It's been a week since I returned from my 11-day Western Caribbean trip on the Celebrity Constellation, and all I can say is that the Constellation deserved that 1st place spot in Conde Nast Traveler's list of "The Best Cruise Ships in the World." I was so pampered and relaxed that I found it hard to go back to real life.
BOARDING: Flawless. Thanks to online check-in, our boarding took all of 30 minutes from pier to room. I love how Celebrity always offers champagne and orange juice when we first enter the ship. Pleasant, helpful staff took our carry-on items and took us right to our rooms. Couldn't be better.
CABIN: We opted for veranda rooms on Deck 7 starboard, higher up than we usually go and further out than we usually go. (My mother and I have a tendency to get seasick, but I tell you, this ship hardly rocked. We were amazed. What stabilizers!) We are all now completely spoiled. We loved the decor, done in tones of beige and aqua, the extra space and extra cubbyholes for storing things, the sofa and table, and naturally, the veranda. My husband and I went out one morning around 4:30am to view the night sky and enjoy constellations we didn't see at home, like the Southern Cross. At another time, we watched happily as a school of flying fish sped out of the waves as the ship sailed by.
We weren't in our rooms for five minutes when our cabin attendant, Cheryll, knocked and introduced herself. This sweet, happy-to-please young woman made our stay so pleasant that we told her (jokingly) that we would either have to stay for the next cruise or take her home with us. When she asked how we had slept one morning, we told her that we were a little stiff, and asked if we could have another mattress put on top of our current one. We had a new mattress by lunchtime. She also would unlock our cabin door for us every time she saw us coming down the hall, even if her hands were full of towels or cleaning tools, and always with a smile, a friendly greeting (calling us by name), and questions on how our day was going so far. She is the best attendant we've ever had on any cruise.
THE SHIP OVERALL: Since we didn't visit a lot of the ports during this trip (I've been to some of them before and didn't care to see some of the others), I got to see a lot of the ship. I was very pleased. Constellation is enormous, with warm, elegant decor, golden paneling, squashy chairs and sofas, and beautiful carpets. I found myself taking pictures of the different carpet patterns, they were so interesting. And everything was so clean! Wherever you looked, staff were always cleaning, buffing the brass, spraying the glass and mirrors. I swear you could eat off the floor in the public restrooms. Pedestals containing hand gel were everywhere. I had no fear of any Norovirus on this ship.
To make things even better, the Captain and his senior staff regularly walked the decks of the ship inspecting everything and talking to the passengers. The Captain asked my husband about his lunch, and when my husband stated that the food was wonderful, the Captain turned to the Executive Chef and actually congratulated him. I thought that was really neat. I've never seen any other cruise line do this.
The most beautiful place on the ship, in my opinion, was the tropical-themed Aquaspa. It had a glass ceiling, potted palms, and the biggest Thalassotherapy pool I'd seen on any of my Celebrity cruises. Needless to say, my husband and I spent most of our time in this place. Lying in warm, bubbling mineral water while the sun shines in from overhead and Enya sings softly in your ears is absolute heaven. How happy we were to discover that Constellation (and other ships of its size) does not charge for using this pool!
The Emporium (shopping area) was the biggest I'd seen on any ship. It seemed to go on for nearly half a deck. I was really amazed at the number of shops. Believe it or not, I did most of my shopping here, including jewelry, handbags, and Tortuga Rum Cakes. We had fun with the slot machines every evening in Fortunes, even though we didn't make a fortune. The Online@Celebrity room was visited every night so I could talk to my sister at home. The room was beautiful and well laid out, and had huge windows on one side. I brought my laptop in here every day to do a little work from home. The pool area was gorgeous and well-maintained, but was always very crowded unless we were in port. I looked forward to those days because I could actually get a poolside chair.
FELLOW GUESTS: Our fellow guests had an average age of 40-50, and were quiet, friendly, and classy. If you have children, I would not recommend this ship. There's very little for kids to do (that I could see, anyhow), and since I am not a child-oriented person, that suited me just fine. I especially loved that the Thalassotherapy Pool didn't admit anyone under 18. I could relax in complete quiet without being splashed by some kid cannonballing into the middle of the pool. Sheer heaven. If you are looking for something kid-oriented, go to Carnival or Disney.
