Number of Cruises: Lots
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: June 14th, 2004
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
The Millennium Anchored in Santorini, Greece
Summary in Advance
If you are taking your first cruise to Europe (or the Mediterranean) and want to experience the various flavors of Europe on a premium level ship, this is your cruise! First, the itinerary is to die for. Venice, Italy, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Athens, Greece, Santorini, Greek Isles, Naples for Pompei, Sorento and Capri, Italy, Rome, Italy, Florence, Italy, the French Riviera in France and finally, Barcelona, Spain. You will not find a better itinerary for a 12-day cruise anywhere! The ship, service, dining, entertainment and overall experience received 8's, 9's and 10's from the 57 travel professionals that made up our group; this is unheard of from a group of travel agents. If you are thinking of taking a Mediterranean cruise, run, don't walk to your nearest travel agent and book this ship and itinerary before they sell out. It is that great!
I was the escort and seminar facilitator for a group of 57 travel professionals traveling on Celebrity Cruise Line's Millennium sailing from Venice, Italy to Barcelona Spain.
Because of difficulty obtaining a reasonable airfare, I had to fly into Venice two nights early before boarding the cruise. I obtained a last minute airfare on-line and flew from San Diego to Dallas/Ft. Worth and then connected to British Airways direct flight to London’s Gatwick Airport. Arriving early in the morning with an 8-hour layover, I decided to take the Gatwick Express into London and spend some time enjoying the city in the morning time. It always amazes why the United States can’t seem to figure out that if they connected rail service with the airports, it would create a much more efficient transportations system. Europe is so far evolved that it makes the U.S. look like we are simply incompetent. I cleared immigration and then customs, took the tram to terminal 1 and boarded the Gatwick Express for the 30-minute ride into London’s Victoria Station.
London is one of the world’s most exciting cities. I revisited some of my most favorite places and spent some time in St. James Park just relaxing and enjoying the early summer morning. A visit to Starbucks gave me the refreshment I needed and after a leisurely lunch, I returned to Victoria Station and the return train-ride to Gatwick Airport. I eventually made my way to my departure gate and boarded my BA flight to Venice, Italy.
The flight arrived without incidence and I cleared immigration, customs and was delivered to the main arrival terminal at Marco Polo Airport in Venice. I had purchased a “Venice Card” (offers a flat rate for three days of transportation in Venice) and then a water transfer from the airport to San Marco Square. I then realized that I had no idea of where I was staying for the evening. I had made my reservation with an on-line agency and they had sent me a confirmation that I had printed out and stuck in my travel file. Unfortunately, The confirmation only referred to a link where I could retrieve my reservation information. I tried the link and it had expired, so now I had absolutely no idea of where I was staying for the evening. I tried making a long distance call to the on-line travel agency that I had made the reservation with to no avail and was then faced with the reality that I was stuck at the Venice airport after what seemed like days of travel time without sleep, only to face a “sold-out” city with no reservation. Fortunately, one of the members of our group had sent me information about how to get to the hotel that included the name of the canal that it resided on. I decided to make my way to the canal and then try hotels that I could find to see if they had a reservation for me. I boarded the bus to the water taxi port and then boarded the appropriate water taxi that would take me to San Marco Square. Once I arrived there, I started asking around about the location of a hotel (I had no idea what the name of the hotel was) located on the canal that I did happen to have the name of. One gentleman pointed me in the direction of the canal, so off I went with my luggage working my way down the pedestrian streets, over the step bridges spanning the canals until I thought that I had found the canal I was looking for. A waiter in one of the restaurants advised me to continue over the next canal into the square and that there was a hotel there. I made my way to the hotel, approached the front desk and inquired if they had a reservation for me. To my surprise, the front clerk simply answered “yes” and presented me with a registration card. For a moment I thought he was just responding, as if I had asked if they had a room for the night, so I reconfirmed that there was a reservation and that I was in the right place. After checking in and taking a shower, I slept like a baby.
There was a group of us staying at the Hotel Ala and I would highly recommend the property. It is centrally located on its own little canal, offers a great breakfast (included in the price) and has comfortable bedding in a quiet atmosphere. Also, I would strongly suggest arriving in Venice at least a couple of days before embarking the cruise. Venice is an awesome city full of many attractions, restaurants, bars, shopping and generally, one of the world’s most wonderful cities to visit.
We visited San Marco Square and had signed up for the “Doge’s Palace Secret Tour” that explored the Palace’s sordid torture chamber and jail among other fascinating bits of Venetian history. The Palace is awesome and the tour worth the 12 euro (if you are claustrophobic, take a pass on the tour, however.) We enjoyed great restaurants, nightclubs and shopping during the days in Venice and also took a couple of gondola rides. While very touristy, a visit to Venice without a gondola ride just doesn’t seem appropriate. On the day of embarkation, we arranged for a water taxi to pick our group up right at the canal entrance to our hotel and were taken right to the ship’s cruise terminal. It was a great experience. We arrived on time, breezed through the check-in process and were shortly in our cabins without any fuss.
