by Wayne & Tommie Dobrowski
September 9, 2000
Amsterdam, Sea Day, Zeebrugge, Le Havre, Sea Day, Vigo, Lisbon, Malaga, Sea Day, Barcelona, Villefranche, Civitavecchia, Livorno, Genoa
Several posters on a few cruise bulletin boards have suggested that reports include the names of key ship personnel if possible to assist others who may be interested in finding specific people or tracing their movements from ship to ship. So here are the pertinent individuals from this sailing of the Millennium
Captain - George Panagiotakis
My wife Tommie and I are in our late 40's and early 50's, reside in Southern California, and both work full time at fairly stressful jobs. Thus we prefer relaxing vacations and have found cruising to be the most enjoyable and worry free form of travel. We are both fortunate enough to have 5 weeks of annual vacation and typically take 2 or 3 cruises each year, varying in length from 10 to 16+ days. This was our 27th cruise in 11 years and our 2nd with Celebrity (1st was on the Mercury in Alaska this past May). We have previously sailed on 8 different cruise lines (RCL, NCL, HAL, Princess, Carnival, Renaissance, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity) in ships as small as 112 passengers (Renaissance V) and as large as 2600 (Grand Princess), and over the years have experienced cabins varying from lowest category outside to balcony staterooms and finally suites. It's amazing just how much larger accommodations with such amenities as butler service and priority treatment can enhance the overall cruise experience! We have also had the good fortune to visit-and revisit-many parts of the world in our travels, and this was our 7th cruise in Europe. Thus we feel reasonably experienced enough to make comparisons where applicable (especially inasmuch as our previous Celebrity cruise is concerned), and offer opinions and comments.
The Ship & Public Areas
The Millennium, at just over 91,000 tons and carrying 1950 guests (double occupancy), is a gorgeous ship inside and out. The decor, artwork, paneling, and carpeting throughout is quite stunning, and fresh flower arrangements can be found everywhere. In fact there is a florist shop on board with personnel who are constantly keeping all the various arrangements fresh. An incredible amount of artwork can also be found everywhere you turn on this ship, and some of it is very unusual (for example the mannequin hanging from the ceiling near the Cosmos Lounge and the sculpted figures on each deck in all three stairways). For a relatively large ship there is a very high space ratio (47%) and this translates into ample public places for the passengers, and many intimate areas where a few chairs or a sofa can be found. The glass elevators that look out onto the sea are also pleasant to ride. The ship has no dead end hallways and all 3 stairways-and associated elevators-go from top to bottom, so it was very easy to find our way around after the first day. Our only complaint with the design of the Millennium was that the attractive and aesthetically pleasing exterior look of the ship, with its curved glass columns housing the glass elevator on one side and Celebrity Suites on the other, and the staggered decks and wider bow & stern sections on decks 6 through 9, was NOT at all attractive from WITHIN many of the staterooms that occupy those decks - but more on that topic in our next section on Accommodations. Let's take a quick tour of the Millennium passenger areas starting from the lowest deck and heading up.
Deck 1 contains the Medical facilities, and is where the tenders are boarded when in a tender port. We had one tender port (Villefranche) and have included information about the tender service under the Villefranche port description near the end of this report. This deck was occasionally used to disembark & embark the ship in a few other ports, but this was mainly done from Deck 3.
Deck 2 (Continental Deck) contains only passenger staterooms.
Deck 3 (Plaza Deck) contains passenger staterooms forward, and the lowest level of the 3 deck atrium-called the Grand Foyer-amidship. Here can be found the Guest Relations desk, bank, shore excursion area, and beautiful backlit marble staircase leading up to Deck 4. The Bank was open a great deal and bought and sold all the currencies for the numerous countries we visited at a somewhat favorable exchange rate with no commission. The Shore Excursion area was a large alcove with supplemental seating, but since we booked our excursions in advance, we did not avail ourselves of their services. Aft of this atrium area on the starboard side, are numerous meeting and conference rooms and the Cinema. Celebrity does not run 1st rate movies in the Cinemas on their ships because these are available on your stateroom TV at the Pay-Per-View rate of $8.95! Only 2nd rate older movies are shown in the cinema, and since there were not any that interested us we never went to the cinema. On the port side, aft of the atrium, is the Olympic Restaurant. This is Millennium's specialty restaurant, which most people already know contains the wood paneling and some decor items from the original Olympic, sister ship to infamous Titanic. It is magnificently presented, and consists of three rooms. The 1st is an entry hall of sorts with pictures, memorabilia, and information about Olympic. The 2nd room actually contains all the wood paneling, and it is truly stunning. A few tables for dining are available in this room. The 3rd room is the larger dining area with the majority of tables for dinner, but it is rather plain with white walls and pillars. This room also has a viewing window into the galley for the Olympic Restaurant, where you can watch some of the pre-preparation of the meals (most of the final preparation is done table side). More about this experience will be described in our section on Dining later in this report. Behind the Olympic & Conference center was the main kitchen, and galley tours were offered during the cruise. We took one of these tours and although the kitchen is immense, it was not as interesting nor as striking as others we have taken in the past (i.e. Grand Princess).
Decks 4 (Promenade) and 5 (Entertainment) represented the heart of the ship inasmuch as dining, drinking, shopping, and entertainment are concerned. Deck 4 has the exterior promenade area, but for those who like walking be advised that this promenade DOES NOT wrap all around the ship. If you want to walk laps for exercise, as Tommie & I do, Deck 11 (jogging track) is the only choice.
The Metropolitan Restaurant occupies the stern of the vessel and is the elegant two deck main dining room with an interior grand staircase connecting the two levels, although you can also enter each level on its respective deck. The room features beautiful lighting and lighting effects, two deck high glass windows at the very back, large porthole type windows on the sides, and an area at the top of the staircase where musicians play during the evening dining hours. The back windows are covered by a scenic shades on formal nights, and the side windows have both light filtering and scenic shades that are used to enhance the comfort and ambiance of the room. Main seating typically commenced at 7:30AM for breakfast, Noon for lunch and 6:15PM for dinner, while Late seating hours were 8:45AM, 1:30PM, and 8:30PM. When in port both breakfast and lunch were usually open seating and the hours varied. More about the Metropolitan Restaurant can be found in our section on Dining.
The Celebrity Theater occupies the bow of the vessel and is the beautiful three deck main entertainment area for all the ship's production shows and other entertainers. Although the theater actually extends down to Deck 3, there is no entrance from that deck. The sight lines were excellent from virtually anywhere in this huge theater, and we especially liked the unique long curved bar tables at the very top. This was a perfect place to watch the show while enjoying an evening cocktail or liquor. There were two large projection screens, one at each side of the stage, where the entertainment on stage was sometimes projected so that those at the very back could see better. There were also very interesting torch-like lighting effects around the room, which anyone who has seen the ‘burning buildings' in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in any of the Disney theme parks can relate to. Of course this was also the main meeting place for all the shore excursions and tender boats tickets.
Between the Celebrity Theater & Metropolitan Restaurant on Deck 4-starting forward and walking aft-one finds the extensive photo gallery with the elegantly decorated and glass walled Michael's Club (cigar smokers area) tucked off to the side. Continuing on is the beautiful Fortunes Casino with numerous incredible Romanesque sculptures and true Vegas-like look & feel. Neither Tommie nor I gamble, but every time we passed through this area when it was open (there is no way to go around!) it was quite crowded. Next we reach the middle level of the Grand Foyer with lots of sitting areas and an oval room, opposite the glass elevators, containing the Internet Cafe. Many have talked at length about the internet facilities available on the Millennium, so we will just reiterate that the cost is 95 cents per minute, but browsing the Celebrity site is free (NOT the parent company Royal Caribbean site though) as are things like Microsoft Word. However, cutting & pasting is not available so don't think you can type a message or email in the free Word and then cut & paste it while online to save costs. Mind you, other bulletin board posts have listed tips for getting around this problem. The final room before reaching the Metropolitan Restaurant on Deck 4 is the Rendez-Vous Lounge and bar. Here we also find a small stage and dance floor which is very popular (packed) during the evening hours just before the dining room opens for 1st & 2nd seating. This room is also used for many daily activities such as napkin folding demonstrations and the like. Our only complaint with this lounge (and the one above it on Deck 5) was the fact that when it got crowed it got quite smoky. Smoking is permitted on the port side of the ship in most areas, but the smoke tended to readily drift over to the starboard side in these two lounges.
