We just got off a long anticipated cruise to the Baltic on Celebrity Cruise Line's Constellation and the one word that keeps slipping through my lips is "underwhelmed". For my 71st cruise and my partner's first to the Baltic we did a lot of research and settled on this ship for a number of reasons: the itinerary was fantastic, hitting the major ports of the Baltic with ample time in most cities, as well as overnights in St. Petersburg (essential) and Copenhagen (nice). We also got a very good price at a time when Celebrity was practically giving cabins away. While earlier CC Member Reviews had caused us to keep our distance from this ship, we had seen enough good ones recently to tempt us into throwing caution to the wind and booking. While we are certainly glad we went on this trip, our enjoyment came almost exclusively from the wonderful group of passengers on board (many of whom we met here at Cruise Critic) and the superbly interesting cities we got to see and explore.
A fellow passenger said something on our last night that we had thought for the past week... "It was an OK enough cruise for the low price we paid, but if I had shelled out the original cruise price I would have been very, very angry today." That more or less sums up what Celebrity has become. My review of this ship and cruise is based on what Celebrity claims to be and on what they actually deliver. There were many points during the cruise when we thought... "Hmmm, these are obvious cost cutting measures due to the financial times," but as there were so many examples of poor management and lackluster, sometimes aggressive and rude staff throughout the week that in the end we came to the conclusion that Celebrity is nowhere near the level of a 5 star cruise line that they claim to be or once might have been. While I tend to write longer reviews when I am a bit pissed off then when happy, to help you out if you are thinking about booking this ship I will tell you basically:
• Don't pick this ship if you are picky about consistent good service or follow-through on requests • Food on Celebrity is nothing special anymore, but it is decent enough sustenance for your intense port excursions and a good alternative to very expensive dining in Baltic and Scandinavian countries • Prices for very average wines were very high and one beer will cost you $5; martinis $10 with an 18% service charge! • Don't waste your money on suites or Concierge Class, book a balcony though! • Don't expect elegance • Entertainment at night was abysmal and daytime entertainment is mostly revenue based so be prepared to entertain yourself • The ports and time in port are VERY good, but the ship lies about independent tour and transportation possibilities. Really.. they out and out LIED both verbally and in print! • This is NOT a 5, or even a 4, star vessel/line
Now for the details...
We had a super experience getting to the ship thanks to some good research. Harwich as a cruise port is somewhat problematic to reach if you are flying into Heathrow and unless you are coming to London a few days earlier it makes sense to shell out the very high cost of $200 roundtrip to take the Celebrity shuttle - otherwise you'll have a bit of an ordeal getting your luggage and self to the ship. Heathrow to Harwich requires getting to Liverpool Street Station in London either by the Tube or taxi (not fun on a Saturday at the best of times, but with luggage a nightmare) and then transferring to "The Cruise Train" which stops directly at the entrance to the cruise terminal. As work is being done on the lines on various weekends that the ship sails from Harwich, you must leave the cruise train, schlep your luggage to a bus, go a short distance, and then get back on the train. Too much drama to start a cruise and absolutely not for older folks, out of shape folks, or princesses like me.
Instead, we were able to take the ferry from Hoek van Holland which was a very nice and pleasant car ride from our home in Germany, spent the day in Delft, and then board the ferry for a nice overnight journey to Harwich. The ferry docked directly behind the Constellation and we were able to wheel our luggage down one ramp and deposit it 50 meters away at the cruise ship doorstep. PERFECT and we shall do it again!!!
