Constellation - Northern Europe: Celebrity Constellation Cruise Review by UKtog

Celebrity Constellation 5
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Constellation - Northern Europe

Sail Date: May 2006
Destination: Baltic Sea
Embarkation: Dover
Saturday Actually, Friday night, our cruise starts with a panic, the boat cannot dock at Dover due to the high winds and we have to go to Harwich. Maybe the one time you wish you had made all your travel plans through X but of course we had not. However, one call to Woodford and excellent service, we can be taken to Harwich by them and it is no problem Well, we could not have had a better trip up to Harwich from Gatwick, it all worked like clockwork and because X had brought their own team up from Dover, the whole boarding process was very smooth indeed. One of my cases was a little late in appearing but it was clear that Wilfred and Menino our butler and stateroom attendants are going to be stars as they deal with this and soon we are reunited with all the luggage. We actually sailed off 2 hours late but it seemed most of the town of Harwich had come to the sea wall  we later discovered the ships diversion to Harwich had been a big item on the local tv and our departure was shown on More air. Oops  I was in my bath robe and had come out of the shower with wet hair to watch so I hope they did not film or deck! First night show, an excellent singer with fender guitar Mario DAndrea  oh dear no 1 CD of the trip has been bought.

Sunday It is clear our butler Wilfred is going to be one of the best we have had. It was his birthday the day before (33rd) and we had brought on board a box of Edinburgh rock for him and he was so happy to get it. He told us he had started as a public areas cleaner with X 12 years previous  real working your way up then! His specialty is Madam, I will make you my special fruit salad for breakfast  we had it this morning and there is no doubting what will be on our menu card every morning from now on. We went on to the CC gathering. Our group had been very active online thanks to Garys hard work. Over 70 at the party and 40 of us doing a two day Red October trip (more about that later) Iris had organized a gift exchange (bring a small gift of your home town/state) and that was a hoot. Off to the mixology class - We had seen Ocho in the Martini bar the night before  he juggles the cocktail shakers and bottles as he is making your cocktails (taught by Sudi). Unfortunately DH is chosen to help and tries to copy. Full credit to the ships laundry for removing the grenadine from his shirt next day. Then on to the first talk by George Jaeger the on board lecturer who was a former senior player in Nato and an expert on Russian and Eastern bloc history and affairs. Suffice it to say, by the last talk of the cruise it was standing room only in the Celebrity Theatre- absolutely fascinating!! Formal dinner tonight - well dressed affair dress code seems to be being observed. Food is good, table mates (4 others from UK and 2 delightful ladies from US) seem to get on well, our only issue is the service. Some chosen words in the ear of the Assistant Maitre D resolved the wine service a few days later, but we never got the level of service we had previously enjoyed from the waiter who never spoke to us other than to take our orders. We had prepaid tips as is often the case for UK guests, so our recourse was in having to give the lowest feedback score to an employee we have ever given in 7 cruises (fair  DH said I should have used poor) at the end of the trip Good show which we had seen before but the staging was different  get the feeling this is the best Celebrity Orchestra we have had (feeling confirmed later) and that Don Fluke I going to be a very competent CD (he was)

Monday Arrive in Oslo and as we came off the ship it started to rain&&&&.and rain&&&&&and rain. However our excursions, though we got wet, were really excellent. We had booked on this Viking Heritage trip which is a flavour of 4 aspects of the culture of Norway. First sport and the Hammenkolmen Ski jump and the view down to Oslo  well we think it was Oslo in the mist; then Arts and the Vigiland Sculpture Park, which was something that surprised us, the statues are all so clever, about life and they all involve naked men and women of all ages and children. We then went on to see three original Viking longships all of which surprised us at the beauty of the carving of dragonheads on them. Our final stop was a Folk Museum where original buildings had been brought from all over Norway and reconstructed including one of only 20 remaining traditional Stave churches  they look like gingerbread houses and you often see them in Christmas pictures. We returned to the ship to dry off and of course as we sailed away the weather started to brighten up. As we only had until 2pm in port, the excursion was the best way to capture the sights of Oslo and we felt it was one of the better value ones we have had. Like all of Scandinavia Norway is expensive!

