Having enjoyed Celebrity Summit in Alaska a couple of years ago, we were looking forward to our first trip to the Baltic on Connie - especially so as we only had a short, 2-hour drive to Dover this time, rather than a flight to Vancouver! She, and her crew, met all our expectations and more. As far as the ship experience is concerned, it was the best overall of our 14 cruises taken on 8 different lines to date. Leaving the car at a local, long-term parking facility at 2pm, we were whisked through embarkation and onboard half an hour later. Midships stateroom in the bowels as chosen - we only use it overnight, and low-down, central ones move less than any others in inclement weather (a fact learned during several work trips across the Irish Sea!). Same stateroom configuration as Summit, so no surprises there - functional, clean and comfortable, with an attentive steward. Immediately checked with the Maitre d' that we had been allocated our requested table for two on late sitting - not that we're antisocial, it's just that evenings on board are a particular highlight of our cruises and we still enjoy each other's company after 36 years. We always find time to meet up with newly-made friends at leisure during the day or trips ashore. Table allocated near the restaurant entrance - no problem, even with the constant comings-and-goings of the waiting staff. We did overhear the couple occupying the same table on early sitting requesting to move, but Daniel our Polish waiter was SOOOO good, he was worth staying put for. He really made our important evening dining experience the best yet. That's not to say the rest of the ship's crew fell far short. It seemed clear to us that Connie was a happy ship - plenty of genuine smiles and greetings from everyone to everyone, and between themselves. We tend to do our own thing in most ports, but St. Petersburg was always going to be the exception because of the visa requirements. We made some internet enquiries, and were fortunate to be able to tag along with another group for 2-days with the local Red October tourist company. The American organizer, Natalie, and her other half Herb, were to become 2 of those new-found friends I mentioned earlier. Our guide Elana was absolutely top drawer even if, for us at least, visiting so many palaces and museums, full on, in such a short space of time made the prospect of a restful return to England all the more attractive!
Here I can recall of one of the few occasions when Celebrity fell a tad short of its normal high standards. Most centers of port interest were a distance from the dock. Whilst shuttle buses were provided, a "nominal" (Celebrity's phrase not ours) $12 per person per day was charged for its use. We were given scant information about the ACTUAL distance to walk, and not at all about the bus stop that was just around the corner in Helsinki that made the same trip regularly for 2.20 Euros (albeit for a single trip). In truth, we probably walked a little too much on a cruise that included 9 cities either side of a single sea day, but it certainly kept the pounds off! (We still didn't use a lift (elevator) throughout the cruise though, despite having to go from deck 2 to deck 10 for breakfast and tea!). Activities were plentiful, especially on sea days. However, the weather prevented all but the (fool?)hardy from the shuffleboard court, and the indoor options tended to concentrate on trivia quizzes and bingo - fine for some, but we'd taken some good books to read. Also, I'm afraid that there were some rather loud, self-important and opinionated know-alls at the quizzes where I happened to be reading in the same room (though, strangely, I never saw them actually win). We never did make the gym - comprehensive though it looked.
The evening entertainment, though of "standard" fare of shows and individual performances, was, to us, top quality - even the comedian was actually funny! The adagio dancers were probably the best speciality act we've seen to date. Due to the amount of walking on some days, we did miss a couple of evenings in the theatre, but this was no reflection on the performing acts. Oops, nearly missed commenting on the food! Generally of good quality and presentation, with a varied selection to suit all tastes. Perhaps I was just lucky, but every steak I had was perfect, irrespective of cut. The fish too, was very good and varied. Though I stuck to my simple dessert of a banana with rum and raisin ice cream (except for the traditional baked Alaska night) my sweet-toothed Wife was happy with her selections - especially the cherries jubilee. Breakfast and buffet lunch were also more than adequate, with sufficiently good selection to make choice a problem without over-indulging! A particularly good and simple idea for recognizing the charging of gratuities to your stateroom account was leaving in your cabin various pre-printed acknowledgement slips stating the fact that you had paid. These slips could then be put into the envelopes also provided and handed to the employees concerned on departure, rather than leaving with a mere goodbye and handshake. Oh, and disembarkation? Almost as easy as embarkation 2 weeks earlier. It would have been even quicker had Dover Council not decided to use the day of a cruise ship visit (and a Saturday at that) to dig up part of the town center and cause traffic congestion!