The Celebrity Theater hosts typical big-ship Vegas-style song and dance revues at night, focusing on Broadway and pop hits. Other evening headliners may include singers, comedians and musical acts.
Evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship emphasizes music, with bands in the Rendezvous Lounge performing 40's and 50's jazz standards, some pop songs (a la swing) and other danceable classics. The top-ship Reflections, by day an observation lounge for readers or sea gazers, turns into a (often sparsely attended) disco at night. Michael's, the ship's clubby cigar and cognac bar, features live sing-a-long piano music. Michael's Club also features evening events like Jameson whiskey-tasting (for $15.95).
The Martini Bar looks a bit like a frozen space pod, with a phosphorescent green bar with silver accents, topped by an icy surface for doodling. It's a combination of booze and entertainment, and the bartenders flip and juggle bottles of top-shelf vodka and gin in time with South Beach-style club music as patrons hoot and holler. Martinis of all colors and mixtures are $10 each, and a six-martini combo is $15. It certainly has a magnetic pull, and during sea-day demonstrations, small crowds gathered to clap and chant "Go Larry, Go Larry," as Larry the bartender executed the challenging six-martini pour.
Cellar Masters features self-service "enomatic" wine dispensers -- just grab a Riedel glass, swipe your card, and choose from three different sizes: an ounce, a half-glass or a full glass. (The distribution system has the added benefit of keeping bottles highly pressurized for up to three weeks.) There are numerous reds and whites on offer to satisfy most palettes, from a modest house wine to a $59-a-glass (Opus One 2003 on our sailing), and passengers can sample a few sips of the pricey stuff for a fraction of the per-glass cost. Human-free dispensing makes the venue one of the only 24-hour bars at sea. (If you have wine questions, however, it's staffed from 5 p.m. to midnight or 1 p.m.) The hotel director noted that he's seen passengers in their bathrobes in the early a.m. hours sipping away.
Editor's Note: Celebrity offers a variety of all-you-can-booze drink packages. For $44 per day you can drink unlimited beers up to $5 per serving and wine and spirits up to $8 per serving. The premium package, at $54 a day, allows you to drink every beer on the list, as well as wine, spirits and cocktails less than $12 per serving.
During the day, Celebrity is less activity-packed than Royal Caribbean, Carnival or NCL, and many passengers are content to get some reading done, participate in a wine tasting, take a dance class or enjoy a talk. The Celebrity Theater may host lectures, offering PowerPoint presentations on a variety of subject matter like the mating habits of dolphins or the exploits of the Viking civilization. Other activities may include art auctions, weight loss seminars and cooking demos. During sea days, the Reflections Lounge always features a row of passengers who line up to watch the ship's wake in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Considering the daily schedules, one thing that stands out is the number of wine- and liquor-tasting events held throughout the ship. Whether your drink of choice is red wine, small batch bourbon, margaritas or martinis, passengers have the opportunity to sample all manner of booze (fee applies).
The Celebrity Cinema, Deck 3 aft, plays second-run films, which are about a year out of theaters.
During the day, dress was resort-casual, but Celebrity passengers tend to dress up for dinner -- typically, button-down shirts and slacks for men, blouses or dresses for woman. There is also a good show of jeans on casual nights, albeit usually as part of the professorial sport-jacket-and-denim look. There were only two official formal nights on our 12-night Baltic cruise (though Celebrity's Web site calls for three on cruises of that length). During each formal evening, suits and tuxedos for men and fancy dresses and jewels for women were the norm, and only a handful of diners opted to bypass the penguin suits and eat in the buffet venue.
Celebrity Cruises is increasing its suggested gratuity by 50 cents per passenger/per day beginning on all bookings made on or after April 29 for all cruises that begin on or after the same day. The new suggested gratuity will be $12.00 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites.
