Number of Cruises: 3
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: September 16th
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
My cruise began on the 16th September 2001, that’s to say only 5 days after the terrorist attacks that hit the United States. As a consequence, lots of American passengers were unable to leave their country, due to flight disturbances and did not make it to the peer in Barcelona. On this particular cruise, there were lots of Spanish speaking people, some Germans, British, probably also lots of Canadians. I also heard other languages I could not identify. Very few children, summer holidays had already come to a term, instead lots of senior passengers. I would say the average age was high. In all we were 997 passengers in a ship that can accommodate over 2000. I can thus imagine this particular week was not a very profitable one for Celebrity Cruises. This fact however added to the feeling of being at ease in such a big vessel. In such conditions the space ratio was extraordinary. It was a seven days round trip from Barcelona through Malta after a day at sea, Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Ajaccio and Villefranche.
Describing the Millennium is perhaps useless. Much has been said about it. I can only give my judgment. From the outside the ship impresses because it is huge, but I wouldn’t say that it is stylish. Particularly the rear that looks more like a modern apartment building. There is not enough aft deck space for passengers wanting to seat there. The aft of decks 6, 7, 8 and 9 have cabins and suits with private balconies. I remember the first time I cruised, I took a lot of pleasure sitting in the aft of the ship and look at the trail of waves left by the propellers while reading a book. The aft of any ship is also an excellent place of observation when leaving ports of call. Yet on the Millennium, the only aft deck space we could enjoy was on deck 11 (extremely windy) or at the veranda that stands on the back of the Ocean Grill (not enough roomy for a ship of over 2000 passengers). In my opinion other older ships of Celebrity‘s fleet have a more appealing design in what concerns aft space.
However, the interior is definitively elegant. I have to say that I’m an enthusiast of sober elegance. All the social areas are carefully appointed. Lots of art all over the place, some pictures and sculptures are worth notice. The Grand Foyer is garnished with great sobriety and imagination. Probably the most stylish place in the ship. The Cosmos Lounge, the Platinum Club and the Millennium Theater are also very elegant. The Cosmos Lounge allows great views during the day, even if at that time it was scarcely used. One part of the Olympic Restaurant has wood paneling on the walls, and is worth to be admired. The Extreme Sports Bar also called my attention because of the audacity of the decoration. The Metropolitan restaurant is also elegant but there are too many colors involved. The walls and columns that support the ceiling are garnished with wood paneling, yellow on the railings, chairs are covered with a strong pattern of red fabric and finally blue and red on the carpet. For this last item I would have chosen only one color. Sometimes it is hard to conciliate so many colors. A curious feature: The 4 elevators in mid deck have glass walls around them allowing great views to the outside. Obviously there are other spots I did not like. I don’t like casinos nor do I like to gamble. Added to this feeling, the casino on the Millennium is, in my opinion, an extravagant and nightmarish vision.
CABIN AND SERVICE
I had a 1C class cabin on vista Deck (nº 7185). It was well appointed with more than enough drawer and closet space. There was a wide couch near the panoramic sliding glass door that leads to the balcony. In front of the couch there was a vanity table. The balcony, enough in size for two, has a very small table and two upright chairs, still conducive to a first class napping. However, the balconies on this ship do not have enough privacy. It is easy to listen to the conversation of neighbors or even see them. Inside the cabin, I found the refrigerator useless, as it was possible to call room service. The TV was too big for the size of the room. I would also have placed it somewhere else, maybe on the vanity table and facing the couch. Where it is, it can only be easily watched from one of the beds. It is an interactive TV, however I was not able to see my shipboard account balance before the fourth day into the cruise, since the system kept prompting me to try later as no data was at the moment available. The mattresses on the beds are on the firm side and this is the way I like them. The cabin was also provided with a safe.
The bathroom was unimpressive and slightly confining even if the shower was good in size. No water temperature fluctuations in the morning, when everyone else is likely have a shower. There was a shampoo and a lotion dispenser.
By the fourth night by 5 o’clock in the morning I noticed that the vacuum cleaning system of the toilet had stopped working. A messy situation at that time of the day. I was in no mood for calling maintenance at such an early hour, or using public restrooms on deck 5 near the entrance of the Metropolitan Restaurant, the closest to my cabin. Nevertheless a couple of hours later it was already OK. Other passengers experienced the same problem on other decks and at different moments.
Soundproofing of the cabins was somewhat average. Mine had a communication door to one of the adjacent cabins. Sometimes I could hear the TV next door or listen to voices of my neighbors even if it was impossible to understand what they were saying as they were very probably Scandinavians. The vacuum cleaning systems of the toilets were always noisy. A true quadraphonic concert every morning, with sounds coming from up, down, left and right.
The room attendant came at least twice a day. He changed the towels very often. I generally had a shower before breakfast and before dinner and noticed the towels were changed every time I used them.
