This is a review of my Baltic/Russia Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation.
Date of Cruise: July 1, 2006 (14 nights)
Ports of Call: Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Klaipeda, Gdansk, Copenhagen, Warnemunde, and Oslo. (itinerary includes 3 sea days)
Prior Cruising Experience: Celebrity x3 RCI x2 Princess x1 Carnival x2
My DH and I traveled with 13 yo and 10yo daughters.
We ordered a fair amount of local currencies ahead of time. ATM's were available in every port and we never saw any lines at any ATM.
Transfer to Dover: We hired a private transfer company to pick us up at the airport. This was very personalized service and a very comfortable way to travel. Soft drinks, blankets & snacks were provided in the vehicle. This company also picked us up at the end of the cruise and transferred us back to the Gatwick Airport. This is a one woman company, so we had the same person coming and going. Very highly recommend.
Precruise: We flew into England one day early and spent the night at The Penny Farthing in Dover. A lovely B & B. Great breakfast in the am, which was not included in the price of the stay. Great location. Highly recommend.
The countryside drive from London to Dover is absolutely stunning.
There is a post office located within a two minute walk of the Penny Farthing. The post office also will convert currencies.
We went to the museum in downtown Dover, where they have a boat on display that was recovered while digging in the streets of Dover. Thousands of years old. Just awesome.
We did not have time to visit the castle in Dover. We saw it many times, as it is high on the Cliffs.
I strongly recommend arriving one day early, to soften the jet lag, prior to beginning your cruise vacation. We slept very little on the plane crossing the pond and were able to stay up when we arrived in Dover. Then, we got a good night's sleep prior to embarking the ship. We left our B & B at 10:30 am and took a taxi over to the ship. The B & B owners arranged for the taxi the day prior.
Disembarkation: We arrived at the Constellation before 11 am and waited only a few minutes before they began processing the passengers. We were among the first 50 passengers onboard the ship. Very easy.
Our Cabin: We had two connecting balcony cabins on Deck 6. The cabins were perfect. Plenty of storage space. Beds were comfortable. Our cabin attendant (Viviana) was excellent and gave us great service all during the cruise.
There were lifeboats located outside the deck right below us. So, when we looked out of our balcony, there were lifeboats just below us. Not a real big issue.... But, we certainly noticed it every time we looked out off of the balcony.
Next time, I will research that issue better. This was the first time we had experienced a lifeboat in any part of our balcony views.
The Ship: The Constellation is in great shape. My only complaint, which will probably never be resolved...is that the lounges were smokey. We had to walk through a lounge on the way to dinner every night and it was pretty thick with smoke. The artwork throughout the ship was pleasant for the eyes.
Cruise Critic Roll Call Group: Our Roll Call for this cruise was active for about 14 months prior to sailing. We had arranged to meet onboard the ship on Embarkation Day....Deck 10...at the outside bar at the very back of the ship. Name tags were brought by one of the members...and we really did need them ! Many attended and it was great to see everyone in person ! Soon after we settled into our cabin, I went down to check on our table assignment. I wanted to make sure that we were not at a small table. We had been assigned a table for ten. There are specific hours for doing this, and the hours are listed in the daily bulletin that you will receive when you embark. Go early, so that if you need any type of change, you will be early on the list for changes. At this time is when you can make reservations for the Specialty Restaurant, as well.
Luggage: ...arrived by 1 pm. Unpacked and prepared lots of bags of items to be pressed. We basically packed for one week...and had everything cleaned one time. Except formals. DH rented a tuxedo. This is easy and we have done this on every cruise we have taken. Yes, it is more economical to buy a tux, but we choose to pay for the convenience of renting. Always a quality product. Be sure to try on the tuxedo ASAP to ensure a proper fit. Your cabin attendant will take care of any alteration issues that arise.
This was surely a port intensive cruise, with only 3 sea days. We really missed the time on the ship. The days went by very fast.... Make the most of your time. Forget naps. Sleep well @ night !
Celebrity Singers & Dancers: Excellent ! I can say no more. Very talented. The best I have ever seen on a cruise.
