This was my and my husband's first trip to the Far East. Since we cannot take a long vacation at this stage, we opted for a cruise , and since we have happily sailed in the past with Celebrity, and the itinerary offered by them was quite outstanding (Yokohama/Shimizu/Kobe overnight/Nagasaki/Shanghai/Okinawa/Taipei overnight/Hong Kong) we decided to sail with the Millie, even given the vast lack of consensus about her (opinion ranging from "the grand old lady" to "that old hag of a ship").
Having left our teenager son at home, I thought it a good time as any to splurge on an AquaClass stateroom. The cruise was fully booked a full year before sailing day, and when stateroom 9051 became available, I happily pounced on it.
We arrived in Tokyo two days before the cruise, as many other cruisers did. It was a very good idea as it gave us the time to start adjusting to the time difference and to the very different culture and food. A couple of days more would have been even better. We spent a day touring Tokyo a bit with a private guide; others preferred to take a bullet train and visit Mt. Fuji, Kyoto and suchlike. All were very happy and impressed with Japan, its sites and the kindness and warmth of our Japanese hosts.
On Sunday we boarded the ship at Yokohama port, a short train ride from Tokyo station and a few minutes' journey by taxi from Yokohama station. The embarkment process was a total mess. Hundreds of people were waiting in a huge group in the cavernous hall. Somehow, Captain Club/Aqua Class passengers had been grouped with all the other staterooms, whilst Concierge , Zenith and Suites passengers had a (very short) queue of their own. Moreover, Celebrity had requested a few days before the cruise to prepare three copies of the photo page of our passports, but had not specified that each passport had to be photocopied separately, so the smallish photocopier in the hall was put to task and another big queue formed there. At a certain point AC passengers were told by one port assistant to go to the shorter queue, but then another assistant started arguing with her, and the confusion multiplied. On the other hand, during the cruise itself, the complicated process of immigration and emigration in and out of Japan (twice), China, Taiwan and Hong Kong SAR was effectuated on the ship in a very smooth and professional manner.
The ship is not new, that is sure - but it is lovely kept, and the crew is friendly and seems to be genuinely concerned in you having a happy and carefree vacation. There is indeed a big overhang due to the enlargment of deck 10, especially felt on deck 9 - but our deck 9 cabin was not dark as I feared and the overhang protected us from torrential rain some days and the hot rays of the sun on others. The noise from deck 10 on our heads was not too bad (cliking of heels a couple of time during elegant evenings and some trolley wheels rolling sounds which could be mistaken for thunder - and we had those too). All in all, the stateroom was pleasant and we spent many happy hours relaxing there.
The stateroom's bathroom was very nice. I appreciated especially the shower cabin and the shower column, and the nightlight. The toiletries were Gilbert and Soames, except for the shower gel, which was the Celebrity one. Our stateroom attendant, Lydia, was prompt, clean, honest and friendly.
Blu was one of the highlights of the cruise, not only for the high quality of the food, which strived and succeeded in delivering a refined haute cuisine experience whilst taking care to serve healthy alternatives wherever possible without renouncing to the tste and the quality - but also due to the lovely atmosphere there. Linda the maitre d'h and her assistant did a wonderful job of giving each group the best seats available, and many a happy and pleasant conversations took place between tables during supper and breakfast. In comparison, the Oceanview cafe was just ok, crowds being its main problem. We did not feel any need or urge to visit the specialty restaurants.
We did not see any shows, so I cannot comment about them, although I heard many passengers praising them. We enjoyed the presentations of the guest speakers , Ms Patricia Bjalaand Welch, who gave four very good talks on the various ports; and Mr Milos Radakovich, who talked about stars, weather, wildlife and the ocean in an engaging and interesting way.
Some of the mornings I tried to swim - but the pools outside were either cold or the seas too stormy to swim in a pool which is above one's height to start with.
As per the various ports - in Shimizu we met strong and incessant rains, so we saw only Kunozan Toshogu Shrine and went back to the ship. I understand the weather is very fickle in this part of the world, which further justifies stay a few days pre-cruise in Tokyo, and spend a sunny one of them visiting the mount area.
In Kobe we decided to leave the ship for the night, and visit Kyoto in depth for a day and a bit. We got back to the ship, our familiar Western bubble, thoroughly "shrined out" but charmed.
Nagasaki we - and many other passengers - toured on our own using the day pass for the tram sold in the port for 500 yen. We visited the Atomic Bomb Museum and the Memorial Park, the Spectacles Bridge, Chinatown and Dejima ( from the outside), the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture (recommended) and Hamamachi Dori, getting back long before the all aboard time.
In Shanghai we had a glitch due to the fact that the Himja typhoon hitting the area had caused the closure of the port, and although we arrived in good time and decent weather, the port authorities refused to let us in, even when our captain ( a most excellent officer and gentleman, Nikolas Christodoulakis, who with his faithful team made great efforts to keep us safe and made for a very smooth and enjoyable sailing) volounteered to take the ship on his own, without the assistance of the port's pilot. Not only that, the port's authority ordered us out of the port alltogether, so instead of docking at 7 am , we docked at 1pm - and it would have been much later had not our captain, again, volounteered to take the ship on his own, a suggestion which this time was accepted. This cut short our ( independent) and other shore excursions, which was a shame, since we had relatively very little time to start with and Shanghai port (Baoshan) is about an hour way from the Bund ( and the drivers seemed not to show any sympathy for traffic rules).
Back in Japan, we took a shore excursion to visit Okinawa, which was quite a letdown. Our guide was a very sweet and quite overeager lady, who did her best to translate in doubtful English what another guide said, and then proceeded to show her similarly doubtful singing and playing skills. Other groups experienced similar problems and the stop was not the summit of the cruise.
Taiwan, on the contrary, proved a very positive surprise, with many interesting sites less than an hour drive from the port (Keelung) including the National Palace Museum, Chiang Kai Shek memorial and Taipei 101 in Taipei, and Shifen Old street and Yehliu Geopark.
Finally, we reached Hong Kong, where we stayed overnight before disembarking. The Kai Tek terminal is quite far away from the city centre and a very long and narrow building which caused the disembarcation to feel like a long and cumbersome back and forth walk. On the first day, we took the free shuttle to the apm shopping mall, wasting a long time exchanging our leftover yens (most banks in Hong Kong change only to account holders - but with four different financial institutions authorised to issue HK dollars, who wants to risk being given counterfeit money?) and then waiting for the shops to open in the mall ( most opened at 11, some even later) . Then we went to the HK Museum of History - which I found very interesting and visually pleasing. After that, we boarded a sampan for a twilight cruise, which was lovely apart from the sudden intense downpour from the beginning of our cruise to its end - and then it was time to return to the ship, enjoy one more meal at Blu and pack. The disembarkment process was smooth and efficient and we found ourselves at our hotel - after having used the prepaid bus transfer provided by the ship to HK station) before 10am.
All in all, a most satisfactory cruise in which we met many very nice people and saw many interesting places. Well done, Celebrity!
The cabin is nice and well kept. There was enough space for our luggage and plenty enough hangers for our clothes. The overhang is substantial but does not turn the stateroom into a dark hole as I had feared, whilst protecting us from torrential rains or the hot sun rays. No seat scratching sounds from above, although occasional tik-taking of high heels, and trolleys rolling (akin to a distand thunder) could be heard. Great bathroom - especially shower column , shower door and the clever unobtrusive night light. Gilbert and Soames toiletries in AC - apart for the Celebrity shower gel, all very nice.