Gems of SE Asia- not brilliant;with striking inclusion flaws: Celebrity Millennium Cruise Review by hydrophile
Overall Member Rating
Gems of SE Asia- not brilliant;with striking inclusion flaws
January is in the middle of the monsoon (wet) season for Indonesia and to a lesser extent Singapore. For Penang and Phuket however, it is in the dry season. As most of the cruise was in the monsoon areas the weather wasn't the best with lots of overcast skies, and occasional downpours. Predictably, there was lovely sunny skies for Phuket and Penang. If you are doing this cruise, you'd be wise to take a plastic disposable raincover you can quickly put on if caught in a downpour in a port. The Millennium has an umbrella in the cabin - I assume for this purpose rather than a plumbing leak from the cabin above. There are no self-service laundry facilities, but they will do your laundry and dry-cleaning for you for a sliding scale charge depending on the item. Whilst they provide some cheap shampoo and hand lotion in the cabins, like other American cruise lines, there is no shower gel so again I had to bring my own.
I thought the on-shore Celebrity office abysmal when it came to obtaining pre-cruise information for planning our trip, and it put me off the Line before I even started the cruise. I had requested pre-cruise documentation e-mailed to me on three occasions and nothing ever happened on this front. Also, trying to get information about where the ship was to tender to so that pre-arranged drivers could meet you on shore was equally impossible. Basically they lied about Phuket, but my driver there was able to confirm himself that the ship would discharge its passengers to the pier on Patong Beach, not some harbour on the east of the Island many many miles away as Celebrity repeatedly claimed.
This was my fourth cruise (first with Celebrity). Even not considering the above, it was the most disappointing of the four by a long way. It wasn't terrible either to be honest. Maybe I am just getting too used to cruising, but I believe that it was the cruise rather than my new familiarity with cruising that led to the low ranking of this cruise. At the start of the cruise the atmosphere on board was somewhat jaded and lacked the sparkle and buzz I have experienced on previous cruises. I am used to enthusiastic staff, especially the entertainment/activity staff, passing through the ship saying hello and enquiring how passengers are enjoying their day, but this lot were rarely seen. The cruise director, Steve, was a good evening show presenter, to whom we passengers were encouraged to say "Hi, Steve" on sighting him, but I soon started to suspect that he had some Transylvanian connection as he was never seen during daylight hours, and bolted our balcony and cabin doors by night and festooned our bed in garlic just in case. On week 2 he suddenly started being visible by day. His deputy, apart from co-presenting a very dull (cf previous cruises) pre-recorded TV daily event show I can't say I ever saw off screen. I thought the activities in general were pretty unimaginative again compared with previous cruises, and there was limited choice of evening entertainment - just what was on in the main theatre, or dancing. I found the ship's company of singers and dancers very good, but personally find there is a limit to how much high-kicking and swirling about I can watch continuously, as it becomes unfairly (to the performers) boring (to me) after a while, and found the hour even watching it exhausting- I don't know how the dancers keep it up. The guest entertainers were as you might expect varyingly entertaining, in my opinion for what it is worth some very good and some dire. All the live music I found good- the all-female string trio, the solo singer-pianist, and the live dance band, along with ship's backing group of musicians. What I didn't like was the difficulty in finding a nice quiet spot on the ship, for whichever public area you chose apart from the library (which was unusually for ship libraries well-populated- maybe for this reason) rather too loud Muzak filled the air, making chatting easily difficult, and of course such activity is frowned upon in libraries. Of course, go for it in the Disco, that is what one expects there, and of all the entertainment staff the DJ "Roxstar" and Tiffany stood out as appearing to like their job, and Mrs H. and I did enjoy the latter's "Battle of the Sexes" quiz, silly though it was, as THE entertainment of the cruise (see, we aren't that difficult to please!). I missed not having the Movies under the Stars extra entertainment choice they have on Princess..
I had read in past reviews that the ship took on an Astronomer as a guest lecturer, and I hoped that this cruise would be similarly blessed (in fact the skies were in general too overcast to make this as interesting as it might have been) but the so called "Celebrity Life" programme of lectures was limited to a talk about ship's navigation which revealed arcane facts about which I could not even guess, such as "we are told to leave A and reach B in so many hours and so we set about plotting a course between these two ports", and one by an officer engineer on the ship's energy production and use. The ship had the foresight to record this latter admittedly informative lecture and screen it on one of the TV channels at night. Mrs H. found this incredibly useful as she suffers from insomnia and my snoring doesn't help. Five minutes maximum of hearing about "Gus Tour binds" and she was away. The ship promotes an acupuncture course of treatment for insomnia, at a significant cost, of course. Save your dollars and be mesmerised by the engineer instead! For masochists who like their toes trampled on there are ballroom dancing classes too, and for the alcoholics any number of various forms of alcohol appreciation "seminars" at various inflated costs so you can bore your non-oenophilic friends at dinner parties, and Apple tutorials at cost again for those with novice computer skills.
