Disappointing Weather Beleaguered Odyssey to the China Seas
This was out tenth cruise with Celebrity plus a further three more with the RCCL Group, and overall, this was by far our worst cruise experience yet. It is difficult to ... Read More
Disappointing Weather Beleaguered Odyssey to the China Seas
This was out tenth cruise with Celebrity plus a further three more with the RCCL Group, and overall, this was by far our worst cruise experience yet. It is difficult to pinpoint precisely why we came away so disappointed but there was something distinctly odd about this cruise.
We are relatively experience travellers and fully accept that one must accept the rough with the smooth while traversing our glorious planet and as such find it somewhat churlish to complain when things do not always go to plan, but from the get go the cruise lacked any atmosphere. Perhaps this was due to the scheduled 20h00 departure time when most guests were either at dinner or in the grand theatre, so the usual sail away party that encourages guests to get into a party mood never effectively happened. A further contributing factor could well have been the highly diverse demographic on this cruise where passengers of the various distinct nationalities tended to stick to themselves. Of course, the strange weather we experienced on the trip did not help sailing through a major storm on the second day of the cruise and then effectively losing two days anchored either in a harbour or out at sea due to dense fog that restricted access to or egress from a couple of the ports we were scheduled to visit during the cruise.
The general feeling of discontent that permeated the ship, shared by many other passengers whom we interacted with throughout the cruise, inevitably had a dampening effect on the overall cruise experience. Yet the cruise ship management team seemed to be quite blissfully unaware of the obvious malaise developing among their passengers.
Based on this cruise, we can only infer that the standards of the Celebrity brand generally are slipping. In virtually all aspects a clear deterioration of their product offering was notably detected. Some random observations in this regard include:
Entertainment: Apart from the ship’s hard working orchestra, a really top notch card magician and an energetic female singer who really knew how to work a crowd, the quality of entertainment offered was very poor. Indeed how some of the acts could possibly ever have been contracted frankly beggars belief and suggest Celebrity is scraping the bottom of the barrel when it comes to attracting cruise ship performers.
Food: The quality of food in the main dining room was always well presented but generally somewhat bland. The same could be said of the buffet dining option in the Ocean View Café which was in the main uninspiring and very much of the sameness day after day. However, in the defence of the F&B team, it must have been extremely difficult to cater for the tastes of the multicultural demographic on board. The obvious conclusion the typical passenger must come to is that the notable decline in the “for free” restaurants is but a not too subtle way of persuading guests to use the speciality restaurants, most of which did not seem to be that well patronised. We object paying what we consider to be an excessively exorbitant couvert charge for the speciality options, the Tuscan Grill and QSine, a sentiment that is shared by most other passengers as neither of these two venues seemed to be that well utilised.
In the event, we did sample the fare of Sushi on 5, the speciality Japanese venue and were well satisfied with the meal which was well presented, tasty and good value.
Guest Speakers: We usually enjoy the “On the Podium” enrichment lectures of the guest speakers on board. On this occasion however, the talks namely a series on Buddhism and another on oriental art were clearly not of much interest to the rank and file passenger and were extremely poorly attended. Apart from the first lecture in these series which were held in the Cosmos Lounge, subsequent lectures of both series were offered in the huge main Celebrity Theatre. On one occasion the art history lecturer had an attendance of less than ten in the Celebrity Theatre venue, while on the occasions we attended either of the speaker’s offerings, we never counted more than thirty to forty people in attendance. Surely seeing these enrichment talks were being so poorly patronised, The Cruise Director should have offered the speakers a more intimate venue?
Cruise ship management: As mentioned previously, the cruise ship management did not seem to be able to gauge the level of non-satisfaction that enveloped the ship. Ship officers were seldom seen around the ship, and the Cruise Director did not seem to understand that the poor attendance at organised activities on board could mean that passengers were not all that happy with what was being offered, and communication with passengers (especially during times when the ship lay anchored off shore or in port – on two occasions for almost a full 24 day) was woefully inadequate. Even the affable Captain Alex, whose humorous daily admonitions of peace and love often did provide sound food for thought, was found wanting in this regard when passengers were kept completely in the dark for almost 24 hours while the ship was anchored at the port of Incheon which was closed due to excessively reduced visibility. Communication from the Cruise Director did improve when the ship was again anchored off shore outside Shanghai for a further extended period, so perhaps the ship’s management did learn from their previous shabby performance after all.
