We had an awesome cruise on the Millennium from Shanghai to Seward, Alaska. I went with my dad for this trip and we really enjoyed ourselves. Just for background, we generally do a Transatlantic cruise every year and had never been to Asia before this trip. I am 34 and he is 58.
We flew to Beijing a week before the cruise and had a private tour arranged for 6 days through China Highlights. Our guide, Lili, met us after we cleared immigration and customs. We had applied for the Chinese visa about 2 months prior to the cruise and had no issues obtaining the visa.
I can't say enough about how great our trip with China Highlights was, we had a driver and guide for the entire trip (3 days in Beijing and 3 days in Shanghai) and saw everything on our itinerary. I can elaborate if anyone wants details on the pre-cruise portion.
We arrived at the port around 10:45AM on the day of embarkation. The staff indicated that the check-in lines would open around 11:30AM, but that Chinese immigration officials would not be there until 12PM to start the boarding process. Around 11:45AM, the lines finally opened and we were all checked in within a few minutes. Then, we had to wait around a bit for security and immigration to open. There were not really any great directions given at this point, but we were sitting in Bistro on 5 by about 12:30PM, so it was not really all that painful. I do have to say that my major disappointment on the cruise was all of the complaining and rudeness from some of the other passengers. If there was a line involved for anything, you were guaranteed to have to listen to 20 minutes of complaining about how someone has visited these ports on 30 other cruises and never had to stand in line before or people trying to push to the front because they shouldn't have to stand in a line (sorry mini rant got away from me!). This started while waiting for security to open, people were very concerned that they would not be the first ones on and insisting that the Celebrity person open up the ropes for them to jump in line.
One thing I did like was that Celebrity handed us an immigration sheet upon check-in that fully outlined the procedures for each port that we would be visiting. It was accurate and gave step-by-step instructions for what to expect.
Rooms were ready before we finished our lunch at Bistro (which was fabulous, I had the Mexicano crepe and it is my new favorite). We were in a Royal Suite 6134 and it was a surprise I planned for my dad. He had no idea that we had changed from a balcony to a suite until we checked in at the suite line, but he thought we had a Sky Suite, so it was great seeing his face when he walked into the Royal Suite. When the butler came around, I was ecstatic to see a familiar face, Izzy was the room steward my husband and I had on the Equinox in 2009 and he had been promoted to butler since then. He was fantastic the entire cruise and did so many things to make the trip memorable.
We did have one issue with the room. After the first night, the room was so cold that we had to have several blankets on to sleep at night (and we generally like it fairly chilly while sleeping). The engineers were in every day for 3 days before it was fixed, but it finally straightened out after they did something with the air flow in the ceiling.
We had the Premium Alcohol packages that were purchased in advance. I believe this was our 4th cruise with the packages and I would not want to cruise without it. Bar service was excellent and we had our regular places on the ship where the servers would bring over our usual order as soon as we came in. We did not tip anything on top of the 15% already included in the package throughout the cruise, but did tip at the end for the ones who took such good care of us.
Jeju Island, South Korea, Unfortunately, winds were very high and we were unable to get into the port in Jeju. The Captain tried twice, then came on the PA and said that he was going to wait for a bit to see if the winds died down. The winds actually picked up during that time, so we headed back out to sea to go to the next port. Shore excursions booked through Celebrity were automatically refunded, along with about $20/person for port fees.
Kobe, Japan, we docked on time in Kobe and then had to deal with immigration. According to our handout and the numerous announcements by Steve, the cruise director, Japan required all passengers to disembark to clear immigration and no one was allowed back on board until everyone was clear. Steve announced that if we did not have an immediate need to get off to catch a tour, we would be better off waiting for the rush to die down and he would announce when the rest of us should get off (we had a tour later in the day). Following Stev's instructions, we waited and then disembarked and walked right through immigration, receiving the proper stamp on the landing card we had been issued.
We then had to go back through the terminal to wait in line to get back on the ship after everyone had cleared. Again, there was another round of loud complaining about how disorganized this was and why should people have to stand in line. On the contrary, I thought it was extremely organized and the line moved quickly once the ship was clear. I just don't know what people expect when 500 people are all going the same place. There is going to be a line involved. The more orderly, the better and Celebrity told us exactly what was going to happen.
We went on a tour in the afternoon to Mt. Rokko and a sake brewing museum. It was a Celebrity excursion and we enjoyed it. On our second day, we just walked around on our own and did some exploring.
Tokyo, Japan (Yokohama), we did not have to go through the whole clearance process again when we docked in Yokohama, thank goodness. We took a ship's tour to Tokyo that included highlights of Tokyo and a trip to the TV tower. Again, it was a good tour and the view from the top of the tower was awesome, as it was just getting dark out. On our second day, we again just walked around on our own and did some exploring. I would love to go back to Tokyo again for a longer stay, was a really clean and vibrant city.
