Baltic cruise 2004
Constellation is a very impressive ship from the quayside and does not disappoint when you board: The entrance hall is impressive and leads to an amber coloured staircase that is lit by night and is used for the formal photos on formal nights.
Public areas of the ship are excellent and although there were 2000 pax on our cruise it never seemed crowded except for the chair hogs in the thalassotherapy pool area.
Ships areas were:
The Thalassotherapy pool, good for an early morning dip and Jacuzzi on mornings when you were not going out on trips. There is a light food refreshment area behind the pool which was very popular with people who wanted a lighter healthier eating option. Pool chairs went not much after 6 a.m. on sea days with books and blankets appearing without owners very early on
The main pool area which was equipped with blankets and towels if it got a bit cool and has a burger and pizza bar which opens every day from 12 noon until 6 p.m. Very handy for an alternative to the main restaurants when peckish.
The reflections lounge: at the top of the ship there was various entertainment before and after the dinner seatings and a late night DJ every night from late evening.
The martini and champagne bars were popular pre dinner meeting places.
Played the slots a couple of times in the casino, but as I am not a big gambler I cannot comment on what the casino has to offer overall.
The Cova cafe was an excellent place for a coffee or drink and the adjacent pasticcheria was always good for a cake or two whilst partaking of the coffee.
The main San Marco restaurant was very impressive and had Venetian blinds on the formal nights which changed the ambience. We had a table on deck five on the port side and looked down on the main seating area.
The seaside restaurant topside was, in the main, well organised and we used it mainly for breakfast and late night buffet. The omelette station at the back often gets missed and the stations double for pasta stations at lunch. Breakfast is a full English or American offering with a waffle station at the rear near the back terrace.
The theatre is massive for a ship and on two main tiers and the lighting and effects for the shows is very professional indeed, more about the shows later.
The internet cafe and card rooms were always well attended on sea days and in the evenings . The onboard cinema was used for lectures and films depending on the time and what was on the programme.
The Gym and Spa areas were well used and extensive and the jogging track was in constant use for walking and running exercise, from the gentle stroll to the complete fanatic (complete with press ups) you didn't look out of place either way.
Michael's club was a haven of peace with usually piano music and comfortable chairs to relax in and there were a number of other lounges (rendezvous etc.) where various other entertainment was offered most evenings.
Altogether there were lots of choice offerings for all types and tastes and you could find somewhere to sit and be entertained or fed at most times of the day.
We were in a 2a guarantee balcony room (8014) at the front of the ship and were very pleased with the cabin. The only drawback was the distance from the main restaurant areas and we used the walk to shed the pounds put on in the dining areas. Our cabin stewards Gina and Roque were diamonds and sorted our every whim and request out with a smile and always a happy greeting. There was no noise at night and the ride was very smooth and the proximity to the front did not bother us at all, even in the North sea. Some fellow guests got an upgrade to concierge class (complimentary) and these rooms were slightly larger with an extra bookcase and had a champagne welcome and hors d'oeuvres every day. The general consensus was that it was very nice but they were not sure whether it was worth the extra money to book one.
Smooth as a nut: we arrived at Dover cruise pier at about 11:00 and were on the ship within 15 minutes having been swung through the captains club area . The main area was nearly as quick and very fast at that time. The moral is arrive early if you can and get processed quicker. I could not imagine a more speedy check in anywhere in the world with any cruise line than this one. We were met with a glass of champagne or orange juice and directed to the seaside cafe for lunch. The cabins became available at about 12:30 .
Contrary to reports I had read before we sailed the entertainment was very good to excellent and the production shows were very good and the effects and costume changes slick. There were no available seats in the very large theatre for the production shows and people stood at the back to watch. There were three of the shows over the voyage, all very good.
Piano player extraordinaire Brookes Aaron was a great hit and his shows are not to be missed as he is a complete livewire and excellent piano player with a classical and other repertoire which keeps you enthralled throughout his performance.
Eric Bohus is the cruise director and we found him to be helpful and not too in your face . He was ably assisted by Mike his asst, cruise director.
Don Gavin from Boston and an Irish comedian provided the comedy for the shows.
