Celebrity Millennium Alaska Cruise Part Two: Was the Deal too Good to Be True?

Lisa Fritscher September 27, 2010 2 Comments

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Amtrak makes things easy for disabled=

Amtrak makes things easy for disabled travelers

On Day 2 of our Alaska adventure, we awoke bright and early in Seattle. Thankfully, my body was still on Orlando time, so the 7:40 a.m. departure felt more like 10:40 a.m. We had coach seating in the disabled section, providing us with two comfortable seats and room to simply park Dad’s scooter on board. Read about Part One of our Alaskan Cruise here!   

We settled in and then headed for the Club Car, where fast-food style breakfast was being served. Our table turned out to be in a wonderful location for photography, so we stayed put for half of the four hour ride and then went exploring. We love the ability to wander through the train at our leisure rather than being stuck in an airplane seat.  

Border Crossing  

Canadian Border Crossing

That little white building is the official border crossing

Despite the enhanced security regulations on border crossings, we found crossing by train to be a breeze. At the Seattle train station, we showed our passports and tickets at the counter and were on our way. No need to take off our shoes or pour out our beverages. About an hour before we arrived in Vancouver, train personnel passed out standard customs forms. If you’ve ever left the US, you’re familiar with these forms. We had to state where we were going and how long we planned to stay in Canada. There were lines to declare things like alcohol and cigarettes, and any cash over $10,000. I can’t fathom why anyone would travel with $10,000 in cash, but I’m sure people have their reasons!  

We walked through Customs on the way off the train, where we basically spent under a minute answering the same questions that were on the form. The agent scanned our passports and we were free to go. It really couldn’t have been much easier!  

Embarkation  

Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise Port Vancouver

Arriving at the cruise terminal

We caught a taxi from the train station to the pier, and checked our luggage curbside. Due to Dad’s disability, we were ushered past the regular check-in line and permitted to check in with suite passengers. We presented our passports and cruise documents and were directed to a waiting area.  

Boarding Line at Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise Vancouver

We got to skip most of this line

Boarding was scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., but was slightly delayed. We found out why when we were handed two forms. The first explained that on the previous cruise, the ship was struck by Norovirus! This is a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness that spreads rapidly through enclosed populations such as cruise ships and dorm rooms. We’ve been lucky enough never to have had Norovirus, and certainly didn’t want to start in Alaska! The second form was part of the cruise line’s outbreak control procedures, where we had to state whether we had felt ill or run a fever in the past week. If so, then the ship’s doctors would check us out free of charge before boarding. Thankfully, we were feeling perfectly healthy.  

Our First Impressions  

Free Drinks Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Free drinks were a nice touch

Boarding commenced a short time later, and we were eager to see the ship. We’ve cruised on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, but this was our first experience on Celebrity. I was impressed right off the bat, when we stepped off the gangway into the lobby, and were met by a team of wait staff with trays of free Welcome Aboard champagne and mimosas. I believe there were nonalcoholic choices as well, but free alcohol is a rarity on a mass-market line, so we took advantage of the offer. As it turns out, on every port day, returning passengers are greeted with the option of hot chocolate or water. On cold Alaska days, the hot chocolate feels like a godsend!  

Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise Furniture

I loved the graceful wooden furniture

The ship was beautiful, decorated in soft colors accented by dark woods. We love the Vegas-style glitz of Carnival, but appreciated the quiet elegance of Celebrity. I was particularly impressed by the wooden deck chairs, a throwback to a more genteel age of cruising and a stark contrast to Carnival’s white plastic chairs.  

Our Cabin  

Inside Cabin Alaskan Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Dad relaxing in the cabin

As we knew it would be, our cabin was a standard handicapped-accessible inside stateroom, located on the lowest passenger deck. However, the size and location next to an elevator made it quite convenient. Whenever we cruise, the cabin stewards assume that we are a married couple, rather than father and daughter. Invariably, we have to request that the beds be separated (standard cruise cabins feature twin beds that can be pushed together to create a king). The request was handled cheerfully, as were all requests throughout our cruise. We tipped our cabin stewardess a few dollars in cash the first time we saw her, as well as giving a full tip at the end.  

Cabin Storage Space Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Our storage space was very well laid out

Our cabin also featured a convertible sofa bed and coffee table, and a small desk. Storage space was plentiful, with more than enough room for our clothes, Dad’s medications and all of our toiletries. The handicapped staterooms are a bit larger than average, and we were able to park the scooter out of the way.  

Lunch and Lifeboat Drill  

Buffet Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

We couldn't resist the Welcome Aboard buffet

All cruise ships put on an elaborate spread at the buffet restaurant during embarkation, and the Millennium was no exception. The sprawling buffet easily accommodated everyone with minimal waits, and we found seats at the back beside a large plate glass window.  

This was our first introduction to Norovirus precautions. Two crew members were stationed outside the restaurant giving everyone a squirt of hand sanitizer. There was also a large sanitizer station that was kept refilled for off hours, when the crew members were not present. Wait staff did double duty fixing coffee and dishing out condiments so that no containers were touched by multiple passengers. The buffet staff served our food cafeteria-style, rather than everyone taking their own portions. Throughout the week, the library was closed for deep cleaning, and we saw housekeeping staff all over the ship cleaning furiously. Thankfully we never got sick.  

