Celebrity Millennium: Parting Thoughts on North America's First Big-Ship Cruise Restart

Our cruise editor, Susan J. Young, sailed on Celebrity Millennium on a week-long cruise from St. Maarten last week. It was the first big-ship sailing anywhere in North America for the past 15 months or so. After a week aboard, what did she think of the cruise? Was it a normal cruise experience? What were the thoughts of guests and advisors? Here are "Parting Thoughts" for advisors. 

Cruising Is "Baaaaack!"

After 15 or so months of "no normal, big-ship cruising" in North America, either from U.S. shores or in the Caribbean, I sailed on Celebrity Cruises' revitalized Celebrity Millennium from St. Maarten on June 5. The week-long voyage to Barbados, Aruba and Curacao, proved that, yes, cruising as we knew it in early 2020, is back in a big way—with just a few adjustments that didn't cloud my perception of the overall experience.

Top takeaway? Both guests and crew were overjoyed to be back at sea and enjoying "the cruise experience" once again. Most people were quite vocal in talking to the onboard media about that.

One couple from Florida celebrating a 40th wedding anniversary started out the cruise on a positive note and saw me on the last day, noting that they ended it that way, too. Simply put, they were having a ball. I also chatted with several travel advisors and one agency franchise leader aboard who were similarly enjoying the onboard entertainment, dining, the suite life and other facets of this restart voyage. 

One of the sommeliers aboard
Celebrity Millennium

Crew also couldn't do enough for guests. Many front-line crew members—servers and cabin stewards, cleaners, sommeliers and salon crew members—shared with me how thankful they were to be back doing their jobs. 

One bridge officer told me that initially when the ship was sailing with just 75 crew members (prior to the start of guest voyages), there was good camaraderie, but then the crew-only experience became increasingly lonely. So, he too expressed joy and gratitude for having guests back aboard. 

From my own perspective, as the ship pulled away from the dock in St. Maarten with approximately 600 or so guests aboard, it was truly a moment to savor.

All I thought, quite frankly, was, "we're baaaccck!"

The Experience Shined

Arriving at the Port of Philipsburg after transport from the island's airport, guests are dropped at a big white tent for check-in. I found the port check-in experience a breeze to navigate. Since I had my boarding pass, I didn't need to check in, and simply answered a few health questions at a special area for that (I could have done that online, too).

Soon, I was at immigration and then boarding an open-air shuttle for the short ride to the pier. From the moment I walked across the gangway and the crew member swiped my boarding pass and said, "welcome aboard," I felt I was "home." The experience for the next week was relaxing and thankfully familiar on many fronts. 

Stateroom Amenities, Celebrity Millennium, AquaClass #9157

One change? Celebrity crew members were all masked. The line provided masks and hand sanitizers in staterooms (see brown packages and small bottles above), but few guests used the masks, as everyone—except for young children—was vaccinated. So, guest use of masks was optional.  

Stateroom service is best described as "stellar." My cabin steward, Nyoman, was pleasant, eager to serve and continually adapting to my odd schedule as I was working in the cabin many days on the computer. But he approached every encounter with a smile and always asked if there was anything else I needed. 

Dining was extremely professional on the service side, too—from Marco, our sommelier, to the many wonderfully attentive waiters and restaurant managers. They were both friendly and professional. I dined in six different venues onboard and would describe the service as smooth, professional and exceedingly guest-focused. Again, the crew seemed so happy to be back doing their jobs. 

Celebrity Millennium also shined. Revitalized in 2019, the ship was fresh and seemed new. Elegant, yet contemporary decor, new color schemes, updated interior furnishings and fittings, and new spaces all combined to infuse an elegant, yet comfortable and contemporary feel into the spaces. 

For example, newly added for suite guests was the Retreat, an enticing, exclusive place for relaxation atop the ship. (Here's a look at the outdoor Retreat space in the photo below.)

The Protocols Worked

I almost hesitate to bring this up, as the protocols seemed to work well but two passengers mid-cruise did test positive for COVID-19, and they were tested twice. That said, all guests were vaccinated (including those who tested positive) and were already scheduled for routine COVID-19 antigen tests onboard as those were required for guests entering the U.S. Fortunately, all other guests tested negative—some 200 on Thursday and 400 or so on Friday. 

Onboard, following the confirmation of two guests testing positive, I will say that the mood among guests and crew was quite upbeat. People were laughing, chatting about the wonderful things they did that day, dining as normal and, for the most part, not wearing masks. 

In other words, guests onboard spoke to me about it this way. Many said that some positive cases "anywhere" are simply a "fact of life" right now. But that shouldn't stop people from living their lives and from traveling, particularly if they're vaccinated.

Other guests told me that two people testing positive on a ship is no different than when the same number of people—if not more—get it at an airport, on an airplane, in a hotel or theme park, or even at a community event or family gathering. Hospitals in the U.S. are filled with people walking in to request treatment or testing; many test positive. It's just that authorities often don't have the "connection" to show where the sick people got it from. Bottom line? Cruise ships should not be singled out, they believe.

In addition, Celebrity is right now holding capacity on Celebrity Millennium to under 50 percent (although this could change with time). The ship itself felt relatively empty, a big plus given that airports on our trip were extremely packed with many people in close quarters.

Social distancing was easily practiced, hand sanitizer was placed around the ship, signs blocked off seats in some venues, and again, all crew wore masks. 

Overwhelmingly, guests told me they felt "safer" on Celebrity Millennium than in the airport or at a hotel. I'd have to agree on that front, given the packed airports I experienced flying home from St. Maarten and arriving in Fort Lauderdale.

Dining is Superb 

Metropolitan, the main dining room on Celebrity Millennium, is a cross between the scale and grandeur of a grand ocean liner dining room and a more contemporary approach to dining. But it seemed grand to me, nevertheless. 