Between the Metropolitan Restaurant & Celebrity Theater on Deck 5-starting aft and walking forward-one first encounters the Platinum Club Lounge with the Martini Bar on one side and Champagne & Caviar Bar on the other. The lounge is decorated in deep purples and blues, and has some marvelous art deco lamps and other fixtures. An interesting aspect to the Platinum Club is that it is located directly above the Rendez-Vous Lounge and has a large circular opening over the dance floor below. Thus, music from the Rendez-Vous entertainers drifts up to this lounge as well, and provides added ambiance to the room. This area is also very crowed and smoky just before dinner times. Continuing forward we reach the upper level of the Grand Foyer and find, opposite the glass elevators, another oval room called the Tea Room which also doubles as the card room. This area around the Grand Foyer includes the Cova Cafe di Milano where you can enjoy specialty coffee and/or tea, as well as afternoon pastries and many other caloric delights. Between this Cova Cafe and the Celebrity Lounge is a huge area called The Emporium where there had to be at least ten specialty stores and boutiques. In addition to the typical jewelry, watch, fragrance, clothing, and notions/liquor stores, there were a few ‘designer' stores including Donna Karan (DKNY), Versace, and a Michel Roux Gourmet.
Decks 6 (Penthouse), 7 (Vista), 8 (Panorama), and 9 (Sky) contain essentially only suites and staterooms, but the library-called Words-is a two story room with an interior circular staircase that spans decks 8 & 9, and a similar two story music library and listening room-called Notes-spans deck 6 & 7 right below Words. Both are adjacent to the glass elevators on their respective decks, and are rich in wood paneling and decor and have ample comfortable seating. We had heard that Notes had been closed after one of the earliest cruises because people had pilfered many of the CD's. It was open again when we were on board, but now consists of 12 individually numbered listening stations with correspondingly numbered sections of the library. The numbered sections of the library contain only numbered CD cases on the shelves (not the actual CD's), roughly categorized into jazz, modern, rock-n-roll, classics, and the like. When you find something you like you can remove the CD case from the rack, take it to the correspondingly numbered listening station, enter the number of the actual CD, and then listen to all or as much of it as you wished. Although this system should prevent future thefts, it was problematic because you could only listen to a particular CD at its corresponding station. If that station was occupied by someone else-even if other stations were available-you were out of luck. Since our suite was just a few doors down from Notes and we therefore passed it frequently, we noticed that one gentleman in particular literally occupied station #4 for hours almost everyday reading a book (and of course listening to music). This precluded a great number of people from enjoying the music in that section. Both Words and Notes were typically open from 9:00AM-Midnight.
Deck 10 (Resort Deck) was perhaps the most popular deck because it contained the Ocean Cafe, Ocean Grill, main outdoor pool area, and the Aqua Spa complex. The Ocean Cafe was the place for morning and lunch buffets, and evening alternative dining. It was well designed with each buffet section repeated twice on both sides of the ship, thereby offering 4 identical serving areas and keeping lines to a minimum. It also contained 2 ice cream parlors and 2 fresh made pasta stations, once again one of each on both sides of the ship. Trays were available, and helpful waiters carried ladies' trays to available tables. The eating areas were quite spacious (this is the widest deck of the ship), and many alcoves contained large round portholes in the floor where passengers/diners could look straight down over the side of the ship at the sea below. Although an interesting concept, these viewing portholes had the unfortunate consequence of providing absolutely no privacy to the balcony cabins and suites below. The Ocean Grill at the very back of the ship served hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries, and a different additional barbeque dish each day. It opened out to an exterior eating area at the very back of the ship. Although a pleasant place to dine in warm weather, we only ate here twice because someone would invariably light up a cigarette at an adjacent table whenever we were in the middle of a meal. We will talk about the food served here in the Dining section later in this report.
The Riviera Pool (also nicknamed The Beach) was without a doubt the most attractive pool area we have ever seen on any ship. With two pools of different depths, 4 Jacuzzi's, multiple circular stainless steel showers, attractive decorative lighted wood ‘awnings', covered stage, 2 bars, and two level lounging area, this was a delightful place to relax and unwind. Towels and blankets were always readily available, and lounge chairs were never in short supply. The only complaint of some passengers was that the Jacuzzi's were only open until 8:00PM.
The Aqua Spa area encompassed the enclosed Thalassotherapy pool, treatment rooms, hair salon, and gymnasium. Like the Jacuzzi's, the Thalassotherapy pool was only open until 8:00PM. More about the spa facilities can be found in our Spa section later in the report.
Deck 11 (Sunrise Deck) contained the jogging/walking track (3 laps =e mile) and well as plenty of supplemental lounge chairs overlooking the Riviera pool area below. The only problem here was that all the lounge chairs were packed so closely together that you couldn't get to them very easily, and they also encroached upon the jogging track which caused much maneuvering by the joggers trying to avoid the sunbathers milling around the loungers.
At the very back of the ship on this deck was the Arcade filled we interactive games, and the children's area called the Ship Mates Fun Factory. This was a fairly large complex for young children with interior play & activity areas plus a small outdoor pool and climbing facilities. There was only one entrance/exit to this children's area, which had separate daily activities and was supervised by Celebrity staff. There were a ½ dozen or so young people on our cruise.
At the very front of the ship on this deck was the beautiful Cosmos Lounge, with a fairly large dance floor and stage plus multiple levels of seating. Cosmos is a multi-purpose lounge that serves as a primary viewing area for surrounding scenery, as well as a place for pre-dinner dancing and cocktails, and finally it becomes the late night disco. The room is decorated in tans and blues, contains a grand piano for lighter music in the late afternoon, and has numerous eye-catching ceiling light fixtures and effects. Some of these include lighted birds, a circle of lighted rods over the piano, and a half world globe over the bar with rows of lights, all of which constantly change color. Magnificent views could be seen over the bow, but the side views were somewhat obstructed by the design of the roof for the Resort deck below.
Deck 11 also contains the 3 distinctive glass walled turrets that give the ship some of its' exterior appeal. One amidship was a bar/lounge called Extreme with garish bright red, yellow, green, and blue furniture. The second was just behind Cosmos and housed the flower shop that was called both The Tower and The Conservatory. It was a two level turret with an interior circular staircase and a 2nd level lounging area with wicker furniture surrounded by plants and flowers. The third tower just housed a large piece of artwork.
Deck 12 (Sports Deck) consists of two separate sections, one aft and one forward, that can only be reached by external stairs from Deck 11 (neither the interior stairways nor the elevators go directly to this deck). The aft section (behind the funnel) contains the basketball/tennis courts and the golf simulator. The forward section contained even more lounging areas, and was interesting because it was sheltered form the wind by glass walls all around.
Accommodations & Stateroom Service
Tommie & I enjoyed the relative luxury of a Sky Suite on Deck 6 (#6099) right in the middle of the ship. The 251 sq ft cabin was a bit larger than our Sky Suite on the Mercury, but the balcony was only about a the size of the one on the Mercury. It was well laid out, with a king size bed, large writing desk, console with mini-bar, VCR, and big screen TV (all cabin categories on Millennium feature interactive TV's where guests can review their shipboard account, order room service items, book shore excursions, and order pay-per-view movies), sitting area with a sofa bed and lounge chair, walk-in closet, large marble bathroom with bathtub, and floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door out to the balcony. The suite balconies were also a bit different from the Category 1 & 2 balconies in that they had teak decks and teak furniture, which included a table and 2 chairs (that could be reclined into loungers). However ALL the Sky Suites on the Millennium are missing several advertised facilities. These include: 1) NO whirlpool tub, 2) NO internet access or equipment, 3) NO dining table, 4) NO entertainment center, and 5) NO water spigot on the balcony. We were told by our butler, room steward, and Guest Relations that the lack of whirlpool tub, internet access, and water spigot were all ‘mistakes' made by the shipyard during construction; that the entertainment centers had originally been installed but didn't work, so they were removed; and that the crate containing the dining tables for all the Sky Suites was dropped in St. Nazaire when it was being loaded onto the newly built ship and all the tables were smashed. Guest Relations also told us that when the Millennium goes into drydock at the end of November, it is anticipated that the sky suites will be upgraded with some, if not all, of their missing facilities. I guess we'll just have to wait and see!
Unfortunately our Sky Suite suffered from other problems as well, at least one of which seems to be a common complaint of virtually all cabin categories - poor insulation. We could clearly hear even low toned conversations in adjacent cabins, and every opening & closing of a drawer, or flushing of a toilet! Someone also thought it would be clever to install door activated light switches for the interior of the walk-in closet. These switches are located in the door frames, so that the light comes on & goes off when you open and close any of the four closet doors. However, that same someone seems to have forgotten that a ship can move quite a bit in rough seas, and the slightest movement of any of the doors would cause the light to come on. Thus, on two nights when we encountered moderate seas, we were up several times turning the light off! We ended up stuffing socks under the door, but this only helped a bit. Our butler told us that all the Sky Suites suffered from this problem and in some of them the doors had already warped, such that they no longer even came in contact with the light switch. Shoddy construction techniques were also evident in wood paneling that was already bubbling, and in a bathroom door that wouldn't close properly (we had to call 3 times during the 13 day cruise to have it repaired again & again).
Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of our Sky Suite was the view, and this is where our earlier comment about the ‘aesthetically pleasing exterior look of the ship not being attractive from within many of the staterooms' comes into focus. Since ½ of Deck 6 (and the 3 decks above it) are narrower that the deck below, we had a wonderful(?) view of the top of a lifeboat and the glass elevators to the left! We couldn't see over the side of the ship and obviously couldn't view activities pier side when in port. Thankfully the balcony was at least covered and private. But the Sky Suites are also not all the same size and two of them (#6145 & #6146), located at what appears to be ideal locations between the Penthouse & Royal Suites, have only one conventional glass door (not the advertised floor-to-ceiling double sliding glass doors) leading to a completely exposed balcony with four decks of white steel walls towering above. The Royal Suites and Penthouse Suites at the aft of Deck 6 were located at the wider part of the ship but suffered from balconies that were totally exposed to the decks above, and afforded little or no privacy. They were also the ‘target' of breadcrumbs and other food stuffs, ostensibly thrown for the birds, from the Ocean Grill outdoor eating area on Deck 10. We feel that the location and different configurations of the top category suites on this ship is deplorable. But the suites weren't the only categories to ‘suffer' from the ship's design. The top category balcony staterooms (1A) located on Deck 9 had darker and somewhat dreary interiors due to being in the constant shade of the 15 foot overhang of the Resort Deck above. They also had view impediments caused by the diagonal support beams for the Resort Deck. Thus the exterior design of the ship, although appealing, has caused vast inconsistencies in cabin amenities and views. Although we are not necessarily fond of the exterior look of the some of the newer megaships (i.e. Voyager of the Seas), we now can appreciate that their ‘boxy' look at least equates to more equitable interior accommodations.
Well that dragged on a little bit longer than intended, but we still have to cover our steward service while under this topic. Unfortunately, this was worse than we have experienced on other cruises and certainly far worse than our last Celebrity cruise. Rather than the typical unobtrusive and efficient steward you rarely see-who ‘magically' makes up your room the minute you leave-ours was always interrupting us. One particular morning when we had a chance to sleep in a bit later after a late night out dancing and no planned shore excursions-with the Do Not Disturb sign on the door-he phoned at 9:00AM to find out when he could make up the room. On the first day of the cruise (as we do on every cruise) we had also requested that our ice bucket be refilled at his leisure sometime between 3:00 & 4:00PM each day, because most had melted by that time. He happily agreed but then only did it for the 1st 3 days and then stopped. Yet it was he who had to subsequently get the ice when we were forced to call room service. Six days into the cruise we also noticed that our balcony had never been cleaned, and both the glass and railing were caked with salt. When we finally complained to the Chief Housekeeper, who happened to be from the Mercury and remembered us from our last cruise, he discovered that our steward (and his assistant) were not cleaning any of the balconies to the cabins they were responsible for as they were supposed to, and directed them-in very harsh language-to do their jobs properly. He then had them clean not only our balcony, but all the other balconies as well (they blamed the lack of the water spigot as the reason they were not washing down the deck and balcony glass & railings).
On the positive side, our butler Rupesh was simply outstanding and definitely made what might have easily become a disappointing cruise into a very memorable and enjoyable one. Unlike our steward, he remembered absolutely every little nuance of our likes & dislikes, quickly attended to any request we made, and even ‘filled in' for the steward when he realized certain things weren't being done as they should be. For example, when he came by with tea & pastries every afternoon shortly after 4:00PM he would ask if we had received our requested ice, and take care of it even though it was not his job. There just are not enough accolades for the excellent butler services provided by Celebrity. Our butler Edwin from our last cruise on the Mercury was also here on the Millennium and it was great to see and talk with him again.
Dining & Dining Service
Ocean Cafe & Ocean Grill
The food in the Ocean Cafe was okay, but was just the typical buffet fare. Everyday for lunch there was usually a choice of some fish, meat, potatoes, and vegetables plus soup and salad and a freshly carved roast of some kind (beef, pork, ham, etc.). However, at the back of the buffet on both sides of the ship there was a pasta station, freshly cooking a different pasta each day. This was very good. The Ocean Grill pre-cooked all the hamburgers, hot dogs, and daily barbeque specialty items and kept them in warming pans, but they were surprisingly good nonetheless (still moist & warm, which is more than can be said for some of the buffet items). Tommie & I never ate breakfast up here because we preferred to have it in our cabin (room service for suites includes a FULL breakfast, not just the traditional continental fare), so we cannot comment on how the food was for breakfast. The buffet was NEVER open for dinner, and the aft starboard section of the Ocean Grill was used for alternate casual dining during the evening. This alternate dining was only available from 6:30-8:30PM, and required advance reservations that could only be made with the Assistant Maître D' from 8:00AM-2:30PM and at the Guest Relations desk from 2:30-5:00PM. Tommie & I tried this venue one evening after a particularly bad night in the main dining room, and thought it was awful. All you get to do is select one entree from a small list, and then obtain your own soup and salad buffet style from then Ocean Grill area. It's the ONLY time I have ever received salmon laden with bones! This was a very poor excuse for alternate dining compared to many other cruise lines.
The price to experience Millennium's specialty restaurant is $12 per person-charged to your shipboard account when you enter to dine-and is well worth the cost (at least once) in our opinion. The food items are different than what you find in the Metropolitan Restaurant-whether better or worse is truly subjective-but the leisurely pampered self-indulgence is what this 2½-3 hour evening is all about. The attention to detail, elegant meal preparation and presentation, and service are all outstanding. Although one waiter will take your order, several waiters will be involved in the preparation and serving, such that the entree for every person at the table will be revealed at the exactly the same moment with a flourish. Voila!
The evening begins by perusing the dinner menu while a wine steward takes orders for any pre-dinner drinks, or wine(s) for the meal. The wine list is an impressive 24 pages, and contains bottles up to $12,400.00, but many reasonably priced bottles for "the real world" are also listed. Tommie & I elected to have a glass of the wine recommended for each course that we planned to order, while the friends who joined us for dinner declined. We're so glad we made this choice because it was incredible just how much each wine complimented and enhanced the flavor of the dish, and vice-versa. A waiter then arrived and we each ordered two courses. There are two sides to the menu: one with soups, salads, and appetizers and the other with entrees. You are ONLY permitted to select one from each side of the menu-the way it was done on the original Olympic-so have to choose either the soup, salad, or appetizer as one of the courses. Three of us ordered the flambee shrimp appetizer and Steak Diane, while the 4th opted for Caesar Salad and rack of lamb. The waiter then arrived with hors d'oeuvres plates of smoked oysters and mussels for each of us. Table side flambee of the large shrimp wrapped in bacon came next, followed quite a bit later by the table side flambee of the Steak Diane. After these courses we were given a variety of cheeses and crackers, and then we finished by ordering dessert (nobody had the Crepes Suzette because we were all stuffed and wanted something a bit lighter!). This is definitely an evening everyone should experience at least once.
