We selected this cruise based on the interesting itinerary from Rome to Abu Dhabi, including a journey through the Suez Canal and a trip to Petra from Aqaba, Jordan. The ports were all a lot of fun and interesting. Several were easy enough to do on our own. Our time was limited in Catania and Muscat, so I wish we were there for more hours.
The cruise was long with many sea days, but we enjoyed the different activities the Celebrity Constellation offered. I wish they would vary the timing of activities from day to day so we could do more. For instance, if you decide to participate in trivia, it's at the same time daily and often conflicts with several other things on the schedule. Also, the schedule is packed from 10am-3pm, but not much going on in the late afternoon.
While the Constellation is an older ship, it didn't feel old and they've done a good job keeping it updated. We found our cabin comfortable and the ship easy to get around. The food in the Oceanview Cafe was great for breakfast and lunch, offering a wide variety. We also enjoyed access to ice cream and cookies in the afternoon. We had great service by a couple of different waiters in the main dining room (a few not so great servers). For the most part, the food was good, but not great. We had a few misses. The entertainment was predictable but enjoyable. The production cast and musicians were very good, and we liked the theme nights in the Reflections lounge in the late evening.
The ocean view room with porthole was much roomier than we anticipated. The layout with the bed on the long wall made it feel more open and easier to maneuver.
We had limited time in Catania from 2-8pm, so markets were closed by the time we got there and other sites closed shortly after we arrived. It was dark coming back to the ship. However, it's an easy port to do on your own. The downtown area is walkable from the ship, approximately 15 minutes to the Duomo and square. Nearby are markets, lots of churches, shops, and some cafes. We did not see Mt. Etna, which would have required a bus or some other transportation.
We spent a few days in Rome in advance of our cruise, which embarked from Civitavecchia. It was very easy to take the train from Termini station to Civitavecchia. From there, we took the bus (tickets purchased at the convenience store inside the station) for 2 euros pp to the cruise port. Some people walked, but it was pretty far away to drag luggage. From the cruise port, there is a free shuttle bus to take passengers to their specific ship.
Piraeus is relatively close to Athens, and it's easy to get into the city on your own. We had intended to take the X80 bus, which goes straight to the Acropolis and surrounding area. However, it only runs during the tourist season (May-October) and we were there the second week of November. There are a couple of alternative options to get into the city. We took the O40 bus (near cruise terminal A) all the way into the city. I'm not sure where to purchase tickets (maybe at a tobacco shop, etc), but the bus driver let us on without tickets. Typically, you would have to validate once on board. It was not an express bus and made a lot of stops, so took about an hour to get to the stop a couple of blocks from the Acropolis. We purchased advanced tickets to the Acropolis online, which avoids any lines. In November when we were there, it was a moot point as the lines were short. However, in peak season, I would think this would be critical to expedite entry. We also downloaded Rick Steves' audio tour in advance, which guided us through the site. After the Acropolis, we wandered the Plaka area with lots of shops and restaurants. Those closest to the Acropolis are more expensive, but they drop in price the further you get from it. We returned to Piraeus by metro on the green line from Monastiraki station. It was only 1.40 euros pp. purchased at a kiosk inside the metro station. Once at the Piraeus metro station, you have to exit and go to E6 or E7. Across the street you can catch bus 843, which drops off near cruise terminal A. If you're coming by metro, the metro ticket should still be good to transfer to the bus. Otherwise, you would need to purchase a ticket and validate once on board. Our ship was docked at cruise terminal B, but there was a free shuttle running between terminals A and B.
One of our main reasons for booking this cruise was the opportunity to visit Petra from Aqaba. We booked an outside excursion with Memphis Tours, which was recommended by other Cruise Critic users. We paid a deposit via credit card in advance. We were also required to provide passport info to Memphis Tours in advance. The balance of our costs had to be paid in cash when we met with our driver. A lot of people were taking tours with Memphis and there were a lot of drivers with name signs waiting for passengers. However, there were no drivers with our names (and there were several other groups in the same predicament). We found a driver who took us to see "the man in charge." He collected the balance of our money, asked for our confirmation letter, and then worked to figure out where to put us. In the end, although we signed up for a group tour, there were only four of us in the van...so that was great. However, due to the lack of organization, we had to wait 45 minutes to straighten everything out. I would have liked that 45 minutes back in Petra.
