by Monica J. Pileggi
May 11, 2003
Our cruise vacation started with 2 nights in Barcelona. We also enjoyed meeting our Cruise Critic friends for drinks and dinner (Jeff, Robin, Phil and Edith) on Saturday night.
11 May 2003 Sunday: We stayed at a small one-star hotel in the heart of the Gothic quarter. It was located very near the port but too far to walk with our luggage. After breakfast and packing we took a taxi to our ship. I became very excited seeing the beautiful Millennium. The taxi driver was impressed with its size as I explained with my little bit of Spanish that there were other ships much larger than the Millennium.
A cruise employee tagged our luggage and had them taken away. Checking in seemed easy until we had to fill out some forms that had been left out of the packet I received in the mail. While waiting in line, we quickly filled out the forms. At the counter, we received our plastic on-board credit cards. We went through security, had our first souvenir cruise photo taken, and boarded the ship. Another photo was taken at the security point, which would identify us each time we boarded the ship. It actually took only 15 minutes from arrival to the port to walking on board the ship. We were greeted by several crewmembers all dressed in their black suits, including two who each held a tray of champagne-filled glasses. It was a joy starting a cruise with a glass of bubbly.
We were escorted to our room, #2131, and were left to finish our champagne and check out the room. Our cabin was lovely with a large round window; mirrors on one wall; light wood paneling, a queen bed, and a small couch which folds out for a third guest; small desk with a pitcher of water, glasses, and an ice-filled bucket; chair, and a small but decent bathroom with plenty room for our cosmetics. The closet was quite large with an in-room safe, plenty of hangers, and 5 or 6 drawers. There was also a mini bar, which was pricey, but we used it to store fruit and cream since I brought a few mini bottles of kahlua and vodka for my White Russians. There was a t.v., which showed the various ships tours and entertainment on board. Our room was located on the 2nd level, center and low on the ship. It was a good location for us. One luxury on board was the twice-daily changing of the bathroom linens. Every time we returned to our room, the bathroom had been tidied up, as well as our bucket of ice refilled.
The ship is beautifully decorated with lovely exotic flowers and plants. With the many other reviews I won't go into discussing each place on the ship.
A buffet lunch was being served on the 10th deck, so we rode in one of the exterior glass elevators to the top, which provided dramatic views as we sailed. Looking at the spread of food, I knew immediately I would have to take the stairs as often as possible and work out at the gym. There were 4 serving areas so the wait in line was very short. Several waiters stood ready to take our trays and escort us to a table. During breakfast, waiters would come along with extra pastries and rolls. We ran into Jeff and Robin at lunch. He had changed rooms and needed to make dining reservations. Deciding that we'd all dine together, we headed to the lounge where we could make new table arrangements. It took a while, but we were assigned to table 561. We asked for a table for 6 and hoped that the 3rd couple would be good tablemates.
Back in the room, our luggage had been delivered. We quickly unpacked since most of our "cruise" clothes had been in the luggage for a few days. Mom and I spent the rest of the afternoon checking the various places on the ship and writing in our journals. At 7pm we went to the Rendezvous Lounge for a martini-tasting event. We tried 5 different martini's, small portions, for about $6. They were very tasty, varying from the traditional to lemon, to Chambord flavor. Surprisingly, only 6-8 people were there to enjoy this event. I found the prices of drinks to be the same in a bar or restaurant back at home.
We had the late dining schedule: 8:45pm. I wish it had been a little earlier, but we managed every evening. Our waiter was Frankie (from India) and our assistant waiter was Niel (from the Philippines). Both provided excellent service throughout the cruise. They also went out of their way to make an evening extra special or fun. Our table was next to a large window on the second level of the Metropolitan restaurant. The third couple at the table was Anne and Lauren. Jeff entertained us throughout the trip, so much that after the second night, Anne and Lauren dined elsewhere. We don't know if Jeff was the reason they left or if they just changed their dinner plans.
We never went to an evening show. It was just too late for us, especially since we had early arrival times at the ports (7am) and finished dinner around 10:3pm. Most evenings we'd have a drink at the Rendezvous lounge or to a place where Mom could have her smoke. Other times I left her to her smoking while I walk around the ship and stairs to work off some of the calories I ate.
Each evening ended with our bed turned down with a chocolate on our pillows, along with the daily Celebrity Today newspaper, and Mom's nightshirt turned into a design on the bed. I kept mine out of sight. I didn't want Steve "playing" with my nightshirt!