Despite the seemingly high price, this restaurant is currently in high demand and typically gets booked up for the whole cruise within a day or two, so plan to make your reservations shortly after you board. Only one reservation per stateroom will be guaranteed per cruise, and if you wish to dine there a 2nd time (or more) you will be wait listed only and informed if there is an opening later. The dress code is informal (jacket & tie for men, etc.) and men are requested NOT to wear a tuxedo if you choose to dine there on a formal night - we intentionally picked an informal night.
We have a tip for those who might want to dine there, and it is follows. You can make reservations over the phone, but it is advisable to go down and make them in person. This is because you can actually select the table at which you wish to dine, but can only do this in the restaurant. That way you can request to dine in the room with the wood paneling (only tables for 2 and 4), or a more secluded spot in the larger room behind it (tables for 2, 4, 6 and 8). Be advised that if you get a table towards the back of the larger room near the kitchen (the Maitre D' will tell you it is a choice spot!), there is a tremendous amount of traffic from the waiters scurrying to and fro.
On our last Celebrity cruise, every meal was outstanding and we can honestly say that it was the best food we have ever had on any cruise. Thus it is with some sadness that we cannot say the same thing about the Millennium. On this cruise we could only rate the food as okay, certainly NOT excellent. Although flavorful and always nicely presented, we found the steaks-with the exception of the filet mignon-to be rather tough, and the pork and chicken quite dry and often overcooked. We even had to send one meal back to the kitchen because the steak had been ordered medium rare but arrived well done. Food selection was of course still varied, and some courses were incredible, but the overall experience was never a sure thing. During the cruise we sampled numerous fish entrees (the salmon was always very good), beef, lamb (also very good), veal, pork, chicken, pasta, and of course lobster. The appetizers and soups always seemed to be the best.
We had a wonderful table for two on the 2nd level of the dining room, right next to the railing overlooking the lower level and grand staircase, and with a great view out the back of the ship. Unfortunately this great location did not translate into great service, for dining room service on the Millennium was quite poor in our opinion (especially when compared to the Mercury). As we found out later, a great deal of the slow service was once again attributable to the ship's design. The restaurant is on decks 4 & 5, but the kitchen is on deck 3 with fast moving escalators connecting the decks. Because the kitchen was so far from the dining room, the waiters and busboys tried to make as few trips as necessary. This meant they would never make separate trips for one of their tables, but always treated their entire station as a whole. For example, our waiter had 1 table for 10, 1 table for 8, and our table for 2. Tommie & I rarely eat all 5 courses every night-towards the end of the cruise we were down to 2-but had to wait while all the other courses were served to all the other tables. One evening we both felt like just an appetizer and entree, but had to wait almost ¾ hour for the soup and salad courses to be served to the other two tables because the waiter would not bring our entrees until he was at the entree stage for all his tables. This has never happened to us before. We had a long talk with the Maitre d' after the 4th night and things did improve a bit after that, but only to a limited degree.
There was another strange service problem in the dining room that we have never experienced before. Our waiter and busboy DID NOT work as a team because the busboy overlapped two different stations, and therefore worked with two different waiters (our busboy did not serve the other two tables that our waiter was responsible for, only us). Thus, when our waiter would serve something like our salads, our busboy would often be busy with his other waiter serving one of his large tables. In instances like that we had to wait 5-10 minutes before he was free just to come and offer the dressings for our salads (ditto pepper for our soup, etc.) .
Lastly, we heard that there had been numerous accidents over the two months the ship has been in service on the fast moving escalators. Just try to imagine these poor guys, delicately balancing their huge heavy trays laden with 20 meals, looking down to catch the first step of the escalator and then adjusting as they suddenly start to move up or down. On the 3rd night of the cruise, the second waiter our busboy worked with tripped and fell from the top of the escalators while carrying a tray full of soups. He was injured quite badly and was not seen again for the rest of the cruise. On the night of the accident, the Maitre d's did not even bother to replace him or help out himself, but made our poor busboy do both the waiter's job plus his own for the rest of the evening. Poor guy! But when Michel Roux and 3 others dined at a vacant table next to ours several nights later, he was served by no less than 2 Maitre d's, 2 waiters, and 2 wine stewards!
Although the entire Aqua Spa area is probably twice as large as on the Mercury, and just as attractive, we were very disappointed in many aspects of the facility. On the Mercury there was a small fee to use the wonderful Thalassotherapy pool (complimentary ½ hour use before any scheduled treatment) and it was well utilized but never crowded. On the Millennium, Celebrity eliminated the charge and consequently the pool always seemed to be very crowded, so much so that on a couple occasions there were too many people in the pool to be able to enjoy the different ‘massage' stations within the pool. Conversely, Celebrity more than doubled the price for a majority of their spa treatments on the Millennium, making what had been a luxury item on the Mercury a unjustifiable extravagance on the Millennium. One specific item was a special couples treatment on the Mercury called Rasul which was $75 per couple. We were very much looking forward to doing this again on the Millennium, but discovered that it had been renamed the Etruscan Chamber and now cost $166 per couple. Everything from manicures to massages were similarly affected. Fortunately, they did not decide to also start charging for the gymnasium which was extremely well equipped and heavily used.
Entertainment & Activities
There was a great variety of entertainment during the 13-day cruise, and overall we would have to say that it was all very good. The band Onyx that played during lunch by the pool and in the Cosmos Lounge before dinner was outstanding, and we never tired of listening to them. The A Capella group Four Score was also excellent and could be found at various places throughout the ship, drawing large crowds wherever they sang. The production shows were all very good, but we expected to see more special effects with the latest and greatest state-of-the-art stage available in the Celebrity Theater. Most of the other entertainers were okay, but none stood out as must-see artists. The Cruise Director of course did a Newlywed-type game one evening that was very entertaining, and also a game they called Dream Ticket. The latter was extremely good, as audience members were selected to come on stage and answer trivia questions in a Jeopardy-like fashion. Both of these shows were later re-broadcast on the stateroom TV's so those that missed the actual show could still see the fun.
Ample daily activities, typical of any cruise, were readily available. These of course included Bingo, fitness & exercise, dance lessons, napkin folding, culinary demonstrations, wine tasting, various competitions (basketball, putting, etc.), and the now inevitable art auctions. A few evening activities were also scheduled, but this is where one has to question the logic behind why specific things were arranged when they were? For example, one night from 10:00-midnight there was Tropical Island Nights Celebration followed by a Fruit and Sherbert buffet out on the open pool deck. Rather than schedule such a party when we were in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean, it was held when we were still in the Atlantic off the coast of Spain. The evening was chilly and very windy. Tommie & I went up around 11:00PM and counted less than 50 people, all laying on lounge chairs and wrapped in blankets. The only party-goers where a few Celebrity staff members trying desperately to get some people up to dance. What a dud!
Celebrity has an unlimited soft drink program for children that costs $4.50 per day plus 15% gratuity, but the purchase MUST be made for the entire cruise and NOT on a day-by-day basis.
Wine may be taken into the dining room, but is subject to a $6.00 corkage fee (if it isn't a wine that is on their wine list).
Gentlemen are able to rent tuxedos onboard for formal nights.
Computer classes in Windows 98, the Internet, E-Mail, Desktop Publishing, Excel, PowerPoint, and Word were available onboard, but each cost $59.
We were permitted to purchase liquor in one of the Emporium shops and bring it back to the cabin.
Although the daily program stated that "All duty free liquor or cigarettes purchased ashore will be collected at the gangway and delivered to your stateroom during the evening prior to the day of disembarkation," none of our bags was ever searched nor were we ever questioned when re-boarding the ship in any port.
Celebrity is a stickler about requiring BOTH your ship card AND a photo id to re-board the ship. Please save yourself and other passengers the hassle inevitably caused at the bottom of the gangway by people who forgot their photo id.
