Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Cruise Day 12 – At Sea

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

Hopefully I didn’t promise you that I was done talking about food because I haven’t told you about the brunch buffet yet. The brunch buffet is evidently Celebrity’s version of the midnight buffet as there was no midnight buffet. I also believe the brunch only happened one time for the entire cruise. It was barely promoted anywhere – if Jerome hadn’t mentioned it we probably would have missed it. There was only one line “Brunch (Deck 4) 10:00 am to 1:00 pm” in Celebrity Today.

As it was we did not partake of any of the food. Photos were enough.

Celebrity Millennium: Brunch Buffet

Celebrity Millennium: Brunch Buffet

Celebrity Millennium: Brunch Buffet

Celebrity Millennium: Brunch Buffet

Celebrity Millennium: Brunch Buffet

I haven’t mentioned much about the theatre shows on Millie. Partly it’s because we didn’t make it to that many shows and also because I don’t like taking photos during shows. Tonight was one show I made a point of making it to. Dale Kristien, who played Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera for 5 years, sang for us. She was amazing. Of course, she sang many songs from Phantom, including some that were originally sung by the phantom. She also had a sense of humor and had the audience laughing in between songs.

Tomorrow we are moving on to Puerto Vallarta, then Cabo San Lucas, and our last day at sea.

Cruise Day 11 – At Sea

Wednesday, November 7th, 2012

We are at sea today, in transit from Puerto Quetzal to Puerto Vallarta. A relaxing day was needed after not feeling 100% the day before which was most likely due to eating heavy cream the evening before. We had breakfast in Blu, but this time I had the french toast and took my own tea. The fresh squeezed orange juice is always good here (they have it in the MDR too, but not in the café or from room service).

Today we had been invited for a bridge tour. The thing that struck me the most was how much room they had in this bridge – it was wide open.

Random brain dump of what I remember from the tour:

The first officer was telling us how careful they have to be at night to watch out for large fishing nets in this area. He said the fisherman like their nets so at least they mark them with lights, but it can be difficult to spot them in time. The second officer who answered most of our questions was a Greek woman. She told us how they have great opportunities to learn on this ship. Captain Patsoulas works with each officer to teach them how to bring the ship in and out of port by asking them their plan, then telling him what his plan would be, and then by walking them through it with them controlling the ship. I really cannot fathom controlling the movement of something as big as this ship, but I suppose like anything else you learn on something smaller and go up from there.

Celebrity Millennium: Bridge Tour

Celebrity Millennium: Bridge Tour

Celebrity Millennium: Bridge Tour

Celebrity Millennium: Bridge Tour

Celebrity Millennium: Bridge Tour

On a related subject, the next day we had an engine control room tour. I have nothing technical to say about this. Oh wait, I take that back – the ship has azipods. In order to achieve maximum speed they have to shut down some of the air conditioners. And, the engineers worked short shifts, like 4 hours and you can see why since they are in a windowless room responding to alarms and details on computer monitors. It was A LOT of computer screens and control switches.

Celebrity Millennium: Engine Control Room

Celebrity Millennium: Engine Control Room

Celebrity Millennium: Engine Control Room

Celebrity Millennium: Engine Control Room

Today I had lunch at Aqua Spa Café. They had a salad and a small seafood plate that had shrimp, a mussel, and tiny scallops. Following that I had to try the iced tea that I had heard about at Cafe Al Bacio. The white ginger pear was delicious and big enough for two people. Or, in my case, a good amount to fully hydrate one person. While having tea I met a nice couple from Anacortes who were also on their first cruise with Celebrity.

This pyramid shaped box is how Tea Forte packages their product. A day later I tried the iced pomegranate blackberry, but truthfully I liked the white ginger pear better and will likely order myself some. Click through to the Tea Forte site and see how they present their iced tea – it is really nicely done and worked well. I don’t often make iced tea because I find it inconvenient, but with their pitcher it seemed easy. On the ship one serving was $5.75 (including the tip). A heckuva a splurge for tea of any kind.

Celebrity Millennium: Misc

Like the past few days we hung out up at the Mast Bar in the afternoon. Two for one frou-frou drink specials are from 4 to 6 pm. I didn’t partake after feeling sick the day before.

We had dinner at MDR. I had the prosciutto di parma appetizer, a radicchio/radish salad, and the asian tofu stir fry for my main course. It was very good! Lots of parsley and slightly spicy. For dessert I had sacher torte. Per usual I should have stuck with the mango sorbet as it would have been easier on my stomach. Lucky me, I had a glass of Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc leftover from dinner at Olympic. Being on the sweeter side it was a good match for spicy stir fry. As a side note, the wine by the glass chardonnay that I’ve found to be the best is the Freemark Abbey. It only seems to be available in Cellar Masters though.

Richard had a spinach pastry pocket appetizer, caesar salad, and veal cordon bleu. For dessert he had the cheesecake. Both the caesar salad and cheesecake are from the everyday menu.

