Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 11th, 2003
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
May 11-23, 2003
Celebrity Cruise Lines and the Staff and Crew of Millennium know how to show you a good time! My wife and I just returned from a 12-day Mediterranean cruise (May 11-23, 2003) and could find little to complain about. We had been looking for this itinerary for the last couple of years and signed up for it last August. The ports included Barcelona, Villefranche, Livorno (Pisa/Florence), Civitavecchia (Rome), Santorini, Athens, Dubrovnik, & Venice. There were three at-sea days tucked in for good measure. We elected to arrive a day early in Barcelona and stay an extra night in Venice as well. We learned from our first cruise that there is not always a lot of time to spend in the embarkation and disembarkation ports. In this case, Celebrity did allow for extra time in Venice. It arrived at noon on the 22nd, but did not disembark passengers until the morning of the 23rd. This gave everyone the afternoon and evening to see the sights before leaving the next day. We still enjoyed the extra day and night to roam the canals and alleyways.
I appreciate good organization and planning and Celebrity did not let us down. The airport and hotel pickups on both ends of the trip went very smoothly. The excursions were very well organized. We felt comfortable leaving everything to the Staff to coordinate.
As Captain’s Club members, we were able to bypass the line at the terminal and were checked in and in our stateroom inside of 30 minutes. The modest Captain’s Club fee paid for itself right there! We had a veranda cabin amidships on the 8th deck. Our travel agent picked the 8th deck so we would have staterooms above and below us. I did not give it much thought until fellow passengers commented on the foot traffic they could hear above their room! The room was spacious and immaculate. Tamara, our attendant kept it that way throughout the trip. Clean towels twice a day and it always looked as clean and fresh as that first day. The four large suitcases fit comfortably under the bed, which kept clutter to a minimum. Ample storage in the desk, the double closet, and the bathroom. Fortunately, we packed our hanging clothes with hangars; otherwise we would not have had enough. The closets come with about 20 or so wooden hangars.
A few lessons learned about the room. Bring a travel iron. The ship does not have any to loan. The hair dryer in the bathroom works fine. There is a retractable clothesline in the shower. There are no laundry facilities for public use. The Ship has a laundry and the prices are what you would expect at any fine hotel. A couple of travel containers of liquid laundry detergent took care of the few things we wanted to wash out. A secure safe is in the closet for valuables. Beach towels are left in the room to take off the ship when needed. The pool and gym have towels available for those areas. Lightweight robes are provided for in-room use only. Bring bathing suit cover-ups to walk around the ship. There is stocked refrigerator, but the drinks are expensive. The veranda is worth the extra money.
I brought a laptop computer. It helped kill time on the long flights and I wanted to be able to download from my digital camera. I was not sure if Internet access was available in the room. As it turns out, it is, if your are fortunate enough to get one of the 25 connector kits from Guest Relations before they run out. This was my only real disappointment on the Ship. They have a fine computer center with 25 or more computer terminals. However, the cost is 50 cents a minute to access the Internet. The alternative is to access it from the room on your laptop for the entire cruise for $100. By the time I learned of the kits, they were gone. A third alternative is to use the Internet Cafés that are found in each of the ports. I used the Ship’s computer twice for four emails and it cost me $20. An Internet Café runs about $7 per hour.
I will not go into a lot of detail about the Ship. There is nothing new I can add that you have not already read. It is big, new, clean, and beautifully decorated. Even with 2000 passengers, you never feel crowded in any part of the ship. We were fortunate to have a room near the elevators and stairways. Even though I promised myself I would not use the elevators (work off the extra calories on the stairs), the exterior elevators with views of the water are fun. You learn quickly where the restaurants are. Even after 12 days, I still could not tell you if certain lounges and shops were on the 5th deck or 6th deck! Invariably, I would be at the wrong level. They give you plenty of help if you are in an elevator or just outside the elevator door, but it was a little trickier with the stairs.
The pool area was gorgeous. There were a series of pools and Jacuzzis with surrounding lounge chairs. I was surprised how quickly the lounge chairs filled up on the at-sea days. I was equally surprised how many sunburned bodies were still out there in late afternoon! Better bring the sun block.
The Spa offers a variety of services and it is a good idea to take the tour on the first day. Even if you do not intend to visit it again, the variety of treatments is interesting. If you do intend to take advantage, this is the day to schedule. My wife scheduled a massage for one of the at-sea days and a facial for another. She was very happy with both. I used the gym during the at-sea days. It is well equipped and offers a number of exercise classes. It is a great place to work out.
