Number of Cruises: 40+
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: 2001
My wife and I departed from New York JFK on 5/30 utilizing the World Airlines Charter. Normally I would have booked my own air but the "free air" deal was hard to pass up. Unfortunately, this meant we could not arrive early in Istanbul or stay after debarkation in Barcelona. Our itinerary, for those of you not familiar with this particular cruise was Istanbul, Kusadasi (Turkey), Cyprus, Alexandria/Cairo, Athens, Naples, Rome, Villefranche, Barcelona. This was our 40th+ cruise and we have been to many of these ports on various occasions, however we chose this cruise because of the Celebrity/Millenium good reputation, the overall itinerary, the excellent time of the year to tour the Mediterranean and last, the reasonable cost for a 12 day cruise including air (we were in a category 2B cabin).
Our overall opinion of the ship is very positive. It is a beautifully appointed ship with a real sense of style. Very attractive choice of fabrics and carpets as well as nice use of color and inventive furniture design. Art work on the ship was overall lighthearted and whimsical with many pieces worth more than a few minutes of contemplation. At 91,000 tons it is a very stable ship and except for one evening we would have hardly known we were at sea (frankly I prefer a little movement from time to time). Service was a strong suit on this ship with a real effort to please evident from the cabin steward to waiter and assistant waiter. The service staff in the Ocean Grill (breakfast and lunch buffet) were very pleasant and always helpful. In the Ocean Grill (buffet) trays come with cloth liners and cloth napkins and service staff is available to carry trays. For breakfast there are two omelet stations, for lunch two pasta stations. Ice cream (hard and soft) is served at various times of the day (no additional cost, unlike Princess). The only service problem I encountered was in trying to locate a pool deck person to help move a couple of lounge chairs. I think these folks were a little overworked and were working somewhere else when I needed them.
I must say, that though the overall quality and preparation of food in the Restaurant and Buffet was more than adequate, however it is my opinion that it has gone down a bit since our previous Celebrity cruises which took place prior to the Royal Caribbean takeover. For lunch the grill serving hot dogs, hamburgers and fries worked out well especially if I made a special request to have the burger done medium rare and toast the bun. Afternoon pizza was not New York style (it is rather doughy) but it is quite good all the same. The real exception was the Olympic Restaurant. Now, I reserved thinking it would be all show and little substance. But the experience turned out to be quite special. This restaurant has its own dedicated kitchen and staff and they have created a menu that they seem to have down pat. We found the service to be exemplary with the staff always available without hovering. Our sommelier was very knowledgeable with a high degree of training. Dinner consists of 4 courses: 1) Appetizer 2) Entree 3) Cheese 4) Dessert and coffee. However, this is not written in stone and I expanded this menu to five course with the choice of both soup (Bisque du Hommard) as well as a spectacular "Russian Salad" (a course featured on the original Olympic). Entree was a "lamb en croute" with mushroom duxelles which was perfectly prepared and almost fork tender. The cheese selections were equally excellent and served with sliced apple and grapes. The chocolate soufflé with vanilla sauce was without question, the most intense souffle I have ever had. They use a Viennese chocolate that is every bit the equal of my favorites Scharffen Berger or Valrhone. There is a $25pp surcharge for this event, but well worth it in my estimation. Make sure you make reservations early when you first board and if you wish to dine in the "Olympic panel room" make sure to specify.
Of the three production shows (I attended 2 and my wife attended 3) the only one of any consequence was a typical "Broadway Hits" show. The "Classique" show featured Classical arias and other well known vocal works. The voices simply were not up to the demands and many of the adaptations were downright obnoxious. The various variety artists throughout the cruise ranged from good to excellent. The concert pianist on this cruise, Brookes Aherne felt it necessary to present his programs in what I can only call, an overly theatrical and artistically compromised presentation. The works performed can withstand anything and I never understand why they cannot simply be presented honestly without a hyped nonsensical melodrama which is nothing more than a "dumbing down" which I find very condescending, even to a less than knowledgeable audience. Despite this, I must say that the audience seemed to respond enthusiastically.
