My wife, Sue, and I came to Amsterdam from Maryland on the Tuesday prior to the cruise to enjoy the city. We were met there by our good friends, Gary and Julie, from Kentucky on Wednesday who joined us on the cruise. This was a 35th Anniversary Cruise for us and a Happy Birthday Cruise for Gary. The weather co-operated somewhat. There were clouds and on and off rain on Tuesday and Wednesday with partly cloudy skies on Thursday. We stayed in the museum district not far from the Rijksmuseum at a small Bed and Breakfast (THE COLLECTOR) on De Lairessestraat. For 8 Euros total, the 197 bus from the airport dropped us off about 200 yards from the front door. The #16 Tram line ran right in front of the B&B making access to the center city easy. We had a back room that overlooked a small courtyard complete with chicken coop and chickens that provided fresh eggs in the morning. The owner, Karel, was very friendly and enjoyable to talk to. The room was spacious and clean, the bed was comfortable, and it had its own private bath. Karel recommended a small Dutch Restaurant not far from the B&B (La Falote) and we ended up eating there 2 of the nights. The restaurant owner and cook, Peter, served great Dutch food at a reasonable price. He also entertained us playing American tunes (Home On The Range, etc) on his accordion. While there, we met another couple who live only 30 miles from our home. They were going on the same cruise. They also ate there 2 nights.
Amsterdam was all that we had read about and more. We opted for the Museumkaart and a GVB Pass for the 4 days we were there instead of the iAmsterdam Kaart. We visited the Anne Frank Haus, Van Gogh Museum, Rijksmuseum, Museum Van Loon, Bijbelmuseum and the Royal Palace. We walked and walked all over; then we rode the Tram and repeated this throughout the day. We covered a lot of the city but, unfortunately, could not get into more of the museums as 3 full days did not allow enough time. We took a relaxing 1 hr 15 min canal ride on THE BLUE BOAT in the Canals of Amsterdam. At the end of each day, we were pooped and our dogs were tired and sore as the saying goes, but we enjoyed every minute we were in the city.
We also booked a 4 hour tour on Thursday to see the windmills on the Zaanse Schans as well as the former fishing villages of Volendam and Marken. I had some of the best fried Cod I have ever eaten while in Volendam. There was not enough time spent at any of the 3 places, especially at Marken. We no sooner arrived at Marken, took a short 15 min walk from the boat to the Shoe Makers Building, watched a 5 minute demonstration on how Dutch Wooden Shoes are made, and then we were told we had 10 minutes to shop before the bus left to return to Amsterdam. You had better not be late since three passengers were late (by 10 minutes) getting back to the bus in Zaanse Schans, and it left without them. This tour really should have only gone to the Zaanse Schans and Volendam and skipped Marken in my opinion.
Friday turned up cloudy and rainy, but the Constellation was there to brighten our spirits. Karel called for a cab for the 4 of us and our 9 pieces of luggage (5 large, 4 small) for 11 AM. Twenty minutes and 20 Euros (total) later we were on the dock ready to board. At 12 PM, the boarding process began, and we were on the ship within 15 minutes. This was our 8th cruise, 6 on Royal Caribbean and our second (the Solstice was the first) on Celebrity. Gary and Julie had enjoyed a number of Celebrity cruises and had previously been on the Constellation prior to the Solsticization.
My wife and I had an Oceanview cabin on deck 6 forward. We were completely satisfied with the stateroom as it was oversized compared to the typical cabins due to its location. Our stateroom attendant, Rivon, and his assistant, Anthony, were friendly and did an outstanding job in keeping our stateroom ship shape.
After a quick lunch in the Seaside Cafe and Grill, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and enjoying the ship. We were thoroughly pleased with the Constellation. We visited all of the various public areas and were impressed with how clean they were.
