Number of Cruises: 9
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: April 25th, 2004
Introductions and First Impressions
Arriving at the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal to check in for our transatlantic cruise on Millennium, I felt more than a mild twinge of trepidation. Our advance research had made it quite clear that Celebrity appeals to a 50 plus age group. Looking at the sea of grey-haired fellow passengers waiting to check in I got the sense that 70 plus might have been more accurate.
The age of fellow passengers in itself is not really an issue. However, if one is to spend fourteen days at sea, in the relative confines of a cruise liner, it is important to have the prospect of meeting people with whom one can comfortably interact and with whom one might share common interests.
My travelling partner and I are aging “yuppies” of the first generation – in the 40s. We are South Africans who love the US and are completely hooked by the cruise bug. This explains why we quite happily spend more than 18 hours getting from home base to south Florida to board a cruise liner.
My love of cruising originates in the era of the scheduled “mail service” between England and South Africa. A fleet of elegant ships traversed the route every two weeks until the mid-70s, when the convenience and price of air travel sounded the final death knell. Interestingly, one of the erstwhile mail ships, the SA Vaal, became one of Carnival’s first cruise liners, the Festivale. I was privileged to do the South Africa-Europe voyage of 12 days a few times as a child, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
On one of my early vacations in Miami I was fascinated by the gleaming mega liners that are so visible from the causeways. Over the past 4 years we have done an annual Caribbean cruise on Carnival, and we thoroughly enjoyed the informality of the “Fun Ships”. The switch to Celebrity was, however, a conscious move towards a more genteel cruising experience – fewer children, less pushing and shoving and raucousness that can be expected from a younger crowd out to have fun at all costs! An enduring memory about the Fun Ships is the stampede for the food after check-in that happened on every Carnival cruise.
Back to Celebrity and Millennium……
The check-in formalities were very well organised, and despite the large crowd, we were aboard within an hour. The availability of seating while waiting is a good touch. Fellow passengers were patient and polite, unlike earlier experiences. There was most certainly no stampede for the buffet!
The Millennium Experience
I had read many reviews of Millennium – none of which can really prepare one adequately for a ship this beautiful. The understated elegance, fine artwork and superbly maintained public areas bear tribute to the reputation for excellence that Celebrity has earned.
It was also immediately evident that a well-heeled clientele, predominantly of mature years, adds further tone to the Celebrity experience. Our fears of being lonely and socially isolated for two weeks were soon allayed. We thoroughly enjoyed the company of our table mates (which included a young couple), and made a point of having open seating breakfast and lunch in the Metropolitan Restaurant, where we met the most charming people from all corners of the globe. Indeed, during our cruise we made friends for life.
We booked a 1A, balcony stateroom. Like the rest of the ship, it was spacious, bright, clean, and impeccably maintained, with light wood and pastel colour finishes. There is very generous closet and drawer space and the bathroom was ample in all respects.
The balcony was my place to retreat with a book after lunch, and from which I could daydream and watch the world go by. My only gripe about the stateroom was the mean size of the balcony.
We had the opportunity to see cabins of various categories during the cruise, and all were spacious and well-equipped.
Eating and Drinking
Celebrity’s marketing pitch – specifically the Michel Roux designed menus – perhaps raised our expectations unreasonably about the culinary delights aboard. The food was consistently good, but certainly not spectacular. The service from our table steward, his assistant and the wine steward at our table was superb.
Disappointingly, service during open seating breakfast and lunch in the Metropolitan Restaurant was inconsistent, even bordering on impolite and no-care. While we really enjoyed the opportunity to meet new people every day, after the first week aboard, we decided rather to brave the lines in the Ocean Café than be served by surly waiters in the restaurant.
The food in the Ocean Café was of a reasonable standard.
On one occasion, we decided to have lunch in the healthy dining facility in the Aqua Spa. My order was taken grudgingly and I was told to return in half an hour. That was the last time we went there.
Being early risers, every morning we ordered coffee and pastries. With one exception, these arrived promptly, and were served cheerfully.
We made a conscious decision not to try the speciality dining Olympic Restaurant. However, we were very impressed by this beautifully appointed facility. A number of our friends dined in the Olympic, and all raved about the experience, although one couple thought it was a tad pretentious. We will definitely do the Olympic when we travel on Millennium again.
All in all, the dining experience was good, but not memorable. Some of our fellow table mates were horrified when we said that Carnival cuisine need not stand back for Celebrity. In some respects, we found Carnival’s cuisine to be superior to that on Millennium.
Bar service in the many “watering holes” was excellent. The Martini Bar (Platinum Club) was our favourite, where we were greatly impressed by the service.
Activities and Entertainment
Some of the reviews I read were not enthusiastic about the standard and variety of on-board entertainment. We were pleasantly surprised. The Broadway style revues in the magnificent, multilevel theatre were excellent. So too were the performances by the well-known concert pianist, Pearl Kaufman. I avoided the lectures by the motivational speaker, as I felt it would disturb my karma!
The beauty of cruising is that you can do as much or as little as you like. Martin, my travelling companion, dutifully went to the gym every day. It is superbly equipped, and the view from the wrap-around floor to ceiling windows makes you forget about the exertion!
The spa is fabulous. We spent a lot of time in the indoor hydrotherapy pool. The Persian Garden (for which there is an extra charge) is out of this world. The steam room, Turkish bath and perfumed showers leave one feeling like a new person.
Ports of Call
We visited Bermuda, Madeira, Lisbon, Cadiz, and Malaga en route to Barcelona. While a good variety of shore excursions were offered, we did our own thing in each place. I do not like being herded and ushered around, and generally prefer local transport or to explore on foot. A further advantage is that one can do this at a fraction of the cost of organised tours. The travel guides that were available in the library, “Words” were every useful in planning our activities.
On arrival in Barcelona, we were very envious of those lucky travellers that were spending another twelve days aboard Millennium on its Mediterranean cruise programmed.
This was a fabulous fourteen day sojourn. The Millennium experience was everything and more than what we expected, and we are actively seeking opportunities for a repeat performance! We are sold on the Celebrity formula.