We used none of the ship tours and went off on our own in every port with the exception of Alexandria/Cairo. I arranged my own tour with Creative Travel International in Cairo. We had a private air-conditioned car and driver together with a PHD Egyptologist guide (who spoke perfect English). We touched on all of the same points as the ship tour and included: The pyramids/great sphinx, Cairo museum, camel ride, lunch on a Nile barge restaurant, and visits to a perfume factory (our request) and the papyrus gallery. Compared to the ship tour this tour came in around $90 less per person and of course was private. As for Cyprus, we spent the day at the Limassol Four Seasons Hotel which had great facilities and a wonderful buffet lunch. For Athens the ship docked at Piraeus and we took the metro directly from Piraeus to the Syntagma stop (Parliament building). The walk from the ship to the Piraeus station is about 2 miles. We took a cab but not without tons of very independent cabbies turning us down (they only wanted to provide full day tours). We finally saw a member of the "tour police" which patrol the area. We complained and he got out of his car and started screaming at the cabbies. Finally one of the cabbies agreed to take us to the metro stop. He charged the equivalent of $7.50 which considering the circumstances, we were happy to pay. Only upon taking a legitimate cab back from the Piraeus stop to the ship did we find out that the correct metered cost was about $1.50. Hey, in my experience cabbies are at the top of the "grab the tourist for all you can" list all over the world. In Athens, we waited for the changing of the guard at the unknown soldier monument, which occurs every hour. Afterwards we walked to and around the Plaka section. We had a wonderful lunch at Platanos restaurant and then visited the Greek Musical Instruments museum next to the restaurant. Also next to the restaurant was the famous ruins of the Tower of the Winds. If you have already visited the Parthenon etc., this is a very nice way to spend a day in Athens.
In Naples we caught the hydrofoil for Capri. Don't buy a roundtrip ticket but rather buy one-way. If you buy a roundtrip you are obligated to travel the same line back. With a one-way you can remain flexible to take whatever boat is available. In Capri we took the bus from the port to Capri. From there we walked around a bit and then over to the wonderful Quisisana Hotel. From there we walked to the Augustus gardens. We then took the road down to the other side of the island to the Piccola Marina. We had to climb over a gate for the road (this is to discourage whole tour groups from taking this road) and we walked all the way down until we reached the fabulous restaurant Canzone del Mare. This restaurant features its own little private beach and swimming pool which is available for all patrons of the restaurant. It also features the most magnificent view of the famous Faraglioni rocks. This is the place, that according to myth, was where Ulysses and his crew were serenaded by the Sirens. Afterwards we took the bus back to Capri, got some great gelato limone and took the funicolare back down to the Main port. We then caught a hydrofoil back to Naples. Great restaurant, great view, great day. If you have been to The Grotta Azura and are looking for something else to do in Capri try this.
In Rome (where I lived for a while) we took the Inter City Express from Civitavecchia to Roma Termini. There are two classes of service on this line so for a couple of bucks more go first class (which is almost always clean and empty). The train schedule for Rome can be found at: http://www.fs-on-line.com . The ship's shuttle bus leaves you off at a point in Civitavecchia that is almost the same distance from the train stop as from the ship itself. You might want to consider taking a taxi. The walk from the ship to the train stop is about 2 miles. Once in Rome we walked to the Piazza Venezia (or you could take the bus). It was Sunday and they were having a lovely outdoor band concert. I knew there was a exhibition of the great Belgian Surrealist: Rene Magritte at a museum close to the Piazza so that was our next stop. Great exhibition that we thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards we walked to the Campo di Fiori for lunch at the outdoor section of La Cabonara. Lots of street musicians and a great lunch. We then headed over to the Piazza Navona and around one of the corners is a wonderful shop for gelati. We tried to get a taxi back to the train station but no luck. We finally got a bus and caught the Inter City back to Civitavecchia. It was then a quick taxi back to the ship.
In Villefranche our plan was to explore Saint-Jean Cap-Ferrat. We have spent over the years a good deal of time on the Cote d'Azur and have visited and/or stayed at many of the wonderful towns in the area: Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo, Cap d'Antibes, La Napoule, Eze and others. However, it is our opinion that the single most beautiful place in all of the south of France is the spectacular peninsula of Cap-Ferrat. From the point where the tenders leave you off in Villefranche it is a 3 mile walk to the village of Cap-Ferrat. (Forget about taxis, they just don't exist). We visited the most magnificent home and gardens of Villa Ephrussi Rothschild. From there we walked down to the other side of the cape to the port of Cap-Ferrat for lunch at a wonderful port side restaurant. We wanted to visit the Hotel du'Cap but not enough time. We tried to get a taxi back but again no luck so we found a bus back to Villefranche. Problem was that I was under the mistaken impression that the bus would be going to the port......WRONG. The bus came to the town of Villefranche above the port and then kept going. We finally knew I was wrong when the next sign said NICE. We jumped off the bus and luckily caught a taxi in front of a small hotel, back to the port of Villefranche.
Next day was Barcelona and our Swiss Air flight back to New York via Zurich. So all in all, a wonderful cruise and revisit to many of our favorite spots in the world. We enjoyed meeting many of the people that posted on the internet at Robert Ridgeley's web-site and perhaps will one day meet again on another ship in another part of the world. For a comprehensive picture gallery of our trip feel free to drop in at http://www.webphotos.com . Go to Member Albums and then click on travel and vacations. You will see our photos listed under Millennium/Mediterranean. You may be able to go direct to the page at: http://www.webphotos.com/listPicture.asp?lmode=view&user_id=4643&album_id=12136 .