Philip M. Haggerty
Number of Cruises: 8
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: May 11th, 2003
Itinerary: Western Mediterranean
My name is Phil Haggerty and my wife is Edith Goble. I am a retired city attorney and Edith is a homemaker and former health services provider. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and this would be our 8th cruise. Our prior cruises have been: Carnival’s Elation to the Mexican Riviera, the now defunct Commodore Lines Enchanted Isle for 11 days in the Caribbean; a 7 day Caribbean cruise on Celebrity’s Galaxy; from Santiago to Buenos Aires on Celebrity’s Mercury; to Alaska on Sun Princess; another 7 day Caribbean cruise on Norwegian Sun and a trans-canal on Celebrity’s Infinity. We have reviews on this site from Galaxy on.
In our previous reviews we had started with introductory paragraphs about how we chose the particular cruise, and cruising options, facets and considerations in general; and then moved to a day by day recital of the actual cruise. This time we will adopt a subject format rather than a time line. Of course the comments on the stops and excursions will be in the order taken.
Why this cruise?
The principal reason for this cruise is because neither Edith or I had been to any of the countries on the itinerary. The route was: starting in Barcelona; a sea day, then Villefranche sur Mer; Livorno (Florence); Civitavecchia (Rome); Naples; a second sea day, Santorini; Piraeus (Athens); the final sea day, Dubrovnik; and Venice with an overnight stay. We chose Celebrity because of our past experiences with this line; a reasonably competitive price, and to some extent, the exact itinerary. Most of the major lines doing the Mediterranean have similar routes, but unfortunately all have cancelled Istanbul since September 11. (I understand that Crystal will have stops in Turkey in 2004.) If you have questions about any ship or cruise line, you can get a review of most ships and cruise lines in the “Complete Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships 2003” Douglas Ward; Berlitz Publishing Co.; the “Unofficial Guide to Cruises 2003”; Kay Showker and Bob Sehlinger; Wiley Publishing Co. and “Stern‘s Guide to Cruise Vacations 2003“; Steven B. Stern, 13th ed. Pelican Publishing Co. You can find these at most large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes and Noble. All three of these books will also provide a wealth of detailed information on cruising. Since itineraries are subject to change, and not set much more than a year in advance, you should go to the cruise lines websites to get the correct itineraries and dates. You then can check with your travel agent to see the brochures which will give you a schematic of the ships’ layouts and cabin locations. The pricing options vary widely. Every line has an early booking discount; many offer specials in the last days before sailing if you want to take a chance; and there are a variety of “specials” and package deals through various travel agencies. No one recommends that you do your booking through the net; having your travel agent do the actual talking to the booking clerks is best; but the net can provide a lot of information.
Before and after
We were interested in seeing Spain, and a little more of Venice. We own two time share weeks each year, and used one of them in Spain the week before our departure. Since this is a cruise review and not a travel review, I will limit our comments on Spain,
and put them at the end of the cruise review. We also decided that even though the ship stayed overnight in Venice with passengers on board, we would spend an extra night in this most striking city. We regretted not doing two added nights.
Getting there and back
I spent a lot of time on the internet with American and European air service consolidators trying to get satisfactory “open jaw” flights going to Barcelona and returning from Venice. The best I found ran about $2400.00 for both of us. Our travel agent told us that Celebrity would do advanced arrival and delayed return flights without charge to us since we had Captain’s Club status as repeat travelers. This brought the ticket prices down to $1300.00 to and from LAX with our own arrangement on United Shuttle to get to Los Angeles and back. Celebrity will do this for any passenger, but I believe there is an extra $75.00 per person charge for non-Captain’s Club members for early or late flights. Because the west to east initial leg left LAX around 8:15 A.M., we went to Los Angeles the night before and stayed at the airport Travelodge overnight. I started writing this journal at JFK the next day since we had a 1½ hour layover, a fact of no concern since it increased the likelihood that our bags would join us in Spain. It did turn out that Delta cancelled the flight from Venice which had been originally scheduled for us, but this was not Celebrity’s fault. The lesson here is that you should probably try to work out your own flight arrangements as we did very successfully for our South American cruise on Mercury; but realize that falling back on the cruise line is not always bad.
This phase had previously been divided into three parts. Getting there and getting back as explained above; packing; and reviewing and selecting cruise based or privately contracted shore excursions. This time we added a fourth which was: pre-embarkation fellow passenger contact through Cruise Critic Connection.
We probably tend to pack a lot and over pack. We met a couple on board who had only the equivalent of a carry-on suitcase apiece, while Edith and I each had one large bag, one medium sized bag, one back pack and one piece of hand luggage. We faithfully make out a written list in advance so we don’t forget anything, and try to cut back on the clothes; vowing after each trip to do better the next time. The problem is that we do dress formally for the formal nights, and I wear a jacket on informal nights as suggested by the ship’s guidelines. Celebrity ships do not have self-service laundries, but many lines do, so on these cruises there is the possibility of washing some clothing. The Berlitz Cruising Guide will tell you what laundry facilities are available on a ship-by-ship basis. We do check the weather and general climate conditions on a website to get an idea of what to wear. On some cruises if you are going to visit churches, as in Italy, there is a dress code to enter any church, so you have to keep that in mind in your clothing selection. (La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is a church under construction and has never been consecrated for formal worship, so I don’t think the code applies there.) The code prohibits shorts and halter or tank tops. We brought our Lonely Planet Barcelona book because we would be there a week, but also bought a map and guide to Venice and two Walking Guides from Jeanne Oelerich, one for Florence and one for Venice. These proved very helpful, and at $8.00 each are a good buy. Her website is www.walkinguides.com and you can order Guides to Rome, Paris, London and Chicago in addition to Florence and Venice from: Just Marvelous, 475 Hazel Avenue, Glencoe, Il 60022.
