There are some really outstanding reviews of Millie already on the boards, so I'll not belabor the details with the ship but rather try to capture the "goods," the "others" (not so goods), and lessons learned/specifics from our East Med itinerary which I believe is the finest offered in Europe. Please excuse any verb tense errors as this was originally written as a live review from onboard.
Words and Notes book and music libraries were both open and there is no pilferage problem on CDs as they are all in a central machine. You just log in the CD number and it loads automatically in a central machine. Book selection is acceptable.
Spectacular -- better than almost any health club ashore, let alone at sea. About 45 exercise machines (including full Nautilus), full barbells and exercise mats/aerobics equipment. Really a nice place to work off the groceries and it's right at the front of the ship where you can enjoy the view. Treatments are expensive ($120 for 50 min massage) but the appointments still go fast. Saunas are really nice with a 6 ft circular window for ocean view. Sauna room also has high pressure massaging showers -- very nice. The Thermal Suite with vapor cave, etc is as good as reported and best value for $17/hour. Thalassotherapy pool (T. pool from now on) is also good. And...there is a light and healthy spa restaurant in pool area. The whole T. pool area is covered so you can enjoy it no matter what the weather. One touch I really like is teak flooring in the pool showers which keeps them from getting (too) slippery.
As has been mentioned, harpist is excellent. Also superb acapella group Four Score. We had trouble staying awake for the second show, but did see Mark Preston (formerly one of the Lettermen) and he does a fine one man, Las Vegas style showroom routine. Consensus was that while only a couple of acts were first class, the overall entertainment was just fine. Most were not on this cruise for the shows - they were there for the ports which meant early wake-ups generally. Entertainment is more important for transatlantic or cruise with lots of days at sea.
Most 45+ with over 60% 60+. Only 18 minors were aboard. That meant it was civilized, quiet and easy to get into the workout room or hot tub. ;-) Our two teens had the run of the youth facilities with another couple's kids who are traveling with us. Most folks we met were very courteous and smiles all around. Easy to talk to. There were of course the habitual complainers who can never be satisfied.
Overall they were very good. A few assistant waiters walked around glum in the daytime in Metro restaurant, but they were probably just tired and bored. Especially impressive was the personal attention each person got at port arranging documents to be ready for expeditious check-in. Every form pre-pulled and sorted. *Really* impressive. Also, the assistant hotel manager formatted my computer disk for me in his office. You have to bring a disk to save to as you lose everything typed in cyberlounge when you end your session or change programs.
Biggest complaint early on was lost luggage. You know the drill. Airlines don't get it there and cruise line can't do anything but their passengers are still mad. For this reason I think it is a must to arrive at least a day early. We came a day early just from Switzerland. You can board earlier, be fresh and ready to enjoy. There were some folks who came in from Japan, Rio, and California. I can tell you they were zombies in the lifejacket drill and almost sleeping in their soup at dinner. (BTW, after recent Greek tragedies everyone was really paying attention in drill...) Some were in jet lag fog until third day. If you do fly in on day of cruise departure, cross-packing is a good idea -- put some of each others clothes in the other suitcase so no one is totally out of luck with one piece of lost luggage. Carrying on some basics (shorts, polos, bathing suits, underthings) is also a good idea. One couple I met whose luggage didn't make it received tux and a black dress (waitress's) from Celebrity for formal night, so they will try to help. There were quite a few bags which came on board at Malta on Day 3.
