My husband and I just returned from a 7-day cruise on the Constellation departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I want to begin by saying that the cruise ship was incredible! The service was excellent through out the ship. The staff planned everything perfectly!
The entertainment was extraordinary! Besides the fantastic dancers and singers, there was an unbelievable aerial acrobatic duet, Dominique and Clarisse. (a Cirque Du Soleil kind of performance extraordinaire!!) A fantastic string quartet played in the café most evenings and on the formal nights in the dinning room, which added to the overall elegance of the cruise. The Bar at the Edge of the Earth, which was created by Cirque Du Soleil, was a unique experience. (You must try it!!)
The staff took every measure to keep the ship as germ free as possible. The railings, walls and elevator buttons were constantly cleaned with antibacterial spray. The public bathrooms throughout the ship were impressive with fabulous fixtures, flowers and fresh rolled hand towels for drying. There was even an attendant in the public bathrooms on formal nights.
The food was good, very good but not excellent. However, the pastries were exceptional! Theluncheon buffet could use some improvements. (The hamburgers and pizza were over cooked) I realize that preparing food in such large quantities is difficult and this makes it hard to get the food prepared the way you would like it such as medium rare. One evening, we dined at the specialty restaurant, Ocean Liners, and it was superb!! Overall, this was a fantastic cruise experience with sophistication and elegance. I can't wait to cruise on the Constellation again!
We flew out of New Orleans using a Celebrity Package since comparison airfares were much more due to the return city was not the same as the arrival city. We arrived in London Gatwick and were met by our previously arranged driver Steve Knibbs [email protected] and taken to Sir Christopher Wren Hotel in Windsor for a fee of $128.27 (exchange rate of $1.83/GBP). There are cheaper ways to do this, but with 6 pieces of luggage it seemed worth it.
We visited Windsor castle and toured around Windsor until departing the hotel by taxi to go to Heathrow Airport where we joined up with the Celebrity transfer to the ship in Dover, England on Sept. 7th. We had received e-tickets for the cruise which means we did not have any luggage tags. We had only one sample tag, but I made tags using a copy machine and laminated them for endurance. I was happy that I had done this as I turned my luggage over to a truck with several hundred other pieces of luggage in it. Surely the ones with luggage tags identifying them as going to a certain cabin wouldget there sooner than ones without tags. I would definitely recommend making your own luggage tags rather than depending on someone to find your luggage without a tag and have to use a cross reference to find out where it was suppose to be delivered. The instructions had stated that you would get tags at the pier to put on the suitcases. I am thankful I did not have to go and find my luggage at the pier to put a tag on it. I did here one gentleman asking a Celebrity agent where he could get tags to put on his luggage. I didn't stay around to find out how he came out.
We had been aboard the other Millennium class ships before and knew right where to go, so we grabbed our glass of champagne and headed to the room. We had cabin 7202 which was very comfortable and our friends had the inside cabin just across the hall. We visited on the veranda several times, but on a transatlantic crossing the veranda is not used that much.
As usual we had to get our dining reservations fixed. Celebrity always drops the ball on this one, and puts the strain on the dining room staff and the passengers to get fixed what they thought had already been arranged. Miami has a problem here. They have finally gotten the captain's club pre cruise specialty restaurant reservation problem fixed.
The San Marcos dining room is still as pretty as it was in 2002 and we really enjoyed our tablemates. The four of us always travel together but enjoy having others at our table and mix in so we can visit new people. We had a couple from New Jersey and a couple from England as our very nice tablemates.
I don't know what it is, but I always try to order the fish on the first night and it is always dry. Maybe hake is supposed to be dry. The rest of the time the fish was very good. Buffet dining topside was very good as well as the rest of the nights in the restaurant. The Ocean Liners specialty restaurant should not be missed and is something we always enjoy.
We sailed to LeHarve France, our first port, arriving on Sept. 8th, and our friends had made arrangements for a rental car which we picked up and set off. We got over the Honfleur bridge then headed for the coast road rather than to Caen. It was a pleasant drive and we stopped in a small town Trouville that was having a rather large festival and did some shopping.
We visited the Beaches of Normandy, Sword, Juneau, Gold, but did not get up to Omaha and Utah beaches. We did visit the Pegasus Bridge where gliders landed to capture this all important bridge. For our return trip to the ship we followed a tour bus for the best route back and that was a stroke of luck, since it would have taken us two more hours to find our way back. I don't think renting a car was a good idea here since even with maps one can get turned around. The highway markings were not familiar and that can make it difficult. It would be OK to just go to Honfleur but all the way to the Beaches is kind of far by rental car with many opportunities to make mistakes along the way.
Sept. 9th we sailed for Cork, Ireland, arriving at Ringaskiddy dock for Cork on Sept. 10th at 7:00 AM and departing at 6:00 PM.
We had a pre arranged tour with 15 of us and it worked out well. We visited Cobb, Charles Fort and Kinsale in County Cork, where we had a wonderful lunch. We visited a museum that had exhibits of the Lusitania that sunk not too far from Cork. The town nestles between the hills and the shoreline on the estuary of the Bandon River.
Sept 11th we arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland, still a part of England. We set out on a small tour with about 15 people (about $25/person) for the Giant's Causeway. This is a natural rock formation with many myths associated with it. We passed along the Antrim Coast road seeing several Glens. We visited the Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge and did cross it. Very safe as long as there are no high winds. It does lead you to a rock that has some dangerous cliff edges. The path does have some unstable stepping areas. We visited a museum which depicted the exodus of Irish to the United States and elsewhere during the potato famine. There is a tribute to the Lusitania sinking.
While in Belfast, the captain of the vessel determined that the weather in Iceland would be too bad to off load passengers by tender and rather than wave to Iceland as we passed by, he decided to go to Vigo, Spain a city just north of Portugal.
As we sailed toward Vigo, we had a medical emergency and the captain announced that a helicopter cable evacuation would take place off the bow of the ship. The collapsible fences were lowered and two persons came aboard and then one left and the other went up with the basket carrying the patient. We later learned that the patient expired at the hospital.
Vigo, Spain is a port city located in the Province of Galicia. It has a very strong Celtic influence and is not visited by North Americans very often. We walked into town from the ship dock. This is a tiered city and walking up was somewhat tiring.
We set out from Vigo across the Atlantic for the six day run to NYC arriving past the Statue of Liberty about 5:30 AM. During the transit we enjoyed eating at the Ocean Liner's restaurant and had several afternoon performances of entertainers as well as night time performances. The casino was busy as usual. Computer classes in Photoshop were offered and were quite busy.
Arriving in NY we used the double deck Grayline tour busses to tour around the sites and also saw the show Lion King at the very pretty New Amsterdam Theater.
It was a good trip except for missing Iceland.
Pictures located at:
Joe Reynolds [email protected]
Our overall experience with this Christmas holiday cruise with the Constellation is a positive one. However, there is much room for improvement.
The good: 1) The ship is new, clean and quite beautiful. 2) The provision of bath-robes in the stateroom is a nice touch. 3) The public areas are clean, tidy and pleasant. 4) Terrycloth hand towels in public washrooms are a wonderful surprise. 5) The staff are, by and large, friendly and helpful. 6) There is ample closet space in the stateroom. 7) I thoroughly enjoyed the music by the harpist and the string quartet on the ship. 8) The food is good and of great variety. 9) Services are very good in general.
The bad: 1) The ship was full of youngsters (under 25), they were loud and sometimes quite unruly. This might be a result of the holiday season when these young people were not attending school.
2) I personally found the food to be a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, the food was quite good. But so many reviews spoke of how excellent the food was on board Celebrity cruises that I expected much more. There was goodvariety of food but they were simply not excellent.
3) The shows at night were so so. I went several nights to give it a try. They were quite boring. Despite the high level of noise produced by the shows on stage, I fell asleep.
4) The system of separate sommelier and wine steward in the dining room to handle passengers' drink orders is not working well. It takes far too long to be served and far too long for the drinks to arrive. More staff is needed to correct the situation.
5) The snorkelling shore excursions we took were poorly organized. We often waited for a long time to be taken to the destination. Once we were there, we did not have much time to spend on snorkelling. Last year, we were on Norwegian Sky during the Christmas holiday and took similar snorkelling excursions. It was so much better - fast, efficient, and very little time wasted. I think the difference is that Norwegian cruise line has its own dive/snorkel outfit on board the ship and is not relying on local dive/snorkel shops.
