All 14 menus from our cruise

29 May

I have scanned all 14 dinner menus from our cruise. The menus are courtesy of Madeline and Chip. See them here: Menus

My computer is finally back together

28 May

Just about a week before our cruise departure, the hard drive on my home computer failed. I had an old notebook computer that I was already planning to take on the cruise, so there was no problem there.

Now that we are back from the cruise, I finally got my home computer back up an running with a new hard drive. With my computer back to normal, I can start posting some of the information from our cruise.

First three days of our cruise

23 Apr

Monday, April 18

As usual for me on the day of a big event, I woke up very early in anticipation of our cruise. We spent the morning at the beach, enjoying our last day at the Caribe Hilton.

We checked out around noon and headed over to the pier in our rental car to drop off our luggage. There was already a big line of people waiting to check in with their luggage. I’m thinking this line is going to take forever. But then I see a man working with luggage and ask if they have porter service. He says yes, that we can drop off our luggage with him. I give him a $10 tip and he loads our 5 pieces of luggage right onto one of the cages that they fork-lift onto the ship. He then directs us around the long line to the security screening. Using the porter saved us about a half our of waiting outside in the sun. I’m sure many other people would have done the same if they had known.

After security screening, we check in and are on the ship within 10 minutes. This was the fastest check-in ever. As expected, the guest rooms are not available until after 1:00 p.m. to allow time for clean-up after the last cruise.

After a quick lunch at the buffet, I seek out the maitre de to confirm our table request for two. (We are doing fixed seating at 6:00 p.m.) He indicates we are assigned to a table for four. So I ask if we can switch. He basically says no problem and that we will have a new table assignment card in our room. (More on this later.)

Our luggage and table assignment taken care of, we take a taxi to Castillo de San Cristobal in Old San Juan for our last sightseeing. From the top level of the fort, the Millennium can be seen in the distance.

Picture to be added later when I have full internet access.

Celebrity Millennium seen through the gun port of the fort

This fort is amazing with its tunnels, dungeon, and views of the city.

Picture to be added later when I have full internet access.

Santa Maria Cemetery and del Morro in the distance

After visiting the fort, we walk over to the Plaza de Colon for some last minute shopping. Actually, my wife did the shopping while I retreated from the heat into an air conditioned Starbucks for a cold drink and free WiFi.

Around 4:00 p.m., we took a taxi back to the ship in advance of the 5:00 p.m. “all-aboard” time.

Heading back to our cabin, we find all of our luggage waiting for us in the hallway. Our huge Family Ocean View aft cabin easily absorbed all of our belongings. It’s really easy for two people to find room for their belongings in this very oversize cabin.

When we headed down to dinner with our table assignment card in hand. Our assigned table is in a wonderful location on the upper level right next to a big window. I had expected the deuces to be located in less desirable locations, as experienced on the Celebrity Mercury (now owned by a German cruise line). But on Millie, there are several deuces located in prime window locations. I couldn’t be happier with our table location.

I’m going to skip the food reviews, simply because I’m really bad at it. I’m not very good with superlatives. The food was great. I’ll leave it at that.

After dinner, we went onto our balcony for the sail-away at 8:30 p.m. The ship goes right by el Morro on its way out to sea.

Tuesday, April 19, At Sea

We had breakfast in the main dining room where we were seated with six other passengers, all residents of Puerto Rico. As they told us, Celebrity ran some really good last-minute specials that they could not pass up.

At 11:00 a.m, we attended the first of a series of lectures on the Panama Canal. This first presentation was on the French attempt. The lecturer is a professor from Boise State University in Idaho, not far from my home.

We had a light lunch in the Aqua Spa. My wife attended a “Taste of Millennium Cooking Demonstration” while I explored the ship.

The musical entertainment on board this part of the cruise includes:

  • Trevor Cole, Steel Pan Player
  • Sipra, Party Band
  • Danielo De Laurentis, Latin Solo Guitar
  • Justin Wade, Guitar & Vocal
  • Dukeland Quartet, Ballroom to Jazz
  • Pollyana Jones, Piano & Vocal
  • A Capella: On Point
  • Fiore String Trio, Classic Strings
  • Celebrity Orchestra

Overall, I am impressed with the large variety of musical groups. Our favorites so far are Pollyana Jones , Sipra, and On Point.

This is the first formal attire night. My rented tuxedo was delivered around 3:00 p.m. It fit perfectly. When we got to dinner I noticed that many people are dressing more casually on formal night than our last Celebrity cruise five years ago.

The evening show in the Celebrity Theater was “Simply Ballroom”, a dance review that highlighted the talents of the dance team.

Wednesday, April 20, At Sea

So far, the seas have been so calm that you hardly notice being on a ship. We are in the middle of the Caribbean Sea between Puerto Rico and Columbia. There is no land or other ships in sight, just the calm seas. The ship is traveling at a leisurely 15 m.p.h.

After breakfast, we attended the second Panama Canal lecture, “The Building – American Era”. These lectures are pretty high level. If you have read “The Path Between the Seas” or “Your Day in the Canal” most of this material is review.