Although my wife will tell you it is the quantity, not the quality of the food that gets my attention, I felt I had the best of both worlds. We quickly learned the food service schedules and where to find a meal at a given hour. Pizza and hamburgers at the pool area from noon to 5PM. High Tea in the Buffet from 4 to 5PM. Ice cream at almost any hour. Our favorite spot was on the back of the ship aft of the buffet area. It was an outdoor area with a teak deck with teak tables and chairs with a beautiful view of the ocean. We would go through the breakfast buffet and sit out there each morning. As the cruise wore on, more and more people discovered the area and tables could be hard to come by. The Main dinning room is on two levels, decks four and five. It is always a mystery to me how dinning room seating is determined. We were on deck four somewhat in the middle of the room. Most of the tables on this level were for parties of eight or more. The tables on the 5th deck seemed to be smaller groups of four and six and overlooked the 4th deck. We lucked out with wonderful tablemates, which always make the cruise.
We used the buffet for breakfast each morning, just because it was the quickest way to eat and get on with the day. By the second week, we were getting tired of the same basic fare of breakfast entrees. It was always scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, and potatoes. I ate more scrambled eggs in those 12 days then I have in the last two years. They usually offered French toast and/or pancakes, but they were usually cold and rather tasteless. There was always a ton of fruit, breads, cereal, yogurt, etc. to supplement the entrees. You also have the option of going to the omelet line to get a fresh omelet of your choice. If we had taken the time, we could have gone to the Main dinning room for a sit down meal, which would have been much tastier, I am sure.
The variety of lunch options are plentiful and will satisfy anyone. There is the buffet that had numerous menu choices. Here you could also get the special pasta of the day prepared before your eyes. There are hamburgers and pizza at the pool. The Spa offers a healthy buffet of tuna, salmon, chicken breast, etc. The Main dinning room was available as well if you wanted to take the time. A tip I had read before our cruise that I will pass on. If you take along some Ziploc bags, you can order from Room Service (24 hour service) and pack the sandwiches, etc. for your trip off the ship. We took the baggies, but never ordered from room service. We decided to take advantage of the local restaurants instead.
The food and service in the Main dinning room is what makes the cruise. There were always at least four choices for every course. The entrees had beef and fish choices each day. In comparing this dinning experience with our Alaska trip aboard Galaxy, we were a little disappointed with Millennium. Our server, and his assistant, did their best to make each meal an event. Between the two of them however, they lacked the warmth and personable charm we had felt on our earlier cruise. They never bothered to ask our names and we never seemed to establish a rapport with them. On the last night, when tipping envelopes are given out and everyone says their farewells, they never came to the table to say goodbye. We had to track them down in the restaurant to give them their envelopes. The food was excellent. A few dishes over the 12 days appeared to have sat under heat lamps a little too long, but that was the exception, not the rule.
The Olympic Restaurant is not to be missed! It is the Millennium’s a la Carte restaurant. There is a $25 per person charge, which I understand goes to the waiters. They earn every cent of it! Most of the dishes are prepared right at your table and you will not get better service anywhere. The menu included wine suggestions for each course. We did not buy wine in the main restaurant or here. The prices are exorbitant and we are not big wine drinkers to want to pay those prices. The sommelier was very cordial nevertheless. The Waldorf Pudding is a must for desert!
A note about drinks. I am sure most of the charges for the average cruiser are for drinks aboard the ship. Everywhere you go; there is a waiter ready to take your order. There is nothing wrong with that, but it will add up quickly. Our drink of choice in most of these instances is a diet coke. You learn early in cruising that while the food is free and plentiful, you will pay for soft drinks and of course liquor. A coke will run you $2-$3. Celebrity started a program that allows you to pay a flat fee for soft drinks for the entire cruise. It runs around $4.50 per day. For 12 days, for the two of us the price was $131. That is a lot of soft drink if you were at home, but after 2-3 glasses a day onboard, you are getting free drinks.
There is a variety of entertainment available day and night. There were guest speakers during the at-sea days. Our favorite was Dick Morris, an aide to President Clinton who gave three great talks. On the first day, he spoke in the movie theater. By the third talk, they had to move him into the Celebrity Theater to accommodate the crowd. A talk I stumbled across while walking around the ship was by the Captain’s wife. She is from California and has been working aboard cruise ships for many years. She was very open and down to earth about how she met the Captain and what it was like working aboard a host of ships. It was such an interesting talk; I immediately bought a book she had recently written about her experiences. It is available in one of the Ship’s stores. She will even come down and autograph your purchase. It is a good read and provides insight on what goes on behind the scenes. She says she will be on the ship until August, so catch her talk.
