Celebrity Millennium, July 2021
I’m just going to get this out of the way right up front: I don’t like cruises. I keep trying to like them but it’s never been a love match. I’ve been on five prior cruises and at the end of each (with the exception of our Greece yacht cruise) I never wanted to go on another. But, as things happened to work out, we found ourselves booking a weeklong cruise through the Inside Passage to Alaska and I’m happy to report, we had a wonderful time.
If you’re wondering how a cruise-hater ended up on a cruise…we have been wanting to go to Alaska for a while, and having been trapped in Florida for the better part of a year due to Covid, we were desperate for a cool-weather escape in July. Plus, it was a special birthday and anniversary for us and we wanted a hassle-free vacation with some adventure and pampering. After a week of futile searches for affordable car rentals, hotels, excursions, etc. I was getting exasperated, and I’ve planned a LOT of trips!! Car rental fees were through the roof due to car shortages; hotels were booked; trains were sold out or the journeys too long to endure. So, despite my hesitancy, I started looking at cruises.
There weren’t a ton of options which was actually a good thing…fewer cruises = fewer tourists. The cruise industry hasn’t yet returned to full swing so we knew ports of call would be considerably less crowded. And, the vaccination protocols and decreased capacity of passengers on Celebrity (50% when we sailed), meant fewer people (and kids) on the ship. Given the special occasion for our trip, we splurged on a suite in the Retreat, which has some perks not offered in any other cabin class.
We started and ended our cruise in Seattle, so the side of ship we stayed on was not important since we’d get both land and sea views coming and going. Some cruises only go one direction; in those instances, it’s more important to decide if you want a port or starboard cabin. For more on what to do in Seattle, I will be adding a post soon so check back!
When it was time to board the ship, we had our required documents ready: passport and vaccine cards! We had all our luggage tagged so when we arrived at the dock, porters were ready to collect our bags the second we got out of our taxi. Definitely tag your bags before you arrive at the dock! We then proceeded to the long line to board. After 15 minutes or so in line, we saw a sign for The Retreat and casually mentioned to the staff person that we had Retreat reservations, and we were swiftly escorted to a different line that expedited our boarding process. Before we knew it we were exploring our suite with a glass of wine in hand.
The ship itself, the Millennium, was refurbished in 2019 and felt brand new and luxurious. The furnishings were elegant and upscale everywhere we went, and the staff and crew could not have been more kind and accommodating. Because all adults on the ship were vaccinated, masks were not required on board (children under 16 were required to wear masks and be tested)*.
The food was really good everywhere we ate on the ship, a pleasant surprise after some other large ship cruise food we’ve eaten. We enjoyed one show in the theater, which was well done with excellent talent, costumes and music. We aren’t real big on games or group activities, but we did play music trivia one afternoon, which was fun (80s to be precise, which we tied for first), and we spent a few hours on the Retreat sundeck for cocktails. Dave and I love a spa day, but the hourly rates at the spa were outrageous so we passed.
Celebrity has now included alcohol and tips in your price, so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised by a big bill at the end of the cruise. And unless you have really fancy drink needs, the brands that come with your fare are good and there are lots of choices; no need to upgrade to an expensive drink package. If you get any specialty dining (more on that below), it also includes premium alcohol with dinner, which is a bonus in my opinion.
We opted for The Retreat, which is Celebrity’s “first class” service. All the cabins in The Retreat are suites with verandas, personal butler, and 24-hour room service. Guests of the Retreat have a private restaurant (Luminae), sundeck and lounge with premium drinks, priority boarding and disembark, reserved seats at all shows, and exclusive concierge service. Not being a cruise expert, I purchased a four-night specialty dining package for our 7-night cruise. This allowed us to eat in any of the specialty restaurants onboard the ship for no extra dining charge (read: all you can eat of the entire menu). We only used three of the four nights because we had full use of Luminae, as well as dining ashore when the option was available. In retrospect, I would have only gotten a 2-night specialty dining package, eaten more in Luminae (new menu every night), and eaten less on shore.
Our “suite” on deck 9 was a bit larger than a standard hotel room, but about twice the size of a standard cabin. I was able to take a quick peek at a standard stateroom on deck 3, and although smaller, it was similarly decorated and was modern and bright. We were located midship near the elevator on the port side, and I think the midship/elevator location was excellent. We did get a little noise from the pool on deck 10 during the day, but it wasn’t intrusive. Dave and I were in love with the mattress and bedding – everything was so soft and crisp; our stateroom was cleaned 2x daily! We loved it so much we usually lingered there until lunchtime on the days we were at sea.
