Archive for November, 2012

Cruise Day 15 – At Sea

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Three weeks ago today we reached the last full day of our cruise. While you never really want vacation to end, the consensus amongst friends was that we were all ready to be home. At some point you need to get back to your day-to-day life, to see your family and friends, and pets.

Besides being the last day it was the dreaded packing day and the day to say goodbye (for now) to new friends. Here we are at dinner on the last night.

Celebrity Millennium: Dinner

I’ve put together a few more comments related to our cruise, things that address questions I wondered about before we left and questions that are asked ALL the time on Cruise Critic.

Did you book another cruise while you were on board?
YES! We plan to be on the Millie again in April 2014, going from Shanghai, China to Vancouver, Canada across the gulf of Alaska. It will be an adventure. The Millie is making almost exactly this same trip in April of 2013 so I will be on the look out for reviews then.

The benefits to booking online vary depending on what category stateroom you choose. We reserved another sky suite which required us to pay $100 per person down, it gave us some on board credit, and no room upgrades. It may be a better deal to book online when you’re going to get room upgrades, but still – $200 deposit to hold our room is a good deal, especially if you use CruiseFish.net to monitor prices because we were assured that if the price drops we can call Celebrity and get our price lowered.

How did you like the Millie?
It was great – we like this size of ship and the staff were all wonderful. The only things I found odd were that the grand atrium was not very grand and the main dining room was not very architecturally impressive. Otherwise I liked the layout of the ship and found there to be enough deck and pool space, and plenty of places to hang out inside.

There were only two occasions when it felt crowded – disembarkation and waiting for dinner on that first formal night when there was a huge crowd outside the dining room.

How was the music and volume around the ship?
The volume issue really depended on where you were in the ship. In the theatre I found it to be a touch loud, particularly the brass instruments and the steel guitar of Kimika. For me it was way too loud in Rendezvous Lounge – forget having a conversation here when the band is playing.

In the ‘grand’ foyer there was overlapping music. I still don’t know where it was coming from, but sitting between Cafe Al Bacio and the Gelateria you would two completely different soundtracks. It was totally annoying and probably explained why there were rarely people sitting here.

Blu is a funny one. I would classify it as dance and techno. There were a couple songs on the soundtrack that they play on one of my favorite radio stations which happens to be a dance station. I’m the ONLY person I know who listens to that station and even I found the music strange.

For the most part I didn’t care for the live music around the ship. Kenosis played at the pool and they were pretty good. Take Note played at Rendezvous. The female vocalist grated on me for some reason, but the male vocalist (and percussionist) was much better. Many other people hung out here and danced before dinner so either I am in the minority in disliking them or people were desperate to get on the dance floor.

How were the theatre shows?
They were okay which is what I expected. We didn’t see that many of them, I’d say we went to less than half the shows. Start time was 8:45 or 9 pm; we usually finished dinner by 8 pm. Depending on the show you needed to be there 15-25 minutes before it started. So call me crazy, but eating a big meal and it being almost 9 pm at night I found it difficult to want to go sit and wait for the show to start. I figured I’d be ready to fall asleep when it started. Sitting with friends helped a lot when it came to the time passing faster.

If you asked people’s opinion of the shows (I did) you would get love it and hate it responses for each one. Kind of amusing.

Cabin

How did you like your accessible sky suite cabin?
It was a very nice cabin with plenty of room to move around. We could definitely walk past each other in this room as there was about 5 feet between the end of the bed and the cabinetry.

The storage was of good size. There wasn’t much room left over, particularly in the closet, but that said we did have enough room to put everything away with a few things doubled up on hangers. Our 3 suitcases (1 large, 2 small) fit just fine under the bed. Don’t ever let your husband do the unpacking though as you’re going to be looking for stuff the entire cruise or you’re going to end up moving everything around. And why he couldn’t leave the bulky bathrobes hanging in the bathroom instead of taking up like 5 inches of closet space I still don’t understand.

How was the accessible bathroom?
It was fine. We didn’t have much trouble at all with water flowing out from the shower into the rest of the bathroom. There was a raised tile edge that defined the shower and that kept most of the water in the shower. We usually did put down one of our towels as you did tend to get a bit of over spray around one edge of the shower curtain.

