*****14 Night Exotic southern Caribbean Cruise
SHIP: Constellation, Date: April 23-May 7 2011, Master of the Vessel: Captain Athanasios G. Peppas
My name is Kim Bartholomew (Tikigal, for those who know me on Cruise Critics), and I live in the Orlando, Florida area. I have been a professional mystery shopper for 7 years. In my previous career, I was a flight attendant for 20 years, who had spent time both check riding other flight attendants, their service, and served on a quality & service volunteer board which made our cabin service the best in the skies during the 70's thru the 90's. I do not work for Celebrity, and am not compensated for my reviews of my cruises. I do pay particular attention to detail, service, attitude, promptness, cleanliness, staff coordination, and all around appearance of the ship.
EMBARKATION AND DEBARKATION PROCESS: 5 Stars
I traveled with my parents on this trip, and was booked in a Concierge class room in 9122. After arriving in FLL, and parking at the offsite parking, which was very inexpensive, we were immediately shuttled to the ship. Our luggage drop went smoothly, and traveled through a preliminary security. There were lines for Suites, Concierge, Elite, and check in areas by deck numbers as well. Virginia Mckeown was our check in gal. Very sweet, and brand new. She did her best in her brand new job. It may have been a few minutes more, but we didn't mind the wait. We were greeted with champagne, and our rooms were available to drop off our luggage immediately. Captains Club Host: Mr. Graeham Kelleher. He was very personable and cared very much for each of his Captain's club guests during the entire cruise. Words can't express how much we considered him family by the time we left our cruise. Lunch was available at the Ocean Cafe buffet on deck 10. We had plenty of time afterwards to get to know the ship, or take a small nap.
The debarkation process was simple and efficient. Once our number had been called at 8:30 AM, we left in an orderly fashion, picked up our luggage and went thru customs. Although the two lines looked endlessly long, and we were at the end, we were through the whole process in 10 minutes (baggage claim, customs, and out to the real world). We boarded our shuttle for the parking lot, and were on our way home all within an hour.
Concierge Room 9122:5 stars plenty of room to unload 7 suitcases. We had room for the 3 of us to put away everything, hanging and folding. At first you think you need more, but at the end, you have found all the little cubby holes in the room that is for storage. Don't forget the secret storage next to the TV, that is by the aisle way. It contains 3 more shelves. My only complaint here is the Safe is too small for your belongings. Especially in rooms built for 3-4 passengers, and the suites, should contain large safes!
My carpets were clean and not soiled. There was no odor in the room. There was ample closet space to hang or store all of our belongings. We had fresh towels and linens on the bed daily, and my sofa bed (there were 3 in the room) was made for "The Princess and the Pea".
How to make up a comfortable sofa bed if you are the 3rd person in the cabin: 1-2 foam egg crates on top of mattress, followed by 1 blanket, 1 bottom sheet, 1 top sheet, 1 blanket, and 2 pillows. Your dream land waits!!!
Room Service: Awesome! We ordered breakfast out on the balcony every morning with fresh coffee and juice plus tidbits. We usually discussed the program for the day, and decided where we would all meet. Nothing is finer than a beautiful view of the water or your local port in the early morning hours. It was also a fine place to be for many passengers during sunset sail way's, enjoying a fine bottle of wine and Celebrity appetizers.
LAUNDRY SERVICE: 1 Star: To reach Princess Cruise Line Standards for Diamond or Elite, Princess had unlimited dry-cleaning, and laundry service every day. The clothes were hung up, or in dry cleaning bags hung, and articles folded and put on your bed or dresser. Celebrity laundry comes back in a paper bag, with most items like shirts or shorts coming in a smaller size than when they left. Nothing is pressed, unless you have a Captain's Club coupon for 1 free pressing or 1 item dry cleaned for free. I do not understand this process, even though I have mentioned cold water only. If Celebrity truly wanted to be one step up on Princess, this is the department that needs attention.
CLEANLINESS AND HOUSEKEEPING: 5 Stars
Hand sanitizers everywhere, and in constant use, as instructed by the staff before entering many events or for the dining hall. I also noticed them constantly disinfecting the hand railings coming on to the ship from the island. Now, that is attention to detail, my friends!
The restrooms were always spotless, no watermarks on the sinks or mirrors. There were plenty of paper products or towels in each public bathroom. Commodes were consistently sparkling clean, with a nice pleasant smell. Doors and trash cans were always clean and emptied often.
RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES: Grade A
Some people remark that Celebrity doesn't have a lot to do aboard ship, but I found that to be quite the contrary. Activities for free included morning stretch and relax class, trivia, pool aerobics, ping pong tournaments, basketball challenges, line dance classes, napkin folding, golf challenges, a lesson in facial rejuvenation and acupressure, pool games, listening to strolling A Cappella, more trivia, a nightly movie in the cinema, piano music, nightly shows in the Celebrity Theater, a lovely string quartet, dancing in different venues including Cosmos, galley tours, art auction events, shuffleboard tournaments, Zumba classes, cards, and the library if you are really stuck.
