Some of us has sailed on the Millenium one year earlier on a 10 day Pacific Coastal cruise. We had a great time on that cruise, but the ship was looking worn in places and we wanted to see the ship following the "Solsticizing" refurbishment. Overall, the ship has been improved.
For this Panama Canal cruise, we took a bit of a gamble and flew from Vancouver, Canada to the port of departure (San Diego) on the same day as the cruise started. This saved money on a hotel and the hassle of unpacking/packing at the hotel, but if our flight had been delayed we would have missed the ship's departure.
Fortunately, we landed on time at about 11am, had our luggage by 11:30 and took a taxi van to the cruise port, arriving at about noon.
Check-in was not good. We got there at what must have been the busiest time, with very long lines and some confusion amongst staff. It was very hot and humid with no air circulation in the barn-like buildings, making the hour-long+ check-in process (while standing on a concrete floor) very uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for seniors. And for people with young children (our 18 month-old daughter was with us) it was a true test of endurance.
We got on board by about 1:30pm and felt exhausted from the check-in process and early start to our day in Vancouver. Embarkation and the dropping of one of our bags in Miami harbour during disembarkation by the crew (with no apology, explanation or compensation) were the low points of the trip (as well as the poor attitude of an Air Canada manager in Toronto after they messed up our connection and left us waiting for six hours).
The muster drill seemed like a confusing waste of time, as people tried to crowd into a lounge in an unsuccessful attempt to hear instructions. It is surprising that not long after the sinking of the Costa Concordia, cruise lines have not gone back to requiring passengers to find their actual life boat station as part of the drill.
However, things improved once we saw our room, a fantastic Family Veranda at the back corner of the ship (7199). These rooms are huge (270 sq feet) and the balconies are amazing (240 sq ft).
These Family Veranda rooms may be the best place to see the Panama Canal. Lots of storage space, and the quasi-separate 2nd room with pullout bed was perfect for our daughter.
The very large balcony had recently been resurfaced with a sand-like substance, which meant some of it would end up on our carpet inside the cabin from us walking in and out. However, our stateroom attendant did a great job of looking after us and cleaning our room.
We loved the look and feel of the new Wine Cellar / Bistro on 5 area, and appreciated the new carpet throughout the ship. Overall, the changes are positive and yes, there are more ways to separate you from your money in the form of new speciality restaurants - but that helps keep the basic cruising price down. The children's area was good.
The gym was nice, although the Radiance-class ships with Royal Caribbean devote more space to fitness facilities. We participated in a Cruise Critic sponsored "cabin crawl" for the first time and enjoyed it. The evening shows were a challenge for us to attend due to our daughter's bedtime, but from what we did see, some performances were better than others.
We ate at the Olympic and Q-Sine speciality restaurants, but did not pay full price. There was a promotion early on in the cruise, and we were offered 50% off the listed $40 price per person. If we had booked the restaurants online prior to departure, we would have had to pay full price. The Olympic is classy, and Q-Sine is a bit crazy, but both are recommended. We also had lunch a couple of times at the Bistro on 5. For the price ($5) it is a bargain.
In the Main Dining Room, our large group of 13 was all at one table and dinners were a lot of fun (we had an early sitting). The food was good, and so was the service until the last couple of nights when it seemed as though the ship was short on staff.
The biggest puzzle is why Celebrity bothers stopping at Colon. As someone said, it lives up to its name. It would be nice if the ship could instead stop at Panama City or Puerto Limon, with more time spent cruising (at slower speed) on beautiful Lake Gatun.
The most enjoyable port stop was in Guatemala. We took a basic bus ride to the funky old city of Antigua, and had a great day wandering around. Found a great restaurant and generally enjoyed ourselves.
In Costa Rica, we booked a tour using a company not associated with the cruise line (called "Shore Excursions Group") and were not impressed. The guide was determined to convince us that he was the only person who really cared about "the real Costa Rica" and then stopped to receive a commission for bringing us to see tame monkeys being hand-fed behind someone's house. Dozens of other tourists were already there. The van were in had broken seat belts and the guide refused to let us stop and get out at beach we drove past. Total disappointment.
Cartegena, Columbia was interesting, and a thorough work-out. We walked right from the cruise terminal to the old fort on the hill top. Route finding was a challenge, as was the stinging perspiration in our eyes (can you say hot & humid?) but it was a good adventure.
We were somewhat apprehensive about how people would react to us bringing an 18 month-old child on this cruise, but it was not a problem. Our daughter was a hit, and there was another girl the same age staying one deck up from us.
This was the 2nd time we have been lucky enough to stay in a Family Veranda on a Millenium-class ship. Warning - it will make other rooms seem tiny.
The staff were terrific, our room was neat and tidy and we felt we received good value for our vacation dollar.
Being with a group of friends and family, and experiencing the joy our daughter had exploring the ship, made for a fantastic voyage.