Entertainers included a harpist, piano player, two bands, a keyboard/drum duo, banjo player, and a comedian. That does not include a Celebrity chorus of singers and dancers. On our first cruise, my wife and I tended to catch the production shows in the Celebrity Theater after the first dinner seating and pretty much call it a night. This time, we had the later seating, would stick our heads in the door of the theater and maybe stay for a few numbers, and then tour the ship’s lounges. Michael’s Club used to be a cigar club on Celebrity ships. It is a wood-paneled room with sofas and comfortable chairs. It used to be where you could go to get a good cigar and after-dinner drink. It has evolved into a more intimate entertainment lounge. A piano player played and sang there nightly and we managed to catch his act on a number of evenings. The Rendez Vous lounge was the place to catch a band for traditional dancing. Our only gripe here was, by the time we settled in and danced a few numbers, the duo or band was just finishing up their set. At 1130 each night, the Cosmic Disco lounge would come alive. One of our favorite nights there was a 50s Sock Hop. Good music, good dancing. The only problem we had was the Cruise Staff dominated the dance floor with a twist contest and other activities when we would have preferred to do more dancing. It was entertaining to watch, but by the time it was all other, we had gotten 6 rock and roll dances in and the Sock Hop was over. More modern rock took its place, which drove us out. Be sure to catch the Millennium version of the Newlywed Game. It was as good as any TV version I have seen.
The Cruise Director and his staff work very hard to provide activities throughout the day. I was afraid I would get bored on the three at-sea days. I have a difficult time just sitting and have to be on the move. There is so much going on each day that was not a problem. With the speaker program, daily bridge games, sports activities, and the pools, the days go by quickly. The biggest problem was trying to decide which activity you wanted to participate in.
As with everything else arranged by the Ship, getting off and on our way could not have been easier. We were given colored luggage tags two days prior. The luggage is put in the hallway the night before the ship arrives in port. They recommended putting locks on the bags in the hall. With airport security inspections these days, we left all our locks at home. It was not a big deal. Within 30 minutes, the bags had been picked up from the hallway and secured on the ship. We were told to report to the Rendez Vous Lounge at 9:15AM the next morning and await an announcement to proceed to the terminal to collect our bags. This gave us ample opportunity to have breakfast and pack any last minute items in our carry-on. By the time we arrived at the lounge, our group was called to proceed to the gangway. We were bused to the terminal, collected our bags and were met by a guide that would get us to our hotel. It just typified how everything went for the entire trip!
Barcelona. If we had not flown in a day earlier, we would not have had the opportunity to see this interesting city. The Le Meridien Hotel is located on La Rambla and was within walking distance of all the sites we had hoped to visit. A walk along La Rambla to the harbor is quite a treat. Every block has a different entertainer vying for your attention (and contribution). The Picasso museum is well worth the visit. The harbor area has great views, a modern shopping area, movie complexes, and a park. At the end of La Rambla and at the entrance to the harbor is a statue of Christopher Columbus. Do not miss out on spending some time in this city.
Villefranche. Our original plan was to catch a train or bus from Villefranche to Nice. There are a number of art museums that feature the French Impressionists that we were eager to visit. Unfortunately, two of the three are closed every Tuesday. That, plus a one-day transportation strike convinced us to stay in the immediate area. Villefranche lies between Nice and Monte Carlo. As we walked along the coastline, we realized just how close Nice was as we reached the city’s boundary after just two miles. Another two miles and we would have been downtown. We elected to return to Villefranche and were very thankful for our experience there. There were tours available to the cities and the outlying villages, but we knew our tour schedule would be intense over the next few days and thoroughly enjoyed our leisurely wanderings here.
Livorno (Pisa/Florence). My wife wanted to see Pisa and I wanted to see Florence. The compromise was the Exclusive Tour that included both. It was a 10 and a half hour mini-bus whirlwind tour. Our first stop was Pisa. The tower still leans. We were given 30 minutes to wander on our own. Given that the tower did not open for another hour to allow climbing to the top, 15 minutes would have been plenty. Florence was a different story. We rushed through the two museums on the tour and had little time to wander on our own. If your goal is to get a peak at the major sites in one day and do not mind the very high price of the tour, then this is the tour for you. The lunch stop included in the tour was excellent as well. On the other hand, we knew people who caught a train on their own and saw many of the same sights in Florence for a fraction of the price.