I’ll leave you today with a photo of the blue Pacific waters and my sock-in-progress. I did carry these around with me depending on what we were doing. My Cruise Critic username is TobyKnits after all so I figured I should live up to it.

Celebrity Millennium: Misc

Celebrity Millennium: Misc

Cruise Day 10 – Guatemala

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Once again we chose not to book a ship’s tour. I was a little bit nervous about this as the primary destination from Puetro Quetzal is Antigua, a 90 minute drive. Reading online I had learned that the roads are terrible and that accidents or weather can prevent you from getting back to the ship on time.

We walked off the ship with another couple and decided we’d take a risk on the 4 of us taking a taxi to Antigua. At the cruise ship terminal Go with Gus was represented, Safe Taxi, and another one whose name I didn’t catch. We went with Safe Taxi for $40 per person.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Our driver was Oscar, a young man who spoke English fairly well. He had a little black Suzuki car. It was pretty crowded for 5 of us in the car and the A/C could barely keep up, but Oscar did a nice job of showing us the major sites and of avoiding the potholes in the road. He drove very safely – also important in this part of the world as they tend to be…ahem…more flexible in their driving then we are at home. In some ways, even though they pass wherever they feel like it and there are lots of slow moving vehicles, animals, motorcycles, bicycles, and people in/out of the street, I think they actually pay MORE attention than drivers at home.

On the way to Antigua we saw the indian head and drove through the old town of Antigua. When we stopped here the police pulled in behind us, presumably to keep us safe. It was a bit disconcerting. I mean, do you feel safer that there are police everywhere or do you wonder why its so dangerous that they are needed? There were police every couple of miles from the ship all the way to Antigua and then spread out around Antigua too.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

In Antigua our first stop was San Francisco Church. It is beautiful, as you can see. I do not recall learning much about architecture in central America so I had to rely on Wikipedia to learn that this church is in the Spanish-American baroque style with twisted salomonic columns. I tried to get a date for you, but it’s about as clear as mud – 16th to 18th century depending on what part of the structure as it has suffered heavy damage from earthquakes in 1717, 1751, and 1773.

It is surrounded by courtyards and has the ironwork details that we first saw here, but that existed throughout Antigua.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Next, we stopped at the jade store and factory Jades Imperio Maya. I’m so predictable that I bought more earrings. In actuality, I needed new earrings (no really, I have maybe 10 pairs and 7 of those pairs are 20 years old) and had planned to get some when I got home.

No sign of OSHA here. Ear protection? Eye protection? Non-existent, unless of course you meant playing your music through ear buds so you can’t hear the grinding and polishing machines.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (16th century) and Central Park:

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Walking along the streets of Antigua.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Arriving at Casa Santo Domingo Hotel/Museum. This place was stunning. I failed to truly capture it. The 1773 earthquake also did heavy damage to this structure, but it is in use today as a church, a hotel, restaurant, and museums. With regard to the church, they’ve built a solid roof over the front of the chapel and the rest of it has a permanent tent structure. The juxtaposition of new/old was really well done.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

The ruins of El Carmen Church. The church was finished in 1728 and nearly destroyed by the earthquake of 1773. It is under reconstruction according to Oscar. Next door to El Carmen there is a market selling all kinds of Guatemalan goods of interest to tourists.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Church and Convent La Merced.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

On the way back to the ship.

Celebrity Millennium: Guatemala

Looking back at these photos I have a new appreciation of how gorgeous Antigua is and I can see why it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, I was not feeling that well while we were there and did not fully enjoy it. There were many, many historic churches and ruins that we did not see, besides the fact that even ordinary streets in Antigua are beautiful with ironwork and flowering trees. It is a place I wouldn’t mind going back to in a few years when the safety of tourists has improved (see below).

The next morning after we were in Antigua we heard that a couple on our cruise that had gone out with a tour group were robbed. They stepped away from their group and were pulled into the jungle by men armed with machetes. They were physically unharmed as they cooperated with the men, though they were relieved of their cash and other belongings.

Cruise Day 9 – At Sea

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Three weeks ago today we were at sea and all anyone could talk about was how great zip lining was the day before. It was that good. I really do want to go back and stay at Hotel Vista Golfo.

It was a very relaxing day. The only thing I noted down that we did on this day was have dinner at Olympic – which works nicely with my plan to tell you about the Chef’s Table since the food is similar.

Let’s start with Chef’s Table since it was on October 11th and Cruise Day 9 is actually October 15th. Before departing for the cruise we had heard that there may be an option to attend chef’s table. I was a little put off by the cost, but Richard said it sounded like fun. A cruise critic thread said that chef’s table only happened if there was enough interest and that maybe getting a group together to ask about it would be a wise approach. However, we found out on board that the maitre’d was not interested in talking to groups at all – he would only take requests from individuals or couples. No matter, we asked our butler to inquire about chef’s table and we got an invite.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

By definition from Wikipedia: A chef’s table is a table located in the kitchen of a restaurant, reserved for VIPs and special guests. Patrons are served a themed tasting menu prepared and served by the head chef. Restaurants can require a minimum party and charge a higher flat fee. Because of the demand on the kitchen’s facilities, chef’s tables are generally only done during off-peak times.