12 May 2003 Monday: We had a very relaxing day at sea, sleeping in a little, sitting on the deck enjoying the sun and enjoying the food on board. Our Cruise Critic party was at 11am where we met our fellow passengers. It was great putting faces to names I knew from my email correspondence. Soft drinks and cookies were served. I chatted with Mark and Darlene about sharing a taxi to the train station in Rome and touring together.
Following a delicious Thai lunch in the dining room, we attended a wine tasting lecture. I received an invitation in our room from the Captain's Club. I wasn't even a member! We were served about eight different wines and champagne. Thank goodness we didn't pay for this. The samples were very small and the host was quite boring. He seemed pleased with himself every time he told a joke.
I must write about the food on board the ship. The dining options were amazing: Breakfast can be had in the main dining room, the ocean café, the AquaSpa (healthy choice), and the ocean grill (located aft). Lunch choices were hot dogs, burgers, or pizza and pasta at the Riviera grill, a full menu at the Metropolitan, a buffet at the Ocean café (such as Mexican, Italian, Chinese); soups, sandwiches and salads at the Ocean grill; healthy choice in the AquaSpa. There was ice cream throughout the day, sushi 6-10pm, pizza and pasta 6pm to 1am, pastries in the Cova Café di Milano room, and gourmet bites served in all lounges in the late evening. Coffee and tea was available 24 hours a day. There is also room service. Every dinner menu was great with three to four choices of appetizers, soups, salads, and entrées. Dessert choices were brought on a tray to select. One option for dinner is the Alternate Dining, where you make reservations and pay a small fee. Jeff and Robin ate there one evening and felt it was not worth it. The last option for dinner is the beautiful, luxurious Olympic Restaurant with a $25 fee and reservations must be made in advance.
The afternoon was relaxing: Sitting in the sun and listening to the music on deck. Mom found her smoking area on the port side in the shade and that became her usual spot. Waiters came around taking drink orders, while another one passed out chilled cold washcloths to cool off.
Before dinner, we sampled a few varieties of sushi at the sushi bar, all well made and very fresh. We also went to the Captain's welcome cocktail party. We were served wine, champagne and other drinks. It was a relaxing evening with good food and service.
13 May 2003 Tuesday: I woke up early and quickly opened the drapes to beautiful Villefranche. I couldn't wait to see the town as well as Monaco. We had a full breakfast at the Ocean café. It was the same food as the other morning buffets. There is a large assortment of fresh fruits, eggs, sausages, pancakes, hash browns, potatoes, smoked salmon or smoked herring, rolls, biscuits, bagels, yogurt, etc. We invited Julie and James to join us, a cruise critic couple. After they left, Phil and Edith joined us and we all decided to spend the day together.
We were tendered to port and as we went along, I took several photos of Villefranche. It's an absolutely beautiful port town with colorful old buildings and villas along with sailboats and beautiful yachts in the harbor. A young man approached Phil and confirmed what we heard the night before: there was a transportation strike in France. He said we could take his bus to Eze to see his perfume factory, and then a local bus to Monaco. It was a lovely trip to Eze as the young woman on board explained some of the sights. She even pointed out the area where Elton John and Tina Turner have homes. The tour of the perfume factory was interesting.
We had drinks at a café while waiting to see when the next bus would arrive. The woman at the tourist office didn't know when the next bus would arrive, if it arrived at all. I wanted to tour Eze, but was afraid we'd miss the only bus to Monaco. After a while, we decided to take a taxi. For the four of us, it was 35 Euros, which wasn't too bad compared to others that took a taxi to either Monaco or Nice and were charged 60 Euros to 80 Euros for two people! The ride was spectacular as we headed to Monaco: mountains on one side and beautiful ocean scenes on the other.
Monaco was fascinating! Money was oozing everywhere in cars, yachts, villas, clothing. I was amazed at the size of some of the yachts. Flowers were everywhere in gardens, along sidewalks, and cascading over balconies. Our group was dropped off near the Monaco Palace, but unfortunately, it was closed. We just missed seeing the changing of the guards. We walked around the area and found a very good restaurant for lunch. In the afternoon, we visited the Jardin Exotique where we saw many varieties of cactus.
Taking a local bus back to the center of town, we transferred to one back to Villefranche. Although the ship didn't leave port till 11pm, we decided not to visit Nice. I found a small store where Edith and I picked up wine for our rooms. We headed to the port and found an outdoor café, Les Palmiers, and had a round of drinks. Jeff and Robin arrived and joined us. We had a fun time there.
