Age: 21 to 30
Number of Cruises: 2nd
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: August 12th, 2000
Itinerary: Baltic Sea
My husband and I just got back from our second cruise: the Baltic Sea on the Celebrity Millennium (Aug. 12-26, 2000). Since I have not yet seen a review of this new ship I thought people might want to know what this vessel and itinerary were like.
We are a 30-ish couple from the San Francisco Bay Area. Our first cruise was the Grand Princess (GP) Mediterranean (Barcelona/Istanbul) last summer. Since this is our only reference for comparison, my perspective might be somewhat different from someone who likes older and/or smaller ships.
Yet again we found that arranging our own air was much cheaper than what the cruise line was offering to us. We did buy Celebrity’s transfers and they were handled well, except that we had a slightly difficult time finding the cruise agent when we arrived at the Amsterdam airport. Hint: go to the exits and look for the information desk with a small Celebrity Cruises sign tacked onto it. Once we found this person we were whisked away quite quickly to the ship.
Boarding was fast and efficient. We were on the ship a full hour before it was officially supposed to start boarding! We used this time to explore the ship and take full advantage of the welcome aboard buffet.
We were very happy with our cabin. It was a category 2B, which is the standard cabin (same as inside and outside) only it had a balcony. There was a nice queen-sized bed, a desk, loveseat (ie: a very cramped couch) and coffee table. The couch could convert into a twin bed so that the room could sleep three. The bathroom had a shower which was actually big enough to bend over in, unlike the barely-standing-room-size one we had on the Grand Princess (GP). Décor was tasteful: lots of light wood and floor to ceiling mirrors. The balcony was just big enough for 2 chairs (upright, not loungers) and a small table. There was a minibar fridge, which we were able to use to store Cokes. We did have to call the steward to open it for us.
We were very pleased that the bed was stable. On the GP the two twins which had been pushed together kept sliding apart and it was very uncomfortable. Although we could tell that there were two beds here, they were bolted together and did not move apart, which was a big improvement.
We were not as impressed with the entertainment staff as we were on Princess. The cruise director, Stewart Nelson, is very old and walks quite stiffly. He was not at all personable and didn’t seem that happy to be there. The impression I got was that he was forcing his excitement. We never saw him except when he was onstage before or after one of the big shows. The staff below him were generally okay, but only one or two really seemed like they were having fun.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were very nice, efficient, and friendly. Our Maitre’D on the other hand was an obsequious boor. He did less than nothing for us (see below) and hovered around our table every night making pathetic small talk with obvious hopes of a tip at the end of the cruise. We were not at all impressed.
The steward and his assistant were very attentive. We often saw them working in the hallways, but we never saw them in our room. They were very good about changing sheets, turning down the covers, etc. when we were out of the room. They would hang Do Not Disturb signs on everyone’s doors on At Sea days and remove them when you left for breakfast, so that they wouldn’t wake you up. We thought that this was very considerate.
Most of the entertainment was mediocre. The shows were nice, but not spectacular. Also, we greatly missed the variety of shows they had on GP. Every night there was one show, and if you didn’t like it your only other choice was to listen to music in some smoky lounge. We really liked being able to see 2 or 3 different shows a night on Princess, but this was not possible on Celebrity. Also, many of the fun theme dance parties took place late at night (11:30 pm or later) which is not reasonable when you are docking in port at 7 am the next morning.
The exception here was Brooks Aehron who was a fabulous pianist. We greatly enjoyed his shows, and thought he had way more personality and stage presence than the cruise director.
The Dining Room/Food
We requested a table for 2. Now I know that there aren’t always a lot of tables for 2, and fully expected that we night end up seated at a table for 4, or even 6. What I did not expect was to be seated at a table for 10. Yes, we requested the smallest table in the dining room and ended up at the largest. When we complained the first night, we were told that they would try to re-assign us, but we never heard back. We asked many times and were simply told that the staff didn’t know if anything could be done. We were very disappointed in the Maitre’D for this one fact alone (his brown-nosing was a separate issue) and felt that we at least deserved a phone call or explanation telling us why we couldn’t be at a smaller table.
The food was generally excellent. We truly enjoyed the dinners and there were very few things we didn’t like at all. The selection of desserts was much better than on Princess and they had a nice chocolate dish every night. We did miss Princess’ nightly pasta course though.
Where Celebrity could have improved was that they didn’t offer food all of the time. We would often get back from port at weird hours and find the buffet closed and no place to eat. We could not understand why the buffet couldn’t be open 24 hours like on Princess. At night, the buffet became a reservations only alternative dining room. This was a problem for us on one night: we were in Copenhagen, a port where we didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Since we were in port, we assumed that it was an open seating dinner in the dining room. Nope, it was assigned seating and we had missed our (early seating) time. This meant that we had no place to eat, because the buffet/alternative dining wouldn’t take us either since we didn’t have a reservation. We found this completely unacceptable. We finally convinced our steward to bring us some dinner entrees for room service, but it was somewhat awkward. This should not happen on a ‘luxury’ cruise ship.
