I have not previously written a review on Cruise Critic. I am doing one now to share the wonderful experience we had on the Celebrity Millennium Southeast Asia Cruise of January 20, 2013 especially in light of the fact that it was so different from the experience of several who have reviewed the Millennium's new itinerary.
We have been on dozens of cruises--including multiple voyages on Celebrity, Holland America and Princess, as well as, recently, Oceania and Cunard. So we speak from some experience.
I'll focus on the cruise experience and not the ports--we are not big users of cruise line shore excursions, so port visits for us are pretty much what we choose to make of them.
Crew and Service
The crew and the service level were as good or better than any we have experienced. All staff had a smile and a greeting, whether in the restaurant, the corridors or on the way to our cabin. Our cabin was spotless, made up promptly each day, and any request we had was met within minutes. Our one experience with room service was a breakfast that was delivered right on time, with a phone call a few minutes ahead of time to confirm and alert us.
As we were Select Dining, we didn't have a regular waiter. Having eaten 13 of our dinners in the Metropolitan dining room, we can say that we never had a negative interaction with a server--no matter how crowded the dining room, they were always pleasant and accommodating. On one very busy night, my wife ordered dark meat chicken in her chicken dish. Turns out the waiter mis-heard and brought white meat. When we brought this to his attention, he graciously went back and within minutes returned with a dish of all dark meat. Yes, there was one dinner of the 14 nights where the wait was long, but hey, we were cruising, not catching a train!
And a shout out to the lovely hostess who seated Select Dining guests each evening. While a better system could have made her job easier, she was always smiling and did a great job of pairing us with other English-speaking guests.
One small nit: What ever happened to being greeted on embarkation? While we got our welcome cocktail, it would have been nice if someone had said "Welcome Aboard" and offered to direct us to our cabin.
The ship was beautiful and well maintained. While not as striking or dramatic as the Solstice, there was a large choice of venues The crew was constantly cleaning--public spaces were well maintained, public restrooms were spotless, and handrails were always being sanitized.
One serious issue for us is that there were too many outside areas where smoking was permitted--smoke would enter through doorways and be noticeable in elevator foyers. It also limited the poolside space that we non-smokers could enjoy.
Another issue is the price of the internet; there is no reason to charge such outrageous prices for the internet especially given the frequently slow response time. We did appreciate the provision of free internet so that we could re-do our shore arrangements when the itinerary changed.
And a small quibble: it was difficult to find a spot to play Scrabble or cards. It seemed that the public rooms were always being reserved for some activity or other.
We are foodies and we know and enjoy quality food and preparation. We ate almost all our dinners in the Metropolitan Restaurant and found that the food was of high quality, generally well presented. Portions were uneven in size--appetizers tended to be small, main dishes large--the osso bucco was enormous, and delicious. And small portions really aren't a problem when you can order as many of anything as you wish--and it is brought to you with a smile and a "my pleasure."
We ate in Qsine one night. We have experience with high-end nouvelle restaurants, for example, WD-50 in New York and Alinea in Chicago. We would have to say that the experience in Qsine was up there--maybe the food was not as imaginative, but the presentation, taste combinations and service were stimulating and outstanding. We were hesitant to spend an extra 80 dollars when the food was so good in the Metropolitan, but we were glad we did. We didn't try the Olympic, again because the food was so good in the Metropolitan and it didn't look to be a significant step up.
Our experience in the Oceanview buffet was excellent for breakfast, not so great for lunch. Choices for breakfast were superb--the eggs benedict bar was wonderful, and followed by a chocolate chip pancake and a blintz--heaven! Lunch, though, was another story. There were many similar Asian entrees each day. While adequate, the chafing dishes were filled with stuff that was just not imaginative or even that attractive, and in some cases (enchiladas), inedible. The carved meats were generally good and burgers out on the pool deck were great, however. We have experienced many buffets at sea, but the Millennium was the easiest experience we ever had in finding a clean table and not waiting in line for food.
We found it much easier than on most cruises we've been on to find deck chairs out by the pool. It would have been easier, though, if Millennium had a policy of moving belongings from deck chairs after an idle hour. There was no attempt to do that and as a result, people took advantage of the laxity. Kudos, too for the quantity of pool towels. Always available in multiple locations, there was always an adequate supply nearby--a problem in our experience on other ships. With four hot tubs outside and two in the solarium, this was the least crowded hot tub experience we've had.
This was the second time Millennium did this itinerary. Having read the critiques of the first cruise, I can sympathize with those who had to wait for a long time or suffer through poor docking. I can only say that the tender experience was smooth and painless. Only in Phuket did we have to wait for a tender ashore and that was understandable given 40 knot winds. The four ships' tenders were always working, and in most ports there were supplemental boats. It's a tribute to any organization when they learn from their mistakes--and in this case they clearly learned from the mistakes of the first cruise with this itinerary. Perhaps, though, Celebrity should consider a lower "shake-down" price when for the first time they do a new cruise itinerary.
Steve, the cruise director, was one of the best we have seen at sea--very genuine, not slick. We saw him out and about the ship and appreciated that he greeted guests after each show. The production shows were quite good; as with any cruise the individual entertainers were hit or miss some good (magicians), some not (violinist.) Given the exotic nature of the ports, a more comprehensive port lecturer would have been appreciated.
The order of ports was switched so that we went to Bali first due to some potential immigration issues in Lombok. Though I'm sure this took a lot of work behind the scenes, it was done very smoothly, and in a way that meant that we didn't have to miss any ports and, in fact, gained some extra time in Bali.
Our trip included a night in Singapore before and after the cruise. At each transfer point, things were done professionally and very smoothly--on arrival at Changi, from disembarkation to the hotel and from the hotel back to Changi. We didn't avail ourselves of the transfer from the hotel to embarkation as it was too early in the day and we wanted to see more of Singapore. A later option would have been nice. And the Conrad Hotel was just excellent.
It would have been nice if Celebrity had offered transportation from the ship into downtown Singapore. The price to do so was exorbitant--we took the city bus to the metro for a fraction of the price.
OK, one other negative: the pre-cruise experience.
Our pre-cruise experience was not very good. The Celebrity website is clunky and difficult to use. After we received our initial air routing, it was changed and we weren't told. (Only found out about it when we attempted to get seats on our flights.) Our itinerary and cruise documents took a very long time to appear, just a week or two before departure. And while Celebrity wanted to have our credit card information to set up our on-board account, why then did they make us produce the credit card on embarkation? (We only carry a minimum of credit cards while traveling and that was not one.)
On balance, we had a great time and would consider Millennium again.