by Mason Barge
October 23, 2000
The Millenneum is Celebrity cruise lines new flagship and is the first of four ordered in the class. It was built in St. Nazaire France and delivered in July, 2000. It is 965 feet long and about 91,000 tons, carries 1,950 passengers and 1,000 crew. There are 10 full passenger decks and a small sports deck. Six of the decks are primarily cabins and four are public.
1) Exterior -- Grade D
The impact of the overall design on the interior is pronounced. Take outside deck space, for instance. There is a partial promenade deck covered with grey non-skid, which got very little use. There is a jogging-track deck on 11. On 10, the pool area also has a deck with windows that open -- considering the shortfalls, this is really a nice touch, as passengers can sit in deck chairs with some protection and see the sights either behind glass or in open air. There is one really nice teak deck, aft on 10, at the Oceanview Grill, but there are only about 15 tables here.
And that is all. There is not much deck space and a lot of what there is, is not very good.
All of this, combined with a partially ornamental squared-off Celebrity "X" stack, makes for an awkward and not very pretty ship.
2) Interior Public -- Overall Grade "A"
3) Staterooms -- Overall Grade "A-"
Lighting is excellent. There is a glaring overhead light system which lights every inch of the cabin. Turn it off, and you can light the cabin entirely in soft side lights. Bed lights are real bedside lamps, adequate for reading but sufficiently private that my wife was able to leave my lamp on when she retired before me, without losing sleep.
Decor is Scandanavian -- blond wood, chrome fixtures, white ceiling, simple lines, with muted blue and red accents. One wall is mirrored.
The bathroom is also a lesson in professional space planning and functionality. The shower is large for a ship in this price range and there is always plenty of hot water. There is a shampoo dispenser. You can sit on the john with your legs stretched out (if you wanted to for some reason, LOL). I could quibble with the small shower caddy I guess, but I really liked the bathroom and will resist. The only reason this doesn't get an A is because I don't like the Danish modern look.
I will say that there was sometimes a little bit of friendliness missing from the staff. The service was professional rather than personal. I don't think Savio, my cabin attendant, ever really knew who I was.
But really, I am getting picky. Service was excellent throughout the ship.
Food - "A"
Breakfast was excellent, although the menu was identical every day. Mostly open seating in the dining room, with such items as eggs benedict, broiled kippers, french toast, poached eggs, and omelettes.
Brioches and crossants, as well as sweet pastries, were passed immediately upon seating. Service was quick and responsive. The only item I heard anyone complain about was the pancakes -- a frustrated passenger who wanted "buttermilk" pancakes finally demanded that the waiter bring him one of each type of pancake -- buttermilk, buckwheat, and banana. We each tasted this sampler and agreed that they were identical -- buckwheat pancakes with cinnamon.
However, the poached eggs and kippers deserve a special mention, as they were simply perfect.
The Ocean Cafe buffet had a wider selection but -- well, it was buffet food. As one would expect, the buffet food was generally not quite as good as the dining room, but it was the best buffet food I have ever had on a cruise. Fresh toasted bagels were always available.
Similarly, lunch at the buffet was outstanding for a cruise buffet.
Alternative lunches were excellent -- pizza (free!), salad lines, hamburgers, etc. They had free ice cream in the afternoons.
I have two quibbles with meals. First, soft drinks were extra even at meals. Even at dinner, ginger ale will cost you $1.75 plus service charge. The juice and lemonades at the buffet were not very good, either.
Second, the coffee and tea service at the Ocean Cafe are a total mess and the coffee was not very good. The lines seem designed to be as inconvenient as possible -- guests continually got in each others' way -- plus the coffee was not very good, the cups were small, they usually ran out of saucers, etc.
The alternative dining in the Olypic Dining Room was a fantastic experience. The panelling in this area was the original panelling from the Titanic's sister ship, and the decor was created to reflect the period. It is utterly elegant in appearance. In the foyer is a nice display of dinnerware, menus, etc. from the original Olympic, with a video of some charming old British coot talking about how they got the panelling and commenting on it.
Service in the Olympic was outstanding. The food was great but not gourmet. My crepes suzettes were downright disappointing, too sweet and syrupy. The goat cheese souffle appetizer was delicious. Best entree appears to be the sea bass with tapenade -- my saltimbocca was good but nothing to, er, write home about.
