On Site: Celebrity Millennium Sets Sail from St. Maarten

In a historic moment for the “2021 cruise reboot,” Celebrity Cruises’ revitalized, 90,040-ton ship Celebrity Millennium sailed from Philipsburg, St. Maarten on Saturday night—becoming the first “big ship” cruise with guests aboard to sail from North America since the pandemic shut down cruising last spring.

“Today, we sail again,” exclaimed Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. “This is such a significant moment for our company, our industry and the Caribbean. That this day has finally arrived for our guests and our crew is truly special—beyond words, really.” The ship, launched in 2000 and refurbished in 2019, is the first of eight Celebrity ships expected to restart service in the coming months.

Lutoff-Perlo expressed happiness that “the crew are back onboard doing what they love and providing amazing vacations and service to our guests. I also am extremely grateful to the leadership of the St. Maarten government for their vision and support to make this moment happen. What an honor to now be the first to enthusiastically say, once again—‘Welcome Aboard!’”

Currently, the 940-ton Celebrity Millennium is operating a seven-night Caribbean cruise to Barbados (where it’s docked Monday with guests heading ashore for excursions), Aruba and Curacao. The ship will also spend three days at sea.

Celebrity Millennium docked in Philipsburg, St. Maarten // Photo by Susan J. Young

Through August, the ship will operate a mix of eastern and western Caribbean itineraries roundtrip from Philipsburg.  Celebrity plans to hold the ship’s capacity to just under 50 percent for the immediate future. Travel Agent is on site and the line told us the capacity is roughly 1,800 passengers, double occupancy, so that means just under 900 passengers maximum will sail on these Caribbean voyages.On this week's voyage, it appears that fewer guests are sailing—just eyeballing the spaces and people.

All crew are vaccinated and all guests 16 and over must be vaccinated (so, 95 percent of guests overall) and also provide proof of a negative PCR test to board. Guests also must have a pre-authorization document from St. Maarten’s government to show when boarding their flights to the island.

An Upbeat Moment

Navigating the pre-cruise documentation and testing requirements to travel right now can be complex, and processes evolve almost daily. “Regarding the flight and process. I thought it was interesting that they checked all our forms at the Delta check-in, when we landed, when we got to the hotel and when we boarded,” says Michael Consoli, travel advisor and franchise owner, Cruise Planners in Roswell, GA, who’s sailing on Celebrity Millennium this week. “I was glad I had organized everything before we left."

Cruisers are advised to bring their original vaccination card, and also have “printed” copies of boarding passes, itineraries, negative COVID PCR test results and the pre-authorization letter from the St. Maarten government. Travel Agent observed some travelers with only smartphone scanned documents being told at one airport check-point that they needed hard copies, not simply the image on their phone.

Tip: Cruisers should pay careful attention to the cruise line’s written directions (especially the timing) for vaccine or testing requirements, plus check daily on individual countries’ websites for the latest requirements there. The situation is evolving quickly. Several people on our cruise were forced to get two COVID-19 PCR tests prior to departure, given changing requirements at a port of call.

But once cruisers reach St. Maarten and head to the Port of Philipsburg, a large pier check-in tent awaits. Celebrity is staggering terminal arrivals and departures by appointment, with guests having the ability to select their preferred times based on travel plans. During the check-in and check-out process, all guests two years of age and older will be required to wear a mask.

Overall, we found the port check-in process smooth and easy. Bags that guests desire to be delivered to the ship are tagged and whisked away quickly. Then, guests enter the tent for the cruise line’s check-in desks, a health/safety screening area for passengers who didn’t answer specific questions online, immigration checks and other services.

Soon passengers were boarding a shuttle tram to the dock and crossing the gangway. It was clear guests were thrilled to be aboard Celebrity Millennium, and crew members, too, seemed just as excited and appreciative of the “restart.”  

“For the past several months, I had the privilege of maintaining this beautiful ship with a small 75-person crew,” said Celebrity Millennium’s captain, Theodoros Zakkas. “Today, with a full crew who were all smiles as we welcomed our guests onboard once again, has been very emotional for me.”

