner snack), and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.

Just beyond the "Boulevard" is a grill -- open during the expansive hours between lunch and late dinner -- offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day.

At night, a portion of the Lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which basically takes the casual out of dining), and the venue is so popular we had a hard time getting a table! The menu is basic -- we had a delicious roast chicken with mashed potatoes, simple and lovely. And you don't have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.

The Cova Cafe on Deck 6 is every bit as charmingly Milanese as those found on Celebrity's Millennium-class ships. Often there's live music (of the soothing, classical variety), and the buttercup-yellow linen clothes and wall mural exude a note of elegance. On my trip, Cova Cafe was open from 8:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., and frankly, it would have been nice if it could have started serving even earlier for those folks in a hurry to make a shore excursion. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There's a wine tasting some nights between 6 - 8:30 p.m. for a small extra fee.

And as lovely as the Cova Cafe is in the daytime, we loved it at night as well -- sipping a glass of wine and watching the parade of passengers pass by.

I've saved the best options for last. One of the major new additions to Century following its refurbishment is the creation, out of what was extra space in the plaza on Deck 5, of Murano, the cozy (only 66 seats) alternative restaurant. Contrary to those Millennium-class restaurants that hark back to traditional cruising in ambience, Murano was sleek and contemporary in a way that reminded me of swishy 1940's flicks. It's all white with glittering Murano chandeliers and candles. A harpist plays gently throughout the meal.

There's a stiff $30 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano's and trust me when I say it's worth every nickel, all 600 of them. Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional (it gets even better as people inevitably return again and again -- one couple on my cruise actually booked a table at Murano for every night), and the tableside dining was as much fun as participating on something like "The Rachael Ray Show!"

Murano has two menus. The first is a four course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts off with an appetizer (lobster bisque vs. goat cheese souffle vs. foie gras, oh my!), moves on to an entree (the rack of lamb en croute was superb), and then to dessert (for me the only possible choice was the Grand Marnier souffle). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you're not as stuffed as you'd think. Not being a huge cheese aficionado, the presentation via a rolled cart with a variety of choices from soft to hard and gentle to savory, was fascinating anyway, and with the slightest display of interest, the waiter will happily plunge into a wealth of tidbits and recommendations. They'll also make superb recommendations about which liqueur to pair with your selections.

There is no extra charge for this Murano experience (aside from your drinks), though I did tip additionally.

Culinary adventurers can also opt for the "exceptionale" menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they're pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). This time, we started off with the lobster bisque, then foie gras or goat cheese souffle, the lamb or sole stuffed with lobster mousse, then cheese, then dessert. The significant difference is that the restaurant sommelier pairs a different glass of wine with each course. The foie gras with a Sauternes, instead of the South African chardonnay that had accompanied it on my other, "regular menu" visit, transformed the dish from fabulous to mind-blowing. Also lovely was the Tokai, a Hungarian after-dinner wine that was matched to the Grand Marnier souffle. The wines are included in the $100 per person tariff; a 15 percent (or $15) service fee for Murano was an added charge and it's in lieu of the usual $30 fee.

Quite the contrast is the ship's Spa Cafe. Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it's the best in the Celebrity fleet, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It's operated by the chefs and waitstaff of Murano -- a major plus -- and it was nice to be recognized and greeted warmly on each foray, along with a "will we see you tonight?"

On a cruise that featured an ultra intensive itinerary, room service was a godsend, whether at 5 a.m. before my Moscow shore excursion or even at 1 a.m. when I returned! Definitely, my third favorite way to dine on Celebrity Century was via in-cabin service. Prompt, efficient and featuring a menu that ranged from the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see -- sandwiches, salads, burgers -- you could also order from dining room menus at lunch and dinner.

Service was consistently lovely. The first morning I'd put the wrong cabin number on my hang-tag and the earnest pantry assistant in charge of delivery tried three different cabins before finding mine. I appreciated the effort (and tipped her well for it)!

And, one of the boons of booking a ConciergeClub cabin -- in fact that absolute best reason to do so -- is that its balcony furniture features a dining table for two. Blessed with gorgeous weather, we ate as many meals outside as possible.

One note of warning to weight-watchers: The pastry chef on Century is so talented that you'll find it very difficult to bypass the desserts (the decadent "double chocolate seduction" and, from the dining room, the white cake/cream/coconut concoction with fudge syrup were most dangerous, as were rolls and breads).

There are specialized options for vegetarians and kids, and each menu includes "lean and light" suggestions. Passengers with special dietary needs, such as diabetic, low-sodium, low-fat, and kosher, should alert the line at least 15 days in advance of sailing.

Public Rooms

As expected on a ship this size, Celebrity's three-deck high "plaza" communicates the intimate, rather than grand. Deck 5 is pretty much devoted to the business of your holiday -- with its excursion and purser's desks, and the concierge station. The latter, also a service available to all, proved to be quite helpful to a number of folks. I was eavesdropping when the concierge was helping one lady, concerned that her credit card company had declined her charges. First she figured out the nature of the problem (hint: it's helpful, if you don't travel often, to give your bank a heads up beforehand or they'll assume the charges are fraud-related, which was the case in this situation), then provided the number of her bank and actually put through the call.

Murano is located on this deck as well, and there's a very strange shop that sells ultra-luxury goods; it was empty nearly every time I passed it.

Decks 6 and 7, the Promenade and Entertainment respectively, are the main gathering places for inside the ship fun. On Deck 6, the anchor is the Cova Cafe; off to various sides include a card room, a generous library (that actually spills over into the game room), Online@Celebrity Internet stations, and a conference room that also serves as a cinema and lecture facility.

The Entertainment Deck starts with a handful of shops as its focal point. While the merchandise ranged from the usual duty free and souvenir items you find on most ships, we were pleased to note that they also carried itinerary-specific fashions and collectibles; for the Baltic, this represented a range that veered from Russian nesting dolls to gorgeous Norwegian wool sweaters. This was one area of the ship, however, that noticeably hadn't received much attention during the refurbishment; it was rather cramped and almost impossible to navigate when passengers were moving between the Grand Restaurant and the Celebrity Theater.

Also on this deck is Celebrity's High Seas Computing classroom, with rows of terminals and a variety of workshops; options ranged from Adobe Photoshop to Web site design, and from basic Introduction to Windows to Microsoft Excel. Classes are $20 apiece.

While the computer stations here aren't typically available to passengers, there are Internet-connected machines scattered in various places -- there's a group right next door, as a matter of fact, and wireless capability exists, though it is temperamental. The price is fairly high these days for cruise ships -- 75 cents per minute -- though packages can reduce the per-minute charge to 50 cents.

Cabins

As mentioned in the introduction, the cabins -- whether inside or the Royal Suites -- received a major makeover and truly represented a lovely blend of comfort and contemporary style.

All cabins, from insides on up, feature new mattresses, soft Egyptian cotton linens and duvets, flat-screen televisions with cable channels and movies-on-request ($12 apiece, incidentally), new lighting fixtures and furnishings and wireless Internet access. There are colorful plush pillows and lush window treatments (outsides on up) that are actually functional and attractive, closing perfectly to create a dark room during daylight (a blessing on our midnight sun Baltic itinerary). A nice touch are the small, individual lamps attached to the walls above the bed allowing one person to read without disturbing the other.

Standard sized cabins (this includes insides, outsides, and those with balconies) are, at 175 square ft., on the small side of industry average. But they were brilliantly decorated and outfitted to maximize space. The shower-only bathrooms in these staterooms have been a bit controversial -- traditional sinks have been replaced with far more trendy raised bowls. I loved the look, but there were some complaints that the bowls were too shallow and the water would splash back out. But I have to say, I loved the roomy shower; it was twice the length of those found on new ships.

The balconies measure about 44 square ft.

Century has a handful of unique special cabins that are newly added; called "sunset verandah staterooms," they're located on the aft, above the white canvas sail-like tent that hangs over the Sunset Bar.

And, like the rest of the fleet, Century has ConciergeClass cabins. Though much the same as the standard balcony staterooms in many ways, these entitle passengers to a few extra perks. Those that stood out -- and made it worth the extra cost of a regular verandah stateroom -- included the Frette bathrobes, fresh flowers (we loved the neat stem-by-stem vase), daily hors d'oeuvres and the aforementioned balcony furnishings that featured a table for dining. The best thing? Passengers in these accommodations can order from a special ConciergeClass breakfast menu where options include the usual Continental fare with a big plus! Pancakes, omelettes, eggs-to-order, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cold cuts were terrific, but even better were some of the ConciergeClass "signature" dishes, such as granola berry parfait, baked bananas and Russian Sevruga caviar (alas, the latter was priced a la carte and cost $44.50). The smoothies were delicious (blueberry-watermelon was a favorite). Also falling in the "very special but it will cost you" category were drinks, like mimosa, bloody mary and champagne. Nice way to celebrate.

Some of the other ConciergeClass perks were non-existent; priority luggage delivery didn't seem to apply; no pillow menu was available (though the pillows were excellent anyway); and the fresh flower in a vase promised for the bathroom died a few days into the cruise. I finally threw it out -- and it was never replaced. Small stuff to be sure, but there's no excuse for not following through on such, well, small stuff.