On the Millie the chef’s table begins in the wine cellar of The Olympic dining room with champagne. Once the group has gathered and been introduced you walk through The Olympic into the galley. The staff all stop and cheer for the guests as you walk through to your table. The galley is all stainless steel, lots of noise, and a flurry of activity. At the time of our seating it was the lull in between the early and late dinner seatings, but while we were enjoying our meal the galley was pushing out dinner for the late dinner.

Our food was prepared (or at least finished) by Executive Chef Jason Banyon, table side. Joining us at dinner was Food & Beverage Manager Evan Willemse. We were presented with a tasting menu in which we could choose from 2 options for our appetizer, soup/salad, main, and dessert course. Two wines were served and glasses were refilled frequently. Unfortunately they would not let us keep the menu – I don’t understand why as they supposedly print menus on board. What you see below is from memory so I may not be exactly correct on some of the dishes.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Amuse-bouche – this was a bite of sausage with some type of foam on top.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Appetizer – Smoked Salmon & Peekytoe Crab Parfait, layered with avocado, salmon caviar, creme fraiche, petite greens. Available in Olympic.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Soup/salad – Wilted salad greens with deep fried goat cheese. Fairly similar to Qsine Greens.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Palate cleanser – if memory serves this was mango lime sorbet with a raspberry and chocolate swirl.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Main course – I’m pretty sure I had Loup De Mer, grilled Mediterranean sea bass, red pepper melange, crispy eggplant, balsamic syrup, sauce niçoise. Available in Olympic.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Richard had red meat that I believe was Steak Diane or maybe in this case Filet Diane. I love how they presented the vegetables with this.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Dessert – Floating island with chocolate cream sauce. Available in Blu.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

With the first few courses we were served Kistler 2006 Sonoma Chardonnay. Looking at their website I realize I don’t know which chardonnay it was. This was followed by La Braccesca (Antinori) 2008 and that’s all I’ve got. It was red. Both wines were very good, in contrast to the rest of the less-than-impressive wine that was being served on the ship. Seriously, if it was by the glass it was not very good. And if they served it at a wine tasting – forget about it, total waste of time and money. The only good wine on the ship had to be bought by the bottle.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

It was a fun night and worth doing one time. However, I don’t think I’d do it again. Seeing the dining room in full operation was the great part and talking with the other guests was interesting to say the least, but the food was not significantly different than going to Olympic. That is why I wouldn’t do it again – I wanted the food to be truly special too and it wasn’t.

Along with the dinner and wine pairings you get a copy of Excite the Senses. Cost was $279 per couple.

Celebrity Millennium: Chef's Table

Dinner at Olympic

We had dinner for 4 at Olympic a few nights later.

Honestly, the way I feel about Olympic is that there is some very good food available, but you have to be VERY CAREFUL about what you order. If you are not you will be served so much rich food that you will feel sick (many people I talked to felt sick after eating here). Too many dishes on this menu are based on heavy cream, creme fraiche, or goat cheese. It is overwhelming. Even some of the dishes that aren’t dairy based are overly rich.

I had: Warm Goat Cheese Souffle, Heirloom Tomato & Buffalo Mozzarella Salad, Olympic Lobster.
Richard had: Diver Scallop Wellington Style, Hazelnut Coated Lamb Rack.
Others in our party had: Smoked Salmon & Peekytoe Crab Parfait, Crispy Pork Belly, Les Petits Filets.

The dessert menu, from what I remember, had several liquor souffles, a sampler of many desserts, and the most basic choice which was ice cream and sorbet.

Would I eat in Olympic again? I suppose so, especially because when you book a suite you get 1 or 2 dinners included at no charge. If I were to go again I’d try the Quail and Arugula Salad and the Crispy Pork Belly. Many of the entrees looked good and were not overly rich – really, the one to avoid was the lobster which was cooked in heavy cream.

*Please forgive the photos. That hazy, dreamy look is because we used Richard’s cell phone which has a cracked lens.

Cruise Day 8 – Costa Rica

Sunday, November 4th, 2012

I am so excited to tell you all about Costa Rica! It was such a great day.

We docked in Puntarenas, Costa Rica at 7 am. Our tour was scheduled for 8 am so we ordered room service to arrive between 6:30 and 7 am. There was some delay and it didn’t arrive until 7:20 am. Luckily, I still had time to eat and then we headed outside to find our tour group. Today we were booked with Adventure Park/Hotel Vista Golfo for zip lining.

Our guide met us on the pier with a minibus. The cool thing is that we knew most of the other couples that had booked the tour – the other folks who had booked through our Cruise Critic Roll Call we were able to meet the day before, then another couple we became friends with on board decided to join us, and 2 couples from our dinner table had coincidentally booked the same tour. It was a bit under an hours drive from the ship up into the hills. Along the way the houses all were fenced in and there were some poor areas, but all in all it was MUCH nicer than Cartagena and Colon. Also, along the black sand beach near the cruise ship terminal there were many vendors set up and it was safe to walk around.

