I got back this week from my wonderful journey to Paris and London and my 14-day Baltic cruise on the Constellation (June 27th to July 11th).
Am still getting back to real life, but thought I'd start my review, as things are still fresh in my mind.
This was our second Celebrity cruise (the other being Barcelona to Venice last May on the Summit).We cruised with our 3 kids , ages 5 , 9 and 12 (12 year old is a daughter , other are sons).
We left on a Monday night from Sao Paulo-a direct flight on TAM airlines to Paris. I was very impressed-new airbus (much newer than the United airplanes I have been on recently), on time, no glitches. We had turbulence through the intertropical convergence zone (right over where the AF flight went down) but it wasn't too bad.
WE arrived at noon in Paris and got a our pre-arranged shuttle to our hotel. Driver not too great or friendly. Our hotel was in Saint Germain, a small family run hotel with a cool cat named Sputnik (my kids loved him). The hotel was very well located and charming , with a very old , neat basement to have breakfast in. Yummy food!
We met some friends in Paris and visited the Notre Dame , the Louvre , Musee d'Orsay , Jardin du Luxomberg, a Seine river cruise, the Eiffel Tower and a bus tour to see the general sights. We had lovely weather and a very nice time.
Friday at noon we caught the Eurostar to London . Nice way to travel. Our shuttle was late picking us up because of bad traffic. We proceeded to our little B&B in a tiny town in the countryside called Mistley (the B&B is called The Mistley Thorn). LOVED it. This was one of our favorite experiences and places. The town is Georgian and it was where the Witchmaster General hung out (Vincent Price played him in a movie). There is a swan reserve there and the children loved the swans. The food at the inn was amazing and I discovered my favorite new drink-Pimm´s Lemonade-so refreshing-cheers!!
Saturday at lunch time we left for Harwich-a very pretty drive . I fell in love with the English countryside and want to go back and explore more. We arrived at the port around 1:30 and got our seapasses. Easy process , no long wait.
We boarded and went to our stateroom-number 7199 , FOV , corner with it's huge balcony. Everyone here is right - can't get better than this! Amazing stateroom , lots of storage space, very well kept. And the huge balcony ...no words can describe how it added to the pleasure of our cruising experience. The five of us were very comfortable and we created a routine in which we had no issues with only one bathroom. Our stateroom attendant, Sim from the Philippines, was efficient and did a nice job.
The ship itself was in lovely shape -elegant and understated and easy to manage. We were on the Mariner of the Seas in December and I prefer the size of the M class ships. More manageable IMHO.
The first night we relaxed and ate at the buffet. Because of the 3 kids , we don't eat at the MDR all the time-we find it easier and less rushed to alternate dining venues. The food at the buffet is quite nice , lots of variety and a good salad bar , as well as stir fry , sushi , a pasta station (which didn't impress me)and other options.
If you'd like you can accompany our journey through our photos at www.picasaweb.google.com.br/brazilgirl1987.
Our first port was Amsterdam. It is a really neat city , however I felt the stop we made there didn't even come close to doing it justice. I think Celebrity should rethink the schedule - we arrived at 8 and had to be on board at 1:45.
I had booked Anne Frank at 9:00 and a canal tour for the rest of our time. Anne Frank was extremely moving. Just entering the museum brought me to tears. My two older children had studied about Anne and it was very significant for them. The youngest got a bit whiny (on the trip we had almost no whining from him-yeah!) and I thought he was bored. But later that evening, while taking a shower he stated talking about Anne Frank and saying that we all had to be quiet and that he thought she would be happy if we ordered her a pizza (he is 5). I think the whole experience brought out strong feelings that he then dealt with through his play.
The canal ride was a good way to get an overview of the city. We also stopped at a sidewalk cafe and had a snack and enjoyed people watching. We had a mad dash back to the ship, which was stressful. We walked and had been told it was close and it really wasn't.
