Controversy on Millennium's Repairs? Not Necessarily....

July 5, 2007
Millennium Hitch Costs Port Call

Cruise Critic's Celebrity forum is, naturally, abuzz about the problems with Millennium, both for the current cruise and for those following.

As we reported earlier, as a result of the damage to its propellers, the ship, sailing a 10-night Barcelona to Venice cruise, was forced to skip a call at Livorno (for Florence and other points in Tuscany). And due to the necessity for repairs the line was also forced to cancel other ports on the itinerary -- Athens and Santorini.

Beyond the fact that this incident caused major passenger disappointment -- for many, a Mediterranean voyage is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit storied places like Athens, Naples and Florence -- there was anxiety over a lack of information. Also feeling uncertain were folks heading for Millennium's next cruise -- which departs from Venice next week. Would the repairs lead to cancellation of their cruise?

So, following are some additional details that should ease concerns.

After propellers were damaged Monday and an evaluation for repair was made, Celebrity began making plans for the repair work. Because the ship was limited in speed -- it could only go 10 knots instead of its maximum 22 -- it was decided that the ship would skip its next port (Livorno) and head straight to Rome.

Indeed, the repair effort was a logistical puzzle. 16 divers -- all trained in performing underwater repairs on mechanical equipment -- were flown in from Norway, the U.S., and the Netherlands. Divided into three teams, the divers would work around-the-clock.

The propeller blades were shipped in from Sweden and from the U.S. (Celebrity, like other lines, has storage areas for major equipment in various parts of the world so that, if necessary, replacement parts can be sent without too much delay). And by the way: Did you know that each of the blades weighs four tons apiece?

"Our original thinking was that our best shot is to get all to Rome on July 4, understanding the possibility that it won't all get done -- but that we could finish up in Naples," a company spokesman told us. Alas. Some of the parts were sent to the wrong airport; by the time key elements to the repair -- mechanicals and divers -- had converged on Millennium, now docked at Rome's Civitavecchia, it was nearly midnight on July 4. Work began immediately and will take place through the night. The ship will remain at Civitavecchia through tomorrow; it is expected to depart at 9 p.m.

Complaints that Celebrity hasn't kept onboard folks updated seem odd -- at least from the four different "repair updates" they sent over to our office. They offer some unexpectedly juicy details, like a soap opera saga focused on one stubborn propeller. Indeed, in the July 5, 6:30 p.m. update, we're told that "the divers continue to work on both propellers, however; they remain focused on one blade on the starboard propeller -- which will be the most difficult to replace (the other blades are not presenting such a challenge".

Passengers also got word at 8:30 p.m. -- that, in essence, the stubborn nut is still proving stubborn. The letter from the captain this time addresses the cause of the incident -- "we know that the ship experienced an electrical malfunction, which caused the incident." At 10:30 p.m. -- remember Rome is six hours ahead of the U.S. Eastern time -- we learn that "the divers have been able to remove the last troublesome nut…we expect the repairs to continue as scheduled."

In the meantime, passengers get an unexpected two days at Civitavecchia. Millennium has organized free motor coach transportation to both Rome (about 1.5 hours away) and Florence (a four hour drive -- though if you consider that it's about 1.5 hours from Livorno, passengers are only going 2.5 hours further. And though that's still five hours out of the day, roundtrip, it beats the alternative of missing Florence altogether).

Next issue facing Millennium's repair strategy team? The post-repair itinerary had to change, not because the ship couldn't travel at higher speeds but because there simply wasn't time to include Santorini and Rome -- due to distance -- if Millennium was going to make it back to Venice as scheduled.

Compensation for passengers, as it now stands, is a bit complicated but as it was explained to us, all will receive a 50 percent refund on the cruise fare they paid. An onboard credit of $500, $750 or $1,000 per stateroom (depending on category) is immediately available. That comes out of the total compensation. Passengers will receive remaining amounts from the cruise line via whatever way they opted to pay for their trip.

With a last minute addition of Corfu to the schedule, shore excursion folks are scurrying to put together a menu of tours (also check out Cruise Critic's own port profile). A hint: Corfu's a great place to buy jewelry (the old town is ripe with boutiques), there's a lovely, park-like esplanade in the heart of the town that's laced with cafes, and the countryside is rich and verdant -- lots of great views. And there are plenty of beaches. Remember, too, that Celebrity does visit Corfu on some itineraries so this wasn't too hard. The shore excursion menu is now established.

And no, there's no chance that the problems experienced with this propeller issue will result in delay or cancellation of Millennium's next cruise -- which begins on July 12 in Venice.

Finally? Re the electrical malfunction back in Villefranche: the captain says that they're investigating its cause further. "We immediately contacted the manufacturer of the electrical system and we have their technicians onboard right now addressing that issue. They are providing us with guidance that will prevent a situation like this in the future."

Any other questions? Shoot 'em this way ( and we'll do our best to get you answers.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor