It was wonderful to be back on the Constellation after last year's experience on the Explorer of the seas. The Constellation is a nicely laid out ship with an incredibly friendly "may we help you" crew and it's run in a way that there just aren't lines anywhere. The Explorer was and is just too large and it shows in the staff attitude and and the long lines and crowding everywhere...but this review isn't about the Explorer....see my review if you're interested. However, I will compare here at times.
Our luggage was waiting for us when the life boat drill ended....and the bottle of vodka that accidentally fell into my suitcase before I zipped it up was untouched....I have never had a problem bringing liquor on board and I only drink it in our cabin...I buy drinks at the bar and wine in the dining room like everyone else.
It would be hard to believe anyone could not find a nice meal at the breakfast or lunch buffets...made to order eggs/omelet's/waffles (wonderful) and very short lines, if any, an Asian breakfast (congee,+++), wonderful smoked salmon and corned beef hash (not available on the RCL buffet)...and then for lunch a custom Italian station, sandwich station, oriental station (Indian and stir fry), salad bar, pizza bar and more....and of course the desserts. And Celebrity gives you a tray to carry your food on.... (strangely, there are no trays on the Explorer of the Seas). Also great ice cream is available most of the day. Finally, there are many waiters in the buffet area to help those who need assistance.
One other notable difference...Celebrity makes you sanitize your hands when you come on board or go into any eating area. The Explorer of the seas doesn't...they don't even have sanitizers if you want to use them...they say that they bring them out "if there is a problem". Celebrity staff handles the tongs/spoons at most of the buffet stations...not other passengers. One has to wonder why both RCL and Celebrity don't have the same concern about sickness on board....the risk is identical...why doesn't RCL require guests to use sanitizers. Which ship cares more about your health?
The Constellation has the nicest, friendliest staff I've ever encountered on any cruise line. Everyone you passed said hello, good morning and so on. Everyone smiled. They went out of their way to satisfy those annoying food requests (sauce on the side, light on the xxxx, etc.). Even the Casino folks were friendly as they took our money. The photographers were easily dissuaded from trying to get your picture with a pirate, etc.
The food was a cut above RCL. The beef in the MDR was usually tender and cooked as ordered (no extra charge items either), the rack of lamb was perfectly pink (as ordered), the veal was tender...and the main dish portions were surprisingly large (e.g. 3 large rack of lamb ribs). Fish was somewhat iffy....sometimes overcooked, sometimes bland. Celebrity has wine stewards to help select, RCL has none, and the waiter handles wine orders. Finally, the plates served by the kitchen, especially the appetizers were nicely decorated..not just thrown together as on the Explorer of the Seas. There is big difference between RCL and Celebrity (I know they are both part of the same corporation...but obviously they are run be very different folks with very different priorities).
The sushi is, at times, disappointing. The fish and ingredients are good but the rice varies from day to day. The Miso Soup was good and refreshing, even if they did have the wrong seaweed (nori) to add to it.
The Ocean Liner restaurant remains a must do....outstanding beef filet with truffle sauce...real fois gras (not pate) appetizer (should come with a Lipitor on the plate), Grand Marnier soufflE with outstanding non intrusive service. Others had the goat cheese appetizer, and the chocolate soufflE and other items (8 people in our group) and everything was done right. Worth every part of the $30 they charge per person. We didn't do the fancy wines or the menu extravance bits.
Perry Grant is a show of his own....a must do if you are ever on the Constellation where he lives most of the year. Even if you hate piano bar singers and have never sung along with anyone, within 5 minutes you will be singing your favorite tunes with Perry...he's that good a performer...he deserves his reputation (and I hate night clubs and singers).
The dancers and singers are cruise ship quality....they're reasonably good...everything other than the lead singers is now prerecorded (excellent sound system). The band pretty much sits there not playing or playing along with the computerized band but most don't even realize it. Not the high point or the low point of the trip....it's something to do before or after dinner.
As far as cabins, we had a 2A balcony and while it wasn't all that roomy, it was large enough as long as we didn't open the bathroom and the closet doors at the same time. We normally get a CC cabin which is a little bigger, but we booked this trip because of the "give away" guaranteed balcony price...we could not resist. The balcony is big enough for two chairs and a table which is we really need. The stateroom was kept in perfect shape by our housekeeper and we had Ghirardelli candy on our pillow each night.
Minimal PA announcements...what a relief. And there were places you could sit and not hear music or noise...you could read, you could concentrate. Hint: there is a topless area high up on the bow. Don't panic; no one really goes topless which is fortunate given the body condition of most folks on board, so it is usually empty and very quiet.