The port lecturer was an amiable Greek chap, who unfortunately provided very little practical advice for the passenger intent on tackling the ports of call independently (local transportation, costs, local customs, regional dining specialties and where to get them, local shopping specialty items, times to get to places etc.) and just consisted of a slide show of places to see many of which were irrelevant as inaccessible in the time available. I wondered if he was asked to double up as the ship's comedian in the absence of a professional entertainer for the first half of the cruise, and whilst he was keen to advise us about his various family members and their somatotypes, he didn't provide any of the information I normally get from these port lectures. He gave a talk on regional politico-economics at the end of the cruise which was better, but limited by time. He was too obvious in advising to only tour with a ship's tour.
Dining is a tricky one for me to review. I am no gourmand, a man of simple tastes, and Mrs H shares my tastes. I found the food perfectly acceptable, although I didn't enjoy it quite as much as on previous cruises I have to say, but it was fine nevertheless. We had Select Dining and moved about a bit, and I was surprised at the number of negative remarks about the main dining room cuisine by both convincing gourmands, and would-be experts. I don't know what these people expect. Michelin star meals three times a day for the relatively modest price per day of cabin and food? How on earth did they get to Singapore intact having to survive on airline food? Personally, I think it unreasonable. I would have liked a little more variety - previous cruises have had themed nights- Indian, Oriental, Mexican, Italian etc, whereas the cuisine tended to be somewhat bland- but still cooked and presented and served well enough for me anyway. As a Brit, I also looked forward to the complimentary waited afternoon tea in the main dining room. The Millennium does one but at $19/head without pseudo-Champagne (an American Sparkling Wine actually) or $25/head with a glass of said libation which is admittedly cheap compared to the Ritz/Fortnum and Mason's/Claridges etc. but other cruise lines throw it in as part of the food package. Everyone we spoke to raved about Qsine; but I fear the experience would have been wasted on me. Less glowing reports about the Olympic restaurant fare. The Oceanview Buffet is a place to avoid where possible- I regret it's a great place to observe the ugly side of humanity when it comes to food and manners. Apart from changes in the daily roast, the buffet choices although wide seem to be virtually identical day to day (on the very few days I ventured there). I loved the Cafe Al Bacio, and indeed it was fantastic- a little peaceful oasis to enjoy a morning cuppa and cake or two;were it not for the free cakes, it would be rather exorbitant though (at $4.60 for a small pot of tea), and the Muzak there isn't quite so loud.
The ship appeared clean and tidy throughout, and generally the service was very good, both in restaurants and my room stewards were great. We gave them an extra incentive every day which may have helped, but I think they would have been good anyway.
I don't like the fact that this ship has a separate class with a separate restaurant verboten to other guests, and this also lessens my desire to cruise on this ship again. On Day 1 having woken very early as a result of jet-lag, I had a very early breakfast in the main dining room and was directed to floor 5 from floor 4 (which was then closed) where I got my port and starboard sides mixed up and unbeknown to me presented myself at this exclusive restaurant, Blu, where I was seated, water poured and an order taken when I was then asked which room I occupied. They, having realised that I was scum, escorted me in view of the few other diners via the staff (undecorated) areas to the commoners dining room to have my (identical) breakfast there. It was highly embarrassing to me, and the only good thing was that Mrs H. was still in the cabin, not feeling like breakfast. I don't think it was handled well.
However, my main beef about this cruise was the tendering at our ports of call. We tendered at four of the seven ports. It is not as though this is a new experience for me, and tendering has taken place in two of my three previous cruises. I do not however remember it being a problem at any of these ports and passengers appeared to be disembarked very efficiently. For some reason, the Millennium could not manage the tendering operation efficiently anywhere, with long waits for people not booked on Millennium's organised tours, and in the case of Bali.... well, see below. If our experience is anything to go by, if you plan to go on this cruise mainly because of the ports of call, and plan to do independent tours, then either don't be too ambitious, as you won't nearly have the time on shore that you think, or choose an alternative Cruise line. One of the passengers even composed his own ditty about the rubbish tendering and sang it at a rare Karaoke event on the final cruise night. I only wish I'd caught this guy before he left and copied down the words - It was possibly the best entertainment of the cruise!