HINT: The incidence of lost luggage seemed disproportionately high on this cruise. Two separate parties in our group had their luggage lost on their way to Venice. Here is what I would suggest. Do not buy your ticket on-line as neither Travelocity nor Expedia offered any help whatsoever. Do not buy tickets requiring short connection times from U.S. trunk carriers to international airlines. In all cases this was the situation. Delta to Air France and United Airlines to Lufthansa were the culprits. I would purchase your tickets from a local travel agency that will offer the service of chasing your bags for you if they get lost. Of the two parties that had lost their luggage in our group, the luggage was delivered to their respective hotels after they had checked out. This caused the eventual luggage delivery to take place in Athens some days later. While Celebrity was great about tracking the baggage and helping those that were inconvenienced, having someone on top of the situation with a financial interest would be my best suggestion. Forget about the hundred bucks you save booking on-line and start thinking about service and performance.
Launched in 2000, the Millennium is a large ship well positioned in the premium market. At 91,000 gross tons and a passenger capacity of 1,950 lucky guests, Millennium is the first of the new Millennium class. She offers a number of unique features and is designed in a way that makes her distinctive among the Celebrity fleet. She is comfortable and elegant, while at the same time, extremely seaworthy. I loved the Millennium and would sail her again in a heartbeat.
Our group was assigned inside cabins on decks two and three. My cabin (2047) was very spacious for an inside cabin and at no time did I get that “closed in” feeling one might expect to experience in a smaller inside cabin for a longer cruise. In fact, I would have paid a premium for an inside cabin on this cruise, as it allowed me to sleep whenever I wanted to. This particular itinerary is so port intensive that having the ability to take “cat naps” is a huge advantage.
As I entered the cabin, there is a double full-length closet on the right-hand side that was ample for two people on a longer cruise. A third door led to 5 drawers with additional storage above them. There is a room safe located above the storage, as well. The mini refrigerator is located behind a cabinet door that also houses another pullout drawer that is quite handy for storing wine bottles or other items. The television offers several channels of entertainment is quite visible while you’re in bed. Two more shelves hide behind the top cabinet door that offer even more storage.
The bathroom is large enough to store all of your toiletries, but using a hanging toiletry bag opens up quite a bit of space making the storage area feel much larger than when it covered with toiletry items. (I always suggest using a hanging toiletry bag) The shower is quite large and has excellent hot/cold temperature controls. The entry to the bathroom was adjacent to the hanging closets and if both doors were open, it was difficult to navigate. HINT: If you are staying in an inside cabin, be sure to bring a nightlight to find your way around in the darkness. HINT: There is a clothesline in the shower that is excellent for drying any miscellaneous items you may have washed in the sink (Be sure to bring suitable detergent.) There is a built-in hairdryer on the left-hand wall.
Across from the compact sitting area (small sofa and coffee table) is the desk area. There are two U.S. 110 volt outlets and two more European outlets readily accessible. The desk offers two smaller shelves on either side hiding behind cabinet doors for additional storage. I had no problem setting up my computer and printer and all the paraphernalia that accompanies them. However, the lighting that is provided at the desk would be insufficient for a woman wanting to apply cosmetics. A full mirror stretches the length of the wall over the bed, which really adds an open feeling to the cabin. I enjoyed a queen-size bedding configuration and found the bedding quite comfortable. A nightstand with two more drawers resides on either side of the bed and a night lamp with personal controls is offered on each side of the bed. All in all, the cabin was quite satisfactory.
A Tour of the Ship
Decks 11, 12 and 13
The best way to explore the Millennium’s public rooms and facilities is simply to do it deck-by-deck. If you will join me, we will take the forward elevator all the way to the top floor (deck 11) and start in the most forward room, Cosmos Nightclub. Cosmos serves both as the ship’s nightclub by night and its observatory lounge by day. It is quite large and offers spectacular views. There are a good number of nooks and crannies, so while there may be hundreds of people in the nightclub, it never really feels very crowded. A band plays dance music until 1:30 am and is then replaced by the disco. The repeater’s (Captain’s Club) party is also held here.
Walking aft from the Cosmos Nightclub, we are treated to some of the Millennium’s awesome and creative art.
If we go through the port door to the deck we pass the Tower. Offering floral arrangements in a florist’s atmosphere, the Tower also offers one of the most relaxing environments on the Millennium. Climbing up the Tower’s winding stairway leads us to an area with a couple of lounge chairs and other chairs. The fragrance of the flower shop is intoxicating and relaxing here is likely to become addictive.