We signed up for a combo tour of Petra and Wadi Rum. The drive to Petra was about 2 hours. Once there, our driver got our tickets and arranged a local guide. We were supposed to get horses to take us part of the way, but that would have meant not hearing what our guide had to say, so we declined (also, had heard that the horse wranglers expect tips to get off horses). The entry from the welcome center to the opening of the gorge is 700 meters. Once inside the gorge, it's a 1200-meter walk and you occasionally have to jump out of the way of horse-drawn carriages. The terrain is uneven and mostly downhill to the Treasury (which means it's uphill coming back). It was very dusty and cool as the sun doesn't get down to the path. It took about an hour to walk to the Treasury, as our guide stopped to give us information along the way. Once we got to the Treasury, we were told we had to turn around to get back to our driver. We convinced the guide to take us a little further into the city and we got as far as the amphitheater. There are steps leading up the monastery and a view of the city, but we didn't have time to do that. Because of the time of year (November) sunset is around 4:30pm, so there as a big rush to get to the spot in Wadi Rum in time to see the sunset over the desert. This meant that our time in Petra was very rushed. It took less time to get back to the Welcome Center, but it was uphill and felt like quite a climb.
After Petra, we had a buffet lunch at a local restaurant. The food was good. However, drinks are not provided and a water was $2 and a Coke was $3.
We drove 1.5 hours to Wadi Rum. Our tour included a 4x4 ride through the desert. What that means is a bumpy ride on bench seats in the back of an old Toyota pickup truck. It's fairly flat, but very windy and dusty...and fun. We stopped at the site where they filmed "The Martian," a place offering camel rides for an additional price (we declined), the site where Lawrence of Arabia and the bedouins fought the Turks, and finally to a place to watch the sunset. It was beautiful. The Wadi Rum portion of our tour was about 90 minutes. From there, were were closer to the port, about an hour away, and we returned to the port at 6:10 pm. In retrospect, if Petra is you main interest, I would recommend focusing on that as you could easily spend 5+ hours there, and we only had 2.5 hrs. Wadi Rum is cool. It's a desert like any other and not particularly special.
We were in Muscat on a Friday, the Muslim holy day. That meant that the Grand Mosque along with other sites and museums were closed. The cruise ship offered tours to these places. However, fine print showed that they would not be visiting the interiors if on a Friday. Based on that, we decided not to book a tour through the ship. There is a shuttle bus that goes from the ship to the port entrance, as it is an industrial port. Once outside the port, there are a lot of taxis. We always skip the first few layer of cab drivers to get to those on the outskirts. We negotiated $5 per person per hour with a driver. We grabbed two other couples to come with us. Our driver was very nice and knowledgeable. He took us to the souk first, as it closes early. I had read that it closed at 1pm, but locals indicated that it closed at 11:30am. It might be advisable to walk to the souks first and grab a cab from there once you've completed shopping. We didn't spend a lot of time there as the cab driver was waiting for us. After the souk, we went to the palace, saw the forts behind the palace, drove to an viewpoint of the harbor, a couple of beaches, the Opera House exterior (it's closed on Friday), and the Grand Mosque exterior. Because we were at the mosque later in the day after mid-day services, it wasn't overcrowded. Our driver took us to a drive-up tea shop before heading back to the port. In all, our tour was a little less than 4 hours, and we paid $20 pp, which was a lot less than the cruise ship offerings.
We were in Abu Dhabi on the ship from Saturday afternoon until disembarkation on Monday morning. The cruise terminal was modern with overpriced shops and free wifi. We were told there was a free shuttle from the port to the World Trade Center mall. We arrived around 4pm and it took 1.5 hours to clear customs. We waited for the shuttle for from 5:30-6pm and then were told that it was done for the night, even though our ship told us it would be running until 7pm. There were taxis, but they are more expensive from the cruise port and we decided not to go into the city the first night. On the second day, we were able to get the free shuttle. It actually is the Big Bus, but was free to the mall as long as you had your sea pass card. Once at the World Trade Center, you can walk around the downtown area and over to the Corniche along the waterfront. We caught a cab from downtown to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque (not to be confused with the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in the downtown area...not the same thing!). Cabs were pretty affordable and they charge by meter. People must dress respectfully...men in long pants and women covered ankle to wrist with head coverings. However, they provide hooded robes for women. My girlfriend brought a pinstriped, long-sleeved shirt, but was told that it was transparent so she wore the robe. The mosque gives three free tours daily (10am, 11am, and 5pm) except Fridays. It's an amazing building and interior and not to be missed. We cabbed over to the Emirates Palace, Presidential Palace, and the new Founder's Memorial. There are not a lot of areas with restaurants for lunch and we ended up walking to the Marina Mall for a late lunch. The mid-day sun is very hot, so hats, sunscreen, and water are highly recommended. We cabbed back to the downtown area and the WTC and caught the shuttle back to the cruise port.
When we left the cruise for good, we took cab to the Abu Dhabi Central Bus Station. From there, you can get a silver Nol card and take a public bus to Dubai. Bus 100 goes to the Deira area (Al Ghubaiba bus station), and Bus 101 goes to the Jumeirah area. It's a lot more affordable than a cab (