by Tom Dills
My wife and I sailed Celebrity's Millennium November 11-18, 2001. This was our third cruise, having sailed previously on Ocean Princess and Voyager of the Seas. We chose Millennium because we wanted to try Celebrity and were interested in the newer class of Celebrity ships.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale a day early, and chose to stay at the Marina Marriott because of its proximity to the cruise port and the Intercoastal Waterway. The Marriott is a lovely hotel, and we were impressed with the service and location. We had intended to see the sights on the water taxi, but got distracted with the many other things to see and do. We ate lunch at Goosby's, an outdoor bar/snack bar, and had dinner at LaMarina. Both meals were quite good for hotel restaurant fare.
We awoke Sunday morning to see Millennium, Grand Princess and other ships docked at the cruise port. After a leisurely breakfast on our balcony, we took a cab to the port, arriving there at approximately 10:00. After about an hour wait, the gates were opened, and we were among the first to clear security and make our way to the check in counter. Celebrity's computer systems were down that morning, but the staff handled check in admirably using a manual process. We were on our way to the ship in virtually no time. We were told that the staterooms would not be ready until about 1:00, but we went to our room, met our cabin steward, dropped off our carryons and proceeded to look over the ship and find some lunch.
We booked a Deluxe Oceanview (Category 2C) stateroom on Deck 6. While comfortable and adequate, we were surprised that the cabin was the smallest of the similar-category cabins of the three ships we'd been on. There was sufficient storage for all our gear, but we were very thankful to have packed light. Our cabin was configured with a queen-sized bed, and there was a chair (looked like a loveseat but not wide enough to seat two) that converted to a twin bed. Given the relatively small room size and storage areas, this cabin would be a real squeeze with more than two people. The size of the veranda was typical, as it had two patio chairs and a small table, making it perfect for enjoying breakfast, watching arrival or departure from port, or just relaxing.
Because of the design of the ship, the decks with balcony cabins (decks 6-9) are recessed, so that the pool deck (deck 10) and the promenade deck (deck 4) and lower decks extend out above and below. The lifeboats hang from deck 5 and protrude out beyond the balconies, obstructing the view of the waterline. The pool deck above extends out beyond the balconies providing a certain amount of shade from the mid-day sun. This benefit would be greater the higher the deck, but the tradeoff is that the overhang would block the view of the sky from the higher decks. The balcony was the first we'd had that was faced with glass, which really enhanced the view from inside the cabin. The downside was that the glass was almost constantly covered with spray and condensation, so the view wasn't completely clear. The balconies were separated by translucent glass, which allowed for privacy while letting light in.
Our cabin steward was Lazaro. He was very attentive to our needs and cheerfully went the extra mile to help us with anything we needed, such as a problem with my tux that was easily resolved with his assistance. He also delivered our room service breakfast right on time every morning.
With her dark blue hull and the huge Celebrity 'X' on the funnel, the ship is unmistakable. I find it hard to call anything so huge 'pretty' but Millennium is certainly impressive from a distance. She's a large vessel, which is most apparent in port alongside other ships, both larger and smaller.
Inside, I feel that Millennium lacks the 'Wow' factor of many of the newer ships that have huge multistory atrium areas and elevator lobbies. Upon entering the ship, my first impression was that we had walked into an alternate entrance, but it turned out we were in the right place. While Millennium does have a multistory atrium, the area is relatively small, and the sight lines do not contribute to the impression of the size of the space. Upon examination from other angles, such as from the decks above, it turned out to be a much nicer location than my initial impression had suggested. Overall, decor is elegant and somewhat understated, but very classy.
Among the things we had looked forward to on Millennium were Words, the library, and Notes, the music listening lounge. Words had a nice selection of books, but it wasn't conducive to reading. It's a small area, there aren't a lot of seats and any amount of walkthrough traffic tended to be distracting. Notes had a wonderful selection of music, but in order to listen one had to turn their cruise card in at the Guest Relations desk on Deck 3 to get a set of headphones. This was highly inconvenient, as Notes is on Decks 6 & 7, and once you'd turned over your card you couldn't go back to your cabin or get a drink. We ended up not using either facility.
Being a November cruise, the passengers were generally 40's and older, which was to be expected. I would think the mix would be a bit younger during the holidays and summertime. There were several young families with small children and they were very well behaved.