Deck 13 Topless Sunbathing
Exiting the Tower on deck 12 and moving forward, we find another large sun deck area with a good number of lounge chairs (there are actually two separate decks here). Toward the center of the ship on deck 12, we find a staircase leading up to deck 13 and the Millennium’s topless sunbathing area. The entire deck is encased in canvas so that no one can see in, yet one is able to enjoy full sunshine the entire day. It would be impossible for anyone to accidentally wander by, as the entrance to the sunbathing area is clearly marked as such.
The Jogging Track and Mast Bar
Returning to deck 11 down the stairwell and moving aft we enter the jogging track area and the Mast Bar. Unlike many sky bars located on the upper most deck, the Mast Bar offers several sitting areas and serves drinks on both sides of the structure. While I didn’t personally imbibe at the Mast Bar, it was very popular with many of the Millennium’s guests.
The Millennium's Pool Area
Moving aft, we get our first glimpse of the pool area located on deck 10 below us and are passing the traditional line of lounge chairs that reside on the upper pool level. At the aft of the pool area resides the sports and children’s area.
The Extreme Sports Bar
Moving into the first door opening facing forward at the pool is where we find the Extreme Sports Bar. The Extreme Sports Bar offers a respite for those that want sports bar action.
The Artwork in the Extreme Sports Bar
There are televisions broadcasting sporting events and the bar reflects its purpose. The golf simulator is accessed from the Extreme Sports Bar as well.
The Millennium's Basketball Court
Moving aft past the shuffleboard courts on both sides of the ship and climbing the stairs back up to deck 12, we find the full sized basketball court. There is also a moveable net that can easily divide the court for tennis, but I never saw anyone using it.
Children's Fun Factory
Continuing aft back down on deck 11, we find the entrance to the Children’s Fun Factory and the Video Zone. Millennium had over 300 children on this particular sailing and other than pirate night when the children visited the Metropolitan Restaurant to sing us a song, we never were aware they were on the ship. I suspect that the Children’s Fun Factory is why. I was wishing I was a kid again because of the variety of fun things they were doing. They even have their own little swimming pool on the aft section of the Fun Factory. This brings us to the aft stairwell that takes us down to deck 10 and the aft fantail where many in our group preferred to dine for breakfast.
The Ocean Bar resides here and is open for everyone’s pleasure during the daytime and into the evening.
The Ocean Grill
Moving inside, we find the Ocean Grill section of the Millennium’s buffet restaurant. The area is set up with a number of different dining venues. Rather than the typical hot food buffet line one finds on most ships, Millennium offers a good number of choices. The rear most buffet is set up as a waffle station during breakfast, but also offers fruit and other treats to compliment the waffles. During lunch, sandwiches are made and offered along with an excellent salad bar. Moving forward, each side of the Ocean Grill offers an omelet station in morning for breakfast and then it becomes a pasta station. Both the omelets and the pasta offer dishes that are cooked to order while you wait. The food here is excellent!
The Ocean Cafe
Moving still forward we come to the Ocean Café, the main buffet area of the Millennium. The Ocean Café offers four buffet lines serving the same food. One of the best things about the Millennium is that there is always one or more of the buffet lines available. If you wake up at 11:30 am, the late breakfast line is still open and it finally closes after the lunch buffet opens and so it goes all day long. There are several drink stations and two separate pastry stations that start serving ice cream during and after lunch. There is no charge for the ice cream and juice is served the entire day. Outside of the Ocean Café is the pool dining venue, the Riviera Grill serves hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza from noon until 6 pm. While I didn’t partake of any of these food items, those that did said they were excellent and certainly better than on mass-market lines.
The Millennium Pool Area
The pool area is awesome. There are two swimming pools (salt water) and 4 Jacuzzis. The decks are broken up in a way that it never feels crowded or uncomfortable. I never had a problem getting a deck chair and the lounge chairs featured thick and rich cushions that were enjoyable to lounge on. Towels were plentiful and plush. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the pool area and would give it high marks.
The Pool Bar
The pool area was served from the pool bar and the servers were attentive, but never invasive. If you wanted a refreshment, someone was always there to serve you, but you were never bothered to purchase a drink like so many mass-market cruise ships make a point of to maximize revenue.
The real treat on the Millennium is the AquaSpa. First, the AquaSpa Café offers healthy choice dining all day long. It serves breakfast in the morning and I thoroughly enjoyed the fresh fruit (papaya every morning) juice, yogurt, and other healthy choices. Lunchtime sees a wonderful selection of creative salads and usually a specialty item, as well. If you are into healthy food, you will love this place.
Then, as if that were not enough, two salt water Jacuzzis call the AquaSpa home. They are excellent Jacuzzis set right at the correct temperature and offer soothing action.
The AquaSpa "Racks"
The central pool is actually one huge spa with two “Jacuzzi racks” that you can lay out in to enjoy the bubbles as they float you above the rack, it is simply wonderful. Four water stations offer water massages in the perfectly heated water. The temperature inside the AquaSpa is hot and humid resembling the conditions of a hot house.