The Ports of Call:
I write all this mainly for the benefit of future independent passengers, and I hope I answer some questions I couldn't get answers to before the sailing. I wouldn't rely too precisely on the prices quoted. Inflation you know.....
My pre-cruise research highlighted the threat of insect-borne diseases at many of the ports of call. Although I did use repellant, and despite it being the wet season, I can't say I was aware of any mosquitoes and don't think I got bitten by anything anywhere.
Arriving at Changi airport is wonderful. The immigration is efficient, and there is little delay in being reunited with your bags. Chewing gum is a banned import, along of course with illegal drugs and counterfeit items and pornography, and there is no duty free allowance on tobacco products, although I couldn't see customs taking an interest in any one of hundreds exiting on our flight; but just to make you aware. There are usually long queues for taxis, but this too is managed very efficiently, and the line moves quickly.
We stayed at the Changi Airport Crowne Plaza Hotel, which after a long flight from the UK, customarily delayed as it emanated from Heathrow, was just so convenient. A short hop on the Skytrain to Terminal 3 and around the corner from the Skytrain stop is the hotel link. We were in our room within 25 mins of the plane arrival at its gate. We have been to Singapore many times previously, but its development each time amazes me. This time we went to The Changi WW2 memorial Museum and Chapel which I found very interesting, the Botanical Gardens and Orchid gardens, which Mrs H. found interesting, and which, I must admit was beautifully done, made our customary visit to the Mustafa Department Store in Little India, even though we weren't looking for anything in particular, the Bugis Street Market ditto, a local Sheng Siong supermarket (Bedok, relatively convenient by MRT to our hotel in our case) to buy a few things for the cruise (a six pack of beer for your room costs about $S 12.00 (Â£6.00); a six pack of Coke $S 4.50 (Â£2.25)- you can refrigerate these if you ask you cabin steward to remove all the ship's offerings from the fridge as we always do. You can get your two bottles of wine they allow you to bring on here too if you are so inclined but it is not particularly cheap in Singapore, although of course much cheaper than the ship like vs like., and dinner at one of the Seafood Restaurants at the East Coast Seafood Centre. We also decided to revisit the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel which we very much enjoyed on a previous cruise, and which I have previously recommended on a review of that cruise (Diamond Princess Oct 2011). I wouldn't any more. They have obviously wised up to my suggestion there, and now won't let non-hotel guests go to the Infinity pool bar area with its panoramic views, but instead herd you into an enclosed bar on that floor with impossibly loud music, limited seating and very expensive drinks (e.g $S 16 for my half pint bottle of beer). Although one can see views of Singapore from the balconies, it is not the same and far less relaxing.
We love Singapore though. It is spotlessly clean, with honest taxi drivers, whose fares are very reasonable by Western standards (depending on the time of day taxi fares to the ship from the airport will cost you from $S 28-$S 35 (Â£14-Â£17.50) for an appx 20 minute almost entirely motorway journey). Public transport is safe , air conditioned and again spotlessly clean and very cheap ($S 2.40 = Â£1.20 from the Airport to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre or town), but a bit inconvenient (and relatively slow) if you are schlepping lots of luggage. It is certainly easily done and feasible were the ship using the old Harbourfront Cruise Terminal if you're reasonably fit, but the new Marina Bay Cruise Terminal which Celebrity uses is currently quite a distance from the nearest MRT station (Marina Bay) from which you need to catch a bus (no 402) to the Cruise Terminal some 3 km away, and this bus only comes once every 25 minutes during the day (slightly more often in the morning rush hours) and waiting a long time in Singapore's humidity can be mighty unpleasant.
We chose to avoid the rush to board and the queues planning instead to board at 8 pm. Indeed there were no queues at all, and, however, at that time no usual welcome glass of cheap fizz/grand welcome on board, but which I can't say I missed terribly. Check-in was quick and efficient, so much so that our bags took some time to appear outside our room, which was fine barring a cracked floor tile in the bathroom, which needed covering with a bath mat to prevent an inadvertent laceration to one's bare foot. Everything else worked and our cabin stewards were superb. The following day we had planned to do a few things as the ship was not due to sail until 3 pm. However we were advised that all passengers were to return at 12 midday, so just wandered about Chinatown and then the undergound malls linking Town Hall to the Esplanade area, including the modern Suntec mall. We actually got back at 12.30 but weren't the only ones. It transpires that the ship was putting on its emergency drill for passengers at 2; hence the early embarkation.
