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!
My partner and I recently returned (August 2007) from a 15 day cruise through Scandinavia and Russia aboard the Celebrity Constellation. The Constellation is a Millennium Class ship and sister to Millennium, Galaxy and Century. Although not a "family cruise" per se, with most people on board being 50+ retired or close to and frequent 'cruisers' we had a fine time exploring Scandinavia and the Baltics in comfort and style none the less. I would definitely recommend this cruise to anyone who is interested in visiting this fabulous part of the world, but critically speaking, I think there are some elements of the Cruise that could be improved upon.
In my review I will provide information on the ship itself and the various Ports of call including the shore excursions (which can be avoided) and general information that 'First Time Cruisers' like us may well find interesting. Celebrity Cruises are by no way a 'budget' cruise line and I would expect people travelling to be aware of this however I will also provide some hints and tips for those wanting to economise slightly because on board and at Port you can quite easilyover spend.
We arrived in London from Australia and had pre and Post cruise Packages for accommodation and Transfers. Accommodation was in Mayfair (City of Westminster) at Grosvenor House which is just first Class. If this was an introduction to Cruising then this was a good initiation. Upon arriving we given an envelope with some departure details and also informed that there would be a representative from Celebrity in the Hotel Foyer that evening around 7:30. That evening when we went to see the rep, there was no body there and no one from Celebrity had reported to reception; so they (Grosvenor reception) were also confused. Eventually we found the lass but without any signage or advertising she was hard to distinguish. A fairly trivia matter and one that did not overly bother us but worth noting in this review; as some other travellers did make mention of it to guest relations onboard.
The transfer to Dover was 'fairly' smooth with the trip lasting just on 2.5 hours. Upon loading the luggage into the coach the driver requested that all bags including carry on should be stored underneath with the suitcases to save space in the cabin. I did not like this idea as my personal documents, (passport etc) always stay with me and after some 'discussion' was decided that passengers could take their hand luggage on board with them. Dover is approximately 70 miles from London; the Ferry Terminal is situated to the east of the town at the Eastern Docks and the Hoverport to the west. Both can be easily reached by foot, bus or taxi from Dover Priory Station. Services operate from London Victoria or London Charing Cross to Dover Priory Station. Arriving at the Dover Terminal, the embarkation process was quick and painless with our luggage arriving at our stateroom soon after without incident or undue delay.
First impressions are everything and being our first cruise we were blown away. The ship was just huge and everything and everyone catered for. There was marble everywhere and glass lifts nearby combined with the plush decor gave a soothing ambience. The entry point to the Ship was on level Three (Ten in total) and after a welcoming champagne we grabbed a seat and watched the others coming on board. Entry to the state rooms would not be till around 1pm so to pass the time by we headed up to the Resort Deck on level 10 for lunch and to check out the pool areas. After a great feed of hamburgers and tacos the message came over the PA that our rooms were ready and off we went to try and find our room.
Our Stateroom with balcony was on the Penthouse deck on level 6. Finding our room took some time as odds and evens were on opposite sides of the ship but we got there. The room was relatively small as you can imagine but was very comfortable and convenient with all necessities catered for and the suitcases fitted underneath the bed out of sight. The balcony was massive and bigger than all of the ones above us and was a welcome surprise and very different to what we were expecting. (Thanks Amy my travel agent for that) From the balcony I could see the loading of the ship and got a great perspective as to the size and enormity of this 92,500 Tonne vessel. A frequently stated adage about cruise cabins is "you don't spend that much time there anyway." This may be true but I still appreciated the fact that I could 'get away' and relax/sunbake (in privacy) when I wanted to and it served as a great place to have breakfast in the morning and dry clothes after hand washing (In port only as they will blow away at sea) We really appreciated the balcony and is well worth the extra money if you can afford it.
There was an evacuation drill at 16:15 prior to departure so doing anything worth while beforehand was pointless, we checked out all the levels including the pools gym and Aqua Spa on the Resort deck (Level 10). The Aqua spa provided and excellent variety of services for both women and men and it was here that we booked facials, massages, make up and hair etc for the entire cruise. It was important to book these as early as possible as the earlier you got in and booked the better the chance you had of obtaining appointments when you wanted them. As we were one of the first to book all of ours would be during the day's at sea meaning all the shore days were free to enjoy. A short stroll from the gym on level 10 was the under cover Thalassotherapy pool and Persian gardens complete with Turkish bath, herbal spa and Arizona room (Dry Sauna). The Persian Room was not a free service but well worth the money if you like this sort of thing. We regularly used it at evenings and it was never crowded.
