Year Started: 1988
Ships in Fleet: 10
Summary: This premium cruise line features beautiful ships on itineraries world-wide. Excellent cuisine, great service, roomy staterooms. Modern Luxury at value prices.
Regions:Caribbean Western, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Overall Service. Foodies. Value for Money.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Seniors. Foodies. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Foodies. Value for Money.
Regions:Caribbean, Panama Canal, Europe
Good for: Seniors. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii, Inland Waterways
Good for: Seniors. Singles. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Mediterranean Eastern, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Foodies. Overall Service. Value for Money.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Bermuda, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Good for: Group. Singles. First-time Cruisers.
As a fan of the M-class ships, this was a disappointment to us.
Main Dining Room Dinner: The cut of the meats seemed to be lower quality than on previous X cruises. Presentation fine, but never arrived hot.
Breakfast: This was always very good in the main dining room. (We did not try lunch there.)
Cabins The bathroom is fine, but the stateroom closets are smaller and more importantly for me the drawers are too few. The top drawer gets very, very warm, so be careful what you keep in there. The overhead bed storage would be a problem if you were petite. The handicapped accessible stateroom (friends had) did not have the overhead storage. Personally I do not like to keep things in one large pile. The TV was nice. You can adjust it so viewing in bed is fine. Bedding nice and comfortable. Our bump out cabin 7278 had part of the X logo below the railing, but it did not bother us.
There is a large safe. Can easily fit important items in it.
The Murano specialty dining was not up to the same level as the Oceanliners; it is quitenoisy if you have the wine room booked (as we did). The Ensemble Lounge is on the other side of the entry door. Not one in our party of six raved about the food or service. Other passengers we met gave mixed reviews of all three specialty restaurants; most of the high marks went to the Tuscan. The Ensemble Lounge reminded me more of a hotel lobby than an actual lounge.
The Solarium air temp was always chilly. There were youngsters in the pool a lot. The outdoor pool and hot tubs had young children in them. (This of course can/will change from cruise to cruise.) Lots of chairs available, plenty of fresh/clean pool towels.
We never saw the cruise director walking around the ship, and the activities were so-so. (Of course that changes with new contracts on all ships.)
Celebrity notified smokers when they checked in at the pier about the newest changes to smoking restrictions; lots of unhappy smokers.
The Oceanview Cafe (buffet) was nice, bright and plenty of tables/chairs. Independent stations to get your food, no lines to wait in. Decent food/selection. The pasta station could be better, but in a pinch would do. Always lines for the ice cream.
The mid-ship elevators usually had at least 2 out of service. It seemed more for keeping the glass clean than a mechanical issue.
Grass was 'resting' a lot. For us it was just a large waste of space. The Glass Blowing demo was usually too crowded to get a good view, and/or the winds were kicking up too much to stay out there.
Photographers, especially at port stops, were too pushy. I am not one who likes pictures taken, and they did not seem to understand "No Thanks."
We did not spend any time in the casino, but walking by it never seemed really crowded.
Bistro on Five: Pax we spoke to who ate at Bistro were very happy with it. Reminder: There is a small surcharge. Originally it was to have been no charge.
Men and women have separate salon areas on the Solstice. On our cruise the choice of nail color was very limited. Hopefully they have since added to their inventory. I was not happy with the color choice or the manicure.
Observation Lounge: This is nice, large, and has great views. There is a decent size dance floor. Service will probably get better given a little more time. Location prohibits just stopping in for a drink.
Quasar: We walked in and looked around, then left. Just not our cup of tea. Some activites held there included the WII gaming.
Theatre: Comfy seats, so-so shows.
The ship is new, nice and different, very bright and done in white/cream/beige and chrome. (Not a 'warm' feeling to it.) Every space is dedicated to something; no nooks or comfy seats tucked in here and there to chill out, do some people watching, or read a book.
Crew Some familiar faces; wonderful to see crew members from other cruises. Some of the crew just seemed to be tired. (Understandable, given this was the first regular cruise for Solstice.) Our stateroom attendants (Jose and Agos) and dining staff (Ben and Bradley) were wonderful and very accommodating.
We booked this cruise in June 2007 only because it was a maiden voyage. We are not planning another Solstice cruise.
Embarkation/Disembarkation Both Embarkation and disembarkation went smoothly. We were off the ship an hour earlier than our 'scheduled' time. No problems with luggage.
I have had a terrible experience with Celebrity. I had planned a family reunion with 27 people on Celebrity's Alaskan cruise. When I was told that infants under 6 months of age are not permitted, I reached out to Celebrity's Special Needs Department. I spoke with several supervisors, none of who could explain their policy and respond to my question as to why the threshold is 6 versus 5 months (our baby would have been 5 months old by the time of the cruise).
It was utterly impossible to engage in a meaningful conversation as each of them reiterated, "It's the policy and we don't make exceptions," as the response no matter the question asked. At one point, a Celebrity representative explained that the policy made sense because "babies don't make the decision about whether to cruise, so we (i.e., Celebrity) have to look out for the interests of the baby." When I requested to speak with the person who created the policy, to gain a better understanding, the response was, "He will not speak to you -- he's a Vice President."
I recognize that companies must have policies, but they should makesense and customer-interfacing representatives ought to be able to explain them. I have less of an issue with the policy itself -- my issue is with the lack of competence and professionalism on Celebrity's part. For example, one of the more senior supervisors, Travis, promised to research the issue and call me on August 5. When I called to follow up on August 12, I was told I would receive a return phone call in a few minutes. I did not receive a call from Travis until August 21, over 2-1/2 weeks later. He claimed to have needed extra time to look into the matter. I respect a person's need for more time, but as a matter of good business protocol, he should have called me no later than August 5, as promised, and he should have updated me on the status of my request.
If you are considering Celebrity, but have special requests or needs, I would caution you against cruising with them based on my experience.
We just returned from a 14 day cruise to Northern Europe on the Constellation.
As usual, Celebrity ships are beautiful and the service is always good -- especially in the dining room and cabin. However, we were very dissapointed with the food in the dining room. We had sailed on the Infinity to Alaska a few years ago and were looking forward to the same excellent cuisine. Unfortunately, the food did not meet our expectations. It was bland, unimaginative and tasteless. There were very few offerings for desserts and those were also tasteless.
To be fair, however, the food selection in the buffet -- especially for breakfast -- was very good.
Our itinerary, Venice to Barcelona, was called "Mediterranean Classics". Much has been written elsewhere about each port, so I will comment on my shipboard experience for those considering traveling aboard the Summit.
EMBARKATION I reached the pier by water taxi in Venice. My luggage, three quite heavy cases, was taken quickly at the dock and I passed through the embarkation process quickly, in less than 15 minutes. There were many people embarking, but the system in place was efficient and Celebrity wisely stationed the right amount of agents to welcome and register guests. Also, the port terminal was climate controlled & my first contact was an articulate, sharply dressed, efficient young woman in a blue suit. The immediate impression was one of confidence and sophistication.
CABIN I stayed in an outside cabin at the front of the ship that was well engineered, comfortable and ergonomic. The cabinets have a pear-wood affect and there is ample storage, including drawer and hanging space in a three portion wardrobe. (N.B.: The door and cabinet hardware seem to be precision engineered; that means that latches and handles operate as intended and do not click, rattle or jam, evenon rough sea days). The safe was easy and intuitive to operate. A corner unit adjacent to the wardrobe housed a standard (tube, not flat screen) television, mini-bar and high cabinet with extra pillows, one of which was composed of a special hypo-allergenic polymer that offered excellent lift and support for poor sleepers like me.
Bedding The queen-sized bed was made up of two twin units placed together, but fixed into position so that the division between them was mostly imperceptible. The bed was triple sheeted in high thread count contrasting (tan/white) linens that were not pure cotton, but of a combination of fibers that felt smooth to the touch and "breathed" with the skin, important on a passage to ports with very hot summer weather (Athens and Rome), even though the climate control cooled and dehumidified the cabin well.
Cabin Details Three large full height mirrors lined a wall of the cabin, divided with handsome wood affect frames. A sitting area adjacent to the window included a small settee (a twin pullout in a dense, quality twill fabric), sturdy frosted glass coffee table and a polished limestone writing desk with an upholstered chair that could be turned to face the coffee table to create a conversation area. The desk had storage areas beneath it for books and travel guides that helped keep the surfaces in the cabin clear. Also, the desk area had independently controlled lighting and dual power outlets -- thoughtful inclusions. There was a very deep windowsill that held champagne and ice buckets and drink platter easily; again, allowing more surface space in the cabin to give an overall feeling of spaciousness.