Everywhere we would go, except Dubrovnik, uses the Euro (symbol The dollar was crashing against the Euro from the time we traveled until we returned, but the average was about 1 Euro for $1.15. We bought money from our bank before we left, and hoped to use credit cards a lot. We were surprised that some restaurants would not take cards (and cheerfully told us where the nearest ATM was), and that some other vendors would not also - like the Spanish railway system. But you really need local money for local transit, some museum admissions, cafes and the like. In Spain the restaurant bills are marked IVA, which means you do not tip, although you may round off. Sometimes the VAT was included, sometimes not. In Italy there is often a separate “cover charge” usually noted on the menu as a flat item per person served, and this covers any tip. If you sit down at an outside cafe in Italy, the coffee may set you back 4 or 5 Euros, but if you pick up a cup at the counter, it runs about Î 1.50.
Food in Spain, even Barcelona, is not too bad, but in Venice it was very high as were hotel rooms. Barcelona is high for hotels by American standards, but about average for Europe outside Venice, Paris and London.
Pre-selection of shore excursions
There are two sources of information for ship based shore excursions. The itinerary, available on line or in a brochure even before you buy your tickets, will list the stops and times you are in port. Once you have made the down payment for your tickets you will receive from your travel agent a document which shows your booking, confirmation or reservation number. With this number you can go to the cruise line website and bring up information on the shore excursions available. In some cases the information may not be on line until sixty days before embarkation. There will be a brief explanation of what is covered by the excursion and the price, which is always per person, usually with lower rates for children. It is possible to place an on line order for any excursion ticket at that time providing you supply the credit card information. The charges will be billed immediately, but if you cancel later, or even on board within the deadline, you will receive a credit to your on-board account. If ordering via internet information does not thrill you, you can wait until you get your cruise packet, usually about a month before embarkation, and it will contain a printed brochure of all shore excursions. We usually like to wait until we get the printed material, although we have made some tentative selections based on internet information.
That’s the easy part. The real fun is trying to find non-ship-based shore excursions via the net or telephone. I read every form of cruise review available on the net for ideas. For example, on this cruise, two separate reviewers had recommended the “George the Greek” taxi service in Athens for a taxicab or van tour of that city and the surrounding area if desired. We went with these suggestions and as our account of the Athens visit will show, did not regret it. If you read our review for the Mercury trip around Cape Horn and our efforts to find a tour guide in the Falkland Islands, where there were no ship based excursions, you will see that this can lead to surprising and delightful results. I also have simply gone to “Google” and plugged in the name of the city and “Day Tours” or “Day Trips”. I have used “The Lonely Planet” and “Moon Handbook” guides, and found one or two leads there. Once you find somebody, you then have to make sure what kind of excursion you want and what the pricing arrangement is. Many taxi or van services price by the vehicle for the day or half day. The company we contacted in Acapulco for our Canal trip gave us a per person price of $20.00 each for a half day, a pretty good deal. The driver though he was getting paid on a per car basis which was more than twice as much, but after checking with his home office reported that our internet price was right. Be sure to print out all correspondence with vendors and bring the written material with you. Most vendors do not require advance payment, although some want a credit card to reserve a vehicle (like George) even though he would take only cash in payment. This latter requirement is very common, so you may want to visit the ship ATM before you leave if you think dollars will work. In big cities, or even small ones nowadays, you will not have much of a problem finding an ATM for local currency, and your driver will know their locations. I have read one review in which someone was burned by a pre-payment and the vendor never showed up at the ship, so there is always some element of risk. Phone call confirmation may be worth the expense, particularly if you have a reasonable phone vendor for overseas calls.
On this cruise we pre-purchased a ships excursion for a half day tour of Florence which gave us a feel for the city, free time to explore, and the certainty of getting back to the ship on time. For Athens we booked George the Greek on the net, and at all other stops we winged it, although we had done net research on various options and sights; all of which we will set out in the shore excursion section.
Pre embarkation passenger contact
In some of our information from Celebrity we were told about the Cruise Critic Connection. This is a website which has information and cruise reviews, can act as a travel agent, but has a special feature enabling passengers on the same cruise to get in touch with each other on the web prior to embarkation. It is not a chat room since it relies on postings rather than interactive communication. You have to register with and through your cruise line as I recall. I have not done it yet for our next cruise - a Baltic CruiseTour with Princess in August, but I will shortly. There was some information of value exchanged, and some questions asked and answered. When I made a broader check of the passenger comment section, I found that people on board Millennium as it was crossing the Atlantic to start its Mediterranean season with our cruise, were posting comments as they sailed. By reading them I found out that we would have the same Captain Adamidis and his wife Joyce from California that we had on Mercury around the Horn! Celebrity also arranges a get together with the Cruise Critic Connection participants on board on the first sea day. It is a good way to meet people and, if, like our Greek taxi arrangement, you need other people for your excursion to cut the cost, to find people interested in a sharing arrangement. There were about 60 participants.
We also used this respond to an invitation to meet at a Metro stop in Barcelona the night before we sailed; and thus had cocktails and dinner with Jeff and his wife Robin and Dorothy and her daughter Monica who had been a leader in setting up the cruise information network on the Cruise Critic website.
