Zenith 01/02/05 Panama Canal Review

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Marietta, GA
57 Posts
Joined Apr 2002
Zenith - 2 Jan 05

Just returned from the first Zenith sailing of the New Year.

This is was our 3rd Cruise. Previously, we took the Carnival Pride to the W Carib in May 2002 and the RCCL Mariner to the E Carib in Jan 2004. Both are almost new mega ships (over 2500 passengers) and on both we had a Balcony.

We chose the Zenith because it left from nearby Jacksonville and included a visit to the Panama Canal. We were concerned about an older ship and the lack of a Balcony…. There are no balconies on the Zenith. On the other hand this 14 day cruise (Cat 5) was priced between what we had paid for the previous 7 day cruises … with a Balcony.

The Zenith carries approx 1300 passengers… has no atrium, multi level dining room, climbing wall or ice rink… but we loved it. We now understand why so many folks posting to our RollCall were returning cruisers to the Zenith and why they had so many good things to say about this older ship.

Compared to the newer ships the Buffet deck was cramped and did not offer the panoramic view of the Mariner. The Dining room, although on a single level was delightful and comfortable. We enjoyed our time and had almost all of our meals here. “The Grill” on the back of the pool deck had terrific hamburgers and fries for those tide me over till late seating snacks. The Buffet deck offered a 4PM light tea with sweets and finger sandwiches. Other than these we ate in the Dining Room. The food and Service were Excellent… better than the previous 2 cruises.

A 14 day cruise on a smaller ship is a very different experience as we frequently saw folks we had met before …often at the same open seating table for breakfast or lunch in the Dining Room. Our tablemates for Dinner were terrific. Our Servers David and Dino and our tablemates made Dinner a most enjoyable experience.

The Cabin

We were in room 5123 (a Cat 5 Window on Deck 5). I had not noticed when I was offered this cabin that it was a Handicap accessible room. Our Cabin was at least as large as on the previous cruises. The shower was bigger unlike the round phone booth on the Mariner. The bathroom vanity and shelf had ample room for our toiletries. The Cabin had plenty of both drawer and hanging space. There was a fixed in place double bed and a pull down wall bed that we did not need. We had 2 chairs… no sofa … and although the room was the same size as others we seemed to have more open floor space probably because of the need for handicap accessible. The bags fit comfortably under the fixed double bed. Most rooms on the Zenith do not have a Frige… maybe Suites???

Unlike the newer ships, we had electric outlets at both the bathroom vanity and the dressing table. The Power Strip was not as critical on this cruise. I wonder why the bathroom outlet has been eliminated on the newer ships.

The TV offered many Celebrity channels plus both CNN’s, TNT and ESPN, an oldies channel (like TVLand but different) and a movie channel…. And that’s about it. Fox News would have been a welcome addition to replace one of the CNNs.

Ports of Call

We visited Cozumel, Roatan Hondouras, Puerto Limon Costa Rica, Colon Panama, GeorgeTown Ccayman Islands, Key West and CoCo Cay (Private Island). Since the Zenith Itinerary is changing, I will not dwell on the ports of call but make some general observations.

Least Liked Port = Puerto Limon Costa Rica. I will comment further on the Costa Rica Board. We took Oscar’s tour. It was not up to the level of other private tours we have read about on CruiseCritic and taken.

Best Port = Colon Panama (Panama Canal). Here we splurged and took our only ship sponsored tour ($150pp). We took a bus about 50 miles to the Pacific Ocean side and boarded a ferry for our transit through the canal. Lunch and drinks were provided. We met some folks who had gone through the canal on a cruise ship. They preferred the Ferry experience as the cruise ship was so large they did not get the feel of the ship rising. As we approached the locks, it was like entering a tunnel … as the boat lifted, it was as though the lights were turned on. Lots of pictures… Quite an experience.

We went through the Milla Flores and San Miguel locks on the Pacific side and the Galliard Cut into Lake Gatun. We did not go through the Gatun Locks. From my readings all the locks are the same and we had been through the most scenic and difficult to build part of the canal. The Ferry docked in Lake Gatun and we were bussed back to the ship… a very enjoyable and enlightening day. Even with the high cost of the ferry, we felt it was a lot less expensive than a full transit cruise.

Biggest Surprise: CoCo Cay (Private Island) From the ship, this approx 5 to 10-acre island looked like a piece of desert surrounded by water. We almost stayed on the ship. That would have been a big mistake. We decided to take the tender over for the advertised lunch and come back. Well, the other side of the island was a beautiful horseshoe shaped beach with lots and lots of Lounge chairs. We spent the day on the beach. Only problem was the lack of shade but we managed to find some. The lunch included Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Barbecued Chicken and Ribs…. All excellent.


