Monday, January 3, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 2, Not The Millennium Falcon

It did not take long after boarding the Millennium to realize the ship was exactly what we were looking for, or rather, what we had missed on our last cruise some seven years ago. Launched in 2001, she is the oldest ship in the Celebrity Cruise Line fleet, but you would never know it. The mid-size ship was completely upgraded and modernized in early 2019, spending over a month in dry dock and 60 million dollars being refitted and modernized. After spending most of 2020 and early 2021 waiting out the COVID 19 at San Diego, the Millennium was one of the first cruise ships to reenter service in late 2021.

I couldn’t help but smile as we boarded her. I wondered if this wasn’t also like an old space ship, designed to transport its passengers through space and time, but in luxury and cleanliness as opposed to the worn-out space freighter, the Millennium Falcon, made famous by the 1977 Star Wars movie. In contrast, the Celebrity Millennium carries its 2,138 passengers in contemporary style and luxury.

We joined the Celebrity Millennium in Port Everglades at Fort Lauderdale, Florida two weeks before Christmas, 2021. Our first scheduling attempt didn’t work out, but we were pleased to find our friends Seba and Daniela, the Supernova Duo, were still entertaining onboard as we enthusiastically signed up for an eastern Caribbean ten day cruise. With the fear and anxiety of the COVID pandemic setting the tone for several weeks of concern and worry, about whether or not we would even get on board the ship, the actual process turned out to be beautifully handled. Let’s start at the beginning though, back before our enlightenment.

We knew our required passports were up-to-date, and would not expire within six months of our sailing, so that was no problem. The COVID requirements were no problem, either, as we were both vaccinated as soon as the vaccine was available. We had the booster shot as well. We also had the flu shot, which we do annually. The only problem was having proof of a negative COVID test within 48 hours of departure. Neither my wife nor I had ever been tested for COVID and we simply weren’t sure how to go about getting tested and proving we were safe. While we follow the mask protocol religiously, we still interact with people who travel or could otherwise be carriers. Of the three required items, we had two – the passports and the proof of vaccination – but the negative test caused us grief simply because we did not know what to expect. What would happen if either one of us failed the test?

We confirmed our trip cancellation insurance covered testing positive for COVID-19, which was a financial safety blanket, but the anxiety of being stuck in port as the ship sailed away without us doggedly clouded our enthusiasm. Celebrity made testing kits available for less than one hundred dollars, but several friends told us they had to order multiple test kits as the first kits received were defective. We were leaving on a Monday, so we had no desire to scramble on Sunday to find a testing location. We called several testing companies and made arrangements at a walk-in clinic for testing first thing Saturday morning. Of course that turned into a two and a half hour wait before we were presented with our certificate of a negative COVID test. With our priceless certificates in hand, all we had to do was get to the boat some 200 miles away.

We have used Cruise Connection, run by the ESCOT bus line, several times in the past to travel to and from the ports of Ft Lauderdale and Miami. Easy and convenient, the service picks up customers at local locations along Florida’s west coast and brings them directly to the port terminal. They bring you back at the end of your cruise as well. Our problem was the bus line was just restarting as were the cruise lines themselves and there was some confusion on whether they would run a bus on the days we needed transportation. Running a first class bus service from Florida’s west coast to the ports depends on customers, and when we called for reservations were first informed they weren’t servicing our area for Celebrity cruises. After several phone calls the situation changed and we were in business. Neighbors graciously agreed to take us the local bus stop and everything was in place.

Perhaps the pressures and constant conflict about the COVID pandemic just wouldn’t let us relax. We were concerned about every little thing, especially after we later missed a call from Cruise Connection asking us to call them back as soon as possible. This was on the weekend prior to our departure and did nothing for our nerves until we found out they had simply moved our scheduled pickup time back an hour. That made it a little easier for our wonderful friends, at least.

The huge, cross country tour bus had seven passengers when we got on, and we stopped only once to pick up two more for the ride to Fort Lauderdale. An indicator of things to come. The trip across the Everglades is always fun when you don’t have to drive, and I don’t mind letting someone else do the task while I sit back and watch traffic.

Port Everglades, the name of the port in Fort Lauderdale, was under a massive rebuild the last time we were there and I had no desire to fight the madness, but all that is in the past. The port is modern and easy to negotiate, I could have driven and parked in the parking garage almost across the walk-way from the terminal. Personally, anything to ease getting on board is my choice and using Cruise Connection is one less thing to worry about. 

Five minutes after arriving, we were in the terminal showing our passports and COVID papers and test results. We were slightly ahead of our scheduled arrival time but it created no problems. After receiving our cruise identification cards and passing through several staging areas, we were walking up the gangplank to our next cruise adventure.

We were surprised by how empty the terminal was. It appeared COVID had dampened everyone's desire to cruise. We would soon find out.

More to come 


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