The Millennium's Beauty Salon
Forward of the AquaSpa lies the AquaSpa treatment area starting with the Millennium’s beauty salon, the aerobics and exercise room (excellent Cybex equipment) and a relaxation room. The balance of the area is for massage and spa service private treatment rooms.
Decks 8 and 9
Decks 8 and 9 are entirely passenger cabins with the exception of “Words” the 2-story library that resides just forward of the aft stairwell.
Decks 6 and 7
Decks 6 and 7 are entirely passenger cabins with the exception of Notes, a 2-story music library.
The 2nd story of the Celebrity Theater resides within the most forward portion of deck 5 and offers wonderful views of the stage.
A Small Part of the Emporium
Moving aft past the forward stairwell we enter the Emporium. This shopping area is quite large with several shops offering logo items, jewelry, clothing, sundries, duty-free liquor and lots more. There are scheduled sales that take place almost daily that are advertised in the daily newsletter, the Celebrity Today.
The Cova Cafe Milano
The Cova Cafe Milano Pasteries
Continuing aft through the Emporium, we enter the area known as the Cova Café. On the starboard side of the Cova Café is a specialty coffee bar where one can load up on cappuccino and lattes (for a charge) and on the port side is a bakery offering all sorts of taste treats.
The Platinum Club
Skirting the top level of the Grand Foyer, we enter a lounge known as the Platinum Club. This lounge is actually the second floor of the Rendez-Vous Lounge one deck below and shares the same music and entertainment. This is a great place to meet for pre-dinner cocktails if you are dining on deck five in the restaurant.
The Metropolitan Restaurant
The 2nd level of the Metropolitan Restaurant resides within the entire aft section of deck 5.
Going down the staircase in the Metropolitan Restaurant on deck 4 takes us to the lower level and a good number more tables. The Metropolitan Restaurant is a beautiful dining venue offering great menus and wonderful service everyone in our group thoroughly enjoyed.
The Rendez-Vous Lounge
Leaving the restaurant, going past the aft elevator bank, we enter the Rendez-Vous Lounge. This is one of the main cocktail venues on the ship and offers dancing every evening before and after dinner. Our group elected to spend a good amount of time in this lounge and used it for one of meeting places.
The Internet Café, “Celebrity On-Line” is on the starboard side of the ship. The Internet Café offers a reasonable access speed and is available for open useage for $.75 per minute and several bulk purchases make it as low as $.50 per minute are available. There are a good number of screens here and even more on deck 3. In-cabin access is also available for those that want it, but it somewhat pricy at $25 per day (including 50 minutes usage) and then what ever package price you have signed up for after the 50 minutes. Unused minutes do not roll over from day-to-day.
Fortunes Casino is the next entertainment venue and everyone seemed to love the casino. Folks in our group actually made money and walked off the ship on the positive side after gambling the entire cruise. This seemed like an unusual event on most of the cruises I have been on. There are lots of slots and gaming tables and the casino never seemed crowded.
The Photo Gallery
Moving forward we enter the ship’s photo gallery. This is a rather huge area compared to other ships, but it allows one to find their photos a little more easily. On the port side of the ship was my favorite venue, Michael’s Club. Michael’s is a piano bar and the gentleman that plays there is a very talented entertainer and had everyone rocking in their chairs nightly. The atmosphere, service and entertainment created a perfect blend of sophistication that everyone enjoyed.
Forward of Michael’s Club was the lower part of the Celebrity Theater.
The Grand Foyer
Customer Relations Desk
Shore Excursion Desk
The forward area of deck 3 is made up of passenger cabins until one gets to the Grand Foyer. This is the location of the Customer Relations Desk, the Bank, and the Concierge and the Shore Excursion Desk.
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase is impressive, but more importantly, the service level of these entities was superb.
Olympic Restaurant Entrance
Aft on the port side resides the fabulous Olympic Restaurant. This is the Millennium’s signature alternative dining restaurant and while there is a $30 cover charge to dine there, it is well worth it.
Olympic Table Setting
The food is excellent, but it is the exemplary service that sets this restaurant apart. It is set in an atmosphere resembling life on ships such as the Titanic and in fact, much of the french walnut wood paneling came from one of the Titanic’s sister ships, the Olympic, that was operated by White Star line. The restaurant is simply exquisite.
The Cinema and Conference Center make up the balance of the aft portion of deck 3.
The conference center offers a good number of break out rooms (including a Boardroom).
