Celebrity Millennium Cruise Review by Charlie English: Millenium Vietnam Northbound
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Millenium Vietnam Northbound
Had a great two weeks on board the refurbished Celebrity Millenium, almost perfect apart from a couple of minor niggles.
We flew out to from London to Singapore on BA semi-cattle. This wasn't too bad for a 12.5 hour flight as it left at 8.30PM, a couple of G & T's, meal & film later & the next thing we knew there was only an hour & a half left. Listening to stories from some of the Americans who'd been circumnavigating the globe collecting world record layovers, we did very well.
We came out a few days early & stayed at The Swissotel Stamford. This is the very tall 70 storey one. We had a very pleasant room on the 25th floor looking over towards the Padang & Singapore river. It's a very nice hotel & does a great breakfast & it's also right next door to Raffles. The views from the 70th floor were a little dissapointing unless you ate in their restaurant & also the windows seemed a bit misted up or needed cleaning.
Singapore was a very nice place that we really enjoyed. More We would recommend the evening laser show from the Marina Bay Sands hotel (& also going in there), river boat ride, one of the Boat Quay restaurants for dinner, Chinatown for a look around & a special mention for the new botanical gardens behind the Marina Bay Sands hotel, these were very good (& in the main, free). Also their MTR subway system is excellent.
The ship was parked at the new Marina Bay cruise terminal, which is too far to walk through the building sites between it & town. We joined it late in the afternoon having had another whole day to sight-see. This was a very good idea, as we got out of the taxi & walked straight on to the ship, collecting the seapasses on the way. The whole process took under 10 minutes.
Although she's been recently refitted & 'Solsiticised' the Millenium didn't seem a lot different to when we were last on her in 2008 in Alaska, but all the public areas all appeared to have been spruced up a bit & our cabin had been tarted up a bit also. She wasn't like brand new, but not as bad as some reports we've read would suggest & everything was clean, tidy & really rather pleasant.
Our cabin was 9049 in Aqua class. This was very nice but nothing particularly special, just like other balcony cabins but with thicker robes & a better shower (with glass door that doesn't stick to you like the curtains do).
On this trip though the Aqua cabins have the advantage of being immediately under the ships overhangs meaning, whichever way round the ship was parked or going, you always get the precious shade necessarry to be able to sit outside on a trip like this where the temps were in the 30's oC.
We had one downside with this cabin in that it was immediately below one of the jacuzzis in the spa. These start at 7AM every day & so sleep beyond that wasn'tt possible for me. We did complain a couple of times about this & really Celebrity need to advise in their brochure, or maybe my hearing is more sensitive? I don't know. The staff on the reception though were very good & tried to get the start time put back & it did then start at 7.15 which was something.
I would say at this point that the staff in general were all excellent, very friendly (apart from the odd miserable ones on security & the lady officer running the tender operation) & couldn't have been more helpful. Probably the best on any of the dozen or so cruises we've been on.
The best thing about being in Aqua is that you get to eat in the Blu restaurant. This was a very nice experience every time we ate there. The food is very good & the staff were just the best ever. Always happy, smiling & joking. Special mention to for their maitre D (embrassingly can't quite remember his name, think it was Ronaldo or similar, he was Portuguese), he was just the best one I can ever remember anywhere in any restaurant. Overall we rated Blu above The Queens Grill on Cunard (sorry Cunard it was extremely close).
The demographic on the ship I would say would be something like 25% American, 15% Brits, 10% Aussi, 20% Latin American/Spanish, 10% French & German & about 20% Japanese/Chinese/Vietnamese, average age of about 50 & only about 4 kids in total (yippee!). This made all the announcements multi-lingual & so a bit tediously long.
Didn't rate the Greek captain very much. He did a 10AM announcement instead of the usual noon one & often as not this was made by Steve, the very good cruise director. I think overall this captain would be better off on a cargo ship. On the plus side he seemed to get us everywhere on time & in one piece, so I guess that should go in his favour.
Although we didn't bother eating there, others said that their speciaility faux-Titanic style Olympic restaurant had shot up in price from the original $20 to $45 & wasn't that wonderful. But we did hear very good reports about their new themed Qsine restaurant, although again we didn't eat there (why would you when we had the excellent Blu?).
We did use the bun-fight for breakfast/brunches & by the normal bun-fight standards it was pretty good (they do Sushi in the afternoon as well).
Although there were the usual towels on sunbeds, on the sea days when we came to sit down at 11ish we were always able to get sunbeds in the shade (we do favour the more quieter areas of the ship though).
We also found the entertainment to be very good as well, both the ships dance troupe & the comedians that came on.
In Thailand we took the bus that goes from the cruise terminal to Pattaya from 11AM to 4PM for $12 each return. We'd never been to Pattaya before & it's a bit of an eye-opener, lots of bars & prositutes & their punters. The beach is OK, but it was too hot to sit on. 5 hours was a little long to be there.
