Buying the Cruise -- I found the process of booking a Celebrity cruise very confusing, but the cruise itself was great. For the booking, I knew I wanted an aft "FV" cabin. Celebrity markets these directly and through third parties such as Costco. However, a "GTY" FV offered by third parties is not likely an actual FV but it took me a long time reading CruiseCritic and other boards to figure that out as the word "guarantee" is misleading -- with a GTY no specific cabin number is identified and it is much more likely you will be "upgraded" to the much smaller "Concierge" class cabin, which actually lacks both a concierge and a concierge lounge, than receive the very popular FV cabin when you actually check in. Booking directly with Celebrity appeared to be my best option, however, their call center said "Revenue" had not "released" such a cabin for a party of four yet. I had to press that my party will be spending a considerable sum with Celebrity, but my understanding is Celebrity holds these cabins to see if they can get a party of five. Just as I was about to book a different cruise with Princess, Celebrity called me back and released the FV cabin 8166 and we booked on the spot. I was left however, with a lingering fear we might get bumped at check in by this process as nothing is legally guaranteed until you get your room keys, and it was confusing how to book these cabins largely due to Celebrity's opaque marketing up front. I'd recommend Celebrity alter this process to make it easier and more transparent to the consumer from beginning to end.
Vancouver -- Highly recommend Grouse Mountain -- actually this was a highlight of the entire trip. They pick you up at Canada Place and you can take a taxi or bus/water taxi back. Restaurant on top, cable car up, chair lift at 800 feet, aviary, bear, wolf and lumberjack show all not to be missed. Stayed at Fairmont Vancouver and although it's a little older and cheaper than waterfront they were very nice and dogs in lobby was a treat for the kids. Great location a couple of blocks up hill from Canada Place, and walking distance to Gastown District worth seeing too.
Embarkation -- The lines at Canada Place were short and the staff was relatively pleasant, but there is no need to purchase a "paper ticket" from Celebrity as it is not recognized by their staff at check in. If you don't have express check in print outs even if you input the data online, the paper ticket gets you nothing so save the $35 fee and just check in online and print that out before you arrive. We were greeted with a glass of champagne upon boarding which was a nice touch. As we chose "Select" dining, we walked directly to the matre d reservation center upon boarding the ship, only to find out all main dining "Select" dining reservations were taken (evidently reserved online) between 6:30 and 8:00pm. As we had our 8 and 10 year old boys with us, that was very troubling. We didn't even know you could book main dining room Select reservations in advance online or otherwise. Recommend Celebrity clarify the reservation process for main dining room Select dining.
Room -- Our room was ready at 1pm which was great. Our steward Antonio was extremely helpful and cheerful. The pull out couch beds however were a little older and very difficult to get to work. Therefore, within Â½ hour of check in I had three issues, 1) my paper ticket which Celebrity charged a fee for wasn't recognized at the dock, 2) most Select main dining room reservations were already taken and I was asking within minutes of early check in, and 3) the Solsticized Millennium pull out couches appeared to be at least 5-10 years old and retraction mechanisms were stuck. I went to the Guest Services desk and received a call the same day that all three issues were addressed, 1) the $35 paper ticket fee was refunded to my ship account, 2) the main dining room would give us reservations any time we wanted, and 3) Antonio fixed the couch pull out beds and would turn them out and put them away each day so we never had another issue with the old mechanism. Good result, but not a smooth embarkation for an expensive cruise. The room itself was nice -- the balcony is HUGE and provides a 270 degree field of vision. Also many of the aft balconies are larger than the port and starboard ones but only the corner FVs such as our 8166 have a metal overhang as opposed to canvass -- the metal provides much more wind and rain shelter and is a definite plus. The room had shower only, no tub, and it was fine although a small tub would be nice for a "family" cabin also. The room was clean and had ample storage. The televisions were small flat screens but the cables were frayed and pulled out of the socket -- Antonio had an electrician fix this on our first day also. The sliding partition in the room was very nice -- it's basically a frosted glass pocket door. Very nice to keep the kids close but give everyone some privacy too. The pillows were cheap foam, but we tipped Antonio to find us some better ones and he did that pretty quickly too -- you might want to bring your own pillows would be our recommendation anyhow. On the whole, an extraordinary cabin given its size and particularly its balcony which we really appreciated as the cruise went on.