Bath The bath was compact but well engineered, with a very powerful, easily operated white tile shower and ample storage under the white and cream sink and vanity. Recent repairs to caulking and tile were done to a professional standard, nearly imperceptible to all but the closest observers like me. Towels were of high quality, absorbent cotton terry with bands of knitted cotton, alternating tan and white colors each day. A fresh yellow rose was placed alongside the sink in a vase that stayed stable and upright even on a rough day at sea.
In summary, the cabin resembled a small, well appointed European business class hotel. The furnishings were tasteful and well designed, in excellent condition and very clean. Cabin service was intuitive (my attendant quickly noticed that I prefer extra pillows) and polite (knocking softly when delivering canapes and calling by telephone when I inadvertently left the do not disturb sign on my door one evening).
SERVICES The Maitre d'hotel, Youssef, was gracious, smiled easily and helped many passengers find the right dinner seating. Our server was amiable and talkative, but also very efficient and obviously experienced. The sommelier was slightly inflexible and mildly abrasive, drawing comments from my table mates. The assistant waiters were extremely attentive and ambitious, filling water glasses, bread baskets and smiling graciously. The hospitality management model shows an obvious emphasis on promotion from within. Most members of Cosmopolitan dining staff want to build fidelity in passengers and it shows.
Laundry/Dry Cleaning Quite reasonably priced for shipboard facilities and also reliable. The pressing seemed to be hand finished and the dry cleaning turn-around time was quick, a day or less for standard service.
Technology Internet access was reliable overall, limited to the midship area. I dealt personally with two members of the computer room staff -- Rose and Rafael -- each of whom impressed me greatly with their acumen and resourcefulness.
Excursion Staff Hard working and well organized. They used colored stickers and escorts with numbered paddle signs to help passengers find the gangways, shuttles and tenders. Groups met in the ship's theater or lounge and were given ample time to assemble before departing. Chilled water was offered for sale on a bar cart, and frequently offered again for free when the tour re-assembled. Cold towels at the returning gangway were a thoughtful inclusion in the summer heat. The tour staff dealt well with difficult passengers and wisely put the experience of the group above that of late or missing participants upon departure, a difficult but necessary aspect of managing tours.
Activity Staff Adroit, personable, kind and patient with passengers of different ages and dispositions, including small children and particularly several elderly passengers and those traveling alone. The team was sincere and easily approachable. They obviously wanted to set passengers at ease and keep them involved in their programs, which varied from the hugely popular bingo games to smaller puzzle and trivia groups, and enrichment lectures. This is a team that smiled easily and showed enthusiasm for their work. The team also seemed larger than it actually is, because the members adopted different roles throughout the day.
Leadership/Communication The cruise director on our passage was omnipresent, introducing entertainers, hosting and promoting shipboard events, chatting amiably with crew and staff throughout the day and continually smiling at passengers in each stateroom through televised shipboard news segments that ran on a loop on a special TV channel. During our sailing, he was frequently joined on camera by the port/shopping guide, a Canadian with an encyclopedic knowledge of port customs, geographically specific goods and merchandise and potentially hidden costs and complications for inexperienced tourists. She was very clear, specific and polished in her televised presentations and quite earnest and warm with individual passengers at her desk, and at the gangway and in port. She seemed available to every passenger at all times, hungrily and indefatigably seeking out their questions and concerns, and with seemingly limitless patience. Impressive.
FOOD/BEVERAGE Highlights included Poached Salmon with saffron Mayonnaise in Aqua Spa, a very good chocolate souffle in the Normandy Restaurant. Also, good, strong afternoon teas (informal self-service) included sandwiches that were very fresh. Savory breakfast pastries (quiches, ham/cheese croissants) served warm in an area called "Cova Cafe" by a lovely woman, Delores, and quite good specialty coffee. The Maitre 'd hotel in the Normandy and Aqua Spa recognized individual passengers warmly. He was one of a handful of staff who made the Celebrity Summit feel like a smaller, more intimate cruise experience.
We booked this cruise as my daughter's high school graduation present. The flight from home to JFK in New York was delayed four hours and we would miss our non-stop connection to Venice, so I called the airline to rebook us and they found a flight on Air France with a plane change in Paris. The connection was tight but we made it dashing through the airport, and arrived in Venice, without our luggage. In fact, there were 50 cabins on the ship whose luggage did not arrive before sailing. It was not located and forwarded until 4 days later. I contacted the 24 hour assist line at Travel Guard and they tracked it down and arranged to have it forwarded to Santorini. The ship provided free overnight laundry and provided me a tux and my wife and daughter dress shoes for the formal night.
While my wife and I had packed 2 days clothes in our carryon, my daughter hadn't bothered and had almost nothing extra with her, so we spent the second day in Venice buying some clothes for my daughter, underwear and socks, and a dress shirt andtie for me. It did get us out of St Mark's Square and into the side streets and shops of Venice. The first informal night was that night. There were 3 informal nights and 3 formal nights on this itinerary.
We had booked a category 2C balcony cabin, 6047. The cabin had a single sofa bed and the queen. If the sofa bed was open there was no space for the coffee table, and the room steward put it on the balcony. Closet space was adequate for the three of us and there were robes. There is an interactive TV and besides free movies, CNN International was available.
We had been assigned to a table for six for dining, but after seeing the maître 'd the first afternoon, we were assigned to our own table, at a table for 4. As this was the longest cruise we had been on I was curious if there would be much repetition on the dinner menu. My wife prefers to eat fish, and there was a different fish offering every night, including lobster. Prime rib was offered 3 times, but there was a variety of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and even duck, as well as a pasta choice every night. They did offer on various nights crepe suzettes, cherries jubilee, and baked Alaska. Service was superb from our wait staff, wine steward, and bar waitress. The had a brunch one day in the dining room from 10 to 1pm with a wide variety of offerings from omelets to carving stations. They also had one night they called a "white night" where everyone was encouraged to wear white and they served an international buffet in the pool area with the lounges removed and tables and chairs provided, instead of dining room meals. There was musical entertainment and several international food stations, including Greek, Italian, and French.
There is a grill in the very back of the lido-like buffet area which some people overlook. In the mornings it has French toast and waffles, and made to order sandwiches at lunch. The pizza station offers 3 or 4 varieties of pizza by the slice and will even make a pizza to order. My wife was pleased that they often also offered grilled veggies.
There were 3 omelet stations in the morning that can make any eggs to order, and they offered smoked salmon or gravlox every day, something I have missed on some other cruise lines.
In the solarium pool area, near the spa, they also offer health conscious light lunch food for several hours at mid day. The warm thalassotherapy pool in the adults only solarium was my favorite spot on sea days.
Entertainment consisted of 2 review-style shows which also included two aerialists. The other nights were a variety of comedians, musicians, and singers. There were a variety of music and dancing venues, ranging from oldies, to rock and pop in the disco, to classical. The Martini Bar is a popular spot, and offers martini flights of 6 samplers, and a champagne flight. The Cova Café offers Italian wine flights. They had three wine tastings during the cruise in the dining room in the afternoons. The first was a festival style, the first we've encountered aboard ship. They had wine stations from Italy, France, Spain, Australia, and the New World and light appetizers and you could go from table to table for almost 2 hours. The second features Reidel glassware and premium wines, and the third was a food and wine pairing session with various food items to compare with three wines.
Although we were berthed in Venice, the ship provided shuttle tenders to/from the town for $20 per person per day. In Dubrovnik they provided shuttle buses for $10 per person. We tendered in Santorini, and Villefrance, but they used commercial tenders and service was quick. All other ports we were berthed at piers.
When the ship leaves Venice it sails right through Venice, past St Mark's and the other islands. The view from the ship is excellent.
I hadn't been to Dubrovnik in over 30 years and it is still a marvel. We toured the Franciscan Monastery, walked the town, had lunch, and found bathing suits for my wife and daughter who were still without luggage. They don't use Euro, but rather Kuna, and it is not usable elsewhere. Credit cards are widely accepted, however.
This was my first visit to Santorini and the scenery of this volcanic island is spectacular. The white painted masonery town on the top overlooks the steep cliffs with the ship anchored below. There is a funicular for 4 Euros or a donkey ride for 5 Euros up the side of the cliff. We shopped on cobblestone pedestrian only streets and visited several churches before having an outstanding lunch of tzatziki, grilled cheese, village salad, and local wine. The weather was very hot. We rode the donkeys down the hill at my daughter's urging. It might have been less intimidating riding them up!
In Athens we had hired in advance a half day tour with George the Taxi Driver, whom I had used before. We drove from Piraeus to the Acropolis where we purchased a ticket for 12 Euros, and only 4 for my 18 year old daughter, which also admitted us to the Agora and Museum later. From the Acropolis we went to the Temple of Zeus and the Olympic stadium where the modern Olympics were resumed in the early 1900's, and then to the funicular ride up Mt Lykovetos (6 Euros). We also stopped at Syntagma Square to watch the changing of the guard in costumes at the tomb of their unknown soldiers. We then spent the afternoon walking through the Plaka and the Monistraki flea market area and a late afternoon Greek lunch before taking the Metro back to Piraeus for .80 Euro each. The ship was docked too far to walk, so we took a taxi from the Metro station to the pier for 6 Euro.