We arrived at Genoa port at 1200; boarding started at 1230. There are a couple of little coffee shops and stand up bars at the port where you can get a sandwich or drink. Not many facilities at the reception building (but very clean bathrooms were welcome surprise). There was a crush of people in line with number 1 for boarding and they had to move for handicapped (there was no room to get by) and number 0 (suites and Captain's Club). Joining Captain's Club was about the best $35 I ever spent. Boarding started at 1230 and we were in our cabin at 1240. We booked all spa treatments and made Olympic restaurant reservations by phone and that was a good choice because the At Sea days filled quickly. We were enjoying an excellent buffet lunch by 1PM. Booking by phone looked like an even better choice when we got to the spa later and found out they give you a 20 min spa tour (you are actually "roped in") before you get to make bookings at the desk. It's a very nice facility and tour is good, but that's 20 mins most people don't want to spend at that time, especially if they are tired and hungry. Went in person to Maitre d' and I think I was first there but no chance to change from table for 8 to a 4. Problem is there only a handful of 2's and 4's and they are prebooked. No realistic possibility to change, so get what you want before you arrive. Tables on deck 5 close to railing and in center of lower level (deck 4) have a fine view off the stern in daytime, but it is usually covered at night.
It rained in Genoa and first morning at sea, but it turned fine with daytime temp 75 and evenings high 50s. October sailors will definitely want sweaters and windbreakers. I wore a light polypro vest in the evenings on veranda and I saw lots of others with them as well. It also layers well with a light jacket if it really gets cool. We had a big storm in the morning in Athens but it cleared nicely for sightseeing and the rest was been partly cloudy, highs in the 70s. It cooled off noticeably during the cruise and the highs were only in the 60s by late October. I would guess the pools and pool deck will be pretty chilly by the 23 Oct cruise. The T. Pool is heated and covered and there are also two whirlpools there, so you can enjoy those even in very poor weather.
Yessirree there was vibration at the back, but only one time (backing down on arrival into Malta at 6AM) was it serious enough to really be disturbing -- woke us after 5 hours sleep. Rest of the time the captain seems to run up to a speed where he encountered the vibration and backed off until it went away. This east Med itinerary doesn't have any really long runs, so he never had to push it. I expect that's one of the reasons they extended the Translant -- so they can go slower. Our Cat 3 stateroom was even bigger and better than we imagined. (I think you could easily hold a BBQ for 10 on the veranda!!). Two sofa beds in a separate area (with sliding divider) for teens. As opposed to earlier reports both do indeed open -- one flips lengthwise (the full-length sofa) and the loveseat folds out. Both very comfortable. Enough closet and storage space for all. We did get to see a corner Cat 3 cabin because an A/C pipe leaked before embarkation and soaked about 5 rooms -- theirs being one. Bad luck, but it dried out and they are moved in on Day 3. Big difference between corner and "inside" Cat 3 is a little longer balcony (which you can see from brochure) and an extra closet -- which would be handy on a 14 day trip. There are also 2 chaise loungers and 4 deck chairs as opposed to 2 each we had. Side view is nice but could get rugged if it gets windy. I believe they have recently added privacy canvas (don't seeing it in Paul Jaffe's pix) above the middle third of these long verandas to give more privacy from those looking off the railing in Ocean Cafe. (BTW, there are some of the side verandas which are also bigger than others. The standard veranda will barely hold two straight-back chairs and a dinner plate size table.) We were right above the monster 1500 sq ft suite with 1000 sq ft deck and it is truly amazing.
For those trying to save room in luggage, stateroom bathrooms are furnished with good shampoo, french milled soap, and excellent cocoa butter lotion. You also get a nice canvas excursion bag and robes in all cabins. A bike water bottle is a very useful item to bring. Fresh and really good towels twice a day, bathrobes provided for all (even kids), and large bath with lots of storage. Mini-bar is nice for when you really want something. Booze expensive ($3.95/miniature and up). Sodas $1.95. They do not push bottled water on you but they do push the Welcome Aboard cocktails. After that though they don't push drinks at the pool area. The drinks at Captains Club cocktail last night were best I've ever had at one of those events (I usually ask for beer but red wine was very drinkable).