The Olypmic is available by reservation only and costs and additional $12 per person.
Operations - "A"
One must always give Celebrity extra points for not making public announcements unless absolutely necessary. Entire days would pass without a single public announcement.
Music - "A+"
The solo harpist who played at miscellaneous times was accomplished and charming -- unlike most things on Millie, she had a distinct, imperfect, and very personal style. I think she must be Spanish, because she would play and sing Spanish songs in a high, sweet lyrical soprano.
There was a terrific a capella quartet. Onyx, the "fun" band, had a Caribbean flavor and gets the same high marks as the others. Simply outstanding for, say, poolside music. Rhumba, Baby!
The "Young Duo", a man on instrumentals and female vocalist, was not as good. The man was amazing -- a one-man orchestra sitting in a pile of electronic gadgets and keyboards -- but the Italian vocalist was weak, really barely bordering professional level.
The DJ who filled in at the disco was also great.
Activities - "C"
I even went to a movie -- a desperation ploy -- and it was not good. Video quality was marginal and there was no popcorn :(
Entertainment - "C"
The outside talent ranged from average to weak. Usually shows were divided between two, or even three, performers. There was not even a juggler or magician to spice things up. One night, they actually showed a movie in the theater.
They did have a game-show-style trivia contest in the Celebrity Theater one night, which filled the theater up. It was a blast.
Really, a "C" is generous and reflects the better-than-average staff talent.
Nooks and Crannies - "B"
Tea Room -- One of the truly fabulous spots on the ship is a tea room on 5. This is an egg-shaped room, mirroring the elevator on the other side of the ship, that extends out a little from the hull. It is truly delightful -- feminine and formal -- and has excellent outside visibility.
Ocean Grill -- At the stern on Deck 10, the Ocean Grill performs a variety of functions. Noteworthy here is the magnificent teak deck, with a bar, tables, and easy access from the buffet, just aft of the Grill itself. This is the perfect spot to watch a sunset or a departure from a scenic port. Unfortunately, about 1000 of the 2000 passengers realize this, and there is room for only perhaps 80 of them.
Words and Notes -- The Millie has a two-level library called "Words" and just below it, a two-level listening room called "Notes". These are the only public areas on the four balcony decks. They are pleasantly decorated and quiet. However, since all exterior space is given to verandahs, they are entirely interior, which pretty well ruins them as a quiet place to sit, read/listen, and watch the scenery.
DECK BY DECK:
Deck 11 (Sunrise Deck)
Midships is a jogging track around openings to the pools on the deck below, and a large row of deck chairs on each side. The chairs were decent, covered with navy blue fabric and cushioned, and were reasonably popular, but there was a little congestion with the joggers. There is a nice bar inside the jogging track.
Next back is the "Extreme", which is a sports bar, and a golf simulator. I don't think I saw anyone in these at any time. Aft is a children's play area and a video arcade, similarly uninhabited.
Deck 10 (Resort Deck)
Next aft is the Aquaspa, which is now free of charge (Celebrity used to charge for this) and is superb. OK, it's awesome, even. It has changing areas, and a variety of hot saltwater whirlpool baths, including a large one with an area where you can lie back comfortably.
Midships is a good pool facility with bar, really one of the nicer pools I have seen. The pool and Aquaspa area is surrounded by glass and a row of deck chairs. The glass has sliding windows, which is a very nice touch for those who want to recline, feel the breeze, and watch the sea or port.
Aft is the Ocean Cafe (the area called "Lido" on many ships) and behind it, the Ocean Grill. This is a typical buffet area with two special features. First, white gloved waiters will take your tray when you are ready to sit down, which some people love and some hate, but is on the whole a big plus for any passenger with locomotive problems. The seating area overhangs the hull, which ensures maximum visibility -- views of the outside are good even from interior tables. The facility is extremely large and I don't remember waiting in line, at any time, long enough to vex me. All told, an excellent buffet area.
Beverage service, as I previously noted, is poor -- bad beverages and a real hassle to get to them.
Extreme aft is the nice teak deck previously discussed.