At 244 square ft., the Sky Suites are basically just a bigger standard balcony cabin -- but they do have roomier balconies (142 square ft.), a bit more space and a very lovely marble bathroom with a big soaking tub. The elegant marble bathrooms in these suites weren't redone like those in standard categories, but really, there was no reason to.

The Celebrity Suite is very much like the Sky Suite, though interestingly, it's slightly smaller (190 square ft. with a 38 square ft. balcony). The big difference? It comes with a DVD player and sumptuous bathroom.

The eight Royal Suites are more of what you expect in a suite -- with a separate living and sleeping area (divided by a huge 42-inch flat-screen television on both the living room and bedroom sides), along with DVD and CD players. There's also a small dining room -- part of the L-shaped configuration of the living area. The bathroom is divine, with separate tub (whirlpool) and shower, lots 'o marble, and a walk in-closet with a little vanity. The suites come with a lovely long balcony with plush furnishings, teak instead of the standard metal-mesh stuff, and plump chair cushions.

The Penthouse Suite -- there are two -- is the piece d'resistance. At roughly double the size of the Royals, these feature a separate bedroom and living room, huge bathroom, guest powder room, walk-in closet, Bose electronic equipment, a dining room with butler's pantry and wet bar, and, on the verandah ... a whirlpool. Interestingly, while the suites themselves measure a generous 1,101 square ft., the balconies, at 131 square ft., are actually smaller than, er, smaller suites.

All suite passengers are entitled to butler service, and while I didn't experience that luxury, I did hear many compliments from those who did. Typically, butlers deliver cruise-sized newspapers, full meals, afternoon tea, shoeshine service, booking assistance in Murano and in the AquaSpa and, get this: "delivery of requested board games."

During the refurbishment Celebrity added more facilities for passengers with special needs. Century has seven wheelchair accessible oceanview cabins, one inside stateroom and two Sky Suites. Staterooms are placed on centrally located floors and within close proximity to key destinations, such as guest relations, elevators and reception areas.

Entertainment

Daytime activities, particularly on sea days, offered the usual cruise fare -- movies, organized bridge games, champagne or wine tasting, and activities' staff events such as table tennis or "battle of the sexes." The aforementioned Online@Celebrity featured computer classes, and the Fortunes Casino, with table games and slots, was open as long as the ship was at sea.

Sure, we all know that most cruise lines offer art auctions, but (and this was new to me) Celebrity is the first to feature wine auctions throughout the fleet. In this case, you can buy lots (cases) of wines that come from boutique wineries from afar (for Americans and Canadians this means Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa). And most, if not all, are simply not available at home.

The ship's energy level really geared up as dinner approached, and lounges such as the Martini Bar, part of the redesign, featuring a shivery, ice-like decor, and the elegant Michael's Club, were popular places for aperitifs. Other cocktail venues include Rendez-Vous Square, which has a small platform for musical performers and dancing, the Crystal Room Night Club, a secondary performance venue, and Hemispheres, the top-of-the-ship observation lounge and disco.

And let's not forget the Sunset Bar, which wraps around the back of the ship. It's the best place for a sail away cocktail -- and the occasional vocalist or guitarist was a pleasant accompaniment.

Post-dinner shows and concerts were primarily held in the Celebrity Theater and were, of course, timed to main and late seating dining. On our voyage, a new production was called "Shout" -- it was mildly entertaining, if a little bit old fashioned. We missed the juggler (heard he was pretty good, though some were affronted when he made fun of people who wandered out during his show). We particularly loved a performance by pianist Tian Jiang.

Musical offerings were nicely varied. A dance band for hipsters played in the Crystal Lounge, the Rendez Vous was the scene of more laid-back dance music. Michael's Club was a great spot for sentimental favorites.

Other activities throughout the week included a late night country hoe-down and "The Best of Elton John." Particularly appreciated was the effort to match movies in the cinema to the itinerary; on our voyage features such as "Gorky Park" and "Dr. Zhivago" were great complements to our shore outings.

The shore excursions offered on our 12-night Baltic cruise featured a pleasing range of traditional sightseeing opportunities (city highlights and such) with more adventurous fare (Stockholm's Ice Bar, Helsinki's "archipelago at 40 knots"). Having already visited St. Petersburg, where a full menu of half- and full-day tours were available, I opted for an exotic one: a day (and night) trip to Moscow. The most complicated tour I'd ever taken through a cruise line, it required bus, air and subway travel, among other logistics. It was superbly organized.

Fitness and Recreation

In the main pool area there are two pools. One is more of a family pool; the other, adjacent, was quieter (though this may all change when Century heads to the Caribbean for short cruises this winter). Other features include four whirlpools and a dance floor.

Century's completely new spa is truly magnificent. It's true that in the new configuration the thalassotherapy pool in the AquaSpa was eliminated to make room for other features. But the spa was still a lovely retreat, one of the prettiest I've ever seen at sea, with a blue and green color scheme that actually offered a visceral pleasure just walking through. New features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge to use it -- I never got around to it. More interesting was the Barber Shop for men and, heralding the mainstreaming of tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that included a heated lounger and flat-screen television (if you've ever tried the treatment in a standard spa room it's about the most boring 50 minutes you'll spend -- and roughly as pleasant as a visit to the dentist).

There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa. And as I also pointed out in the intro, Century's AquaSpa is the first to offer a treatment room specifically designed for folks with disabilities. Kudos on that one.

A full range of treatments is offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." Prices are, as usual, on the high side, but there are discounts on sea days -- look for them in the "Celebrity Today" daily newsletter or just check with the spa. A warning: numerous passengers complained about a hard sell on products following a treatment. Because this behavior is, sadly, prevalent on any spa operated by Steiner (as is this one and just about every cruise line's facility), I've learned to politely say "no thanks" to the pitch before my treatment gets started.

The usual fitness class offerings apply -- things like Pilates and spinning require a fee; stretching and aerobics do not.

Golfers can partake of a golf simulator; basketball and ping pong are other recreational options.

Family

While there weren't many kids on our Baltic voyage -- admittedly not a cruise itinerary aimed at family travelers -- Century has upgraded its kids' facilities (and will likely attract far more when it switches to four- and five- night Caribbean sailings).

The Fun Factory, the actual play facility, has been expanded -- six passenger cabins were sacrificed -- but it's important to note that it's a windowless, mid-ship destination, unlike those found on newer vessels featuring windows and adjacent deck space for splash pools and such.

Still, the handful of kids onboard seemed content. Celebrity's program is divided into four age groups: Shipmates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Teens (13 - 17). Activities are held, on sea days anyway, morning, afternoon and evening, and include, for instance, "partycrafts" and "family scavenger hunt" for the Shipmates, "Super Hero Intensive Training" for Cadets, "Scavenger Quest" and a talent show for Ensigns, and "Dodgeball Insanity" for teens.

The activities are also held on port days, though for more limited periods of time.

Speaking of teens, this group has benefited from the Celebrity refurbishment and now has the X-treme teen facility, carved out of a portion of the top-of-the-ship Hemisphere's. It's beautifully elegant with dark paneled walls and 1960's streamlined couches and chairs. It reminded me of rooms in a James Bond flick, but a ship executive confessed that it was bit too elegant for teens and that it is expected to be modestly redecorated. Indeed, I rarely saw teens hanging out there.

Fellow Passengers

On the longer and more exotic Baltic itineraries, passengers fell mostly into the 50-plus demographic and hailed from a variety of places, such as the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. On the ship's planned winter itinerary -- a four- and five-night Caribbean cruise -- expect a younger demographic, more families and a higher percentage of U.S. and Canadian travelers.

Dress Code

Country club casual was the buzzword onboard, both day and night -- though of course the evening version of the dress code was a bit more elegant than the daytime one. There were several formal nights, and folks primarily dressed in cocktail garb with men in jackets and ties (only a few sported tuxedos).

Gratuity

Celebrity collects gratuities the old-fashioned way. Envelopes are provided for cash tips and recommended amount guidelines are offered. These are $3.50 per day for the room steward and waiter and $2 per day for each of their assistants. You can request the tips to be put on your onboard account. There is also an envelope for the "assistant head housekeeper" with a recommended tip amount of $0.50 per day.

There's a spot on room service tickets for including a couple of bucks tip --it's a nice convenience and sure beats fumbling around with dollar bills.

Heads up: On our sailing the spa automatically included a 10 percent gratuity on their bills. You could add to it -- or not.


--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

While Celebrity Century has been surpassed in size and innovation by the Celebrity fleet's enormous trio of 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Solstice-class ships, the company's 2006 $55 million makeover of Century showed a clear commitment to its older hardware.

The ship returned from five-week dry-dock in early June 2006 with 314 new verandahs.

