February 22, 2004
Cabin Categories - #7197, 1C which became a 1B after Concierge Class was instituted and Family Veranda, #7199 with the enormous corner balcony on Vista Deck 7
This was our 14th cruise, 6th with Celebrity cruise line and second time on the Millennium. We started cruising just about 10 years ago and are addicted. This was our first Family cruise with our daughter, son-in-law and 3 grandchildren ages 5, 10 and 12. Our adult children choose this cruise for the great reputation that Celebrity had received, a balanced itinerary of days at sea and ports that offered beach opportunities for the family, that the ship sailed out of a Florida port of embarkation and for its great value for upper class accommodations for the family.
Incoming Travel & Hotel Information
Flying from New England, we choose to arrive a day early but rates for airlines where very high even 8 months in advance when we booked. Originally, we took advantage of the Cruise line airfare from our regional airport at $309 pp. Later, rather than incur additional deviation fees and charges, we opted to purchase Southwest tickets utilizing some frequent flyer rewards that averaged out to be about $250 pp for our family of 7.
On Priceline, about 3 months before our School Vacation week trip, my bid of $70 per room for a 3 star hotel was accepted at the newly acquired Wyndham Airport Hotel (formerly the Hilton). Pre-paid hotel rate included airport to hotel shuttle. In addition, we were able to negotiate for a tip, shuttle transportation to and from a nice local restaurant, Tropical Acres where Wyndham had preferred reservations. On the day of embarkation, our son-in-law arranged hotel shuttle for our party of 7 with the transportation director/concierge on the Hotel van for $7 per adult plus tip. Video check-out was not available the morning of our departure, but was quick & easy at the front desk. The Staff was very helpful and friendly. Nothing is in walking distance of this hotel for food or provisions.
Overall, the pool area was nice and the rooms very comfortable. We enjoyed breakfast off the menu rather than the huge buffet in the hotel café. Prices were the usual hotel expensive. This facility also services Celebrity pre-cruise passengers with a registration desk on embarkation day, air line personnel and TSA staff.
The Wyndham shuttle left the hotel shortly after 10:30 a.m. After showing our photo ID's at the pier check point, we were at Pier 18. Disembarking passengers were still leaving the terminal. I found the porters who were just preparing to check the luggage. We proceeded to the Captain's Club area inside the terminal to relax before boarding registration began; 11 a.m. Two very personable Celebrity staff members circulated among the seated guests to help anyone with uncompleted forms. At 11:15 a.m. the Suite, Special Needs and Concierge Class passengers were allowed to enter followed by the Captain's Club Founder, Elite, Select group. We passed through the airport screening device and headed to the last Celebrity representative to check in for both cabins. Our adult children came with us as we had one of their children booked into our cabin. Both accounts were processed within 10 minutes.
Next, we came upon the Fun Factory registration area. Two of the three children's names were on the roaster. Mom completed the 3 permission and information forms while dad, nana & grampy and the children listened attentively to the overview of the program and the safety issues. As the middle child was 9 on embarkation day, they required her to be in a different group than her 12 year old sister. This was only for the first night. She joined the older sibling on day two.
We all smiled for the camera at the Embarkation Photo stop. I asked if we could take a second photo or if they would make two prints as we took a family photo. Of course there was only one print made, so we had to request a duplicate. Next just before stepping into the atrium, our photo was imbedded into our Sign & Sail card which was also to be used as our key card. Total time to board now more than 45 minutes of which at least 15 minutes was spent with the Youth Counselor.
Edwin Rojas, Cruise Director, Winnie Hung, Social Hostess and a processing of white gloved staff were on hand to greet incoming passengers in the embarkation area. Roving waiters offered Mimosa, Champagne or Orange Juice to passengers. With drinks in hand, we headed to the set of aft elevators to deck 7.