When for the first time I came to the cabin right after embarkation, I noticed that the railing of the balcony was full of salt and so were the two chairs. This is not uncommon due to the sea atmosphere, but I think they should have cleaned them before the arrival of new passengers. Upon the first morning while I was leaving the cabin for breakfast, I saw the cabin attendant on the corridor and called his attention to this fact. He answered that he could clean it right away, but do to the fact the first day was a full day at see, by night, the balcony would already be full of salt again. He also said that it was preferable to clean it by the second day while we were docked in Malta. I agreed with his explanation, nevertheless I have the feeling that the balcony was slightly cleaned right away and that in fact, salt was entirely removed by the second day. By then I took care to look at the railings of the balconies to my left and right and noticed that they were not so tidy as mine. Whether my neighbors were not so rigorous with this concern or they failed to give notice to the attendant. In spite of this detail, I have to say that the cabin attendant kept it spotless and was an unobtrusive kind of person. I can’t rate room service, as I never used it.
During the first night, a couple of hours after we left Barcelona, we encountered rough seas and lots of wind. The captain said later they were force 5 winds, even if I don’t know exactly what this means. Although huge, the Millennium swung majestically during a few hours. This would not prevent me to fall asleep. However, there was a relatively strong and continuous hiss coming from somewhere around the sliding glass door of the balcony. The kind of sound one gets while riding a car at high speed with a window not properly shut. On two different occasions I got up to determine where exactly the hiss was coming from, but was not successful and the door was definitively well shut. Unused hangers in the closet would also rattle during that night.
FOOD AND SERVICE
Whenever I leave home I like to experience different tastes from those I’m accustomed to. However, there are a few items I generally can’t do without. My daily requirements are one serving of cereals, at least two of fresh fruit (not fruit juice as fruit should always be eaten, not drunk), one serving of salad and one serving of soup (preferably of green vegetables). Fortunately I had no difficulty finding those items on the buffets of the Ocean Café, during breakfast and lunch. There are two lines for those buffets, but what you get is the same going one line or the other.
I have few to say about breakfast buffets. They are well assorted and all the food was tasty and fresh. As a side note I would have liked they had a wider variety of bakery items, not that it wasn’t well assorted but I have seen better. I would have enjoyed a wider variety of dark colored bread, thus richer in fiber. I saw lots of people eating omelets and greasy sausages and bacon in the morning, something I could never do at that time of the day. It was also possible to have breakfast at the Metropolitan restaurant, however I can’t rate the service at that time of the day.
Lunch was also very good in what concerns presentation, variety and taste. Salads and dressings had a reasonable assortment. There was a pasta stand, and a free ice cream stand. The Ocean Grill, which is located backwards to the Ocean Cafe served sushi. Lots of far eastern passengers (presumably Japanese) near this stand, and they did not seem to even try occidental food. Desserts were also very appetizing. Fruit was just in reasonable variety but people seemed not to care and would prefer pastries. Fruit salads consisted only of different sorts of melon and pineapple. Ice tea, punch and lemon juice were free.
In the afternoon the Ocean Café would also serve a wide variety of sandwiches, scones and cakes. I regret this buffet closes very early 5:00 PM. After such a delightful lunch I never felt like eating before 5:30PM. At that time the only possibility was to eat pizza (something I enjoy to do occasionally) at the Riviera pool bar or return to my cabin and eat an apple I would generally bring along with me from the lunch buffet.
Light meals were also served at the Aqua SPA cafe that stands close to the spa pool.
Service was good. There was always someone to help with the trays at the end of the buffet line. Sommeliers are discreet and they do not push drinks. Some of the staff was from countries of Eastern Europe and new republics originally belonging to the former Soviet Union. In recent years, there has been a large number who came to my country as migrant workers, due to the terrible financial situation of their places of origin. They are known to be skilful, diligent and hardworking. Aboard the Millennium I verified those same convictions. Even when they are not full of smiles, they are professional.
DINNING ROOM EXPERIENCE AND SERVICE
In a word, remarkable. With no doubt, dinner was one of the highlights of this cruise. Table assignments are usually left on the cabins, but I saw no information about it, when for the first time I came to my stateroom. So I headed to the Rendez-vous Lounge, where I found a group of very austere maitre d’s, to find out about it and I was told that due to the reduced number of passengers, there would be only one sitting. Even more, on that first day, dinner would be open sitting starting at 7:15 PM. They also told me that by the next day I would receive a note in my cabin with my table assignment, which in fact I did. The moment I had booked this cruise, 5 months prior to embarkation, I requested 2nd sitting and a table for four, since except for me, no one of my family is enough fluent in English to dialogue with other tablemates. On the second night I went to the dinning room and could not believe that I had been assigned to a table for 10. I immediately demanded to the person that showed me the way to that table that this was not what I had requested. I was told that for that night it was already too difficult to make changes. Moments later all the other tablemates came in groups of two and they all spoke Spanish. My mother tongue is Portuguese. I can only understand Spanish providing it is spoken calmly, and that’s something Spanish speaking people often don’t. Anyway none of us speaks Spanish. As a consequence, that first night and as far as sociability with tablemates is concerned, was a complete dud. The waiter, Jose, from Salvador seemed to be competent but an extremely stern kind of guy. In such a large table he would have to speak in Spanish with all the other tablemates and in English with us.
