by Ken Lovell
February 24, 2002
We just recently returned from our first Celebrity cruise on the Millennium and I wanted to post our review of the ship and cruise. I'm offering my own opinion, from my own perspective with the hope that others might benefit from this information. Our overall cruise experience was wonderful and we had a great time, so please don't take any criticism of the cruise personal.
This was our sixth cruise, so I still consider us fairly novice at the cruise experience. We are in our mid-40's and on this trip my wife and I took our 18-year old daughter and we met my parents and my brothers and their wives for the cruise. As noted, this was our first Celebrity cruise, having previously cruised Carnival (Inspiration), Princess (Sea Princess) and Royal Caribbean (Radiance of the Seas) once and Holland America (Veendam) twice. My review will obviously include some comparisons to those earlier experiences.
We made our own flight arrangements with Orbitz and flew into Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, the day before the cruise. This is a must for us, and I can't imagine ever flying in on the day of departure again. We stayed at the AmeriSuites Hotel for the first time. It has a nice location with respect to Port Everglades, and they have a shuttle that picks you up at the airport and will take you to the Port on the day of embarkation. Using their courtesy phone near baggage claim, we called the hotel and their van was there in only a few minutes for the short ride to the hotel. The hotel is located near 17th Street where there is plenty of shopping and several places to eat. On previous trips we have always stayed at the Embassy Suites, and this is right next-door. The Hotel is not up to Embassy Suites standards, but it was clean. I would rate it a 2 Star hotel, similar to a Comfort Inn, but with a small sitting area and kitchenette. There is an Outback right outside the hotel. We ate at a Mexican Restaurant in a strip shopping center just east across the street from the Embassy Suites. Prices were reasonable and the food was fine.
Since there was a long line for the hotel shuttle, we had the hotel call some cabs for the short ride over to the Port. This is a 5-minute cab ride and we were there by 11:30 a.m. The place was wide open and we were processed through check-in faster than I've ever seen. No lines at all, and we got our Celebrity ID Cards and were on the ship in 10 minutes of arrival at the Port. The card functions as an ID, key to your stateroom and shipboard charge card. As you enter the ship, they take your picture and digitally cross-reference it to your card so that every time you punch in, your picture comes up for the gatekeepers. Easily the best embarkation we have ever experienced. If Celebrity is always this good at embarkation, they deserve very high marks.
One advantage of arriving early is the opportunity to photograph the ship without the crowds of people. Even though the cabins are not ready, we were able to drop off our carry-on and begin exploring the ship right away. I'm sure you've already ready how impressive the Millennium is. It is a beautiful ship. Very clean and still looking like new.
Cabin: We have stayed in the HAL Mini-Suites, balcony cabins, outside cabins, and yet have come to prefer the inside cabin. To many that may sound strange, but we always sleep better in inside cabins and since we spend so little time in there, I'll be surprised if we ever book anything else. It also helps us justify cruising more often, as we spend less. We were on Deck 8, the Panorama Deck in Cabin 8089. These cabins are adequate in size, even with our daughter who slept on a bed that dropped out of the ceiling. There is plenty of closet and drawer space and the bathroom was very nice, including a shower that is much larger than some we have seen. All in all, we were very pleased with our cabin, with one very big exception. We made the mistake of booking a room below the swimming pool. Even though the pool is located on deck 10, the bottom of the pool is on deck 9, so we could hear the water of the pool sloshing back and forth all night long. If you're going on this ship, do not book a mid-ship inside cabin on this floor. In general the rooms are not very quiet and noise from the hall is easily audible. They begin vacuuming at 8:00 a.m. every morning, which might create difficulties if you like to sleep in. Our cabin steward, Wilfred was great; never intrusive, but always available.
