We recently completed a transatlantic on Celebrity's Constellation from Miami, Florida to Hamburg, Germany, and could not be happier with our experience. After disembarking, we stayed on in Germany for 10 days, using rail passes to travel through the country. We only got home a week ago, and are already searching for another transatlantic cruise for later this year -- that's how much we enjoyed it. But, I will start at the beginning:
Pre-cruise boarding: We started in Naples, Florida, so we rented a car one-way and drove it to the Miami International Airport and dropped it off. Then we took a cab to the port ($24 set fee), so getting to the port was a breeze. This saved us a lot of money and worry, as we did not have to leave our car parked somewhere for so long.
Embarkation: A breeze. We arrived around 1:00 p.m., and dropped our bags at the curb. Even though we had not received our bag tags, we filled them out with the porter, attached them to our bags, and in a matter of minutes we were headed inside. (This was a different experience than when we left out of Miami on a prior cruise with Carnival.) There was no line to wait to go through the scanners, and not many people in front of us when we completed our pre-boarding paperwork. I should note, that we carried on 2 bottles of wine (as permitted on Celebrity's website, and saw a number of other passenger do so as well) with no problem.
Our Stateroom: We booked a balcony stateroom, and requested (and received) a room on the starboard side of the ship (8th floor). This was the sunnier side of the ship as you head eastbound, and I wanted to be able to use the balcony if weather permitted. Our room was in really good condition, with only some minor aging evident in the bathroom. I should note that the Constellation was going into dry dock once we arrived in Hamburg, and although some of the exterior of the ship was in need of some TLC, the interior was spotless and beautiful.
Activities: It's funny how easily you can fill up your day on the ship. I was worried we would be bored, but neither my husband nor I ever were. There were lectures you could attend, all kinds of internet, language and food based classes, as well as the usual spa, gym, bingo, casino, and art auction events. In addition, as we were traveling with a group, we were able to tour the bridge, galley (it was really fascinating seeing how large the kitchens were, and see and hear how they manage to prepare over 13,000 meals a day), engine observation room, and backstage of the theatre, things we had never done on past cruises.
Fellow passengers: The passengers on the cruise were 99% older than my husband and I (we are in our 40's). While it seemed like this was everyone's first transatlantic cruise, most the people I met were truly experienced cruisers, having been everywhere and seen everything. They were a really interesting bunch, full of information about places I want to see/go. Food: Now for the important information, THE FOOD. Oh. My. God.
While the food is typically very good on every cruise, both my husband and I agree that the food was the best we have ever experienced. The quality of the food never wavered throughout the 13 days, and the presentation of each dish at dinner and at the Aqua Spa dining always looked like something you would see in a magazine. They had sushi rolls and sashimi, unbelievable risotto with scallops and shrimp, the most delicious fish (Chilean Sea Bass, Halibut, Salmon), jumbo shrimp EVERYWHERE, Osso Bocco, a Pizzeria, Patisserie, and even a Healthy Dining Location (Aqua Spa) adjacent to the indoor pool/solarium (for when you are tired of gorging yourself). And of course, the desserts....crème Brule (my favorite) was available EVERY NIGHT, tiramisu, soufflEs, panna cotta, ice creams/sorbets/gelatos. I should note that all breads and ice creams/sorbets/sherbet are made fresh on the ship (and included flavors such as red wine sorbet and cinnamon ice cream - delicious). And if breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all the extras were not enough, there was a brunch in the main dining room held every so many days, served with champagne and mimosas....accompanied by a string quartet and grand piano player. Molto elegante.
And they gave you champagne at every corner...when you board the ship, when you stop into a shop, when you tour the galley, EVEN when you appear for the muster drill....etc. mmmm.
Entertainment: The entertainment on the ship is the typical cruise entertainment. There was a fabulous string quartet in the bars, and the usual orchestra/dancers/singers/comedians at night in the showroom, etc. One night the showroom entertainer was the guy who sang on the television series "The Love Boat" and he actually sang the theme song you heard at the beginning of each episode. Come on, sing along....."the loooooovvveeeee booooaaaatttt...soon will be making another ruuuuuunnnn....the looooooovvvvveeee booooooaaattt, promises something for everyone.......I couldn't stop giggling while he sang Funny. All kidding aside, he was really quite good. On another night, there was a comic/magician, Carl Andrews, who was also very good. And another comic (who's name I can't recall) who was very funny. We missed the first broadway musical show, but heard rave reviews from other passengers. We learned on our backstage tour that the company that provides the shows was being replaced, so the entertainment should be markedly different on future sailings.
Gym: Like all ships, there is a gym, but the one on this ship was quite large, with around 20 treadmills lining the front of the ship. HOWEVER, unlike any ship I have ever been on there was a WAIT for the machines. And I mean you seriously had to line up and wait for the treadmills. I have NEVER seen that on a ship before (or any gym, for that matter)! Bunch of crazies!! I was told that it would thin out (no pun intended) as the cruise progressed, but it never did. And even though we had very smooth seas, the ship did move up and down/bow to stern. When it moves up slightly when you are running on the treadmill, it's like you are running uphill, then downhill as the bow lowers again. It's probably really good for your workout, and probably really bad on your knees.
Unique Qualities to a Transatlantic Cruise: Since Europe is 5 hours ahead of Florida, we had to move our clocks forward nearly every other day. It's like daylight savings time every other day. And when we went from France to England, we had to move our clocks backwards, then forward again when we headed to Amsterdam. In short, you lose 5 hours on your cruise....Note to self, the transatlantic westbound cruise actually lasts 5 hours longer J
Ports/Excursions: We did not participate in any cruise organized shore excursions; my husband and I traveled independently at each port. Our first port of call, after spending 8 days on the water, was La Havre, France. Here, a lot of our fellow passengers went to Paris (2-3 hours away on a train). We opted to visit Claude Monet's home in Giverny. We walked to the main train station in Le Havre, took the train to Vernon (via Rouen). Giverny is a gorgeous place and the location of where Monet's Water Lilys and Japanese Footbridge were painted. We were lucky enough to be there when all the tulips were in bloom. Really, words, nor our pictures describe how gorgeous a place it is, as well as all the surrounding hamlets that line the train's path. Highly recommended!
Our second stop was Dover, England. From this port you can visit London (again, nearly 3 hours to get there), but we opted to visit Leeds Castle, somewhere we had never been and wanted to see. We traveled to Bearstad by train, then took a bus to the castle. The grounds are enormous, very park like, and again, gorgeous. We were also able to spend some time in Dover, which is a very cute British town, with the Dover Castle perched above the city and the famous White Cliffs of Dover.
After Dover, we arrived in Rotterdam, Netherlands. It is a very modern city, having only 3 major buildings survive World War II. It is full of really interesting architecture. The cruise line provided a bus to the Rotterdam city center, and they give you an interesting tour of the city. Again, we left via train and headed to Amsterdam. You can buy a ticket from the machine, but you need all coins. To buy a train ticket, you buy from a clerk upstairs and they too only accept cash, so make sure you have plenty of euros with you. Amsterdam was a very busy city, lots of bikes (be careful, or you will be run over). Here we were able to tour the Anne Frank House (loved it), and play tourist viewing the canals, wooden shoes (yes they really wear them), and seeing all the Amsterdam "unmentionables." We took a fast train to get to Amsterdam (past windmills), but a slower train back that took us through tulip fields. As my husband described it, it "looked like someone painted the ground."
Service: The service we received was fabulous. Our room attendant always addressed us by our last name (and we don't have an easy name to remember or say), and our waiter was GREAT (Julian) - he was always smiling, whether you saw him at breakfast or dinner. The captain on the ship (Captain Gerry) was very engaging and approachable. He would stop and talk with you at dinner, in the gym, wherever you ran into him, and we looked forward to his midday updates, with his words of wisdom from his "Chinese friend." I should also mention the great service we received from the event coordinators (especially Sebastian) as they were SO pleasant and friendly, and played a big part in making our cruise really special.
Crossing/Weather: I just read the review of the German traveler on the same ship, and he indicates that it rained when we left port in Miami, but I do not remember this. I was probably eating. All and all, I thought the weather on the crossing was great. And I have to admit that I was a little concerned how rough it would be, as my husband gets seasick. But it was so much nicer than I had hoped. In fact, my husband had been taking ½ bonine 2 times a day, but quit taking it altogether later in the cruise, as the seas were so calm (especially once we got near France). We did have 2 days when the swells were between 7-10 feet, but other than that they were less than 3 feet. It was cold in Dover and Le Havre, but a little milder in Amsterdam. We were able to sit in the sun on our balcony, run outside on the deck, and I watched several people sunbathing throughout the cruise.
Disembarking: As the prior reviewer indicated, we had to be off the ship early, as the Constellation was going into dry dock. As the Captain explained, we arrived in Hamburg on a river, and the tide needed to be high enough for them to take the Constellation further up the river from where we disembarked, and turn the ship around to be placed in dry dock. A lot of passengers complained about the early disembarkment, but we knew it before getting onboard (they should have known as well). Our luggage was easy to find, we waited in line for a cab, and headed to the train station to continue our adventure in southern Germany.
A couple more points: We brought only dollars onboard and exchanged money on the ship. The exchange rate was fractionally higher than $1.40 per euro. At the time, the dollar/euro was trading around $1.34 - so the rate of exchange was SO reasonable. The internet is slow to connect, so writing an email offline, then sending online still ends up costing about $5-$7.
OK, that's it. It was a great experience, and if you like to cruise, I would highly recommend a transatlantic. And if you like to eat, I highly recommend the Celebrity Constellation. Bon voyage!