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Kitty Park

Age: 61

Occupation:retired

Number of Cruises: six

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Millennium

Sailing Date: October 14th, 2003

Itinerary: Western Mediterranean

PREFACE
The travelers: Two women, widowed, one approaching retirement, the other already there. We've both cruised before (HAL, Royal Olympic and Carnival), but this was the first cruise on Celebrity for either of us. The Millennium was selected because the itinerary was one we were both interested in, was port intensive and at the outer limits of the time we had available to travel.

PRE- AND POST-CRUISE ARRANGEMENTS
Although some people enjoy making their own travel arrangements, we opted to assign this task to Celebrity, eliminating the potential need to make last-minute changes or risk overlooking something.

Teresa and I live in different states and flew separately to Venice. She arrived about 8:30 AM Tuesday; I arrived two hours later. Celebrity representatives met arriving passengers, and buses shuttled us to the ship. Check-in was simple. The difficult part was trying to stay awake until shortly after noon when the ship was ready for us to board.

Our return to the US two weeks later was frustrating. Teresa’s plane was apparently overbooked, and passengers were offered six hundred airline dollars as an incentive to move to other flights. She declined the offer, did get checked in to board her flight and reached Dallas at the scheduled time.

I arrived at the Barcelona airport on Celebrity’s shuttle bus 2-1/2 hours before the plane’s scheduled 1:00 PM departure. I was ticketed on Air France from Barcelona to Washington, DC with a change of planes in Paris. The Celebrity package also included an E-ticket on United to fly from Washington to Cleveland. When I was sixth in line and after standing in line for two hours, check-in for the flight was halted. The plane was full or had reached its weight limit. The remaining passengers were instructed to visit the adjoining Air France ticket counter to make alternate arrangements.

Airline reps were less than helpful to the first people they dealt with. One couple was told they would be ticketed only as far as Air France’s US termination city. Any subsequent flights to their destination on planes of other airlines would be their responsibility to arrange. A lot of yelling went on at that window.

When it was finally my turn, I asked, “Just get me home; whatever routing, whatever time.” My options: (1) fly later that day to Paris, spend the night there, and continue home the next morning; or (2) remain in Barcelona overnight and fly out the next morning. I chose to stay overnight in Barcelona. The rep reissued the two Air France paper tickets and changed my connecting United reservation by issuing an e-ticket to replace the original. Approximately two dozen of us spent the night at the Tryp Hotel, a very nice facility near the airport. When I returned at 6:00 the next morning, a long line had already formed but I was able to check in and got home with no further problems.

THE SHIP
Many cruise reviews include a description of the ship, public areas, cabin accommodations, general décor and food quality and presentation. These criteria are less important to me than the itinerary and experience in each port of call. To summarize in a few words, the ship is attractive and stable in rough seas, the crew is attentive, and I didn’t lose any weight.

Because we anticipated long days touring when in port, we requested second seating (8:45 PM) for dinner. This worked well for us, allowing us time to relax and regroup before eating. Generally after we’d rested and dressed for dinner, we visited one of the lounges or stopped by the sushi bar to have a pre-dinner appetizer.

We ate breakfasts and lunches in both the dining room and Ocean Cafe. When shore excursions were booked, the Cafe was our choice; on sea days where eating could be unhurried, we visited the dining room.

OUR CABIN
Our cabin, midship on Vista Deck (7), had a veranda, which we used when weather permitted. Cabin appointments were comparable to those of similar class ships: king bed split into two twins, a settee and coffee table, television with remote control, vanity and chair, shower bath and combination mini-bar refrigerator.

ON-BOARD ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT
There were many daytime shipboard activities available, but day-long shore excursions prevented our taking part in them. Celebrity provided opportunities to play games such as bingo, trivia and pictionary, and Enrichment programs were available as well.

Fatigue from long days of sightseeing also precluded my attendance at evening shows. By 11:00 PM, when we left the dining room, all I wanted to see was my bed.

SHORE EXCURSIONS
In the past we have purchased ship-sponsored excursions in ports we were unable to see on foot. In doing research for this cruise, however, we found many travelers opted to book private driver/guides for some ports. We decided to do the same. The caveat was that it would be our responsibility to get back to the ship before it left port. A ship will wait for its sponsored tour buses to return before leaving port; she wouldn’t wait for us.

Three months prior to our sail date, I contacted several recommended drivers and eventually scheduled five to serve as driver/guides. In three other ports we did self-guided tours and in the last, Barcelona, we purchased Celebrity’s City Tour with hotel transfer.

