My partner (Troy) and I (Todd) just returned from our vacation that included the October 25th sailing of the Constellation. All I can say is that it was a cruise like no other. With all of the overnights, it seemed more like a voyage than a cruise, if that makes any sense. Passengers seemed very engrossed in seeing the ports and their time on land seemed to be the focus. Coming from the US, this itinerary was what I would call off the beaten track (not Med, not Baltic etc...) and it proved to be one of our best. Except for our first day at see, we were blessed with sunny days. A bit chilly at times but the sun made it bearable.
EMBARKATION -- We flew in on the same flight as some other Cruise Critic members and were able to share a ride with them to Southampton using Smiths for Airports. Smiths was great! They were on time and got us there quickly and safely. Our flight arrived at 7:30am so we were at the port by 10:30am. I was surprised at the number of people already there checking in, but everything seemed to move quickly. We had the good fortune to book a suite so no waiting for us, not sure everyone else would agree that it moved quickly but it appeared to. The ship was not ready to board so we were given a number and we all went into a general waiting area. Not too long after they started calling numbers and we boarded. I'm not sure and really didn't care how long we waited as we were on vacation, enjoying the company of our new friends and excited about the cruise. We boarded and enjoyed lunch at the buffet and then waited for our rooms to be opened up which happened around 1pm.
CABIN - We booked a suite guaranty and were fortunate enough to be upgraded to a Celebrity Suite. Add a kitchen and we could move in! The cabin had recently been redone when the ship was solsticized and it looked great. We had two flat screen TV's, an ipod/iphone dock, an old computer, a Bose Stereo system and lost or room. We used the ipod/iphone dock a lot to not only listen to our music but to charge our phones as well. Bed linens were nice (not wonderful but nice) and the Bulgari toiletries were great. I do still prefer the beds on HAL but we seemed to sleep just fine. We did have a butler but only used him to make some specialty restaurant reservations and for two lattes every morning. Our stewards were great and we always came back to a clean room with fresh towels. This was our first time as Elite and we loved the discounted pricing on the Internet package and also the laundry benefits. It says turn in laundry by 9am for next day delivery but we turned ours in around 1pm one day and still got it back the next day. A nice surprise as that was not what we were expecting. My only complaint would be to please not mix in the little hair conditioner bottles with the little body lotion bottles. I need readers for close up and they look exactly the same so boy did I get a surprise one day. I did separate them and put the hair stuff in the tub and body stuff by sink. My partner thought it was hilarious and it became a running joke. It got funnier when on the last day he yelled from the bathroom - Wow the lotion seems to so thin and going so much further today. Apparently our steward added a bunch of new bottles so you can guess what he did. We still laugh about that.
SHIP - The ship is great! The size is nice and since we've been on the Constellation as well as the Millennium and Infinity before, so we knew exactly what to expect. We've also been on two Solstice class ships and did miss a few things like the relaxation room you can use prior to a massage and the buffet setup. There are also a few aspects that seem dated but none of those things affected our cruise. The deck plans and photos are online so I don't understand when people act surprised or disappointed in the layout etc... I also don't understand people who complain about an itinerary (um you booked it???) but that's another story. The solsticizing was done very tastefully and we thought the public rooms looked very nice. We love the thalassotherapy pool and hot tubs and used them quite often. The outdoor pools were never used but it was windy 50 degree weather in the Atlantic so that was no surprise.
SERVICE -- This is unfortunately the one area that we thought was not up to the usual Celebrity standards. I wish I could say that the crew and service were wonderful but many seemed indifferent and robotic at times. An example is our waiter who gave us a little speech at the end of our meals telling us the next day's weather, dining times etc... If anyone made a comment like "how lovely" or "wow that's great", he would look a little miffed, seemed to completely throw him and it took a few seconds for him to recover and basically started at the beginning of his speech again. We learned not to interrupt so we could get through it. He was nice enough but didn't add anything to the dining experience and was basically just there to take the order. The bartenders seemed low on energy as well and it made for a less than festive atmosphere at the bars. There just didn't seem to be a feeling of "we're so glad you're here" that we've come to expect. Sorry Celebrity but this one was not up to par. Of course that wasn't everyone and there were others who were outstanding including the shore excursion rep we spoke with, the Captains Club team, the girl who took our drink orders in the MDR, our stewards and other various crew members we encountered. We did have an outbreak of the Norovirus on the 3rd or 4th day so it may have affected the crew's attitude with the additional work they needed to perform but the service was like this from day 1 so I don't know how much can be attributed to the outbreak.
FOOD - The food we found to be generally quite good if not sometimes excellent. The buffet had the usual items and we thought it clever to make one side more American focused and the other side more UK focused. My only complaint about the buffet would be the amount of salt in the meat dishes. You can't possible need that much. Other than that we enjoyed most of the items we got from the buffet and found it to be quite typical of most of our cruises with carving stations, a mix of potato and vegetable dishes, pizza, sandwiches, salads and your standard little rectangular cruise ship deserts which I personally find pretty tasteless. Like on all buffets, on land or on sea, any item sitting for a while got a little dry. We've learned to eat avoid those items. It really is a double edged sword -- if you want the freshest food, you have to go when it's moving quickly and are the busiest times, go when it's quite and empty and chances are the food has been sitting there for a while. The MDR and specialty restaurants were where we found the food to be above average. Meats were seasoned correctly, tender and cooked to order. Side dishes were warm and not overcooked. We had dinner in the Tuscan Grill and I know I had the best Filet I have ever ordered anywhere. We also ate at Ocean Liners and again, the food was excellent. I had the Lamb Chops and it was a huge portion and cooked medium rare just as ordered. In the MDR, the prime rib and lamb shank were the standouts.
So now on to the ports.
LE VERDON/BORDEAUX -- Maybe it was the sunny weather but Le Verdon wasn't this horrible wasteland that I've read about in other reviews. Yes it was far outside of Bordeaux which was a shock at first and caused for some additional planning (thank you Cruise Critic members), but I just did my research and once on board, Celebrity did provide excellent information regarding transfer, train and ferry schedules. The view from the ship over the green marshes out to the countryside was quite nice I thought. The first day we took the transfer to Soulac sur Mer and then took the 2 hour train into Bordeaux. We found a 2 -3 hour bike tour of the city online and had a wonderful tour. In the Chartron district there was an antique street fair and merchants had tables set up displaying their pieces. Every now and then there would be a band playing and there were lots of interesting shops and restaurants. After our bike tour, we took the tram back over to this district to hang out and had an amazing afternoon. I would go back to Bordeaux in a minute. On the second day we opted for a ship's wine tour. Since we were leaving that day we thought it best as this would guarantee us getting back to the ship in time. We chose the Medoc Tour and were not disappointed. We visited two chateaus and both were beautiful and quite different. The drive to them was absolutely stunning and I was surprisingly glad that we were on a bus since we were sitting much higher than a car and it gave us a better viewpoint to see what was around. We had a family style lunch at the second chateau that consisted of fresh bread, pumpkin soup, veal stew with the chateau's white wine, white rice and a chocolate torte for dessert. The actual owner of the chateau greeted us and played host. She was very warm and friendly. We really enjoyed this port!
BILBAO -- Love! Love! Loved this city! We were not sure what to expect but all of our friends who have visited have gone on and on about how wonderful it is and we watched the Rick Steves episode like 3 times but all I can say is that we loved this city. The way it sat on the river with the hills on each side, the way the old and new architecture blended together, the cleanliness and friendliness of the people all made for a wonderful time there. I found two walking tours online and we signed up for each. One was for the day and one ended up being during the evening. The best part was that they were both free!!! The one during the day was with Bilbao Walking Tours, lasted about an hour and a half and took us around the outside of the Guggenheim and around the downtown area. It was informative but boy did she move quickly. If you didn't hear her say Aaaaannnnnndddddd CONTINUE you would be left behind haha. The evening tour took us through old town and was with Bilbao Greeters. I cannot say enough about our tour guide Nuria. She is a truly special person and we wanted to take her home with us so we could hang out some more. Her knowledge and passion for everything Basque had us mesmerized. She spent three and a half hours with us and took us into buildings and showed us things we never would ever have known about and I'm sure were not on other tours (the public library, the opera house while a show was going on etc...). What she had to say about all the places we visited brought the city and it's people even more alive than before. After that we took the 11pm transfer bus back to the ship and hit the sack. On day two we took the transfer bus in and visited the Guggenheim. We enjoyed walking around and seeing the pieces we had seen in photos in person. We spent maybe 2 hours there, got some light lunch and then took the transfer bus back for our 3pm sailaway.