In Naples we docked in an industrial port area, while the MSC and Costa ships were able to berth at the terminal. We walked to the train station and purchased train tickets for a round trip ride to Pompeii. The tickets were 4.8 Euros each and the train took 45 minutes. The entrance to Pompeii is a block from the train station and admission is 11 Euros per person. Another very hot day but we enjoyed the walk all around this amazing city destroyed by lava from Mt Vesuvius and not rediscovered until the 1800's.
After the train back to town we took a taxi from the station to the Castle of the Egg on the waterfront and walked along the waterfront, finding a sidewalk café for pizza and wine in the birthplace of pizza! After lunch we walked to the San Carlo Opera House, and by the castle area and took a taxi back to the ship. I had been to Naples many times while in the Navy, but this was my first trip to Pompeii.
The next day was an early arrival in Civitavecchia for the visit to Rome. We had hired a car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours, owned by an American, for 9 hours and a guided tour of the Vatican by a professional guide. We spent 4 hours touring churches, the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, the Circus Maximus, and more. At 2pm we met our guide and had a detailed explanation of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. We took time for a late afternoon lunch in a nearby trattoria and then the ride back to the ship.
Livorno was also an early arrival for our visit to Florence and Pisa. We had another car and driver from Bob's Limos and Tours for 9 hours. We drove to Michaelango Plaza overlooking Florence and by the old walls and past Pitti Palace, then into the city. We had time to walk the pedestrian area by the churches, the Accademia, the Uffizi Gallery, and across the Ponti Vecchio. We then drove into the Tuscan countryside to a villa and estate winery where we had an Italian luncheon of antipasto, pasta, chicken and salad and three wines. After lunch we drove to Pisa for a brief photo opportunity with the leaning tower, the baptistery and the church, and then back to the ship. We actually had about a 10-1/2 hour tour, with the only delay due to heavy traffic heading into Florence in the morning.
In Villefrance we anchored and took a short tender ride from the waterfront. The beach is within easy walking distance. Instead we chose to walk to the train station and buy roundtrip train tickets to Cannes for 12.8 Euros per person. The trains are modern and air-conditioned. In Cannes we walked from the station to the waterfront and marina. The building where they hold the Cannes Film Festival has a red carpet on the stairs and everyone poses on it. After a walk along the waterfront by the classic hotels, we headed back to the train station and took the short ride back to Nice. Again we walked to the waterfront and stopped in a few stores and had lunch in a café on a plaza. We caught the train back for the very short trip to Villefrance and back to the ship.
For debarkation they provide everyone with a meeting place and time to be called to disembark. Since we had a post-cruise hotel booked by the cruise line, we were the last to leave. The transfer took us to the Grand Hotel Havana, about 4 blocks northeast of the Plaza de Cataluna. While the rooms weren't available till 3pm, they stored the luggage. We walked back to the Plaza and purchased tickets for the hop on/hop off double-decker tourist buses. There are three routes, and we rode them all, transferring from line to line. The tickets were 17 Euros each and it took about 4-1/2 hours to ride them all, taking photos along the way, but not getting off to sightsee. It was a great way to see the whole city, and in several previous visits to Barcelona I had not really gotten beyond the Ramblas and the Gothic quarter. After finishing the bus tour we strolled the Ramblas and had lunch at a sidewalk café there. Then we went back to the hotel for a swim in the rooftop pool and then to dinner at a restaurant that has been in business a very long time and has hundreds of photos of VIP's hung on the walls, Las Caracoles. We taxied back to the hotel as we were to be in the lobby for the airport transfer at 7:10am. As the hotel breakfast opened at 7 we asked for a bagged lunch. They had it ready in the morning but the transfer bus didn't show up on time and we had time eat in the dining room where a hot buffet breakfast was included. The ride to the airport is short. The flight back to Newark from Barcelona was uneventful, but once back in the US we were again at the mercy of the not on time domestic airlines and arrived home about 3 hours late.
In summary, we had a great time on the Celebrity Summit. The ship is in great condition and the service is excellent. Every crew member we met was very accommodating. The were trying some innovative things like a toga night in the disco, the White Night dining, a brunch, and the "wine festival" wine tasting. The florist was able to provide corsages for my wife and daughter. The Assistant Maitre 'd was at our table every night and ordered some special dishes for my daughter. Currency was exchanged on request at the Guest Relations desk, at the rate of about $1.61 USD to the Euro. The food was very good, but the presentation could have been with more flair. The itinerary was excellent with two ports I had not visited despite having lived in Greece for 3 years and visiting a number of ports while on Navy ships. Venice and Santorini were my first visits there. Well done, Celebrity, for a fine graduation trip for my daughter.
London -- Harwich We thought we were lucky to discover "cruise trains" run by National Express, one per major sailing date this summer. We stayed at the Hyatt Andaz one block from the Liverpool Street Station, terminus for the "cruise trains" to Harwich. The Andaz is a very high tech, mod version of the old Great Eastern Hotel.
However, you can NOT count on the trains to run. Folks on the previous sailing had no trains TO the ship per the online reviews. We found out at the end of the cruise when they decided to work on the tracks (some Brits told us that was a ruse -- they just didn't want to pay the weekend labor). So now instead of a train to hold all of us and 2 weeks' cruise worth of luggage -- they sent a bus. Few could board that one. The next had no luggage hold -- so we stood out there another 2 hours til busses could hold us and our luggage.
Solution is to buy the ship's transfer. We balked at the price but regret that now. Not worth doing it on yourown when you don't know the port and you have to rely on small town transport.
Embarkation The train pulls up right next to the ship docks. Easy walk of one long block or so. No steps or stairs required for those so challenged. Some folks had paid no attention to the luggage tags given out in advance by Celebrity so that caused a hang-up as the porters had no clue who was coming or going, etc. Read your instructions, folks.
We arrived around 1:00 and had no trouble checking in. Heading up the gangplank was maybe a ten minute delay for security checks. Printing up the paperwork in advance off the Celebrity website made it smooth. We were greeted in the very attractive atrium by staff bearing platters of champagne. Period. No water or sparkling cider or juice. Everyone doesn't drink alcohol. It would have been nice to offer everyone a beverage after traipsing all the way to the coast and having paid lots of money for this cruise. Minor complaint.
Stateroom 6087 Easy to find. Mid-ship. Balcony was nice and felt more private than some on other lines. Well designed. Tasteful, clean, modern look - nothing garish or too mod. Bathroom is THE best of my ten cruises. Perfect sized shower for a non-suite category. Love that the shower curtain is affixed to the wall at one end so water can't easily flood the floor. Soaps provided. Hairdryer provided. Shaver outlets provided. Combination shampoo/conditioner in shower dispenser. Bathrobes provided. Umbrellas provided (and never used - hooray). One gifted canvas shoulder bag for going ashore. Ice bucket filled twice per day. Less movies on the tv than in years past unless you now want to pay. We never lost CNN coverage on this itinerary. Also some CBS comedy shows, sports and lots of ship info channels. View the enrichment lectures on upcoming ports from the comfort of your stateroom.
Cabin Attendant Fabian The best of my ten cruises. Service is what makes Celebrity so special, in my opinion. I also love the look of the ships, the cleanliness and the food - but the service overall is just so nice. Esp. after last sailing on a Holland America ship with an intentionally antagonistic F&B manager. And a cabin attendant we never knew the name of. Celebrity is number one in my book for service so thanks again Fabian.
One of the special things he did for us was to re-arrange the beds. They were not separated as we had requested. Nor had they been at the $500 a nite Andaz in London. No biggie so long as corrected before bed. What we changed after the first nite was keep Patty's bed adjacent to the bathroom and move the head of my bed up against the verandah window. This was the fix for my snoring that I am told penetrates right thru the ear plugs. Put the couch between the two beds so it all fits. Then the couch looks straight out the verandah rather than a side view so some folks would prefer that anyway. Each nite I pushed the heavy glass coffee table against the sliding glass door so I wouldn't hit it en route to the bathroom. The only thing I couldn't do in that configuration was use the bedside lamp. No biggie. And now I could peer out the window at the moon, bridges, islands, etc. Loved it.
Dining One of the reasons I love to cruise. Somehow I managed not to gain my usual pound per day on this one. Perhaps all the walking in Russia helped. We had the early seating for dinner. Very nice room as far as visuals. Not conducive to chat though. Noise level too high with so many folks coming and going and tableware clanking. Service was very pleasant but an occasional mistake in getting the right dish to the right patron. You could always choose from a standard selection menu if nothing appealed to you that night. New York steak, Caesar salad, etc. Nice backup plan.
Had some lovely entrees -- fish and steaks are certainly good enough for me. Midwestern tastes and not a gourmet. Willing to try the chilled fruit soups and some other rarities and enjoyed them. Everyone at our table agreed the soups are the best course on Celebrity - hot or cold - try em all. People seemed to concur that the seafood was high caliber. Loved the fish but can't testify to any shellfish myself. Pork chop one night was so juicy and tender. One woman at our table charmed the waiter into bringing an extra entrée for the table to share when we had trouble making a decision. Several nights people ordered a second serving of the entrée - and the plates were never left empty. We were quite pleased. Baked Alaska for the final formal dinner (of three). Nice coconut and exotic fruit desserts the other nights were superb.
Four of us went to the OceanLiners restaurant for dinner in memory of my mom's birthday. The room is dedicated to grand liners of the past, with panels from the Ile de France on one wall and display cases of historic ship memorabilia in the mosaic tiled foyer. Perfect way to sail out of St. Petersburg, dining to harp music, light in the air (sunset at nearly 11 p.m.) and the table surrounded by four or five handsome fellows so they could serve each course in unison to their eager patrons. Patty said it was the best steak she has had in her life. My fish dish was delicious. They added a free appetizer. Free petits fours. You felt very satisfied for this elegant change of pace one special evening. The $30 sounds steep but was worth every penny. I loved my chocolate soufflé. May I order one by mail??
Here is the menu for you to start salivating over: Starters: Classic Lobster Bisque, Tomato, Red Pepper & Mozzarella Soup, Caesar Salad, Salad of Diced Vegetables and Lobster, Smoked Salmon with Tuna Carpaccio, Twice Baked Goat Cheese Souffle, Frog Legs Provencale, Escalope of Foie Gras Normandy, Chilled Asparagus - sauce Gribiche. Entrees: Whole Dover sole Meuniere (YUM-O), Grilled Filet of Sea Bass, Scallops & Lobster, Magret of duck with sliced pears, Rack of Lamb in Puff Pastry, Large Shrimps Flambee, Saltimbocca alla Romana, Risotto al Funghi, Tenderloin Steak Diane. Cheese: A selection of Fine French Cheeses, apples, grapes and walnut bread. Desserts: Zabaglione with marsala, Coconut Crème Brulee, Chocolate Souffle, Chocolate and Orange Segment Mousse Cake, Light Lemon and Lime Mascarpone cheesecake, Ice creams and sorbets, bite-size surprises, coffee and petits fours.
From the sublime to the not, my reality check for Celebrity F&B folks. Room service quality has gone way down. Not only has the portion size decreased a third, the quality has too. The pepperoni pizza was decent, the tuna sandwich passable, the chefs salad not. The cookies are good. Beverage selection meager. I know - with all that good food in other venues, why whine about this? In certain ports, odd timing and all - you really need something delivered on occasion. One GOOD thing about room service in 08 versus my last Celebrity cruise in 04, you can now get the deluxe dinner from the main dining room menu. Just let your cabin attendant know before dinner service has begun. That was nice. Room service otherwise needs improvement.
Buffets were better than in past. More variety. Salads seemed more inventive here than in the main dining room. Lots of fresh fruits and cheeses. LOVE the POG - passion fruit, orange and guava juice, as well as lemonade in the self serve dispensers next to the iced tea, coffee, and water. Omelet station was very popular and for good reason. Also high quality for the waffles and French toast served at the rear of the other dining lines. Had some delicious BBQ and beef dishes worthy of the main dining room. Very nice quality overall. A healthy spa cuisine option at their end of the deck. The pool area right outside the main buffet has burgers, hot dogs and tacos. Also potato salad, other salad fixings too up until 6 pm daily. Or was it 5?
One downside re: buffet service -- some of the guys did not have the English skills to tell me what I was ordering. This happened more than once. They smiled and tried - but I really couldn't grasp what was being served and no identifying labels out front in the dessert section in particular. Ah well -ate it anyway! Separate ice cream areas were very popular. Several exotic fruit and non-sugar options to choose from as well as the usual favorites. Cups or cones, your choice.
My overall take on the food this cruise, I am very pleased. When about 50 pct. of what I taste is delicious, and another 25 pct. very good - I can easily forgive the remainder being average or even on rare occasion just not worth having. The one area I would skip in future was the do it yourself pasta bar. Once they add the veggies- you have an inch of water in the bottom. But again, I focus on the 50 pct delicious mark and ache to return when I am so fortunate. On the other cruise lines, I am afraid they hit delicious maybe 10 pct of the time. Not Celebrity. YUM.
Public Areas Lumping a lot of things together here for brevity so I can cover the Shore Excursions at more length on this port-intensive cruise. The theater is top notch - great lighting and sight lines. Well attended. Some of the solo acts were world class - the man who played Phantom in Australia, the gal who did Evita in the West End, classical musicians from top circuits in the world. Entertainment gets a high mark. The regular show cast has very talented singers and dancers - well choreographed, lavishly costumed, and most shows a real winner. The Broadway show rates 8 or 9 out of ten. The finale from around the world had dancers doing Irish and Can Can and Russian and Jazz - well done. Singers do Verdi arias as well as heartfelt national tunes. The aerialists were of the Cirque de Soleil genre and a big hit. The Latin theme show was not quite up to the same level. How many Ricky Martin numbers can one endure. There is only one Ricky and he wasn't on board, sorry to say.
Spa was wildly popular. Nice facilities. Hard to book so don't delay once you get onboard. One fun feature was a silent auction near the end of the cruise. You can bid for any spa treatments, including the teeth whitening at a bargain price. Women looked great coming out with their hair and nails done.
Lounges were very tasteful, pleasant music, nice art throughout the ship -- some of it a bit too modern for me but most of it quite interesting and well positioned. Shops had some fun events - Russian fashion show and "spot the fake amber" and so on. They brought out lots of Russian dolls,hats,chocolates,jewelry, etc. so you had plenty of shopping opportunities right on board.
Disappointed in the highly touted arboretum. They're silks, not live flowers.
I went to one of the ship's free classes. Most now come with a charge. Dino was very good with explaining how to store your photos online at home with various programming tips. Class was full so book early.
Casino had a lot of jackpots coming and going. I had the feeling I would hit my mom's favorite numbers on keno on her birthday. And sure enough, I put in $60 and all five came in for nearly $800. Tasty treats on trays in the casino late nites - but that does NOT make up for the lack of a midnight buffet. None - all gone. Kaput. The previous sailing had the final one under new policy. I know we are all eating less, and being more green and so on - but not ONE on a 2 wk. premium cruise? When they announced the ice carving display near the pool it felt like a slap that they still show off these skills but with NO buffet?? Sigh -- an unexpected change.
Shore Excursions/Ports Amsterdam: Been numerous times before so I didn't get off. I was lazy that day. Also we were given the impression the ship was far from the Central Station and central area I was familiar with. Our view was of modern apartments and minimal dock facilities. Once we went up to the buffet (an hour before sailing away) I could see we actually were close to some interesting ship museums, etc. and not so far away for one to walk it. Sigh. This was an ongoing source of frustration. Various staff members would guess how far we docked from port cities and some were so far off base, I'd prefer they had said they just didn't know. I like to get off and do some exploring on my own even though I also bought tours in every port. You might as well buy the ship's shuttle passes with the exceptions of Copenhagen, Tallinn and Stockholm. An easy 20 minute walk can get you somewhere in those ports, esp. Copenhagen where you are just 10 min. from the Little Mermaid along the water.
Warnemunde: We bought the ship's excursion to Berlin. Train was within easy walking distance from the ship. Chaos in the main theater where ALL the Berlin tours were to gather simultaneously. Why they didn't deploy some in the other empty areas of the ship I don't know. Casino was closed, the lounges were closed at 8 a.m. so split things up rather than having 1500 people walk down one aisle of the theater to get boarding passes. Other ports were less of a madhouse but it was a bad start to the day. The train was satisfactory - rather crowded. Not as much leg room as I recall on trains in Europe. Coffees, water and fruits were dispensed as part of the $300 tour. We chose the tour that included luncheon at a brewery, a riverboat tour, a bus tour by Checkpoint Charlie, and walking near Charlottenburg Palace, the main shopping street with KaDeWe, the Brandenburg Gates and the Reichstag. Walking rapidly we could barely see all of this interesting city in the time given. 3 hrs each way by train - a nice big German lunch served family style - platters of sausages, two kinds of potatoes, and apple strudel - very nice. A snack bag on the train ride home and the ship buffet served late for us. A good but tiring day and a nice intro to Berlin.
