I chose this cruise because it sailed to countries that I had not visited before and also went to South Korea, a place I had visited 20 years ago.
Celebrity Millennium cruise ship
Check in experience at Hongkong
Celebrity omitted to inform the prospective passengers that they would need two copies of their passport, when they checked in at the Hong Kong international cruise terminal.
This caused hundreds of passengers to line up to have their passport, copied to meet the criteria..
Then when we finally made it to the check in counter, we were requested to have a visa to visit china for three days.
We had already contacted the Chinese embassy prior to travelling to Hongkong to confirm if a visa was necessary.
Their information was, that if we were staying less than 144 hours, we would not require a visa.
We had a confirmation email from the Chinese Embassy so, after long deliberation, they let us onboard.
We had only just boarded the ship when we were required to line up again and hand over our passports for the Taiwan immigration. This could easily have been done as we were boarding the ship, as we had to walk about a kilometre back and forth through the Hong Kong international terminal. They could have set up a passport station along this route, where the passengers would hand over their passport, and receive a receipt.
This would have saved a lot of time and the unnecessary lining up, but they didn’t.
We were supposed to be concierge passengers, which meant, we payed an additional $400aud per person for express check in and other privileges on the ship. We feel cheated as we had no special treatment other than a tray of canapés that were no larger than a twenty cent piece. When quizzed about our special privileges, we were given a bottle of Champaign. I am not convinced that the canapés and bottle of Champaign would have cost $800 Aud
First stop Tiapei (Taiwan)
Following a day at sea, travelling from hongkong to Tiapei, we arrived at 7.00am to a foggy morning and lots of Taiwan warships lined up along the docks.
The immigration inspection went smoothly, and passengers who had not booked on the cruise ships tours, made their way 500m down the dock to the railway station where the train took us into Taipei. The station was directly under the Taipei101 building the highest building in Asia and the world, until 2012.
The ships tour groups, along with the passengers doing their own thing, all travelled to the top of this building in the fastest lift in the world .Taipei 101 has 2 lifts that only takes 37 seconds to travel from the 5th floor to the 89th floor of the skyscraper.
The train trip cost around $12Aud return and the building entry fee was $ 27 AUD.
The tour organised by the ship was $175US to visit the same location. Admittedly, the ship tour was on a bus, and took a different route to the building, and included a lunch. Speaking to other passengers who took the ships tour, they informed us that they spent a couple of hours looking for 4 passengers who got separated from the tour, and held everybody up so their day was ruined.
Next stop Busan
Following another day at sea during which time the ship had some electrical equipment problems between Taiwan and Busan South Korea, which meant that they lost power to most of the ship. The ship limped along at about 2 knots and we were 4hours late arriving at Busan.
There were major problems for the crew, who tried to arrange shore excursions and get passengers through the Korean immigration system. The ship blamed the immigration dept, but when we went through the system, it was working like clockwork, and there were no hold ups at all. Most passengers had been held up waiting to get off the ship for over 90 minutes only to find the immigration dept officers, waiting for passengers to come through. The ship was the hold up, not the immigration dept.
During the power shortage, the kitchens were unable to cook meals, wash dishes, provide air-conditioning to the dining rooms, or boil water in the urns for tea and coffee. The staff did the best they could, but it was a major problem across the whole ship.
There wasn’t any compensation offered to the passengers who had less than 2 hours of daylight to look around the city, and had endured long waiting times trying to get off the ship. Some free drinks would have gone a long way to compensate the passengers, but nothing was offered. The ship was only designated to be at Busan for 6 hours but when it did not arrive until 4 pm in the afternoon this became 2 hours to have a look around during daylight hours. I admit the electrical breakdown could not have been foreseen, but given that passengers had paid good money for the cruise, some compensation should have been offered. The ship delayed its departure until 11pm to allow the tour groups to complete their tours.This was the only concession made by the cruise line.
Next stop Incheon Korea
The port at Incheon is about 1.5 hours from Seoul (the advertised port of call on the itinerary) and the train stops at all stations along the way. The town of Incheon is 30 minutes from the dock.
There were no money exchange establishments at the dock and as the ship only changed passengers money into US dollars, passengers ,were forced to find banks that were open ,and would change foreign currency, into Korean won.. There were no arrangements made for the passengers who found the shore excursions too expensive. The cruise line arranged a shuttle bus into Incheon and that was it. The shuttle bus dropped passengers off in the street in Incheon, and with no guide or Korean speaking interpreter available, passengers were once again left to their own devices trying to negotiate with Korean Taxi drivers, who struggled with the English language.
