Celebrity Cruises Millennium – my five night western Caribbean cruise in review

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Shortly after I completed this cruise, the Millennium went into an intensive drydock to add many of the Soltice-class ship enhancements to this first in its class ship from, as the name implies, 2000.  But the overall ambiance, layout, itinerary and standard features remain the same. Here are the entries from my Sea Daze aboard the Celebrity Millennium.

Day One – Leaving from Miami

Celebrity Cruises is like an old friend.

I’ve probably logged nearly four months of sea days on their ships.  Considering that there is a definite similarity of theme across the entire fleet, if you’ve cruised Celebrity once, you’ll feel right at home again and again.

Celebrity Cruises traditional welcome aboard champagne

Celebrity Cruises traditional welcome aboard champagne

As soon as I stepped off of the metal gangway and onto the eleven year old wooden deck of the Celebrity Millennium, I was instantly reminded that I was aboard a Celebrity ship. The Welcome Aboard Crew, in their burgundy and black Welcome Aboard attire, extended their white-gloved hands to offer a Welcome Aboard glass of champagne.

The difference today though was that you were given the champagne flute as soon as your feet touched the deck…outdoors.  This signature welcome aboard usually happened as you entered the ship’s lobby…in the foyer.  Maybe it’s a crowd control innovation.

Celebrity Cruises Millennium inside cabin

Celebrity Cruises Millennium inside cabin #7044

I easily found my cabin. I’ve been on the 7th floor on these ships many times. So after only two wrong turns… I was there. Cinchy.  Cabin 7044; an inside cabin designed sideways, which makes it seem a little less cookie-cutter and tiny.

At precisely 3:45pm, with seven short and one long blast of the ship’s horn, everyone orderly proceeded to their designated muster station…without their life jackets.

I have to remark about the traditional muster drill.  If you’ve ever cruised from a port in Florida then you probably have distinct memories of sweating bullets while standing at attention on deck, crammed into small groups like canned sardines, all the while strapped into suffocating neon orange life jackets.  There you’d stand for at least 20 minutes while your “assigned crew member” demonstrated how to put on the life jacket that you were already wearing.  Not to mention hearing these instructions sometimes in five languages.  Times have changed.

Today, the life boat drill would be different.

For the guests in my section of the ship, our life boat station was the Celebrity theatre.  No sooner had I entered the theatre and was seated in a cushioned chair, a voice came over the PA system to deliver a three minute spiel about what to do in the event of an emergency.  No demonstration from the onstage crew on how to fasten the waist-strap or how to blow the attached whistle. Just a short narration and the voice announced, “the lifeboat drill is now concluded.” Applause and laughter filled the crowded room.  Passengers quickly filed out and went on to begin their holiday.  No more worrying about dangling and dragging straps to trip over while slowly heading back to your cabin.  I would like to think that this new trend will be embraced by all the cruise lines very soon.

MIami skyline as seen from Celebrity Millennium
Miami skyline as seen from Celebrity Millennium

Before I knew it, Miami was a distance speck on the horizon, a spectacular sunset turned to dusk and it was nearly time for dinner. Rather than choose either a main (6PM) or late (8:30PM) dining assignment, I elected to have the Celebrity Cruises version of Norwegian Cruise Line’s trendsetting Freestyle dining option, Select Dining. My spontaneous dining time of 7:15 was wonderful as I was immediately seated at a quiet table for one.

Not to bore you to tears with a lengthy “What I ate on my Vacation” memoir, here’s the Cliff Notes version.  On the first night out, a simple meal is always a good idea for me; begin slow and pace myself for the rest of the cruise.

For starters I chose roasted beets with feta cheese and endive followed by Celebrity’s signature Forest Mushroom Cappuccino Soup with Porcini Mushroom Dust.  Grilled plain Atlantic salmon with steamed vegetables and a baked potato completed my dinner. While it might sound like a hefty meal, portions have thankfully gotten smaller.

