It was a great vacation. A lot of that was due to the fabulous itinerary of the Celebrity Constellation. We started by spending 3 nights in Amsterdam, then took the 12 night Scandinavia & Russia cruise, and then topped it off with two nights in Brugge (Bruges).
Amsterdam was our favorite city, followed by Brugge, and then St. Petersburg. And, we loved them for different reasons. Amsterdam is so unique with it wonderful transportation system and thousands upon thousands of bicyclist, great museums, and lots if attractions. Brugge is just the cutest city in all of Europe (ok, maybe an exaggeration). St. Pete was an introduction to Russia for us. We also took the ballet excursion. What a lovely experience!
Getting back to the cruise, if our best cruise ever was a 10, this cruise would rate an 8. It was great in many ways and kinda average in other ways. First of all and most important, the cruise was flawless. We were on the Carnival Splendor when it caught fire and was adrift in the Pacific Ocean so we know what a disaster cruise looks like. Everything went as planned and we had absolutely no problems. Of course, all of that is to be expected, really.
The service was excellent everywhere except the main dining room and the buffet. In the main San Marco dining room (the you pick your own seating) the waiters seemed rushed and often vanished for extended periods. In the buffet, seating was often impossible to find. It was a really difficult challenge to find a table for our group of 6. There simply isn’t enough seating and unless it was an at sea day, the main dining room was not open as an alternative. That was the major downer of the cruise. Seating in the main theater was also tight. Plan to come at least 1/2 hour ahead of time to any late showing.
Our cabin was perfectly maintained and all of the venues and spaces were well kept up. Oddly enough, the newly added Bistro on 5, a very attractive extra cost restaurant ($5 per person), was almost always empty. I think it was due to the very limited crepes and sandwich menu and not the extra cost. I’m use to a more splashy décor on a ship. This ship was toned down but some would say elegant. Certainly, the refurbished venues were beautiful, but the rest of the ship, including our stateroom seemed old and uninspiring. Speaking of our stateroom, it was typical size balcony room – small but adequate. There are many storage spaces to stow you stuff. The bathroom was small and had good ventilation. We were told that there was a lot of recorded stuff to see on the TV, such as movies, but we did not partake. Our trip in early June was too cool to use the balcony much. Remember that you are at the northern equivalent of Alaska on this cruise.
The included food was good. I would rate it a 7 out of 10. The food & experience at the specialty Tuscan Grill (extra cost per person) was 10/10. For the Ocean Liner, the other specialty restaurant, my rating is 9/10. The cook-at-your-table lobster was excellent, but very rich. The buffet is good but unremarkable. The variety will seem old after about 5 days. Oddly enough, they kept serving us watermelon even though it was well past its usable state. I can’t imagine what the managers were thinking.
The entertainment was very good. The production shows were top notch and the theater band could not have been better. The fly in acts were good too. A string trio provided the classical music. They were good but you get to know their limited repertoire pretty quickly. The crowd (and us) were older and the dance venues were not very active except on Motown night. The children’s area looked really nice and newly refurbished. The youngest they take (without you being there) is 3 yrs. They are in their own world. It looks great. The gym also looks refurbed with all new machines. There are some extra cost group exercise classes such as spinning and yoga. I tried attending a free stretch class but the instructor never showed up. On a bright note, this is the first cruise I have been on that had Zumba! This was not in the gym but in the main theater. The classes were packed (60+ people). I did 6 Zumba classes and thoroughly enjoyed this activity. There were enrichment lectures about our ports of call and the Captain talked about the workings of the ship and the development of the Solstice class ships. He was an absolute kick and the most personable and entertaining captain I have ever encountered. There are all manner of other activity, although I don’t recall bingo or karaoke. You definitely won’t lack for things to do.
For excursions, we went to Berlin, toured St. Pete, and biked Helsinki. For all other ports, we got along fine by paying for a shuttle service into town. You can easily walk the distance if you have no limitations. The concierge, excursion sales, or the service desk will provide promotional maps free of charge. However, their knowledge of some ports is limited and on one occasion, we got bum advice. All countries except Russia seem to cater to tourist and speak English very well. Good luck with Russia. Unless you take an excursion, you have to procure a Russian visa prior to your travels. The immigration authorities are none too friendly. I think they train them to give you the evil eye.
The trip to Berlin is very expensive but ultimately, we felt it was well worth it. We are not coming back any time soon. In St. Pete, the Hermitage museum tour was way over crowded. You could barely move from place to place. Frankly, I think the museum is not taking good care of the treasure entrusted to their care. Just the humidity alone is going to destroy their collection. We also attended the ballet, which performed the crowd-pleasing Swan Lake. The performance was utterly fantastic – and in a tiny venue attached to the Hermitage. I could not figure out the economics of it all until I found out from our tour guide that ballet is state supported in Russia. I found the bike trip in Helsinki to be a bit disappointing. It’s a big city with lots of traffic, including swarms of biking commuters. I felt it was dangerous but not strenuous. I hated the cruiser bikes they gave us. Worse yet, you miss most of the sights of the city.
Embarkation and disembarkation was super smooth. In summary, I think you will love this cruise. The ports of call are what make this an excellent vacation. The cruise itself was a delight. It was excellent everything except food service. I am especially glad that we started from Amsterdam and not Copenhagen, as you would on a Princess cruise.