A little background information:
This was our 4th cruise and 1st on Celebrity. Our previous cruises were: Carnival Fantasy (1995), SunCruise Sunbird (1999) and RCCL Voyager of the Seas (2001).
We have taken land-based, resort vacations in Cuba (2002) and Dominican Republic (2003) and enjoyed them almost as much as our cruises. My wife and I are in our mid-30's with no children.
Although this review may be too lengthy for your liking, my aim is to provide 'detailed' information that people may be able to use. I find most people at this site are looking for minute details, tour company names, guide names, taxi drivers, specific foods etc. I will provide as much of these details as possible.
Day 1 (Sat Apr17): We boarded Constellation at approx 2:30pm and I have to say that it was a breeze. There was a line up but practically no wait and once we got to the counter the processing took maybe 2 min at the most. There were refreshments provided just before you got in line. Easily the best check in out of four cruises. Why can't they all do it like this?
The rest of the day was spent touring the ship, dinner, unpacking and the muster drill (which seemed unnecessarily long). After grabbing our life jackets we met in Michael's Bar and waited for about 20-25min before all heading out to the deck for another 15-20min. I still don't understand why we just couldn't meet on deck. Except for that very minor inconvenience we had a great day and were happy to be safely on board.
Dinner (casual) - I had cold soup most nights (excellent), prime rib (excellent again) I always had dessert but can never remember what I had. I'm usually not that big on dessert but they were all very good on the Constellation.
Day 2 (Sun Apr18): Casa de Campo, Dominican Republic - I had read many negative reviews about this port. Most of you may already know that it is a recently added port by Celebrity and that there is not much to do or see in the immediate area. Celebrity however, provides free shuttles to Altos de Chavon and the Marina for its passengers. I don't know what to tell you about staying on the ship or going to Altos de Chavon or the Marina. We went to Altos de Chavon and I agree, there is not much there to see. But the thought of being on the ship straight from Saturday to Tuesday made us decide to get off the ship and have a look around; besides, the price was right. Altos de Chavon had some nice buildings and some Celebrity staff told us later in the day that it was used for a movie set (Anaconda). Not quite sure if that's true but it was worth seeing for about 20 min or so. We were there no longer than 30min before looking for a shuttle to head back to the ship. Since I had read earlier that Altos de Chavon was more interesting than the marina, we decided to pass on the marina and went directly back to the ship. The shuttle bus ride was 25min to Altos de Chavon one-way.
The rest of the day was spent around the pool, dinner, show etc. It was a fun and relaxing day. I thought the evening shows were very good. I wasn't thrilled with the juggling and ladder act (1st night) but the musical productions were well done. I thought the comedian was pretty good too.
Dinner (semi-formal) - fish entree, filet of halibut if I recall correctly (very good)
Day 3 (Mon Apr19) Day at Sea - As with most days at sea on other ships, the pool area was fairly crowded but we managed to get a decent spot in the sun. But very soon the nice spot in the sun turned into a bad spot in the rain. It rained off and on and quite heavily at times although many observed that the captain and crew seemed to be earnestly trying to avoid raining areas. Although successful at times, there was no avoiding the rain completely and we got caught in some torrential downpour. At times, it was neat watching the rain at a distance when we were in a clear spot and seeing it pour only several hundred feet away. My wife took this opportunity to attend a flower arranging class (she said it was pretty good) and although she invited me to go with her, I politely declined being the vessel of testosterone that I am. I then proceeded to walk down a few levels and lightened my wallet at the casino where the blackjack dealer was killing us. I think I lost three or four hands where I had 20! But hey, I was on vacation so I still had fun.
The sun eventually came back out, so we got a little more sun and swimming in before getting ready for dinner. Walked by the art auction...then did a little shopping in the galleria area. Since this was the last cruise in the Caribbean before heading to Europe, there may have been a bit better prices on some items than usual. Not sure about that, but nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised that prices were not that bad on some items. I think I paid $1.25 for a nice mug and $30 for a very nice Celebrity sweatshirt with zipper.
Dinner (formal) - Filet mignon (excellent), by this time I was realizing that the beef was arriving a little more well done than I had asked. I believe this was due to the long trip from the kitchen to the main dining room during which time the beef was still cooking. So from this point on I ordered my beef medium instead of medium-well and it arrived just as I like it, a thin pink line in the middle. (With Homer's drooling face - mmmmm steak....)
Day 4 (Tues Apr20): Bridgetown, Barbados - We had been to Bridgetown once before on a cruise and spent the day walking around Bridgetown. Since we didn't want to do that again, I decided we should do something a little more interesting. I had read on this board about someone taking a local bus to Mullins Beach and saying that it was pretty safe. Well, that's all the encouragement I needed. After taking the free shuttle bus from the ship to terminal (bus and taxi area) about a 1min ride, we then boarded another shuttle into town ($1.00 each). This is about a 3min ride which drops you off in a busy area of Bridgetown. I had read that the Bridgetown bus terminal was nearby but I couldn't see it anywhere. After walking aimlessly for a minute or two, during which time the Empress (my wife) was none too pleased, I decided to ask for directions. See ladies, not all men refuse to ask for directions...although I fully admit to thinking that I was not lost but on an unplanned adventure at the time...but I chickened out and asked for directions anyway to avoid the wrath of the Empress later on.
