I know that people sail for as many reasons as there are ships and cruise lines. They have been reviewed extensively on excellent websites like this one, so there's no need for me to repeat them. Your budget, the time of year, the size of ship, the length of cruise, the location of your cabin, your destination and the reputation of the cruise line all factor in to how and where you will choose to spend your vacation dollars.
So with that preface I am pleased to sing the praises of Celebrity's Constellation, a ship I have sailed on five times. A sixth two-week cruise is planned for January 2012.
The Constellation is the newest of Celebrity's Millennium class, and with about 2,000 passengers is considered a "small large" ship in today's market. The four Millennium-class ships, including the Constellation, are smaller than Celebrity's newer Solstice-class ships, which carry close to 3,000 passengers. Even the Solstice-class ships are dwarfed by some of the leviathans being launched by the competition at Royal Caribbean, NCL and Princess. But as we hear throughout life, size does matter and bigger does not always mean better. It really depends what you're looking for in your vacation.
The larger ships offer more activities and are more crowded and noisy. For example, if you're going away for a week with your kids and are looking to take the kind of busy vacation where you'll need another vacation to relax as soon as you return home, the larger ships are for you. I remember taking those vacations to Disney World with my kids when they were younger. We were constantly on the go and returned home exhausted, but we all had a great time and the delight we gave our kids is a memory we cherish. We hope to create new and similar memories on vacations with our grandkids.
But our cruises on board the Constellation have just been my wife and I, joined by good friends our age from Florida we had met on that very ship. Another lovely couple from as far away as Scotland we had also met on board have joined us for our last two cruises. One of the great pleasures of cruising is to meet people from all walks of life. While many acquaintances on board, though pleasant and friendly are passing and fleeting, others are lasting. One friend I still stay in touch with from a 1983 Holland America cruise my wife and I took to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary; several others from more recent cruises over the years are on my e-mail list and we "speak" constantly.
Last year the Constellation, which first set sail in 2002, underwent extensive renovations; the three remaining Millennium-class ships are likewise scheduled for similar facelifts. The cabins were re-done and new shipboard venues have been added. You can find them featured on Celebrity's website. A few new "specialty" restaurants were added, and our beloved Martini Bar was relocated from deck 5 aft to deck 4 mid-ship around the majestic atrium, trading its former intimacy for a vibrant activity. All in all, it's a beautiful ship, but so are most of the ships in the mass cruise market, so let me share with you why I think Celebrity is extraordinary.
This first reason may seem odd to some, but for those of you who find smoking both noxious and obnoxious, Celebrity's non-smoking policy is the most aggressive in the industry. Most cruise lines ban smoking in the restaurants and cabins, but I believe that Celebrity is the only cruise line in the mass market to ban smoking on the cabin balconies and in the casinos. Years ago, before the ban, I was bothered on my balcony by smoking on an adjacent balcony. So after the cruise, I (and I imagine, other like-minded passengers) wrote a blistering letter to Celebrity complaining that I paid extra for a balcony cabin I couldn't enjoy. Guess what: Celebrity listened. In addition, my wife likes to gamble in the casino and I like to watch her, but the smoke in the casino was too thick to tolerate, so guess what again? The casinos on board Celebrity's ships, like the cabin balconies, are now also smoke-free. For passengers like me, a smoke-free atmosphere can make or break a vacation, because, even excluding the all-important health concerns, I can't enjoy myself if I can't breathe in comfort. So Celebrity has earned my business for that reason alone.
But there are other reasons to consider. In the highly subjective area of cruise entertainment, on our most recent Constellation sailing my wife never missed a show in the theater (although I did), and while Perry Grant, the flamboyant cabaret singer, is not my cup of tea, he is a popular institution on board the Constellation and I have known passengers to choose this ship just because he performs nightly in Michael's Club.
Furthermore, in my experience in the mass cruise market, Celebrity offers the finest cuisine and service for the money. I have found the food in the magnificent dining room so good (a few years ago Celebrity changed chefs and menus) that eating in the for-fee specialty restaurants seemed superfluous (although I admit that the "show" of superlative service and individual attention surpassing even the dining room in those specialty restaurants makes for a memorable evening). As for the staff, from the customer service folks at the front desk to the waiters and cabin stewards you meet and greet each day, it's hard to imagine more personable or solicitous people, who all work hard and long hours, week after week, cruise after cruise, for the sole purpose to make our vacations special. Unlike most of us in our jobs, they are never entitled to have a "bad" day, be in a bad mood or have the proverbial headache, which should make us appreciate their exceptional service all the more.
So in closing, consider this brief anecdote from our January 2011 cruise which best sums up why I sail Celebrity: Sunday was our first full day at sea after our sailaway late Saturday afternoon. I'm an early riser and was up on a very quiet and peaceful pool deck at about 7:30 a.m. with a nice cup of coffee and my book. My wife usually joins me for breakfast later. Anyway, a pool deck hand, who since our Constellation cruise the year before had seen literally tens of thousands of passengers come and go, walks by me and without stopping or missing a beat, shoots me a big smile and says: "Welcome back."