Embarkation and debarkation
Embarkation for Captain’s Club members has always been pretty good on Celebrity; and it seemed to be proceeding well for all passengers also. All cruise lines now want you to fill out a comprehensive information form required by U.S. Immigration; and have that in their hands at least a month prior to embarkation. This apparently helps speed boarding also. A form will probably be sent to your travel agent, but you can do it on the net also; and print it out for your own use. There was a new form at dockside for SARS information, but it only asked three questions; and we can hope that this will be a temporary requirement. Captain’s Club also provides priority debarkation status, and we were able to pick up our luggage in a pier building in Venice quickly. However, from that point on we had a problem trying to get transportation into Venice to our hotel. Celebrity only assists those who have booked transfers to the airport (or a tour) through their system. While they told us that there would be a shuttle available for others, none had materialized for about an hour and no one on the dockside or in the pier could offer any solid information. Six of us ended up paying $30.00 per couple to a Venetian water taxi to get us a couple of miles to St. Mark’s Square. We have noted that Celebrity tends to dump people at the end of the cruise, without regard for the fact that they have to go elsewhere, unless you have either arranged for a Celebrity post cruise tour or booked a return flight through Celebrity. Since it is fairly common that debarking passengers do not return home immediately, but want to spend a little time at certain debarkation ports like Buenos Aires or Venice, or certainly Barcelona and Santiago on these cruises, Celebrity can do a much better job of providing a less stressful ending to their cruises.
All major cruise lines try to provide a very comfortable, clean and pleasant ambience on their ships. Although I have never heard of a single complaint concerning Celebrity in this area, I have heard some occasional negative comments about other ships. Millennium lived up to its reputation as a spotless, clean, spacious and relaxing ship. It has a displacement of 91,000 tons. This is a measure of the interior size, and is of value in measuring the amount of space per passenger. With a maximum standard passenger complement of 2000, this works out to a 45.5 space ratio. By comparisons, some cruise ships have a ratio as low as 29; while the super luxury ships like those of the SilverSeas line can run to more than 60. Since the standard cabins on most of the larger (1200+ passenger) ships tend to be about the same size; from 175 to 195 square feet, the larger area means that the public spaces on a high space ratio ship like Millennium and its three sister ships; Infinity, Summit and Constellation, are larger, and there are more of them. The consequence for us passengers is a feeling of spaciousness and luxury. In the buffet area for an example of the effect of this larger space ratio; there are four separate main serving lines, plus additional specialty stations, and enough room for Celebrity’s practice of having waiters carry your buffet tray to a table to work in an uncrowded atmosphere. And there are more buffet area seats. There are also several lounge areas scattered about, and a very large shopping mall. The Library is on two floors as is Notes, a room where you can listen to a wide range of CDs through earphones and a computer menu.
The only area which can get crowded is the poolside deck area on sea days. I do not count the tender boarding area, which can also be busy, but did not seem to result in any delays on this trip. Perhaps this was because the only tender stops, Villefranche and Santorini, were so long; 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 and 12:00 midnight, that no one felt rushed into getting on shore.
The elevators on Millennium deserve special mention. There are 4 elevators amidships, and these are glass elevators at the port side which afford a view of the ocean or harbor as the case may be. There are banks of three elevators each fore and aft. While there was occasional delay at the main bank, there was never much delay and no crowding at the other banks. The system works very well, and much better, for example, than on Sun Princess, which had massed elevators amidships, with separate call buttons so you had to sprint back and forth to catch a stopped elevator.
We had a “standard” veranda cabin. It was the same size as non-veranda and inside cabins, approximately 184 square feet. Like most, if not all Celebrity ships, the decor runs to pleasant arrangements of light wood, mirrors and brushed chrome, with pictures and excellent lighting, although not as versatile as in our sky suite on Infinity. The bathroom is the same size as on most ships, but with extra hooks, space under the sink and cosmetic holders which actually hold a lot. The shower is decent sized and I like the shower spray arrangement. Celebrity provides an in-shower shampoo dispenser which I used, although I had brought shampoo for our land trip. The closet space is adequate, and there is more than enough drawer and other storage space. As I have noted in all other reviews, ships architects know how to use available space a lot better than hotel architects. The veranda had two plastic strap chairs and a small table, with clear glass or plastic below the veranda railing, not the utilitarian and somewhat rusted solid half-wall we had on Sun Princess. The cabin has a small couch, desk and chair and small table in addition to end tables by the bed, which we had in the queen size arrangement, although it can be used as two singles. Bathrobes are provided, although we noted that the suites get more luxurious cotton than a lighter weight “waffle pattern” supplied for the rest of us. We know a travel agent who always books an inside cabin on the theory that he does not spend any time there; but we feel that the veranda gives us a true “at sea” feel, and we spend enough time in the cabin to appreciate its appearance, which on this ship as on all Celebrity ships, is very pleasant.
Our cabin was on Deck 7. On most ships this size, Decks 6, 7, 8 and 9 are almost entirely devoted to cabins, as are Deck 2 and part of Deck 3. Deck 10 is usually the pool deck and buffet deck, Decks 11 and 12 are walking decks and sports decks, with the highest deck usually featuring a large lounge-night club forward with excellent views. Deck 3 is usually the deck with the “front desk”, bank and excursion office and theaters or meeting rooms. Decks 4 and 5 normally have the main theater and the main dining room, with the shops, casino, lounges, photo gallery and the like between the theater and the dining room. Nowadays alternative dining rooms are found at various levels, and the Olympic, which is Millennium’s luxury alternative dining room is on Deck 3. Celebrity puts its children’s center at the aft end of Deck 11, almost completely out of sight and sound. But then Celebrity does not normally cater to children, and there have seldom been more that 15 or 20 on the cruises we have taken with them. We understand that after we left Infinity in Fort Lauderdale in December 2002, it had over 400 children on the return trip though the Canal to San Diego. I am glad I missed that!
We try to walk a lot while on board, using the stairs for almost all occasions, and Deck 7 and 8 close to midship is probably the most convenient location and one I try for when booking. But no matter what your desires may be, these are big ships, close to 900 feet long, and you are going to do some hoofing, like it or not.