The bus terminal ended up being about a 5min walk from the drop off point. I'm not sure which direction we were facing at that point but you need to walk in the opposite direction of the water. There were many friendly people willing to help so don't be afraid to ask for directions along the way, this means you too, guys.
The local bus was quite an experience. As reported on this board, there was blasting reggae music the whole time. There was an older lady who looked about 70 who was sleeping through the whole thing too. What you need to know (which I didn't and looked like a lost tourist) is that you don't pay when you walk onto the bus like you do in North America. In fact, there was no place to put money in when you got on the bus. After looking dumbfounded for about 10 seconds we sat down like everybody else. Later, we found out that after giving you a few minutes to settle in your seat and get your money ready, another guy on the bus comes around collecting the fare and giving change. They accepted US currency and the ride was .75 cents USD. If you want to go to Paynes or Mullins beach you need to take the bus that goes to "Speightstown" or sometimes written as "S'Town". Mullins beach was about a 45min bus ride from Bridgetown. I politely asked the guy giving change if he could let me know when we got to Mullins Beach and he did just that. The beach was very nice. Some people from the Constellation were there but it was not crowded. I paid $8 for two beach chairs and an umbrella. Snorkeling was minimal (I took my own gear, saw rentals for boats, sea doo, water skiing but not sure if they had snorkel gear for rent). I saw small groups of little fish without going too far out. There is a bar there "Suga Suga" which had beer and food too. The Banks beer was good ($3.50 USD I think).
I had planned to take a taxi back to the ship if the ride or searching for Mullins beach was hectic but it was quite the opposite. You get off the bus and walk right on to the beach. I was watching to see how often the buses come by for the return trip and it was about every 15min or so. When we went to the bus stop on our way back, we just missed a bus but another came along in less than 5min (got lucky, I guess). Because this was not your regular ship tour with 30-40 other people and because we mixed a little with the locals, I really enjoyed this day in Barbados. My wife got a kick out of it as well which is very good since I was dangerously close to being kicked by her earlier in the day.
Dinner (casual) - Coq au Vin, otherwise known as chicken in wine sauce for those of you who are French challenged. This dinner was just ok and probably my least favourite dinner of the week. That's not to say it was bad because it wasn't, just not as good as the other nights.
Day 5 (Wed Apr21) St. George's, Grenada: Again, the research on Cruise Critic paid off here. Since this day was the Empress's birthday and the main reason behind our trip, I wanted to make sure it was a "regal" and hassle free day. After reading many recommendations, I booked a tour with Mandoo Tours: http://www.grenadatours.com/ I just emailed him asking about price and notified him of the date that we'd be in Grenada. He replied right away and the cost of $40 each was well worth it. He met us at the dock where we tendered and most of the people on his tour were people who had heard of him on the Cruise Critic board. I think we had close to 20 people. If you are interested in really learning about the background and history of this Island, you really should think about this tour. After the bus tour, we asked Mandoo to take us to Grand Anse beach, which he did gladly. Everyone else was tired from our extensive tour and went back to the ship. After about 2 hours at the beach, Mandoo came back to pick us up and took us back to the tender (All included in the $40 price). The day in Grenada went perfectly without a hitch and was very enjoyable. We were treated royally and rightly so considering the company and occasion J. I was glad to pay him $100 for the two of us for a great day and probably the highlight of the week.
Dinner (semi-formal) - Why mess with success? Went back to beef and had an 8oz NY Sirloin Steak (medium) which was good. Not as tender as the other steak dinners but this was NY sirloin not prime rib or filet mignon so it was expected.
Day 6 (Thurs Apr22) St. John's, Antigua: Like Barbados, we had been here once before and it was not our favourite port. Previously, we took the snorkeling excursion and then walked around St. John's. We hardly saw anything while snorkeling and noticed many aggressive homeless people around St. John's. But many people seem to enjoy Antigua so I was determined to really see this Island and have a better experience this time around.
We went with a taxi driver (Norris) who was an affable, older man and one of many taxi drivers looking for fares at the dock. For $60 he agreed to drive the two of us to Nelson's Dockyard, Shirley Heights, with a few other stops along the way (he said he would lower the fare if we found 2 other people to go with us but we didn't bother). We wanted to be back to the ship by about 12:30 for lunch. We saw a lot in 3-4 hours and the views from the mountaintop were spectacular. Got some great photos here. Antigua really is a beautiful place and the water seems bluer here than anywhere else for some reason. After driving us back to the ship for lunch, we agreed to him picking us up again an hour later to take us to the beach.