Continuing our tour we checked out the champagne and martini lounges, Cova coffee lounge and the Emporium (Shopping) on the Entertainment deck (level 5) and the San Marco Restaurant, Rendezvous Lounge, Fortunes Casino and Michaels club on the Promenade deck (Level 4). Continuing down next deck was the Plaza Deck (Level 3) home to Celebrity Theatre, Cinema and the Grand Foyer complete with the Grand marble staircase and plenty of surrounding elegant timbers. At 16:15 we had our evacuation drill and at approximately 17:15 on time the Constellation departed from Dover and set sail.
The Constellation departs Dover and cruises across the North Sea to Helsingborg Sweden which is the first stop. Helsingborg is located in Southern Sweden and lies on the sound, which separates Sweden from Denmark. I this narrow part of the sound the straight of Oresund (or "The Sound" as mariners refer to it) ships from all over the world pass Helsingborg headed to and from ports around the Baltic Sea. This was a Tender Port meaning the Ship did not berth at a pier. Tenders were provided to take you to shore, there is not a lot to see here and an excursion is not required as the main sites are all in walking distance including Karnan Tower and Fredriksdal open air museum. You can get a public ferry to see Kronborg Castle (Ellsinore) on the other side of the sound, in Danish territory if you like but make sure you get some Danish kronor before you go and be weary of the ship departure time.
The next stop was supposed to be Warnemunde, Germany but berthed in Rostock instead. Not sure why this happened and there was no explanation provided by Celebrity. Both places really only serve as an entry point to Berlin than a compelling stop in their own right. Again a shore excursion in Rostock itself is not required here but transport into town is as the pier was approx 10km away. This was one of the costs that annoyed me given the cost of the cruise I felt shuttle bus rides should have been included. I was glad I opted to come into Rostock as it was a beautiful Hanseatic city with its own seaside resort. Located in the Northeast part of Germany on the estuary of the Warnow River, Rostock is the gateway to the Baltic Sea and considered an important seaport and together with Warnemunde, is one of the country's major shipping centres. Both an old and young city the historic city centre breathes Hanseatic flair and there is a considerable amount of North-German gothic brick architecture, including churches, cloister, a city wall and gabled houses. Rostock is also home to the oldest university in the Baltic region ad home to 14,000 students.
A shore excursion to Berlin is available during this berth, however we chose against it having been to Berlin before. Although somewhat pricey $250 euro each I would suggest it as an option as Berlin itself is a fascinating city and the journey by Train and coach would be considerably less difficult than trying to visit on your own in the space of a single day. We spoke to some people who did this trip and apart from the very long day (12 hours) they enjoyed it immensely. That afternoon to keep with the whole German theme there was German food and beer available in the forward bar, (Aptly named the Bar at the end of the Earth) With singing provided from the Rostock choir and with beer and wurst in hand a jovial time was had by all.
The departure from Rostock that evening was something special and I was a little disappointed that the ship did not provide an insight as to what was going to happen because I only caught the end of it. The ship was berthed at the Port and as the vessel is so long you can not see past the nose. Little did we know that a breakwater extended for about a mile after the docks and thousands of people had lined the breakwater to watch the ship sail? There were even fireworks on the Port side (Rostock side) we later found out but as were on starboard side we were not aware of this. Also yachts and boats led the ship out through the heads similar to spectator fleet at the Sydney to Hobart. All in all it was a spectacular ending to a great day and had the ship informed people that it was happening we could have sat up on the deck and watched it all!!!
Next stop after a relaxing day at sea was Helsinki the capital of Finland also known as the City of the Sea. Finland and was founded by King Gustav Vasa of Sweden while the country was under Swedish rule. Although it is Finland's largest city it is relatively small compared to other Scandinavian capitals. Overlooking the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, Helsinki is bordered on the west by Sweden, on the north by Norway, on the east by Russia and on the south by the Gulf of Finland ad Estonia. Finland stretches from Helsinki on the southern coast northward to the Lapland region, which lies mostly above the Arctic Circle. The population of Finland is five million, with one million living on the southern coast in and around Finland.