The ship could have had a Korean interpreter available to help people, but chose to leave them all to their struggle by themselves. The ships attitude was that, if you wanted organised tours, then pay the exorbitant fees for their tours, or fend for yourself. The ship had no money changing facilities for passengers to change money for any of the countries that we were visiting.
All tours arranged by the ship were charged in US dollars which were meant that Australian passengers were out of pocket by 30%, before they started. All tours were in excess of $250 US per person.
Entry into china
During the days at sea between Busan and Incheon the ship informed all passengers that, if you don’t have a Visa to enter china, then you won’t be allowed to leave the ship.
This left over 200 passengers at the mercy of the ship, who demanded $350us for a visa that could be purchased in Australia for $169. There were passengers from Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and America as well as the Australians who had all been informed that they did not require a Visa. Following lengthy and heated discussions with all of these nationalities the guest relations Leader was called in to explain the exact meaning of the transit visa.
The Guest relation leader was able to explain the Visa requirements that the Chinese embassy could not.
In simple terms, to be eligible for the 144 hr visa, you must be a transit passenger, travelling from one country into China, and leaving to a third country, which cannot be the same country, that you entered from. For example when we left Jeju island, which is part of Korea and entered China at Shanghai, we had an airline ticket to a third country, being Thailand, which meant that the 144hr visa would cover this visit The visit to Beijing china coming from Incheon Korea and then returning to Jeju island Korea, meant that we did not meet the transit passenger criteria.
If the Chinese embassy had have explained this rule, and passed this information on, then the 200 passengers who thought that they had checked out the visa requirements, would not have been put in this position. For many, the massive fee being charged was too much, and they chose to stay on the ship for the 3 days that we were in port.
The Port of Tainjin is 1.5 hrs from the town of Tainjin which is 1.5 hrs from Beijing. Once again the ship had made no arrangements to transport passengers from the port to available public transport and they were left to negotiate with Chinese taxi drivers who had upped their fees because there were two ships in port at the same time.
In contrast, the other ship, from Holland America, had 10 shuttle busses available for their passengers waiting on the dock.
The ship organised tours to Beijing, visiting the great wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and Chairmen Mao’s house. These tours started at $275us per person and depending on the tour selected, the price went upwards from there ,so when converted into Australian dollars, a family of three would be up for over a thousand dollars to take the cheapest tour being offered. The tours took over twelve hours and included 8 hours of travel on a tour bus.
The Port of Tainjin is too far away from Beijing making tours expensive and tiresome. If China intends for this to be their main Beijing Port for all visiting cruise ships, it will need to extend the bullet train tracks to the Port.
Currently the bullet train runs from Tainjin and takes 40 minutes to reach Beijing. The battle is getting from the Tainjin port to the Tainjin station which is 1.5hrs away.
Next port of call was Jeju South Korea
Because the ship chose to go from Busan to Incheon, and then Beijing , passing Jeju island, along the way, and then back to Jeju island, they caused 2500 passengers to pay for a visa, that would not have been required if they had called in at Jeju island on the way to Incheon.
They also have used twice as much fuel crossing the East China Sea, three times instead of once.
The island of Jeju was a little bit more organised with a hop on hop off bus provided at the port to take passengers around the island. The ship had its tours available as well, but passengers were able to see most of the island for a very modest price of $16 AUD on the hop on hop off bus, instead of the $175US charged by the ship.
There were many cherry blossom trees out in flower around the island and they made a great display. The bus took passengers past the international airport and around the coast rd to the far side of the island. There were 16 stops where passengers could get off or on the bus.
Final port of call, back across the east China sea again, to Shanghai.
The ship arrived at Shanghai at 6.00am and passengers disembarked in groups as designated by the ship.
Shanghai was about an hour’s drive from the port and the taxi drivers were a much better group to deal with. There were booking agents, who organised limousine van drivers, to take passengers and their luggage to their hotels at reasonable prices. This of course was not organised by the cruise line.
The ship provided nightly shows in their theatre, many of which were very good. One group calling themselves the Aussie boys were excellent, singing songs from the 70’s 80’s and 90’s. The soul singers were also quite good and the mime duo was excellent. There ship had 6 days at sea during which time passengers had to amuse themselves. Other cruises that I have been on have had nonstop Karaoke, cooking classes for women and interested men, shuttle board courts, golf driving ranges, rock climbing walls and basket ball courts. Celebrity has very little to offer, and use art auctions, and Jewellery sales trying to make up for their lack of foresight.