Stockholm: One of the great things about this port was getting there. The ship comes off the Baltic Sea into the archipelago of thousands of islands at around 3 a.m. For our sailing, the full moon was shining across the water so I had to sit up and gaze. Docked around sunrise. A rather difficult 20 min. walk to the main part of old town but I had some shopping to do in one of the countries of my ancestors. What made the walk tricky was winding thru an industrial port that isn't clearly marked while they build a new cruise port there. Also building a large ABBA museum there for future cruise patrons to enjoy.
Across the water you can see their small version of Tivoli Gardens, the Vasa historic Ship Museum, etc. Expect some sticker shock given the poor exchange rate of the US dollar. Scandinavia is costly. Think Switzerland. COSTLY. But you can still pick up trinkets and candies, etc for a few bucks. We took the Waterways tour in the afternoon. Leaves right from the ship's dock. Walking past the bow we got doused with water. The crew didn't realize anyone was walking there as all the other tours and paths into town left mid-ship. We complained and in typical Celebrity good customer service, they gave us free dry cleaning for those outfits. Several people with mobility problems had chosen this tour since they didn't have to board a bus. It was still a challenge as there was a short but rather steep gangplank. The crew helped and everyone made it -- but just barely. Out on the water for a couple hours got nippy (we didn't have any rain in 14 days -- or the snows that hit St P in mid-May, but it is NOT a warm weather cruise). Saw the old hotels and palace downtown, the newer housing area where they built an "Olympic Village" but never got the bid from the IOC, and some really lovely large buildings along the waterway. Not an earth shattering port but very nice to look at and worth exploring. Again -- the sailing out was great to watch -- dining on the verandah with a sweater on was perfect. Never knew about the Swedish archipelago but a very pleasant surprise to have seen.
Helsinki: Loved Finland. Just the whole north woods, clean air look and feel of the place. Very attractive and outgoing people. Nothing in the way of a skyline -- it's not that type of city. Nice sized port -- too far to walk into town on your own. The buildings are low rise and modern as the oldest building dates back just to 1740 or so. They only used wood to build at that point and it just didn't survive for long. We chose one of the "specialty" tours that day. We went out of the city to HVittrask, the home of the leading architects of early 1900's. The one that Americans will know best is Saarinen, whose son also became famous in the US after they emigrated. They designed the classic Pan Am building at JFK, the Dulles airport outside D.C., and the St. Louis Arch. They had a large studio and several homes in a compound out on a lake with birch and pine trees north of the big city maybe 20 miles. The home has some great design features of course, built on 7 levels within a 3 story home. Very nice for those with any interest in seeing some of the countryside as well as the design aspects. We then came back into town, the guide pointing out the old train station and other buildings done by the same trio of architects, the new Concert hall, the old Cathedral built by a friendly Czar (Peter the Great?). You then had the option of staying in town to shop. I wanted my buffet so back to the ship we went. And thus we found something you too might enjoy. Across the parking lot from our dock were two little souvenir shops with nice books, art and some clothing for sale. They took any currency -- dollars, euros, pounds, and that would turn out to be rare in other ports. And they had a little P C set up and I thought maybe they let you surf online for a few Euros -- but it was FREE. So rather than pay what the ship charges, do a quick check of mail, etc. online there. I had seen one opportunity like that in Stockholm at the 7-11 grocery, but not free, about 3 Euros for a half hour.
St. Petersburg: At last. This was what it all builds up to, two days in this historic capital of arts and politics of the old Russia. We learned early on how serious they were about the "visa" situation. There was a souvenir shop across the parking lot from the dock. Thinking it was similar to Helsinki, and we could just stroll across, we tried but were thwarted by the frowning guards: "Russian visa?" No. "You can't go." Okay -- we tried. I took an afternoon tour while Patty rested up for our big night in town. I went on a tour of the Russian Museum and the Church on Spilled Blood. There were very few tours left once we boarded in Harwich, so I advise you go right away if you have any special tours picked out. Most will sell out in every port. We later learned there was a board on the counter stating which were sold out, which took waiting lists, and which (rarely) had been cancelled (lack of sufficient interest). The interactive TV in your stateroom allows you to book right on the screen. The info would sometimes make it look as if it were sold out but if you went to the desk you could sometimes still get booked.
The day we docked was the biggest festival of the year in St P., commemorating the city's birthday anniv. Why did someone NOT know this in advance? Our tour bus could not cross the parade route. We could not walk across the parade route. Had someone thought of this in advance, the tour could have been moved to morning, before the parade route became an issue. Needless to say it was chaos, We had to walk an extra mile, then go through a packed sidewalk crowd of parade viewers for blocks, walk under the street via a Metro tunnel, back up, and then towards the Museum. The museum was worth it but we lost about 1.5 hours of tour time and were panicked about getting back in time for the grand evening tours. Loved the museum, displaying all these grand Russian artists we had never heard of. Really a pleasant surprise, other than the parade fiasco of course. Then we strolled across a park right to the Church on Spilled Blood, a work of art itself. This was built on the actual site of the Czar's shooting in the 1880's. He was standing next to the canal and so they had to build out into the canal to make room for this stunning church to be built, housing a shrine to him on the actual spot where his blood spilled. The church is made of millions of mosaic tiles all the way up to the onion domes, depicting Biblical scenes. Some of the walls are made of stunning semi-precious minerals jasper and rhodolite -- like a poor man's emerald and ruby. Really wonderful to see the inside of this place. And shopping nearby afterwards.
That night was the piece de resistance. We did the tour that you MUST try and do. So many people later said they wished they had gone. It was a Night of Splendour at the Hermitage, with the climax being a private ballet performance in what was Catherine's private theater. Two busses of people from our ship were the entire crowd that night. So approx. 75 lucky people were given a private tour thru all four main buildings of the Hermitage Museum, seeing all the highlights without spending hours crushed between other tour groups. Mind you, we were the second sailing of the season, so there were 4 large ships in town. By the height of the season, that grows to 7 ships. Any chance you have to see any palace without the throngs, DO IT. We only wish we had an extra nite so we could have done the other grand evening event at the Summer Palace as it was a madhouse the next day. After seeing the Michelangelos and Raphaels and rooms full of impressionist masters, we were treated to the ballet -- seven vignettes from the great ballets. Most were danced as a pas de deux, some solos, and also the flanking 8 swans for Swan Lake in addition to the prima ballerina.
Fantastic orchestra, awesome dancers, and in that special setting -- what a night to remember. We walked out to see the sun still in the sky at 10 p.m. and many crowds for the Festival night. We did the nine hour tour the next day entitled Pushkin and Peterhof. This allowed us to see both Summer palaces -- the first in the Czars Village 20 miles south of St. P. This is the blue palace -- nearly destroyed by Nazi bombs. The majority of arts and ceiling panels were evacuated far into the countryside and thus preserved. The amazing Amber Room panels are still missing. What you see now is a replication. Stunning. Great palace to see -- but the crowds, and the walking are starting to get to us. Then our guide wants us to see one more garden, one more statue. Very nice and enthusiastic girl but the audio system didn't always work and we were weary long before Peterhof, the next Palace out on the Gulf of Finland. If you read the tour description, you expect to walk around 2.5 or 3 miles -- forget about it. We had to walk double that by the time we got thru all the upper gardens, lower gardens, inner gardens and the truly comical and impressive fountains Peter built to amuse himself. This is the yellow palace with the Cascades flowing behind. You must put on these little booties to tour inside. And some folks slipped. The floors are slick and we were tired so it was a real challenge. We did get some good prices on souvenirs from hucksters outside. The old dark "fur" hats and souvenir scarves and postcards, all about half what the ship charged. (The ship did have very nice shops and not terribly overpriced really.)
So there was much to see -- and whether you did a Celebrity tour or the private tours, we all want to come back and see more of St Petersburg and Russia. The included lunch was bland -- they put out some caviar and vodka to dress it up -- but the rest was not close to what we had become accustomed to on the Constellation.
Tallinn: Okay it was interesting. Mind you we have just seen St Petersburg. Why we thought this little palace tour here (we chose the Upper Town tour) would be of any interest, I don't know. The old town was quite something -- the best preserved fortress walled town I have ever seen. More than a dozen of the huge towers still standing guard over the old town. Medieval church full of coats of arms was interesting. The palace -- not so much. This was the spare Motel Six palace I think -- only for passing thru Estonia or harboring a mistress or whatever. A few nice paintings, a nice chandelier, some truly nice gardens yes -- but after Peterhof, sorry. Pick another tour. Shopping in Estonia was a challenge. They just stared at my VISA card -- not seeming to know what one would do with it. This was in the premier modern shopping mall mind you, not some goat stall. The only place I could actually make a transaction was at the post office so I could mail some cards with their postmark. The ship charges TWO DOLLARS per foreign stamp -- any country, and in some countries that really is the going rate -- but in others like Estonia you save if you get your own. The ship will mail them when they pass thru that country again if you miss the deadline -- so they could still have the postmark of your choice -- just two wks. after you disembarked. Russia and Estonia -- best prices. Some places took all currencies, some only took their local monies. Hard to know in advance so be prepared for anything. Except VISA in Estonia -- they don't know what it means.
