Right then, where to begin ?
Let me start by giving a bit of our background just to put things into perspective. My wife and I are 46 and 47 respectively. I am Scottish, my wife is Norwegian and our home town is Stavanger, Norway. We have 3 kids however, choosing to endure bouts of guilt, we elected to leave them at home with their grandparents as the cruise was in honor of our 15th Wedding Anniversary. Just the two of us then !
Unlike the thousands of you who seemed to have cruised zillions of times on different cruise ships we were humble "virgin" cruisers, and therefore went into this with our eyes completely open, having nothing to compare with, and not really knowing what to expect. however, between the two of us, we HAVE stayed in hotels in every continent and HAVE travelled extensively in both Europe and North America. In fact our family had a very pleasant residency in Houston for three years several years ago. During that time, the closest we got to the Caribbean was AI in Playa Del Carmen.
We booked our cruise in May 2008 based on reasonable internet research. Celebrity was chosen because we wanted a relatively upscale experience, and the Constellation in particular because of the itinerary and duration.
I stumbled across the Cruise Critic website approx. 6 months before we set sail, and very quickly became addicted to it, visiting the site almost every day. I must thank everyone who contributes as there is no doubt there is a vast bank of knowledge and I learned so much from it. Beware the downsides to the site though. There is a wealth of positivity on the site which gave me a tremendous "feel good" boost, however there is also a large element of negativity which to be honest started giving me second thought about the whole business of cruising. Before too long I found myself avidly gobbling up terror stories of the dreaded chair hogs, losing sleep over the numbers of shrimps that we would get in our cocktails, and feared being bored to death by our fellow passengers long tales of past experiences !!!
Anyway I'm rambling. I have set this out in sections. Each section starts off with a brief description of what we possibly expected and then this is followed by the reality of what we actually found.
What we expected : A great holiday but maybe, just maybe it would be spoiled by an endless list of things that could go wrong : Lost luggage, no clothes for formal nights, underdressed, overdressed, chair hogs, huge queues all over the place, a duff room with a stinky smell, mediocre food, bad service, only two shrimps in the cocktails etc.etc....honestly the list is endless. This is the danger of reading too much into many of the CC postings.
Reality : As will become apparent from the rest of this lengthy review we had a brilliant holiday. Absolutely exceptional in every count. Our expectations were exceeded. Thankyou Celebrity !
What we expected : Not to see our luggage in Miami !
Reality : We flew Stavanger - Frankfurt - Miami with Lufthansa and a 1.5 hr stopover in Frankfurt. Spent the 10 hr flight fretting about where our luggage would end up, but...Hallelujah, praise be to god....there it was on the conveyor belt in MIA. Now the holiday could begin. I had splurged and hired a stretch limo to take us to Fort Lauderdale. Holland Limousines did the business and there was a driver there waiting for us with a sign. Felt like royalty sitting in that Limo ! Only downside was the weather. I'd naively assumed it would be nice and warm and tropical like. Well it was cloudy and terribly windy. Nothing to do about that though. We were booked in the Doubletree Gallery One, booked specifically because my wife wanted to do shopping in a particular store in the mall. Hotel was fine, nice big suite with balcony and all mod cons and a stone's throw from the mall and CVC pharmacy. (As well as suntan lotion, we picked up a 3l box of wine at the pharmacy which went onboard the ship with our luggage no problem). Ate a very nice meal in the Capitale Grille just at the entrance to the mall. Good breakfast next morning.
What we expected : Lengthy wait, queuing, and a bit more waiting to get into our room
Reality : Smooth as a babies bottom ! We hired Holland limo again to take us from hotel to port (just a town car this time) and arrived at the Port 11:45. I thought we would be early, but first major surprise was that judging by the luggage, plenty of folk had got there even earlier. Nevertheless embarkation was a breeze, 20 mins from entering the doors to being onboard with champagne glass in hand. Made our own way to the cabin and entered our room at 12:45
THE ROOM (Sky Suite room 6121)
What we expected : A large room with maybe some problems - worn furniture, bad smell, mould in shower, stains on towels and bedclothes etc.... take your pick.