Other new features included the addition of 14 suites and 10 more standard cabins (ranging from inside to verandah); expansion of Celebrity's ConciergeClass concept; and the introduction of Murano, a new specialty restaurant in the tradition of the Millennium-class' elegant alternative eateries. The existing AquaSpa was completely gutted and re-designed, and it's beautiful, one of the most serene spas in cruise-dom. It too got some new features; most notably the industry's first treatment room for folks with disabilities; the line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe (on other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area); a barber shop for men; and a separate but adjacent home for the fleet's burgeoning Acupuncture at Sea program.

All over the ship, public rooms were spiffed up, with gorgeous, lush window treatments and fanciful new carpets. The Martini Bar (also dubbed the ice bar for its shivery color scheme) is easily the most popular lounge onboard -- the only shame is that the room is simply too small to handle the demand. The Islands' Cafe, located on the aft section of the Lido, has gotten the refurbishment treatment and serves as the ship's casual yet elegant restaurant at night (it abuts the exotic sushi cafe, which opens at 6 p.m. and is a favorite onboard). The teens have X-treme, their own dedicated hang-out, and the Fun Factory for the younger set has been expanded as a result of the removal of six passenger cabins.

Ultimately, one of the most pleasant new touches is the updating and upgrading of staterooms. Whether inside, outside, verandah or ConciergeClass, the standard staterooms are boutique hotel chic. Instead of simply sticking a new piece of art on the wall and changing bedding, designers have actually given these cabins a whole new vibe. Oak panels cover most of the walls and create an inset into which a new flat-screen television fits perfectly. Above the bed, a dark wood cabinet fixture -- centered by an intriguingly abstract tropical mural in warm colors -- offers a splash of joie de vivre. Bathrooms have the now-popular raised basins.

The refurbishment of Celebrity's Century certainly raises the profile of this 11-year old ship. And it now measures up to the more design-forward vessels of today's contemporary era (save, perhaps, for the casino; while it got new curtains and carpet, and have begun to offer the newer table games, its machines are amusingly of the original Century).

And while a ship of this size can't always compete with its bigger (but not necessarily better, mind you!) counterparts, where Century can excel is in offering a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (from private balconies to alternative dining) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels.

To that end, consistency of service on Century is key, and on our trip it wobbled. In some cases, it was excellent -- the staff of Murano is top-notch, the shore excursion department ran the smoothest operation I've encountered, and Celebrity's trademark Michael's Pub is still our favorite cozy bar, in large part because of the sweet (if oft-overwhelmed) bartender who took lovely care of all the patrons.

In other cases, service was so bad it bordered on ridiculous. Being seated alone and largely ignored at a table for six in the Grand Dining Room on the first formal night -- one in which the maitre 'd already knew that fellow tablemates were dining elsewhere that evening -- was an inexcusable lapse. And too many times, staffers -- mostly in the food and beverage area, from the main dining room to the Martini Bar -- ignored patrons, seemingly deigning to take a drink order or proffer a plate at the buffet. Cabin stewards you passed in the hallways looked at the floor rather than greet the passenger. These incidents were off-putting and unsettling.

If Celebrity can fix the service issues, Century is a ship that this fan of mid-sized vessels would return to in a heartbeat. Fail to address them? Then the home court advantage that this ship should enjoy via a size that encourages warmth and intimacy, will fail to materialize. Even with the fabulous new look.

Dining

The Grand, Century's sprawling, two-story dining room, is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and then offers two seatings for dinner at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Beginning January 23, 2010, the Celebrity Select dining option will be available on this ship. Passengers can choose this option instead of the traditional, assigned-time, assigned-table dining plan. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to dine any time between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

The cuisine in the main dining room offers a terrific blend -- particularly at dinner -- of both standards and, if you're feeling more adventurous, more exotic fare. Menus didn't particularly hew to our itinerary, but the emphasis on classic French cuisine with a down-home touch was consistently pleasing.

The dining room itself is very sparely decorated -- the eye candy in The Grand is its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's aft. It must be said though that it's a brilliant design. Beyond the magnificent sunsets at night -- the view lets you never forget you're on a cruise ship.

Service in The Grand was inconsistent. Presumably, once you settle in with an established table and tablemates at dinner, the waitstaff will be more personable. During lunch and breakfast, waitstaff typically was disinterested and a bit curt.

A note about seating: tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots (at the handful of breakfasts and lunches I was always seated in the midst of a waiter's station -- even when the restaurant was relatively empty -- or behind a covered up piano, which basically blocked the view of the grand window). Most tables were for six and eight with a sprinkling for larger groups.

Frankly, there were more pleasing places to dine on Century. The newly designed lido has been renamed "Casual Dining Boulevard" and offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Center (basically just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) was dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it was a great place for a before-dinner snack (taken out onto the aft deck's Sunset Bar -- bliss).

Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 - 5 p.m. (and also at The Grand).

Don't miss the fabulous Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 - 10 p.m., it's located at the very end of the "boulevard," right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste (and perhaps makes for a slightly healthier pre-dinner snack), and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.

Just beyond the "Boulevard" is a grill -- open during the expansive hours between lunch and late dinner -- offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day.

At night, a portion of the Lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which basically takes the casual out of dining), and the venue is so popular we had a hard time getting a table! The menu is basic -- we had a delicious roast chicken with mashed potatoes, simple and lovely. And you don't have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.

The Cova Cafe on Deck 6 is every bit as charmingly Milanese as those found on Celebrity's Millennium-class ships. Often there's live music (of the soothing, classical variety), and the buttercup-yellow linen clothes and wall mural exude a note of elegance. On my trip, Cova Cafe was open from 8:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., and frankly, it would have been nice if it could have started serving even earlier for those folks in a hurry to make a shore excursion. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There's a wine tasting some nights between 6 - 8:30 p.m. for a small extra fee.

And as lovely as the Cova Cafe is in the daytime, we loved it at night as well -- sipping a glass of wine and watching the parade of passengers pass by.

I've saved the best options for last. One of the major new additions to Century following its refurbishment is the creation, out of what was extra space in the plaza on Deck 5, of Murano, the cozy (only 66 seats) alternative restaurant. Contrary to those Millennium-class restaurants that hark back to traditional cruising in ambience, Murano was sleek and contemporary in a way that reminded me of swishy 1940's flicks. It's all white with glittering Murano chandeliers and candles. A harpist plays gently throughout the meal.

There's a stiff $30 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano's and trust me when I say it's worth every nickel, all 600 of them. Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional (it gets even better as people inevitably return again and again -- one couple on my cruise actually booked a table at Murano for every night), and the tableside dining was as much fun as participating on something like "The Rachael Ray Show!"

Editor's note: For all bookings made after November 1, 2009, for sailings departing on or after January 1, 2010, the surcharge for Murano will increase to $35 per person.

Murano has two menus. The first is a four course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts off with an appetizer (lobster bisque vs. goat cheese souffle vs. foie gras, oh my!), moves on to an entree (the rack of lamb en croute was superb), and then to dessert (for me the only possible choice was the Grand Marnier souffle). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you're not as stuffed as you'd think. Not being a huge cheese aficionado, the presentation via a rolled cart with a variety of choices from soft to hard and gentle to savory, was fascinating anyway, and with the slightest display of interest, the waiter will happily plunge into a wealth of tidbits and recommendations. They'll also make superb recommendations about which liqueur to pair with your selections.

There is no extra charge for this Murano experience (aside from your drinks), though I did tip additionally.

Culinary adventurers can also opt for the "exceptionale" menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they're pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). This time, we started off with the lobster bisque, then foie gras or goat cheese souffle, the lamb or sole stuffed with lobster mousse, then cheese, then dessert. The significant difference is that the restaurant sommelier pairs a different glass of wine with each course. The foie gras with a Sauternes, instead of the South African chardonnay that had accompanied it on my other, "regular menu" visit, transformed the dish from fabulous to mind-blowing. Also lovely was the Tokai, a Hungarian after-dinner wine that was matched to the Grand Marnier souffle. The wines are included in the $100 per person tariff; a 15 percent (or $15) service fee for Murano was an added charge and it's in lieu of the usual $30 fee.

Quite the contrast is the ship's Spa Cafe. Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it's the best in the Celebrity fleet, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It's operated by the chefs and waitstaff of Murano -- a major plus -- and it was nice to be recognized and greeted warmly on each foray, along with a "will we see you tonight?"

On a cruise that featured an ultra intensive itinerary, room service was a godsend, whether at 5 a.m. before my Moscow shore excursion or even at 1 a.m. when I returned! Definitely, my third favorite way to dine on Celebrity Century was via in-cabin service. Prompt, efficient and featuring a menu that ranged from the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see -- sandwiches, salads, burgers -- you could also order from dining room menus at lunch and dinner.

Service was consistently lovely. The first morning I'd put the wrong cabin number on my hang-tag and the earnest pantry assistant in charge of delivery tried three different cabins before finding mine. I appreciated the effort (and tipped her well for it)!

And, one of the boons of booking a ConciergeClub cabin -- in fact that absolute best reason to do so -- is that its balcony furniture features a dining table for two. Blessed with gorgeous weather, we ate as many meals outside as possible.

