Monday, January 3, 2022

Moths to a Flame - Part 3, Modern Times

Stepping out of the covered gangway onto the open deck of the Celebrity Millennium was both a nostalgic moment, and a gamble for us. We decided seven years earlier, after our last cruise, not to waste any more money on cruising. Were we wrong to once again to schedule a cruise? A cruise that was to be the longest we have ever taken? I’m sure the Millennium's waiting officers and staff had no idea what was going through our minds as we emerged from the gangway. This was our seventh cruise and we had high hopes.

We experienced a full spectrum of pleasure cruising on our first six cruises. We were surprised one time by huge, orange lifeboats blocking the view from our “ocean-view” staterooms and on another cruise by running out of sugar two days from the end of the cruise. But those issues didn't stop us from cruising. It was the last cruise ruined it for us. It was notorious for its atrocious food and poor service. The cruise line – which we had cruised with three times before – was trying to force everyone to upgrade to the specialty, extra cost restaurants by making regular dining unpalatable regardless of how much you paid for the cruise.

There have been industry-wide changes since our first cruise when we went to the ship’s drugstore and bought liquor to take back to our small room with two single beds and a port-hole. The industry no longer focuses on gambling as soon as the ship is outside the twelve mile limit and has become attuned to all ages of travelers and vacationers. Profit making is no longer an art, it is a science. Our last cruise proved to be too much squeezing for us. It simply was no longer fun or worth the cost. Besides, if we went camping instead, we could always bring our dogs. Cruising was no longer attractive to us. The cruise lines could no longer compete for our money.

But here we were, once again, seven years later. Like moths to a flame.

We were greeted on the deck of the Millennium by several teams of officers and staff, even assisting us with our carry-on luggage. There were no exotic cocktails with little umbrellas and servers immediately asking for your room number here. I was pleasantly surprised, not only by the Millennium greeting, but by my wife as well. She wandered off toward the bow of the ship, pulling her carry-on behind her, engrossed in her own world as I received directions from our greeters to our stateroom. It was all smiles – I’m going by the twinkling eyes here, everyone was masked – and pleasantries from the entire staff as we finally got organized and headed toward the aft elevators together, toward our home for the next ten days. The Millennium would be our first cruise with Celebrity cruises.

Celebrity’s stateroom package included the first level drink package, all tips included, and free, if somewhat restricted, WiFi, so we were apprehensive, at best. We were pleasantly surprised by Celebrity as they unexpectedly upgraded our cabin from Veranda to Concierge just before checking in and we were now a deck higher. The ship appeared to be almost empty except for the ever-present staff. All of the staff were masked the entire time, and most of the passengers we met as well. Ilse and I were the only passengers on the pool deck for most of the afternoon as we waited for our 4:30 departure. And our suitcase, of course, which was placed outside our cabin door well before we shoved off.

Welcome to the Millenium

There were scattered passengers around the top deck as we departed busy, cosmopolitan Ft. Lauderdale headed for our first stop of the cruise, the seemingly mandatory stop in Nassau. We feel like old hands at Nassau. Watching the preparations for Junkanoo is always fun and our timing was right on for the third time.

We struck up a conversation with another couple on the top deck as we waited for departure and everything seemed normal except for the odd lack of passengers. We stayed on the deck until Florida began to fade in the distance and setting sun as we were once again seduced by heading toward the open ocean.

We selected early dinner, served at six pm at the Metropolitan dining room on the 5th deck as we love the service of a wait staff that knows our names. We later found the second seating had been eliminated altogether as there were not enough passengers to warrant it. The Metropolitan dining room on the 4th deck served as an open dining room until 11:00 pm. The first night is always casual as we found on past cruises, not everyone gets their luggage delivered to their cabin in time to change for dinner.

At berth in Ft. Lauderdale

Ilse was disappointed when we were taken to our table for two, which turned out to be two tables, pushed together, side by side. The Maitre d’ had the two tables respectively separated and the wait staff immediately removed any vestige of seating at the adjoining table.

The couple we had met on deck as we departed Fort Lauderdale walked up just as we were meeting our waiter, Dave, and his ever-smiling assistant, Luh. The couple asked if we minded if they joined us. We did mind as we had different visions of our first dinner on ship, but never-the-less, we graciously, if somewhat reluctantly, invited them to join us. We inadvertently created problems for the wait staff as they now had no choice but to add the settings back to the table they had just cleared. They only dined with us that first night and did not return for any more dinners, but their settings were in place each night should they return.

As far as the dining was concerned, I had no choice but to perform my French Onion Soup analysis. My analysis has become the benchmark by which the rest of the cruise shall be measured. I never turn down the opportunity to order the soup and although I ordered it on the Millennium with great trepidation, my fears were unfounded. The French Onion soup on was delicious. So were all the meals we ate in the Metropolitan dining room. Score a big one for Celebrity Cruise Lines.

We spent the evening exploring the ship and taking in a little of the evening show. As we headed around the central staircase – I won’t call it an atrium – we heard familiar voices coming from the entertainment podium. It was Daniela and Seba, Supernova Duo, who we met back in 2014 during their very first contract. We walked around the corner and Seba recognized us. We have been friends on Facebook and have followed each other for several years. We chatted and laughed and made plans to meet when they had a break in their schedule. A really great surprise and definitely a highlight of the trip.

Ilse and I returned to our cabin where we made short order of our complimentary sparkling wine, sitting in the lounge chairs on the balcony enjoying the ocean and wondering where all the other ships were. There are usually several other brightly lit ships on the horizon, headed for Caribbean ports unknown, but there was only one other ship and we soon lost sight of it. The usually busy channel between Florida and the Bahamas was eerily dark.

By 11:30 pm, we were 90 miles from Ft Lauderdale and the weather was wonderful. We found out there were only five hundred passengers on board our ship with a capacity for over two thousand! With over nine hundred crew, it was like having our own giant, private yacht! Great us, but not for the industry. No wonder the ocean was dark.

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