This much anticipated occasion of reuniting with a familiar acquaintance had been in the planning stages for almost two years. The agony and the ecstasy of waiting so long added to the excitement. Before anyone thinks this is going to get juicy I should clarify that the occasion was a Southeast cruise and the acquaintance was the Celebrity Millennium. The last time we sailed on a Millennium class ship was six years ago on the Constellation. However with "solstilization" what is old is new again and we looked forward to seeing the improvements since the April 2012 refurbishment. Like assessing an old flame that has had some major Botox you see the improved exterior but wonder if what lies beneath is a shallow personality. Would the cruise and refurbishment be tantamount to being dazzled by all the bells and whistles only to be sullied by bad behavior and broken promises?
Unfortunately that was the case. While the Millennium had some classy new venues including Cafe al Bacio, Bistro on Five, Qsine, Blu and a bevy of new aquaclass staterooms, the final result was more style but lacking in substance.
We had reasonable expectations for this new journey since our last Celebrity cruise on the Solstice a year and half ago. We expected to be returning to the comfort and familiarity of a good friend. However, the embrace was lukewarm and the result was more akin to feeling like a jilted lover. By the end of the cruise as in many relationships it was evident that we had ultimately grown apart. Being past Celebrity cruisers we had always thought they offered great value and service once onboard. We were sailing at the Elite level for the first time and were ill prepared for what was to unfold over the next two weeks
AQ 1141 was very basic. Nothing special at all. It was hard to believe it was Aquaclass. There was a orange sheer curtain, red sofa, strange bed rails and boring bland walls. The bathroom did have the Hansgrohe showerhead and a glass door for the shower. The best thing about the room was the location overlooking the wake. However this was also a negative as they still allowed smoking on the terrace below on Deck 10 and the smell of smoke especially while touring Halong Bay was quite annoying.
We had 36 hours to spend in Singapore. We actually stayed at a hotel since we arrived at 6:00 am on an overnight flight from Shanghai. We loved how clean and interesting the city was its modern shopping malls and historic buildings. We stayed at the Fullerton Bay Hotel which is right on the Singapore river overlooking the Marina Bay Sands. It was fabulous! We ate lunch at Raffles at the Tiffin Room and enjoyed the curry buffet. The Christmas lights on Orchard Road were not to be missed!
The passport fiasco on the ship delayed us by over 2 hours. We finally left the ship and met our driver from Oriental Escape. The drive to Bangkok was long in both directions. Over two hours going and almost three hours coming back. We lost most of the first day but still did an evening dinner cruise on the Loy Nava down the Chao Prhaya River. The food was just ok but the sights at night were wonderful. We stayed overnight at the Siam Kempinski which was pure luxury and so much nicer than the ship! We did not want to go back to port. Loved our room and the pool which we enjoyed for a few hours before we returned to port. We spent the morning at the Grand Place, Reclining Buddha and the Jim Thompson House which were all great. Took taxis and one tuk-tuk from the Jim Thompson House. A wonderful visit.
We booked a tour from our Celebrity Roll call with Smile. The tour had 10 people and we were picked up on the first day and brought to Saigon and then on the second day had a tour and returned to the ship. The Smile tour was just ok. They brought us to a lacquer store when we arrived in Saigon which was not on the itinerary. We left and went to our hotel instead by taxi. The Smile guide hardly explained anything and also decided we should skip the Bin Tay market but we insisted on going there and he relented. We saw the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral, post office and the history museum. Our last stop was the Ben Thanh market.
Saigon is a sea of motorcycles. I hired my own private guide from Viator for the first day and we spent the day shopping. We had a great time. My favorite store was Khai Silk. We had lunch at the Temple Club and then followed that up with Ice Cream at Fanny's downstairs. The ice cream is all natural and yummy! We went to a water puppet show the first night and enjoyed the 45 minute performance but would not lose sleep over missing it.
We stayed at the Saigon Nikko Hotel. It was nice but we would have been better off at the Sheraton which is closer to town.
We loved Hong Kong and spent the first day exploring Hong Kong. We went to the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill. The garden and buildings are beautiful. It is hard to image this is located in busy and chaotic Hong Kong. We enjoyed visiting the Chinese Arts & Crafts store near the Star Ferry and looking at the shopping arcade at the Peninsula Hotel. We took the Star Ferry to Central and then went to the IFC mall and had a snack before going to Hollywood Road for antiques and shopping. It was a busy day! We were docked overnight but had dinner at Aqua Tokyo which is located in Kowloon at One Peking Road. It was a five minute walk from the ship. The food was great and the view phenomenal, but close to what we had at the rear of the ship. We watched the light show from the restaurant which seems so overrated. Personally we thought the skyline of Shanghai was more interesting.
The Ocean Terminal was not our favorite place. It was hard to find our way back to the ship. There were very few signs for Millennium and we met many other passengers who were also lost. You had to walk through the mall to get to and from the ship. Easy to do in the morning when the stores were closed but a real challenge in a crowded mall.
On the second day we went to Macau which was very crowded right before Christmas. It was sort of disappointing. There were too many people and the Turbojet left often but immigration was very slow each way. I am glad we went but would probably not go back to Macau.
When we returned from Macau we went to have dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. They have a fabulous buffet in the Clipper Lounge. I am so happy that we ate her. It was fantastic and one of the best meals we had the entire trip. We then went to the airport where we had left our luggage earlier in the day. We had checked in online for our Cathay Pacific flight but just needed to check our bags. The Cathay flight was in Business Class to San Francisco. It was one of the best flights ever. The seat, food, IFE all great! Looking forward to flying Cathay again for a return trip to Hong Kong.