Evening show was a cracker - Pearl Kauffman who now must be in her late 70s. She was the main pianist and musical director for most Hollywood films from 1960 to 1990 and still does some work there. Her most famous film, and appropriate for this trip - she was the pianist who did Laras theme on Dr Zhivago Pearl did another classical concert next afternoon  which we heard part of before going to the elegant Captains Club tea. Oh and CDs No 2 and 3 have been purchased. By the way, the CC hostess on this tip was Jennifer Pearce from NZ  a really lovely girl, we have sailed with her before She will be on Constellation until September

Tuesday Tuesday was a busy at sea day  busy and lazy at the same time. We were invited to a Senior Officers event in the morning and the Captains afternoon tea later in the day. George Jaeger did his second talk on all the politics of the cold war and you realize how involved he had been in many major aspects of history in the 60s and 70s and had been part of several drafting teams In the evening it was yet another classical extravaganza; Nicola Loud who won UK Young Musician of the Year 8 years ago gave a wonderful violin concert where she played both violin and fiddle styles and yes you have guessed it CD No 4 is in the suite now. We had an early night to prepare ourselves for Stockholm.


Stockholm  whatever you do make sure you are on deck or on your balcony for around 1-2 hours of the sail in and/or sail away. It is as beautiful (or maybe even more beautiful) than the Inside Passage threading through sun lit islands most of whom are inhabited and the houses are so Scandinavian and in some case so very large. It was breezy but the ship is as steady as anything. We are not doing ships tours here and have decided that the new port shuttle charges are not for us, so we stumble on what becomes a good bargain you can get in Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen  the hop on and off shuttle which includes a 1-2 hour narrated trip around town, unlimited use for the day and includes transport back to the ship. Now the maths  Stockholm as an example  ships shuttle $12 each person per return tip; 24 hour hop on pass payable in kroner or Euro is the equivalent of c$16. We stopped at the Vasa museum, 1690 preserved full warship over 7 floors  fascinating and then back to the town for the Changing of the Guard at 12 noon. Be warned, this last for 45 minutes but worth the watch  if only to see the spikey helmet of the soldiers and their strange jogging in time! We returned via the Tourist Info on the pier who are very happy to sell you stamps (even if you have not bought cards there) and mail cards for you, and we find the card got to the UK in 4 days! Another good production number show tonight

Thursday Helsinki  and it is a National Holiday. We are not shoppers so this was no issue for us but it did mean as there was no market to wander around we were not fully occupied. Again we used the hop on buses  discover that we could have bought a slightly cheaper combined ticket in Stockholm for both trips but as we still had our previous days tickets, guide discounts it for us anyway  the yellow and purple bus is getting more popular but no problems getting on. Highlights for us were the rock church and the sibelius monument which were both stops on the bus. At the Monument, the driver stopped or 5-10 mins which meant we could get enough pics and move on rather than have to wait for the next bus - nice touch. Tonight we have a Dulcimer player we have seen before so I skip the show as I need to rest for the St Petes marathon 2 days 


