After much research, and the advice of a trusted friend and travel agent, we decided to go on the Millenium. My wife had been on two previous cruises; one to the Caribbean with RC, and last year in the Med with Regency for two weeks with her mom. I had no interest in either locations; being from Hawaii I like going places on vacation that are different, and enjoy fall colors in particular. So we decided Alaska was the ticket, and Celebrity would provide the quality that we are used to. I should add that we own a 5 star timeshare that has gotten us used to top flight accommodations, i.e. Hyatt, Marriot, Hilton Grand Vacations in locations like Incline Tahoe, Park City, Whistler, etc. So it was with some excitement that we booked a suite, figuring that we would want the extra space and the promised level of extra service that the Celebrity website bragged about.
So we arrived in Seward and got on board; that part was easy, we had beat the rush that was soon to come. We went to our cabin, and it looked quite nice, and then left to explore Seward, which is a fascinating town, and did not seem to have the endless jewelry stores that we would encounter in the next ports, which is another story. The aquarium was interesting and recommended. At any rate we returned to our cabin to bathe and get ready for our first night on board. The first bad sign were the pubic hairs in the tub; then my wife took a hand towel and wet it down, muttering that the floor was filthy. I didn’t believe her until she got off her hands and knees and showed me the once clean towel covered with dirt and grime on the bathroom floor. Not the sort of dirt from one or two missed cleanings; caked on dirt. Not an impressive start.
We had been invited to the Olympic the first night, their special dining room, and that was indeed a highlight. In fact, although it’s an additional $30 pp in retrospect we should have eaten there every night. Exceptional service and food. The next night we ate in the main dining room, and the food was good, but the service was not, and the crowds were noisy. Afterwards we walked around the ship and discovered an undocumented feature, the Water’s Edge dining room, apparently an experiment on the 10th deck port side. This was where we ate the next two nights, and found it to be much more relaxing than the main dining room. I’m not sure if they will continue it, but it was a much better option than the main dining room. My wife did say the food was much better than the other cruises that she had been on, and I will say the breakfast buffets were quite good, and many people were at the buffets at all hours.
Back to the cabin; on our third morning I went to the bathroom and was overwhelmed with a strong stench of urine. Could I have been sleepwalking and missed the toilet? Nope, a towel washing the floor didn’t help. Told our steward about it and went ashore. Came back on board in the afternoon and found two maintenance guys outside the cabin replacing some part of plumbing. Great, I thought, I wasn’t hallucinating. Unfortunately, this didn’t fix the problem, and the bathroom was still filled with a disgusting stench. Called the steward, he said maintenance would come back. Two hours later, called the concierge and complained. An hour later a maintenance fellow tapped on the door and said they’d fixed it, a pipe was unsealed. The smell persisted, and I called to complain again. By this time I was more than frustrated. Their solution was to have housekeeping bring a bunch of cleaners into the bathroom and flush and overwhelm the smell. I should point out that at no time did a manager get involved, nor was there a followup inquiry. Perhaps I have unrealistic expectations in service on a cruise ship versus a hotel. Celebrity certainly was clueless, and I was definitely dismayed by this experience. At the least there should have been a visit from a manager, along with a bottle of champagne and an apology for the inconvenience.
However, with the exception of the Olympic room, this ship seemed to be focused on one thing; getting as much money as possible from passengers from selling shore excursions, jewelry, and gambling, as well as alcohol. Our suite was on the sixth deck, directly above the lifeboats. We like to rest on our vacations, which typically are in a Hyatt or Marriot or Hilton timeshare with fireplace and Jacuzzi tub, etc. This includes catching up on sleep, so imagine our dismay when in our second port they had a lifeboat drill for the crew beginning at 10 am. So much for relaxing in the room, the noise was enough to drive us out of our cabin. And there was a halogen lamp between the lifeboats pointed directly at our cabin so you couldn't see a thing at night, and had to close the curtains carefully to get a dark room.
The fact is they don’t want you spending time in your cabin at all; most of the television was devoted to shore excursions and the sale of jewelry and spa experiences. A clue to this was the vcr player under the tv. So much for playing a dvd for a romantic evening in bed; in fact they’ve set up the tv’s so you can’t hook up an external device, and I don’t know what the heck the purpose of having a vcr in the room is, unless it is to hearken to a distant past before cell phones and the Internet. Ah yes, the nostalgia of the golden age of VCR’s, courtesy of Celebrity. We kept the tv on the chart showing our location, and did a lot of reading.