6) Immigration procedures for non U.S. citizens on the date we arrived at St. Thomas were pathetic, to say the least. We waited one hour and forty-five minutes to complete the required security check. We basically missed our excursions. Luckily, our U.S. friends waited for us on the shore and we were able to get on a private sail boat to join the departed group. Once again, when we were on Norwegian Sky last Christmas, the customs security check was conducted the night before, on the ship, and took less than fiften minutes. What a difference!
7) The most disappointing event on this trip occurred on the second night of our cruise. Our cabin was on deck 9 towards the front part of the ship. A disco was held in the front lounge on deck 11. The music was so loud that it kept us awake. We complained about the noise by 2:00 a.m. but no one did anything about it. I went up to the disco to request the noise be turned down at 3:45 a.m. and nothing was done. At 4:30 a.m., it was still at full blast. I spoke with several people and no one seemed to care. Not only was the music loud, there were also drunken young people hanging around, loud and obnoxious. It was not a pretty sight. I understand that people are on holiday. But 4:30 a.m. and rock and roll music in full blast. One final note, the saving grace in this unpleasant event was that we were moved to a quieter part of the ship and a slightly better stateroom the next day.
Over all, we had a good time. I hope that my next experience with Celebrity would be a better one.
Just returned from our cruise on Celebrity's Constellation to the Southern Caribbean which included: Puerto Rico, St Criox, Barbados, St Lucia, Antigua, and St Thomas. This is our second cruise with Celebrity, and once again, the staff treated us like royalty. I can not say enough about Celebrity. The service: Asis our cabin attendant was amazing. I don't know where he hides, but as soon as we were close to our room, he would jump out from somewhere to open our door. We could leave for a few moments and come back to a clean room. We had clean towels at all times, and he even set up towel animal figures for my 2 year old son. If we ever needed anything, we could just pop our head out of our door, and there he was, ready to help. I am sure he had many other cabins to care for, but it felt as though he was reserved for just us.
Ivica our waiter was also excellent, as well was our waiter assistance and sommelier. My son did not like to sit for more than 40 minutes at a stretch,so my husband was often away from our table. Ivica would take my husband's course and exchange it for a fresh one if he felt too much time had passed. He was very attentive to us, especially to my son. I don't know how many tables he was in charge of, but we felt as though we were his only one. I have to mention another waitress who we remembered from the Millennium, which we sailed last year. Samena came to visit us every night even though we were not at her table. She was extremely nice and always gave special attention to my son, which we all really appreciated. The entire staff was extremely nice, always smiling, and it just made the entire atmosphere wonderful. The Food: We ate in the main dining room every night with one exception. We got a babysitter for my son (with whom we were very pleased) and treated ourselves to the Ocean Liner. It is not to be missed! For appetizer, I had the goat cheese souffle. It was amazing. Now I am not a real goat cheese fan, but this souffle was out of this world. I had seen others rave about it, and I am glad I tried it. My husband had the lobster bisque which he enjoyed, although he told me after tasting the souffle that he wished he had gotten it. For entree we both had the Sea Bass. It was good, not outstanding, but definitely good. For dessert, I had the Grand Mariner souffle and my husband had the chocolate souffle, we also both got the sampler. Pure decadence. I have to push the chocolate souffle. That in itself was well worth the trip! They also gave my husband a side scoop of vanilla ice cream, which put this dessert over the top! The service and food in the main dining room is excellent, and I could not have imagined being more pampered than the service we received in the main dining, but at Ocean Liners I felt like I was a movie star or something. Honestly, you will not find better service ANYWHERE. I live in the NYC area, where have some of the best restaurants in the world....we are not easily impressed. The service at Ocean Liners definitely did just that. Dining here was one of the highlights of our trip. They also have casual dining, which we only took advantage of the night my son was dining alone. We got him pizza and pasta and ate outside on the Aft deck listening to music while watching the sun set. We tried some of the pasta, and it was delicious. Sometimes we would get an after dinner sushi snack, which was always fresh and good. I can't forget to mention the Spa dining. Excellent. We ate here every day for lunch. Never a line, very healthly and tasty meals. We never ate at the buffet lunch. I realized by the end of the cruise that they also served breakfast. Next time, we'll be visiting the Spa for breakfast as well. The Ship: If you have traveled on the Millennium, it is basically the same exact ship except the Constellation does not have the Sports Bar. We were told it was very expensive to have the big screen TVs getting all of the games on satellite. I don't think they had enough traffic through there to warrant having another one on Constellation. Instead, they have a larger conservatory which housed lots of plants and flowers. As the Millennium, the ship is beautiful and tastefully decorated. It also has an expansive art collection. It was a main "disco", plus a champagne bar, martini bar, and lounge. It also has a movie theatre, which we never went to and a large theatre for shows. Plenty to do. They had an area for kids which included a small pool and some climbing/slide equipment. My son used it the day we were out at sea, but not the baby pool. The waves in it were too much since we were traveling. He was too young to use the inside play area. Children must be 3 years old and potty trained. Next year we'll use the "camp" services. They even watch the children until 1am on formal nights for free. Great deal! Our Room:
We went with the "cheap seats" again. Our room was an Ocean View room without a balcony on the 2nd floor. It was perfect. We were afraid to get a balcony because I had visions of my son getting out on it in the middle of the night and falling off the boat. Paranoid, I'm sure, but I wasn't taking any chances. If we did not take our son, I would have loved to have had one to have breakfast or drinks out on. The room we had (2115) was mid-ship and we were very happy with it. It had plenty of storage and my son slept on the pull out couch. It pulled out into a twin bed. It did get a little crowded when the couch was pulled out, but we really were only in our cabins to sleep and change clothes. The one nice thing about the cruise is, no matter what type of room you had, you were treated first class all the way. I compare it to the treatment I had on my wedding day--it felt as though we were very special. Entertainment: We sent to the lounge prior to having dinner and I have to say a huge thank you to Karen and Carl the lounge singers. They are the nicest people and were so nice to my son. He loved dancing to their music, and at one point they gave him a maraca to play during their act. They were fun to watch. We only saw a few shows in the theatre. We saw a piano player...Finkel, who was extremely talented. We also saw a magician who my son enjoyed. He was okay. We heard the comedian was good, but we missed him. Grand Buffet: Don't miss the Grand Buffet display. It is on the last formal night and it is a site to be seen! I notice that on this cruise there were only 2 midnight buffets: one sherbert display in the beginning of the week, and then the Grand Buffet. However, there is food available 24/7. Islands: We had seen PR last cruise, so we basically stayed on the ship when we got there. Our first stop was St Criox and since we had to be back on the ship by 2:45pm, we decided to spend the day by the pool. I heard the snorkeling was excellent (which we couldn't do with the baby) but otherwise it was not worth getting off the ship for.
