We sailed on the Constellation August 16 - 30, 2008 on the 14 night Scandinavian and Russian cruise. Although there have been several reviews on this itinerary and even more on the ship, I wanted to voice some observations that haven't been made, and reinforce a few that I found to be important.
I've been on over 20 cruises with Holland America, Princess, and Carnival, and I can say the Celebrity Constellation was the nicest and most enjoyable ship that I've been on. Most notable was the overall cleanliness and state of repair. For instance, I didn't see one carpet stain on the entire ship. The carpets were cleaned twice during our 14 day voyage, with a dry powder extraction method. Fixtures were all cleaned and in good repair. Even little things that sadly we've become accustomed to, like graffiti etchings in bathrooms, elevators, or public areas - I saw none of that.
Celebrity does away with some gimmicks, in return for providing personal service that really counts. For instance, we didn't get the nightly cute animal-shaped towel sculptures in our room, but more importantly, our room was always promptly serviced, at least twice a day, sometimes three times, even when we deviated from our typical eating or sleeping schedule. Our steward was really on the ball.
There was no nightly parade of waiters in the dining room singing and dancing, but more importantly, we received excellent table service, as the wait staff had no distractions in performing their job duties. Let the people who get paid to sing and dance do the entertaining.
Features of the ship which impressed me included the largest top-deck disco / lounge of any ship I've been on - The Bar at the Edge of the Earth, which featured ample seating, both adjacent to the dance floor, and comfortable private "cabanas" further away from the action and music, but with great views out the front of the ship.
I like exercising on the basketball court or with a volleyball pickup game. The topside game court was constructed with a very thoughtful wrap-around shield from the wind on half of the basketball court, and the rims were straight, painted, and with nets - a rare find from the past cruises I've been on. And I was happy to find a pool appropriate for swimming lengths. Many ships are going to tiny irregular-shaped pools which are only good for standing around and splashing.
Many of us who enjoy sitting by the pool enjoy the open air - smoke-free and without having to bake ourselves in direct sunlight. There was plenty of shade around the pool due to the large overhangs from the deck above, and smoking was restricted to one side of the boat. On other cruise lines, since smokers were required to be outdoors, you'd see the tobacco group take over the only three shady tables in the corner of the pool deck, leaving me with the choice between getting skin cancer or lung cancer! Not so on the Connie. I truly got to enjoy relaxing by the pool on the Constellation while sitting in a nice shady lounge chair, breathing smoke-free air. Beach towels and blankets were always available and on an extended schedule, unlike some cruise lines where you must wait until after 9 am, then exchange your wet towel from the night before, or sign for them, one towel at a time.
The theatre was beautiful, large, and thoughtfully equipped with small drink tables throughout the rows, softly illuminated from beneath.
We had an economy inside cabin, which is all we need for sleeping and using the bathroom. The public places on the ship are nicer and larger than any suite you can buy, so we hang out there to relax and socialize and save our money for other things. But even in an economy cabin, the bathroom was laid out very efficiently with plenty of cabinet and shelf storage. The shower was great - the curtain was fixed on one side top to bottom and had an overlapping wall for the other side so the shower water always stayed where it belonged. An interesting note on the facility arrangements - you could wash your hands without getting up off the john!
The midship elevators are located on the port side of the ship, rather than smack dab in the middle, so you get a nice view of the ocean on the upper floors.
Best drink values on the ship: The martini sampler in the Martini Bar - you get 6 mini martinis (over 2 full size drinks worth) for about the price of one premium martini. Heineken drafts from the pool bar: The plastic draft beer mugs in the pool bar were larger (16 oz + ?) than the 12 oz glass mugs used elsewhere on the ship, but the same price.
Having registered for the Cruise Critic party, we were treated well by our hosts. Later in the cruise, the Cruise Critic group was invited to an exclusive tour of the bridge where we got to view the navigation equipment and watch as the ship maneuvered out of the port of Stockholm.
To be totally objective, there were a few wrinkles.
One hiccup in the voyage was with the wireless internet access. I brought my own notebook computer and was successfully using their wireless satellite internet service for several days, when I was notified that I was accruing surcharges due to a "popup blocker" on my machine. Although I had signed up for a block of internet connect time at a discounted rate, the fact that I had this "popup blocker" active was causing my account to be billed at the full per-minute rate. After reluctantly disabling my firewall and turning off Adblock Plus in my Firefox browser, I was still violating their protocol somehow. Their infosystems rep was unable to articulate exactly why their system was doing this (by design? or known problem?), but they cheerfully credited my account for the overage.
Others have complained about the poor dining room table layout and noise level. The high ceiling is impressive looking, but does make for a noisy environment and it was often difficult to hear the person talking across our eight person table. As far as location, when entering the dining room, the first columns of tables which flank the kitchen are isolated from the path of guests coming and going. But once you reach the foot of the dining room staircase, there are no well-defined aisles. As a result, guests and waiters must slide between tables in a meandering path to traverse the remaining length of the dining room. If you're unfortunate enough to get one of the tables near the mouth of this flood of pedestrians, get ready for a steady stream of foot traffic. We were well in the interior so this was not a problem for us.
Quality of the food was good and has been covered in other reviews. But I must reiterate that the portions were small. Order two appetizers, as they're less than half the normal size. If an entrée included a vegetable, the veggie serving would fit in a tablespoon. But as we all know, you're not going to go hungry on any cruise. The self-serve coffee in the buffet was drinkable once we discovered the formula for mixing it: 2/3 hot water plus 1/3 coffee. It was that strong.
One situation which was not so much a problem with Celebrity as it was a case in bad parenting: a girl who couldn't have been much more than 6 years old kept appearing with her Mother at late night disco and karaoke events, sitting at the bar among smokers, and drinkers, and out on the dance floor in adult situations. In pointing it out to the staff, they usually shrugged it off. A sign was posted at the disco entrance, restricting attendance to over 18 years after 10 pm. Only once did the staff make a general announcement to this effect, and then only around 12:30 am after the little girl and her mother had just left.
But overall, the clientele were polite, refined, and pleasant to mix with. People adhered to the dress code, and you felt you were part of a class operation on a premium vacation.
The activities were plentiful, which was a nice departure from the recent cutbacks I've seen on other cruise lines. No less than two daily trivia contests were held, in addition to other events like name that tune, Pictionary, Humdinger, battle of the sexes, volleyball, basketball, shuffleboard, golf putting, poolside games and soccer. The multiple trivia and name-that-tune contests often had themes. We've come to enjoy these activities as a way to meet other passengers in an intimate setting. By contrast, sitting in a large theatre watching three fellow travelers compete in a game show doesn't cut it (Holland America take note!).
I won't cover all the ports, as others have done so in their reviews, except for a few points: Most of the churches, palaces, and gardens which we toured from centuries ago were impressive, knowing that they were situated in their original locations with their original appearance. What detracted from it somewhat was that they were mostly facades, veneers, and re-creations, the originals having been destroyed in various fires and wars. For me, the best excursion was the tour of the former Soviet nuclear installation in the Zemaitija National Park, Lithuania. It is recent enough that nothing had to be reconstructed - what you see is the original, with all of the rough edges. And our Lithuanian tour guide had some fascinating personal stories of the tragedies her family endured during the Communist deportations and under Soviet rule. The ice bar tour in Stockholm doesn't include a shot of vodka - only a syrupy-sweet shot of fruity something-or-other. We docked at every port - no tender boats were required, which was a real plus.
To sum it all up, we're aware that Celebrity costs a little more than other lines, but feel that considering the excellent service received, it is a better value than the other cruises we've taken. We'll be cruising Celebrity on our next voyage.