Deck 5 (Entertainment Deck) -- The forward part of the deck is the upstairs of the 3-story Celebrity Theater. The Theater has ideal line-of-sight to the stage, as it is arranged in continuous banks of seating, stepped downwards toward the stage. Every two to three seats, there is a low oval table for drinks. While this is an excellent arrangement, the tables are too low and you can't cross your legs under them, making it a bit uncomfortable.
The theater is nicely decorated in dark colors. One appealing touch is a number of fake torchieres. Fans in them blow shreds of fabric upwards, with orange and blue lights artfully placed, making a very realistic similitude of a real lit torchiere. Sound and lighting is professional -- really, overall, a good job. There is no alternate theater (other than a small movie theater) but then, there weren't even enough shows to fill this one :)
Midships is the shopping emporium. I don't shop on ships, but it appeared to be a rather handsome, tasteful area to walk through.
Next back is the "Cove Cafe". This is a coffee and chocolate area (Cove chocolates & coffee, apparently an old luxury brand name). It is handsome and the coffee is good, but really, I get so vexed about having to pay for cappucino I didn't really visit it.. Next to it is the wonderful Tea Room.
Next back is a full-width lounge, the Platinum Club. I have to say, I loved the decor here. It is done in purple and brushed chrome (i.e. platinum), with striking purple and white striped fabric on some chairs. The area is underutilizied and, in fact, hardly used at all. There is a huge hole in the floor, leading to the Rendez-Vous lounge beneath. In the evenings, Celebrity will present champagnes, martinis, and caviar selections here, all quite good and nicely presented.
Next aft is the upper level of the main dining room, the Metropolitan Restaurant. The dining room is gorgeous, a main floor and balcony second floor, with a two-story bank of windows to aft, which in the evenings is covered by a screen painted to depict (if I am not mistaken) Venice -- no canals or gondolas but great Renaissance Italian buildings, anyway. It is decorated with dark wood and predominantly muted gold fabric. The main floor is very noisy in the evenings, which is too bad, as the dinner music provided by a piano quintet (string quartet and piano) is outstanding. At a table of ten, I could hardly converse with some tablemates even by shouting.
Service in the restaurant is as elegant as the decor. Gold tablecloths are set with 12 pieces of flatware, which is changed (seamlessly and without fanfare) depending on your order. Beverage and wine service are excellent and the house wines well-chosen, although upper-end wines are more hit-or-miss.
Deck 4 (Promenade)
Forward on the inside is the second floor (and main entrance) of the Celebrity Theater. Next back is Michael's Club, a beautiful masculine space, with lots of dark wood and wonderful smells. Top grade cigars are sold and smoked here. I should have put this under "Nooks and Crannies" since it is indeed an outstanding area and rates an A+ for anyone who smokes, or doesn't mind smoke and wants a place to retreat. However, there are almost no outside windows, which is unfathomable, as one wall abuts the outside.
Next back is the Casino, which is full-width. It is a typical high-end casino. Not to damn it with faint praise, I should say that it is an excellent casino, with plenty of gaming tables and tons of slot machines, a bar at one end and a bank at the other. The croupiers/dealers are for the most part friendly and expert, as are the waiters.
But as with Michael's, I am dumbfounded that Celebrity chose not to put windows in the Casino. The outside walls, onto the promenade, are just blank metal. It would be much improved, at practically no cost, to set windows into the walls. I have many fond memories of playing blackjack in a ship's casino while watching sea and landscape slide by, truly a special way to gamble. Instead, you are unnecessarily couped up in just another loud room full of twinkling lights.
Next back is the upstairs of the Grand Foyer. To my taste, this was an excellent spot. The staircase is entirely constructed with thin slabs of muted beige-orange marble and is illuminated from within, making a glowing golden-orange grand staircase from the deck below. Beautiful. It would be improved if the outside elevators were removed and sitting areas were introduced.
Next back -- I believe under the tea room -- is the Online Cafe, where there are computers and connections to certain popular internet and email sites. This is very convenient but, at $1/minute, expensive. It is rather a waste of a very nice space though. I wish they had put the library here and put the internet service in the interior.