There were two arial stars who did cabaret and complimentary arial shows to the main production shows. They were excellent.
Lounge entertainers were good with a piano player in Michael's club, a guitar soloist in The Cova cafe and a duo in Rendezvous most nights. The celebrity band was excellent and performed all over the ship with the big band sounds being my favourite in the Reflections lounge at night.
The four piece quartet that played in the restaurant or the Cova were also very good.
The Emporium shopping area had various sales and themes throughout the cruise and enticed our money away quite effectively thank you !!
There were a number of enrichment lectures on finance, history, and 2nd world war generals and battles. We attended a couple of Dr. Joan Sbala lectures and the one on Rasputin was good info for the St. Petersburg tours. She also does one on chocolate !!
Anyone on a cruise ship that goes hungry cannot be in full possession of their faculties and this ship is no exception to the rule.
Breakfasts were the usual Continental, British or American fare and there is a lighter alternative at the thalassotherapy pool if required. We tried the room service a couple of times and it was excellent and hot and very presentable and bang on the order time . Get a card outside your door before 4 a.m. and they deliver.
Luncheons at the buffet were good and there was plenty of choice with the poolside burger/pizza bar as an alternative or the lighter option as for breakfast.
We were on early seating at 6 p.m. and found this better for us with the shows later.
There were 3 formal and 4 informal (jacket nights) and 7 casual nights and the majority of people respected the dress codes with few exceptions. We had Sasha as our Maitre'd and Jose as waiter with Marek as his asst. All were excellent.
Sommelier was Lenka and she was very attentive and good at her job and ably assisted by a tall blonde south African girl whose name I never was able to find out, but she was excellent also.
The food I found was always well presented and we could find nothing to complain about and much to admire. You will not be disappointed and the choice is good with 3 starter and 3 soup choices and 5 entrEe choices per night with numerous sweet options to finish the meal including some excellent no sugar options.
There is an alternative sushi or casual option in the seaside restaurant every night with the same menu as the main dining room. $2 tip suggested per person for the service
We did not go to the speciality dining room but those who did said it was worth the $20 cover charge per person . Michel Roux was on our cruise and dined in the restaurant one night trying out the various dishes and inspecting the galley.
Late night buffets were the usual fare as was the afternoon tea option if you were hungry.
Room service is 24 hrs a day and free if you really need another option and during restaurant hours you can order the full menu in any cabin.
No-one needs to starve on this ship !!
Oslo: We took a taxi from the pier to Bygdoy peninsula and it cost 120 kroner. We saw the Fram museum and the Thor Hyerdahl museum. The Fram museum allows you to go onto the ship that Amundsen sailed on to accomplish his south pole expedition and is very interesting with actual equipment and sound effects lending to the atmosphere.
We caught a ferry back to city hall from the Fram museum for 20 kroner each and walked past City Hall to the Royal Palace where we saw the local troops on guard and walked in the palace gardens.
Walked back to the harbour and then looked in the cruise shops at Akerhaus fortress and the QE2 was berthed there also, and then caught the free shuttle round the corner to the ship for lunch. Back on board at about 1 p.m. for a 2 p.m. sailaway.
A good morning sightseeing and you can do the ferry both ways if you wish saving another 80 kroner. We opted to take the taxi ride for the change of scenery.
Stockholm: Took free shuttle to Opera house then walked in to the shops to have a look around. Then walked back over the bridge past the parliament building just in time to see the changing of the guard at noon: It is a mounted guard with a band and then it dismounts and does a traditional changing guard ceremony on foot with rifles. Good entertainment!!
Walked next block into Gamla Stan and had a sandwich in cafe and did some souvenir shopping and took some more pictures.
We then walked back to the opera house and caught the free shuttle back and had a couple of peaceful hours in the pool area. We probably could have done the vasa museum in the time allotted but will get this next time.
Helsinki: Caught free shuttle in to bus station and then walked down boulevard to harbour.. Had a look at harbour market and then bought a combined ticket from ferry office for 8 euros for two people for the 3t/3b tram circular tour round the city and a return ferry ride to suommellina fortress included in the price. Spent the morning hopping on and off the tram at the various city vantage points. You catch the tram adjacent to the market. You can get a free guide from the ferry office and look at which stop to get off to see them. The stops are clearly marked on the guide and come up on the screen on the tram before you get there.
