Celebrity Millennium Ship Review
In November 2018 we took a 14 Night/15 Day cruise departing from Yokohama Osanbashi International Passenger Terminal, with stops in Japan, Shanghai, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The Celebrity Millennium ship was showing its age, but it was very clean and well maintained. The staff told us that the ship was going into dry dock in Jan 2019 and would be completely refurbished, so if you go anytime in (or after) Feb 2019 much of the main areas of the ship will be new/refreshed.
The Main Dining Room Service was generally very good, there were only a few times when seating at Dinner was chaotic (the last night was terrible). The problem seemed to be breakdown of communication between the ladies up front making the table seat assignments and staff on the floor seating people (not sure why). There was always good variety of food choices but not once in 14 nights was any Japanese or Chinese food served in the Main Dining Room (we would have liked this option), although it was served in the buffet on select nights.
Quisine specialty restaurant was worth the $30 per person upcharge we paid for it (we got a discount). The food selection was very good/different, but even picky eaters will find a lot to enjoy here, so don’t let the food descriptions put you off. We liked it better than Tuscan Grill.
Café Bacio - the coffee/pastries here were excellent and we thought the staff gave the best service on the ship! They could expand this area 3 times and it would still be full. My only complaint related to other guests, some of whom would park themselves at a table for 4 (or 2) with a laptop and sit there for hours taking up tables.
Immigration Clearance and Port Shuttles
You can’t find out in advance from Celebrity (we tried) but at EVERY port there was a FREE Shuttle; depending on the port it would take you right into town OR to a train station. So, if you don’t want to take a cruise-ship tour (and you are an independent traveler) you don’t need one.
Shanghai is the exception; you need to be very careful at this port. If you don’t book a tour with Celebrity, the Reception Desk makes you prove that you have either (a) booked a Private Tour AND that the Tour Operator has obtained the immigration clearance on your behalf or (b) a FULL Visa to visit China. Even people who DID have a Full Visa had problems getting off the ship (Celebrity staff questioned them at length). They are looking out for you, but it can still be annoying.
Celebrity collects your Passports at the end of day in Kagoshima, so that they can get the Chinese (144 hour) immigration sticker which they attach to one photocopy of your passport page. The night before the Shanghai Port they put the copy your stateroom. You must carry the photocopy and your Sea pass while in Shanghai. They don’t return your Passport until Hong Kong, but they don’t tell you that for several days. They expect you to know that you should carry a photocopy in Okinawa and in Taipei (the copies will be put in your rooms with an immigration sticker for those countries).
Shanghai Boashan Port Cruise Terminal is new, very large (it’s a long walk from the terminal back to the ship, at least 1km) and empty. There is almost nothing inside the Port Terminal (no gift shop, stores or services).
Sun Nov 11, 2018 Port of Shimizu for Mt. Fuji/Shimizu. From the Cruise Port there is a FREE shuttle that runs every 20 minutes to Shimizu JR Station.
We took the Celebrity Shizukoa City Highlights Half Day Tour (4 hours) because of the short time in port (8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) for $99 USD per person. First we visited Momijiyama Japanese Garden in Sumpu Castle Park for approximately 45 minutes. There was a nice little Tea House here. When leaving we had a view of Sumpu Castle from the outside only. Then we went visited the Sengen Shrine (very nice) and had some time to walk around/shop here. We would have preferred more time at the Mt Fuji (Miho no Matsubara) viewing site. There you walk up the path of a small hill and then down onto a wild beach (when walking, be careful of tree roots in the sand) so we only had around 10 minutes to take photos of Fuji San. But we got lucky and had a good clear view. There was also a nice small gift shop (with a public restroom) at bottom of hill selling souvenirs, tea and food items but we were only given 5 minutes to shop before we had to get back to the bus to return to the ship. There are small stalls at the port selling items. I found a T-Shirt I liked; the stall sells American sizes (just ask for them).
Nov 12, 2018 (Port of Kobe for) Kyoto
Kyoto is very crowded everywhere you go, so be prepared for that. We arranged in advance (via email) for a 9 1/2-hour private tour of Kyoto through Green Tomato; our guide was Yuko Hirai. We paid Y130,000 for 3 people (around $515 CAD per person) for a private car with a Driver and English-speaking Guide. They took us exactly where we wanted to go and were flexible with time at each location, so it was well worth the price in our opinion and we do recommend Green Tomato. A comparable Cruise Ship Tour on a Coach with 40 people and a set itinerary cost around $430 CAD per person.
