February 17, 2008
Perhaps the only thing as much fun as going on a cruise, is the anticipation of going on a cruise. It starts with exotic pictures in cruise brochures, and ends with the final step off the gangplank and onto your ship. In between are mentally "walking the ship" via deck plans, day dreams about perfect days at sea, and of course, the step you're enjoying now, reading reviews. While my memory is fresh and my body still automatically craves sushi at 5:30pm, I will do my best to give my impressions of Celebrity's Millennium.
Forgive me if I skip how many pairs of underwear I packed. The same goes for the co-pilot's name on my flight, what I had as an appetizer, or why I didn't wear my wife's stockings with my tux this trip (a long story). I will focus on the ship, the service and what you can expect YOUR vacation to be like.
To set a base line, we were a group of 24 Fiftyish friends with most of us having known each other almost 30 years and on some years with as many as 44 going. Our group cruises every other year President's week to celebrate being friends and not being dead yet. The cruises began as a "once in a life time" year 2000 group vacation, aboard the SS Norway. Deciding cruising wasn't the worst thing in the world, we followed that with Grand Princess, Explorer of the Seas, and Infinity. This was our fifth, "once in a lifetime cruise".
We were so impressed with Celebrity on our last outing, that for the first time we repeated a cruise line. Keep in mind these are my impressions. I'm a 53 year old guy from the New York area. I eat in some of the best restaurants and see the best shows. I also love mystery meat on a stick from a sidewalk vendor and laugh at a well executed pratfall. You are not me. Your mileage may vary
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the Millennium being tired and old have been greatly exaggerated.
The moment you swipe your seapass and cross off Millennium's gangplank you know you're in for a wonderful time. The Grand Foyer is a classic study of perfect "Goldilocks Elegance".
Don't look for that term in any architectural glossary, I made it up after two martinis. It means, not too much, not too little, but just right.
The marble on the deck three floor of the atrium absolutely sparkles, reflecting the dark wood and gold lettering of surrounding guest services desks. The backlit marble Grand Staircase glows soft amber and large swathes of tapered cloth form columns on each side.
From above the fat and juicy sound of a clarinet spirals down from the quartet that is playing. To the right of the stairs, the Olympic dining room with the lush wood and gold trim from the White Star Liner "Olympic" and tables set with fine crystal seems almost surreal. It is 11:30 AM and I'm drinking champagne that was handed to me with a warm "Welcome Aboard" from a white suited crew member. If I died then, it would be with a smile.
Beyond the Grand Foyer, the ship is just full of comfortable spaces that entice you to sit down, have a drink, eat some food, relax and enjoy. Almost every space is a gem, and it will be very easy for you to find your own personal favorite.
The Main restaurant, The Metropolitan, could almost be a stage set for the sea-going Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes".
The two levels of seating are surrounded by oversized portholes, and an entire two story glass wall facing aft. There is a wood steel grand staircase and those traditional curved "art deco-ish" steel railings are everywhere. Wood columns trimmed in gold support the ceiling, which is predominantly colorfully backlit glass. On two occasions a quartet played on the top level of the grand stair. Entering the Metropolitan on formal nights from the upper level with the orchestra playing, in my tux with the ever so ravishing "She who must be obeyed" on my arm, was about as good as a day in midwinter gets.
The Buffet area on deck 10 also doubles as a casual eating area at night. It is another wonderful windowed lined space. In the morning the way the sunlight plays around the room is very relaxing. Some very neat things in this room which are often overlooked, or perhaps overstepped, are the large acrylic portholes IN THE FLOOR which allow you to look straight down to the sea. I did notice, however, only few people liked to sit on them.
The Workout room on the ship seemed adequately equipped. I walk through it once with a drink while filming my wife's Pilates class. On a cruise I don't work out, I employ "Zamgwar-nomics" The more food I eat, the less the cruise cost. Those who did work out daily really enjoyed the space, with its' bow facing panoramas of windows. One member of our group did point out however, that if you're tall, and walk on the treadmill, you can't see out those same windows.
I meant to try the treadmill to see if it was true, but became detained on pool deck by a grilled burger and a perfect Bloody Mary.
Fortunes Casino is roomy and your typical ships' casino. Full of glitzy lights, big statues and ringing slot machines. It did have one large difference from all previous shipboard casinos I have been on. It gave me money, or rather returned a small portion of the vast sums of my money that have been living in ships casinos since 1990.
