by Flora Herbert
December 17, 2000
This was my second cruise – the first being in July 2000 to Alaska on Celebrity's Galaxy. I traveled on this adventure with my husband, Barry (his first cruise), my daughter, Melanie (her third cruise) and Barry's mom, Margie (her fourth cruise). When we decided on the spur of the moment to cruise the Caribbean on this particular week, our first two choices were either the Grand Princess or the Millennium. The Grand Princess was fully booked, so we ended up on the Millennium, which was probably my first choice anyway because my experience last summer on the Galaxy was wonderful. There has also been quite a bit of hype concerning the Millennium, and I wanted to see for myself what it was all about.
We booked our own airfare and flew from Dallas to Fort Lauderdale on Sunday morning. My first glimpse of the ship was from the airplane and her distinctive dark blue hull and large "X" are an amazing sight from the air. Celebrity's trademark "X" on the ship's funnel made her easy to pick out from the Costa Atlantica, Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas and the Grand Princess docked nearby. (The "X" is actually an uppercase rendition of the Greek letter "chi" as in Chandris, the family name of the founder of Celebrity Cruises.)
We took a cab to the pier at Port Everglades ($10 including tip) and arrived at the ship at about 1pm. There were no lines and we boarded quickly. Embarkation, though, had started at 10:30am this particular morning, as there were no passengers leaving from the previous cruise since the Millennium had just come out of dry dock. Women were given a white rose upon embarkation. All passengers were also given a hardback book describing the building of the Millennium – which was waiting for us in our stateroom.
I can't imagine a cruise ship that could be more classy and elegant than the Millennium. The décor in all the public areas and staterooms is a combination of understated luxury and comfort – contemporary in style as is Celebrity's trademark with many aspects of a traditional luxury ocean liner. Following is a brief description of some of my favorite public spaces.
One embarks the Millennium on Deck 3 to the awesome sight of the Grand Foyer's backlit onyx staircase (lined with poinsettias), marble floors, three-story silk draperies, and panoramic glass elevators. Up the stairs on Deck 4 are tables for two and four placed all around the open area around the staircase. This was a focal point on the ship where people met, mingled and played cards and games throughout the day.
This drinking/dancing/gathering spot is just outside the Metropolitan Restaurant on Deck 4. This room has a relatively casual atmosphere with plush seating in bright colors. Karaoke was held here on the two formal nights and dancing was held here nightly. There are large round windows looking out to sea and, as on the Galaxy, this was my favorite room on the ship.
All the way aft on Decks 4 and 5, the Metropolitan Restaurant is decorated in a beautiful amalgam of reds, blues and golds with wood accents. Except for a few poorly placed tables-for-two near the wall, there appeared to be no "bad tables," as every table either faced a window, a railing looking out to the area below or, for those lucky diners seated on Deck 4 in the center, a sweeping vista of the entire room and the soaring blue-lit two-story ceiling.
This room gets my vote for the most beautiful room on the Millennium. Done in purples and grays with art deco crystal chandeliers and sconces lining the walls, this area was where the martini and caviar bar were located. Music from the Rendez-Vous Lounge directly below permeates this lounge through a large open area in the center of the room.
Ocean Café/Ocean Grill
This area contains the buffet breakfast and lunch, pizza, sushi bar, pasta bar, omelet station, ice cream station, afternoon tea and several of the midnight buffets. The ship is wider at this point than the decks below, and dining at a table near the window gives a feeling of actually being out over the water. Adding to this ambiance are portholes in the floor looking down directly to the water (and not coincidentally, into passengers' verandas on the decks below). There is also an outdoor area in the rear of the ship where one can dine alfresco on a teak deck. This was my favorite place to eat breakfast.