First, we went to the Crossing the Moon Bridge (not much to see here, you walk across the bridge, look at the river and take photos). Then we walked for approximately 1/2 hour through the town (past many nice small shops and restaurants) to the Bamboo Forrest. We walked into the Forrest along a busy path (rickshaws share the same path) to areas where we saw small shrines and took pictures of the Bamboo Forrest (amazing place). Then we went to Kiyomizu-dera Temple; there are several levels to walk up past old buildings. The veranda on the top level was closed because they are doing renovations, so part of it is covered in scaffolding but from inside there were still good areas to see the views outside. When you walk back from the temple there are lots of great shops that sell souvenirs, clothing and sweets/food in a wide range of quality. We could have spent hours just shopping here.
Next we went to see Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion Zen Buddhist Temple); we walked along beautiful tree lined paths and then saw the temple. There was a small stand selling souvenirs like Omamori (lucky charms) with the Golden Temple and other symbols on them. After which we went to the Kyoto Tower and had a Yakitori dinner (chicken skewers, salad, rice) on the lower level of the Tower. This level had lots of different restaurants to choose from (Japanese, Mexican, Kobe Beef and more). If we ever go back to Kyoto we would stay in this area because it is so vibrant. Last we stopped at the Fushimi Inari Shrine, at night it is nearly empty (we only saw a couple of other people there). It is lighted but still can be dark in areas, so if you go late on your own we would suggest you take a flashlight. We didn’t walk all the way up (would take over 2 hours); part-way was good for a photo stop.
Nov 13, 2018 Kobe
From Kobe Cruise Port there is a FREE shuttle that ran from 9:00 am - 6:40 pm (every 20 minutes) to a shopping Mall in downtown Kobe. From the Mall you can walk to the 2 main shopping districts and Chinatown. The shuttles do get very crowded, so consider taking the taxis parked outside. Taxis don’t cost much, from downtown to the cruise terminal was just 700 Yen (around $8.50 CAD one-way). There is a City Loop Bus once you get into town (the Bus Stops are clearly marked); Adults Fares are $260Y single fare ($3 CAD) or $660Y All-day Pass ($8 CAD), you just pay the Driver. It takes you to many different locations and tourist sites throughout the City and runs every 20 minutes (but it gets very crowded too).
We took a Taxi to the Herb Gardens for (I think it cost around $15 CAD). For a round-trip ticket on the Gondola (in Japan they call Gondolas “Ropeways”) it cost $1500 yen ($18 CAD) per person. You buy your ticket inside from a machine and then walk to the Gondola boarding area. Once onboard it takes about 10 minutes to get to the top Terrace (the views are fantastic) where there are many gardens (flowers, herbs) and a shop that sells different botanical/other products. You can easily spend 2 to 3 hours here. The Veranda Café is a bit pricey $4,800 Yen for English style Tea and cakes for 3 people (around $20 CAD each) but for the great views, atmosphere and excellent service it’s worth the price!
We walked down to mid-way station (you have to) to get back on board the Gondola; the paths are full of beautiful plants and there is a waterfall you can visit. It is a bit steep though, so it wouldn’t be good for anyone who has trouble walking, but there are places to stop and rest. There’s a City Loop Bus stop nearby (follow the signs down) so when we left to go to the Chinatown area downtown, we took the bus.
This a GREAT Port/Terminal with Information booths Downstairs (large) and Upstairs (smaller) and the Staff are VERY helpful. Before you leave the Terminal sign up (on your phone) for Kobe FREE Wi-Fi. It can be used by Tourists for up to 7 days and worked in the Terminal AND throughout most areas in Kobe.
Private Tour Guides can meet people on either of 2 levels (usually holding a sign with your name on it) so make sure you know where to meet yours. There are also a few locals with signs, waiting for people to walk up to them (they don’t approach you) who you can book a tour with. On the Lower level there is a Currency exchange if you need it (and they were happy to just change large bills, into smaller bills for us).
Later in the day they had shopping tables set up on Level 2 of the Terminal and a place where you could do FREE crafts. There were lots of places to sit; this is a very good port for Independent travelers.