One note of warning to weight-watchers: The pastry chef on Century is so talented that you'll find it very difficult to bypass the desserts (the decadent "double chocolate seduction" and, from the dining room, the white cake/cream/coconut concoction with fudge syrup were most dangerous, as were rolls and breads).

There are specialized options for vegetarians and kids, and each menu includes "lean and light" suggestions. Passengers with special dietary needs, such as diabetic, low-sodium, low-fat, and kosher, should alert the line at least 15 days in advance of sailing.

Fitness and Recreation

In the main pool area there are two pools. One is more of a family pool; the other, adjacent, was quieter (though this may all change when Century heads to the Caribbean for short cruises this winter). Other features include four whirlpools and a dance floor.

Century's completely new spa is truly magnificent. It's true that in the new configuration the thalassotherapy pool in the AquaSpa was eliminated to make room for other features. But the spa was still a lovely retreat, one of the prettiest I've ever seen at sea, with a blue and green color scheme that actually offered a visceral pleasure just walking through. New features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge to use it -- I never got around to it. More interesting was the Barber Shop for men and, heralding the mainstreaming of tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that included a heated lounger and flat-screen television (if you've ever tried the treatment in a standard spa room it's about the most boring 50 minutes you'll spend -- and roughly as pleasant as a visit to the dentist).

There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa. And as I also pointed out in the intro, Century's AquaSpa is the first to offer a treatment room specifically designed for folks with disabilities. Kudos on that one.

A full range of treatments is offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." Prices are, as usual, on the high side, but there are discounts on port days -- look for them in the "Celebrity Today" daily newsletter or just check with the spa. A warning: numerous passengers complained about a hard sell on products following a treatment. Because this behavior is, sadly, prevalent on any spa operated by Steiner (as is this one and just about every cruise line's facility), I've learned to politely say "no thanks" to the pitch before my treatment gets started.

The usual fitness class offerings apply -- things like Pilates and spinning require a fee; stretching and aerobics do not.

Golfers can partake of a golf simulator; basketball and ping pong are other recreational options.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day to the onboard account. It's $12 per person, per day for passengers in Concierge Class cabins and $15 per person, per day for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, EditorEven as Celebrity is boldly moving forward with the construction of the fleet's enormous new 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Solstice-class ships (second in size only to sister line Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class ships), the company's recent $55 million makeover of Century heralds a new initiative, too.

Widely thought to be a test case for the line -- the success of Century's massive refurbishment will determine whether its siblings Mercury and Galaxy get a new life as well -- this ship returned from five-week dry-dock in early June 2006 with 314 new verandahs.

Other new features include the addition of 14 suites and 10 more standard cabins (ranging from inside to verandah); expansion of Celebrity's ConciergeClass concept; and the introduction of Murano, a new specialty restaurant in the tradition of the Millennium-class' elegant alternative eateries. The existing AquaSpa was completely gutted and re-designed, and it's beautiful, one of the most serene spas in cruise-dom. It too got some new features; most notably the industry's first treatment room for folks with disabilities; the line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe (on other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area); a barber shop for men; and a separate but adjacent home for the fleet's burgeoning Acupuncture at Sea program.

All over the ship, public rooms have been spiffed up, with gorgeous, lush window treatments and fanciful new carpets. The Martini Bar (also dubbed the ice bar for its shivery color scheme) is easily the most popular lounge onboard -- the only shame is that the room is simply too small to handle the demand. The Islands' Cafe, located on the aft section of the Lido, has gotten the refurbishment treatment and serves as the ship's casual yet elegant restaurant at night (it abuts the exotic sushi cafe, which opens at 6 p.m. and is a favorite onboard). The teens have X-treme, their own dedicated hang-out, and the Fun Factory for the younger set has been expanded as a result of the removal of six passenger cabins.

Ultimately, one of the most pleasant new touches is the updating and upgrading of staterooms. Whether inside, outside, verandah or ConciergeClass, the standard staterooms are boutique hotel chic. Instead of simply sticking a new piece of art on the wall and changing bedding, designers have actually given these cabins a whole new vibe. Oak panels cover most of the walls and create an inset into which a new flat-screen television fits perfectly. Above the bed, a dark wood cabinet fixture -- centered by an intriguingly abstract tropical mural in warm colors -- offers a splash of joie de vivre. Bathrooms have the now-popular raised basins.

The refurbishment of Celebrity's Century certainly raises the profile of this 11-year old ship. And it now measures up to the more design-forward vessels of today's contemporary era (save, perhaps, for the casino; while it got new curtains and carpet, and have begun to offer the newer table games, its machines are amusingly of the original Century).

And while a ship of this size can't always compete with its bigger (but not necessarily better, mind you!) counterparts, where Century can excel is in offering a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (from private balconies to alternative dining) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels.

To that end, consistency of service on Century is key, and on our trip it wobbled. In some cases, it was excellent -- the staff of Murano is top-notch, the shore excursion department ran the smoothest operation I've encountered, and Celebrity's trademark Michael's Pub is still our favorite cozy bar, in large part because of the sweet (if oft-overwhelmed) bartender who took lovely care of all the patrons.

In other cases, service was so bad it bordered on ridiculous. Being seated alone and largely ignored at a table for six in the Grand Dining Room on the first formal night -- one in which the maitre 'd already knew that fellow tablemates were dining elsewhere that evening -- was an inexcusable lapse. And too many times, staffers -- mostly in the food and beverage area, from the main dining room to the Martini Bar -- ignored patrons, seemingly deigning to take a drink order or proffer a plate at the buffet. Cabin stewards you passed in the hallways looked at the floor rather than greet the passenger. These incidents were off-putting and unsettling.

If Celebrity can fix the service issues, Century is a ship that this fan of mid-sized vessels would return to in a heartbeat. Fail to address them? Then the home court advantage that this ship should enjoy via a size that encourages warmth and intimacy, will fail to materialize. Even with the fabulous new look.

Dining

The Grand, Century's sprawling, two-story dining room, is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and then offers two seatings for dinner at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

The cuisine offers a terrific blend -- particularly at dinner -- of both standards and, if you're feeling more adventurous, more exotic fare. Menus didn't particularly hew to our itinerary, but the emphasis on classic French cuisine with a down-home touch was consistently pleasing.

The dining room itself is very sparely decorated -- the eye candy in The Grand is its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's aft. It must be said though that it's a brilliant design. Beyond the magnificent sunsets at night -- the view lets you never forget you're on a cruise ship.

Service in The Grand was inconsistent. Presumably, once you settle in with an established table and tablemates at dinner, the waitstaff will be more personable. During lunch and breakfast, waitstaff typically was disinterested and a bit curt.

A note about seating: tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots (at the handful of breakfasts and lunches I was always seated in the midst of a waiter's station -- even when the restaurant was relatively empty -- or behind a covered up piano, which basically blocked the view of the grand window). Most tables were for six and eight with a sprinkling for larger groups.

Frankly, there were more pleasing places to dine on Century. The newly designed lido has been renamed "Casual Dining Boulevard" and offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Center (basically just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) was dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it was a great place for a before-dinner snack (taken out onto the aft deck's Sunset Bar -- bliss).

Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 - 5 p.m. (and also at The Grand).

Don't miss the fabulous Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 - 10 p.m., it's located at the very end of the "boulevard," right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste (and perhaps makes for a slightly healthier pre-dinner snack), and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.

Just beyond the "Boulevard" is a grill -- open during the expansive hours between lunch and late dinner -- offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day.

At night, a portion of the Lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which basically takes the casual out of dining), and the venue is so popular we had a hard time getting a table! The menu is basic -- we had a delicious roast chicken with mashed potatoes, simple and lovely. And you don't have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.

The Cova Cafe on Deck 6 is every bit as charmingly Milanese as those found on Celebrity's Millennium-class ships. Often there's live music (of the soothing, classical variety), and the buttercup-yellow linen clothes and wall mural exude a note of elegance. On my trip, Cova Cafe was open from 8:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., and frankly, it would have been nice if it could have started serving even earlier for those folks in a hurry to make a shore excursion. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There's a wine tasting some nights between 6 - 8:30 p.m. for a small extra fee.

And as lovely as the Cova Cafe is in the daytime, we loved it at night as well -- sipping a glass of wine and watching the parade of passengers pass by.

I've saved the best options for last. One of the major new additions to Century following its refurbishment is the creation, out of what was extra space in the plaza on Deck 5, of Murano, the cozy (only 66 seats) alternative restaurant. Contrary to those Millennium-class restaurants that hark back to traditional cruising in ambience, Murano was sleek and contemporary in a way that reminded me of swishy 1940's flicks. It's all white with glittering Murano chandeliers and candles. A harpist plays gently throughout the meal.

There's a stiff $30 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano's and trust me when I say it's worth every nickel, all 600 of them. Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional (it gets even better as people inevitably return again and again -- one couple on my cruise actually booked a table at Murano for every night), and the tableside dining was as much fun as participating on something like "The Rachael Ray Show!"

