Our Diary on a 12 Night Immersive Wine Cruise Celebrity Constellation October 1, 2012
Saturday, September 29~ Departed from our home. After 3 flights and 22 hours later we arrived at Heathrow International, on Sunday at 7:30 a.m. Smithforairports was waiting for us along with the two couples we met on our Cruise Critics roll call who helped share the transfer cost to Southampton. Our cost to Southampton was 105.00 GBP split 3 ways in an 8 Seater minibus. The price per couple was around $57.00 USD.
Smith's will take credit cards charging a 2.00 GBP additional fee. Since the airport exchange rates are the worst, this made perfect since to us until we were able to find an ATM.
Meeting place for Smithsforairport was at the information desk in Heathrow just past baggage claim.
Smithforairports e-mail address is email@example.com
Sunday, September 30th- It took about 90 minutes to travel from LHR to our hotel More
in Southampton. We pre-booked an internet special (non-refundable) at the Premier Inn West Quay for a 1 night stay. The hotel was new and it was voted #1 hotel in Southampton by Tripadvisors. It wasn't the Ritz Carlton by any means but for 39.00 GBP it was definitely worth it. The Premier Inn was conveniently located 5 minutes from the cruise port and in the city centre. Also, it was about an 8 minutes walk to the Red Lion Inn where we had planned to go for dinner that evening.
The Red Lion Inn located at 55 High Street is the oldest ale house in the city. On Sunday they have specials on family style dinners which go very well with their locally made ales on tap! The Red Lion Inn claim to fame is their 20 plus ghosts! That's right, as per their website at http://theredlionsouthampton.com they boast 20 ghosts; all of them eager to make an appearance. Unfortunately we didn't see any ghostly aberrations. Hmmm, I guess they didn't get the memo from us requesting that we wanted them to make an appearance?
Monday, October 1st~ We woke up to a 70% chance of rain and the weather outside did not disappoint. Just after 11:00 a.m. we left our hotel into a grey cold and driving rain. But that didn't dampen our spirits because this was it, the day we embark on our cruise ship the Celebrity Constellation, our home for the next 12 days.
Embarkation went very smoothly; we were on board within 20 minutes. My first stop before heading to our stateroom was to visit the MaÃ®tre d. Because of the uniqueness of this cruise itinerary, we were on a waitlist for Select dining since July. I guess everybody else on this cruise ship was thinking and doing the same thing, hence the waitlist!
So the type A personality that I am, I was going to find the infamous Maitre d named Adam! But when we found where Adam was holding court, there was already a line that had formed with the same agenda. Finally it was my turn to speak and I gave him my reasons why we needed to go from early dining to Select. Adam looked at me and said, Madame, this is a totally sold out ship, but I'll put you on my hotlist for Select dining. So I thought my request for Select dining is going to happen between 12:00 and NEVER?! Oh well, we could always go through the buffet line the nights we come back late from our shore excursions, which were many!
Now we were off to check out our stateroom, 9152, a guarantee Concierge Class Veranda. We've never have gone this route before, but what a deal this turned out to be! Waiting for us in our stateroom was a chilled bottle of champagne with two glasses, a large bowl of fruit, flowers, and chocolate covered strawberries. Yes, life is good especially with Celebrity!
After finishing off 2 bottles of champagne with our dear friends and traveling companions, Mike and Mary Ann, who were also in guarantee Concierge Class, we were chatting about our up coming cruise when I looked out to see a very SUNNY balcony! This was a good thing, in fact this was AWESOME, because at 5:00 (after the muster drill) we had a Sail-A-Way get together at the Sunset Bar deck 10 for a little soiree of 99 people from our Cruise Critics roll call. By the way, guess who the hostess was....that would be me!
Additional note: The taxis from the hotel to the cruise port were 5.00 GBP.
Tuesday, October 2nd Le Havre & Paris- We decided since we haven't been to Paris for at least 30 years and Mike and Mary Ann haven't been since their honeymoon 40 years ago this had to be our #1 priority, an overnight stay in gay Paris!
We bought roundtrip tickets from Le Havre to Paris for a non-stop train (no hassle of changing trains) with Rail Europe in advance for 4 people. The cost was $370.00 USD with an $18.00 shipping & handling fee which was included of in the price.