As easy as all that was, we experienced the first of what came to symbolize the lack of training and knowledge that the Celebrity Constellation came to represent over our 2 weeks on board. At check in we stopped to drop our bags off and the baggage handlers had a totally different room number than our documents: not a major drama, but also confusing because we had chosen our cabin and upgraded to a Concierge Class balcony two weeks before as this was my partner's 40th birthday and we wanted a special room. The man had no idea why we had a new cabin number nor did anyone at the Concierge Class check in. After making us wait about 10 minutes and causing us considerable consternation we were told simply to go to the reception on board and they would clear it all up for us. Check in itself was smooth, orderly, and quick aside from the cabin switch, but we were seriously worried as we boarded the ship that an error had been made and we had lost our lovely CC balcony. Imagine our relief and surprise when we found out we had been upgraded to a Sky Suite! Fantastic news and a wonderful thing to have happened... but why all the drama we wondered? Why wasn't the check in staff sufficiently informed of this simple and routine change? Instead of being able to proudly and happily say to us upon embarkation..."We are pleased to tell you that you have been upgraded to a Sky Suite," the disorganization and confusion at check in had only produced anxiety. OK... first day and VERY EASY to forgive and forget...WE HAD A SUITE!!!!!!!!! On the other hand... note to self... things that should be simple and basic are not that way at Celebrity!
Our room was nicely appointed and we were very happy as we found the large bathroom with a bathtub, large teak decked balcony with comfortable chairs, and semi-walk in closet. What a nice surprise to also find that we had a butler and two stateroom attendants who promptly introduced themselves. We explained that we are pretty low maintenance cruisers and very tidy, and that we require only two things during our cruise: ice at 9am 3pm and turn down, and daily refills of all toiletries...other than that, we're good. Even today, the last of the 14 day cruise, we still have to consistently ask and remind the cabin stewards for toiletries and ice. Is that 5 star service? Ask daily and you will get it? It may seem like a minor inconvenience or annoyance... but why, in a Sky Suite (or any room) should you have to repeatedly ask for the most basic things? Very poor!
Which brings us to the suite itself; our initial reaction was very excited and happy to have been upgraded, but by the last day we found ourselves wishing we had had our original balcony cabin. Why you might ask? Because for 2 weeks our toilet NEVER ONCE worked properly and we had to pour water into the commode every single time we used it in order for it to flush and our shower had little to no water pressure unless it was set to scalding hot. Again we asked ourselves... THIS IN A SUITE??? In itself, those problems are bad enough, however, we reported the problem to our steward, to our butler, to the Concierge, and twice to the front desk and we NEVER ONCE got an answer or a reply or a repair. Is that Celebrity's idea of treating us like stars? If the problem was not able to be repaired during our stay, fair enough, but a note, a phone call, a message, anything to let us know what the situation was would have been nice...however... that seems beyond the ability of the Constellation staff. Happily my partner tipped me 20€ at the end of the sailing for having maintained the toilet. Oh... and FYI... the toilet paper on board is cheap and AWFUL! The staff overall we found to be unfriendly. This contrasted with the views of a few of our fellow friends on board, but each morning in the breakfast buffet area we had to say good morning to the staff rather than the other way around, our thank you(s) went unanswered in most cases, and we were hard pressed to see a smile anywhere. By the end of the cruise we'd come to the conclusion that the sour attitudes were a result of a severely understaffed ship. Tables were left un-cleared for long periods of time during breakfast and lunch and when they did clear them, they gave the table only a cursory swipe with a cloth instead of truly cleaning the tables off, there was practically no one to carry trays for older or handicapped people, coffee-lemonade-and utensils were often empty and it took several requests to get them filled, and the serving staff seemed uninterested in both what and who they were serving.
The buffet area itself is not very pretty and had a cold, utilitarian feel to it...but worse there is absolutely no flow at all, no rhyme or reason to the lines of where one should enter the buffet and where one should leave it. This resulted in people coming to certain points of the buffet from both directions and getting irritated when other people cut in front of them to order eggs, toast, cuts of meats, etc. The staff was no help in keeping order and on more than one occasion I heard them being rude to guests... so much so that on the second to the last day I spoke up to a particularly nasty employee who I'd heard speaking rudely to a woman who was simply trying to order an omelet. Perhaps the staff follows the lead of the management...as each morning my partner and I would sit in the back section eating breakfast and watching the two dining room managers drink coffee, smoke, and chat with each other all while tables were dirty and the lone, solitary bus boy was overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done.
