This was our first cruise, and it was a surprise for my wife's 50th birthday. She did not find out the actual itinerary until the night before at dinner in San Diego! We flew in from Sacramento the day before and stayed in the Holiday ... Read More
This was our first cruise, and it was a surprise for my wife's 50th birthday. She did not find out the actual itinerary until the night before at dinner in San Diego! We flew in from Sacramento the day before and stayed in the Holiday Inn On The Bay with a great view of the Constellation out our balcony window. The HAL ship Oosterdam left the berth the day before, and she looked like a bulbous tub compared to the trim Constellation. I kept looking for the three tails on the back of our ship, but never found them (aviation buffs will get my drift!).
Embarcation in San Diego went relatively smoothly once we were freed from the clutches of the Federal Government, our Concierge Class status got us into a shorter line and we were onboard and in our stateroom by 2:30. We had a light lunch at the Buffet, and all our bags arrived at the stateroom by 5 PM.
I knew at once that the Aft Balcony stateroom 8185 was a great choice. The room was very quiet, we discovered that two of the three kids onboard ship were in the room directly above, but we never heard them with our balcony door closed. There was a bit of vibration and noise from the azipods, but only during periods of following seas. The balcony was large enough to hold 2 padded loungers, 4 chairs, and a large table. The view aft was perfect, and was to prove advantageous during our transit of the Canal. It took a bit of doing to get all the contents of our luggage stowed, but there were sufficient nooks and crannies for everything, and our empty bags fit under the bed. The double bed was comfy and we didn't need extra mattress pads as some folks have reported. Our stateroom steward Iwan and his assistant Leroy were great, we always had a full ice bucket, water pitcher, and daily fruit bowl. The flower bouquet on the desk and the red rose in the bathroom were changed once during the cruise, and the nightly chocolates were much appreciated. Special instructions (like a wine bucket and glasses for our own bottles) were attended to promptly. Unlike other reviewers, we thought the daily CC-class 4pm canapes were just fine, with Brie and caviar on some as well as the more pedestrian seafood paste and ham/olive. The "head" was small but well laid out, and the Hansgrohe shower head was wonderful, with plenty of hot water and good pressure. The CC-class upgraded towels were soft and fluffy. I had absolutely no problem with the much-maligned Italian wall-mounted hairdryer, and never had a need to use the hand-held one. The only gripes I had with our stateroom were very minor - the phone was too large for the nightstand, and every time we answered it, it fell onto the floor. The one overhead light switch turned on 3 fluorescent floods, 4 halogen spots, and one valence light - wasted energy! And when we were on our balcony in port, we occasionally got a bit of cigarette smoke odor from the port side of Deck 10, but none was present when we were underway.
I enjoyed going to the Cruise Critic get-together hosted by Celebrity. We got to meet some of the officers and I finally got to put faces to names. Thanks also to whoever organized the Bridge Tour for us Cruise Critic folks as well - that was a highlight of the cruise!
Food was somewhat of a mixed bag, but overall I would give it a Good rating. The quality depended a lot on where you ate. We began by ordering our enhanced CC-class room service breakfast, but found the choices were limited so we began going to the Deck 10 buffet for breakfast. This proved disappointing, because most of the American breakfast choices were bad (soggy scrambled eggs, undercooked country potatoes, bagels with more hole than bread, and undistinguished waffles (sorry, Texed). We began eating more international things like pickled herring and congee. It was not until Day 7 that we discovered the Aqua Spa cafe for both breakfast and lunch, and this was EXCELLENT. Our dinners in the MDR were good overall, with some misses like watery bisques, bland Dover sole and seafood, and the cold soups. Avoid the pizza and sushi in the Buffet at all costs, and the hamburgers at the Seaside Cafe which were grey and lifeless. We ate dinner twice in the Ocean Liners specialty restaurant, and that was 5-star! And the almond and chocolate croissants in the Cova Cafe were heavenly. Just don't get snookered into paying $4.00 for hot chocolate at the Cova - a little investigation revealed it was nothing more than Nestle's mix in hot milk. Here's an observation that can help with your food choices. We found that there are two food service management organizations on the ship. One operates the MDR and the Buffet on Deck 10, whereas the other operates the Aqua Spa Cafe, and the Ocean Liners restaurant. The Aqua Spa/Ocean Liners group is by far the best. Our nights in the MDR were made more fun by our table companions, two couples from the UK and one from Vancouver Canada. House wines are pedestrian - the Heron's Nest Cabernet was jarring, and the Wente cab wasn't much better. Talk about young - maybe they would be drinkable in about 5 years. I think they do that on purpose so you buy more expensive wines. We attended the Reidel wine glass workshop, and learned a lot even though we already own some Reidel glassware.