It was good to see my money again. I missed it.
Forward of the casino is the ship's piano bar, Michaels' Pub, which thus far, is the most beautiful a lounge as I have ever seen on a ship. White wooded panels line the room. Leather chairs and comfy couches are grouped in intimate settings. It is the kind of space you might mentally create if you envisioned what a classy room on a ship should look like. It never seemed very busy which struck me as odd because it is such a comfortable room. I actually wonder if it got more traffic when it was a cigar bar. My gang did have several rounds of after dinner drinks in the room one night and enjoyed it.
In fact this ship seemed full of small practically perfect, never crowded spaces. Considering we were there on peak vacation week, with a maximum passenger compliment, that says a lot for the ships design and flow.
Between decks eight and nine, was Words, the ship's Library. It is a surprisingly large and nicely decorated with globes and other "Library-obilia". The walls are rich wood. There are soft yet adequate reading lights, several big inviting chairs and plenty of books. The two floors are connected by a semi spiral stairwell. It is a really nice room and always one or two folks enjoying it.
Notes, the ships music library no longer exists. It is now an acupuncture area. I never had enough martinis this trip to pay to have pins stuck in my face. Perhaps next time.
The Emporium shopping area is really rather nice. It has the feeling of many small shops rather than some in your face ship's shopping area. Once again it was abundant with wood and brass, and the stores carried nice stuff. I actually purchased several things from the shops.
It was unique to see a ship purchase with my signature on it, without a bar tip added in
The Cova Café in the Grand Foyer falls under the category of a must visit spot.
Taking a break from the sun to enjoy a yummy cappuccino (extra charge) and some excellent music was heaven. Of course if you skip the music and coffee, the pastries (free) themselves are worth the visit.
Packed full of blooming flowers on Deck 11 is one real piece of eye candy, The Conservatory. While it is really just a flower shop, rather than a public room, entering it several times and smelling the fresh flowers caused my heart to skip a beat.
The heart skipping a beat may have also been caused by the amount of bacon and corned beef hash I was eating daily, but I prefer to think it was the flowers.
The pool decks are excellent. At first glance they seem to be too small for the size of the ship, but once again were just right. There are two main pools with two hot tubs. The lower level had plenty of padded lounge chairs, and upper level had an abundant amount of standard lounge chairs. The piercing blue of the sky and the water, the drinks from the mast bar, and reggae music made for two wonderful sea days. I could have used more.
If you want a deck chair poolside rather than in one of the many, many spaces with more than enough empty deck chairs around the ship, get your butt up early, and put it in one, as one member of our group faithfully did. Then share it when you go for lunch or a massage. Don't expect to saunter out at 11:30 after sleeping in and find prime seating left. Don't expect it after 9:30 for that matter.
My award for the most relaxing place on the ship goes to the thallasotherapy pool in the spa. Soft new age music fills the air. There are large plants hanging from the columns that support the glass roof. Padded teak lounges fill the room. To the side are linen cabanas with tables and chairs. No one under 18 is allowed in. The pool is really one giant salt water hot tub. On the sides are these "Bubble lounge benches". After fifteen minutes of sitting on one, every problem you've ever, had going clear back to that zit you had before the prom in High School, melts away. I visited it every day. I miss it now.
Thallasotherapy: It's as much fun to do as it is to say.
While I'm on the topic of the spa, most of our gang enjoyed the spa treatments, particularly the hot stone massages. I enjoyed the free sauna daily and showered in the men's changing room after, as they had very good showers. I once lucked into a free day pass for the Persian Garden. For free it was real nice, I wouldn't pay to do it twice.
Possibly the only disappointment in this ship (or any Millennium Class Ship) is that there is no wrap around exterior promenade. For me at least, walking around the top of the ship in the morning is not as "shippy" as doing miles around the ship on a promenade. Between the shade and the sea, it's hard to beat. It brings out a sense of a time when ships were "the only way to cross".
Any promenade however is better than hearing an alarm go off for work. I visited Millennium's promenade daily just to watch the sea woosh (surely a nautical term) by and feel what hair I still have, blow in the wind.
The open air cafe on deck 11 aft is better than a nice space on the ship, it's priceless. It pays homage to glory days of Ocean Liners with their huge teak fantails.