Again good public transportation and close proximity to the city centre from the cruise terminal allows you to avoid shore excursions in Helsinki that cover the same ground that you can on your own. We were a little disappointed with the city and found there was not a lot to do apart from visit senate square and the local markets so the excursion out into the country side may be a better option for here. You can also take an inexpensive Ferry ride in and around the waterways which is another option if you have time. The Ferry leaves every 15- 30 minutes from the Fish Market in the heart of Helsinki. We did manage to find an internet café in a large department store which was good because the cost of internet access on the ship is just ridiculous. ($75USD 45 minutes) We chose to not use the service on the ship on principal alone. (A point I made also on my passenger feedback card) That evening we noticed a small amount of facial products missing from out stateroom which will be discussed at the end of this review.
The weather again was fabulous continuing the trend thus far with blue skies and warm days and it was hard to fathom that you were in a country that can reach -20 degrees in winter. Always be prepared however as the weather in Europe is unpredictable at best so unless you are certain it will not rain always take an umbrella and coat.
The primary attraction of this trip for us was the Russian portion of the itinerary and although it did not disappoint we would have done things differently if we had our time over again. The major mistake we made was not getting our own Russian tourist Visa so we could do our own thing in St Petersburg on day 2. A Russian tourist visa is required for EACH person who disembarks, which is not included in the cruise cost. We remained berthed in St. Petersburg for two days and it is worth noting that in the case of the Constellation (92,500 tonnes) and other similarly sized cruise ships, the port of call is a commercial shipyard depot about 15 minutes by car from the city centre, rather than at the passenger cruise terminal on the River Neva much closer to the city. End result is unless you are part of an organised shore excursion or you have your own pre-arranged tourist visa you can not leave the ship which for independent travellers like us can be frustrating.
On the first day in St. Petersburg, we did our first excursion, travelling to Moscow by air and coach, which was a one day round trip excursion. (15 hours) Although very expensive it was well worth it as it is one of those places that you may never return to again. Also as St Petersburg is so close (one hour flight) it just made sense to do it. I had wanted to do this trip from the time we made the cruise booking but had reservations due to Russia's aviation history. We flew with 'Rossiya' or Russian Airlines which are operated by the Russian State Transport company and are undergoing an upgrade of their fleet according to the in flight magazine. Being a regular flyer I am comfortable in the air, but the plane was very old and I was glad when it touched down in Moscow. We did get an upgrade to business class on the flight which was most appreciative and the cabin service was warm and friendly.
Moscow is the core and capital city of Russia, home to almost 10 million people. Populous, motley and multilingual Moscow has always had a great attraction thanks to its inexhaustible energy. The date of Moscow's foundation is not lost in the remote past. It is one of the oldest cities in Russia and a settlement might have existed on the site before 1147 the year under which Moscow is for the first time mentioned in the chronicles. For centuries Moscow has been a treasure house for carefully preserved national cultural tradition. All the Russian Tsars and emperors were crowned here in Russia's main cathedral, the ancient Dormition Cathedral and both Peter the great and Catherine the great came to Moscow to celebrate military victories.
The Traffic in Moscow is horrendous with almost 5 million cars on sub standard roads. The city is a perpetual gridlock, and travelling just a few miles can take hours unless you have a skilled local driver. Luckily we had one who said driving fast and not looking both ways is a popular technique. The trip to and from the city was quite warm (30 Degree celcius outside) and the bus was not air conditioned making it very unpleasant for some. Living in a hot, tropical climate in Australia made it almost bearable for us but I felt for the older people on the bus and those accustomed to cooler climates and I am sure it was mentioned in feedback.
Whilst in Moscow we visited the Metro underground which is very different to the humid, dimly lit systems of Paris and London where shoving to shoving to obtain a good seat is a pre requisite. With bronze statues and lovely ornate cornices throughout, it is well worth a look if you are ever there. We also visited the Kremlin and Red Square both of which were just fantastic and impossible to explain on here. Dinner and lunch were both provided and the beef Stroganov and vodka was well received. The experience of seeing Moscow is incomparable, and I highly recommend that you go sometime in your lifetime if you can somehow manage it, even if only for a day. We arrived back at the ship around 1.30am tired but extremely pleased we had done this trip and managed to avoid the pick pockets which are rife in Moscow.