In the evening we made our way to the San Marco Restaurant. WOW is all I can say. We were assigned a table for 8 (Table 402) at the very back of the restaurant overlooking the stern of the ship thru some huge picture windows. We were two tables to the right of the Captains Table. I am not sure how we were lucky enough to be assigned this table, but we were very pleased. Even better were our table mates. Hank and Gail from Alabama and Jay and Aileen from Indiana were friends traveling together as were Gary, Julie, Sue and I. We had such a wonderful time talking with them and sharing life and travel stories. Our Waiter was Marlon Monroe (say that quickly and it may bring an image to you of a certain blond actress from the 50's). However, Marlon is from Nicaragua and is male. He and his assistant waiter were excellent. Also, Petar, the head waiter in our section of the restaurant, stopped by and visited with us each evening wanting to know how things were and how he could help if needed. Again, a member of the Celebrity staff giving excellent service and paying attention to the customer.
As for the food in the restaurant, it was mostly excellent with a few misses here and there. For instance, Gary, Julie and I ordered lamb shank one night. Gary's was fall off the bone tender while Julie and I needed a VERY SHARP knife to cut into the meat. We probably should have returned ours. Gary ordered it a second night later in the cruise and again it was excellent. I also had a Veal Cordon Bleu that was on the tough side. Jay had issues with his steak the first 3 to 4 nights. He wanted medium rare; he was served well done, well done, and rare. But by the end of the cruise, I believe he was on a 3 night win streak of medium rare. However, for myself, other than the nights with the lamb shank and veal, every other main course I had I would rate excellent. The meat dishes were served as I ordered, medium rare. A double order of lobster tail the last Formal Night was cooked to perfection. I had escargot for an appetizer (I think 9 out of the 10 nights) in the San Marco and it was delicious. For dessert I ordered mostly Crème Brule or vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and nuts. One night the menu had a dessert with a cherry sauce so I had my vanilla ice cream topped with it. UMM UMM GOOD.
The 4 of us ate at the Tuscan Grill one evening. Every course was mouth watering. Three of us had filet mignon, and one had veal scaloppini... all cooked to perfection. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The additional expense was worth the great meal and excellent service.
We had lunch in the San Marco Restaurant once. A great meal but VERY SLOW service that caused us to miss a lecture we wanted to see. All other lunches when we ate on the ship were at the Seaside Cafe and Grill. I thought the food was generally good to great with a wide variety of food available. There was a pasta station and meat carving station every day, pizza, various salads, beef, chicken, pork, fish, sushi, fruit, breads, desserts, ice cream and sherbet etc. One day they had what I can only describe as a Salmon Wellington that was delicious. It was a rice center surrounded by salmon and then a bread coating over the salmon baked similar to Beef Wellington. They sliced it just like a Beef Wellington is served. In the evenings the Seaside was open for dinner with again plenty of food to choose from. We did eat there one night for dinner due to a late arrival back from our Berlin Excursion. Late into the evening pizza and desserts were available if your stomach for some unknown reason was still hungry.
The four of us ate most breakfasts in the Aquaspa Cafe on the 10th deck rather than fight the crowds and calories in the Seaside Grill. Light healthy food (ex: fruit, yogurt, cereal, egg white omelets, and tiny rolls) was available. I eat blueberries every morning at home. Each morning a dish with ½ of an orange and a couple of blueberries on top was available. Each morning the young lady, Beth Ramos from Brazil, with a cheerful smile on her face, would greet me and would remember and offer me extra blueberries for my orange dish. That is the type of service that I truly appreciate from the staff.
Julie and Sue had High Tea one afternoon in the Oceanliners Restaurant. As they were escorted in, the room looked beautiful set for tea, and the live music was lovely. The food included yummy finger sandwiches, scones and desserts (as much as you wanted). An extensive selection of teas was available. They did not choose champagne, but it was available at an additional charge up front. Again, the waiters proved to be top notch as well as the food. It was one of their most enjoyable experiences on the ship.
