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  #1  
Old December 27th, 2012, 02:00 PM
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Steph27 Steph27 is offline
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Default Thoughts on Dec 9th Millennium Southeast Asia cruise

We have recently returned from sailing on the inaugural Celebrity Millennium Southeast Asia cruise. We have previously cruised Celebrity five times with a total of 14 cruises including other lines (me) and 25 cruises for my mother. I will provide a complete review in the coming days in the Member Reviews section. Before I sound like a constant complainer I should mention we felt very fortunate to be taking this cruise. I loved the idea of the overnight stops which would allow us more time in port. Visiting Vietnam in particular made us appreciate our high living standard and quality of life in the USA.

We were booked in Aquaclass in 1141 and had a large aft veranda. While we enjoyed the ports we were disappointed with the service and food on Millennium. I have a cruise booked on the Infinity for August 2013 which I will be cancelling.

I never say “never”, but I doubt I will be sailing on Celebrity in the future due to what we experienced on this cruise. There were many other cruisers I spoke with who shared the same view.
As there were so many issues on this sailing I want share a few items which may be beneficial. Below is some information which may be helpful to others who will be sailing on the Millennium and on the same itinerary.

December 9th cruise from Singapore to Hong Kong
There were many issues and problems with this cruise:

Departure from Singapore – Celebrity did not comprehend that the Singapore port authority would require every passenger to have a departure stamp in their passport. As the departure day was the second day of the Singapore visit, some people apparently kept their passports. Ours were frantically collected after we were standing in line on the gangway on the second day in Singapore. The crew were feverously grabbing passports and running around with as many they could hold in their hands. Due solely to the problem with stamping passports, we were delayed departing Singapore for 3 hours. However, the Captain did a superb job of making up the lost time and getting us to Bangkok (Laem Chagang) on time. He had to go much faster than planned and apparently it cost $100K additional for the fuel. The Captain joked with me that he would send me the bill!

Vietnam Visa – This has been a very popular and unfortunately contentious issue on the Cruise Critic threads. This is mainly due to Celebrity’s poor communication on their website and over the phone with Customer Service for the procedure and requirements for the visa. We did our research and determined that Celebrity would provide the visa on board the ship and charge the stateroom account. This turned out to be correct. However, the process was a lot more complicated than anyone including Celebrity anticipated. After boarding in Singapore we enquired at Guest Relations about the charge for the visa and getting our passport back for the overnight in Bangkok as well as Saigon. We were surprised to be handed an application form for a Vietnam Landing Card. There was no information about having to do this in our room or when we checked in. If we had not stopped at the desk we may have never known anything about it.


The first indication that things were going seriously wrong regarding the visas and the Vietnam ports was at our Cruise Critic Meet and Mingle on the sea day after we sailed from Singapore. This event was held in the Cosmos lounge and attended by about 75 people and hosted by Darrin the Hotel Director, Captain Tamaris and the Cruise Director Steve. It started out fine with some comments from the Cruise Director. It quickly became a bit of frenzy when many people started to ask questions about the Vietnam Visa. It soon became very clear that the ship was inadequate in comprehending how many people were spending time on overnights in Vietnam on their own and not on a ship sponsored tour. The cruise director gave some feeble answers and had zero understanding about anything that was being said. When someone mentioned they were spending the night on their own in Vietnam and what was required regarding the photo, the cruise director said, “We will get in touch with you”. Really? A lot of us were sitting there dumbfounded. How would they know just by looking at us if we would spend the night in Saigon on our own? The hotel director quickly sensed the frustration in the room and after a few calls made an announcement that they would setup a desk in the Guest Relations area within the
hour with the Documentation Officers.

The major confusion was that there was no mention of requiring a photo for the Vietnam visa in advance. I did read this on the Azamara site so thought it might be true for Celebrity as well. In summary there are two types of Vietnam visas from the Celebrity Millennium:

The first is the group ship sponsored tour Vietnam Visa which cost $35 and apparently does not require a photo. As I understand it this is for those on a ship tour only and not spending the night off the ship in Vietnam. However, there are ship sponsored tours for overnights that might require a different visa so it was confusing who needed which one.