We also pre-booked the Hotel Muguet in the 7th Arrondissement, a 5 minute walk to Rue Cler and 15 to 20 minute walk to the EiffelTower. Hotel Muguet was also a 5 minute walk from the metro train station Ecole) Militaire, which was very convenient especially going to and the from the St. Lazare Train Station.
Hotel Muguet was adorable and the view from our bedroom window overlooked the golden dome of the Invalides, which was especially beautiful at night! With our carry-on bags in hand we checked into our hotel around 1:00 p.m. and dropped off our bags, then quickly departed to take a direct metro train (yellow line) down to Versailles for the afternoon.
The entry fee on Tuesdays is 25 Euros, more than any other day of the week because of the music in the garden and probably because the Louvre is closed on Tuesday. Normally it is 18 Euros. The gardens of Versailles were breathtaking. You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours strolling through them. The Versailles is very comparable to the Peterhof in St. Petersburg, Russia and oddly enough the Peterhof is also known as the Russian Versailles. The display of wealth in both palaces is hard to imagine, I can see how the French & Russian people were just a little disenchanted with their rulers who definitely knew how to flaunt their riches!
Wednesday, October 3rd ~ Paris, France ~ After meeting Mike and Mary Ann downstairs at 8:00 a.m. we decided to eat our breakfast at the most famous market street in Paris the Rue Cler. The Cafe du Marche was definitely the most popular amongst the locals and a great place to people watch. We ordered their breakfast special which consisted of orange juice, coffee, freshly baked croissant, and a ham & cheese omelet. The cost for per person was 10 Euros which was a real deal, especially in Paris!
Our plan for the day was to buy passes on the Batobus which is a hop on, hop off panoramic glass enclosed boat on the SeineRiver. The Batobus stops at 8 stations; we bought a 1 day pass in front of the EiffelTower for 15 Euros per person. The stops included were as follows:
The Eiffel Tower, Musee D Orsay, Saint German Des-Pres, Notre Dame, Jardin Des Plantes, Hotel De Ville, The Louvre, and the Champs-Elysees. Pick up was every 25 minutes; what a great way to see Paris especially on a very limited time schedule. The Batobus website is: www.batobus.com
Train from Paris left on time at 4:50 p.m. arriving in Le Havre at 6:58 p.m.
Taxis were supposed to be plentiful, especially when a train arrives. Unfortunately they weren't, we waited for at least 15 minutes in the pouring rain before we were able to secure one. Price to and from the cruise port to the train station was 10Euros.
Additional note: The Hotel Muguet had a storage area for our luggage, which we used on the second day after checking out. We retrieved our bags from the hotel on way back to the St Lazare train station very convenient.
After being gone over night to Paris we noticed we had several invitations on our bed and one was from Adam, the infamous MaÃ®tre d. It said, Celebrity is pleased to inform you that you now have Select dining! So quit your whining!!...No, he didn't say that, but I'm sure he was thinking it ;D
Thursday, October 4th Sea day ~ Awww yes, our first sea day and a much needed day of rest! This was also the day of Celebrity's Meet and Mingle, which was scheduled for 10:15 a.m. at the Reflections Lounge. As the roll call keeper, I was always checking the boards to see how many members to date had signed up for the get together. The day we left for the United Kingdom we had 132 reservations. I was concerned since I read from the other roll calls that Celebrity was not getting the invitations out to every stateroom. I even posted this before we left letting everyone know if they did not receive an invitation to contact the front desk. Unfortunately a number of people that were planning to attend did not receive their invitations, which was very disappointing since I went out of my way to speak to Roxanne, the lady in charge of Cruise Critics/Meet & Mingle functions on board the Constellation. She assured me that everyone would receive an invitation.
On a positive note, the reception line at the Reflections Lounge was impressive, the captain and all the first officers along with the cruise director were all there for roll call Meet & Mingle.
Additional note: This was our first formal night. The second was on Monday, October 8th leaving Bilbao, and third was Thursday, Oct. 11th our second sea day.