Differing opinions have been expressed by people about Millennium's vibration problem, that is the cause of the upcoming dry docking in late November. We did not experience any vibrations, either in our cabin or the dining room, that we have not felt on most other ships we have cruised on. Naturally, there is increased vibration while the bow and stern thrusters are being employed when entering and leaving port, but again these did not appear to us to be any different than on other ships. Of course, we were never in the dining room when this occurred, but presume that there could be increased vibration at those times due to its location on lower decks at the very back of the ship, such that "dishes may rattle on the tables." It's just not something we personally experienced.
The Voyage & Ports of Call
Before we describe the cruise itself and the various ports of call, we want to reiterate that this was our 7th cruise in Europe. We had already visited all the ports on this itinerary-some more than once-and done most of the shore excursions on past cruises. Therefore we did not plan to do too much in the way of excursions on this trip. Our travel agent also happened to be on this cruise, and was hosting a group of 60 of us. His company had pre-arranged four private full day tours for our group (Paris, Lisbon, Rome, and Florence) and we elected to do two of them (Paris & Rome) just to re-visit those interesting cities. Thus, we only did one actual Celebrity shore excursion (Tuscany Wine Country) in Livorno, and so have just listed the various shore excursions offered by Celebrity under each port. We should also add that during this cruise there was a great deal of unrest in many parts of Europe over the availability and escalating price of fuel. This prohibited us from going to Barcelona, and adversely affected some excursions (or so we were told) in Belgium and France.
Prior to this cruise we also ‘met' numerous people on various cruise web sites (Cruise Mates, Cruise Addicts, Cruise Critic, and others) who were scheduled for the same sailing. One lovely lady by the name of Bev, took it upon herself to arrange a get-together Happy Hour for everyone once we got onboard. This turned out to be a more daunting task than I think she ever realized, because she couldn't get any confirmation back from Celebrity with regards to an available lounge where we could meet on our desired date and time. By the time we sailed, our ‘Net Buddies' group had grown to 40 people.
This was also Celebrity's Annual Captain's Club Reunion Cruise and numerous special activities, not to mention frequent gifts, were bestowed on all Captain's Club members. These included galley tours, parties, complimentary cocktails and wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, group photo, photo album, journal, disposable camera, and others we've already forgotten. The Captain's Club representatives did a super job, even though there were a few stumbling blocks along the way, and helped enhance our enjoyment of the cruise.
AMSTERDAM: Pre-Cruise & Embarkation
Over the years we've learned never to trust the airlines to ‘get you to the ship on time,' and this is even more applicable today with the rash of delays, strikes, and other airline related problems that plague the industry. Thus we always plan a pre-cruise stay of a day or more at our embarkation location. We flew into Amsterdam one day early and stayed at the Radisson SAS Airport Hotel. This was a very nice modern hotel with full amenities and a complimentary shuttle to and from the airport. We were ‘forced' to stay out by the airport because there was a Broadcaster's Convention in Amsterdam and virtually all of the downtown hotels were full months ago when we first booked this cruise. Even Celebrity could not offer their pre-cruise package for this sailing as far back as March 2000. As it turned out this was an ideal location at a very reasonable price.
A month before the cruise we scoured the internet for tour ideas in Amsterdam and came across an Evening Dinner Canal Cruise, that we subsequently reserved and confirmed on-line with final payment due when we actually boarded the canal boat. After arriving in Amsterdam and checking into the hotel, we took the complimentary shuttle back to the airport and caught a train to take us to the Central Train Station in the heart of Amsterdam (US$5 return train trip from airport to city). The canal boats all leave from this area, but we had a bit of time to tour the adjoining streets and canals. The dinner cruise left at 7:30PM and for the next 2½ hours we savored a four course gourmet meal (choice of salmon or game hen entree) with complimentary wine, and enjoyed the sunset and spectacular evening views of the sights. This is definitely something to be considered by anyone taking a trip to Amsterdam (approximately US$51 per person).
The next morning we took a bus tour of the city that was arranged by our Travel Agent, followed by a 1 hour canal boat cruise. Although the canal cruise covered much the same route as the one the previous night, it was interesting to see the differences during daylight. After the cruise, the bus transferred us to the brand new cruise terminal building-nicknamed ‘The Wave' because of its roof design that resembles a cresting wave-where we arrived at 1:15PM. Boarding had just commenced a few minutes earlier, and as we entered the terminal building we were immediately greeted by Celebrity attendants who gave us our Priority #0 Captain's Club embarkation numbers. We immediately went to the Captain's Club & Suites line where we only waited about 5 minutes before being let into the check-in area. Ten minutes later we were on the ship and being showed to our suite. This was one of the smoothest and most trouble free embarkations we have ever experienced - it sure makes the $35 per family one time fee more than worth the cost. Friends who were traveling with us and who were not Captain's Club members ended up waiting 1½ hours in the terminal building before their embarkation numbers were called. We sailed on time at 6:00PM with hordes of people on shore-and later at the locks-watching our departure.
Our first dinner of the cruise was very tasty, but the service was incredibly slow (our bread did not arrive until we were almost finished our second course). Our waiter and busboy did not seem to work well as a team, for when the waiter arrived with our soups and salads the busboy did not follow with the pepper and dressings. After waiting almost 10 minutes for dressings for our salads, we finally had to flag down our busboy and ask for them. Our wine steward also seemed to be more pre-occupied with a large table for 10 than us, and it took forever to order and receive a bottle of wine. We hope that things improve, for service on the Mercury was much better.
DAY AT SEA (Formal Dress)
It was only a 150 miles or so from Amsterdam to Zeebrugge, but Celebrity scheduled this as a sea day, probably to give people a chance to relax and get used to the time change. We were cruising so slow all day that at times it seemed as if we were almost dead in the water - we even went back and forth a few times during the day. The seas are very calm and this surprised us for we are in the southern reaches of the North Sea, which can be extremely rough. At least the weather was also clear and sunny, although only in the mid 60's.
We had our ‘Net Buddies' party today in the Extreme Lounge at 3:00PM, and about 30 people showed up. It was great to finally meet those with whom we had only shared emails over the last few months. We all talked over cocktails until almost 4:30 when some had to start getting ready for formal night. Thanks again to Bev for her hard work putting all this together.....
The Captain's Welcome Aboard Party was held in the Grand Foyer with people occupying all 3 decks surrounding the atrium. Although this concept works well on some ships, the Millennium was not well suited for the purpose because of all the draperies cascading from the ceiling of the atrium to the marble stairway. These obscured more than half the available viewing area and made it all but impossible to see or hear the Captain when he spoke.
Dinner in the dining room was even worse than last night, for in addition to the same slow service, the food was not that good - Tommie had to send her steak back to the kitchen because she ordered it medium rare and it came well done. When she brought this to the attention of our busboy, he immediately notified our waiter but the waiter did not come to our table for more than 5 minutes. When she finally received a replacement that was cooked properly, it turned out to be very tough and chewy, and of course my dinner was cold by then. Fortunately we have the Olympic Restaurant to look forward to tomorrow. After that we will probably have to talk with the Maitre D'.
ZEEBRUGGE, BELGIUM (Informal Dress)
We arrived on time at 7:00AM and it was another warm (low 80's) and sunny day. There is really nothing to see or do in the port of Zeebrugge itself, so Celebrity provided a complimentary shuttle bus to the nearby resort town of Blankenberge. This was a delightful and picturesque beach town that is obviously used by locals for summer vacations by the sea. We obtained a town map from the tourist information center and walked to many of the sights (town hall, cathedral, fisherman's house, yacht harbor, etc.) as well as along the long beach front that was peppered with many huts used to store lounge chairs and other paraphernalia available for rent. We also saw an interesting park that offered miniature golf, miniature billiards, cart driving course, lawn bowling, and other activities. Ship departed on schedule at 5:00PM, and we subsequently enjoyed our 3 hour dinner in the Olympic Restaurant. Finally we can say that we had a superb dinner.
