We had booked this cruise mainly on the destinations with Istanbul being our number one priority to visit. Unfortunately a couple of weeks prior to sailing the overnight stay in Istanbul was cancelled due to the ongoing troubles in the region. I was quite concerned about the cancellation as we were on a Celebrity organised fly cruise which only arrived very late on the day of sailing but was assured that this would not be a problem.
We arrived at the ship at approximately 7:30pm with around 60 other passengers but the check in and security clearance still took over two hours to complete. I'm at a loss as to why additional staff could not be available to make this process more efficient. After finally boarding and managing to get a table in the anytime dining section of the MDR we were then informed that we must attend a secondary muster drill 20 minutes later. I absolutely agree that safety is paramount but the so called muster drill was basically a box ticking exercise. Even then it was scant on genuine information and would not have helped in case of a genuine emergency.
We then headed back to our stateroom to find that they basically hadn't bothered finishing the setup. We were missing all the usual information including the daily, our Captains Club information and Cruise Critic connections information. This resulted in us missing the get together which was arranged for the morning after. Most disappointingly the waste baskets were still full of the previous guests rubbish.
So after a long days travel we decided to get an early night, put the mishaps behind us and start afresh in the morning. Unfortunately at 5am we got woken by what sounded like a hammer being repeatedly stuck against the back wall of the cabin. This only lasted for about a minute, but as it happened almost every day, seriously affected our sleep throughout the voyage. We have sailed on the Constellation twice before and never been disturbed in this way. Avoid the newer cabins on deck 11 aft unless you are a very early riser or sound sleeper.
Despite these issues the vast majority of our cruise was very good. The attitude of most of the crew and staff were exceptional. Our waiter and his team in the main dining room probably the best I have ever had in 14 cruises on various line.
The dining experience in Ocean Liners is fabulous. Whilst a cover charge of $89 for the five senses menu is steep by speciality restaurant norms the five courses with paired wine should not be missed by any serious food and wine lover. Make sure you go hungry though as unlike a traditional tasting menu with smaller portions this is five full dishes and a generous pour of wine with each. Service in Ocean Liners is on a par or exceeds the best I have experience in any restaurant land or at sea. It's worth taking a cruise on this ship just to experience.
The ship itself is in a good condition and the entertainment on board is mostly to a high standard. Whilst we're not really into the theatre shows a family member who travelled with us attended most of the shows on board and was thoroughly impressed.
For those not on one of the drinks packages the Rendezvous Lounge have two daily two hour happy hours between 4-6 and 10-12. You can get a very drinkable glass of cabernet sauvignon for $4.5 at these times.
The ports we visited were fabulous with my personal favourites being Santorin, Athens and Ephesus. In Athens you get the Hop on Hop off bus in the port for 15 euro which drops you at the acropolis and then use the same ticket to get to all the other major attractions. In Ephesus as you get off the ship there is a shopping complex. On the first floor is a local tour operator that runs much smaller group tours. This covers all the sights and more that the ship organised tours visit and is only 40 euro per person including entrance to Ephesus, House of the Virgin Mary and the English speaking guide.
Unfortunately my trip ended with another serious disappointment. Unusually for me I hadn't been keeping track of the account throughout the voyage so when our statement arrived I was shocked to discover that we had been charged the daily service fee. This was despite paying in advance for the service charges at the time we made the booking. I thought this would be easy to resolve so approached guest services to query the situation. To say they were unhelpful is a gross understatement. After checking with head office in Miami they were adamant that we had not prepaid and basically insinuated that I was trying to steal from them. The attempt at an olive branch (entirely as an afterthought) was that maybe my travel agent had made a mistake. Since my return I have queried the matter with my agent and checked my Celebrity invoice which clearly shows the prepaid gratuities. Even if the error were on my side, I sincerely feel that the way I was made to feel is totally unacceptable, for what is essentially a customer service industry.