Live Voyage Review: Celebrity Millennium, Alaska 2012
I’m reporting live from beautiful Alaska on the newly Solsticized Celebrity Millennium on a 7-day voyage from Seward to Vancouver. My parents and I began our journey with a flight up to Anchorage, an evening stay there, and then a 5 hour Alaskan Railroad transfer directly to the pier in Seward the next day.
Train travel in Alaska is quite a treat. Of course, I’m a fan of trains in general, but should you desire great sightseeing in the heart of the Alaskan wilderness – train fan or not – you will surely enjoy the experience. We’re up here early enough in the season that stretches of the rail trip our almost monochromatic with a whiteout of snow spotted with patches of dark trees and earth. The landscape varies with the summer sun beating down on dramatic terrain etched with waterfalls and ravines. You’ll gaze upon beautiful Alaskan flora and, if lucky, some fauna as well – more likely an eagle in the distance.
The train itself is very comfortable with tables for four sheltered under the expanse of domed glass. Our train was chartered exclusively to transport Celebrity guests from the Anchorage airport terminal to the pier in Seward. During the trip, two employees cater to the needs of each car with meal and drink service as well as an occasional commentary.
The Millennium’s new Solsticized features are very well implemented and really do a whole lot to revitalize the older ship in Celebrity’s fleet. With the Millennium completing the Solsticization program – with only the Constellation slated for additional improvements – the question is now what will become of the even older Century. I will be sure to ask and report on that in my followup article which will focus on the Solsticization process and features in detail.
Such new features include the new Martini Bar and Crush. It’s not immediately clear what the difference is between the two sections of this new bar. Upon asking, I was informed that the Martini Bar is specific to martinis, naturally, while Crush is specific to straight vodka tastings. The iced bar surface – chilled stainless steel topped with a thin layer of frozen water – and the ice filled trough speckled with vodka bottles remind one of a full-fledged ice bar like the one in Stockholm. It’s a neat ship feature for sure.
The first attraction of our Alaskan itinerary was Hubbard Glacier yesterday afternoon. However, our visit was one of the periodic ones that nature would not allow. The ice pack off the glacier face was so dense that the ship could only get as close as four and a half miles away.
Nonetheless, the day was sunny and beautiful, and the magnificent glacier shown bright in the distance. While there would be no photos of calving ice this trip, the weather did provide for nice shots of the surrounding ice bergs, mountains, and foliage.
Our first port of call was Juneau today on a cloudy, drizzly day that welcomed a tour of the Alaskan Brewing Company. The Alaskan Brewing Company Depot in downtown just up a short walk from the pier is home base for the Juneau-based brewery’s retail operation, brief history tour, and transportation to the small but extensive brewery itself just outside of town.
The depot is housed in the space once home to Galligaskins – formerly a retail staple in Juneau before going out of business several years ago.
The award winning brewery has done quite well to export their wonderful craft beers as far south as San Diego, my own hometown. I personally prefer Alaskan beers over any other, and it’s always nice to get a taste of Alaska year-round in the southwest. But the best way to treat yourself while in Alaska is with a tour of the actual brewery.
The depot sells tickets for $15 that includes van transportation to and from the brewery, up to six 4-ounce tastings, and a tour of the facility. Generally, all of their year-round beers are on tap plus a selection of seasonal and limited-release beers – which are highly recommended to try as they are often not available outside of Alaska and sometimes not even outside of Juneau. And at other times, certain beers are even hard to come by within Juneau. For instance, the latest limited release of Raspberry Wheat sold out at the brewery in bottles in less than an hour and in kegs in just two hours. Luckily, we found some bottles in town at a local liquor store to try.
It’s been two years since I was last up in Alaska, and since then the Red Dog Saloon has expanded their retail “mercantile” by building it all the way out to the sidewalk, and close to completion is a new information center at the pier. Also, along the bus pickup area is a new awning that is still incomplete without a canvas covering, but once it’s finished, it too will be a welcome addition to keep tour patrons dry as they wait for their busses.
Today the Celebrity Millennium is anchored off of Icy Straight Point at Hoonah alongside her sister, the Celebrity Century.
But let me first catch you up on yesterday. Skagway is quintessential Alaska in my opinion. To this day, it just looks like a Gold Rush town frozen in time complete with a simple main street flanked with historical architecture and nestled within an impressively large valley with steep tree-covered mountains that stretch all the way back out to the Inside Passage.