The Zenith Singers and Dancers were Ok. The band was great. But it was the Special Entertainers that made the day.

These included a Broadway Singer, Comedian/Magician, Violinist and Pearl Kaufman.
You ask, “Who is Pearl Kaufman”. Pearl is a Pianist who did the Piano parts for all the Great Movies from “Doctor Zivago” to the “Magnificent Seven” to “Star Wars”. She is fabulous. She was so well received, that they brought her back on Saturday for an unscheduled Matinee.

On Sea days there were an assortment of activities from Trivia to Family Feud to Bingo to many interesting presentations. Among the presentations was Prof. Johnny Johnson of Temple University who each sea day did an hour talking while at the Piano. He covered a different Composer/Lyrics Writer each day with their history, how they worked and samples of their music. It was like a College course only much more interesting. Among the Composers were of course The Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and Harold Arlen. I had not heard of Harold Arlen, but he wrote “Over the Rainbow” and the score of the Wizard of Oz and much more. Once we discovered Prof. Johnson, we did not miss a session.


On nights before Port days, the second seating show was before Dinner. We did not care for that. But Sean, the Cruise Director explained that they did this on older demographic cruises as many wanted to get to bed early before a Port day. We do not sleep very well right after Dinner so…. 14-day cruises by their nature attract an older clientele. We are in our early 60s and were among the younger set.

There were 3 Formal Nights. Lobster was served at the 3rd one. There was a mix of Dark Suits and Tuxes among the men. On other nights Celebrity differentiates between “Informal” and “Casual”. On “Informal” nights, men are requested to wear a Jacket. I was glad that for this cruise I packed a Sports Jacket.

Catholic Mass was available every Day. This seems to be a Celebrity Feature. There were also Interfaith and Jewish services available. This was great for a 14-day cruise.

Time that I would have spent on the Balcony; I spent up on deck and met a lot of interesting friendly people. I really did not miss the Balcony. In fact the curtain was closed so much that I would consider an inside cabin, if the price were right.

Since the last Zenith cruise out of Jacksonville is this March, I wanted to get this done quickly. Also, this is not as long as my typical as it appears to have limited value. I hope celebrity will reconsider and return to Jacksonville … 6 hours from Atlanta.

Thanks to all from the CruiseCritic Rollcall for this cruise. You made it extra special, as was the CruiseCritic get-together and Gift Exchange… Many Thanks.

In Summary, the Zenith is an oldie but goodie. If it were not leaving Jacksonville, we would consider taking it to the Southern Caribbean. We met some folks that were doing both as a back to back. All our previous cruises had been 7-day. We now know that 7 is too short but 14 may be a bit long. In the future we will be looking for the 10-12 day cruises. This feeling may have been caused by the fact that the last 4 days were days at sea and Key West and CoCo Cay… ports that were included but not the reason for the selection of this cruise.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

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RCCL Mariner 1/2004
Carnival Pride 5/2002

Scranton, PA. USA
340 Posts
Joined Aug 2000
Thanks for the review. I agree with you - I did not like having our show before dinner - the reason we like last seating is we have time for a nap before getting dressed for dinner. It also gives us something to do after dinner. They do this on all cruises not only the longer ones.

We loved our cruises on both the Horizon and Zenith.

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Disney Magic 9/99, Carnival Fantasy 3/00, RCI SOS 5/99, Carnival Sensation 10/00 & 10/01, RCI Empress of the Seas 5/01& 5/02, Carnival Pride 3/02, Carnival Legend 10/02,& 2/03, Celebrity Horizon 5/03 & 10/03, Celebrity Zenith 10/04 & 3/05, Carnival Glory 3/04, Celebrity Constellation 10/05 10/06, Celebrity Zenith 03/07, Carnival Miracle 10/07, RCI Marnier of the Seas 10/08, Carnival Sensation 10/08, Carnival Miracle 09/09 RCI voyager 10/12 Celebrity Equinox 2/17 Norwegian breezeway may 16
3,263 Posts
Joined Jan 2001
We love the Zenith, especially because she sailed out of Jax, which is home, though we now live in VA. We were on her twice from Jax. I wish we could take one more cruise before she leaves. I think X is making a mistake to move her, but who listend to me?

You have a real "family" atmosphere on her. George (in the Martini Bar) told us that the crew likes it because it is a small ship with a low crew turnover. Maybe that is why there is a family feel.
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