Monday, June 14th, 2004; Venice, Italy
Just One of Venice's Many Canals
After boarding the Millennium, I spent the afternoon finalizing the group’s arrangements. Gary, the group coordinator had done an excellent job at confirming our cocktail party and seminars and I was looking forward to working with him, as he had such a “can do” and upbeat personality. I had decided to postpone our cocktail party until Tuesday night simply because we remained in Venice for the evening and I suspected that many in our group would miss it if I held it Monday night. We were assigned early seating for the cruise and our assigned dining time was 6:30 pm. A group of us met for cocktails at 6:00 pm and then made our way to the first of many superb dinners. Celebrity has done a wonderful job of menu selection, preparation and presentation and dinning in the main restaurant is a fabulous gastronomic experience. We had decided to take the ship’s shuttle back into the Glardinetti pontoon (a floating tender wharf) about 100 yards from San Marco Square. The Square was huge and well populated for this late in the evening. There were two separate bands playing classical music at opposite ends of the square and overall, it was quite magical. We had decided to revisit one of the nightclubs we had discovered and started to make our way there. However, one of the group members was in a wheelchair and it became difficult moving her across the various bridges and cobbled streets, so we elected to stop at a restaurant bar that we passed along the way. The evening was delightfully balmy and we enjoyed the cocktails on a terrace overlooking Venice’s beautiful buildings, canals and people. We made it back to the pontoon just in time for the last shuttle back to the Millennium and off to a much needed night’s sleep.
Tuesday, June 15th, 2004; Venice, Italy
The Grand Canal Footbridge in Venice, Italy
I had a number of things to get done and decided to simply spend the morning and early afternoon working in my cabin, while everyone else elected to either go to the “Lido” (beach) or the Morano Glass Factory. I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the AquaSpa Café. Located in the AquaSpa on deck 10 just aft of the swimming pool area, this little jewel offers nothing but healthy cuisine for breakfast and lunch. If you like fresh fruits, yogurt, juices, dried fruits and the like, don’t miss this spot. I suspect that many folks went the entire cruise without realizing it was here, as it was never over crowded and in my opinion, had the best food selection for health conscious folks. 2:30 pm promised the dreaded SOLAS lifeboat drill and I wasn’t disappointed. Celebrity did a nice job of making sure everyone understood what to do and also tried to minimize the amount of time the drill took. After the drill the Millennium set sail for Dubrovnik, Croatia. Do not miss the fabulous scenery upon departure from Venice. You will be treated to a bird’s eye view of one of the most dramatic and beautiful cities on this planet. Be sure to have your camera ready.
Our group’s cocktail party was arranged for 5 pm, so I was dressed and ready to go and made my way up to Cosmos Nightclub on deck 11 to meet the group for the first time. I was blessed with a wonderful selection of characters from all over the western hemisphere and was looking forward to getting to know them all. Celebrity handled the cocktail party flawlessly and we enjoyed an open bar with hot and cold appetizers. We stayed until 6:30 before making our way down to the Metropolitan Restaurant and our respective tables. We were treated to another tremendous meal with superb service and preparation. Attending the show after dinner became a ritual for our group, as it seemed to bring the evening together providing entertainment in a period where the evening might have dragged on if we did not attend. Being used to late seating and rarely making the show in lieu of table conversation, I kind of liked the way early seating flowed. Especially on this itinerary (which is quite port intensive) early seating makes lots of sense if you are an early riser. However, we had several port days where the departure was set for 7 pm, and early seating would have cut your time in port short by an hour or two. A good number of us discovered Michael’s Club on this evening and began a habit of frequenting the club’s outstanding piano bar and ambience.
Wednesday, June 16th, 2004; Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnic, Croatia's Old Section (Taken from the Wall)
We arrived right on schedule and docked in Dubrovnik’s main harbor. I had not called on Dubrovnik before and was looking forward to exploring its walled city and walking the walls themselves. After a quick breakfast, a group of us boarded a motor coach bound for the entrance to Dubrovnik’s Placa, or main street in the walled city. The city is absolutely beautiful as the pedestrian streets, walkways, buildings and other structures are all made of a light colored marble that is found locally. There are no motorized vehicles within the city and it is one of the best-preserved “old cities” in the world. However, you will find numerous shopping opportunities for gold and silver jewelry, souvenirs and lots of other products and collectible items. We had an excellent, but expensive lunch at one of the local restaurants that one of our group members was solicited to try by an employee of the restaurant. I would always recommend finding your own restaurant based on the menu and price and not relying on anyone else unless they are known to be credible and honest.
We eventually made our way back to the ship in time for a late afternoon Jacuzzi and pre-dinner cocktail. Departing Dubrovnik at 5 pm seemed to be timed impeccably for early dining and the meal unfolded perfectly. Since it was the first formal night of the cruise, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner in the Metropolitan Restaurant and ended just in time to attend the Captain’s “Gala Toast”. Held in the Celebrity Theater, this was a great way to handle the transition from welcome aboard party to the evening’s entertainment. When the Gala Toast was done, you simply stayed in the same seat for the evening’s show. On this night it was the Celebrity Singers and Dancers performing “Spectacle of Broadway”. It was an excellent production show well worth watching. After a nightcap in Michael’s, I turned in.
Thursday, June 17th,
2004; Day at Sea
Our first seminar was to take place this morning, so after a quick breakfast I dressed for the seminar and prepared to meet the group in the Cinema on deck 3. The Millennium has several meeting venues, all of which are excellent. I counted at least four break-out small meeting rooms, a boardroom and the cinema. The Cinema is actually set up for presentations and offers state-of-the-art technology and would make an excellent choice for corporate meetings. The seminar came off without a hitch and Celebrity provided coffee, tea, juice and rolls for the group. I worked for an hour or two and then decided to treat myself to some Jacuzzi time in the sunshine. This evening’s dress was informal, so after dressing for the evening, meeting some of the group in the Rendez-Vous Lounge, enjoyed another superb dining experience. The evening’s show, a Mr. Brett Sherwood, was a magician and some of us were not interested in watching a magician, so we made our way back to the Rendez-Vous Lounge to listen to the music. However, we later heard that Mr. Sherwood’s show was excellent and were sorry that we had missed it..
Friday, June 18th, 2004; Piraeus, (Athens) Greece
The Parthenon as Seen from a Restaurant Window
I have to be honest with you. I am not a big fan of Athens. In my opinion, it is just a big, noisy, dirty city full of aggressive taxi drivers who think tourists are fair game to rip off (not that I have an opinion or anything). I would suggest everyone reading this consider taking a ship’s shore excursion here unless they have prearranged tours on their own and know exactly what they want to do. I won’t go into the details, as why focus on a negative, but rest assured, that if you hire a local taxi driver for a tour, you had better bring lots of money and good sense of humor. After ripping you off, they will pretend to be your friend and then steal some more from you. It is pathetic. Here is the straight scoop. Walk to the Piraeus train station and take a train to the Placa for about one euro. From there you can enjoy outstanding shopping, restaurants, bars and more. You can walk up the hill to the entrance of the Acropolis and gain entrance for 12 euro. Those are really the highlights of Athens and they are within easy grasp. When you exit the cruise terminal, the taxi drivers will do their best to make you think that you will not be safe unless you hire them. Just keep walking.
That said, after being ripped off by Angelo, we finally made it back to our ship in time to dress for dinner. After enjoying another wonderful meal with excellent company and service, I especially liked this evening’s production show “Pure Platinum” performed by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers.
Saturday, June 19th, 2004; Santorini, Greece
Fira, Santorini, Greece
Now a daily habit, I enjoyed a healthy breakfast in the AquaSpa Café and met some folks from our group for the 10am tender into Santorini. HINT: Don’t wait too long to go ashore, as if there are multiple ships in port you will have to wait a considerable amount of time to board the funicular to the top of the island. Unfortunately, a couple in our group missed the tender and we all had to wait for them, which left us in the back of an extensive line to get to the village of Fira above. Santorini is one of the those spots where it seems magical. The white buildings along the light marble pedestrian streets that meander here and there seemed lined with boutique after boutique selling everything imaginable.
Santorini's Black Sand Beach
A small group of us elected to take the local bus to the black sand beach located near Kamari. The bus costs less than 1 euro and takes about twenty minutes. The beach is lined with restaurants and bars that will serve you on the beach. You rent palapa like coverings and lounge chairs from one of the restaurants and that is the restaurant that serves you on the beach if you like. While the water is beautiful, it is on the chilly side and the sand is quite coarse. But, it was a great experience and we spent the best part of the day lounging in the sunshine. Later in the day we reversed the process and returned to Fira to enjoy the sunset on a cliff overlooking the Millennium and the beautiful changing from day to evening. We had wanted to take the mules back down the mule trail but upon arrival found that they had closed for the day. Since it was a healthy walk back up to the tramway, we decided to simply walk down the mule trail to the tender wharf. We laughed all the way, as you might imagine, there were several mule droppings along the way and the trail turned out to be much longer than we expected. We were the last five people on the last tender to leave Santorini and we expect that the tender operators were probably aware of every laugh and joke we said all the way down the trail and waited for our arrival. HINT: Don’t make the same mistake we did by watching the sunset from the top of the hill mesmerized by the beauty; you may still be there to watch as your ship leaves for the next port.
I was bushed and simply took a shower and went to bed.
Sunday, June 20th,
2004; Day at Sea
I was up early, had breakfast, spent some time on the Internet and got prepared for the second seminar we had in the morning from 9 am to 11 am. I was really enjoying this group and the session went very well. Actually, I ended up staying for quite a while after the seminar was over talking with the agents about many different topics. I finally ended up taking my usual place by the Jacuzzi and spent the entire day in the sunshine visiting with the group members as they dropped by. The weather was fabulous and the company wonderful. This was the first day that I wished we had late seating, as the day came to a close all too early and I needed to return to my cabin to dress for our group photo, no-host cocktail party and dinner. Our group photo went exceptionally well. Everyone was on time (including the photographer and his assistant) and the shot was painless. We convened to the Rendez-Vous Lounge and began an hour of social time. Before we knew it, the Metropolitan Restaurant awaited us. We had a fabulous dinner once again. Not wanting to stop the fun, many of us continued on to the evening’s entertainment, a production show performed by the Celebrity Singers and Dancers entitled “Classique, A Musical Odyssey”. The show was very entertaining, but I thought the highlight was the performance from River Dance. It was simply superb!