I have attended all of these pre-cruise emergency drills, but this Celebrity one was special. You didn't bring your life jacket with you, it was conducted in three languages (English, Spanish and German- why these three I am not entirely sure) which everyone had to sit through and to paraphrase Churchill: never in the field of passenger cruising was so little imparted to so many for so long.
LOMBOK (or "Lembos" as the captain worryingly referred to it (maybe homesick for his native Greece) on
one of his 10 am daily reports before someone else took the daily reporting over)
Land ahoy! After two sea days keen to get off. I had booked a driver and had planned a scenic tour to the south of Lombok. We were due to set anchor at 0700 and leave at 1700, but I hadn't counted on the tendering process.
Indonesia charges $US 25.00 per person for a visa on arrival (which the ship, having kept your passport on embarkation, does for you and charges to your on-board account. You don't take your passport on shore for this or any of the ports until final disembarkation at Singapore). It is good for the three Indonesian ports the ship takes you to on this cruise whether or not you leave the ship. If you haven't booked a ship's tour you could present yourself at Rendez-Vous Lounge on Deck 4 from 0630 to collect a tender ticket which I did. I arrived at said time to find a significant number of people already forming a queue, and by the time I collected our tickets we were allocated tender group 15. As each ship's tender can takes about 100 people, each tender group comprises about 20 tickets, and there were fewer than 50 people in front of me in line, I smelt a rat. I didn't realise that you don't need to appear in person, and someone else could pick your ticket up for you and that you don't need to be ready to disembark when you get your tickets. In addition ship's excursions get priority++++ over the independents. What happened was that the first few tenders took independents until the ship had given their cattle their numbered stickers, and then for a good hour these were ferried exclusively to shore, with independents like us frustratingly waiting until 8.30 when they finally allowed our number out. People with tender numbers earlier than ours who popped into their lounge later after a leisurely breakfast could just proceed down to join the Shore excursion tenders. So get an insomniac member of your party to get there very early, ask for tickets to supply all of your party, or while you at it why not ask for 2000 and then YOU can control who leaves the ship and when. What a nonsense of a system! In the most unlikely event that I would do this cruise again, I would wake up at 5.00 am for this Lombok tender to ensure I was first in line, take 20 tickets which would hopefully be tender group 1 and use the superfluous ones for the tendering on the other days as there is no distinguishing mark/colour on the tickets differentiating days/ports.
Anyway Mrs H. and I reached Lombok after the 15-20 minute tender ride at 0850 and found our guide. The others of our party had tender tickets number 24, having woken later. I assumed that they would be off pretty soon afterwards however, but then realised we were let off during a brief window after which batch after batch of numbered badge cattle were landed by tender after tender, and our group didn't get off until 11. Consequently our touring time was greatly curtailed. Our driver and guide was excellent. Spoke excellent English, great driver in his air conditioned van holding 6 passengers and himself. Booked him 2 weeks before the cruise despite his being recommended in in the "Rough Guide to Bali & Lombok" which I found surprising (that he was still available). I further recommend him as being decent and honest. His name is Made Minggir and you can contact him by e-mail: email@example.com. We only managed half his original recommended tour. The cost for the day was $US 65 for his services + fuel (NOT per person), with extras for attraction fees (visiting a Sasak village) and lunch. Pearls are farmed and collected in Lombok, so it's a good place to get some if that is your thing. The island is pretty and green, with lots of rice fields and nice beaches. We had planned to reach waterfalls at the foothills of the central volcano, but circumstances were against us. They say that in the near future tourists will come here instead of neighbouring Bali, but it has a lot of developing to do yet, and frankly I wouldn't rate this much as a one day port call.
