by Vincent & Mary Finelli
January 20, 2002
Picture this: You have just returned to your cabin after the "Welcome Aboard" show. It is 10 pm and you step out onto your aft balcony overlooking the ship's wake. You are mesmerized by a dazzling light show of moon beams creating moving geometric patterns and lines on an ocean rippled by the wake of the ship. On past cruises we have observed spectacular scenes of silvery moonlight rays shining brightly on the ship's wake and on the white crests of the ocean waves, but have never seen such a spectacular vision. This is very hard to describe, but it must be a natural phenomenon like the rainbow, where certain conditions exist to make the optical illusion of a waving checkerboard design. This was magical, the half moon shining over the ship's wake was just stunning. What better reason to have booked an aft cabin? And this was only the first half moon of the lunar cycle, so we were anticipating seven evenings of moonlight spectacles. And each night the moon grew bigger and more beautiful, but not as dazzling as the illusion of the first night.
This was our 24th cruise in the past six years. We sailed on the Millennium last January and booked our wedding anniversary cruise this year in the same cabin #8176. Since we enjoyed our first cruise so much, we returned to relive happy days and excellent accommodations, service and food. From the numbers of repeat Celebrity cruisers aboard this ship, it is obvious many others believe, as we do, that Celebrity "exceeds expectations."
Our reunion with old friends, the unforgettably kind Hotel Manager Dimitrios Anagnostou (Greece) and the cosmopolitan Olympic Restaurant Manager Raffaele Bernardini, was mutually warm; moreover, we made a new friend, the interesting Master of the ship-- Captain Michael Karatzas (Greece) -- more about these unique men later.
The Celebrity ships are easily recognized in port, just look for the big "X" (the Greek letter "Chi" symbol of the Chandris family, the original owner and founder of Celebrity). They have navy blue hulls with a gold stripe around the promenade deck and orange life boats. The Millennium's stats are tonnage 91,000, length 964.6 ft., beam 105.6 ft., draft 26.3 ft. and a cruising speed of 24 knots. She was built by Chantiers L'Atlantique, St. Nazaire, France and made her maiden voyage July 2000. Celebrity Cruises has been rated Five Star by Berlitz, and ranks in the top ten cruise lines for service and cuisine (the famous chef Michel Roux oversees the food). The quiet elegance of this ship is kept in exquisite condition under the watchful eyes of Capt. Karatzas and Mr. Anagnostou.
With only one security check point at the entrance of Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, luggage drop off was easy. We filled out a clearance form for the Bahamas and went to the special counter for Captain's Club and were headed toward the elevators in five minutes. On Level 2 a crew member took Vincent's wheelchair and accompanied us aboard. Curbside to cabin in ten minutes, very nice.
After our last cruise on the Carnival Pride, where the extensive decorations by ship designer Joe Farcus overwhelmed us, it was a pleasant return to the sober design of the Millennium. The art work is carefully selected and some of it whimsical, such as a tree picture which seems to be hung upside down, but on close examination it is actually a reflection of a tree in the still waters of a pool. Also on the same Deck 3, near the Grand Foyer is a ceramic bust by Luigi Ontani (Italy) of Christopher Columbus who wears on his head models of his three ships: the "Nina," "Pinta," and the "Santa Maria." But, the cleverest painting is just outside the Casino: It is a very formal looking picture of a group playing cards; the mood is lightened by the eyes of one female player watching a servant to see if she is aiding her opponents in cheating. Throughout the ship there are some "modern art" pieces which remain indecipherable to us, but they may be interesting to others.
Continental Deck 2 is cabins only.
Plaza Deck 3 aft holds the Cinema & Conference Center, midship is the beautiful classic alternative restaurant, the Olympic, with the original walnut paneling from the White Star Liner the Olympic (sister ship to the ill fated Titanic). There is also the original Wine Cellar from the Olympic and a fantastic collection of famous wines. You must make a reservation immediately when boarding, if you wait until mid cruise you may not get one. See the Manager Raffaele for a night you will always remember (more later). Midship is the Grand Foyer with the Guest relations Desk, and the Glass Elevators overlooking the ocean; then there are cabins; and forward is the main floor of the Celebrity Theater with its sofa seats, very nice and comfortable. Its walls are made lovely with torch like illumination.
