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Andrew Groves, Travis Chapman

Age: 34, 32

Occupation:Health Care, Retail Management

Number of Cruises: 1,

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Millennium

Sailing Date: January 4th, 2004

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean


Overview:
This was a magnificent experience and an excellent value, exceeding all expectations.

Pre-Cruise:
After flying to Fort Lauderdale from Albuquerque (via Orlando) the day before our departure, we stayed at the Hyatt-Regency Pier 66, booked on Priceline for $80. It proved a very good choice, conveniently located from the airport and to Port Everglades. Nice room, decent dining options, and a revolving city-view bar. In the morning, we strolled along the marina area and caught our first glimpse of the Millennium. Anxious to board, we left the hotel at 10:45 and, after a breezy embarkation process, were enjoying our welcome glass of champagne by 11:30.

Ship Design:
The Millennium herself was the star of the show! An amazing ship, simply beautiful.
We were repeatedly struck by the aesthetic everywhere we looked – elegant and sumptuous, yet accessible and comfortable. We were impressed with the lighting (which shifted from day to evening to night, effectively setting new moods), the appropriate (never flashy) use of mirrors, the interesting art collection, and the fact that even though common areas were all generous in size, they still managed to seem cozy. After several days, we inquired about the number of passengers on our trip because it seemed as if it must have been undersold – we were surprised to find out that it was booked to more than double-occupancy. In spite of the relatively large size of the ship, Millennium was very easy to navigate. We almost always took the stairs (to compensate for so much eating and drinking) but found that we were never more than 10 minutes away from anywhere on the ship. When we did use the elevators on a few occasions, we found them quick and convenient.

Stateroom:
We were very happy with our stateroom selection, #6136, on the Penthouse Deck.
Because this cabin (category 1A or 2A, depending on where you see it listed) is wedged between two Royal Suites, the balcony is extra-large (over twice as deep) to compensate for the larger staterooms on either side. There was room for two loungers as well as the standard chairs. Also, to match the adjoining Royal Suites, our deck was wood-floored.
Ample storage space – large enough closet with plenty of hangers, room under the bed for suitcases, lots of shelves and hidden cabinets – and an efficient stateroom design gave us plenty of room for the week and never made us feel cramped. The bathroom was a model of efficiency! Even for such a small room, there was unused shelf and cabinet space. The shower was roomy and the adjustable/detachable showerhead was very convenient. Some of the nice touches in the room included Egyptian cotton towels and bath mats, a merino wool blanket on the bed, and comfortable sheets.

Public Rooms:
As mentioned before, we found Millennium to be a beautiful ship from bow to stern and from top to bottom. The Grand Foyer’s illuminated onyx staircase, framed by three-story curtains, is the perfect entrance to the ship and sets the tone for a week of elegance. The Martini and Champagne bars are luxurious places for drinks before or after dinner (or both), and they overlook the Rendez-Vous lounge on the deck below. This design allows music from the band at the Rendez-Vous to float upwards into the Martini and Champagne bars, which added yet another touch of elegance to the beautifully designed spaces. The Cova Café, located on the top level of the Grand Foyer, was an elegant and highly versatile space. In addition to serving coffee drinks and delicious pastries (more on these later), the Cova is a wine bar in the evenings featuring music by a harpist. Once in the late evening we stopped for a few minutes on the way back to our stateroom to listen to a wonderful string trio. Our favorite bar was Cosmos, the large windowed lounge at the very front of the ship. The space was beautiful but perhaps a bit too large for the relatively small number of guests usually in attendance. The stylish, contemporary décor would be at home in any hip urban area. This was an ideal spot for sail-away cocktails as we left port, or for dancing to the ship’s band or the DJ. Our other favorite spot for sail-away was the Teak Bar (or the Ocean Café Bar…we were never sure of the name) located aft behind the buffet. Generous wooden chairs and tables and a lovely wooden bar provided a contemporary nautical feel to this area overlooking the ship’s wake. The AquaSpa adjacent to the pool area was simply stunning. The soaring glass walls and ceiling created a protected yet open space, and the signature Thalassotherapy pool was a great place to relax after a hard day of eating, shopping and sightseeing. There were elegant wooden lounge chairs around the T-pool and hot tubs, and many more inside glass-enclosed promenades at the sides of the spa area. We made a brief visit to the sauna and found that it was not only spacious but had a huge window that looked out to the sea.