LE HAVRE, FRANCE (Casual Dress)
Paris Sightseeing / Lunch Cruise - Full Day, $185, including lunch on Seine
A Taste of Paris - Full Day, $98, on your own
D Day Landing Beaches - Full Day, $160, including lunch
Honfleur and Deauville - Half Day, $65
Fecamp and Etretat - Half Day, $70
Rouen - Half Day, $65
Tommie & I awoke early this morning to prepare for our early morning all day excursion to Paris. While eating breakfast we perused the daily program and were surprised to find that dinner for tonight was Open Seating and ONLY from 6:30-8:00PM. We thought this was strange because half the scheduled tours, plus our private one, weren't even due back until sometime after 7:00PM! Since we both dislike open seating, and because we feared there could be long waits for dinner if everyone arrived around the same time, we had our butler Rupesh obtain tonight's dinner menu and we placed our order. He will serve dinner in our cabin after we return, whenever we want.
The ship arrived on time at 7:00AM but for some reason it took almost an hour to obtain port clearance before passengers could disembark. Perhaps this, and the overcast and drizzly sky, was a precursor to the bad day many passengers were about to experience. We had an okay day in Paris, despite the inclement weather, and were not affected by the trucker's blockades that ended just two days ago. However traffic was still a nightmare and the city is so very crowded that one can get fatigued just elbowing through the crowds to see anything. We returned to the ship just after 7:30PM and happened to find Rupesh in our suite setting the table for dinner. Since all the Sky Suite dining tables were damaged when the ship was being outfitted (as we mentioned earlier), the butlers have the added task of continually setting up and taking down a card table whenever we eat anything in the cabin. Nonetheless, he makes it look elegant with a linen tablecloth and linen napkins folded just as you would find them in the dining room. We decided to have our dinner (the lunch we had in Paris was not very good) and everything was outstanding, with Rupesh's service far better than anything we have received in the dining room. He seemed to know just how long to wait between courses, and returned at perfect intervals to remove dishes and bring the next course. We enjoyed a bottle of wine that we purchased yesterday while in Zeebrugge with our meal, and then Rupesh suggested cappuccino coffee which he served with dessert.
After dinner we decided to go to a lounge for some dancing, and this is when we discovered the problems befallen our fellow passengers. A great majority of the tour busses arrived back after 8:00PM when the dining room was closed, and those guest had no place to go to eat! They had been told that the buffet would be open for those with late tours, but apparently NOT told that this buffet would not open until 10:00PM. Naturally, huge numbers of these people now called for room service at virtually the same time, simply overwhelming that department. Then later when all these affected passengers headed to the buffet, the lines were horrendous and of course there was no place to sit once they finally obtained some food. People were rightly very upset, but this proved to be simply the first in a continuing string of problems and occurrences that unfortunately characterized the rest of the cruise! The ship did depart on time at 10:00PM.
DAY AT SEA (Formal Dress)
This was a relaxing day at sea-there are not enough of these on this cruise-but one filled with Captain's Club activities nonetheless. After breakfast we headed to the Celebrity Theater for the Captain's Club cooking demonstration, and then decided we were way overdue for some exercise. We spent some time in the gym and then walked 2 miles around the jogging track on Deck 11. The latter was a challenge because it was a very windy day-with scattered clouds-and every time we rounded a particular area of the deck the wind would almost blow us off our feet - I guess it's a good thing we have already gained some weight on this cruise! Later on we went to the Captain's Club group photo session, and then entertained some friends in our suite for afternoon tea and pastries. Then it was off to the Captain's Club Repeater's Party, and finally dinner. Unfortunately, our dining room service was abhorrent again tonight, so after talking to the Maitre D' at length we left before dessert in order to catch the production show Pure Platinum in the Celebrity Theater.
VIGO, SPAIN (Casual Dress)
City Sightseeing and Bayona - Half Day, $40
Santiago De Compostella - Full Day, $85, including lunch
We docked in Vigo almost 2 hours earlier than our scheduled 9:00AM arrival time, and it was still quite foggy outside. When the fog finally burned off around 11:00 and Tommie & I left the ship for our own tour of Vigo, it was quite hot. The maps provided by Celebrity for all the ports are quite good, and we enjoyed the many winding streets of the Old Town section on our way up to the Castillo, where magnificent views of the Vigo harbor and city waited. Off to the left we could see the town of Bayona, which is apparently the place to which Columbus first returned in 1493 after discovering ‘The New World.' Saw many others sights in the city, but the newer parts had busy streets with lots of traffic, and was very noisy. Millennium departed on schedule at 5:00PM. Tonight we opted for the alternative dining at the Ocean Grill and it was just as bad, if not worse, than the dining room. This was the night for the Tropical Island Nights Party and Fruit & Sherbert buffet out on deck, but it was so windy and chilly that less than 50 people had showed up when we were there at 11:00PM - another scheduling snafu by Celebrity. Clocks will be turned back one hour during the night.
LISBON, PORTUGAL (Informal Dress)
Lisbon City Sightseeing - Half Day, $47
Sintra and Cape Roca - Half Day, $45
Queluz Palace and Cascais - Half Day, $42
Fatima and Batalha - Full Day, $120, including lunch
Arrived in Lisbon on schedule at 7:00AM, to sunny skies and another warm day. We took the complimentary shuttle bus for the 3 mile ride to the Praca do Comercio, and then walked through the winding streets of the Alfama district before heading up to the Castello de Sao Jorge. Although we have been on 3 different Lisbon excursions on past cruises and seen all the major attractions, none took us to this high lookout with it's spectacular views of the city of Lisbon and the harbor. It was fun to be able to spot sites such as the Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower, and Monument to the Discoveries, and reminisce about past cruises to this port. On the way back to the shuttle bus we bought a couple bottles of Portuguese wine to try with dinner on the ship. Once back onboard we decided to finally try the Thalassotherapy pool that we so much enjoyed on the Mercury, in the hopes that it would not be too crowded with all the tours going on. Unfortunately, it was still packed as usual, so we just relaxed by the pool. Millennium departed on schedule at 5:00PM. Service in the main dining room tonight was exceptional, and we finally thoroughly enjoyed our meal here. Both our waiter and busboy were very apologetic about the past service, and this is when we learned about all the kitchen and restaurant design issues/problems. Clocks will be turned forward one hour during the night.
MALAGA, SPAIN (Casual Dress)
City Sightseeing - Half Day, $35
Town of Mijas - Half Day, $35
Millennium was scheduled to arrive at 10:00AM, but was more than an hour late-no explanation was ever given as to why-and clearance did not come until 11:30AM. Complimentary shuttle busses to the nearby city center had not yet arrived when we disembarked at 11:45, so we just walked the short distance from the pier (past the Costa Romantica and Renaissance VII, which were also in port). It was another sunny day and in the low's 90's already. For a 3rd straight day we elected an arduous trek up to the Alcazaba & Gibralfaro fortresses for the magnificent views they afforded of Malaga and surrounding environs. On the way back to the ship we walked past gorgeous fountains and plazas, and along wide tree lined boulevards (Ramblas) as well as some of the beautiful Costa del Sol beaches. Enjoyed room service pizza, delivered in a regular pizza box, once back onboard the ship. Millennium sailed on schedule at 6:00PM. Service in the dining room was again very good. Since it was so warm and balmy tonight (a good evening for the Tropical Island Nights Party!), we slept with our balcony door open and fell asleep to the soothing sounds of the ocean.
DAY AT SEA (Casual Dress)
This was our last day at sea, even though there are still 4 more cruise days and ports left. It was another warm and sunny day, which provided a perfect opportunity to do some exercising and then just relax. The Captain's Club galley tour was in the late afternoon, but we found it to be a bit boring because we have had much better tours, and seen a lot more of the kitchen, on others ships. Dinner was again terrific and Tommie & I both enjoyed filet mignon smothered in Bearnaise sauce, which Celebrity does like no other ship we've been on. Midway through our meal, Michel Roux and 3 other restaurant ‘supervisors' arrived for dinner and occupied a table adjacent to ours. Remembering the terrible service we had received for the first few days of the cruise, it was astonishing to see how he garnered the constant attention of numerous waiters, Maitre D's, and wine stewards. There was always at least one person off to the side of his table for the entire meal, ready to act at his slightest whim. We should all get that kind of service! It was another beautiful night to sleep with the balcony door open, but we were awakened around 6:00AM to the sounds of thunder. Tommie & I then spent 15 minutes on our balcony watching & listening to the spectacular lightning and thunder storm the ship was skirting around. When we went back to bed we could see the lights of Barcelona off in the distance, so it appeared we would make our scheduled 7:00AM arrival time.