Our reasons for deciding to book private tours were: (1) our cost would be less than a ship’s tour, even after a tip and the price of lunch/snack were added; (2) we could decide on the agenda and time spent at each stop and (3) our group would be small with no more than eight passengers in a van. As our days with the private drivers passed and our experience grew, we learned (1) it’s important to tell the driver at the start of the day whether the group wants a leisurely lunch or a quick snack (eat fast, see more); (2) the quantity of historical information offered by private drivers varied. From our experience we felt that bus guides give more background. (But then, they’re not concerned with navigating traffic while talking, either.) and; (3) Vehicle acoustics and the driver’s tone sometimes made hearing what he said difficult. Bus guides have microphones.

Venice, Italy – The consensus of what we read about touring Venice was to “see it on foot, get lost.” Once on the ship and after a quick lunch, we took the vaporetto shuttle to St. Mark’s Square to wander around. There were signs pointing the direction to the Rialto Bridge but we never found our way there. After three hours exploring on foot, we returned to the ship to unpack and collapse.

A week before the cruise I had made reservations for the “Doges’ Palace Secret Itinerary“ Tour (12.50€). Following the two-hour tour the next morning, there were only three hours until we needed to be back on the ship, so we stayed in the area around the Square rather than chance missing embarkation.

If you have only a day in Venice, take a guided tour, perhaps the ship’s walking tour. We spent so much time lost that we had too little time to see more of the sights we were interested in or take a gondola ride.

An informal get together of Cruise Critic members assembled after the ship set sail, and we met again formally Friday morning. It was great fun to meet face to face after months of e-mail correspondence.

Dubrovnik, Croatia – Reviews we read indicated it was a simple matter to tour Dubrovnik’s old town without investing in a tour or guide, so we did. The day was sunny but high winds necessitated the use of tenders to the port. A bus then shuttled us to the walled city. A fee (converted to Euros) of 2.20€ each bought us tickets to walk along the wall’s top. The steps were numerous and steep, but the views of the city and Adriatic Sea were worth the effort and price. At the halfway point we descended to the street where we had lunch and then continued our exploration of Dubrovnik as we walked to the pick up point for our return to the ship.

Athens, Greece - Following a day at sea, we joined two fellow passengers for the first of our independent driver/guide tours. Although Spiros (www.athenstaxi.net) had indicated he’d be our driver, we were met by Mike, one of his employees, outside the terminal’s main entrance at 8:30 AM.

The sky was overcast, but Mike made the day bright for us. Our morning stops included the Acropolis, changing of the guard at the Parliament Building, Temple of Zeus, Mt. Lycabettus and a short stop to shop.

Mike took us to a neighborhood restaurant for lunch. We dined family style on lamb, pork and true Greek salad (no lettuce but lots of feta cheese, tomatoes, green peppers, olives and onions) and a Greek dessert of yogurt topped with honey. We also drank retsina wine, which Mike said should be ordered from the barrel, NEVER in the bottle. We finished the day by driving to Cape Sounion to see the Temple of Poseidon and were back on the ship by 5:00 PM. We’d had a busy day and were ready to rest.

Santorini, Greece – I visited Santorini on a cruise three years ago, but we had less than five hours of shore time. On this cruise we would have nearly fifteen hours. To take advantage of the time, we reserved a rental car for the day (www.pangosmio.gr). The instructions were that we would be met at the port. When there was no one there at the appointed time, we rode the cable car to the top thinking the representative would be there, but she was not. Eventually I called the emergency number that had been provided with the reservation and learned that she had been at the port but evidently arrived after we’d left to search for her office. (NOTE: if you’re told where you’ll be met, then wait there!) Once we had the car, we spent some time in Fira and then went to Oia to shop, stroll and take pictures. Following lunch at a cliffside café, we drove across the island to Akrotiri and then stopped to tour Koutsogiannopoulos Winery on the way back to Fira. After returning the car, we headed to Zafora’s, a restaurant near the cable car station. We found a table there where we shared a sampler of Greek appetizers and watched the sun set before tendering back to the ship.

Naples, Italy – Following another sea day, six of us from the ship met our second private driver, Gennaro (www.sorrentolimo.com). What a professional, personable, friendly man! He allowed us to set the pace, reminding us at the same time that the faster we moved, the more we’d see.

Our tour began with a drive along the Amalfi Coast. If we wanted to stop to take pictures, we had only to ask. Occasionally he’d stop without prompting because there was a view he wanted us to see. He arranged for us to have lunch in Ravello at a hillside restaurant with a spectacular view of the gulf, and after our meal, we went into the town for a short visit. I’d asked Gennaro to schedule a private guide for us in Pompeii. We spent two hours with her, walking through and learning about the ruins. Her fee was paid by Sorrento Limo and was included in the total we paid to Gennaro back at the port.

