This was our fourth cruise in total, all with Celebrity. We've both previously been only on Solstice Class ships (Solstice twice and Equinox once). We had high expectations for this ship -- especially since it was marketed as being "solsticized." In this review, I promise I will try my best to be honest and just give the plain facts of my experience.
We arrived at the port at approximately 1:30pm and we noticed there was a sign that said the ship had delayed boarding. We got a call from friends that we were sailing with at around 12:30pm to let us know they were already on board the ship. After about having waiting in line approximately 45 minutes to go through security, we were on board the Constellation. At the time of boarding, Celebrity staff were handing out letters regarding Norovirus on the ship, and how it would affect the ship's operations.
As we got on the ship, every 20 minutes they were announcing over the PA system that the staterooms were not ready. We decided to go for lunch in the buffet while we waited. It took quite a while to get some food at the buffet since it was jammed in there with people and all of their carry-on luggage, but we managed to get a small bite to eat.
At around 3pm, they made a final announcement that all the staterooms were ready and we proceeded to our room to familiarize ourselves with our new home at sea for the next two weeks.
We were in stateroom #9173, which is on the 9th deck, roughly in the middle of the ship, but a bit towards the back. We chose this room specifically because we enjoying being only one floor down from the pool and buffet (it's easy to walk up and down the stairs), but also we noticed the angle of the ship's construction afforded us an extra few square feet of space on our balcony. The extra space on the balcony was quite nice to have, however, I imagine most balconies afford enough space for two people to sit comfortably anyway.
Inside the room, we had a queen bed, with two night tables. Each night table has a lamp hard-wired into the table with an on/off switch. There was also a full closet, lots of drawers, desk, a fridge, couch (really only big enough for one person) and a small glass coffee table.
In the washroom, there was a full shower, but unlike the solstice class ships, there was a shower curtain instead of a sliding door. The space in the shower was ample, but the rest of the bathroom was rather small. Only one person at a time could make use of the bathroom, however, not a big deal. Most of the storage in the bathroom was under the sink, not like a medicine cabinet next to the sink, as found on the Solstice Class ships. One huge drawback I found in the washroom as compared to the Solstice Class ships is the fact the ventilation in the washroom was nonexistent. Once you would turn on the hot water in either the shower or the sink, the whole bathroom would steam up in seconds, and it would turn into a sauna. The only way to get rid of the steam was to open the bathroom door -- but that would inevitably heat up the rest of the stateroom. I remember in the Solstice and Equinox, there was an amazing suction vent in the shower that would suck up the steam as you were in there, so the mirrors wouldn't fog. I found the steam issue to be a bit of an inconvenience.
One of the biggest issues I found with the stateroom was noise from the floor above us. Our stateroom was located directly underneath the buffet restaurant, and you would hear noise at all hours of the night from what I assume was the staff preparing foods. Often things would fall on the floor, or you would hear the sounds of carts rolling. It wasn't a huge issue, but would make me re-think getting a stateroom under a restaurant again.
Food and Restaurants
Most mornings and afternoons we had breakfast in the Seaside Cafe, the main buffet restaurant on deck 10. The food was generally very good, with lots of options all through the day. During the first week of the cruise, the staff would plate your food for you in order to not contaminate utensils with Norovirus. This made for large line-ups at peak periods, but I understand the reason why. What got me rather puzzled was when the buffet did resort to self-service, the line-ups were still lengthy. I also think that the staff at the sandwich making station at the back of the buffet require more training. Each day they would have a sign saying "Today's special sandwich is..." One time this was a club sandwich, which I asked them to prepare for me. After putting in the Turkey, the server asked me what else. I literally had to explain to him what went into a club sandwich. Obviously if he didn't know, that's okay, but they shouldn't list a specific sandwich as being the special for the day if they don't know how to make it. One of the best parts about the buffet was the Sushi they offered at 5:30pm every afternoon. I only would eat the vegetarian sushi as I'm allergic to fish, but my friends told me all the sushi was excellent.
In addition to the buffet, outside on the deck of the pool was a grill with hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. I ate here a few times -- and was able to order a turkey burger. They were absolutely delicious, although they are made on request, so take about 10-15 minutes to prepare. I would usually only go to the grill in the mid-afternoon when there was no line-up otherwise at lunchtime there could easily be 30 people standing in line.
Each evening we ate at the late dinner seating at 8:30pm in the San Marco Restaurant, which is the main dining room on Deck 4 and 5 at the back of the ship. We had friends with us on the ship, so the four of us always ate together. On the first night, we went to our assigned table, which strangely, was a table for 10. It was rather uncomfortable eating at such a table with no one else there. Also, we found the wait staff at this table to be terrible. We asked the Ma'tre D to change our table, and the following night we were placed at table #422 which was a table for 6, but closer to the centre of the dining room on deck #4. Even though there were two empty place settings at the table, this proved to be wonderful since we met some lovely people on the ship and were able to invite them to sit at our table. Our waiter Sanjeev was absolutely fantastic, and the food -- every single meal was superb. This was the best food I had ever eaten on a cruise ship before. I'm not sure if the size of the ship (being smaller than a solstice ship on the Constellation) had anything to do with it, but again, the food was excellent.