At 11 a.m. we went to a Swing Dance class led by a husband-wife from the dance team. The class did a very good job of teaching the basics of the step in just 30 minutes. It was enough to get you started.

The Cruise Sales office was running a special today in which you get dinner for two at the Olympic Restaurant if you book a future cruise. I was already planning to do so. I made a reservation for an Alaska Cruise in 2012. If you book on board, you get on-board credit, a $100 per-person reduced deposit, and up to three levels of upgrade. We got a C1 aft Concierge Class Balcony for the price of a C3. C1’s can cost quite a bit extra due the the very desirable location. So this might be your best way to get a C1 at a good price. The on-board booking benefits are transferable to another cruise if you change your plans, as long as you keep the same reservation number.

We had dinner in the Olympic Restaurant. The atmosphere here is very relaxed and calm compared to the bustle of the main dining room, the Metropolitan Restaurant. In the Metropolitan, the waiters and their assistants are all running around as required to serve a four-course meal simultaneously to a thousand people. In stark contrast, the Olympic only had a about 30 diners during our visit. The tables were far apart and there was a huge staff to tend to your every need. My water glass was never below half full. As soon as you take your last bite of bread, a waiter appears with the bread basket offering your choice of five different breads. Overall, its a very enjoyable experience I recommend trying it at least once.

The evening show was “Matilda and Patrick Murray”, a ventriloquist (Patrick) and his dummy Matilda. Matilda is a Jamaican woman who plays the comic role. Patrick, the ventriloquist, plays the straight man. It was a very funny comic performance.

Slow Internet on Ship

18 Apr

Due to the slowness and expense of Internet access on ship, I will not be updating this blog while on board. If you leave a comment, you can be sure I will post it and respond after the cruise.

Note that I may add some new posts if I have time to access Internet cafes in port. But no promises.

Three wonderful days in Puerto Rico

18 Apr

We have had three wonderful days in Puerto Rico in advance of our cruise. The Celebrity Millennium is in port already, it’s 6:30 a.m. local time. The ship departs at 8:30 p.m. So we have another full day to enjoy the beach at the Caribe Hilton and explore Old San Juan.

Here is what we did during our pre-cruise stay in Puerto Rico.

Friday, April 15

After recovering from a flight that arrived at 1:30 a.m. (four hours late due to an engine problem that was discovered during the pre-flight taxi in Philadelphia), we slept in a bit and then headed out to enjoy the beach at the hotel. After lunch we took a taxi into Old San Juan and explored the fort San Felipe del Morro.

Yours truly standing on del Morro

After visiting the fort, we walked along the water level path between the fort walls and the ocean. Then we went to dinner and a Flamenco show at the Barrachina. The food and the dancing were excellent. But, the lead singer must have owned the restaurant. He sounded like Bob Dylan does Spanish folk music.

Saturday, April 16

On Saturday, we got up very early and drove to Ceiba on the east coast of Puerto Rico. From there, we boarded a Viques Air Link puddle jumper for the 15-minute flight to Culebra Island. We arrived there around 8:00 am and immediately went to Flamenco Beach. We spent the morning enjoying this wonderful beach. In the afternoon, we went sea kayaking and snorkeling with Kayaking Puerto Rico on their Aqafari Culebra excursion. My wife was thrilled to see so many sea turtles.

Flamenco Beach as seen from the airplane ride

After the kayaking trip, we took the flight back to Ceiba. We were very hungry by then after a very long day in the sun. We stumbled upon one the best restaurants in Fajardo by accident. It was like a scene in a movie: outdoor dining with view of the ocean, full moon, boats in the harbor, and wonderful food. (I’m not keeping the name a secret, I just don’t have the restaurant’s card with me as I write this.)

Sunday, April 17

We drove our rental car to El Yunque. It was clear the whole visit. I’ll let my pictures tell the story.

Photo Gallery

Here is a link to my entire photo gallery for this visit: San Juan, Puerto Rico, April 14 – 18

La Coca Falls in El Yunque rain forest

We leave tomorrow

13 Apr

After planning this cruise for almost two years, it is finally time to pack. We leave tomorrow for San Juan.

Excursions Recap

11 Mar

Here is a recap of our excursion plans, updated to include our latest plans for Isla Culebra.

Puerto Rico – For all the time we are spending in the tropics, this cruise does not have a lot of good beach opportunities. So we decided to make some time for this in Puerto Rico. One of the best beaches in the world is Flamenco Beach on the island of Culebra. This island also has some of the best snorkeling in Puerto Rico. While reading one of my favorite Puerto Rico web sites, I came across this write up on a kayaking and snorkeling expedition offered by Kayaking Puerto Rico. This tour involves kayaking and snorkeling at a very isolated beach. In addition to the tour, we will make some extra time at Flamenco Beach.

Cartagena – We are going to explore the Historic Old Town and Castillo San Felipe (fort) on our own. I first considered taking a tour, but later decided that it’s an easy area to explore on your own. We will take a taxi to the fort, first thing in the morning, and then spend our remaining time exploring the Old Town.