On the third night we were reassigned to another table, number 527 and it was on the top floor of the restaurant. It was a table for 6, but the two remaining places were left empty for the entire length of the cruise. It was very well placed and had great views to the overall dinning room.
Dinner consists of five courses. There was the appetizer with four different options, soup with three options, salad with two options, entrée with five options and finally dessert with at least four options including cheese. Quite obviously people would often skip one or more of the courses.
The appetizers and desserts were my favorites. The appetizers had extremely sophisticated but gentle tastes and I regret not being able to try them all during that seven days cruise. The second course featured every night a chilled soup among other two options but the chilled ones were in my opinion extremely interesting. I would have never said before, that such combinations of flavors would match in such a graceful perfection. Salads were just good and one could select from a good variety of dressings. As I usually had salad at lunch, I would skip it at dinner. The entrees were noticeable. However and as a provider of protein I prefer fish to meat. There was only one selection of fish for entrée every night and I can testify that the meat entrees were definitively much more elaborate than fish. As a side note let me say that I found the portions too large. Nor I neither anyone in my family managed to eat more than 2/3 of our steaks or whatever we had as entrée. I don’t know if this is customary at Celebrity or if it was due to the fact there was only one seating and they wanted to get rid of food. I do not think huge portions are healthy and with a five-course meal, food should always be tasted not eaten.
Finally, dessert. The most interesting samples would previously be presented to us on a tray by our waiter with a brief explanation of what they consisted of. Since English is not my mother tongue, I find it hard to get the right adjectives to characterize dessert. I would rather have those made of chocolate, but my family said the others were just as good. I have the feeling all those delicate flavors were mixed with wisdom and patience for the sole purpose of teasing the palate, tongue and teeth. It would be even better if I ate them with my eyes closed. It was as if they would vanish inside my mouth even before I had time to chew, leaving the palate with that unbearable and unsustainable feeling of… I want more. I never reorder desserts or any other item on the menu, as it would be embarrassing. Very fortunately for me, I’m one of those breed who doesn’t get weight easily.
The wine list was conspicuous with prices starting at $24,00, if I’m not wrong. It would also be possible to order it by the glass. Our sommelier, a girl from Estonia, was friendly and competent. Should we refuse wine during a particular dinner and she would not insist. During lunch some soft drinks at the Ocean Cafe were free, but were charged during dinner on the Metropolitan Restaurant.
Our young waiter from Croatia and assistant waiter from Hungary, whose names I regrettably can’t recall, made our dinning experience even better. Spotlessly dressed the waiter would welcome us with a wide smile in his face and some talking, while he would help us with our chairs. With immaculate white gloves on his hands he would then give us the menu and take note of our preferences for the dinner. The waiters have a hard time since they have to go often to the kitchen and come back with heavy trays full of dishes. Amazingly he did not seem to sweat. I have also to say that throughout the entire meal, food was delivered with an impeccable timing. If I chose all the courses in the meal I would never wait more than five minutes from the moment I finished one course to the moment I was brought the next one.
The assistant waiter was impeccable in what concerns deference, attentiveness and attire. He always addressed our needs in a more than proper way. I have to say that I’m not a very demanding client, the sort of those who always ask for changes to the items on the menu. Anyway I think that both waiter and assistant waiter did a great job.
During that seven day cruise the assistant maitre d’ came once to our table for small talking and one more time the day we had lobster, to help us get rid of the shell of our lobster tails. Oh yes, and he came running on the last night (in obvious hopes of a tip that in fact he received), when we left our table and were already near the entrance of the restaurant. I have to show my ignorance as I never got to know exactly what an assistant maitre d’ does other than looking around and parading baked Alaskans with lit sparklers on formal nights.
Every sitting on the Metropolitan Dinning Room sits around 1’000 passengers. Planning the service is an issue of capital importance. Celebrity does it extremely well. If I order my sirloin rare or well done that’s the way I would receive it. This is just one among many details they have to take care of in a dinning room. Everything was done efficiently and without hassle. I never saw the waiters running. In fact, I consider running in a restaurant or in any other business a symptom of pour planning.
Finally, there was almost always a quartet (or quintet, I can’t remember exactly) of strings playing live music during dinner. They played soft tunes and gave dinner an additional mood of elegance.
I have been in fine restaurants often before, but what was new during this cruise was the fact the experience lasted for several consecutive days. There has not been a single day of disappointment as far as food and service is concerned.
OLIMPIC DINNING ROOM
With such a good experience on the Metropolitan Dinning Room, there was no need for an alternative restaurant. Anyway we tried it and were not disappointed. I made reservations immediately after embarkation, but I think it was not necessary because the room was just a little more than half full on the particular night I was there. I was apprehensive when I was told that this was a 3-hour experience. Generally I do not like to be seated for so long. In fact this dinner took us 2 hours and 40 minutes, but it went like a breeze.
This dinning room consists of in fact two rooms, one of them (the smallest) has wood engraved panels on its walls. These panels came from a sister ship of the Titanic (the Olympic). Everything is however elegantly decorated. Service is first class, prompt, personal and attentive and most of the dishes are prepared before our eyes and were created by a well-known French chef. It costs $25 per person and all this money goes to tips, that in my opinion the waiters do deserve.