We also ate twice at the Tuscan Grill, and once at Ocean Liners -- the two speciality restaurants on the ship. They were both well worth the money and the food, absolutely wonderful. The service in the specialty restaurants is a few notches above what you would get in the main dining room.
Other public areas
I really loved the pool area on this ship as opposed to the Solstice Class ships. On the Constellation, all of the swimming pools are salt-water. It really was quite nice, and one of the pools is 6 feet deep, which was great. A few of the days, the pools had to be closed because of the rocking motion of the ship was spilling the pool water onto the deck. I didn't use the indoor pool in the solarium. On the deck of the ship itself, there were ample lounge chairs with cushions on deck 10, however there were no cushions on deck 11 since the winds would make them blow off. I did however ask the pool butlers to find me cushions so I could lay outside on deck 11, and they happily obliged. If you didn't get out to the pool deck early (especially on sea days), it was hard to find a chair near the pool.
All of the lounges in the ship were lovely. I spent most evenings hanging out at the Martini Bar. I love the ice counter they have. Also, the bartenders there were very friendly. The Martini Bar would often get packed at night -- it was quite the happening spot, but I was only there for pre-dinner drinks with my friends.
I used the gym on the ship a number of times -- and it was quite good. Most of the equipment was brand new. The only problem I had with the gym was the treadmills. The treadmills themselves were fantastic, but when you stepped up onto the treadmill, your head was in front of the curtains looking outside towards the front of the ship. You couldn't see the wonderful view of the ocean unless you tilted your body sideways. Just a little thing that bugged me.
The shopping area on the ship called The Emporium was nice -- but small. They had a good selection of items to buy (watches, jewellery, clothing, cosmetics, etc), but I didn't buy anything. Even at duty-free prices, I still found most items quite expensive. Besides, I don't go on vacation to shop -- I was there to relax.
On this vacation, we visited Aruba, Curacao, Grenada, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Martin and St. Thomas. Most of these islands I had visited before on my own, however, the only shore excursion we really did was in St. Lucia.
Having been on 4 cruises now, I have learned that you should never, EVER, buy a shore excursion through the cruise line. I think they are the biggest rip-offs. I've never been happy when I do it with the ship. I realize this isn't for everyone, but it's much better to do things on your own. In advance of going on this vacation, I booked a private excursion in St. Lucia with Spencer Tours (read many reviews on Cruise Critic). When we got off the ship, they had a sign with their name on it, and they literally walked us across the parking lot towards a small speed boat. We took about a 45-minute speedboat ride to the Pitons where they had a gorgeous black sand beach (the island is volcanic), and some of the best snorkelling I've ever done in my life. They provided a lunch on the beach, unlimited drinks (alcoholic, water, and soda). We were at the beach for about 4 hours and then made our way back towards the cruise ship. On the way back we stopped at a bat cave right on the water and then at a small fishing village. This was a great excursion. We were back at the ship by 3pm -- plenty of time for our 4:30pm departure. The entire excursion was $80US per person. Funny enough, while we were on the beach, a large ship docked with about 40 passengers who got off and were given snorkel equipment, etc. We found out most of the people from that ship were from the Constellation who paid almost $50 for the boat ride and snorkel equipment. Their excursion didn't include lunch or any drinks, and only lasted 3.5 hours. The one I did lasted almost 7 hours and there were only the 4 of us in the group. It was a no-brainer decision.
Most of the other islands were lovely. We only just got off and walked around on most of them. They really push you on the ship to go shopping at all of the stores they suggest (like Diamonds International, etc.), but I wasn't interested in doing any shopping. In Barbados and Aruba, we got off the ship, found taxis to take us to a beach and that was the best thing to do. The taxis were about $10 each way and we stayed at the beach for about 3 hours before returning for lunch on the ship. In Grenada, we bought some spices in the spice market and that was pretty much all of the excitement for shopping we had.
On Board Entertainment
I'm an early riser, so I didn't get the opportunity to see many of the shows in the evening since I was usually in bed by 11pm. Having said that, however, I found one show to be outstanding.
Having read many reviews of the Constellation on Cruise Critic prior to our cruise and reading through our role call on the Cruise Critic forum, I heard so much about this piano entertainer on the ship named Perry Grant. I had no idea what his show was about, but I knew I had to see him since so many people on my roll call specifically booked this cruise just to see his show. Well, having sat through most of his shows, I can honestly say I'm now a true Perry fan. What an absolutely hilarious guy. His show was so funny, and so engaging. You have to go into his show with the expectation that he's going to pick on you so you better be willing to laugh at yourself. Without fail, every show I was at, he managed to call me up. I was his little "LLLLLLLoonnny." By the end of the first few days on the ship, people were coming up to me all the time because they had seen me being interviewed during Perry's shows. Without giving too many details, it was a hoot -- and well worth seeing.
