A friend and I took the Holy Land Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation that boarded in Istanbul on November 6, 2011 and disembarked in Barcelona on November 20, 2011.
Generally speaking, we found the condition of the ship and our cabin to be quite acceptable. We also met a host of interesting people, had many good times and made several new friends. Further, we found the destinations visited to be generally enjoyable and memorable. The possible exceptions were Athens, Greece and Marmaris, Turkey -â€“ the former too big, chaotic and dirty and the latter too nondescript and lacking in historic consequence -â€“ which were the questionable destinations that Celebrity selected to replace Alexandria on the original itinerary (which arguably they should never have dropped in the first place).
The biggest problem with the cruise was the outbreak of the norovirus on board the Constellation and the diminished cruise experience that resulted.
First, it appeared that the severity of the outbreak was routinely and intentionally understated and minimized by all senior employees of Celebrity Cruises aboard the Constellation. However, for those on board, it became quickly clear that far more passengers were affected by the virus than Celebrity personnel would have us believe. This lack of transparency, in and of itself, constituted serious neglect on the part of Celebrity Cruises, especially when one considers the number of elderly people that were aboard.
Second, the presence of the norovirus on board led to a host of decisions by Celebrity Cruises that diminished the overall experience: 1) the closure of various facilities, such as the library, secondary service stations, certain bars, etc.; 2) the removal of various articles such as salt and pepper shakers in the restaurants or throw cushions and glasses in the staterooms; 3) the refusal to allow people to serve themselves in the buffet restaurant -â€“ which offered remarkably bland and lukewarm food -â€“ leading to intolerable and irritating delays in getting even a simple cup of coffee; 4) the obsessive-compulsive tendency to virtually douse passengers in hand sanitizer; and 5) the requirement for front line staff to do double- or triple-duty to help keep the ship clean which left them clearly tired and eroded their ability to provide top-notch service. To name a few.
Added to this was the disagreeable and increasing tendency by Celebrity Cruises to charge for virtually anything and everything. Telephone and internet charges were exorbitant, as were the prices associated with the annoying photo-taking racket that every cruise line engages in, not to mention the extra-charge alternative restaurants that are popping up on cruise ships everywhere. One can add to this the inflated prices for shore excursions and forced shopping stops at overpriced, Celebrity-sanctioned stores. Even more irritating were the little things, such as applying a fee to mail stamped post cards, charging for a simple soda on board or not providing free bottled water to persons leaving the ship to explore independently or go on ship-booked excursions. Celebrity Cruises is clearly taking nickel-and-diming to an unacceptable extreme, especially for a supposedly upscale cruise line.
All of this made for an overall experience was underwhelming and disappointing, especially for a supposedly 5 star cruise line that markets itself as being a cut above its mainstream competitors. As such, I and my friend would be hard-pressed to recommend Celebrity Cruises to any friends or family, and we would be disinclined to book another Celebrity voyage in the future. Indeed, we believe that the line should financially compensate every passenger in some fashion for a cruise that, both because of and apart from the norovirus outbreak, manifestly failed to live up to the quality and expectations promoted by Celebrity Cruises.