The Missus and I booked a quickie on the Millennium from San Diego to Vancouver for a number of reasons.
First, there aren't that many short West Coast cruises anymore.
Second, it was an easy way to achieve Elite status on Celebrity.
Third, it was a way to experience Aqua Class, on the cheap, in a newly "Solsticized" Millennium-class ship. We were originally booked for Concierge but found that, for not a whole lot extra, we could upgrade to Aqua. Done.
We previously cruised on the Summit and Infinity, pre-Solstice. After reading the not-too-positive reviews of Millennium right before it went into the yard for the update, we wondered what we were getting into - and whether the ship would be released on schedule in time for our cruise.
Millennium was out of service just long enough to complete the renovations started on the previous cruise. Thus, there was a lot left undone - it would have been nice to scrub off the dirt and spray over the rust spots. What was done, was similar to other Millennium-class ships that received the Solstice treatment. Most of you already know this. But if you do not:
The Fun Factory kids' space was moved out and new cabins were installed on Deck 11, turning that space into true revenue space. A group of former Concierge cabins on 9 also were turned into Aqua cabins; having stayed on that deck before, I could see the need to add more bells and whistles. They're right under the pool deck and there is not a lot of sun or sky visible from the verandas, as well. The bells and whistles of Aqua, of course, are having the run of its own specialty restaurant, Blu, as well as Persian Gardens access.
Our Deck 11 cabin: It was nice to move into a cabin that has barely been lived in. Everything's new. No wear, no bedbugs. None of the furniture or woodwork has been beaten up yet. You're only one deck above the Oceanside Cafe for a quick, non-Blu bite, and from the pool area. However, you're a long way from everything else, especially AquaSpa (after all, isn't this what Aqua class is all about?).
The verandas need better care. The stewards hadn't time to spray everything down, and everything was encrusted with salt. The chairs are metal with a Sunbrella-type fabric, and are nice once they're cleaned off.
Really liked the rain shower in the cabin bathroom, along with the accompanying full-body shower, once I mastered the controls. The more you use it, though, the more water you leak through the double tempered-glass doors into the bathroom. It is still an enjoyable soak.
The new Aqua deck is new and unproven territory to the cabin stewards. Not everything promised appeared at once, but it took only a day to produce them all - tea, flowers, canapes, and the like. The champagne went quickly. Our stewards, Javier and Humberto, were hard-working and likeable, and efficient; this wasn't always the case on previous Celebrity cruises.
Blu: probably the most controversial aspect of our cruise. We thought the food wouldn't be any different than the Metropolitan Dining Room in which it resides. We ate breakfast and dinner there the entire cruise, which changed our minds 180 degrees.
Blu can be thought of, either as another specialty restaurant (with fairly exclusive access) or as a really cool restaurant you might find on shore. Some of the entrees mirror what's being served in the Metropolitan, but Blu has its own kitchen and chefs and the entrees are prepared in a different manner. As with any land-based restaurant, Blu has its good (and, not-so-good) nights.
Some meals are done quite well, thank you, in Blu. They serve a mean steak. The Missus raved about the scallops appetizer - as tender a product as we've had on shore. Others? The desserts can be a bit over the top. A "parfait" is normally layers of ingredients served in a special glass. In Blu, it is served in a flat tray with each layer laid out separately. A pea soup is so neon-green that you want to run back to your stateroom for sunglasses. Yet, it tastes terrific. You really have to expect the unexpected in this particular restaurant.
Blu breakfasts are relatively pedestrian, in comparison. Lots of the usual staples - baked goods, griddle stuff. Since it serves Aqua passengers, there is an emphasis on healthy stuff. Several parfaits (in real parfait glasses) and smoothies are offered. The staff makes muesli from scratch. Your mind may tell you that traditional muesli is a watery, milky gruel. Here, you call the shots in assembling your muesli, from a cart loaded with ingredients. Your taste buds will tell you that you did very well. It really is good, and you should try it at least once.
Previous messages on the CC boards indicated dissatisfaction with the "coziness" of the seating in Blu. It isn't a very big space for all the Aqua passengers. You are so close to your neighbor's table that you can reach over and sample what is on their plates. The space issue didn't bother us after the first day. In fact, we struck up quite a few conversations with those at neighboring tables.
Because of the space issue, we found the dinner seating far better after 7:30 or 8:00 (the restaurant is open from 6:00 - 9:30 p.m.).
