Despite substantially advertized efforts of “solsticizing” the Millennium, her age shows up in various places. I didn’t specifically look for the signs of aging, just noticed things here and there. It is clearly seen in quiet corners, and – sadly – in the staterooms. Glasstop table in our stateroom had a heavily rusted base ring; multiple hinges in the wardrobe were refit (yet, all the doors were loose), balcony door sill was rusty and painted over oh so many times, and the stateroom a/c unit behind the toilet wall was making all sorts of weird and strong noises during the whole cruise – despite continuous complaints, the techs were unable to fix that... However, understanding that the ship is in service for 16 years, and honoring the efforts of the crew to keep it neat and clean, one should be quite impressed with the overall Millie’s condition.
Public areas – stateroom hallways, staircases, foyers, bars, spa, I-café, etc. – were refurbished impressively nice. One thing that sells Millie’s aging easily is the condition of the bathrooms, both in the staterooms and in the public areas. Outdated fixtures and sinks, cheap mall-like separation walls, last century floor tiles, and wall décor is nowhere near the elegant and modern bathrooms on S-class ships (we have sailed on every S-class ship, just for the record; we also cruised on Millie’s sister ship, Infinity).
I am vouching a 100% for environment protection, but I kinda doubt that installing a sulfur oxide scrubber in ship’s exhaust system during the cruise is a sizeable effort in that direction, specifically if this makes the top deck messy and unsightly. If anything, it could’ve been done during recent Millie’s dry-docking.
MDR smells. Period. This is another sign of the ship’s long-time wear-and-tear.
Only positive things to say, from the Captain, who I met literally in every corner of the ship (e.g., wedding chapel, running deck, medical bay, hallways, basketball court converted into construction site for scrubber...) to our stateroom attendant to our waiter. One of the tests that I have on every cruise ship for the waiting staff is a request of something atypical, like asking to get me a glass of tomato juice during breakfast. It is not a standard item, and it takes for a waiter a trip to the galley to pour it there and to bring it back to the table. It may take somewhere from 10 mins to eternity to get it, depending on the class of the cruise line, eagerness of the crew member to serve, etc. ... but on Millie I was getting it within 10 mins every time.
Reception staff was always helpful and resourceful; very refreshing and pleasant experience.
This is the first time that we saw a decimation of the stateroom attending staff on Celebrity ship: now they have only a single attendant, no assistants anymore, and with 10+ cabins to clean, it is a tough chore for one guy!
Let me correct this. If you are not forking extra dineros for specialty restaurants, or you are not in the suites or Aqua Spa level cabins, it is not a DINING any longer on Celebrity. It is a good level Applebee’s or Red Lobster’s eating, with rare infusions of occasionally tasty dishes from good old days of Celebrity’s glory.
Food quality and taste on Celebrity cruise line ships continues to deteriorate. It is amazing how it varies even among supposedly similar menus on S-class ships, but Millie’s galley is far behind those. However, if you have a good, experienced and – importantly – honest waiter, you still could find a good meal choice. Fish was prepared better than meat/poultry on this cruise, and seafood choice was also wider.
Desserts were (again) of Applebee’s level.
Lavazza coffee was noticed only by the brand-labeled paper cups and coffee-making machines; other than that, the taste of the regular coffee across the whole ship was close to atrocious, unless you are paying extra in Bistro on 5. (Even in the Captain’s Club Breakfast Break (we are Elite members) we had – twice! - a Cappuccino with extra espresso shot that resembled an espresso machine wash-down water...).
The sitting capacity of Millie’s Oceanview Café is adequate and even bigger than on S-ships (proportionately to the number of guests), but the design of “all-in-line” stations is outdated and needs to be changed to the “islands” like on S-ships. It was easy to find a table during breakfast or lunchtime, but lines – especially to cooking stations (omelets, pasta etc.) – were often too long.
To summarize Millie’s eating experience, for a regular folk who does not want to pay additional fees it is not a great one. Yes there are nice dining options, but it costs extra, and paying 90 bucks for a couple in order to get a tasty dinner on the top of what you already paid for your cruise meals is outrageous. I only can compare this with Oceania ships, where specialty restaurants come free, and btw, Oceania’s Red Ginger restaurant beats Sushi on Five hands down even without 45$ pp surcharge.