Coming up.... STOCKHOLM !
In Stockholm, we had a private tour planned. This was a group of 6. My family and another couple from our Roll Call. (Hi Louise & Michael )
We had a great tour. The woman tour guide spoke excellent English and really gave a behind the scene tour of Stockholm. The tour included going down into the underground subway...to see how they incorporated pieces and parts of old buildings (torn down in Stockholm) into the design of the subway. Very interesting. A great tour. Payment for this tour was made ahead of time.
When this tour was over, we were dropped off at the SS Stockholm. This is an old sightseeing ship with a dining room. It is a three hour tour. Lunch was optional and served in the dining room. What beautiful sights ! Reservation in advance and payment at the time of the tour.
With these two tours in Stockholm, we only had a limited time to do any souvenir shopping.
I buy postcards at every port and mail them to three sets of parents. Postcards (throughout the cruise) are about 1 USD...and usually cost about 1 USD to mail each of them back to the USA.
The weather in Stockholm was VERY hot. Shorts, t-shirts & tank tops.
Celebrity offered a shuttle ($5.00 per person each way) to the Stockholm center. We ended up taking a taxi and it cost us more than the shuttle would have cost us. (not recommended)
Tip: It is recommended that you not drink the water in any of the ports. (except bottled water). We had four bottled waters with us when we embarked on the Constellation. We refilled them onboard the ship and carried them in my DH's backpack in every port. We needed the water all the time. The ship will sell bottled water for you to take with you into port. Very expensive.
Coming next: Helsinki, Finland !
This is the only port in which we took a tour with the Ship.
I was determined to visit the Savijarvi Manor (working horse breeding farm) and through much research I realized that going with the ship was the only logical way to go. They offered me a time slot when I could come, but it was not good timing based on our ship's departure. They had the ship's tours slotted for the best time of the day.
The ship's tour is expensive. Over $500. USD for the four of us.
A little drive through Helsinki...and then on to Porvoo. Porvoo is a nice little town with a few great little shops...but we were only there for less than an hour. I do not like to be rushed, especially when I am shopping.
This was a bus of about 55 people.
We proceeded to drive to horse breeding farm. There are about 4 generations of the family living on the farm, in their individual houses. They showed us some of the horses...and served us a nice lunch inside the main house. We drank cold beer, with no alcohol. This is what they used to serve to their farm hands....way back when. Of course, they had no alcohol, because they needed the hands to be able to go back to work efficiently after their lunch break.
We toured through the main house...and toured the horse barns. A very nice place to visit. Highly recommend
As I highly recommend the horse farm, I would recommend finding some way to tour it without having to take the ship's excursion. Perhaps booking a large group tour, with your own bus, so that it is the only place you are going to. This of course would have to be done way in advance, so that the Farm will book it.
Porvoo was nice, but it would have been fine to have missed it.
The tour stopped in downtown Helsinki for 30 minutes of shopping....before returning to the ship. I purchased a lovely handmade purse in one of the shops...and of course, my postcards.
The ship's tour was just way too expensive.
Coming up next: St Petersburg, Russia !
We booked a two day private tour....for just my family of four. Very Highly Recommend!
We had a van driver and a guide.
We personalized this tour, so that my children (and DH) would not be looking at paintings in a museum all day, for two days.
We included the option of having lunch with a Russian Family. Wow...what an experience ! It was surely the highlight of St Petersburg and perhaps the whole cruise experience.
We went to their apartment and were given of a tour of all the rooms. We had great conversation while we were served lunch. A visit with their little black Russian kitty was especially memorable for my children.
Folks...don't miss this opportunity ! We learned so much about life in Russia, for the common family....before and after Soviet control.
We also visited Peterhof and The Bath House. Lovely. Great photo opportunities at Peterhof. Fountains galore. No photos at the Bath house.
We also built in shopping time on this two day tour, which was important to us. We purchase several Russian nesting dolls. Lovely ! There are all different qualities and price ranges. My girls and I are currently really enjoying the dolls.