Celebrity Theater aboard the Celebrity Millennium
Celebrity Theater aboard the Celebrity Millennium

Tonight’s show in the Celebrity Theater is a mélange of the shows for the upcoming week.  I decided to check it out, if only to hear the Celebrity Orchestra.  In an age of lip-syncing and pre-recorded background music, Celebrity is one of the few mid-range cruise lines to have musicians accompany the singers and dancers throughout the performances.  The high-energy show Welcome Aboard show ended in about forty-five minutes and several hundred tired and weary passengers headed back to their staterooms for some much needed sleep.  To me, it doesn’t matter what type of vacation you are embarking on; the first day is always emotionally and physically tiring.

Photo credit: Sherry Laskin

DAY TWO – AT SEA

8:30am. Time to check out Michael’s Club for the Continental Breakfast offered to the highest level (Elite) of the repeat passengers club, the Captain’s Club.

Michael's Club for Captain's Club Elite members
Buffet breakfast at Michael’s Club for Captain’s Club Elite members

Melissa, the Captain’s Club hostess, greeted everyone as they arrived. Although she said that there were about 100 Elite level members on this cruise, there were only six of us enjoying a beautifully displayed light breakfast.  Cappuccino is complimentary so I indulged in two, to accompany my lox and bagel(s).

Celebrity Millennium Ballroom Dance performance
Celebrity Millennium Ballroom Dance performance

The afternoon diversion would be a welcome aboard event for all past passengers. As with all the cruise lines at these events, waiters pass wine and pre-made cocktails.  On Celebrity only the Captain makes a brief speech rather than two or three officers.  The Celebrity 7-piece orchestra provided the music rather than canned Muzak.  An interesting twist was included; there were short performances from the exquisite ballroom dancer couple, the amazing a Capella quartet and two of the lead singers of whom the male vocalist sounded like a combined Buble and Sinatra.   Another nice touch…the drinks and light food didn’t disappear when the entertainment ended as is oh too common on other cruise lines.

The day went by in a blur. Before I knew it I was heading for the dining room. For this cruise I chose open dining, called “Select Dining”.  A note in my stateroom suggested that those with Select Dining might want to make reservations  so that their dining time preference can be accommodated.  Strange but when I requested a 7pm dining time at a table for one, I was told that they would try but that I shouldn’t count on it.

Guess what.  When I showed up at 7:00 I was promptly seated at the table of my request.  I would have this table for two nights, until a group of women at the table nearby asked me to join them.  The next night, we all met at 7PM and were promptly seated at a table for five. The dining room staff was very accommodating and always checking to be sure that everything was proceeding as it should.

Celebrity Millennium Captain and Senior Officers
Celebrity Millennium Captain and Senior Officers

Just to make life difficult, I prefer to travel on a no or low-salt diet.  Every night towards the end of the meal, Daniel, our Maître d’, Daniel, would stop by and ask for my dinner selection for the following evening.  With so many people cruising and so many varying dietary needs, you can do this on all of the cruise lines.  Other requests can include gluten-free and vegetarian but kosher meals are generally not available.

Onto the evening’s gala production show in the Celebrity Theater, where it was yet another “Best of Broadway” productions.  Unlike the many others that I’ve had to impatiently sit through, this show featured lively Broadway hits that almost everyone had once heard or seen.  Pretty good when you consider the lack of intricate stage sets.  I would recommend this show, especially on these shorter cruises because the rest of the time the entertainment is more like variety acts than production numbers.

DAY THREE – FALMOUTH, JAMAICA

Tired of the usual cruise line shore excursions in Jamaica?
Try a relaxing beach day at an all-inclusive resort with Jamaica For A Day.

Falmouth, Jamaica is the “newest” port of this popular Caribbean island.  Recently, a collaboration between the government of Jamaica and Royal Caribbean began a revitalization construction project to the tune of $250 million.  So what to do when you get there?