We really liked the AquaSpa, and spent a good amount of our poolside time there. It was generally quiet, and the background noise from the pool equipment covered up conversations and provided for an overall relaxing environment. Chairs were generally available both in the AquaSpa and at the main pool, although predictably they were more at a premium on sea days. We were able to find suitable alternative quiet areas in the lounges, as they tended to be deserted during the day.
I have positive and negative comments in this area. The entertainment choices that were offered were excellent, but the variety and/or availability was lacking. Aboard Millennium was classical pianist Brooks Aehron, who did three excellent shows, the first time we'd heard of a classical pianist at sea. The production shows were very good, performed by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers and the Celebrity Orchestra. Prodigy provided the entertainment poolside.
There were performers that we did not get to hear, as they only performed during dinner (late seating) and were finished or nearly so by the time dinner ended. These consisted of a pianist, a string quintet and a harpist. Pre-dinner music was limited to recorded big band music in Cosmos (the disco) and The Young Duo (a vocal/instrumental duo) in the Rendez-vous Lounge. While the duo was very good they played every night and their selection grew old after seven nights. After-dinner music was limited to The Young Duo (see above) and the disco. Since we are not fans of prerecorded dance music, disco in particular, we did not have much interest in Cosmos.
Given the obvious level of musical talent on board and the apparent sophistication of the passengers, I was surprised that there was not more variety of musical choices. Several of the Celebrity Singers were excellent soloists, and a set or two in one of the lounges featuring their talents would have been a hit. The members of the Celebrity Orchestra could certainly have put together a couple of jazz or big band sets. Instead we got recorded big band music and seven nights of 'Guantanamera'.
I'm not a food expert, so I can't fully appreciate or evaluate Celebrity's claim to have top-notch cuisine. I can say that the food and service were very good and that we were very happy with the dining experience. We felt that the menu selections were good and were impressed with the variety. There were wonderful dessert choices with an emphasis on chocolate. We found ourselves at the Ocean Grill/Ocean Cafe (buffet) or the Island Grill (burgers, hot dogs and fries) for lunch most days. The Ocean Grill is typical buffet fare, not outstanding but very adequate.
We did do the Olympic Restaurant and enjoyed it immensely. We felt that it was well worth the $25pp charge. A tip: the restaurant is divided into two rooms. The smaller room near the entrance is paneled with the fabled wood from the SS Olympic, the larger room is not. If the wood is important, ask to be seated there. We were and it only added to the experience. In any event the service and extra attention is outstanding. Too much detail here would take away from the reader's personal experience, but I highly recommend the Olympic Restaurant.
We had room service breakfast each day, preferring to enjoy our coffee and tea on the balcony rather than fight the lines for runny eggs. We learned after a little trial and error to order the number of items desired rather than the number of servings. If you said you wanted two servings of danish you got two danish. If you asked for two servings of croissants you got two croissants. It was a little comical but we figured it out and finally managed to order the right quantity of food. One morning we got tea bags and no hot water, another day got the hot water but no tea bags. Both were quickly and easily resolved.
One of the quirks of Celebrity is that there are certain, albeit short, times of the day when there is no food available anywhere. It's never more than thirty minutes or so, but you need to pay attention to the times listed in the Millennium Daily.
Ports & Shore Excursions
Millennium called on San Juan, Catalina Island, St Thomas and Nassau, with two days at sea. In San Juan we took the Bacardi Rum Factory tour. This tour included a tour of the city, which unfortunately had to be cut short because of the length of the wait for the rum factory tour. This seemed to be due to a general lack of organization on Bacardi's part rather than the fault of the tour company, as several groups arrived at once and they did not seem to have sufficient guide staff to handle the volume. by the time we got to the factory the workers appeared to be on break because all the equipment was shut down and everyone was standing around talking. Overall, I felt that because of the arrival and departure times (1:00-8:00) in San Juan the usable time in port was too limited because many of the shops started closing at 5:00. Those with early dinner seating lost a couple of hours of port time or had to either skip dinner on the ship or eat at the buffet or the Olympic. This is a beautiful city and I'd like to see more of it. Perhaps a future cruise will sail from San Juan and we'll be able to spend a day or two there pre or post-cruise.
