Celebrity Constellation Cruise Review by cartervan: Wonderful Baltic Cruise
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Wonderful Baltic Cruise
After many years of looking at various Baltic Cruise possibilities, we finally chose the Celebrity Constellation 12-night itinerary sailing out of Amsterdam. We have taken many cruises all over the world--mostly with Holland America--and have had many great experiences. But this one ranks right up there as one of our favorites.
We mostly chose the Constellation because of their 123 Go promotion in which you can choose from getting all gratuities paid, a drinks package and/or on-board credit. Also there was a deal where outside cabins and verandas were nearly the same price. So we ended up in a very nice veranda room and "free" wine with dinner as well as all gratuities paid.
We flew into Amsterdam a day ahead and spent two nights and a day walking all over Amsterdam with the help of Rick Steves' Audio tour which we downloaded free from his website. Very helpful info. In fact, we used his Baltic guide in all of the ports, both in planning and in visiting each city. We More stayed in a rather "sketchy" hotel (which is a whole different review I won't get into here) but it was in a very handy location. And very near the central taxi stand. So it was easy to drag our suitcases over to the taxi stand and take the short trip to the ship on the morning of embarkation.
Embarkation was quick and easy. Our first impressions of the ship were very favorable. The Constellation is an "M Class", about 2000 passengers, and we think it is just the right size to offer a choice of venues, but small enough that you can make friends with people that you run in to all the time.
We had a very nice Cruise Critic meet and greet on the first morning (and first sea day) which was well attended. We met some nice people, some of whom we played Trivia with at various times, and some of whom were fellow Rick Steves fans and we ended up walking with in one or two ports.
We liked The Constellation very much, as I said. I loved the airy "Reflections Lounge" at the top front of the ship. It's a great place to relax and watch the sea. It was pretty quiet during the days, but used for "parties" at night. We went to one "Name that tune from the 50's and 60's" late-night activity there that was a lot of silly fun. But we didn't stay up late too many nights since we had to get up early for so many of the ports. There was a tiny computer lab right next to an even tinier library in an obscure mid-ship location. We had loaded lots of books onto our Kindles (which we didn't have time to read) so we only peaked in there once and saw it very empty.
There is no piano bar, but I noticed that some of the same kind of comradery seemed to spring up among the regulars who gathered around the frost-topped martini bar in the late afternoons and evenings.
We went to almost all the shows and found them all to be very entertaining. I thought their "production" shows with the singers and dancers were especially imaginative and well-done.
We ate most lunches in the buffet or at the hamburger/hot dog place by the pool. We ate breakfast once in the Main Dining room (a special "express" breakfast that they did for the first very early morning arrival in St. Petersburg--a very nice service). We also ate once at the cereal and fruit buffet near the spa where they have all kinds of nice toppings for your cereal and some great muffins. Several times we just ordered breakfast in our room and it always arrived on time. However, we ordered scrambled eggs twice and they were ice cold both times. The buffet at breakfast was always kind of crowded and hectic--but lots of good choices.
We ate dinner almost every night in the main dining room. We had "select" dining which means you can just come at any time. We never had to wait. We always said we would like to eat with others, and we met many delightful dinner companions and had a lot of good table conversation. Menu choices were good and almost everything was delicious. I just didn't see the reason to eat in any of the specialty restaurants. I have no idea how many people paid the hefty "surcharge" in those restaurants, but I did notice that they were constantly pushing reservations and sometimes offering discounts.
O.K., about the ports. Really, the Baltic cruise is all about the ports. I had been a little nervous about whether the St. Petersburg stop might be cancelled in the light of all the saber-rattling going on between the U.S. and Russia lately. But we had a two-night stopover there that was really a high-light of the trip.
We chose to book a two-day "Deluxe Tour" with SPB tours. It was slightly cheaper than the "ship excursions" and had the advantage of traveling around the city in 16 passenger vans instead of the big buses. The ship does give precedence to ship tours during the disembarkation process. But we just watched to see when people started getting off the ship, and got off with the ship excursion people. Getting through Russian security was a little intimidating and slow, but after that our experience in St. Petersburg was great. Our guide was really good and we kept on the move constantly for both days. We saw so many beautiful and interesting sights. I highly recommend that you read Massey's "Peter the Great" and "Catherine the Great" before you go to get a little insight into the amazing palaces and churches of St. Petersburg.
We also booked an all-day tour of Rostock and Schwerin with SPB tours. We did that instead of taking the 3-hour bus trip into Berlin while docked at Warnermunde. Beautiful German towns and a spectacular castle and gardens at Schwerin.
We didn't take organized tours at any of the other ports.
Tallin is very accessible by walking off the ship and we spent a very pleasant day exploring the medieval streets of that pretty little town, Rick Steves in hand.
In Helsinki we took a shuttle bus into the city center and walked down the esplanade to the harbor market, then made our way to the unique "Church in the Rock" where a concert pianist was playing and showing off the accoustics.
In Stockholm we took the Hop On Hop Off into town (they charged us 40 euros!) and then got off to walk around the old town area (Gammel Strand). We stepped into one cathedral just as a group of very small children lined up in front of the altar and sang for us. So cute. When we got to the square in from of the Royal Palace, we met up with some fellow CC'rs who were all excited to have seen the King of Sweden come out and get into a limo. We got back on the Hop On Hop Off and went on to Djurgarden island that features some of the best museums in town. Most people got off at the Vasa museum, but we went on to the Skansen outdoor museum which displays relocated examples of early Swedish homesteads with costumed interpreters, as well as farm animals, a Zoo and pretty gardens. We could have easily spent a day there, but we only had a couple of hours. Actually, everyone was wishing we could have had more time in Stockholm. But part of the attraction was the beautiful 5-hour sail through the island-dotted inlet going and coming. We got up early to have breakfast on our veranda and watch the scenery as we approached Stockholm. Lovely!
Our last port was Copenhagen. Again we just took a bus into town and followed Rick Steves guide along with several fellow CC passengers. We stopped for open-faced sandwiches and beer at a side-walk cafe and then took a canal boat ride before walking back to the ship along the shore past the famous Little Mermaid statue. Another very enjoyable day.
Of course, our enjoyable days were enhanced by wonderful luck with the weather. Except for a little drizzle one of the days in St. Petersburg, all the port days were sunny and cool--just right for walking. Most of the time the Baltic Sea was smooth, you almost never even felt the ship moving. We had just a couple of days where there was a little bit of rocking occasionally.
A clean comfortable ship, plenty of food and drink, entertainment of all kinds, friendly staff and fellow passengers--all on top of beautiful and fascinating ports. What more could you ask for? Isn't that why we love to cruise? Less
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