Ship Captain Ioannis Kasimatis said it simplest and best. “Welcome back. We missed you.”
That message has been repeated more times than I can count on my seven-night Alaska Dawes Glacier Cruise aboard the Celebrity Millennium. I have seen the welcoming words printed on multiple signs, on the daily cabin newsletter, on a sugar-decorated chocolate cake and even hand painted on a rocky hillside.
And passengers agree that we have missed cruising and are quite happy to be on a Celebrity cruise again.
Our round-trip cruise from Seattle features stops in the Alaska cities of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, plus a close-up view of the Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier and three days at sea.
Leaving the SeattleTacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) seemed like entering a different world where everyone I encountered was grateful to see the world beginning to open after the unexpected pandemic shutdown.
After arriving at Sea-Tac, I headed to the Celebrity shuttle in the parking garage for a short ride to the cruise terminal ship. The shuttle guide who checked my name on the list and the driver of the shuttle both offered those welcoming words.
If you have never taken a ship shuttle, they are very dependable, well organized and reasonably priced. My roundtrip shuttle cost $56 – from airport to ship to start the cruise, from ship to airport at end of cruise. A Lyft ride share costs about $50 one way – if you can find a Lyft available.
Those welcoming words also greeted me when I arrived at the Seattle cruise terminal and had more than an hour to wait before my scheduled check-in to board the ship. Check-ins are scheduled online to avoid long lines of cruisers waiting to board.
On such a beautiful sunny day, a Seattle tour guide outside the terminal suggested I use my waiting time to visit one of the coffee shops down the street or to sit on a nearby park bench overlooking the bay. Instead of giving me directions, the guide walked me to the bench and, again, said she was so glad I was there.
When it was my turn to get in line at the terminal to board the ship, the “Welcome Back” words were emblazoned on huge signs and said aloud by almost everyone I encountered on my short walk through the terminal on my way to the Celebrity Millennium.
Smooth Boarding Process
The boarding process went exceptionally smooth since I had done most of the necessary paperwork at home on my computer. I had entered all the important information and took a selfie cellphone photo so I didn’t have to get in line to have an ID photo taken at the terminal.
I even took the shipboard safety drill on my cellphone at the terminal as I drank a glass of chilled lemon water offered by a crewmember. That was my initial experience with the cellphone technology for the safety drill and I really appreciate it.
The first time my sister Elaine went on an ocean cruise with me, she loved it. All except for the mandatory safety drill, that is. We went to the drill, of course. It is a very important safety procedure and must be done before any ship sets sail.
But, I must admit, standing on that deck years ago in our bulky lifejackets in the hot Florida sun while a crewmember took attendance and then having to wait because several passengers were late was not a pleasant way to start a Caribbean cruise. Elaine stood there silently and solemnly, as though saying, “I’m doing this because I have to. But I’m not going to pretend to enjoy it.”
Over the years, I’ve seen many different variations of the safety muster on other cruise lines.
But this new Celebrity method accomplishes the important task of mandatory drills while doing away with the large shoulder-to-shoulder crowds and waiting times for all passengers to show up.
With Muster 2.0, the key elements of the safety drill – including reviewing what to expect and where to go in case of an emergency and instructions on how to properly use a life jacket – are accessible to passengers through their mobile devices and interactive stateroom TVs.
Passengers can review the information at their own time prior to setting sail, eliminating the need for the traditional large assemblies. After reviewing safety information individually, passengers complete the drill by visiting their assigned assembly stations. There crew members verify that all steps have been completed and answer any questions and check off names of passengers who have done the drill. After that, I was given a sticker to put on my cruise card to signify I had completed all the mandatory safety drill steps.
Every passenger must complete the safety drill prior to the ship’s departure, as required by international maritime law. I did hear over the ship intercom that a few passengers had not completed their individual safety drill and the Millennium would not budge until they did. Those passengers quickly took care of that important drill and we were on our way.
This marks the first dramatic change to the safety drill process in a decade, since ships started moving life jackets from guests’ staterooms to muster stations, which improved the evacuation process and has been widely followed throughout the industry.
