Living in Florida makes cruising a bit easier and less stressful when the wrath of winter hits like it has this year. Knowing we can be in a cruise port within a couple hours drive eliminates concerns about flight delays, bad weather, etc. We headed to Ft. Lauderdale the evening before the cruise to enjoy our pre-cruise ritual with friends. That includes dinner at Il Mulino on Sunrise, a birthday celebration for our friend, Kirk, who was sailing with us and embarkation day breakfast at the Floridian on Las Olas. These little traditions make us feel like the cruise is about to happen. We look forward to each cruise just as much as we did our first one many years ago.
We arrived at Port Everglades just before 11:00 AM. Dropped luggage, parked the car, checked in and were onboard within 15 minutes. This was by far our quickest embarkation ever. Since we More
hadn't been on Constellation since she was "Solsticized," we dropped our carryons in our cabin and explored the ship. Many things were familiar - the guest relations area, the dining room, the theater and casino. But we were excited to see the new renovations and how well most of them were carried out. Who would have believed that they could have carved such a great spot for Tuscan Grille on deck 11? The new martini bar, while slightly smaller, definitely has the feel and vibe of those on the S-class ships. Cellar Masters and Bistro on Five are nicely laid out on deck five. The transformation of the Cova to Cafe al Bacio (I still call it Cova) has the new comfortable furniture that is found on the S-class ships along with the wonderful gelato bar. From everything we could see, they did a great job at updating the ship while keeping the wonderful feel she always had.
Always subjective, we found the food overall to be very good to excellent with a few exceptions.
Our main dining room table was on deck four in the center of the open area, just at the bottom of the staircase. We had a table for eight with wonderful dinner mates - our friends, Joe & Kirk, Ed & Jean from Calgary and Hank & Kathy from New Jersey. We ate in the dining room 11 of the 14 nights.
I often ordered the pasta dish for the evening in an appetizer portion followed by an entrEe selection. Everything I ordered was very good; some items were better than others and there was only one night that I asked for an alternative entrEe because I didn't care for my first selection. Our tablemates all enjoyed their meals as well.
Service from our waiter, Garry, and his assistant, Serge, was outstanding the entire cruise. They always had a huge smile on their faces and it was apparent that they were a great team. Luciana, our Head Waiter (now called Asst. Maitre 'd's), was also outstanding. She was highly visible at all times, stopping several times each evening to check in on our table. It was probably our top overall (dinner mates, crew, food) best dining room experience in all of our cruises.
Oceanliners Specialty Restaurant
We dined in Oceanliners twice because we pre-paid for one dinner and our travel agent sent us a dining certificate for another. Both evenings were very pleasant. We were seated in the wine room on the first evening. While Steak Diane isn't on the menu they offered to make it for us. It was OK but I wouldn't recommend ordering something 'special' that they don't make all the time. The goat cheese soufflE was terrific and those who had dessert enjoyed it very much. On our second evening, I stuck with the filet and it was better than the entrEe the first evening. In retrospect, I think we would have preferred a second night in Tuscan versus Oceanliners. I do love the paintings on the walls of Oceanliners. The history of Oceanliners past takes you to another era. Both nights were enjoyable but I wouldn't do two nights here on a future cruise regardless of how long the cruise is.
I much preferred our dinner in Tuscan Grille. Everyone's meal was terrific. The service was pleasant and efficient. My veal parmesan was great and large enough for three meals (for me anyway). I had the Tuscan onion soup first (great dish) but that just left less room for the entrEe. I was impressed how they tucked this restaurant into what I envisioned to be a tight spot. But they did it wonderfully.
Another subjective area. We thought there were some outstanding entertainers on board. I only made it to one production show, "The Land of Make Believe," but it was one of the best production shows I've seen on a ship. The set was unbelievable for a ship (complete with a large fire breathing dragon) and the cast was very good. The a cappella group, Full Tilt, was fantastic and had quite a following onboard. There were two dance bands on the ship. Momentum played in Reflections lounge on deck 11 and were the better of the two. The lead singer, Lulu, had a great voice. A comedian one evening was fine. Of course Constellation mainstay Perry Grant was his usual entertaining self. But I really think the best "entertainer" on board (sorry, Perry) was the husband of a Cruise Critic member! Stan Davis sings professionally with the Bottom Line Band in northern Ohio and took the stage several times to wow passengers throughout the cruise.