Rome, Italy – Max (www.maxleotta.com) was to be our driver, but Aldo came in his place. We were very satisfied with his effort to show us as much of Rome as possible, especially since it was a rainy day and Rome traffic moved slowly. In spite of congestion, Aldo pointed out a number of historical sites and made several stops that included the Forum, Coliseum, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and Piazza Navona. With so much to see, we asked for a noon stop for a snack, and Aldo took us to a small lunchbar near the Vatican. It was here that we sampled gelato for the first time. (Oh, boy, that’s good stuff!) As the end of the day approached, we finally reached the Vatican, and literally ran through the Museum in order to get to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s before our day had to end. I cannot praise Aldo highly enough for his perseverance in getting us to as many sites as he did.

Florence, Italy – Another day with another driver, this one Alex, also an employee of Max Leotta’s limousine service. Alex was as reserved as Aldo was ebullient, but he was every bit as accommodating.

In discussing what we wanted to see, Alex suggested that we secure tickets for the Uffizi and Accademia museums first and plan the rest of the day around those stops. We were able to get into Accademia immediately, but tickets for the Uffizi weren’t available until after our tour ended. Thus, we walked across the street to see Michelangelo’s 'David' and then made the short drive to Cathedral Square. While Alex stayed with the van, the six of us headed off for 2-1/2 hours of picture taking, sightseeing and shopping. Back in the van we continued to Santa Croce Church where Michelangelo and Galileo are entombed. Our last stop was at an overlook for one last view of Florence.

The time we’d have spent in the Uffizi Museum was now available for other use, so we asked Alex to take us off the expressway and through the Tuscan countryside on the drive to Pisa. Who said, “It’s just a leaning tower”? The architecture and area surrounding the church, baptistry and tower make this an outstanding stop. I’m so glad we didn’t pass it by. We were back on the ship by 5:00 and it had been another memorable day.

Villefranche, France – This was our fourth consecutive day with a driver/guide, this one scheduled to be Alain (www.Dream-Tours.com). The six of us tendered to the port where we were to meet Alain at 8:30. When he hadn’t arrived by 8:45, I asked the attendant at the information desk to call the Dream-Tours office. Uh oh. In spite of repeated e-mails where the subject line included the date of our tour, we were on their schedule for the following day. The Dream-Tours rep said there would be a driver at the port within a half hour. (While we waited, Sylvie Di Cristo approached us, asking if we were the party she had booked for the day. Sylvie’s a very personable woman, and I can understand why she’s been highly recommended by many people.)

Shortly after Sylvia departed with her group, Fred rushed in looking for us. He apologized for the mix-up and set about making sure the rest of the day was without hiccup or complaint.

Our tour began with a drive through Cap Ferrat as we headed to Eze, a spectacular stop if only for the view alone. Shopping in the quaint nooks could have taken most of the day; however, we needed to move on to Monaco and Monte Carlo. We spent some time in the garden outside the casino taking pictures and then drove through the marinas and over portions of Monte Carlo’s Grand Prix racecourse. Eventually we stopped at the church where Princess Grace is buried and had time to see the church, visit the palace, wander the narrow lanes and, of course, shop.

From Monte Carlo it was on to Nice. While two of our group visited the Matisse art museum, the other four strolled through the gardens of an adjacent church and adjoining city park where the ruins of a Roman bath remain.

Our final stop was St. Paul de Vence, a hilltop village reminiscent of Eze. With too little time to explore and shop, it’ll be at the top of our list of places to visit if (no, when) we return to southern France.

With the ship not sailing for another six hours, Fred was willing to continue our sightseeing tour; however, we were tired and ready to rest. Fred had more than made up for the false start early in the day. Should he be your driver, you can be assured Fred will do whatever he can to make your visit a memorable one.

Barcelona, Spain – After a final day at sea, we were greeted with rain when we disembarked in Barcelona. For passengers who extended their stay in Barcelona by at least a day, the ship had available a half-day excursion of the city that included a transfer to a hotel.

Our first stop was at Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. With umbrellas in hand, we circled the work in progress as our guide explained some of the history and design. Back on the bus, we passed other Gaudi creations and then went to the Gothic Quarter to stroll the old lanes and learn of the area's importance to Barcelona. Rather than continue our outdoor tour in the rain, our guide altered our agenda and took us into Barcelona’s City Hall where several pieces of art are displayed. Near noon and back on the bus, passengers were dropped off at their respective hotels. Ours was the Gran Hotel Havana and the room more than met our needs. After checking in, we walked to Las Ramblas to complete our souvenir shopping and sample tapas.

WEATHER
We visited nine ports and had four cloudy days, three days of rain and two sunny days. (I have no recollection of what it did the three days we were at sea!) Daytime temperatures generally reached into the 60’s and at the least, a light jacket was usually needed. This was a good cruise to dress in layers.

SUMMARY
Would I recommend this cruise? Yes, if your goal is to visit as many ports as possible in the shortest amount of time. Teresa and I returned to our homes exhausted but glad that this had been our cruise choice.

If you have questions, let me hear from you.

Kitty

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