Celebrity Constellation Cruise Review by cruzers j&n: Norwegian Fjords Constellation Cruise (June 26-July 8)
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Norwegian Fjords Constellation Cruise (June 26-July 8)
I’ve seen many questions on the boards inquiring how an Oceania cruise compares with a Celebrity cruise, so will do my best to give some feedback. I realize these lines are not in the same category so truthfully it is not fair to compare against each other, however, hopefully this will help those planning future cruises. Also, we're not seasoned cruisers and only have cruised 4 times prior to Celebrity so the review is just based on our 4 past experiences.
We stayed at the Movenpick Amsterdam and its location can’t get more convenient for cruisers – right next door! I was debating staying there vs. a more central location, but did not find the walk to town bad at all. It’s only about a 15-20 minutes leisurely walk and that’s with a child. The time goes quickly with plenty to see en route.
Embarkation was efficient, I think we boarded around 11 am and from start to finish, it lasted around 30 More minutes. By comparison, we just waltzed in for both Regent and Oceania check-ins but they don’t have the same crush of passengers as Celebrity. It was a bit of a zoo once we got onboard the Constellation but we managed just fine and were excited to explore the ship.
Our cabin (corner family veranda) was wonderful – spacious and with plenty of storage space. I especially appreciated that there is a separate walkway before you actually get the room, so that the bed isn't the first thing exposed when you open the stateroom door. The veranda was plenty large, especially for our family of 3. I thought sleeping would be an issue with the nearly constant daylight but the black-out curtains worked very well. The bathroom was a totally different matter altogether – we thought it stunk, literally! The bathroom itself and décor were basic and ‘functional’ but what was awful was the ever present smell of urine no matter what, yuck! We’ve never encountered any bad odors on our other cruises so perhaps this was just this particular cabin but next time, I’ll be sure to bring an air freshener. With Regent and Oceania, we only had oceanview categories but their cabins were still more luxurious compared to Celebrity, especially the bathroom. But overall we were very happy with our cabin so no complaints there other than the stinky bathroom.
Overall the food was very good! We preferred the dining room meals over the buffet. The breakfast/lunch offerings included a wide range for everyone, variety was never an issue – but honestly I didn’t feel anything offered was truly outstanding. After being so spoiled by Regent and especially Oceania, Celebrity’s buffet seemed more like a cafeteria - which was fine but not the highlight of the cruise as it would be on Oceania. Celebrity’s Indian food at the lunch buffet was consistently very good; the selections did repeat themselves but we didn’t care since they were so yummy. The roasted bone-in meats were also consistently good. I found myself getting very impressed with the dining room dinners, even thinking that some courses came pretty close to Oceania. Of course, there were several so-so meals there too – hubby managed to pick those, lol! My favorite entrees were the prime rib, chateaubriand, and Colorado lamb chops and no, I am not a big red meat eater but they were so delicious that I could be converted. My 8 year old son, who absolutely hates steak, devoured the chateaubriand, as well as the delicious salmon tartar appetizer that I shared with him. Desserts were pretty good too; the dining room chocolate cake was consistently moist and tasty and at Café Bacio (and sometimes at the buffet as well), we especially enjoyed the chocolate and coffee flavored cake – surprisingly not overly sweet so perfect with a cup of coffee. I admire the large variety offered on the ship to accommodate all the different tastes and cultures. It was nice to see Executive Chef Gavin surveying the goings on during the busy lunch hour at the buffet and yes, he is very approachable! He and his team do a wonderful job feeding so many people and doing so with such variety, certainly not an easy task.