Cruise ships and the people who work on them are just as determined to practice COVID-19 precautions as are the passengers who are happy to be cruising once more. No one wants to get sick or to see the cruise industry shut down again. I was very pleased to see the many COVID precautions that were taken before and during my Celebrity Millennium journey.
Remember these are the COVID precautions for my cruise and requirements can change quickly. If you are planning a cruise, be sure to check the requirements for your specific cruise line and for the ports of call your cruise will visit.
– Vaccinations: As of August 1, 2021, all Celebrity passengers age 12 and older must be fully vaccinated and show proof of vaccination. Unvaccinated children ages six months to 11 years must complete a complimentary COVID-19 test at the terminal prior to boarding a Celebrity ship. On my cruise, tests results were taking anywhere from a half hour to two hours while those being tested were kept in an isolated area.
– Proof of Vaccination: To board, I had to show proof of vaccination which I was given when I had two Pfizer shots in March 2021. The vaccine must have been administered at least 14 days prior to the cruise.
– Wellness Questionnaire: Passengers had to answer wellness screening questions which I did on my cellphone in the terminal. Questions included whether I had a sore throat, cold, cough, had been around someone who had COVID and more.
– Masks: Masks are not required for vaccinated passengers while onboard the ship.
– Masked Crew Members: All crew members must wear masks even though they have all been vaccinated. Entertainers also wear masks except when they are on stage. Even the ship captain wears a mask except when he is speaking to passengers from a stage.
– Crew Cannot Leave Ship in Ports: Crew members are not allowed to leave the ship at ports of call. My dining room waiter Sugianto from Indonesia told me he had not been off the ship in four months and really missed picking up necessities at Walmart and Costco. “But we are so happy to be back on the ship,” he added. “We are doing whatever we can to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
– Hand Sanitizers: Hand sanitizer stations are everywhere around the ship as well as on the gangway. Crew members can be seen constantly cleaning handrails, bars, tabletops and staterooms.
– No Self-Serve Buffet: The popular ship buffet is no longer self-serve. All the different delicious food stations are still there but kitchen staff now serve food chosen by passengers which I much prefer even without pandemic precautions. Long before COVID hit, I stopped buying anything from the self-serve salad bar at my local Kroger supermarket. Seeing what some shoppers did at that buffet was enough to turn my stomach. I also was sad to see children on another cruise ship playing in the self-serve ice cream station and laughing as ice cream spilled out of the kid-controlled ice cream spigot onto the floor before COVID brought about this much-appreciated, self-serve change.
– Hand-Washing Stations: Hand-washing sinks are available behind a partitioned area at the entrance to the ship buffet. A crew member stands by to encourage passengers to wash their hands before enjoying the buffet.
– Safety Spacing: Theatre seats have signs that some spots are reserved for no seating in order to practice safety distancing. Signs also are in elevators and other spaces asking that safety distancing be observed.
– Masks Required Ashore: Alaska health authorities have asked that all guests, including fully vaccinated people, wear masks while ashore. Masks also are required on public transportation including buses, vans, aircraft, airport and tour boats. On-Your-Own tours are permitted in Alaska ports of call but families with unvaccinated children are asked to take a Celebrity curated tour to go ashore.
So that is it. When I took my last cruise aboard Celebrity Equinox in February 2020, I certainly never knew that cruises and travel in general would cease for more than a year. I must have been a mermaid in a previous life because I have definitely missed watching the ocean and the sea creatures.
Now that I am onboard the Celebrity Millennium, I will write more later about the ship, my cabin, the cuisine, entertainment, shore excursions and so many other things that make any cruise special. Hope you come along to see what we discover as the Celebrity Millennium visits awesome Alaska.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch
- Celebrity Millennium is again offering Alaska cruises (cover photo, too)
- Ship Captain Ioannis Kasimatis welcomes passengers.
- Ports of call on the seven night Alaska Dawes Glacier Cruise.
- Complimentary hand sanitizer and masks are in each guest cabin.
- A hand-washing station at the entrance to the ship buffet.
- The dessert buffet has a welcoming sign.
- Cellphones can now be used for the mandatory safety drill.
- Even a mandatory mask cannot hide the welcome smile of waiter Sugianto.
See Celebrity Cruises sailings here, including Celebrity Millennium: Celebrity Cruises
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