My spouse and I have just returned home from an Alaska CruiseTour with the cruise portion on the Millennium. Cruise started 6/21 from Vancouver and ended in Seward on 6/28. Following is my review of the cruise portion of the trip. If there is any interest, I can do a follow-up post of the land portion.
Background: This was our first cruise on Celebrity and our 5th cruise overall. Prior cruises have been in Caribbean on RCCL and DCL ships. Neither my spouse or I are 'picky' travellers. I view food as fuel and generally won't notice food quality unless it is really good, or really bad. I'm generally happy with any accommodation that has indoor plumbing, hot water, and a good mattress.
Summary: Inconsistent service and quality with a major disappointment in the itinerary. The major disappointment was that we did not get to view the Hubbard Glacier - which is billed as the highlight of the cruise. The morning we sailed into Yakutat Bay, there was fog so dense that you could not see the bow of the ship from the stern. Five miles from the glacier, the Captain made the announcement that lack of visibility had made navigation through the ice floes too dangerous and that he would have to turn around if fog didn't lift within 30 minutes. 30 minutes later we turned around. All of the crew I talked to, many who had been on Millie for other seasons, said that this was the first time this had happened. I later learned that this was only the 2nd Alaska cruise for this Captain. He had boarded in Seward the prior week. I will always wonder if a Captain who had a season of Alaska cruising under his belt would not have been so quick to turn around.
Embarkation: As our home is in Orlando, we flew into Vancouver a day early. We booked an Alaska Cruise Package at the Pan Pacific at Canada Place. This package includes a harbor view room, voucher for breakfast, extended checkout, and free baggage transfer to cruise terminal. The package was somewhat expensive, but spouse and I agreed it was worth every $. Our room was near top of Canada Place with windows that provided an almost 180 degree view overlooking the harbor. On Friday morning, we watched Millie sail under the Lion's Bridge and into port.
The extended checkout time was important to us as we planned to do a walking tour of Vancouver on the morning of embarkation and did not want to be rushed to return to hotel for checkout. As it was, we returned from our tour around noon. Called bell service to pick up our baggage. As soon as it was picked up, we checked out and then took elevator to cruise terminal below the hotel. The bell captain had warned us when he picked up our baggage, that the wait through Customs could be long. Was it ever. It took nearly an hour. For those behind us, it took even longer. And we were on our feet the whole time. Part of the problem is that all passengers for all cruise ships have to queue in the same line. 'Lucky for us', the day we departed, there were only 2 ships in port. Some days there can be as many as 4.
Once we cleared Customs, we walked into the main terminal to register and pick up our seapass. Fortunately, for us, our cabin was in Concierge which had a separate queue. Otherwise, we'd have had another wait. As soon as we boarded the ship, we headed for the Oceanview Cafe for lunch. We were hungry as our stomachs were still on Eastern time.
Dining: We arrived at the Cafe to find it crowded. Seating was very limited due to lack of sufficient chairs. The quality of the food was a disappointment. Hot food was tepid. Cold food was tepid. Selection was limited. Drinks were flavored water, if available. Other passengers were rude - cutting in line, loud, etc. Our experience was so bad that we resolved not to eat in the Cafe again during the cruise unless we absolutely had to. Unfortunately, circumstanced required us to eat there twice more during the trip. Neither time was an improvement. Other than those occasions, all of our other meals were in the MDR or the specialty restaurants.
Eating in the MDR was a better experience than the Cafe. Breakfast in the MDR was especially memorable. Food was cooked to order and brought to the table in a timely manner. Service was excellent. Lunch there was also good, although we only ate lunch there once - other days we were on excursions during lunch time, or the MDR was not open for lunch.
Our dinner experience in the MDR was inconsistent. Food quality varied from night to night, and from course to course. In general, the appetizers and desserts, especially those that could be ordered from the "Classic Menu" were consistently well prepared and tasted good. Especially memorable were the Shrimp Cocktail, Baked Onion Soup, Cheesecake, and Creme Brulee. I can't recall any memorably good entrees, but we did have some really bad ones. The Rib Eye served on the first formal night was cooked Medium like I ordered it, but the steak was full of fat and gristle, and was very tough to chew. On the 2nd formal night, the featured entree was lobster tail. No one at our table at more than a couple of bites. For two of us, the lobster was so tough, it couldn't be cut with a table knife. The others could cut their tail with a fork, but the flavor was bland and unappetizing.
The service at our table was not very good, either. Our first night, the assistant waiter never inquired if we would like to have anything to drink beside water. On many nights, we would still be waiting for our entrees while tables around us that had a different wait crew would be eating dessert. Even though we ordered before the other tables. Our table begin speculating that our waiter had somehow pissed off the kitchen staff.