The Aquaspa on the Millennium is divided into two separate areas. The area closer to the front of the ship contains the treatment and massage rooms, the hair salon, and gym facilities that afford a panoramic view of the ocean. (I did not have a spa or salon treatment on this cruise, so I cannot comment on that aspect of the spa.) The gym is quite large and has a large assortment of equipment. Even though there was a sign up sheet for the treadmills, there was rarely a problem finding an open one.
The area of the Aquaspa closer to midship consists of the Thalassotherapy Pool, more familiarly known on the Millennium as the Hydropool. It is located on a raised teak deck indoors under a glass canopy in a lovely room with teak deck chairs with yellow and green pillows. This pool costs $20 per day on the Galaxy, and it was a real treat for it to be complimentary on the Millennium. The pool has body jets, neck massages and two stainless steel beds to lie on and have the water rush over you. We had rough seas on this cruise, and the Hydropool became akin to a wave pool at a water park. Many passengers complained about the number of kids in the Hydropool, but I never experienced this or maybe it just didn't bother me. I used the pool daily between 10am and noon and also between 5 and 7 pm. when the majority of children were at dinner. I find it interesting that people choose to book their cruise during the winter holidays from school and then get their funnel all bent out of shape when there are kids in the pool.
This is a gorgeous outdoor pool area between the Ocean Café and the Hydropool on Deck 10. There is a small lap pool with a rock waterfall flowing into it, a curved pool and four hot tubs. The grill serves hamburgers and hot dogs at lunchtime and pizza in the afternoon.
Located on Deck 11, this is the ship's disco at night and observation lounge during the day, with a view over the bow of the ship, equal to that which the navigational bridge provides for the ship's officers two decks below.
Climbing a stairway just behind the funnel on Deck 11 (just under the big "X"), Barry reached the sports court area in time for a casual volleyball game. This area is always available for full-court basketball and darts, but a volleyball net is set up at scheduled times. The area is surrounded by a ~15-foot net but is open at the top. Believe it or not, this proved to be a problem about 15 minutes into the volleyball game. Taking a pass at the center of the court, an enthusiastic setter placed the ball over the net and onto the jogging track on Deck 11. Since no jogger was there to take the set, the ball bounced over the railing and into the sea eleven stories below. Basketball practice began shortly thereafter.J
There are several intimate areas on the ship consisting of a few tables and chairs or a sofa strategically placed in an almost private area. Check out the one on Deck 3 behind the glass elevators.
The promenade deck was difficult to enjoy as it did not completely encircle the ship and had an unattractive cork-type of flooring instead of a wooden floor.
The photographers were not as aggressive as on the Galaxy and the photo gallery was not located in as high a traffic area either. I don't know if they sold as many photos, though.
We occupied two staterooms. Barry and I were housed in Room 7183 on Deck 7 – the Vista Deck. This is a Premium Ocean-View Stateroom with Veranda – Category 1C. We had a queen-sized bed, loveseat, dresser/desk with chair and mirror, coffee table, TV, minibar, double closet with multiple drawers and a safe, bathrobes, and a bathroom identical to our bathroom on the Galaxy. At 190 square feet, we did not feel at all confined and the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall sliding glass door to our veranda made the room feel even bigger. There was ample storage space in the dresser and closet. We could not hear any noises from the adjoining staterooms, although you can hear toilets flushing from outside in the hall. The bathroom contains a shampoo dispenser in the shower, a lotion dispenser by the sink, a hair dryer and plush towels. Water temperature in the shower was inconsistent though, and frequently lukewarm at best. Our stateroom attendant Arthur and his assistant Ryan kept the room spotless and the ice bucket and pitcher fully stocked for us.
Interactive TV allowed us to check the status of our account, order shore excursions (I did not do that this time but did so without problem on the Galaxy), order wine for dinner, order breakfast room service and edit and check closing prices of stocks in your stock profile.
We enjoyed ordering breakfast from room service and eating out on our veranda. I also ordered a room service lunch when I arrived back on the ship from Grand Cayman and enjoyed dining outside and watching the tenders come and go from Spotts Bay. I will probably not cruise again without a veranda. I can only imagine how much better a veranda would be in a place like Alaska, where the scenery is so much prettier.