Celebrity cruises appear to have one major objective. Once they have enticed you onto one of their cruises, by offering a reasonable price for your fare to get you onto their ship, then they do everything in their power, to up sell you to spend more and more money, on beverage packages, soft drink packages, tours that have hugely inflated prices, and are all charged in US dollars, photograph packages, art auctions, watch sales, jewellery sales, and the list goes on. One lady bought a painting at one of their auctions for $50us and when she went to pick it up, was told that they only had a copy for sale purposes, and that her copy would need to be posted to her, at a cost of $65us .
They take your photo when you get on the ship and then want to take your photo as many times as possible at every port, charging $25US per photo. They even offer to put it in a small frame for an additional $75US.
The ship has 5 additional restaurants that are not included in the price for the cruise. The crew spend every available minute during meal times in the buffet café, trying to entice you to visit these other restaurants, which cost $125US per head to eat at them.
Celebrity could make their cruises much more enjoyable for their passengers, if they provided options for them to access public transport. They could have an interpreter at each Port, who would be one of their crew members, that could help passengers to negotiate with the foreign taxi drivers, overcome language barriers, and show them how to get to public transport.
They could provide shuttle busses at every port to get passengers to the nearest public transport. Passengers would not mind paying a small fee for the shuttle bus, if it took them to the train stations etc.
Celebrity cruises need to provide money changing services at their concierge desk, so that passengers can change money into the currency of the country that they are about to visit. Most passengers would not mind receiving a little less than the going rate for the convenience of being able to do this, in a calm organised way while the ship is at sea .
The rooms on the ship were comfortable and the cabin stewards do a wonderful job. Our steward was excellent and nothing was too much trouble for him.
The stateroom that I was in had an adjoining door between my room and the one next door, for a family. This door was kept locked, but the wind whistled in through the gap around the door and kept me awake at night until the cabin steward had it repaired.
This is the first cruise that I have been on, that didn’t supply free bottled water in the stateroom. It was available, but at $5US per bottle. Ships such as Holland America and Royal Caribbean supply two bottles per day to each cabin, free of charge. There was no kettle, cup and saucers, or tea and coffee supplied in the room. This was provided, after requesting it from the cabin steward. We managed to have our stateroom steward arrange a jug of ice water, delivered to our stateroom each day ,to have clean, cool, drinking water available.
One of the biggest complaints that I have, is the lack of security for your passport, on Celebrity cruises.
The guest assistance desk made many bad mistakes regarding passports, sending messages to our room, requesting us to deliver our passports to them, while all the while they were holding our passports, in their office. They had even issued us with a receipt when we handed over our passport but they were unable to understand their own system. It was a clear that the right hand did not know, what the left hand was doing
The Visa that we have paid $750US for was taken by the ship and we had nothing to show that we even had a Visa. We threatened to have our bank stop payment on the credit card if they didn’t provide us with copies of the expensive visas
Celebrity appear to go out of their way to make it as hard as possible for passengers to go their own way, trying to force you to use their tours, which do not suit everybody, as they may not want to look at temples in every port.
The activities on the boat leave a lot to be desired as they only have a few trivia quizzes and a few board games, plus the occasional skill completion with bow and arrow. There is the Casino when the ship is in open waters, but it is not everybody’s cup of tea.
The intercom system only broadcasts into the corridors, unless there is an emergency. Most of the announcements are more than half over, by the time passengers can get their door open and get out into the corridor. The ship should have a switch in each cabin so the passengers can decide if they want the messages broadcast into their cabin or not. The emergency messages would come through, regardless of whether the switch is on or off. There is also no communication phone in the bathrooms on the ship, and should a passenger take a turn or a fall, they have no way of obtaining assistance, until the steward comes in to make their room up for the night.
The ocean view café staff were excellent, and I could not speak highly enough of them. They worked long hours, always with a smile on their face, even though some passengers would have been very hard to deal with. The food was excellent, and there was plenty of variety, from Pizza and hot dogs through to roast lamb, roast beef, steak sausages, chops and a variety of vegetables. There was a salad bar and a seafood section, there was an Indian food section, and there was an Asian food section. There was fresh fruit and sweets including icecream and soft serve.
The ala carte dining room was well utilised but most passengers then came down to the ocean view café, to make up for the tiny portions offered in ala carte.
The beauty of the oceanview café was you had no time restrictions placed on you, and you had all the food you could eat, and all the variety you could wish for.
I did not enjoy the problems endured on this cruise and would not cruise on Celebrity cruises again Read Less