Today is the last day! It’s been a fantastic week of lectures, meals, and conversations. We’ve eaten some of the world’s most famous foods, from tandoori naan to sushi and dim sum, and seen some of the most beautiful sights our planet has to offer.
After a week of fancy dinners, fancy drinks, fancy travel, and fancy fun, it’s finally time to go home. After standing outside the airport for a couple of hours, we finally board the plane. As I said goodbye to my friends and made my way back to the airport gate, the sky was clear and the stars were shining brightly. I had a nice, relaxed flight back to Denver, and I was looking forward to a good sleep.Last week Susan Young, a writer and member of the group, left St. John’s. This is the Celebrity Millennium’s first round trip to St. Maarten. She has been talking about her experience all week, and here is her final report. On Thursday, during my week-long cruise on the Celebrity Millennium, the trip sadly came to an end. I had a great time on this cruise and was especially excited to be back on the high seas. But all good things come to an end, they say. Here are some brief accounts of the last few days on the boat, disembarkation, transfers and the airport.
COVID-19 pre-departure test
At the beginning of the sailing week, every guest who is required to take the COVID-19 test (for entry into the U.S. or any other country) was informed before departure that they could choose when to take this test – it is offered free of charge to guests aboard Celebrity Cruises. About 200 guests scheduled their test for Thursday, the other 400 opted for Friday, including me. At the appointed time, I went to the testing room on deck 3. Overall, everything went incredibly smoothly and quickly – a seamless process. Two health professionals enrolled me and then I was led to one of the many individual testing stations in the room. I blew my nose in a handkerchief, the technician stuck a cotton swab in both nostrils, and that was it. The guest flow in the test room was one-way, with passengers entering in one direction and exiting in the other. I was in and out in an instant. Celebrity and her healthcare provider not only had a good plan for this testing process, but more importantly, they executed it extremely well. The other members of my group were of the same opinion. Within an hour I got a message on my phone about the results of the antigen test. Fortunately, my results came back negative. Two vaccinated guests who had taken this routine test the day before were found to be positive. They were isolated, treated by the ship’s medical team, and a contact trace was conducted. But the good news is that the 60 people who were isolated Thursday night have been released because they all tested negative. Besides, all the other guests tested negative, too. The good thing is that Celebrity printed a copy of the negative COVID-19 test – which is required to enter St. Louis. Maarten and the U.S.A. – and delivered it to the door of our cabin or suite that evening while we were eating. When you receive this copy, keep it with your passport and other important documents and be prepared to show it to officials on the day of your departure. I’ve been asked to do this several times. If you are wondering if a traveler leaving the ship at the end of the cruise needs to bring a St. Maarten pre-clearance form to re-enter the country (as I did to enter the country on the day of embarkation), the answer at the time of my cruise was no, both at the guest services department and at the concierge desk. I was told the ship could handle it. (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Preparation for the Sabbath
The day before drop-off, guests received a sheet with details of the procedure and were given color-coded luggage tags. So, as with most cruises, if you want the cruise line to pick up your luggage on the ship itself, you must drop it off at your cabin door with a tag. The celebrity asked guests to hold out until 10pm. Customers who paid cash at the end of the cruise were also asked to top up their SeaPass account by 10pm the night before departure. Customers with a credit card were automatically billed without having to go through customer service. It turned out that Nioman, my cabin steward, had extra duties on some days (including delivering canapés one night!), I tipped him the night before because I didn’t want to miss him when I left. Since most of us hadn’t sailed in a while, I thought it would be easy to forget that I had stuff stowed here and there in the cabin. What am I thinking? It’s very simple. So I emptied the items from my personal safe as soon as I moved into my room the night before landing. Honestly, I was afraid I’d forget to empty it in the morning. Let’s just say I imagined myself at the immigration office searching in vain for my passport, safely stored in a safe. So I did it the day before. And even though we all know we should, I kept telling myself to go through all my drawers and closets looking for personal items – again, the night before. Did Lady Luck favor you at the casino? If you bring tokens in your cabin, remember to redeem them before the end of the cruise as they cannot be redeemed by mail. READ MORE: Royal Caribbean announces protocols and fines for unvaccinated cruisers
End of the journey
Disembarkation began at 7 a.m. Saturday, and all guests were asked to leave their cabins by 8 a.m. and wait in public areas or a designated meeting place, depending on the color and number on their bags. Concierge Class guests were invited to wait in the Sky Lounge for disembarkation, and Retreat Class guests (who stayed in suites) were invited to wait in the Retreat Lounge. Fortunately, most passengers still had time to grab a bite to eat in the morning! Breakfast was offered at the Oceanview Café from 6:00 to 8:30 a.m., the Metropolitan Restaurant from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m., Blu (for AquaClass guests) from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m., and Luminae (for suite guests) from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. Announcements were kept to a minimum in the early morning, except for the call for guests to turn in color-coded numbers. Since I was in a group with individual transfers, we did not disembark until the other guests had also disembarked. Therefore, I was unable to personally supervise the process of reloading or receiving luggage on the street. However, when we walked down the gangway to leave the ship, there were hardly any other guests, so I think everything went relatively smoothly. Reducing capacity by 50% or less will certainly help. Our group took the shuttle to the big tent by the harbor (where we had checked in the week before). We quickly got through security at the entrance to St. Petersburg. We were soon in the transfer car to the airport. Let’s just say that hundreds of cruise passengers heading home, and travelers boarding their flights, created long lines at the terminal. I definitely encountered some additional difficulties during the process at the airport, but it was the first two weeks for shipping service to and from the airport, so I know it’s early days. The airport and contractor staff seemed very supportive, so hopefully the process will be a little less stressful once everyone settles into a more comfortable and familiar routine. For your information: I’ll find out when I fly back to St. Louis. We will be in St. Maarten this Saturday to witness the departure of the revitalized and refurbished Windstar Star Breeze. And in a week I’ll be at the airport again to go back to the US. I will keep you posted in a short update.
Let me conclude with my main conclusions. Overall, I liked the look, the atmosphere, the level of service, the food and the people on the Celebrity Millennium. It is thanks to Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the company’s president and CEO, and her entire team, as well as the ship’s dedicated officers and crew, that the relaunch was a success and that the ship shines so impressively after such a long absence from normal cruise activity, and that the crew performs so well. In my opinion, the protocols worked. Yes, COVID-19 was detected in two vaccinated guests, and while no one knows exactly how this happened, the protocols for treating these cases and tracing contacts worked well. No one else has had positive results. Yes, the paperwork for arrival, testing and boarding was definitely a bit stressful. This is a new way to do it if you want to go on a cruise. Nevertheless, when the crew members spoke warmly: Welcome aboard, or as I relaxed on my private balcony with a cold drink and admired the expanse of water, I wondered if the round trip was worth it. The answer? You betcha. Don’t miss the previous Celebrity Millennium trip reports:
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