I was invited to speak on the Celebrity Millennium for its 14-day NE Asia cruise in April 2013. We sailed from Honk Kong, visiting Keelung (Taiwan), Nagasaki (Japan), Busan and Jeju (South Korea), Tianjin (actually Tanggu, China), and we disembarked in Baoshan (near Shanghai, China). This was a new itinerary for Celebrity , and they wanted me to provide Port Information to the guests so they would have an idea of where they were going, and what would be available once they got there. The embarkation process in Hong Kong was a bit hectic, and it was NOT any fault of the ship. As is normal, the port authority provides the staff for handling the boarding processes, and this staff did not seem to be organized very well; I don't know if it's because they don't receive many cruise ships, but one of their key staff told me she worked only once every few months -- that's not good for consistency!
It was a pleasure to be cruising with Steve (Cruise Director) and Luisa (Activity Manager) who were on the Celebrity Constellation when I spoke on a cruise to Scandinavia and Russia last July. I found all the staff to be top-notch, including the Concierge (Jennifer), the Shore Excursions Manager (Tamara), and all the folks at the Guest Relations counter. Every crew member wore a smile and had a friendly greeting EVERY time you were passed in the hall.Those little things really add up for excellent customer service.
As I was on the ship as a Port Lecturer (and I was sailing alone), my main focus was not the shore excursions, although they were available. I spent my time in port obtaining and updating my information on the facilities, ease in getting around, local transportation, where to shop, eat, etc. I had a delightful time, and most of the ports received a very commendable grade. My rating of the ports is in descending order of how I would grade them:
1. Hong Kong
There is no rating for Baoshan as I just disembarked, got a ride to the airport in Shanghai, and flew home. It is interesting that my ratnkng is in the same order as the sequence of ports on the cruise!
The only port to get a failing grade, in my opinion, was the Port of Tianjin -- the portal into Beijing. The terminal was fairly new, about 2 years old, built in a new area on reclaimed land. There's nothing wrong with that, except there was no other infrastructure within 10+ miles. So you can't just go out on your own and walk. The massive terminal building was beautiful, but it was extremely lacking in services and facilities. The Currency Exchange booth "ran out of money" the first two days we were there, essentially stranding those who weren't first in line. No local currency -- you can't go anywhere but back on the ship!
The entertainment on the cruise was very good, especially when local entertainers were used -- for example, we had the National Martial Arts team drive 3 hours from Beijing to give two shows, and then go back to Beijing. I've never been a big fan of comedians, but I did enjoy the music performances and the other artistic shows. Kudos to the staff for bringing on such great talent.
There were options available for dining, and I ate breakfast and lunch in the 10th deck OceanView Cafe. The orange juice in the dispenser was delicious, and the coffee and selection of teas was always fine. I ate most evenings in the Metropolitan Restaurant, sitting at a variety of tables. Service was friendly, efficient, and the food wasted very good. I was pleasantly surprised at the flavors of the seafood that was prepared. I didn't have any desserts as I was working on "weight management" ( I also took the stairs every day instead of the elevator).
The one negative of the cruise was something that no one could control -- the weather. We had only one good day at sea, and one great day in port. That did force many people to participate in indoor activities rather than lounging on outside decks or balconies. Again, that happens sometimes.
In summary, I was very pleased with this cruise, both as a speaker and as a passenger. Celebrity continues to deliver a high quality of service, food, activities, and amenities at a fair value for the cruising passenger. It was a pleasure to provide helpful information to the passengers (400 - 700 at each of my 6 talks), and I look forward to future speaking engagements.