We had one meal at Oceanliners and that was a complete mistake! Firstly, there is such a strong upsell for alternate dining throughout the cruise that it was actually off-putting but since this was our first time with Celebrity, we figured we’d give it a try. The Oceanliners menu included Chateaubriand and since we enjoyed ours so much at the dining room, we thought this way we could have it again. My hubby and son ordered the chateaubriand medium (slightly pink inside) and it was completely over cooked and not tender. I ordered the sole and asked for a butter/lemon sauce (sole Meunière) and it came back with a side of just melted butter so the dish tasted greasy vs. delicious. Oh well, we didn’t complain and did our best to enjoy our meals. However, we were very taken off guard when our bill arrived. The person who sold us the package (Carlos) told me he would give us a discount, using the wording ’20 for you and your husband, and 10 for your child’. I even repeated “20 per person and 10 for my son?” and he agreed. I mistakenly assumed that meant $20/adult and $10/child being the discounted price but he meant 20%/10% off so that translated to $40/adult and $20/child (regularly $50/adult) so our bill was nearly $130 after taxes/gratuity. I never would have guessed that a specialty restaurant surcharge would be so expensive at $50/person, especially when the dining room was quite good…so you've been warned! To be clear, we have no issue in paying for dining surcharges but those selling specialty restaurants need to be forthright about the full charge, not using wording that can be misleading. That is just tacky, unprofessional and simply bad taste that reflects poorly on Celebrity. That said, the service from the waitstaff at Oceanliners was excellent and comparable to Oceania and Regent.
This was the main reason we chose this sailing. We prefer Oceania for its quality of meals, high level of service, and country casual dress code, but needed a kids club for our son to make this truly an enjoyable family vacation for everyone. So we utilized the Fun Factory quite often, usually in the afternoons after a busy day in port or after dinner. There were not many children on this cruise, but around 10 in the 8-10 age range so my 8 year old son enjoyed his time interacting with the other kids, several that spoke only very limited English but it's wonderful that children can still get along despite language barriers. This was a great opportunity for him to get exposed to other cultures and nationalities which was one of our goals. I wish the counselors took the kids outdoors to play basketball to take advantage of the court or use the pool, but perhaps they are not permitted to do so. The programs rotated daily and the counselors worked hard to keep the kids entertained.
We only caught a few shows: illusionist (fun and engaging), Cirque du Soleil themed show (my son enjoyed a lot), and a very talented pianist. If you've seen Cirque du Soleil perform in the past, I don't think you'll be overly impressed with Celebrity's show but admittedly that's a tough act to follow. For the pianist, we were actually expecting classical music but he played more contemporary music with a recorded orchestra in the background which was not our particular taste, but his talent was showcased nonetheless. The CD JC and his sidekick Mark put on entertaining 'daily shows' and just watching JC laugh is enough to put anyone in a good mood. Many times, I would catch my son tuning in just for laughs. During the late afternoons/evenings, there was a duo playing the near atrium area (you could hear/see them playing from Café Bacio). I had a chuckle reading a previous review saying the girl played the same thing over and over on her sax - which was true, but I suppose she has a playlist she has to follow. Captain Tasos was also a good sport joining along for some of the activities.
As a side note, it was so fun to catch the World Cup matches on the ship! They set up a viewing area at the Cellar Masters and although satellite did not always cooperate, it was great to be able to catch most of the games and share some camaraderie (whether it’s rival or not!) with the other guests.
The outdoor pool was in use during our cruise and only the hearty were using it - kids! Needless to say, we enjoyed the hot tub instead and indoor pool which was primarily an adults only area for most of the day.
Service overall was consistently friendly and good. Honestly Oceania and Regent are better in this regard in that their staff appear to be more seasoned. For example, Oceania/Regent staff were very observant and anticipated my needs before I even had to ask whereas there was none of this on Celebrity….but you pay for this type of service. Also, at any buffet on Oceania/Regent, you are always offered beverage service (virtually no waiting for this) and often there are staff ready to take your plates to the table for you. This wasn’t a big deal for us but this type of service can be helpful for those that may have difficulty with mobility.
A Big Celebrity Oops - Food Allergy Warning!!