Next back is the main lounge, the Rendez-Vous. This was a little garish for my taste, with lots of gold and blue. However, functionally, it was excellent and served as the entertainment center and general gathering place of the ship. It was constantly packed for dancing, karaoke, etc. in the evening hours and was a lot of fun. As with everywhere, bar service was excellent.
Unless you take the aft elevators, you must walk through this lounge and the Casino to get to the main floor of the dining room. Personally, I liked this, as it really stirred the passengers together and gave a feeling of community. I would always see people I knew and I actually was convinced to do a karaoke number by some friends at a table, as I was walking through (and YES I WAS QUITE GOOD THANK YOU VERY MUCH).
Aft is the main floor of the dining room.
Elevators and Stairs -- The elevator service was excellent. Three elevator banks -- forward, midships, and aft -- were easy to find and all elevators ran to all decks.
Television -- The television was good, with lots of channels and movies. Adult movies were available, whatever you might think of that, and also mainstream pay-per-view at $9. There are channels in a number of languages, and we were very well amused watching the Italian equivalent of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire".
But best of all was the Celebrity Interactive Channel, where you could get all kinds of information on destinations, activities, etc., and order room service or excursions from your cabin. You could also pull down your account to see how much you (and your wife!) were spending.
Art -- Marvelous. Most public spaces were dominated by color photographs of a Swiss photographer named something Moore. These are aerial photos of geometric scenes -- a herd of sheep funnelling through a gate, Japanese roofs, French logging -- and are both beautiful and interesting.
Another top-notch photographer was presented who took mostly black and white, or colorized, shots of Cuba. They were superb.
There were a few large works of modern ceramic sculpture that I didn't care for, and a variety of decorous art.
Cleanliness: The ship was spotless. They really watch this -- for instance, they post a janitor full time outside the dining room toilets during meal time. A++.
Other Passengers: I always get a kick out of the people on a cruise, and they had a good collection on this one. Lots of New Yorkers and I made a lot of buddies with honeymooners, ladies in their 60's, guys in cowboy hats, etc., in the casino.
There was one couple who I swear came out of a Godfather movie. She walked around in white stilletto heels and a skintight body suit. She was on the, um, buxom side, past 40 and fighting it, with a good nose job in her past and an expensive red hair-dye. He wore shoes made out of reptile skin and didn't talk much.
My favorite people were a couple about 70 years old. He was nicely groomed, white haired, and just plain affable. She was chubby with giant painted nails and didn't talk much. They came to my attention when she won the overall award at the game-show trivia contest (she got like a $500 gift certificate on Celebrity, $100 of casino cash, etc. -- this was a big deal) by answering the question: "What group featured Deborah Harry as the lead singer?" I promise. We teamed up in group trivia thereafter and won a whole collection of Celebrity watch chains, card cases, pens, and travel alarms.
There were a lot of French people on the cruise, and my French is just good enough to allow me to have conversed with them. Also a lot of Latin Americans. But no Italians, go figure -- I guess they cruise Costa. A smattering of Germans, Brits, Canadians, and Chinese.
Space -- There was way too much wasted space in the Millie, both deck space and window space. In some areas, such as the theater and the cabins, deck space is superbly used. In some areas, though space is utterly wasted. Unlike Princess, which uses the extra space of large ships to build additional areas, the Milleneum is in many respects simply a 60,000 ton ship with 50% larger rooms.
As I said, I think the decision to put 8 extra balcony cabins on the stern of the cabin decks, rather than a nice deck, was a mistake. The entire ship has a shortage of attractive deck space, one of its primary shortcomings. And the lack of window space on Deck 5 public areas is impossible to fathom.
Excursions -- I did not like the excursions, which were overpriced and constantly harped on shopping. Our guide to the Acropolis spewed her personal philosophical and nationalistic ideas, and was in such bad shape that she did not even walk with us to the various buildings. Our guide to Ephesus seemed more interested in getting us into a rug shop than the destination.
When we went on our own, we did a lot better.
Room Service - I only used the 24-hour room service once, for breakfast. I ordered croissants, coffee, and jam. I got croissants. I left this uneaten and hurried to the Ocean Cafe.
