Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.
In April 2013, Celebrity Constellation went into drydock for 19 days to complete its "Solsticization", as the line calls it. This included adding 66 cabins and the introduction of 107 AquaClass cabins. Other new features included: verandahs for suites; an upgraded basketball court; craft beer in Michael's Club; and the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, classes on the latest products and technologies, and a retail store and a new meetings and conference space. The ship also has Wi-fi throughout, new color schemes, new carpeting and new upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class; and new sun loungers on the pool decks.
Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.
The other notable addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.
Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.
Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.
Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.
That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)
And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.
Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.