Regaining My Sea Legs: A Modified Pacific Coastal Cruise

Celebrity Millennium in San Diego

633 days. The number of days since stepping off of my last cruise. Thanks to Covid,-19 there has been so much uncertainty, lost time with friends and family, canceled plans and vacations, and a lot of time spent staying put. The world seemed to shrink to a 5 mile bubble, only going out to the grocery store and to the yoga studio, and that was only after many months of restrictions being removed.

In a pre-Covid world, I should have been sailing on the Celebrity Reflection enjoying the Med with stops in Israel and Turkey; however, after so many months staying put, just stepping foot on a ship was enough. Thankfully, the Celebrity Millennium had a modified Pacific Coastal cruise departing from San Diego that fit within the same time period of my originally scheduled vacation period.

Pre-Cruise- Staying on top of every changing rules and requirements

Thanks to Covid, everything continued to be influx leading up until the final day of sailing. For example, right before the cruise, the Covid testing window was shrunk down from 3 days to 2 days prior to setting sail and San Francisco started to require proof of vaccination cards to enter a variety of businesses. While in the long run it wasn’t a big deal, it just meant you need to make sure to account for this during your travels.

Getting a antigen Covid test ended up being a bit of a concern due to supply issues with certified at home Covid testing services that was recommended for use, as well as the availability for last minute appointments. Thankfully, I ended up finding and securing a test to be done at a drive up (also walk up thankfully ) located in downtown San Diego a day prior to the cruise. While a bit pricey ($129), I had my results within 30 minutes and cleared for checking in on embarkation day.

Sky Suite

Home Away from Home

The Celebrity Millennium was first Celebrity ship to be “revolutionized” in late February 2019. I happened to also gotten to have sailed her within one of her first cruises post moderation, so I was luck to see her all nice and shinny. Even after sitting sailing guest-less for a good 15 months, she still looks good as new.

The Millennium is an the oldest of the Millennium class ships. On a normal voyage, you would expect to have a maximum on 2,218 guests and crew 900. On this cruise in particular, it was like sailing on your own charter. It was eerily quite, and securing seats on the deck were easy to come by. In all, there were 700 passengers ( about half of which was part of a conference/workshop) and 850 crew.

Thanks to an upgrade, I was able to experience the suite life, with access to the Retreat Deck. Previous to the revolution, this space was an open deck that offered a nice and quite place to relax. Sadly, this once public space has now been transformed and monetized for higher paying suite guests only.

The Retreat Deck is one of the only reasons I would ever consider paying for a suite in the future on a Millennium class ship. While Luminae dining is also a perk, it was hit and miss. When comparing it to the Blu (Aqua Class dining), especially if you have any dietary restrictions, it wasn’t a big wow. In most cases, the modifications that needed to be made for dietary restrictions just made the dishes average and didn’t really resemble their “signature” dishes. Another issue that I had with the suites, the Sky Suite in particular, was the design. It was a bit odd in terms of their storage and bathroom layout. One thing to keep in mind is that while this ship has been modernized, it wasn’t designed with the new suite designs used on the new Edge class series.

Some other quirks/ things to consider when cruising on the Millennium:

  • The elevator to the Retreat Deck wasn’t working and under maintenance at the time of our sailing. This caused my travel companion to basically loose access to this perk as a result. Yes, they could still access the other pool deck; however, this is one of the main selling points of having a suite.
  • If you were a fan of the library, sadly, it was removed to make way for additional rooms. There is a small area in the Revolutions Lounge on Deck 4 to sit; however, depending on the days activities, it will not be a quite space.
  • The volume in the Theater. Look, I get it, some people need the volume a bit louder, but my god. The levels are just too much.
  • The Persian Gardens are much smaller than the Solstice and Edge Class series, so loosing access that I would have gotten from Aqua class, really wasn’t a big deal. You could either purchase a day pass or a full pass that would cover the length of your cruises that is dependent upon the sailing.

Ports of Call:

San Francisco, California

There is something to be said about entering San Francisco, especially, by boat. With a clear crisp early morning, getting to experience sail-in from the helipad (a Captin’s Club Elite + tiers event) and see the Golden Gate bridge from that angle/distance was the highlight of the trip.

San Francisco is one of those ports you can do on your own, particularly when the ship is scheduled to overnight in the port. Pier location will be dependent upon other ships docked for the day; however, you will find yourself close to a few touristy attractions located upon the pier. Plus, depending upon your budget, you can spend as little or as much money as you want exploring the city, and thanks to public transportation options, you can get around reasonably well.

