Immersive Wine Cruise November 2012
Check-in was very fast and without incident. On this occasion there was a 'fast channel' for Elite and Concierge passengers though it was not marked as such. However embarkation was being delayed as the ship was undergoing a deep clean. The facilities at the berth in Southampton are not the best so a couple of thousand people milling around made the place uncomfortable. When we were allowed on board, it was only to "enjoy the facilities" of the ship but with no access to the cabins until later. Seeing the ship under this stress in terms of density of people showed how well it absorbed them with no feeling of being crowded whatsoever. There are lots of little places to hide and sit everywhere.
I was on this cruise 'for the ship' and not the itinerary -- I had always wanted to try a Millennium class ship and, after an accident in the gym, was temporarily not as mobile as usual and had to curtail my excursion activity.
When I got to my cabin I had to investigate. There was good cupboard and drawer space -- and I found something I had been looking for for years on the Eclipse -- the second hairdryer. It then came to me that the person writing the cruise line's brochures had not kept up with the design of the ships. This Concierge cabin's bathroom had a hairdryer as part of the fixture with a second hand-held one in a cupboard whereas the Solstice class ship's bathrooms do not have such a fixture. [By the same token, RCI brochures advertise "360 degree views" from the Viking Crown Lounge. Hmm? I don't think so. From the old Sovereign Class maybe, but from the Freedom Class? I think if I were to be hanged by my ankles from the windows at the extremes of the Viking Crown Lounge of the Independence I wouldn't get much more than 270 degrees.]
The cabin was not 'finished' in terms of putting out the extras (kettle, wine, robe etc) but I was not complaining as the staff were obviously very busy with the extra cleaning. They were making some mistakes as I had the paperwork (invitations etc) of four other cabins -- two were close so I posted them myself and the others I handed to my steward. The balcony was clean enough but the metalwork was showing signs of age, ie a fair amount of rust through the paintwork. The bathroom and shower especially were a fair size with enough storage but the shower had difficulty maintaining consistent water temperature on occasions. Next day, all my missing extras arrived.
Because of the heightened sanitising regime, there was almost nothing outside of one's cabin anyone could touch apart from the fabric of the ship -- the only exceptions being the menus in the dining rooms. Newspapers handed to you by Guest relations, salt, pepper, butter and preserves were all off-table and served (sometimes using tongs) by the waiters. I think all the waiting staff performed wonderfully and to a level few other cruise lines could achieve. Sadly not all of the passengers performed as well. It was patently obvious what was going on but there were those who thought the regime did not apply to them and tried to flout it by helping themselves to things obviously behind a barrier. I saw this most often, sadly, in the Elite breakfast area in Ocean Liners. But I got the impression that not all members were 'dealing from a full deck' and wouldn't have noticed anything short of a slap with a wet fish.
To dinner -- and a very nice table right at the stern of the lower level of the MDR. Service on the first night was at funereal pace but the Assistant Maitre d' explained it was down to new crew, new systems and the extra cleaning. And indeed it was a one-off as every night thereafter the service was at a regular pace. As I said above, I think the waiters, assistant waiters and wine waiters all performed very well with all the extra serving they had to perform as the table was completely barren of everything apart from individuals' place settings. I knew I was going to be looked after when I asked for my roast beef to be well-done and was offered the outside or end cut -- wonderful. If I have any complaint about the MDR, it was that we had the standard (though always good) Celebrity menu and I would have liked to see some attempt at regional dishes relevant to our ports of call without having to go ashore for them.
Captain's Club Elite Members' breakfast in Ocean Liners was a most relaxing and civilised way to start the day. Charming and polite young men or ladies served you on a plate what you asked of them in a cafeteria type fashion and another team circulated taking orders and delivery specialty coffee and teas once you were seated. I would make one observation, not a complaint, but something to think about. The serving people all wore gloves as a protection against transmitting anything when handling food. However, when taking toast to passengers' tables, they would straighten vacated chairs with the same gloves on and not change them when they got back to serving the food. The rule should be to change gloves often and always when leaving the serving area.
With the best will in the world, I think the construction of the Seaside Cafe defies understanding - there's a length of servery, an anonymous length of ship, more servery, more ship and eventually a servery at the stern. There must be a reason for it but I cannot understand it. There also doesn't appear to be enough inside seating. Now for American readers, this is the story of the English and Salads. Whether it's because of the war I don't know, but the English serve more vegetables with their main course than Americans so we do not have a salad course. When we do have a salad it usually replaces the main course and, unless you are a vegetarian, it includes something along the lines of cooked meats or fish and often termed 'cold cuts'. Why am I labouring this? Well the Independence has it sorted but not the Constellation: The vegetable elements for a salad and the main meat element could not have been further apart without being on different ships. And the people serving the cold meats did not understand that I did not want a sandwich but the cold meat on the plate with my 'greens'. It should be noted that the heightened sanitising regime meant that there was no 'self-serve' of anything in the cafe -- everything was served to you by a member of staff - something few other lines could have coped with.
