This was our 51st cruise, eighth on Constellation (we've sailed once each year since her inaugural year) and 32nd on Celebrity. Since our first Celebrity cruise on Century in 1997, X has been our favorite line and in our opinion, surpasses all the other mainstream/premium cruise lines, especially in the areas of service and food. Notwithstanding, I'll try to be as objective as possible with this review.
We arrived at the pier before noon to find a slow moving, long line out the door but snaked our way to check-in and made it onto the ship in about forty minutes - not too bad, all things considered. Our bags arrived after sail away - so much for Elite priority baggage handling but with so many Elite CC members on X cruises these days, that's to be expected. Once on board, we were anxious to check out the ship and see the recent changes made to it. We thought Celebrity did a nice job of "Solticizing" the ship while still retaining Constellation's traditional ambiance over Solstice's more modern, sleek appearance. Other than changing the ship's color palette, adding some new artwork, recarpeting and reupholstering (no small feat), the only real changes we found were the addition of the Tuscan Grill, Bistro on Five, the new Martini/Crush Bar and Wine Cellars - nice upgrades but nothing to significantly alter the ship's inherent personality.
With very few exceptions, staff and crew were friendly and eager to please without being effusive - exactly the kind of service we hope for and have come to expect from Celebrity. Our cabin attendants were most pleasant and incredibly efficient, as were both our waiter and his assistant. Passengers were mostly from the US and Canada, but there were a large number of Brits, Germans and other nationals on board as well. For the most part passengers were older with very few families with children (as is to be expected on a two week cruise, especially one during which school is in session).
This 14-night, Exotic Caribbean cruise (not quite sure what makes it exotic, but so be it) offered a nice mix of seven ports of call and five sea days. We're not beach fans and don't consider shopping a destination, so sea days are always our favorite and we took full advantage of them, relaxing on the Promenade Deck with iPod and Kindle at the ready. In fact, having been to the ports many times, relaxing on the Promenade Deck was our choice on most port days as well. However, for the first time ever, we noted that the dreaded chair hogs had migrated from the pool deck down to the Promenade Deck, staking their claims and then disappearing into the great unknown until such time as they chose to return and actually occupy their previously marked territory - most disconcerting, to say the least, as it appears chair-hogging is now spreading faster than the dreaded noro-virus and seat-saving in public restrooms may very well be the next target! Back to the itinerary, the ports were fine and not terribly crowded as we were often the only ship or one of only two ships in port at any given time. This was our first visit to Tobago and with any luck, it will also have been our last. We're still trying to figure out why Celebrity included it in the itinerary since there's not much there to begin with and what is there doesn't appear to be terribly tourist friendly. We were off the ship and back on again in record time and could only imagine the port was included as a fuel stop, likely chosen for what must surely be reasonably low port/fuel charges! It's my understanding Tobago has been dropped in favor of St. Martin for this itinerary in 2011.
Addressing some frequently asked questions: trays were still available at the buffett; the full-service alternative dinner option in the buffet area is no longer offered but sushi, pasta, salads and a limited hot selection is available; the dessert tray was brought to our table every night in the MDR; and most people were respectful of the dress code, although there were of course, the usual defiant ones who re-defined formal and smart casual according to their own (low!) standards. Shows in the theater were after dinner for main seating guests and with the exception of only two nights, they were scheduled before dinner for late seating guests - a pet peeve of ours. If we wanted to be ready early, we'd opt for main seating but opt instead for late seating to avoid feeling rushed in the late afternoon/early evening. We've noted this on more comment cards than I can count but apparently there's no plan to change the way things are any time soon, if ever. Whether the change from the previously standard schedule of dinner followed by a show for both main and late seating guests was the result of logistics or otherwise I do not know, but a fair compromise with even just half the shows after dinner for late seating guests would be appreciated by many who prefer dinner first, then the show.
Entertainment was the usual X fare - production shows, singer, comedian/juggler/magician, etc. Perry Grant left the ship for vacation on the day we boarded and was sorely missed by many. He was replaced in Michael's Club by a pianist who didn't appear to draw much of a crowd. In our opinion, entertainment, never a strength for Celebrity, is the one area that continues to need some tweaking. We saw the two production shows that were offered after dinner and they were the same old same old but nevertheless entertaining. Our tablemates, however, saw all the shows and as a group rated them medicore at best, with a few rated pretty bad. There were two enrichment speakers on board for this cruise; one was a veterinarian, the other a retired professor who was the designated destination speaker. We thought the veterinarian was a strange choice as an enrichment speaker since the subject matter immediately excluded all those who had no interest in pets, the silly things they do or how to avoid pet accidents. We attended the destination speaker's first presentation but didn't bother going again because he pretty much stuck to just reciting the captions on each of the slides he showed and for a professional speaker, we found his voice irritating and his presentation somewhat tedious.
Now finally on to the subject of food which is important to a lot of people but also terribly subjective since one man's candy is often another man's poison. As noted above, we have always felt Celebrity distinguishes itself in the two important areas of service and food, beating the competition in both. We still believe X offers the best food and service out there but with respect to dining, we've noticed a change not only in menu selection but likewise in food preparation, quality and presentation over the last two or three years. This cruise we enjoyed Bistro on Five for lunch one day and both the Tuscan Grill and Ocean Liners for dinner, all of which we have visited on previous cruises on Constellation and other X ships. We thought all the specialty restaurants were definitely worth the visit but with respect to the Tuscan Grill and Ocean Liners, remarked how it now takes a visit to a speciality restaurant to get the same quality meal that used to be served in the MDR as a matter of course. Clearly, a weak economy, increasing fuel/operating costs, along with increased competition to fill an ever-increasing number of berths each cruise that has resulted in lower than ever cruise fares, has necessitated some belt-tightening and cuts. In short, it's impossible to go hungry and if one doesn't care for one offering, there are lots of other things that will surely please. Clearly there has been lots of talk on the Celebrity boards of cost-cutting, meatballs and beef cheeks, cheap cuts, tough steaks, etc. but IMHO Celebrity's food in general remains quite good and certainly plentiful. If something arrived at our table that didn't please someone's taste, not only did our waiter offer to replace it immediately but within minutes the assistant maitre d' was tableside offering not only his apologies but suggestions for a replacement. You really can't ask for more than that.
Unfortunately, the fourteen days passed all too quickly and before we knew it we were packing up and heading home - but not before enjoying a thoroughly wonderful cruise on Constellation and looking forward to our next cruise with Celebrity.