The second Sunday of the cruise was a sea day and Sunday Brunch was served from 10AM to 1 PM in the San Marco. WHAT A FEAST and a beautiful presentation. They had everything and anything: breads, waffles, eggs served any way you could imagine, sausage, bacon, fish, chicken, sushi, pasta, fruit, cereal, desserts, wine, Champaign, Mimosa, Bloody Mary (the drinks were the only things not free). The highlight for me was the Bananas Foster... TO DIE FOR.
One night in the Reflections Nightclub the cooks put on a Dessert Extravaganza from 11PM till Midnight. All the deserts you want to (and should not) eat this late at night. Again, a lovely presentation too. I do not think I need to say any more about this one.
We did not eat in Oceanliners or Bistro on Five or Cafe Al Bacio. I did order a gelato at the Gelateria ($3.00 + Tip) and it was GOOD.
Enough about food (I only gained 5 Lbs). Let's talk entertainment. We tried and enjoyed most everything the ship had to offer in terms of entertainment. In the day time I gave my obligatory $20 to the Bingo Gods not once but twice and once again none of the pots were mine. (Mis)Fortunes Casino was once again a money loser for me. Can someone who actually took home some of the $204,000 that was won in the slots please contact me and let me know your secret? Sue and Julie enjoyed the Scrapbooking sessions held in Michaels Pub. Gary and I enjoyed the lectures that were given. So many things to do and so little time.
In the evenings, Perry Grant was in Michaels Pub with his groupies. I stopped in to listen to see what all the accolades are that he gets. He seems to be a nice gentleman with a good voice. Just not the type of entertainer I would enjoy going back to on a nightly basis.
The acapella group Lemon Squeezy was on this cruise. They are 4 young men from Stockholm and they sang daily in many of the venues. Great voices and great melody. We really enjoyed them and listened to them whenever we had the chance.
All the evening acts that performed in the Celebrity Theater were in my mind excellent. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers put on a couple of nice Broadway type shows. Celia and Julien's Acrobatic show and violinist Greg Scott were amazing. Singer Chris Riggins, a woman singer whose name escapes me and comedian Martin John were all entertaining. We were too worn out from our 1st day St Petersburg sightseeing excursion to go to the Moroshka performance of singers and dancers at 10:30 PM that night but we heard they were outstanding.
The most outstanding entertainer in our opinion was the Cruise Director, Mrs. Sue Denning. What an amazing lady. She was everywhere on the ship, friendly, & helpful. We managed to talk to her at a party she hosted for those of us celebrating Wedding Anniversaries and found out she was married on the same date as Sue and I. She put on a one woman song and comedy show one evening that was as good as or better than any big named entertainer. In the 8 cruises we have been on, she is head and shoulders above any other Cruise Director we have had the fortune to sail with. It is unfortunate for those passengers sailing on the Constellation in the Mediterranean over the next 2 months as she is taking time off to be with her family. We hope she comes back soon as she is a tremendous asset for Celebrity.
If you like to shop, again there were plenty of sales of liquor, watches, amber jewelry, Russian Eggs, Lacquer Boxes, Father Frost Figurines and Matryoshka dolls to occupy your time and empty your wallet.
The President of Faberge was on board and gave a fascinating talk on the history of the company along with his dealings with Theo and Sara Faberge. Captain Frantzis assisted him in opening the first Faberge store at sea on the Constellation. They had for sale not only high end jewelry that the company sells but also a dozen valuable Faberge Eggs (exquisite!!!). These were not cheap ($10,000 to $20,000), and they managed to sell 3 of the Eggs during the cruise.
Last but not least are the ports. We took Celebrity excursions in Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. We took DENRUS Tours in St Petersburg and to Berlin while we did Copenhagen on our own.
The sail into Stockholm thru the islands was awsome. The Stockholm Tour was A DAY IN STOCKHOLM. What a beautiful city! This tour covered all the main sites within the city as well as a visit to the Vasa Museum. Our guide was excellent and this tour was well worth the money spent.