Food & Wine
Welcome aboard buffet excellent -- very, very fresh salads, fresh fish, pasta, cheeses, breads, and decadent desserts are available throughout. Burger bars are very good. Pizza is outstanding. Room service menu is very good. We order something small from room service (e.g., veggie pizza) as hors d'oeuvres to go with cocktails on veranda as we are in late seating. The salmon is the best I have seen anywhere -- perfectly cooked. Veal and other meat dishes are good; escargots, soups, and filet mignon at formal night were spectacular (2" thick!). I do recommend you order steak one doneness less than you like (e.g., very rare for rare; medium rare for medium, etc) as it does continue to cook under the plate cover enroute. Easier to send back for more cooking than be disappointed with overdone. Some very good luncheon items in Metro restaurant (e.g., seafood - scallops, salmon, and shrimp - stuffed melon). Check menu on deck 4 starboard restaurant entrance. We were very happy Celebrity now has soda card (one benefit of RCI merger). $4.50 per day for unlimited sodas even in dining room. Overall food was just as good as Zenith before merger. And even better is the new spa cafe by the T. pool. Hardly anyone there. Very healthy breakfast and dinner fare. While others queued up for 10-15 mins after excursion for lunch buffet (which, at least for entrees, is basically cafeteria fare), we had poached salmon with crisp asparagus and endive for lunch. Spa cafe has best salads on the ship -- both fruit and vegetable, fresh tilapia filet, salmon tartare, even lobster salad sometimes. Breakfast is better in Ocean Cafe than restaurant (unless you want Eggs Benedict or poached eggs). They have everything else and you can control what goes in your omelette, etc. The first salad listed every night is offered dressed which makes it tend to wilt quickly. If you want that salad ask for it undressed and they will dress at the table for you. There is a good beef entree every night - filet steak was offered 5 or 6 times; beautiful lobster on second formal night. Pizzas were a real hit with everyone. Ate at the Olympic one night and it was truly spectacular. Most dishes prepared tableside. The highlight was appetizer of shrimp twice the size of your thumb wrapped in pancetta and flambeed before your eyes. More than worth the $12 per person which only goes to gratuities for the staff. There was no lunch in restaurant in Athens as Captain (Greek) had president of Greece and many other dignitaries aboard since this is Millie's first trip there. Overall, while some of the buffet fare can be uneven there are enough fantastic dishes each day to please even the most discerning gourmet.
Martini bar is nice and not a bad value - $6.95 for a large (double) select brand (e.g., Bombay Sapphire) martini (keep the shaker too for $6!). Wine selection is excellent and not unreasonably priced, but you have to know your wine. Many are priced the same price you could buy them in grocery or liquor store, others are double. Best values I' found were Kenwood Sauvignon Blanc ($24) and St Francis Cabernet Sauvignon ($25). There are some cheapskates around but I tell them that the $275 or so I'll spend on having a bottle of wine each evening is less than some of the shore excursions. Bring a bottle of hooch in your suitcase if you want to save. Incidentally, there are a couple of duty free shops right at the port at Malta and you can easily bring a bottle on. I saw no one checking. I think Celebrity's philosophy is you can do what you want in your room, but they are not going to be thrilled if you start uncorking wine on the pool deck. Bring wine back on, have it chilled and served for $6 corkage. Particularly good idea with the Turkish, Santorini, and Italian wines which can be had in decnt quality for $6-$7/bottle.
We had no problems with port tours interfering with meal times. Most tours are half-day and return at 1:00-1:30. The sights are closer to the ports on this East Med itinerary than Paris to Le Havre, etc. Civitavecchia/Rome and Livorno/Florence are long days. Both can be reached on your own by train but be aware that the Italian trains we took were all late and unreliable so take one or two before the last one which will get you to the port for sail-away. In general the less tours you take the better -- mostly because you get worn out with early wake-ups for 8:00 AM departures (breakfast at 6:45-7:00). Definitely no reason to take tours at Valletta or Santorini.
Genoa is a nice city with a day's worth of sightseeing to do, but stay on main streets. They degenerate into narrow alleys with some pretty swarthy residents if you get off the main streets. Dollar is so strong everything in Italy is really cheap. Bottle of wine in restaurant $5. There is an excellent seafood restaurant (with piles of fresh fish in the window) across from the Aquarium right by the port. Grilled seafood in Genoa cannot be beat. Try grilled calamari, shrimp and swordfish (ship is not serving *that*!). Aquarium is also very good.