Civitavecchia (Rome). We took the Exclusive mini-bus tour here as well. Rome is about a 90-minute ride from the port. Again, a train ticket will get you to the city center for a much more reasonable price. We felt the tour was worth the time and expense in Rome because there were many things we wanted to see. A quick trip through some of the Vatican museums culminating with the Sistine Chapel. You can take pictures in many of the museums, but not in the Chapel. St Peter’s Basilica was impressive! Outside, you could just imagine the thousands of people in the Square to hear the Pope. The mini-bus was able to take us to a number of sites the big buses cannot get near. We drove past a number of sights, but had no time to stop for pictures. Trevi Fountain did warrant a stop and was fun. A couple of American movies used the fountain as a backdrop for scenes. The one I remember is “Roman Holiday”, with Audrey Hepburn. Another fine lunch in one of the hotels near the American Embassy and onto the Coliseum. This was the highlight of the tour for me. To stand in the middle of this 2000-year-old arena and to walk through the seating areas that surrounded it was awesome.
Naples. Having served in the Navy, I have visited Naples numerous times. Enough to know the best sites are outside this city. Sorrento, Pompeii, and Capri are the places to go. It does not take an Excursion to see the Island of Capri. The Ship is berth at the same dock where you can catch the ferry to the island. The boats are plentiful and run frequently. Upon landing at Marina Grande, I suggest getting up the hill to the city center. A funicular is the easiest way. A narrow walkway is the most interesting. Once on top of the hill, you will see some of the classiest boutiques outside of Rodeo Drive. Beyond those, are dozens of walkways past some beautiful homes and even more beautiful scenery. If you want to add Sorrento to your itinerary, you can ferry out to Capri and later catch a boat to Sorrento and then back to the Naples dock.
Santorini. It is said to be one of the most beautiful Greek islands. I remember a movie with Daryl Hannah, “Summer Lovers”, that was filmed here a number of years ago. The movie was a little corny, but it sure gives you a great idea of what to expect when you get here. We did a four-hour tour that included a 45-minute visit to Oia and a visit to a local winery. The tour ends in Fira where tenders will shuttle you back to the ship. If we had to do it over again, we would have skipped the tour and taken a ship tender directly to Fira. From there, catch a bus for the 15-minute ride to Oia. Fira is the major city on the island, but Oia is the most picturesque. We could have spent several hours walking around Oia and taking pictures. Fira is a beautiful city as well, but is much more commercialized and not nearly as quaint.
Piraeus (Athens). Athens was pretty much what we had expected. It s a big city, crowded, and not that pretty. We did a four-hour excursion to the Acropolis with a little sightseeing from the bus while enroute. The Acropolis is not to be missed. The Parthenon is worth the 150 steps to the top of the hill. After the Acropolis, the tour guide offered to drop anyone wishing to stay in the shopping area downtown vice returning to the ship. The taxi fare back to the Ship was around 7-8 Euros. A few of our fellow passengers, not on the tour had paid up to 30 Euros for the same trip. Beware.
Dubrovnik. Our travel agent had given us a heads-up on Dubrovnik. It is a very charming ancient city surrounded by a huge wall that dates back to the 13th century. You are able to walk around the top of the wall for its entire 1.5-mile circumference. The views of the city below were fascinating. An excursion is not necessary here. A shuttle bus from the ship takes you to the entrance of the city. We never waited more then 10 minutes for a bus. Inside the walls, you will find numerous shops, art studios, and cafes. The surrounding countryside is gorgeous.
Venice. I had been to Venice on a day tour about ten years ago. At the time, I remember the German tour guides harping about the crime in Venice. By the time my tour group got off the bus, we were paranoid about walking freely about the city. On this trip, my wife and I took a four-hour walking tour of the city right after the Ship arrived. The most important thing I learned from that guide was that the best way to see Venice is to get lost. Don’t be afraid to walk anywhere in the city. The biggest crime problem is the pickpockets. For the next day and a half, we followed his advice. When we disembarked from the Ship we were taken to our hotel where we would stay an extra night before returning home. The Carlton Executive Hotel sits right on the Grand Canal. From there we wandered both day and night through many alleyways that I would not think of walking in most cities. Due to the many canals and winding passageways, it is very difficult to follow a map. Just keep walking and you will eventually find your way to the Grand Canal. We could have skipped the tour, as we saw so much on our own. At the hotel, the clerk mentioned that the Murano Glass Factory would send a free boat for us, if we wanted to tour the Glassworks. After one of our long walks, we elected to take the free ride out to Murano Island to see the glass. The boat ride through the canals was great in itself! At the Glassworks, we were met at the dock by a Murano representative and given a quick tour of one of the workshops. From there we went upstairs to the showrooms. Although there was no obligation to buy, we could not resist purchasing one of their glass pieces.
We could not have hoped for a better trip. The arrangements, itinerary, Ship’s services, excursions, etc. were all top notch. We would not hesitate to go with Celebrity in the future. They know their customer and they know how to meet or exceed expectations.