Category 1B #7197 - Premium Class with pull out sofa bed and 40 SF balcony with 2 chairs and a small table for 3 people
Celebrity would not allow the 3 children to be in the Family Cabin due to the 12 year old being considered an adult! My only question, if we had not been traveling with them, would they sell a cabin to her if she was not able to be accommodated with her family?
Both cabins were still being prepared for the new guests but the beds were made. We secured our valuables by programming the safe with our personal code and left our tote bags in the cabins.
By this time, it was 12:30 p.m. and the Ocean Grille and Buffet were open for lunch. We checked out both areas, with the children opting for Pizza, Burgers or Hot Dogs and the adults trying the hot and cold luncheon buffer. We sat inside near the Ice Cream Bar, which the children really enjoyed throughout the week. After lunch, we headed to the Teak bar to purchase a soda card for each child. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, the only bar waiter on duty, informed us the cards had to be purchased at the Cova Café. Each child was given a Coke Can replica insulated cup. Nice souvenir, but an inconvenience if you wanted a soda and didn't have the cup with you especially at dinner!
After inspecting the public areas of the ship, we returned to our cabin to find Julio our cabin steward bringing luggage. He had two of our pieces right away and quickly retrieved the rest. We were all unpacked just before the 3:45 p.m. Life Boat Drill. We both had asked for our mini-bar to be emptied because of the children, but it was never done. All other requests were met accept we never received our complimentary bathrobes for use during our stay.
Right after the uneventful Orange Life Jacket fashion show, we headed up to the stern Teak Bar to meet and greet other Cruise Critics and friends. The weather was mild and about half of the group who had been talking on-line for many weeks and months, stopped by to say hello. To all of those folks who we met it was a pleasure. The other half of the group also attended the Celebrity Connections party on Tuesday held in Michael's Club at 11 a.m.
Dining, Food, Wine, & Liquor
Our table request for a large table at the Main Seating was perfect. Miguel, Sokos, and Mr. G (the maitre de) were absolutely fabulous to the entire family and especially to the children's individual requests. The 5 year old had Shrimp Cocktail every night; the fussy one had pickles and apples as an appetizer, and if something was not on the menu or not quite to the liking of anyone, it was very quickly replaced - like magic. In 14 cruises, this is the first time that I definitely felt the maitre de and the staff all deserved an extra gratuity.
Dining room food was fine for my tastes. Buffets lacked variety but the omelet station was excellent. Our only negative comment was that the buffet area is still not open long enough during the afternoon. If Celebrity would at least leave one buffet aisle open with cold choices, salads and pastries until the next dining hour, it would be appreciated. I did eat more hamburgers and pizza on this cruise than ever before due to lack luster choices. We also went to the main dining room for breakfast on two occasions, which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Our sommelier quickly learned that we enjoyed wine. Although he had no record of my pre-purchased wine, he investigated it and returned with the chilled bottle of bubbly and an apology very quickly. He too was very accommodating of our requests. We also enjoyed the Wine Tasting, including the Mixing seminar held in the Olympic, that my adult children attended. The Martini Tasting held on embarkation day from 5 to 8 p.m. for $5 per person for 5 set flavors of Martini's was very interesting and a great way to try something new.
As mentioned above, the children each had an Unlimited Soda card @ $5 per day plus 15% gratuity, with the sticker attached to their sign & sail card. This is for the week only and not available on a daily basis, per the Today newsletter. This entitled them to Coke products including Sprite and diet fountain soda which was available at all bars throughout the ship except via room service
My daughter and son-in-law celebrated their belated Anniversary at the Olympic for which we had made a reservation in advance. We had given them the gift of the $25 per person credit for this event. Unfortunately, they were never presented with the gift card until the day of the reservation, which did concern me. Also, the Anniversary Package which my SIL had purchased did not arrive until day 2. I checked on both as I had made the purchase to surprise my daughter. All credits and gifts showed up on their Folio accounts, but the presentation was not done until later in the cruise. They enjoyed their meal at Olympic, but again, the length of the presentation was a little too drawn out for their tastes. When the Anniversary chocolate cheese cake arrived in their cabin that evening, they were much too full to even consider eating it. The cabin steward did keep it chilled and severed it at another time.