Air-Conditioning: There is a shortage of outside ventilation and the HVAC is extraordinarily dry. This was perhaps the worst part of the entire cruise. My wife and I were miserable. I will not go into graphic detail, but believe me, the cabin air causes physical symptoms. I would not sail the Millie again without a balcony, simply because I would want a window that opens.
I will include a short description of the destinations, although most of you will probably have visited most of them or have access to better descriptions.
Malta: Grade "A"
Malta produces a locally-made style of gold and silver filagree jewellery which I liked. The harbor itself is spectacular -- make sure to get a tour, or a good seat for entering/exiting.
Malta also has a LOT of cats.
Katakolon/Olympia: Grade B
Athens: Grade A
Other than classical and some byzantine sites, Athens is about my least favorite city to visit. It is terribly ugly and the air is filthy. You can get some good food though, and the people are nice for a large congested city.
Kusadasi: Grade A
Also, you really can get major bargains on good rugs in the port of Kusadasi itself, it you can deal with the Turkish manner of buying/selling. The salesmen are very aggressive and argumentative and, of course, you must bargain, as they ask at least double what they will accept. So bone up on rugs and prices before you go.
Santorini: Grade A
Once there -- wow. A maze of twisting cobblestone streets through charming white buildings with blue doors and shutters. You could not imagine a more charming town.
Several of our friends visited sites here and enjoyed them. We spent our day walking around the gorgeous pedestrianized city of Fira and had an excellent, if expensive, lunch in one of the tourist restaurants overlooking the harbor.
While I am not a big shopper, I will have to say that the shopping here was excellent. I got a reproduction of a bronze statue I was dying to get (horse with boy jockey, a famous Hellenistic work). Although the Athens shops carry bronze and pottery reproductions, the quality of the ones I saw ran from mediocre to poor. I found excellent reproductions on Santorini. Also, there is high-end jewellery (I managed to abstain from the $1300 Faberge cufflinks, LOL) and moderate jewellery, and dirt cheap cotton sweaters.
Iraklion, Crete: "A"
The big attraction here is the ancient city of Knossos. We went on our own and were glad we did. We negotiated a taxi from town for $5. We used a city bus ($2) to get back to town, which was fun, as we got to see a real cross-section of modern-day Greeks. BTW, the Greeks were unusually nice and friendly for the most part -- as is true in most places, learning a few words of the language goes a LONG way to making friends.
Crete is right in the crosshairs of the ancient Mediterranean cultures and has been conquered by pretty much everyone. This gave it enormous cultural advantages.
Knossos was built around 1700 B.C. -- over a thousand years before Greece really cranked up -- and it is amazing. The Minoan civilization was unlike any other and was likely, outside Egypt, the most advanced civilization of its day in the West. The peculiar and beautiful architecture and objets d'art must be seen. Like most ancient sites, this involves a trip to the ruined city and then an excursion into town to visit the museum.
Civitavechhia - "B"
There are excellent Etruscan ruins and a museum at Tarquinia, just a short jog from the port, and this would be my preference unless you will just never get another chance to see Rome.
In all fairness, I will say that Civitavecchia and Livorno are, themselves, pleasant and even charming Italian towns (especially after being in Greece) and well worth a walkaround for lunch.
Villefranche is adorable. It has a medieval section, and the more modern section is beautiful and filled with interesting sites and yummy eating places.
We caught a very convenient bus (9 francs round trip -- do NOT book an excursion) to Nice and toodled around there for a while. Nice is about as good as it gets, IMHO, unless it is August, when it fills up with near naked Parisians in addition to Germans, Americans, and other sunstarved races. If I get reincarnated, I believe I will live there and rent my house in July, August, and January.
We walked around and had a great time. Our only real stop was a visit to the Musee d'Art Contemporaire, which would not be to everyone's taste but was pretty interesting. There is a Matisse Museum a little to the north -- a healthy walk or short taxi ride -- which I have seen and would recommend. Tons of lip-smacking eateries.
As much fun as I had, I really wish I had taken the Marco Polo, which I saw at anchor off Santorini. Still, the only thing I really disliked about the Millie was the bad air in my cabin. The operation was flawless and the food and music were both outstanding.
BEST THING ABOUT THE CRUISE:
WORST THING ABOUT THE CRUISE: