I'll start at the beginning because that is a very good place to start. We had originally booked a transatlantic on Celebrity Equinox for November 25 but we had to scuttle those plans thanks to a condition I contracted called Charcot Foot which resulted in four months in a cast and the prospect of life in a wheelchair.
In mid-October I was given the good news that I could walk very limited steps and my orthopedic surgeon saw no reason that we couldn't get away for a little r&r while between medical appointments.
That very evening we were scouring the websites to find a crossing that would fit into our timeframes. We ended up with our favourite line, Celebrity, and Concierge Class accommodation on the Connie that was less in money than a normal verandah.
Ever conscious of the dollars being spent so close to Christmas, we found a most reasonable airfare with Icelandair and, a month later, we were on our way!
I won't go into the trials of travelling with a wheelchair. For those impressions please visit the home page of www.barrier-freecruising.com.
We arrived at Heathrow following a fourteen hour journey from Toronto to Boston to Reykjavik to London. Kind of long but, at $520pp, I'm not complaining.
Because of a tight arrival time, and our luggage plus a wheelchair, I decided to surprise Barb by renting a car and driver for the trip to Southampton. He met us in the baggage area, loaded our cases and chair and soon we were on our way. We only made one stop during the ninety minute drive and our driver pointed out some of the landmarks along the way.
There was a delay boarding the ship due to a shortage of ship's crew assigned to assist some of the special needs passengers but, despite this, the entire time spent from cab to shipboard was no more than thirty minutes.
Having crossed the Atlantic the other direction in spring on Celebrity Eclipse, it was hard not to start comparing the two ship styles right away. The first was the Seaside Cafe where we went to get a nibble or three while waiting for the cabins to be prepared.
I will mention right at the start that Constellation was still undergoing a strict health regime due to an outbreak of Norovirus on an earlier November outing. For the first five days of our cruise all food handling was done by the Celebrity staff right down to putting salt and pepper on your food in the dining room. It meant for slower lines in the cafe but Barb and I appreciated the situation and the ship's most cautious response. Some people actually enjoyed the additional pampering.
Back to the Seaside Cafe. I immediately missed the 'food islands' concept on Eclipse and the other solstice ships. There was nothing wrong with the food. It was completely up to Celebrity standards but I think the idea of the separate serving areas makes for a much quicker flow from chaffing dish to tray to table to tummy. I did like the way some of the eating areas by the windows actually jutted over the sea and you could look down to the ocean below.
We made our way to the cabin when it was announced they were ready. Celebrity advertises that Concierge Class includes fresh flowers, fruit and savouries in the room as well as upgraded bed linens, bath robes and a 'pillow menu'. The room itself appeared smaller than the same category on Eclipse but, according to the ships' deck plans, they are almost the same size. Could be the layout.
Past CC reviews have referred to stains and other signs of age in their staterooms. I looked but I didn't see anything worth mentioning. I should state that we booked a C1 and not an accessible AC since these sell out very quickly due to the limited number available. I was able to fold the wheelchair and hobble around between bed and bath and Saline, our room steward, rustled up a shower stool for me. I get to try the AC category when Barb, her wheelchair-bound daughter and I re-board Eclipse again to head back across the pond in spring.
Something was very wrong in the dining room on the first two nights. Orders were mixed up and, worst of all, on the second night out we waited almost an hour for our appetizers and another hour plus for our entrees to arrive. We, and the others at the table, were very upset by this and let Customer Service know. We learned a week into the cruise that our wait team had originally been assigned to five tables and not just the two that they would normally serve. We were further upset that no proper apology was made by the maitre d' and, in fact, he never once approached our table during the entire cruise. It appeared that he delegated his assistant maitre d' to deal with the complainers.
The food was Celebrity good and we felt that, on Constellation, the portions were actually bigger than on Eclipse. We didn't try any of the specialty dining venues but the feedback from fellow travellers seemed to be all positive.
Cruise Director Sue Denning and her staff seemed to have the pulse of the ocean going passengers and only missed the mark when it came to the deejays late at night. But then again, with the great food, ocean air, theatrical shows and a daytime of tours and events, who needs to stay up late anyway?
The shows were some of the best I have seen at sea. The dance/singing troupe worked their hearts out and I really don't know how they did two shows a night. If one guest performer really stood out I would have to say it was Sean O'Shea. It has been a long time since I have watched such a high energy show. His sense of timing is impeccable and it was one show I hated to see come to an end.
By the way, Sue and some of her entourage, including Perry Grant (like him or not) move to Eclipse later this winter and I wish she could bring that orchestra with her. As the kids say.. they are AWESOME!
We did three shore excursions.. all on our own. In Le Havre we hired Patrice, a local cabbie who is proud of his town, his region and his car. We shared the cab for three hours with another passenger and drove all around the historic city and then to the stunning cliffs at Etretat. Total cost was 50Euros each with tip.
In Lisbon (Lisboa) we teamed up with Johnny, a 24 year old cabbie whose family has been in the tourism business for decades and who, himself, studies tourism to obtain a degree. His English was excellent and he took the two of us through every side street of the old district, out to the Belem area, let us shop and take pictures whenever and wherever we wanted.. all for a total price of 80Euros, tip included.
Our last stop was Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands. Again we elected to do our own sightseeing and our driver was Alberto. Between his limited English and our fractured Spanish, we wound our way from Santa Cruz to Porto de la Cruz with the majestic Tede volcano dominating the scenery. He knew which stops would yield the best pictures. Altogether a nice three hours costing 80Euros.
By the time we reached Tenerife the weather was already nice and warm.. for a pair of Canadians. It would take several days at sea for the southern Florida crowd to start to feel at home. How was the crossing? With only one five hour exception when we encountered some swells, it was smooth and steady as she goes.
There was plenty, or little, to do during those eight days. Sherene made our visits to the shops enjoyable, the cooking demonstrations were as much fun as they were informative (maybe more), the strolling acapela group popped up everywhere and, as previously mentioned, the nighttime shows in the theatre were top notch.
We didn't spend a lot of time on the upper decks by the pools or in the solarium, but instead made great use of our balcony.. me for laying back and snoozing while Barb work hard on finishing a Christmas stocking for one of her children. I fondly say that Barb cross-stitched her way across the Atlantic.
We purchased our airport transfers while on the ship and disembarkation went very smoothly and soon we were at MIA waiting for our flight home.
I would certainly sail on Celebrity Constellation again. Except for the usual high volume times, her elevators were never crowded, the hallways easy to negotiate (except next time I will bring a stroller.. too much carpeting for wheelchair users), the service was excellent and friendly and the food was Celebrity good.
We are booked on Eclipse in the spring but, this time, in an accessible stateroom. Roll on April!