My wife and I retired at age 49. We have been cruising ever since then and usually make 2 or 3 24+ day getaways a year. We have cruised all lines. In the past 10 years, we have done about 30 cruises, most of which were 12 nights or longer. We generally book our own air on Delta, using miles when possible, as I am almost a double million miler. We stay at Starwood Hotels, as we are Platinum in their rewards program. On this trip, we did back-to-back cruises on the Silhouette (see my review entitled Do It Yourself (DIY) Cruising) and Constellation in September, 2011.
I am legally blind and also travel with a service dog. She is not a seeing-eye dog, but she is still my driver. Guchi is a Chihuahua that has received extensive training to assist me. She normally sits in a front pack and from the way she points her head, I can tell where to go. She also alerts me to the presence of other people and animals in my general vicinity. On this trip, I was also accompanied by a second dog that was in training. This complicated our travels, as I had to carry each dog separately in carry bags, one on each hip.
We stayed in Italy for the 4 days between cruises, and then flew Alitalia from Rome to Istanbul. We took a taxi to the port in Istanbul. Weather delays made what should have been a 2.5 hour sprint into a 12 hour marathon. We arrived at the port very tired, hungry and everyone, including the dogs, needing a bathroom. Security begins in Istanbul when you enter the embarkation facility. The security officials were not aware that anyone would be bringing dogs on the ship, and so we were denied entrance to this facility. THERE WAS NOONE FROM CELEBRITY AT THIS POINT OF ENTRY TO HELP US. So after what seemed like hours, but was probably 5 minutes of trying to explain that Celebrity knew that the dogs were coming, we simply Crashed the gate, ignored what was being shouted at us in Turkish, and walked into the embarkation area. As it was very late in the afternoon, there were no lines and we quickly completed the embarkation process, which included hunting down the Embarkation Officer to give her all of the dogs paperwork. When we reached the ship, we were once again stopped by the ships security, as they were also not aware that dogs would be onboard for this sailing. ALL of us now REALLY had to use the bathroom. Again after what seemed like hours but was only minutes, the security officer got permission for us to board the ship. We were detained twice more trying to board the ship: the next day in Istanbul and 2 days after that in Kusadasi. I do not understand why it took until te fifth day of our 13 day/12 night cruise for the word to finally get out to the security team that my service dogs were allowed to board the ship.
We had booked a balcony guarantee. About a week after booking and making payment in full, Celebrity sent us an email that showed that prices for this cruise had dropped TREMENDOUSLY and now a concierge-class veranda cabin was $550 per person less than we had paid for a standard veranda cabin. Our travel agent was able to get us the better cabin, but could do nothing about the over payment of $1100. We did send a fax to the Celebrity CEO and after several conversations with a member of their Executive Guest Relations Group; we were offered 2 $275 future-cruise credits. As this was better than nothing (what we were told to expect by our travel agent), we accepted this offer. We were assigned a very nice cabin on the Sky Deck. I should point out that cabins on the Sky Deck cannot see the sky, as the overhang from the Lido Deck above it is huge. This did not matter to us, but if you want some sun on your veranda, you should choose a different location.
The ship is medium sized in todays cruise industry, and carries about 2200 passengers. It was recently updated and 2 specialty restaurants were added. We love the solarium and the thalassotherary pool.
After my wife began to read me the menu at dinner the first evening in the dining room, I began to recite it to her, as it was exactly the same menu as the first night on the Silhouette. (I have been legally blind since age 13. I was able to earn a Doctorate in Engineering from M.I.T., because I remember everything that I read or hear one time.) We did not enjoy the offerings on this menu 2 weeks earlier, but we hoped that on a smaller ship that had been sailing for a long time, it would be better. It wasnt!! We checked the menu the second day and it too was exactly the same as the second days menu on the Silhouette. We REALLY did not like this menu and could see the writing on the wall, so we decided to buy the 5-dinner package ($139 each including gratuities) for the specialty restaurants and made reservations for every other night in them.
The Constellation has 2 specialty restaurants Tuscan Grill ($35 per person) and Ocean Liner ($40 per person). They offer the same menus as the Tuscan Grill and Moreno on the Silhouette. They are both excellent and the service and food were wonderful. The price for a single dinner, in my opinion, is high. On other ships that we have sailed on, the specialty restaurants ranged from $5 to $20 per person. The 5-dinner package is a good deal, however. There are also packages that include wine.
Concierge-class cabins offer an expanded room service menu, which looked great. Unfortunately, the breakfast items that were supposed to be hot were not and the items that should be cold were warm. This cruise had only 2 days at sea. As Celebrity now only offers a sit down lunch in the dining room on days at sea, we did not have many opportunities to try the dining room at lunch.
As I am almost blind, I do not do buffets. We were told that there would be help on the buffet, but the only staff that we could find were serving alcoholic drinks or clearing tables and not available to help carry trays, etc. Thus, my wife became the waiter. As a result, we did do room service a lot and ate on our balcony. Our room steward was great, but we felt bad, as he would have to stop whatever he was doing and go to the kitchen to get our food. Celebrity suggests that you order room service on the TV (OOPS!!! DIY#6 which I forgot in my review of the Silhouette), but many items were not listed there. They also allow you to order items from the dinner menu. This is a nice idea, but the menu is not on the TV. You either have to go to where the menu is posted and write down what you want or you can order a menu and one will be brought to your room. You guessed it the room steward then has to first go and get the menu and then go again for your food.
All in all, the food is just not up to the quality it once was when Michel Roux was their Executive Chef.
Because we were traveling with a service dog and a service dog in-training, we did not do any of the ships activities. We did take advantage of the special coffees and cocktails that they offer to Elite members of their Captains Club every morning and afternoon. These gatherings were very nice!! We also did not have children with us.
We found the staff very helpful some WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE HOTEL DIRECTOR. On the second or third day on the Constellation, the Hotel Director introduced himself to us at the afternoon cocktail hour that Celebrity sponsors for the Elite members of the Captains Club. He asked how we were doing and how we liked the cruise so far. I replied Would you like my honest answers or do you just want to hear that everything is great? He replied that he would like to hear my honest opinions and we had about a 15 minute cordial conversation about how I felt service and food quality had declined over the years on Celebrity. He did not disagree, but said that this was the inevitable results of rising food and fuel costs and declining cruise fares. We agreed that Azamara, which we had sailed on twice, was the right fit for us within the RCI fleet. We shook hands at the end of our conversation and he asked for our names and cabin number and gave me one of his cards.
A day or two later, the Constellation stopped in Marmaris, Turkey until midnight. We were told that there would be a fireworks extravaganza that evening with 30 minutes of fireworks. The extravaganza lasted at most 5 minutes. On our way back to the cabin, we ran into the Hotel Director. He asked us how we enjoyed the fireworks, and again, we gave our honest opinion that they had advertised 30 minutes but gave 5, so we were disappointed. He told us that the 30 minutes was the window of opportunity for the fireworks display that they had been given by the port, that this was the first ship that had had such a display at that port, and that hot even Azamara had fireworks. We said that it was nice that the locals made the effort and went off to our cabin.
The next day my wife and I and the dogs spent a long day ashore. Upon returning to the ship, alarms went off when my wife put her seapass in the scanner. The security officer told us to stand aside and made a call. He then gave his phone to my wife and she was told that we had to meet the Hotel Director in his office in a few minutes. She said that we were hot and tired and negotiated a 7 p.m. meeting time. We spent the next few hours getting ready for dinner and wondering why we were being called to the principals office. We could only imagine that he wanted to apologize for the fireworks fiasco and offer us a bottle of wine or something. BOY!! WERE WE WRONG!!!
We met with the Hotel Director and a note taker. The meeting started with the Hotel Director telling us that several passengers had sought him out to complain that we were ruining their vacations, and that we were in violation of Celebrity Cruises Code of Customer Conduct. He continued by telling us that if we were so unhappy on this cruise, we should leave the ship, at our own expense, and that he would gladly see that we were give a partial refund for the days that we missed. You could have knocked us over with a feather. We were shocked!!! We asked for specifics, but were told that was confidential. My wife told the Hotel Director that she found his unsubstantiated accusation and behavior very offensive, and we left the meeting.
We went to dinner in one of the specialty restaurants and a show, but neither of us could remember a thing about either of them when we got back to the cabin. IT WAS CLEAR TO US THAT WE HAD TO LEAVE THE SHIP at a time and place of our choice, rather than being forced to WALK THE PLANK if and when the Hotel Director felt like it.
We did leave the cruise a day after THE MEETING, when we reached a port where this was feasible and returned home. Before leaving, we met with the Staff Captain to register our complaints about the Hotel Director. We have since written to the CEO of Celebrity and were contacted by a different member of Celebrity Cruises Executive Guest Relations Group. After he checked with the Hotel Director, we were told that we were overheard complaining to the Hotel Director by several passengers and they had sought out the Hotel Director to complain that we were ruining their vacation. Also, we were heard by crew making disparaging comments about the Concierge and Hotel Director. Both of which were in violation of their Code of Customer Conduct. They again offered to refund 5 nights of our cruise fare. We had spent over $11,300 on the trip and were not willing to settle for $1300 AND NO APPOLOGY. We were told to take it or leave it and that this was all that they would do. We decided to leave it.
We began a campaign to let other cruiser know what happened to us. I posted a review on Cruise Critic and several other travel-related websites. My wife began a thread on Celebrity Cruises Facebook page. She also began a conversation with the head of the Executive Guest Relations Group. We were told by her that our complaint would be reviewed again by upper upper management.
The result of this second review of our complaint was:
1. WE ARE BANNED FRON ALL ROYAL CARIBEAN CRUISE LINES SHIPS!!!
2. We are barred from making posts on their Facebook page.
3. They have rescinded their $1300 refund offer, and
4. We cannot use the 2 $275 future cruise certificates.
I did express our disappointment to the Hotel Director about how the level of service had declined and how the quality of the food in the dining room had gone down, AND oh by the way, he did not disagree. He simply stated that this was the inevitable result of rising food and fuel costs and declining cruise fares.
I did complain that the concierge never answered when I pushed the concierge button on the phone in my concierge-class stateroom. I later found out that concierge-class staterooms and the concierge are unrelated.
The Facebook discussion did get quite nasty. But none of the nasty comments were made by me or my wife. They were made by the Celebrity zealots who frequent the page.
After this cruise, we decided that we would only go on small luxury ships. The entertainment is better on large ships, but that is about all that is better. If your mindset is to eat as much mediocre food as you can in a short period of time and gain your pound a day, the Constellation is for you. If you want good food and service, like Celebrity used to have in the dining room, be prepared to pay for your meals in the specialty restaurants or look elsewhere!! But if you go on Celebrity, do not express ANY negative opinions, even if asked for your honest opinions by the Hotel Director, if you might be overheard, because the Celebrity Zealots will tattle on you and you too may have to WALK THE PLANK.