The renovation of public areas and fresh decoration all over the Constellation ship made the ship seem like new. The "Celebrity Life" concept is intended to enhance the passengers' total experience. Cruise Director Sue made it work and was to be found everywhere at all hours. She coordinated activities brilliantly and enchanted the passengers with her no nonsense comments, quick wit and charm.
As you read our limited comments, please bear in mind that we are two active seniors, no kids in tow, early-risers and not night owls.
EMBARKATION: The day we sailed there were a lot of ships in Port Everglades. Allow plenty of time to get through the vehicle check points. We reached the Celebrity terminal about 12:30. All went like clockwork thereafter and we were in our state room 45 minutes later.
THE SHIP: The location of our Veranda Stateroom mid-ships on Vista Deck was ideal, with easy access to both 5th and 10th Deck amenities and the Internet room, Online@Celebrity. We suppose it would have been a very stable location though fortunately we had no rough weather to test that theory. Fine weather meant we got a lot of use out of the Veranda as an extension of the living area. No going back to an Ocean View for us - except perhaps in a cold climate. Our stewardess Jennifer and her assistant Rosario kept our cabin tidy and spotlessly clean at all times, adjusting to daily variations in our schedule.
DINING: At home and abroad (apart from Spain!) we like to dine about 7:30 pm. Fixed Seating Dinner times don't suit us and we went for the Select Dining option in the San Marco. We seldom had to wait for super-organized hostess Mila to find a table and any 5 or 10 minute waits were because we insisted on a table for two served by the same waiters: Keviraj and his assistant Seiland contributed much to the enjoyment of our meals. They quickly learnt not to add croutons to our Caesar salad, to ignore whatever dessert we ordered and serve us the sugar-free one! Expert sommelier Sheldon Pierre ensured a bottle of wine reached us even before the first course and waiter friends from earlier cruises, Rafael and Lloyd, dropped by to say hello. Maitre d' Jan kept a sharp eye on the whole floor, ensured nobody's needs were overlooked and that service was consistently superb. There were always plenty of food choices. I liked to experiment with the daily specials, my companion stuck more to the classics, and neither was disappointed.
Dinner at Ocean Liners specialty restaurant was a pleasant change of pace. We can recommend the Maine lobster bisque, crispy loup de mer, and Grand Marnier soufflE.
New to Constellation is Bistro on Five is a successful Solstice Class ship eaterie with comfortable tables in pleasant surroundings. For a nominal cover charge of $5 per person, charming Dsmitri and his equally charming chef served fresh daily soups, great paninis and yummy crepes, savory or sweet: crepes Grand Marnier were our favorite.
Breakfast and lunch in the San Marco are more relaxed than elbowing your way around the buffet and were enjoyed especially on days at sea when there was no hurry to get ashore. A breakfast of porridge (oatmeal) and kippers set this old Englishman up for the day! When we were pressed for time and ate at the buffet, we found that further aft on the 10th deck the crowds thin out and you can enjoy your poached eggs, waffles or Asian Delights in relative peace.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES: As on prior cruises, we were delighted with the Celebrity Singers & Dancers. Their youth and vitality is a refreshing contrast to us and indeed to most of the audience! Iconic Perry Grant has a devoted following that packs nightly into Michael's Club. He was able to transfer his intimate conversational, singing and piano routine successfully to the theater for the main show one evening. For us, the best of the other Showtime performers was Vocal Entertainer Jack Walker. We really missed a classical music performer as we thought Celebrity was committed to providing at least one classical evening on cruises of ten days or more. The Inspiration Strings were charming but not a substitute for a solo concert performer.
We were excited to find Dr Milos Radakovich, who we met as guest lecturer on the Infinity round Cape Horn, was giving the Beyond the Podium series of lectures on a variety of topics. He's a gem and delivers a lot of fascinating scientific information with a humorous touch. We were disappointed however that there wasn't a second lecturer on the history and politics of the countries on our itinerary, as there was one on prior cruises who regaled us with tales of the Spanish Main.
The second morning on board, Celebrity arranged a cruisecritic coffee party where we met many cc pen-pals in person. This enabled us to keep in touch during the week. Right afterwards about 30 of us went to the Casino for a slot pull: each put in 15 dollars and we split the winnings, which were almost as much as we gambled and we had fun with it.
Captain's Club members were invited to interesting visits up on the navigation bridge with the captain and behind the scenes in the Celebrity Theater.
Perhaps because the cruise dates didn't coincide with school vacation, there were very few children on board and we don't know how pleased they or their parents were with the activities organized for them. Our days tended to end soon after dinner so we are ignorant about the fun later at the bars or on the dance floors.
SHORE EXCURSIONS & SHOPPING:
As we'd toured St Maarten once before, we decided that Philipsburg would be a shopping port. The shops opened at 9:00 and by 11:30 we were back on board. A well-made linen guayabera shirt by Oleg Cassini was a bargain for less than US$50 at Angelo St Maartin on Backstreet Square. Delicious chocolates at The Belgian Chocolate Box can be delivered to your state room at no charge.
Celebrity offered "Shipwreck Cove Snorkel" which was a disappointment due to absence of fish. The young crew was inattentive, set the music loud enough to avoid chat and gave no explanation of the coastline as we passed by en route. At the cove there were few fish around which the diver/ instructor said was usual due to construction close to the water and the aftermath of last year's hurricane: they only went there because it was a convenient distance from the dock!
With other cc members, in advance we hired Lawrence Leston, a fine local guide, to show us the highlights of Antigua firstname.lastname@example.org . He took us all over the island and did a great job explaining what we saw which included Shirley Point with its magnificent views, Nelson's shipyard and Falmouth, the home port of the renowned annual sailboat race.
St Lucia was another island we had visited before when a COSOL tour was ideal for newcomers. This time we joined a small cc group with Spencer Ambrose (www.spencerambrose.com ) on a boat trip down the coast to Jalousie Beach, positioned right below the Pitons, the island's signature peaks that rise hundreds of feet out of the sea. It is one of the most dramatic locations imaginable and we could snorkel in crystal waters off a white-sand beach. A tasty creole lunch was served and there were unlimited drinks available. On the way back, we dipped into various bays including Marigot, the setting where Rex Harrison starred in "Doctor Doolittle", and gawped at the homes of Mick Jagger and Oprah Winfrey. The whole trip was done in a small skiff and was quite a bumpy ride even on our calm day. If you expect the comfort of a larger vessel this isn't for you, but we all enjoyed ourselves.
We had toured Barbados extensively with Cameron Reid two years ago, email@example.com, so this time we ambled on our own into bustling Bridgetown, an easy walk from the dock, and dropped into several markets, the Anglican Cathedral and St Mary's Church, and admired the government buildings.
Spices are a big export product from Grenada where again we pre-booked a cc island tour with a very knowledgeable local, Clement Baptiste (firstname.lastname@example.org) Apart from recounting the history of his island entertainingly as he drove, Clement demonstrated for us how spices are grown and harvested and took us to "Nutmegland Co-operative" for a fascinating tour of the 3-storey nutmeg plant before returning to port via the rain forest. Nutmeg and other spices are packed for customs so you can take them home as interesting gifts.
We had visited Aruba before so simply walked to the attractive shops near the ship where we couldn't turn down friendly Del Sol staff's offer of Color-Change T-shirts and a beach bag. Later we enjoyed Celebrity Tour AR73, De Palm Island Snorkeling Adventure. The island is far from a pristine nature reserve. Expect piped music and water rides for kiddies, but also a nice complimentary buffet of fresh food and unlimited drink. You get to see a lot of fish around the piers and rocks, the water is calm and ideal for small children, and there are plenty of lounge chairs in shade or full sun on the sandy beach.
Curacao's capital Willemstad isn't a UNESCO site for nothing. We were delighted with its quaint Dutch architecture, wandered across to the town center, saw the Caribbean's oldest synagogue and window shopped the floating fish market. If you want Dutch cheese, go to Haanchi Snoa #4.
With no tour planned, one of the yellow-shirted reps circulating just across Queen Emma Bridge booked us on an 11 am tour with Casper Tours (email@example.com). For $15 US each, paid on board, a lively young woman conducted us around the capital with a useful commentary, out to cliffs for some outstanding views, after a visit to the Curacao distillery.
Bonaire's little port is compact and clean, with vendors of original souvenirs at reasonable prices. Celebrity's BO12 "Samur Sail, Beach and Snorkel" tour was great. The Samur is a large Thai junk dating from the 1960s that has sailed the world and the present owner is Swiss German. He and his delightful family conducted the tour competently and helped us into the water when we got to the beach. Of Klein Bonaire Island, we saw zillions of colorful fish and live coral. You must be fit enough to step down from the dock into a zodiac to ride over to the Samur, clamber aboard, repeat this at Klein Bonaire and then again when you get back to the port. No problem for anyone of any age the day we did it, however, even though the sea was choppy.
Passengers we asked supposed that the "Shopping Guide" is primarily an advertising medium for large multinational store chains such as Little Holland, Little Switzerland, Swatch Boutique, Swarovski, Effy Jewelers, and Colombian Emeralds International. These stores are present in almost every Caribbean port and can afford the privilege of being promoted by cruise lines. It would be useful if Celebrity"s shopping experts could also seek out and recommend some local stores selling unusual and original items.
We deplore the mean-spirited (pun intended) policy of confiscating even one bottle of rum purchased on shore. Celebrity did not confiscate local wine purchases when we sailed the Mediterranean last year.
Finally, we were disappointed with the new daily "Map" as it has become almost entirely a shopping guide. On prior cruises the "Port Explorer & Shopping Guide" devoted a couple of pages to useful information about Places of Interest in each port.
DISEMBARKATION: Well organized by group color luggage tags and stress free. We were on shore at 9:30 in plenty of time to meet our driver at 10:00 for the ride home.
IN SUMMARY: New friends, the service and food, fine weather and 8 very different islands to explore, all contributed to a memorable cruise that we recommend unconditionally.