Ship -- Millennium has been drydocked recently -- we noticed a lot of upgrades to carpet, paint, furniture -- very few flaws -- a really beautiful medium sized cruise ship. Big but not too big. We enjoyed the ship a lot.
Main Dining Room -- we thought the food was not salty and qualitatively better than our only other cruise on Celebrity's parent company Royal Caribbean. The service especially wine service was very spotty and late, but otherwise we liked the MDR.
Olympic -- we had a terrific meal here without the kids, then at the end of our meal, a waiter who was not our waiter started chatting with us, found out we had kids, and offered us a reservation at 7 on the last night of the cruise with reduced cover charge for the kids and encouraged us to bring them. There weren't a lot of kids on this cruise and Olympic is a pretty formal room, but we really appreciated this moment making us feel welcome.
Qsine -- we brought the kids and they enjoyed the iPad restaurant. Portions are generally huge and you can order as much as you like -- kids really liked the build your own slider hamburgers among other things. Again the staff made us feel very welcome bringing kids here -- not stuffy at all. Cover charge plus wine upcharges over package = > $200 bill but you are already in the cruise far more so we say go and don't sweat the small stuff.
Drink Packages -- the staff always let us "pay the difference" between adult premium beverages package limits and any over package priced drinks -- especially useful for wine. Further I was always able to get drinks for wife or kids by just having their seapass cards as well as mine for the staff to account for the charges. We may not have received full value for the kids premium no alcohol packages, but the adults did, and in all cases being able to grab large bottles of Evian or San Pellegrino for the day or evening back at the room was a plus. Probably netted out equal to the price but not a gouge and very convenient so I recommend at least the adults buy the package in advance.
Entertainment -- not what you will see on large/mega ships as I don't think they fly talent in, but enjoyable anyhow each night performances by the crew.
Fun Factory -- kids club was very useful even though our kids were never there more than an hour or two any given day and there are up charges for dinner, lunch, or late night. The staff was the best. Young and bright and good with children. Very few kids on board (I think around 70 on our particular cruise) but they let my 8 year old upgrade to the 9/10 year old group so our boys could do the activities together in the same room and have free rights on the ship (with our permission) so it was a place the kids did want to go to and not just a babysitting warehouse. Other ships may have much more to offer, but for the small amount we used the kids facilities it was adequate for our needs as the cruise was mostly time for us to be together rather than downtime away from our kids for us. Even without ship amenities like waterslides and movie theaters, the kids both said the cruise was "better than Disney" which is high praise coming from them indeed.
Ports -- we scheduled am and pm shore activities so really didn't have much free time in the port cities at all. There's an upside and a downside to this approach. We had lots of great experiences and were never bored, but we did spend a LOT of money and never really had time to see the port towns themselves. Shore excursions are generally very expensive due to lack of competition (some are even exclusive franchises involving Native American companies or otherwise) and a very short 20 week season. The reading we did encouraged shore excursions even so, just to enhance the experience overall. It would be a pleasant cruise without any shore excursions, so you have to decide what you want. Were we to do it over again, we might skip 2 or three shore excursions just to have more time unscheduled time ashore. That said, the whale watching in Hoonah, dog sledding at Juneau, and salmon fishing in Skagway were very memorable outings we enjoyed.
Hubbard Glacier -- we had a sunny day and having an aft cabin with large balcony was awesome. My son and I tried the public decks to see if the view was better and couldn't even approach a rail and he couldn't see over the crowds -- he immediately said "Dad, let's go back to the room" and we watched the once in a lifetime calving and sights unimpeded by the crowds. Best reason to spring for a balcony on this itinerary no doubt!
After Cruise -- we rented a car in Seward and drove to Denali -- a very long drive but doable in time for dinner if you keep things moving along. Appears to be only one car rental company in Seward (Hertz) and they charge a premium price of 165/day, but it's still competitive with bus and train options and you have control over your own pace. Next day we were up at dawn for the full day tour of Denali -- I wondered why the NPS forces you onto buses rather than povs, but after hearing about the grizzly attack earlier in the week and seeing wolves too, not to mention nearly 1000ft drops off the park road a few miles in, now no question. Narration and lunch at Katishna Lodge upgraded tour is worth the extra $$ in our opinion not for the food in the lunch which was only a chicken wrap and soup, but for the excellent narration. Highly recommend Denali Backcountry Adventure.