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
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
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 because
we 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Have a wonderful cruise and happy port adventures!