The second visa is for those spending the night off the ship in Vietnam whether on their own or on a ship tour. The cost is $50 and does require a photo. With all the chaos on the ship, they decided to try to use the photos taken for the Seapass cards but were unsure if those would be acceptable to the Vietnamese authorities. The poor planning and understanding of the port requirements by Celebrity was glaring. This was despite having the Documentation Officers on board the Millennium who had previously sailed with Azamara Quest in Asia.

I had photos taken for our China visas and meant to take the extra ones with us just in case. Unfortunately I forgot them at the last minute. To be on the safe side we opted to pay the $12.95 for the ship’s photographer to take our photos. However, this was not so easy as they did not want to do this as they were getting ready for formal night (it was only 11:00 am) and didn’t want to change to a light background. We sort of begged and they told us to come back in a few hours after they made a decision. They ultimately agreed to do the photos.

For those spending an overnight in Vietnam off the ship the following is required:
· Application form for the Vietnam Landing Card
· Vietnam Visa + photo
· Passport

Our Vietnam visa was the one for $50 and was actually adhered in the passport and took up an entire page. Our Landing Cards were stamped in each Vietnam port when we exited the ship. They did not however collect the Landing Cards when we left Halong Bay (our last Vietnam port).
Toward the end of the cruise I overheard a couple at Guest Relations who were furious because they were not allowed to do their overnight tour in Hanoi. Their understanding of the application for the Landing Card was that they could use the visa for $35 which was not true. From what I overheard they were on a ship tour but spending the night so needed the $50 Vietnam visa. They lost money on the hotel they booked in Hanoi plus the cost of the tour. They were adamant that the form was not clear. I agree with them.
A huge obstacle and constant headache was the inadequacy of the Guest Relations staff. They had conflicting information and very little was accurate. They had to consistently revise what they were telling us. The one bright spot was Jennifer, the Concierge who is a superstar. I strongly advise anyone who has questions about any of the ships requirements for any of the overnight stops or ports to consult with her and avoid the Guest Relations staff altogether.

Before we reached Vietnam I spoke directly with Khun, one of the ship’s Documentation Officers and have verbal confirmation that ANY Celebrity passenger can apply for the Vietnam Visa on the ship. There is no nationality that cannot. Please be advised that for Thailand there are several countries that need to acquire the visa in advance. These include Mexico and Cuba.


Arrival in Bangkok, Thailand – Our first stop after departing Singapore was the cruise port of Laem Chabang. We arrived on time a little before 10:00 am. The pilot boat went out much earlier to pick up the Thai authorities to stamp the passports. We had been told that we could collect our passports at the Conference Center soon after the ship was cleared. I had booked a car and driver with Oriental Escape to take us roundtrip to Bangkok where we would spend the night. I expected to disembark at the latest around 10:45 am.

Celebrity clearly underestimated the large number of people who would be spending the night off the ship and require their passports. Celebrity blamed the port authority for arriving late to stamp the passports. I actually saw them board and it seemed like they came around 9:30 am. The line to get the passports snacked all the way down the hall from the Conference Room to Guest Relations. Those going on ships tours also needed their passports and were in the theater. It was complete chaos with the staff running back and forth with passports. When we finally made it to the conference room the passports were in small bunches and in no order. They just randomly called out room numbers. As the line was so long someone in the room would shout and repeat the number down the hall. We did not receive our passports back until 2 ½ hours later. Some people got the wrong ones and others did not get them back at all despite being on a ship tour. It was a horrendous situation. Most of the passengers were staying calm but a few were understandably losing their cool. Prior to getting our passports back I called the hotline for our driver and they were aware of the problem as no one was getting off the ship. They said they would have the driver on standby and wait for us. We were much more fortunate than others who had private group tours booked with other passengers and were just waiting and waiting until everyone received their passport. A letter was distributed to all passengers when we came back the next day. It blamed the port authority for starting late and Celebrity accepted no responsibility for the situation. Even if the Thai authorities were entirely to blame (which I doubt), Celebrity still could have #1 handled the ensuing chaos more professionally, and #2 been more gracious in their apology.