On the menu there is a suggested brand of wine for each item. Quite obviously, every guest is free not to follow this recommendation. Since we all chose the same entrée, ‘Flambéed Scampi wrapped in placenta,’ we decided to have the recommended wine. Unfortunately it cost $110. It was a white wine, although very good it did not justify the price we paid for it. We had already chosen as aperitif three glasses of champagne and a cocktail of champagne. Given the fact that a gratuity of 15% is added in every drink purchased onboard the Millennium, our sommelier went hilarious.
Even if expensive, we did not regret this experience. All the aspects conducive to fine dinning such as food, service and ambiance were superlatives.
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES
I attended all the shows that were performed on the beautiful three level Millennium Theater. Except for the first day (the entertainer) and the last (the comedian) all the performances ranged from good to very good. The juggler and the celebrity singers and dancers were great. My favorite performance was a concert by the third or forth night. This was definitively excellent.
The entrances of the theater are on deck 4 and 5. I did not appreciate the fact that a considerable number of passengers arrived late to the performances. This is not a polite attitude towards the audience and the artists. On the last night, a group of passengers came around 15 minutes through the performance, went through the room and sat on the second row of chairs next to the stage. The comedian stopped his performance and decided not to lose the opportunity to joke with them: ‘Hello! How are you? May I offer you anything? A drink, maybe… No! What about a watch?’
I think it would be preferable to close the doors on deck 4 the moment performances begin and allow people in only through the entrances on deck 5. In this way they will not be such a disturbance.
I also think that Celebrity must bear in mind that not all of their passengers are fluent in English, so the entertainer and above all comedian mean nothing to a considerable number of people. There was also a lot of interactivity between artists and audience on those two performances. This may not please shy audiences. Lots of passengers left the theater on the last night during the performance, whether they did not appreciate the kind of show or they did not understand what was being said. I admit I also left before the end on that particular night. All the jokes were more directed to an American way of living and definitively not appropriate for that particular audience.
The shows (one every night, since we were so few passengers during that cruise) had a duration of one hour and begun at 10.00 PM. I consider this convenient due to the fact this was a port intensive cruise with early rise ups for those who were scheduled on excursions.
Our cruise director was aloof. He spoke too quickly and seemed to be unaware there were a large number of European passengers on board. Should this cruise be on the Caribbean, he would have been OK.
On deck 4, next to the Cova Cafée Milano the string quartet would play often. There was often a lady playing harp. She was talented and one must bear in mind harp is a very difficult instrument.
I can’t rate the library (called Words) nor the music library (Notes). On both occasions I went there the doors were closed and there was no information about opening hours.
The Internet cafe was a nice setting, but expensive. One minute of connection costs $0,95. I was there once to check my e-mail account and the breaking news of the newspaper I generally read when I’m at home. It was a $16 experience for a little more than a quarter of an hour. Back at home I have a fast optical cable connection and considering the actual exchange rate between the EURO and the $, it costs no more than $0,56 per period of 30 minutes. The room was always empty. Even if they have an expensive satellite connection, with such a price they will never turn it into a profit center.
There were also other activities, such as lectures on basics on Windows, spreadsheets and word processing. Movies were also an option. I think anyway that most of these activities are more suited for ocean crossings. In general terms I am very found of films, but I saw none. Should I have known the first and last performances at the theater were so poor, a good movie would have been an interesting option. I also attended pleasant entertainment on the Riviera swimming pool during the first day at see.
Children had also their reserved place aboard the Millennium although their tiny swimming pool at the aft of the ship on deck 11 was left empty for the entire duration of the cruise. No wonder, since there were so few of them.
The Riviera swimming pool was never crowded on this cruise even if on a few occasions the only available chairs were on the upper deck (11) that’s a little more windy than deck 10, where the swimming pools stand. I saw no one reserving chairs. If someone left the chair and towel unattended, the staff would take the towel away thus freeing up the chair for other passengers. The water on the main pools was perhaps too cold for a considerable number of elderly passengers. Some of them would hesitate to engage farther, from the moment they set foot in the water. I think this happens because a lot of people expose themselves to the sun for too long and them want to go inside the water immediately afterwards. In fact no one should do it as our body needs time to adjust to differences of temperature. During summer I’m accustomed to bathe on the cold waters of the Atlantic, so the temperature of that pool was just fine for me. On the other side I found the whirlpools extremely hot. It was as if I had to use caution not to get burned when I got inside. Should I close my eyes while I was there, and I would immediately imagine myself inside a big pot, cooking among bubbles and a bunch of cannibals dancing and singing around me. This place should be avoided to people prone to varicose veins.
The SPA pool was a nice spot with glass ceiling and teak floor. Also not crowded at all and they wouldn’t allow children there. Light food was served but whenever I went to the stand it was always closed.
Around the pools I saw too many people serving drinks. Most of the time they were circulating their trays empty. I think Celebrity could cut costs here.