Promenade Deck 4 has the lower level of the Metropolitan Restaurant and the Rendez Vous Lounge with its dance floor. Midship is the second level of the Grand Foyer with a lighted gold onyx staircase to Deck 5 and the Cova Cafe`. Next is the Fortunes Casino with the classical Greek statues of women with water urns and huge murals of lovely ladies in bucolic settings. Very nice. Then forward is Michael's Club -- a genteel cigar smokers' refuge. Finally, there is the second tier of the Celebrity Theater.
Entertainment Deck 5 aft has the upper level of the Metropolitan Restaurant where we dined early seating at table #525 over looking the Grand Staircase and the lower level with the Captain's table (more about this later). Midship is the beautiful Platinum Club with unique crystal lights and royal purple upholstered chairs and a Champagne Bar with huge urns holding chilling bottles. Walk forward and enter the Grand Foyer and the Cova Cafe` di Milano (reminiscent of the real Cova Pasticceria-Confetteria founded in 1817 across from the famous La Scala Opera House, Milan, Italy). This is the best place to people watch, while having exquisite coffees, teas, cocktails and the finest desserts. Don't miss it. We ran into the Hotel Manager Dimitrios and Captain Karatzas here among others.
Penthouse Deck 6, Vista Deck 7, Panorama Deck 8 and Sky Deck 9 are all cabins, mostly with verandas.
Resort Deck 10 aft has the Ocean Grille and the Ocean Cafe` both serving great food (individually prepared pastas, sushi, an oriental buffet and Pizza from 3 pm to 7 pm and 10 pm to 1 am (hours that we wished were expanded, since first seating dinner would be ruined by pizza that late, how about 11 am to 7 pm?). Eating at the buffet was made pleasant by the linen place mats on the trays, quick assistance with waiters carrying trays and assisting with drinks. This is where a passenger notes how helpful the crew is. Try navigating a buffet in a wheelchair, believe us, it's not easy. Many times we avoid this way of dining, but not on the Millennium, here we enjoyed it. Midship on Deck 10 is the Riviera Pool and hot tubs; forward is the Aqua Spa with its two whirlpools and salt water therapy lap pool surrounded by teak wood chaise lounges and privacy glass walls. All the way forward is the Thermarium and finally the Gym with aerobic and cardiovascular equipment.
Sunrise Deck 11 aft holds "Ship Mates Fun Factory" and the Arcade for the younger cruisers. For the athletic and sports fans there are the Golf Simulators, the Jogging Track and the Extreme Sports Bar with large screen TVs. Here can be found Tom Shannon's (USA) painted fiber glass figures, "Climber," "Fly & Dive," "Snowboarder," etc. and in the stairwell is the "Summer Green" chandelier by Dale Chihuly, a lime green amazing work of blown glass. The Mast Bar, and Aquadome are also on Deck 11. Forward is the Cosmos Night Club with a beautiful 270 degree view of the sea ahead. The interiors match the outside of the ship: Navy Blue and Gold. There is a lighted polished metal dance floor and circular bar with a lighted polished metal space dome. The ceiling sports lighted sea gulls: Fantastic!
Sports Deck 12 has rest of the sports areas: an open deck area and the basketball court.
We chose the same cabin #8176 as last year, since it is so spacious (538 sq. ft. including balcony). When entering on the left there is a huge bathroom with safety rails. Then there is a queen bed, two night stands with lamps, a love seat and glass coffee table. On the right there is a mirrored wall and a triple wardrobe: The first two sections have hangers and the next section holds eight drawers and the personal safe. There is a lighted vanity/desk with two more cupboards. The far wall is glassed with a sliding door to the huge veranda with two chairs, a table and two chaise lounges. by far an excellent reason to book the aft cabins is this extraordinary balcony overlooking the ship's wake. Our cabin stewardess Maria was phenomenal, always smiling and everything in order. This is the only ship that does not remove the complimentary robes the night before debarkation. The butler Paul (India) delivered fresh fruit daily, High Tea at 4 pm and Canapes at 5 and always pleasantly smiling. The credit for the impeccable condition of the staterooms must also be given to the supervision of the capable Chief Housekeeper Georgios Dimakareas (Greece) and his watchful assistant Nilde.