St Lucia: Absolutely beautiful. Lush, green, tropical, the Pitons are amazing. We went to Marigot Bay, which had fantastic views, but the beach (sand) itself was not very nice. We heard if we traveled further away near the Pitons, there was a beautiful black sand beach. We'll try that next time. We took a water taxi which cost us $50 round trip. We could have probably talked them down. Barbados: We went to a beach club called the "Boatyard". It is extremely close to the port, and a lot of the crew goes there. You get a beach chair/umbrella and $5 worth of tokens to use at their restaurant/bar for $10. You also have use of their "iceburg" climbing rock in the middle of the ocean and their ocean trampalines. Volleyball is there too. We had the most fun here. Antiqua: We went to Hawk's Bill. It was a $30 round trip taxi ride (usually the taxi drivers like to come back for you so they make the money both ways). You have use of a hotel's amenties which includes a pool. You only have to pay for a beach chair if you want it ($5). I think this was the prettiest beach of all the islands. St Thomas: We went to Megan's Bay. It is listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. In my husband's opinion, it was the prettiest that we visited. It is only $6 per person for a taxi there, and $3 to get on the beach. It is another $5 for a beach chair and you can also rent a float for the day. This beach is a little crowded, but if you walk down a little, it becomes less crowded. There is a restaurant, rest rooms, and showers there. The water is really calm and perfect for lounging out in the ocean on the float. Traveling with Toddlers: My son was very easy to travel with. I highly recommend getting the late seating instead of the main. We had the main and I did this thinking my son needed to eat earlier. Had I planned better, I would have realized we could have fed him at the casual dining room earlier in the night and he would be asleep by the time we had dinner. He could have been next to us asleep in his stroller. Plus, since he slept on the beach until around 4pm or so, he was ready to run around by the time 6pm came. I also recommend bringing some type of shelter if going to the beach. We had brought a little half tent which was very portable and easy to put up. You can't always find a place under a palm tree to shade your child, and not every beach provided umbrellas. My son would sleep nicely in the half tent and we didn't have to worry about him burning. You don't have to bring toys. The children's area let's you sign out a toy box full of sand toys, books, and lots of fun things. My son enjoyed playing with everything. Last Day Advice: We had to get off the ship by 10:30am on Saturday, yet our fight was not until 6PM. We had no plans on how to spend those hours in between. At the baggage claim in Newark we ran into a family from our cruise, and what they did was rent a hotel room in Puerto Rico for the day with another couple. I am kicking myself for not doing that. This way, you have a place to store your luggage, a shower, and a bed for naps. Plus the use of their facilities. We'll definitely do this next time. Stats on us: married couple in mid-30's traveling with a 2 year old.
I am a young cruiser that recently went on the Constellation with my family and it was the best cruise that I've been on so far (3 in total including Crystal Symphony and Celebrity cruise - Century). We went as a group of 10 and boarded at Dover. I must say that my first impressions were not that great at the port, the ship although big in size looked slightly tacky; Service was slow and when we finally got all our room cards they had printed all the titles wrong! My grandpa ended up being a Mrs. and I was apparently married already.
But once I boarded the ship I felt much better, the staff were friendly and free champagne was offered, things were looking up. There is so much to tell about it but it would take all day so I've broken it down to the main things that people normally want to know about from a cruise:
Cabins: We had an Oceanview room and I found that there was more than enough space for everything. Personally I didn't spend that much time in the room anyway so it didn'tmatter. Although we were very lucky to win the top prize in the raffle and won a free upgrade to a suite half way through the cruise! So my grandparents moved there.
The Penthouse (may be important you never know!): My friend happened to be staying in one of the two penthouse suites onboard so we often went there just to relax and even made use of the piano in there! It was really nice and the balcony and hot tub was just amazing. It even had some gym equipment. If I ever went on a cruise and stayed in the penthouse suite I would never need to leave it!
Food- Main dining room: The food in the main dining room was better than everyone expected. Normally my family are quite critical of food as most of them are into the culinary business but they were most impressed. We were especially impressed by the speciality restaurant Oceanliners. It takes 3 hours but the food is definately worth it. I think that the desserts were definately some of the best I've ever tasted although there was one problem with it that we were so full after the first 4courses of the meal!
-Other food on the ship: All of it was great. The fries and burgers, the buffets, even the sushi was quite good. And you know what, don't be fooled by food being served in the spa, it's not all just healthy! There are some really really nice fruit tarts there. And I can't forget to mention the suberb display of the midnight buffet! Not only did everything look fabulously made and decorated, it also tasted amazing! I must have gone through 10 different types of desserts....maybe more.
Entertainment: I was impressed with most of the shows that they did, especially the dancers, the singers were fantastic, Lighthouse I think that's what they were called. The only one that was pretty bad was the comedian, actually he was terrible and me and my friends were sitting near the front so got stuck there pretending to smile and laugh at his jokes when he looked our way.
The casino wasn't exactly buzzing with people but it was a fair amount each night and it filled up on formal nights because everyone wanted to go and show off their evening wear. They had kareoke on formal nights as well which was always a good laugh.
Reflections nightclub I was actually quite annoyed with. The place was huge but they hardly let anyone in there! Some old couples would go in after dinner maybe have a few dances until 10.30 and after 11 they don't let anyone under 18 in even if there is no one in there even if we just want to dance or sit down and listen to some music. In the end the 20 something year olds who were also friends with some of the older teens would go in for a bit and end up going to the teen center and dancing in there because there was no one in Reflections! So basically there were hardly any places to go to if you wanted to dance or listen to music by about 11.
Service and Crew: The service was excellent, I don't think you could as for better. Everyone was really friendly and I made friends with one or two of them! Such as the dealer in the casino and the guitarist. The waiters were all really good at their job too, they carried about 20big main course dishes on one tray! I held my breath for them every time they walked past. But no accidents ever happened, maybe its just a show and they're empty? I doubt it though it was just very impressive. The crew were from all over Hungary, Canada, and I remember there was one from Turkey and I always ordered drinks from him because he was particularly good looking! And the drink was really nice too of course, highly recommend you try the strawberry bliss.
People aboard: There was a fair share of older couples but then there were also quite a lot of families with children. There were quite a lot of teens and early 20 year olds. I made a lot of friends that I am still in contact with now. During sea days we would be around deck 10 relaxing in the hot tubs or playing ping pong, and on occassions we would go to the gym to make ourselves feel a little bit better about eating non stop! The majority of people were American and there were lots of Spanish people, some Puerto Ricans and some English and Asian.
Most people have stories to tell about how they shared their tables with people who didn't speak the same language or something like tha but we never got to do that because we had such a big group of us, so it was just a table for the 10 of us. I wouldn't have minded either way, it would have been interesting to share. I do recommend that you have late seating if you like to be involved with more activities though because you feel you have much more time before and people have to wait for friends who have late seating to do something after anyway.
Overall this was an amazing cruise I had a great time. If the review sounds slightly negative I don't intend to leave people with that impression. It's probably because I have so many positive things to write that I can't fit those on! The positives definately outweigh the negatives though and this is one ship I recommend everyone to take.
This review is the first of two parts of the CIRQUE DU SOLEIL inaugural cruise on Celebrity CONSTELLATION, out of San Juan, Puerto Rico, December 4, 2004.
This reviewer is a semi-retired frequent traveler, not in the travel industry, 58 years old, and has cruised 15 times over the last few years (7 of those on Celebrity). This itinerary was the traditional seven night Southern Caribbean, and it will change a bit in 2005 (more about that later). This was also a Captain's Club reunion cruise and included the presence of the top executives of Celebrity and their parent (Royal Caribbean) corporation for the Cirque du Soleil (CdS) launch. (The Celebrity execs are an innovative and good-humored bunch, but more about that later too). The CdS corporation was also heavily represented, since this represented a major investment by both Celebrity and CdS.
In addition to details about this particular cruise, in the second part of my review (which will follow) I shall also provide a good deal of information about cruising in general, some recent changes in the Constellation and Celebrity, and extensive activity and port information for the value-conscious (read budget) cruiser (itis possible to enjoy each island thoroughly for only a few dollars). Because this is a lengthy review, I will HIGHLIGHT a topic for each section so that the reader can scroll to areas of personal interest and skip those areas of less interest.
The BOTTOM LINE is that this is a wonderful cruise on a great ship which offers premium everything (food, service, entertainment, public areas, etc.) at an incredibly reasonable price. I will give more details about pricing and how best to obtain good values when cruising in the second part of this review. We paid about $560 US per person for two, including port charges and taxes for an outside stateroom. Considering the quality of the cruise, I doubt there is a better value in the entire cruise industry at the moment.
Of the three Caribbean cruise ITINERARIES (Eastern, Western, and Southern), my wife and I prefer the Southern because the islands are smaller and more congenial, and the shore-side experience seems more authentically "Caribbean". There now seems to be so much off-shore banking and other dealings by financial bigwigs (read hedge funds and tax avoiders) and real estate developers on the Eastern and Western Caribbean islands that sometimes the heart and soul of those islands is hidden behind the international shops, the condos, and the casinos.
Our itinerary changed a bit between the time we reserved and sailed, due to storm damage on some of the islands. No problem -- all of the islands here are enjoyable and each seems to have its own special flavor. The one drawback to a Southern itinerary is the cost of AIR FARE to San Juan, PR, which is the departure port. For those of us in the midwestern and western US, week-end airfare to SJU is easily $600 US and up, which is more than some outside and inside cabins cost for the entire cruise (including port charges).