Reality : Even though it was a sky suite it was much smaller than I'd expected. The Celebrity site photo and cabin plan made it look much larger. In saying that, the room was immaculate in all respects, with plenty of storage space and all our suitcases fitted under the bed. Nice size balcony with two chairs , footrests and a small table. Butler Wilson came and introduced himself immediately and made sure we were comfortable and knew how to contact him. We got most of our luggage mid afternoon, but one case did not arrive until after we sailed. We got a bit concerned about this.
What we expected : Standing around for ages in a large crowd, being uncomfortable
Reality : Lifeboat drill was at 15:45 and lasted about 25 mins. Not a problem really and it has to be done. Was over and done with before we knew it and we did get to see sailaway from our balcony. Boy that was a great feeling.
What we expected : A grand looking ship with signs of wear and tear
Reality : A grand looking ship that looked immaculate in every sense (at least to us). Very easy to find way round, well signposted, well furnished, lots of different "themed areas" and HUGE.
What we expected : Good/reasonable service
Reality : Absolutely exceptional Service. The vast majority of the crew looked happy to be there and an all cases service was with a smile. I found we only had to say our name once to most of the crew and it was remembered. I kinda liked being called Mr. Craig !. We tended to become friendlier with some particular crew members and a special mention must go to barpersons Michael (of Michaels club), Sheldon and Devon. Funnily enough the only slight hint of frostiness amongst the crew members that I detected was at the guest relations desk of al places ! All in all, as mentioned previously, we have stayed in very many land based hotels in all categories, but we have never encountered any service as exceptional as this before...ever !
DINING AND THE FOOD
What we expected : Good food but scared it might not live up to our expectations. Feared having to stand in long queues for the buffets and having to wait for tables.
Reality : Breakfast : We always ate upstairs in the deck 10 buffet. Very good choice, no problem with queuing or no problem with getting a table. The further aft you go the less crowded it becomes, and towards the end of the 10 days we took our breakfast in the open air right at the aft. You could smoke on the Port side there too which was an added bonus. Another bonus at the aft is this is where you find the waffle bar. I took to having fresh made waffles with caramelized bananas and strawberries. Mmmm...and that was just breakfast. 10/10 Lunch : Again, all our lunches onboard were from the buffet or the seaside cafe which did great burgers and mexican style food. Absolutely no problem with queues or getting a table at any time. Buffet food was plain but good. The asian station at the aft did reasonable but bland oriental dishes and the pizzas (aft again) were great. If you wanted, you could take your trays to your sunbed and eat on the deck. 8/10 Main Restaurant Dinner : We took the second sitting which was not at 20:00 as I'd thought, but at 20:30. I am still amazed at how 1000 persons can be served very efficiently in such a short space of time. Our head waiter and assistant waiter were exceptional and treated us like we were the only table in the room. The food itself was of (in our opinion) a high standard and we had no problems with tough meat or anything. Always a good selection, and the good thing, you can order as much as you want. One of our tablemates regularly had 4 shrimp cocktails as a starter ! Our table ordered Calamari one night to nibble on which was not on the menu, and hey presto, every night after that a plate of Calamari appeared on our table. Some points that may be of interest : - I felt sometimes the service was a bit rushed. For starter, soups and salads, The waiters did not wait until everyone had finished one course before clearing the table. Your plate tended to disappear as soon as you had taken the last mouthful. - A bit slow sometimes to serve drinks - we tended to order at the bar just before dinner and take a fully charged glass to the table with us - If you are used to the size of portions they serve in Houston restaurants then you will be disappointed with the portions here. We however found they were entirely adequate. - Do not miss the baked alaska parade on the second formal night. That was a hoot ! - Only the pasta dishes seemed to be a bit light on quantity. - The first night, we were sat at a table that made us feel uncomfortable. I will spare you the details but a quick word with the Maitre 'D and we were moved to another table for the rest of the trip. The second table worked out great.