Our room was directly over some of the large suites on the ship, and although I felt we had relative privacy on our veranda, the occupants of the suites below us on Deck 6 definitely did not. Since the ship is 5 or 6 feet wider on Deck 6 than Decks 7-9, a look right or left afforded us a view into the verandas below us. Thus it is necessary to plan carefully when booking a veranda stateroom (or suite) on the Millennium. A few staterooms on Deck 6 have the lifeboats directly below them, and a few staterooms on Deck 9 are directly under the overhangs of the Ocean Café (and the downward-looking "portholes").
Melanie and Margie occupied Room 8021 on Deck 8 – the Panorama Deck. This is a Deluxe Ocean-View Stateroom with Veranda – Category 2A. Their room was identical to ours except it was about 3 feet shorter (171 square feet versus 190 square feet). Whereas we had a loveseat, they had what can be described as a large easy chair. Their dresser/desk was also proportionately smaller.
Dining on the Millennium is a five-star experience not to be missed. Although I felt the presentation of the dishes in the main dining room was slightly better on the Galaxy, I certainly have no complaints about any dining aspect on the Millennium. We dined at the late seating at Table 507 in the far aft area of the Metropolitan Restaurant on Deck 5. We were at a table for eight, and our tablemates, Debbie and Howard from Tucson, and honeymooners Tonya and Greg from the Denver area, were delightful companions with which to share dinner and conversation. Our waiter, Cesar, and assistant waiter, Jose, were exceptional in every way and anticipated our every want and need. Dinners consisted of a choice of four appetizers, three soups, two salads, five entrees, and six desserts including an array of homemade ice creams and sherbets. Every night, the choice of entrée included beef, fish, and pasta selections with two additional selections of either lamb, veal, duck, lobster, shrimp, pork, chicken or turkey. No dish is repeated in the course of the week. The Millennium seems to do beef better than any other dish, as all the beef dishes we had were excellent, especially the filet mignon. Dinner on the Millennium was the high point of our day.
I didn't eat many of the lunch buffets, as I really enjoy leisurely lunches in the main dining room (do not miss the Viennese chocolate pudding offered on the last day). On days when this wasn't possible, I called for room service or ate something out by the pool. Breakfast from the buffet was pretty good, though, and it was really enjoyable out behind the Ocean Grill on the teak deck. The pizza was also excellent, as evidenced by the long lines. We usually went to afternoon tea, even if it was just to meet up with everyone after not being together all day.
There was one small glitch in the cruise concerning the breakfast and lunch buffets. Basically, the times listed in the Millennium Daily for the buffets were incorrect more often than they were correct. The buffet was open when you thought it had closed and, more frustratingly, was closed when you thought it was open. The biggest problem was, I believe, Wednesday morning in Cozumel when the breakfast buffet closed at 9am as did the dining room, and the only option for breakfast after 9am was the late-risers buffet with its 30-minute line and no food when you got there because they had run out. It appears they tried to compensate for this by leaving the breakfast buffet open longer on Thursday (a sea day) and also leaving the lunch buffet open until 4:30pm the day we were in Grand Cayman.
We went to two of the midnight buffets. The Italian Buffet on the first night looked wonderful, but we were too stuffed to think about eating – we had just finished dinner one hour before. The Grand Buffet on the last formal night is a sight to behold, even if you do not eat anything. On the Galaxy, the line to take pictures was long and very slow moving, so we chose to go into this buffet nearer to closing time at 1am. There was almost no one there and we got all the pictures we wanted.
Room Service was very quick (five minutes – and always delivered by our assistant room steward, who I always tipped), but 100% of the time the order was filled incorrectly. For instance, we would get tea bags but no hot water, a huge coffee urn that was completely empty or pita bread instead of a baguette. When I called to correct the problems, they were taken care of immediately. We used room service more on this cruise than on the Galaxy because we had the veranda, but I remember the same problems on that ship as well.
