We experienced a near-perfect 12-night cruise around the Eastern Mediterranean that was port intensive in a beautiful and historically key part of the world.
We found Constellation to be shipshape. It was clean, and in good repair…mostly. The one flaw was that one side of the ship was still undergoing repairs to its Promenade, with cans of materials openly stacked at one end. Otherwise, we encountered no issues involving the quality of the shipboard experience. By our observation, Constellation and its furnishings were in good order and repair.
Our oceanview cabin on Deck 2 was serviced nicely by John R. and his assistants. It was kept clean and tidy, with regular changes of linens and towels throughout the day. The room was always in top notch condition. It offered great access to the stairs and elevators to quickly get us to food or fun, or out the gangway. It was quiet and all systems worked just fine.
Dining room service was excellent. Ketut and Paul were a great wait team, ensuring our water and iced tea glasses were full, bread on the table, and the various courses promptly served. Ketut was helpful in selecting our various courses, subtly steering us away from the, ahem, less satisfying offerings. Both he and Paul were sincerely solicitous, friendly and helpful. Our sommelier, Susanna, was the best ever. She was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and excellent in explaining her recommendations based on our various courses, including dessert. No regrets taking any of her advice. Together these three may have been our best dining room service team ever, and contributed greatly to our enjoyment of our cruise.
The food was interesting. We lived in Europe for years, and we know how various Europeans prefer certain foods. During a galley tour I asked the guiding chef about the challenges of having an international staff with varying personal palates preparing food based on standardized recipes for an international clientele. He said it was very difficult, and that he did extensive tasting to ensure it was right. I believe him. That said, many MDR dishes were simply overloaded with garlic, like a diner’s early bird senior special. What was most irritating was that the overwhelming garlic in many dishes was not in context of the dish itself – like highly garlicked spinach as a bed for pork tournedos. It’s not just the flavor, but the shock-level aroma of the dish that was off-putting to me. Conversely, other dishes were incredibly bland, lacking basic seasoning. I could imagine hearing Chef Robert Irvine telling the cooks to use some salt and pepper. It wasn't the quality of the ingredients, either. I know Celebrity can do better because I have previously had better consistently from its galleys. To top it off, I now join the ranks of those saying the “free” coffee is undrinkable. It is plainly awful, worse than my employer provides that cooks all day in the giant tin pots. And to provide milk (sometimes apparently skim milk) instead of proper half and half or cream for coffee is a cardinal sin in my book.
On the whole, the buffet was very good for breakfast and lunch. The portion control games are clearly on! My favorite was having to wait in the custom Italian food line to request a portion of re-warmed spaghetti noodles so I could put sauce on them at the next station. Seriously, I am not advocating waste, but it is penny-wise nonsense not to have warm noodles readily available on a buffet line. The irony is that the sauces sit untouched and slowly reducing because there are no available noodles…there’s the waste. The buffet staff kept turning the tables and there was never a problem finding a place to sit.
We had a Classic Drink Package through the 1-2-3 promotion. We had no problems getting well-made mixed drinks at the bars and other venues. Wine at dinner was limited in selection by the glass, but with Susanna’s help, we did well enough to enjoy ourselves each evening. More than the volume, we really appreciated the ease of ordering. The waiters were all very prompt taking and delivering our orders.
Cruise Director Mark Western was unlike any of the CDs we’d ever encountered before. He was genuinely friendly and seemingly everywhere, as was his second, Taylor. Mark apparently enjoyed the contact with the customers, with very much a self-depreciating demeanor. Frankly, we enjoyed his company, even when sharing it with hundreds of others. Activity scheduling was a nightmare on this port intensive cruise. Only two at sea days, otherwise the gangway opened and the ship emptied…tough to lecture or put on some event under the circumstances. We had the opportunity to hear the two lecturers, and both were excellent. Sadly, our schedule and theirs rarely allowed us to intersect. The entertainment was fine. The ship’s company did what they do so well; the hired acts were also generally very good. The music offered nightly in the various venues was good, as well.
We encountered one evening of rough weather leaving Rhodes. Winds blew at 65 knots with 10-15 foot seas. The Captain did a wonderful job minimizing the discomfort. The rest of the trip was blue skies and 75 degrees, perfect touring weather.
Disembarkation was the best and worst of times. Celebrity did its part well; the Turkish authorities not so well. I appreciate security, and the Turkish passport control folks treated everyone like a probable Interpol fugitive. They had three, sometimes four, agents on duty to languidly clear a ship of 2100 passengers – all of whom had been through Turkey before. Our pre-arranged trip to the airport was bungled by the limousine firm, which sent the car to the hotel we had previously occupied, not the port. We eventually got it sorted out, with plenty of time to spare...but then there were some hassles over who owed what for "emergency service." Next time I wouldn’t bother with the pre-arrangement.
We flew roundtrip from Dulles to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines non-stop. (I admit my leeriness after reading a number of reviews.) We were treated wonderfully back in economy. The service reminded me of the “good old days”, with amenities, plentiful drinks, and good food. Plus, each seat had an entertainment center that allowed one to do anything from play games and watch movies to learn a foreign language. I have no hesitation to fly THY again.
We stayed at the Aristocrat Hotel, and highly recommend it. The rooms were modern, pleasant and reasonably priced, with views of nearby sights. The front desk was always willing to help out. The location is perfect, a few minute walk to Blue Mosque, Haiya Sophia and Topkapi Palace. The #1 streetcar is also nearby. Istanbul is a great city. Take advantage of it.