FOOD & SERVICE
The Metropolitan Restaurant serves the unique recipes of the culinary master Michel Roux under the direction of the very young and serious about food Executive Chef Christophe Belin (France). Restaurant Manager Zbigniew Ludwicki (Poland) orchestrates the wonderful service and Asst. Maitre d' Zbigniew Warchol (Poland) is vigilant of his waiters. Our waiter Dragan (Croatia) and Asst. Waiter Walter Paz (Honduras) were fast, flawless and friendly. This restaurant, unlike many others on ships, was always full for the dinners were events. Imagine serving upwards of 9,000 meals per day and all so delicious!
Some of the more memorable dishes were as follows: Appetizers, such as shrimp cocktail, prosciutto with melon and mushroom Pate` Confit. Breads were excellent especially the breadsticks served daily (the fennel seeded ones were the best). There was a nice variety of both hot and cold soups. Salads were interesting and Caesar salad was always available. Entrees included excellent veal, beef, chicken and don't miss the rack of lamb or the stuffed quail (a light bread and giblet stuffing). Our compliments to the chef. Celebrity is one of the few lines to still have sommeliers in the dining rooms; this is a plus for Vincent who drinks wine with his meals.
We enjoyed dinner at the beautifully decorated Captain's table (a centerpiece of cymbidium orchids as lovely as the single rose that the Captain gave each lady at the dinner): Escargot, Pate` Confit, Carolina soup, Tornados of Beef au jus, Petit Fours and two wines, a dry white and a medium body red. Captain Karatzas is a delightful host and Mary, seated next to him, was happy to engage in conversation about the ship, safety (which he cannot stress enough), and world events (on which he is well versed) and of course his beloved home Athens, Greece. He is "an Officer and a Gentleman" and imparts confidence to the passengers as Master of this marvelous ship.
The only thing that can rival dinner at the Captain's Table is dining at the Olympic. This restaurant oozes atmosphere with the beautiful walnut paneling with its festoons of gold gilt. In this formal ambiance, we dined on a meal selected personally by our friend the Manager Raffaele Bernardini: Vincent's shrimp were prepared table side with arugula and Balsamic vinegar -- a culinary experience; Mary's Russian Salad was superb. Just when you think nothing can top this -- the desserts do: moist chocolate Souffle, no tiny tid bit, but large enough to serve two. Dinner is topped off with a tiered tray of petit fours. Ah, memories are made of this! Raffaele has trained his staff personally and the service is impeccable. Don't miss this opportunity. You may never dine like this at sea again.
The twenty-four hour room service is quick and extensive. We had a full breakfast served in our cabin every morning. And this is the first time we had continental breakfast served in the cabin on the morning of debarkation.
Cruise Director Eric Bohus, also an excellent tenor, is the friendliest person on board. He organized a series of activities that were bound to keep cruisers engaged: Library Trivia (of which we each won one) Team Trivia, Bingo (jackpots over $1,000) Bridge, Computer Class, Darts, Shuffleboard, Table Tennis, Movies, Golf putting, and the evening shows. Show time was on a par with other lines, but noteworthy was dancer Meisha Lee featured in several numbers. Headliner Thien Fu, juggler/comedian, was funny and the married team of Shirley Harmer and Beni Mason were great in their imitation of Louis Prima and Keeley Smith.
Around the ship various entertainers were excellent: The Enigma String Quartet who played in the foyer and nightly in the dining room; Melanie the harpist performed in the Cova; however, most enjoyable were the "Young Duo" Gianni and Gabriella who played nightly in the Rendez Vous Lounge Deck 4. This was always crowded, but, they could also be seen and heard from the balcony above in the Platinum Club.
Social Hostesses Katrina Crow and Sarah Van Pevenage were very friendly and busy, busy, busy looking after everyone. Thanks so much.