Copenhagen: Loved the place. The most expensive place but still great just to walk around -- great old buildings, great new buildings, friendly people. Amazing Tivoli Gardens. (amazing that a medium diet Coke was 7 dollars US, ouch) Definitely buy the ships' transfer as it includes the admission and the bus back. I walked the 75 min. back cuz I had not purchased it. And it's a long hike. The Gardens were full of stage performances, a variety of restaurants and rides and shops and great lighting and flower designs. Don't miss it. We did another specialty tour here, to the village of Dragor. Historic farming village out 15 miles or so along the sea. No cars allowed in their narrow streets so you could see thick thatched roofs, huge flowers blooming, wondrous old style homes, and also the ship that was used to smuggle Jews across the sea, one or two at a time lying in the back of this inauspicious little fishing boat. Loved strolling here for an hour or so. The tour included coffee and a pastry -- they don't call them Danish in Denmark, but instead "Vienna bread" and good it was. Then back through the very modern airport area of high speed trains and apartments and finally back through the old town of palaces and museums. Unfortunately our table mate was among 3 women who were pickpocketed here on the palace tours. Throngs of people pressing against you and all the victims had zippers unzipped on backpacks or bags. One man was also prey in either St P or Tallinn -- his cargo pants zipper was undone and the wallet taken. The guides were constantly warning us to watch our surroundings in St P and we were fine. But the guide in Denmark said that professional criminals bus in to target the crowds in summer and then again at Christmas markets. Otherwise it is the 2nd safest country in the world, after Iceland. Non-violent snatch and grabs but not a happy day for some.
Disembarkation Couldn't be smoother. People were off the ship early actually. Didn't do us any good given the lack of train service but nothing Celerity could have done other than beg us to buy their transfers. Actually we were still pondering that as Patty wasn't walking that smoothly after the Russian hikes -- but the ship cuts off those sales a couple of nites before the cruise ends -- so be forewarned.
What more to say. Loved the ship. Loved the cruise line. Loved the ports. Was it perfect? No, of course not. But I wish all cruises were this nice -- and that I could go more often. Keep up the good work Celebrity, but bring back a midnight buffet every couple of weeks okay?
We returned yesterday from a splendid cruise to St. Petersberg, etc.
The food, the ship, the entertainment, the excursions and the staff were totally excellent for 13 days.
After the tips were organised (we gave the maximum on our account, plus extras), the whole atmosphere changes.
On the last evening, while at dinner, our mini-bar was locked, fruit was removed, there was no room service breakfast on the last day, and we were woken at 4 am with noisy docking procedures. We were off the ship by 7.50am.
This left a very bad taste after a very good experience. It was sort of we`ve got your money -- now get lost!
Is it like this on all cruises?
Returning to Celebrity Cruises after a number of years absence (sailed on Zenith six cruises) was somewhat of a disappointment. Since Celebrity Cruises was acquired by RCL, Celebrity has lost some of its gleam, no longer the fine Greek cruise line of the past. That being said, onto the position cruise on the Celebrity Millennium during April 2008.
The Millennium now eight years old is in need of a complete refurbishment from top to bottom, everything is worn and dated from the staterooms to the public areas and mostly the outside areas need maintenance.
Since either Carnival, RCL or NCL own the bulk of the cruise lines these days, the past grandeur of cruising with its service, excellent food, above average entertainment and traditional aspects, Celebrity Cruise Lines has joined the ranks of generic -- and I mean generic everything -- I truly missed the wonderful cruising experiences I had on numerous cruises on Celebrity's Zenith pre-RCL and miss Celebrity's touches a lot.
Embarkation at Ft. Lauderdale was quick and easy, since after 40 plus cruises I ignored the request by Celebrity to board after 1pm and arrived at the pier about 11am.
Buffet lunchon the Lido deck the day of departure was nothing special and remained so for the entire 15 day cruise.
Late sitting in the main dining room has its advantages and my waiter and wine staff were very attentive and dining was unhurried. The food is another review (good to fair) and I will avoid boring you in this review about what needs to be fixed. One bright spot is the Olympic Restaurant ($30 per person), where the service and food was a throwback to the "good old days" of cruising (thank you Royal Viking Line and Crystal Cruises) which was standard for them.
Entertainment is abundant each evening throughout the ship and most is good to very good. One exception is the production show "Classic" in the main show facility. The production was too highbrow for the audience and most left the performance before its end.
My stateroom (7003) was the surprise of the cruise because I selected the cabin overlooking the bow of ship for the Panama Canal transit since the Millennium has no forward outside observation areas. Anyhow, the cabin was the size of a mini suite on most ships (approx 230 sq feet) and had a huge four foot diameter window facing the bow.
Since this was a "position cruise" the ports of call were not important, the star was the Panama Canal and after eight transits the canal never ceases to excite me. What a wonderful day it is doing the transit.
I would have liked to have had a couple or three more ports of call added to the itinerary to break up the four 2 and 3 days each sea legs. The ports of call were nothing to speak about particularily in Mexico. Acapulco is tired, PV is better and poor Cabo, it is a tourist nightmare.
Debarkation in San Francisco was as good as can be expected given that in SF the pier is run by the local unions at their pace. I had to ask to leave the ship 45 minutes after my assigned time in order to get my luggage, taxi to the airport and make my return flight to Southern California.
All in all, Celebrity still outshines Carnival, NCL and Princess and is on a par with Holland America and RCL. Would I cruise again with Celebrity? The answer is YES and as a matter of fact I am taking the new ship Celebrity Solstice on her first scheduled Transatlantic/Mediterrean cruise in April 2009. Also have a group taking the Celebrity Mercury roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii in November 2008 (looking forward to seeing the Mercury again, it has been 8 years since I sailed on her).
It was a horrendous experience sailing on Celebrity's Infinity from April 13 to 28, 2008 on a Panama cruise from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco.
Upon reaching the dining room table and pulling the chair out, the fingers became instantly dirty and sticky because the chairs were never cleaned. Upon seating, the hands were placed under the seat to move the chair forward. Now both hands were dirty and sticky. All over the dining room you could see that people were keeping the sanitary wipes, available at the door, to use to pull the chairs back and then forward.
The Maitre D' never made an appearance. The assistant Maitre D's took our special order for pasta puttanesca, a common Italian pasta. What was served the next night was veal Milanese. We reordered the pasta puttanesca and what came the next day was spaghetti with chopped tomatoes in water, a tasteless dish lacking capers, olives, garlic, and any seasoning. At another dinner, the farfalle came with the same tasteless "sauce" of chopped tomatoes and water. It made no difference what pasta was ordered, all pasta had the same tasteless, thin, watery, non-descript "sauce."
There wereno scones at a Captain's Club elegant tea; no grapefruit halves at a breakfast in the dining room; and no Mojitos, because they were out of mint (and no one was going to find some). There were no mints in the bowl after many dinners. Often, there was not even a bowl.
The wahoo fish was very fishy; the shrimp in the shrimp cocktail was fishy and mealy; the poached halibut at the spa lunch was fishy; and the crab in the farfalle was fishy.
Even though it was on the menu, there were no stuffed zucchini. The vegetables are all cooked the same way, limp and tasteless, but the matzo balls were hard as a golf ball.
Most meats were tough and cooked cafeteria style. The osso bucco, which should fall off the bone, was as tough as can be.
An entire tray of entrées fell on the back of the lady at the next table.
When I asked the waiter for a piece of fish that could be undercooked (that is not dry and tough), I was told to preorder it with the Assistant Maitre D'. When a common item like extra bread sticks were requested, we were told that it had to be requisitioned ahead of time from the assistant Maître 'D. The term "requisitioned" was used often to the point that the standing joke on the entire cruise was "I guess they have to requisition it."
On the Lido deck buffet, there were too many drink machines out of order. Others were unmarked, and/or dispensed drinks incorrectly, such as dilute and watery iced tea and orange juice. Several ice machines were inoperative and two dispensed water, not ice cubes.
There were massive pieces of paint chipped off of the side of the ship revealing a metal base.
The large map posted on deck 3 showing the ships location was incorrect. It was one of South America and we were traversing the Panama Canal.
