This was our first cruise with Celebrity's Constellation. We have cruised approximately 10 times mostly with Princess and Holland America so we know what we want and like. We travelled with 8 friends from our home state which made both sea days and port days enjoyable.
Hotel: We stayed at the Jersey City Hyatt which we found on the internet and would highly recommend . See http://jerseycity.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/index.jsp The Hyatt had a fantastic view of the NYC skyline, wonderful king bed (and bedding) and a subway train 30 steps from the hotel for a $2.00 four minute ride to the World Trade Center. We stayed at the Hyatt for three nites and since I was over 62 our room rates was only $119 per nite plus tax! Our younger travelers suddenly wished they were older since their rate was much higher, but still a good bargain compared to rooms in NYC. The Hyatt has an excellent restaurant (Vue) also overlooking the Hudson, the NYC skyline and the Statue of Liberty to the south. A cab ride to the hotel from Newark was only $42 including toll charge which we shared with two other fellow travelers.
Embarkation: Was very smooth if you arrive after 3 PM. We had no lines, problems and sailed right thru. We were excited to see the ship as we had heard so much about her. On boarding we were given a glass of champagne but were not escorted by a steward to our stateroom as we had been on other lines. This was not a problem since we were given a map of the ship and our stateroom was on the 3rd level next to the Guest Relations department and only a few steps. The Constellation is fairly well laid out having been built in France in 2002. Interior colors and materials were not traditional in that they were avantgard, minimalist and somewhat 'modern'. Some art work was not all that appealing but this was not significant or bothersome but the ship had good wall materials, copper etc that was appealing. One problem was the ship must have been built in sections as there were may deck/floor dips and inclines that one must watch out for, especially coming out of the San Marco restaurant on level 4 portside. The floor drops off several inches and could cause a fall if one is not prepared. There are many signs saying "Watch your step" through out the ship; however these little inclines and steep ramps should be repaired by Celebrity and not just signed. Our stateroom was small with low ceilings and just adequate. We had a large 3' porthole (unopening). The bathroom was small with a long but narrow shower that was adequate but our water controls in the shower did not always seem to work correctly. The bed was comfortable but the pillows and sheets (including bedspreads) were 'tired' and needed replacing. The mattress was thin and the bed close to the floor. On other lines we have been on the beds and bedding have all be replaced since 2005 on ships that were built in 2004. One of our friends had stateroom 8166 with a large deck (230 degree view) and sitting room that was otherwise similar to our room. We had all of our predinner cocktail parties in their room and had plenty of space for the 10. Their bedding and bathroom was the same as ours five decks below. On rough sea days their room rocked and swayed a bit. They paid $800 more each for their stateroom than we did, a premium for a large deck in Fall weather.
Activities were very good with good speakers on various and interesting subjects. Theater three was packed to standing room only for all speakers we observed. A Doctor of Naturopathy and Herbalist Thomas Anstett had 4 one hour talks and was very informative. Bingo cards were $30 for a six cards. The prizes were small although they gave out a lot of raffled items the best being a Sky Suite for the rest of the trip that had my attention due to the size of our room. I lost the Suite but won a luggage tag on the next drawing. The final bingo game was disappointing since the grand prize was only $2500 for an 11 day cruise. We are used to a $5k jackpot on 7 day cruise. Celebrity needs to share some winnings as they made over $10k per day and paid back very little.
Service on the ship was 5+ in the dining room and by all ship personnel and stateroom stewards. The crew remembered and used your name after the first day. Korey our wine steward was excellent as were our servers Kurt and Julius in the dining room. This was the best part of the cruise, that is, the service and was clearly better than on other lines.
Entertainment was also 5+ with great floor shows by the singers, dancers and individual performers. All were excellent and better than other lines. We especially liked the ventriloquist from Jamaica who was a hoot. None better, we laughed till our sides hurt. Also we also enjoyed Perry Grant's piano stylings in Michael's Club, he was a cross between Victor Borge and Liberace.