Lunch was at restaurant called Le Savoie in the MargauxVillage. The manager of Le Savoie set up a very nice banquet room for 16 guests. We had another tour group of 8 with Bordeaux Vertigo that joined us for lunch. It was fun to share our notes with them on the ChÃ¢teaux that we had visited during the day. Drop off was at the Le Verdon docks at 7:00 p.m.
The last ChÃ¢teau, ChÃ¢teau Lynch-Bags had a very nice square or hamlet with shops and eateries. Our group decided to pick-up a quick bite so we could head back to Marguax Village to Cave L Avant-Garde , a wine store which Bogdan suggested (just in case we didn't have enough wine back on the ship)! Drop off for today's wine adventure was at 3:30 p.m.
On a final note: We will always fondly remember the 2012 harvest in the Bordeaux region, especially picking up more than a few bottles of wine from 7 different ChÃ¢teaux. We can now say that 2012 was an excellent year for touring the beautiful countryside of Bordeaux especially with Bogdan as our guide!
Their website is: www.bordeauxvertigo.com
Additional notes: Contrary to what I have read on other roll calls, we never had any of the staff from the cruise ship confiscate our wine upon embarkation. We were able to take wine on board at every port.
Sunday, October 7th- Bilbao/ Gexto, Spain ~ Joe and I went round and round on what to do in Bilbao for a Rioja wine tour. The tour companies we contacted were very expensive. Finally we negotiated a tour with Thabaca, which turned out to be a great itinerary and one of favorites in Europe!
We met our driver at Bilbao port at 8:15 a.m. and proceeded to meet our tour guide, Elena, in Rioja. Elena was enthusiastic and more than willing to share her love and knowledge for Rioja countryside.
We had a photo op at the famous Bodegas Ysios, conceived as a temple dedicated to wine, which became the pioneering signature winery in La Rioja. It set the trend for construction of avant-garde wineries. Its name, Ysios, pays homage to Isis and Osiris, two Egyptian gods closely related to the world of wines. Unfortunately because it was a Sunday it was closed! Ysios is spectacular Bodegas, even though we were unable do a wine tour!
The next stop was at the Bodegas Carlos San Pedro. The San Pedro family has been producing wines in Laguardia, Rioja Alavesa for over 500 years! Most of the wineries in this area stored their wines in ancient caves which guarantee perfect temperature, humidity level, and darkness all year round. Adding to the medieval feel and surroundings was our wine tasting held inside a cave with just a few lights and candles. We were able to taste the wine directly from the tanks inside the caves. It was good, but his bottled wines revival any Bordeaux wine we had tasted so far! Carlos was a perfect host and his knowledge and love for his wine was evident!
Our next stop was at Ostatu, a very picturesque winery! This is where you can really appreciate the Rioja region. It was breathtaking, especially during their harvest! Our hostess was Maria, the daughter of the Samaniego family, which has owned and managed the winery for over 500 years! Maria was a gracious hostess; her pride and knowledge of wine making was in her voice and eyes. For our wine tasting she took us to a beautiful patio area where two of the walls were enclosed by glass. The other walls and patio floor were in sandstone. Instead of having grout between the tiles of the floor, there was grass. In harmony with the color scheme were the red clusters of chilies peppers that hung on the sandstone walls, very classical Spanish!
Maria came out with plates of different varieties of grapes that grew in their vineyard; they were delicious. Next, she came out with 3 different wines along with plates full of prosciutto on crusted bread. I later read in their brochure that they designed their tasting room, the Txoko Ostatu, to be the best atmosphere to share with friends and we could not agree more! Their wine was excellent and at very reasonable price!
Lunch was on our own in the medieval Old Centre of Laguardia, which was an enchanting place to sight see, eat, and drink. It reminded us of Tallinn, Estonia which we also visited with Mike and Mary Ann.
There were many outdoor cafes that served pintxos (tapas) with wine and beer at very reasonable prices. This was a great way to people watch while touring the village.
Our next stop was at Marques de Riscal, the largest winery in Rioja (also known as The City of Wine). This winery has two very different designs and styles going on. The battle of old verses ultra contemporary. The rose colored and grey steel architecture curling around to symbolize a grape vine was not quite our style, but unique. To us it looked very commercial on the verge of being more like an industrial factory than hotel and winery. But the courtyard and wine tasting room were tastefully done and more traditional with local sandstone defining the old Spain, like a Spanish Missionary! On a positive note, the wines here were good.