Entertainment had its highs and lows. We truly enjoyed the string quartet from the Ukraine, and sought them out in the Cova Cafe on several occasions. They were very versatile and provided excellent accompaniment to some of the other acts. The acapella group was good also, although their baritone got sick partway through the cruise. We enjoyed the violinist Doug Cameron and the Xylosynth player David Meyer. Now here's where we will make some enemies, but Perry Grant was truly awful. Maybe we are too young to appreciate his act, but he seemed to have a bunch of in-jokes relating to movies, shows, and actors that are totally foreign to us as Baby Boomers. As I watched him bouncing away at the piano, I got the creepy feeling that I was watching one of the ghosts from the Overlook Hotel in "The Shining". The production show onstage cast was pretty mediocre, but the orchestra (including the aforementioned string quartet) made it tolerable. We attended two "enrichment" lectures, and they were like night and day. Diane Buffington the psychologist did a hilarious lecture on "talking with your X-chromosome", and my wife has been citing it ever since! We had the pleasure of sitting with Diane and her husband at the Noon special buffet, and we had a great time. On the other hand, where did Celebrity dredge up that crackpot George Stosur? We sat through his Panama Canal lecture, then watched the David McCulloch NOVA program on the Canal in our stateroom. Seems like old George saw that NOVA show also and stole some items word for word for his lecture! After that performance, we weren't about to attend his Bermuda Triangle lecture. On the other hand, the woman that came on the ship to narrate during our transit of the canal was very informative.
The shore excursions were all great fun, all of ours were sponsored by Celebrity. We took the semi-sub boat ride in Cabo, went to the Tehuacalo archaeological site outside of Acapulco, attended the Mexican cooking demo in Huatulco, then took the Monteverde walk in the cloud forest tour in Costa Rica. We stayed on the ship through the Canal, but went on the Deluxe Cartagena and Fortress tour. Seems like we never had enough time to shop for stuff we wanted (like coffee and local souvenirs), but had altogether too much time at shops that sold stuff we could care less about (like silver, diamonds, emeralds, booze, and fancy watches). Celebrity isn't going to make any money off us in their onboard stores, that's for sure - I'll leave those to the elderly matrons with more money than sense.
One aspect of the shore excursions that could use improvement was the organization of the disembarkation process at each port. Seems like things always went smoothly once you were out on the pier, but it was the getting off the ship that was screwy. I know the crew probably wants to keep the location of the gangway quiet so as to avoid a huge crowd, but sometimes it didn't seem that one hand knew what the other hand was doing. In one case, they got us all into the Celebrity Theatre and gave us colored sticky tags for each different shore excursion at Puntarenas. That was good. What wasn't so good was they got someone with a poor command of English who told 5 different groups (including ours) to assemble down at the stage near the front exit. Suddenly someone was screaming at us that we had to clear the area because of fire regulations! Get your act together, Celebrity! You would think they have been arranging shore disembarkations long enough to get it right.
Our final night at sea we celebrated my wife's birthday in Ocean Liners, and it was one of the most memorable meals of the cruise. The only disappointment was that her birthday cake (served after we had our dessert) never made it to our stateroom for us to eat later, it disappeared somewhere between Ocean Liners and the housekeeping staff. We did get a set of Celebrity champagne flutes as a consolation gift though.
Disembarkation at Miami was a goat rope, but this time it wasn't really due to Celebrity. Why the Feds herd everyone together in one big customs line is incomprehensible - they should separate U.S. citizens and the line would go a lot faster. One unexpected result of this was that I met a great fellow from the UK while we inched forward in the line for nearly an hour. He was an aviaiton trivia fanatic like me, and we have been corresponding ever since.
So would we cruise Celebrity again? Probably not (except maybe the Xpedition), and it doesn't have to do with any of what I have reported here. Although we enjoyed our 3 formal nights getting dressed up, we found the "Smart Casual" dining to be a little too formal to do every other night. It was just at odds with our laid-back concept of "vacation" to have to rush back and get dressed for dinner all the time. We know we could avoid that by eating in the Buffet, but the food wasn't as good as in the MDR. We made lots of cruise friends though, and had a great time both onboard and in port. Read Less