First, we want to make it clear that we enjoyed the Millennium and the cruise. For the most part, the staff and food were above average. In comparison to the three other cruise lines we have traveled with, Celebrity is superior in terms of overall customer service. Officers and staff were everywhere, and always acknowledged each passenger in passing.
We arrived in Vancouver the day before embarkation. We returned to the airport for the shuttle bus scheduled via Celebrity the day of departure. The shuttles were running over an hour late, and Celebrity attendants were somewhat frazzled by the growing flock of passengers and confused about how to handle luggage, which was to be checked at the airport and transferred separately. Upon arrival at the terminal, the customs line moved rapidly. When we reached the check-in station for Celebrity, there were three lines (1. Suite Passengers 2. Aquaclass/Concierge Class Passengers 3. General Boarding). A Celebrity screening agent directed passengers to one of the three lines per the boarding documents. We were booked in a suite (Sky Suite S1 Class), but the agent put us in the general boarding line which had nearly 100 passengers in queue. There were no passengers in the line for Suites, and only 1 in the AC/CC line. We did not catch this glitch until we reached the counter (an hour later), so we did not receive priority boarding, but its doubtful that we were the only passengers misdirected and inconvenienced by this oversight.
Post Boarding (Day 1):
Our suite was not ready in advance of any other stateroom. All passengers were granted access to their staterooms at the same time, approximately 2:00 PM. Our room was in order, well appointed, and clean. Ample storage space provided.
We did not receive our luggage until after dinner (almost 9:00 PM). This was a major inconvenience for us, especially since we were expecting and planned for priority luggage delivery. There were also a number of additional items and services expected, but not provided or offered (no slippers, no cotton balls, no cotton swabs, no pillow menu, no assistance packing and unpacking, no daily cappuccino service, etc.). This seems to be similar to experiences shared by other Celebrity suite passengers as well. Additionally, our ice container was filled on day one, but never again. None of these were deal breakers for us, but we did notice the difference between what was advertised and delivered.
We found the public spaces to be well maintained. The ship shows some wear, but is still pleasant. The one thing that stood out is that the windows throughout the ship were in desperate need of cleaning. This really stood out and detracted from what were magnificent views. Nevertheless, from a sanitation perspective, every corner of the ship was in impeccable condition (we acknowledge that clean plates and tables are more important than clean windows).
We liked the itinerary, with a few notable exceptions: 1. Too little time provided in Ketchikan with a 3:00 departure and so much to do in port. 2. Way too much time at Icy Strait Point (the day after Ketchikan) with very little to do in port. 3. Arrival and departure for Hubbard Glacier (5-9AM) were both way too early, especially considering how much time there was to get from Hubbard to Seward the next day (the ship traveled at low speed to cover the distance with ample time to spare).
The guest entertainers were both excellent. We also enjoyed some of the on-board musicians. Superior entertainment to any other cruise we have been on.
We opted for select dining. Traveling with a teenager, the flexibility was helpful for us. We never had trouble being seated promptly, but some of the tables we drew were not desirable locations (sandwiched among other tables or against columns). Also, all of the flair associated with the second formal night occurred downstairs with the "scheduled seating". There was no entertainment value on the second floor where select dining passengers are seated.
The food and service in the MDR was very good. However, we could not help but notice that we did not have the same wait staff twice and the level of service fluctuated greatly. In all, we would not opt for select dining again, just due to the lack of consistency.
We dined in Olympic once. We looked so forward to it going into the trip (we planned to dine in Olympic twice, Qsine once, and Blue once going into the trip). In the end, we loved the atmosphere and were blessed to have been seated in the room filled with the original French walnut paneling. However, the dining experience left much room for improvement. We skipped two courses in the interest of time, and it still took three hours and ten minutes to wrap-up (we did not have wine either). It took 30 minutes from the time we were seated for anyone to even approach our table, and about the same lull between each course. Staff were constantly bickering with each other, while dishes sat waiting to be served. That can be easily overlooked if the food was wonderful, but frankly, it was not mainly because it ended up being served cold from sitting too long. Perhaps our expectations were too high. The atmosphere and menu certainly could foster a great dining experience, but only if all the pieces fall in place and interact properly, which was not the case with our experience. We were only one of four tables occupied while present as well, which really makes the experience difficult to justify. The two tables that finished before us also cut their dining experiences short and their bills were comped as a result of their experiences. Based on our experience and what we witnessed, we chose not to dine a second time at Olympic or risk trying Qsine.
As suite passengers, we inquired about getting reservations to dine at Blu for one evening. The Maitre d' was not very pleasant or accomodating despite our flexibility, so we forteited for the MDR rather than fussing any further.
Our transfer through Celebrity was scheduled via train. However, we were not informed that the train had a scheduled departure of 6:50 AM, whereas shuttle buses had flexible departures. We were notified on the day before disembarkation that we had to disembark at 6:00 AM (OUCH!). Disembarkation from the ship was smooth, but it resulted in gridlock embarking the train. If you are considering a northbound trip, factor disembarkation options into your plans. We could have had breakfast in the MDR at our leasure and disembarked much later in the morning if we opted for a shuttle bus, and we would have got to Anchorage at the same time as the train passengers to boot.
Other observations and notables:
We looked into scheduling a tour of the bridge, mainly in the interest of our teenage son. On just day three of a seven day cruise, we were told that "no more such tours were being scheduled". We were not sure what to think about that, but we moved on.
With select dining, prepaid gratuities are required. Based on our previous cruise experiences, including our experience with Celebrity, we felt this did have an impact on the overall level of service and attention provided to us (cabin and dining room). Combined with the lack of consistency in the MDR (tables and service), we would not likely opt for pre-paids or select dining again.
We do not recommend chosing a suite based on Celebrity's advertised "perks". Many of the perks do not exist, and those that do don't add up to much. The added room, bath, and storage space are real, but seriously consider the cost difference based on the "real" added difference, not the other so-called perks.
We opted for the classic beverage package. We highly recommend this for the added convenience. It is so nice not to have to sign for each and every item ordered, and it does speed-up delivery. Does it pay-off? Not in all instances, but while on vacation, the time saved and added convenience are priceless.