There was an incident related to how eagerly the specialty restaurants do want to get their seats filled.
On second day, we received a flyer in the cabin (by the way, the amount of paper that is wasted on ANY cruise line for this useless and annoying advertisement method is incredible... If this stops, and the amount of food waste is halved, why would Millie need a SO2 scrubber? :)) – so we received a flyer with Celebrity Today newspaper that offered a bundled deal (89$ pp) for three dinners at all three specialty restaurants. When I called to inquire, I was told that it was the deal “from previous cruise” and that now the price is $109 pp... Huh??!
One additional thing to mention.
This was not a booze cruise by far, but it was quite noticeable that during the whole cruise the bar staff was pushing VERY hard to sell the beverage packages. To say the least, the first thing that was literally shoved in our faces once we stepped onboard was an iPad with beverage package “promotions” – in fact, the bar staff guy almost grabbed the stateroom keys from our hands to “enroll” us...
Embarkation in Yokohama was flawless. Disembarkation in Shanghai was disorganized, although ship’s personnel tried to help local operators as much as they could. We purchased Celebrity’s pier-to-city transfer for $54 pp, and instead of 9:30 am per schedule we disembarked about an hour later and still had to wait in the “sardine corner” of terminal for another 20 mins until being escorted to the bus.
We checked the excursions available from Celebrity beforehand. The story is standard: hugely overpriced and not really diversified or attractive by content. Example: Celebrity excursion from Kobe to Kyoto was priced at about $240 pp and included only Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu-Dera as highlights plus lunch, all for 9 hrs with trip on Shinkansen (bullet train). For comparison, we hired a local driver-guide with minivan from MK Taxi Co. in Kyoto for 5 of us, and paid about $600 for everything, including lunch in fabulous traditional Japanese restaurant in Gion district. We saw four UNESCO heritage sites, including Golden Pavilion and Kiyomizu-Dera, plus Gion district in 6 hrs (not counting the train time to/from Kyoto) and rode a super-rapid train Kobe-Kyoto for 1/4 of the price of Shinkansen, spending about 45 min each way.
This is certainly not the first and not the last complaint about the cost and the quality of Celebrity’s excursions. Actually, for many other cruise lines it is even more absurd, but I won’t go yapping further about this – it seems that cruise companies really don’t care. I also do understand that this is a matter of personal preference.
What bothers me more concerning shore excursions on Celebrity ships is the lack of in-depth information about the ports of call. This can and should be organized better. The on-board TV programming about ports of call seems to be done by middle-school students, very generic and oblivious. Oceania ships have local guides coming onboard right after ship is cleared, so cruisers could consult on the localities BEFORE they go ashore. You may say it is not that important, but it is: you learn what to take ashore additionally or how to dress appropriately for, say, temple visits etc. – all that before you leave the ship. Small but often valuable detail.
This is a very popular destination and many things are said by others, I don’t want to be redundant. If you stay overnight onboard in Yokohama like we did, it’s a nice city on its own, and lots of places are just next to the international terminal. Train system is extremely useful and efficient, it is not that complicated to learn on the spot how to buy tickets (English-written instructions are available in the ticket machine touch screens), and Japanese people are so polite and helpful that even if they do not speak English well, they sympathize your trouble and will go a long mile (sometimes literally walking with you to point out!) to help. We bought SUICA IC cards, rechargeable electronic multi-pass tickets that we used everywhere when traveled by trains or when bought stuff in the Family Mart stores, this is a very good way to spare the hassle of figuring out the fare etc. You can charge the card with up to 20,000 JPY.
This was a relatively short stop, only 7 hrs, and we sailed off at 3 pm. The highly touted attraction there is the magnificent view of Mt. Fuji, which is considered a premier spot for all of Japan for this purpose... Millie clipped the tails of two typhoons during this trip, and naturally, except a couple of days in the middle of the cruise (Kagoshima/Nagasaki and somewhat sunny day in Busan) the rest was just rain, often drenching, like in Shimizu... So no Fuji in site anywhere. But forget Fuji! I wanted – for years – to visit Kunozan Toshogu Shinto shrine, one of the sacred places in Japanese history, the place of the first mighty shogun of Edo era, Tokugava Ieyasu. It was a dreamlike experience, because when we reached the shrine, the rain started pouring crazy, and except us, there were only three other people in the whole complex.