Murano has two menus. The first is a four course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts off with an appetizer (lobster bisque vs. goat cheese souffle vs. foie gras, oh my!), moves on to an entree (the rack of lamb en croute was superb), and then to dessert (for me the only possible choice was the Grand Marnier souffle). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you're not as stuffed as you'd think. Not being a huge cheese aficionado, the presentation via a rolled cart with a variety of choices from soft to hard and gentle to savory, was fascinating anyway, and with the slightest display of interest, the waiter will happily plunge into a wealth of tidbits and recommendations. They'll also make superb recommendations about which liqueur to pair with your selections.

There is no extra charge for this Murano experience (aside from your drinks), though I did tip additionally.

Culinary adventurers can also opt for the "exceptionale" menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they're pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). This time, we started off with the lobster bisque, then foie gras or goat cheese souffle, the lamb or sole stuffed with lobster mousse, then cheese, then dessert. The significant difference is that the restaurant sommelier pairs a different glass of wine with each course. The foie gras with a Sauternes, instead of the South African chardonnay that had accompanied it on my other, "regular menu" visit, transformed the dish from fabulous to mind-blowing. Also lovely was the Tokai, a Hungarian after-dinner wine that was matched to the Grand Marnier souffle. The wines are included in the $100 per person tariff; a 15 percent (or $15) service fee for Murano was an added charge and it's in lieu of the usual $30 fee.

Quite the contrast is the ship's Spa Cafe. Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it's the best in the Celebrity fleet, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It's operated by the chefs and waitstaff of Murano -- a major plus -- and it was nice to be recognized and greeted warmly on each foray, along with a "will we see you tonight?"

On a cruise that featured an ultra intensive itinerary, room service was a godsend, whether at 5 a.m. before my Moscow shore excursion or even at 1 a.m. when I returned! Definitely, my third favorite way to dine on Celebrity Century was via in-cabin service. Prompt, efficient and featuring a menu that ranged from the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see -- sandwiches, salads, burgers -- you could also order from dining room menus at lunch and dinner.

Service was consistently lovely. The first morning I'd put the wrong cabin number on my hang-tag and the earnest pantry assistant in charge of delivery tried three different cabins before finding mine. I appreciated the effort (and tipped her well for it)!

And, one of the boons of booking a ConciergeClub cabin -- in fact that absolute best reason to do so -- is that its balcony furniture features a dining table for two. Blessed with gorgeous weather, we ate as many meals outside as possible.

One note of warning to weight-watchers: The pastry chef on Century is so talented that you'll find it very difficult to bypass the desserts (the decadent "double chocolate seduction" and, from the dining room, the white cake/cream/coconut concoction with fudge syrup were most dangerous, as were rolls and breads).

There are specialized options for vegetarians and kids, and each menu includes "lean and light" suggestions. Passengers with special dietary needs, such as diabetic, low-sodium, low-fat, and kosher, should alert the line at least 15 days in advance of sailing.

Fitness and Recreation

In the main pool area there are two pools. One is more of a family pool; the other, adjacent, was quieter (though this may all change when Century heads to the Caribbean for short cruises this winter). Other features include four whirlpools and a dance floor.

Century's completely new spa is truly magnificent. It's true that in the new configuration the thalassotherapy pool in the AquaSpa was eliminated to make room for other features. But the spa was still a lovely retreat, one of the prettiest I've ever seen at sea, with a blue and green color scheme that actually offered a visceral pleasure just walking through. New features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge to use it -- I never got around to it. More interesting was the Barber Shop for men and, heralding the mainstreaming of tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that included a heated lounger and flat-screen television (if you've ever tried the treatment in a standard spa room it's about the most boring 50 minutes you'll spend -- and roughly as pleasant as a visit to the dentist).

There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa. And as I also pointed out in the intro, Century's AquaSpa is the first to offer a treatment room specifically designed for folks with disabilities. Kudos on that one.

A full range of treatments is offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." Prices are, as usual, on the high side, but there are discounts on sea days -- look for them in the "Celebrity Today" daily newsletter or just check with the spa. A warning: numerous passengers complained about a hard sell on products following a treatment. Because this behavior is, sadly, prevalent on any spa operated by Steiner (as is this one and just about every cruise line's facility), I've learned to politely say "no thanks" to the pitch before my treatment gets started.

The usual fitness class offerings apply -- things like Pilates and spinning require a fee; stretching and aerobics do not.

Golfers can partake of a golf simulator; basketball and ping pong are other recreational options.

Gratuity

Celebrity collects gratuities the old-fashioned way. Envelopes are provided for cash tips and recommended amount guidelines are offered. These are $3.50 per day for the room steward and waiter and $2 per day for each of their assistants. You can request the tips to be put on your onboard account. There is also an envelope for the "assistant head housekeeper" with a recommended tip amount of $0.50 per day.

There's a spot on room service tickets for including a couple of bucks tip --it's a nice convenience and sure beats fumbling around with dollar bills.

Heads up: On our sailing the spa automatically included a 10 percent gratuity on their bills. You could add to it -- or not.


--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor

The 71,545-ton, 1,814-passenger Celebrity Century debuted in 1995 as the last of three Century-class ships. Century's sisters, the former Celebrity Galaxy and Celebrity Mercury, are pleasing German passengers for sister line Tui Cruises as Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2, respectively.

While the mid-size Century has been surpassed in tonnage and innovation by Celebrity's 2,850-passenger Solstice-class quartet, the goal here is to provide a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (plenty of balconies, 314 of which were added during a 2006 refurb, and a sumptuous French-Continental specialty restaurant) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels. Century has a few unique-to-Celebrity touches, too, including line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe, which offers healthy (but very tasty) cuisine. (On other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area.)

Moreover, Celebrity uses Century as its dedicated pathfinder. The ship spends the summer months sailing Alaska's Inside Passage, then repositions to Australia for the winter (the southern hemisphere's summer). Panama Canal and Hawaii cruises, typically around two weeks in length, are sandwiched in between.

Dining

The Grand, Century's sprawling, two-story dining room, is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and offers two seatings for dinner at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

The Celebrity Select dining option varies from the traditional, assigned-time, assigned-table dining plan. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to dine any time between 6:30 and 9 p.m., and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or at a table with other passengers. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

The cuisine in the main dining room offers a blend -- particularly at dinner -- of both standard (broiled salmon, sirloin steak) and more adventurous fare (quail). There's always a vegetarian starter, soup/salad and entree (toasted Israeli couscous cake).

The dining room itself is sparingly decorated -- the eye candy in The Grand is its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's stern. It must be said, though, that it's a brilliant design. Beyond the magnificent sunsets at night -- the view never lets you forget you're on a cruise ship.

A note about seating: Tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots. Most tables are for six and eight with a sprinkling for larger groups.

For more low-key eats, the Casual Dining Boulevard, A.K.A. the lido buffet, offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich, soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Center (basically just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) is dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it's a great place for a before-dinner snack (taken out onto the aft deck's Sunset Bar -- bliss).

Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 to 5 p.m. (and also at The Grand).

Don't miss the fabulous Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 to 10 p.m., it's located at the very end of the boulevard, right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste (and perhaps makes for a slightly healthier pre-dinner snack), and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.

Just beyond the boulevard is a grill -- open during the expansive hours between lunch and late dinner -- offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day.

At night, a portion of the lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which basically takes the casual out of dining), and the venue is so popular my party had a hard time getting a table! The menu is basic -- I had a delicious roast chicken with mashed potatoes, simple and lovely. And you don't have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.

The Cova Cafe on Deck 6 is a charming space. Often there's live music (of the soothing, classical variety), and the buttercup-yellow linen clothes and wall mural exude a note of elegance. On my trip, Cova Cafe was open from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and frankly, it would have been nice if it could have started serving even earlier for those folks in a hurry to make a shore excursion. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There's a wine tasting some nights between 6 and 8:30 p.m. for an extra fee.

And as lovely as the Cova Cafe is in the daytime, it's just as lovely at night -- sipping a glass of wine and watching the parade of passengers pass by.

I've saved the best options for last: Murano, the cozy (only 66 seats) alternative restaurant. Contrary to those Millennium-class restaurants that hark back to traditional cruising ambience, Murano is sleek and contemporary in a way that reminds me of swishy 1940's flicks. It's all white with glittering Murano chandeliers and candles.

There's a stiff $40 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano and trust me when I say it's worth every nickel, all 800 of them. Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional, and the tableside dining was as much fun as participating on something like "The Rachael Ray Show!"

Murano has two menus. The first is a four-course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts off with an appetizer (lobster bisque vs. goat cheese souffle vs. foie gras, oh my!), moves on to an entree (the rack of lamb en croute was superb), and then to dessert (for me the only possible choice was the Grand Marnier souffle). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you're not as stuffed as you'd think. Not being a huge cheese aficionado, the presentation via a rolled cart with a variety of choices from soft to hard and gentle to savory, was fascinating anyway, and with the slightest display of interest, the waiter will happily plunge into a wealth of tidbits and recommendations. They'll also make superb recommendations about which liqueur to pair with your selections.

There is no additional charge beyond the $40 for this Murano experience (aside from your drinks), though I did tip additionally.