Oh, and speaking of the Internet, I was told there was wireless in the room, and bought the $99 package for it on the first day. This was another falsehood; there were wireless hot spots, as well as a room with pc’s in it running internet explorer 6, which most people stopped using four years ago for security reasons; heaven only knows how many people on that cruise used those pc’s and now their email and other passwords are probably being spread across eastern Europe right now, and if they were foolish enough to put credit card info into one those pc’s the smart thing to do would be to close that card immediately before getting charged for a few flat screen tv’s lol….. at any rate I’d take my notebook to the 5th deck, and use the exceptionally slow internet there. As I’m a puter geek I checked network speeds, and they were slower than a 14k dialup. My blackberry worked on most of the cruise, and I should have just used it and left the notebook in it's case.
The highlight of our shore visits was Skagway. As the onboard naturalist, who was a hoot and quite informative put it, the ports have “metastasized” into jewelry malls. Store after store after store selling jewelry. I took a picture of a row of them in Skagway with hawkers standing in front of each one trying to get passengers to come inside; this was far worse than the timeshare booths that used to wreck Hawaii until laws were put into place to control them. I really feel sorry for the residents of Alaska who have to be dismayed at what has happened to their ports, and I am surprised they have not had the desire to control these aggressive salespeople. It was with some relief that we went on the Skagway White Pass rail trip; a highlight of the trip, and highly recommended.
Celebrity has done their own private stop, as I am told is something they do in the Caribbean….. at Icy Strait which was a nice stop. Of course on the ship they did not mention the extensive hiking opportunities, as they were too busy pushing the zip line excursion. Once ashore we found that there were some excellent hikes, but by that time we had no time for it, as we had not planned on it based on the lack of information about them. The Celebrity profit machine was razor sharp in their focus, and self guided tours were anathema to them.
So we went to the Olympic again, had another marvelous and memorable dinner, and the Waters Edge as well. That and the railway and a truly awesome viewing of Hubbard glacier on a day that the captain said was the clearest of the season were the three best things of the cruise. We were quite lucky weatherwise, and enjoyed the Alaskan vistas, but could have done that on a ferry for part of an Alaskan vacation. I did get great pictures and as a photographer was quite pleased with that.
Disembarkation in Vancouver can only be described as complete chaos. First we’re told to go one place, then another, and the hordes trying to escape were pushing and shoving; my wife said it was quite unlike her other cruises, and I certainly hope so. Once we got off the ship and to Canadian customs, things improved markedly. We walked across the street to our suite on the gold floor at the Fairmont and thanked heaven that we were off the Millenium.
In summary, I was unimpressed with the ship and crew, excepting the Olympic. They seemed short handed in housekeeping, and had obvious quality control problems that senior management didn’t care about. At the resort I work at we have mystery shoppers quarterly, judging all aspects of the resort, and bonuses for staff are on a quarterly basis are based on a variety of scores from the shoppers and comments from our guests, many of whom return year after year. I’d say the hotel side of the ship should be sacked, at least on the housekeeping side; random checks by competent managers of rooms would have disclosed problems that should be fixed. But I suppose on a ship it's harder to get good help that sticks around.
I had to laugh at their attempts to get people to buy future cruises at a discount. Still, the ship gets good reviews in the 3 books I purchased prior to deciding on her, so perhaps the fact that it was their last Alaskan cruise of the season prior to heading south and the crew was burned out may have been a factor. This is not an acceptable excuse.
My wife, by the way, is delighted that I have now experienced a cruise, and won’t be asking to go on another. Give me a relaxing two weeks with a five star resort and a staff that is properly trained and I’ll be quite satisfied, and will never suggest a cruise again. She can’t wait to go back to the Fairmont Pacific Rim, where they understand what quality hospitality is all about. Oh well, live and learn. What might have been a great experience for someone a couple of years ago when they reviewed it certainly was not for us. However, things change; think about a restaurant that you used to love, and then went downhill. Unfortunately, this was not a restaurant, and we were on board for a week. At least the weather was good.