The kid's club was fabulous. Lots of neat activities and a very competent staff. My 5 yr old made a best friend from Guatemala and my 9 yr old loved the scavenger hunts. My 12 yr old daughter made 2 inseparable friends who she hung out the whole cruise. I was very, very pleased with the program. My kids always wanted to be there and went with great enthusiasm.
I asked about the CC breakfast in a very nice manner. Our stateroom attendant didn't seem to excited about the request, so I just let it go. The lounge chairs were very nice. Maybe someone else asked about the lounge chairs? I was worried about breakfast in my robe...lol.
Our second port was Warnemunde , Germany. I had pre-booked a car and we had a lovely day. We drove to Lubeck and went to the most amazing puppet museum. The kids went wild. The owner has been collecting theater items (puppets/marionettes)since the 70s and has traveled all over the world to get them. Truly a magical place. Then we hung out near the water and had some food and ice cream. The drive to Lubeck and back was very easy and very pretty.
I think when traveling with kids, car rental is a very nice option. No waiting involved, as well as the flexibility to modify schedule if needed. We also rented a car in Denmark and on our other cruise in Santorini. I like the change it gives us in pace on these longer itineraries.
After arriving back, we hung out in Warnemunde , which is cool and loved the neat send off there.
On our sea days, the kiddos stayed at the Fun Factory and we enjoyed our adult time reading and relaxing.
The food in the MDR was quite good. On of my favorite things were an appetizer with goat cheese and salmon and a very nice penne with pancetta. Our waiter was fantastic (Cyrel) and we had a great table next to a window (524).I think they need additional staff for drink orders ,as I think in all venues it is hard to get a coke sometimes.
Our kids really held up well (yeah!!!). Lots of time changes and heavy sightseeing. Some observations-planning is fundamental. I tried to mix things up, so we'd be doing lots of different kinds of things , not just museums and churches. Pre-buying tickets and such really cut down on lines and waits (I pre-booked almost everything). Lastly-give them a few breaks-in Tallinn and Helsinki we left them on the ship because they were tired and we were going to walk a lot.
We had a table for 6, which was nice. I met so many wonderful people on this cruise. A really great group. We had lovely neighbors from the Carolinas and our fellow CC members were very friendly.
The members of the roll call were invited to the traditional party and also to a bridge tour, which my kids really enjoyed (as did I). As a Captain's Club member, we were invited to a cocktail party to meet the captain -we had a great time.
One of my favorite things was the brunch they had twice on sea days. What a spread! I'd love it if they had it on every sea day. We also enjoyed a wine pairing seminar-informative and fun.
We dined twice at Ocean Liners (on our other cruise we dined twice at the Normandie). I had read about lots of changes, but quite frankly, I didn't really observe any at all. The service continues to be impeccable and the food is first class. The goat cheese soufflE is still mouth-watering, as all other items on the menu. Everyone should go at least once on their cruise.
Our next port: Stockholm!!
When asked what my favorite things on the trip were, I'd be hard-pressed to answer. But I'd have to say Mistley (England) , Stockholm and Denmark. Stockholm is a dream-gorgeous! We had our hottest day (we wore shorts). I'd purchased Stockholm passes online. We caught the bus from the pier (easy) and arrived right by the Vasa Museum. It was crowded, but still comfortable. What an amazing feat...it is hard to believe the whole store of salvaging the ship. The restoration process is beautiful to see. We all loved it.
We then walked to Skansen-enchanting. People in period costumes , quaint buildings and the zoo with Nordic animals. You get so close to the animals. We even got to pet reindeer!!! We had a Swedish lunch at Skansen, then caught a tram back to the bridge. We still had time and our Stockholm cards , so we decided to stop at the Pippi Longstocking Museum. Loved, loved, loved it. What a magical place for kids. My 3 kids had the best time (even the 12 year old).She was by far the oldest there , but she really played a lot. There were almost no tourists-just Swedish kids (all cute and blond-my daughter kept saying she wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed too! Ha!)We went back to the ship, tired and happy.