For fees there were Mega Slot Tournaments, Chilates and body sculpting classes, champagne cocktail, martini or wine tastings, spa treatments, Texas Hold'em Cash Tournaments, and the Champagne High Tea at Sea. These are just a few, but I know there were more, I just couldn't get to all of them.
FOOD: 5 Stars
The Celebrity Constellation was my 4th cruise for 2011 on Celebrity, with two more booked ahead before year's end, and I am feeling more and more able to compare apples to apples, rather than to oranges. Celebrity is streamlining their food to be comparable with other ships in their fleet, and although some specialty restaurants still do a better job cooking than others, the menu's are basically the same, and have been taught by one executive chef system wide, teaching the other chef's on each ship his dishes, and how he likes them prepared. Each ship's executive chef seems to put a little twist of his own into the menu, and for that I am grateful, or else I would be bored with an identical taste in cuisine on each cruise. For this year at least, I know the menu. I do not know how long the particular head executive chef for Celebrity will be under contract, or know when the menu will be totally replaced. I would like to highlight a few areas of both compliment and concern:
1) The left hand side of the main dining room menu has items that are available every night of the week and seem to have been long standing favorites of past guests. I no longer have to ask the matre de for a standing order of escargot, I can just order it. These include: Chilled jumbo shrimp cocktail, Escargot, antipasti platters, French onion soup, lobster bisque, Caprese and Caesar salad, king salmon, grilled chicken, NY steak, cheesecake, apple pie, and Crème Brule. All outstanding, and being with family, we were able to try each other's dishes without having to order extra.
2) The right hand side of the menu varied so differently each night from beef Carpaccio or frog legs as appetizers to the Chilean sea bass, and quail for dinner. Each dish was expertly prepared and served picture perfect. If you didn't want the sauce, just ask your waiter! I think my waiter was a genie granting my every wish or whim. I was in heaven not having to cook for 11 days, and having gourmet food nightly. Honestly, it was a wonderful experience.
3) I did find that the portions have been downsized, which I found positive. After cruising for the past 20 years, I noticed how much waste there was in food (passengers unable to finish large portions of their meal). It truly was sad to see so much waste. Now, you are always able to double order if you wish of anything, or order it again, or just order a little bit, and in a few minutes, it will arrive from the galley. Happily the waiter will serve you another portion, and never will question your judgment. It is a much better system than discarding plates and plates of food. It has also helped Celebrity keep the costs lower on food on the cruise, thereby keeping my total price down for the cruise fare. My hats off to Celebrity for this. Next time someone says, the portions seemed smaller than last time; think of what I have just stated.
4) Excellent presentation of service. Each waiter we had, no matter where we were on the ship, were skilled in service, presentation, table set up, and clean up. Their mannerisms were consistently friendly and respectful. I was never ignored, like I have been on other cruise lines. The Waite staff was there to please. I never saw any crew member act disrespectful towards a guest.
5) The complimentary appetizers served in the room truly need to be updated. Mostly pieces of bread with a cream cheese of sorts on top or an occasional shrimp. I think humus, and the more modern appetizers would work better in our rooms, with pita crisps, rather than bread, keeping in the "healthy theme" that the ship often touts. So what constitutes healthy appetizers? Maybe some new evaluation would be good in this department, as I have seen the same, year in and year out.
First night: went to the Sunset bar on deck 10 to meet the other Cruise Critics for our own Sail away party we had planned on line. Great fun and a must. You will meet many friends whom you have been on line with for months if you follow the thread for your ship.
Day 2: At sea. Went to the San Marco Restaurant from Easter breakfast, the Reflections Lounge on Deck 11 for our Celebrity hosted Cruise Critic party and gift exchange. Deck 11 has fabulous views from the lounge, and is also the nightly spot for our Captain's Club parties. The ship has scrapbooking on board, and supplies all the goodies, plenty of trivia, and we went to a Senior Officers cocktail party. The Captain made his grand appearance tonight coming down the stairs during late seating for the Captain's Table formal night dinner. It was very impressive to see.
Day 3: Newlywed Not so Newlywed Game in the Reflections Lounge: too funny! Scrapbooking, art auction, movies, trivia, dance shows. So much to see and do.
Antigua: went on a tour of the Island, awesome! We hired a van driver to take 5 of us around. Saw lots of history, and where the British War ships hid, defending the Island. Ate in the specialty restaurant and had Lobster with Cognac and Cream sauce. Fabulous!! Also went to an elegant tea on the ship in the afternoon, with very interesting sandwiches, desserts, and teas!
Loved St. Lucia for its beauty and the water sports, also attended the late night Liar's Club performance given by the ship's officers. A MUST!! Words we don't know and their crazy explanations!
Grenada: Loved the spice Island. Also known for snorkeling and scuba, catamaran trips, and other pirate excursions. If you are shopping: You must go to Dot's Plaza. They have hand painted shirts and batik clothing for sale, spices and coffee's prewraped, and exotic jams, jellies, vanilla, and coffees.
Celebrity Celebrated when Prince William married Kate Middleton. I was so pleased. We woke up at 4:30 A.M., put on our hats and party outfits and went to the Cinema to watch the entire set of events unfold on the big screen. Wow. Celebrity had coffee for us, and pastries, teas, it was so so English!!! And the theatre was quite full!! Later, the ship kept up the celebration with an English theme, we had Beatles trivia, Beatles look alike and sounded alike shows. The wedding was the talk of the day
Show not to Miss: Land of Make Believe. Best set design and costumes out of any performance I have ever seen on board a ship. Like a fairy tale wedding in some parts. Also saw Strike up the Orchestra with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.
Aruba: A beautiful place to make your snorkeling and scuba dreams come true. The water is so so blue and clear. I took a cab to Baby Beach with family and friends to see where my parents used to play back in the 1940's. It was very nostalgic for them. It is very friendly and hospitable.
Curacao: Place to shop for linens, leather coasters, handmade table cloths, jewelry hand painted pictures. Also another good stop for scuba and snorkeling and touring by water. The aqua water is beautiful on the ABC islands.
Bonaire: Took the Mushi Mushi fun snorkeling on the Catamaran. Best trip of the vacation. The snorkeling was incredible. You can also go into town and buy coins from shipwrecks and unusual jewelry.
At sea days: Did a backstage tour of the theatre with Amy Kelleher, the Producer of the Constellation shows. She was so nice, informative, and took the time to answer everyone's questions. We simply loved the tour and the costumes, lighting, and set design presentation she gave us. More trivia, dance lessons and a formal night as well. We did a Galley tour with Adalberto Herrara, Executive Sous Chef from Columbia. Also met with Thomas Stelbrink, Executive chef (Very informative). He has 45 chefs underneath him. Attending the champagne art auction, learned how to fold napkins, and learned the scarf color order of chefs on board. The galley was quite large and I was able to snap a few photos as well. I have done my share of scrapbooking as well.
Unfortunate Medical Incident: A passenger needed blood, and they had to land a helicopter on the helipad, first time I had never seen that happen. Many passengers, as well gave blood to help the elderly gentleman (only if you had a blood bank ID card). It was another reminder to have cruise insurance, as helicopters aren't an inexpensive item to order.
Delightful! I can't say enough good things about this program. The benefits far exceeded my expectations, from complimentary nightly functions in the Elite Lounge (Reflections), to the Seniors Officer's party. Graeme Kelleher our Captain's Club host was outstanding, paying particular attention to every detail, to make the event perfect for all members. Our waiter in the Captains Club lounge was Randy Manding: Awesome, always had our drinks waiting for us when they opened the door at 5:00 PM. He was the Wow factor for us, and put him right into the A Plus category
Dining Room: Mauricio Gironza, Rubinco Traykoski: anticipating our needs, prompt excellent service.
Ocean Liners Specialty Restaurant: Srdjan Prastala, Maitre d'hôtel, very nice, always smiling. Nicola Savic- Chef de rang-so cute- he should be in Movies. Very good at his job! Fernando- Asst. Maitre d'hôtel great service as well, and our hat off to Assistant Waiter in Ocean Liners for Captain's Club breakfast is Moses Catbagan: always smiling, anticipated our every need, excellent service.
Cruise Director: Sue Denning: Funny, witty, a plus for our ship as a legend in the entertainment business. She knew my name by the end of the first day, and always asked about how I was. Loved her scarf tying session!
Hotel Director: Bernhard Stacner any problem, come see him. He solved all the issues aboard ship in the hotel department. Excellent!
Master of the ship: Captain Athanasios G. Peppas If you want to meet this man, he is overwhelmingly friendly, informative, and concerned about you and the company. He has recently married and has a young son. They were a pleasure to meet while on board, although we only saw his family once. The Captain was everywhere, from the bridge, to shows, to greeting us at Cruise Critic and Captain's Club parties, and participating in various fun events with the passengers. After comparing him with captain's on some cruise lines who stay to themselves, I say...Come sail with Celebrity and enjoy the whole experience, and be pampered by a most professional and caring staff!
Truly, Celebrity Cruise Lines did an outstanding job. The friendships made on board on this ship have been unparallel to any other cruise I have been on. These are once in a lifetime experiences, and I consider myself fortunate for the new friends made on board, and for the renewal of friends from past cruises, and for the experiences afforded to us by Celebrity.
I hope you have enjoyed the review. My slideshow of the trip is at Trip Advisory.com. Here is the link to it.