Currency requirements in port and exchanging money on the ship. Prior to departure I contacted my banks and learned to my surprise that Chase considers Singapore, Vietnam and China to be high fraud areas. Therefore I was advised not to use my Chase Debit card or the account will immediately be blocked. I spoke with Bank of America and they did not have the same issues. However, I decided to be on the safe side and not use the ATM’s in those countries. I did use the Hang Seng Bank ATM in Hong Kong on several occasions without any problem.

If you want to get currency on the ship, do it early. They ran out of currency in almost every port. If you get Vietnamese Dong you cannot exchange it back on the ship if you have any left over as they will not take it back. This is despite sailing back there in just a few days. We fortunately gave the last of our Dong to our bus driver and guide in Halong Bay.


Cambodia Overnight Tour – The ship sponsored visit to Cambodia was a complete fiasco. We did not go on it but learned about it during dinner in Blu from a couple seated next to us. They gave me permission to discuss it with other passengers online and in person.
There were 26 people on the Cambodia overnight tour booked through Celebrity. They were bused from the port of Laem Chabang to the Bangkok airport unaccompanied by any Celebrity representative. The departure of the tour was a complete disaster as the arrival stamps in the passports had the wrong date. The authorities would not allow them to board their plane or leave the airport. There was no one to call for help. By the way, for the entire Asia cruise Celebrity never gave a local phone number for the port in case of problems. The only number provided was a number in Miami. With the time difference that was going to be of little use. One of the people on the tour tried to contact an agent in Europe who then tried to call someone at Celebrity and then contact the ship. This did not work. There were about 6 people who had the correct stamp in their passport and were able to depart on the scheduled flight to Cambodia .

The remaining 20 spent and additional stressful 4 hours in the airport trying to solve the situation on their own. Ultimately, the Bangkok airport authorities decided to put a “cancel” stamp in the passports with the wrong date and then re-stamped them all correctly. Once on the Cambodian side there was a local Cambodian travel services person in charge of the tour who was apparently outstanding. The price for the Cambodia excursion from the ship is around $1600 per person. It is absolutely unacceptable that there was no Celebrity representative accompanying them on this tour. Celebrity’s documentation officers should have also checked the passports to make sure they were in order.


That is about all the important information from the cruise I have distilled so far. I will be repeating some of what I have written here on the blog that I write but wanted to make sure those on the same itinerary are aware of the challenges we faced. Hopefully Celebrity learned from their mistakes and will do a much better job going forward
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  #2  
Old December 27th, 2012, 05:17 PM
Dowunder Dowunder is offline
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I hope Celebrity has got it's act together for the inaugural NE Asia cruise!!!
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  #3  
Old December 27th, 2012, 05:43 PM
ghstudio ghstudio is offline
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Thanks for the post.....I'm bracing my self for the 1/20 and 2/3 cruises. Hopefully by then celebrity will have figured out how to do some of the things they clearly failed at on the first cruise. Based on your review, we will get pictures before we leave. We are almost out of clean pages on our passports...that may be a hassle, but not sure what I could do at this late date.

Comments on food???
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Old December 27th, 2012, 07:10 PM
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Sorry to hear the visa chaos, which should not happen if only Celebrity did their homework.
Hope you enjoyed your time in Asia despite these unhappy incidents.
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Old December 27th, 2012, 07:20 PM
Despegue Despegue is offline
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We are about to leave for our 06/01/13 cruise to Indonesia I certainly hope that the crew will have implemented a good system regarding passports .

The easiest way is to have a desk per deck, and divide Port/ Starboard forward to aft. Almost no wait like this and passports easily retrieved, and accounted for using numbered vouchers that pax. Get when handing in their documents.
The whole ship is processsed in less than half an hour using this system and using several locations depending on your deck.
Use the Activity staff and Officers for the handling.
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Old December 27th, 2012, 08:05 PM
eldercruser eldercruser is offline
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Thanks for the very detailed explanation of what happened on board. It does sound like the staff was totally unprepared for the itinerary. This is very difficult to comprehend since Royal Caribbean companies have been doing this itinerary in some variation for several years.

The big question now is to see if the ship's staff can recover and be prepared for the follow-on cruises.