We also found that the policy of having assigned seating for lunch and breakfast was very inconvenient. We much preferred Princess’ open seating for these meals, with assigned seating for dinner only.
There is one other restaurant called the Olympic. This is where you will find the much-vaunted wood paneling from the Olympic ship. The cost is $12 per person which we at first thought was a little much, but realized later that it all goes towards tips. The food in this restaurant is exceptional, and the service is amazing. If you are semi-budget cruisers like we are and you want to know how they treat you on Cunard or Seabourn, the Olympic is the place to go. A number of different waiters hover over you, and they prepare most dishes in front of your table on a rolling stove. The service was solicitous and the food was similar in quality to a top notch restaurant in San Francisco. This restaurant is definitely worth a visit once during your cruise.
The Millennium holds about 2,000 passengers. We noticed that it was smaller than the GP, but many passengers were used to small ships and thought the Millennium was way too big. I guess it’s a matter of personal preference! The décor was nice, and the music and book libraries were especially interestingly decorated. However we were confused that these libraries were not open 24 hours a day, since they were generally unmanned. The Internet room is gorgeous, with lots of wood paneling, even on the computers themselves, however we didn’t really use it since the Internet access was $1 per minute (OUCH!). The 2 story dining room was very elegant and we had a seat on the top level, which was a lot nicer than being on the bottom level. The lounges and theatre were comfortable and well-set-up (although the dance floors always seemed a bit too small) and very similar to the GP.
There is a separate theatre just for movies on the Millennium, however we almost never used it because it rarely played films, and when it did it was always at weird times. We couldn’t understand why it wasn’t running movies 24 hours per day, since again this was an unmanned service.
The pools were very pretty to look at but exceptionally cold. I cannot understand why the cruise lines will heat whirlpools but not swimming pools. No one was swimming the entire cruise, but the hot tubs were full. There is a beautiful area in the Aquaspa which has a wonderful hot-tub-esque pool with special seats which you can sit on and enjoy bubbles caressing your entire body. I think originally Celebrity planned to charge to enter this area, but they changed their minds at some point and it was free. The pools and hot tubs were only open from 8 to 8. Again, we thought that having these things open 24 hours per day would have been a vast improvement.
The Aquaspa itself was incredible and could easily rival an expensive spa on land, both in terms of prices and facilities. Since we figured we could do the same things at home we didn’t use any of their paying services, but we did take a tour and were suitably impressed.
One thing that bothered us a little: the ship shook constantly. Sometimes it was a little, sometimes it was a lot, but often the floor would vibrate and/or the decks would roll back and forth. On the last day when we were going at full speed to return to Amsterdam on time it was particularly bad. We thought this was very bizarre since on the GP we never felt a thing, and everyone kept saying that this was a relatively big ship. Usually the motion was not enough to impede movement about the ship, but we did have a few toiletries fall off of shelves and I would not recommend this ship to those who are easily seasick.
There is a bank which will exchange foreign currency for you, but the rates are atrocious. I would recommend getting your foreign currency before you leave home. We used DirectFX.com which was very convenient and had a good rates.
This was not at all an issue on Princess. Although smoking was allowed in some lounges and on deck, we almost never noticed anyone smoking. Not so on Celebrity. We were constantly going out of our way to avoid smoke in the lounges, on deck, in the casino, etc. It was very unpleasant and were not happy with the high percentage of smoking passengers.
Celebrity gave out port information a few days in advance. Some of this information was good, but we found it a bit lacking as compared to some of our guidebooks. Whenever we did not dock downtown, Celebrity offered a FREE shuttle (much better than $4 pp. each way on Princess) there and back, which ran very frequently. Most ports we did on our own and had no problems.
Amsterdam: We arrived a week early and spent 2 days in Amsterdam before the cruise. They have an excellent subway system which will bring you right to the Centraal Station, which is a good place to start exploring on foot. From there runs a ‘tourist’ bus which stops at all major tourist attractions. It was very easy and cheap to get around and the city is beautiful. We especially enjoyed the Anne Frank House and walking along the canals.
Oslo: For some reason we didn’t have much time here. We were not allowed to leave the ship until 8:30 am and we had to be back onboard by about 2:30 pm, so we definitely did not have enough time to see everything. The downtown area is very small and can be walked thoroughly in an hour. However one of the best sites, the Viking Skip Museum, requires a ferry ride which can eat up some time. If you do take the ferry to the Ship Museum, the Folk Museum (which we also visited) is worth a trip as well. It is very close to the Viking Ship Museum and features historical farmhouses brought from across Norway and reconstructed for educational purposes. Best of all are the ones you can enter which have displays of what life was like in these domiciles. We did not have time to see Akerhus Castle or the Ski jump, which we would have liked.