FOOD: Ah, the food. I've never eaten so much in my life. Really. Celebrity knows good food, and I found it hard to turn anything down; the only reason I did was because my stomach protested that it was too full! The San Marco Restaurant got most of our service because - well, because of the service! I have usually eaten breakfast at the buffets on other ships, but opted this time to go to the SM in the mornings with my family. Every single morning, we were greeted by at least 10 waiters who showed us to our seats and proceeded to offer juice and pastries, give menus, and pour coffee before we really got settled. Talk about service! The waiters even remembered us as the "decaf coffee group" every morning of the trip. Another plus - I am very anal about the way my scrambled eggs are prepared, and this is the very first time ever that they were made exactly to my taste. I had eggs every morning of the trip, and they were perfect. Kudos to those chefs.
Our dinnertime waiters were Petre and Marlon, who saw to our needs before we even thought of them ourselves. I always got a kick of how Marlon's hand would suddenly appear and fill up my water glass when I was just noticing it was empty. And our assistant maitre d', Alex, always stopped by for a chat and a good laugh. The camaraderie couldn't be beat. Make sure you ask for the apricot tart and the cherries jubilee on the night they're offered. They're marvelous. And if you have a birthday or an anniversary, be sure to tell your maitre d' because you'll get serenaded by the staff and receive the gooiest, moistest, most chocolatey chocolate cake you've ever had, and everyone at the entire table gets to share a slice.
The Seaside Cafe was nice to visit during lunch. They had a little bit of everything, and it was always hot (or cold) and fresh. The waiters carried my trays to a table for me (they always tried to get me to a window), and offered to get my drinks for me. Afternoon tea was a constant pull for me, and was probably the reason why I couldn't eat a lot at dinner. I simply could not refuse those delectable little tea sandwiches, especially the hot ham and cheese mini-croissants! (Make sure you try them...mmm!)
PORTS: As I said earlier, I didn't get off at a lot of the ports because I'd either been to them before or I wasn't interested. But here's my say on each:
1. Grand Cayman - I love to shop here because the shopkeepers aren't frantic for your business. They look up and say, "Can I help you?" and go back to what they were doing when you say you're just looking. Great place for souvenirs. There's also great snorkeling, and I have had a wonderful time with the very tame stingrays at Stingray City, who ate right out of my hand. Don't miss that place. Yes, Steve Irwin was killed by one of these creatures, but they truly are tame and friendly at Stingray City.
2. Aruba - We signed up for the Aruba See ‘n Sea, which was a half-day bus tour of the island. It included a short but exhilarating boat ride and a tour of the surrounding waters in the Atlantis submarine. I enjoyed the water part of the tour more than the land part, but it was all in all a good tour. We were tired when we came back, and opted not to go shopping. I'd like to come back to Aruba again - it was beautiful.
3. Panama - I and my husband did not go ashore here, but my parents took a bus tour and thoroughly enjoyed it.
4. Costa Rica - We missed this port because there were demonstrations and riots due to the American Free Trade Agreement. I wasn't sorry. I'd heard too many bad things about how dangerous Costa Rica is and I was surprised that cruise ships still go there. What impressed me was how quickly the Constellation crew made preparations for the substitute port, Playa del Carmen. People who had tours scheduled for Costa Rica were refunded their money, and the newsletters delivered to the cabins a few hours after the announcement was made already had tours and information for Playa del Carmen. Nary a hitch. I was really impressed.
5. Playa del Carmen - Again, I chose to stay on the ship. I heard the beaches were beautiful here. We could see our next stop, Cozumel, on the horizon (along with several other cruise ships that were in port there that day). We were due to leave Playa del Carmen at 7pm and arrive at Cozumel at 7am the next morning. I got a laugh out of wondering what Constellation did for those 12 hours that night, since Cozumel was so close by.
