Luxury Sailing Meets Alaskan Adventure on the Re-imagined Celebrity Millennium
The southbound glacier sail on the Millennium starts with a two-hour scenic drive from Anchorage to Seward. The road runs past the mud flats of the Cook Inlet, near where I unloaded salmon boats at the age of 19. Wearing sand-paper gloves and rubber gear, I jumped below deck and sunk into the chums, pinks, silvers, kings and sockeye up to my waist. The gurry poured into the tops of my boots as I threw fish like mad into a brailer, racing against the outgoing tide that threatened to ground the boats. I was reminded of that slimy job from over 40 years ago as I rode in the van with six other travel writers. Thankfully the only salmon I would handle aboard the 7-day cruise would be on the end of my chopsticks.
After boarding the Millennium in Seward, we settled into our balcony suites. Over the next week, we dined at specialty restaurants, immersed ourselves in the spa, marveled at martini magicians, and watched Broadway-inspired shows. Through shore excursions, we explored Alaskan history and sea life during stops in Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Icy Strait Point.
The Celebrity Millennium cruises are tailored more for grown-up bon vivants than for a family with young children. But hey, the kids are off to summer camp, and in this midsummer window of escape, now is the time for something completely different for mom and dad or two besties: a sailing adventure on an Alaskan cruise in the most luxurious style imaginable. According to Forbes’ recent travel ratings, that would be the Millennium, a beautiful mid-sized ship with impeccable service, offering 7-day Alaska sailings through the summer and into September, either northbound and southbound between Vancouver, B.C. and Seward, Alaska.
In February this year, Celebrity ships earned the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide (FTG) Star Awards, becoming the first ocean cruise line to do so. The five inaugural “resorts at sea” Star-Rated ships are Celebrity Apex, Celebrity Edge, Celebrity Flora, Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Summit.
The Millennium, which received 4 FTG stars from the incognito Forbes inspectors, was part of the line’s fleet-wide modernization in 2019, with more than $500 million in luxury upgrades. While it launched in July of 2000, 23 years ago this month, the upgrades have completely re-imagined “Millie,” as devoted return passengers refer to her. With the average capacity of a cruise ship between 3,000 and 6,000 guests (2,000 to 2,500 rooms) and growing, the Millennium offers a relatively intimate cruise experience with a 1,109 rooms and 1,024 crew.
Onboard, I found the refurbished ship stunning in design throughout. Its interiors are elegant and grand in spaces like the glass-walled elevators that whisk you up and down while the sea shoots by, and in the grand Metropolitan Dining Room, which fills two levels connected with a palatial staircase. Other areas invited with sumptuous intimacy, like the luxury-sofa arrangement in the Rendezvous Lounge. For ultimate luxury, there is The Retreat, a sort of high-end resort—all spacious suites—within the ship that includes a butler, an exclusive restaurant named Luminae, an exclusive lounge, and a private sun deck with a pool, hot tubs and swinging chairs.
Each bar and restaurant on the ship is unique in style and personality, not only in design but in the entire dining experience. The Le Petite Chef dinner is hard to explain, and I’m not sure that I should try, but here goes… Imagine sitting down at the table with your dinner companions, the lights down low, when your plate and the entire table top becomes part of an animated story, with a tiny chef standing on your plate speaking to you, then preparing your dinner and hoisting it into place. There is a story played out with other characters, but I was so dumfounded by the magic that I couldn’t tell you what was going on exactly. The food is real and phenomenal, created by a real full-sized chef. My favorite moment was when Picasso-inspired designs pulsed to jazz music as we ate. Le Petite Chef is a must-see, must-do on this cruise.
I was also completely amazed by the dexterous martini mixologists at the Martini Bar, a crowd favorite for pre-dinner cocktails. The bartenders, all from Bali, juggle shakers and bottles better than Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail, with bar-top dancing like Magic Mike, but that’s just the beginning. Shakers with drink ingredients are then stacked into each other, then the bartender, in an athletic feat, jumps on the bar, holding this stack like an accordion, and pours without spilling a drop, into evenly spaced glasses. Incredible. But the most amazing part of this is that each glass is being filled with a different color of martini blend. We were all shaken and stirred by the magic of these martini showmen.