This cruise is one we won't forget easily for the many friends we revisited and the many new ones we made. We were sad to say farewell to Dimitrios Anagnostou who made our cruise so memorable; we shall return to Celebrity soon.
PORTS OF CALL
San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Arrival: 1 pm. Departure: 8 pm. The following are some of the shore excursions offered by Celebrity:
1. Old & New City Tour, 2 1/2 hrs. Very nice with a stop at San Cristobal Fortress and down town shopping time ($23).
2. Rain Forest Full Day (with lunch and swimming), 6 to 7 hrs. ($58).
3. City Tour and Bacardi Rum Distillery, 4 hrs. ($26).
Catalina Island, Dominican Republic, Wednesday, Arrival: 7 am. Departure: 5 pm. In addition to the beautiful beach and barbecue hosted by the ship's crew on this private island, the following are some of the excursions:
1. Altos De Chavon Village and Folk Show, 4 hrs. ($46).
2. Horseback Riding at Casa De Campo, 4 hrs. ($72).
3. Kayak Adventure on the Chavon River, 4 hrs. ($72).
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands, Thursday, Arrival: 8 am. Departure: 6 pm. Shopping is the best here. Don't forget the best linens for the best prices at Mr. Tablecloth. This is an obligatory stop for Mary. Many tours are offered by the ship. Some of them are listed here:
1. Island Sights Tour, 3 hrs. A must for the first time ($34).
2. Island Drive and Coral World, a visit to the Underwater Observatory and Marine Park, 3 hrs. ($41).
3. St. John Safari/Snorkeling, a bus ride through the Rockefeller's U.S. National Park to Trunk Bay, beach combing, sunbathing and snorkeling, 4 hrs. ($48). Other tours and activities offered on St. Thomas include scuba, beach, Kon-tiki Party Boat, sea plane and helicopter tours, kayaking, biking, sky ride to Paradise Point, etc. which can be purchased at the Excursion Desk or arranged individually.
Nassau, Bahamas, Saturday, Arrival: 12 noon. Departure: 6 pm.
1. Nassau & Paradise Island Tour, 2 hrs. ($22). This is interesting for first timers.
2. Seaworld Explorer Glass Bottom Boat, a tour of the Underwater Marine Park at Athol Island, 1 1/2 hrs. ($42).
3. Blackbeards Cay Beach Break, a relaxing time on this beautiful beach with chair and drink included, 3 hrs. ($21).
Vincent had wheelchair assistance from the Grand Foyer to the luggage pickup. A porter took our luggage curb side, where we met our daughter-in-law Paige who drove us home by 9:30 am.
After such a great cruise there is very little to suggest for improvement. This is one of very few ships which offer drinkable (odor-free) water in dining rooms and staterooms. One of the frequent complaints we have made in our cruise reviews has been the chlorine taste of drinking water, ice cubes and beverages aboard most of the ships. We also have found the pasta in the dining room and at the Ocean Grill to be palatable, even though not al dente, it was not gluey or overcooked. We have not tried the pizza, but we were told by others that it was good. The complaint for the pizza was the serving hours (3:00 pm to 7:00 pm), too short compared to other cruise lines. The following are some minor points which, in our opinion, would make this one of the best valued cruise in the competitive market of this industry:
1. Make the pizza hours longer; some cruise lines have pizza available as long as 24 hours.
2. Have crew members curb side to help with wheelchairs for embarkation.
3. Let cruisers know about the "Dialysis at Sea" program. There may be people who feel they cannot travel because of their kidney disease and this program could be just what they need. We met a cruiser using the dialysis aboard. She was on her second cruise and very happy with this opportunity.
With the sweet memories of this cruise we are looking forward to two others which we have booked for the near future: one to South America on the Norwegian Dream, March 3rd, mainly for the very interesting itinerary (Patagonia, the Falkland Islands, the Strait of Magellan and the Chilean Fjords) and the next on the Costa Atlantica, April 7th, to revisit this beautiful ship, a floating art museum. Happy Cruising!