St Petersburg await us and it is a clear blue sky morning. We were on a Red October group and had been invited to the Bar at the Edge of wherever for 07.25. However, Gary our excellent master of ceremonies had suggested e go to the Rendezvous Lounge as that was where the X trips were leaving from. We sat to the side and no one ever challenged us. RO had advised that we should not try and get off before X had got their own Moscow trip off s that had an airport deadline to meet so as soon as they had cleared the lounge we went down to Deck and went ashore completely unchallenged. \lovely welcome from a port side band (very different from when I went in to Russia in 1984!! Helen from RO was waiting for us  we were actually 2 groups; first 20 went on the gold bus (cant recall the guides name) second group (ours) with Helen on the silver (renamed platinum with diamonds) bus. Day one we went around the City sights, into St Peter and Pauls (ahead of the crowds) two pitstops at nice gift shops with clean loos, free coffee and vodka  one was the RO store where we also paid. It is a bit of a queue to pay so suggest if you are a couple, one waits in the queue whilst the other does other things (including first round of shopping selection). After RO we had a good trip around the Yusporovs Palace before going out to Peterhof. Our group had opted to have boxed lunches  they were very basic one pack sandwiches, a whole pack of bland biscuits, some fruit and water but it did have the advantage of saving us time as we ate en route  and as there were parades to celebrate the birthday of St Petersburg on the Saturday and Friday as Helen told us is a bad traffic day it was worth saving time. At Peterhof we walked around and also visited Catherines Block (not the man palace) The advice seems to be if you are going to Catherines palace at Pushkin do not do the main palace at Peterholf as they are similar but no amber at Peterholf. We returned to the ship around 1700 and those of us going on the RO evening boat trip met up at 1845 so it was a quick change round. One thing we were caught up by a goods train and lost 10 minutes on the way out to the boat. Helen advised this can happen a lot and you need to be careful if you are coming back on sailing day to allow time for this sort of thing. I would add at this stage the general level of traffic jams is also high so do not take risks on timing. On the way out we saw a Mr Putin look alike who works on Dock Security  watch out for him he is becoming a bit of a feature RO have started an evening boat trip that includes a folklore show, a very nice dinner and wonderful views up and down the Neva. I would recommend this trip as it is good to see St Petes from a different angle. I you stay on ship, they run open seating dining and show a film (Dr Zhivago in our case) rather than have a show as such.

Saturday There is no restriction when you get off on Day 2  as before you just need your excursion ticket or the letter you have to prove you had a trip booked (day 1 you also need a photocopy of your passport and if you do not bring one the ship does it for you anyway) They give you a little red card and you need to hand that back on your return  very simple! Anyway road works and the street parade made it difficult to get around and we were always under some time pressure today (which did mean a long walk back to the bus as the driver could not get anywhere near the Hermitage  just one of these things) Our main stops were Catherines Palace and the Amber Room  breathtaking, but so is every room we were in, look in the corners, you will see pieces of furniture and porcelain that would be centre stage and key attraction anywhere else. From there we went to Cathedral Church on the Spilled Blood (watch around this area it is where pickpockets are rife, but we were problem free. Helen (who talked for 2 whole days and was an excellent and very friendly guide) had set up a code she would use if she spotted known pocketers Afternoon was spent in the Hermitage, it was crowded but we had a good look around and Helen was excellent at moving others on so we could see things. We paid to see the Gold and Diamond Rooms as part of our trip cost and that extra should not be missed  there are some stunning pieces to see some dating back BC. We noticed the X excursions threading through the Museum. They were large groups and were working on some microphone system with their guide. Table guests said it was OK but as we had suspected slow and impersonal. As their bus had been badly held up in traffic and people could not hop out as we could from our smaller bus, the X tour had quite a curtailed time in the Museum we gathered some were very unhappy. All too soon we said farewell to Helen and her wonderful skilled driver and as the port band serenaded us on board and then played Anchors Aweigh as we left, there was a good welcoming feel about the whole time in St Petersburg and for us, if we come again we would certainly go with RO to other places and maybe have a meal with a family. Nice to catch up with table mates and hear their tales of the last two days. We went to the Cirque show tonight. To be honest, it did nothing for us at all but then we are not sure what it is supposed to be about. It seemed to revolve around a man in a bathing costume and flippers wandering around the audience for most of the time  perhaps we were missing the point.

Sunday After all our crowds in Russia what a gem Tallinn is. Free X shuttle this time and a lovely medieval town. We did not do an X trip but went to the Tourist Info (on street at top left of the square) and hired an excellent walking hand held audio guide and map for 200 kroons for 4 hours (c$6) The walk was at our own pace so we stopped towards the end in the Town Hall square and enjoyed a lovely cold beer before returning to ship for a Formal night and another good production show.

Monday At sea day so the feet can at last recover! Usual range of talks etc and another formal tea. One thing, they open a Russian Bazaar and everyone goes mad! If you want to avoid the crowds go back later in the day or even a few days later it is unlikely they will have run out of everything. The prices wee comparable with the stores in Russia (cant comment on the flea markets as we were avoiding them in case there were problems) so if you are not happy to use your credit card in Russia, shop on board. Monday night had a lovely show with a very good West End and Broadway Lead Lindsey Hamilton  and another CD was bought.