To sum up the meals, I have read so many posts on the CC boards that Celebrity have slipped in size and quantity. Boy, in the olden days the food must have been of an extremely high standard. As first timers we found the meals in all respects to be entirely adequate and of good quality. We cannot complain at all. 9/10 Ocean Liners : We ate there twice. This took us up to an entirely different level. Exceptional food, exceptional service in a lovely setting. It was said to us by a fellow seasoned cruiser that you will not find food like this on any other ship anywhere. I believe him. You'd be hard pressed to find a land based restaurant that could match the overall experience. Do it, you deserve it and don't miss the souffle's at either end (goat's cheese and chocolate) 10/10
What we expected : Less formal than we experienced in the smart casual area
Reality : During the day shorts, swimtrunks T shirts etc were the order of the day. At night, the formal nights were exactly as we expected, Mix of tuxes, suits, ties. Majority of the ladies were dressed very smartly. I wore my kilt which went down a treat. On the other hand, I had been led to believe that polo shirts and chinos were perfect gents smart casual gear. Not in my humble opinion. I had overpacked polos and underpacked shirts, which I found to be the order of the day. In other words the dress code for the smart casual nights was much more formal than I had imagined. I felt slightly underdressed in a polo.
What we expected : All sunbeds "hogged" 06:30 am sharp !
Reality : Yes there was chair hogging going on, but you get that in any location thats warm and next to water. didn't really cause a problem unless you were desperate to be right next to the pool, and I found no problem in finding a bed on the main deck at 10:00 am sea days. Besides, there were tons of sunbeds around on the 11th deck. Smoking is allowed on the port side of the main deck so that's where we hung out. You'll never be short of bar service on the main deck, thats for sure Surprise #1 : I was not expecting olympic size pools, but the two pools were pretty small. They were not really used all that much either, but the hot tubs were always full. Surprise #2 : Large amount of shaded sunbed area on port and starboard. These beds filled up just as readily as the ones in the sun My only quibble was the noise on the main deck between 12 and 3. The Party band plays a lot, and I found the level of noise when they had competitions, quizzes, pool games etc to hurt my ear drums. Sometimes it was difficult to hear my own I pod. No good if you want a nice sleep or even just to read a book.
What we expected : Mediocre, cheesy shows
Reality : We were only in the main theatre twice. Once to see a hypnotist who was definitely mediocre and cheesy, and once to see Perry Grant, who we thought did not come across quite so well on the big stage as he did in Michael's club. Now then, Perry Grant in Michael's club was one of the absolute highlights of our holiday. We cottoned on to him very early on and from there on became one of the "regular" gang in Michael's. You will either love this guy or hate him. His music will not be to everyone's liking...but....its the way in which he puts it across. The more you see him, the more you get into his humor, and by the end of your trip you will be part of his show ! His interplay with his audience is incredible. You have been warned....EVERYONE...POSITIONS ! I'VE MADE MY DECISION !
SPA & FITNESS
Just what we expected, great facilities. I used the gym and sauna extensively and my wife used the spa. she was very happy with that - getting wrapped in seaweed and getting bathed with milk and ginger amongst other exotic and expensive things! Probably because I paid. Only grumble was that just after embarkation we were invited to "tour" the spa. The 1/2 hr tour was really just a hard sell of all the available treatments. I happened to be in the gym when there was a corresponding "enrichment" class on the go entitled "how to stop the aging process". As I puffed away on the elliptical trainer it was easy to see that the "enrichment" lecture was just a 1hr long advertisement for the onboard acupuncture services !
What we expected : Wide variety of watering holes
Reality : Exactly that, bars to suit every taste. In saying that, once we discovered Perry Grant, our hang out was Michaels club, where we were treated like a "local". Our other hang out after dinner was the bar at the edge of the earth(because you can smoke inside there). This particular bar we found quite attractive with unusual decor but sadly underused. Only two nights out of the 10 was there really any sort of atmosphere there. The other 8 nights it would be an exaggeration to say it was a quarter full.
We hardly spent any time in any of the other bars at night, but the deck bars during the day were great !
No big report here as we are not gamblers. In fact my sole gambling experience was to get rid of my quarters in a slot machine. I won two dollars (in quarters and had to get rid of those too - so my gambling time was doubled from 2 minutes to 4 minutes. I'm sure if gambling is your thing then the Casino is great. For us the best thing about the casino was it provided a passage to Michaels club. Personally I thought it quite sad to see the same people sat at slot machines for hour upon hour , day after day....on a cruise !. I mean get a life. You can do that at home !
