Constellation Cruise Critic Review July 2013
We're a family of three, very well cruised people who are Elite passengers on Celebrity. This was our third time on the Connie and we chose to do a back to back Arctic Circle/Norwegian fiord cruise for the scenery and unique itinerary. We sailed out of Amsterdam on June 13 in horrendous winds and very rough seas which didn't bode well, but thankfully that was the worst weather we encountered on the trip. We spent 24 days in a balcony cabin and thought the ship was in great condition for its age and newly re-carpeted and reupholstered throughout.
We sailed with our almost 12 year old daughter but there were very few kids on board on either leg, which was unfortunate for her. The Fun Factory has been relocated and revamped and the staff were their usual flexible, friendly selves.
The passenger mix was heavily Northern European and the Americans were outnumbered on both legs. We found the passengers largely stuck to their language groups and didn't mingle with the English speakers, although many of them did speak English. They also didn't spend money, as we got to know the crew and heard bar sales and specialty restaurants all suffered on the two legs of the trip, and neither did they believe in dressing for Formal Nights. Participation was so low we felt like the odd ones out in our finery and wondered if we had the dress code wrong... We didn't particularly enjoy many of our fellow passengers at all and certainly didn't enjoy their lack of social skills and graces. This was not a sophisticated crowd at all, in fact, a disappointing one
(Note added after disembarkation...Hard to imagine people behaving so poorly in their everyday lives in their home countries, but this cruise, and the elbowing through the line to disembark the ship gives me cause to wonder how some of these people were raised... No shame, and not an excuse me, please or thank you to be heard, unless they were challenged on their behavior...)
The ship was as beautiful as ever. If you search for signs of aging, you will find them. If you are able to appreciate the elegance and sophistication of the interior, you will enjoy it and won't even notice you're on a 12 year old ship. The newly added softer, Solstice style colors really add to the ship, and are very attractive. The Cafe Al Bacio coffee bar seemed to be the main profit center on the trip and was the social hotspot throughout the day. We thought the entertainment was varied and of a high standard, especially the production shows. We loved the daily trivia quizzes, although some of the activity staff were better than others. The CD was John Grantham, who we first encountered on the Millennium a couple of years ago. He's the ultimate professional, and a thoroughly pleasant person to chat to. His British assistant, Mark, had an excellent way with the passengers, knowing just how far to push them for the entertainment benefit of others. We looked forward to Mark being in change of anything on the ship.
I do think the daily activities are thinner on the ground than they used to be and far too profit oriented (foot analyses, gemstone seminars, the dreaded art auctions that seemed to take a entire morning to set up each time). I really missed the recently removed cinema, especially on the Arctic leg, which meant a lot of cold sea days spent inside. Charging $14 for a pay per view movie in the cabin is really unacceptable on so many levels. I am not going to pay more to watch a movie lying on the bed in my cabin than I do for a first run new release blockbuster at my local cinema. There is a social component to having an on board cinema as well, something that seems to have been lost now.
We were willing to spend money where we perceived value. And we certainly received value... We went to Ocean Liners for French cuisine once and Tuscan Grille for Italian food three times. Although the rack rate prices are now excessively high for these specialty restaurants, we never paid full price and took advantage of the deals on offer, some of which were too good to repeat here. Jordan, the Tuscan Grille maitre'd took excellent care of us and was generous and a great host. We happily went back for more. Both restaurants worked hard to attract people. I have switched my allegience to Tuscan now, as Ocean Liners has dropped fillet steak from their menu... Bistro on Five provided welcome relief from the omnipresent crowds in the buffet, but was like the forgotten stepchild on a very quiet Deck Five. It was never busy and was great value for the $5 fee, but even that was too much for the crowd on board who kept a tight grip on their wallets.
Speaking of the buffet... The ship was full on both legs, except for the triple berths that could have been occupied. There was never enough seating in the buffet and notes were on tables asking people to vacate once they were finished eating. I was once told by a crew member I could not sit at a table for four, as I was just one person, even though there was nothing else available. Since the Connie was built, more cabins have been added to the ship, reducing open deck space and increasing demand on the buffet area. Please, Celebrity... You have created the problem. Simply forcing passengers to move on is not the solution. Do not add any more cabins to this ship. Passenger behavior is at its worst in the buffet as it is...