Tuesday Tuesday morning and Germany arrives! As we can get to Berlin easily we chose to stay locally but watched the large band cross the road and join the Celebrity Special Train to Berlin. We went on a walking tour to Rostock which included a nice trip to the local brewery complete with free drink and pretzels. In the afternoon, we wandered around Warmemunde. As it was a lovely hot sunny day (I gather Berlin was overcast) we stayed down at the Beach for a while and also enjoyed another Rostocker beer on the Aller Storm which is a lovely row of cafes beside the harbour. This is a lovely little town so easy to get around you do not need an excursion. In the evening they bring on board reps from the Rostock Town Band who played in the lounge at Deck 11  it was really good fun to here. Sailaway from Germany is great as the townsfolk come out in their hundreds to see you off and the pier PA blasts out music Time to say goodbye You can eat in a rather good German Sausage buffet or open seating tonight Wednesday Nice lie in before arrival at Copenhagen. By now we are open top bus experts however on this trip you could even get away without this and instead walk the 150 yards to the Little Mermaid, another ¼ mile to the Geffion Fountain, on passed the Royal Palace and you would by in Nyhaven (we actually walked back this way it was lovely) Best deal was at Nyhaven we went on a 50 minute narrated Canal boat trip we purchased on the quay and I think Copenhagen looked better this way than from the bus. One tip, when you first arrive everyone is taking pics at the little mermaid and climbing all over it, when we came back late afternoon we were the only people there and got much more composed shots in peace. At night we went up to Tivoli Gardens  it was a pleasant enough evening, cool, nice music to listen to but the flowers were just beginning to fade. In hindsight we should have ate at Tivoli as this the one night the ship does not cater well for trip schedules. There is no open seating dinner and no extra buffet upstairs so the pasta and pizza queues were overwhelmed between 5 and 7. We had a few bits of pizza and then later for the first time ever surprised the dear waiter who had tried to give us Gourmet Bites all week  this time we grabbed them!

Thursday Helsingborg We were on the walking tour of Helsingborg and Helsinor involving a ferry trip back to Denmark. Our guide was a little disorganized and was actually from Copenhagen so the quality of her info was not good. Be aware also if you go on the ships tour you do not get into the Castle at Helsinor so if you want to do that, go over on the ferry yourself, which we discovered would actually have been very easy. The excursion ticket warns you this trip involves 4 miles of walking  that is very true this trip is not for the less able! If you went yourself, you could get a taxi at the port at Helsinor to drive your round to the Castle. Helsinor has a good ice cream shop, otherwise it is a town full of liquor stores (not cheap) aimed at the Swedes who pop over to Denmark to take advantage of the ease in which the Danes can buy booze. Helsingborg is not yet fully geared up for large groups of tourists they handle it very well indeed so the experience is good, just do not rely on this as a last minute cheap souvenir stop. Nice touch coming back on the tender fro the local ladies leave future travelers to discover what I mean rather than spoil the surprise. Nice formal night again  all three were well dressed and a good dinner. We never made it to Le Grande Buffet  got side tacked watching Ochos card tricks in the Martini Bar  he was going off ship on Saturday, his successor (whose name I forget) was also there, seemed a nice outgoing person as well.

Friday That dreaded last day of packing. (but I get my reward of a faby meal in Ocean Liners to soften the going home blow) I will talk about the ship. Did I find wear and tear  yes, the sofa in the suite showed some wear (but then no more than my 18 month old sofa at home) ; how would I rate the crew  the cabin team were the best I have ever had, the wait team the least good, the bar staff the most friendly ever. Now we go with X twice a year we kept meeting old friends on the crew who were all genuinely pleased to see us. Have to mention Nina the Hotel Director  she really is the most visible hands on Hotel Director I have seen on 8 cruises. We found the photo staff more creative in the pics they took of us and thought the DVDs we bought were so good the video is not coming on another cruise. Our beds were very comfortable and whilst we did not ask for a lot, any minor request was immediately dealt with and always with a smile.

Dover disembarkation OK as Brits we wondered how bad could this be  would it rival other ports (shh west coast) we could mention - no it was by far the best , most efficient friendly disembarkation ever  well done to all concerned. Less

Published 10/10/06
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