Took the ferry over to suommellina fortress in the afternoon and looked at a couple of the museums there and then walked back to the free shuttle from the harbour and back to the ship. Saw most of the Helsinki sights this way and 8 euros for 2 is certainly an economical way to do it.
By now you will have realised that we like to explore on our own and see some different things than the ship's tours. The ship's tours were OK and those people who went on them did not have any issues. We managed to see everything that they did and were only short the guide.
St. Petersburg: We opted for the ships tours on this port as we did not see the £80 visa fee for each of us as being a good deal if we were to try to do things on our own. We booked in advance for four half day tours with a lunch back at the ship in between on both days and this worked out fine, obviously it was a busy schedule, but you don't go to Russia to stay on the ship and we wanted to make the most of the time.
We did have other options, Red October for example, and we were invited to join other CC board members on various outings but we felt that we would play safe with the ship's tours on this occasion.
The guests who did the red October trips had nothing but praise for the organisation of the company and I did not hear any negative views from any of the board members who went with them and it was a highlight of the cruise for many.
We were equally pleased with the ships tour's and would do them again. Here is a pen sketch of what we did.
Day1 a.m. Hermitage tour: we had a good look around the hermitage and saw a good proportion of the highlights of the place. It has been said that if you spend 1 minute looking at every painting in the hermitage you would take about 9 years doing it!! I can well believe it for the place is massive and has a number of floors to explore. I shot so much film that I had to avail myself of the download facility at the photo shop as my 256 mb card was full when we came out. A truly remarkable place which you could not do justice in a week. Prepare to be amazed not only by the content of the building but by the fabric and decoration which has to be seen to be believed. The trip was worth it, in my opinion, for this one morning alone. There were a number of traders waiting on the pavement outside to sell you goods but I was not impressed by either their goods or demeanor so we left well enough alone
Day 1 p.m. Peterhof palace and gardens: This tour takes you about 16 miles outside St Petersburg and you get a chance to see some of the "normal" areas of this Russian city. The gardens at Peterhof are spectacular and the fountains are excellent and work without the benefit of a pumping system and work on gravity alone which is an amazing achievement considering when they were built. We had a good guided tour of the gardens and were able to take some shots of the various aspects of the gardens and fountains during the tour, which was well described by our tour guide. There was a shopping opportunity at a covered stall market in the coach car park, which was better value and with lovely Russian stallholders and dollars were the order of the day. We got quite a few souvenirs here and we considered them good value.
The guides on both tours were very knowledgeable and they were also prepared to talk about how they lived and other Russian day to day facts as well as the tour details and we all felt that they were excellent citizens of a city of which they were very proud.
The opulence of the palaces, (and we passed President Putin's place on the way to Peterhof) was in stark contrast to the rest of the city which looks quite shabby in places and you can well understand how the revolution took place when a few people lived in such splendour and the majority were living in lesser circumstances. A poll that was conducted when the name changed back from Leningrad to St Petersburg was only 52% to 48% in favour of the name change and the citizens still relate to Leningrad, less because of Lenin, more because they were brought up in Leningrad and associated with that name.
Day2 a.m. Catherine's Palace and Pushkin: early 0730 start and we got in early before the crowds. Still had to get in a line to get in and the private tours were going ahead on occasions (Red October, for those of you who have chosen this option). The palace is as opulent as the Hermitage but different in its way and well worth a visit. We toured the grounds afterwards and there was another Market on the car park (the best one of the trip for me) with pleasant stallholders and again the $ was accepted widely and good value.
The guide today was different but equally knowledgeable and came up with the pearl that the KGB building never had traffic jams outside even now and that the locals reckoned that you got a great view of Siberia from the basement there.