This was the day we most enjoyed our balcony-we sat out and had dinner delivered from the MDR (drunken shrimp linguini) and watched the ship go through the archipelago. Absolutely stunning.
The next day we were in Helsinki - I'd planned to go to the fort and have a picnic, but when we got up the weather was ugly. So we decided to leave the kids on board and just explore (if we just walk around with no destination, they tend to complain!).We got the Celebrity shuttle downtown and decided to go shopping at the huge Stockman dept. store. We did some damage then had a cocktail at a sidewalk cafe. We walked around, saw some other sights and went back. Nice low-key day. The weather turned out to be great (big change from the morning).
Now we are in St. Petersburg!
I had really studied up on this port and read lots and lots of reviews. I decided the best option for our family would be to go through one of the many approved agencies (Denrus, Alla, Anastasia, Red October etc...). I opted for Anastasia, as I had read many positive reviews. I also sent many e-mails asking for estimates to all the different agencies and Anastasia was very prompt and flexible.
I was not disappointed!
We arrived on a rather rainy morning and I did not follow the little letter asking the people one non-Celebrity tour to gather at the Bar of the Edge of the Earth. I just went down to disembarkation and got in the huge line (full of people on Celebrity tours). My DH didn't want to disobey the ship , but I told him that it was o.k, and that he had to trust me. He was convinced after everything went fine.
We went through Russian immigration, got our red visitors passes and were off on our adventure. We had found another family on our roll call to share the tour with-a couple and their 11 yr old daughter. Our girls became inseparable and the tour was so nice with these new friends.
We started the day at Peterhof, which is gorgeous. We had lunch at one of the cafes, then went to St. Petes by hydrofoil. We then went on to Yusopov´s Palace , where we had a tour given by Anastasia herself. The palace is smaller than all the others and was easier to get around. Our kids loved the story of Rasputin. We watches a small men's choir perform-haunting.
We ended our first day with a private canal tour -the boat was only for our small group of 8, which was special.
Our guide was Elena, a 23 yr old woman full of culture and sweetness. She was very thoughtful and attentive and paid special attention to the kids needs. She gave us so much history and perspective on Russian life. Truly wonderful.
Our second day was a bit shorter. We started out at the Hermitage. It is overwhelming and amazing. Such a wealth of culture and beauty and history in one place. The kids did well the first hour , then the 5 yr got a bit whiny. Elena immediately changed the pace, taking us to a room full of medieval armor and weapons , which he loved.
The Impressionist collection is gorgeous - I couldn't believe the Matisses....
We then went on a city van tour and stopped at this wonderful pie restaurant which was full of atmosphere and delicious food (at great prices!) We continued on our tour and visited the battleship Aurora (not scheduled-again thinking of the kids). We stopped at a shop for great souvenirs and then finished our day at the exquisite Church of Spilled Blood.
The ship provided the immigration forms. Anastasia had sent us (online) travel tickets before hand. The forms, tickets, your passport and a copy of the main picture page of your passport is all that was needed.
We paid for almost everything with a credit card-our lunch the first day at Peterhof, our souvenirs ...we paid for our lunch the 2nd day with rubles we took from the ATM, because our guide, Elena said the restaurant didn't accept cc. She said we could pay at the end too, but we were near an ATM , so we took out around $50 American dollars, which covered our family of 5, as well as lunch for Elena (we treated her on both days).
We bought the following at the souvenir shop:
a tacky fake fur soviet hat (my middle son loved it!)
Some nesting dolls
a ship (clipper)
a beautiful, hand painted lacquer box for me , as well as some lovely boxes made of birch
The boxes were pricey, but the rest was pretty inexpensive ($10 for a nice nesting doll , $12 for the ship...)
As far as how long to allow to get off the ship, it is hard to say...I think 8:30 is a time which might be more crowded as more people get off early.
I would consider changing your tour time and leave a bit later to avoid the lines (9ish seems to be a good time). You'll have plenty of time and even if you get back later, it is still light out!
