Celebrity Millennium Back in Service September 22: Press Briefing by Executives


Celebrity Millennium’s actual new pod leaving Rotterdam on August 24 in order to be loaded into a heavy lift transport vessel to be shipped to Grand Bahama Shipyard. // All photos by Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity Millennium’s actual new pod leaving Rotterdam on August 24 in order to be loaded into a heavy lift transport vessel to be shipped to Grand Bahama Shipyard. // All photos by Celebrity Cruises


Replacing a 250-ton propulsion pod on a ship is a huge undertaking and Celebrity Cruises’ President and CEO Michael Bayley and his executive team outlined the details of that painstaking process for reporters during a briefing Wednesday about the status of Millennium.

Bayley said that Millennium will go back into service on September 22, a Panama Canal cruise from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale.

Multiple Alaska cruises on the vessel were cancelled earlier this month and through mid-September because of electrical problems with one of Millennium’s two Rolls Royce Mermaid propulsion pods; guests booked on those cruises have received or will receive full refunds and future cruise credits of varying levels.

While technicians attempted some repairs while the ship was in Alaska, the fixes didn’t work. The line said full replacement of the pod was needed to help ensure future schedule reliability.  

So what’s happening with Millennium this week? The 91,000-ton ship is currently sailing south along the western Mexico coastline, according to Bayley. After transiting the Panama Canal and sailing through the Caribbean, the vessel will enter a drydock on Sept. 6 at Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, The Bahamas. The faulty pod will be pulled, and another one installed in a highly complex process, described in more detail below.

Once the drydock work is completed, Millennium will depart the shipyard on September 11 for sea trials followed by a “deadhead” westward transit of the Panama Canal. While, for now, no guests are slated to be onboard, the line acknowledged it’s still looking at what it might do with that cruise and told reporters it’s open to ideas.

Bayley expressed a high degree of confidence the ship will be ready to operate the September 22 revenue voyage as scheduled. 

Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Michael Bayley
Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Michael Bayley

A Global Effort

Bayley painted an interesting picture of the global efforts the line has made to get Millennium back in service as quickly as possible. First, Celebrity needed to find a shipyard capable of doing the work. Second, it had to have space available to do the work. Third, it needed to meet the line’s desire to get the ship back in service quickly.

Celebrity evaluated shipyards in Russia, Europe, Asia and elsewhere before choosing Grand Bahama Shipyard, where it had the ability to move or adjust some other work being done there. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Celebrity’s parent company, is part owner of that facility.

But getting the massive pod to the shipyard was another story. Celebrity executives even talked to the owner of a former Russian military transport plane, the world’s largest cargo airplane in terms of payload weight.

The airplane was designed to haul materials for Russia’s space program. Still, Celebrity learned that aircraft had a weight limit of hauling 190 tons across the Atlantic. Also, the runway at Freeport could not accommodate that plane.

So, Bayley said a cargo ship is now transporting that 500,000-pound replacement pod from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to the Bahamas. That vessel is currently about halfway across the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon arrival at Grand Bahamas Shipyard, the pod will be positioned quay-side in order to be prepared for installation onto Millennium. The propeller and propeller blades will be fitted and locked into the new pod; the outside surface of the pod will be painted with a coating; and once the pod is ready, it will be transported to a barge in order to be adjacent to the drydock for installation on Millennium.

The above process is expected to take 78 hours with dozens of technicians and shipyard workers involved in the complex process. Celebrity emphasized that once the replacement pod is in place, all components such as power cable and automation cables will be checked thoroughly in drydock.

Once all mechanical and electrical connections are certified, the line will then start the propulsion motor, again while Millennium is still in drydock.

After more tests are completed and all safety systems and alarms are certified, then the ship will leave the shipyard for sea trials and testing; the last step is vessel certification.

Just 12 years ago, it took 11 days to replace a pod, but today that’s been routinely narrowed to four days, according to Celebrity. The line said at least seven major teams from manufacturers, the shipyard, other vendors and the line will be involved in this pod replacement project.

In addition, Celebrity will take advantage of the ship’s out-of-service time to make some additional interior “tweaks.” For example, the line says staterooms, draperies, furniture, upholstery and carpets will receive a “deep cleaning.”

The line will also move the Future Cruise Sales Office from Deck 3 to what it believes is a better location in the Deck 5 Roundabout area (in the Emporium).

Celebrity also plans more training with the 843 crew members who remain with the ship. For example, some will receive specialized training in ConciergeClass, AquaClass and Suite service and amenities. Other crew, whose contracts were expiring, were transported home – some a bit early.

As for the malfunctioning pod, it will be shipped to France, where it will be totally refurbished.

Senior Vice President of Sales Dondra Ritzenthaler
Senior Vice President of Sales Dondra Ritzenthaler

Going Back in Service

In apologizing to both consumers and travel partners for the issues with cancelled or disrupted cruises, Bayley said many guests on those cruises were gracious and understanding.

Others, though, were not so, he acknowledged, and said that was understandable as their vacation plans were disrupted.

Given the lack of scheduled airline service in Ketchikan, for example, Celebrity made arrangements to charter planes to fly thousands of passengers to Seattle, Vancouver or Anchorage. While Bayley characterized the vast majority of guests as okay with the line's charter arrangements, he added that some guests told the line one destination they'd like to fly to, but then changed their minds later.

Celebrity was not able to accommodate all those requests. Logistically, it also had to consider such factors as availability of air crew and hotel rooms when making the charter air arrangements, Bayley said.  

Bayley declined to provide a price tag for what the Millennium woes have cost the line, but he revealed that the cost of air charters from Ketchikan alone were around $3 million.

When asked if agents could have high confidence in selling the brand after this situation, Dondra Ritzenthaler, the line’s senior vice president of sales, was emphatic. Yes, she said. 

Ritzenthaler emphasized that Celebrity has received great support from its travel agent partners. One reason is that the line has communicated daily with travel advisors. Bayley also will be making a video for travel agent partners.

Ritzenthaler stressed that one factor is most important during this type of situation - the value of “relationships.” 

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