I refuse to use SPAs as prices are abusive and I never understood why people need those indulgences for. In order to improve our health and appearance we should pay more attention to what we eat and choose a less sedentary way of life. In fact we are what we eat. On this cruise I had the opportunity to witness behaviors that should never occur. Once, I remember seeing at the Ocean Café a gentleman in his late 60’s who decided to have for lunch a plate full of French fries with ketchup and a beer to go with. When he finished, he went to the stand for two hot dogs. Finally, and if he had not made enough mistakes in one meal, he even got up one last time and came back moments later with two good looking but sugar full pastries. No salads, no vegetables, no fresh fruit, just grease and sugar and nothing of what his body so desperately needed. I don’t know if that particular gentleman made those mistakes on a daily basis, but in fact his body accused accumulated nutrition mistakes, and his wife in front of him was also making lots of slips. I wonder how is it possible to punish so hard your body and stay healthy at the same time. In my opinion basic rudiments of nutrition and health should be taught to children back in school and in one or two generations, health services around the world would be in much less hassle.
There were nice exercise facilities next to the SPA. Lots of cardiovascular equipment on a roomy aerobics lounge with nice views. I use to exercise three times a week and I’m rigorous with this issue. Very unfortunately when I was packing for this trip I had to make options of what to bring and what to leave at home. I left behind my tennis shoes that were necessary for the cardiovascular room, in order to make space for clothing I would use on formal and informal nights. The jogging track on 11th floor was another popular spot. Three laps around it equal 1 Km (0,62 miles). I saw lots of people running there and much more just walking. I even saw people doing laps on wheelchairs, whether on their own or being pushed. While doing laps on one’s own is healthy, the use of being pushed around the same place, remains for me and to this day, an intriguing and deep mystery. As a side note let me say that I saw no obstacles on the Millennium to discourage disabled people.
The shopping area called Emporium had nice shops, but all expensive. Some well-known brands, but obviously variety was not as good as the same brand name shops on shore. The gift shop was perhaps the most useful, with items such as tee-shirts, towels, book markers with engraved pictures of the Millenium and all those paraphernalia of useless things that one has however to buy as gifts to family back home. I have to say I’m not found of retail therapy. While I’m traveling I prefer to do things I can’t do while I’m at home. So, those shops meant nothing to me. The photo shop was also indecently expensive. I bought two photos that were taken while we were dining on the Metropolitan restaurant on the last formal night for $19,50.
The casino must be an excellent profit center. However gambling is a common cause of impoverishment of people who were once wealthy. It may lead to lots of suffering. How is it possible that people do not realize that statistically, they are more likely to loose than to win and if many people won, casinos would already gone bankrupt a long time ago. Very sadly, on the last night the casino was crowded, much more than ever before, as if people wanted to get rid of whatever money they had left of their vacation. It would have been better to give it as tips to the staff. I heard saying, even if I can’t confirm it, that on cruise ships they are generally underpaid. As far as I’m concerned they made an excellent job throughout that week
SHORE EXCURSIONS AND PORTS OF CALL
We had a wide variety of shore excursions in every port of call. All of them were expensive. Or at least for me, as my currency of reference is the Euro, still weak this season against the US Dollar. Anyway I’m certain that some excursions were not worth the price. As I was accompanied with elder people and they would not like to go on strenuous walks, I choose tours designed for them. I’m convinced that they were not always the best options. I selected tours of duration equal or inferior of 4 hours. In that way we could benefit every day from the amenities of the Millennium and still get acquainted with the places where we were docked. Some other tours had to be cancelled, because there were not enough participants. Some of them departed very early in the morning. Others interfered with lunchtime.
The staff on the shore excursion desk was more efficient than charming. They had to deal with lots of passengers speaking only Spanish and I saw only one clerk speaking it. Lots of elderly passengers around the desk and I presume this kind of people are not enough acquainted with the interactive TV on their cabins, as it was possible to make reservations of shore excursions through it. Elderly people often fear to mess with modern features.
At the beginning of the tours, going from the ship to the buses waiting at the pier, was a very organized procedure. Passengers would generally gather in the Millennium Theater 10 minutes before the tour was scheduled to leave. They would show their tickets to someone on the stage and would be given a sticker with the number of the bus. They would them wait till the moment someone called for their particular tour and number of sticker and then leave the ship. Bottled water was always available on the way out.
Getting access to the Millennium in every port of call, required that we showed our signature card along with a valid identification document with photo. Every bag would be passed through an x-ray device, the kind of those used in airports, just before boarding lounges.
On the other hand, a more surprising aspect was the fact that the crew would have no way to know who was leaving the ship and who remained aboard. In every prior cruise I made, this was always possible. I have seen before simple devices connected to laptops strategically placed at the entrance of the ship that would read the magnetic band on the signature card of every passenger going out or coming in. Thus enabling the crew to know who left or boarded the ship and at what time, and if they were leaving someone behind. I my opinion this is complementary enhancement of security measures. However, I remember reading more than once an arrogant warning on the shipboard information sheet (the Daily Millennium), saying that if you missed the ship in a port of call, it was your responsibility to catch up with it later.
