My husband and I were on Celebrity Millennium’s Dec 7th cruise, going from Hong Kong to Singapore. We’ve always wanted to take this itinerary and it did not disappoint! Celebrity took care of all our visa requirements. You need to bring with you 2 passport size photos and 2 photocopies of your passport. Make sure your passport’s expiration date is at least 6-month from the last date of your trip.
Celebrity arranged our flights. It took over 25 hours to get from New York to Hong Kong, with two stopovers. They also booked our airport transfer from HK Airport to Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. We shared a van with another couple. There were no visible signs of unrest throughout our 40-minute drive to the pier.
Millennium is a beautiful ship and perfect size for us – not too big, not too small. Check-in was the fastest we have ever experienced -- we just walked to our stateroom! (We checked online prior to leaving home.)
Our room was an Aqua category on the 11th deck. We found a couple of Celebrity freebies on our bed and a bottle of bubbly (perks for being past guests!) Our room steward was Jimmy who was very friendly and efficient.
Bathroom no longer had small amenity bottles. Everything was in large, eco-friendly refillable bottles. Shower had a holding bar that was awkwardly placed. Every time I showered, I bumped my elbow to it.
TV has limited channels, but it shows your onboard account so you can check it daily. Every day Steve (the cruise director) and Tim (the activity director) appeared on TV to guide the passengers on the day’s activities. Captain Theo gave daily update on the weather and the condition of the water.
Laundry service is offered the 2nd week and it’s charged by the bag. The trick to stuffing laundry bag to its max is to fold each piece of clothing and rolling it into a tight burrito. You’ll be very surprised at how much you can stuff into that little bag!
The nightly show is at 7PM and 9PM --- all very well done! We didn’t go to every show, however. Some evenings, we just took our time over dinner.
There are many talented musicians scattered throughout the ship, including the ship’s very own band. Every single person in that band is an accomplished musician!
There are lectures on the culture and religion of the cities we will be visiting – all interesting and informative.
SPA & GYM:
Aqua category passengers have access Persian Garden, which has the fewest spa amenities we have ever seen on any cruise ships! The steam room was very dark. When we went in, we didn't know if there was anybody else in there. Sauna and salt room are the size of closet. We only went to Persian Garden twice.
Right outside the Persian Garden is the Solarium. The pool had so much chlorine in it that we spent more time rubbing our eyes than swimming! We only went there once.
Gym is always crowded on the sea days (as expected) but has plenty of other equipments to keep you fit.
FOODS & DRINKS:
The advantage of booking the Aqua category is the exclusive dining at the Blu restaurant. We enjoyed eating there for quality of foods & services. They only served breakfast and dinner. Alex was the Maitre D and he was very attentive to his customers' needs.
For lunch, we ate at Oceanview Café, which was always crowded. But our stateroom was conveniently located right above, so if we couldn’t find a table, we could easily take our plate back to our room and eat it there. Luckily, we never have to do that because we always found a table somewhere.
We ate at several specialty restaurants. Our favorites were Sushi on 5 (fresh fish!) and Le Petit Chef (a unique entertaining dining experience!)
Our least favorite was the Chef’s Table, not because the food was bad, but because we didn’t get to enjoy it. We were forewarned to have light lunch when we booked this dinner. They changed our reservation at the last minute to the very day when we had LATE and HEAVY lunch! With sincere apology to the many chefs who meticulously prepared each dish, we left a lot of food on the plate. We were simply not hungry that night. (In hindsight, we should’ve cancelled our reservation because it was the most expensive meal of our trip!)
Dining at Chef’s Table came with Daniel Boulud’s cookbook that weighs 5-lb. It was a miracle that I was able to fit it into my over-stuffed suitcase!
Our booking included Premium Drinking Package. Be advised that the drinks in your room’s fridge are not included in the package. We asked Jimmy to remove everything so we could put our own drinks in there.
The best part of this drinking package is the specialty coffee, tea, and fresh pastries at the Café al Bacio! We always get our morning coffee from there and bring it to Blu for breakfast. The coffee there is so much better than anywhere else on the ship!
We docked at every port, so there was no need for tender.
HONG KONG (2 days):
Embarkation was from here. Having the ship docked here for two days mean we don’t have to worry about arriving late. There are plenty of taxis at the pier. There is also Forex counter nearby but it’s expensive. It’s cheaper to get HKD at the airport ATM.
We were jetlagged the first day so did not venture out. But on the second day, we took a taxi to Kowloon and had breakfast at One Dim Sum. Afterwards, we took the MTR to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha. The weather was perfect and the day was perfect!
On the second day, everybody must go through the HK Immigration Inspection on the ship. It started with Deck 2 for the 3 PM inspection. For Deck 10 & 11, it was at 6 PM. The line moved fast and it was well organized.