I've felt for a long time that no cruise line has better crew than Celebrity. This cruise proved that to be true. We encountered several of the best crew we've ever had in some areas:
Cabin Attendant - Doris from Honduras will long be remembered as our best cabin attendant. From the moment we arrived, she went above and beyond! When I had a garment get soot on it on the back dining deck, she took it and had it cleaned without a charge; she noticed our completed disembarkation from on my nightstand and turned it in for me; she always had a smile on her face and quickly did anything you asked of her. We've always had good cabin attendants but Doris was a step above the rest.
Captain's Club Host - Graeme Kelleher was a wonderful Captain's Club Host. He was always helpful, fun to chat with, hospitable and we particularly appreciated his enforcement of the dress code requests at functions.
Dining Room Staff - Mentioned earlier, Garry, Serge & Luciana combined to make this our overall top dining room experience of all time....and we've had some great ones.
Bar & Lounge Servers - I'm sure some of this stems from the fact that we were on a 14-day cruise but several of our servers (Daniela & Irina were just two) were excellent. They provided prompt, pleasant service throughout the cruise.
Officers - I believe Celebrity is really stepping up efforts to have their officers be more visible and interactive with guests. It was very obvious on this cruise as officers were often seen at events throughout the cruise. One of the funniest was "Dancing with the Stripes," a takeoff of "Dancing with the Stars" where passengers were paired with an officer for a dance competition. The Captain, Cruise Director, Financial Director and Hotel Director served as judges with the final winners selected by the audience. It was very funny and entertaining and great to see so many of the crew having a great time.
Overall, the ship was in pretty good shape. There were always people cleaning, polishing, etc. The only thing two things I saw in desperate need of attention (and I mentioned it but it wasn't take care of) was the T-pool and the soot on the aft deck where the buffet outdoor dining tables are located. The top metal bars on both sides of the T-pool has a gooey, brownish grease on them. At first, I thought it was rust but when I touched them it was a greasy consistency that wiped off with a towel. It was also on the walls of the T-pool. Didn't want to get it all over my swimsuit so that was the end of the T-pool. I mentioned it in hopes it would be cleaned but no such luck. It remained that way for the rest of the cruise.
The other annoying thing was that the soot that sometimes happens on the aft decks (it's a ship and it happens) is that it was never cleaned off the deck. Day after day, the tables and chairs were filled with it; the decking was never hosed down to clear it. We just stopped eating out there as it wasn't possible to avoid getting it on your clothing. Typically, they do a good job at cleaning this every day. I don't think the deck out here was hosed down the entire trip.
The rest of the ship was really in great shape. The new furnishings were very nice and very comfortable, like the S-class ships. The improvement made during the Solsticizing were very nice.
PORTS OF CALL
St. Thomas - St. John
We had a group of 24 join us for a day trip over to St. John. We've done this visit many times and I personally love St. John. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, with some folks choosing to go to the beach while other chose an island tour. Most of what there is to see on St. John revolves around its scenic beauty. Spectacular beaches, picturesque overlooks, the ruins of an old sugar plantation. We enjoyed a quiet lunch at Mongoose Junction in Cruz Bay before heading back to St. Thomas and the ship.
Valley Church Beach
WOW!!! This is truly a stunning beach. I'm not sure if I've ever seen water as pretty as this before. Various shades of blue as far as the eye could see. Crystal clear water, white soft sand, few people. This was a fantastic find. I can't believe we've never been here before. It's a $16 round trip taxi ride and a bit remote. But the payoff is one gorgeous beach that is among the prettiest I've ever seen. A very nice beach restaurant offered great food and drinks and fair prices. It was a perfect place to spend the day. We encountered a production crew filming commercials for Target while we were there. Someone did their homework and found the perfect place to shoot a commercial.
Upon arrival you are greeted by locals offering beach lounge chairs and umbrellas for the day. Chairs were $5 each and the umbrellas were $10. We opted for four chairs and one umbrella. But we actually spent the better part of the day in the water. It was so very nice! It reminded me of the photos you see of the South Pacific. Nice restrooms were available, too. Everyone was courtesy and friendly and this will be a definite stop on all future visits to Antigua!
Ti Kaye Village Resort & Spa
I didn't have much time to pre-plan excursions for this trip so it was very late when I got around to doing some research for things to do on islands we've already visited. But once again, Cruise Critic comes through! I read about a resort in a review on Cruise Critic where a mother and daughter enjoyed a day when their ship stopped at St. Lucia. I contacted the resort, Ti Kaye Village Resort & Spa and found that they had several day packages available to cruise passengers. The one that we decided to do included water taxi transportation from the ship to the resort and back; use of the resort facilities (beach, pool, kayaks, snorkel equipment, etc), a 50-minute full body massage in the spa, lunch at either of the resorts two restaurants and two soft drinks for $135 per person! What a great deal this turned out to be. The water taxi captain, Alex, met us on pier where we boarded his small but great boat. On the 30 minute ride to the resort, Alex gave us a little tour along the way, going through Marigot Bay (another beautiful resort area) and telling us some interesting facts about St. Lucia. Upon arrival at the resort, we were warmly welcomed, given our day passes and instructions and then were treated to a day of luxury. What a wonderful place. The view from the spa treatment room was unreal. A full wall of glass overlooking the bay below. We were then treated to outstanding massages followed by a delicious lunch (we could choose from an appetizer, soup or salad and an entrEe). We spent the rest of the day snorkeling from the beach and relaxing around the pool. The only downside is that ship excursions bring in large catamarans of snorkelers into the bay so it could loud at times. But it was still a wonderful way to spend the day and we'd go back in a heartbeat.
Tikaye did require a credit card for the reservation and we picked up our credit card receipt upon arrival.
This was the one excursion that I booked some time ago. We've been to Barbados many times and decided we wanted to spend the day here on the water. I did some research on Cruise Critic and settled on Calabaza for a day of snorkeling and fun. Gina, the contact person and hostess for Calabaza was very prompt with responses and made booking easy. We provided credit cards for a guarantee reservation but the card was not charged until we boarded.
We were met at the port by a taxi driver arranged by Gina who provided transportation to the catamaran. I had read, and Gina explained, that their original catamaran was lost in a hurricane in October 2010 so the boat we enjoyed the day on was a replacement boat obtained from the popular Caribbean charter company, the Moorings. The boat was lovely with a maximum of 12 passengers. There were ten on our sailing. As we boarded, Gina offered coffee and banana bread. That was the start of the food and goodies which continued throughout the trip.
Our first stop was for a swim with sea turtles. Chad, one of the crew, joined us in the water for all stops. On this one he provided food to attract the turtles that swam all around us. They are amazing creatures. From there we hoped back on board for some snacks while we sailed to our next stop for snorkeling. Schools of fish greeted us as we jumped in the water (snorkel equipment is provided but we brought our own) and we encountered a wide variety of species in large schools.
Back on board, we sailed a short distance and anchored just off the beach at Sandy Lane, the high end resort where celebrities visit (Tiger Woods got married here). Gina called us for a wonderful lunch that consisted of a Caribbean chicken dish; a fish dish, various salads, bread, cous cous and more. Gina's rum punch was the best I've ever tasted. Not too strong, not too sweet, just delicious. Soft drinks, water and beer were included as well.
Before dessert, most of us jumped back in the water for 15-minutes of relaxation and fun. As we sailed back to the harbor, Gina offered a variety of desserts that everyone devoured. The cost for the day was $110 for the day per person and we all felt it was well worth it for the personal service and wonderful food & drinks we received throughout the day. In looking at other catamaran excursions that had 50 or more people on board, we were very happy that we chose the relaxing atmosphere of a smaller number of passengers.
My only disappointment in Barbados is that the Earthworks Pottery store inside the port terminal is no longer there. I love Earthworks (www.earthworks-pottery.com) and have a wonderful collection that I've been accumulating each time we stop in Barbados. I love the dishes because the colors remind me of the Caribbean. It's a bit of a drive (worth it if you have the time) to the actual location where they make the pottery so I didn't have time to do that this trip. There is a gift shop in the terminal that carried a couple of pieces so I managed to pick up a small bowl but it looks like if I want additional pieces in the future, I'll need to make the trip to Earthworks itself.
This turned out to be another "WOW" location. We hadn't pre-planned anything for Grenada but we were lucky to learn about Magazine Beach and the Aquarium Restaurant from another Cruise Critic member onboard the ship. I had my daughter do some research and the beach and restaurant got great reviews on the web. So we hopped in a cab ($5 per person) and were dropped off at what appeared to be another remote and deserted beach. Our cab driver told us to head to the left and we'd find the restaurant just down the beach. It was another tropical paradise and the perfect place for today because as soon as we arrived, it started to rain. The open air restaurant has a roof but no exterior walls so we were able to get under cover (we snagged a wonderful gazebo with a table for four) and enjoy the view and food & drink. Some of my favorite photos came from this stop.
We spent a good four hours here snapping photos, enjoying a wonderful lunch and drinks, chatting with other Cruise Critic members and just enjoying the beautiful scenery. As in all of our stops where we arrive by cab, we arranged a set time for our driver to return to pick us up. In all the years we've been sailing the Caribbean, taxi drivers have always returned at our agreed upon time. This spot is also going down as a "must return to" place on future cruises.
Upon returning to the port area, we walked around the town plaza and picked up a couple of spices (clove, ginger and vanilla beans for us) before heading back to the ship.
Yes Tourism Cocoa Plantation Tour
Just before departing for Ft. Lauderdale, I confirmed a tour on Tobago with Yes Tourism and selected their new Cocoa Plantation Breakfast & Argyle Waterfalls Tour. The plan was for a Creole breakfast at the plantation followed by a tour then onto Argyle Waterfalls for some hiking and swimming. Well, the tour didn't quite work out like the description we booked, BUT, I think it turned out better that we could have hoped. For starters, the Cocoa Plantation ran out of chocolate (they don't process the beans at this location any longer...they just grow them, give tours and sell the chocolate). Our tour guide from YES, Dennis felt really bad...no chocolate, no chocolate tea. But we were a group of four and had a plantation tour guide to ourselves while the ship's tour of 40+ also had one guide for their entire group. Our experience was personal and relaxed. We got to spend a a lot of time with Kelton Thomas and his eagle and falcon (I think that's what they were) that work on the plantation to keep the parrots from destroying the crops (probably my favorite part of the tour).
But after the plantation, Dennis told us that there had been a lot of rain on the island and that the trek to Argyle Waterfall was muddy and the water wouldn't be great to swim in. He suggested taking us to the Caribbean side of the island to check out some of his favorite places. What a GREAT decision. We saw beautiful remote beaches, walked on top of one of the highest cliffs I've ever been on (I felt like we were singing Climb Every Mountain from Sound of Music) and visited Fort King George before returning to the ship. Dennis' love for his homeland was evident at every stop. I love spending the day with someone who is native to the island. You see so many things that in a different way. We can't wait to return and see the rest of the island with Dennis!
Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort at Eagle Beach
We took a taxi ($3 per person each way) to the beach at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort. The resort is across the street from the beach so we asked the taxi driver to drop us off on the beach across from the resort. This is part of Eagle Beach. The beaches on Aruba are all public and there were several vendors renting lounge chairs ($10 each for the day) here along with water sports activities. The palapas on this beach are reserved for guests of the resort. We pulled our lounge chairs under a great stretch of palm trees and enjoyed shade all day. We arrived just before 10:00 AM and were able to secure the last shade trees available. The beach was crowded but not as crowded as Palm.
The only restaurant on this long stretch of beach was a short walk from our chair. Food was good with typical beach prices ($8.50 for a burger). The beach is great for long walks, relaxing and people watching. This was a great way to spend the day on Aruba.
We woke to heavy rain and after conferring with everyone decided to skip the beach we planned to visit. When the rain subsided, we walked through the nice shopping area at the new pier we were docked at and then walked over to the older port area where we walked across the bridge into town. We walked around for an hour or so then headed back to the ship. It rained off and on all day but it was still pleasant. This is such a pretty spot to sail into and out of.
CRUISE PHOTO ALBUM
You can view my photos on my Shutterfly website. Click here for the website and then click PHOTOS & VIDEOS:
In closing, here are some of our best things from the cruise and some that need improvements
• Cabin Attendant - Doris from Honduras
• Capt Club Host - Graeme
• Asst. Maitre 'd - Luciana
• Dining Room Staff - Garry & Serge
• Bar & al Bacio Staff - Irina, Daniela
• Tuscan Grille
• The Land of Make Believe Production Show
• Full Tilt A cappella Group
• Iced towels on hot sea days
• Smoking on the aft deck
• Cleaning of the T-pool in the solarium
• Cleaning the aft deck of shoot every now and then
• Disembarkation - 8 ships in port and we were in the back 80. No cabs,
few shuttles, etc.
CONSTELLATION VS S-CLASS SHIPS: A COMPARISON
• No smoking on the outdoor seating buffet area
• Food stations in buffet area
• Wireless internet throughout the ship
• Larger cabin bathrooms
• Beautiful veranda furniture
• Prettier pool areas but no T-Pool
• All pool chairs padded
• Comedy club
• Restroom auto-open doors
Constellation (M-class ships)
• Smoking permitted on half of the outdoor buffet deck meaning the entire area smells of smoke
• In-line buffet area (very, very slow)
• Wireless service in limited to several lounge areas only
• Much smaller cabin bathrooms
• Old, strap-type veranda furniture
• T-Pool (but badly in need of a good cleaning)
• Only the chairs at the pool are padded; all others are strap-type