As for the other entertainment, I found the reggae band was awful. They had excellent music, but couldn't carry a tune when they would sing. There was also an asian cowboy singer that was excellent when I heard him by the pool. I also enjoyed the Acapella group they had on board.
The cruise director, Rich, was okay. He was very approachable, but I did prefer the other cruise director Drew I had on both the Solstice and Equinox.
Our flight back to Canada was not until 10pm on the day we returned to Fort Lauderdale, so we were one of the last people off the ship -- in group 27. We walked off the ship at around 9:50am and headed towards a huge line-up to get our luggage and then to customs. It took us about 90 minutes from the time we walked off the ship until we got to customs, and then about another 30 minutes to get a taxi outside the terminal. I found it surprising that with 2,000 people leaving the ship almost all at the same time, they only had 4 customs officers to process people. It was a bit crazy, so I think next time I'll opt to be one of the first off so I don't have to wait in line. I'm relatively young (only 31), but I can imagine what the numerous elderly people had to suffer through with standing in a non-air-conditioned terminal for that length of time.
Having only been on Solstice-Class ships in the past, we had certainly expected a standard from Celebrity. Especially since there was much hoopla made about how the Constellation was "Solsticized," we were expecting certain things on the ship.
One of the biggest complaints we had was regarding the internet service. My partner needed to be connected to his office so he could take a two-week vacation. When we purchased the internet package, we were upset to learn that Wi-Fi was only available in certain locations on the ship. On the Solstice and Equinox, Wi-Fi was available everywhere, but on the Constellation you were limited to the pizza station in the buffet restaurant, in the coffee shop on deck 5 and a few other places I can't remember. This made connecting rather inconvenient. We also noticed the internet speed was substantially slower on the Constellation rather than previous ships. My partner was actually quite upset over this issue since you paid by connection time, and it would take a long time to download emails.
We were also a bit upset about the in-room movie situation. On the Solstice-Class ships, Celebrity uses the Apple iTV platform, where you can download on-demand movies for free. On the Constellation, however, they had on-demand movies, but they would charge $9.95 for each movie. It seemed a bit crazy to me to not offer them for free. We were told this was because the electronics of the ship haven't been updated to what's on the other ships, and there was nothing they could do. I found with this and the Internet issue a bit of a false advertising by saying they "Solsticized" the ship. It seems to me the only so-called Solsticizing they did was add restaurants and things that they could charge you money for.
Finally, my other biggest complaint had to do with the drink packages. We both got the soda package, which we paid for in advance. It used to be that Celebrity would give out a thermal container for your cold drinks when you ordered a drink package. This would allow your drink to stay cool on the ship. It also would allow you to just take the container to the bar and they would fill it up without having to show your Sea Pass card. This is no longer the case. They don't give you the container, and each and every single time you want a drink, they have to swipe your card. It really sucked that when you went for a coke, they would pour a can into a cup with ice, but it would be so hot outside, the drink would get watered down, and usually when sitting at the chair with the drink on the floor it would inevitably get knocked over. This really showed me that Celebrity was starting to cheap out on a number of things.
Here are just a few more observations I made:
-No more cold towels to wipe your face when you come back from being on shore.
-Few bar staff taking drink orders when sitting at the pool. No one would ever come around.
-Not enough staff at bars during peak hours. The waiting times were far too long.
-The air conditioning in our stateroom didn't work, and it took three times for us to request to have someone fix it. They finally did on our 3rd day of the cruise.
I told my partner that we should talk to someone in management on the ship with the few issues we had before the cruise ends. On the fifth day of the cruise, we had a meeting with Jann Ramos, the Guest Relations Manager. We told her about the issues we were having, and she agreed with our assessment of the ship. It's not to say we were unhappy, but we were disappointed that the Constellation did not live up to our expectations that were set from having sailed on Solstice-Class ships before. In order to make things right, Jann offered to pay the cover charge for both of us at the Ocean Liners speciality restaurant. It was totally unnecessary (and we weren't asking for anything), but a very nice gesture. Also, the next day when we returned from our day, there was a bottle of Champagne and a plate of chocolate covered strawberries in our stateroom from Jann. It was very nice of her. Every time we saw Jann, she always asked how things were, and was wonderful to talk to. We really appreciated her going above what she had to do to please her guests. Kudos to her.
With the few issues we had, it was still a very lovely vacation. The weather, for the most part, was fantastic. We even put a deposit down on a future cruise with Celebrity for next Winter. I'll definitely come back to Celebrity, however, I now know the big differences between the new ships and the older ones. I'll only sail on the newest ships.