Celebrity Cruises is setting the course for cruising’s triumphant return to the Caribbean with its roundtrip voyages from St. Maarten on Celebrity Millennium.
I’m onboard for Cruise Fever for the inaugural cruise, and this landmark sailing certainly has a celebratory feel, marking a long-awaited sense of revitalization for travel and tourism in the Caribbean. Cruising is crucial to the islands, and Celebrity Millennium is visiting Barbados, Aruba and Curacao on this voyage.
It feels great to be back on a ship to enjoy these destinations. It sure beats binge-watching Netflix in my living room, which I did far too much of during the lockdown over the past year-plus. While the passengers easily found their cruise groove despite being away for so long, they also noted how different, unique or surreal it all feels, especially cruising with just 600 fellow cruisers onboard on this 2,100-plus passenger ship.
That’s right, the ship is just 30 percent full, and it’s noticeable (and quite nice, actually) to have all this extra space and no crowded areas. The pool area is pleasant and relaxing with no fighting over loungers, for example. Celebrity says it is aiming for sailing around 50 percent capacity on its ships in the near term as it restarts operations. Then, capacity will increase as conditions allow.
Generally, activities and shows are well attended, and this feels normal, like most cruises we’ve ever enjoyed. (It should be noted that there are just a handful of children on this sailing; about 10 or so.) It’s safe and fun. All adult passengers and crew members on Celebrity Millennium are required to be vaccinated and have a pre-cruise negative COVID test.
Crew members are wearing masks, but almost no passengers have chosen to wear masks. The Oceanview Café buffet-style eatery is no longer serve yourself. Instead, crew take your plate and add food items that you want as you make your way among the stations. This type of service is likely to be a permanent fixture on cruises.
The casino, lounges and activities like trivia contests and the main theater production shows and headliners also are drawing nice crowds. We’ve delighted at watching live music again, lounging under the sunshine on the pool decks, hopping into hot tubs and crushing four-course meals at great eateries like Tuscan Grille, Le Petit Chef at Qsine and Sushi on 5.
The crew has also been extra energetic, and you can tell that they are extremely happy to be back at work with guests onboard the ship. We have been inundated with genuinely effusive greetings every day, hearing “Hello” and “Welcome back!” at every turn as we stroll through the ship.
The pandemic has been especially crushing for these workers who rely so much on these jobs to support their families back home. Plus, they also are excited to be traveling again to see new destinations and pursuing their passions once again.
Millennium will swap with Celebrity Summit and begin sailing in Alaska in July, and some crew from the Philippines and Indonesia whom I have chatted with say they are pretty pumped up to be visiting Alaska for the first time.
This was the first trip that I took outside the United States since the start of the pandemic. It seems like each country will have its own sets of requirements for people to be able to come ashore. Though, these rules and regulations are likely to change at a moment’s notice. For our cruise, passengers were required to take an excursion with Celebrity Cruises in order to get off the ship in Barbados, so as to strictly maintain the Celebrity Millennium bubble.
Curacao and Aruba, however, allowed cruisers to visit independently. In all destinations, passengers are asked to wear masks unless socially distanced from others.
One glitch I will note, likely due to general rustiness as things get ramped back up: Service has been slow at times, especially during dinner and at the specialty restaurants.
But, overall, this voyage feels mostly like a normal cruise. Passengers are elated to be cruising again, especially those had several bookings canceled or rescheduled over the past 15 months.
No doubt, with this Celebrity Millennium sailing, cruising is back in the Caribbean, and it bodes well for the industry at large. Celebrity’s protocols and preparation in making this happen have created a fun and safe environment for the next phase in the comeback.