We got back tired and very pleased with our option of Anastasia.
More comments on the ship...
We really don't go to bars, so I can't really say much about them. The Martini Bar is very pretty and we went to the Captain's Club party at the Bar of the Edge of the Earth, which has lovely windows.
We went to 4 shows, all of which focused on Broadway type music. And there was a fun "music from around the world production. My favorite show was a singer named Jordan , who starred in the LA production of Les Mis..his rendition of "Nights in White Satin" by the Moody Blues made me cry (I know-corny, huh!)
Almost at the end of the cruise, we wandered into Michael's Bar to hear Perry Grant. I must admit, I had read about him and peeked into the lounge and didn't think he was my cup of tea. Boy was I wrong!!! My husband and I laughed sooooo much and we had such a good time. I am sorry I didn't give him a chance sooner. What a talented man!
We didn't use the pool area, which is great , very much as it was cold for us Brazilians! Lots of people from England out and about!
Currency is a bit complicated....
Amsterdam, Germany , Finland- all use Euros. However, many places do not use credit cards!! Ex: In Lubeck, 3 separate places we visited did not accept cc. Same in many other countries!!! Take cash too!
Estonia , Denmark and Sweden all have their own currency (kroners)...
Rubles in Russia- again restaurant did not accept cc-we withdrew cash from ATM at the Hermitage.
Tallinn, Estonia - A real gem. The Old Town is easy to navigate and full of charm. We visited the Fat Tower , the Russian Church ,and peeked into lots of quaint shops. It was a sunny, clear day , so we had lunch in the square. We had a marvelous seafood platter and Estonian beer. Really delicious. There were many people dressed up in period costumes, which was fun.
Copenhagen , Denmark - Again , we opted to rent a car. We drove up the coast towards Kronborg Slot (the "Hamlet " Castle). The drive was stunning. Tones of blues, greens and yellows dotted with majestic mansions and manicured yards. Once at the castle, we had a bit of rain, which gave it atmosphere. we explored the dank casemates-they sell flashlights in a vending machine, which is fun.
Then we had a "car" picnic. We laughed a lot, because the Danish cheese we had purchased at the market was quite stinky!
We then drove to the Frederiksborg Castle. this was voted the best place of our trip. Simply gorgeous and so , so peaceful. No crowds, just sheer beauty. Our favorite part was the abandoned bathhouse with a lake full of swans and their babies swimming around.
The drive back to Copenhagen was easy (driving in Denmark is very nice-no traffic, good signage ...).We went back to the ship and got ready for a night at Tivoli. We had a wonderful time in this magical park. it is transformed at night. Our daughter met up with her friend (we went on the St. Pete´s tour) and the rode all the scary rides.
The next day , my DH and I went on an ambitious walking tour. We hit the Rosenborg Castle, St.Peter´s Church, the Danish Army barracks, Nyhaven and other sights. I loved Denmark.
We headed back to the ship and I shopped a bit at the nice outlet area at the pier (Copenhagen has by far the best docking area).
Next was our last sea day...sad. Rough seas - my middle son got sick, which is a first. Lots of packing.
Disembarkation was a breeze-so fast and efficient. We took a shuttle (we shared with some nice roll call members) back to London.
We stayed in London Saturday, Sunday and Monday, leaving Monday night at 10. We stayed at the Hilton on Park Lane, which was very nice. It was a real cultural experience, since half of the guests were Muslims and many of the women were wearing burkas-the kids were curious and it opened some interesting discussions.
We went on a fun Duck Tour, visited the Natural History Museum , explored the Tower of London and chased squirrels in Hyde Park. On our last day we went to Madame Trussard´s and saw Buckingham palace. We had our last picnic in St. James Park, which is exquisite.
Caught our direct flight back with no problem...back to reality!
Our trip was wonderful and we all loved the Constellation. A majestic ship with a caring, attentive crew.
I highly recommend this ship and this itinerary.