Barcelona PALMA DE MALLORCA, SPAIN Formal Dress)
Barcelona Sightseeing - Half Day, $35
Gaudi & Barcelona - Half Day, $38
City Sightseeing & Spanish Village - Half Day, $38
Barcelona & Montserrat - Full Day, $85, including lunch
Imagine our surprise 2½ hours later when we awoke again, only to find ourselves still at sea and sailing at high speed. A few minutes later a cabin intercom announcement advised that as we approached Barcelona the Captain was informed that the port had been blockaded by fisherman in sympathy with the trucker's blockades on land, over the high price of fuel. Thus the decision had been made to substitute Palma de Mallorca instead, and that was where we were headed. Planned arrival was around 12:30PM and departure at the same time (5:00PM) as originally scheduled for Barcelona. The announcement added that as a result of the port substitution we would also be a couple hours late arriving in Villefranche tomorrow. Tommie & I were thrilled because we had just spent 3 days in Barcelona less than 2 years ago (prior to the Grand Princess inaugural cruise) and only planned to do some shopping there anyway. Conversely, it had been more than 10 years since Tommie had been to Palma, and was a port I had never visited. However, it was a great disappointment to most other passengers onboard because Barcelona was one of the major ports on this cruise. Nonetheless, it is our opinion that Celebrity worked wonders with this last minute itinerary change, and had an addendum to the daily program and a port guide printed and available at the front desk by 9:00PM. The shopping guide commentator even quickly recorded a short shopping guide of Palma that was then broadcast over the TV, and they arranged for some stores that would normally be closed for siesta from 1:00-4:30PM to remain open while the ship was in port. Complimentary shuttle busses were also being made available for the long ride from the pier to the city center. We have been on several other cruises where a port was canceled for some reason and absolutely nothing was even attempted to placate disgruntled passengers.
The ship did dock at 12:30PM, but then things started to get ugly as 1,000-1,500 passengers flooded onto the pier and swamped the 3 shuttle busses. We've been through situations like this before, and wanted no part of the conflicts and angry tempers that were sure to erupt. With another couple we disembarked the ship, walked a 100 yards down the pier, and hailed a taxi. Fifteen minutes and $5.00 later, we were at Majora Pearls (the furthest shop shown on the map provided by Celebrity) and were among the first to enter the almost empty store. We were served immediately and Tommie found earrings to match a necklace she received as a gift last year. By the time we left the tiny store ½ hour later, it was jam packed with 25 people from the Millennium-and another 50 or so waiting outside-all clamoring for service and complaining about the now hot and stuffy interior. We felt so sorry for the 3 sales clerks in the store who were inundated by increasingly hostile and pushy customers, each of whom demanded to be served next. We're sure each of the stores on the Celebrity map were experiencing the same nightmare.
We spent the next couple hours strolling the wide boulevards, looking at the sights, and gradually working our way down to the waterfront, where we found the beautiful Palma Cathedral and surrounding grounds. Here we discovered that the drop off & pick up point for the shuttle busses was just down the street, so after resting a bit and taking pictures we caught the next available bus (not a problem from this end) for the 10 minute drive back to the ship, which we re-boarded just before 4:00PM. The Millennium sailed as scheduled at 5:00PM.
After getting ready for Formal night (Captain's Farewell Party), we went to a lounge for dancing and then to the Martini Bar for a pre-dinner drink. Everywhere we went, the tension in the air from passengers complaining about today's missed port and subsequent Palma ‘fiasco' was palpable. When we arrived in the dining room, a couple of gentlemen were sitting at our table but a quick wave to the maitre D' took care of that problem. Dinner was once again outstanding, and the Baked Alaska Parade fun as usual.
VILLEFRANCHE, FRANCE (Informal Dress)
Grand Corniche, Eze & Monaco - Full Day, $155, including lunch
Nice, Eze & Monaco - Full Day, $145, including lunch
Cannes, Grasse & St. Paul de Vence - Full Day, $145, including lunch
Monte Carlo & Grand Casino - Half Day, $60
Monaco & Monte Carlo - Half Day, $55
Scenic French Riviera - Half Day, $50
Nice & St. Paul de Vence - Half Day, $50
We arrived in Villefranche at 9:00AM-2 hours later than originally scheduled, but on schedule according to what we were told yesterday-for what would prove to be yet another very frustrating day for many passengers. It was our only tender port, and although we found the tender service to be very smooth and efficient, we know that most others will disagree with our impression (for very GOOD reasons). A majority of passengers had to wait a long time in the Celebrity Theater for an available tender. This was due to the fact that the pier in Villefranche could only accommodate 2 tenders at a time and, since the Legend of the Seas was also in port that day, only 1 tender from each ship was allowed to moor. This significantly increased the amount of time it took to ferry almost 2,000 passengers ashore, even though Millennium did put 4 tenders into the water. We were fortunate however because one of the many benefits of having a suite includes priority tender tickets, which allow those passengers to board any tender without a wait.
We boarded one of the 1st tenders at 10:00AM and were quickly whisked to the pier. One interesting note about the tenders is that they have an exterior upper deck accessible by a stairway from within the tender. Since the weather in Villefranche was outstanding, passengers were permitted to use the upper deck and were afforded magnificent views of the Millennium, Legend of the Seas, and the harbor as we transferred to and fro. Tommie & I spent 2½ hours touring the small town, which we had never really seen before because it was merely the starting point for tours to Nice and Monaco on some of our former cruises. The local train station was just a 5 minute walk from the pier and we saw many passengers just catching trains on their own to those same destinations. Just after 1:00PM we walked back to the pier and quickly boarded an almost empty waiting tender for the short trip back to the ship.
We spent the rest of the afternoon basking in the warm sunshine by the Riviera Pool, and then watched as the tenders were raised around 5:30 in anticipation of our scheduled 6:00PM departure (or so we thought). What we did not know at the time was that a great majority of the tours did not even return to the pier until around 6:00PM, and that local pilot boats-which could only carry a fraction of the number of people a tender could-were then used for the next 2 hours to transport these tour passengers back to the ship. Some of these poor people waited on the pier for up to 1½ hours, or more, before being ferried back to the ship. And what greeted some of these very angry people when they finally got back aboard? Well, they had missed 1st seating dinner again-just like in Le Havre-and there was no place to eat! At least this time the Metropolitan Restaurant was able to accommodate some of these affected passengers at 2nd seating by placing them at tables where the regular guests were perhaps at the Olympic Restaurant or some other dining alternative. However, when we arrived in the dining room for dinner we witnessed at least one altercation between passengers when a 1st seating couple sat at their normal assigned table for 2 and refused to move when the couple that had that same table for 2nd seating arrived. The Maitre D' quickly arrived and moved the 1st seating couple to an empty spot elsewhere in the dining room.
For us, dinner was once again excellent and we even got to enjoy a bottle of wine compliments of our former butler on the Mercury. But for all too many others, Celebrity now had many strikes against it and people were getting more and more disgruntled. But unfortunately, there were still more problems to come!
CIVITAVECCHIA, ITALY (Casual Dress)
Eternal Rome - Full Day, $168, including lunch
A Walk in Rome - Full Day, $140, including lunch
A Taste of Rome - Full Day, $93, partly guided, lunch on own
Rome All Day On Your Own - Full Day, $70, transfer only, lunch on own
Tarquina and the Etruscan Tombs - Half Day, $62
Exclusive Best of Rome - Full Day, $340, mini-busses, including lunch
For the first time on this cruise the seas finally got a bit rough last night - now we know we're on a cruise! Millennium arrived just outside the Civitavecchia harbor in ample time to make our scheduled 7:00AM arrival, but for some reason-that was never explained-just positioned herself there and didn't move. Thus we were more than an hour late when we finally docked, and of course a majority of the passengers spent a great deal of that time crowded into the Celebrity Theater where they started to meet for their excursions as early as 7:15AM.