Yet this was not limited to the buffet. Out of the friends we made on board a few of them had fantastic waiters...which one expects from Celebrity. However, we, and several others we know, had terrible service (not the first time, either!) Our wait staff was so bad that by the end of the first week we had abandoned the dining room altogether: surly waiter, long waits between courses, bread and water often did not appear until well after the first course had been served, repeated requests for tea or refills, coffee NEVER came until desert was over, no dining recommendations, no pleasantries on arrival... nothing. In the first 7 days our waiter asked our table only once if we had enjoyed our meal, which is funny because once he laid the plates on our table he and our bus boy would disappear so when we did need sauce, horseradish, etc. it was impossible to get. It was truly bad. There are other examples of snide comments and poor presentations by staff (don't bother to go to the so called Elegant Tea -especially if you are British) but I think you all get the point.
Forget entertainment on this ship and be prepared to keep yourself busy reading, playing a game or two with people you meet, or basically gazing out the window because there is next to NOTHING to do on board during the day that is not revenue based. As trivia buffs, we were happy to see that there were 3 or 4 per day, but mostly Celebrity's idea of entertainment are fee based tastings, spa activities, dismal sales of embarrassingly overpriced sub standard Russian crap ( I mean crafts ) or other similar types of activities. We did attend the enrichment lectures which started out funny enough: the speaker could NOT be seen over the lectern and she ironically began her discussion by asking everyone to say Hi to her when they saw her around the ship. That being the only laugh of the presentation, she proceeded to put every member of the audience to sleep - seriously... do you cruise directors ever actually LISTEN to these people before you hire them? There are plenty of dynamic speakers around... please find them!!!! Hell, I'll do it!
You know that things will be dismal when the Cruise Director begs people to clap for him, but the evening shows were really bad and I found myself longing for Simon Cowell to come on board and rip them to shreds; we usually left after 10 minutes. Aside from that, the piano player in Michael's Bar is QUITE GOOD, but so loud you could't talk; yet nor are you invited to sing along. The bar in the Rendezvous Lounge was also good, but again, if you wanted to talk and be heard you had to go upstairs to the second floor. They also had a VERY good guitarist and quartet who play in the Cave Cafe or whatever it is called... one could spend a nice evening listening to them, but we always felt rude trying to talk if they were playing... so again... kind of difficult. This brings us to the Bar at the Edge of the Torn Fabric Tablecloth, possibly the absolute tackiest and ugliest room I have ever seen on a ship, on land or anywhere else on earth for that matter. Sitting under the torn fabric which hangs from the ceiling was mildly amusing, but the music here was so loud that it hurt my ears and we soon tired from screaming to be heard by the people we went with. No visit here lasted more than 10 minutes either. In the end, we were glad we had a roomy suite to hang out in, even if the toilet never worked. At least we could watch the same 5 shows on the television over and over without screaming at each other.
Yet despite those things, we still had a wonderful cruise. Why? THE PORTS!!! This is definitely a great cruise for exploring some of the most beautiful cities in the world! DO NOT FEEL INTIMIDATED TO DO THINGS ON YOUR OWN!!! Especially in Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Talinn! While the ship out and out lied to people about available transportation in these ports, do some research (or ask me) and you will have a MOST FANTASTIC experience! We used Alla Tours in St Petersburg and can honestly say they were one of the most professional companies we have ever used. We found them here in CC and are very thankful to the people who wrote about them!
One thing that we really do have to thank Celebrity for, however, was the lovely Cruise Critic party they threw for us, along with a private Bridge Tour! If you are here on CC... go to your sailing date on the boards and sign up for the party! You will be glad you did, not just because CC members seem to be the NICEST people on the sea, but because the cruise line really did a nice job of showing their appreciation (which is a good thing since the past passenger programs are now practically non-existent!)
Would we sail Celebrity again? Not unless it was super bargain basement priced and going to fantastic ports that allow us to spend maximum time off the ship.