I also have the filling that in some ports of call like Malta and Ajaccio we could have been docked for a little longer, thus enabling the passengers to make longer tours. Sometimes before going to bed I would come to my balcony and notice that we were moving at a very slow pace or even hardly moving at all. It would have been preferable to stay docked longer and get more speed during the night. Quite obviously, I can understand that this procedure would require for Celebrity Cruises a lower benefit. Staying more time in ports implies more port charges. Speedier paces imply higher consumption. By the way the GTS Millennium as she is often referred, due to the particular type a fuel used, gas, is a less polluting ship. Still gas is more expensive than diesel, which is the common fuel used in other ships.
BARCELONA our port of embarkation/disembarkation is definitively a city not to be missed. Very pleasant to walk around, lots of museums, interesting architecture, nice views from the parks around the city, good restaurants to taste the tapas. I would recommend visitors to stay there at least three full days.
MALTA is a strange place. Architecture has very obvious Arabian influences. People have Moorish looks but are however extremely catholic. Their language is somewhat strange to anyone’s hears. I took a tour where there was not much walking involved: Mdina, Mosta and Handicrafts Village. Mdina is a walled city worthwhile to be visited. Outside the city we also visited a glass blowing factory. Concerning Mosta we only saw the cathedral in a thorough way, and walked a few yards towards the parking lot where our bus was waiting for us. Finally, on the handicrafts village we had approximately 40 minutes to admire and buy ceramics, glass and filigree jewelry. This last part of the tour meant nothing to me. Our guide was qualified and versed in history.
The only sight of La Valletta I had was from the wide glass windows of the Ocean Café of the Millennium. I must say it was worthwhile to be admired from there while we were leaving the narrow entrance of the port. By the way, the Ocean Café and the Ocean Grill with its outdoor aft veranda are the ideal spots of observation. From here passengers can see the places around where the ship is docked or anchored. In fact they allow unimpeded views. The same could be said about the Cosmos Lounge.
NAPLES astonished me. I was wrongly convinced it was an uninteresting city. In fact it lies on five hills, all of them with great views to the beautiful bay, the Vesuvius and Island of Capri. However, Neapolitans do not seem to take enough care of their city. Roads are very dirty, walls are full of graffiti and Neapolitan drivers are mad and not at all courteous towards pedestrians. As a shore excursion we took the City Sightseeing Drive. Although it was Wednesday, traffic conditions were good as it was the day of the patron of the city, St. Genaro. Shops and businesses were closed and we had a beautiful sun shinning day with a cloudless sky.
Our tour guide was first class. A rather rotund shaped lady with soft voice. Full of smiles and terrible Italian accent, Tizziana, such was her name, was an interesting character. Kind eyes and friendly looks, she was definitively over thirty years old. But ferociously fighting them. The colorful shades of her attire and the exaggerated makeup on her face were for me the ultimate proofs, of a more than obvious seclusion of a young mind in an aging body. She would speak calmly and in order to call our attention on the most singular aspects of the city, here and there in the flow of her speech, she would stress some of the syllables of her words. Also, brief pauses in between words, would enhance our curiosity about what would be said next. She would also address us not as ‘ladies and gentleman’ but as ‘family’. Her speech was delight to my hears: ‘And now family,… to your right,… the famous and majestic Vesuuuuvius volcano’. A great communicator, she would also share with us the spirit of Neapolitan people. The city was slightly stricken by an earthquake back in eighties. She told us they were still reconstructing some infrastructures destroyed much more than a decade ago. Forbearingly, she went: ‘we don’t bother a lot with problems in our life, because you know family, … life is brief. We prefer to enjoy it. We also enjoy our excellent weather, even if sometimes in summer it gets extreeeemly hot. We have to do siestas after lunch, and in late afternoon, we go to the outdoor cafés and have a nice gelato (ice cream) while we talk with friends and relatives. What we did not do today,… well, we can do it tomorrow, or the next day or… even later. But above all, we, Neapolitans, are veeeery friendly people’. By the next stop we made for pictures, Tizziana took a more dramatic mood: ‘Family… while on the crowd, be aware of your cameras, purses and other personal belongings’. So much for local friendliness.
CIVITAVECCHIA was the next port of call. Rome is barely 20Km away. I did not go there. I consider it an extremely rich place, therefore in order to be visited it is absolutely necessary to spend there at least three full days. Going to Rome from Civitavecchia and return a few hours later, considering the chaotic traffic conditions in and around the city is useless and very stressful. Instead I made a walk from the ship to the center Civitavecchia (by the way an utterly uninteresting place) and back to the ship in the morning. Easily done in such a cloudy day. I would not recommend the same walk on a summer sun shinning day. You could risk sunstroke. There is a free shuttle bus that goes every 20 minutes from the ship to the city center.