Hint: The dolls are sold in Russia...and in every port thereafter. (I did not see them in Oslo, though) The quality seems to get lower and the prices higher...the further you get from Russia. The ship also sells the dolls. Expect to spend about three hundred dollars...or more for a large doll of good quality. Our guide took us to several shops that sell these dolls. The street venders will sell a bag of five dolls...not very good quality...small dolls...for $10.00. These are great for bringing inexpensive souvenirs home. My girls did this for their friends.
If you are remotely interested in the dolls, buy them in Russia. There is also a shop where the ship is docked in Russia. They have good quality dolls there.
Another thing we did on this two day tour was to have lunch at a Russian Restaurant. Another nice experience. The Russian Beet soup was excellent !!!!
The palaces are amazing. There are 600 palaces in St Petersburg.
The G8 Summit was getting ready to occur in St Petersburg just a few days after we were there, so the security was building up as we were touring. Apparently, as per our tour guide.... the city had removed its homeless people from the streets in preparation for the Summit.
We learned a lot about Russia in these two days. We saw a lot.....
Our guide was excellent. She took us under her wings for the two days and really took care of us.
Euros and Rubles were accepted in Russia. We got some Rubles at an ATM. Rubles cannot be obtained anywhere other than Russia. Supposedly, you cannot take them out of the country, either.
Compare prices for a ship tour of 50 and a private tour. You will be amazed. Our little group went ahead of any large tour group that we encountered. This is appropriate and expected by all tour groups of any size.
About getting off of the ship with a private tour: Not a problem. The ship asked us to inform them of our plans. We did so...and they told us where to meet on the morning of the first day. We met...and were off of the ship by 7:15...or thereabouts.
Don't let the ship's warnings intimidate you. RE: about booking a private tour.
The weather in St Petersburg was again....very warm !
About Amber Jewelry:
This is known as "Baltic Gold" !
Absolutely beautiful. We saw this in just about every port.... The ship will also sell amber jewelry. In fact, the Constellation is the only Celebrity ship (I am told) that has its own Amber store onboard. The other ship will only bring the amber out to sell on certain days.
The silver/gold that you will find on the amber jewelry will determine the cost of the jewelry. Some silver, for example....is not of good quality. This will bring the price down and attract your attention.
The ship will sell good quality amber jewelry. They get the amber from the Baltic...and send it to the USA for placement in good quality silver. It is then shipped to the cruise ship. Their prices are higher...but the quality is good.
Yup. I learned a lot about amber on this cruise. Came home with a few nice pieces.
Lots of ports will sell it....in outside markets. Keep your eye on the quality.
We purchased some good quality silver, amber jewelry in a nice jewelry store in Lithuania.... also, onboard the ship.
The ship will hold a contest onboard the ship... they will have three pieces of amber in a jewelry display case. One is a fake. You write down which piece you believe to be the fake. On the last day of the cruise...they will pull all of the correct answers out and hold a drawing. If you win, (you must be present to win) you get a lovely piece of amber jewelry. I was there (didn't win)...and there were only about 15 other people there. A good opportunity. The necklace that was won was more than likely a value of $125.. They kept drawing until one of the winners was present.
Next Up: Tallinn, Estonia !
We booked a 4.5 private tour in Tallinn, for just my family of four.
A lovely old part of the city. Great photo opportunity. This port could probably be easily done on your own. We really enjoyed our tour though...
Our tour guide was a young man...# 1 in his high school class and #1 in his college graduating class. Very smart. College in Estonia is free, if you have good grades. If grades are not too good, you pay....only if they have room for you in the college.
Souvenirs at this port...linen, linen, linen ! I purchased a bunch of "bread towels" (hand towel size) for about 4 USD each. Souvenirs...easy to pack and inexpensive...and usable. And of course...we saw the Russian dolls & amber. I also purchased two framed & signed watercolor paintings in Tallinn. About 30USD each. Very lovely. Proud to have them.