In Helsinki we took the PORVOO & HELSINKI HIGHLIGHTS WITH LUNCH. Again an excellent tour and guide and well worth the money. We stopped at a small 15th Century church in Sipoo. Next was Porvoo, a small town with a few shops to browse in and shop. The lunch was excellent at an old Manor house former distillery just outside of Porvoo. Lastly, we stopped at the Rock Church and then Senate Square in Helsinki. The Rock Church, Senate Square and the Cathedral overlooking the square were for me the highlights of this tour.
In Tallinn we took the MEDIEVAL RAKVERE & TALLINN Tour. Our tour guide was excellent. We first did a walking tour of the upper part of Old Town Tallinn around the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (which was not open at the early hour we were there). I would have liked to have more time here and to see the lower town, but time did not permit it. We then took a 1 ½ hour bus trip to the town of Rakvere to visit the Distillery Museum. Here 4 lucky passengers volunteered to do a tasting of 5 different vodkas. Then we took a 2 minute drive to Medieval Rakvere Castle. This was an enjoyable time with an interesting talk on the history of the castle and town by our guide. We had the option of riding a horse or trying our luck at shooting bows and arrows at targets if desired. We walked along the Castle Ramparts and took in some nice views of the court yard and surrounding countryside. There was a short walk through a darkened passage way in the Castle that was difficult to maneuver due to no lighting and rocky steps you had to navigate (but fun). There were skeletal and other scary figures within the torture chamber that reminded me of Carnival Fright Houses back in the states. An excellent lunch was served in the castle of sauerkraut , potatoes, carrots and melt in your mouth delicious pork.
Our day in Copenhagen started with rain which lasted most of the morning. We did a lot of walking and put our umbrellas to good use. We managed to see all the main attractions within the city (The Little Mermaid, Nyhaven Canal, Kastellet Fortress, Tivoli Gardens, Town Hall Square, Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteque, Christiansborg Castle, Rosenborg Castle and Amalienborg Palace from the exterior). Plus we took a stroll along the main shopping district. The only places we visited on the interior were the main Cathedral down town and a small church near the Kastellet. Two things struck me about Copenhagen. Some sections of the town were filthy with discarded food wrappers and other garbage. I did not expect this. Also, the cost of everything was outrageous, especially food. It seemed that everywhere we stopped to peruse a menu for lunch, the cheapest food item was a hamburger and fries for $20. We decided to take the shuttle bus back to the ship at noon to dry out and eat on the ship before resuming our walking tour in the afternoon (the rain subsided by then). The $12 fee for the shuttle bus from the ship to downtown (one stop) while expensive was well worth the expense as it got us out of the rain and back to the ship for a quick lunch. We also used the bus to get back into town.
In Warnemunde, we opted to take a tour to Berlin with the DENRUS Tour Company as it was less expensive than similar tours run by Celebrity. We had a small group of about 18 people. The 3 hour ride to and from Berlin was tedious. We had a guide on the bus and a guide in Berlin who were both excellent and well informed. The 6 hours in Berlin did cover all the main highlights in the city. However, there were too many Kodak Moments that were missed because there was not enough time to stop for pictures. Also the bus windows were tinted so any photo's we took within the bus have a greenish shading to them. The stops we made were at the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, a Section of the Berlin Wall along a river, Charlottenburg Palace and the Sony Center for Lunch. It was a great lunch of 4 different bratwursts, sauerkraut, potatoes and beer.
The best part of the trip was the city of St Petersburg. Again we opted for a 2 day tour of the city with DENRUS. We took their ROYAL ST PETERSBURG TOUR and were not disappointed. Our guide was Lana, a trained Concert Pianist who also studied for 3 years to become a tour guide. She was absolutely the BEST. Her knowledge of all the venues we visited and the way she presented the story behind each of them made this trip memorable. Our small group of 12 people and 2 full days of sightseeing along with excellent lunches went too fast. You can read more about the Royal St Petersburg tour on the DENRUS web site.