Petropavlovsk, Russia, this port was rather a nightmare, but not for any reason that Celebrity could control. Apparently, Russian authorities had to inspect each individual passport, page through all of the pages in the passport, pass the passport to another person to inspect, and then chat about what they had for breakfast. We had a tour scheduled for 9AM (Celebrity tour). When we met in the theater, the Celebrity employee was giving regular updates and basically saying that once a batch of passports was cleared, they would announce the tour number and those people could come up to the stage to collect their passports. After waiting for about 30 minutes, they announced that we could go anywhere we wanted and that announcements would be made over the PA system so we didn't all have to keep sitting there. We went back to our room to wait. Around 10:30AM, our bus number was called, so we were able to pick up our passports. Then, we had to wait about 30 more minutes for the first tender to be cleared. As we were leaving the ship, Russian authorities again had to inspect our passports.
The tour itself was very good, although, the town was not anything great, the museum was excellent and we stopped at a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church (it was Orthodox Easter). I enjoyed seeing the town.
When we arrived back at the ship around 3PM, we found that many of the tours still had not been cleared. The ship offered refunds to anyone who did not want to go, but they also ran the tours for people who still wanted to go and kept the ship in port far later than originally scheduled. It will be interesting to see if Celebrity keeps this port on future itineraries because it really was difficult. We also found out that the Russian authorities took a break from 12PM to 1:15PM to eat lunch in the Oceanview, so no tours were cleared during that time.
Another interesting note was that one of the Japanese entertainers onboard was not able to disembark because Russian authorities would not clear him, so he ended up having to cancel shows in Japan and sail all the way to Alaska.
MDR - we had late seating (8:30PM) at a table of 8 and had very cool tablemates. We had a good time every night and really enjoyed getting to know them. Overall, food was good to very good and what I expect of Celebrity. Our waiter and assistant waiter were excellent and really did a good job. We were on enhanced noro precautions by the end of the cruise, so they had to serve bread, butter, etc. to us.
Oceanview - dad said it was decent (I don't generally do buffets), but he stopped going when they started serving instead of allowing self-service.
Bistro on 5 - ate here several times, including embarkation day. Loved it every time!
Olympic - we did the wine connoisseur's dinner on one of the sea days, which was very enjoyable and something we tend to do on every cruise. I believe there were about 20 people who ended up doing it that night, but we were at a table for 4 with another couple and had a blast with the pairings. Delicious.
We also ate one night in Olympic for a regular dinner and I was disappointed that they did not have a steak on the menu, as I usually order a filet mignon at the specialty restaurants. They did have the chateaubriand for 2, which we ended up ordering.
Chef's Table - this was the highlight of our cruise. We had a table in the galley, hosted by the Chief Engineer. Executive Chef Donovan prepared many of the courses tableside and the wine pairings were top-notch. We received a picture of the group at the end of the meal and also received a copy of the Excite the Senses book in our room the next day. The book is huge and I am really looking forward to trying the recipes as soon as I get home.
Qsine - we ate here one night. We had previously eaten at Qsine on the Reflection in December, so we knew what to expect. It was good, but I would have preferred Tuscan Grille or Silk Harvest on the ship instead of or in addition to. We probably would've eaten more in the specialty restaurants if there had been more options available.
I was a little apprehensive to see how the layout had changed since the last time I was on Millennium in 2008. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much I enjoyed the location of Cellar Masters and think that it is actually better than the Solstice-class ships because you have to walk through it to get to the dining room. People tended to stop and check it out to have a drink, whereas on the Solstice-class ships, it's a separate, dark room that no one goes into.
Shows - I went to all of the production shows and enjoyed all of them. I saw a couple of the guest entertainers who sang, but did not see the comedian, juggler, or illusionist. Our tablemates said that they were impressed with the entertainment and had gone to most of the shows.
Lecturers - I believe there were 7 lecturers onboard. There was someone talking about baseball history, the former director of NASA, history of the ports, English royalty history, the Titanic, and all kinds of other things. It was really hard to be bored on all of the sea days with all of the activities going on.
We did a Celebrity tour that included a 5 hour cruise to the Kenai Fjords and then a drop-off at the airport in Anchorage. The tour was fairly good, but the final part where we collected our luggage before getting onto the bus to head to Anchorage was rather messy. It was a combination of a lack of clear instructions and people not listening at all to what instructions there were. It all eventually got straightened out and the bus ride was very scenic, with good commentary by the driver.
A great cruise with fantastic crew who provided excellent service. I never did meet anyone who was affected by noro, but I did hear a count of 100 or so at one point. Celebrity did require that everyone get off of the ship in Seward for a deep cleaning. I believe 1200 passengers from the Transpacific continued on for the next cruise, so the ship arranged tours for everyone.