Norris was right there waiting for us when we left the ship to go to the beach an hour later. I asked him to take us to Hawksbill so we could do some snorkeling. Other than Long Bay, I read that Hawksbill is the best for snorkeling and Norris confirmed that. I originally wanted to go to Long Bay but it is on the other side of the Island from port so that was out. Hawksbill was about 15-20min away and instead of the usual $30; Norris charged us $20 since we were with him in the morning). The amenities are bare at Hawksbill (little shack with soft drinks and umbrella rental, which we did not use) but the snorkeling was fantastic. One meter into the water there is a slight drop and then some coral spread out here and there. From one meter in (about 4ft deep) you can see fish swimming around you. I took many underwater pics here and snorkeled practically the whole time until Norris picked us up. My wife even saw a starfish crawling by her feet, which sent her running out of the ocean full speed. One other note, we saw only four other people on this beach, who were not there long and the rest of the time we had the whole beach to ourselves. Not sure if this was because the time of day (we were there from around 2:15-4:15) but this place was deserted. Our first visit to Antigua might not have been our favourite but this time around it was definitely one of the highlights. I still think about our relaxing and fun time at Hawksbill beach occasionally with fond memories.
Dinner (formal) - Lobster, and a huge tasty lobster tail it was! I had plans for seconds but alas, the full stomach overruled the hungry eyes and that's the way it goes sometimes.
Day 7 (Fri Apr23) Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas: Otherwise known as the shopping capital of the Caribbean. The only thing I was looking for was a couple of souvenir t-shirts and maybe some hot sauce. The t-shirts were $10 each in Grenada and Antigua and they were 5 for $10 in St. Thomas. Score!
My enthusiasm was soon quelled when I looked around and realized that surrounding me was a shopping area where every other store is a jewelry store. My wife's eyes lit up and I nearly had a stroke right there. I was led from jewelry store to jewelry store and everywhere the Empress went, the lamb was sure to go.
Wife: Can we go in here?
Wife: Let's go into this shop.
Me: Baa, baa.
Miraculously, we did not purchase any jewelry. Perhaps she was graciously rewarding me for my quick action in asking for directions earlier in the week. In any case, I escaped a most formidable jewelry trap unscathed with my Visa card still cool to the touch. Score one large victory for the underdog here.
Neither of us wanted to leave St. Thomas after only seeing the shopping area in Charlotte Amalie and believe me, there were many taxi drivers persuading us of the same. We happened to walk by a very outgoing guy calling himself 'Doc' who like many others had a modified Ford F-150 to carry 16 or so passengers in the back (and pretty comfortably, I might add). For $15 each we had a tour for about 3 hours that took us to the top of the mountain nearby (try the famous banana daiquiri there), a few stops along the way at strategic spots to take pictures and a quick stop at Magen's Bay to drop anyone off who wanted to stay at the beach and a ride back to the ship for the others. It was a bargain. Doc was pretty funny too with some jokes and stories during the tour. Some of my favourite pictures from this vacation were taken during this tour.
The rest of the day was spent by the pool (albeit a little sadly since we realized that this was the last day), dinner, martini bar and show. If Sudi is your bartender on the Constellation make sure you pay him a visit at the Martini Bar. He was very entertaining with his tricks and showmanship. We had martinis on a few nights and they were excellent.
Dinner (casual) - For the life of me I cannot remember what I had this night. I'm pretty sure it wasn't beef because as much as I enjoy it, I usually don't have it 3 times in one week and by this point I had enough. There's one thing I need to mention about the food on the Constellation. Both my wife and I really liked the fact that you could eat healthy if you chose to. Especially in the Cafe in the spa area (where we had most of our lunches), it was very easy to eat healthy the whole week. And overall, there was generally a healthier and more dignified approach to food as opposed to the "strap on the feeding bag" frenzy of the buffets previously experienced on other cruises. Of course, that didn't stop some people from making absolute gluttons of themselves but to each his own.
Day 8 (Sat Apr24) Disembarkation - Not much to write about here. Since we had a 10am flight, we were among the first group to get off the ship after docking at around 7am and made it to the airport with plenty of time. Very smooth and easy.
I don't know what other advice to give other than this: try to have some consideration for those around you. There are way too many yellers in this world already. I enjoyed not having the regular broadcasts for bingo etc by the ship but felt the people talking louder than any PA speaker replaced it.
Having said that, relax and don't let little things bother you if everything doesn't go perfectly. Vacation time is far too precious to waste over petty things. Besides, if you are booked on this cruise you are on the best, large cruise ship of 2003 according to Conde Nast: http://www.concierge.com/cntraveler/lists/cruiseships04/large and it doesn't get much better than that.
I sincerely hope you enjoyed this review and if you have any questions, ask them in this thread (http://messages.cruisecritic.com/2/OpenTopic?a=tpc&s=927093444&f=147097554&m=334104791&r=334104791#334104791) and I'll try my best to answer. Happy travels.