The second day was spent in St. Petersburg which was equally fascinating. We did our second excursion for the cruise to The Hermitage Museum with an exclusive trip to the Gold Room or Treasury Room. The Hermitage Museum began as a winter palace, the home of the Russian emperors from 1763 to 1917. Today the winter palace is one of five buildings that make up the State hermitage Museum. Today the Museum collection which has been put together over the course of two centuries contains almost 3 Million exhibits and for me personally the collection rivals the louvre in Paris (Open for debate). Impossible to see everything, our guide took us past most of the main attractions but the highlight for me was the Gold Room and The Madonna Litta by Leonardo da Vinci and The return of the Prodigal son by Rembrandt.
The tour lasted only three hours meaning we were finished and back on the Ship by 11.30am and it was here that we were disappointed for not getting our own Travel visa. If we had we could have had the rest of the afternoon to explore St Petersburg on our own. We intend to return to this great city again as there are so many sites to see. I would recommend excursions to the summer palaces of the Romanov family and also both Peterhof and Pushkin Palaces if you have time all of which are available on this cruise. The catch is that there are only two days to see all of these great sites so you will need to sacrifice something; but whatever you choose will be an experience you'll never forget.
The next stop was Tallinn, Estonia, a charming old town and well worth a visit. Tallinn is the capital of Estonia and is located on the bay of Tallinn, which is an inlet of the Gulf of Finland. Situated in northern Europe, Tallinn is a major Baltic port and naval station, as well as being a major industrial centre. Tallinn was once known as Reval, this was the name given when it was ruled by the Danes from 1219 - 1346. During this time a network of streets was developed inside the town walls, these walls are still intact in the old town today. The town is close to the Pier (Easy 15 minutes walk) and easily negotiable by foot. The Holland America Cruise Ship 'Rotterdam' was in Port also and was berthed right along side us. The two ships cut an impressive figure sitting side by side.
Once in the old town we walked the old cobblestone streets and marvelled at this gothic town. It was if time had stood still and if there were not modern cars in the street and tourists everywhere you would think a horse and cart was going to pop around the corner at any minute. The buildings were old and some slanted and crooked only reinforce the age of the house. I remember reading the year 1210 on one of the roof gables. We visited Alexander Nevski Cathedral, built in 1894 in the traditional style of Moscow churches Complete with Onion Domes and the St Nicholas Church dedicated to the Patron Saint of Seamen built in 1230.
Next Stop was Riga, Latvia but unfortunately I am unable to provide any shore information as we stayed on board, choosing instead to enjoy a relaxing day by the pool. Riga is the capital city of Latvia and has a population of 800,000. In the early 30's the city was full of diplomats, traders and intrigues and earned the name of the "Paris of the East" Riga is a well preserved historic city which has a magnificent mix of Latvian, Russian and German influence. Riga straddles the Daugava River along which you will find many places of interest, including old Riga (Vecriga). Riga's axil street running North East from Akmens Bridge (Akmens tilts), is called Kalku Iela as it passes through the old city, then Brivibas Bulvaris as far as the towering Hotel Latvija, about 2km from the river. Returning to the ship we went to the nearby Ferry Terminals to check our emails (Information was in the town map) which. On the way back to the ship we checked our emails at the nearby Ferry Terminals which for $2 Euro for 15 minutes was much better price than on the ship.
Next Stop was Klaipeda, Lithuania. The one thing I loved about this cruise was that there were very few days at sea, (3 in total out of 15) meaning everyday you were in a new city or town in another country. I guess this is one of the reasons people cruise but this itinerary is definitely better than most other cruises we looked at and was a major factor in choosing Celebrity. Again an excursion was not required with the town less than 15 minutes walk away. Klaipeda is Lithuania's only seaport on the Baltic Sea. It has 190,000 inhabitants which is down on the 210,000 people in 1992. Today the city is a major ferry port with connections to Sweden, Denmark and Germany and the architecture has a western European influence. There are popular sea side resorts nearby at the towns of Neringa and Palanga but we did not see these.