As we noted, we think that Celebrity has the best physical buffet set up by far. You can enter from either the aft elevators (the stairs for us walkers) or the midship elevators and stairs, and from either starboard or port, since there are four stations which duplicate all items served. In addition there are separate stations which make omelets to order for breakfast, pasta for lunch and sushi at a separate station aft. Outside on Deck 10 next to the buffet is a grill for those who can’t live without hamburgers and hot dogs. In addition there is a small “healthy foods” buffet forward on Deck 10 next to the Thalassotherapy pool. There are also two ice cream stations open several hours a day, and always at lunch. (Actually I believe that the lunch buffet operates only at half its capacity on shore days since most people are off the ship.) The buffet seating is on both sides overlooking the ocean, with plenty of room and not far to walk from the serving line. Coffee stations are placed around at various sites. As I noted, Celebrity has waiters to carry your trays to tables if you wish, and to bring coffee. The buffet provides china service and regular tableware with linen napkins - no paper here thank you. The buffet seating set up has “bays” which protrude out over the side of the ship, and “portholes” in the floor which look directly down to the sea, (or dock if that is where you are). While not all seats are outside seats, you are never more than two tables from a floor to ceiling outside window. Waiters are available to bring extra rolls and pastry at breakfast, and coffee at all meals. The buffet is open as an alternative dining venue at night by reservation only; but we never have seen any reason to use it in lieu of the main dining room.
The main dining room is two stories, with the rear of the room being a full length window that must run at least 30 feet from floor to ceiling and almost the full width of the ship. The center is open above the lower level. Both levels hold a total of 1170 people so crowding is not an issue. The alternative luxury dining room is called the Olympic Dining Room on Millennium since it has some of the original wall furnishings from Olympic, sister ship to Titanic. Like its equivalent on Infinity, the United States Room, it holds about 135 and is very pleasant, although it does not provide a sea view.
The Casino is fairly small, but we never spend time there anyway. All ships of this class have an area, partly overlooking the three story atrium, called the Cova Cafe di Milano, which serves complimentary pastries in the afternoon and specialty coffees until very late in the evening. It also has a piano, used by a pianist on occasions, and serves as the venue for the string quartet and harpist. It is a very delightful spot.
The Rendezvous Room amidships on Deck 4 has a dance floor, while the Platinum Lounge, above it and “connected” though a circular balcony looking down on it, is on Deck 5. The shopping area is very large and has a lot of stores, some of which have extremely expensive and good quality jewelry as well as more reasonable costume jewelry and casual clothing. The art auction area is a permanent spot near the stores, but fairly small. There were only 3 auctions on this cruise due to the number of port days, and we did not attend any since we have pretty much seen it all in this area of activity.
As noted there is a Library and Notes for music, as well as a card room and internet room. There is a golf simulator room and various sports venues for basketball etc. The gym is well equipped and there is a very complete spa provided at fairly substantial costs. The Thalassotherapy pool is without charge, and has two hot salt water Jacuzzis next to it. This pool arrangement, which is aft of the main pools, near the spa, and covered, does not permit children. We spent some valuable exercise and relaxation time there. There is no charge for the exercise room, but several of the classes do have $10.00 charges.
The Bridge is a separate story for later.
The Food and food service
There is a lot of emphasis placed on the food portion of cruising. It is fostered by the cruise lines themselves and emphasized by the cruise books noted above as well as by many reviewers and the passengers themselves in their comments. The fact is that anytime anyone sits down (or stands up) to eat, there are certain expectations, whether or not the meal is home cooking, a Three Star Michelin restaurant in Paris, or your neighborhood Taco Bell. The expectations obviously will be different, and the experience will be evaluated by whether or not the meal lives up to the high, routine or low expectations involved. In addition to that, people have definite ideas about what constitutes a good meal. Steak and potatoes may constitute the be all and end all for some, while “fancy French” food, or ethnic food are never enjoyed. So my comments must reflect my idea of what constitutes good food, but it may not be yours.
The alternative restaurant, Olympic, is a true “fine” restaurant, in which each meal is prepared individually and only when ordered. It does this through its own completely separate kitchen and service set-up. The menu is limited in the sense that it does not change throughout the cruise, probably on the theory that no one will use it more than twice, and usually only once. We dined twice in the United States Room on Infinity and once in the Olympic Room on Millennium. We had company for a table for four on this cruise, and the meal took three hours, but we did not notice the passage of time. The “premium” for these rooms is $25.00 per person, but we have always felt it was well worth it, given the individual attention to the food as well as the superlative and truly friendly service. I would recommend it for at least one visit on any cruise where offered. We similarly felt that the “good” alternative dining room on Norwegian Sun, the Bistro, at a $15.00 charge, was also worth it, although not nearly as high class as the Celebrity experience.
The main dining room on Celebrity’s ships also prepares individual meals as ordered, and not pre-packaged as on all other non-premium cruise lines. The vegetables are often fresh, particularly at the beginning of the cruise, and the menus reasonably varied. One reviewer complained that he thought the portions were small.
They are, and I applaud that. Americans are notorious over-eaters anyway, and a balanced meal means balanced in portion size also. The appetizers had considerable imagination at times, and the choice of three soups always offered a cold soup, often a fruit soup of distinction and flavor. The desserts were usually very good, with a sufficient range to please most people. A separate vegetarian menu is provided, although you have to request it. My wife asked for it and our servers remembered to bring it most of the time. She felt that she preferred the Princess menu which had the vegetarian offerings as part of the main menu, but I believe that the higher quality of Celebrity food overcomes the minor inconvenience of a separate menu. I do not eat salad, but she liked their salads. There is a wide selection of desserts, and always with a low calorie special. In addition the menu will pick out a “light” special from its selections as well as the chef’s recommendations. Appropriate wines are suggested. You can bring your own wine, and we knew a couple who brought a box with a dozen bottles on board. The corkage fee is $12.00 in the main dining room, $15.00 in the Olympic Room which is adjacent to an extensive wine cellar and has a wine list to match.