After the inspection came the Emergency Drill at 7:30 PM. Our assembly station was very crowded and noisy. We couldn’t hear any of the emergency instructions, but since we’ve been to so many cruise already, we knew it by heart.
HA LONG BAY (2 days):
This is the Millennium's first port in Vietnam and you will receive a pink “Passenger’s Landing Card” from Celebrity. You will need this card to visit all the ports in Vietnam. The visa fee is $6 pp if you booked any shore excursions with Celebrity. It’s $28 pp if you are going independently. You need a visa even if you are staying onboard.
Our stateroom was on the port side and we saw beautiful sunrise from our balcony. The cruise ship docked in Halong Int’l Cruise Port in Bai Chay. The Bai Chay Bridge (an impressive multi-lane cable bridge) connects Bai Chay to Quang Ninh Province. Passengers are provided with complimentary shuttles to go to the main terminal. If you need Vietnamese currency, walk through the terminal and go outside. You’ll find the ATM kiosk on your left.
December weather in northern Vietnam was chilly in the morning but warmer in the afternoon. We booked o/n cruise on our own and our driver was waiting for us.
Ha Long Bay and its neighbor, Bai Tu Long Bay (less touristy and just as beautiful), are both accessible by small boats. Overnight stay is highly recommended to experience the sunrise and sunset over hundreds of limestone karsts and isles up close. This place is sublime!
This port is to go to Hue, Da Nang, and/or Hoi An. We booked “Hoi An on Your Own” with Celebrity. The weather was warmer here than in Ha Long Bay. It took almost 3 hours to get there because we got stuck in heavy traffic just before entering a long tunnel. The ancient city of Hoi An was worth the trip and our excursion included a city pass which allowed us to enter five historical sights.
It drizzled most of the day. Our guide gave us poncho and a bottle of water before setting us free to explore Hoi An. This town is small; you can walk around on your own. You don’t need a guide, but have a map and some knowledge of the history will make this visit more interesting. The iconic Japanese covered bridge is the main attraction of Hoi An. It’s a small 16th century stone bridge (rebuilt multiple times) that span over small murky river. It’s free to view from outside, but if you want to go inside, you need a city pass.
Have some small local currency handy. I paid 2,000 VND ($.10) to use the bathroom. Another tourist did not have any and was charged $1 (23,150 VND).
Not having to worry about transportation was very convenient and stress-free.
PHU MY (pronounced “FOO MEE”):
This port is to go to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon and still called by this name by many people. This port is very industrial. We booked “Ho Chi Minh on Your Own” and it took a little over two hours to get to the city. The bus dropped us off in front of the Bitexco Financiall Tower. This city is very congested with motorcycles everywhere – including sidewalks!
Crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh City is not for the faint of heart. The trick is to keep walking straight and don’t make any sudden, unpredictable movements. The motorcyclists and cars will see you and go around you. Followed the flow of traffic and you’ll be fine.
We came back early to the BItexco building because we wanted to visit the Skydeck on the 49th floor. You need a ticket to go up. Let the cashier know that you are with Celebrity and you’ll get 10% off. We paid 360,000 VND ($15.50) for two tickets. They will take a photo of you in the lobby, and when you get to the top, you can buy it for $5. The Skydeck has panoramic view of the city and there is gift shop and restroom and benches to sit. The best part of staying here is that it has A/C -- because outside was HOT HOT HOT!
This was our last port in Vietnam. When we returned to the ship, we are required to drop our Landing Card in a box by the gangway.
LAEMCHABANG (2 days):
This port is to go to Bangkok. We booked Celebrity’s “Overnight Bangkok on your own (Hotel Not Included)”. The bus ride took almost 3 hours and we were dropped off at the Central World Plaza, a large shopping complex in the city.
We booked our o/n hotel with Millennium Hilton, which was conveniently located on the bank of Chao Phraya River where the Grand Palace and Wat Pho are located. Unfortunately, the Grand Place close at 3:30 PM, so we went to Wat Pho (home of the Reclining Buddha), which close at 6:30 PM. That evening, we had authentic Thai dinner at Thara Thong Restaurant, conveniently located across the river from our hotel.
The following morning, we had a FANTASTIC Thai Massage at the Health Land Spa & Massage that our guide recommended! We had a couple’s massage and it only costs 1,200 Baht ($39) for TWO HOURS for BOTH of us! We left the place feeling very relaxed. My husband’s masseuse even fixed his backache (caused by sitting on the long bus ride to Hoi An.) Next time we come to Bangkok, we will make this place our destination.
We took the skytrain (Bangkok’s public transportation) back to the shopping plaza for our 2:00 PM departure from the city. The time spent in Bangkok was definitely too short.