Day2 p.m. Did the rivers and canals tour with a visit to St Peter and Paul fortress where all the czars are buried first. One of the party had his wallet stolen whilst coming out of the church here and lost his credit cards and cash. The guides are constantly warning you to watch your valuables as pickpockets from eastern europe are operating in the city and you just need to keep an eye on you pocketbook and keep it stowed away in your clothing.
I did not find this particularly intimidating because you can find this in almost any city in the civilised world and if you have something, someone generally wants to get it off you. You just need to take a sensible approach to how you behave and keep the minimum amount of cash and cards with you that you need and use the safe in the stateroom to guard the rest. We followed this approach and did not get stung !!
The river tour was all around the city and took us past most of the main sights as the city is built on canals and most of the major buildings are built on them. Again good value for money.
The four tours were very tiring but worth the effort and you don't go all that way without putting some serious effort into sightseeing!!
Bear in mind on this cruise there is a five day intensive port schedule from Helsinki to Tallin and you need to take full advantage of the sea days to rest up and recuperate. Also bear in mind that from dover the clock goes forward three hours in total up to St. Petersburg so this adds to your transatlantic hours change and can be quite a challenge for the American guests. We left St. Petersburg happy but tired at about 7:00 local time in the evening.
Make your mind up before the port what you are going to do about dining arrangements as well. There was a Russian buffet on this night from about 8 p.m to midnight if you wanted to miss the restaurant.
Tallin Estonia: Tallin is a little gem of a place and we were blessed with good weather as well. You can take the free shuttle from the ship to the city centre and walk into the town which is very compact and see the sights. If you are not too good walking take a taxi to the Alexander nevsky cathedral at the top of the hill and walk down and see the sights and shops on your way down. We spent some time having a drink at one of the many open air cafes in the main square and then walked up to the cathedral (quite a steep climb but o.k.). There was a service on because it was Sunday but we could still go in. The cathedral is Russian Orthodox and the priests were chanting in a very deep voice and it was very moving. The Bishop was also in attendance at the service and in special robes for the occasion. Tallin shops are good and the prices seemed reasonable compared to Scandinavia in general. We got some watercolour prints from a nice lady on the climb up to the cathedral and were pleased with the purchase and quality. We went back to the ship in the early afternoon after having a good look around . A lovely little town with character and well worth a visit. You do not need the ships tours here.
The ship docked at Warnemunde cruise pier and the train for Berlin is right next to the pier and a 100 yard walk from the gangway. About 800-1000 guests must have got on the train which had lots of carriages and went to Berlin for the tour.
We decided to do our own thing as usual and caught a train from the station to Rostock with some CC friends we had met on the boards. It costs 8 euros for two return fare and takes you from Warnemunde to Rostock in about 20 mins. Both stations are the end of the line so you cannot go wrong here!
Rostock centre is about a 10 min walk from the main station and we strolled along the side of main tram tracks to get into the centre. Keep the tracks on your right and go down the road that is at two o'clock coming out of the station exit.
We came across a large house that is a local jewish community and our friends, who are jewish, went inside with us to see and talk to the people. It turns out that they are all Russian jews who have settled here and are building a community. They showed us the small synagogue that is part of the building and were happy to give us some of the history of the community and what had happened to the community in the war years. Myself and my wife were equally interested as we are not of the Jewish faith and found the differences fascinating.
The stroll into Rostock took us into the town centre at the market and town hall (Rathaus) square and we looked at the shops and went into the old baroque church (Marienkirken) which dates from the 15th century. There is a famous astronomical working clock from the churches early years still there and an enormous pipe organ with an unusually baroque housing.
The town is a mixture of old Hanseatic buildings and modern malls and considering it was in East Germany until not so very long ago it is surprisingly pleasant to stroll around and see the sights. We lunched on german sausage and beer at an open air cafe in good weather again and then caught the train back to Warnemunde.
We then spent a very enjoyable couple of hours on the harbour and sea front at warnemunde and looked in the shops and cafes and had a walk on the beach which was very clean, fine sand. We got back on the ship at about 5:30 p.m. and got ready for dinner.
The Berlin train got back in at about 8:30 that evening and again a german buffet was provided up to midnight as an alternative to the main restaurants. Berlin trip feedback was mixed with some enjoying the trip and some complaining of the travelling time and delays and tiredness.