Our mini bus driver told us we would go through a couple of towns on the way. He asked, “do you know what the 4 requirements are for a place to be a town?” The first couple were easy – a school and a church. The third was a soccer field and after a number of wrong guesses we found out the fourth was a pub. After going through 2 small towns and a short drive on the PanAmerican Highway (hwy 1) we began climbing up into the hills.

We arrived at Adventure Park and it was lovely. I mean, you see the photos online, but it is not the same as being there. We all signed our waivers and paid, then we got rides in 4×4 vehicles up to the start of the zip line. The road was a single lane, up through the hills. The road surface was sharp, jagged rock, quite uneven and with lots of washed out areas from the rainy season. We had good drivers that went slowly over the bumps.

Once the jeeps dropped us off the guides got out all the harnesses and helmets, and got us all suited up. You’ll notice they use a full harness – you don’t have to support yourself at all going down the zip lines. They took us to the first platform and explained how we were to place our hands and how to brake (they also had an emergency braking system so if they had to slow you down they could). At the start of each line a guide double clips you in, tells you when you can go, and when to start braking. Braking could take a bit of arm strength, but most of us found that braking wasn’t necessary. When you arrive at the platform you do need to lift your legs up – that really left me with sore muscles in my core. Others in our group said it was their quads that were sore.

As you come into the next platform the guides tell you whether to speed up or slow down as you really want to make it TO the platform. If you brake too much you will stop short and have to pull yourself in hand over hand. It takes a couple of times before you start to relax and notice what the guides are telling you. Everyone agreed that we felt very safe. The guides were excellent. They had fun, but were always professional.

Adventure Park open air dining room, grounds, and I believe hotel rooms in this building.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Headed out to the start of the zip line and the guides getting us all ready to zip line.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Do you know what happens after you get used to a few zip line runs? Now you have to rappel off a cliff face and down a steep line. It was scary! The hardest part was that in order to make it very safe they wrap the line tightly, so when you feed it through it jerks you around a fair amount. Once you get off the cliff face you bounce in the air over the waterfall each time you feed the line. It was disconcerting, but I’m glad we did it. After the first rappel we stopped at a waterfall pool for anyone who wanted to swim, have a drink of water, or just catch their breath. Then it was back to zip lining, then a second rappel, and then a whole bunch more zip lines. There were 25 zip line runs in all. It was great fun.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

The guides showing us how to rappel and Richard’s first rappel.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

At the waterfall pool.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Back to zip lines.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Here I am starting the 2nd rappel.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

You might get wet here!

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Once you finish they take you on a few minutes drive back to the hotel where they have lunch and beverages. Several members of our group had decided to do the Superman flight which is additional to the zip lines. Those of us who didn’t do it were at the hotel where we should have been able to get photos, but unfortunately the fog rolled in so thick that we couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see us. Shortly thereafter it started pouring down rain.

Another group, getting ready to go horseback riding while we were watching for the folks who did the superman zipline. We didn’t have time to do both riding and zip lines; I really wanted to do both.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Twelve minutes later the fog had rolled in and we could barely see the first superman flight. A moment later our photos were only a foggy blur.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

After lunch they took us back to the pier. Richard and I walked around the vendor tents for a few minutes before heading back to the ship. The wind was picking up and they said the rain was coming so we didn’t want to linger too long. We picked up a couple of t-shirts, but that was it. There were some pretty vases – they looked like pottery, but with carvings on them.

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

Celebrity Millennium: Costa Rica

This is the first port that we’ve been to where I would like to return. It’s a gorgeous place – you could go to the black sand beach, zip line, horseback ride, and who knows what else. Actually there is a list here: Daily Tours in Costa Rica.

Cruise Day 7 – At Sea

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

At sea, a much needed rest after standing and looking at the locks all day the day before.

For the first time we tried breakfast in the MDR. The food was fine and the OJ was still fresh squeezed. Richard had the eggs benedict which he said wasn’t bad, but the consensus at the table was that they were even better in the Oceanview Café upstairs because you wait in line and then receive your eggs benedict fresh and hot. I had french toast and bacon. It wasn’t anything special, thought there wasn’t anything wrong with it either.

We decided to go to the future cruise sales lecture at noon. It was informative with very brief overviews of locations and itineraries. The only question that remains is whether or not it’s worth it to book while on board. There are some nice perks like only $100 deposit and up to 3 class upgrades on your cabin. I’m just not sure it’s a better deal than booking on a Tuesday special.

For lunch I had a hamburger and fries from the pool deck grill. It was very tasty. Hot off the grill. I thought maybe it was just me because I don’t almost never eat hamburgers and fries at home, however our friends also thought the pool grill was delicious. This was also the first day that I felt overly full. Possibly the only day I’ll have a hamburger and fries for lunch too! I do like the fresh, light food from Aqua Spa Café quite well and that doesn’t leave me feeling stuffed for the rest of the day.