I believe Catalina Island to be typical of the cruise lines' private islands. The beaches are much too crowded for my taste and patience, the lines for lunch are too long, and besides the beach there's not much else to do or see besides shoo away mosquitoes and souvenir vendors. I went ashore long enough to take a few pictures of the Millennium anchored in the harbor, then went back to the ship for a nice lunch and a quiet swim in the pool. To each his own.
We had been to St Thomas previously and didn't have a lot of shopping to do, so we poked around Havensight in the morning and took a cruise to St John in the afternoon. The weather was less than cooperative as it rained on the way there and was cloudy until just about time to come back. As a result we missed out on Trunk Bay's legendary white sand and deep blue water. Even when it's cloudy Trunk Bay is beautiful, someplace I want to go back to! We were treated to a spectacular post-storm sunset as we sailed away from St Thomas.
This was our first visit to Nassau. Paradise Island and the Atlantis Resort are spectacular and the sight of the ships lined up at the pier was impressive. We took a tour of the city and of Paradise Island, spending a whopping 20 minutes at Atlantis. Nassau itself was interesting but not outstanding, but Atlantis is definitely a future to-do destination.
Knowing that the entire list of passengers had to be cleared by immigration before we could begin to disembark prepared us for the worst. Instead we were pleasantly surprised. The immigration process started early, prior to 7:00, and disembarkation started about 9:00. We passed the time by having breakfast in the dining room, waiting for the parade of colored luggage tags to begin. Thankfully we were among the first groups to be called, shortly after 9:00. We left the ship, claimed our luggage and were on our way to the airport by 9:30. The airport was a mess and we were thankful to be there early with three hours before our flight, as we needed nearly every minute.
An observation regarding our airport experience: While FLL airport was extremely crowded, as one would expect with the Sunday morning crush of cruise passengers, airline staff did an admirable job of making sure that everyone in line was able to make their flight. While it was aggravating to see people from behind us in line get escorted to the front, thus lengthening our delay, it was comforting to know that they would do the same for us should we still be in line as the time for our flight approached. They were also giving similar priority to those waiting in the separate line for security. Management personnel repeatedly walked along the line calling out flight numbers and taking those folks whose departures were imminent though a separate security checkpoint, thus ensuring that flights were not missed. I felt that it was very fair to everyone under the circumstances. Total time in the airport before arriving at our gate was about 2 ½ hours.
All in all this was a great cruise. Millennium is a lovely ship, we had delicious food and attended some wonderful shows. Our experience with the Olympic Restaurant was excellent and we'd love to have an opportunity to visit it again. This was only our third cruise, and we are looking forward to sampling more cruise lines, different ships and other destinations.
Despite my best efforts to be balanced in my comments, some readers may feel that I'm being overly negative toward the ship and the cruise line. It was a great cruise, and while there was nothing that detracted from a great vacation, there were several noteworthy shortcomings.
We noticed more ship motion on Millennium than any ship we have been on previously. While fairly gentle, the ship rocked quite a bit side-to-side despite what appeared to be calm seas. I remarked at one point that it felt like we were doing S-turns in the water. We heard numerous comments, some from cruisers more veteran than us, that the motion was at times excessive. Two gentlemen remarked at dinner one evening that they had been awakened the previous night by severe rocking. While I did not wake up in the night, I did have a headache and queasy stomach that morning. Be sure to pack the Bonine!
For the formal nights I rented a tux through Cruiseline Formals. The tux was delivered to our stateroom on Monday. A minor mixup in jacket size was quickly remedied through the diligence of our cabin steward. While I've generally been pleased with the company and like the convenience of renting, I realize that I'm a difficult fit and have decided that I'll be a lot happier with the fit and quality if I take the plunge and buy my own tux for future cruises. I want to make it clear that my decision is not based on Cruiseline Formals, but rather on personal preference.
We had expected to come away from this cruise with Celebrity feeling that we 'd found our match. While it was certainly a great experience, to my way of thinking it was in line with our previous experiences rather than the step above we'd anticipated. All in all it was a wonderful vacation. We were happy to have the chance to sail with Celebrity and on Millennium. We're on a bit of a quest to sample as many different lines and ships as we reasonably can, but we feel we'd definitely put Celebrity on our list of cruise lines to repeat on. We haven't yet done this enough to speak authoritatively, but I'd venture to say the experience was typical for the time of year and for a cruise on a mainstream line, with a great ship, outstanding service, plenty of activities and lots of fun.
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