For the budget traveler, I suggest enrolling in an air fare search engine such as Travelocity (there are several other good ones, but I like Travelocity's option of e-mail notification when fares decrease). One can buy air tickets at the best current price when booking the cruise, and then contact the airline for an AIR FARE REBATE (usually in the form of an MCO or credit coupon) when the air fare drops by $50 US or more. Some airlines charge $25 for this credit service, some don't, but in each case you will have to ask for it, it is not automatic. Our air fare started at $630, we bought at $550, and got a rebate at $460. One can book air tickets through cruise lines, but in general their prices are not competitive with internet air fares. The advantage to booking air tickets through the cruise line is that if there is a flight deviation or missed connection, the cruise line will usually get you to the ship one way or another (which is why the first port of call on most itineraries is often the most convenient and the least interesting).
This SHIP LEAVES San Juan at 2300, so that even late-arriving passengers should be able to reach the ship in time. If one prefers, one can always go a day early and spend a night in San Juan. Hotel prices there are a bit high, but the old town provides an enjoyable day of pre-cruise sightseeing.
Also, Celebrity is reportedly very generous to those passengers with EARLY MORNING RETURN FLIGHTS (the ship docks at 0700 and our return flight departs at 0955). If you show your early morning return air tickets to the guest relations desk, they are supposed to give you priority in disembarking (we shall see, I am writing this portion of my review onboard the ship).
Deciding WHAT TO PACK seems to be a problem for most cruisers (quite a few of our new friends on board this cruise reported paying the stiff overweight baggage fees airlines now charge). My wife and I travel with only one carry-on (regulation airline size of 21x13x8 inches) each and we have a great time whether we are spending a few weeks on land or on sea. The secret is that your fellow cruisers are so interested in what they look like, they pay little attention to what you look like.
MICROFIBER suits and sports clothes now provide as much style and convenience as any cruiser could want. My wife and I each pack two outfits in addition to the one we wear on our flights. I have a black suit, a sport jacket with dress slacks, a polo shirt and a dress shirt, a pair of nylon pants for adventuring ashore, plus three sets of underwear, a Gore-tex type rain jacket (rarely needed), a swimsuit or two, one pair of black shoes and one pair of Teva type sandals, a sun hat, and a hanging wash kit (the hanging style is great for small cruise ship bathrooms).
My wife carries parallel items. For evening wear she may take a long black dress, but more often takes tuxedo style cocktail slacks with a silk or sequined jacket, a designer jacket for informal wear, and a black sweater and silk type blouse for casual wear. For shore adventures she takes a pair of nylon pants, a pair of shorts, and a bathing suit. She takes one pair of black heels, one pair of joggers, and one pair of Teva type sandals.
We both carry our own snorkels and masks, lycra bodysuits (for sun protection while snorkeling and swimming) and a day pack to hold all of our beach and pool items. I carry my money and documents in a fanny pack (and a money belt for shore excursions) and she uses a small leather shoulder bag which doubles as a purse while onboard.
Mirabile dictu, we do just fine and sometimes even find we have not worn all of the clothes we brought along. The secret is to do a bit of LAUNDRY every day or two. Celebrity is one of those cruise lines which do not have self-service laundry rooms on its ships. We simply hand wash items in our cabin sink, wring and rap them in those great fluffy cruise towels, and hang them to dry overnight on plastic hangers which we use in packing anyway. The clean microfiber or nylon or poly/cotton blend clothes we pack are always ready to wear the next morning, if needed.
When ARRIVING AT SJU, or any cruise port, we generally take a taxi to the cruise ship. The cruise lines all have representatives greeting incoming passengers, and we always confirm with them which pier the ship is at so that we can tell our driver. That is the advantage of traveling light - we do not even have to wait for baggage claim. If you prefer, you can book transfers from the cruise line.
On this cruise, the ship was docked at the PAN AMERICAN PIER, which is located about half way between the SJU airport and the old town. SJU airport taxis are rate-controlled by a dispatcher. Make certain you visit the dispatcher's curbside booth before getting into any taxi. The dispatcher will give you a multi-copy voucher listing the destination and the price of cab fare, which you then pay the driver on arrival (plus tip of course). In this case the pier was about $17 fare and $3 tip for the two of us and our two bags. You keep a copy of the voucher, which lists the cab's license number in case there are any problems or you forget something in the cab.
AT THE PIER, a pleasant surprise is the discount LIQUOR STORE which you can visit after checking in but before boarding. They offered wine at two bottles for $8 US (we got one delicious Chilean Chardonnay and one awful French Sauvignon blanc - it is caveat emptor so choose what you know, if possible). We also got Freixenet brut at $6 US per bottle. The wine can be drunk in your cabin or (for a corkage fee of about $15 US) in the ship's restaurants. Hard liquor is also available pier-side, but this is more difficult to carry on board unless one has only a very small quantity and is very discreet. Soft drinks are also available at the store, but the cruise line has an unlimited soft drink option for about $5 US per day, which is great for kids or anyone who drinks more than 4 sodas per day. I give kudos to Celebrity and RCCL for providing this great pre-boarding service. I suggest you not abuse it, or it may disappear.
Once on board, my wife and I have FAVORITE LOCATIONS AND DINING VENUES, and I will explore these with you in the second part of this review. Instead, I will close this part of my review with information about Celebrity's well-advertised new entertainment product.
For those who know the Constellation, the big news on this cruise was that Celebrity launched its new association with the Canadian-based CIRQUE DU SOLEIL entertainment group, well-known to Americans for its thrilling combination of acrobatics and new-age artistry seen in traveling venues across the US and in a permanent home in Las Vegas.
For several years, cruise lines have branded their cuisine with the names of famous chefs (Michel Roux, Jacques Pepin, et al.). Celebrity is the first, to my knowledge, to brand part of its onboard activities with a famous entertainment group. The idea is brilliant, but the execution is still in flux (more about that shortly).
After great expense and much effort, the 11-deck forward lounge on the Constellation has been converted to the "BAR AT THE END OF THE EARTH". Rather than presenting its usual acrobatic acts, Cirque du Soleil (CdS) emphasizes that this is an "experience" rather than a "performance", and they add that it is an experience in evolution. We attended three times (well, two and a quarter to be honest) while on the cruise, and noticed it was smoother and more refined each time, but still seemed a bit cerebral, lacking a story line or anything one could really relate to or empathize with.
THE LOUNGE has been draped in white muslin and theatrical scrims so that laser light shows can be reflected off of almost all surfaces. The bar has been retained, but now has something of an "arctic white" appearance. The perimeter seating has been replaced by curtained platforms with cushions (which may be a problem in Alaska or Norway, where these seats are prime nature-viewing locations). The remaining seating has been draped with white linen covers. The stage and dance area have also been curtained with moveable scrims that show projected images relating to the "characters" which appear and disappear over the course of an evening. We were told by another passenger that the investment in décor alone was more than $1 million US.
The lounge features several imaginary (symbolic?) CHARACTERS, each with an elaborate and ingeniously lit costume (one looks like a sea anemone, one a mushroom, one an intestinal parasite, one.. well, you get the picture). Each appears from behind the scrim, dancing and relating to the images on the scrim and the synchronous new-age music. The characters are not recognizable (to me at least) as anything from literature, history, or even the natural world. There is no real narrative associated with any of the characters - again, this is an "atmosphere" or "happening" and not a story or performance in the usual sense. The effect is something like a friendly space bar in the early the Star Wars movies.
This still is a bar, and drinks are served by an agile and (of course) gracious Celebrity staff dressed in Ewok-style hooded brown costumes. As usual, smoking is allowed on the port side (including the bar area), so you may wish to choose your seating accordingly. The music is very loud (as on all cruise ship venues, not just Celebrity's, but more about dealing with that later).
The first night of the cruise, the BAR AT THE EDGE OF THE EARTH was open only to the cruise line representatives for the launch. The second night there was a free preview for Captains Club cruisers, and the following nights there were "masquerade parties" at which those purchasing tickets ($30 per person, mask included, bookable in advance by your travel agent) were requested to wear white and were provided with masks (left in your stateroom or selected at the new CdS shop onboard). Most cruisers were elegantly clad in white, bit one iconoclastic cruiser wore his bathrobe - the essence of "thinking outside the box" when good manners generally preclude wearing one's bathrobe outside the stateroom.