One thing you will not miss is “daily specials”. I just read a very amusing comment on the “daily special” practice in many land restaurants. Specials used to be just that, something off the menu, something special chefs in special restaurants were proud of. But these days, every hash house in every tuckered out mall in America has a laundry list of specials and waitbores to “tell you” about them. The temptation to tell these failed actors you don’t want to hear the soliloquy of the day is great.
Raymond Sokolov; Special to the Wall Street Journal; p.W1; June 6, 2003
Now that is writing! But the waiters will make suggestions, if asked; and even at times will advise you to avoid a particular dish. The food service personnel on this cruise, as on all Celebrity cruises, as well as Princess and Carnival, was excellent. Our waiter was Joaquim from India, and his assistant Joseph from the Philippines. They were very courteous, friendly and attentive without being obtrusive. On the final evening two of the people at our table, single ladies, did not appear until 40 minutes after the rest of us had ordered and proceeded almost entirely through our main course. One of these ladies had been fairly obnoxious about the food all through the trip, complaining about meals that everyone else enjoyed. Nonetheless Joaquim went back to the kitchen to get a full dinner for these two, asking a waiter from another station to take our dessert orders. He even got a further substitute entree for the complaining lady. And we were at the early seating, so he had to be concerned with getting the table set for the late seating guests. This was really above and beyond the call of duty.
On the days where there was a very late departure, the ship had an “open seating” policy since so many did not return for dinner. On one of these occasion we were served by a female waiter, the first we had seen on Celebrity, although we had seen and even been served by female assistant waiters. This young lady from Budapest,
Anika Seres, was one of the sharpest waiters we have ever encountered, on land or sea. Her assistant was her younger sister, and they were a delightful pair. The captain’s wife told us that the use of women in the main dining room was new to Celebrity, and in fact we had seen none on Galaxy in 2001, assistants only on Mercury and Infinity in 2002, and now Anika, and two female sommeliers, including chief sommeliers, on Millennium in 2003.
Our Assistant Maitre’d was from the Philippines. He was the first person holding this job, since his counterpart on Elation who also was extremely active, who really seemed to be helping and overseeing the process. Waiters would come to him with apparent questions or issues, and he would advise them, and in some cases, help out. He also was assigned as a waiter at the Captain’s Table, so I imagine Celebrity knows he was doing a good job.
Buffet food and service
We ate every breakfast but one in the buffet. We tried the dining room once, but the selection is not as good as the buffet, and as noted, the buffet area is so pleasant and the service so good, it seemed the place to go. On most days the fruit selection was very good and the normal breakfast selection was fine. They don’t always succeed with the potatoes, which I don’t understand; breakfast potatoes do not require a PhD. to prepare. The toast machine actually turned out hot english muffins and bagels. The coffee does not match my home brew, but is really pretty good.
We had lunch in the buffet twice. Both times we though that the selection was very good and the preparation quite nice for a buffet line. The fish was still light and flaky when served, the desserts extensive and good, and the general impression very favorable. We had two lunches in the main dining room, and felt that they really are too big. I do not need a four course meal for lunch. In addition, the service at lunch has always been a little uneven, although pleasant and friendly.
The Captain’s Table
Because of our prior contact with the Captain and his wife on Mercury, we were invited to dine at the Captain’s Table after Dubrovnik on the last formal evening. Our invitation specified that we were to meet in the Platinum Room prior to the late seating. We became aware of two couples who had been on the Bridge tour with us a few days previously, and assumed that they had been invited also, a correct assumption. Since there had been a Captain’s Reception in the Deck 12 Cosmos Room, which we did not attend, there was a delay in getting together with the Social Hostess. Leslie, who was responsible for the table arrangements. Eventually we did meet and were offered a drink in the lounge. When the Captain and his wife arrived we were led down the main staircase to a large table at the aft end of the main dining room. No one was superstitious apparently since we had 13 at the table, the “odd” person being a lady who apparently was a long standing friend of Joyce Adamidis. The menu is the same as for everyone else, but two glasses of wine are poured, compliments of Celebrity, and the service is special. I sat next to Joyce and the conversation never flagged. I did manage to find out from the Captain that he had never sailed a ship into or out of Dubrovnik before that day and that the bridge directly behind the ship was 47 meters above the water while Millennium’s mast is 57 meters. so there was no room under it. Our group picture was taken and delivered to our room that night together with a seating chart of everyone at the table. It was a very pleasant dinner and an honor to be invited.
Our room attendant was Arnal. The service on Celebrity is always excellent, and this cruise was as fine as any of the others. With one exception, and this was when we went to a very early breakfast; our room was made up when we returned after eating.
Similarly, the nighttime turn down service was accomplished by about 8:00 or 8:30 each night, although delivery of the “Celebrity Today” newsletter usually was at about 10:00.
Towels are changed twice a day if required, a nice practice if you are showering not only in the morning, but after a hot shore excursion before dinner.
We have only once requested room service food, and not on this cruise since the table is really too small, and the selection somewhat limited.
Staff contact and communication
Celebrity has very few public announcements of any kind, and even fewer on a ship wide basis. This is appreciated, especially if you have been bombarded with invitations to Bingo, to art auctions etc. ad infinitum as on some lines. The main source of information is the daily newsletter, which has been reformatted slightly, and is a little easier to follow than before, once you get the hang of it. The ship’s TV will also provide some information, such as weather, and will broadcast the port shopping lectures and other lectures. Celebrity is alone on the lines I have traveled in also printing a world news newsletter, with a United States, German, French, Spanish and UK edition; so you can keep up with what is going on in the world, and, importantly for some of us, with sports. This is made available at Guest Relations about 11:00 A.M. each day. If you attend the main show each night the Cruise Director will outline the highlights of the next day at the end of the show. Port shopping guides with rudimentary maps are also available a day or so prior to arriving at each port, at the shopping talks, and handed out at the gangways as you go ashore.