Falmouth Jamaica at the new theme port Photo credit Sherry Laskin

Almost every western Caribbean cruise calls on Ocho Rios or occasionally Montego Bay.  I’ve been to both many times.  When I had the opportunity to hop on a 5-night cruise to the western Caribbean aboard Celebrity Cruises Millennium, which included Falmouth, I couldn’t refuse.

But next came the decision of what to do.  While there is a plethora of cruise line shore excursions from which to choose, I wanted something laid back, carefree and beachy.   And a chance to break away from the other 2,000 people on the ship.   Enter Stuart Cohen.

Stuart, a long-time travel industry leader and innovator, has a company which offers an alternative to the traditional cruise line shore excursions: JamaicaForADay.com.   Simply, you can spend a very relaxing day at a premium all-inclusive resort for the cost of, or less than, most ship’s shore excursion.  I was very curious to see how this all fell into place.

After we docked in Jamaica, with my hotel pass and transfers to/from the ship in hand, I followed the flow of cruise guests through the Disney-esque themed Falmouth port area and found the collection of tour buses waiting for their passengers.  I approached one of the uniformed Falmouth tour/information directors and informed her that I was to board a bus to go to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort with JamaicaForADay.  “Oh,” she said with a grin, “You are part of Stuart Cohen’s group.” Everyone knows Stuart.

A few minutes later, I boarded the clean and air-conditioned mini-bus and we were on our way.   Mr. Earl – the driver, and I chatted for the entire twenty minute ride.  The newly repaved roads made for a very pleasant and sometimes scenic drive along the north coast.  Once at the resort, there was a guard that checked my pass and a couple of seconds later we were at the covered front entrance.

Front desk staff at Hilton Rose Hall Resort

I’m a cruise person…I don’t stay at hotels very often so I have very high expectations when I spend even so much as one day on their turf.   The warm personal welcome that I received when I met with the hotel guest services manager immediately put me at ease.  She was expecting me.  Wow.  That doesn’t happen on a ship!

My colorful wristband was attached and I was on my own to enjoy the resort.   I could stay until 6PM…but I’d miss my ship so I requested that the mini-van return at 3:00.  That would give me about five hours to take my tour, enjoy the beautiful beach, have lunch and still have time to relax.  Maybe try the lazy river.

Here’s how I spent my day:

Hilton Rose Hall Resort Montego Bay Jamaica. Photo credit: Sherry Laskin

Plenty of activities to choose from if I want to be busy.  But I don’t.  The resort is very spacious and fits into the lush landscaping rather than planting new growth around a building.  Maybe I’ll borrow one of the non-motorized water craft and paddle around for awhile.

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Hilton Rose Hall Resort swim-up bar Photo credit: Sherry Laskin

Or maybe grab a tube at the Sugar Mill Water Park and try the lazy river.   I wasn’t sure what to try so I just kept wandering around, snapping photos and enjoying the scenery.   It was still about one hour until the restaurants opened for lunch, so I decided to try the Monday Special drink, “Tropical Dreams.”   And since drinks and food are included with the excursion and I wasn’t driving anywhere, I thought it a great idea to enjoy a pre-lunch foo-foo Tropical Dream.

If you’d like to try this at home, it’s an easy recipe.  One ounce of mango rum, coconut rum, creme de banana and vodka; two ounces each of orange juice and pineapple juice and a speck of grenadine syrup.  Shake it all up, pour over ice and sip.  Excellently tropical!