Lifeboat Drill Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

The lifeboat drill was short and painless

After lunch was the mandatory lifeboat drill. Many people hate this process, but it actually goes quite smoothly if everyone participates. All passengers must retrieve their life jackets and meet in designated locations to review emergency procedures. The drill is mandated by the Coast Guard, and provides essential information.  

Celebrity Cruise’s process was simple. Everyone was assigned to a lounge or other large gathering space. We checked in at the door, where crew members were taking names. We sat comfortably for a few minutes, noted the information, and were then free to go. The only hard part was trying to get an elevator afterwards! Since Dad is on a scooter and couldn’t take the stairs, I ran the life jackets to our cabin and met him on the Resort deck. We had seen a great deal of outdoor seating along the ship’s stern, which looked like a great place to enjoy sailaway.  

Sailaway  

Leaving Vancouver Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

This seagull sat with us as we got underway

It may be incredibly cheesy of me, but sailaway is my favorite part of any cruise. We always settle into a comfortable spot on deck, grab the drink of the day, and listen to live music as the ship sets sail. It’s not quite the same as the Golden Age of cruising, when crowds gathered on the dock to wave goodbye and the ships launched streamers as they departed, but it’s pretty close. A seagull came to join me shortly after I found a seat.  

Bartender Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

He took great care of us all week

Dad finally made it up the elevator just before departure. He went to buy cards for unlimited soft drinks, and ended up making a new friend. That bartender, as well as the ones in Cosmos Disco, took excellent care of us all week.  

Vancouver Coast Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

The Vancouver coastline was ruggedly beautiful

Sailing out of Vancouver was so different for us. We’ve mostly done Caribbean cruises out of Port Canaveral, Florida or New Orleans, LA. We did a cold weather itinerary on a fall Canada cruise out of New York City, but this was different yet. Everything was foggy and chilly and rugged-looking. It was the perfect beginning to an Alaskan adventure.  

Evening Activities  

Dinner Table Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Dinner was a highlight of our trip

Dinner is an important part of cruising, and we have strong preferences. We want traditional seating, in which we are seated at the same table with the same companions and wait staff throughout the cruise. We prefer late seating, which is generally around 8:15 p.m., and we like to be at a table for eight or more. We genuinely enjoy getting to know our dining companions.  

Alaska Celebrity Cruise Theater

The Celebrity Theater is used for all sorts of events

We received exactly what we requested on the Millennium, and it was an excellent experience. Our wait team was top notch, and our companions were friendly. The food was terrific, and we ate until we were stuffed. Then it was off to the Celebrity Cruise Theater for the Welcome Aboard show.  

We’re generally night owls, and love sitting out on the open deck late into the evening. We usually make a few shipboard friends who do the same, and late night is our time to hang out and relax. That night, we went out on deck and realized it was deserted! Would this prove to be an early to bed crowd?  

We soon realized that we were freezing. Earlier in the day we had noticed warm blankets folded into every deck chair, and a large supply of blankets on counter tops throughout the open decks. We now realized why–it’s rather chilly that far north, even in June! We wondered if, perhaps, the late night crowd was keeping warm somewhere inside.  

Cosmos Disco Alaska Celebrity Cruise

Cosmos Disco became our go-to late night spot

After a bit of exploration, we ended up at Cosmos. Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows and located at the top of the ship, Cosmos combines amazing views with climate control. By day it’s a massive lounge, and at night it turns into a disco. The late-night crowd was out in force, and we made a few friends. Cosmos took the place of the open deck as our default go-to spot for late night socialization.  

Late night on Deck Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Late night on deck

I went to bed around midnight, after an exhausting but fun-filled day. Dad went out on deck around 2 a.m. to take photos. We weren’t quite far enough north for true midnight sun, but it was definitely not the sort of night we’re used to down south!  

What We Learned and Tips for Parents  

o Crowds on the Alaska Celebrity Millennium Cruise

Despite holding nearly 2,000 passengers, the Millennium never felt crowded

I recently read about Joe and Amy’s luxury Alaska cruise adventure on Regent Seven Seas. They had a wraparound balcony and butler service, and apparently had a fantastic time. We too had a great time, but our cruise on the Celebrity Millennium was the polar opposite, a last-minute budget cruise in an inside cabin. Although Celebrity is a highly rated mass-market cruise line, the Millennium is a mega-ship, holding 1,950 passengers to Regent Seven Seas’ 500 passengers.  

Did we make a mistake? I don’t think so. There is a cruise style to fit virtually every budget and personality, and I think the Millennium fit ours. We’re independent travelers, prefer youth hostels over hotels, and don’t mind crowds in the slightest. We’re very active, and would rather spend time in a ship’s public areas than a private balcony. Everyone told us we “needed” a balcony for Alaska, but I honestly don’t think we would have used it. For others, such as Joe and Amy, a balcony is a major key to their enjoyment.  

In my opinion, a luxury cruise is a better choice when the kids are a little older. Largely due to cost, the average passenger age skews a bit older on the luxury lines. Consequently, children on board have a harder time meeting kids their own age. While children’s programs are standard fare on virtually every ship, the more kids are on board a line’s average cruise, the more extensive the programming tends to be. Beyond looking at the price, I think it’s important to look at the overall experience that you desire, and choose a cruise line and cabin that best fits your personal criteria.

The cruise continues in Celebrity Millennium Alaska Cruise Part Three: Ports Galore

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avatarAbout the Author:

Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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