Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Celebrity Millennium Mediterranean Cruise Review

Celebrity Millennium Mediterranean Cruise Review & Photos Below:

On October 21, 2007 my wife, Helen, and I embarked on a 14-night Mediterranean cruise aboard the Celebrity Millennium. The last time we saw the Millennium was in the year 2000 when she was first introduced to the travel agent community in New York City. Although she no longer had that “brand spanking new” look as she did seven years ago, she still had a very “fresh” look, with the notable exception of some scratches on the stateroom furniture. But, other than that, she was every bit as beautiful as when we first laid eyes on her before her inaugural sailing in 2000.

The Mediterranean itinerary for this ship is fabulous. Being of Italian-American ancestry, Helen and I both wanted to see a lot of Italy…and we did. But, we also visited several non-Italian ports that further enhanced this cruise experience.

Our cruise started in Venice which is located in the Northeastern part of Italy. It is a magical city that is like no other place on Earth. Our 1-hour gondola ride was followed by a visit to St. Marks Square. Typical “tourist stuff” for sure but truly amazing because, along with the throngs of tourists (mostly cruise ship passengers like us), we were somewhat surprised to see that the locals actually used the gondolas (and water taxis) to get around in their daily lives. In fact, you can’t walk from one place to another without “zig-zagging” around a maze of canals that runs through the entire city.

From Venice, we sailed south to Dubrovnic, Croatia. This was one of the non-Italian ports that Helen and I assumed would just be “filler” until our cruise continued on to other places that we really wanted to see. Boy, were we surprised! Our shore excursion took us to “Old Dubrovnic” which is a self-contained city that was built in medieval times and still thrives today (with a mixture of tourists and locals). It turned out to be one of the most fascinating ports on the cruise.

From Dubrovnic, we then cruise further south to Athens, Greece. Although our visit to the Acropolis was enjoyable, we thought the city of Athens was nothing special (from a tourist’s perspective) and the Acropolis itself paled in comparison to the ruins of Ephesus which we explored while at our next port in Kudasi, Turkey. Unlike the Acropolis which is basically the partially restored remains of three ancient Greek temples (complete with modern construction cranes and scaffolding for the restoration crew), Ephesus contains the remains of an entire city that enables the visitor to sense what day-to-day living might have been like in this ancient civilization.

After a relaxing day at sea, our next stop was Naples (on the west coast of Italy) where we took a shore excursion that included Capri, Sorrento and Pompeii. The isle of Capri was upscale and charming at the same time, particularly riding in the cable-drawn trolley (“funicular”) car up the mountain to reach the city and to witness the spectacular view. Sorrento was also charming but otherwise unremarkable except for the best cannelloni and tiramisu I’ve ever had in my life. The volcanic ruins of Pompeii were interesting but I would have rather spent less time there (perhaps about an hour) and more time in Capri. But, all in all, it was one of the most diverse and exciting days of my life.

We then sailed south again from Naples to Palermo, Italy. (that island just off the tip of the Italian “boot”). In a word, Palermo (which is the capital city of Sicily) is congested. In fact, our bus driver couldn’t complete our scheduled tour because traffic was at a standstill on so many streets of the city. As tourists often say about the island of Manhattan, “…it’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there”.

Following our brief visit to Palermo, we sailed north for a 2-night stay in Rome (actually the port city of Civitavecchia which is about 60 miles away from Rome). Because we wanted to see so much, we made advance reservations with a private car service called “Driver In Rome”, which was recommended to us by one of the travel agents on staff at Direct Line Cruises. This enabled us to see the main tourist attractions such as the Coliseum, St. Peter’s, the Vatican, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps as well as giving us time to “do as the Romans do” by mixing with the locals in several of the beautiful piazzas that are located throughout this spectacular city. Rome is an unforgettable place that cannot easily be described in words (…and certainly not in a few sentences). But perhaps the most surprising thing about it is the fact that the Coliseum (as remarkable as it is) is just one of the many remnants of this great ancient civilization that can be found throughout the city. The Roman Forum, the Temple of Hadrian, the Roman Pantheon (which is still in use as a church), Circus Maximus and many other structures are all incredibly well-preserved from over 2,000 years ago.

After saying “arrivadeci” to Rome, we sailed further north along the west coast of Italy to the port of Livorno, from whch we visited Florence and Pisa. Florence is another one of those Italian cities that must be seen to be believed. As one of the main centers of the Renaissance, some of the buildings (especially the cathedrals) are so breathtakingly beautiful that they almost appear to be “fake”. Then, there is the infamous Leaning Tower of Pisa which is even more splendid “in person” than I could ever have imagined.

Just when I thought that this cruise could not possibly get any better, we visited the French Riviera, including the Villefranche, Nice, Eze and Monaco. The French Riviera is probably as close to Paradise as anyone can get without leaving this planet. Each of its idyllic cities has it’s own unique character. Monaco may be the second smallest independent nation in the world (next to the Vatican) but I doubt that you’ll find as many “rich people” in one place. Bentleys, Ferraris and other super-expensive cars literally line the streets of Monte Carlo (which is the home of Monaco’s world-renowned Grand Casino). This place makes Manhattan’s 5th Avenue look “middle-class”.

After another relaxing day at sea, our cruise ended in Barcelona, Spain where we did a brief tour of the city before transferring to the airport for our long plane ride home.

In retrospect, here are some of general thoughts about our first visit to Italy. Contrary to a lot of negative things that I heard, nobody in Italy tried to pick my pocket or pinch my wife’s backside. In fact, nearly everyone we met in Italy was very polite, except when behind the wheel of a car. Most Italian drivers, it seems, regard red lights a mere suggestion to stop, rather than a rule, and people driving motorbikes are generally referred to as “organ donors”. But, other than that, my wife and I left Italy with a great sense of pride in the Italian history and culture.

Now, here’s a word about Celebrity Cruises. Everything that you’ve heard about the superior quality of the food is true (although, ironically, we found the optional extra-cost specialty restaurant to be a bit disappointing). The service throughout the ship was great. The entertainment was well above average and some of the performers were truly spectacular. In short, it was the cruise of a lifetime.

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