The Captains Club Elite Members pre-dinner drinks was well organised and the drinks service excellent. It was nice to have numerous of the ship's officers circulate and make small talk, something I have yet to see in Diamond Class on RCI where you might get one at most and certainly not every night.
One of the many things removed from public mauling were the 'menus' from Cafe al Bacio. I would have thought it was quite simple to have printed a large menu (in large type) of the available coffees and teas available and fix it to the cafe wall (but obviously not). We had to reply on the memory of the waitress to answer your "what have you got" question and you didn't always get a comprehensive answer.
And so to Ocean Liners for dinner. In summary it was excellent, faultless in every respect. It is not crowded at all as there is much space between tables and was tastefully decorated. Service was courteous and the food was perfect. I indulged not only in the food but the spectacle of a flambe at my table. It is a tough call to arbitrate between Ocean Liners and Murano on Eclipse -- I think I'd need to go round again.
I was due to go on an early excursion one day so put out my Concierge Room Service the afternoon before. Nothing came so 15 minutes after the expiry of the allotted time I called room service. 20 minutes later someone arrived to say they could not understand it as they did not have my order. I said I'll go to the cafe as I was short of time, "No" he said, "it will only take five minutes". I gave him my order but it took another 20 minutes to arrive so I left a large part of it as I need to meet the excursion. Now I think it would be a simple thing to add the Concierge Breakfast menu to the interactive TV as the system knows your room number and so could differentiate between Concierge and Standard cabins and their menus.
I cannot remember which ship I was on, but you collected your excursion number sticker from the entrance to the theatre and then took a seat. Normally this does not concern me but with my recent damaged knee, on this occasion the trek down to, and up onto, the stage (and back again) to collect my sticker was something I could have done without. Perhaps Celebrity can think of another way?
The Cruise Critic meet was well organised. For the first time for me on a Celebrity or RCI ship, the CC meet was fronted by the Cruise Director who introduced the senior officers to us and there was coffee, tea and pastries. I was on one Independence cruise when a young girl from the entertainments team came to give a (very) short talk and absolutely nothing was out in terms of refreshments.
Another Formal night and to Tuscan Grille - this is obviously a conversion from something, friends say it was a flower shop/sitting area. The decor very much reminds me of a 1970's Berni Inn (I know well of what I speak). It was quite dark, some might say 'intimate' -- I would say I wouldn't want to get intimate with anyone so ugly I didn't want to be able to see them over dinner. The service was again courteous and unhurried. However the food was a completely different story to Ocean Liners. I don't know if the conversion of the space added a kitchen or if the food came from the cafe below but in every case it only just crossed the line to make it only just warm enough to start eating it, meaning it soon became cold before being consumed completely. I thought it very sad and was a great disappointment. Another negative is that the space in its former life was a public thoroughfare. That thoroughfare still exists as there is only a partial screen between the dining room and the egress to the open deck from the lifts. This means the calm of the dining room was broken by the noise of squealing brats being hauled from the lifts to the deck (hopefully to be thrown overboard) and added to that is the draft that circulated the dining room as the deck doors were opened turned it into quite a cold venue. It's a shame that today also had the Champagne High Tea event that I enjoyed so much on Eclipse but decided to pass as I was eating in Tuscan Grille that night -- easy to be wise after the event but I wish I had gone.
I think there needs to be some better staff training on what can, and cannot, be brought on board. Some people came back with a variety of drink without let or hindrance whereas others with the same goods had it confiscated by security either at a different deck or on a different day. This did not affect me as I have easy access to rare vintages and, as I said, I was on board for the ship and not the itinerary.
The last night is always a mystery to me. On some ships your cabin is stripped of everything that isn't screwed down (including minibar), on others everything stays 'as is' and on yet others you get (or rather lose) something in between. This was an 'in-between' as all my minibar drink stayed out in the open but my kettle was taken away and my glasses/cups replaced by paper ones. I'm not complaining (apart from the loss of the kettle) but I would like to know the rationale as to what goes and what stays to see if I can follow the logic.
As to the conclusion and would I sail on Constellation again. Though I received truly excellent service throughout, I would still like to sample it again when not under the pressure the heightened sanitising regime was bringing as I would expect it to 'flow' in a more relaxed manner. What would stop me coming back though is the noise of the ship. I am not used to the creaks and groans from the ship as it flexes at sea, as the Independence and Eclipse are quite a bit newer than the Constellation. Added to that, one of the drawers in the wardrobe would slide out at night and bang against the inside of the wardrobe door (later fixed) -- for the first time I resorted to using ear plugs at night. If those things could be sorted then I'd be back (if it sailed out of the UK).