The dining room... We switched tables between cruises and had two good sets of waiters and maitre'ds. For main dining room fare, we were happy and well taken care of. It wasn't Tuscan Grille quality, but we never expected it to be.
The captain... Another young Greek... Captain Tasos Kafetsis, Captain Tasos as he was known. Wherever Celebrity finds them, may they keep doing on doing so... He was professional and friendly, interacted frequently with passengers and was charming and funny. He gave excellent presentations on navigation and the building of the Solstice ship. He was known for his fondness of doing 360 degree "donut" turns in ports, and even pulled this off in the middle of Geirangerfiord as well. This is Captain Tasos's first year as a captain and his first trip to the Arctic as well. We look forward to sailing with him again in the future. One of the highlights at the end of the crew talent show was the "Zorba The Greek" performance by the bridge officers and the solo by the captain... Worth the price of admission!
Two areas in need of attention... The photo gallery prices creep ever higher with every voyage we take and the photographers had to beg people to sit for pictures. Perhaps if they were more reasonably priced, or were willing to deal like other departments on the ship, more people might pay for a portrait. The only deal on offer, 10 portraits for $200, couldn't be combined over both legs of the trip and had to be all used in one 12 day segment. Consequently, we spent 24 days on board and bought far fewer pictures that we might otherwise have done. Food for thought, if anyone at Celebrity is reading. Sometimes you sell MORE by lowering the price, not raising it... Back to back passengers often get forgotten in the shuffle.
Secondly... We thought the port lectures were severely lacking, focused almost exclusively on ships tours, offered little information for anyone else and were presented at strange times, between dinner sittings and buried down in the hard to find conference center, with cramped seating available. Very disappointing!! They should have been front and center in the Celebrity Theater during the day, and much more informative and comprehensive. People want to learn about the ports and area they are visiting. I took one ship tour only and enjoyed the tour very much, but not the hour spent sitting around in the theater waiting for my group to be called to the tenders in Geiranger, before even boarding the bus. Exactly why we hate ship tours! Both the photo gallery and ShorEx departments have much to learn about what passengers really want.
Ports... The Arctic segment was chilly and interesting, a unique experience to see areas we would never travel to otherwise. We got within 750 miles of the North Pole. It isn't likely we would go back, but we're glad we went. Sleeping in 24 hour daylight was challenging and we all used eyeshades at "night time". The second leg to the fiords was stunningly beautiful. The weather was cooler than expected but the scenery did not disappoint.
Norway is shockingly expensive. Everything is twice what it should be and we learnt quickly to look but not to buy. Norway is somewhere you go to for the scenery, not the weather, and not the shopping. Many ports did not accept credit cards at all, or only took cards with a chip and pin. Cash was king, and in Norway, you need lots of it. ATMs are hard to find and don't always work with US cards. They aren't as prepared for tourists as you might think for a very first world European country, and in some ports they offered tours in the mornings only. We got off the ship in Olden at 11AM, only to find the glacier sightseeing bus we wanted to take was a cash only option, there was no ATM nearby, the 11.15 bus was full and that was the last tour of the day, even though the ship was in port till the evening and the glacier was close by. The Norwegians aren't terribly interested in working harder than they need to, or maximizing their tourist profits when ships are in town. We were surprised by this mentality.
A big thank you to the CD John, for kindly producing a stack of DVDs for our 11 year old to watch on her player as she left hers at home. It was a thoughtful gesture and much appreciated, as was the specially decorated July 4th cake he arranged to be delivered to our dinner table. We found the staff only too willing to help and accommodate, as we got to know them. Mel from the Activities staff was sweet enough to offer me zinc supplements when I came down with a heavy cold. Andrea the bar steward in Rendezvous could not have been nicer. The coffee bar staff were wonderful.
It took us a while to settle into the cruise but by the end we were truly sorry it was coming to an end. I wrote this review sitting by the pool on the final day of the cruise, a rare moment in the sun. The sunsets on the last two nights, when the clouds had finally disappeared were incredible and a beautiful memory to end the trip on. I think we need to go somewhere warmer next year, but this trip was never about the weather. The third time was a charm on the Connie. Celebrity always takes great care of us and we will definitely be back on one of their ships again soon!