14 May 2003 Wednesday: Jeff had organized a tour for Tuscany for eight of us (Jeff and Robin, Shaun and Toni, Mark and Chris, and Mom and me) to San Gimignano, Florence, and Pisa. Carla picked us up at 8am and we hopped in her van. It was about an hours drive to San Gimignano. She would let us off so that we had time on our own. It was nice because we didn't feel "stuck" to a tour guide, but she did provide information as we drove along on our day trip. We walked around the town and window-shopped. A few of us climbed Torre Grossa for some spectacular countryside views. I felt uncomfortable climbing the "open" stairs, but the views were worth it.
Our next stop was Florence. It was about 1.5 hours drive, but we all enjoyed the countryside views. We saw farm homes, vineyards, and small towns dotting the hills. Our first stop was at a church (forgot the name but it's above the Piazza Michelangelo) then drove to the Piazza Michelangelo for great Florence city views, including the famous Ponte Veccio Bridge.
In town, Carla dropped Mom and me off near the Ponte Veccio so I could do some damage to my wallet at the jewelry stores on the bridge. After, we walked to the center of town, stopping along the way at the outdoor markets and shopping. Lunch was a simple panini sandwich with mozzarella and eggplant, and a glass of red wine. We walked to the Duomo, visited inside, and then surrounding area.
We met the rest of the group and drove to Pisa. It was a beautiful sight, but the many trashy kiosks along the side of the road really made for a disappointing visit. I couldn't believe all the junk they sold, from mini leaning tower of Pisa's to leaning coffee mugs. I think most were disappointed in Pisa.
Anne and Lauren apparently decided to dine elsewhere for dinner, so Shaun and Toni joined us for the rest of the cruise. We had a fun evening and dinner was delicious. I had their pasta with shrimp and vegetables.
15 May 2003 Thursday: An early morning wake up call, we had a light breakfast in our room (cold eggs). We met up with Mark and Darlene and shared a taxi to the train station, and then took the local train to Rome. The ride was about 1 hour, 15 minutes long. We bought tickets and took the metro to the Spanish Steps, while Mark and Darlene continued on to the Vatican. We decided to meet back at the train station in the late afternoon. At the Spanish steps, I met an older Italian man. With my limited Italian, we had an enjoyable conversation. I was thrilled to be able to converse with him even though we couldn't understand everything.
Near the Trevi fountain, we stopped for coffee and tea at an outdoor café. We enjoyed the morning watching people come and go. The Trevi fountain was crowded with tourists. It was a sunny day and all the steps were filled with people. For lunch we had excellent pizzas at Gio Mia. My pizza included ham, artichokes, olives, and cheese. Mom's consisted of sausage, capers, mushrooms and cheese. House wine rounded our delicious lunch. There was a table displaying a wide variety of antipasti, which would have been a meal in itself. Nearby was the Barbarini metro, so we continued our tour to the Colosseum. We also walked to the Forum, but didn't go in.
Back at the station, we met up with Mark and Darlene, took the train back to the port in Livorno, and headed back to the ship in a taxi. We could have walked it, but it might have been too far for Mom. On deck we had drinks while the ship left port.
16 May 2003 Friday: Naples was our fourth port in four days. Jeff organized a tour to the Amalfi coast. I was looking forward to seeing the Amalfi coast again and shop for some ceramics. The group met at 8am: Jeff, Robin, Tony, Marie, Shaun, Toni, Mom and me. Our tour guide, Adriano, was very entertaining and funny! The first of several stops was Sorrento. We all split up and walked around the town. Mom and I bought a few ceramic bottle stoppers. They were very inexpensive. Sorrento is famous for its inlaid wood designs. I purchased a jewelry box for my friend June for her birthday. They are beautiful pieces of work.
Our tour continued onto Positano. Along the way we stopped at two lookout points along the Amalfi coast. We had a group photo taken with the town in the background. The town seems to just hang on the side of the mountain. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Ristorante La Cambusa on the beach. It was a steep, windy walk down to the water. Mom and I shared a plate of marinated octopus; then I had their pasta with white clam sauce, which was the best I've ever had.
Mom and I both picked up a few ceramics in Amalfi, another lovely town on the coast. by now, the towns were starting to look alike: they all had beautiful ceramics on display, small shops selling lemoncello and other local products, and great views.