Shore excursions we avoided due to the fact we have been to most the ports. In Boston we took a $6 one way bus right off the ship to Fanuel Market (recommended) and did the Freedom Walk on our own. Quincy's market is an excellent spot for lunch with the best looking food we've ever seen (ship included). We ate at the Oyster House on the Freedom Walk which was very good as well. We had the usual lobster roll and chowder both were excellent. President Kennedy had his own booth in the Oyster House which is a must see, although it looked just like the other booths. One could also eat in the Italian section of Boston on the Freedom walk before the North Church as there are many good Italian restaurants there with garden like settings and many window seats. In Bar Harbor since it was small and we had been there before we just walked around town visited the Bar Harbor Inn where we stayed before although they don't serve lunch. We had lunch at Jette's on main street about 100 feet up the street from the landing which was very good and recommended. Halifax is an interesting but rainy city. We took the Hop On Hop off bus by Gray Line (not recommended) since it was $40 per person and one can easily walk around town. A must see is the Maritime Museum about a 5 minute walk straight down the shore. There they have the entire Titanic story and other lore of WW II shipping etc. Very interesting. There are good restaurants in Halifax on the shore and mid-city as well. You may want to see the Citadel on the hill, but since it was raining we didn't even get off the bus. We only rode the bus one-half of its circular route, got off at the Maritime Museum and walked back to the ship in a drizzle. Quebec City was probably the highlight port on our trip. Although hilly one can walk from the ship around the old downtown and see all the French shops, art stalls, old buildings, restaurants (French recommended: Le Petit Coin Latin at 8 Rue Ste-Ursule and La Cremaillere at 73 Rue St-Stanislas). Also the big hotel the Fontelac on the hill is a must see as is the Citadel nearby all within walking distance. Portland Maine was the brick city as all buildings after 1903 and the fire were built with brick. There is a hop on hop off bus there too for only $5 for all day. One can walk downtown easily from the ship but since it was windy and cool we sprung for the bus and found it a short ride but better deal than the Halifax bus. LL Bean downtown on Commerce street is a good place to buy your outdoor clothing needs if you have room in your luggage. Gilberts restaurant one block from the ship is good but get there early as there is always a big line after 11:30 AM for the lobster rolls and chowder. We are at the floating restaurant, old ferry, Dimillo's at 25 Long Wharf (recommended) as the appetizers and chowders were complimentary in the bar which had a great view of the harbor and boats and the docks. We had two drinks and lunch (free) for only $15.
Casino: Very nice with very good and friendly dealers. There are slot and 21 tournaments several times during the cruise. I was second in the 21 tournament and won $280 even though I have never played 21 at any casino! Only cost $25 to enter so the tournaments are entertaining and fun even if you haven't gambled before. The casino claimed they paid out slot machine winnings of over $500k after 9 days into the cruise! Some of our friends won substantial sums in the casino mostly on the slot machines. Since we had 5 sea days we spent a lot of time in the casino and got to know all the dealers by name who all seemed to hope we would win and when we didn't you could see it on their faces as we only tipped when we won.
We only saw one child on the ship and there weren't any activities for young people that we were aware off, but I am sure there is something. We liked the absence of a lot of children and found the average age to be at least 65 on this trip.
The lounges were very nice and located all around the ship. We liked the Champagne and Martini Bars and the lower Rendezvous Bar for sitting and conversation. Drink prices were not cheap but fairly reasonable. The frozen Margarita was very good and recommended. Waiters like to pour your martini glass full to the top making them hard to drink without spilling. Asking them not pour a full glass didn't seem to help, they poured to the top anyway. Crow's Nest bar on level 11 was comfortable and a good place to view the whales and scenery while underway. It is strangely decorated with several beds with screens at one end reminding one of a brothel. I think the beds are a leftover from the Circus Solei act that may not perform there anymore although they did perform notably to SRO audience one nite but for only for 10 minutes after a 25 minute clown act.