The Guest Relations desk is usually well manned and had few delays in answering questions. There is a Concierge Desk; which may be there for “Concierge Class” passengers; those who booked “A” cabins and all suites; but the lady who manned it seemed willing to help anyone who asked her. The Bank hours were somewhat limited, and there were lengthy lines after the initial “final bills” were sent out with some people unhappy at the delay and confusion.
We had no contact with the Shore Excursion people, although we had very positive experiences with them on Infinity. The Security people, mainly evident as you check off and back on to the ship were pleasant considering their jobs. Moist, ice cold face cloths were made available on re-embarkation at each port, and I for one really appreciated using them to wipe off the perspiration. All in all, the crew tries to be very friendly and smile, with a greeting, at each encounter, especially if you initiate a greeting.
Entertainment and Lectures
Reactions to entertainment are probably even more diverse that opinions about food.
When we were on Infinity, there was a string quartet called The Enigma Quartet, which we very much enjoyed. When we first sat down in Millennium’s Cove Cafe di Milano, there was the Enigma Quartet. Not only were they there, but the lead violinist indicated he recognized us! We confirmed our earlier association. They played several times at that venue and also occasionally for dinner in the main dining room, all to our continuing delight. And then there is Amanda! Mary Amanda Fairchild, a Brit now residing in Salt Lake City, retired as a self proclaimed “punk rock bass player” and took up the harp, which she played virtually every afternoon and evening at the Cafe Cove Milano; acquiring over the course of the voyage a growing and enthusiastic audience led by Edith and myself. She sings and plays very well, is personable and funny, educated us all on the mysteries and components of her instrument, and overall provided a relaxing, elegant atmosphere, making you think you really were on one of the great transatlantic liners of yore (as a first class passenger, of course). Not to mention that she dresses with elegance and style, and is very attractive.
The main theater had three shows featuring the Celebrity Singers and Dancers, 16 high energy young people who put on Las Vegas type shows. Unfortunately we missed one due to the late dinner at Olympic, but enjoyed the other two. One of the lead singers, who obviously had some serious voice training, had been on Infinity. There were a few comedians, which we generally avoid, but caught part of two of their shows and they were not too bad, although we heard that one of the others was very poor and not well received. There was one show pianist who was not bad and a banjo player who appealed more to Edith than to me. We did notice that none of the shows was entirely full, I would guess 85% capacity at most, compared to being jammed at more than 100% on Infinity, requiring early arrival to get a decent seat. I suspect that the difference was traceable to the far greater number of sea days on the Canal trip, 9 out of 14 including the Canal transit as a sea day, compared to only 3 sea days and 9 port days on this cruise. The Olympic had a very pleasant violin and piano duo, there was a cocktail lounge pianist, and a dance duo also. There was also an a capella male quartet called the Neptunes who were very popular; but not with us.
This cruise had four lecturers whose presentations were of necessity limited to sea days. One was a typical historian-local authority type who spoke about the major cities we would visit. She was pretty good. Then there was a Senior Vice-President and Branch Manager of a national investment company offering investment advice. We were not interested in his presentation. The third was a Hollywood producer and director with insights into various aspects of show business. Jeff took him in and thought it was not much. Finally there was Richard Morris, a professional political pollster who had worked with President Clinton from the Arkansas governors race in 1980 until into the President’s second term. I imagine his remarks contained some distinctly personal views, but the two lectures I attended, (and they moved that last lecture from the cinema to the main theater due to the interest he generated) were fascinating even for his personal views of Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Al Gore, George Bush Senior and Junior and others. I would say that this cruise provided more in the way of informative talks both in terms of the number and the variety, than any cruise we have taken.
As on Mercury, Joyce Adamidis takes delight in leading private tours of the bridge even though visits by the general passenger complement have been forbidden since September 11. We were invited again, and this time the Captain was also there to answer questions. What is amazing is that a ship this size; and remember it is larger than the original Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary and QE2 also; can be controlled by such apparently simple controls. We did enjoy the fact that, despite all the satellite positioning, one of the officers could take a real naval chart and quickly draw our position on it for Edith. When we saw the extremely tight maneuvering required to get in and out of some of the ports, with the vessel only a few feet from concrete pier corners, we appreciated the science and skill going into the pod propulsion-thruster method of controlling this immense object. It was also nice to see, as on Mercury, a large Greek Icon in a prominent position on the wall, and a sign reminding everyone that safety came first. We also noted that although the ship was built in France and is sailed by Greeks, that the controls are all marked in English.
Our fellow passengers
As we noted, we used the Cruise Critic Connection to initiate contact with several people before we left home, and maintained that contact with several of them on board, including Ted and Heidi from Laurel, Maryland who joined us in the George the Greek taxi trip. Our dining table seated ten but only had six people assigned. In addition to us, there were Richard and Ruby, a delightful retired couple from the Seattle area and two ladies Luba and Ala from Baltimore. These latter two were Lithuanian, and had a great deal of trouble with English. In addition, while Luba was very pleasant, and tried to provide congenial company, Ala spent most of her time rejecting the food!
We managed to ignore this distraction and enjoyed ourselves anyway.
Celebrity usually attracts a conservative, financially comfortable, and older clientele, but there was a very wide range of ages present. There did not seem to be as many Europeans as on Mercury, or even Infinity; perhaps because the Mediterranean is so close to home and inspires regular vacations rather than cruises for the French, Brits and Germans. Cruisers are generally congenial and open to conversation; and this trip was no exception.