On Friday night, the last formal night, Melanie had just come from the doctor, and was in no shape to get dressed and go to the dining room. Ryan, our assistant room steward, brought us a dinner menu, and we ordered a full five-course dinner to be eaten in our stateroom. (FYI-This meal was delivered exactly as ordered, as I wrote down what we wanted and handed it to him.) Ryan contacted the chef personally about the possibility of our having the evening's special dessert, Baked Alaska, delivered to our room. The chef said he would only deliver it if it could arrive before melting. Ryan brought us petit fours and ice cream just in case it didn't arrive, but about 10 minutes later a dining room waiter arrived and ceremoniously presented us our Baked Alaska – still relatively frozen and so delicious!
Based on recommendation from my travel agent and from information I had read on line, the first thing I did upon arriving on the ship was to rush to the Olympic Restaurant to make dinner reservations. My first surprise was the $25 per person surcharge instead of the $12 that I had been expecting. I made a reservation for Thursday night anyway, and we looked forward to dining there all week
I felt the service in the Olympic was not substantially different from the Metropolitan. First impressions are important, and it didn't take long to realize that, unlike in the Metropolitan, our napkins were not removed from our plates and placed in our laps when we were seated. Now I know what you must be thinking – this woman is too lazy, etc., to put her own napkin in her lap. The only point I'm trying to make is that after being pampered in this way all week in the Metropolitan Restaurant, when this gesture didn't occur in a restaurant the caliber of the Olympic, it was something I noticed. Margie also had to ask on one occasion to have her water glass refilled. Again, no big deal, but this never happened in the Metropolitan.
After we ordered, we were brought a small dish of mussels. Barry and I had the goat cheese soufflé for our appetizer, which was excellent but very rich. Margie had the Russian Salad – which consists of lobster and assorted vegetables tossed with a creamy dressing – which she enjoyed. Melanie had the Caesar salad, and when the salad was presented to her already on her plate, I inquired that I thought it was to be tossed tableside. I was informed that it was tossed tableside, just not at our table.L For our main dish, Barry, Margie and I ordered the sea bass. On a scale of 1-10, I would rate it a 5. Melanie ordered the flambéed shrimp but didn't like it. The waiter seemed quite intent on pleasing her and substituted the chicken without hesitation.
The cheese selection was excellent as were the desserts. I can wholeheartedly recommend the chocolate soufflé which is new on the menu for the Caribbean. Margie had Master Chef Michel Roux's six individual selections – a small crème brulée, cheesecake, ice cream, and several more. She highly recommends this as well. Barry ordered the Olympic vanilla pudding. Be forewarned, this dish is very, very rich, so much so that he was unable to finish it. Coffee was excellent, and the tea was made from real tea leaves. No tea bags here.
Although I wouldn't call this a once-in-a-lifetime or a not-to-be-missed experience, it was very enjoyable and certainly worth the small investment.
The Emporium is the Millennium's vast shopping arcade on Deck 5. Shops include Cova, Michel Roux, DKNY, Paul and Shark, Coach, Versace, Fendi, H. Stern, a logo shop, a liquor store, sundries shop, watch shop, two womens' clothing shops, and a perfume shop. Prices seemed high and the logo shop was the only one that ever seemed busy. Every day, new merchandise was brought out with signs proclaiming "This just arrived!" On a whim one afternoon, I asked a clerk how new items can arrive while we're at sea. We both had a good laugh at how this marketing technique works, even on the high seas.
Fortunes Casino is decorated in the style of old Monte Carlo with inlaid mosaics in the floor, "marble" columns (go touch them – they're plastic!) and replicas of statues that can be found in the Louvre. The lowest minimum at the blackjack tables was $10, even in the morning, and the 5-cent slot machines were never turned on. Go figure.