We toured the old section of Tallinn..... stopping to shop at a leisurely pace. We then moved on to the new town of Tallinn, which is very modern. We visited the home of the Estonian President. It is actually the "Pink House". We were able to drive right up to the front door. There is however, an armed guard at the front door.
Back to the Old Town for a lunch at a little cafe..... before returning to the ship.
Great history in Tallinn. The little country has been in the hands of many different countries throughout the years.... and now is a member of the United Nations and is standing strong. Economically & socially appears to be doing well.
Really enjoyed this port. Need good walking shoes.... cobblestone streets in Old Tallinn. Uneven & winding.
Next up: Klaipeda, Lithuania !
We booked a private tour for 15 at this port. I did not get this tour finalized until just before leaving for the cruise, so I did not have all of the slots in this tour filled.
The slots were filled quickly by folks we met in the first few days of the cruise. The price was half the cost of what the ship was charging for a shorter tour with a busload of 50.
We walked for about the first hour of the tour...in downtown Tallinn. There is a balcony there where Hitler spoke. Just in front of the balcony, there is a statue of a girl. Since the girl's back was facing Hitler when he spoke, the Germans tore the statue down and destroyed it. With photographs, the town's people were able to reconstruct the statue, which now stands proudly, with her back to the balcony, once again.
We then went on a drive to see the Amber Museum. The grounds to the museum.... about a quarter of a mile walk...were lovely and we enjoyed it greatly. Ponds, ducks, swans, little white bridges, etc...
The Museum itself is in a Palace like building. In the museum, you see all kinds of amber. It was no biggie for me. Very hot inside the museum. Repeating, we really enjoyed the walk to the museum and took a lot of great pictures.
We shopped at another site on our way back to the town. Lots of junk and inexpensive amber. However, the Baltic sea was located at the end of this shopping area. Some on our tour went all the way down and took pictures of the Sea. They highly recommended it.
Ice Cream: very good. Try the local ice cream in every port in this itinerary ! We did....and enjoyed all of it !
Back in town again, we had about 30 minutes to shop in the town square. (where the girl statue & balcony are located). We purchased a couple of wood spoons from a man .... he made them. One spoon is for straining. Instead of just holes in the spoon, he has made a smiley face. Very cute.
We purchased some bottles of soda (large)...in a store and brought it back onto the ship with us. They cost about 1.50 USD.
If I were to do this tour over.... I would allow for an entire hour to enjoy the park like, pond setting at the Amber museum. Just to sit and relax and enjoy. The ducks were so cute, as they stuck their heads into the water and wiggled their feet above the water.
Up Next: Gdansk, Poland !
We booked a private tour for four at this port. 7 hours....for 75 euros per person.
We had a driver and a guide. We drove to Oliva....and then on to Gdansk and then to Sopot.
A great tour.
Lots of amber again at this port.
Gdansk is awesome. Great little shops, historical buildings...and great little cafes. We enjoyed homemade pierogies ! You must try these !
St Mary's Basilica is here. The largest brick church in the world.
On to Sopot. Sopot has a beautiful pier. The Grand Hotel is here. This is a place that Hitler was fond of....and he gave orders to not have it damaged in the bombings. From the pier it is lovely. Construction from the road view hinders the view from the road.
Our guide was almost a college graduate...and is concerned about finding a job upon Graduation. This seems to be a common theme in the countries we visited. Accessible education, but no jobs thereafter.
Cruise Critic Party....
In addition to gathering during sailaway, we met two additional times.
We met at Michael's Lounge...on the first sea day. Most of our Roll Call attended. This was the party scheduled by Celebrity.
We met one more time....on the last sea day. This was held at the Aft Bar on deck 10 again. We scheduled this one ourselves, too.
Next Up: Warnemunde, Germany !
Warnemunde: We booked a private tour for 11.5 hours in this port. We headed to Berlin, with another family of 3 from our Roll Call (Hi Anne Maria !)
One Word: Wow !
A great tour ..... with a great tour guide....to a great city with lots of history.