AJACCIO in Corsica was our next stop. The pier was just enough big to accommodate the Millennium. A few more feet in length and I think it would have been necessary to be anchored off the city and tender to the pier. I was in Corsica last year during a cruise aboard a sailing ship, the Royal Clipper, but we did not go to Ajaccio. The island is pretty mountainous and wild. We took the tour Corsican Countryside and Wine Tasting. Definitively not worth the price we paid ($48 per person). If I say it was slightly interesting, I’m already being charitable. I would not recommend this tour to anyone at all. There was a first stop at nougat fabric, a local popular candy, with possibility of buying samples. The second stop at the surroundings of a small village called Basteliccacia known for its distillery of natural oils. The raw materials are herbs and flowers of the region. There was also the possibility of buying samples of the production. The third stop was at a vineyard, with a tasting and also the possibility of buying bottles of the production. At the end of the excursion they would offer to each guest (obviously it was included in the price of the excursion) a bottle of Corsican wine. I heard that no wine or alcoholic beverages could be taken aboard the Millennium, and that on our way in, such items would be retained and given back on the last day upon disembarkation, or, if consumed during the cruise, there would be a corkage fee. Well, everyone went aboard with the bottles and no one in the crew said anything about it.
Our guide on this tour was an English lady who had been leaving in Corsica for quite a few years. It is probably difficult to be a good guide in such an uninteresting tour. At a certain moment while speaking about olive oil, a home production of the island, she said that Corsicans were famous for being lazy. When time comes to harvest olives, it’s a common procedure to stretch a net around the olive tree and then shake the branches so that the olives fall on the net. She said however that Corsicans do it in a slightly different way: They stretch a net around the olive tree and then fetch a chair and sit for long periods every day waiting for the olives to fall on the net by themselves. This happens when the olives are already slightly rotten, but this way ensures that olive oil has a better quality than other productions in countries like Italy, a fierce competitor. Fortunately our Corsican driver, Armand, would not understand a word of English, otherwise I’m pretty convinced he would not have been pleased to be marked with a lazy stamp. In fact during that tour, Armand had to work his biceps vigorously around the steering wheel. Typical Corsican countryside roads are too narrow and full of sharp turns.
Even if the Corsican countryside is beautiful, I would advise people to stroll around Ajaccio. I still did it in the afternoon. The city seemed to be very pleasant to walk around.
VILLEFRANCHE is a picturesque village close to Nice. Traffic conditions allowing, Monte Carlo is reached in question of few minutes. There is no port, or at least not enough big for a small cruise ship. We had to tender to shore. I was in Nice and Monte Carlo last year during my previous cruise. Nice is an interesting place but in my point of view I would not say the same about Monte Carlo in spite of the glamour around this name. Once more and to avoid strenuous walking, we chose the tour Scenic French Riviera. This tour consists of a scenic drive through the very panoramic roads of the French Riviera. I considered it enjoyable. We had to gather for the tour at 12:20 PM at the pier. Given the fact that the Ocean Café on the Millennium opens for lunch at noon and the ten minutes necessary to tender from the ship to the pier, we had not enough time for a light snack before the beginning of the tour. Fortunately the tour made three stops. The longest of those stops was at the village of Eze, suspended at 420m (1400 feet) above see level.
We decided to have a light snack in a coffee shop. We sat and chose sandwiches from a board standing on the wall. When we ordered them, the waiter, a teenager of no more than sixteen years, told us that we shouldn’t look at that board because it was intended for summer season and it was already over. As a former student in a Swiss university, I speak French fluently and argued with him that in such case the board should be removed from that place. He replied that removing boards was not his business. Reluctantly he later agreed on the preparation of the sandwiches. A couple of fellow passengers who were in the same tour, sat in a table next to ours. They saw us eating the sandwiches and ordered a sample. The same waiter replied that, at the moment he had much to do cleaning glasses and that he could not prepare sandwiches at the same time. He was just there to serve drinks. Definitely that young man will never be molded into a good entrepreneur.
The tour is not recommended for people prone to vertigo due to the nature of those mountainous roads. Our tour guide spoke constantly. She had a funny French accent. As a joke and to anguish the most sensitive of the passengers, she told us that when the driver was in a difficult situation along the road, he would close his eyes. Should he also let go the steering wheel and put his arms around his head, and you wouldn’t be reading this review.
The ship was immaculately cleaned everywhere inside. When we were docked I also saw members of the crew retouching the painting of the hulk or spraying outside glasses with water.
Smoking was allowed in same places but just on starboard side of the ship.
We only used tenders once during our stop at Villefranche. There were three of them constantly shuttling to shore. One of them however belonged to the port authorities. Since we were so few on this cruise, it was not a problem going ashore.
I did not appreciate having to pack for vacation dark suit, blazer, ties, white shirts and appropriate footwear to go with. In fact, on every single working day I have to put on a suit and tie. Understandably, I prefer to leave all those items at home while on vacation. This cruise featured two formal nights, two informal nights and three casual nights. I know obviously that a considerable number of passengers like to show off during cruises, especially ladies. I think that on this issue Celebrity should try a compromise: let down the informal nights and feature one more formal night and one more casual night. Other cruise lines have already adopted this system. Casual elegance is in my opinion the most appropriate attire for the evenings aboard a cruise ship. However this should be enforced, as I saw once on the Metropolitan dining room and on the theater someone wearing a tee shirt on a casual night and no one on the staff said anything about it.