For spa service, a 75 minute salt glow and massage was scheduled by my wife. Ten minutes were devoted to completing paper work all designed to sell products. When she asked to use the restroom, it took three different attendants to find the rest room. During the service, the attendant did not know where the light for the shower was or how to turn on the hot water. There was no floor mat placed outside the shower so my wife stepped back out on salt crystals. The total service, including the wasted 10 minutes trying to sell her products, came to 65 minutes, not 75 minutes. No one thanked her or escorted her out. The next day she was called and told she did not pay. My wife was not directed to the front desk for payment upon conclusion; she was just left alone to change and leave. The spa manager never called back as she promised.
The toilet in our suite was broken and took four days to repair. The sink drain mechanism did not work. The water in the Jacuzzi was black and brackish.
The television set did not function; the remote was replaced three times and still did not work correctly by the end of the cruise. One of the remotes was held together by Scotch tape. The ITV person said that someone would fix the TV set the next morning when we were ashore; it was not. An assistant housekeeping manager came the next day and said that he would send someone immediately to fix the television set; that never happened.
There were two broken ceiling lights (replaced) and when we departed, there was another broken ceiling light. The door locking mechanism was broken -- the metal plate in the door jamb came off and although it was repaired, locking the door securely required a hard slam of the door.
The deck on the veranda was filthy with either bird droppings or paint spots. The gutter on the veranda deck was filthy. The Jacuzzi on the veranda was dirty with debris in it. The windows on the sliding doors leading to the veranda had not been washed for months. The cushioned fabric on the chaise lounge was old, worn, and dirty. The railing on the veranda had old, dirty and chipped varnish, making it impossible to rest your arm on the scratchy railing.
The veranda is useless because the design of the royal suites veranda is such that all the rooms on the three decks above look directly down on the veranda. We never had a morning breakfast on the veranda and could not use the lounge chairs or the Jacuzzi for that reason as there was no privacy. People above would stare right down at you.
The advertised "walk in closet" is 4-feet by 4-feet, large enough for one person to stand in a fixed position. Upon taking something off of the clothes rod, that person would then have to hold the item of clothing against the chest and then slide sideways out of the closet. The closet had three small drawers, to be shared by two people, and half of one clothes hanger rod was hidden behind the cabinet containing the three drawers and safe.
The Infinity book on the shelf in the room was eight years outdated. The IBM computer in the suite is a dysfunctional and outdated computer. IBM has not made personal computers for five years.
When I called another room, not my name but an incorrect name showed on their readout. The daily announcement stated that an "Attention to Detail" card was included. It was not. An oxymoron. There was no evaluation or questionnaire form and no invoice delivered at the end of the cruise.
I shared these deficiencies, complete with pictures, with the CEO, Don Hanrahan, and never received a reply.
Simply, the Infinity is an outdated, dysfunctional, and irrelevant ship.
This is a brief review of a very enjoyable 11 day cruise. Rather than repeat the details of my extensive Constellation review from December 2004, which may still be available on this web site, I shall highlight some of our favorite aspects of this ship and these ports. In addition, I shall offer some inexpensive suggestions for those who enjoy adventuring (or relaxing) on their own when visiting Grand Cayman, Aruba, Panama, Cartagena, or Cozumel.
Images of our cruise are available at www.picasaweb.google.com/efschlenk.
I am not in the travel business but have taken 20 previous cruises on a variety of ships, three of them on the Constellation. Reviews are by nature subjective, and I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions in this review. I shall HIGHLIGHT major topics in all caps so that readers can skip down to areas of particular interest.
At 90,000 tons and a full complement of 1,950 passengers, the Celebrity Constellation is large enough to provide a diversity of dining and entertainment options but small enough to avoid most of the frustrations associated with today's mega-ships.
This begins with EMBARKATION, which went quickly and smoothly for us, partly becausewe had pre-registered and pre-printed our boarding passes through Celebrity's web site, and partly because our Celebrity Captain's Club membership level gave us an express check-in line. Just like airlines, cruise lines offer perks to previous customers, and it is worth the effort to join the passenger club of each cruise line one sails on.
The Constellation entered service in 2002 and has been well maintained. The design and décor of the ship remain fresh and attractive. The PUBLIC AREAS did not seem crowded on our cruise, except during some concerts in the Cova Café or Michaels Club, where it pays to arrive early.
The ship's library ("Words") has a pleasant choice of books available on the honor system. The former music-listening room ("Notes") is no longer available, which is probably due to the emergence of iPods since our previous cruise. The fitness area is well equipped and is mercifully quiet during much of the day. The lockers, saunas, and fitness equipment remain free to all passengers, which is a plus in this day of nickel-and-diming by some cruise lines. Fitness classes ranging from low-key yoga to high-energy aerobics are available for a reasonable fee and appeared to be popular.
On all Celebrity ships we enjoy the interesting and sometimes quirky art collections (distinct from the commercial art auctions), parts of which are world class and quite valuable. Some cruise lines provide recorded tours of their art collections, and Celebrity should offer this in the future. This would make a worthwhile option during days at sea, especially since quirky art benefits from good background information.
Perhaps my major complaint about the public areas on the Constellation, and on some other Celebrity ships, is the absence of self-service laundry facilities. We have sailed on a variety of mainstream, premium, and ultra-luxury ships, and they all provided free washers and dryers for passenger use. Ironically, damage to cabin furnishings caused by passengers hanging wet clothes and trying to iron in their cabins probably costs Celebrity a good deal more than free laundry facilities would.
Standard CABINS are of reasonable size and convenient design. On this cruise, which we booked several weeks before departure, we opted for an inside cabin. On some older ships an inside cabin may be painfully small (we have had some nasty surprises on other cruise lines), but on the Constellation they measure an adequate 170 square feet (about 15.5 square meters). Granted, one does not have the pleasure of sunshine and sea breezes that a balcony cabin affords, but the absolute darkness of an inside cabin is great for catching up on one's sleep after a busy day in port or a late night out.
Our cabin steward and his assistant treated us royally. They kept our cabin immaculately clean, and they refreshed our towels frequently. The bathroom is small but efficiently designed, with a shower only. One no longer finds designer-brand bath amenities in small bottles, but shower gel, shampoo, and body lotion are available in wall mounted dispensers, which is a plus for the environment since it eliminates all the former packaging waste. Fortunately, bathrobes are still provided in all cabin classes.
Celebrity prides itself on its fine DINING, and we enjoyed their offerings on this cruise. The increasingly weak dollar and high commodity prices have become a challenge for executive chefs on all cruise lines. On the Constellation the executive chef met this challenge successfully, and in addition provided a very funny and instructive cooking course during one of our days at sea.
We sailed on a small ultra-luxury ship in the Persian Gulf during the month prior to this cruise, so our expectations on this cruise were set higher than usual. The menu in the Constellation's main dining room still provides several choices for each course, although the kitchen was understandably less able to deal with special requests and substitutions than on a smaller ship. Our waiter was commendable and was very eager to obtain our feedback in case anything was not up to our expectations.
The major drawback of the main dining room on the Constellation, as on other large ships, is the noise. We found it difficult to maintain a conversation at our table of eight without shouting, which was a disappointment since our tablemates, all from England, turned out to be good sports and excellent company. The excessive noise diminished the sense of elegance and detracted from our enjoyment of the evening meals. On top of the usual noise, at the end of each meal there were several birthdays being celebrated, each with raucous singing by the staff and passengers, a tradition hopefully forgotten in the future.
We dined at the Oceans Restaurant only once. This elegant surcharged restaurant recreates the atmosphere of a bygone era of ocean travel from the 1930s. We made reservations to dine there our first night onboard, since we feared that Oceans would be fully booked as the cruise progressed. Surprisingly, there were only two other occupied tables that evening, so we received special attention from the well-trained and personable staff.
The Oceans menu is fixed for the duration of the cruise, and we felt that we had sampled everything we wanted on our first visit. The cuisine, like the décor, favors traditional items with dramatic tableside preparation of such items as Caesar salad and shrimp flambe. The menu did not seem very adventurous or inventive. Showmanship sometimes trumps flavor in such restaurants.
Oceans Restaurant also offers the option of a tasting menu with wine pairings. We received a complimentary amuse bouche from the tasting menu, and it was enjoyable. We are not wine buffs so we decided not to try this option. The regular menu surcharge was about $30, and the tasting menu with wine pairings was about $60 per person.
On our final night at sea we opted for informal dining in the area used for the lunch buffet. In the evening this area has an attentive wait staff, full linen and crystal on the tables, and a fixed but enjoyable menu. There was almost no one else dining there that evening, and the resulting peace and quiet added immeasurably to the pleasure. Since the kitchen was smaller and less stressed than at the main dining room, it also did a better job of making a few substitutions in side dishes. Had we known about this option earlier in the cruise, we would have dined there more often.