It was a lazy day – I don’t recall that there was much of anything that we did in particular. We had dinner at the MDR with our table group. My dinner consisted of a poached pear in phyllo dough with gorgonzola cheese, caesar salad, Australian sea bass with fingerling potatoes and some sauce that I didn’t like. It would have been better with fresh squeezed lemon. For dessert I splurged on a chocolate meringue with chocolate ganache. It was too sweet for everyone who ordered it. I should have stayed with my sorbet which was pineapple flavored that night. This was my least favorite dinner so far in the MDR. It’s not necessarily that the food was bad, it just wasn’t to my taste. Richard had a crispy chicken which turned out to be a rolled and stuffed thing. It looked good. His dessert choice was bananas foster and he wasn’t that pleased that it was completely cold when he got it. Probably should have learned his lesson after the crepes suzette.

Since we’re on the topic of food, may as well keep going!

Afternoon Tea

Sorry about the blur. I should have used a flash. This is a sampling of the afternoon tea options. Anton came by at 3:15 pm each day with tea, coffee, and tea cakes. He always had 3 fancy little dessert bites, cookies, and a couple of mini sandwiches. I believe all of the food was the same as what is available at Cafe Al Bacio for free. The only difference is that in the suites your butler brings it to you.

Celebrity Millennium: Food

On days we weren’t in our room Anton would leave us a couple cookies and mini sandwiches, wrapped up in a napkin.

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Canapés

Canapés with our welcome aboard sparkling wine. As you can see below there was usually seafood and cheese involved. My intolerance for dairy did not stop me from eating canapés – I quite enjoyed the brie.

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Celebrity Millennium: Food

I have no idea what they did to this shrimp. It was unnatural.

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Oceanview Cafe

There was only one night that I got dinner from the buffet. Both the stir fry and sushi were good. Yes, I pretty much ate all of this myself. Richard only had a couple bites.

Celebrity Millennium: Food

Tonight as I write this, I’m full just looking at it. But on board we managed to eat a couple bites of tea cakes and canapés almost every single day. There was another food event that I have yet to tell you about – Chef’s Table. I’ll come back to that after we talk about Costa Rica.

Cruise Day 6 – Panama Canal

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Today was the day to transit the Panama Canal. It’s an early start with the ship scheduled to be at Gatun Locks at 6:30 am. While transiting the canal commentary from a guide was broadcast around the ship.

Each lock chamber is 110 feet wide by 1050 total feet long, with only 1000 feet of that length being usable. The Millie is a Panamax ship at 965 feet long by 105 feet wide – in other words it is as big as what can possibly be accommodated in the current locks. Do you think they realized when they built the canal in 1914 what an impact it would have on the size of ships over the next hundred years? Certainly there are ships that are too large to pass through the canal, but by constraining container and passenger ships to Panamax they can save a distance of 7,872 miles and about 10 days to go around the southern tip of south America.

When we started our Panama Canal transit it was raining and our ship was crowded with people trying to get a view forward. The rain was somewhat disappointing as it was causing the closure of the helipad deck which is normally open during the canal transit. About an hour later they opened the helipad. Richard and I lucked out when the announcement was made and scored a rail side view going through Gatun Locks. While we were in the second lock the ship made a sudden lurch and strained against the mules. We found out later that they had ordered the lock doors closed too soon and they hit the aft end of the ship, damaging it. As we exited the canal near Panama City the captain told us that we would anchor out so the ship could be repaired. Before we went to dinner we dropped anchor and it wasn’t until the wee hours of the morning that we proceeded on towards Costa Rica.

For the pleasure of going through the canal our ship paid just under $340,000. (Hopefully I got that right, I forget to jot it down.)

See the white car on the bridge down below us? That’s the bridge we went over (twice) yesterday. Vehicle traffic has to stop for ship traffic and the bridge moves out of the way.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Throughout the day the car carrier Wallenius Wilhemsen was immediately behind us in the locks, which meant it was actually next to us in the paired locks.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

What Panamax looks like – yes, I did reach out and touch the wall of the lock. If the ship were exactly centered in the lock we had 2.5 feet on each side of us. At the point I touched the lock I’d bet the port side only had 16 inches between the ship and the wall.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Bridge of the Americas.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Panama Canal Expansion Project

Panama is currently building a third set of new, larger locks. When they are finished they will be 180 feet wide by 1400 feet long, creating what is referred to as the ‘New Panamax’ size at a max width of 160.7 feet and a max length of 1200 feet. You’ll notice the buffer space between the size of the ship and the size of the locks is much increased in the new locks – I believe this is because the new locks will use tugs to position ships while the old locks used mules. The new locks will double the capacity of the canal.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Our guide insisted that the locks will be finished by August 15, 2014, in time for the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the canal. Visually it did not appear that this would be possible, but after skimming through the construction progress report it seems maybe it could happen.