He continued: “It has been a beautiful and historic homecoming, one that everyone involved—guests and crew—will never forget.”

Theodoros Zakkas and Brian Abel, welcoming media aboard Celebrity Millennium's bridge. // Photo by Susan J. Young

On embarkation day, Zakkas and Brian Abel, Celebrity’s senior vice president of hotel operations, also hosted a cocktail reception on the ship’s bridge for media invitees. 

New Health and Safety Protocols

Celebrity Millennium now sails with enhanced health and safety standards, based on parent Royal Caribbean Group’s work with the Healthy Sail Panel of scientific, medical and public health leaders, as well guidance from government agencies and public health authorities.

One notable achievement was the redesign of Celebrity’s muster drill on embarkation day. No longer do all guests gather at once—hundreds upon hundreds of people in close contact—for the required safety drill. Instead, there is a new e-muster process, one that Celebrity was working on prior to the pandemic. Travel Agent found it quite effective for social distancing and also more convenient and flexible for guests. As guests open the door to their stateroom, they’ll see their stateroom’ flat-screen TV “on” and displaying muster drill information.

Next, they either watch the in-stateroom muster drill video or they can also pull it up on the Celebrity app, perhaps while sitting on the pool deck. One couple aboard even watched it pre-cruise from the hotel.

Instead of being told to report to their muster station at a particular time as in the past, guests are advised to go to their muster station at their convenience any time prior to the ship’s departure. When we showed up, only a handful of other guests were there. A crew member then demonstrated how to put on a life jacket, asked us if we had any questions, and that was it. The drill was over, we had our room key card scanned to sign out of the drill, and a sticker placed on that card to show we’d completed everything needed. 

Once onboard, and unless otherwise stipulated by local governments, masks are not required in accordance with recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for sailings with vaccinated crew and guests. Travel Agent observed that most guests were not wearing them onboard, although all crew generally were.

Note: Celebrity’s passengers are urged to check guidance on all health and safety measures at www.celebritycruises.com/healthy-at-sea

Revitalization Look

Celebrity Millennium AquaClass Balcony Stateroom // Photo by Susan J. Young

As part of Celebrity’s $500-million “Revolution” fleet update program, Celebrity Millennium, the oldest ship in Celebrity’s fleet, was revitalized to the tune of $90 million in 2019.

“I think the ship looks amazing,” Consoli says. “We are in the Royal Suite and it is stunning after the refurbishment. The whole ship looks like it’s brand new and the upgrades are similar to the aesthetic of Edge and Apex.”

Overall, we felt the same in entering AquaClass Balcony Stateroom No. 9157. AquaClass staterooms are between 191 square feet and 209 square feet, with a private veranda of 42 square feet to 62 square feet. The room is fresh, airy and offers light-colored surfaces and soothing decor colors. It has a bit of a minimalist feel, but is lovely to look at.

Bedding is sumptuous with four big white fluffy pillows, an eXhale cashmere mattress and crisp white sheets and a comforter. The bed can be split into two smaller twins. Placed on each bed prior to the guest’s arrival is a white bag that holds two pairs of slippers and two lip balms from C.O. Bigelow Apothecary.

Opposite the bed area is a large, wall-mounted flat-screen TV, viewable from the bed or a small living area. We relaxed while seated in the stateroom’s large, upholstered chair, which has a decorative pillow and a soft cashmere throw positioned on top. There’s also a small, easily movable table. Directly across the room is the desk area. Here, guests will find three drawers, a desk chair and a large round mirror on the wall. Off to the side is a small shelf holding binoculars for guest use.

So, where’s the cabin’s prime storage? Just inside this stateroom’s entry door, passengers open two, long vertical doors of a wardrobe to reveal a full-length vertical mirror, bars for hanging clothes, two plush white robes and two yoga mats for guest use. In addition, guests will discover two sizes of umbrellas, a shoe-shine bag, tote bag and laundry bag.

One nice touch is that on the counter adjacent to the wardrobe are two masks and two small containers of sanitizer for guest use, plus two refillable spring water cans. Also placed on that counter is a bottle of wine that’s complimentary plus a bottle of Evian for purchase.

Within the minibar, passengers will find mostly drinks and a couple of snacks. A small bottle of Kendell Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon or La Crema Chardonnay are both priced at $24 each, while a Heineken beer is $6.50, and a Tito’s Vodka $9. It’s $3.50 for a Coca Cola or $4 for a Kind Bar. Above the minibar and counter are hanging cabinets with glass doors and a personal safe inside.   

As for the AquaClass stateroom’s bathroom, we’d describe it as compact. Guests will have a single rectangular sink, toilet, a few small vertical shelves along one side of the mirror, and a shower with a glass door and massaging showerhead. The bathroom products are C.O. Country. There is no tub.

For those who love going out and having a drink or reading on their balcony, this stateroom’s large floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors give way to a decent-sized balcony with two comfortable, adjustable-back chairs and a small round table.

This particular deck (9) also has a high white ceiling that extends out beyond the balconies quite a distance. So, it may not get the direct sunlight of some other balcony accommodations, but that said, it was open and airy. We actually liked it for the shade, plus the ability to sit outside in rainy weather, which isn’t always possible even on covered balconies on other ships.

Dining Experience in Blu

Celebrity’s AquaClass comes with such perks as a personal spa concierge, unlimited access to the Persian Garden, complimentary dining at the exclusive Blu restaurant, use of the yoga mats placed in the stateroom, and much more.

Located on Deck 5, Blu is a lovely restaurant with service that’s friendly, polished and professional. Our group dined here Sunday evening. Starters were heirloom tomato salad, pickled beet salad, roasted red beet bisque, creamy crab bisque, sesame-crusted tuna salad, spinach salad and—what everyone at our table ordered—the very tasty “macadamia nut crusted sea scallops.”

The macadamia nut-crusted sea scallops at Blu. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Blu signature entrees included a grilled octopus salad, pan-seared Pacific salmon, truffle ricotta gnocchi, a daily vegetable and two other superb dishes that we and a fellow tablemate ordered—the sherry-glazed pheasant breast and herb-crusted rack of lamb. Both of those were delicious.

Classics are also available, including a lightly broiled Atlantic salmon filet, roasted chicken breast and New York strip steak. As for desserts, there were a slew of choices, but we all opted for the apple pie a la mode, and it lived up to the hype.

Red and white wines, as well an ice wine after dinner, were freely poured. The sommelier explained the characteristics of each wine. Guests can also order a signature Blu cocktail, if desired. Among those choices were Whiskey Blu or Botanical Bliss.

Back on the Water

Travel Agent will be providing more coverage of the return of Celebrity Millennium this week, including a look at spaces and places, new services, dining, entertainment and more about the revitalization. So, stay tuned.

While Celebrity Millennium is the first of the line’s fleet to return to cruising, it won’t be alone as summer progresses. Here’s the schedule:

  • Celebrity Apex – sailing the Aegean beginning June 19
  • Celebrity Edge – sailing the Caribbean from Ft. Lauderdale, FL on June 26
  • Celebrity Silhouette – sailing the U.K. coastline starting July 3
  • Celebrity Flora – returning to the Galapagos islands starting July 3, followed by Celebrity Xpedition and Celebrity Xploration on July 24 and September 18, respectively

Also, sailings to Alaska from Seattle will begin July 23.

“We couldn’t be more excited to welcome our guests back to relax and start enjoying the travel experiences they’ve been craving all this time,” Abel said. “Once onboard, they’ll discover reimagined accommodation, spa and entertainment offerings, along with considered and thoughtful health and safety measures.”

Abel added that the end result “will make cruises one of the safest ways to explore the world, while enjoying a wonderful and uncompromised vacation experience.”

For more information, visit www.celebritycruises.com

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