Hilton Rose Hall Resort Lazy River Photo credit: Sherry Laskin

While this looked like so much fun…and very tranquil, I decided not to jump in the pool after all.  Your wrist band entitles you to two towels that are loaned out from the Activities Building right at the entrance to this huge water park.  Everything you could need for a memorable and easy-to-do beach day is part of your JamaicaForADay.com package.  According to their website here’s a list of what’s included:

  • Full access to resort amenities including Private Beach and Pools.
  • BIG NEWS: enjoy Sugar Mill Falls Water Park with tube slide and lazy river.
  • Unlimited lunch & snacks to quench your hunger.
  • Unlimited beverages like sodas and juices.
  • Unlimited house brand drinks to quench your thirst like beer, wine, tropical and frosty drinks.
  • All beach lounge chairs and beach towels.
  • Non-motorized water sports including Snorkeling, windsurfing, kayaking, sailing, volleyball, aerobics, and tennis.
  • Participation in daily activity program.
  • Live daily entertainment.
  • Bathrooms available for changing.
  • If your ship departs late (like Oasis of the Seas), you can stay through 6:00PM if your cruise ship departure time permits a later stay!!!

Jamaica jerk chicken with rice and peas. Photo credit: Sherry Laskin

I highly recommend sitting outdoors for lunch overlooking the crystal clear sea at the Seaside Grill.  Service was very “Jamaica-friendly” and I struck up a nice conversation with my waiter.  I asked him to surprise me with something wonderful and he returned with a plate of jerk chicken (can’t miss that in Jamaica) rice and peas (though actually “beans,” in Jamaica they’re called “peas”) and a side of icy cold cole slaw.  A typical Jamaica meal and especially good eaten outdoors.

Outdoor lobby at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort.

By the time I finished lunch, walked up and down the beach, stretched out for an hour’s siesta and returned my towels, it was time to head back to the lobby and wait for my ride back to the port.   As soon as I reached the reception area (and there’s free wifi in the business center adjacent to the lobby) the driver was already there.

If you are wondering what the cost is for this JamaicaForADay.com shore excursion, it’s $90 per adult and $75 per child.  This also includes the $15 round-trip transfers.  It’s a seamless way to enjoy a wonderfully relaxing day in Jamaica without all the hustle and bustle of the ship’s tours.  I highly recommend it.

If you’re cruising to other Caribbean ports, Stuart has six more …ForADay resorts in NassauBarbadosGrand CaymanCozumelFreeport and St. Maarten.

Disclaimer:  Even though my day at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort was sponsored by JamaicaForADay.com, the opinions in this post are based solely on my own experience.  I am never under any obligation to write a favorable review and there’s always a possibility that the cruise, hotel, food are not up to par.  If that were the case, I would be compelled to state it as such.  My visit to the Hilton Rose Hall Resort met and exceeded my expectations.  Thank you, Stuart, for the opportunity to review and experience your company’s shore tour in Jamaica.)

Day Four and Five – Grand Cayman was canceled

Celebrity Millennium in Falmouth Jamaica

Port of Falmouth, Jamaica

As you can see from the photo, the weather in Falmouth, Jamaica was about to change. So were our plans for a visit tomorrow to Grand Cayman.

Rather than make his familiar departure announcement as we sailed away, the Captain instead chose to tell us mid-afternoon, that due to tropical storm Rina,  we weren’t going to Grand Cayman.

Downtown Nassau & the remains of the Straw Market after Hurricane Irene in August
Downtown Nassau & the remains of the Straw Market after Hurricane Irene in August

After a day at sea, we  were going to end up in Nassau, Bahamas.  Not quite Grand Cayman…but there was no choice.  Nassau; less than 200 miles from Miami and I can’t count how many times I’ve been there.  Same for Grand Cayman, but I was hoping for a relaxing day at Seven Mile Beach and not a shopping day on Bay Street in downtown Nassau.   I was probably the only one of 1,900 passengers who was grousing about Nassau.  Time to regroup and find a positive angle to write about this diversion.  Then it happened.

Over the years, I’ve been on ships where we couldn’t make it into port due to high winds or rough seas, but I hadn’t experienced a port diversion.  I fully expected lots of grumbling and moaning among the passengers as they slowly filed back onboard, under a prematurely darkening sky and light showers.  But no. I didn’t hear one complaint and I was really trying to pick up something untoward.  Maybe it’s because all of the weather-related cruise situations are making it onto the nightly news and it’s no surprise when it happens.