Continuing our transit through the canal – remember this was an ALL day experience.

Miraflores Locks. A much nicer viewing platform than at Gatun Locks.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

Panama City in the distance.

Celebrity Millennium: Panama Canal

The official source of information on the canal: Canal De Panama. Checkout the live webcams under “Multimedia”.

Phew! That was a long one. Tomorrow will be shorter, I promise.

Cruise Day 5 – Colon, Panama

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

We began the day with breakfast at Blu. I had my usual muesli and Richard had overeasy eggs with toast. Since we were docking in Colon, Panama, we had gone down to breakfast right when they opened which meant a seat for 2 at a window. As you come into Colon (and also Panama City) there are tons of tankers and cargo ships waiting their turn to go through the canal. The port itself has a tiny cruise ship terminal and a bridge that takes you across an access road into the cruise terminal shopping center. It is all gated and guarded – the city is said to be very dangerous for tourists and they don’t want anyone walking around on their own.

Our tour today was also booked with a group from Cruise Critic, this time with My Friend Mario. There was one glitch at the start as Mario didn’t have it written down that there were two groups of 20+ people. It didn’t take long to get sorted out and there was enough space for all of us after a little juggling on the mini-buses. Oh, when they say mini-buses it’s not just that the bus seats half as many people as the buses that the cruise ship excursions use, the aisle way is the narrowest you will ever see. I’m embarrassed to say I cannot remember our guide’s name – he had formerly lived in Seattle and was not only knowledgeable, but also funny.

Side note: for the cruise ship sponsored tours the cruise ship sends staff out to sanitize the buses before the tours. Crazy, no?

Once on the buses we departed the cruise terminal into the crazy traffic of Colon. The city is run down with beat up, dirty buildings. It’s also the end of the rainy season so there is mud and huge puddles in the streets. We drove through the former canal zone, past run down and abandoned structures and also past modern homes in gated Arab communities. In the distance we saw one section of the new canal being dug and then we were at Gatun Locks.

New canal in progress.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

We stayed at the locks for around an hour, watching the ships pass through. It was amazing to be at a place that you’ve seen in documentaries and think “I’m here!” Gatun has three lock chambers that raise ships a total of 85 feet. There were two different viewing areas, one up high at the highest lock and another one low at the middle lock, and commentary was broadcast over loudspeakers. Since we’ll be transiting the canal tomorrow I’m going to save the rest of the discussion until then.

Entering Gatun Locks.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

When we left the locks we actually passed OVER the canal on a one lane bridge that swings out of the way when ships come through. This is a view of the lock doors from the bridge. Tomorrow I’ll show you the bridge from our ship.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

While we drove to Fort Sherman our guide passed out beverages (beer, water, coke) and empanadas (sweet plaintain or savory beef). It wasn’t far, but we went relatively slowly in hopes of spotting jungle animals. Once we got into Fort Sherman we took a walk into the jungle on an old single lane road that led up to the former officers housing. Headed into the jungle…

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Along the way we saw leafcutter ants and termite nests. We took a side trail in hopes of seeing howler monkeys and some in our party did see them at this point – they were the ones willing to venture off the trail into the jungle mud. The rest of us saw them a little further down the road.

Leafcutter ants at work and the path made by the leafcutters.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Former officer housing. Our guide says this area and the buildings will become a resort. There was an armed guard here keeping an eye on things.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

From here we forged on to Fort San Lorenzo while dark clouds gathered overhead. Our guide told us many more things that I don’t remember at this point. Lots of history about Panama, the locks, and the fort. Here is a nice site about Fort San Lorenzo.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

And then it rained. Poured actually, as it only can during the rainy season in the rain forest. It was rather impressive.

Celebrity Millennium: Colon, Panama

Cruise Day 4 – Cartagena, Colombia

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Our first day in port! Frankly, I knew nothing about Cartagena other than the misconception of what you see in Romancing the Stone which was actually filmed in Mexico and that the US Department of State says Columbia is still dangerous for Americans though security has greatly improved in the tourist/business areas of Cartagena and Bogota.

We arrived at 7 am and our tour was meeting at 8 am. I had heard a few people say that they preferred room service for early port days like this; we decided to give it a try. Its not exactly room service though as our butler brings it, puts out a white table cloth and lays out all the food you ordered on the little glass table in our room. Richard had scrambled eggs and sausage links. I had a sausage link and a bagel with lox and capers. I made my own strawberry hibiscus tea from hot water that we ordered, while Richard had coffee. Sadly the orange juice that you get from room service is Minute Maid instead of the fresh squeezed OJ that is served in Blu.

Frankly, I don’t understand how room service works well for early tours because the earliest time slot in which you could request a hot breakfast was 6:30 to 7:00 am. You could request continental only prior to that, but really, that hardly makes it more convenient than going up to the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) and getting it yourself.