As part of the Anniversary Package, they parents enjoyed breakfast in bed with their mimosas that they later shared with us on their great balcony. We had taken the children to breakfast with us at the buffet that morning.
We were invited to the Captain's Club Cocktail Party, the Elite & Select members' Senior Officers Cocktail Hour on Monday at 11 a.m. at Michael's Club, a galley tour, the wine tasting, of course the Celebrity Connections Party on Tuesday at 11 a.m. and best of all with the assistance of our lovely Social Hostess, Winnie Hung, we had a tour of the Bridge with Captain Karatzas formerly the master on Infinity. We also received Cova chocolates, match play coupons for casino chips and slot machines, a $10 internet coupon which was applied to our Sign & Sail account and spa discounts.
We did get to enjoy many shows and musical venues in the theater and lounges. We enjoyed the opening evening review Pure Platinum which was after diner for Main seating guests at 8:45 p.m. Formal night, proceeding the Captain's Gala Bon Voyage Toast the Spectacle of Broadway was presented with numerous costume changes and entertaining performers. There was no show Tuesday as we were at Casa de Campo until 11 p.m. The Tropical night buffet and theme night was held out on the pool deck, but we couldn't make it to stay up that late unfortunately. The Celebrity singers and dancers performed Classique: A Musical Odyssey from the Big Band era to today's modern music presentation after dinner at 9:00 p.m. on Wednesday. Nathaniel Reed performed many piano numbers at Michael's club. Sorry cigar smokers, I loved this new relaxing room. We have visited this lounge and others similar on the many Celebrity ships but could not stay to relax due to my asthma. The beautiful setting was a perfect way to relax and enjoy our time at sea. Cigar smokers are now delegated to the Teak bar where Tony Swamy sang along as he played his guitar. Musical Impressions by Wes Epae and the comedy routine of Jeff Nease, was much better entertainment than I had expected. The second formal night, our 12 year old grand daughter joined us to enjoy Fantasea with the Celebrity Singers & Dancers. The band at the Rendezvous Lounge had many folks up and dancing. When they took a break, the roving Accepela group, the Sea Tones, filled the gap with beautiful voices and music.
Although the 12 year old pre-teen (Admiral T's 10-12) didn't want to attend the initial orientation at the Fun Factory because her then 9 year old sister (Ensigns 7-9) was going to be put into a separate group, she was finally convinced to attend so she could fill her sister in on what they would do the rest of the week, as she turned 10 on the next day. The 5 year old boy Cadet (3-6 years old) met friends right away but was found very sad sitting at the buffet area while his group was having ice cream and snacks. Nana saw him and knew something wasn't right. He was reluctant to tell me, but finally said the counselors would not let him have ice cream. A nearby counselor overheard our conversation and explained my daughter had filled out an allergies form stating he was lactose intolerant. They took it very seriously and would not even take a chance with a cookie. Well, I convinced the counselor I would take responsibility and to give him cookies. I found my daughter and explained the dilemma. Upon picking the little guy up at camp a short time later, she spoke with the counselors who had misinterpreted the directions that he could have ice cream, yogurt or foods containing milk, just not whole milk. During the week, the children would go to camp in the morning, return for lunch and fun in the pool at noon and if they wished, go back to camp again. Our five year old grandson said what he liked best was the Kids Club and making crafts. He had made a sword that he brought home. At St. Thomas, after a trip to the beach and fun in the sun, two of the 3 wanted to go to the Fun Factory, but the middle girl was tired of "having" to go to camp and just wanted to play with her newly acquired souvenir stuffed Iguana. After a half hour of play, she wanted to go to the arcade. The counselors had given her an Arcade card for her birthday. We bargained and she returned to the Fun Factory to learn about the theater from a dancer with a behind the stage tour and a presentation of some of the costumes. When asked what the ten year old girls' best experience was on the Millennium and this vacation she said it was meeting and making new friends. One very nice experience was this child meeting another girl who was from England. While talking to this young child, our recent 10 year old, who had been given some money for her birthday on board, offered a Dollar to her friend. I thought this was very generous of her