Another aspect that I did not like was the considerable amount of time I had to invest prior to this cruise just to get the appropriate bills of US dollars. I already knew what were the general guidelines for each member of the staff to whom gratuities are usually given. So, for a seven days cruise I would be needing two bills of $50 one of $20 and three of $10. In my own country there was no problem in finding $100 and $50 bills but $20, $10 and $1 bills were virtually non-existing. I had to resort to someone in my family who still had got some (except $1 bills) from a prior trip to the US. As a consequence and after a considerable amount of time running from one place to another I gathered the amounts I wanted for each one of the members of the staff. The chief housekeeper, who I never saw nor do I know who he was or what he did for me, received a gratuity of $10 instead of $7 (that’s what he was entitled to receive if I followed the guidelines from Celebrity) in an envelope that was stapled to the one of the stateroom attendant.
I knew there were ATM machines on board, but I was unsure if I could rely on them. I also knew that all services aboard the ship would be charged to the shipboard account, so cash was not necessary other than for gratuities. Above all, I was going to travel in Europe. So, why on earth are US bills needed for in Europe?
Other cruise lines are more advanced on this matter. Some include the gratuities in the fares or even better, they charge it automatically on the shipboard account, at the same time they leave enough freedom to the passengers to change the amounts they want to pay to each member of the staff.
As a side note, gratuities were first used on pubs throughout England back in the 16th century. A box was often placed strategically, with the words ‘to insure promptitude’ (tip). As a draw back and as far as I’m concerned, the course of action to get the so needed US dollar bills, insured me a hard time. I’m a working person. I’m not retired, therefore I can’t waist my precious time with such issues.
Embarkation was a swift. I arrived to the pier at 12:30 PM while the ship was due to sail at 4:30 PM. When we were already close to the pier there was a roadblock and the Spanish police stopped our taxi and asked for our boarding documents. I think they were not allowing anyone but passengers and staff on the terminal because of security concerns. Astonishingly, there were no other passengers at that moment on terminal and we had all our documents dully filled. So, ten minutes later we were at the gangway. There was no one to give directions, but I did find my way to the cabin easily. Finally we only sailed one hour and half later than scheduled as the crew was waiting for passengers coming in a delayed flight.
Debarkation was also swiftly done. A flyer had been distributed some days earlier asking for passenger plans concerning post cruise arrangements. The color tag of my bags was beige and they said on the daily Millennium that we would be called for debarkation around 8:15 AM. In fact they called at 8:06 AM as if they were in a hurry to get rid of us. On that same pier and back of the Millenium was the Golden Princess, but I saw no one getting out of the ship, so I assumed she had arrived earlier. Lots of people were immediately boarding buses to the airport, others were trying to get a taxi. By the way there was a huge line of people with their luggage for taxis and too few of them were coming to the pier. Should debarkation have occurred on a rainy day and/or would the Millennium have sailed on full capacity and all those people would have been in an weary situation. I had pre-arranged a transfer to the airport at 09:00AM and it came on time. In less than 20 minutes we were at the airport for our eventless flight of one hour and half, back home.
I can’t state any significant drawbacks concerning this cruise. The staff, food and ship amenities are definitively outstanding. That cruise week can consequently be considered as a very good product. I would also recommend it to other people who enjoy cruising.
However, and this is my own point of view, I prefer smaller ships. Big ones always have to dock in places where there are facilities enough big for them. So, around the Mediterranean, Malta, Naples and Rome (or even Athens and Istanbul) are places that can’t be avoided when cruise lines select their itineraries. The problem is those cities are too rich in terms of monuments and sightseeing to be visited during the brief stop of the ship. People hardly get the feel of them. Since I consider the itinerary one of the most important aspects of cruising, I could not satisfy my curiosity concerning some of those places we visited.
On the other hand, there are across the Mediterranean other quieter and charming spots, undeniably less tooted and therefore less crowded. As an example among many others I would state Portofino in Italy, a picturesque place that can be thoroughly visited in a few hours time. Such places are certainly not suited to mammoth seized ships like the Millennium, but only to small cruise ships.
Around the Mediterranean we can categorize two sorts of places to visit: Well known cities (that require that people stay there at least three full days), and small picturesque villages, (that can be admired in one day). Unquestionably the Millennium is not suited for anyone of those two categories. She can’t be docked for too long in big cities or she can’t be accommodated in tiny seaside villages. The Millennium is a splendid ship for Ocean crossings or for people who just want to cruise with no concern for the itinerary. Still on this last case they would be better off in a resort hotel with lots of amenities.
There is a genuine concern that tourism will suffer during the next months or years because of the fear of terrorist attacks. Some airlines are already stricken due to the declining number of passengers. To my knowledge there is already a cruise line (Renaissance) that has ceased its activity. Many cruise lines are repositioning their fleet. The Mediterranean and above all the Aegean seem to be avoided by American cruise lines next summer. The Millennium will not sail the popular itinerary Barcelona to Istanbul. Many cruise lines will navigate i