Coming into Cartagena:

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Our tour was one we joined through Cruise Critic Roll Call; it was through Mr. Emerald. There were 17 of us at a cost of $42 each plus tip for the guide and driver. Our guide was Niba and our driver Roberto. The mini-bus we were on was air conditioned and held probably 25 people so we had some room to spread out. Unfortunately I have no photos from the actual tour since I forgot my camera! The tour made the following stops: La Popa Hill and monastery, Fort of San Felipe de Barajas, the Pierino Gallo Plaza where Mr. Emerald’s store is (all of the ships recommended stores are here), the walled city for a stop at Las Bovedas (The Dungeons) which is more shopping, and a walking tour to the top of the wall and into the Church of San Pedro Claver.

La Popa Hill and monastery, with a distant shot see you can see how it stands out above the city. This was the first stop on our tour.

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Iglesia Pedro Claver dome in the distance. I was impressed by this church. It’s the closest I’ve seen to the cathedrals in Europe, outside of Europe.

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Niba was a wealth of knowledge about every area we went to as well as historical and current topics about Cartagena and Colombia. Of course, since the tour was through Mr. Emerald we had 45 minutes shopping time at his store and the Pierino Gallo Plaza. I hadn’t planned on making a purchase, however the spirit and freedom got the better of me and I came home with a beautiful pair of earrings.

Colombian Emeralds from Mr. Emerald

Cartagena isn’t exactly high on my list of places I’d like to return to. There were a lot of very poor areas around the city and the beaches were not exactly nice. If we were to go back (and that would only happen if we were on a cruise that stopped here) I’d spend all my time in the old city.

The tour departed at 8:15 am and we were back to the port at 1:20 pm. Lines to re-board were long. One nice thing about Celebrity is that they pass out ice cold wash cloths as everyone was sticky and hot after walking around in a humid 81 degrees.

Back on the ship…

Once again I had lunch at the Aqua Spa Café. This is the food I love – light, fresh, no preservatives. Today I had a small Greek salad and the portobello sandwich. The sandwich was one quarter the size you’d expect, served open faced with grilled portobello, red bell pepper and onion. It was tasty and just the right amount of food when eaten with the salad. I have to say, so far, between eating a healthy breakfast in Blu and a healthy lunch at Aqua Spa Café there is no way I am going to gain weight on this cruise. I am actually finding myself to be quite hungry – even with a small bite with tea and the 3 tiny canapes before dinner. Not that I’m complaining, there is plenty of food available at all hours of the day. I’m very happy to have the healthy options and glad that I don’t feel as if I’m stuffing myself while at the same time enjoying quite tasty food.

For dinner I had the caprese salad appetizer which wasn’t as good as I had hoped, mostly due to beefsteak tomatoes that weren’t ripe. Then I had a radicchio salad with craisins, nuts, and a creamy vinaigrette of some sort. Really, the best thing to do with salad dressings was to ask Rosys what he recommended – he never steered me wrong. My main entree was rib eye steak that was served with boiled brussel sprouts and a disc of fried mashed potatoes. Richard had a salad wedge of iceberg lettuce with tomato and blue cheese dressing. He also had the rib eye. For dessert I passed on the kiwi sorbet and had tiramisu instead (couldn’t resist). Everything was good, though we thought the rib eye was odd – not a normal rib eye.

Leaving Cartagena. A very busy port.

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Celebrity Millennium: Cartagena, Colombia

Cruise Day 3 – At Sea

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Three weeks ago today I remember thinking, “Wow, I cannot believe it’s Tuesday – the second day of the work week and we are on vacation, losing track of which day it is.” I bet you can guess what I had for breakfast. No need to re-hash that so let’s talk about our stateroom.

When we booked this cruise it was about 60 days before sailing. We had pretty much decided on a Sky Suite which if you’ve been on a cruise you know that a ‘suite’ is not really a suite with a separate bedroom, its just a bigger room. During our conversation with the booking agent we decided to take a Suite Guarantee which means we would likely get a Sky Suite (as opposed to any of the bigger suites), but we would not be picking the exact room. At about 45 days prior to the cruise our cabin got assigned – Accessible Sky Suite 9121, 351 square feet, 57 square foot balcony.

I would describe the Sky Suite as being more like your standard hotel room in size whereas a standard cabin on a cruise ship is tiny. This room had 5 feet of walking space between the end of the bed and the cabinetry. On our last cruise (Dawn Princess, standard balcony room) the two of us could not walk past the end of the bed at the same time as there was only 2 feet of space from the foot of the bed to the cabinetry. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that there was enough storage for a 15 night cruise.

Celebrity Millennium, Sky Suite 9121

Celebrity Millennium, Sky Suite 9121

This cabin is port side, immediately below the pool deck, but it’s at the tail end of the pool deck so while its not underneath deck chairs it is underneath the ping pong table. I worried about this somewhat. Reviews online were mixed. The benefit to this cabin is that it’s very convenient to the stairs and midship elevators, and also the smoking area.

