Caribbean cruising is back after Celebrity Millennium set sail from Saint Maarten’s port in Philipsburg.
Celebrity Cruises is the first line to reintroduce cruising in the region, and the company was able to do so by requiring fully vaccinated adults and crew.
Cruise Addicts was onboard for the weeklong roundtrip voyage that saw stops in Barbados, Aruba and Curacao.
Celebrity Millennium, which can carry more than 2,100-plus passengers, sailed with about 600 (or 30 percent capacity) for this landmark cruise. The line says it will gradually increase capacity as more ships and itineraries unfold, as well as demand for the cruises increases.
Celebrity Millennium is the first ship that Celebrity Cruises halted sailings for at the start of the pandemic, so it is kind of “fitting that it is the first ship to come back into service,” said Brian Abel, Celebrity Cruises vice president of hotel operations.
Joining such a low number of cruisers on a ship that is built for so many more was kind of strange, but the energy and excitement I saw from everyone I encountered was uplifting and bodes well for the industry.
The Millennium crew smiles and welcoming spirit were even more contagious. Passengers could barely walk more than several steps before meeting another friendly staffer onboard who would fire off a “welcome back” or “we missed you!”
These passionate workers rely so much on the industry as a way to make a living and support their families back home that it was really moving to me how they all seem genuinely pleased to be back at sea and sailing with the colleagues and guests.
Everyone seemed to quickly fall back into that familiar rhythm of cruising shortly after we pulled away from Saint Maarten. Captain Theo Zakkas hosted a welcome aboard toast for the passengers, and said he has been so eager to take his ship out on a cruise again and that he would pull away from port around 10 p.m. “If I can remember where I put the keys.” That line drew a big laugh as we all realized – even the captain – that being away from cruising for well over a year had been quite strange.
Passengers enjoyed cocktails at the Martini Bar and Rendezvous Lounge, as well as gourmet dinners at the main dining room or at eateries like the Tuscan Grille and Sushi on 5. After dinner, it was showtime with the cast performing “Elysium” an acrobatic song-and-dance production that is a dreamy journey through the seasons to find a mysterious wonder world. The soundtrack features a mash up and new twists of popular hit songs.
The shops were a little pokey on the first night, but the lounges and casino were lively, even with the lower passenger complement onboard Millennium.
I stopped off for a late-night gelato and cookie at Café al Bacio and Gelateria after the show.
Well, this is what you do on a cruise. You have late-night sweets.
I ran into Steve, an avid Celebrity Cruises cruiser from Charlotte, North Carolina, who was traveling with his wife and their adult son.
Like everyone else I had met, he was so happy to be back.
“It’s kind of surreal,” he said.