This is a huge theater, taking up three decks and the entire front of the ship. Sightlines were good in all seats except the very back ones on Deck 4. The audio system though, seemed to be tuned for Deck 4, and was a problem for those sitting in the balcony (accessible from Deck 5 and via staircases at the back of the theatre).
I attended the three production shows:
"Pure Platinum," a medley of pop songs from the 1940's through the 1990's
"Classique, A Musical Odyssey," a medley of classics through the ages, and
"Spectacle of Broadway," a medley of Broadway show tunes.
Celebrity production shows are all alike – glitzy, colorful yet tasteful costumes, and singing and dancing to songs that appeal to most of the guests on board. This is not meant as a negative comment as the shows are excellent and I wouldn't miss one. They are just very, very predictable. Other theater entertainment included a comedian and a pianist. I cannot comment on these as I did not attend.
The Caribbean steel drum band, Onyx, who played frequently out at the pool and in the Cosmos Lounge was excellent, also, as was the Young Duo, who performed nightly in the Rendez-Vous Lounge.
We had the unfortunate experience of making a visit to the medical center when my
daughter, Melanie, came down with a respiratory infection. The Ecuadorian doctor we saw, Fabian Bonilla, was professional and to the point, but was sorely lacking in a bedside manner. However, he appeared quite competent and the antibiotic he prescribed did the trick. When you think of how difficult it is on a land based vacation to find a doctor versus the ease of just walking into the medical center on the ship and walking out 15 minutes later with the medication you need, it makes cruising all that much more attractive.
The ship was full at 2400 passengers, but aside from a few lines in the Ocean Café and at pizza time, crowds were not a problem. This ship has a very large guest-to-space ratio, and thus there is rarely a feeling of crowding. There was never a wait for an elevator. Many ships smaller in size than the Millennium carry many more passengers. I was amazed at the wide range of ages on this cruise – babies in strollers, seniors, and everything in between. I felt, for the most part, people were very friendly. Every time I sat down to an open seating lunch or breakfast or got in the hot tub, I had no trouble making a new friend.
As far as the crew is concerned, we had an overall positive experience. Our maitre'd, or assistant restaurant manager as they call him on the Millennium, was never around though. I only saw him once, and didn't even know his name as he never introduced himself to us. He was smart enough, though, to not be around on the night tips were given out either. Our waiter received what would have gone to him. On the Galaxy, our maitre'd was at our table every night, knew us by name, and always had stories to tell or games and magic tricks to regale us with. We enjoyed that.
One outstanding crew member was Jim Cannon, the cruise director. He was very professional and top-notch in every way. He was involved in everything and was always around. I'm wondering if he ever slept! On our Galaxy cruise, we never even saw the cruise director.
Although this is not a non-smoking ship, I was never bothered by smoke. One side of the ship was designated as smoking, and the other as non-smoking, and to tell you the truth, I didn't even know which was which, because there appeared to be very little smoking anywhere. This was true on the Galaxy, as well.
So much has been written about the Millennium's famous vibrations. To quote from page 32 in the Millennium book made available to us in our stateroom, "because gas turbines generate energy by rotation, not reciprocation, they are far less likely to produce onboard vibration than multi-cylinder diesel engines." I'm not sure I know what that statement means, and I have only been on two cruises, but I can tell you what I experienced. On the first two nights in the dining room-in the far back of the ship-we felt a slight vibration, almost exactly the same as the vibrations we felt every night at dinner on the Galaxy, which does not have a gas turbine system. On the night of the Grand Buffet at 1am, also in the very back of the dining room, we felt the large vibrations (glasses and dishes rattling, etc.) that I assume the Millennium is known for. It lasted only a few seconds, though, and I can only assume that these are the vibrations for which she went into dry dock in order to try to correct. As far as I know, no one was falling out of their beds, as was the rumor circulating about one of the Carnival ships that was following us. J
Ports of Call
My priority in cruising is the ship and the sea. Ports of call are secondary and I enjoy spending port days on the ship when it is relatively empty. Nevertheless, here is my take on our four Western Caribbean ports of call.
We took the complimentary shuttle from the ship into town and did a little shopping and walked to the Hemingway House. Key West is very, very touristy and appears to be geared towards the cruise ship passenger and his/her need to lighten his/her pocketbook.
Calica is a gravel quarry and basically a parking spot for the ship and a jumping off point for tours of the ruins of Tulum. There is also an eco-archeological "theme" park, Xcaret, right next to the ship. We treated this a "sea day" and did not leave the ship.
Cozumel is a busy port and we were docked next to the Ryndam, the Sensation and the Ecstasy. The Celebration was also in port at the same time. Melanie had her hair partially braided, then we took a cab ($5) into San Miguel where Margie surprised us and bought Melanie, herself and me matching 6-carat tanzanite tennis bracelets. Life is good!
by the time we got to Grand Cayman, all water-based shore excursions booked through the ship had been cancelled and we did not dock in Georgetown, but down the road a bit at Spotts Bay. Melanie was ill by this time, and stayed on the ship with Barry and Margie and I went into town to get my Hard Rock Café T-shirt (I now have 23). Taking the tender from the ship, then a communal "taxi" ride (really a large van) into town, then repeating this journey on the way back and waiting for the return tender to the ship for over 30 minutes not knowing what ship I was in line for was not a pleasant experience. I would like to return to Grand Cayman at some point and spend a week at a resort on Seven Mile Beach, but a seven-hour layover there from a cruise ship is not my idea of how to enjoy a destination such as Grand Cayman.
We encountered rough seas on our last day, a sea day, as we made our way from Grand Cayman around the western shore of Cuba and on to Fort Lauderdale. We were traveling at full speed (24 knots) in order to get to Cozumel to tender off a passenger with a medical emergency and then to make up the time lost during this unscheduled stop.
The ship docked in Fort Lauderdale over an hour late, but once debarkation got going, it went smoothly and quickly. Apparently, there were some people with early morning flights out of Fort Lauderdale who either missed their flights or cut it very close because of our late arrival. I personally have no sympathy for someone who books a flight so close to the ship's estimated arrival time at the pier, but I guess there are some people who believe everything will run smoothly all the time, which of course, it doesn't. There is also the possibility that some of these people used Celebrity Air and were assigned early morning departures, which is one of many reasons why we will always book our own flights.
If you want to be pampered, fed fine food whenever you like and have a myriad of activities at your disposal with very little decision required on your part, then cruising is a perfect vacation and the Millennium certainly fills the bill. The problems experienced on this cruise were very miniscule, especially when you consider that this was basically a maiden voyage and there were over 2400 passengers on board, all with unique wants and needs. I have traveled on many land based vacations, and some of my fondest travel memories are from the two cruises I have taken. Traveling is all about attitude, and I am truly amazed that anyone could have had anything other than a positive experience on this cruise. Our every desire was catered to and we were treated like royalty. Celebrity has a fine product and attracts a seasoned, sophisticated clientele.
To give a brief comparison between the Millennium and the Galaxy, the Millennium is bigger, but I really only felt the extra distance when walking from my room (7183) to our second room (8021). Had we booked in a timely manner, we might have received rooms closer together. The Millennium is decorated in a slightly more elegant style, but the Galaxy is gorgeous in its contemporary simplicity. I would cruise both of them again in a heartbeat.
It is no secret that I enjoy Alaska as a cruise ship destination (scenery, scenery!) more than the Caribbean, but the ease and availability of cruising the Caribbean and the easy access to Florida from Dallas will, I hope, ensure future cruises to the Caribbean for me and my family.
My expectations were certainly exceeded on this cruise and I hope to be lucky enough to sail Millie again some day.