We learned so much. We saw sections of the Berlin Wall, the Berlin Wall Museum, The Jewish Memorial (erected in 2005) (don't miss this Memorial for anything)..... Hitler's bunker, the Olympic stadium, lunch at a local German restaurant (no tourists) and More ! Just an awesome day !
Our tour guide grew up in East Germany...under the Soviet control. He was full of information....and also worked at Guest Relations for Princess Cruise lines for a season.
Our tour started at the ship, in an air conditioned van. We had a history lesson in the van on the way to Germany. Much appreciated. ....and ended back at the ship about 12 hours later. A lovely drive on the Autobahn. The price per person = 100 euros. Compare that to the ship's tours.
Very highly recommend this tour.
Germany is beautiful !!!!
Don't miss the sailaway from Germany...on the top decks. The townspeople, by the hundreds, will be there to see the ship off. A very nice memory for me. There were also two small sightseeing boats that sailed along the Constellation as we sailed away. The small boats would beep their horns. The Constellation would return the horn sounds. Very, very cute.
The ship had a German buffet later in the evening onboard. I didn't think it was very good. They did have some nice homemade pretzels. Good to enjoy back in your cabin. Take a few !
Next Up: Copenhagen, Denmark !
We did a 1.5 hour private walking tour in Copenhagen. This was with two other families....a total of 9 people. This tour is given by a man dressed as and acting as Hans Christian Anderson.
This is bike country. If you want to purchase a car in Copenhagen...you will pay a sales tax of 180 %. Bikes are everywhere. Cars are discouraged. We even saw a multi level parking garage for bikes. So cute. 25% sales tax included in purchases.
Bikers have their own lanes on the streets and even their own traffic lights. It is very organized and we found the bikers to be very polite in their driving.
Try the local ice cream ! Yum.
Check our the "Sweater Market"....it is a store. Actually ship recommended. Great wool sweaters and other wool items. Free internet here. One computer. Just time for a quick email, as others will surely be waiting.
Lots of local shopping with products that we see in the USA. Street entertainers. Singing & unicycle man throwing flames, etc.... Jazz festival in town.
Pay for a potty break. About 30 US cents. Clean. Very clean. Under the ground, like a subway.
Ship's shuttle to the town center....$5.00 per person, each way. Purchase these shuttle tickets onboard the ship, or..... at the shuttle bus.
A large strip center of shops right at the ship. Amber...again ! Also, lots of wool items at these shops.
Next Up: Oslo, Norway !
The last port on this itinerary. We purposed ahead of time to slow down the pace....and we were glad we did.
Reserved ahead of time to do a 2 hour sight seeing boat trip. The boat picked up at a location a few minutes walk from the ship. Across from City Hall. A beautiful tour. Great pictures. Small summer cottages, lighthouses, & sailboats.
City Hall closed early...so, if you are planning on viewing it, you may keep an eye on the hours of operation. We did not get to see it.
Shopped for about 2 hours. Purchased some wool blankets (soft throw blankets) that were made in Norway. Lovely.
Headed back to the ship in time to dress for the late dinner seating.
This is a port intensive itinerary. Plan accordingly.
Take advantage of the Sea Days. They are fleeting.
Celebrity does an awesome job. Service in the dining room was very good. Food was very good. Only one time did we have a food item that was no good. Some type of bread pudding. It was actually hard...like it had been microwaved a hour earlier. We laughed a lot about it. Our waiter confirmed that the early seating had issue with it as well.
We ate most breakfasts and lunches in the dining room. Breakfast tends to be boring, because there is no variety from day to day. We never experienced any crowding on the ship at any time.
Two Formal nights would have been sufficient for this itinerary.
We used the laundry bags in our cabin to wrap up our breakable items that we were hand carrying home.
You will want to bring an extra suitcase, because you will need it. We brought an extra soft suitcase.
Russia has big mosquitos.
Evening shows....sometimes are before dinner, sometimes after dinner. Pay attention to the daily bulletin. Sometimes we missed them, when the shows were before dinner.
Private tours.... over ship tours ! You can do it !
I highly recommend this cruise line and the Constellation. Highly !
This concludes my review.