At the suggestion of some friends who cruise three of four months a year, we switched from HAL to Celebrity in 2011 and took a two week cruise on the Century, which was the final Alaskan cruise of the season. We had a wonderful time and based on that experience we booked an eight-day cruise on the Century Millennium. The results were not nearly as good.
Embarkation: The cruise left from Vancouver. We stayed the night before at the Pan- Pacific hotel. Despite the high rates it is a wonderful hotel were the staff transfers your luggage directly to the cruise ship. The hotel is connected to the cruise terminal and many rooms over look the harbor. We were in room 1915 which was a corner room that gave you two spectacular views of the harbor.
Socialism Celebrity Style: The embarkation onto the ship was a disaster. Instead of admitting it Celebrity made weak excuses. The Millennium and two Royal Caribbean ships were in port at the same time. Hotel staff was calling it "Black Friday." There were 6,000 people getting off ships and 6,000 getting on.
We were herded to a check-in area that was specifically for the Millennium. It was the first day for many members of the Celebrity staff checking in passengers. The customers who had paid more for Suites or Aqua Class staterooms were not allowed express check in and were grumbling loudly. Everyone was treated the same and some did not like it one bit.
One part time Celebrity staffer for the check-in trying to get people to move to the empty seats in the back of the holding area was yelling, "Everyone get to the back of the bus...Gus!" She wasn't happy nor were the passengers. Embarkation was taking over an hour regardless if you had the most expensive suite on board of an interior cabin on Deck 3.
STATEROOM: We had an Aqua Class stateroom on Deck 11. A few months earlier Celebrity had dropped a number of staterooms on the rear of the exercise deck to increase revenue. They charged an Aqua class rate for these staterooms that mostly had small two people balconies.
The stateroom was a mere 190 square feet. I referred to it throughout the cruise as our cubicle. The floors in the room and along the hallways were not flat, but wavy. For older customers who have a tendency to "shuffle" a bit when walking, this whole area was nothing more than a huge tripping hazard.
I asked hotel staff supervisors why the floors were not flat, but wavy. Two of them replied they were aware of the problem however they refused to say why it occurred.
Our room steward and his assistant had 21 cabins. He failed to explain the thermostat to us causing us to freeze our first two night, being unaware that turning the dial into the "red" area had no effect on getting heat, if it was on setting "1".
The only outlets for your electric toothbrush, the hair dryer or other appliance was next to the baloncy door and not near the bathroom.
I brought 32 CDs and for the first time in six years I was on a ship in a higher priced room that did not have a DVD player which allowed me to play CDs. Luckily we were renting cars at every port of call so the CDs got some use.
Unless you were young and on your honeymoon...the tight quarters got old in a hurry. I would not suggest paying for a 192-sq ft suite unless you were on a seven day or less cruise.
There was only one elevator bank that took you to stops along the back of the ship. To go to the front of the ship you had to walk outside. This was no big deal, unless you were at sea in a strong headwind. But you really missed not being able to use a mid-ship elevator.
FOOD: While the food on our 2011 cruise was very good, in 2012 it was merely "average" and on some nights it was below that. For the guests in staterooms at an Aqua Class or above, there was a special dining room. The Blu restaurant claimed to have better food and menu items than they main dining room.
The meat with main courses was often tough. Some deserts were nice but the Crème' Brulee was always runny and could be poured into the cup of coffee as a creamer easier than eaten from a dish.
Our waiter and assistant waiter were very good. However several other members of the wait staff were in desperate need of some ESL lessons.
The poolside grill was just as good as the one on the Century. The burgers were fat and tasty and the fries were crisp. The Millennium also had a Fish and Chips station that was very good. The rest of the buffet line was pretty much what one expects.
The ice cream seemed to have gone down in quality from 2011.
The bar service was always good regardless where we were.
The overall entertainment on this cruise was poor.
MUSIC: This was an off season cruise with a high number of older passengers. The cruise director's staff did not play to their audience, which is a common problem I see in the cruise industry.
On the first day and again on the second day the nightclub band, which was all Filipino, opened with "Take the A Train" on one afternoon and Glenn Miller's first theme song, "Moonlight Serenade" on the second day. Older couples got a smile on their face and went to the dance floor, only to have the band ruin each song by going "Techno." The older passengers got a funny look on their face and some grimaced when the music went Techno.