After 11 fun filled days on the ship, we began 15 hours of hell on the water. Leaving Copenhagen and making our way into the North Sea on the final sea day into Amsterdam, the ship ran into a weather front that made life on board miserable for many (including my poor wife and Julie). Winds of 40 to 50 knots coupled with seas in my estimation of 10 to 15 foot made the ship rock and roll. Gary and I were fine, but our wives were not. Sue spent the entire time in the cabin near the toilet. The worst part of the storm started in the early afternoon and did not subside until we got to the outer locks into the canals leading to Amsterdam in the early morning hours the next day. My wife was still not feeling well when we docked.
The ship was 3 ½ hours late in docking in Amsterdam and many flights into Amsterdam were cancelled due to this storm. This caused major issues with people having to change flights. We were informed with a telephone call at 7AM that morning by Choice Air (Celebrity's Air Travel Arm) that they rebooked Sue and me. We had a Continental direct flight to the states but now had to travel to Frankfurt on Lufthansa and then get a United Flight from there to the states.
We had bought the transfers from the ship to the airport from Celebrity. Celebrity took our luggage the night before arrival. We got a bus ride to the airport that morning and were supposed to pick up our luggage there. Never again will I do this. The bus ride was fine. At the airport, it was a circus. The luggage arrived in large vans at the same time as or just after the buses arrived. There were one hundred or so passengers looking for their luggage while there were 3 or 4 men that had to off load the luggage onto the curb. People would not stay out of the way of the poor guys trying to unload the luggage. Some had the luggage carts that were getting in the way. Three or four Celebrity personnel were trying to keep people away from the area to no avail. Just a complete zoo. I finally found our luggage after about 45 minutes of searching due to one of our bags arriving in a different van from the other two.
When we got to the Lufthansa ticket counter, they could not ticket us for our flight due to some issues between Choice Air and United not assigning us an eticket change. Plus the flight Choice Air put us on in Amsterdam did not leave enough time to make the connection in Frankfurt with United. This took a an hour to straighten out with me having to run between the Lufthansa Check In Counter in one building and the Continental help desk (United's desk was closed) two buildings over. We finally made our new flights and got home to Maryland at about 11 PM that night in pouring rain.
Even though Choice Air had changed Gary and Julie's flight, they managed to make it on their original flight along with our tablemates Gail and Hank. Unfortunately their flight left late and had a longer flight time due to strong head winds. During the flight an Air Marshal had to handcuff an unruly passenger (might have been drunk) and 4 kids on the flight were unruly and made life miserable for all. Gary and Julie missed their connection to their final destination and the flight they were put on left late so they arrived home over 5 hours late; at 1AM in the morning. Guess you could say they had "36 hours of hell" at the end of their vacation.
Our other tablemates Jay and Aileen had their own adventure getting home. They had not been rescheduled from their flight (the same flight Sue and I were supposed to be on originally, go figure), but they had not been assigned an e-ticket number. So after standing in a long line at Continental, they were directed to go to the Continental help desk, where, eventually they received the coveted e-ticket number. On returning to the Continental check-in they were confronted with an even longer line. But, using good old American initiative, they went to the line for Elite members and when asked if they were Elite members they stated that the lady at the help desk had told them to go there. They received their tickets and proceeded to the gate. The flight was just boarding. Alas because of strong head winds the plane had to stop for refueling in Goosebay, Labrador. This detour caused them to miss their connection in Washington, DC. Instead of arriving in Indy at 5:30 pm, they arrived at 12:30 am, and did not get home until nearly 2:00am.
The great company of our friends and our dinner tablemates as well as the excellent service provided by Celebrity and its crew made this Baltic Cruise an unforgettable vacation despite the few hiccups here and there. An unfortunate experience due to bad weather is just something that cannot be foreseen. There is no better cruise line in our opinion than Celebrity and we look forward to future sailings on their ships.