Very nice, but only a half day there -- left at 1PM. But 3 hrs is enough to check it out. Cathedral and president's palace both excellent. Shore/harbor excursion goers said it wasn't worth it. Once you run the gauntlet of taxi drivers you can walk up the hill into town in about 20 mins.
We could not dock and used ships tenders to go ashore. There is a small but respectable shopping and restaurant area at the port. The Olympia tour received mixed reviews. Consensus was taxi for a self-guided tour was better. Tragically, a 45 year old woman dropped dead at Olympia. Her husband was an MD and he could do nothing to revive her. There were also apparently two minor heart attacks so the medical staff was busy. We saw a good deal of baggage being off-loaded at Athens so apparently several people left the ship there. Very, very sad.
Piraeus is about 7 mi from Athens but it can take an hour to drive via bus or taxi. The Acropolis/Parthenon tour we were on was quite good, but the traffic and the popularity of the tour made it less than ideal in transit. There were over 1,000 lined up in theater for their tour numbers and the jam of people at the port (mostly from Greek ferries) made it impossible for efficient debarkation -- took one hour to get off the ship (but NOT Celebrity's fault). They tell you the Metro is 15-20 mins walk from port, but actually there is a closer stop (FIARRI) right across the street from the pier Millie uses. I would recommend taking the Metro and hiring your own guide at Parthenon. Don't miss the Acropolis Museum -- excellent. Biggest issue in Athens was confusion over the full-day acropolis tour which did not even visit the Parthenon (acropolis mean hill overlooking city and there are lots in Greece....). Make sure you get the tour you want! Our neighbor took taxi to Acropolis, private guide, had lunch, and Metro return for $30 (could have been $25 with Metro both ways). If you are not comfortable navigating around the tour is a better bet. By the way, in addition to the worst traffic in Europe Athens is a city crumbling and in disarray. Lots of work to do before they host Olympics in 2004.
In contrast to Athens, this part of Turkey is beautiful and clean. Ephesus is a must see destination and the tour is nice, especially since it is 11 miles from port. Most shop in afternoon -- good values on jewelry and rugs. The other option is to avoid the crowds at Ephesus in the AM by shopping then and take taxi to Ephesus in the afternoon. Plenty of private guides available. Avoid, at all costs, the large Bazaar at the port where you will get the bum's rush from merchants. The recommended stores, while aggressive, will treat you with respect and take their time with you.
Beautiful volcanic island with white-washed everything - most thought this was the best port. Nice jewelry shops and wineries. Very pretty village and merchants here are more relaxed than elsewhere. People brought beer, wine, whatever they like back to the ship unchallenged.
Most who went to Knossos were disappointed. They said it was more a pile of rocks than a distinuishable ruin. Much better is the museum in towm - really spectacular artifacts, sculptures, and models of the palace at Knossos as it looked millenia ago.
Civitavecchia is a nice port town in its own right and some who had seen Rome just stayed there. We had a private driver to take us to Rome for a General Audience with the Pope (he does these Wednesdays). Very nice. Many taxis at the port and prices are not bad. A free shuttle takes you to the train station and its about an hour into town. The Vatican by itself took us all day. Museum, Cistene Chapel, and St Peters are all breathtaking. If you want to see more than a couple of sights take the city tour. The distances via the subway or on foot are too far. You need to buy subway tickets at a tabak or newspaper shop with a "T" sign.
Many took the train on their own and loved Florence. Tours there are quite expensive. We were going to go to Cinque Terre instead (one hour train north of Livorno). It is one of the most beautiful stretches of coast on the riviera, and has excellent walks and picnic spots. Alas, we were too tired from Rome and needed a day to unwind and finish our library books before Genoa.
For photos from this East Med cruise way better than those I took (with exception of some great fantail sunsets I'll post later) go to http://psp.xlub.tip.nl