Changing/shower rooms were understated elegance and the huge gym, perched at the bow of the ship, would be a favorite spot for anyone who likes to work out or walk on a treadmill.

Food:
The Olympic Specialty Restaurant

Our meal at the Olympic was truly outstanding, perhaps the finest dining experience of our lives. The décor and menu are both inspired by the first-class dining room of the Olympic (sister ship of the Titanic), and successfully recapture the spirit of another era. Everything was prepared to perfection (some courses prepared tableside). We recommend especially the goat cheese soufflé appetizer, the steak Diane entrée, and the Crepes Suzette or Waldorf pudding for dessert. The evening is well worth the additional $25 service charge.

The Metropolitan Restaurant
The main dining room, the Metropolitan, featured a well-conceived menu every night, with varied and interesting choices for each course. And the food was good. Not mind-blowing, but always satisfying. When considering the scale on which so much food must be prepared each night, it might even be considered excellent. Much has been written and debated about the Celebrity food experience, and we found it to be pretty much on par with our expectations. It is not what we would consider amazing in strict terms of flavor, but quite amazing under the circumstances of being prepared at sea for nearly 1000 people at a time.

We ate in the Metropolitan only once for lunch and once for breakfast – lunch was quite good, and breakfast was… well, the buffet would have been both easier and warmer.

Buffets and Other Food Experiences:
There were two special evening buffets during our 7-night cruise. The first, a tropical extravaganza, we did not attend due to heavy rains in the Dominican Republic. The second, the traditional gala buffet, was served on the second formal evening. We went early for the photo session and it was truly amazing to see the ice sculptures and the intricate “food” sculptures (such as a ship made entirely of cheese, or a bouquet of flowers made completely from carved radishes, apples, etc.) as well. We weren’t very hungry for the buffet since we had late seating dinner, which was just as well because it was a madhouse when the food service began. This was one of the only times the ship felt crowded all week. You would think some of these people hadn’t eaten a proper meal in days! We sampled a few items and took plates back to our stateroom to enjoy for the evening.

One of Celebrity’s innovative treats is an alternative to midnight buffets. Waiters present ‘Gourmet Bites’ in bars and lounges most evenings beginning around 11:30. These might be hot or cold canapés or even desserts. While we were still too full from dinner to enjoy many of these, the ones we tried were quite good. It was also a nice treat to receive them at our chosen place of evening enjoyment rather than have to make a special trip to the restaurant and deal with a buffet line.

We ate at the Ocean Cafe buffet a couple of times for breakfast and lunch. The food was always good but not outstanding, which is typical of most food buffets. More pleasing were the sandwich bar that could sometimes be found at the back of the restaurant, as well as the afternoon tea snacks that appeared in the buffet area in the afternoon. We never tried the popular early evening Sushi bar in the Ocean Café but our dinner tablemates went almost every night and loved it. We ate at the poolside buffet a couple of times and this was the least-fulfilling culinary experience on the ship. Burgers were so-so, buns disintegrated on contact, and the pizza was dry/overcooked every time we had it. We never ate at the AquaSpa café but looked at the buffet fare a couple of times when we were in the spa area and the food looked good. I think this would have been a better option than the poolside grill for a quick meal, but we didn’t really ‘discover’ the AquaSpa area until almost the end of the cruise.