and later learned because the child was from Europe; she had no American money to spend. We were very proud of our little one for sharing with her new friend. The girls enjoyed the second formal night's Kid's Fun Factory Dinner, so they did not need to get all dressed up again. Overall, there were many prizes won by each child for various games; CD case, insulated Lunch bags, pens, hats, etc. As many of you may know, I was very nervous about the total number of children who would be on board ship this last week of February. On average, there must have been about 100 children on the Fun Factory list but I doubt if they all participated in the activities each day. The kids stayed at the two Formal night Slumber parties, which were free. The little guy gave one of the counselors a high Five, only to miss and hurt his hand. Although the counselors stated that they tried to phone the parents (we were in the theater), they took him to the Infirmary, ran x-rays, and finally when his oldest sister was informed, she paged/phoned Mom & Dad on their walkie-talkies and in the cabin. The staff and medical personnel were very attentive with a follow through exam the next day and all at no charge. The children were treated royally in the dining room. I can't say enough for the individual service that each one of them received. The one surprise we experienced was, the two younger children never asked to sleep in Nana & Grampy's cabin. They had their own room with the 13 inch TV/VCR combination. Sailing with a pre-teen who likes to sleep in was a challenge since her opened sleep sofa got in the way of the vanity draws where my clothes were kept. Once we figured this out, I would pull out my things the night before and go off to breakfast without her in the morning. When her folks were ready, they would call her and she joined them of breakfast. It all worked out.
Much has already been written about these familiar Eastern Caribbean ports except for the Dominican Republic. We had chosen the itinerary so we would not incur great expense on organized tours especially for 7 people.
Casa de Campo: The ship docked at 5 p.m. at LaRomana, DR due to a medical emergency and evacuation that had to be made during the previous night at Nassau (the closest island with a hospital). This caused the late arrival, so any thought of beach time was forgotten. Our Daughter & Son-in-Law had booked the Sunset Happy Hour tour, which was still offered with a beautiful sunset even with threatening rain clouds hovering nearby in the area. We took the free shuttle to the Altos de Chavon and walked around this recreated Mediterranean Village. Shops were very limited and the children were very disappointed as they had souvenir money to spend. A child's toy, a hand made "Chinese Handcuff" was purchased for $10!. This should be framed as the most expensive item purchased all week. Due to the late nature of this stop, we did not make it back to the ship on time for our early dinner seating, but ordered room service.
San Juan: Mom had hurt her foot the evening before so needed a trip to the doctors to check it out that morning. The ship docked right downtown at Pier 1 in front of the Dom Q building. As soon as possible, the rest of the family ventured into Old San Juan on foot to find some kid friendly souvenirs and a pair of sneakers for Mom. We found Calle Forteleza with little trouble and Payless plus a few familiar drug stores that had just the right stuffed toys for the kids to purchase. I purchased another Santos, St. Patrick at the Puerto Rican Artists Association. It was then off to find my friend Alex Yorcis at Gems & Pearls, a shop that now is recommended on board the ship. We have known this jewelry store owner for many years. He is originally from NYC and runs a quaint gift store which includes hand strung pearls, Larimer jewelry, cigars and unique souvenirs. I bought a 3 piece silver Larimer set for $25. We then headed to Pigeon Park and Christ Chapel. This was the first opportunity to see the beautiful Silver alter of this historic chapel. As it was Ash Wednesday, the church was open. The children enjoyed chasing and feeding the birds, while we took great photographs of our ship. Once back to the ship, we downed a very quick lunch and hurried off to join our ship tour to the El Yunquee Rainforest. With Mom's foot injury, this was the best option for everyone. Our comfortable bus tour was narrated along the way with a stop made for refreshments, souvenirs and a break. We visited the Coca Falls, climbed the abandoned look-out tower and walked throughout the graded paths for a good overview of the only rainforest in the USA. We got back to the ship about 15 minutes before dinner, so off we ran to change and made our seating a few minutes later than usual.