You arrive to a pier without a terminal building at Lembar, a good way south of the main city Mataram. They had a welcoming guard of gamelan musicians who strike up each time a tender arrives and disgorges its cargo of valuable tourists. You proceed between this guard of honour into a wired enclosure containing Celebrity Tour buses and touts who have paid the necessary bribe to get to this prime position and first bite at the victims. Beyond the wired gate are loads and loads and loads of hopeful tour guides who haven't paid, and their unmarked vans, some registered, insured and genuine; others not.; some with excellent English and others not. Made, our guide, certainly is registered, insured and genuine and speaks (and e-mails) with excellent English as I have said. At either side of the Gamelan musicians before the wired enclosure are about 20 plastic chairs under a tarpaulin with a hand written sign "waiting area". Here we waited 2 hours for the rest of our tour group to emerge, when Celebrity finally let them go. They advised that they were held in the Rendez-vous all this time and fed excuse after excuse by the Celebrity minders, including that the authorities weren't letting people off which from my perspective of seeing a regular stream of tenders disembarking "stickered" passengers was patently mendacious. The gamelan music with its 5 note octave is interesting the first time you hear it, grates after the third and by the seventh you have to restrain yourself from throwing the instruments and the musicians into the sea.
When we returned, the heavens opened. Most tours, ship's and independent were ending about then, and there was an understandable long queue for tenders back to the ship. the heavy rain turned the caged enclosure into a bit of a quagmire, but the line moved quickly (it's amazing what the ship can do when it wants to leave on time!) The "waiting area" was a bit of a joke under the circumstances. There were a few stallholders in the area selling sarongs at $US 5 each and other souvenirs, and others walking along the line selling umbrellas.
Tendering time 15 minutes. No Wi-fi at "port".
We arrived here morning after Lombok. This is a difficult day to organise in advance as an independent unless you want to get the services of a tour company who won't be interested in just organising a walkabout on the island to see Komodo dragons which is all we wanted. The official Komodo National Park web site looks smart but is totally useless to access anything from. You can involve tour companies who are more interested in augmenting the trek with snorkelling/diving, visiting a beach whose sand is encrusted with pink coral fragments, providing a tropical lunch, visiting the island village from which most of the National Park Guides emanate to increase their profits, and indeed there were well organised folk on the Cruise Critic Roll Call who did just that. Celebrity offers a similar tour of course at a much higher price. They also offer the basic treks of Komodo Island with a guide for $65 which is what we wanted to do, or rather we just wanted to see a few dragons in their natural habitat, so as to say we'd been there; done that as info I had gleaned suggested that the island scenery was pretty boring with scrubland, and the trek was about 3km, and the conditions (heat and humidity) unpleasant. The Greek port lecturer, Mr Papavassilou, was a good boy and spelled out the dangers of the dragons and how foolhardy it would be not to go on a ship excursion to this place. Realising the rip-off that these are, I decided to be foolhardy. Doing a risk assessment I declined the opportunity of doing a cruise critic organised excursion also, even though it sounded amazing value. The combination of the heat, risk of heavy rain, dubious scenery, questionably safe food [Indonesia], questionably safe boat [Indonesia], known piracy in the area vs the benefits -something I could do more safely elsewhere, apart from seeing the lizards, put me off, although the people who went on this trip apparently enjoyed it.
Celebrity further encouraged you to book one of their dragon tours by advising that there would be a $US25 cash fee to enter the park (i.e. setting foot on shore off the tender) if you were touring independently but this fee was included in the ship's tours. My missus decided to stay on board and read poolside, capitalising on the absence of the resident pool lounger hoggers, who might well have been on shore organising a protection racket with the Chief Dragon. I figured that should I venture onto a tender early in the day there my be no guide available to take me on a dragon hunt in view of the numbers going on ship and Cruise Critic organised excursions. I thus ventured out at 1.45 pm on a tender carrying 4 other passengers. Arriving at Komodo pier (no gamelan group here fortunately) there were loads of tourists wandering about the shore, mainly from the Minerva, another smaller cruise ship that followed us about for the first few ports, and whose clients seemed to be predominantly very young adults. No-one official about demanding this $25 fee though, so I had a bit of a wander, and maybe 50 yards to the left along a track from the pier came across a wall against which were leaning many, many guides, each bearing a fashioned forked long branch. I approach...
Me: "Selamat. How much show me dragon?"
Guide stepping forward in khaki uniform bearing official badge "$10, boss"
Me ( Thinking: Not worth the saliva to bargain at this price) "OK"
So he shows me first a tiny baby dragon sleeping on a rock; explains that they are vaguely crepuscular, tending to sleep for 3 hours after morning activity, but more active in the wet season. He then takes me around a few huts where the guides are served their lunch, and then shows me some deer grazing and walking nonchalantly past them two rather large dragons who appeared uninterested in attacking them and demonstrating their famed ferocity. He takes my camera and gets some nice shots of me looking suitably petrified a mere few feet from one of said beasts. I thank him, pay him off, mission accomplished, am escorted back to pier via a collection of stalls with vendors selling postcards, sarongs and wooden carvings of Dragons in various sizes, some with magnets for use as fridge magnets, and some of these magnets actually polarised and working! Tender back to the ship, and back on board having a burger and fries all within 45 minutes of setting off.