One thing related to the early departure (3 pm) from Shimizu.
All-aboard was 2:45 pm, many people came early and conveniently wanted to have lunch onboard. I have never seen such a stampede in the Oceanview café – it seemed that everyone on board decided to eat at that time. I saw folks taking plates down a deck and eating in the library (I kid you not). Naturally, lines to the stations were mile-long and it looked like café staff was unprepared to that – more popular dishes were flying off the stations, and replacements were not hurried in...
First day we took a super-rapid train to Himeji, where the famous Himeji castle is placed. Two stops on port liner train took us to Sannomiya station, from where we went to Himeji.
From Himeji station you can walk straight to the Himeji castle (20-25 min walk). Very well-preserved and unique site. Highly recommend for those who likes Japanese samurai movies :) You walk six stories up through a wooden maze of the rooms breathing history in the palace...
For a second day we booked the excursion in Kyoto (see above). Incredible place. I cannot name any other city in the world that has over a dozen UNESCO Heritage Sites, and many of them are within a walking distance. Surreal tranquility of ancient but well-kept gardens. Millennium-old amazing stories and traditions. You breathe all that in Kyoto.
Nothing spectacular, except we happened to arrive during their local holiday and the city was booming with crowd plowing through the mega-store (three huge malls linked with underground passages). Sushi, bakery, ramen, udon, sweets of all kinds... Everybody was so nice and kind! They had a few dozens of elderly volunteers who navigated Millennium cruiser’s way through the city – they wore yellow jackets, seen from afar.
Spent a few hrs downtown; neat port city, amazing view of the active volcano Sakurajima from the ship. Last eruption – February 2016! There is a nice market downtown, and a XVI century old castle nearby, well kept and impressive.
Very touching welcome on arrival from local tourist board. The top attraction for this strategic Japanese port is A-bomb memorial and Peace Park. I did not want to see that. Personal reasons. We opted out to walk the line of temples and cemeteries along Teramachi, Temple Street. Amazing experience on early Sunday morning. Again, as at Kunozan Toshogu in Shimizu, only a few people where with us there, locals who came to prey or to visit their loved ones... Rich history (I was moved mightily when read a few obituaries in English next to the tombs, for famous locals... They talk about times when Dutch and Brits were fighting to establish the control over the port!).
Miserable weather the whole day. Nothing close to Hawaii, although the island is claimed to be Korean Hawaii :). We hired a cab straight from port and went around, visiting a few places of various interests, including Loveland sculpture park. Quite unusual way of inspiring young Koreans to have more children. Waterfalls seemed to be popular as well, but they are relatively far from port.
(Big difference between Korea and Japan is an often-cold reaction of Koreans related to your attempt to ask the direction...)
For us, it was an incredible discovery of the modern, massively populated, well-developed city-port. Great organization of free shuttle service to downtown – no waiting in line at all. Haeundae I’Park complex is like a snapshot from futuristic sci-fi movie. Google it, you’d be stunned. We took a 2hr City Bus tour, very much recommended!
Again, this is a well-documented point in many itineraries. We stayed post-cruise for three days there. The Bund, temples, noodles, soup dumplings, People’s Park, shopping. Unfortunately, Saturday October 1 was the first of the National Day holidays in China, and Shanghai streets were jammed with visitors. Scary experience of being caught underground, during the closure of Nanjing Rd East subway station in the evening – the police were shutting down the exits one by one, and the crowd was frantically trying to get out at the nearest exit, with no avail...
Qi Pu market is a mecca for cheap clothes, bags etc. in Shanghai. Went there just to soak in the experience. Interesting trend: once you are “glued” by the street picker, a man or a woman who aggressively calls you to see “el cheapo” bags or watches or clothes, he/she will follow you anywhere in Qi Pu, and try to lure you to his/her “sister”-“brother”-“untie” stalls. It is a fascinating tactics to watch :)
Great itinerary often makes for a great cruise, even if the ship is not perfect.
This was exactly the case with us.
We are devoted Celebrity cruisers, and will sail with Celebrity again, but on S-class ships.
Millie was a pride of Celebrity for years, and if tradition needs to be held high, she needs to be fixed well, not just brushed on the surface.