Therapy Pool: Clearly the best part of the ship was this area on level 10 forward. This is a warm salt water pool with lounges in the water and a small restaurant/buffet line adjoining featuring health food and drinks. There is good music and health food here. The area is covered so therefore is always warm and hospitable. Very relaxing area with an invigorating warm pool.
Food: Was the most disappointing part of our trip. We heard food was very good on Celebrity, however, the bread, cookies and some desserts were old and stale tasting. Celebrity's pastry/bread chef must have been replaced with the lines' buying these items on shore? Or do they only prepare these items once for every cruise? One in four dinners was good, but the rest were disappointing as the food was never hot only just luke warm, probably since we ate on level 4 and the food is brought up by the waiters on two escalators from level 2! I estimated the food had to be carried by our wait staff over 300 feet from the kitchen to our table! Ocean Liners Restaurant ($30 per person) is recommended as the all the items there and the service were superb although the service often was intrusive and slightly overbearing. Pizza was ok, but often not hot or available. Sushi bar was very good, but no offer of shrimp or some raw fish normally found in sushi bars. Buffet lines were ok, but not up to other lines, food choices seemed to be limited and not that well prepared or appealing. Seating in buffet was good in rear of ship but below average in front of buffet. Tip in restaurant: Ask waiter for double portion of meat, especially red meat, lamb chops, steak, as this paid off and I obtained a better and larger piece of meat. Steaks were normally 1/2 inch thick; whereas if you asked for a double order the meat was better, juicier, etc. I was surprised Celebrity charges $3+ for fresh orange juice and lattes at meals or in the buffet. Wine was fairly priced and our wine server Korey was fun and helpful. We always left him a big tip over the automatic 15% tip added to the bill.
Tipping: Celebrity recommends $11 per day and allows you to accept this or reject this amount. If you want to leave an envelop with a tip this is also provided at the end of the cruise. Unfortunately many passengers don't leave any tips for anyone. I think it is preferable to automatically deduct the usual $10 per day from one's account as other lines do. This is a fairer system and covers all the service staff and if one wants to opt out he can. Celebrities policy seemed to be confused and totally up the the customer and therefore flawed in my mind. Many passengers I talked to just failed to do a tip for various reasons, deadlines, misunderstandings, numerous and different communications, etc. Never did these passengers object to the service rendered. Service was very good and above average and the servers are paid very little by the cruise line and depend on their tips as many have families far off in Turkey, etc. We left the recommended tip amount which was put on our account and also left a small tip for those we felt did a good job during the cruise.
Disembarkation: We wanted to go to NYC before our flight left and took a cab back to Jersey City and the subway at the Hyatt at 9 AM. One of our fellow travelers felt there was not enough time to go with us and opted to go to the airport at 10 AM since his flight left at 5 PM. His bus to the airport mistakenly took the wrong exit ended up in the Holland Tunnel and went to NYC anyway. He got to the airport after 1 PM. Several people on that bus missed their flights! There was some confusion on leaving the ship after we left therefore I would urge getting off early. Here's how to do it: on your notice several days before disembarkation to the purser/hotel staff request a pickup at the pier at 9 AM or whenever you want off. They will put you in the first group leaving and when you get to your bag (one of 4000 and all black) you will find it and be on your way before the hoard arrives. The cab lines were poorly organized and didn't flow smoothly even though we got the first cab to Jersey City. Disembarkation is something few cruise lines have figured out. The best was HAL where you stayed in your room till called then proceeded to the lobby area. We were off their ship in 5 minutes and in our car headed home.
Overall: Great service, entertainment and therapy pool. Poor food, bingo and ship construction. I wouldn't take this trip again or use Celebrity again until they refurbish their staterooms, offer fresh bread, cookies and desserts and improve their food alot. Holland America has better prices and all the above except maybe entertainment.