The last couple of cruises I took with Celebrity (Equinox and Eclipse) were, in a number of ways, disappointing and I was therefore a little unsure of what to expect as I traveled from Venice airport to join Constellation for the Adriatic and Italian cruise to Civitavecchia. Whilst check in was “Italian” in style, as soon as I stepped on board Constellation I could feel that this was going to be a much better cruise experience, it felt like returning to an old friend.
Constellation is probably my favourite Celebrity ship and the Millennium class are, for me, much more elegant and feel more spacious than the Solstice ships. What they may lack in glitz they make up for in warmth and substance.
There was a great atmosphere on Constellation and it was evident right from the start as I took lunch in Bistro on Five to avoid the inevitable crowds in the Ocean View Café on embarkation day. I encountered friendly staff throughout the ship and there were officers visible much of the time. I believe that the atmosphere on Constellation owes much to the Captain and it soon became clear that Captain Tasos is one of the best. He was very communicative, engaging and seen around the ship participating in many activities. This friendly and happy atmosphere made a great difference to the enjoyment of the cruise.
My balcony cabin was very comfortable and whilst “traditional” in layout, I found this to be much better than the cabin I had on Eclipse. The small sofa is alongside the doors to the balcony rather than beside the wardrobe and the wardrobes are opposite the shower room where they offer much better storage than the Solstice class ships. The shower room is more traditional than the newer ships and there is a curtain for the shower but it is a good quality waffle weave curtain, which coupled with the good size shower cubicle, never left me fighting off the curtain. The shower room is, for me, more easy to use as there is good storage for all the bathroom essentials.
The itinerary was fabulous and included a number of ports that I had never heard of before. The most spectacular sail in was shared by Kotor and Valetta but, for me one of the most enjoyable ports was Zadar in Croatia. This cruise has sparked my interest in small ship cruises around the Croatian Islands as I find the smaller places much more enjoyable than the larger ones. Dubrovnik is a wonderful city but with seven cruise ships in port it was very crowded and at times uncomfortable.
Unfortunately some of the cuts that I have seen reduced standards across the Celebrity fleet were also evident on Constellation, less bar staff was the most noticeable. There was frequently only one person serving in a bar and therefore queues were inevitable. This is disappointing and is not what I would call Modern Luxury. However, most of the staff I encountered were friendly, helpful and offered great service.
Overall this was an enjoyable cruise that visited some wonderful destinations and it has restored my faith in Celebrity to the extent that I have booked Constellation from Dubai in 2017 but I will not be pre-booking dining or drinks packages.
A Word of Warning – The one issue that I found very disappointing is the way in which Celebrity are trying to get more money out of you and getting it before the cruise. This manifested itself in a number of different ways and I believe that my experience could be a lesson to others. The three main issues are associated with alternative dining charges, drinks packages and Captains Club benefits, both of which can cause you to spend more than you need to if you do as Celebrity encourage and pre-book before your cruise.
Alternative Dining Charges – Alternative dining charges have been creeping up over recent years and the stated charges on my cruise were $50 for Ocean Liners, $45 for Tuscan Grill and $10 for Bistro on Five. These are some of the highest that I have experienced on any cruise line and they have caused me to think twice about booking and to book less alternative meals. Prior to the cruise I received many emails encouraging me to book alternative dining, drinks packages and shore excursions etc. As it was our anniversary during the cruise I pre booked Ocean Liners for our anniversary dinner in response to Celebrity emails and was immediately charged the full amount. When we got on board, it became clear that these charges were discounted more and more throughout the cruise so pre-booking may not be such a good idea. An illustration of this was that we paid $35 for Tuscan Grill and were offered it for $25 later in the cruise. Maybe others are finding the new higher charges less acceptable?
Captains Club Benefits – The other issue that left a sour taste is that a number of the Captains Club benefits are discounts on alternative dining and drinks packages, however, these only apply when you buy them on board so again pre-booking cost us more for both the alternative dining and the drinks package. Given the sophistication of the RCI / Celebrity computer systems, I find it strange that they are not able to recognise your captains club status when you pre-book dining and drinks packages but they do when you make the original booking, design or omission I wonder?
I could have saved over $300 if I had not pre-booked so I will not be making that mistake again.