Additional notes on Rioja and Thabuca tours: The tour cost was 115.00 Euros per person, which included VAT, entrance fees, wine tastings, and an English speaking guide in a minibus that held 12. Tour duration was from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. All in all, we were very happy with Thabuca Tours, we would use them again in a heart beat if we our fortunate to return back to Spain!
Monday, October 7th Bilbao/Gexto, Spain~ Day 2 in Bilbao- The weather in Gexto was gorgeous! So Joe and I chose to walk around the cruise port of Gexto especially since we had been on a treadmill for the last 6 days combined with an early departure time at 3:00 p.m.Gexto is a very clean port and seaside town with their beautiful promenade, marinas, shopping, and numerous restaurants to choose from, not to mention the stately mansions along the coastline. We returned to our stateroom around 1:00 p.m. to get ready for our next event, a blind wine tasting at Linda and Chris's penthouse! Not really, they had a Family Veranda on the aft! Linda & Chris were very gracious hosts, not only did
they provide their beautiful stateroom but they also had yummy appetizers for us to enjoy. There were 6 couples in all and each brought a covered bottle of wine for the tasting. To make it even more enjoyable, we were blessed with perfect weather! A wonderful afternoon was had by all! Thanks again Linda & Chris!
Wednesday, October 9thPorto, Portugal ~ This was our last port of call and our tour was with Lisbosightseeing.com. Our pick-up was at 7:45 a.m. and our driver/guide arrived in an 8 Seater Mercedes Benz minibus. Our first stop was at a small medieval town called Amarante, where a 16th Century monastery is located. Unfortunately we were not allowed to enter because they were having mass that morning.
Our next stop was the famous MateusPalace in the municipality of Vila Real, Portugal. The 17th century Manor House is considered to be the most beautiful and emblematic baroque building in the country. Our group decided not to tour inside the palace, so we enjoyed walking through the beautiful palace gardens while taking pictures. This allowed us more time at the wine tasting room. We had 2 different kinds of tastings. The first was with 3 different wines for 1euro per person and our second tasting was with 2 port wines for 2euro per person. Mateus certainly has come a long way from the days that we drank their wine in our early 20's!
Our next stop was at the Quinta do Tedo's wine estate, a very pretty family run winery situated on the upper banks of the DouroRiver. We tasted 3 different wines with no tasting fee. We all took naps on the way back to the ship.
Additional notes on Lisbosightseeing: The Douro wine country tour cost was 360.00 Euros. This was for an 8 pax, which is about $115.00 USD per couple. This was paid up front via Pay Pal which was a leap of faith for all of us! The duration of the tour was from 7:45 a.m. to 4:00 pm. The tour price did not include wine tasting, entrance fees, or lunch. By the way, we also paid for our driver/guide's lunch. I guess this was expected and it is customary in Portugal?!
Thursday & Friday October 11th and 12th Sea days- Well folks, we are coming to the end of our amazing 12 day Immersive Wine Cruise, and what a cruise it was! It was one our favorites, we loved the overnight stays in some of ports of call which gave us a chance to really immerse ourselves. It was historical, fast paced, and the people that we met on our tours were easy and FUN to be with! Thanks everyone who shared our tours, we had some great times and memories!
On a final note we used Smithforairport for our transfer back to Heathrow. This time we had 4 couples with 12 large suitcases and many carry-on's. I don't know how our driver got all our suitcases in the minibus, but he did! The cost from the cruise port back to Heathrow International was 92.00 GBP for an 8 pax, which was around $40.00 USD per couple.
I hope you find this informative. My husband doesn't understand why I do this, but I tell him I do it to help others plan their vacations. By the way, we love Celebrity, especially the staff and service.
Always remember to embrace the moments in your life!
Our cabin was 9152, a Concierge Class Guarantee (C-3). The only down side is it's location, it is directly across from the cabin attendants work space. The door was closed all of the time so no unslightly views! But we heard the door opening and closing in the early AM, especially the days we wanted to sleep in.