Our Excursions (all booked through the ship):
Ketchikan: At 9AM we met on the ship and were taken by bus on a quick tour of Ketchikan, then driven out of town to an outfit that rents out “adventure karts”. The weather was a little drizzly so we were given raingear and helmets to keep us clean, which we were glad to have! We rode two in a kart and for about 40 minutes, bumped around old logging roads looking for wildlife. We were creating enough noise to cause an avalanche so no surprise we didn’t see any critters other than a slug. The visor on the helmet keeps you from seeing too much, and the noise of the kart will squelch any attempt at conversation. This was a different experience but not as fun or immersive as I was hoping. I wouldn’t recommend. We would have done a whale watching cruise instead.
After our adventure kart excursion we walked around the town of Ketchikan, which is cute and easy to see in an hour or so. We ate good fish and chips at a place called The Alaska Fish House. Good cold beers and live music too!
Wildlife Sightings: One banana slug, one child holding a live fish
Dawes Glacier: Not actually an excursion but more of an event on the itinerary. Before arriving in Juneau, we took a detour to the Endicott Arm fjord which is also where the Dawes Glacier is located. The ship pulled in to the fjord at approximately 7AM and did a 180 degree rotation so passengers could get a 360 degree view. We didn’t see the glacier but this was our first view of icebergs!
Juneau: We met a van on the dock that took us took us to a kayaking tour of Mendenhall Lake and Glacier. Since we weren’t meeting the bus until 4PM we had a little time to check out Juneau. There is a gondola right by the port so we bought tickets to the top ($25pp!!) and took the opportunity to see Juneau from above. We had a couple pints at the restaurant atop the gondola and headed back down to meet the bus to our kayaking adventure. After a quick drive to the lake we were given our safety briefing, fitted for our life vests and kayak skirts, and off we went! The lake was sprawling with incredible scenery. The lake itself is considered a dead lake because no plant or fish can live in it due to the glacier run off. We paddled with a guide and two other couples, but for the most part were able to go at our own pace. The guide kept pace with the group (vs the other way around) and it was very pleasant. We paddled very close to the glacier and waterfall, which was 5 miles round trip. When we got back on land, we were given snacks of crackers, reindeer sausage (delish), salmon spread (incredibly delish), and veggies. We then took the bus to a salmon bake, which I didn’t love, but the little walk to the waterfall and mine was nice and we saw LOTS of salmon spawning in the river. That alone nearly justified the cost of the salmon bake. We were so whipped we went directly back to our stateroom and crashed for the night (we might have ordered room service cake).
Wildlife Sightings: One bald eagle, multiple spawning salmon, one seal
Skagway: We took our first ever helicopter ride in Skagway, to our first ever glacier! It was an excursion to remember and I felt privileged to be able to experience it. We met near the dock at 1:30PM and we (along with three other passengers) took a short van ride to the heliport. After a safety video and review, we stowed our bags (NO BAGS allowed on the helicopter… no purse, fanny pack, backpack, nothing) and boarded aircraft. Seating is assigned by weight so don’t even think about switching seats. The ride to the glacier was very smooth and through our headsets the pilot pointed out interesting information along the way. After 20 minutes of flight, we landed on the glacier and had some freedom to explore. I can’t describe how exhilarating it was to stand on that glacier, listening to the rushing ice melt underfoot, marveling at the endless blue depth of the ice water caverns. It was initially cold but as we pulled our layers around us and starting walking, we warmed up. I definitely recommend a coat, hat, scarf and gloves!! You’ll be provided with special glacier booties that fit over your shoes so just wear warm, comfortable shoes.
Back on dry land, we walked around the tiny town of Skagway, making the obligatory stop at the Red Onion Saloon for a pint and to pay respect to the ladies. Before boarding the ship we ate fried shrimp and fish and chips at the Skagway Fish Company. If you’re hankering for crablegs, they have a $99 leg here that should fit the bill; our server said it’s the size of a small human arm!
Wildlife Sightings: None in Skagway, but we did see two humpback whales and 4-6 orcas as we sailed through the passage the next morning.
Meals on Board the Ship:
As expected, there were LOTS of food options on the ship, and almost as many in port. We found the food on the ship to be much higher quality than what we’ve experienced in the past (exception is the Greece cruise). We never tried the main dining room, but we ate in Luminae twice, the sushi restaurant, and the Tuscan Grille, and by accident, experienced the theater of Le Petit Chef at QSine . This was “by accident” because a reservation had been made in our name, not by us, but we went anyway. Interesting and charming virtual dining experience…hard to explain but hopefully the embedded video helps!
We also took advantage of room service once we figured it out, and enjoyed some nice meals on our veranda. We indulged in gelato at the gelateria once and were delighted at how good it was. We both agreed it was good for our waistline that we hadn’t found the gelato earlier in the cruise.
Based on our experience, I would happily take another Celebrity cruise and I’m more encouraged to look at other itineraries (hello Asia!) and give cruising another chance.
* There was one documented case of a passenger testing positive for Covid during our cruise. For information, click HERE.