After a number of Caribbean and Mexican Riviera cruises plus a Med, Baltic and S. America it was time for something different. And the Panama transit has been a dream for years. The timing was right and
Pre-Cruise: Hotel / Travel to Pier
I stayed at the Royal Palm Resort in Fort Lauderdale for the two nights prior to the cruise. For the two-night pre-cruise say I found no reason to go anywhere. Nice size room, meal service outside the door by the pool and attentive service. Would definitely go back there again. (Note: the resort caters primarily to the gay traveler.)
Embarkation was the fastest I've experienced thanks, in part, to there being no line for Select Captains Club members. Within 10-12 minutes I was climbing the ramp and boarding "Millie" and enjoying my welcome glass of champagne. The only downside was the staterooms weren't quite ready (understandable since it was only 12:15pm. As promised, by 1:30pm the staterooms were ready and I was able to drop off my carryon bag.
We had originally booked stateroom 7180 (Category 2A) because it looked like it had a slightly larger balcony than other cabins in that category. This held true - the balcony was almost twice as deep. A nice overhang from the deck above provided shelter from the rainy days. The only downside: you looked directly down on the extended balcony of the suites on deck 6. Not really a big deal. Otherwise, this was a standard Cat 2A room.
But, some "details” had been overlooked when the Millennium underwent her refurbishment. The hinges on the closet doors were loose and so the doors never did close properly. It was obvious one hinge had been replaced at some point (the old one lay on the closet floor). The paint job on the balcony was not in great shape with rust showing in several spots (this was later corrected when the balconies on deck 7 starboard were re-painted during our stop in Costa Rica).
Ship Layout / Information
The Millennium has been around for over ten years and recently went through a "Solsticeization" with upgrades to most staterooms, many public areas, and the addition of new dining venues. In general she looked very pretty. The pool area had been redone adding nice all weather, faux wicker, lounge furniture with deep cushions. Added cabins on Deck 11 cut the jogging track so it no longer circled the ship. Deck 12 aft was really almost wasted space " wide open but with no deck chairs. The Cosmos has been redone, closing off the port side entrance to allow room for a kid zone. The bar size was reduced so it took up less space (a nice touch) allowing for additional seating and a larger dance floor. The color scheme was also changed to warm blues. The added Wine Masters and Bistro on Deck 5 replaced the former Martini Bar with that being moved to a space on Deck 4 overlooking the atrium.
Dining Metropoliten (Main Restaurant)
The main restaurant served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I never tried their lunch but did one breakfast there (the eggs Benedict were good but not spectacular) and enjoyed most evening meals there.
Food was generally very good, served by attentive waiters and, for my regular table, an excellent sommelier. The group I traveled with was seated at three tables with each having the same wait staff but different sommeliers (the one for table 112 was, frankly, rather slow and, at times, totally ignored those who only wanted a glass of wine rather than a bottle). The sommelier for table 115 learned very quickly I always had a glass of wine with my dinner and always asked what I preferred for the meal. My favorite meal was the lamb shank the meat literally fell off the shank and was very tender and flavorful. Another very good entre was the prime rib done perfectly, juicy and tender.
I was disappointed on two occasions when I ordered steak (once from the "every night” menu, once from the special menu) both times the steak was done as I asked but tasted rather tough and chewy.
Two favorite deserts included the chocolate volcano cake (sinfully rich and tasty) and the always-available crème Brule. Another favorite was a very good NY cheesecake. All of the deserts I had were very good.
Dining - Olympic
I had the opportunity to eat here twice. Service in this specialty restaurant is at a very high level with a very attentive headwaiter and various assistants. Food service verges on performance art and the presentation of dishes is very attractive. ON both occasions, for starters, I had the lobster bisque served in a small pot, which was poured into the waiting bowl. The first night I had the Beef Wellington and it was superb cooked perfectly and very tender. For desert I had a lemon soufflé, also very delicious. The second time for my entre I had veal medallions cooked medium. They were very tender and, with the accompanying sauce, quite yummy. Desert on this occasion was the chocolate soufflé warm and delicious. On both nights we also had a cheese selection served between the entre and the desert. The Olympic offered a wide selection of cheeses from around the world. Unfortunately, trying to many would easily fill me up so I just sampled a couple (the Brie is excellent!). There’s a premium upcharge of $45 for this restaurant a bit pricey but in my opinion, worth it at least once.
Late in the trip I dined with my group at Qsine a new venue introduced on the Solstice class ships and added to the Millennium. The gimmick is the iPad-based menu but don’t let that throw you the food (both presentation and quality) is very good. A word of caution be careful how much you order, you’ll fill up fast. In our group of nine, we decided to order eleven tapas style "entrées” but only managed to actually get through 9. The food is served and designed to share and it went a long way very quickly. It was all very delicious and the presentation was both beautiful and practical. Again, there is an upcharge of $45 per person to dine here and it’s worth it.
Dining Oceans Café / Grill
This is the "buffet” on deck 10 and boasts a wide variety of breakfast and lunch offerings (I was never up there for dinner so cannot comment on that). Most days started here with breakfast with major choices made between made-to-order omelets or eggs benedict and pancakes, waffles, and/or French toast. Any of these choices were always good and prepared very well. Occasionally, if there were long lines for the omelets or the eggs benedict I opted for the pre-made scrambled eggs (passable) or just fruit and pastry.