There was very little to see in the town and first impressions were of a city which lacked any real character. The buildings were fairly run down and there appeared little in the way of rejuvenation giving an overall feeling of poverty. Transport was similar to St Petersburg and Russia, (Except for the upper class) with old buses and cars and the most of the shops were closed which was odd for a Monday. The only shop I wanted to see, a clock and watch museum was closed Monday's which was disappointing, so we walked back to the ship soon after. There were some interesting excursions out of the city which would have given a better idea of Lithuania and the surrounding country side which is said to be quite lovely and I would encourage people to do this.
Next stop was Copenhagen, Denmark a simply beautiful city which oozes class and royalty and a touch of romance... With its canals, house boats and royalty it reminds me of Amsterdam without the tourists and red light district and Monaco. We had a two day stopover, (which was actually overnight and one day) in Copenhagen arriving in the afternoon and did our third and final excursion, a canal cruise on the first evening. During the Canal cruise we passed several landmarks including; The Den Lille Havfrue or Little mermaid which is the symbol of Copenhagen and the most visited monument in the city. We also passed the Royal Museum of fine arts, the royal library, the opera house an impressive building of ten storey's, with five of these being under the water. The most impressive site was the Rundetarn Tower a 120ft tower erected by King Christian IV in 1642. We really enjoyed the night cruise through the canals and found it quite romantic and highly recommend it to anyone doing this cruise.
The following day we walked into town following the water line admiring million dollar yachts and apartments. Along the way we could see the Royal yacht moored nearby and passed through the Royal palace and other sites. Again an excursion was not required here but the walk into town was a good 30 - 40 minutes (Including video/camera time) meaning some people may struggle. Shuttle buses were again available for a price but we chose to save our money for other things notably shopping which depending on your budget can be done in Copenhagen. The Ostergade is the main shopping precinct and is pedestrian only strip, (However be warned If you are looking for budget shopping in Copenhagen this is not the place to do it) With Gucci, Prada, Rolex and Royal Copenhagen shops throughout window shopping is probably a better option unless you are cashed up.
We ate lunch at the Hard Rock Café which was a fair walk along the Ostergade past Tivoli Gardens before returning to the Ship via the best buy ice cream shop in Europe. We departed Copenhagen that evening and had a day at sea before returning to Dover which gave time to reflect on this wonderful part of the world.
Highlights and Lowlights Specific overall highlights included the service which could not be faltered. With one crew member to every here guests however you would expect nothing less. Our stateroom attendant was fantastic and always welcomed us with a smile, even after the episode with the missing face cream. Other highlights were the Aqua spa; gym (Superbly fitted out with quality gear) Persian Gardens complete with Turkish bath, herbal steam room etc and the enclosed Thalassotherapy pool and spa baths x2 which was so relaxing any time of the day. Outside on deck 10 the two spa baths were also excellent but the two outside pools were cold and it was not just us who thought this as I rarely seen anybody using them.
The nearby Seaside bar and grill immediately next to the pools were perfect for pasta/hamburgers/tacos while reclining with your favourite book. The buffet restaurant inside on level 10 which served more casual (and generally more varied) fare than the primary dining room was always good. You could eat prepared food or have pasta, stir fry's etc cooked on demand whilst you waited. We ate there several times because to be honest we found the whole dressing up and eating at the same time every night with the same people over rated not because we did not enjoy others company, but because we just wanted to be eat normally without having to worry about being formal and table etiquette.
The main dining room on level 4 (The San Marco Restaurant) was a two story affair at the very rear (Aft) of the ship with a huge window overlooking the sea. There were also windows at Port and starboard also overlooking the sea. The chefs and staff consistently served a variety of excellent dishes the entire cruise, including a children's menu. Different tastes in food for so many passengers aboard will likely result in disappointments for one meal or another, but everybody on our table found the food to be above average. (Note I say above average because although good it was not great, a sentiment shared by not only us, but many people especially frequent cruiser.)