Although my experience is limited, the Oceanview cafe is as good an outdoor gathering space as I have seen on any newer ship. There was teak everywhere. It's in the tables, decking, rails, even the bar. The wood almost emits its own warm glow at sunset and sunrise. It was the perfect place to meet up with friends, have a drink and watch the stars and ships twinkle in the distance.
The Platinum Club is the ship's martini bar. It became a daily haunt all of us. The furniture is grouped in sets between large portholes which scream out "this is a ship damned it". The room is completed by the most perfect martinis, served perfectly.
In the day this area (and every area lined with these oversized portholes) is bathed in a wonderful wash of natural light and ocean views. At night the lighting is intimate enough to hide the fact that you have spilled gin on you tux.
Take this from one who knows.
On deck 11 forward is The Cosmos Lounge which during the day is just the GREATEST place to take a sun break and enjoy some outstanding views. It has floor to ceiling glass, a "starry theme" to it, comfy chairs and is a great place to sit and play captain and commander as you over look the bow. At night we had a blast dancing there. I also frequently crossed through the Rendez-Vous lounge, which was your average, comfortable, small show lounge. I never used the internet café, but I saw it. I also frequently passed through the Extreme Sports Bar, a small cocktail area on Deck 11 poolside, which seemed to be the "teen" place to hang.
After one day, the Mast Barkeeps greeted us by name as we passed. Our beverage waiters no longer need our cards and the assistant waiter had the non-alcoholic drinks on the table as soon as we sat.
Our Martini waiter after one day had the name of each member of our large group memorized. He knew your drink. He knew approximately what time we would, like gin worshipping zombies, begin arriving each evening, and nightly reserved our drinking area. In fact crew members we didn't even know seemed to know us by name.
I found this amazing since I need to remember which way to put my pants on. I can only assume the ease of learning our names, had been reinforced by seeing them hundreds of times on bar receipts.
Some members of our group did have issues with their cabin steward, however, others wanted to take theirs home. One couple found CC service not worth the extra price, another found the CC service incredible. Their Steward actually tied their sons tie for formal night, and folded the kid's clothes that were on the floor.
I had a room charge issue at guest services which was resolved (at considerable length) but the staff was extremely courteous. At dinner, we were happily given a kid's only table for the children in our group. The table was (as requested) immediately next to the parents and with the same waiter. The waiter actually cut the youngest girl's meat. Our three tables were all located close enough for table banter during dinner. I didn't meet on person of the ship I wouldn't consider a professional
Main dining food was very good with some dishes (the Lamb Shank, and stuffed Cod) exceptional. The lamb Shank was so good, many of us asked to have it again another night. I personally noticed no drop in food quality since our '06 cruise. I did see many dinner offerings I don't remember. My tablemate (a meat and potatoes guy) however, felt some of the menu items had gotten too "fru-fru". Perhaps it is the fabled new menu slowly slipping in.
The Olympic was exceptional and the dining experience was as glorious and long as all other guests have indicated. We had no problem putting our Captain's Club reservation in well in advance.
I can't be certain if it was the luck of my week, or the fullness of the martinis, but the caliber of entertainment on Millennium was for the most part, exceptional.
The Cova Café actually became a place I stopped at frequently, much more than on Infinity. It was a perfect venue for the superb A Cappella group which performed. It almost had the feeling of a private performance. I was sorry more from my group didn't get a chance to hear them. I also on two occasions relaxed to the quartet.
The musicians on the ship were unbelievable good.
The party band at the pool has got to be one of the most versatile groups I had ever heard on a ship. Poolside, as a reggae band, they sounded as if they were all related to Bob Marley. At the night-time deck party- they were a hot dance band. Playing in the Rendez-Vous lounge or up in Cosmos, their range ran from smooth jazz to an absolutely astounding rendition of "unchained melody" that would have given the Righteous Brothers cause to pause.
By far the best group on the ship was the house band when it performed Big Band Classics on formal night. It absolutely changed the attitude of the whole ship. Both the Platinum Club and the Rendez-Vous lounge were packed to the max and people were dancing on both levels as Sing-Sing-Sing wailed away. We were sad when our 8:30 seating opened because we wanted more. If I had a vote I would say both formal nights should feature the House band. After their three sets, passengers in large numbers just wanted to dance. And we did.