This will be our first Celebrity cruise which we decided to take over other lines offering similar itinearies based on Celebrity's supposedly above average service.

The remarks above and from others on the December 9 cruise (see the Dec 9 Millennium Roll Call) certainly present a very unflattering picture.

I am sure the Celebrity cheerleaders will come on soon to tell us that it all was just a small misunderstanding!
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Old December 27th, 2012, 08:35 PM
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Celebrity did do a better job of returning the passports when we reached Phu My (port for Saigon). They sent out a pilot boat around 3:00 am and all the passports were apparently ready for pickup by 7:00 am. We received ours back at 6:45 am and were off the ship shortly there after for our 7:00 am group tour with Smile. We were very impressed that the passport redistribution went so well compared to Laem Chabang/Bangkok.

The ship's explanation was that they are at the mercy of the local authorities and that the Thais arrived late and did not start stamping passports until an hour later. I don't think that is quite accurate but even if it was Guest Relations was abysmal in handling the situation at hand.

Someone asked about the food. The general consensus on the ship seemed to be that it was unsatisfactory. We dined in Blu and noticed a huge difference from our Solstice cruise in May 2011. The portions were large, the entrees were to heavy and most items were very salty. Toward the end if the cruise they stopped providing their nightly recommendations for the menu.

We ate breakfast in the Oceanview or Olympic (for Elite members) instead of Blu. It was just ok. We also had lunch in the Oceanview but mostly subsisted on hot dogs as the lunch items were of poor quality. I did enjoy some of the Indian food. We really looked forward to our 3 overnights in port where we could eat off the ship.

From some other passengers I spoke with they said that recent cruises on Infinity and Constellation were much better than Millennium. However this cruise was such a disappointment that I have no desire to cruise with Celebrity going forward. I very much enjoyed our 2 Solstice cruises and the Solstice class just may be at a higher level than Millennium class.

We loved the overnight stops and the ports which was a huge incentive for booking this cruise. Singapore was fascinating, Bangkok had great food and shopping. Saigon required a lot of walking and was interesting but somewhere we will not run back to. The highlight of the ports was Halong Bay were we spent the night on a junk. Hong Kong was fabulous and had great shopping, food and sites. From a port perspective the cruise was great as we could spend more time enjoying the cities and seeing the sites. The downside was that Millennium for us was lacking and we did not look forward to returning to the ship. The price we paid for our Aquaclass Aft stateroom was very reasonable. Azamara would have been nicer but Celebrity was always a great value which disappointed in this case.
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Old December 27th, 2012, 11:09 PM
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Thanks for the review! Sorry you had so much difficulty with documentation, since X has had these ports scheduled for over a year you would think they would have prepared better.

We are on the January 6 cruise and while I am fully prepared for snags and bumps, I hope most issues are worked out by the time we board.

Did you have to turn your passport over after every port so X could keep ot, or before getting off in port every day so you keep it during the cruise?
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Old December 27th, 2012, 11:49 PM
lacy20 lacy20 is offline
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Default Halong Bay

Steph27, you said you stayed overnight on a junk. We have been planning to do the same, but we were wondering if it is feasible because we have been hearing that disembarkation is taking so long. We arrive in Halong Bay at 1:00, and depending on how long it takes to tender ashore and be transported to our junk, we are wondering how much daylight we will have left. We are considering staying on the ship that first night and booking a day junk cruise the second day. Could you give me an idea of how long it took you to tender ashore and if you think the overnight on the junk was worth it? Also can you tell me the name of the junk and what time you boarded it and what time you returned to the ship the next day? Thank you so much for all your comments about your overall experience on the Millennium. I hope Celebrity can streamline some of the issues you mentioned. Sadly, that will not change your experience. I'm glad, though, that you enjoyed your time in the ports. That will definitely be my focus.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 01:20 AM
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Thanks for your report.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 04:36 AM
3littlepigs 3littlepigs is offline
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We haD a geat cruise, a couple of hiccups, nothing major, there was a wait for the passports for a couple of hours in BKK, but as we have previously had to line up at LAX for longer than that to be granted entry to the USA, or at a few other airports around the world (including our own home port at the peak arrival time of the long haul flights) the wait didn't really worry us too much.
The handing out of passports was disorganised and somewhat chaotic, this was fixed before the next port.