View of six ships docked ahead of us in Nassau Harbour's busiest day.
View of six ships docked ahead of us in Nassau Harbour’s busiest day.

We would be one of eight mega-cruise ships that were forced to dock in Nassau on that day, due to the storm passing by Grand Cayman.  Eight ships would equal somewhere near 22,000 passengers and maybe 6,500 crew members, if some of the crew were able to go ashore.  It was fun to accidentally be a part of Nassau cruise line history.  By the time the 8th ship docked, this day would go on record as having the most ships in Nassau Harbour at once on a single day.  Cool.

Carnival Glory passes the historic Nassau lighthouse as she enters the harbor.
Carnival Glory passes the historic Nassau lighthouse as she enters the harbor.

To make lemonade out of lemons was pretty easy.  It’s impossible not to agree that it’s a beautiful approach into Nassau Harbour.  Many of us were on deck to watch the huge Carnival ship as she rounded the curve into the harbor.

I love Nassau. It’s a small enough island with plenty to do.  In fact, I heard that because there were so many passengers arriving on a moment’s notice that shore excursions were sold out even before most ships docked.

The sprawling pink towers of Atlantis Resort complex on Paradise Island.
The sprawling pink towers of Atlantis Resort complex on Paradise Island.

I really didn’t feel overwhelmed when walking around downtown.  Even the funneling of thousands of people returning to the ships, through only two doors at the Nassau terminal, went smoothly.  I will admit that I planned to be back on the ship by 2PM just to avoid the mad crush and also to have an hour or so to wander around the Celebrity Millennium with a minimum of guests onboard.

Celebrity Millennium in port at Nassau Bahamas. Only two passengers in the pool area.
Celebrity Millennium in port at Nassau Bahamas. Only two passengers in the pool area.

If you’ve been to a port many times and you don’t feel like revisiting the same sites, do what many frequent cruisers do; stay on board and have the ship (almost) to yourself.  Enjoy the buffet without a thousand other hungry passengers.

The next time you’re on a cruise and the captain changes course, think of it as an adventure and make the best of it.  After all, at least you’re on a cruise going somewhere.

Postscript – Celebrity Millennium is a winner in all kinds of weather

Five nights later, one hurricane missed and setting the record for most ships in Nassau, we docked in Ft. Lauderdale before dawn.  I chose to wheel my small suitcase and carry-on bag with me, so I could leave wheneven I chose.  They do request that you vacate your stateroom by 8am so that the room attendants can prepare it for the next guests.

Celebrity Cruises Millennium dining room
Celebrity Millennium dining room

Part of my cruising tradition is to have my departure breakfast in the dining room. No more jockeying for position at the buffet’s omelet station or searching tirelessly for a clean table. If you decide to try this, be prepared to be seated at a table for ten and having the waiters buzzing around you like bees on a mission.  They want you fed and on your way. The waiters must also reset the dining room and probably have a dozen other things on their debarkation day to-do list.

To sum it all up, this was another typically good Celebrity Cruise.  I wasn’t sponsored nor compensated so I am free to say whatever.   But, I have no complaints or criticisms.  The food was very good, not excellent, but well prepared and flavorful.  I’ve yet to have truly and consistently excellent cuisine on a ship.  Seriously.  But Celebrity is a cruise line you can count on to come through with high marks and accolades.  The Millennium is the last of the four Millennium class ships to be “Solsticized,” meaning to go into drydock to be refurbished and brought up to a par of their newest Solstice-class ships.  Once the Millennium emerges from her hiatus, expect wonderful things from this already wonderful ship.  With the addition of more dining options, an expanded spa and spa accommodations, onboard activity venues and more, this almost twelve year old ship won’t disappoint.   Would I take this ship for the same itinerary again? Absolutely.

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. December 4, 2013 / 12:49 am

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