Culinary adventurers can also opt for the Five Senses tasting menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they're pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). The five-course menu started off with the lobster bisque, then foie gras or goat cheese souffle, the lamb or sole stuffed with lobster mousse, then cheese, then dessert. The significant difference is that the restaurant sommelier pairs a different glass of wine with each course. The foie gras with a Sauternes, instead of the South African chardonnay that had accompanied it on my other, "regular menu" visit, transformed the dish from fabulous to mind-blowing. Also lovely was the Tokai, a Hungarian after-dinner wine that was matched to the Grand Marnier souffle. The wines are included in the $89 per person tariff; a 15 percent (or $15) service fee for Murano was an added charge and it's in lieu of the usual $40 fee.

Quite the contrast is the ship's AquaSpa Cafe. Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it's the best in the Celebrity fleet, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It's operated by the chefs and waitstaff of Murano -- a major plus -- and it was nice to be recognized and greeted warmly on each foray, along with a "will we see you tonight?"

My third favorite way to dine on Celebrity Century was via room service. Prompt, efficient and featuring a menu with the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see: sandwiches, salads, burgers. You could also order from dining room menus at lunch and dinner.

One of the boons of booking a ConciergeClub cabin is that its balcony furniture features a dining table for two. Blessed with gorgeous weather, I ate as many meals outside as possible.

Passengers with special dietary needs, such as diabetic, low-sodium, low-fat, and kosher, should alert the line at least 15 days in advance of sailing.

Public Rooms

As expected on a ship this size, Celebrity's three-deck high "plaza" communicates the intimate, rather than grand. Deck 5 is pretty much devoted to the business of your holiday -- with its excursion and purser's desks, and the concierge station. The latter, also a service available to all, proved to be quite helpful to a number of folks. I was eavesdropping when the concierge was helping one lady, concerned that her credit card company had declined her charges. First she figured out the nature of the problem (hint: it's helpful, if you don't travel often, to give your bank a heads up beforehand or they'll assume the charges are fraud-related, which was the case in this situation), then provided the number of her bank and actually put through the call.

Murano is located on this deck as well, and there's a very strange shop that sells ultra-luxury goods; it was empty nearly every time I passed it.

Decks 6 and 7, the Promenade and Entertainment respectively, are the main gathering places for inside the ship fun. On Deck 6, the anchor is the Cova Cafe; off to various sides include a card room, a generous library (that actually spills over into the game room), Online@Celebrity Internet stations, and a conference room that also serves as a cinema and lecture facility.

The Entertainment Deck starts with a handful of shops as its focal point. While the merchandise ranged from the usual duty-free and souvenir items you find on most ships, they may also carry itinerary-specific fashions and collectibles. This was one area of the ship, however, that was rather cramped and almost impossible to navigate when passengers were moving between The Grand Restaurant and Celebrity Theater.

Also on this deck is Celebrity's High Seas Computing classroom, with rows of terminals and offering a variety of workshops; options range from Adobe Photoshop to Web site design, and from basic Introduction to Windows to Microsoft Excel. Classes are $20 apiece.

While the computer stations here aren't typically available to passengers, there are Internet-connected machines scattered in various places -- there's a group right next door, as a matter of fact, and wireless capability exists, though it is temperamental. The price is fairly high these days for cruise ships -- 75 cents per minute -- though packages can reduce the per-minute charge to as low as 24 cents.

Cabins

The cabins -- whether inside or the Royal Suites -- represent a lovely blend of comfort and contemporary style.

All cabins, from insides on up, feature soft Egyptian cotton linens and duvets, flat-screen televisions with cable channels and movies-on-request (some free, others $8.97 to $13.99), and wireless Internet access. There are colorful plush pillows and lush window treatments (outsides on up) that are actually functional and attractive, closing perfectly to create a dark room during daylight. A nice touch is the small, individual lamps attached to the walls above the bed allowing one person to read without disturbing the other.

Standard-sized cabins (this includes insides, outsides, and those with balconies) are, at 175 square feet, on the small side of industry average. But they are brilliantly decorated and outfitted to maximize space. The shower-only bathrooms in these staterooms have trendy vessel sinks. The roomy shower is twice the length of those found on new ships.

The balconies measure about 44 square feet.

Century has a handful of unique cabins called "sunset verandah staterooms"; they're located on the stern, above the white canvas sail-like tent that hangs over the Sunset Bar.

And, like the rest of the fleet, Century has ConciergeClass cabins. Though much the same as the standard balcony staterooms in many ways, these entitle passengers to a few extra perks. Those that stood out -- and made it worth the extra cost of a regular verandah stateroom -- included the Frette bathrobes, fresh flowers (in a neat stem-by-stem vase), daily hors d'oeuvres and the aforementioned balcony furnishings that featured a table for dining. The best thing? Passengers in these accommodations can order from a special ConciergeClass breakfast menu where options include the usual Continental fare with a big plus! Pancakes, omelets, eggs-to-order, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cold cuts were terrific, but even better were some of the ConciergeClass "signature" dishes, such as granola berry parfait, baked bananas and Russian Sevruga caviar. (Alas, the latter was priced a la carte at $44.50.) The smoothies were delicious. (Blueberry-watermelon was a favorite.) Also falling in the "very special but it will cost you" category were drinks, like mimosa, bloody Mary and Champagne. Nice way to meet the day.

At 246 square feet, the Sky Suites are basically just a bigger standard balcony cabin -- but they do have roomier balconies (69 or 179 square feet depending on location), a bit more space and a very lovely marble bathroom with a big soaking tub.

The Century Suite is very much like the Sky Suite, though interestingly, it's slightly smaller (190 square feet with a 35-square-foot balcony). The big difference? It comes with a DVD player and sumptuous bathroom.

The eight 537-square-foot Royal Suites are more of what you expect in a suite -- with a separate living and sleeping area (divided by a huge 42-inch flat-screen television on both the living room and bedroom sides), along with DVD and CD players. There's also a small dining room -- part of the L-shaped configuration of the living area. The bathroom is divine, with separate tub (whirlpool) and shower, lots 'o marble, and a walk in-closet with a little vanity. The suites come with a lovely long balcony (94 square feet) with plush furnishings, teak instead of the standard metal-mesh stuff, and plump chair cushions.

The Penthouse Suite -- there are two -- is the piece de resistance. At roughly double the size of the Royals, these feature a separate bedroom and living room, huge bathroom, guest powder room, walk-in closet, Bose electronic equipment, a dining room with butler's pantry and wet bar, and, on the verandah ... a whirlpool. Interestingly, while the suites themselves measure a generous 1,101 square feet, the balconies, at 118 square feet, are actually smaller than, er, smaller suites.

All suite passengers are entitled to butler service. Typically, butlers deliver cruise-sized newspapers, full meals and afternoon tea. They also provide shoeshine service, and booking assistance in Murano and the AquaSpa.

Century has seven wheelchair accessible oceanview cabins, one inside stateroom and two Sky Suites. Accessible staterooms are placed on centrally located floors and within close proximity to key destinations, such as guest relations, elevators and reception areas.

Entertainment

Daytime activities, particularly on sea days, offer the usual cruise fare -- movies, organized bridge games, Champagne or wine tasting (fee applies), and activities' staff events such as table tennis or "battle of the sexes." Online@Celebrity features computer classes, and the Fortunes Casino, with table games and slots. It's open when the ship is at sea.

The ship's energy level really gears up as dinner approaches, and lounges such as the Martini Bar, featuring a shivery, ice-like decor, and the elegant Michael's Club, are popular places for aperitifs. Other cocktail venues include Rendez-Vous Square, which has a small platform for musical performers and dancing, the Crystal Room Night Club, a secondary performance venue, and Hemispheres, the top-of-the-ship observation lounge and disco.

And let's not forget the Sunset Bar, which wraps around the back of the ship. It's the best place for a sail away cocktail -- and the occasional vocalist or guitarist is a pleasant accompaniment.

Post-dinner shows and concerts are primarily held in the Celebrity Theater and are, of course, timed to main and late seating dining. Productions may be mildly entertaining, if a little bit old fashioned. Musical offerings are nicely varied. A dance band for hipsters may play in the Crystal Lounge, the Rendez Vous is the scene of more laid-back dance music. Michael's Club is a great spot for sentimental favorites.

Other activities may include a late night country hoe-down or "The Best of Elton John." Particularly interesting is an effort to match movies in the cinema to the itinerary.

Fitness and Recreation

In the main pool area there are two pools. One is more of a family pool; the other, adjacent, is a bit quieter. Other features include four whirlpools and a dance floor.

Century's spa is truly magnificent. AquaSpa is a lovely retreat, one of the prettiest I've ever seen at sea, with a blue and green color scheme that actually offers a visceral pleasure just walking through. Features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge to use it -- I never got around to it. More interesting is the barber shop for men and, heralding the mainstreaming of tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that includes a heated lounger and flat-screen television. (If you've ever tried the treatment in a standard spa room it's about the most boring 50 minutes you'll spend -- and roughly as pleasant as a visit to the dentist.)

There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa. Century's AquaSpa was the first to offer a treatment room specifically designed for folks with disabilities. Kudos on that one.