The only complaint I have about the food service on this ship was the alcohol prices and the charging for soft drinks with a primary meal. Children can't drink alcohol, and adults don't always want to drink tea, coffee, or water with lunch or dinner. To whole exercise of summoning the bar or wine steward every time a passenger wants a soft drink with a meal is primarily directed to generate more profit. I can understand cruise lines not wanting to supply endless rounds of soft drinks for the never ending thirst of kids but this is not really a family cruise and there were very few children on board. To incur a charge to have a soft drink with a primary meal is a rip off to be honest. Also I found the wine prices to be grossly over priced. I do not mind paying for a god red when it is deserved but I was aware of the prices of several bottles on the wine list from back home and to have a 200% mark up is again just a rip off. All in all it is just another way that some cruise lines exploit their customers.
The Ocean Liners Restaurant on level three provided another eating option. The restaurant was fitted out in similar style to the grand liners of yester years and was elegant in every detail. There was a charge associated with eating here and required a reservation but well worth the money with the meals simply superb and the table service some of the best I have experienced. (A word of warning, if you are going to eat here make sure you go there on an empty stomach as there are 6 courses and cheese). The bars and clubs were all classy with the Champagne bar, Martini bar and 'Michaels Club' in particular with it's piano bar all great ways to relax and enjoy a drink. Again the prices were inflated; with a Bailey's costing almost triple the price in Australia. The disco was located at the front of the ship, aptly named 'The bar at the edge of the Earth' it was spacious had great views out to sea. Being first time cruisers we found the entertainment good but regular cruisers did not and we heard on several occasions that the entertainment was disappointing. The celebrity Theatre which was the primary theatre was well designed and comfortable and Fortunes Casino was always busy.
There is a movie theatre on board that had a variety of current movies playing at most times (Ratings varied from PG to R), and a constant rotation of recent movies on the stateroom TV kept us entertained while changing clothes for dinner or relaxing/winding down in our stateroom.
Outdoor entertainment was plentiful with most sports catered for including basketball, volleyball, tennis and a jogging/walking track and a great selection available for children in the celebrity X-Club. From teen-oriented explorations and entertainment to special opportunities for toddlers and their parents to interact with each other, the X-Club is designed to make sure your children enjoy their Celebrity experience as much as you do. You can even join your children for X-Club Family Events like Karaoke, Family Disco, Bingo and more.
The major disappointment for us was the lack of follow up to our complaint on the missing facial products in our stateroom which was valued at around $150 dollars. Basically the company did not believe us saying there was only two people that had access to our room and neither used moisturisers so reading between the lines we must have been lying. My partner had bought the products from the Aqua Spa on the Ship and was therefore very aware of how much she had used, for the ship to imply that we were making it up was to be frank an insult. At no time did we imply it was a crew member but requested it be replaced however, the ship had a policy that nothing is replaced on board instead you have to make a complaint to head office and try and resolve the issue after disembarkation. ???? The issue was not resolved with management on board and we did not bother completing the complaint form for head office however my partner was given a replacement by a staff member, (Area and name withheld) and we thank her for doing what management should have done in the first place.
Other complaints were the inflated prices for anything on board, including alcohol at the various lounges, tea and coffee at the Nova Coffee bar and of course the Internet. Also expensive were the photographs which were taken on formal nights and at every gangway when exiting the ship. The photos were displayed on level 4 and you could select the ones that you like however, at almost $20USD each these were grossly over priced. I understand that this is how some crew members make extra money but considering they would have to throw a large percentage of the photos out that were not purchased the price could have been reduced significantly. As mentioned previously the shuttle bus rides into town also incurred a price which we thought should be included in the cruise fare; however the cruise company are well aware that people need to get into town at some ports so it is a necessary evil unfortunately unless you want to pay for a taxi.
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I hope I have provided a useful resource for those that might be considering this ship or its itinerary. Would we take another cruise, yes but being independent travellers we will probably wait a few years. Cruising is great way to see many different countries in style and with very few of the dramas associated with independent travel but this it what we love about travel, the uncertainty and decisions that you have to make in foreign countries. Cruising does not provide this but provides many other opportunities which is the reason it is becoming so popular. Happy cruising!
Would we cruise again with Celebrity - YES
Recommended to other people considering cruising - YES
I love Celebrity Cruises. All of my previous cruises have been fantastic on this line. However, I think there may have been problems on this cruise. This was their last cruise to Canada/New England and I think some of the staff were just too anxious to get to warmer weather.