One of our favorite places for a snack was the ship’s lovely Italian-inspired coffee bar, the Cova Café. European breakfast pastries such as croissant and Danish were served here in the morning, and the croissants seemed to taste much better than the ones from room service or at the breakfast buffet. In the afternoon, around the same time as tea was being served in the Ocean Café, other sweet pastries would appear in the Cova Café. While coffee drinks in the Cova Café were not complimentary, we found the price reasonable, the taste excellent, and the service experience (china cups, tasty chocolates on the side, and professional wait staff) more than a notch above Starbucks.

Service:
In a word, outstanding!! Every member of the crew, without exception, was friendly and engaging and ready to satisfy our every need. We were greeted with warm smiles and genuine (or at least very convincing) welcomes everywhere we went. We cannot figure out how Celebrity manages to pull this off – inspiring such enthusiasm and generosity of spirit from a team that works so many long hours for so many long months at a time!

Our Stateroom Attendant, Nicoletta, and her assistant, Amil Sam, were charming, efficient, and available. We could not have been happier in their care.

Our Waiter, Ruwell, and Assistant Waiter, Ace, helped to make our dinners truly memorable, again with efficiency and the impression that they were actually interested in the quality of our experience. I hope that Celebrity recognizes Ace (who entertained us and our young table-mates with tricks and magic every night) and has him on a fast-track for promotion to Waiter.

Bar, cocktail lounge, and poolside service was always excellent, as well as coffee service in the Cova Café. We especially enjoyed our conversations with Alma, our lovely bartender at Cosmos.

One point that I almost hate to mention was the wine service in the Metropolitan dining room. Our sommelier was, without fail, charming and friendly. He also was very apologetic, because the service was really not up to the standards we experienced everywhere else on this trip. Wine rarely showed up before the 2nd or 3rd course. Our tablemates had similar trouble with ordering soft drinks. I believe this can be attributed to systematic problems (the wine cellar being located too far from the dining room, a poor staffing ratio) rather than the capabilities of any staff members involved.

Ports-of-Call:
La Romana, Dominican Republic. One of the reasons we chose this itinerary (besides reviews of the ship) was because a stop in the Dominican Republic seemed so off-the-beaten-path and exotic. We would skip it next time. There did not seem to be much to do without taking a shore excursion, and the excursion we did take (Catamaran Sail and Snorkel) was a disappointment. Snorkeling equipment was shabby and there didn’t seem to be enough of it for all passengers. The location chosen for snorkeling was hardly ideal. Our tablemates enjoyed their trip to Altos de Chavon.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. Our favorite stop! Wandered the gorgeous streets of Old San Juan, ambling up to El Morro before we even knew we were heading there. Found great food and perfect cocktails at the Parrot Club (on Fortoleza, near the pier). Thoroughly enjoyed our excursion into the El Yunque rainforest and a drive through the island interior.

St. Thomas, USVI. We immediately hopped a ferry to St. John’s Trunk Bay, a breathtaking strip of crystal blue water and white sand. We had considered another shore excursion here, but decided to do it alone, which was easy. We rented snorkeling equipment for $3 ($15 deposit) and had a great time on our own schedule. Returned to St. Thomas for a bit of shopping. St. Thomas is touted as a shopping paradise, full of incredible bargains. Travis did find a nice watch at a good price in his range, but for the most part the real deals seemed to be on really high-end items. Liquor is quite inexpensive compared to US prices, but most prices seemed comparable to those in the ship’s onboard stores.

Nassau, Bahamas. Another stop we could have skipped. The weather seemed to be threatening rain, so we decided not to ferry over to Paradise Island and the beach. We wandered around the straw market (dodging most, but not all, of the very persistent vendors) then returned to the ship early for another day in the Aqua Spa.

Summary:
Celebrity delivered on its marketing campaign of “a true departure.” The ship’s elegant beauty and the staff’s sincere and impeccable service created for us a truly different world for a week. We were so sad to see the vacation come to an end, wishing we were on a 10, 12 or 14 night cruise with many more fabulous days and nights to come. We can’t wait to recapture this experience and are already planning our next trip with Celebrity.

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