Unfortunately, we had one very serious issue concerning food allergies. My son has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy which is life threatening and the Dining Room staff were fully aware. Towards the end of our cruise, my son ordered the chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream (supposedly no peanuts/tree nuts) and upon eating the ice cream, he said ‘this has nuts’ since he had an immediate reaction (itchy throat/mouth). I had a taste of the ice cream and sure enough, I could taste some type of brittle, not the usual vanilla flavor. Our poor waiter Renato, who is the best ever, ran to the kitchen to double check with the chef and came back reassuring us that the chef confirmed the vanilla ice cream had no nuts. The head server/maitre d’ also quickly came to our table to tell us that the dish had no nuts. However, what bothered me most was that there was no acknowledgement of the reaction my son was having – it’s not something he would make up, nor the fact that it’s very possible that there was cross contamination in the kitchen. It’s a busy kitchen and human error is very possible - the person scooping the ice cream could have scooped up something other than vanilla, or more likely, used a scoop that was already used previously with a nut ice cream. Clearly, they were focused on confirming that there are no nuts in the vanilla ice cream for fear of a lawsuit rather than truly looking into what could have happened. Once we got back to our cabin, my son threw up his entire meal – another sign of cross contamination. I did phone down to the dining room after this occurred, as I wanted to warn them not to give that same dessert to others with a peanut/nut allergy. Hopefully they did their part.
As a warning to others with peanut/tree nut allergies, please be aware of the cookies! I noticed that a variety of cookies were displayed in the buffet, clearly labeled with nut warnings. However, there were identical jars and cookies at Café Bacio without any warnings. I asked several times whether the cookies had any nuts and each time, depending on who was working there, received a different answer. They also use the same tongs to pick up items so obviously cross contamination occurs on a daily basis. As a side point, we loved Café Bacio and thought Celebrity’s coffee area was superior to Oceania’s – larger and more extensive menu.
Ports visited from Amsterdam were: Stavenger, Olden, Molde, Alesund, Geiranger, Flam, Bergen, and Oslo. This was the one time we didn’t book excursions in advance since so much was weather dependent. Thankfully, we were blessed with really great weather and were able to maximize our time outdoors. Oh, and we didn’t encounter any mosquitoes and I am a mosquito magnet, thank you Norway!!
Stavenger: We climbed Pulpit Rock and survived!! While researching for our trip, I came across so many comments saying that there was no way you could do this and make the ship. So I emailed a colleague who used to live in Norway and got encouragement to visit while docked in Stavenger. Most folks took the fjord cruise to Lysefjord, but Rodne Fjord runs this exact excursion and is located a few steps from where we docked so if you’re going to do, I would suggest checking them out first as they’re bound to be much less expensive than the ship’s excursion. An excursion to Pulpit Rock is not even offered on Celebrity’s shore excursion listing so you had to ask for it. Of course, expect to pay a lot (it was over $800 for all 3 of us) but I would say it’s worth it (and our anniversary present ï). They had to rent out a bus (super new and clean), arrange for ferry transportation, and then transfer another 30 minutes or so to the hiking base for Pulpit Rock. It is doable if you wanted to do independently although I would not recommend this as you can waste a lot of time trying to figure out where to go and the hike itself will take around 4 hours roundtrip unless you’re already a fit hiker (then maybe 3 hours). The hike is very dangerous, with the trails consisting of large rocks with 45 degree angles and they are very wobbly. It’d be very easy to break an ankle or fall from this type of terrain. My hubby thought he was going to have a heart attack since the hike was so strenuous and was cursing me out at each step (happy anniversary)! Try not to bring a heavy backpack as it will feel as if the weight doubled very quickly. Meanwhile, we were so worried about our 8 year old being able to make the climb and he was the one who had the easiest time. So unless you are younger or are super fit, please google Pulpit Rock for some photos first so you can have an idea of how challenging the climb is. If you’re able to go, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view (and photos). Big tip: take an advil before you hike!
Olden: We took the ship excursion to Briksdalen Glacier and loved it! After yesterday’s hike to Pulpit Rock and still sore, we were somewhat concerned about this hike as it was classified as ‘strenuous’. It’s a piece of cake compared to Pulpit Rock! The entire hike was very beautiful and when you get to the glacier feed, the water is a beautiful teal color. This was my favorite excursion since Pulpit Rock was so agonizing in comparison.
Molde: We wandered around town and got free wi-fi. Just follow or look for the crew and you’ll find the hot spots. We paid for a wifi package and were dropped so often that we didn’t think it was worth it. Just go to port and get free wi-fi. The town was small but pleasant to stroll around especially since the weather was beautiful. We were originally booked on the Path of the Trolls tour but cancelled out thinking it’d be too long of a day (spend time mostly on the bus). We ended up running into someone who went and said it was just ok.
Alesund: The morning we arrived, it was dreary so we stayed put. By lunch time, it was back to being nice and sunny so we went into town but didn’t find much to do so went back to the ship. This was my least favorite port but to be fair, we didn’t explore very far. Destination services recommended the saga islands and aquarium but my son wasn’t interested so we ended up cancelling.
Geiranger: Absolutely majestic and beautiful, defies words. I’m not even a big nature lover but I loved this port, it's my absolute favorite. Years ago, I thought I hit paradise bliss when we visited French Polynesia (Bora Bora, Moorea, Tahiti, etc.) and saw so many beautiful motus. This is a different type of beauty…you’ll just have to go yourself and experience it! We took the RIB boat excursion and it was fantastic, hubby's favorite excursion. We booked the later one (vs. early morning) and was glad we had a later slot since it gets cool on the water. You’re given suits that make you look like a race driver so you’re protected against the wind, so don’t overdress or you’ll get very hot in your suit. The place that runs the excursion is right on dock, so you can save yourself some money and book directly with them. We didn’t know any better so booked with Celebrity and paid a small fortune. You’ll also have time to take the hike to the beautiful waterfall, which is located near the camp site. Walk about 10 min from dock and you’re there. Also, there is free wi-fi in front of the ice cream store.
Flam: After seeing the views from Pulpit Rock, Briksdalen Glacier, and then Geiranger, I have to admit that Flam was just ok for us and the train ride was our least favorite excursion. We had an overcast day with some drizzle, so perhaps that affected our perspective. The train was so crowded (not a single empty seat) that often times you couldn’t see much as people would get out of their seats and block the view trying to take pictures. The waterfalls that they stopped at weren’t more impressive than the scenery in Geiranger on the RIB boat, except that you’re fighting crowds to get a photo on the train excursion. You also stop by a hotel that serves waffles/coffee which was a nice treat. We were thinking of combining the train ride with a downhill bike ride but glad we didn’t as the roads were slippery from the rain and I would have wiped out. I should point out that the train station is a literal 2 minute walk from dock so you do not need to go through the ship’s pricey excursion. Again, we paid a pretty penny booking through Celebrity because I was worried about navigating to the train station but I should have done some homework. Do book online early as the times do get sold out quickly.
Bergen: Enjoyed this port, one of the better ones for shopping. Some of the open wide areas reminded me of Vienna (Kartnerstrasse in particular) so very easy walking. The fish market is close by (10 minutes), although a heads-up that many merchants there only accept a chip & pin embedded credit card, so US bank issued credit cards will not work. Arm yourself with local currency if you do not have this type of credit card and want to eat there.
Oslo: We took the HOHO bus and visited Vigeland park. I couldn’t believe we forgot to visit the Ice bar! I knew it would be very touristy but we wanted to go for fun, oh well. Was not overly impressed with Oslo although we enjoyed the park.
So overall, we really had a wonderful time and enjoyed this cruise, enhanced by the friendly crew and staff and of course the wonderful weather. Favorite ports were Geiranger, Olden and Stavanger in that order. If you decide to visit Norway, pack lots of layers. I packed gloves/hat just in case and never needed them, although a nice scarf for the ladies could dress up an outfit and provide some added warmth without adding much bulk. If I had to do over again, I would bring much less cotton clothing. I brought those for my son as they are comfortable, but they take a lot longer to dry when laundered. The synthetic clothing was much easier to clean/dry. We had a huge veranda so could take advantage of laundering ourselves over a 2 week trip.
If you have life threatening food allergies, please do yourself a favor and be prepared for the worst. You can’t expect that everyone will understand how severe allergies can be so arm yourself with vigilance and medication and enjoy your cruise.
Hope you’ve found these observations somewhat helpful in planning your trip! Happy travels to all. Less
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