Monday, June 21st 2004;
I had been invited to join some of the group members to share a tour to Herculaneum, Sorrento and then on to Capri. Unfortunately, work had piled up and I was involved in negotiating a deal on the Internet and had to cancel my trip. I spent the entire day working in my cabin and in the Internet Café. I emerged around 4 pm to enjoy a Jacuzzi and then dressed for dinner and was treated to another wonderful meal and tablemates. The beauty of traveling with a group is the built in relationships that evolve. It makes it so fun to get to know people that have similar interests and evolving friendships is so rewarding. I was completely bushed and went to bed early.
Tuesday, June 22nd, 2004;
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy
Once again I had to bail on an all-day tour of Rome in favor of finishing work that was necessary to complete. It was great having the ship to myself, as just about eneryone had left to go touring and exploring. I had a relaxing lunch and continued to work into the late afternoon before getting ready for dinner with some of the group. I had not tried the sushi bar option for dinner, so some of us elected to enjoy the offering for an informal dinner on the exterior deck on deck 10. The sushi was excellent, but a wide variety was not offered. A quick stir-fry station was also set up in the main buffet area, so I also enjoyed some vegetables and noodles. It was excellent. I was completely bushed from working al day so decided to simply have a night-cap in Michael’s Club and turn in for a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday, June 23rd,
2004; Livorno, Italy
I had read a thread in Cruise-Chat.com about Lucca and had decided to visit it. A group of us rented an 8-passenger van and headed for Lucca. It was about a 40-minute drive and upon arriving, we penetrated the old section on foot and were absolutely delighted with what we found. Lucca is a quaint pedestrian village that does not have droves of tourists plugging the streets. The shops are simply delightful and the people were friendly and low key. If you are looking for a unique Italian village to explore with that “undiscovered” feeling, look no further than Lucca.
We continued on to Florence, as some of the people in the group had not been there before. Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its distinctively Italian architecture and busy shopping streets. This is the place for designer shopping and everyone interested in shopping will not be disappointed.
On the return to the ship we also made a stop in Pisa to explore the Leaning Tower of Pisa. No matter how many times you see it, the vision astonishes you. We made it back to the ship in plenty of time to get dressed for the last formal night of the cruise. A small group of us had made reservations in the Olympic Restaurant and were treated to a fabulous meal with service levels found only in the best of restaurants. I would highly recommend dining in the Olympic Restaurant at least once during your cruise.
Thursday, June 24th, 2004;
While I had ported in Nice before, this was my first call on Villefranche and I had no idea what to expect. I had decided to take the train to Cannes and spend the day at the beach. Since the Millennium was in port until 11 pm, I had all the time I wanted for the trip. Cannes is about an hour’s train ride from Villefranche and the train service is not all that frequent. After walking to the train station, I purchased a round-trip ticket and boarded the next northbound train. After several stops, the train arrived in Cannes and I was treated to a wonderful day walking the streets of Cannes and also logging a few hours on the beach. However, I got a little too much sun and decided to take an earlier train back to Villefranche and boarded the 2:38 Southbound train. After about an hour we entered the tunnel that separates Villefranche from Nice and I got ready to get off in Villefranche at the end of the tunnel.
Unfortunately, the train just kept right on going. After a mile or more the train started slowing and I was able to debark at the town just south of Villefranche. Seeing an opportunity to do some more exploring, I decided to walk back to Villefranche to see if I could do it. This turned out to be the very best part of the entire cruise. As the quaint little village offered me some experiences I would have never had on the French Riviera. HINT: If you port in Villefranche, do take the time to explore Villefranche and its surroundings. You will be rewarded with a lifetime of memories. I would say, that if you have seen Monaco and Eze, then this would be a logical third choice behind them. The beaches are much better than Nice and offer their own unique flavor.
I was back on board just in time to make dinner with the group and then turned in bushed from the sun and the walking.
Friday, June 25th, 2004; Day
While the cruise was winding down, we still had our third seminar to contend with. We met a 9 am this morning for our final gathering. As usual, everything was perfect for the seminar and we had a great exchange of information. Every one of the agents gave this cruise a 9 or a 10. The itinerary, the service, the dining and the entertainment got rave reviews from the entire group. Let me tell you, that is not an easy thing for a ship to accomplish with a bunch of travel agents!