Our smaller group boarded our private tour bus at 8:30AM and we were about the very first off the ship to do so. We thought that Paris was crowed, but it turned out to be picnic compared to Rome. This is a special Holy Year (the millennium) and The Eternal City was just packed with tourists. When we entered the Sistine Chapel, it was a wall-to-wall mass of people and we had to literally elbow our way from front to back. St. Peter's Basilica was almost as bad, and the courtyard was full of chairs so people were channeled along specific walkways and paths. We had visited the Colosseum first and thought it was crowded, but revised our opinion after seeing the Vatican! Although we got to see a great deal, the crowds and heat spoiled the day. Fortunately, Tommie & I have more pleasant memories of Rome to reflect upon.
We returned to Millennium just before 7:00PM, as did a great majority of the other tours busses. The ship was originally scheduled to depart at 7:00PM, but ended up leaving about ½ hour late, as soon as the last excursion returned. Then at around 8:20PM the ship's emergency alarms started going off, and people were scurrying around wondering what to do because we were still cruising along. A short time later an announcement informed everyone that it was a malfunction in an electrical panel on the bridge, and that all was okay. Went to dinner as usual and once again found some late arriving 1st seating passengers being accommodated at the 2nd seating. However, the numbers were minuscule compared to last night. Dinner was very good again, and during dessert a couple of our ‘Net Buddies' dropped by the table to say hello.
LIVORNO, ITALY (Casual Dress)Shore excursions offered by Celebrity:
Florence & Pisa - Full Day, $155, including lunch
Splendor of Florence - Full Day, $160, including lunch
A Taste of Florence - Full Day, $90, partly guided, lunch on own
Florence On Your Own - Full Day, $68, transfer only, lunch on own
Pisa - Half Day, $50
Tuscany Wine Country - Half Day, $59, wine-salami-bread
Exclusive Florence & Pisa - Full Day, $340, mini-busses, including lunch
And the problems just keep on happening .... The seas were even rougher last night than the night before and we were rockin'-n-rollin' pretty good. We were scheduled to arrive at 7:00AM, but when Tommie & I awoke at 8:00 we found the ship just ‘treading water' outside the harbor with plenty of other ships keeping her company. While we were eating our breakfast an announcement was made that the port was currently closed due to heavy winds and high seas, and that Millennium would stay in the area for another few hours in the hope the winds might die down. Tommie & I didn't hold out too much hope, so just lounged around for a good part of the morning and wondered how we should spend the credit from our soon-to-be canceled shore excursion. To our great surprise the ship did pull into port just after 11:00AM and it was announced that all tours, except our Tuscany Wine Country tour, had been canceled due to insufficient time. Effectively, there went yet another port for many passengers who would not get to see Florence, another of the major sights on the itinerary! Celebrity did arrange for extra busses to transfer guests back and forth to nearby Pisa ($30 per person), but this was small comfort to those who missed out on Florence.
Tommie & I now wished we had used some of our time this morning more productively (such as packing!), but now had to get a quick lunch before our 12:15 tour departure. The Tuscany Wine Country excursion was great, and was such as nice way to end the cruise, especially after yesterdays disappointing Rome tour. The guide was personable, informative, and very humorous and the countryside was beautiful (it was another warm sunny day). We drove past Pisa and into the hills, and stopped at a delightful winery called Frattoria Michi where we had an extensive guided tour of the operations. We have been on lots of winery tours in the past, but most of those were huge commercial facilities. This was a smaller, more intimate winery (100,000 bottles per year) and extremely interesting. After the tour we were all seated at a long table where there were bowls of bread and platters of cheese and meats, plus three different wines to sample. Tommie & I liked one particular wine, so we purchased a bottle to enjoy with dinner this evening. After the winery we drove a short distance to a small village called Montecarlo de Lucca, and spent ½ hour there walking the narrow cobblestone streets and viewing the valley below from a couple vantage points. We then returned to the ship at 5:30PM and it sailed ½ later as scheduled.
We spent the next couple hours packing, and then went for a Martini before dinner. Our final evening in the dining room was enjoyable, but we did not get the souffle that the Maitre D' had promised when we asked him on the first night of the cruise.
GENOA, ITALY: Disembarkation & Trip Home
I just happened to wake for a few minutes around 3:00AM and noticed that we were already in port - I can't say what time we actually arrived. We also can't say too much about Genoa because we were among the first off the ship at 6:30AM to catch our privately chartered bus for the short transfer to the Genoa airport, and our early morning 8:50AM flight. We did not have any problems with disembarkation or luggage, but understand from talking to others after we got home that some people did have issues with luggage and transfers. The Genoa cruise terminal certainly did not appear large enough to efficiently handle large volumes of luggage and passengers for embarkation or disembarkation.
Our trip home was not without incident, but we caught all our British Airways flights (barely) and made it home as scheduled. However, the tiny Genoa airport was not a nice place to start the trek. We made our own flight arrangements to and from the cruise, so only have ourselves to blame!
Well we think you can appreciate from the above report that there were a lot of problems on this cruise. Many were not the fault of Celebrity, but clearly some of the scheduling, dining, and tendering issues definitely were. Posters on some Bulletin Boards were quick to coin this "The Cruise From Hell," and in many cases we can't fault their reasoning. However, missed ports are an unfortunate reality of cruising, and have happened to us on several occasions. We think Celebrity made an earnest attempt to provide alternate arrangements when these things happened, but unfortunately some of those even backfired. Celebrity does however suffer from a severe case of "poor communication" when dealing with problems, something we also noticed on the Mercury.
Another reality of the cruise experience is that shore excursions do not always run on time! Thus, individuals who choose early seating are always at risk of not arriving back from some excursions before the dinner hour, or having very little time after they get back from one to shower and get dressed for dinner. That is the PRIMARY reason many people select late seating! Late seating has its own set of drawbacks, including nightly buffets that occur just 1-1½ hours after they finish their meal, and frequently rescheduled theater entertainment to accommodate other evening activities. We think Celebrity did a commendable job of accommodating late arriving 1st seating passengers at 2nd seating in Villefranche and Civitavecchia, but fault them badly for the open seating fiasco in Le Havre. We were also very surprised that at least one of the four buffet sections in the Ocean Cafe was not available every evening, as is common on many other cruise lines. This would be preferable to the existing alternative dining concept which is mostly buffet style food service anyway. And in the case of Le Havre, the limited hours & methods by which a passenger can make reservations to dine here precluded those who suspected they might be late for regular dining to do so.
We are very sympathetic to those who feel so cheated by this cruise. Had it been our first cruise with Celebrity, we might be inclined not to want to cruise with them again (although it is our practice to never form a permanent opinion about any cruise line until we have sailed with them at least twice). Had this been our first trip to Europe, we would have been terribly disappointed at missing two of the major ports. But our past experiences have taught us to also remember the positive aspects of each cruise (and there are always some), lest we return from our vacation more stressed out over the problems we encountered, than we were before we left. Of course we fully realize that our Captain's Club membership alleviated the embarkation delays encountered by many, that our suite amenities allowed us to avoid the dining and tendering problems which arose, and the fact that we had been to all the destinations before insulated us from being affected by the missed ports. However, if you were someone who was adversely impacted by ALL these problems, it might be very difficult to put a positive spin on the experience.
But for Tommie & I this was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise, and we will not hesitate to cruise with Celebrity again. However, we will return on the Mercury or other ‘older' ships in the fleet, and NOT choose to sail on the Millennium again, nor any of her sister ships. We do not feel the service issues in the dining room and other parts of the ship can be corrected because of the ship's design, and of course the location of the suites-which we took issue with earlier in this report-cannot be moved. Unfortunately, most of the cruise staff (restaurant waiters, cabin stewards, butlers, bar waiters, social hostesses, and others) that we talked to during the cruise all felt the same way - they can't wait for their current contracts to expire so they can return to one of the other ships. Perhaps this may account for some of the attitude of the crew ....
We hope that some of the information contained in this report will be of assistance to those who might be contemplating a cruise on Millennium, and would welcome any questions or comments at the email address shown at the beginning of the report.