I believe that in the future the CdS lounge experience will be free. Each visit we made was essentially the same format, so attending a masked (ticketed) showing is not necessary.
What was the RECEPTION OF THE WHOLE CdS VENTURE by the cruisers? Well, there was surprisingly little discussion of it (no buzz) by our fellow cruisers after the event (except for one elite-category Captain's Club lady who wanted her money back because she bought a ticket and was also given a masquerade ticket free). At the end of the cruise, all masquerade tickets were refunded.
MY IMPRESSION is that CdS is best known and loved for its acrobatics, and its "atmospherics" when viewed alone are too artsy-fartsy for most Americans, many of whom unfortunately have been "Disneyfied" into homogeneity.
I think Celebrity was a generous host and investor in the project, which is brilliant in concept, but I think that CdS fell short in the product it has provided so far. I say "so far" because I think that the product can be rescued by doing some re-programming. I think most audiences want something they can relate to - preferably a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In this case, real inspiration might be found in the delightful and awe-inspiring lectures of the ship's oceanographic lecturer who demonstrated that nothing exceeds the beauty and ingenuity of the natural world. Why not base the CdS experience on creatures of the sea? It does not have to be dumbed down to a Little Mermaid or Sponge Bob Squarepants, but should have something an audience can relate too.
Perhaps it did not help that the CdS "family" on board this cruise was quite large, and although friendly, they seemed to be a bit self-indulgent both on and off stage. Ironically, the one awesome CdS experience was provided by their sole female gymnast/acrobat/adagio dancer who gave a short performance with recognizable CdS style a few times during the cruise. We shall see what the future brings to the Celebrity/Cirque du Soleil marriage. In the meantime, see it and judge for yourself.
(Part two, including cruise and shore details, follows)
This review is the second installment of two about the Celebrity CONSTELLATION, Southern Caribbean itinerary, Dec. 4-11, 2004. The first part covered pre-cruise planning, embarkation, and the premier showing of Celebrity's new Cirque du Soleil experience. This part covers the ship itself, onboard activities and entertainment, Celebrity's Captain's Club, a BUDGET GUIDE TO SHORE EXCURSIONS, and disembarkation in San Juan. As before, major topics are HIGHLIGHTED to assist in topic searches.
The Constellation is at the large end of the medium-sized cruise ship spectrum at 90,000 tons. This size is the largest we care for, since the mega-ships (100,000 tons and up) have a reputation for diminishing returns in their quality of dining, service, and efficiency. Celebrity is in the planning stages for new ships, and hopefully they will add smaller rather than larger ships to their fleet. Smaller cruise ships allow greater flexibility in itineraries and port access without sacrificing comfort or onboard activities.
The exterior colors of the Constellation have been changed, making the Celebrity fleet more uniform in exterior appearance. The previous blue hull and gold swath of Millennium class ships, which I liked, is now a white hull with a wide blue swath like the previous Century class ships. If you fly into San Juan on the day of departure, you may see the ship docked at the Pan American pier (near the Isla Grande private airport) from the left side airplane windows just before landing at the main SJU airport.
Much has already been written about the Constellation's cabins and public areas, so I will keep further descriptions to a minimum.
In general, the PUBLIC AREAS are stylish in an elegant, post-modernist sort of way. I think they are among the handsomest in the cruise industry. There is very little of the Las Vegas style over-the-top glitz here (with the exception of the casino, of course). Think international boutique hotel atmosphere instead. Some carpeting and décor have been updated since the ship was built four years ago, so it still looks new and is very well maintained.
The ship's own ART COLLECTION is interesting and even edgy, far better than the art being sold in its onboard art auctions (which appeal to shoppers who prefer decorative art). It is worth some free time while onboard just to explore the collection throughout the ship - they have major works by Botero and Chihuly to name just two pleasant surprises.
As I extensively described in the first part of this review, the Reflections lounge on 11 deck forward has been redecorated as the Cirque du Soleil "Bar at the Edge of the Earth" experience. The 10 deck forward GYM equipment seems new, or at least in better shape than I recall it from previous cruises. We have never used the SPA services, which are reported to be good but which we find very expensive (it is easy to spend a few hundred dollars US in a day there). The MUSIC LISTENING ROOM "Notes" has been replaced by an ACUPUNCTURE venue. The THEATER is unchanged, with great sightlines but over-amplified sound as usual (more about dealing with the ship-wide entertainment decibel problem later). The dining areas, grand foyer, shops, photo gallery, library, and alternate dining (Oceans Restaurant) also seem unchanged. There is still NO SELF-SERVICE LAUNDERETTE on Celebrity ships, so bring microfiber or other easy care clothing. The photographers are polite and very capable. Our shipmates seemed to be happy with the formal portraits taken, in spite of the high prices typical of most cruise line photographers. The INTERNET venue has speedy links but relatively high prices (75 US cents per minute for internet use, but one can write WORD documents off-line, then copy and paste them into your e-mail messages while logged on the net -- the excellent internet staff will show you how, or you can send and receive simple e-mails at a fixed rate). There are also good WORKSHOPS on internet use and digital photography skills, some free and others for a fee.
As on all Millennium class ships, the CABINS are efficient in size, with extensive mirrors adding to a sense of spaciousness. Balconies are available with a large percentage of the cabins. Closets and storage space are more than adequate (remember there is a good amount of room under the bed for suitcases and miscellany). The bathrooms are small, and the regular showers are especially narrow (my shoulders touch the wall and the curtain when showering, but upper grade cabins have tubs and wider showers). Whether one wants an inside, outside, balcony, or suite is a matter of taste and budget. In general, prices are so reasonable on this itinerary (especially in the pre-Christmas low season) that this is one cruise where one can usually afford a better cabin category, if that is important to you. Port and starboard cabin locations are immaterial on this itinerary since sights and docking vary from port to port. Be aware that the new room safes re-program with each closure. At each closure, one enters ones personal 4 digit code followed by the # key. If you slip and enter a "wrong" number without watching the screen, you might not be able to open the safe again without help. The room mini-bar is convenient, but watch those prices.
The CRUISERS on this itinerary were mostly late middle-aged, with only a few younger families with children since school was still in session. We met more Latin and African Americans and more Europeans on this cruise than we had on any previous Caribbean cruise, which suggests that Celebrity is wisely broadening its market appeal.
The SHIP'S STAFF tends to be East European in the dining and bar areas, and Asian in the cabin areas. All speak English and all are extremely well trained - they certainly treated us "famously", as the advertising promises. It is ironic that each staff member we spoke with was as interesting as any of the cruisers we met. The staff members were working rather than vacationing on board largely by the circumstance of being born in a developing part of the world -- if born in America, they would probably be professionals in a variety of fields.
SECURITY onboard has improved in subtle ways. You might not notice it, but there is a guard watching the pool area from the deck above during much of the day. A few ports actually did verify our photo id at the pier (we carry a Xerox of the photo page of our passports - we never take our passports ashore). I hope in addition that there are security cameras in the public areas. My wife was robbed while alone on deck during a previous cruise, and the newly upgraded security is more than welcome.
The CUISINE on Celebrity's ships, in addition to the service, is what has made their reputation and set them a notch ahead of the competition. Dinner in the main dining room is wonderful entertainment in itself. The choices for each course are inspired, and the preparation and presentation provide the highlight of each cruise day. To be honest, the main buffet line is standard for the industry, but the specialty buffets at each meal can be delightful - custom omelets and Belgian waffles; specialty salads; good carvery meats including the honey-baked ham; glorious breads and rolls including sticky buns, panettone, light-as-air-bagels (an oxymoron but true); homemade ice cream; Aqua Spa lean cuisine; sushi; orgasmically wonderful patisserie desserts; etc., etc.
To AVOID GAINING WEIGHT, we usually have a light buffet breakfast (usually fruit and an egg-alternative omelet), a sweet roll and ship's tap water while adventuring on shore, a late Aqua Spa lunch, a pre-dinner snack (a slice of pizza or sushi), and a full late dinner in the main dining room. The latter is healthful because portions are controlled and one can have something at each course without feeling full. We have never tried the surcharged ($30 US) alternative restaurant, since the main dining room has been so enjoyable on all of our cruises.