Add a narrow-gauge steam train plus classic cars parked along the town’s side streets into the mix, and you have all but traveled back in time.
Like Juneau, Skagway has a local brewhouse, although it’s on a much smaller scale. The Skagway Brewing Company is at the very end of retail row on the right side of the main street as you head back into the valley.
Here you will find fantastic beers – available as a sampler as well as in usual pints – and an excellent restaurant that my family has come to frequent on our Alaskan visits. Be sure to taste the beer cheese soup, spruce tip blonde ale, and halibut fish and chips. It’s a hearty Alaskan feast for sure.
Icy Straight Point at Hoonah always makes for a fun time too. As the only tendered port of call on this itinerary – Sitka is also a tendered port in Alaska – it’s exciting to get outside of the ship at water level and, if you are daring, ride to shore on the top outside level of the tender for a brisk photo op of the ship as well as the surrounding scenery.
Icy Straight Point, or ISP for short, is the newest Alaskan port of call and offers some very interesting attractions. The entire dock facility was once a salmon cannery and still has much of the equipment intact along with an entire museum for you to peruse free of charge. The remaining interior space is allocated to shops.
Just outside the cannery building complex are a few restaurants and a short but great nature trail that is very easy to access. Near the trail you will also find the end of the line for the world’s longest and tallest zipline. If you so choose, you can take a 45-minute van ride up a mountain to zip down a single continuous line that hits speeds of up to 65-mph on a 90-second run. I haven’t tried it myself yet but intend to sooner or later. Maybe someone who has tried it can comment on their experience below.
There is also a 3-minute shuttle bus ride that runs into the main part of town. I had not yet done that until just today, and it was a fun little jaunt. While there is truly not much to see or do in this part of town, there was one thing that made it worthwhile to us. There is a current totem and native Alaskan carving program, the Glacier Bay – Huna Tribal House Project, under way that is open to the public to see and interact with the artisans.
They have already completed a large decorated wall panel that spans 30 feet wide and reaches 16 feet tall. Now they are working on a series of four totem poles that will eventually be displayed with it. The intricate detail that these artisans have coaxed out of the red cedar is incredible. It’s a joy to see these natives keep their traditions alive through this exquisite art form.
Back onboard, we enjoyed lunch today at the newly installed Bistro on Five, one of the many Solstice-class features added to the Millennium. For only a 5 dollar cover charge, this venue truly does offer one of the ship’s best culinary treats. The crepes served here are very tasty, and the venue itself is much more relaxed than the usual hustle and bustle of the lido upstairs. The new eatery fits in very nicely with the existing flow of the ship. Tonight, we will dine at Qsine for the first time which I am very excited to try.
Let me leave you for now with one final shot from the remodeled Cosmos Lounge. Here, the port (left) side of the observation lounge has been displaced by the Fun Factory kids facility. But even with this reduced footprint, the soft, airy lounge still works well with a new bar placement and fresh decor composed of light blues and metallic surfaces.
Yesterday we finished our ports of call with Ketchikan, but I decided to stay onboard to take some more photos of the Solsticized Millennium. Nonetheless, here’s a quick shot of the port below to whet your appetite one last time for Alaska.
Two nights ago we tried Qsine and loved it so much that we decided to go again last night. This restaurant can best be summed up in one word – fun. There are no strict courses, and there are no rules – besides no food fights. There are a total of 20 dishes to choose from in any order you wish and in any quantity you wish. The menu is international in its variety and playful in its presentation. In fact, there is so much to talk about, I will be writing an article in the coming weeks just to describe the culinary experience in sufficient detail. But for now, feast your eyes on the images below for a brief preview.
Additionally, I will be writing another article to extensively detail and review the Solsticization of the Millennium, but let me share some photos of the new features in the meantime to conclude my live voyage review below.
Bistro on Five creperie:
The remodeled pool deck:
Cafe al Bacio (formerly Cova Cafe):
More seating where the oval card room used to be:
New Celebrity Innovations, onboard Apple store (this wasn’t on the Infinity when I toured her a few months back):
And the Cosmos Lounge, observation lounge. This lounge never had Cirque du Soleil elements. Just the Summit and Constellation did for a very brief time: