This was our fifth Celebrity cruise. We had previously sailed on the Summit, Mercury, Equinox and Eclipse. The Constellation is a duplicate in design of the Summit. We were curious how we would like the Constellation after sailing on the two much larger and more modern ships of Celebrity. We enjoyed the size and layout as much as we did several years ago on the Summit. In fact, we prefer the layout of the Millennium class ships. (Are you reading this Celebrity?)
The cruise was of particular value for my wife as the itinerary provided an opportunity to connect up with her Finnish heritage- more on this later. We purchased an all inclusive package from our travel agency, Yankee Trails, in Renssalaer, New York. Our transfer to Newark airport, transfers to and from the Amsterdam airport, and transfer from JFK to our car were executed flawlessly and with class. All of the transfers were by private car or limo with the exception of the ship to airport transfer which was via motor coach. Air arrangements on Delta and KLM and a pre-cruise night at the Movenpick were included in our package.
The Movenpick is a most convenient hotel for pre and post cruise activities. The hotel is located within a 100 yards of the cruise terminal and is sited along the pier's waterway. Most rooms have wonderful views of the port and its constant motion of ship movements. We arrived at the hotel at 8:30 am after a flawless flight and transfer from the airport. We checked out luggage at the hotel and took the tram to the central station. The central station is the first stop after the hotel. You can, and we did, walk the distance at times. However, you can purchase unlimited use of the tramway from $7.50 per day. If you take two roundtrips on the tram, you will save money. The tram system is extensive but the tourist section is still a walking intensive adventure. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. We returned to the hotel at 1 pm and the hotel was able to accommodate an early check-in. We returned to city centre after some down time and finished the evening with a dinner canal tour.
The next day we began with a wonderful breakfast buffet that was included in our cruise package. We then WALKED to the ship with our luggage and we were on the ship in less than an hour. Luggage transfers were included in our package. However, the terminal was so close, we rolled our luggage next door to the check in location. Our check in was flawless and we were in our room by 1 pm and our luggage arrived by 2PM!
On board we enjoyed a typical Celebrity experience. Excellent service, good food and entertainment have become the hallmarks of this cruise line. The cruise director, T.C., and Captain Nikos were very personable and were seen often about the ship engaging with passengers. We enjoyed the production shows and most of the entertainment and entertainers were very good. One of the male vocalists was as good as one would find on Broadway! Our wait staff, Gray and Daryla were the most personable of any on any Celebrity cruise. They really wanted to please! We had very few at sea days as this is a port intensive itinerary. We enjoyed the historical lectures by Dr. Carolyn Harris. Hundreds of passengers would attend her fact packed and well delivered discussions on the Czars and other royal families of the Baltic States.
As we had not visited any of the ports, we pre-arranged a number of tours. We decided against booking with the ship as we would be in large motor coach sized groups and at a higher expense than most of the private tour company offerings. We decided upon TJ tours of St. Petersburg, Russia. Tatyana returned our phone calls and e mails almost instantly! The information provided, the executing of the reservations and the entry requirements to Russia were flawless! We booked the two day intensive tour of St. Petersburg. Be prepared for two full days. But, to see the wonders of this Czarist capital was one of the primary reasons for our visit! Elizabeth was our tour guide and she was excellent. In addition to be a library of information and speaking English very well, she was sensitive to the needs of the group of 14. Yes, that is right- the maximum group size was 15 people! We traveled in a 15 passenger Mercedes mini-van that was comfortable and well appointed. No motor coaches for us with everyone fighting for position to hear the tour guide. TJ provided head sets when we were in situations that hearing our guide might be problematic. They thought of everything. We also booked the Warnemunde and Rostock tour with TJ.
Anna was our guide and she did a wonderful job. We found the private tour companies offering smaller tours at less of a price than the ship based tours.
The only tour we tried to book onboard was one specific sea/land tour of Helsinki. Being of Finnish ancestry, this tour was very important to my wife. Unfortunately, the tour was sold out and they would not offer a second tour unless it was full. This policy stands in contrast to TJ tours which will offer the tour even if only one couple reserves! We booked another Helsinki tour, but this too was cancelled by the ship due to lack of enrollment. This was a hard lesson to learn about booking critical tours aboard ship. We survived and traveled independently to Helsinki to the market and central square area. We purchased transfers from the ship. The shipped docked miles from the city center. We thought under these circumstances that the ship should have provided transfers. But, I forgot it is all about the money!
We took a tour provided by our travel agency of Tallinn, Estonia. Our guide was named Anna and she was very good. We toured Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm and Amsterdam independently.
Disembarkation was as easy as embarkation. Celebrity really has a great system in place. The transfer to the airport was via motor coach and our luggage greeted us upon arrival at the airport. Our return flight and transfers home were flawless.
Most recently we had been on the Equinox and Eclipse. However, we enjoyed the size and ambiance of the Constellation. We never felt crowded even in the Oeanview Café. The main dining room served the same menus as the newest ships and was very pleasant. The ports were wonderful, each having a particular value to the traveler. Of course, St. Petersburg is everything that people rave about!