The weather grew sunnier as our trip progressed, but we began in a profound May gray that added a veil of mystery to the sightings. Nothing can compare to the moment when a bald eagle soared into my view while I was reclining in a hot tub with two friends from Oregon. Excitement grew in the afternoon, a voice came on the PA system, and the captain throttled back on the engines to approach the first attraction on our itinerary, Hubbard Glacier. The silvery sea and gray sky seemed made to order for an eerie encounter with one of the few glaciers that are actually growing through climate change. Passengers filled the front deck and observation area of the Sky Lounge. The ship naturalist, Milos, narrated the scene as we crept forward, as if on little cats paws. Around us, flat water was peppered with ice chunks and with bright bergy bits, as Milos calls them, wannabe icebergs that are smaller than 5 meters across. Growlers is the term for floating ice about the size of a truck that can still cause damage to a ship. There were no growlers and no icebergs revealing themselves from the fog in our direct path, and that’s a good thing. What might appear to the eye to be no match for the hulking bow of Millennium is only 10 percent of an iceberg’s or a growler’s mass. The other 90 percent is underwater. The Hubbard came into view just as the captain could no longer advance safely, and the ship slowed to a stop. Hubbard’s leading edge is a cliff 6 miles wide, and it routinely calves off ice the size of a 10-story building. This can happen below the water line as well, causing enormous icebergs to suddenly shoot up from the sea in a surprise. Ships must keep their distance from the edge. Seventy-six miles long and “surging” into the bay at the rate of 80 feet per year, the Hubbard defies the paradigm of climate change and shrinking ice. It is thickening and growing, and it’s movement is on a biblical scale, on a path to eventually dam a fjord and reshape Disenchantment Bay. Mindful of the many who tried to witness the Hubbard event from the sides of the ship, the captain deftly spun our vessel with the bow thrusters to perform a slow-motion, nautical pirouette. The ominous glacier came into view for every part of the ship: bow, starboard, port and stern.
Shore excursions held more extraordinary moments. I explored the picturesque town of Juneau, with its float planes and mischievous ravens. Out of Icy Strait Point, on a small boat, I was treated to sightings of humpbacks, orcas, otters and seals. In Ketchikan, more bald eagles and a tour of a salmon cannery-turned museum. But my favorite shore excursion was in Skagway, where I rode on the White Pass Railroad, a narrow-gauge train with a guide on board that tells the history of the Yukon Gold Rush and the incredible fortitude of the Stampeders. Skagway was the beginning of a grueling 500-mile journey to get to the gold in Canada’s Klondike region. By the thousands, treasure-seekers came to Skagway to cross the unforgiving terrain, forging ahead in brutal conditions before there was a train. In addition to the fascinating history, the train ride itself offers breathtaking views, as you traverse through the mountains, a view of the harbor below, scaling vertiginous heights and rolling through dark, narrow tunnels.
The sun came out as we cruised through the more protected waters of the Inside Passage. The combination of light and glassy sea created a gorgeous backdrop for the icy wilderness on the shoreline and the small islands covered with spruce trees. This was a day to find a good place to sit, in a lounge or on your own balcony, and stare out at the scenery. It was also the last day at sea. The final stop would be Vancouver, the end of 7 days of luxury and adventure, before it’s back to reality, a place where, sadly, there is no wizard to mix my martinis and no tiny chef to entertain me at dinner. But at least I will have these Millennium memories. www.celebritycruises.com.
Alaska Cruisetour Savings Offer
For advanced booking on 2024 Alaska Cruisetours, (booked from July 07 to August 02, 2023) Celebrity is offering significant savings—applies to 1st/2nd Guests Only
• Up to $800 Savings (Based on 7 Nt. Alaska Retreat Stateroom Double Occupancy)
- Inside $100 per person
- Oceanview $200 per person
- Veranda $300 per person
- Retreat $400 per person
Can be combined with All Included and Refundable Deposit Pricing (All Included is beverage package, WiFi and gratuities)
· Applies to sailings May 10 – September 6, 2024
· Alaska Cruisetours Link to Cruisetours
Written & Photographed By Randall Tierney