Itinerary: We chose this cruise because of the itinerary as a visit to Beijing, in particular, had long been on our bucket list. While completely out of Celebrity’s control, the delayed arrival in Incheon, the full day lost while the ship was anchored in Incheon because of the port’s closure and the further delay while Shanghai port remained closed, all had the effect of severely constricting the limited time available to see the attractions in Seoul, Beijing and Shanghai . Specifically, we had booked a three day two night ship excursion to Beijing which was to be the highlight of our trip. Unfortunately because of the weather, this excursion had to be reduced to a two day, one night offering which meant that the attractions and sites to be visited had to be concertinaed into two not three days resulting in minimal time being spent at some key attractions such as the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, or to some attractions such as the Summer Place not being visited at all. Most disappointing. Similarly we had a half day hotel drop off ship excursion in Shanghai at the end of the cruise. This too had to be curtailed as the excursion which was scheduled to be completed by about 13h00, only started at 16h45 because of the ship’s late docking. However, all’s well that ends well as the excursion enabled us the see the Bund in Shanghai at night. Awesome!
The ship: The Millennium was ostensibly refurbished only two years ago. Clearly this refurbishment was focused primarily on upgrading the experience of suite class passengers as the refurbishment seems to have been restricted to reconfiguring the speciality and suite class restaurants and to upgrading suite class staterooms. Very little attention was paid to the more frequently used public areas such as the Ocean View Café and surrounds which are in a particularly bad state, or to the standard staterooms. Our Concierge class stateroom while clean and adequately equipped was drab and in dire need of upgrading. However, while ageing and in urgent need of a complete makeover, the Millennium was always kept clean and well maintained.
Service: The one enduring positive of the cruise was the generally good to excellent service we received from most of the service staff with whom we interacted be they stateroom attendants, barmen, waiters or stewards. It is really one area where the RCCL Group have got it right and staff invariably are attentive, well trained, obliging and cheerful, always seemingly willing to go the extra mile and undertake their duties with a smile. By contrast, we found some of the more professional staff in Guest Relations and particularly Shore Excursions to be surly and off-hand. Perhaps this was because a lot of extra work was thrust on them to amend or rearrange a number of excursions that were affected by the weather issues. But they should acknowledge that the passengers were also significantly inconvenienced during this cruise. It is after all, their job!
Despite these obvious shortcomings, the cruise nevertheless presented us with opportunity to exploring some unique parts of the East and to view many iconic sites first hand. Some highlights included:
• Exploring the beautiful temple and gardens of Zhongheng Park in Keelung (the port city for visits to the capital Taipei), site of the majestic 25 metre high statue of the Goddess of Mercy – the biggest such statue in SE Asia
• Visiting Peace Memorial Park and Atomic Bomb museum in Nagasaki, a most moving experience and a timely reminder that we have to keep the nuclear weapons out of the hands of hardliners wherever they may exist
• Traversing the ultra modern city of Busan by hop on – hop off bus. Unfortunately a rushed visit so we did not have the time to see the famous fish market, apparently one of Busan’s main attractions
• Viewing an ancient volcanic crater site followed by a close up view of centuries old village life on Jeju Island
• Visiting, albeit in a somewhat hectic fashion in view of the delay in arriving in Tianjin, most of the major iconic attractions of the city of Beijing including the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the Temple of Heaven
• Staying for one night in the glorious China World luxury hotel (as part of the included Beijing experience). Certainly one of the best hotels we have yet stayed at
• Viewing the lights of Shanghai at night
• A most interesting post cruise a private day long tour of the ancient village of Su Zhou and the unique 900 year old water village of Zhou Zhuang.
We have been loyal Celebrity cruise passengers for over ten years where we have been privileged to enjoy many wonderful experiences. This only further serves to heighten our concerns at the apparent (but notable) decline in the quality of the Celebrity product. Had we not already have booked and fully paid for a further Celebrity cruise of Canada and New England this coming September (which we seriously considered cancelling), the Millennium cruise of China and South Korea would probably have been our last with Celebrity. Hopefully, our experience on the Summit in September will restore our faith in the Celebrity brand. However, whatever the outcome we feel the time has now come for us to explore the products offered by competitor cruise lines so, in all probability, we shall be bidding a fond but sad farewell to the Celebrity brand after our Canada/New England cruise. Read Less