The itinerary was fabulous. We started in Bayonne, New Jersey (by the way -- this is a port that is basically organized and has their act together. Friendly porters and very accessible).
We went to Boston, Bar Harbor, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Quebec City, Quebec, cruise the Saguenay River and then to Portland, Maine. All the ports were ready for the influx of people and dealt with it well. Rather than taking trips off the ship, we hired our own guides and/or took a taxi wherever we went. We weren't in "foreign" countries and drivers were readily available at all ports for less money than you would pay the cruise line for a side trip. I wouldn't risk this out of the U.S. or Canada, but I highly recommend it for these ports. It leaves more time for shopping and you can spendas much time as you want at each location.
Unfortnately, service on this ship was severely lacking in comparison to our past cruises on Celebrity. The food only rated an okay with everyone at our dinner table (and we are all seasoned cruisers). The cabins stewards were okay (we were Concierge Class and expected a bit better). The cabins are beginning to look dated and the beds needs replacing. I will recommend that cruisers not pay the upgrade fee for Concierge Class. You pay about $200 per person for stale canapes and towels that are a bit fluffier - no biggie. Allegedly you are supposed to get a more seasoned cabin steward but you don't. You get little trinkets extra but not really worth the money.
The shows on the ship were EXCELLENT including a brief Cirque d'Soleil show. Fabulous. Embarkation/Debarkation was a breeze. The Captain on the ship was very witty and fun to listen to.
I was a little ruffled about the fact that on sea days they stacked activities that shouldn't have been stacked (i.e. bingo and black jack tournament at the same time). They also nickle and dime you for everything -- however this is the way of the cruise lines today.
All in all, it was a good cruise. The food was average, the service was average, but my expectations for Celebrity are higher than that for Princess, NCL, Royal or Carnival.
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.
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?
My Wife and I are reasonably experienced cruisers (over 20) principally on Holland America, Princess, Disney etc. This was our first cruise on Celebrity. The trip left Oct 10 for 13 days from Bayonne, N.J.
Check in began easily, although Celebrity lets people with incomplete paperwork come to the counter and complete it in front of people who have "so called" Express boarding. Things broke down quickly as we found that the check in area was a long mile to the ship, so we were required to board ancient shuttle buses. With wheelchairs, carry on luggage, and walkers, this was a real zoo. Cabins were not ready, so we went to the buffet, which was ok.
When we made it to our inside cabin, it seemed fine, except that there was no table assignment card. We had never encountered this before, and when I called the customer assistance line, they were disinterested in helping, other than to tell me to see the Maitre D. When I found this person, he was chatting with two people trying to change their dining time, while his assistant tried to hold off over 100 people withvarious problems, primarily that a lot of cabins did not have table cards. Fixing this was slow because only the Maitre D could use the computer to discover the table number. The rest of the day was ok, although dinner was average at best. As it turned out, this was one of the better dinners.
We are fond of Trivial Pursuit and similar games, and an excellent selection was offered. Incredibly, the cruise staff person who did most of the games at first was a nice young lady from Liverpool, who spoke a dialect that was almost incomprehensible, not only to us, but to two British couples we met, one of whom lived 20 miles from Liverpool. Since the movies on offer were ancient, the library tiny, and the other entertainment was poor, except for 3 really good stage shows, we persevered with the games. Playing trivia when you are understanding about two words in five is an experience. Apparently we were not alone, as a few days later other cruise staff members were brought in for some of the games.
We had signed up for a ship's tour of Acadia National Park, and were issued tickets telling us to meet on the pier. As a result we sat alone on the pier until I went up to the street where a mob was waiting in total confusion. An Indian lady from the Tour staff was looking totally overwhelmed, as an inadequate number of buses had been ordered, but fortunately the local bus company people took over and got everyone organized. I tried later to alert the Tour staff to the confusion, but met total disinterest.
Trying to keep this as short as possible:
Food: Breakfast and Lunch -- Adequate; Dinners -- Poor to fair food, service excellent.
The best meal we had was at a Perkins restaurant on the way home.
Our Cabin Steward: A real gem.
The Crew: Disorganized. A prevalent theory I heard from several passengers was that this was a replacement crew on their first cruise.