Celebrity Millennium Metropolitan

The Metropolitan menu is extensive, and entrees, depending on night, might include Beef Wellington, Broiled Lobster Tail or Duck a L'Orange.

In a previous story I covered Sushi on Five, an a la carte specialty dining venue. Let's just say I ate there twice and I probably would have been back again on a longer cruise. Tip: If you go, order the Lobster and Shrimp Wontons (see photo below) with Hoisen Sauce. Yum!

I also dined in two exclusive restaurants—Blu for AquaClass guests, and Luminae for suite guests (as Celebrity set up a special dinner on two nights there). 

Personally, I preferred Blu, as I felt the cuisine was lighter and more contemporary. In Luminae, my Daniel Boulud entree one night was a bit too traditional and heavy for my personal taste, but it was also succulent and very flavorful. But later in the cruise I ordered Barramundi, Asian sea bass, in Luminae (check out the photo below) and I loved it—as it was light and tasty. 

With per person cover charges, two popular specialty restaurants—Tuscan Grille ($45 for dinner, $25 for lunch) and Le Petit Chef ($55)—are both worth the money in my opinion, and that of others I spoke to onboard. 

Tuscan Grille has a strong line-up of succulent steaks, home-made pastas, two kinds of flatbread pizza, seemingly a zillion starters, soups and so on. It's a traditional Italian ristorante with a contemporary twist. Selections are included in Tuscan Grille's cover charge, except for two steak items on the a la carte "Something Special" menu, among them an 18-ounce USDA Prime Aged Porterhouse Steak.

As for Le Petit Chef, it's almost indescribable—combining tasty dishes with incredible 3D table animation art presentation that unfolds with characters and patterns not only across the table but even onto your plate or glass. 

Guests can expect to see a snorting bull on the plate, as well as characters galore and one petit chef who throws out dough and then boards a "steamroller" and rolls it out adjacent to one's plate. Simply put, this creative eatery captivated diners from start to finish—with courses being served throughout the "storytelling."

Oceanview Cafe—what many guests still refer to as the "buffet" restaurant—is now filled with stations to provide good social distancing. Plus, crew members serve guests. It's no longer self serve. Cruisers will find everything from American fare, Indian food, a fresh fruit station, carving station and a cake extravaganza station. 

A server at the carving station at Oceanview Cafe

Guests tell the crew member what they'd like, the server grabs a plate, places the food on it, and hands the guest the plate—not the guest passing something they've touched over the food to the server. 

Other onboard dining choices included the pool grill, the Spa Cafe and room service. 

Exploring the Ship 

One day, I took a jaunt around the ship to discover a maritime corner with historic fare from the former Olympic ocean liner. Those who love oceangoing and liner history should definitely check it out.

I felt the shopping corridor was extensive, more so than on some other ships, with the new Effy, a major New York jewelry designer as one highlight. In fact, Effy has two stores along the shopping corridor. 

The spa was fully booked when I toured, so wasn't able to see a treatment room, but did walk into the Persian Garden (which seemed smallish to me) but several folks were "sighing" and chatting about how relaxing it was.

I had my hair cut in the salon and it was a great experience with a nice cut. As I was shown into the salon I was asked to wash my hands.

Guests will have plenty of places to find a nook or cranny, or frankly, an entire venue to relax in or read a book, given the limited guest capacity.

One good option is Sky Lounge (shown above); another is Cellar Masters (when no program is under way), and people absolutely loved Cafe al Bacio for a coffee and conversation. 

Entertainment and activities? The line-up was the usual hodge-podge of cruise activities—everything from a bean bag toss to an art auction, a dance class to wine tasting and something that was surely popular with guests, "How to Look 10 Years Younger" in the spa. Of course, there's a fairly large casino, too, and I can vouch for the efficient way one slot machine took my $50. 

I didn't see any of the performances in the theater, but I spoke to Joelle Delva, vice president of operations, Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. and she told me that her favorite entertainment was "Uptown."

"The luscious harmonies of the 'Uptown' group were energetic, electrifying and emotional," said Delva. "They brought the audience to its feet which turned into a double standing ovation. Just amazing."

Guests could find a wide range of live music of various genres around the ship, plus rooftop movies, an acoustic afternoon with one musician, "Sunset Songs with Drake and Tara" and much more. 

As for shore trips, I was not ashore, but in Barbados, cruisers were required to take the line's curated shore excursions; they could not get off on their own on the island. In Aruba and Curacao, however, they could do either. 


Celebrity did a great job with the pre-departure antigen testing of all guests before the end of the cruise The process was incredibly well-planned, smooth, easy and quick. Antigen test results showed up on my phone within and hour and a printed copy of those results was later delivered to my stateroom. 

Getting off the ship was also smooth with the usual litany of color-coded bag tags and disembarkation numbers called over the PA system.

That said, the airport arrival, check-in and terminal processes were a challenge at times, and the airport was quite crowded. That said, airport/airline people tried their best, and the airport also had a lot of people—staff, airline staff and vendors—to assist.

But the PA system at my gate, Gate 8, at least, wasn't good. The sound was muffled, and passengers couldn't hear what was being said over the noise of so many people in the terminal. All guests kept asking each other and people in charge about what was said.

Since it was the was the island's first two weekends of handling so many cruise guests on turnarounds, some hiccups are expected. So, I'll see how the situation has improved as I head soon to St. Maarten for a Windstar Cruises' voyage and subsequently return to the U.S.   

Overall, though, at the port itself and aboard Celebrity Millennium, the process, protocols and capacity limitations worked very well. The proof? I'd definitely sail on Celebrity Millennium once again, given how this first cruise unfolded. 

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