Ports of call - Villefranche sur Mer
This is a small, but fairly deep harbor, about six miles west of Nice and an equal distance from Monaco. We planned to spend the day traveling the coast with Dorothy and Monica. We tendered in and were greeted with news that the French National Railway was on strike, as were major bus lines, so this left us at a loss. However an American at the dock informed us that his employer, a local perfume manufacturer, would give us a shuttle ride to the factory at a town called Eze, no strings attached; and that local bus lines were still running. We took him up on it and decided to tour the factory which was interesting. Edith bought some perfume in an aluminum container, which they advised us was the best way to preserve the perfume, and was at a much more reasonable price than the traditional glass bottle. We waited for a local bus, but when we were told that the schedule was unreliable because of the strike, we took a taxi to Monaco for Î35.00. In Monaco we visited the castle area, had a nice 3 course lunch for a reasonable price about Î14.50 and went to the Exotic Gardens which really were amazing. After some effort we found a bus which took us back to Villefranche for Î3.80 each. We walked through town where Edith and Monica bought a bottle of wine, and then sat in an outdoor cafe near the pleasant harbor for wine (and coffee for me).
We were joined by Jeff and Robin who said they had made a successful day including winning $180.00 at the Casino and then visiting Cannes, and this was just a couple of days before the film festival. Although we did not visit the Casino, Monaco is a pleasant, extremely clean little country.
Livorno and Florence
This was a place where we had signed up for a ship sponsored tour. It is called “A Taste of Florence”; and for $92.00 each you get a round trip bus ride (important) and a half day walking tour of the City. Livorno is a pier stop, and a pretty busy port city. We boarded our bus at about 8:30 and arrived, after a pit stop, at about 10:00. We had a guide on the bus and another for the two hour walking tour. Our bus guide said it was a good idea to reserve tickets for larger galleries, and offered to buy them for us. We took her up on two tickets for the Uffizi, a major gallery, with a 1:00 reserved time, for Î11.50 each. Our tour included a brief stop on the Ponte Vecchio, which is lined exclusively with jewelry shops. With our walking guide we found it very easy to get around this small, pedestrian oriented city after the tour ended. It is a delightful town, with beautiful buildings everywhere. We also found Vivoli’s, which is purportedly the best gelato shop in Italy and therefore has the best ice cream, in the world. It lived up to its reputation. We walked through the Duomo (free) and then went to the Uffizi, which is one of the most striking museums in the world. The Botticelli “Birth of Venus” alone is worth the admission price. Everyone made it back to the bus on time, and we drove out of town by a different route which gave us a grand overall view of the City. We were back on board by 5:30. Obviously our tour was a superficial glimpse of a most magnificent city. It would require many days to get a good knowledge of what if offers, and that would not even allow for learning about beautiful Tuscany outside the city.
Civitavecchia and Rome
The ship’s paper had warned us that the railroad was unreliable, but information on the internet and prior travelers reporting on the Cruise Critic Connection website suggested otherwise. So Ted and Heidi decided to join us on a self guided tour. The ship’s shuttle took us off the long pier to town. There we had an easy and pleasant walk down Via Garibaldi along the sea side for about a half mile, to the railroad station.
For Î6.80 apiece we got a round trip ticket to Rome, and the ticket was also a day pass on the Rome Metro. This is indeed a bargain. These ticket are only good on “regular” trains, not the express specials, but these trains are fairly frequent. You must stamp your ticket in a little orange box on a pole near the platform after buying it from the agent, but one stamp is good for the whole day. The boxes have instructions in English. The trip to the Statzione Termini in Rome takes about an hour and 15 minutes. This is the center of Rome. We found the Metro and the second stop on the “B” line was the Coliseum. This is an amazing edifice considering its age, and it draws a lot of visitors, many of them Italian. We waited about 10 minutes to get in, and our 8.00 ticket also got us into the Palatine Hill. Seniors are only recognized if they come from an EU country; which was not true in Barcelona where I had free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art. We spent a fair amount of time in the Coliseum, and then visited the Arches of Constantine and Titus as well as the Forum and part of the Palatine Hill. By this time we had done a lot of walking, so we returned by the Metro (extremely crowded on this trip - reminding me of New York or London in the rush hours) to the railway station and a train back to the ship. Other passengers that we talked to later had opted for alternative tours, but all were fairly limited in terms of what Rome has to offer. We felt that we would not have had time to do Vatican City, with St. Peter’s, the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel; all to be sufficiently appreciated; in what really is one half a day. Rome would take two weeks to see in any reasonable depth.
Naples, the Isle of Capri and the Blue Grotto
There are three basic sites to visit in Naples. They are Pompeii and Vesuvius; the Sorrento Coast, and Capri. We had decided on Capri before we left, and felt that we could do this without using a ship’s excursion. I had found a web site called: www.italy-weekly-rentals.com . The site has an “Excursions List” and we there found a 12 page article called “Walking in the Isle of Capri.” It probably has enough information to fill a week’s stay on this most charming island. In any event it told us that we could get a hydrofoil to Capri right at the pier where we docked, and we did for 24.00, round trip per person. Ted did not want to make this trip, so only Heidi joined us. The trip takes about 50 minutes and gives you a good view of the huge Bay of Naples. We checked at the pier for the Blue Grotto trip and were told it was too rough to allow entrance, but to try later. We went up the funicular from the marina to the town of Capri, found a very good local map, and located the route to the Emperor Tiberius’ Villa. We walked up to this spot through streets far too narrow to admit cars, only small electric carts in very limited numbers. As we ascended the businesses disappeared and the private houses were father apart with lovely terraced gardens and views of the bay or the Mediterranean. The climb is about 600 feet from Capri to the Villa at the southern end of the island, so the Villa itself is about 1000 feet above the sea on sheer cliffs with magnificent views in all directions. Tiberius ruled the Empire from here for about 13 years prior to his death in 37A.D. The Villa is mostly in ruins, but you can well understand why he wanted to live here although even now it is not easy to reach, and then only on foot.
On the way back into town we stopped to admire a garden in front of a house. The owner who was working on it asked where we were from. When Edith answered “Arizona” he said “Oh yes, the desert” and pointed out his cactus in a lovely setting.