Stockholm: The Vasa Museum is by far the best part of this city. We could have spent the whole day there but dragged ourselves away to see some other sites. It too is a short ferry ride away from downtown and we had no trouble doing it on our own. We docked a little later than expected and Celebrity cancelled their shore excursions to this museum thinking they wouldn’t have time to finish them before lunch. Lucky for us we did it by ourselves! After the museum we walked around the old town which is pleasant. We took a brief look at the royal palace but did not pay to take tours of the apartments or treasury. Again, we could have used much more time.
Helsinki: We didn’t feel that this port had a lot to offer, but that might have been partially because it was raining cats and dogs when we were there. We saw two different Lutheran Cathedrals (the rock church, carved out of solid stone, is especially nice) and walked the shopping area. We were happy to find free internet access at the public library where we were able to check up on our email.
St. Petersburg: Complain all you want about how difficult it is to get around Russia by yourself and how expensive the visas are, this is a gorgeous port. We did take full day tours on both days, partially because the visa costs were included (and that made the tours seem very cheap) and partially because we were warned that the subway system is difficult to use and so you couldn’t really get around on your own. Also, the lines at many tourist attractions are disgustingly long and the tours let you skip right by. The best tours went to the palaces such as the Hermitage and the Romanovs’ summer palace, and hit the cathedrals where the Romanovs are buried. Apparently the Katherine the Great Summer Palace tour was also worthwhile, although we didn’t take it personally. We aren’t big shoppers, but we loved the great selection of cheap, good souvenirs we found here. The income of the average Russian family is $100 per month, so the $5 or $10 you plunk down for a good souvenir goes a long was for the seller, which is why prices seem so low. The best items we got were Russian military hats with cool decorations on them. I’m sure they’re not authentic, but who cares? They look authentic and were very reasonably priced, and all of our friends loved them. Everyone takes $US so do not exchange into Rubles, which is a real pain. There were signs of real poverty and ruin in St. Petersburg, but they are obviously trying hard to right things. The historical places are very well maintained and under constant renovation. We were super impressed and enjoyed every minute of the two days we were there. The best part was when we woke up the first morning, there was a band playing on the dock under our balcony window. They had a full repertoire of American classics such as I Wish I Was In Dixie, Stars and Stripes Forever, etc. We did not take the evening ballet or folk dancing tours, but everyone we spoke to who did thought they were excellent and very worthwhile.
Tallinn: This is a very picturesque town, but it is also very small and really only worth a half day. Don’t let the ship lure you into a walking tour. You can do the same thing yourself with a good map and/or guidebook. By the time we got here, the ‘old town’s of each port were all starting to look alike, so perhaps we were less impressed than we could have been.
Gdansk: We took a shore excursion here because it is really the only way to get into Gdansk. The ship docks in Gydina, which is an industrial town with little to do (although there is a small, cutesy harbor area where the smaller cruise ships dock). Gdansk is yet another pretty old town, and the tour was mediocre, but we were glad we took it just for the transportation. We were given lots of walking around time on our own which was more than enough to cover the entire area. A half day is sufficient here.
Warnemunde: Be warned that the ship does not dock in Rostock, it docks in Warnemunde, which is a delightful, picturesque, German beach town. The tourists here are mostly European, and were all fascinated by our big ship. We took a 2 minute walk to the train station and got a cheap ride into Rostock, which took about 2 hours to tour on foot (old city of course). When we got back, we spent a lovely afternoon strolling around Warnemunde. We did skip the Berlin tour. I think the ship expected many more people to take it, but only about 25% of passengers did. I suspect that this was because it was so expensive ($300 pp.). We decided that it was too much for us, so we arrived in Amsterdam a week before the cruise left, rented a car ($120 for the week), and drove to Berlin ourselves where we spent 3 wonderful days at a top notch hotel for $90 per night. Note that this is a lot less than the $600 we would have paid for 2 people to sit on a bus for 7 hours on the ship’s shore excursion. We got to see much more of Berlin than the tour did, and saved money to boot. I would definitely recommend this course of action to anyone interested in the Berlin shore excursion. FYI, we spent the extra time in Hanover, visiting Expo 2000.
Copenhagen: This is another place where we would have liked to have spent more time. We spent the morning at Christianborg Slot, which for some reason the Celebrity literature completely ignores. The tours of the ruins underneath this palace (which now hold the Danish parliament and supreme court, as well as a royal palace) were fascinating. We then walked to Rosenborg Slot and toured it on our own. We didn’t get to walk around downtown much since we rushed back to the ship for something to eat, and then jumped on the shuttle bus to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is charming, but it is much more a historical exhibit of old-fashioned, pre-Disneyesque amusement parks (you can see how Walt got his inspiration here) than a real time-sinker. We didn’t need nearly as much time here as we had anticipated. Be prepared to spend lots of money, because even though you buy admission, everything in the park costs additional money as well.
With the exception of the food, slightly larger cabins, and free shuttle buses, we definitely preferred the Grand Princess. However the ports were all wonderful, and definitely worth a visit, and the Millennium is the biggest shipping touring the Baltic Sea. Certainly we had a fabulous time, and essentially lived in luxury while touring a fascinating part of the world. I would recommend this cruise to anyone interested in these cities.