Similarly, at breakfast and lunch we were pleased to see that the standard buffet line has been supplemented with various cooked-to-order specialty stations such as Asian stir fry, Italian pasta, and a delicatessen. We uniformly preferred the specialty food that was prepared individually or in small quantities. For this reason the Aqua Spa buffet, which is somewhat hidden behind the sculpture at the indoor pool, was also a favorite of ours.
Enjoyable dining is very important when selecting a cruise ship, and my hope is that in the future cruise lines will eliminate or at least downsize their main dining rooms and instead provide multiple smaller restaurants and bistros with attached smaller kitchens. This certainly would be much easier on the wait staff. Perhaps our expectations have risen, but it seems that over the years the larger and larger main dining rooms on cruise ships have become less and less enjoyable.
The best upgrade on this cruise was the ENTERTAINMENT. There were still high caliber Broadway reviews and lounge acts in the main theater. There were still two very good dance bands with vocalists in the lounges, in addition to the main theater band. Perry, the enjoyably over-the-top cabaret singer, still performed in Michaels Club. But now Celebrity has added a variety of musicians in smaller venues. They even presented a wonderful Chopin piano recital by a prize-winning Israeli pianist in the main theater.
There were multiple concerts in the Cova Café and Michaels Club by classical musicians (strings, piano, and guitar). The classical musicians were from Belarus, and they played everything from show tunes to dance melodies to classical chamber music, both ensemble and in solo recitals. Their talent was breathtaking, and they were the highlight of our cruise.
In addition, there were multiple concerts by an all-American a cappella quartet. The quartet was a delight to listen to and very personable to speak with. They were just out of college, and this was their first cruise contract.
Let's hope that both the classical musicians and the a cappella quartet have many future contracts with Celebrity. These alternative concerts were so popular and so crowded that Celebrity would do well to add a small concert venue or a small stage with café seating in their future cruise ships. CELEBRITY DESERVES AN AWARD (and will certainly get our return business) for thinking outside the box and providing such wonderful music alternatives, the best we have encountered on any cruise ship. In addition, Celebrity has made an effort to provide enrichment lectures during days at sea, for which they also deserve praise.
IN SUMMARY, Celebrity Constellation in the Southern Caribbean and Panama is a wonderful cruise choice if one wants a large cruise ship with good food and excellent entertainment at a reasonable price. It will be interesting to see if Celebrity's newer and larger ships (Solstice and Equinox) will be even better.
PORTS OF CALL We chose this cruise partly because of the ITINERARY, which provided alternating day in port and day at sea. From Ft. Lauderdale we stopped at Grand Cayman, Aruba, Colon (Panama), Cartagena (Columbia), and Cozumel.
We have never transited the Panama Canal, so this was the highlight of the itinerary for us. Some cruise lines pass through the locks from the Caribbean to Gatun Lake and then back to the Caribbean. Instead, the Constellation remains in port at Colon, and those passengers wishing to experience the canal locks can do so in a small ferry as part of an optional excursion. This excursion costs about $150 through the cruise line, but the canal tolls are so high that cruise ships entering Gatun Lake must charge passengers an additional $120 in taxes, so the excursion cost is almost a wash. More about that later.
GRAND CAYMAN was our first port of call. This is a relatively expensive port because of the international off-shore banking community, and the absence of a cruise pier necessitates tendering between the ship and Georgetown. In the past, long waits for tenders to shore and back have given this island a bad reputation. On our cruise large local tenders supplemented the ship's own tenders, making the transfers fast and trouble free, even for those passengers without shore excursion reservations.
The most popular excursion on this island is a boat trip to Stingray City, a shallow area in the North Sound where one can stand or snorkel among surprisingly tame and friendly stingrays. This trip is available through the ship, or it can be booked from a variety of tour companies when onshore.
When on Grand Cayman, my wife and I prefer to relax and snorkel on famous Seven Mile Beach north of Georgetown. Much of the beach is now lined by a solid wall of resorts and condominiums, but there is a small relatively undeveloped area with shade trees at the public Cemetery Beach. To get there one simply walks a few blocks inland from the tender port to the main square to catch a public minibus, which costs about $2.50 US each way for the West Bay route along Seven Mile Beach. If you ask, the driver or a fellow passenger will alert you at the Cemetery Beach bus stop.
These buses also continue north to the turtle farm and the town of Hell (for those who want to visit Hell without having to stay there). Minibus service is frequent and reliable. As on most Caribbean islands, it is customary to greet fellow passengers when boarding the minibuses and to make room for other passengers as they enter and leave. A bonus is that the downtown bus stop is near the public library, where free internet access is available (but may be fully booked). In general, we have found that any internet café on the islands is much cheaper than the internet service on cruise ships and just as fast.
Our second port was ARUBA. Cruise ships dock at Oranjestad. The town is quite pleasant and there are several nice beaches north of town. The public bus terminal is in a large square behind the façade across the street from the cruise dock. Buses to beautiful Arashi beach (the northern terminus) leave several times per hour. Again, most of the route is lined by large condominiums and resorts, but Arashi Beach is undeveloped, although there are shade huts and a restroom.
An easy walk north from Arashi Beach is the California lighthouse, with a nearby restaurant and a nice view over the island and shoreline. Small dunes nearby also provide interesting walks. A short walk along the road south of Arashi Beach brings one to an area for snorkeling at Malmok. Offshore is the wreck of the Antilia, but this is too far and too deep for safe off shore snorkeling.
Along the way, the bus stops at several large resorts with their own beaches, but we met several vacationers who left their resorts to spend the day at Arashi, which they preferred. Also along the way is a windsurf rental area for those who enjoy the sport.
Our third port was the city of COLON Panama, at the Atlantic entrance to the PANAMA CANAL. Because this was the most important port on our cruise, we booked the canal ferry excursion offered by Celebrity via their website booking service. This service requires immediate payment by credit card and cannot be charged to one's shipboard account. As outlined above, it costs $150 per person for a 7 hour journey by bus and then ferry through the San Pedro and San Miguel locks to the Pacific Ocean, and back to the cruise ship by bus.
As mentioned above, this excursion costs only a little more than the additional tax for cruise ships that pass into and back out of the Gatun locks, and costs only a little more than the same excursion when booked ashore, which we did not risk due to the tight schedule. For us this excursion was very enjoyable and worth every penny. In fact, it was the first time in 20 cruises that we booked an excursion through our cruise line rather than traveling independently. Being on a small ferry rather than a large ship makes the canal engineering all the more impressive, and the ferry transits two sets of locks and travels all the way to the Pacific.
We did not spend any time in the city of Colon itself, but the cruise terminal has a pleasant sheltered market for souvenir shopping, including handicrafts from the local Indians. Their embroidery is famous and makes excellent, easy-to-pack pillow covers and shirt appliques.
Our fourth port was CARTAGENA Columbia, the historic center of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, some passengers were spooked by the reputation of Columbia and did not leave the ship. They missed one of the most photogenic cruise ports in the western hemisphere.
We made an effort to go ashore as soon as the ship was cleared, and we were glad we did. The town was wonderfully peaceful for several hours until it began to fill with tour groups from our ship and from the QE2, which was docked with us. Street vendors will offer their wares but will not pressure you if you politely decline. Remember that they are simply trying to earn a living and merit your respect.
Colon has a very pleasant cruise terminal with a free shuttle from the ship and a taxi stand just outside. A taxi ride for three people to the old town clock tower gate costs a standard $15 US. The price is posted at the taxi stand, but should be confirmed with the driver before entering the taxi. Make certain that the driver takes you up to the gate and does not drop you a few blocks away at the convention center. Return taxis are easy to find, and when metered they are less than $15 for the return trip.
For those who prefer, local English speaking guides are available in the town and via the internet. They can add interesting information and a sense of security, but we preferred to wander on our own and were quite comfortable doing so. We even came across a movie being filmed near the town walls.
Our fifth port was COZUMEL. This can be a hectic port -- when there I counted seven other cruise ships, together off-loading more than 15,000 passengers. To avoid the crowds we simply snorkeled from a dive shop that was a short walk north of our cruise dock (the most southerly of the three Cozumel cruise docks).
While eating a late breakfast, we noticed several snorkel tour boats tied up not far from our ship. Assuming that the locals know the best snorkel spots, we walked north along the shore to a nearby dive shop diagonally across from the large thatch roof pyramid in front of one of the hotels. The dive shop is in a small whitewashed building down a short drive adjacent to a walled resort beach. It offers free lockers (bring your own padlocks), a changing area, and an easy water entry.
In the past we had taken taxis to various snorkel spots south of San Miguel town, but this snorkel site was just as enjoyable and could not have been more convenient. Those who want to relax on a beach, however, will still need to take a taxi several miles south.
Have a wonderful cruise and happy port adventures!