The food in the second week was definitely worse than the first week, very salty. We found the flavours of most of the Asian dishes to have been dumbed down, I guess to suit an "International" palate, we avoided those! Food in Qsine was awful, salty and greasy but the service and presentation was great. Olympic was great both times we went.

The ship looked good, its not shiny and new but very comfortable and rides the waves well. Very spacious even though it was packed to the gunnels!

We went on our holiday (and we are still enjoying the sights of Hong Kong as I type) with the intention of relaxing and chilling out, a couple of hours delay in Bangkok was hardly a blip on the radar and certainly not anything we would write home about.

The visa issue turned out not to be an issue, so future cruisers on this route need not stress about it. The port delay in BKK is now on the record so if you are arranging a private tour take into account that docking time may not be disembarkation time.

Asia is never predictable and a good degree of flexibility is needed to travel here without stress. If you can laugh at the little hassles along the way and love a bit of an adventure this is a great itinerary on a lovely ship and a much better itinerary than the HAL cruise that was travelling the same waters at the same time.

Its certainly not cookie cutter X but that is Asia for you!
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Last edited by 3littlepigs; December 28th, 2012 at 04:38 AM.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 05:26 AM
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Thanks for the review!
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Old December 28th, 2012, 12:45 PM
clipper110A clipper110A is offline
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Sorry that the cruise was hectic and chaotic...Not an X cheerleader by any means, but I am thinking that first cruises of inaugural seasons might have some hiccups...one would think that Miami would be better organized, but in our 20 years expereince with X, Miami reservations/customer "care" has never been a strength. One would also think that Azamara/RCL would have been able to provide guidance to a sister brand.
Hoping that our Millenium Asia B2B in February will be better organized.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 02:05 PM
ghstudio ghstudio is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by clipper110A View Post
Sorry that the cruise was hectic and chaotic...Not an X cheerleader by any means, but I am thinking that first cruises of inaugural seasons might have some hiccups...one would think that Miami would be better organized, but in our 20 years expereince with X, Miami reservations/customer "care" has never been a strength. One would also think that Azamara/RCL would have been able to provide guidance to a sister brand.
Hoping that our Millenium Asia B2B in February will be better organized.
Your assumption is that someone at Celebrity cared enough or thought about the new itinerary enough to even ask RCL or Azamara. The more I read about and deal with Celebrity HQ, the more I think they are disfunctional with no management and no leadership. Fortunately, most of their ships are staffed with good folks who try to give an excellent cruise, mostly without any help or guidance from HQ.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 02:44 PM
Despegue Despegue is offline
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Guys, I work for a quite large Airline, and whenever we have a new destination, I can almost guarantee that there will be " complications" meaning that somebody in " the Office" either assumed, did not care, was too ignorant or did not communicate with the local station...Had recently the " honour" of flying the " Inaugural" to Tehran no less, and I will spare you the details, but it was not pretty In the end, it is always the crew who is the victim of the offices inadequacy, a crew that is expected by their passengers to deliver an amazing cruise.
Please do not blame it all to shipboard operations...Shore ops. And Planning need to do their work and supply the necessary info to the ship.

Last edited by Despegue; December 28th, 2012 at 02:45 PM.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 03:59 PM
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I'm on the Feb 17 sailing and of course I want as smooth and pleasant an experience as possible. One encouraging sign is an email I received yesterday from the tour operator (Smile) that we are using for Hanoi and Hoi An. Here's part of what she wrote:
"Dear everyone,
I hope you had a great Christmas.

After we have done the tours for people from 2 Celebrity Cruises on 15 – 20 Dec and 26 – 31 Dec, I would like to update with you about the arrangements for the tours from 20 – 25 Feb 2013 for your groups.

There is no problem with Phu My port and Chan May port. The only problem happened in Halong Bay port because they had to use a tender and it took quite much time.