The pictures I had seen on Komodo island pre-cruise, showed the landscape to be pretty unimpressive. This must have been in the dry season, because even from the ship in this monsoon season it looks very green indeed, interesting and hilly, so it may have been worth venturing in a bit from the coast, but here it was cool and surprisingly pleasant, and I'm happy enough just seeing the dragons in their natural environment.
Tendering time = 5-10 minutes to shore. Wi-fi? You must be joking!
Third Indonesian port. Again we needed to be tendered to land. Again it was a woeful display.
We arrived at 1 pm and the ship stayed overnight with a 5 pm departure the following day. Celebrity had organised "help" in the form of large Indonesian vessels to take passengers to shore from the anchorage in Benoa Bali harbour. Once again independent travellers were mustered in the Rendez-Vous lounge and collected tender group tickets. We waited and waited, presumably while ship's organised tours were off-loaded and at 2.30 pm finally were invited to the midship boarding area. Here we were held while sailors desperately tried to secure this boat to the ship's pontoon/landing platform and using a gangway which was flying off all ways with the motion of the sea. We continued to wait and wait in rather a large crowd in the deck which was getting rather hot. Some elderly passengers near us, noticing that getting onto this boat was not going to be easy, abandoned their decision to visit Bali. Meanwhile passengers on tender groups beyond ours were being invited to tender in the fore area of the ship where the ship's own tenders were ferrying people back and forth. Our number here was 23. When I could hear group 53 being called, I had had enough of the waiting and the missus and I joined this group at the forward gangway. Here the ship's tender, having been designed to slot against the landing stage, bobbed in unison with the latter and entering the tender was a doddle. We reached shore at 3.30 pm. Heaven knows what happened to the remainder of those who patiently waited midships.
I had intended to see the main tourist strip on Kuta and then proceed to see the Monkey Kechak dance at Uluwatu temple on the southwest point of Bali. With a few other tourists we shared a van for $US20 for the ride into Kuta, which took forever- terrible traffic, and after a while there hired a cab for $US30 to take us down to Uluwatu, wait for us and take us back to the ship with a stop for dinner en route.
I made an error of judgement. By the time we got to Uluwatu for the 6 pm performance it was sold out (due mainly to the others from the Cruise ship -independent and ship's organised tours) so be warned re this. If you want to see it you may have to book a tour beforehand. The sunset was great here though. The monkeys here are something else. Our taxi driver warned us to take off our spectacles and jewellery, and although we weren't bothered by any of the monkeys there were reports on the ship of a couple of cruisers who had their prescription spectacles stolen and destroyed by these protected vandals. We left before the Monkey dance finished, and proceeded to a seafood touristy restaurant on north Jimbaran Beach (the Aroma Restaurant) with Balinese dancing, which was overpriced for what it as, but as an experience nice enough, though unless you have a hankering for a dinner on the beach I wouldn't recommend it.
We then returned to the ship and got to the pier building (yes, a building- with free wi-fi even!!!) at 9.20 pm. We were told that from 9.45 pm only one tender per hour would go to and from shore and as it turns out possibly fortunately did not make the passenger cut off for the tender that left at about 9.20 pm. Apparently they had a horrendous crossing on an Indonesian vessel, which started leaking water half way through the crossing, and stopped short of the Millennium for some 15 minutes for reasons unclear, inducing understandable panic in the passengers. As for us, we waited and waited in the heat on the pier where a long line of people started forming. No water, no cooling towels. Platitudes and lies from the Celebrity staff at the pier. "a big tender is just coming now to take all of you" "Just be patient it's coming now..." Nothing doing. A tender dropped off a troupe of Balinese dancers and musicians with their instruments from the Millennium and disappeared into the darkness of that hot and still night. The ocean looked as flat as a pancake but still no tender. Everyone was getting both literally and metaphorically hot under the collar. Finally at near enough 2245 a tender appeared, but not the large one promised. This was quite a small non-ship vessel again (where were the ship's tenders?) which proceeded to be loaded and then overloaded with passengers standing in central aisle. One Australian passenger worried by oft-reported capsizing of overloaded Indonesian ferries insisted that these people be taken off the ship. Instead they were made to climb onto the roof of the boat via an external ladder.