After the seminar I returned to my cabin and got a message from one of the group members that they wanted to talk. I returned the call with no response, so I decided to wait in my cabin for a call as their message seemed to be important. Unfortunately, I spent the day in my cabin and did not get a call until late in the day and the importance of the issue had disappeared. I was able to get quite a bit done though, so a missed day in the sun didn't seem so important.
I dressed in time for our farewell cocktail party, business card exchange and white elephant sale in plenty of time to make my way to Cosmos for one last gathering of the group. I was impressed with the quality of this particular group and was very glad to had met them all. Dinner in the Metropolitan Restaurant followed. The last dinner on any cruise is indeed a bitter sweet experience. Great dining, but it signals the dreaded last supper. This evening's dinner reflected the last supper syndrome. I was tired and decided to turn in for the evening.
Saturday, June 26th, 2004; Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona's Sagrada Familia by Gaudi
I was up before dawn, had breakfast, packed and was off the ship by 8 am. I was spending an extra day in Barcelona and had decided to try a hotel recommended by one of the agents in the group, the Claris Hotel. I arrived at the hotel at 8:30am fully expecting to check my luggage with a bellman and wander the streets of Barcelona until 1 or 2 pm before checking into my room. I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a room when I checked in. The room was simply wonderful with beautiful hardwood floors adorning its two stories. I relaxed in the room for a while and then began to explore the area that included some of Barcelona's major sights and shopping opportunities. The hotel is located far enough from the tourist areas surrounding Las Ramblas and the Gothic district to avoid the tourist crush one experiences during the summer months and offers an upscale feeling and access to upscale neighborhoods. The breakfast included with the room is everything anyone could want. I would highly recommend the hotel to anyone staying a day or two in Barcelona.
I spent the day enjoying Barcelona's more residential areas stopping for coffee and then lunch at some of Barcelona's numerous sidewalk cafes. The evening found me enjoying the Santa-Ana like wind conditions in a sidewalk cafe sipping a glass of wine on Passeig de Gracia's upper regions. The breeze reminded of being home and the many days I have spent enjoying the Santa Ana winds that make everyone feel clean, fresh and invigorated. I watched as locals wandered by and tried to make eye contact followed by a friendly "hola". Spaniards have always impressed me as some of the most friendly and accommodating people and I wasn't disappointed on this brief visit. Spending the day talking with locals in my broken Spanish and their responses in broken English and their willingness to take time from their day to explore conversations with a "foreigner" reminds me of how hardened we have become in the United States.
After being with groups during the cruise when in the various ports, Barcelona also reminded me of how important it is to submerse one's self into a port to actually enjoy its rich subtleties and unique character. Simply sitting in a tourist restaurant and visiting tourist sights somehow misses the entire opportunity of being exposed to a new and vibrant experience. I sat until it was dark and then slowly returned to my hotel and a great night's sleep.
Sunday, June 28th, 2004; Barcelona, Spain
After an excellent breakfast at the Claris Hotel, I checked out and grabbed a taxi to the airport to board my BA flight to London's Heathrow Airport to connect to a light back to the United States. The trip home was uneventful (other than being a long journey) and I was glad to see my wife in the terminal to pick me up that evening.
Hints and Tips
On the last day of the seminar, we always recap the cruise and try to come up with hints so that the agents can give the best advice. Here are the key ones for this cruise.
Arrive at least two days in advance of the cruise (more if possible).
Don’t fool around with anything but a private water taxi transfer from the airport directly to your hotel. Being dropped at San Marco Square with your luggage and then trying to locate your hotel after extensive travel is next to torture. Spend the extra money.
Take the water taxi from your hotel directly to the cruise terminal and save the hassle moving your luggage.
Do walk the walls.
Don’t miss Dubrovnik.
Either take a ship’s shore excursion (highly suggested) Take the train to the Placa and then walk to the Acropolis or hire a guide with a van for the day on the Internet that has solid referrals from past passengers.
DO NOT get off the ship hoping to hire a taxi or van for a tour. You will not be happy at the day’s end.
Take a ship’s shore excursion if you want to see the entire island or rent one of the small cars. It is impossible to get lost.
Use the public bus system, as it is inexpensive and very efficient.
Get off the ship early to avoid long lines to get up the mountain to visit Fira.
Use the excellent hydrofoil service between Naples and Capri and/or Sorrento.
Take a ship’s shore excursion or have a prearranged guide and van.
If you have done Rome, do the ship’s countryside shore excursion
If you have done Florence, either take the ship’s countryside shore excursion or visit Lucca (via van or train)
Florence is the spot for shopping.
Use the train to Monaco, Nice or Cannes.
Do not overlook the beauty of Villefranche, especially if you want to go to the beach. Villefranche is much better than Nice for the beach, restaurants and overall French ambience.
Be very wary on Las Ramblas and do not wear/take anything you do not want to have stolen. Ditto for the Gothic district around the cathedral. Be wary of someone spilling a drink on you, hitting you with a soccer ball, pinning a flower on you or otherwise invading your space.