The final stop was in Ravello. Adriano pointed out Roger Moore's Sofia Loren's homes along the way. It was a steep drive up the mountains, which had spectacular views of the coast. I was a little disappointed in this town as there wasn't much to see, but I loved all the ceramic shops. I think my favorite town was Positano. We drove back to port and got back to the ship in time. It was a great day and all wished we had more time in each of the towns.
Dinner was quiet as Jeff and Robin made reservations in the elegant Olympic restaurant. Franky and Niel took good care of us. I was even served two entrees: pasta with scallops and shrimp scamp and fillet mignon. I ate the entire seafood dish and a few bites of the steak, which was perfectly done.
17 May 2003 Saturday: Day at sea. Our day was relaxing with a late breakfast, a lecture (Joyce Adamidis - the Captain's wife), another lecture (Dick Morris - political consultant and ex Clinton aide - who was a very good speaker and quite funny), and time in the sun.
I received another invitation in the room from the Captain's Club to attend the Captain's private cocktail party. I also received a packet of information with a letter stating "Welcome to the Captain's Club. We had a nice time with Mark and Chris enjoying wine or champagne. This was our second formal evening. Shaun and Toni joined us for dinner. Lauren and Anne still hadn't dined with us after the first two nights. I could barely finish my meal. For dessert, which I didn't ask for any, I received a plate with the word "Nothing" written in chocolate.
18 May 2003 Sunday: Santorini. This is one of my favorite islands in Greece and I was looking forward to returning there. We had a long day, as the ship didn't leave the port until 11pm. After a leisurely breakfast, the group headed to the island on tenders. There are three ways to get to the top of Fira: cable car, walking, or donkey. Toni, Mom and I headed via the cable car while Shaun, Jeff and Robin went the animal route. They got to the top a lot faster than we did since most people opted for the 3 Euro cable car ride.
There are two museums in town, which we visited. Various Greek artifacts were on display. We had drinks at a café near the local bus stop while waiting for the bus to Ia. The bus filled quickly and the ride took about 20 minutes. I loved Ia!! It's a lot quieter than Fira and less crowded. It was quaint with its white washed buildings and blue church domes. We had lunch at Thomas Grill, recommended by the liquor storeowner (where I purchased a bottle of Ouzo) next to the bus stop. The food was excellent and inexpensive. The owner treated us to a shot of Ouzo.
We walked around Ia, which was very small. Views were spectacular with white washed buildings and blue church domes. Fira could be seen in the distance. Back in Fira, we split up. Mom and I window shopped, had drinks and fabulous fried calamari at Zafora's while watching the sunset, and then headed back to the port. A quick cable car ride to the port, we headed back to the ship in time for dinner. Again, it was just the two of us. It was an excellent dinner of escargots, cream of mushroom soup, salad, and osso bucco with risotto.
The ship left at 11pm and Mom and I had drinks while we watched the lights of Santorini disappear. There was a lovely fruit buffet at the pool deck. The people in line for the food were like scavengers. It was a crazy scene. It was as if they hadn't had a bite to eat all day!
19 May 2003 Monday: This was my third (and last) visit to Athens. I've seen enough! Our usual group walked all the way from the port to the metro, about 45 minutes. There were ample taxis but only for 4 passengers. We all split up once we got to Athens. Mom and I went to the outdoor meat market. The market is a great place to take photographs. The FDA would shut this place down in a heartbeat. Meats hung on hooks, including pigs heads, whole lamb, and other delicacies. It smelled of meat and those with a weak stomach should skip this sight.
We walked to Syntagma Square, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Placa, and flea market (mostly junk). Lunch consisted of delicious donar kebabs. We window-shopped and I purchased a beautiful gold Greek pendent. Back in Piraeus, we walked back to the ship. Since we hugged the waterside, it took only 35 minutes.
Again for dinner, Shaun and Toni joined us. Where were Anne and Lauren? It was another fun evening and the meal was very good.
20 May 2003 Tuesday: A day at sea. Mom slept in while I had breakfast with Phil and Edith. Jeff joined us with his coffee. I planned to listen to the disembarkation lecture along with the Dubrovnik lecture. That was one port we were really looking forward to visiting. We passed two islands while at sea.