What didn’t you take that you wished you had?
I wished we had taken our smaller digital camera. It would have fit in my clutch or Richard’s jacket pocket and would have been much easier to take to the dining room when I didn’t want to pack the larger camera around.

I think it would have been handy to have an organizer to hang on the back off the bathroom door too. The only reason I didn’t take one is that I couldn’t find one that was small and lightweight. I’d also be sure to take flip flops or Crocs to wear to the pool or on the beach.

Is there anything you’d leave at home next time?
As it turned out I had plenty of smart casual clothes and barely enough shorts and tank tops so I’d try to balance that out better next time. ‘Smart casual’ was very much hot weather casual, not dressy at all.

We packed a couple of extra hangers. I wouldn’t bother with these. You can get extra from your butler or if you need to send some things out to be laundered they’ll come back on hangers.

Personally, I would not have brought a laptop AND a tablet computer. Whether or not I can convince Richard of the folly of hauling around both of those items I do not know. Internet connectivity was so bad it was basically nonexistent. I am glad that I used the laptop to type up notes on what we did, that has formed the basis of what you’ve been reading here.

Food & Beverage

How do you feel about the beverage packages after purchasing one?
Richard had the most expensive beverage package ($55 + 15% gratuity per day) and I had none. I think it worked out for us okay, but Richard could have taken better advantage of his package if he had used it in the morning at Cafe Al Bacio instead of drinking the free coffee, and if he would have refrained from buying bottles of wine at dinner. I had heard that the wine by the glass was not great and I would have to agree.

For me, I drank mostly water and tea, and some wine. We took a case of water on board and two bottles of wine. This covered a large portion of what I drank. I’m glad I didn’t buy the non-alcoholic package that I was considering because at most I had 2 of the specialty frou-frou drinks in the afternoon and a glass of wine at dinner. The iced tea at Cafe Al Bacio really was special even at a cost of $5 plus tip. However, I couldn’t have drank that every day either so it was best to buy it when I wanted it.

How was the ships water?
Hit and miss. Most of the time it was fine and I used it to make hot tea or drank it with ice at meals. There were 2 days in particular that it tasted horrible and I threw out the tea I made with it. Blech. We both noticed that we had puffy fingers as our rings were tight. Whether that was due to more salt in the water or in the food I could not say.

How about the coffee?
Richard thought it was fine, but he is not picky about coffee. He was drinking Folgers for years. Now he has a Keurig. After dinner he liked to get an espresso drink instead of coffee, but it took FOREVER to get it. We are fairly sure that Rosys actually had to go out to Cafe Al Bacio for it.

How did they handle your food intolerances?
Just in case you don’t know what my food intolerances are: dairy, eggs, corn, and banana. Luckily I am only intolerant and not allergic. If I eat these foods I may feel sick and may spend the evening close to a bathroom, but I will not go into anaphylactic shock.

It was hit and miss. I thought I could handle it myself by reading menus and asking when I needed to about the ingredients. What I found is that the servers usually did not know about the ingredients. In the MDR the menu denoted lactose free, no sugar added, vegetarian, and gluten free which was super helpful. Why don’t they have these symbols next to every food item on the ship? Like in Oceanview Cafe and Aqua Spa Cafe why can’t they print the symbols next to the name of the item? Next time I would be more forceful about protecting my health by having a conversation with the maitre’d and possibly by requesting alternatives before departure.

One example: in Blu I was told that the overnight oats are soaked in soy. Then at Aqua Spa Cafe I was told the overnight oats were soaked in a mixture of soy and dairy milk. It really made me question why they would make them 2 different ways and whether what I had been told was accurate.

Cruise Day 14 – Cabo San Lucas

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

We arrived at an early 7 am, but as you know if you’ve ever been to Cabo, the cruise ships must use tenders. Since we had not planned any tours or particular activities we took our time in the morning and didn’t head to shore until 9 am. At this point the wait for a tender was only a few minutes.

How can you not smile when you look at the ships photos from Cabo?

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

It was SO hot in Cabo. Either that or we were all running out of steam because all we could muster was a short, uninspired walk into town and around a few stores. We had a margarita to cool off and then we took a water taxi across the harbor to get back to the cruise ship terminal. A little more shopping and we were wore out! Our time in Cabo was quite limited so that didn’t help.