It was not well executed, but we finally got back to the ship where the talk everywhere was of the shocking tendering.
The next day, Celebrity had partially learnt. Their tenders were operating, although other Indonesian vessels were still being employed. I chose the Celebrity tenders, and getting on and off was easy. We had booked a day trip in advance to Ubud and surrounding countryside. We employed the services of I Wayan Kamar (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) who was great, spoke good English, and is honest and reliable. He charged us $US 50 for the day and can take 6 passengers in his air-conditioned van (but only had to put up with the two of us). Entrance fees and lunch are extra. He took us to a holy water temple, where preparations were being made for offerings for a festival, and at our request, a place to purchase Batiks, a Balinese art gallery, and a silverware showroom. We also were taken to the rice terraces at Tegalalang, and the Ubud Monkey Forest. The monkeys here are gentle and quite different from their dysfunctional relatives at Uluwatu. It costs $2 to enter, and you can buy some bananas to feed the monkeys from sellers near the entrance. You hold your outstretched hand bearing a banana, and a monkey will climb on you and gently relieve you of the banana, peeling and eating it. The forest is lush and there is a temple in the middle of it. Unfortunately it absolutely pelted down with rain while we were there and we made a hasty run back to where I Wayan was waiting for us. Fortunately he anticipated the rain and gave us umbrellas prophylactically before we set off. He also took us to an Orchid garden on the way back to the ship, but my highlight was a visit to a coffee plantation in Bali Pulina, Tegallalang, where they make Luwak coffee. You first pass through a forest trail with labelled specimen spice and tropical fruit plants-e.g nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, pineapples, passionfruit, mangoes, banana, papaya, cocoa, tobacco and of course coffee. The Luwak coffee is made by feeding Civet cats the coffee fruit, and the contained undigested beans are then collected in the droppings, washed, roasted and ground. The coffee is said to have a heightened flavour cf ordinary coffee, and for IR 5000 ($US 5) you can sample it along with free cups of lemon tea, ginger tea, ginger coffee, ginseng coffee, chocolate coffee, vanilla coffee and ordinary balinese coffee and local cocoa, all brought out on a long tray; the idea being that you then buy some at the shop on the way out, along with organic spices they also sell, although there is no hard sell here. We had lunch at a restaurant overlooking - what else- rice fields in the area about Ubud, and where the specialty is crispy duck. It was OK, but I prefer the Peking variety, as served both in Beijing and also our local Chinese Takeaway, with the pancakes, plum sauce, spring onions and cucumber.
We returned to the pier, and as the ship was keen to set sail on time, no sooner had a tender left than another pulled up - ship's tenders this time!
This is the gateway to Kuala Lumpur, an hour's taxi drive away. The ship actually docks here. There ain't much to see locally at Klang, and as Mrs H. had a shopping list courtesy of our children, and we had earmarked KL as the place to go shopping for the items we needed, we took a cab to KL. There is a cartel operating at the terminal and to get a cab, standard or van size, you need to queue to get a ticket depending on what you want and give it to the guy at the desk. We got off pretty promptly but there was already quite a queue to get a taxi. The rates are for a standard taxi $US 85 for a return trip to a named point in KL, or $US 100 for an included tour of KL. We found a few other interested passengers and took a van expecting it to be more cost-efficient, but it didn't save much: $US 120 and $US 160 respectively for the six of us. We opted for the latter. You take your voucher to the cab rank, and you are pointed to your allocated vehicle. Civilised, but slow.
Our taxi driver by chance was very good, named Sulaiman Sumali. You might be able to book him in advance, and save the hassle of queuing for a voucher. It may even be cheaper this way. His number is +60 12 357 5314.
The trip each way was fine, although it started to rain on the return journey. He took us to all the local places of interest where we could stop for photos, and let us get out at the Twin Petronas Towers and the adjacent mall where we spent half an hour. As instructed he then let us off at the central market, near Petaling Street. Central Market itself is an interesting shopping experience, with a good food court upstairs. Petaling Street has loads of watches and leather good shops. They do sell fake handbags here, and the quality of some, especially those hidden from the view from the street (usually in an unmarked storeroom in a nearby building) can be very good indeed. Be aware though, that if you buy these brazen fakes, you risk having them seized either on your return to Singapore or back in your own country.