A full range of treatments is offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." Prices are, as usual, on the high side, but there are discounts on port days -- look for them in the "Celebrity Today" daily newsletter or just check with the spa. A warning: Numerous passengers complained about a hard sell on products following a treatment. Because this behavior is, sadly, prevalent on any spa operated by Steiner (as is this one and just about every cruise line's facility), I've learned to politely say "no thanks" to the pitch before my treatment gets started.

The usual fitness class offerings apply -- things like Pilates and spinning require a fee, stretching and aerobics do not.

Golfers can partake of a golf simulator. Basketball and Ping-Pong are other recreational options.

Family

The Fun Factory, the actual play facility, is a windowless, mid-ship destination, unlike those found on newer vessels featuring windows and adjacent deck space for splash pools and such.

Celebrity's program is divided into four age groups: Shipmates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Teens (13 - 17). Activities are held, on sea days anyway, morning, afternoon and evening, and include, for instance, "partycrafts" and "family scavenger hunt" for the Shipmates, "Super Hero Intensive Training" for Cadets, "Scavenger Quest" and a talent show for Ensigns, and "Dodgeball Insanity" for teens.

The activities are also held on port days, though for more limited periods of time.

Speaking of teens, Celebrity‘s X-treme teen facility is beautifully elegant with dark paneled walls and 1960's streamlined couches and chairs. It reminded me of rooms in a James Bond flick.

Fellow Passengers

Passengers fall mostly into the 40--to-60-plus demographic and hail from a variety of places, although primarily the U.S. and Canada with increasing representation from Europe and Latin America. On the ship's Alaska itinerary expect more families and different ages traveling together.

Dress Code

Country club casual is the buzzword onboard, both day and night -- though of course the evening version of the dress code is a bit more elegant than the daytime one. There are several formal nights, and folks primarily dress in cocktail garb with men in jackets and ties (only a few sport tuxedos).

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day to the onboard account. It's $12 per person, per day for passengers in Concierge Class cabins and $15 per person, per day for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. Fifteen percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

Cabins

The cabins -- whether inside or the Royal Suites -- represent a lovely blend of comfort and contemporary style.

All cabins, from insides on up, feature soft Egyptian cotton linens and duvets, flat-screen televisions with cable channels and movies-on-request (some free, others $8.97 to $13.99), and wireless Internet access. There are colorful plush pillows and lush window treatments (outsides on up) that are actually functional and attractive, closing perfectly to create a dark room during daylight. A nice touch is the small, individual lamps attached to the walls above the bed allowing one person to read without disturbing the other.

Standard-sized cabins (this includes insides, outsides, and those with balconies) are, at 175 square feet, on the small side of industry average. But they are brilliantly decorated and outfitted to maximize space. The shower-only bathrooms in these staterooms have trendy vessel sinks. The roomy shower is twice the length of those found on new ships.

The balconies measure about 44 square feet.

Century has a handful of unique cabins called "sunset verandah staterooms"; they're located on the stern, above the white canvas sail-like tent that hangs over the Sunset Bar.

And, like the rest of the fleet, Century has ConciergeClass cabins. Though much the same as the standard balcony staterooms in many ways, these entitle passengers to a few extra perks. Those that stood out -- and made it worth the extra cost of a regular verandah stateroom -- included the Frette bathrobes, chilled Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine, fresh flowers (in a neat stem-by-stem vase), daily hors d'oeuvres and the aforementioned balcony furnishings that featured a table for dining. In 2012, Celebrity expanded the ConciergeClass services to include an exclusive pre-departure lounge with free coffee and juices. The best thing? Passengers in these accommodations can order from a special ConciergeClass breakfast menu where options include the usual Continental fare with a big plus! Pancakes, omelets, eggs-to-order, fresh-squeezed orange juice and cold cuts were terrific, but even better were some of the ConciergeClass "signature" dishes, such as granola berry parfait, baked bananas and Russian Sevruga caviar. (Alas, the latter was priced a la carte at $44.50.) The smoothies were delicious. (Blueberry-watermelon was a favorite.) Also falling in the "very special but it will cost you" category were drinks, like mimosa, bloody Mary and Champagne. Nice way to meet the day.

At 246 square feet, the Sky Suites are basically just a bigger standard balcony cabin -- but they do have roomier balconies (69 or 179 square feet depending on location), a bit more space and a very lovely marble bathroom with a big soaking tub.

The Century Suite is very much like the Sky Suite, though interestingly, it's slightly smaller (190 square feet with a 35-square-foot balcony). The big difference? It comes with a DVD player and sumptuous bathroom.

The eight 537-square-foot Royal Suites are more of what you expect in a suite -- with a separate living and sleeping area (divided by a huge 42-inch flat-screen television on both the living room and bedroom sides), along with DVD and CD players. There's also a small dining room -- part of the L-shaped configuration of the living area. The bathroom is divine, with separate tub (whirlpool) and shower, lots 'o marble, and a walk in-closet with a little vanity. The suites come with a lovely long balcony (94 square feet) with plush furnishings, teak instead of the standard metal-mesh stuff, and plump chair cushions.

The Penthouse Suite -- there are two -- is the piece de resistance. At roughly double the size of the Royals, these feature a separate bedroom and living room, huge bathroom, guest powder room, walk-in closet, Bose electronic equipment, a dining room with butler's pantry and wet bar, and, on the verandah ... a whirlpool. Interestingly, while the suites themselves measure a generous 1,101 square feet, the balconies, at 118 square feet, are actually smaller than, er, smaller suites.

All suite passengers are entitled to butler service. Typically, butlers deliver cruise-sized newspapers, full meals and afternoon tea. They also provide shoeshine service, and booking assistance in Murano and the AquaSpa.

Century has seven wheelchair accessible oceanview cabins, one inside stateroom and two Sky Suites. Accessible staterooms are placed on centrally located floors and within close proximity to key destinations, such as guest relations, elevators and reception areas.

Family

The Fun Factory, the actual play facility for kids, is a windowless, mid-ship destination, unlike those found on newer vessels featuring windows and adjacent deck space for splash pools and such. Programs for children ages 3 - 11 are available every day from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The Fun Factory opens a half hour before arriving in port for children whose parents depart before 9 a.m. for a Celebrity Cruises Shore Excursion. A trained youth staff supervises games and activities such as karaoke, puppeteering, theme parties and movies.

Celebrity's program is divided into several age groups: Toddler Time (under 3 years), Shipmates (3 - 5), Cadets (6 - 8), Ensigns (9 - 11) and Teens (12 - 17). Toddlers are permitted in Fun Factory only with parental supervision. Both Shipmates -- who must be diaper-free -- and Cadets must be signed in and out of the Fun Factory by someone 18 years or older. Ensigns can sign themselves in and out of programs -- some based in Fun Factory, others in venues around the ship -- until 10 p.m. Teens can enjoy their own hangout, X-Club, which features electronic games, sports activities and late-night, teen-only dances. Youth counselors host all activities in the teen facility, which boasts dark paneled walls and 1960's streamlined couches and chairs (a little James Bond modish).

Activities are held, on sea days anyway, morning, afternoon and evening, and include, for instance, "partycrafts" and "family scavenger hunt" for the Shipmates, "Super Hero Intensive Training" for Cadets, "Scavenger Quest" and a talent show for Ensigns, and "Dodgeball Insanity" for teens.

For-fee activities are scheduled when the ship is in port and each evening. These include lunch and dinner parties, and slumber parties. Fees are $6 per hour, with immediate surcharges for late pick-up. Group babysitting is available in the Fun Factory on port days from noon until 2 p.m. and in the evening from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee of $6 per hour per child. In-cabin babysitting for children 12 months or older is subject to availability. Fee is $19 per hour for up to three children in the same family.The 71,545-ton, 1,814-passenger Celebrity Century debuted in 1995 as the first of three Century-class ships. Century's sisters, the former Celebrity Galaxy and Celebrity Mercury, are pleasing German passengers for sister line Tui Cruises as Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2, respectively.

While the mid-size Century has been surpassed in tonnage and innovation by Celebrity's 2,850-passenger Solstice-class quartet, the goal here is to provide a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (plenty of balconies, 314 of which were added during a 2006 refurb, and a sumptuous French-Continental specialty restaurant) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels. Century has a few unique-to-Celebrity touches, too, including line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe, which offers healthy (but very tasty) cuisine. (On other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area.)

Moreover, Celebrity uses Century as its dedicated pathfinder. The ship spends the summer months sailing Alaska's Inside Passage, then repositions to Australia for the winter (the southern hemisphere's summer). Panama Canal and Hawaii cruises, typically around two weeks in length, are sandwiched in between.

Dining

The Grand, Century's sprawling, two-story dining room, is the ship's primary focal point for dining. It serves open seating breakfast and lunch, and offers two seatings for dinner at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

The Celebrity Select dining option varies from the traditional, assigned-time, assigned-table dining plan. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to dine any time between 6:30 and 9 p.m., and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or at a table with other passengers. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

The cuisine in the main dining room offers a blend -- particularly at dinner -- of both standard (broiled salmon, sirloin steak) and more adventurous fare (quail). There's always a vegetarian starter, soup/salad and entree (toasted Israeli couscous cake).