There are almost no lines anywhere on the Constellation....that's another major difference with the Explorer of the seas....and what a wonderful difference. Always a seat in the theater even if you arrived late...on the Explorer, you had to get there 30 minutes before show time to even get a seat.
The Exercise area has excellent equipment and there is almost enough of it....treadmills get filled up, but you can usually get one without too long a wait. As always, it got easier to find free equipment later into the cruise :)
The only place you are hustled for drinks is around the pool...but even then, it's not all that bad. No is an acceptable answer and they leave you alone.
This is the first ship since 9/11 where we were invited or even allowed to visit the bridge (cruise critic passengers were invited)....and the captain's club party gives you a wide choice of drinks, not just champagne or some drink of the day.
No comments on Bingo, art auction, spa or most of the late night venues...we did not use.
Perhaps the biggest shocker: This was a Caribbean cruise in April and as far as we could tell there were very few chair hogs. There were always chairs and lounges of all types available (yes, the ship was almost full). What a pleasure. I think we had a high number of European's on the ship...maybe we should all try to avoid Americans on ships....
Stops: Grand Cayman..nothing cheap so don't bother to shop..but if you haven't done it, swim with the sting rays. Fortunately, although the port was closed, we were allowed to tender in. Some other cruise ships skipped the stop completely.
Cartagena: we stopped twice...the first time just offshore to offload a sick passenger and then we went back to sea for the night. We arrived back the next morning and docked as planned. The captain made the first run to Cartagena at full speed (25mph) so we actually arrived almost 18 hours early. Our tour with Mr Emerald was terrific. Of course we stopped at his store at which point the cheap, bargain cruise became just a memory :)
Panama: Engine problems overnight so we arrived late, around noon. Celebrity handled it very very well, canceling about 4 of the 15 or so excursions due to their length. They also allowed anyone to cancel their excursions because going out in the afternoon can be HOT!!. We cancelled and just took a taxi to the Gatun locks, watched two huge container ships pass thru (inches in clearance)...stayed an hour with the driver and then took the taxi back. The whole thing cost $60 with tip for four of us. Celebrity fixed whatever was wrong with the engine and no more problems.
Limon: JJ took us around Costa Rica....excellent guide, highly recommended. We saw monkeys, sloths, an alligator, lots of birds, iguanas and more. Also fascinating to see how bananas grow with blue bags around them and are processed for shipment.
Cozumel: a major cruise stop, so we weren't surprised that we had 4 other ships in port (15000 people). We wandered around a bit...had an unmemorable lunch. I decided to walk to the local dept store (like a walmart) at the end of town to see how prices compared. I bought 2 liters of Kalhua for $7.97 each (I think it was $12 on the ship) and some hot sauce for under $.50....the same sauce offered in the tourist shops for $2.50. Yes, the ship did take the Kalhua and return it on the last day first time that's happened, but I didn't care.
Casino: What can I say....I really did break exactly even over the cruise and I played for at least an hour a day. Craps table was cold and mostly empty. Blackjack was the popular game.
Drinks: As always, Stoli Elit is the drink to get....vodka drinkers. Same price as Gray Goose (price them in a store and you'll see why it's a great bargain). Wine was $25 and up a bottle...but reasonable selection. We liked the Malbec.
Food Hints: ask for fresh berries for MDR dessert (not on menu). anchovies on caesar salad (if you want them). the bread sticks are terrific. 4 shrimp in an appetizer...if you want more order 2, skip the lobster (dry and only 1/2 a tail anyway), skip the baked alaska which is fundamentally just ice cream...save the calories and get something else.
Other hints: If you aren't in one of the first groups off the ship, take some time to walk around deck 6 and look at the suites...or check out the family cabins...it's the only time you really can get to see them (for most of us). Do see the maitre d' when you board...check on your table while they can still change it. You may be at a table for 2 which is really a table for 8 with 2 people, etc.
Disembarkation: On Celebrity's part, it was very very smooth. Unfortunately, there are very long lines in the Ft Lauderdale cruise terminal to get through immigration/customs which is just annoying but not in celebrity's control.
Final comment on the ship: I love the constellation...well laid out...perfect size for us...friendly crew. Having said that, the ship needs some work. There's a fair amount of rust on the balconies, the railing varnish has worn away in many spots, and the chairs in the MDR are in desperate need of reupholstering or better, replacement. We had trouble with our toilet flushing on two different occasions...it wasn't our cabin, but groups of cabins wouldn't work and it was always fixed quickly, but shouldn't have failed. Two hinges were off in our cabin...I could go on, but you get the picture. I would sail on the constellation again tomorrow, but it sure would be nice if they freshened things up....