Some passengers took sightseeing in KL seriously and went on to the Batu caves- a mixed temple and limestone caves with more pesky monkeys and lots of steps. We're boring and we passed.
I was last in KL in 1993 and can't believe how much more modern it has become in the last 20 years. Remarkable.
I couldn't get free Wi-fi at this port.
Another port where the ship thankfully docked allowing for an easy disembarkation. It is one of these great ports allowing you to walk straight into town. We decided to do Penang on our own and were apprised of a free hop-on, hop-off bus with a stop near the terminal. Unfortunately, they don't run very often, so don't count on them. We used taxis to get us about, but they are all thieves here. Not one would use his meter despite a note on the outside of the taxi advising that the taxi was metered and no haggling was to be done. This obviously doesn't apply to Cruise ship passengers and each cab named a fixed rate for what sometimes seemed a very short distance. The highlight was trying some of the street food. At about 11 when it was getting a bit hot we tried some Chendul from a street trader just off Jalan Penang for 2 ringgit (about 40 pence). It looks disgusting, with green noodles and Mung beans being added to this milky fluid, but is delicious and just hits the spot. Seems to be a local favourite judging by the queues. Had Laksa at another nearby trader later in the day which was also great.
I couldn't get free Wi-fi at the terminal of this port.
Another port requiring tendering. Like Penang, we toured here in the local dry season, and the weather was nice. I had organised a tour for 7 people with a tour company, Easy Day Thailand (www.EasyDayThailand.com) who found out before I could thanks to perhaps intentional duplicity of Celebrity, that we would be tendering to the pier at Patong Beach. I had complained about the slow tendering at Lombok curtailing my enjoyment at this port and in compensation was offered priority tendering at Phuket. Fat lot of good it did as I waited and waited with the familiar excuses as group after group of Celebrity stickered excursion passengers were off-loaded. I got on shore at 9.15 am (the ship started tendering at 8 am).
I found our guide and driver. The tour cost 14,000 Bhat (Â£280 = Â£40 each). We drove in a luxury van (plenty of leg room, leather seats) to the Pha Nga National park where at water's edge we boarded a motorised longboat for the journey to "James Bond" Island as featured in "Man with the Golden Gun" (I think). Walked around here, and then rejoined the longboat to a floating jetty where we transferred to some Kayaks. These took 2 people/kayak, and cost $10 per kayak. They take you into some caves, and paddle about. It is refreshing in the heat. The kayakers brazenly request a tip before they paddle you back to the pontoon. We then returned to our van and had a fantastic lunch at a restaurant overlooking the water's edge. Rice, Grilled spicy Fish, crab, chicken cashew curry, prawn soup and another prawn based dish with fresh pineapple to finish off. We then went Elephant Riding, and ended the day at Patong for shopping (lots of fake designer stuff and DVDs here too) for 2 hours before being taken back to the pier to get a tender back to the ship. For this and the previous two ports the ship had learnt how to look after us, and we were given cool drinks and refreshing cool towels to use before joining the tender, and staff were on hand to welcome us back.
There is no free wi-fi on the pier. Tendering time is appx 15 minutes.
Disembarkation was smooth and well organised. You have to clear customs and immigration with your returned passport. Again no-one had their bags searched that I could see, although all are X-rayed. Taxis are available. You queue for these but they come regularly. You can check bags in for delivery to the airport if you are departing with certain Terminal 2 Airlines somewhere in the building and they have a left luggage facility there but compared to the airport if you need your luggage left for many hours as we did, it becomes rather expensive. BA goes from terminal 1, so we couldn't use the check-in service, and in any event wanted to spend the day in Singapore which meant wearing shorts and T-shirts. With it snowing in London, we opted instead to taxi to the airport, leave our luggage in the left baggage depot in Terminal 1 Basement 2 level, and then go back into town., returning to check-in later, having retrieved our baggage and changed into appropriate winter wear for the flight.
Phew! Hope this long novel helps someone. I also hope that Celebrity either sorts out their tendering or amends its cruise to ports it can cope with.
Would I travel with Celebrity again? I am too much of a scientist to know that one event proves nothing, and that this poor cruise may have been an atypically bad one. Unfortunately I haven't the money to invest in doing a proper trial and going on lots of Celebrity cruises to find out, so gut instinct takes over and if there were two similar cruises in the future offered by Celebrity and another line, I would probably choose the other line. Less
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