Aqua Spa: This is truly one of the nicest areas of the ship. They have plenty of equipment and offer several spa treatments. Our daughter had a facial which she enjoyed very much, my wife was pleased with her haircut and color, and I enjoyed the best massage I've ever experienced on a cruise. If I weren't already married, I would have proposed on the spot. There is a nice dry sauna in the men's changing area with a view of the ocean, and the showers in the changing area are particularly nice; wonderful, strong stream of warm water. They have lockers and you get your key from the spa desk attendant. The Thermal Pool Area, including the Thalassotherapy Pool is also very nice but the water was very cool on the first sea day and they never seem to keep the hot tubs warm enough. by the second day the Thalassotherapy Pool water was nice and warm but the adjacent hot tubs were always cool. These are all saltwater pools and this is a nice area to relax inside early in the morning. It did get a bit crowded in the afternoon. One of my biggest complaints relates to the charge for use of the Thermarium. This is a beautiful area inside the Aqua Spa that has a Turkish Bath (warm steam room), the Grotto (hot steam room) the Laconium (cool aroma therapy room), two special showers with scented water and a relaxation area of heated tile seating. I enjoy steam rooms and like to begin each day on a cruise with a steam. But on the Millennium, you must make an appointment for these rooms and there is a charge of $18.70 per hour of usage. It was often difficult to schedule a time and usually it was not available before 9:30 a.m. On all other ships we have cruised, they have had free steam rooms that were open and available at any time. I missed that. Don't get me wrong. The Thermarium is wonderful. I just think it should be free and always open.
Ocean Grill: We ate Breakfast and Lunch in the Ocean Grill area throughout the cruise. There are two buffet lines on each side of the ship. In addition, there is an area further aft from the buffets where omelets are prepared for breakfast and special lunch items are prepared, usually a pasta or pizza. Pizza is also served from these areas in the late afternoon and evening. All the way back to the aft, is an additional serving area that offered lighter breakfasts and specialty lunches. One day it was oriental, another sandwiches, and another Italian. I felt it was the best place to get lunch. There is also a nice outdoor seating area aft of the Ocean Grill. The quality of the food was excellent, but bare in mind that I prefer a noisy Tex-Mex restaurant over any place with tablecloths. Ice Cream is also served at times in the Ocean Grill area, and tea, cookies and pastries are put out each day around 5:00 p.m. The cookies are excellent.
Metropolitan Restaurant: We had early seating at Table 502 on the upper deck of the restaurant all the way aft against the windows. This was a perfect seating area and we had the best waiter and assistant waiter of any cruise. Valer, from Romania was wonderful as our waiter, and Bosko, from Croatia was equally excellent. The food in the dining room was very good, especially the cold fruit soups and dessert selection. On previous cruises, we felt Princess had the best offerings, but I would now say that Celebrity was its equal. Valer was particularly nice to bring out one of every dessert so that we could sample all of them before making our selection. Since we were all family, this worked out great and gave us a chance to try so many things. The menus were always varied with excellent choices, including pastas, chicken, seafood and beef. We ate all too well on this cruise. We did not eat any other meals in the restaurant, but other family members did and said it was excellent. Nor did we try the Olympic restaurant, but my brother did and loved it.
Deck Areas: The pool area always seemed busy, loud and crowded which is not really my cup of tea, but there are always open chairs throughout the ship on other decks. We generally hung out towards the aft portion of the ship because it was quieter and less windy. I also enjoyed the Promenade deck. This is a great area to get out of the sun, read a book and take a nap. Unfortunately, the deck chairs do not recline back enough, but it's still very comfortable and quiet. Quite frankly, this is one of my favorite cruise pastimes, sitting on a promenade deck reading and napping with the beautiful view of the ocean. It's hard to beat. I love HAL's Promenade Deck.
Entertainment: We went to all the shows in the Celebrity Theater and would rank this as one of the weakest in comparison to our other cruises. The Celebrity dancers and singers are very talented and the shows did get better as the week progressed. Production seems to be the weakest link. The first night's show ("Classique") was terrible, their second show ("Platinum") was good and their final show ("Broadway") was very good. We thought the other entertainers: Thien Fu - comedian and juggler and Beni Mason - comedian were definitely not up to the standards of entertainment on previous cruises. You would be more likely to see them at the Holiday Inn than on a first class cruise. Don't bother. Shirley Harmer - singer was excellent, but was not featured enough. The back-up band was great and I wish they had been featured or at least given a greater opportunity to perform. The theater itself is beautiful with lots of good seats and excellent sight lines.
Clubs and Casino: Cosmos, Rendezvous Lounge and Platinum Club offer many areas for sitting and enjoying good company. However, the best looking club on the ship is Michaels Club, the cigar lounge. I don't smoke, but this is definitely a nice place to hang out. There is also a card room on the Promenade Deck, which is a nice place to gather for a friendly game of Hearts. The Casino is one of the largest we have seen at sea. It was fairly crowded and getting through to the other side is sometimes difficult.