Jovet was the maitre d' in Blu for this particular cruise. He is a "trainer" maitre d' - he works with the restaurant staff to ensure they get things right, after a fashion, before moving on to the next new Blu (he's bound for the last new Solstice ship when it comes on line this year). Jovet rushed around, greeting guests, busing tables, talking, always talking with the guests. During a slack period, he explained that he led by example; if the boss is doing what the rest of the staff is doing, everyone else has no excuses. On every other cruise we've been on, we might see the maitre d' circulating on the last night of a cruise, fishing for tips. Not in Blu.
As previously mentioned, Blu can have good and bad nights. This was especially true when dinner patrons couldn't stagger their arrival times, such as when shore tours returned late to the ship. Under a full load, the kitchen staff tended to falter under stress. Entrees would come late, and cold. My lobster tails were a half-hour behind schedule, and were tough and rubbery. We gave up on dessert one night when the waiter disappeared on us. Still, this is all new to the staff. They should be able to pull it all together over the long Alaskan cruise season.
Persian Gardens: The other bells-and-whistles attraction of Aqua. Nothing new about the Gardens; they've mostly been around since the Millennium-class ships first set sail. What's new is that the Turkish and dry baths, along with the wonderful heated benches, are free to Aqua passengers. Nothing new to most CC readers, here...but we thought this was a great attraction.
Thalassotherapy Pool: Our favorite spot. We spent at least a portion of each day there. The cold, blustery weather kept the outside pools and whirlpools from being used to any great extent.
Bistro on Five: You do pay a cover charge, but it isn't excessive. They put out excellent crepes and panini sandwiches.
Not Crazy About:
Martini Bar: It replaced the Internet Cafe. It has a space of its own now, instead of being part of a lounge. We found it to be a bit "gimmicky". The bartenders were nowhere near as fun as those in the previous Martini Bar.
Cosmos: The traditional lounge above the Spa has been bisected by the kids' Fun Factory. I hate this, although I know it had to go somewhere after being 86'd by our Deck 11 Aqua cabins. Now the lounge has lost its symmetry as well as most of its space. The panoramic view is gone. Because the space is smaller, sound tends to bounce around more (the party band, Headlines, is pretty good - but would it kill them to lower the sound level by half?).
The Cosmos sign is not located above the main door. It is located, instead, in the domed atrium leading to the jogging track outside. How many guests expect to come to Cosmos that way?
iLounge: Only good if you're heavily invested in Apple products. Another gimmicky attraction, complimented by the Apple specialty boutique downstairs.
Library: Not as good as others in the Celebrity fleet as far as variety of volumes goes. Quite a few books that were non-fiction were labeled as fiction, and vice versa. Celebrity, if you're looking for a fleet librarian, I'm available...
Qsine: Did not try it on this cruise. We're booked on a 14-day Eastern Canada itinerary on Summit in the fall, and figure to wait until then to help break up the dining monotony (and because we're currently not booked into Aqua, we won't be in Blu for a while). Ditto for The Olympic.
Cellar Masters: Also did not try, since we're not big wine snobs. I did like the novelty of the self-serve wine carousel, which is becoming big in some shoreside hotels these days.
Tours: Didn't take any. We're from the Bay Area, so San Francisco was old hat for us; we slummed around Pier 39 in the morning and spent a sun-splashed afternoon on our veranda. We've been to Victoria before, and merely walked around town. Those were the only port calls on this repositioning cruise.
Entertainment: We had an issue with Take Note, the dance quartet in Rendez-Vous. They took forever to set up (C'mon, people! The Grateful Dead took less time to tune up than you did). And when they did set up, they really weren't very good. Rondell Sheridan, the featured standup comic, is a poor man's Chris Rock and was quite funny.
Captain's Club: We are members, but were never notified about the onboard events and missed most of them. The Captain's Club party was rather perfunctory, and conflicted with a lot of mid-afternoon activities. It would be nice if Celebrity enforced the dress code for this event. "Smart Casual" has been dumbed-down to the point that it's a complete joke. You might as well sail on Carnival.
A much better cruise than we expected, thanks to the Aqua Class upgrade. We'll keep trolling for Aqua discounts on future Celebrity cruises. It will be very difficult to return to main (or even Select) dining after we've tried Blu.