Nov 15, 2018 Kagoshima
There is a FREE shuttle from cruise terminal to Kagoshima city centre (takes 30 minutes) that runs from 7:00 am- 5:30 pm. For us Kagoshima was a pleasant surprise (we didn’t know much about it); it has a lovely sub-tropical climate.
For $200 USD per person we took a Celebrity Cruise Tour to Chiran Samurai Village & Ibusuki Sand Bath Experience. First we went to Chiran Gardens to see the exteriors of historic Samurai houses. We walked along narrow paths lined with trees and flowers. Outside the village by the bus parking are public washrooms. Then we went for the Sand Bath experience at Ibusuki Iwasaki Hotel (we liked this hotel, beautiful gardens and views of the beach and volcano, right next to a big Golf Course). You go to the B4 floor changing room, remove all your clothes (store them in a locker) and put on a Kimono. We weren’t sure how comfortable we would be with this, but it was no problem, there is a nice changing room with individual showers for later (so very discrete). TIP: LADIES, there is only one bathroom in the change room, but there is a large multi-stall washroom before you go out to the sand bath. Then we took the elevator to B5 floor and walked outside to the sand-bath area. We laid down on the sand in a row (with others); a towel is placed first under your head and then staff came with shovels and buried us in the warm sand. The only part of your body not covered is your head/face. You can easily sit up and shake off the sand, if you find it gets too hot (I stayed for 15 mins and could remained longer). Most people stay buried between 10-20 minutes. Then we sat up, shook off the sand and went to a hot pool to rinse off (still wearing a Kimono). Next we went back to shower off and change into a clean dry kimono. You can go upstairs to the Sky Bath and go in a communal hot pool (ladies are separated from the men), but you must be nude, so not for everyone.
After everyone was finished, we went to the top floor of the hotel and had a great lunch (even better food than on the cruise ship) with panoramic views of the hotel grounds, ocean and off in the distance a Volcano. This was one of the better run ship tours we went on, our guide Yoko was really good. Our last stop was at Lake Ikeda to take pictures of the lake/flowers/Volcano. There was a nice large gift shop (has public washrooms); we had around 1/2 hour to shop and before returning to the bus.
When you return to the Port you go through a FULL immigration clearance - even people who stayed on board had to get off here and clear immigration. This meant long lineups; we were the first tour bus to get back to the ship and we waited in line for 1 hour, so be prepared.
Port of Boashan. In Shanghai tourists can visit for 144 hours without requiring a Chinese Visa but you MUST have an immigration clearance sticker. If you don’t book a tour with Celebrity, the Reception Desk makes you prove (a couple of days) in advance that you have either (a) booked a Private Tour AND that the Tour Operator has obtained the immigration sticker/clearance on your behalf or (b) you have a FULL Visa to visit China. Even people who DID have a Full Visa had problems getting off the ship (Celebrity staff questioned them at length). The staff were less than polite to them; I understand they are looking out for you, but it was still annoying.
We tried to a book private tour through a Celebrity in advance, but their website had very poor information and even when we called Celebrity direct in advance to inquire, we had no luck. But once on-board the Private Excursions Desk Staff were excellent and able to arrange what we wanted.
While onboard we (3) booked a Celebrity 8-hour Private Tour of Shanghai for $200 USD per person. Our Guide Ella and Driver Mr. Lu took us exactly where we asked them to (we had been to Shanghai before). We went to Yu Yuan Garden for shopping (lots to see here but we had been before, so we just wanted to shop), then to Xintiandi and Tianzifang which are trendy/new shopping and entertainment districts. We (4) had lunch at the 1 Star Michelin Restaurant Din Tai Fung; we paid $386 yuan ($76 CAD) for a double order of soup dumplings (fantastic), rice, sweet & sour pork and beverages. It averaged out at just under $20 CAD per person and was one of the best meals we had on our trip.
Then we ended at the Fairmont Peace Hotel on the Bund for cocktails on their outdoor 9th floor rooftop bar, which has stunning views. 3 Cocktails cost a total of $486 Yuan ($95 CAD) with tip, so it averaged $32 CAD each, but it is so worth it for the views and the service was excellent. They gave us complimentary (spicy) assorted nuts to snack on. We heard other people who took bus tours complaining that they barely got off the bus and were basically just driven around the city. We told the Private Excursions Desk that they should advertise this private tour option better because it is well worth the money.