Colón Panama – Our excursion plans for Colón took some time to settle out. I thought I had everything arranged when I booked the Gatun Lake Safari “houseboat” tour through Celebrity. Then I got an email from Celebrity indicating that the tour operator had changed and was now a “Sounds of Silence” tour.   I tracked down the original operator of the “houseboat” tour, Carl Davis, at JunglelandPanama.com. There is a review of this tour on Cruise Critic and an article on Newsroom Panama. I went ahead and made a reservation for our cruise in April.

Puntarenas Costa Rica – I booked the “Jewels of Monte Verde Cloud Forest” through Celebrity. This is a trip to Selvatura Park in the Monteverde Cloud Forest. I figure after several days of tropical heat, it will be nice to go into the mountains to experience the cooler weather of the cloud forest. I booked this trip through the cruise line for two reasons: 1) the independent tour operator was the same price as Celebrity, and 2) most Costa Rica excursions, including this one, take you far away from the cruise ship. I like the peace of mind being on a cruise ship operated tour, knowing the ship will wait for a late tour.

Puerto Quetzal Guatemala – I booked the tour “Lake Atitlan From Another Angle” through Celebrity. I explain the reasons for my interest in Lake Atitlan on my Puerto Quetzal itinerary page. If we didn’t go to Lake Atitlan, then I would pick  Antigua Guatemala (Antigua – Self Guided via Celebrity). We didn’t pick Antigua because my wife thinks she will be tired of Spanish colonial cites by the time we get to Guatemala (after seeing San Juan and Cartagena).

Acapulco – We visited Acapulco on our 2006 Celebrity Mercury cruise. We went on a tour with Rosie Diaz Hernandez (see my Acapulco itinerary page for more information). I would really recommend Rosie if you want a guided tour. This time we are going explore on our own, visiting the Old Acapulco Zócalo, and Isla Roqueta.

Cabo San Lucas – We have visited Cabo on two previous cruises. This time, we plan to visit the town of San Jose del Cabo, located to the east of Cabo San Lucas. We will take a taxi. If this is your first time in Cabo, then I would recommend visiting El Arco and Lover’s Beach. There is no need to book this ahead of time. Just get a water taxi in the marina. 

The “Solsticized” Millie: 60 more cabins, “Downsized” observation lounge

5 Mar

In April of 2012, Celebrity plans to Solsticize the Millennium. Much of the publicity focuses on the new extra-charge restaurants. What you may have not noticed is that they plan to add 60 new cabins. The ship isn’t getting any bigger. So where is the space going to come from? The answer is the public areas of the ship will be Downsized to make room for these new cabins and upgrades.

According to Cruise Industry News, “Deck 11 will get 43 new staterooms, replacing the kid’s area. Thirty-seven rooms will be AquaClass and the remaining six will be inside rooms. The children’s areas will be moved to the Observation Lounge, which will become much smaller.” I have made a graphic showing the possible effects on the forward facing observation lounge, COSMOS, by moving the kid’s “FUN ZONE” to the rear of COSMOS. Notice how much smaller the observation lounge becomes. Will this an improvement? I think not. The large forward-facing lounges on Celebrity ships are one of my favorite fleet-wide features. Instead of being “Solsticized” they are being “Downsized“.

Updated excursion info

28 Feb

I finally got around to making a tour reservation in Colon for the original Gatun Lake Safari “houseboat” tour. I originally booked this tour through Celebrity. But, they changed tour operators and now offer this as a “Sounds of Silence” tour. This new Sounds of Silence format tour is not getting good reviews on Cruise Cruise.

The original tour operator, Carl Davis, is offering this tour through his web site Junglelandpanama.com. Read one of the recent reviews on Cruise Critic.

Here is an updated overview of my excursion plans.



The Sack of Panama

11 Feb

The Sack of Panama

The Caribbean has a fascinating history of buccaneers, privateers, and pirates. Our cruise ports were the site of many battles between these forces and the Spanish Main.

Several of our ports include large forts built by the Spanish to protect their cities from these raiders. San Juan has Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristóbal.  Cartagena has Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Panama has Castillo de San Lorenzo and Castillo de San Jerónimo in Portabelo. Finally, Acapulco has Fuerte De San Diego. What was the reason that the Spanish built these massive forts? The answer to this can be found in The Sack of Panama: Captain Morgan and the Battle for the Caribbean by Peter Earle.

I read this book as part of my pre-cruise reading. I wanted to understand more about the history of the Spanish in the Caribbean and the reason for all of these forts. Since we are visiting Panama, this book’s title caught my attention. Here are the reasons I really like this book:

  • Peter Earle is a great story teller. He brings the reader into the story.
  • It is said, “there are two sides to every story”. In this book, each story is told from both the perspective of the privateers and the Spanish.  For example, during the raids on Panama, we are told the story from the perspectives of Henry Morgan and Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán. Most books only tell the story from the side of the privateers.
  • The book is extensively researched and is historically accurate.
  • The main story is 247 pages. I found this to be a very readable length.
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