The November 2 Hawaii -- Australia trip was our 3rd aboard Millennium (our 9th sailing on Celebrity) and the first since the ship was "Solstice-ized". There were several noticeable changes aboard ship; some good, some bad. Qsine replaced the solarium/flower shop on deck 11. The food, service and space were similar to the Qsine aboard Eclipse. It was a good addition to dining choices, but we wished that Celebrity had added Tuscan Grill instead. The Martini Bar on deck 4 now occupies the space that used to be the game room (and I think it might have been the iLounge at one point in the past.
The lounge and hole in deck 5 that overlooked the Rendezvous dance floor on 4 was eliminated, and Cellarmasters and Bistro-on-Five took their place. Bistro-on-Five was a good add; not sure Cellarmasters was needed. Blu was added to deck 5, replacing part of the Metropolitan restaurant on the port side. Metropolitan kept deck 4 as 6:00 or 8:30 assigned seating, while the remaining tables on deck 5 were open seating. We always choose assigned seating and had a favorite table on deck 5 on Millennium (and her sister ships), so we were a bit disappointed that we had to switch to deck 4.
Michael's Club used to be our favorite hang-out for after-dinner drinks. It had a very comfortable, intimate atmosphere and excellent entertainment (usually a solo pianist). But with the renovation, Michael's Club seems to have been forgotten. It seemed that about half of the seating space was eliminated along with the piano, and any entertainment. If Celebrity wasn't going to use the space they should have done something different with it rather than let it go underutilized.
The cabin was largely the same as before the renovation -- the old TV was replaced by a flat screen and there seemed to be a new wall hanging/night light in the bathroom. Other than that, no noticeable changes.
As for the cruise itself, check-in at Honolulu was quick and easy. As for the first port of call, Hilo, I guess it was a good option for those wanting to see Kilauea, but we'd visited the volcano before, so we just visited the town. It was hardly worth the effort. Lahaina (Maui) would have been our choice for port call, instead.
Early into the trip, several people contracted the norovirus. The Millennium staff did a great job of quickly responding with measures to cut down on the chance of transmission. Lots of Purell (we wondered if they would run out before Sydney) and restricting access to "shared" items like salt and pepper shakers, buffet serving spoons, drinks dispensers, etc. seemed to halt the spread pretty well.
We liked visiting Pago Pago, American Samoa and Suvi Fiji except for the rain. We took tours in both ports to see traditional crafts and dancing. Maybe it was a bit hokey, but it was interesting.
We were a bit concerned about the eclipse on November 14 given the weather we'd encountered earlier in the trip. But when the day came, the eclipse was in full view. The captain and the astronomers aboard did a great job of getting us to a location directly under the center line with a totally clear sky. The eclipse itself was amazing. It is something to experience at least once in your life.
After the eclipse it was off to Tauranga New Zealand. The shore excursions didn't seem too interesting and did seem expensive so we stayed in port (in a suburb called Mt. Maunganui). It was a good choice. Mt. Maunganui is a dormant volcano an easy walk from the port. We took a leisurely walk around the entire volcano (only about 1 Â½ miles) then walked into the town. There was a main shopping street about 5 blocks long with the typical tourist shops and restaurants, including a nice little bookstore. However we didn't buy anything from the store -- this was our first exposure to book prices in New Zealand and we were shocked with the price levels vs. US prices. Near the end of the shopping district street on the other side of the road we did find a second-hand bookshop that had much more reasonable prices and we picked up a few books.
Auckland NZ was out next stop (an overnight stay). On the first day we took a tour that visited the Wintergarden (very nice flowers, many of which we had not seen before), the Auckland Museum (wish we had more time to explore it) and the Auckland Sky Tower (great views). The second day was a tour to Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life aquarium. It is a pretty nice aquarium with more penguins that you could count. We probably could have saved money, though, if we'd visited on our on versus booking through Celebrity.
Sydney was the final port of call. We arrived about noon and initially had to dock at the naval base about a mile from Circular Quay, then were repositioned after dinner to the cruise ship terminal next to Circular Quay. Too bad Celebrity couldn't have gotten us to Sydney in the early morning; it made for a rushed afternoon. We disembarked the next day and took a tour/shuttle to the airport.
Aboard the ship, meals were typical of past Millennium cruises except that the dinners got a bit repetitive (do you really need to serve Chicken Saltimbocca twice on a cruise?). We did notice that the buffet servers had a bit more trouble understanding English than on past Celebrity cruises -- something to work on Celebrity! In contrast our dinner waiter and assistant were just great -- kudos and public thanks to Vincy and Sorrel!
The selection of Beyond the Podium speakers/topics was a bit disappointing with one big exception. Prof. David Hughes, an astronomer from the University of Sheffield (UK) was just great. He gave lively presentations on astronomy, helping to add some depth to the upcoming eclipse experience.
The quality of the entertainment in the lounges varied quite a bit. The a cappella quartet ranked at the bottom of those we've heard on Celebrity ships. The dance band in the Rendezvous lounge was OK, but needs more variety in its playlist. It seemed like every night we heard the same songs (and if I ever hear their version of "Fernando's Hideaway again it will be too soon.) Charlie Butler, the guitar soloist in Cafe Al Bacio was a pleasure to listen to.
We were disappointed that Celebrity did not see fit to commemorate the eclipse cruise by giving passengers a t-shirt (or something) to remember the cruise (especially given the fares thy charged.) And even f Celebrity didn't want to spend the money to give away t-shirts, we were even more surprised that no one at Celebrity thought to even sell commemorative t-shirts. What a wasted revenue opportunity!
Another thought on a missed marketing opportunity. Why not offer passengers on this cruise a special discount to sail on Celebrity Eclipse in 2013 (using some theme like "you've just seen an eclipse, now experience one").
All in all, the cruise itself was about average for Celebrity. They didn't do anything to "wow" us and nothing major to disappoint us, except to downgrade Michael's Club. The most memorable thing will be the eclips