Okinawa Japan Nov 19th
The night before we arrived in Okinawa, we were given a letter telling us what Group# we would be in for the next day and a customs declaration form (and example of how to fill it in); only 1 person per cabin had to fill in the form. This was because we came from Shanghai and needed to re-clear immigration to go back into Japan. On the day in Port a PA announcement came on at. 7:15 am and passengers were told they would be called by Group# to proceed to gangway and disembark to go through Japanese immigration. We had to have our Sea pass card, copy of our Passport, the letter stating the Group # we were in and Customs form filled in by one family member. DON’T forget any of these documents or they make you get out of line and go back to get them. I recorded the times below because they will help you to estimate what time you might be called, when given one of these numbers (we had time for a leisurely breakfast).
Group 1 at 7:15 am; Group 2 at 7:25 am; Group 3 at 7:31 am; Group 4 at 8:00 am; Group 5 at 8:08 am (4&5 Shore Excursions); Group 6 at 8:31 am and Group 7 (people w no Celebrity shore excursion) at 8:40 am. Last called were the people not going ashore for the day; they STILL had to disembark and clear immigration (and then they could return to the ship).
By 8:50 am we were inside the terminal waiting to go through immigration clearance; it took us 15 minutes to get through (Japan is very efficient). There was an information booth and we got a (free) map of Kokusai-Dori (International) St. and the surrounding area. They circled the Makishi Public Market (a good area to be dropped off at) and the Wakasa Berth (what they call the Cruise Ship Dock) so that we could just show the Taxi Driver if there was any language issue (this worked great).
We just wanted to shop, so we took a Taxi to Kokusai-Dori; it took around 10 minutes and cost Y830 ($11 CAD). There are lots of souvenir stores, long narrow streets full of stores, restaurants and there is even a Starbucks on the main street that has Free Wi-Fi.
From Kokusai-Dori St we took a Taxi to DFS (Duty Free Shopping) Galleria. These are very high-end shops; it took under 10 minutes to get there and cost Y690 ($12 CAD). From there we walked a block over to Naha Main Place Shopping Plaza, it has more main stream shops for locals and tourists and several nice restaurants.
From Naha Main Place Shopping Plaza, we took a Taxi to return to Wakasa Berth; it took 15 mins and cost Y1,040 ($13). So, for a total of $36 CAD ($11 each, because there were 3 of us) we took Taxis to multiple locations and had a nice day of shopping.
Once back at the Terminal we had to hand in the copy of the passport we were carrying. Then as the ship left the Port local performers did a Drumming ceremony.
Taiwan Nov 20th & 21st
Although the Celebrity “Today” paper said copies of our passport with the Taiwanese immigration stamp would be put in our stateroom the night before, they were actually slipped under our door at 8:00 am on Nov 20th.
At Keelung Port, there are information booths where you can get maps, book private tours and LOTS of Taxis outside. During the day there are ladies at a table who will change foreign currency to TWD. The day your ship departs there is a Currency exchange on Level 2 (opened at 4:00 pm on our last day) where they will change TWD (only) back to USD (only) at a very good Bank Rate. There is an information booth next to the main floor Homee Cafe where they have mail service (if you have a postcard with a stamp on it, hand it in and they will mail it for you).
Day 1: we didn’t want to take a Tour (we had done our research) so we took a Taxi from Keelung Port to Taipei 101 Tower for $900 TWD ($39 CAD); the cost was $600 TWD ($25 CAD) and your ticket shows the “entrance time” you get to go up the elevator. In light traffic it took around 35 minutes to get to the Tower and the huge shopping Mall it is located in. If you just want to go up the Tower and shop, this is a good area to go to. We had lunch at Din Tai Fung a 1 Michelin Star Dumpling restaurant (we would recommend it, very good food for a reasonable price). The return trip by Taxi back to Keelung Port (in very heavy traffic) cost under $700 TWD ($30 CAD) so be aware the Taxi Drivers picking you up at the Port are charging a Premium.
Day 2: A Taxi from Keelung Port to the Presidential Office (Palace) was just over $1000 TWD ($43 CAD) but it is farther away than Tower 101; it took around 1/2 hour in light traffic to get there. You line up for a FREE Tour and must go through Security Clearance (they check your purses and bags). You can’t take video here; you must lock your video-camera up in the FREE lockers they provide (they give you the locker key to carry). There are public washrooms right next to the lockers, if you need to use them do it before the tour starts re afterwards you will have to ask a Guard to take you back to this (restricted) area.