The following day we took the ships tour to Ayuthaia, the old Siam capital. Very good, but a long time on a coach (but nothing compared to Vietnam).
The first stop in Vietnam was Saigon (or the Saigon river actually about 80 miles away from the city). We did two ships trips here; One called 'Colonial Saigon' which was pretty much all the city highlights with a very good lunch at the Grand Saigon hotel (all the food we had in Vietnam off the ship was always excellent). The second was the excellent Cu Chi tunnels. For anyone who's old enough to remember the Vietnam war (or the American war as the Vietnamese call it) this was a fascinating place to visit & well worth the 10 hours or so that this trip was. I tried to do the tunnel 'walk', but it was extremely hot & a lot of people & I got about 10 feet in before succombing to claustraphobia & backing out. You also get the opportunity to go blasting away on their firing range with Kalashnikovs & machine guns - great fun! But make sure you where the ear defenders or you'll risk hearing damage (no really).
Da Nang was our next port of call (or more correctly some port about 10 miles from Da Nang in the middle of nowhere). Da Nang from what we saw of it was pleasant, but nothing special. But you do get to ride on the bus along China beach (where the American forces were landed). We did the bike ride tour from outside Da Nang past the paddy fields & into Hoi An. We thought the bike ride was brilliant fun, but with the Vietnamese style of driving, not for the feignt hearted! Hoi An has a beautiful old quarter & is well worth a visit.
The next stop was Halong Bay & Wow! we were on the back having breakfast when the ship started driving past call these rocks & suddenly the rails were crowded with people. I wasn't expecting the Millenium to go straight through the middle of it all, it was fab! Our stand-in captain & cruise director Steve told us it was the best weather they'd had all season (blue skys, warm but with some mist) as previously it'd been foggy on earlier visits, so my sympathies to earlier cruisers, that would have been dissapointing.
We did the ships junk tour in the afternoon along with the every other junk in the Vietnamese merchant navy. But this doesn't take anything away from the Halong bay experience (although the caves were a tad on the busy side but it was well organised). If I'd have realised what Halong bay was actually going to be like, it'd have been on my bucket list many years ago - just go there!
Our last trip in Vietnam was the Hanoi endurance test. This involves meeting at 6.15 (that's the one in the morning by the way) & then doing 3.5 hours on a bus before the city tour. This was very good & the Hanoi Hilton (Maison Centralle) was very interesting, before then taking the 3.5 hour return. On the plus side is that all our Vietnamese guides were excellent & there's always something to look at out of the bus. We finally got back at about 7.30PM, flopped in the cabin & had room service dinner (which was very good actually).
Vietnam was (is) a fabulous place & really lived up to all our expectations. The people are really lovely, the food we had was good, the sights we saw will stay with us always & the country was (& is) endlessly fascinating. Please do yourself a favour & go there (soon).
After our last sea day we had the 'honour' of being the first cruise ship to park at the new Kai Tak cruise centre in Hong Kong. This was in fact still a building site & I think the only reason we were banished there was because the P & O ship Aurora had already nicked the best parking spot in town beside the star ferry terminal in Kowloon.
Kai Tak used to be one of the most exciting airports in the world to arrive at, but it certainly ain't the most exciting place to arrive on a cruise ship, it's way out from where you want to be (namely Kowloon or the island) & by the time the light of the nightly laser show arrives at the ship, it looks like someone waving a dim torch (or 'flashlight' to those of you of an American persuassion) in the distance. In fact those of us watching it were'nt really sure it had happened at all.
The ship does though offer a shuttle bus to Kowloon station (which is oddly a bit too far to walk into what we'd consider to be Kowloon) from where you can take a quick MTR over to the island & walk to the best form of transport in HK, namely the venerable star ferries - you've gotta go on these. Lots to see & do in HK & I would suggest get a guide book & try not to be too optomistic, you won't do it all.
We disembarked at 9AM (sorry we're English & over 50 so we don't 'debark' from a ship) into the tents on the quayside, easily collected our luggage & on the ships transfer to the Regal airport hotel our flight back to London not being till 1130PM (lucky us eh?). We'd been told by Celebrity we could have the room till 4PM which wasn't much use really. But when we arrived we were told we could have the room till 9PM. So this gave us the chance to go back into HK (on the airport express - excellent train), do a days sightseeing, get back to the hotel, have a couple of hours kip, then a bath & a leisurely stroll over to the British Airways desk & off - why didn't they tell us this before we left? We'd have looked forward to our last day then. Never mind.
So a perfect trip apart from a couple of minor niggles, but hey, you're always going to get something if you embark on an adventure like this. I'd really recommend it Less
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