SINGAPORE (2 days):
This was our last port and we were scheduled to disembark the following day. We knew we had a lot to do here, so we decided to check out a day early when we were planning our trip.
For tech-savvy city like Singapore, we were surprised they had computer glitch the morning we arrived. No one can get off the ship until it was fixed and it took a long time.
After we got the green light to get off, we walked some distance to take the MRT (Singapore’s public transportation) to our hotel. There were some people walking to the train station ahead of us, so we followed them with our luggage.
We stayed o/n at the Conrad Centennial. The MRT station is conveniently located two blocks from the hotel. We did a lot of sightseeing and eating that day and got back to our hotel close to midnight, but we got to sleep late the following morning. (Had we stayed on Millennium, we would have to get up early to disembark.)
After our leisurely breakfast the following morning, we took the train to the Changi Airport for our flight home. We paid 5 SGD ($3.70) for two tickets and it took about 45 minutes to get there. The airport has several places to store your luggage so you can walk around JEWEL, Singapore’s newest nature-themed retail complex, and home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. (It’s free to enter but the attractions have fees.) There are a lot of restaurants here, but it’s cheaper to go to the basement for their Hawker-style dining. Just be prepared for the crowd (think Grand Central Station at rush hour!)
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS:
This SE Asia trip was rather expensive when you add the cruise, the flights, and the excursions. To minimize our costs, I only booked the transportation with Celebrity and did the sightseeing on our own. (This required a lot of research on our part.) I also booked our excursions when Celebrity was running a sale -- a total of 15-20% saving.
Our stay at Hilton Millennium in Bangkok, and Conrad Centennial in Singapore were both free because we are Hilton Honors members and we used our points.
We used public transportation wherever we could. It was not only cheap and efficient, but also a lot of fun to ride with the locals!
All the cities we visited are safe and people are friendly, but do use your common sense and be aware of your surrounding. Have fun sightseeing but don’t miss your meeting time with your guide. It’s a long way back to the port by taxi.
Be careful of where you eat and what you eat. If the place has a lot of people, chances are food there is fresher. Drink from bottled beverages. Bring a lot of wet towels and napkins because these commodities are lacking in many places we ate. (If the wet towel packets are on the table, ask if they are free; a lot of times they are not.)
Lastly, I bought travel health insurance for both of us, which is good anywhere in the world (except Afghanistan and Yemen.) It covers doctor and hospital visit and medical evacuation and repatriation. It’s affordable – an extra expense to be sure, but a small price to pay for peace of mind. (I bought my insurance from Squaremouth.com and no, I don’t work for the company!)
We’ve never been to SE Asia before and enjoyed each city for its culture and food. We loved the extra day’s stay in ports that allowed us more time to explore. Even when our flight home was delayed by 4.5 hours, it didn’t ruin our vacation. We arrived home a few days before Christmas and shared our AMAZING memories with our family and friends!
Great location -- quiet -- no overhung so you can take beautiful photos. 2 robes and slippers are provided. Daily delivery of canapés and flavored tea.
We’ve been following Hong Kong’s unrest since it started. When we arrived, we were warned where to avoid going. We didn’t encounter any problem touring on our own.
We booked o/n cruise with Signature Cruise and also asked them to arrange our transportation. We got back the following day at 11 AM.
The Notre Dame Cathedral was cordon off for construction when we were there in December. The Central Post Office was nearby and it opens at 10 AM and not a minute sooner. We poked our faces inside and then left.
This city is very congested but more orderly than Ho Chi Minh City. Travelling on the Chao Phraya River in public boats was fast and cheap. Sometime we were lucky and got seats; other times, we barely have space to stand. We bought our tickets at the pier. The ticket is the size of a stamp and the conductor will come around and check it. This route is not recommended if you have mobility issues because the boats are not steady and you need to move fast getting on and off.
Travelling on the skytrains was also fast and cheap, though not as cheap as the riverboats. You need to tap the train ticket going and coming out of the station. If your destination doesn’t correspond to the ticket (i.e. you got off one station further away), you need to pay the fare difference before you can exit.
To use Singapore’s MRT system is easy and cheap. We want to buy a day pass, but they only selling it at certain stations. The nearest MRT to the cruise terminal is Marina South Pier and they don’t sell it there.
If you want to watch the Gardens by the Bay’s nightly show at 7:45 PM or 8:45 PM, go there early to stake out a good spot because the place will be PACKED during the show! It lasts about 15 minutes. Afterwards, walk across the Marina Bay Sands to watch the light and water show at the water’s edge at 9 PM. (You can’t miss this place because a lot of people will be sitting on the steps facing the water.) We liked this show better for its sheer size and the orchestral soundtrack. Also, people were not as pushy here.