There was guitarist who sang around the ship that this time out I really didn't get to enjoy much, as our schedules didn't match. However, judging by the several numbers I heard him sing, he was very good.
I only found the pianist in Michael's lacking. Not as a singer, or musician, but as a piano bar performer. He was not able to read his audience. Every time the whole place would be on the verge of a whopping big sing-a-long, he would switch to some low key dirge, to the confusion of all. I heard the comment "maybe he doesn't like sharing the spotlight with the audience".
The Magician and the comedian in the main theater were also both great. I stopped in on each show and stayed to the finish. The comedian actually almost caused me to be late for my martini seating.
I wouldn't have missed martinis in fear that the world would have turned upside down.
I have yet to be on a ship that didn't have a nick or a ding somewhere. I'm in much worse shape than the Millennium is, and I do sit-ups.
Maintenance is constant. During last week while we were heading down the gangplank in Puerto Rico, they were ripping up the rugs in the Olympic, replacing the rugs in an aft elevator lobby, Glass was being broken out and replaced and the deck railings were being hit with varnish remover, scraped and sanded. And those are just the things I noticed. Yes, some wooden deck furniture I could see from my balcony was beat up from the salt air and the constant "bleaching" that goes on day in and out to kill germs. I'm sure anything that might bother anyone is on a list to be replaced, and probably will be before you cruise. If it isn't replaced and ruins your cruise when you catch sight of it, you need to spend more time in the martini bar.
One person in our group did say to me the rugs were in terrible shape. I never really noticed that, but am glad now that I didn't pass out on one.
Casa De Campo: Beach break was great. We were on the beach at a beautiful resort from approximately 10AM until 1:30PM. Open bar- No food.
Others in my group also raved about the excursion to Catalina Island. They said the snorkeling was super, guides were great, also free drinks.
Tortola: Loved the Bathes. I didn't meet the virgin, Gorda.
Puerto Rico: We did a great hike (on our own) around Old San Juan, and had a wonderful Mojita in the fabulous courtyard setting of "Il Convento" hotel next to the cathedral. Those on the trip who went to the Rain Forest hated it. Too much bus- Too little rain forest.
Pre-Cruise Hotel: We Stayed in the Best Western Oakland Park Inn. We enjoyed it FAR more than the Holiday Inn Express on 17th Street. It had clean rooms, great food close by, a super pool, wonderful staff, free breakfast and a fun tikki bar. My Wife & I even enjoyed the area better that 17th Street. I would not hesitate to stay there again. It was VERY REASONABLE. You may read my review on TripAdvisor.com
WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THOUGHT
This time out I spoke to 35 shipmate strangers.
26 were predominantly prior Princess or Celebrity guests and found the ship, food and service wonderful.
2 were Royal Caribbean and NCL customers and enjoyed it so much, they doubted they would go back to RCCL or NCL.
1 was a Princess Cruiser who felt Princess ships were much nicer but the Celebrity food and service were much better. She indicated her next trip would be with Celebrity.
2 found the food and service wonderful but that the ship was old and needed a dry dock.
3 found the quality of the ship significantly less than their previous Celebrity and were very disappointed.
1 gave a response that indicated that this had been an awful week.
In our group of 24 almost everyone gave the ship an 8.5 out of ten. Three of The Newbie cruisers in the group gave it a 10. Two friends who were first time Celebrity Sailors gave it a 7 and felt they enjoyed Princess much better.
All the kids in our group (except 1) gave the ship 9.5 or higher. Their favorite things were the "free" food, pizza , pool and freedom. Todd Jr. Gave the ship a 6. He said the food was great, but the ship wasn't modern. Interesting thoughts indeed from a young man 1/5 my age on his first cruise.
For me, as long as I'm not sitting in a life boat singing "Nearer My God to thee" any cruise is great. While I love Celebrity (Celebrity is now the Official cruise line of me) I am all about the ships. The one negative I had, is that it for all purposes Millennium is a carbon copy of Infinity. THAT IS A BAD THING food and service wise. I'm sure I would find the same on Summit or the Constellation. As far as cruising in February goes, I do like exploring new spaces more than going new places. President's week 2010 Celebrity's Solstice class or one of the Expanded Grand Class ships of Princess will be getting my vote for or next "once in a life time cruise."
Until then, I wish you all full drinks, smooth seas, and happy sailings.