Activities:

  • Walking around Fisherman’s Wharf and visiting the sea lions at Pier 39. Just keep in mind the area is a tourist trap. There are many shops that are crammed in this small area; however, it does make for some good people watching. Many of the shops open are 10 am, so go early if you want to stroll without a crowd. Plus, the crowd is much smaller when visiting the sea lions and the smell isn’t as awful, especially during the warmer days.
  • A tour of Alcatraz Island can be done much cheaper than the price charged by the ship. Plus, you can spend the amount of time visiting as you wish, as it maybe apart of a longer combo ship excursion. The ferry is within walking distance of the pier. I would recommend pre-purchasing your timed ferry ticket in advance, as well as review/plan your visit accordingly based on on the ferry return times. In order to maximize your time on the island, use the restroom on the ferry prior to docking and then quickly make your way up to the cell tour.
  • Sunset/Night time tour of San Francisco (On Board Credit purchase)- This ship excursion was ~3 hour enclosed bus ride that took you to Treasure Island to watch the sunset over the city. Then the rest of the tour was spent driving around to various areas. There was a stop at an overlook to get a panoramic view of downtown as well. There was supposed to be a stop/free time at Golden Gate Park; however, thanks to so passengers who didn’t realize what tour they booked complaining that the tour was “too” long, then threw a freaking bitchfest and got the guide to skip it and return to the ship early.

Catalina Island, California

Catalina, once owned by William Wrigley, Jr. and briefly home to the Chicago Cub’s spring training, is a touristy island. There is no getting around that fact, as it was simply designed that was. This port can once again be done on your own, and you can spend as little or as much money as you want. Many people tended to just visit the island to pickup some souvenirs or drinks and a meal, while some opted to rent a golf cart and tour the island on their own. One thing to note about this island is that cars are extremely limited. During the tour I took, it was mentioned that only 800 cars were allowed, and the wait-list to get a permit was 15+ years.

Getting to Catalina meant taking a ~15 minute ride to Pier Avalon. Due to the low number of cruisers on the ship, tender service was running first come first serve; however, suite guest were given priority when associated down to launch by the Retreat Concierge.

Activities:

  • Discover Avalon Tour by Catalina Island Company ( On Board Credit) – This short 1 hour open air bus tour was relaxing and provided a great overview of a majority of the island (**heading out by the airport is not apart of the tour**) . The tour picked up right at the pier and once concluded, it dropped off in the middle of the main shopping area, which was a quick and easy 5 minute walk back to the pier.
  • Walking around the streets and window shopping.

Ensenada, Mexico

Ensenada is one of those ports that is on the itenerary that I wouldn’t be mad about just staying on the ship and relaxing for the day. The pier itself looks newly built and can handle 2 ships in port. Inside the port itself is nothing of interest, except maybe the sea lions at the end. You can walk out the port or if the ship offers a shuttle to the touristy shopping area. There is also a museum that is in relatively close walking distance.

Activity:

La Bufadora (On Board Credit) – This tour was ~ 3 hours, with a majority of the time driving to/ from the location to visit the La Bufadora, a blowhole and a tourist trap. This is a one and done experience for me. Once arriving you disembark the bus and are guided down a vendor filled street until you reach the blowhole. Then you are given free time to shop/eat/explore, but honestly, after 15 minutes of looking at blowhole and viewing the overlook area, I was ready to go. The vendors pretty much sold the same thing and they were in your face about wanting you to get into their shop. Which, honestly, was kind of a bit of a shock having not really being around people in such a long time.

**Make sure to take some quarters or small bills if you have to use the facilities as you will have to pay. The one near where the bus drops off was nice one.

San Diego, California

San Diego’s cruise port is very small in the sense that it can dock three cruise ships along the pier with a very short walking distance to the harbor area. It’s no thrills, retrieve your baggage from the terminal and once your out the door, you can easily catch a ride to where you need to go via Uber/Lyft, or even walk to a nearby hotel. San Diego’s Harbor is a tourist attraction itself with the Seaport Village, the U.S.S. Midway, and the Star of India within 5-10 minutes of walking from the ship.

Activity:

  • San Diego and La Jolla highlights with airport drop off (on board credit)- If you have a flight leaving late afternoon or later, this ~4.5 hours tour is a great way to kill sometime, as well as give you a crash course of places to come back and fully explore when returning to San Diego. Not only do you get to enjoy the scenic drive over to Coronado , but you also make a short stop in La Jolla, as well as longer stops in Balboa Park, and Old Town (with long enough time to grab a quite bite to eat and visit some of the shops).

Final Thoughts

Just getting the chance to travel again was worth of the extra steps required to step on the ship. While it wasn’t the vacation I wanted or originally planned for,it was a vacation that was needed. To get a chance to get out and experience life again safely. Plus, it was an easy way to get back into the swing of things and remember all of those forgotten travel skills that have been aquired over the years. While there were some bumps along the way of thing forgotten/to many of ‘x’ packed, it was a worth it to dust off the passport and breakout the luggage.

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Whether it be for work, fun, or just every day normal life, I always seem to be on the go. While living life out of a suitcase, I try to make the most out of my business trips and explore wherever I happen to be. From sampling the local cuisine, to getting lost and finding places I never might have found. I continue to check off and add to my ever growing bucket lists. While not on the road, I like to try to catch up and explore all that Indy has to offer.

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