The sailaway from Warnemunde was to music and an enthusiastic crowd of locals who came to wave us away and wish us bon voyage, altogether a pleasant end to an enjoyable day with a sea day to recover from the rigours of the last five days to look forward to and the prospect of getting one of the three hours back overnight.
Copenhagen is one of our favourite cities and did not disappoint on this visit which we played differently from last year. We took the free shuttle in to the centre and walked to Rosenburg castle to see the grounds and the crown jewels. The grounds were full of locals taking the sun on the lawns and grassed areas and the castle is a compact high castle with the usual formal rooms and sights that you will find in any castle in the world. We spent some time here and watched the troops drilling for a guard change in the adjacent palace yard. We then walked back in to the centre and had a coffee at a pavement cafe and went down the main pedestrian street . We went into the Round Tower which is a 15th century tower with a circular path up to the top which the king used to ride his carriage up. We had to walk however and were rewarded with some great views of the city and the ship from the top.
We had done the canal tours last year and decided to ask for a price for a rickshaw tour from one of the many rickshaw riders you see around town. The deal was done with a resident Frenchman (yes Frenchman!!) and for 150 kroners he took us around most of the major sights with a commentary for the next half hour or more and it was excellent and he was able to go through back alleyways and cycle paths and avoid the traffic and it was surprising what he was able to show us in the time. We visited the parliament, amelioborg palace nyhaven, churches and numerous other sights that we would have worn a lot of show leather out to see. He was happy to stop for photos when necessary and was very helpful indeed. I can recommend this option to anyone wanting an overview of the city, it was great!! He only charged us 110 kroners in the end and it was a good deal all round. I happily paid him the original agreed fee and wished him well.
We spent a happy hour or so in Nyhaven harbour having a drink and then strolled the 5 mins back to the free shuttle and went for tea on the ship.
We took the Tivoli shuttle ($20 each inc admission) from the ship at 7 p.m. and spent the evening in Tivoli meeting friends from the ship and enjoying the free entertainment in the gardens. Beware though, most folks who ate in the gardens complained bitterly about the prices and one guy paid about $70 for a pizza meal and some wine for himself and his wife .
The moral of the tale appears to be a) eat on the ship or b) check out the price board before sitting down in Tivoli!!
The night was spent docked in Copenhagen.
We opened the curtains next morning to a lovely view of the fort that was built after Nelson sank the Danish fleet in the harbour in 1800. The Danes were about to join the war against us with the French but Nelson won the day and left minus one of his arms in the process.
We had a leisurely breakfast and then strolled along the waterfront to the left of the ship to Amelioborg palace and saw the guards patrolling in their bearskin hats and formal uniforms.
There is a city water taxi on the water front that you can catch in to the city for shopping there or we chose to stroll along the front and enjoy the day. We passed a replica bronze of David, Michelangelo's statue from Florence full size and in all its naked glory. The palace gardens are pleasant and there is a great domed Lutheran church across from the palace that has a host of statuary in the surrounding gardens and a huge whispering gallery inside similar to St Paul's in London.
Sailaway was 12 noon so we strolled back having a drink along the way and got back on the ship after last minute shopping at langelinie pier and sailed away reluctantly at 12 noon.
Cruising must be one of the most enjoyable ways to spend your vacation time and this cruise in particular, though port intensive, has much to offer the seasoned or unseasoned traveller. All of these cities with perhaps the exception of St. Petersburg, where you need to exercise more caution, are safe to walk in and see for yourself how the locals live. For those of you who enjoy the ship's tours there is nothing wrong with that and they are many and varied, if a little expensive. For us we much prefer to explore and do our own thing, and in that we sometimes do and see some things that we might not have on a normal guided tour.
The ship was all that we had expected and more. The food and entertainment were first class and the celebrity staff were a cut above the usual. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip and would go back tomorrow if we could.
I hope your trip is equally good for you and that you have as many enjoyable memories to bring back home as we were blessed with.
Happy cruising and don't forget to sign up to the CC party which was held in Michael's club for us on the first sea day at 10:00.
Jim and Margaret