VIGO -- Like I've read by many, unless you were going to Santiago de Compostela, there weren't a whole lot of options for tours or things to do and see. It was our only fully overcast port day and we ended up just walking around the town and then heading back to the ship. We thought about going to Santiago de Compostela but for us, after two days in Bordeaux and two days in Bilbao, we just weren't in the mood to sit on a bus for two hours each way to see a town with a cathedral. Everyone who went said they had a great time and loved it so please don't base any of your plans on our decision.
PORTO -- Another great surprise! I had booked a 3 -- 4 hour walking tour that met at 9:30am and when we road through town it was raining and completely empty - no cars, no people - empty. We thought we were in for a dismal depressing day. What we didn't know was that it was a holiday and by noon the sun was shining and the whole city was out and about. Phew! We chose Bluedragon Tours and our guide was again amazing. We saw and learned all that my head could absorb. After the tour we ate at one of the restaurants along the river (up on level 2) and had a wonderful lunch. We then did something I don't think anyone else did, we took a cab to Museu Serralves. Troy found it online and it is Porto's museum of modern art located on the grounds of a huge art deco estate. There were no exhibits but being fans of art deco, we were really only there to see the villa and the grounds. We were so glad we went and took way too many photos. After that we took a taxi to the ship. Another great day!
LE HAVRE/PARIS -- I've been to Paris once and Troy goes to Paris for work maybe twice a year (sympathy violins come in). Since in our 14 years we've never made it there together, we opted for the Paris On Your Own Overnight tour with Celebrity. Basically it was a transfer to the city the first day with a transfer back the next but was done very well. We thought about taking the train but this also seemed a good way to guarantee we would make it back to the ship in time. Again we had amazing weather and saw almost every touristy thing there was to see. On the first day the Opera House was closed due a matinee and Notre Dam was soooooo crowded we opted to save those for the next day. We saw on an Anthony Bourdain special a restaurant name Les Cocottes and decided that was where we would eat. We read that they open up at 7pm and to get there at 6:45pm as a line will begin to form then. We got there around 6:35pm and were the only ones there. Sure enough though, at 6:45pm people started coming up. The first group was a mix of Canadians and Americans who also saw the restaurant on the same show. At first I thought uh oh, maybe he owns this place and we've been suckered. But I remember all of the tripadvisor reviews we read and then all the locals started lining up. It was just as good as we thought it would be and were so happy we went. The two standouts were the rocket salad with sweet bacon and a poached egg and the langoustine ravioli with artichoke mousseline. For dessert we had waffles with chantilly cream with sides of caramel and chocolate sauce. After dinner we went to our 9:30pm appointment at the Eiffel Tower and took some beautiful photos. The next day we went to the Notre Dam and Opera House and did some shopping. After a stop at Laduree for some pastries and macarons, we headed to our meeting spot and took the bus back to the ship to pack and get ready for disembarkation.
DISEMBARKATION -- Pretty straight forward really. We got up, got ready, went to our spot to wait and waited. They called our number, we got off the ship and collected our luggage. We were staying on for two nights in London so we grabbed a taxi to the train station and took in an express train to the Waterloo station.
OVERALL -- We loved this cruise and for the ports would consider it one of our best. Even with the odd service vibe we still consider Celebrity our cruise line of choice and I'm already looking at the cruises they have for Asia. Happy sailing everyone! If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.