What we expected : Tropical paradises at every stop
Reality : A mixed bag and some disappointments
ST. Thomas : Went on a tour that gave us some nice overviews of the island, followed by 2 hrs on Magens beach. Now then, If Magens beach is one of the worlds top 10 beaches, then Obama is my uncle. Big Disappointment. Its a nice enough beach but top 10 ? I don't think so. Still it wasn't as crowded as we expected, just at the middle bit beside the bar/restaurant. The tour then took us to Blackbeards castle which was nice enough and we wandered through the grounds down to the "shopping" strip. "shopping" in italics because the main street consists of about 200 jewelers shops. I had the intention of buying my missus an anniversary diamond, but despite some intensive coaching in the art of haggling from fellow passengers the night before, my negotiation skills proved hopeless and we gave up after about 6 shops. That left us no time to see the shopping area around the waterfront, but it looked quite nice from the taxi 5/10
St.Kitts : Took a tour through the main town, but not very scenic. Tour then went to Romney manor which was pretty ordinary, but the main stop was Brimstone Hill. I would say that was unmissable because I've got a soft spot for historical locations with spectacular scenery. Nice shopping area around the port. Was not impressed with St. Kitts. Too much poverty and not very scenic apart from Brimstone Hill. Port stop 4/10, Brimstone Hill 8/10
Barbados : 4 wheel jeep tour to Harrisons cave which took us round the island a bit. Harrisons cave was OK, but we've seen better caves in Provence France. Bridgetown was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the whole holiday for me personally. No Cafe's and bars lining the waterways. All we could find was a grotty tourist pub with a 2 hr wait for food. Shopping area was highly unspectacular and seemed to aimed squarely at mass market tourists (Like us!!). Very ordinary place. I'm sure there are some great spectacular locations in Barbados but we managed to miss the lot ! 3/10
St.Lucia : Ah, this is more like it. We at last found our tropical island paradise, Beautiful island, stunning scenery, apart from Castries itself which we didn't spend any time in but looked to be traffic locked. Our tour took us right to the south along a very twisty and turny road (The main road). Stopped off at little fishing villages, went through a banana plantation, almost right to the foot of the Pitons which are stunning. Went to the drive in Volcano, and then to some Botanic gardens. Had lunch in a mountainside restaurant with a fantastic view of the pitons. Long drive home, but tour was worth it. Best so far 9/10
St. Maartens : Phillipsburg was great ! We had a tour booked for the day also but sitting on the promenade in Phillipsburg, we looked at each other...yes...all toured out so we didn't bother. We had a great day in the port just wandering the shops, eating lunch on the waterfront and chilling out. My missus got her diamond, and I bought great T shirts from Piranha joes's. Can't tell you anything bout the rest of the island cos we didn't see any more than Phillipsburg. 8/10 for Phillipsburg alone.
Summary : Swop Castries and put Phillipsburg on St.Lucia and there you have it ... a10/10 caribbean island !
FINALLY - OUR FELLOW PASSENGERS
What we expected : An older crowd with a large proportion of cruise "snobs" and some rude people
Reality : Average age was not too far above our own, with all age ranges represented. Apart from kids. There were very very few kids on the ship. My wife and I agreed that this is not the type of cruise for our kids.
At no time did we ever come across rudeness or snobbery.In fact, quite the opposite.
We met and got to know a lot of people onboard - and this was also a major highlight for us. In fact we met some great people and I just hope we can keep in touch with them. Some of them are regulars on the boards here, others not. I will not name names, those of you who read this will recognize the meaning of this paragraph. To each and every one of you we say a big thank you and send you a hug. You helped to make the holiday what it was for us.
What we expected : Chaos
Reality : Smooth disembarkation in an orderly manner. We got a porter to take our cases through customs to the bus. The pre-booked Celebrity bus took us back to MIA.
PHEWWWWW thats it. I've probably forgotten half the stuff I wanted to write but hope this gives you a flavor of how it was for us. No holiday can ever be perfect but this one came pretty damn close. I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have.