Shops, etc: The shops were nice but didn't compare with what we have seen on other ships. This isn't a strong point of Millennium, but then again, we don't really shop on ship anyway. There is an Internet Room, which I used on one occasion; fairly simple to use, but very expensive - $.95 per minute. Best to step into an Internet Cafe on the islands. We were pleased with the photo service, but make note that formal night pictures are more expensive.
Let me say at the start that we typically do our own thing on island stops. We prefer to plan our own day and avoid the tours offered by the cruise line, so I can't tell you anything about the tours. But here is what we did:
San Juan: One of my favorite stops. We simply walked off the ship and walked around the water to El Moro. This is a beautiful walk along the sea and provides some great picture taking opportunities. Follow the path all the way to the end at the opening to San Juan harbor. This path doesn't lead up to El Moro. You have to back track to the gate and then go up the road to the top of the hill. It's worth the walk. El Moro is a beautiful place and offers some great views. From there we walked back down into Old Town for shopping. My only complaint here was that we only got the afternoon in San Juan. I would have preferred an entire day.
Catalina Island, D.R.: Tender service was fine, but of the private islands we have been to, this definitely ranks last. HAL's Half Moon Cay and Princess Cay are both superior. It's a beautiful island, but when you tender to shore, they don't have the lounge chairs set up all along the beach. Instead, an attendant gathers the necessary chairs and carries them with you to a spot on the beach. They will tend to want to drop you off as close as possible, which means you will be right in the middle of 2,000 other chairs. Be sure you make it clear you want to move further down the beach away from the crowd. He will be reluctant, but will understand his tip depends on it. To get any privacy, you will need to go far, but it's worth it. The crowd towards the tender dock was terrible. We were disappointed they didn't offer parasailing.
St. Thomas: We did here what we always do at St. Thomas. We caught a cab to Red Hook, took the ferry to St. John and then a cab to Trunk Bay. This has to be one of the most beautiful beaches in all the world. It wasn't too crowded and we enjoyed beautiful weather and nice warm water. This beach offers changing and shower facilities with the $4 admission price. It is well worth the effort to get here. We then took the Downtown ferry back to St. Thomas. This ferry will drop you off near the cruise ships and then takes you right to downtown where we spent the afternoon shopping. I suspect this was my wife's favorite part of the cruise. Another cab ride back to the ship and we were off. Again, I wish we could have stayed longer at St. Thomas. A 10:00 p.m. departure would be nice.
Nassau: I had heard bad things about Nassau, but it was one of the nicest stops of the cruise. We did a walking tour of the island, walking up to Queen Victoria's steps and then back around town into the shopping district. Plenty of shops and a nice outdoor flea market that my wife loved. Again we were limited to an afternoon in Nassau. Because of the time limitation, we didn't get out to Paradise Island, but you have a nice view of Atlantis from the pier. It looks impressive and it would have been nice to spend a day over there. I had found a day rate of $150 at the Comfort Suites, which gives you access to the Atlantis facilities, but we didn't feel it would be worth it for the short time we could stay and we wanted to explore Nassau, since this was our first trip there.
Disembarkation: The worst part of disembarkation is having to clear US Immigration and Customs at 7:00 a.m. in the Celebrity Theater. The rest of the process was almost as easy as embarkation. We waited in one of the lounges for our color to be called and then joined the line to exit the ship. Our bags were organized by color and we grabbed them and headed for a cab. It was a short ride to the airport and the longest lines I have ever seen at any airport; lines for the restrooms, lines for food, lines to check-in and lines for security. Flying is easily the worst part of cruising and so I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that after spending many hours in line, we took a bump to fly home Monday and received vouchers sufficient to cover our air for the next cruise. American put us up in the Airport Hilton, which is a reasonably nice hotel. The hotel itself is a little worn, but the room was nice and clean. Our schedules allowed this flexibility and coming home to snow and ice reminded us that one more day in the warmth of Florida made the effort worth it.
Summary Pros and Cons:
1. I don't like that on Celebrity if you chose to not eat in the Dining Room, you have to make a reservation for the alternative dining, even in the Ocean Grill. They also add a service charge. On other cruises, you eat where you want, without the need of a reservation. I'm on vacation, I like flexibility.
1. Any cruise is great and this was no exception. Beautiful ship, nice ports and unbelievable weather.