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Tonight was our third and final formal night. My original plan was to wear my wedding dress tonight. Unfortunately there was no way it was going to fit correctly if I still wanted to breathe. Shoot! Plan B, black slacks and a ruffly pink shirt. Formal has really not been very formal at all on this ship so there was no issue with my clothing choice, only that I was disappointed I wouldn’t be getting photos taken in my wedding dress.

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

They went all out on the dinner menu tonight in terms of offering everyone’s favorites. I forgot to snap a photo, but appetizers included oysters and pate, main courses included tuna, lobster, and beef wellington. Dessert (of course) was baked alaska, but they no longer carry it around the dining room on fire. My limit for rich food had been reached so I had shrimp cocktail and caesar salad from the everyday menu with the beef wellington. Richard had pate and beef wellington.

Here’s a look at the dining room and a few of our dishes. I did have one picture of an appetizer, after it was half eaten! Oops.

Celebrity Millennium: Dining

Celebrity Millennium: Dining

Celebrity Millennium: Dining

Celebrity Millennium: Dining

Celebrity Millennium: Cabo San Lucas

Tomorrow is our last day at sea and the dreaded packing day.

Cruise Day 13 – Puerto Vallarta

Friday, November 9th, 2012

Let me just say that I wasn’t that excited about Puerto Vallarta. When I was in Mexico years ago I went horseback riding here and that was great, but I was taken aback by how poor the city was. It seems like as soon as you stepped off the ship back then you were in a dirt parking lot.

The only bummer about this day was that I slept through the docking of the ship. It would have been interesting to watch how they backed us in as the opening to the cruise docking area is through a very narrow opening. Puerto Vallarta is almost unrecognizable to me since the last time I was here. There are hotels and timeshares everywhere! Really the only thing I recognize are the hills around the town.

These parrots were in a large cage at the cruise ship terminal. They were making plenty of noise to wake people up and get them off the ship.

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

After some pastries and fruit for breakfast we walked off the ship to meet up with our friends. The plan was to hire an independent taxi or tour guide so that we could go as a small group to town, lunch, and a tequila tasting room. For $25 each we went with Pedro in a large passenger van. It was great – he told us about the flora, fauna, shops, hotels, etc – you name it and he could tell you about it. We took a short tour of the town area north of the pier and then drove south past the Malecon. Continuing south we went up a steep hill to overlook the city and the bay of Los Arcos. We had another photo opportunity where we could see the location where the Night of the Iguana was filmed (evidently I’m to young to know the movie).

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Here’s our small group for the day. Miss you guys! I think I’ll crack open the tequila tonight in memory of our fun times in Puerto Vallarta.

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Once again, like in Costa Rica we were on the PanAmerican highway. Pedro said it would take 40 hours to drive to Guatamela from Puetro Vallarta! From here we backtracked a short distance and turned off onto a dirt road that took us to a tequila tasting room. We were all pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t Hacienda Dona Engracia as that is where the larger tours from the ship go and I’m sure it was swamped with people.

We were welcomed with a small shot of almond tequila at Ranchos Los Panchos Reposada. It was delicious! Our host walked the 6 of us around the tasting room, showing us agave plants and how they were processed into tequila before the advent of modern technology. Then we got to taste 4 more tequilas. There was one other flavored one – coffee and the others were different ages of tequila. Surprisingly, all of them were very good. I guess I just didn’t expect that, but maybe that is because the tequila that is poured in the US has a bad rap for being cheap and nasty tasting. Did I mention it was only like 10:30 in the morning?

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

When we were done with the tequila tasting room Pedro took us another couple miles into the hills for lunch. Our destination was Canopy Mundo Nogalito Tours which had a beautiful restaurant in the shade under the trees next to a river. They also had zip lines, but we didn’t have enough time to even consider that option. Richard and I shared a combo plate for lunch – cheese quesadillas, rice, beans, guacamole, pico de gallo, salsa, and nachos. We also shared a blended mango strawberry margarita. Everything was very tasty.

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Relaxed from the tequila and full from lunch, we headed back to the ship and were on board at 2 pm. At 3 pm we departed for Cabo San Lucas.

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

Celebrity Millennium: Puerto Vallarta

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.