St. Thomas: We were definitely ready for the beach. We were the last ship this week docked at Havensight. After a quick breakfast we never heard the ship cleared announcement, if there was one, so went ashore about 9 a.m. We found a taxi van who would take us to Coki Point for fun in the sun @ $7pp each way. The driver wanted to wait for a few more passengers, but after 5 minutes with anxious children in the car, I asked if she was ready yet or we would be finding another driver. She introduced us to a beach boy, but his services were not needed. A local lady approached for the girls to get their hair braided, which they were looking forward to having done. Mom negotiated $75 for the two girls who choose their different styles. Each child was done at a picnic table in the shade and with their own new comb that Nana had brought. The stylist did have brand new combs though. The guys enjoyed the snorkeling as they had brought their own equipment. The beach was nearly empty for the first hour, but groups started to arrive from the other ships that were in port. Coral World, which was easily seen from the beach, was skipped this trip. One of the dive masters gave the little guy some dog cookie bones to feed the fish. These fish were large, colorful and plentiful. Our driver returned right on the scheduled time. She was leaving right from the port after dropping us off for a flight to Atlanta where here daughter was graduating from college. She left us at Havensight and brought DD and SIL downtown for them to enjoy the shopping without the children in tow. The black clouds moved in right after we had some lunch on board the ship, so our next venture up Paradise Point was a wash-out. Again, we took the children into a few stores at Havensight to find more souvenirs. Our birthday girl found a great hand painted visor with an Iguana painted upon it for $10. It was really cute. This is the first cruise that Nana really didn't go shopping at St. Thomas. The customs agent must have surely been surprised.
Nassau: As we docked about noon, the skies were threatening and the winds were brisk. We decided to forego a beach trip to Paradise Island and just wander around downtown Nassau. We walked farther than I thought we would have to go to the public beach but the winds were even too strong for kite flying. Unfortunately, we were approached right away by vendors and then found glass in the sand, so our stay on the beach was very short. Once back at the Straw Market, the family went in to seek out some bargains. The children were peddling wooden turtles and flutes which they youngsters bought. No one could agree on one thing to do, so we went back to the ship to try to find a late lunch. Shortly thereafter, the skies opened up and once again, we had a down pour.
Value for the Price
Our Premium balcony cabin was actually less than it cost us for a regular outside twin cabin that we had almost 10 years ago on the Celebrity Horizon. For $400 for each child, plus tax as port fees were included, no other cruise line could match this incentive. The Family Cabin is so roomy and unique to this class of Celebrity ship offering the family a two room private sleep setting with two TV's including VCR's and the extra large corner balcony and great storage space. Our daughter and son-in-law loved this spacious feature the most, plus the fabulous service of our cabin steward, Julio. The little extras extended to us as Elite Captain's Club & Founder members, were also very much appreciated.
Overall, the cruise was worth the 9 month wait and to experience what we love most through a child's eyes. Although there were some anxious moments with family issues, changes of plans, weather delays, overall it was a nice relaxing week. Meeting all of the Cruise Critics and their friends and family was an extra special memory. As mentioned previously, I will attest that the Celebrity staff has come up the ladder a long way with friendliness, fabulous service, smiling faces, and their determination to do everything possible to please their guests. The price made this cruise affordable for all. Even though I know more changes are inevitable on Celebrity, I do hope they continue to try to exceed everyone's expectations. They certainly fulfilled ours.