Everyone has FAVORITE VENUES AND ACTIVITIES onboard, and on the Constellation my wife and I particularly enjoy:
---The AQUA SPA HEALTHFUL BUFFET, which is hidden behind the sculpture in the spa pool (remember, the best lean cuisine is behind the fat lady) and is open throughout most of the day. This is a great alternative to the bulk food sometimes found in shipboard buffets. It is also the place where you can find papaya and lime wedges for breakfast (which is my favorite part of any tropical vacation -- I live on papaya in Tahiti).
---The LIBRARY is small but has an enjoyable collection for those who just want to relax with a book. It has a few books in several languages (Spanish, German, French) Celebrity deserves credit adding the services of a very pleasant librarian (Patrick) rather than a rotating (uninformed) library staff.
---MICHAELS CLUB looks like a gentlemen's smoking club, but fortunately the main part of it is smoke-free and features Perry, a very talented vocalist with an excellent voice, perfect pitch, a knowledge of almost every lyric and melody ever written, a campy delivery, and a wicked sense of humor. We are not drinkers, but we spent part of every evening here.
---AFTERNOON SNACKS IN THE 10-DECK BUFFET AREA to cover the gap between lunch and late-seating (8:30pm) dinner, from exquisite pastries or homemade ice creams at tea time, to pizza or sushi a little later.
---ENRICHMENT LECTURES by educators/naturalists in the ship's cinema/lecture area. We enjoyed the oceanographer's several lectures about sea-life and life at sea. Most cruise lines underestimate their cruisers' intelligence (or maybe not) by providing more lectures about shopping than anything reasonably enriching. I give credit to Celebrity for exceeding our expectations once again.
---WATCHING CRUISERS POSE FOR THEIR PHOTO PORTRAITS on formal nights is one of our favorite pre-dinner activities. Simply take a seat near one of the photo shoots and watch your fellow cruisers look their best. Then return to the photo gallery the next day and view the results.
---CAPTAINS CLUB AMENITIES were exceptional on this cruise, perhaps because it was a club reunion cruise or because it was the Cirque de Soleil launch with all the VIPs from the cruise line's headquarters in attendance. In addition to the usual chocolate on the pillow, as "SELECT LEVEL" club members (five to nine previous Celebrity cruises), we received a complimentary bottle of private label wine in an elegant travel carrier, CdS T-shirts and masks, a travel document organizer, a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries and marzipan roses at one bedtime, an internet fee credit, and invitations to complementary wine tastings, behind the scenes tours, several complementary cocktail parties, a complementary champagne breakfast buffet, etc., etc.
It certainly is worth joining Celebrity's CAPTAIN'S CLUB, since every repeat cruiser/club member will get some extra treats. Membership is free, I believe, (there was a small fee years ago when we joined) and one gets credit for each cruise, regardless of cruise length or cabin category.
ENTERTAINMENT onboard this cruise was the best we have experienced. They really assembled the A-team, including a vocalist from London's West End, an illusionist, an impressionist/comedian/singer, a comedian, a dance/acrobatic duo, and excellent musicians in the ship's orchestra and lounges, including a string quartet, a guitarist, a harpist, and a pianist/singer. The cruise director, Eric Bohus, did a fine job in organizing all the entertainment, and we were delighted that he scheduled some of the performers before dinner for second seating guests. My only complaint was that virtually every venue (from pool to lounges to theater to gym) was over-amplified to the point of auditory pain. As a result, I carry EARPLUGS everywhere while on board, and find that using them brings it all down to a reasonable mezzo forte (and they are great on buses and planes, to eliminate travel fatigue).
Before I outline our favorite inexpensive shore activities, I will give just a little information about DISEMBARKATION. This is very well organized, with none of the overhead paging and uncertainty that were prevalent in years past. One is given the usual color-coded luggage tags, leaves suitcases in the hall the last night of the cruise, and is told a time and a location to assemble in the morning with your disembarkation group. Those with early return flights (up to 10am that morning) can show the guest relations desk the tickets, and they will give you "group 1" priority disembarkation tags for luggage and carry-ons. This group assembles at 0715 and disembarks at 0730, barring any unforeseen circumstances.
Since we had no luggage other than our airline carry-ons (one each), and since we CHECKED-IN for our flight the day before over the internet (if you do not know how, learn this before you travel next time -- it allows you to go directly to security screening at the airport if you have no bags to check), we were off the ship at 0730, through pier-side customs at 0735, at the airport via taxi by 0755, and through security and at the gate at 0805. Granted, our travel style is not for everyone, but we like the flexibility and speed of traveling light - the airport was quiet that early, before the masses of cruisers had arrived. For others, I would say that a 1000 flight is reasonable, but much earlier than that may be risky.
Now for the whole reason to cruise the Caribbean - the PORTS OF CALL:
We have found that our enjoyment of each island bears no relation to how much we spend on our activities ashore. In fact, LOW-COST INDEPENDENT ACTIVITIES ASHORE are often the most enjoyable. What follows are our favorites for the various islands on this itinerary. By the time you cruise, the itinerary will have changed (see the internet or your travel agent for the latest updates, I believe Granada will return to the itinerary in 2005 and St. Kitts in 2006), but the principles we use will still be applicable.
Our first recommendation is to buy or borrow a good TRAVEL GUIDE, such as the Lonely Planet series, covering the islands you will visit. Xerox the relevant pages and especially the MAPS, so that you can take them ashore in sections - leave the book at home. Also, ask the concierge for recommendations if you are uncertain - some cruise lines have no clue about public transport, ferry schedules, or secluded beaches, but Kevin on our cruise was well informed.
CASA DE CAMPO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- this port was problematic in that the ship leaves San Juan late Saturday night (for late-arriving passengers), so one has only an afternoon ashore here. The cruise line provides a free shuttle (about 30 minutes each way) from the dock to Altos de Chavon (a Disney-esque artists colony on a scenic hill above the river) and the Marina (where the few very rich locals keep their yachts and vacation homes). These destinations provide pleasant walks but not much excitement. Ironically, there is no good beach at this port (although we had a brief but pleasant swim at the nearby Militas beach hotel complex). The best local beach is at nearby Catalina Island, which some cruise lines use as their port of call but Celebrity uses as a separate shore excursion. The Dominicans have made every effort to welcome cruisers, and the efficient new dock and shuttle service are impressive.
BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS - the ship docks at the port about a mile west of town. There is a free shuttle through the port area to the terminal building, and a share taxi from there into the town center costs $1 US. Instead, we recommend walking straight ahead from the terminal for 15 minutes (about half-way into town) to the Cheapside bus terminal, where you will find cheap local buses that run along the coast. Look for the dozen or so 20 passenger yellow buses in an area across from the fish market. The east coast (Atlantic) beaches are very rough and the west coast (Caribbean) beaches are recommended. Our idea of a perfect beach is a wide strip of white sand with good shade, few people, and no wave-runners. For $1 per person, we took the Speightstown bus up the west coast and got off at Mullins beach, which is a little less than an hour's ride (ask the conductor to show you the stop and the beach access). This is a strip of clean sand with very few people, good swimming, and a restaurant and chair rental nearby for those who need it. It is quite secure, and you can leave your beach bag with anyone (or the chair rental lady) if you want to beach walk or swim for any length of time. Unfortunately in Barbados the landowners are allowed to encroach too close to the surf line. One can walk for miles north or south, but one has to use occasional high tide walkways around some intrusive walled properties. Snorkeling is not very good at this sandy beach, but if you are there around noon, you are in for a treat. About 15 minutes walk north you may see a collection of excursion boats about 500 feet offshore. They are feeding giant sea turtles for the delight of their passengers. If you are a strong swimmer (and preferably have a PFD), you can swim out (straight off the concrete pier beach area) and join them. I was there just as the boats left. The turtles swam back and forth within touching range - their carapaces were easily 5 hand spans long (almost four feet). It was dream-like, the same feeling I had when swimming with dolphins, whales, and manatees - truly a privilege of a nature. For weaker swimmers, one can hire a small boat from shore (for about $20 I believe - some people offered that alternative as I walked to the pier). The bus back to the boat is convenient since bus stops are well marked and near the beaches.
