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
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