It turned out we were headed for a restaurant owned by his son; and we made it in plenty of time for lunch. In fact we were the only ones there for a while since Italians eat late. The place is called the “Pergola” and was quite nice with a lovely view of the harbor. The very helpful lady in the information booth in the main square of Capri told us that the Blue Grotto was open, so we descended the funicular to the Marina and after some confusion as to the time involved since we had to be sure we could catch a hydrofoil back to the ship, we took a motor boat holding about 18 people to the grotto for a price of Î 7.00 each round trip. After about a 25 minute ride along the East coast (Naples side) of Capri, we arrived at the Grotto. There we transferred into small rowboats that hold a maximum of 4 people. We first rowed over to another boat where we paid Î 8.10 each and were taken into the Grotto for about five minutes. They allow five or six rowboats nside at a time, although there are ten or twelve boats outside and you have to wait your turn. The oarsmen “entertain” us with singing. The Grotto is unique and very pretty, with blue light coming up through the water to provide a fair amount of light inside. I guess the Grotto is about 2/3 the size of a football field. We then were rowed back to the power boats with strong suggestions that we tip the oarsman, which I did in the amount of Î 2.00 for Edith and myself. We returned to the marina in plenty of time to catch our boat back to the ship. All in all we found Capri to be a delightful spot, and would consider returning there for a more extended stay. Including the very good lunch, the small entrance fee at the Villa, the hydrofoil, the funicular and the Blue Grotto trip, we spent about Î 55.00 each or about $64.00 at the then current rate of exchange. By any standard, much less a ship’s tour standard, this was a great bargain.
Santorini - Greek Islands
Again, prior to departure, I had gotten a handy map at: www.santorini-greece.biz/santorini-map.htm and a 30+page detailed commentary on the island at: www.greektravel.com/greekislands/santorini/index.htm . This review contained far more information than you would ever need on a cruise day trip, but gives you some real insight into the island. Basically it was a volcano that blew up in what might have been the greatest eruption in history in the 13th century B.C. The result left a small, curved island with a bay, the “Caldera” and two small islands opposite the main island. The Caldera side of the main island is a cliff several hundred feet high curving along the entire length of the island, which makes Santorini the spectacular and special place that attracts thousands of tourists. Again, like Capri, you have to get up from a Marina to the main town, called Fira. So, after tendering in to port you have three choices. A long hot walk, a cable car, or a donkey ride. Edith and Ted opted for the animal route, while Heidi and I went up the cable car, which Heidi noted with satisfaction, had been built in Switzerland where they are in use them all the time. There was some delay since the cars are limited in size and Ted and Edith actually got to the top ahead of us. We walked through town and located a bus to take us to Oia, a small village at one end of the island. Fira is almost in the middle. This was a local city bus and had many local passengers. Its route is along the top of the mountain which splits the island with views alternating between the Caldera and the Aegean Sea. On the Aegean side opposite the Caldera the slope is less precipitous and the island flattens out to provide a substantial agricultural area. The island is famous for its tomatoes and grapes from which a distinctive wine is made. We reached Oia in about 30 minutes and the ride cost Î 0.85. Oia has some shops and places to stay, but is mostly homes in dazzling blue and white, with excellent views of the Caldera. We found a local restaurant with a cat and dog in residence, and a waitress from Dublin. Edith and I had a spinach pie with a marvelous layered crust, and Heidi, Edith and Ted all had a glass of the local wine for Î 2.50 which they said was excellent. We then returned via the same bus to Fira where Ted & Heidi took the cable car back down and Edith and I walked down without difficulty, and without a serious problem with donkey deposits. We later, at the Acropolis, met a young lady from the Denver area who had flown in through London at a very cheap rate and then stayed at a pension in Santorini for a week. She enjoyed it very much, and I imagine if you can swim and visit archeological sites at the other end of the island it would be a good place to spend a week, especially before or after the European vacation deluge in July and August.
Piraeus and Athens
As I noted previously, we had contacted “George the Greek” following several recommendations. The website is: www.greecetravel.com/taxi/; and the e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. He supplies either a taxi for four or a van for seven. The taxi rate for a full (10 hour) day is Î 280.00 which means about $80.00 per person, somewhat lower than any ships tour. But of course you have personalized service with George, and he will go where you want to go. Ted and Heidi were game to join us, and we picked up George at 8:30 on the side walk after walking through a fairly good sized terminal building in Piraeus, which has been the port for Athens for probably thousands of years. Our driver was Paul, who had lived in New Jersey from age10 through 30 (with trips back to Greece to get married among other things - although his oldest son was born in the United States). We found out that there really is a George, and he and his two sons plus two or three other drivers (who must speak English well to be hired), constitute the business. The car was a 2000 Mercedes E Model diesel in which Edith and I felt right at home since we have a 2001 C-320. Were told that several of the major museums were closed for renovations in anticipation of the 2004 Olympics, although our driver thought that was an unnecessarily long time. He took us to a delightful smaller museum, the Benaki, which housed am extensive Greek art and artifact collection arranged in chronological order. We could have spent more time there had we known in advance, but we had arranged to go back outside to meet Paul in about 45 minutes. We then went up a hill opposite the Acropolis Hill to get a general view of this center of Greek civilization. Tour buses cannot do this since the road was very narrow and the parking limited. We then went back down to the parking site and set off, like everyone else, to hike up the Acropolis to the Parthenon and the other major building still standing on the site, the Erechthelon Temple. The buildings are partially covered with construction scaffolding as restoration is a continuous process, but they are beautiful and impressive buildings. The Parthenon itself is larger than I expected, and the construction therefore more impressive given that it was constructed between 447 and 432 B.C. The view from the hill is also striking, as you can see all of Athens as far as Piraeus and the harbor. There really is no marked division between Piraeus and Athens any more. Af