Lunch offerings ran the gamut from Asian to American to pasta to hamburgers and hot dogs (made on the grill by the pool) with wide selections of fruit and salads and tasty deserts. Most often I opted for either a burger or the hot dog (both excellent) along with crispy French fries (not exactly healthy, but very good). There was also a gourmet sandwich setup that I only used once (for a very good standard ham & Swiss cheese sandwich).
At 4pm small tea sandwiches appeared in a variety of fillings, each only a bite or two. These made a great late afternoon snack or, a mini lunch if just returning from a shore excursion.
The only down side was that the space was often crowded with people wandering rather aimlessly searching for what they wanted and not paying much attention to where they were going.
Bars / Lounges
When booking my cruise I took advantage of a Celebrity promotion offering a free Classic Beverage package, which, once I boarded, I upgraded to a Premium package (a cost of $10 per day). It was worth it for me given I really didn’t have to think about any beverage I was ordering whether cocktail, beer, wine, juice, special coffee or bottled water. It also allowed me to sample a variety of wines and beverages I might not have otherwise tried.
My favorite bar was the Martini Bar and Crush located on Deck 4 above the atrium. This is a new/upgraded bar with a chilled counter giving a nice frosted surface. Seating is somewhat limited making the space feel crowded most evenings prior to dinner times. Bartenders are often somewhat preoccupied with "showmanship" and it can take a while to get served. While entertaining, I'd wish there were either additional bartenders or there be less time devoted to acrobatics and more to ensuring customers were served promptly. The martinis they made were good.
The Cosmo club, forward on deck 11, is completely redone in pale blue tones. The bar, once a large round affair taking up much of the space, has been reduced in size allowing for more seating in the sizable venue. The Cosmo Club serves as a dance and entertainment venue in the evening. While sometimes noisy at night (depending on the entertainment that evening) it was a nice venue for a post dinner nightcap.
The Cellar Masters on Deck 5 is new on Millennium taking up some of the space formerly occupied by the Martini bar (the remainder of the space is taken by the restaurant Bistro on Five. Cellar Masters has an extensive wine list and, with the beverage package, I was able to sample a variety of different wines. Not included in the beverage package were wines within a self-serve wine dispenser. The downside to the Cellar Masters bar is that it is laid out as a "pass through" space. Heavy traffic, especially at meal times, detracts from an intimate experience. Still, I enjoyed a pre-cocktail glass of wine here most evenings.
Michael's Club on deck 4 is a carryover from the old Millennium but redone as a specialty beer pub. Even with a very pleasant atmosphere, I used this space rarely as it was used most evenings for either football or baseball games.
Rendezvous Lounge on deck 4 provided nice entertainment many evenings and a pair of excellent bartenders who made superb martinis and cosmos.
Other bars I sampled (mostly to get a midday beer) included the Pool and Sunset bars on deck 10 and the Mast Bar on deck 11. Both are outdoor bars nicely situated around the pool areas.
While shipboard activities were pretty varied, I didn’t partack of many. On the eight sea days I spent most of my time reading poolside or relaxing in the Solarium.
Overall, the service in all venues was excellent. Only minor exceptions were with the Sommelier for one table who was quite slow and sometimes simply ignored the fact I wanted a glass of wine. The only other borderline service was at the Martini bar where "showmanship” seemed to often take precedence over getting people their drinks.
Saw the first production show and enjoyed that very much. Otherwise, I didn’t see any of the shows as the timing just wasn’t right for my pre-dinner plans of meeting folks for a cocktail before dinner. One group I enjoyed immensely was the Beacon Street trio a very talented group (violin, viola, and cello) who played alternate evenings in the Cellar Masters bar or the Café al Bacio. I always enjoyed catching their sets especially with an afternoon glass of wine.
I opted for the "Express” departure, which meant I had to move my luggage (one suitcase, a carry on roller bag, and a shoulder bag) myself. Not a big deal and we did get off the ship a bit sooner than others. Disembarkation always seems chaotic but it really was pretty efficient including a very quick pass through customs and short wait for a cab.
I’ve always liked the Millennium class ships and have now been on all of them. "Millie” was pretty and very comfortable. There was plenty to do (or not if you wanted to just veg out). The food was very good, service impeccable and the experience as a whole very pleasant. I’d actually seriously consider doing this one again sometime.
Additional Port Reviews (could not choose in Port Selections)
Puntarenas, Costa Rica (Arial Tram Adventure)
The shore excursion choice here was difficult. I ended up with the Arial Tram ride, which was good but not exactly what I expected. In hindsight (always 20/20) I should have done one of the river trips. It should have been apparent that given it was midday, there would not be much wildlife. We did not see anything except a Macaw and some crocodiles on the bus ride to the conservation camp. There was included a short walk through a beautiful botanical garden with most flowers in full bloom.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatamala (Port Selection not an option) 4 stars for port
Originally I’d planned on the self-guided tour of Antigua but, at the last minute, cancelled that excursion and joined our group on a private tour that included Antigua plus a Macadamia nut farm for $10 less than the ship was charging. The tour was very good and our guide was superb with excellent English and an in depth knowledge of the area. If you’re going to see Antigua, I’d suggest hiring one of the guide companies located just inside the port terminal.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (Todos Los Santos excursion) 3 stars
This was an excursion to a village near Cabo that I hadn’t seen before so figured why not. Well, now I’ve seen it and won’t try to go back. The 90-minute drive there (75 minutes back) was pretty but there really wasn’t that much in the village except for a mission church and the Hotel California where we had a fair lunch. Not really recommended unless you really want to spend nearly 3 hours on a bus.