6. Cozumel - Once again, I stayed on the ship, as I do not care for Cozumel. The last time I was here, the shopkeepers actually came out of the stores and hassled me, my daughter, and her best friend. One grabbed my daughter's arm and attempted to pull her into the store. That was enough shopping for me. The cab drivers were rude and drove at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, which scared us to death. We also sailed on the Fury Catamarans (which I understand is very popular), and were very disappointed at how rushed it was. Every catamaran we saw was crowded with people, so I hope it's changed, but I didn't want to spend the money to find out. I bought the rest of my souvenirs on board the ship instead.
ENTERTAINMENT: The shows are your average cruise ship entertainment. I thought Fantasea and the Broadway production were both pretty well done. I was very disappointed to find out that Cirque du Soleil was no longer with Celebrity; I had been looking forward to seeing them.
We enjoyed the band who sang by the pool. The guitar player who played by the pool was outstanding, too. And the gentleman who sings in Michael's Club every night always drew a huge crowd. On the other hand, the thin blonde singer in the Rendez-Vous lounge was truly horrible. English is not her native language, and it came out very nasal-sounding. Hearing her sing Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill" (which came out "Bubarrah Hee") was actually painful to the ears. However, there were two couples who could really dance that always danced here before dinner every night, and we found we could tune the singer out while we watched the dancers.
There were a few things I didn't care for on this trip - very, very few, in fact, but I thought I'd mention them anyhow.
1. Pool hogs: Everyone who has talked about this in past reviews is absolutely correct. People reserved tons of chairs for others, which I found kind of ridiculous...but I did find several chairs on Deck 11 fore and aft, and the breeze was nice. It didn't exert me any to walk to the pool if I wanted to. The chairs around the Thalassotherapy Pool were the same, packed with people by breakfast. I finally didn't even try to get a chair until late afternoon, or when we were in port.
2. Slow internet service: My sister was home alone and this was the one way we could contact her. I thought it wouldn't be that much of a hassle. I was wrong. Man, they have got to do something about this. It was worse than dialup on some days. One day I spent nearly $5.00 just trying to log on. I did go to guest services and (politely) complain, and was refunded my money, but that didn't stop me from filing a complaint. Hopefully those of you on future cruises will notice a difference.
3. Cabin TV: Although I liked the movie choices and the interactive screen (so I could see how much I was spending!), I had to balk at the lousy channel selections and the constantly repeating information regarding ports we had left days ago. Who wanted to keep seeing shopping or tour information about Aruba when we were on our way to Cozumel? I think the person who was in charge of the television service must have been sick, new, or just plain inept.
4. Changes to Advertised Attractions: When talking to the waiter one night, we found out that Cirque du Soleil was no longer contracting with Celebrity, which hit me hard; I had really been waiting for this. Also, we found that the Natural Bridge in Aruba had collapsed two years before the trip started. How did we find that out? It was printed on our tour tickets. C'mon, guys. Update your web page.
5. The AquaSpa's Couples Massage Seminar: One word - Ouch! Older couples or couples with joint problems, beware! My husband, who is a big man, and I, a sufferer of early rheumatoid arthritis, thought this would be a great idea. Little did we know that we would have to kneel on a hard wooden floor during the one-hour seminar. My husband was in obvious pain, and I really think the leader of the seminar couldn't have helped but notice, but she plowed on. Another older couple simply gave up and sat on their towel. I felt sorry for the $52 they spent, and I was rather irritated at the $52 we spent for pain that we weren't expecting. You have been warned. If you aren't in terrific shape, you are going to get hurt.
6. The Shopping Port Guide: I enjoyed the service by all Constellation's staff, save for, surprisingly, the port shopping guide, Allan. He is so perked up and pleasant for the crowds during his presentations, and looks like a really approachable guy on TV. He isn't. He is very indifferent one on one. When we were leaving the ship in Grand Cayman, he was handing out new shopping maps at the ramp. I pulled mine out of my bag and said, "I already have one; is yours updated?" He kind of snorted in disgust and sniffed, "Obviously." I don't know, maybe I caught him on a bad day or something, but I was so taken aback by that snort that I didn't bother to approach him again.
Whatever the case, these few little things do not take away from the splendor and the pampering that is Celebrity. It's been a week, and my husband and I are still envying the couple occupying our room, enjoying the service of our cabin attendant and waiters. This was our fourth trip on this cruise line, and it certainly won't be the last. Celebrity is without a doubt a "true departure."