It was true that the first ship on 19 – 20 Dec to Halong Bay was not well-organized. They used a small tender and it took about 20 minutes each way to go to the shore.
Many groups started the tours late. We supposed to pick them up around 1:30pm to 2:00pm, but the last group got down to the pier was about 3:15 – 3:30pm.

For the second ship on 26 – 27 Dec to Halong Bay, the situation was better because they used a bigger tender which could take maximum 150 people per time and the big cruise ship was anchored closer to the shore so it took about 7 – 10 minutes to go to the shore per way.
We supposed to pick them up around 7:30 – 8:00am. Some people got on the first tender and arrived at the shore around 7:30am. The last people we got on tours arrived at the shore around 8:30am. So all the tours took place smoothly."

Hopefully the situation in Bangkok is also being addressed. Curious about the salty food. Did all the food (MDR, buffet, specialty restaurants) suddenly become saltier or was it really pronounced in one venue?

Last edited by cheffip; December 28th, 2012 at 04:01 PM.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 04:08 PM
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I sailed on the Millennium in October through the Panama Canal. It was my least favorite of my Celebrity cruises. I found the food in the oceanview cafe poor, unlike my experience on the Equinox or Infinity. Whoever was in charge of the Asian Delight section was clueless.
Sometimes I wonder if there is a competition between the food and beverage managers to see who can come in more under budget. The passenger is on the losing end.
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Old December 28th, 2012, 04:16 PM
Jade13 Jade13 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steph27 View Post



Cambodia Overnight Tour – The ship sponsored visit to Cambodia was a complete fiasco.

The remaining 20 spent and additional stressful 4 hours in the airport trying to solve the situation on their own. Ultimately, the Bangkok airport authorities decided to put a “cancel” stamp in the passports with the wrong date and then re-stamped them all correctly. Once on the Cambodian side there was a local Cambodian travel services person in charge of the tour who was apparently outstanding. The price for the Cambodia excursion from the ship is around $1600 per person. It is absolutely unacceptable that there was no Celebrity representative accompanying them on this tour. Celebrity’s documentation officers should have also checked the passports to make sure they were in order.


That is about all the important information from the cruise I have distilled so far. I will be repeating some of what I have written here on the blog that I write but wanted to make sure those on the same itinerary are aware of the challenges we faced. Hopefully Celebrity learned from their mistakes and will do a much better job going forward
What a mess. We went to Southeast Asia on Azamara and experienced no problems. I will say that all of our tours (except Singapore the last night) were independant, including leaving the ship in Cambodia and rejoining in Bangkok and going to Angkor. Our privvate group got our Visa's before we left home. At the time they were $20.00. I would have guessed on a larger ship this would be time consuming.

That was ridiculous to have a $1,600.00 overnight tour without an escort from the ship.
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  #19  
Old December 28th, 2012, 07:30 PM
3littlepigs 3littlepigs is offline
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We found the food changed overnight about half way through the trip, at the same time the waiters at each station were juggled around and we didnt see some if the ones we were used to again, that first breakfast after the changes the staff seemed a bit stressed and service for breakfast and lunch that days very slow. Service came good again after that but the food stayed salty. It was salty at all the venues although not as bad at Olympic but still saltier than the first time we went there the week before.

I couldnt see any issues with the quality of the produce used and I would not have said they were cheapskating at all just adding way too much salt.
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  #20  
Old December 28th, 2012, 07:36 PM
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Thanks to the two folks who came back and shared their information about the experiences on board. In general several mass market lines have made the food unbearable in the Main Dining Room. What is more troubling is that on the Millennium there is far less dining options than on NCL. I do hope the salty situation is rectified between now and my sailing.

The tidbits about the Cambodia tour were quite disturbing. I'm booked on it for my sailing and actually looking forward to it. I do hope the kinks are worked out before it's my turn to sail. It sounds mostly like a goof up from the Thai authorities on the visa dates. I'm sure Celebrity will get that worked out after they see people's reviews here. All cruise lines monitor those reviews closely and sometimes even the individual ships do as well.

I look forward to everyone's in-depth reviews. Sounds like some positive times and experiences were had despite the uphill battle of it being the inaugural Asian sailing for Celebrity. Please keep sharing your thoughts about the Northbound run!
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