The dining room itself is sparingly decorated -- the eye candy in The Grand is its huge, two-deck high window on the ship's stern. It must be said, though, that it's a brilliant design. Beyond the magnificent sunsets at night -- the view never lets you forget you're on a cruise ship.

A note about seating: Tables for two are very limited and generally located in some of the less desirable spots. Most tables are for six and eight with a sprinkling for larger groups.

For more low-key eats, the Casual Dining Boulevard, A.K.A. the lido buffet, offers a variety of stations and options, from breakfast's homemade waffles to lunch's sandwich, soup and salad bar (in addition to the usual buffet fare). The Pizza and Pasta Center (basically just a counter where you can order made-to-specification fare) is dangerously tempting; open from noon to 1 a.m., it's a great place for a before-dinner snack (taken out onto the aft deck's Sunset Bar -- bliss).

Tea, with attendant pastries and sandwiches, is served here from 4 to 5 p.m. (and also at The Grand).

Don't miss the fabulous Sushi Cafe. Open only from 6 to 10 p.m., it's located at the very end of the boulevard, right up against the Sunset Bar. The spread of various rolls is beautifully laid out, delicious to taste (and perhaps makes for a slightly healthier pre-dinner snack), and the cafe itself, with its black lacquer decor, is atmospherically Asian.

Just beyond the boulevard is a grill -- open during the expansive hours between lunch and late dinner -- offering hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches and fries, along with a special or two every day.

At night, a portion of the lido is transformed into the Island Cafe for casual dining. Reservations are required (which basically takes the casual out of dining), and the venue is so popular my party had a hard time getting a table! The menu is basic -- I had a delicious roast chicken with mashed potatoes, simple and lovely. And you don't have to dress up. Suggested gratuity here is $2.

The Cova Cafe on Deck 6 is a charming space. Often there's live music (of the soothing, classical variety), and the buttercup-yellow linen clothes and wall mural exude a note of elegance. On my trip, Cova Cafe was open from 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and frankly, it would have been nice if it could have started serving even earlier for those folks in a hurry to make a shore excursion. You pay for the beverages -- coffees, such as latte, espresso and the like, as well as various teas and a delicious hot chocolate. The snacks, which range from croissant and Danish in the morning to pastries and cookies later, are complimentary. There's a wine tasting some nights between 6 and 8:30 p.m. for an extra fee.

And as lovely as the Cova Cafe is in the daytime, it's just as lovely at night -- sipping a glass of wine and watching the parade of passengers pass by.

I've saved the best options for last: Murano, the cozy (only 66 seats) alternative restaurant. Contrary to those Millennium-class restaurants that hark back to traditional cruising ambience, Murano is sleek and contemporary in a way that reminds me of swishy 1940's flicks. It's all white with glittering Murano chandeliers and candles.

There's a stiff $45 per passenger service charge just to sit down at Murano and trust me when I say it's worth every nickel, all 900 of them. Beyond the fact that the cuisine is of incredibly high quality, the service is personable, professional, and the tableside dining was as much fun as participating on something like "The Rachael Ray Show!"

Murano has two menus. The first is a four-course meal that you order a la carte, one item from each category. It starts off with an appetizer (lobster bisque vs. goat cheese souffle vs. foie gras, oh my!), moves on to an entree (the rack of lamb en croute was superb), and then to dessert (for me the only possible choice was the Grand Marnier souffle). Portions are appropriate -- not too big, not too small -- so when you move on to the last course -- cheese -- you're not as stuffed as you'd think. Not being a huge cheese aficionado, the presentation via a rolled cart with a variety of choices from soft to hard and gentle to savory, was fascinating anyway, and with the slightest display of interest, the waiter will happily plunge into a wealth of tidbits and recommendations. They'll also make superb recommendations about which liqueur to pair with your selections.

There is no additional charge beyond the $45 for this Murano experience (aside from your drinks), though I did tip additionally.

Culinary adventurers can also opt for the Five Senses tasting menu. There is one more course, but each is a bit smaller so as not to overstuff, and they're pretty much chosen for you (rather than the longer list on the standard menu you have a choice of a couple of items in each category). The five-course menu started off with the lobster bisque, then foie gras or goat cheese souffle, the lamb or sole stuffed with lobster mousse, then cheese, then dessert. The significant difference is that the restaurant sommelier pairs a different glass of wine with each course. The foie gras with a Sauternes, instead of the South African chardonnay that had accompanied it on my other, "regular menu" visit, transformed the dish from fabulous to mind-blowing. Also lovely was the Tokai, a Hungarian after-dinner wine that was matched to the Grand Marnier souffle. The wines are included in the $89 per person tariff.

Quite the contrast is the ship's AquaSpa Cafe. Tucked in a simple, serene space next to the spa, it's the best in the Celebrity fleet, offering light and healthy fare for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It's operated by the chefs and waitstaff of Murano -- a major plus -- and it was nice to be recognized and greeted warmly on each foray, along with a "will we see you tonight?"

My third favorite way to dine on Celebrity Century was via room service. Prompt, efficient and featuring a menu with the kind of 24-hour stuff you usually see: sandwiches, salads, burgers. You could also order from dining room menus at lunch and dinner.

One of the boons of booking a ConciergeClub cabin is that its balcony furniture features a dining table for two. Blessed with gorgeous weather, I ate as many meals outside as possible.

Passengers with special dietary needs, such as diabetic, low-sodium, low-fat, and kosher, should alert the line at least 15 days in advance of sailing.

Gratuity

Celebrity Cruises is increasing its suggested gratuity by 50 cents per passenger/per day beginning on all bookings made on or after April 29 for all cruises that begin on or after the same day. The new suggested gratuity will be $12.00 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites.

Fitness and Recreation

In the main pool area there are two pools. One is more of a family pool; the other, adjacent, is a bit quieter. Other features include four whirlpools and a dance floor.

Century's spa is truly magnificent. AquaSpa is a lovely retreat, one of the prettiest I've ever seen at sea, with a blue and green color scheme that actually offers a visceral pleasure just walking through. Features include a Persian Garden relaxation room, outfitted with steam showers and heated tile loungers. There's a charge to use it -- I never got around to it. More interesting is the barber shop for men and, heralding the mainstreaming of tooth whitening treatments, a dedicated area that includes a heated lounger and flat-screen television. (If you've ever tried the treatment in a standard spa room it's about the most boring 50 minutes you'll spend -- and roughly as pleasant as a visit to the dentist.)

There's also a stand-alone acupuncture facility adjacent to the spa. Century's AquaSpa was the first to offer a treatment room specifically designed for folks with disabilities. Kudos on that one.

A full range of treatments is offered from standard massages and beauty treatments to fancier stuff, like an "Egyptian Ceremony of Milk and Ginger" and a "Tahitian Ceremony of Flowers." Prices are, as usual, on the high side, but there are discounts on port days -- look for them in the "Celebrity Today" daily newsletter or just check with the spa. A warning: Numerous passengers complained about a hard sell on products following a treatment. I've learned to politely say "no thanks" to the pitch before my treatment gets started.

The usual fitness class offerings apply -- things like Pilates and spinning require a fee, stretching and aerobics do not.

Golfers can partake of a golf simulator. Basketball and Ping-Pong are other recreational options.

Gratuity

Tips aren't included in the cruise fare, but suggested gratuities are automatically added to your onboard account at a rate of $12 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites. If you would like to adjust the gratuities, you can make do so through the Guest Relations desk. A 15 percent charge is added automatically to all beverage and minibar purchases as well as spa and salon purchases. You can't remove these gratuities but can add to them.

Editor's note: Royal Caribbean announced in September 2014 the sale of Celebrity Century to a Chinese travel company Ctrip. It will leave the Celebrity fleet and move to China in April 2015.

The 71,545-ton, 1,814-passenger Celebrity Century debuted in 1995 as the first of three Century-class ships. Century's sisters, the former Celebrity Galaxy and Celebrity Mercury, are pleasing German passengers for sister line Tui Cruises as Mein Schiff 1 and Mein Schiff 2, respectively.

While the mid-size Century has been surpassed in tonnage and innovation by Celebrity's 2,850-passenger Solstice-class quartet, the goal here is to provide a best-of-both-worlds experience -- one featuring a comfortable blend of today's required amenities (plenty of balconies, 314 of which were added during a 2006 refurb, and a sumptuous French-Continental specialty restaurant) along with the more intimate ambience offered by smaller vessels. Century has a few unique-to-Celebrity touches, too, including line's only stand-alone AquaSpa Cafe, which offers healthy (but very tasty) cuisine. (On other ships it's a buffet line tucked into the solarium pool area.)

Moreover, Celebrity uses Century as its dedicated pathfinder. The ship spends the summer months sailing Alaska's Inside Passage, then repositions to Australia for the winter (the southern hemisphere's summer). Panama Canal and Hawaii cruises, typically around two weeks in length, are sandwiched in between.

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