ROSEAU, DOMINICA - This was a substitution for the advertised Grenada, which the ship bypassed because of recent storm damage. Dominica is an eco-island (with no great beaches) known for its forests, waterfalls, and hiking trails. Unfortunately, public transport into the hills is not readily available when a ship is in port. The usual shared minivans turn into taxis and the rates climb to 10 times the usual fare (still reasonable for most cruisers). Instead, we walk about two blocks inland from the dock and catch a minivan south along the coast for 30 minutes ($1 US each way) to Scotts Head, a fishing village with a spit of land and a mini Rock of Gibraltar offshore (which you see as you approach the island from the south). The beach at the base of the rock is narrow and cobbled, but offers very pleasant swimming and excellent snorkeling. Simply snorkel northwards along the shoreline below the rock and you will find a fine coral-festooned wall that descends about 200 feet into the blue depths. The fish here are small - even though it is a protected area, the fishing village is too close to allow fish to grow large. This is an unsecured beach, and you would do well to leave your beach bag with someone (if you can find anyone else there). My wife takes a swim and brief snorkel, and then relaxes on shore with our gear as I snorkel for an hour or two longer. After snorkeling, it is an easy walk up a jeep trail then a well-worn path to the top of the rock, where you will have beautiful views of the village and shoreline all the way back to the ship. Minivans leave the village reasonably often and the return to the ship is no problem.
ST. JOHNS, ANTIGUA - There are two bus stations here within easy walking distance of the dock, which is downtown (there also is a secondary dock a bit farther out). Ask in town for directions to the bus terminal you want. Eastside buses go across the island to historic Nelsons Dockyard, which we did not visit this time, but which has a nice secluded beach within easy walking distance (I think the name is Pigeon Point, but ask at Nelsons for the nearest beach). We arrived on a local holiday when eastside buses were infrequent, so we took a westside bus for 20 minutes ($1 US) south to Jolly beach, which is a broad travel-poster-beautiful beach lined by attractive low-rise hotels, restaurants, and dive shops. The bus drops one just outside the resorts (this is the transport for the resort workers) and one simply has to ask directions for the public beach access. One walks through several checkpoints, the beach is so secure. There were a few wave-runners, but very few people and the water is that wonderful Caribbean blue over the white sand bottom. Snorkeling is not good at the beach, but the nearby dive shops offer snorkel tours in the early afternoon for about $10-20 US depending on how much of their equipment you need. (I did not take a boat snorkel and cannot specifically recommend it). Again, return minivans to the ship are frequent.
ST. THOMAS, USVI - This is heaven for shoppers and tourist-junk-hell for almost everyone else, although there are some nice secure beaches like Magens Bay for about $8 US taxi fare and about $3 US entry fee. If you dock in the Crown Point yacht basin instead of the usual Havensight area, consider taking a water taxi from nearby Tickles restaurant (walking distance from the ship) to Water Island. This is a local hideaway with a very quiet beach just over the island crest. The ship's concierge can give the ferry schedule. It is the antithesis of the rest of St. Thomas and is kept a quiet secret by the locals. On this cruise we took a taxi ($8 US per person tip included) and then the ferry ($3 US) from Red Hook (alternately $7 US from downtown Charlotte) to neighboring Cruz Bay, St. Johns (again, the ship's concierge can give you the ferry schedules). We have been to St. Thomas and/or St. John's almost a dozen times, and the less-developed St. Johns is infinitely more pleasant in our opinion. I think that future cruise itineraries may even spend a day at each island. In any case, watch the ferry schedule closely since you need to allow time to return to the ship. The north shore beaches on St. Johns (Hawksbill, Trunk, Cinnamon) are run by the US National Park Service and are world famous. Open air taxis will take you from the Cruz Bay ferry dock to any of these for about $4 US, or you can hike from the park headquarters building to Honeymoon beach - the rangers can give you maps and specifics. Each north shore beach has good snorkeling around the peninsulas which separate them, and some have their own snorkel trails with underwater signage (but more people). The fish are protected here and are larger and more colorful than on some other islands - with luck you might even see a Hawksbill turtle or spotted moray, both of which I saw this time.
Finally, a word about CRUISE FARES - rumor has it that RCCL/Celebrity will institute a uniform pricing policy which disallows the rebates which some cruise agents offer their clients. I do not know how this will play out, but I hope it does not backfire -- other fine cruise lines like Holland offer a very competitive product and will increase market share if their prices are much lower than Celebrity's. In any case, I recommend surfing the internet to find the itinerary, ship, and price you want. Websites like www.cruise.com or www.icruise.com are good places to start. The former seems to cover a wider array of cruise lines and the latter seems to have more detailed (by cabin category) pricing information. After you know what the price should be (and, again, the pre-Christmas season is a great time for bargains), check with your personal agent since the agencies sometimes purchase blocks of cabins to be sold by a certain date at even lower rates. Some of these agencies (and unaffiliated groups like www.cruisemates.com) have e-mail newsletters to alert you to cruise bargains. On this cruise I used Pavlus Travel's website/cruise link and booked the cruise directly on the net, down to the cabin choice) at an even further discount. You can give your credit card number over the phone if you like. Later, when we received a promotional coupon through Celebrity's Captain's Club, I simply called Pavlus and they added that credit to our final bill, which was about $560 US per person for a category 7 outside cabin (no balcony but a large window), including port charges and taxes.
What other vacation could give you so much at such a reasonable cost! But do not forget to budget for tips of about $10-15 US per passenger per day for the wonderful staff. Celebrity now offers a fixed tipping option by which one simply puts the tips on one's shipboard account. I prefer to tip personally, since I tend to be more generous than the usual guidelines (which are left in your cabin with the envelopes for tips). After all, the great staff is what makes the cruise so enjoyable. I am always angered when cruisers spend money on all sorts of tourist junk and expensive shore excursions only to short-change the people who really matter. Instead, please put your discretionary spending in the hands of those who deserve it, and don't just give them an envelope with money, write each a personal note about what you specifically enjoyed about their service. If they had been born in America, they might have been your own kids.
Last but not least, have a wonderful cruise!
Excellent staff - effective, warm, courteous. Ocean Liners Restaurant's "Wine Cellar" is one of a kind beautiful experience. Shows were much better than expected - don't miss!
Cruising the Saguenay Fjord was delightful, spectacular steep walls, autumn leaves, wildlife close-up.
Town of St. Martin on the Bay of Fundy was worth the field trip at low tide, great mud flats. Fine seafood chowder luncheon.
Best ship elevator banks at sea. Very fast and smooth!
Out of 21 cruises I have to say Celebrity has been the best cruise line. The Constellation is beautiful and the staff top notch. 13 days was such a restful vacation for us.
Our dining was out of this world. If you wanted to eat at the specialty restaurant, casual dining, buffet, or main dining room, they were all great.
The Shows were excellent. The special groups brought onboard to entertain us were all fantastic. One of the best things about our cruise was the staff. Not once did I meet someone in the hallway that didn't have a friendly face and a wonderful greeting. This means so much. It wasn't phoney and you had no problem understanding the foreign staff. English was not a problem for them. By the 3rd night in the lounge, the wait staff not only knew the drinks we had been drinking but also greeted us by our last night. That was so comendable for staff to take that little extra touch of kindness. By the end of the cruise you felt like you were leaving old friends. I will sail with Celebrity many more times.
Another attributeto Celebrity is embarkation and debarkation which went so smoothly. We were on the ship in less than 1 hour and off within 30 min. of our projected time slot. You can't beat that!
My wife and I took the Celebrity Constellation Scandinavian and Russian cruise to sample the eight countries on the itinerary, along with a pre-cruise stay in London. The pre-cruise experience, the ship, the ports and the logistics were all memorable experiences worth sharing. Perhaps our experiences can help others be better prepared to enjoy similar cruise opportunities. A few suggestions are included here to assist.
Pre-cruise Experience and Preparations.
We booked the Hilton London Metropole hotel through Celebrity to rest after our trans-Atlantic flight and to see a little of London. Warning: prices in the hotel for food are VERY EXPENSIVE. The Metropole hotel is very convenient to downtown London.
Suggestion: Take advantage of the "breakfast included" in the hotel rate but get out to local restaurants for lunch and dinner.unless you want $60 sandwiches and drinks for two for lunch.