We (3) were given a Private Tour by an English-speaking guide. Once inside, we asked politely and were allowed to take photos in some areas (just make sure you DO ask). Our Guide seemed a little standoffish at first, but when she realized we were sincerely interested in learning more about Taiwan she became very friendly. At the end of the Tour there is a nice small gift shop and there is a post office in the Palace if you want to stop and buy specialty stamps. Then we were taken back to the front, so we could pick up our video-camera.
People say you can walk to Lungshan Temple from the Presidential Office, but it’s quite far away. To get a Taxi just walk 1 block past the Presidential Office up to the shopping street (you can see it). A Taxi to Lungshan Temple was just $100 TWD ($4 CAD) and took less than 10 minutes by car. We loved this beautiful temple, it was once of our favourite places in Taipei. There is no entrance fee, but they do accept donations. There are some local shops nearby that sell some souvenirs.
A Taxi from Lungshan Temple to Chang Kai-Shek Memorial was also $100 TWD (took 5 minutes). Taxis were a are cheap and fast way to get from place to place and well worth the price, when time is of importance.
Chang Kai-Shek Memorial is mostly a place to walk around and take photos of the building exteriors (it doesn’t cost anything). But make sure to go into the side entrance of the largest building where there are a few nice places to get a drink or something to eat inside. There’s also a lovely Arts orientated selection of small shops.
Many people just stayed in the Keelung area (which has markets/restaurants/shops/temples) and said they liked it so much, they didn’t even go into Taiwan.
We had been to Hong Kong before, so we took a Taxi from Kai-Terminal to the TOP of Victoria Peak; it took 1 hour to get there and cost $205 HKD (around $35 CAD). Well worth the price because it saved us a lot of time and we could walk right into the Peak complex. There’s was a lot of construction in this area (late Nov 2018) so we had to walk through a parkade to get to the Peak, but the view is still fantastic, so make the effort. There are several shops inside where you can buy souvenirs (but they are priced higher than the same thing would cost you in local markets). There are also a few places to eat and a nice coffee shop where you can access free Wi-Fi (ask for the login password when you order your coffee).
The we took a Taxi to the Hard Rock Cafe located at 55 D'Aguilar Street in Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong. It’s a typical Hard Rock so if you are a fan you will enjoy it (has a nice Rock Shop).
One thing to be aware of is that Taxi Drivers in Hong Kong want to earn the highest fares possible (e.g. Airport Transfers) and will often refuse to pick up passengers even when empty (if they stop for you and you aren’t going very far, they refuse to pick you up, even though by regulation they ARE supposed to). This happened to us several times during our stay here. If this happens to you, go to the nearest Hotel or Information Kiosk at a Shopping Mall and ask them to get a Taxi for you (they are very helpful).
The night before disembarkation we were given a newsletter with details about disembarkation. At 7:15 a.m. self-assist guests only (you keep/carry off your own luggage) were allowed to disembark. The Regular Disembarkation process started at 7:45 a.m.; all other guests were assigned a number. We were in group 20 and had been told to meet at 8:55 a.m. in Rendezvous Lounge. But at 8:45 a.m. they made a general call for groups 19 and 20 to go to the gangplank on Deck 4. We had to scan our Sea pass cards on exit, but no one asked to see our Passport or for the Hong Kong Departure card we had been told to fill in and there was no immigration/customs queue. So, by 9:05 a.m. we had made the (long) walk through the terminal, picked up our luggage from the area marked 20 and were in the Level 1 area to meet the private car we had ordered (we were staying over 1 more night in Kowloon). There was a Free shuttle area too.
We arranged for the Cordis Hotel (Mercedes Benz) Mini-Van to pick us up at Kai-Tek Cruise Terminal at 10:15 a.m. It cost $690 HKD ($116 CAD) and took approximately 30 minutes to go from the Cruise Port to the Cordis Hotel in Kowloon.
Our cabin on Deck 7 mid-ship (7117 2A - Balcony Category) was comfortable; no noise issues and was kept clean during the cruise, as were all common areas throughout the ship.