As an aside, I do not like how Celebrity handles beverages. On other cruise lines, at any meal in MDR, one can order any non-alcoholic beverage at no extra cost. On Celebrity almost every beverage costs extra - unless it is flavored water. I speculate it is so they can sell as many Beverage Packages as possible. Very disappointing.
Dinner in the Speciality restaurants was excellent. We ate in both the Olympic and QSine for dinner, and in the Bistro 5 for lunch. At the Olympic, we had the Chateaubriand for two. It was really good. I wish I could remember the name of the dessert my spouse ordered there - it was something chocolate with a scoop of coffee flavored ice cream. It was to die for.
The Bistro 5 serves crepes and salads. We went there one day for a 'light' lunch. Let me warn you, the crepes and salads served there are huge portions. Both of us ordered a crepe. The crepe covered an entire plate. For dessert I ordered a brownie expecting a small brownie on a plate. Instead, what I got was 3 medium brownies (more like fudge) in a glass full of whipped cream and caramel. God, was it good.
By far our best dining experience of the cruise was at QSine. We ate there the last night of the cruise and wished we'd eaten there the first night, so we could have gone again later. The entire dining experience was fun, and the food was delicious. Our only problem was we tried way to many courses. They encourage you to order as many things as you want, but we found 3 each would have been more than enough. They ought to franchise this concept.
Cabin: We had a veranda cabin on Deck 8 on the port side just forward of the Aft elevators. Cabin was as we expected. Size was fine for the two of us. We did notice a peculiar odor in the lavatory (reminded me of the smell of a shower in a high school gym), but the odor dissipated during the cruise and was no longer noticeable by the 4th or 5th day. I would speculate that odor is caused by a disinfectant that is used between cruises.
To use the provided hair dryer, the ON button on the dryer has to be held down the entire time it is used. This annoyed my spouse to no end.
The drapes in this cabin did not have a 'blackout' backing to block out the midnight sun. The cabin was never really dark at night. Usually this would bother me, but most nights I was too tired to care.
Our cabin steward was excellent and was able to help us resolve a few minor issues quickly.
Entertainment: Neither my spouse or I drink alcohol or gamble, so the entertainment options aboard ship were limited. The evening shows mainly consisted of performers frenetically dancing while singing to live, loud music. We quit going after the 4th night. It wasn't that the performers were bad, but the material just wasn't that good. There were some lectures from crew about shipboard life. One included a tour of the MDR galley which was interesting. There was also the on-board naturalist who gave presentations on what we could expect to see. No movies were offered. During days at sea, the wind and weather precluded use of the Sports deck. Ship did have the best Library I've seen on a cruise ship. In reality, the best 'entertainment' offered on board was the vistas. On days when weather permitted, we would spend hours just watching Alaska as we sailed by.
Excursions: In Ketchikan, the weather was warm and sunny. We had opted for the Trolley tour around town and down to Saxman to view the totems. Not recommended. Except for one, all the totems in Saxman are 2nd or 3rd generation. And most of what we saw around town, we'd visited earlier in the day on our own.
At Icy Point, great weather continued. We could see for miles and miles. We had elected for the whale watching tour here. Saw 8-9 humpbacks, many up close. Recommended.
In Juneau, we did the Glacier Flightseeing tour with lunch at Tagu Lodge. Our favorite excursion of the trip. Highly recommended.
In Skagway, we rode the WP&Y RR up to White Pass summit. Unfortunately, the weather had turned for the worse with low cloud ceiling. 15 miles into the 20 mile train ride, we rode into dense fog and that is all we saw from there to the summit. If there is a next time, I'd not pre-book this excursion, but wait to see what the weather is like.
Other: Ship cleanliness was spotty. Many of the exterior windows were dirty. Especially disconcerting were the almost opaque aft windows in the MDR. Lots of noticeable rust spots around the ship. Occasional sitings of accumulated trash - usually empty boxes or cartons.
I do not recommend purchase of an Internet package to use on a wireless device. Usage is metered by time. You have to log on, and more importantly, log off each session. If you don't log off, the system keeps consuming minutes until your package runs out, then it bills you by the minute. The problem is that it is difficult to log off. Many times, I couldn't get to the logoff page, or I'd logoff from the page, but not get an acknowledgement. The service is useless from a stateroom - it is slow and intermittent. It was only mildly useful if midship on decks 3,4,5. I had problem where system was charging me minutes outside my package, i.e. - I had minutes left in my package, but was being charged additional minutes. I was able to get the charges reversed, but nobody could explain why it happened. I talked with other passengers who experienced similar problems.
Conclusion: Spouse and I agree that our experience on this Celebrity ship is not one that we would repeat. If it had not been for the specialty restaurants, and for the fact that the ship was surrounded by Alaska for most of the trip, we would have been very disappointed with the whole cruise experience.