We went to the lectures, but walked out of the Dubrovnik lecture since it was about shopping. We listened to Dick Morris in the afternoon, though his lecture wasn't as entertaining as the first one. Since it was our last day at sea, I laid in the sun for an hour. It was a great afternoon of relaxing. The pool deck was crowded with sunbathers.
Just before 7pm and heading to the top deck to see Corfu, there was a knock on the door. Steve, our room steward and a waitress brought in a tray with a bottle of champagne and a basket of fruit. The card simply stated, "From Guest Relations." I suppose that was their apology for yesterday's harassment (see full journal on my web site mentioned at the beginning). I opened the bottle and we had a glass while on deck.
21 May 2003 Wednesday: Dubrovnik was a beautiful port. Our ship docked in the area of the new town close to a modern bridge that reminded me of a sail. Complimentary shuttle busses took passengers to the main entrance of the old town. The town is enclosed with very thick walls, which we walked 2/3rds until Mom got tired. From the top of the walls, we had clear views of the town with its red tile roofs and ocean. The town was impressively clean with granite streets and had been re-built very quickly after the war damaged most of the city in the early 1990's. There was a war memorial, which we visited. Inside, many photos of men who died in the war defending their town were on display. Many were quite young.
We had an excellent lunch at a restaurant called Narona on Ulica Kuniceva, probably one of our best meals while touring. A typical meal starts with an aperitif. We were served a plate of goat cheese and fresh baked bread, followed by large seafood plates consisting of grilled squid, shrimp, a small whole fish (bass?), mussels, potatoes and spinach. We had their house red wine, which we liked. The total bill came to 244 Kunas, $38.
When we got back on board, we met a few friends on the 10th deck, aft. There's a nice bar there with tables and umbrellas. We enjoyed afternoon drinks while watching the ship leave the port of Dubrovnik.
Jeff decided to have some fun and came up with a plan to challenge the robe "rule." He thought we should wear our robes to dinner on the most formal evening, the Captains gala. To make a long, funny story short, after the Captain's cocktail/farewell party, met everyone in Jeff's room, donned our robes and marched into the dining room. In unison, we took our robes off and sat down, all dressed to the nines. Many laughed, enjoying the spectacle, while Anne and Lauren (who sat at the table next to ours since Toni and Shaun were with us) looked in disbelief. We heard the next day about the "robe people" and "how funny!" we were and "I wish we sat at their table".
We had a delicious dinner, which ended with the usual Baked Alaska parade. I was stuffed from dinner, but had a small bite of the dessert. It was very good. The grand buffet was at midnight. Mom and I went but didn't have a bite to eat since dinner had ended around 10:30pm. Everything was beautifully displayed along with several ice sculptures.
22 May 2003 Thursday: Venice! Arrival time in Venice was at noon. Up on deck at 11:00am, the ship quietly and slowly entered the lagoon of Venice, with everyone on deck shooting away with his or her camera. What a fabulous sight!
Our group took the courtesy vaporetto to the Piazza San Marco. The Piazza was crowded with people and pigeons. Everyone except I went to the top of the Campanile. I had been up there twice before. We walked around the area and ended up at the Rialto Bridge. We had lunch, which wasn't too bad, but not the greatest. I purchased a small gondola pendent for my charm bracelet and a couple of Murano glass candies to add to my collection. We headed south to the Academia Bridge and then split up. I wanted more time on the ship since we would have 5 nights in Venice and our cruise was about to end. We ran into Niel, who had about 3 hours of free time, at the vaporetto. We returned to the ship at 5:30pm for the last evening on board.
Back in the room, we finished packing our bags, then headed to the sushi bar for a few yummy bites. Dinner was just the two of us, while the rest enjoyed dinner in Venice. We gave Franky and Niel our envelopes with the tips, hugged them both and said our goodbyes. We certainly enjoyed their services and company.
We had martinis on deck before heading back to the room for our final packing. Everyone's luggage needed to be out in the hallways by 11pm to be picked up, tagged, and delivered the next morning to the terminal. The gang dropped by to say their goodbye. We certainly had a great time with them.
23 May 2003 Friday: It was a sad morning as our cruise ended after 12 wonderful nights on board with 9 terrific ports that we visited. We spent 5 nights in Venice, my favorite city in Italy. This was an excellent trip combining a cruise with several days on our own. We met a lot of nice people on the cruise, which made the trip more memorable. I can't wait to cruise again! I would definitely choose Celebrity again. They are a first class company.
Monica J. Pileggi
For photographs and my complete journal of this trip, visit: