We were interested in this cruise because it sailed so far north and because it had many days at sea (every other day), which are the ones we enjoy the most. In summer we try to escape from the heat, and look for cold and long days.
In this cruise we were above the Arctic Circle for four nights with midnight sun (notice that as official time is advanced two hours for summer savings, to see the real midnight sun one should look for it at 2 am). With so many hours of light it's difficult to tell what time of the day really is, so our sleeping patterns got a bit distorted.
Best highlights of our cruise were hikes in Spitsbergen and in Lofoten, dinners in the main restaurant San Marco, the quiet area with the heated indoor pool, and the Perry Grant experience.
And of course, as in any cruise we enjoyed the always changing colors, lights, and shades of sea and sky.
There are two issues that need to be corrected in Celebrity Constellation: one is buffet restaurant procedures (extended timetables, more self service and less queues, staff diligence), and the other one is to shrink smoker areas (it is a must to have a smoke free open air bar at the stern of the ship).
Transfer from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam cruise port is a piece of cake, fast and cheap: approximately 8 euros a head for train to Central Station, and approximately 7 euros for taxi from Central Station to cruise dock.
Embarkation in Amsterdam was very quick and smooth. Just 20 minutes after calling our group, we got the sea pass card and already we were onto the boat.
Our cabin with balcony was in deck 8, front, port side (better than unlucky crowd in deck 9, which are shadowed by protruding galleries from pool in deck 10). We wanted a calm and quiet cabin in a high deck, to the front of the boat away from the rumbling of the engines, we don't mind to walk all the ship long went to the eateries. We prefer to have the indoor pool and gym just two decks above us.
The bed is queen size and very comfortable. The wardrobe, six drawers, plus both bedside tables with two drawers made enough storage space for us. The tiny sofa was too small for us to sit there together (and we are small people, American size XS).
The cabin has individual control air conditioning, digital combination safebox, flat screen TV (about 28 inches), two European type plug with 220 v AC, and two American style plug with flat pins and 110 v AC, so you will not need a plug adapter.
The balcony is big enough for two chairs and a tiny table, but it could have fit tight two small hammocks as well. Balconies are separated by translucent glasses, so there is not complete privacy (just in case you like to venture out naked when in high sea).
The bathroom is small but it has everything needed. The shower closes with a plastic drape curtain, and it has optimal water pressure. All guests receive a bathrobe on this ship, no matter the cabin category.
Cleaning and housekeeping was effective, but not as diligent and attentive as in other cruises we have been. We received the impression that there was a shortage of staff to check more often and tidy up room, toilets, etc. They only checked room twice a day (morning and bedtime), and sometimes we had the room ready as late as noon.
Compared to other cruises, we missed towel folding at bedtime.
We had almost all dinners in the San Marco main restaurant, with all our congratulations for their accurate and fast service and the excellent quality and presentation of dishes.
For me, the most memorable plate was ribs of lamb with crust, served the second night of the cruise.
A pleasant surprise was the always available "Catalan cream" dessert, which they insist in naming "creme brulee", though they do not always manage to burn it regularly enough.
We really appreciate that maitres d' managed to get us a better placed table for two by a window, in the restaurant lower deck, away from the corridor.
We took advantage of the free room service for delivering of coffee and orange juice in the early morning, and it worked very well and on time.
Sometimes we had breakfast or lunch in the Aquaspa Cafe bar by the indoor pool.
It provided excellent healthy food, but we found a pity its too limited opening times.
For breakfast and lunch we resorted most to the Seaside Cafe buffet restaurant, at the aft of the ship. Food was OK, but service was a bit chaotic.
We received here, as well, the impression that there was a shortage of staff emptying and cleaning tables already left free. It was not unusual to see people going around several times carrying their trays looking for a free and clean table.
The best thing in the buffet were the many types of bread and pastries.
Also, we liked that all evenings there was the Indian style corner available with spiced rice, lentil and curry stews, korma chicken, eggplant pakoras, papadams, etc.
We consider that some missing items to improve should be more variety of cheese (hard types), quality olives, and true yogurt.
There were other issues that could be improved in the buffet service:
Slow service: it is a nuisance to have to queue to be served by a waiter for many plates, we missed more chances to help oneself food
Timetables: times are too tight, buffet should extend lunch time later than 3 pm, in special for days at sea, pizza is not enough.
Information: it would be easy to put explicit notices on what each plate contains, without need to ask every time.
And an extra hint for the buffet: china dishes are too heavy, especially if most of expected customers are aged people.
Among the free drinks, there are water, lemonade, orange juice (only breakfast), tea (many types), and coffee (watered American style).
Espresso coffee, cola and soda, and alcoholic drinks are always charged, as advertised.
Wine prices are quite expensive. We would have liked to be able to scan the wine list on the cabin TV. We missed more Spanish wines on the wine list.
Some wine hints: do avoid a terrible semi-dry prosecco by the name "Fantinel Friuli".
We found OK a sparkling brut by the name "Ferrari", and the red cabernet "Kendall Jackson", and very good the white chardonay wine "Nickel & Nickel" from California, that we discovered thanks to our always smiling sommelier Alexandra from Makedonija.
The top entertainer on board was of course Perry Grant, every evening Michael's Club was packed full for him. He is the jewel showman that Celebrity Constellation cannot loose.
Shows at the theater were pretty typical with no news proposals, choreographies were always the same, a pity for dancers and singers, who could do better in other productions. Choreographies seemed quite messy, lots of disordered kicking around. Maybe it has to do something with too many people trying not to collide in the not so big stage, but then it is the choreographer's work to adjust the show to the space constraints. Life music and singers were quite good, but music were so mainstream again.
The cappella quartet Lemon Squeezy are impressive.
There were also a good couple of acrobats, and a freakish pickpocket.
We had chosen a cruise looking for fresh air and quietness at sea, we felt there are too many smoking areas in the ship, and sometimes music is too loud in some public areas at untimely times. Both issues prevented us from enjoying open air seaside bar at the stern of the ship.
Luckily we had the quiet zone, with no music at all, at the front of the ship, with the excellent indoor pool with heated salty water.
It was a bit annoying that in the indoor pool area there were some old people that reserved hammocks and then disappeared for hours. After a few days we started to behave more assertively and removed unknown owner items with the assistance from the pool steward.
The sauna looking to the sea is excellent to disconnect and relax. The "Persian Gardens" space is way expensive as it is (sauna, steam bath, several kinds of showers, and a relaxing cool tepidarium), it should be cheaper or include some massages.
We ventured sometimes into the outdoor pools to swim, but temperatures were not helping, and one had to swim energetically there, but contrast with hot whirlpool was comforting afterwards.
Gym is fine, it was never crowded. It has several sorts of fitness machines, static bicycles, treadmills, ellipticals etc.
Among the exercising machines we missed one for abductors and adductors, that is to exercise thighs and buttocks.
As in other ships, we consider the music in the gym to be too loud.
Shops on board had too few Celebrity logo souvenir items available (say, lanyard, mug, magnet, t-shirt), and every day they had almost the same items to sell, so no variety and boring.
Laundry service works ok and fast and returns clothes in not much more than 24 hours.
We missed an auto-laundry, those self-service washing facilities that were so useful in other ships.
The cruise stopped in these 6 ports: Bergen, Leknes in Lofoten, Longyearbyen in Spitsbergen, Honningsvag (North Cape), Alesund, and ended in Amsterdam.
It was shocking for some of our fellow travellers that on board there were new tours available that were not publicized on the web before the cruise.
We were able to change one of the tours just two days before without problems for refunds. We tend to look for active tours.
Information before excursions, time schedules, and alternative options could be improved a lot. Strenuous activities want a previous selection on adequate equipment and ability of participants.
In Bergen we had time to walk around and see the fish market (they try to sell you smoked fish in any language they can) and the wooden houses of the Hansa (all of that looked quite rebuilt for tourists).
Later on the day, we had the guided tour to the Mount Floien. We were a party of about thirty people. We went up with the steep funicular, and had a lazy walk through the misty woods along well marked trails (good footwear needed, tough).
In Lofoten the ship was tendered far away from any town. We had done research before and knew Leknes was not interesting, so we had selected the guided tour for hiking to Nusfjord, and we had no problem to go ashore with the first tenders.
The route of this long hike was very nice through the Lofoten wilderness and you had many occasions to admire plants, birds, and landscapes.
But hiking was quite demanding, including narrow paths by steep cliffs, some rock climbing, descending a vertical ladder and a rope, and you definitely needed to be fit and carry good hiking footwear.
Unfortunately, there was not an adequate selection on the participants before starting, and there we were some eighty people just for two guides, some misinformed people with flat sole leather shoes, and a stout and proud old guy that had to admit panting he was not so tough as he used to be when he was about to fall down a slope half way the hike.
Guides did earn their pays that day, but it all could have ended with some grave incident.
In Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, we had scheduled by email a hike tour with Poli Arctici (http://www.poliarctici.com/) to walk up to the Sarkofagen and cross the glacier over the town. They came to pick us up at the dock with their minivan, and lent us ski poles just in case, that were a good help to cross the ice cap. We enjoyed a lot this tour, our lighthearted guide, a small party with similar pace, and the lucky sunny day we got.
This hike can be done in summer with plain hiking footwear (good hard soles but no need for ankle high mountain boots).
We do recommend this tour company if you happen to wander into this remote land.
After some souvenir shopping in the city center, we took the shuttle bus to return from the city center to the ship.
In Honningsvag we had the king crab experience tour. We were a party of about forty people.
After almost every one had the mandatory photo with one of the poor beasts, we enjoyed the crab meat and some of us helped as many seconds as desired.
This experience is quite interesting but it could improve with some more lively and informative speeches. Staff were some shy youngsters with very good intentions but not much loquacious.
Loads of other people from the ship went to the North Cape, that had not any appeal for us.
In Alesund we had the hiking Sugarlump Mountain tour.
This was a hike up the mountain along well marked trails (good footwear needed, tough).
We got a quite misty day at the top, so no views.
Loads of people from the ship went for the Trolls path, but we did not fancy a long bus ride.
We returned to the ship just in time to ask for tax refund to the Norwegian agent on board.
The disembarkation in Amsterdam was fast and well organized.
From other experiences we know that a tour for the last day is the most undemanding way to get your luggage on place.
We had the canal cruise tour with transfer to Schiphol airport, which was a nice way of ending our too short vacations.
Side note: for starters ask for the daily information paper "Celebrity today" in English.
Spanish version wants to be checked by a native speaker, its translations from English are unintelligible and sometimes funny, or plain wrong when confronted with the English original.
Same goes for speaker announcements in weird Spanish with Saxon accent. (it's odd, as any Spanish speaking individual from the staff could have made those speeches much better).
Summarizing, it was a good experience, as any successful cruise vacation is, but we did not find it worth the price difference from Celebrity to RC, and we missed the special touch from Azamara.