As an accessible room there is some additional square footage over a non-accessible Sky Suite since the occupant may need room to park and maneuver a mobility scooter. Research online showed that some people use deceptive tactics to book the accessible rooms in order to get more room and other people take it upon themselves to give the stink eye to able bodied people booked in these cabins. This cabin was assigned to us by Celebrity, we did nothing deceptive to get it and in reality we may have preferred a regular bathroom over the accessible bathroom. I did read online that people had issues with the shower getting water all over the bathroom. The entire bathroom is setup with a drain around it, but there is also a raised row of tile that keeps almost all the water in the shower.

Celebrity Millennium, Sky Suite 9121

In the end, any worrying I did was needless. The room was plenty quiet – there was no noise from the elevators or stairs, and little noise from the ping pong table. For the most part the ping pong table is located over the balcony, not over the bedroom area. The only noise we had which was slightly annoying was the slamming of doors that went to some crew area on the pool deck. It really was no big deal though.

I should probably talk about the balcony too. It was relatively large and was furnished with 2 chairs, 2 footstools, and a side table. We are not sun worshipers so the deep overhang blocking the sun was of no concern to us. However, as you can clearly see it does impact photos taken from your balcony. Even though the elevators are immediately forward of the cabin, they really could not see onto the balcony. If you were out leaning on the railing then folks in the elevator could see you, but so could anyone else who was out at the edge of their balcony.

Celebrity Millennium, Sky Suite 9121

Celebrity Millennium, Sky Suite 9121

Here is what the storage looks like. When you first enter the room there are floor to ceiling mirrors, then the closet, then the safe/drawers, followed by the fridge, and finally the desk area. There are also 2 small drawers in each of the bedside tables. Yes, I realize our cabin looks like a complete disaster in these photos.

Celebrity Millennium, Storage

Celebrity Millennium, Storage

Celebrity Millennium, Storage

We had no less than three people looking after us in our room. First, our butler Anton. Mainly we could call him if we wanted dinner reservations and he brought us afternoon tea, followed by canapes. Our room steward was Benjie – he was a great guy, super personable and cheerful. Benjie had an assistant working for him named Kadek. He was shy at first, but by the end of our cruise Benjie had taught him well as he was much more comfortable starting a conversation.

Celebrity Millennium, Towel Animals

So on to our day on the ship…

The day was spent mostly relaxing and wandering around the ship. We had our Cruise Critic Roll Call in the Cosmos Lounge mid-morning. The captain, hotel director, and cruise director were all there. They said this was the largest roll call they have seen. I was able to put some usernames to faces, but didn’t meet too many people. I think everyone was a little bit shy to get up and mingle. Sparkling wine, orange juice, and pastries were provided at the event.

Lunch, once again, was at the Aqua Spa Café. Today I had what was billed as “Hearts of Palm and Grilled Artichoke”. It consisted of a bed of mesclun lettuce with sauteed mushrooms, a few slices of artichoke, and a few hearts of palm. I also got a plate of prosciutto, cantaloupe, and grapes. Small portions, just right for a light lunch. Normally I will say these portions would not be enough food for me at lunch, but considering dinners on board are large and we get tea, tea cakes, and canapes in the afternoon these have been the right portion.

Dinner, our second night in the MDR, was fun. It was nice to be dressed more casually as well and the space didn’t feel as hot as the night before. The temperature on the ship was surprisingly warm. I am usually too cold in air conditioned spaces, especially if wearing sandals or short sleeve shirts. Yet on the Millie I was rarely too cool so I would guess the temperature was closer to 76 degrees instead of the typical 72.

I tried escargot for the first time (though if you were reading you know that I had another dish the first night that had escargot in it). It wasn’t bad, but as I’ve said about calimari, the reason you’re eating it as the way it’s fried and seasoned (calimari) and the butter/garlic it’s cooked in (escargot). The closest thing it reminded me of texturally is shrimp and you know what I’m thinking right now? Cooked slug reminds me of shrimp. For the most part I’ll stick with shrimp. Besides trying two bites of escargot, my appetizer was sesame crusted tuna. Now are you picturing a thick slice of tuna like you would get on sushi? Yeah, me too. It was paper thin. It was served with caviar and tiny diced red onion. My soup/salad course was a chickpea tomato spinach soup that was spicy and tasty, much like something I’d make at home. Main course was seafood with orzo rice. Richard had barolo braised beef with sage gnocchi as an appetizer, waldorf salad, and a lemon herb chicken with penne pasta and baby carrots. Dessert for me was lemon sorbet (as light and fluffy as the day before) and Richard had crepes suzette with flambeed cherries. This was one dessert he was truly disappointed with as the whole dish was cold when you’d expect the flambeed cherries to be warm. We had a substitute waiter this evening and when Richard asked about the dessert he said, “sir, it has ice cream, its supposed to be cold.” Oh well, I think the issue is there are too many people and too much of a fire hazard for them to flambe tableside. In all fairness he offered Richard a free crepe at Bistro on 5 that he promised would be hot.

And tomorrow we go to Cartagena…