Suggestion: Book a transfer from the airport to the hotel on the internet before you go. It is a 30 minute train ride from Gatwick and the pre-booking costs $77 for two using Hotel Link, a large operation. They escort you from the airport to the hotel.
We took the double decker traditional bustour of London. It has a tour escort. Many famous London sites, including a river cruise on the Thames, are included. A great opportunity to see the sights, get on and off the bus as you please to tour and eat. The double decker London bus is a fun experience in itself. The tour can be booked at the hotel, on line or at the tour stop.
We booked the hotel to Dover port transfer. It was a 1 ½ hour bus ride, efficiently run with two bus loads of fellow cruise passengers.
Suggestion: Book the transfer. Individual transportation is much more expensive and not as reliable.
Local currencies were a concern during our cruise planning. Not a worry! The dollar is widely accepted, along with credit cards.
Suggestion: Exchange a few dollars for British pounds to cover incidentals and tips in London. We also got a few Euros to use in Germany. The ship has an on-board bank for currency exchange.
Celebrity's Constellation deserves the number one ranking it received from Conde Nast for its class ship. The total of a number of small differences truly raised the ship experience to its award level. The color scheme ( highlighted with royal purple in many common areas), greetings and genuine friendliness by all crew members, the on-board bank, framed photographs ( a lot of them) lining the corridors in the cabin areas, robes in the cabins, food quality, internet café, on-time service ( including room service), shops, on-TV options including stock quotes, presence of supervisory personnel checking quality and customer satisfaction, special window screens in the dining room for formal nights, outside elevators at midship, tour organization and execution, and cleanliness.
The Oceanliners restaurant is worth a try. The décor and service were way above average and complemented the excellent food making it a special evening experience.
The ship's two level San Marcos dining room, highlighted by a two story window at the rear of the ship, along with its topside restaurants, grill and no-extra-charge ice cream bar provided all the food needed, There were also at least two "midnight buffets".
Suggestion: Establish a celebrity email address before you leave, share it with people who may have an important need ( $2 per email address) to contact you..and the ship will alert you when an email arrives.
The entertainment was varied and very good with the theater shows and entertainers as the centerpieces. The Constellation has a variety of lounges, enough to suit every taste.
This cruise is really all about the eight countries ( England, Norway, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Denmark ) the ship visits during the 14 day cruise. We booked at least one tour in every port and were pleased with the decision, principally because the tours provided excellent and very knowledgeable guides and provided access to places we could not have achieved any other way.
England: Take the London bus and river tour as I explained above. It was the only tour we booked locally, but we knew about the tour before traveling.
Norway: We took the "Norwegian Adventure" tour that included trips to the Viking Ship Museum ( several restored Viking ships), the Kon-Tiki Museum ( contains Thor Heyerdahl history and replica of the Kon-Tiki as well as the real Ra ships), the Maritime Museum ( a great 5 screen multi-media show on Norway's seashore activities). Sailing out of Oslo be prepared for photos as the ship sails under one of the highest bridges in the world.
Russia: The Constellation spent two full days in the St. Petersburg Port, perhaps the centerpiece port for the cruise. We took the full day "Grand St. Petersburg with Hermitage" tour the first day and "St. Catherine's Palace" tour on the second day. It was a great way to see the bustling port city, hear about its restoration after communism's fall, see for ourselves the levels of activities including traffic jams and experience the feeling of freedom residents feel. Lots of highlights..
. Hermitage Museum is a must for art and history buffs. The museum has millions of exhibits and would take days to tour. We saw, in a couple of hours, walls filled with very accessible works, LOTS of works, by DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, VanDyke, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh and countless others Suggestion: Be prepared for stairs and a grueling walk.
. St. Isaac's Cathedral, included on the tour is an awesome display of architecture, art and ornateness.
. St. Catherine's Palace is also huge, highlighted by the fact that it has been largely reconstructed after its destruction in WW II. A major feature of the palace is it's "Amber Room", a room with walls and pictures all made of different colors of amber. The entire palace and grounds are too big to appreciate without a visit. A special bonus of the tour was the bus ride to the palace which passed the front line where the Russians stopped the German advance on the city in WW II.
. St. Petersburg port is the largest and busiest port I have ever visited. There are hundreds of working port cranes, ships everywhere and a lot of action. It is worthy of a lot of photos.
. Astoria Hotel lunch was a big treat as part of the tour. A Russian lunch, complete with a taste of vodka and Russian entertainers was a lot of fun.
Souvenirs? There were Russian vendors at every stop with large selections. Dollars accepted.
Finland: The "City of Helsinki" tour gave us a great overview of this attractive, clean city with a busy downtown area. Several stops with the Rock Church, a unique church carved from solid rock with a copper dome, were included. We visited Senate square and a very impressive, domed Lutheran Cathedral. ( be prepared for a lot of steps to the cathedral)
Sweden: Stockholm is also a modern and very picturesque city, perhaps the most picturesque of all we visited because it is built on several islands; mixing water, old city, new city, parks and ships. The ship couldn't get into the Stockholm port because of weather so it anchored at Nynashamn, about a 45 minute bus ride south. This bonus gave us a ride through the beautiful, rich green countryside. We took the "Stockholm and Vassa Museum" tour. Great views of the city and time to see the real Vassa, a 17th century warship that sunk on its maiden voyage.
Poland: The ship docked in Gydania and we took a bus to Gdansk for the "Leisurely Gdansk Tour". A highlight was passing the Gdansk shipyard where the revolt against communism started. Poland was a special treat as we could see the ongoing recovery of the people and their appreciation of freedom.
The tour includes a shopping stop in a very nice area with a lot of shops and restaurants along the waterfront.. great opportunity to purchase amber and get nice photos.
Germany: The ship docked at Warnemunde, a very scenic port with a shops and a fishing fleet anchored walking distance from the ship.
Suggestion: Make time for a walk to the shops and the photo opportunities the area offers.
We took the "Molli Steam Train and Historic Mecklenburg" tour. The highlight was a 30 minute ride on a working steam train that services several towns in the area. Stopped in a small town for coffee and dessert at a local hotel.
A ride through the formerly East German country side and villages, with narration by the guide, showed the dramatic, positive results since German reunification.everything is new.
Denmark: Copenhagen is an overnight stay, from noon-to-noon. We took two tours: "City Sightseeing With Dragor Village" and "City of Copenhagen", similar tours but little overlapping. Copenhagen is a colorful city with its share of castles, statues and museums. The number of bicyclists is impressive. They are everywhere, in very large numbers. Dragor Village is an old village characterized by hundreds of small yellow homes with thatched roofs.
A stop was made on both tours at the "Little Mermaid" sculpture in the harbor.
Suggestion: The "Little Mermaid" sculpture is walking distance from the ship. There are also a lot of shops and restaurants across the street from the ship.
Celebrity planned and executed arrangements efficiently. Some examples:
. Boarding was easy. We were the only ship in Dover. After the ride from London we were on the ship in record time and having the first afternoon buffet lunch at lunch time. 5 to 10 minutes for the embarkation.
. Disembarkation was just as easy. There were a large number of people to guide us through the baggage ( with an attendant for each family) and to the bus to the airport.
. Airports are not near the port so transfers are needed. Booking through Celebrity buys insurance that you will get onboard.
. Tour booking may be done on line before the cruise. We did that and the tickets were waiting in our room. Tours do sell out so pre-booking works well. If you change your mind refunds are easy.
. Money exchange is easy because dollars work well ( as do Euros) in most, if not all the tourist areas and money exchange facilities are readily available, including a bank on the ship.
. Weather is a consideration in Scandinavia. Weather for us was generally very good, in the 60's for daily highs. Be prepared for stiff breezes.
Summary: A very nice cruise opportunity to visit countries and cities with centuries of history to see and share while staying in above average accommodations.
Our first Celebrity sailing and a terrific one! The Connie is a beautiful ship, her decor is subtle yet elegant. Embarkation went smoothly and did our departure. Service was impecable, especially at the San Marco restaurant. Dinner Ocean Liners was very elegant and the atmosphere outstanding (as was the food).
The entertainment was superb, of excellent quality and professionalism. But for the noise above my cabin on deck 9, this was a magnificent cruise!