After all of the above, the norovirus infestation was a comparatively minor annoyance. As usual, there was no formal communication about the problem, but watching every available surface being sprayed with bleach (leaving many people with interesting stripes on their clothes), and me and others with bronchitis, got me asking questions and a knowledgeable crew member clued me in.
Disembarkation: The less said the better. My luggage was not put with the proper color code. When finally found, it was damaged. Buses back to the terminal were newer, and even more difficult to use with wheelchairs and luggage.
Would I travel with Celebrity again? Not if they paid me to go. If this is premium cruising, I will stick with less fancy ships with crews that know and care what they are doing. Mention of these issues on the comment cards went unnoticed.
We have just returned from our third Transatlantic cruise and the first one on the Celebrity Constellation. You need to know that we are very happy with RCCL and that it has been our preferred cruise line for 18 past cruises. We also believe that everything that we had read said that Celebrtity Cruise Lines is rated higher and so our expectations were greater. We sailed with 33 friends and family so our overall experience does not only reflect our opinion.
We stayed in the Concierge Cabins on deck 9 and our room and service were excellant. Would I pay the difference we paid for this service again? No, but it was worth trying once. $400.00 for a bottle of Champagne and floweres that we had for 9 days, a pillow menu and heavy robes did not make up for the cost.
Our main complaint was the cost of everything onboard. Everything was higher than RCCL -- up to and including Bingo, Drinks, Pictures and Alternative Dining (not to mention the Diamond Club Benefits). Celebrity really does not have a great rewards program for the people that serve them the best.
The othercomplaint by the entire group was no communication. We had a major tender problems in England, high seas on the crossing, stayed in one port in Canada and changed one port, plus the power went out almost every night. Wake up calls happened for us three times at 3:15 A.M. (due to power outages). There was little or no communication. Some first-time cruisers in our group were very worried about their safety.
We are very sorry to report that this was not our favorite cruise and we will probably not cruise Celebrity again.
We went to the Caribbean on this ship. The crew were outstanding!
But what really "made" the cruise for my wife and myself was the entertainment of PERRY GRANT. He was a star in every meaning of the word.
We would recommend his act to anyone.
I hope this review is passed on to Perry. He really was a STAR!!!!!
Report on New England/Canada Cruise Oct. 5-16, 2006
We flew to Newark on Oct. 3 and spent the day Oct. 4 walking around New York after we did a Helicopter tour. We of course always go to B&H when in the area to buy some new technological equipment of which there always seems to be abundance.
We sailed out of Cape Liberty in Bayonne, NJ around 5:00 PM with a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan Skyline. We had a day at sea to relax before our first stop in Boston. We took a duck tour from the Prudential Center and ended back at the Prudential Center. We then took the subway down to the Fanniel and Quincy Market area. After some walking sightseeing and shopping we had a nice lunch of lobster sandwiches at McCormick's. We got a cab back to ship for about $7 for four.
Bar Harbor was our next stop and we toured the Acadian National park with the local bus tour people, which was a very scenic tour. We had a wonderful boiled lobster meal out by the sea side atthe Bar Harbor Inn which had an outdoor restaurant.
Our next port was Halifax, NS and we had a private tour with a driver that lived in the Peggy's Cove area. We therefore got to see out of the way scenery, popping in on various other coves like Peggy's Cove. We got a first hand explanation of the cemetery where many of the Titanic passengers are buried and also the unknown deceased of the explosion of 1917, We also visited the Swiss Air Crash memorial. We rode up to the Citadel for the view of Halifax.
Quebec City was our next port of call and we found it to be beautiful old city. We walked around the beautiful lower and upper city. We did a countryside tour seeing the Montmorency falls and homes around the area along with visiting a beautiful cathedral.
The Saguenay River cruise was marred by some rain and fog, but we still enjoyed it.
Our last port was Portland and we did a nice tour of the city on a trolley like vehicle.
The ship was wonderful as are all the Celebrity Millennium class ships. The captain of the GTS Constellation was the same as on the Constellation transatlantic in September of 2004. Derek Habarken also was the same cruise director as on that cruise. A great cruise marred only by one day of rain and fog in the Saguenay River.
Pictures at: http://www.cruisemates.com/gallery/view.php?id=3137