Some of my most memorable cruise ship trips have been made in the piano bar. If you have a good people person behind the piano the area can be packed with folks.
Years later I remember Stacy Ward McAdams from an otherwise unmemorable New England/Canada NCL cruise. I will never forget a HAL transatlantic cruise with Jimmy Maddox in the piano bar. Maddox saved the day with his entertaining personality on what would have been an otherwise very long seven days at sea.
Last year Richard Rudin on the Century had the place packed with his high energy stick at the keyboard.
This year there was no piano bar. Earlier in 2012 Celebrity moved the piano out of Michael's put in a wide screen TV and renamed it Michael's Beer Pub. For some very odd reason they then put a flamingo guitarist in the room. You don't call something a "beer pub," insert a large screen TV with sports programming and then drop in a flamingo guitarist. The guitar guy belongs in a wine bar or a tapas restaurant.
Celebrity also went cheap on the strings. Instead of a string quartet, the ship had three young women playing strings. One problem is that a lot of classical string pieces were written for a quartet. The next problem was the trio's selection of music. Every time I sat down to listen to the strings it was like being at a funeral. I have been on other ships where the strings filled rooms. This was not the case on the Millenium. The difference was on other ships the string quartets would play some upbeat classical music.
The house stage band was allowed to play one 45-minute set of jazz over eight days. They were pretty good, but were cut short so Celebrity could put on a promotion selling Jack Daniel products. Money first and customers second!
Another example of this was when they oversold an onboard wine tasting event. Chaos resulted when they sold twice as many tickets as they had seats in the venue. It was another example of greed over customer relations.
On another sea night the daily schedule had a music trivia night booked at 8 o'clock on Deck-11 in the Cosmos Lounge. When people showed up to play they were kicked out. We were told the staff accidently booked a "Captain's Club" event at the same place and time and the "regular" folks were ignored with no attempt to relocate the music trivia event. It was just "sorry and leave now!"
On the first night the cruise director, who could pass as a twin brother for comedian/faux daredevil Super Dave Osborne (who is actually Albert Brooks' brother) told all the passengers how he hoped to see them during the cruise. He then did his best not to stop and talk to anyone. I was actually looking for the guy to give him something from a regular RCL "fly-in" entertainer who is a friend of mine. I could never find him even when I had his office staked out.
The fly-in comic was better than most you see on a cruise ship. He did an hour of material without a single swear world or off color remark. He did however make fun of the audience through the whole show. Sometimes I think it might be better to make fun of the staff and not your paying customers.
The four part harmony group that did three 45-minute shows a day were fine and seemed to be popular.
Ports of Call: This was marketed as a Wine Cruise. It started in Canada after the Millennium's last Alaskan cruise. There were two stops in British Columbia and a two-day stop in San Francisco followed by a seven hour stop in Monterey. My wife and I saved a lot of money by renting a car at each stop and avoided pricey ship excursions.
While the ship was in San Francisco we drove up California Highway 1 to Mendocino where we stayed overnight at a B&B. That night we had the best meal of our vacation off the ship. In Monterey it was another rental car first to Carmel and then to Big Sur.
When the ship got into SF it was late. The ship advertised Immigration in different lounges starting at 11am. They were two hours off and this left a lot of unhappy customers. Again the ship's staff took none of the blame and passed it on to the US government.
Debarkation: Leaving the ship was almost as bad as getting on it. For those of us with tight airline connections the fact the ship arrived in San Diego at 7am, there was no real hurry to do anything. Luggage collected the night before was not being off loaded until the same time the first wave of passengers were scheduled to leave. The passengers were delayed 10 minutes and given confusing instructions, first being told to disembark from Deck 3 and then being told Deck 1.
While our 2011 cruise on the Century wanted us to book another trip on Celebrity, this cruise on the Millennium has us looking for other options for our next cruise.
Again a rental car picked up not far from the wharf took us to Carmel and then the length of Big Sur.
We rented a car and drove north on California Hwy 1. We stayed at a wonderful B&B, the Glendeven, outside of Mendocino, Ca. Dinner was at the Inn on the River in Albion. It was the best meal of our vacation.
We rented a full size car at Avis for a weekend rate of $33 for the day. For two of us we beat the price of any excursion offered for more than 50%.