Constellation's social locus is the Grand Foyer, a three-deck-high atrium with warmly illuminated, polished steps and decorative, gauzy curtains hanging from the ceiling. Several bars (coffee, martini, wine) and lounges and the casual creperie fan out from there.
Deck 3 features the Guest Services and Shore Excursions desks, plus a concierge desk for those looking to make onshore arrangements like car rentals and restaurant reservations. All passengers, not just those in suites, can take advantage of concierge services, free of charge.
The Photo Gallery, which brings out the gawker in all of us, leads into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 4. Prices begin at $19.95 for a single photo from formal night.
Funneling into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 5, The Emporium is Constellation's shopping destination, featuring the standard series of stores selling jewelry, Celebrity logo items, forgotten toiletries ($2.95 for dental floss, so try not to forget it) and duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. Itinerary-specific items are also available there; on our itinerary, there was an expansive collection of Baltic amber jewelry. And, just in case passengers had any lingering guilt about not buying tchotchkes in St. Petersburg, the Emporium held a "Russian Bazaar," featuring matryoshka dolls -- which we'd spent two days seeing onshore -- for inflated prices.
Online@Celebrity, the ship's Internet café, has been moved from Deck 5 to Deck 6, midship. There are four terminals and about 15 laptops set up for passenger use, and the space also hosts free (how to shop online, how to use Word) and for-fee computer classes (Rosetta Stone self-teaching language courses, starting at $25). Taken in industry context, Celebrity is a little stingy with its Internet minutes, especially considering the oft-frustrating at-sea speed. Pay-per-minute will run you $.65 a minute, but the following packages are also available: $29.95 for 49 minutes ($.61 a minute), $49.95 for 90 minutes ($.55 a minute), $79.95 for 150 minutes ($.53 a minute) or and $99.95 for 237 minutes ($.42 a minute). Wi-Fi is available, but only in designated locations like the Seaside Cafe and the conference rooms on Deck 3 (the best signal, says the Internet manager). If you want to access the Web with your laptop, make sure you consult Online@Celebrity's resident techie. There are some quirky rules to establishing a Wi-Fi connection.
Unfortunately, there are no self-service laundry facilities, which is especially bothersome on a 12-night sailing, and per-item charges border on price gauging. Do-it-yourselfers should bring detergent/use the shampoo and wash in their cabins.
Editor's note: Celebrity Constellation went into drydock on April 16, 2013, for 19 days to complete its "Solsticization", as the line calls it. This will include adding 66 brand new cabins, and the introduction of 107 AquaClass cabins. Other new features will include: new verandas for suites; an upgraded basketball court; Craft beer in Michael's Club; and the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, informative classes on the latest products and technologies, and a retail store and a new meetings and conference space. The ship will also have Wi-fi throughout, new color schemes, new carpeting and new upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class; and new sun loungers on the pool decks.
Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.
Surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.
Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.
The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.
Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.
Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.
Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.
That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)
And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.
Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.
|Fitness and Recreation|
In terms of spa-to-ship ratio, Celebrity Constellation's AquaSpa is cruising's largest -- a 25,000-square-foot complex that features a glass-and-steel solarium with a large heated thalassotherapy pool, hot tubs, a spa cafe and hardwood loungers; a for-fee thermal suite; a full-service hair and nail salon; 13 treatment rooms; and a fitness center.
Speaking of the solarium, it's one of Constellation's most tranquil spots, and the Rubenesque nude lying sidelong puts all who enter in a pleasant mood. We were sailing in the perfect region for such a warm, relaxing spot -- a Baltic Cruise, during which the weather can be windy and cold during the early part of summer -- but the place was never overly crowded. But all tables were usually accounted for by card-players and lunchers. The thalassotherapy pool features four large faucets, from which gush a constant stream of warm water. There is no fee to use the Solarium.
Constellation's decently equipped gym features a variety of Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and weight machines. I had no trouble snagging a treadmill on the sea days following my 5,000-calorie feeding frenzies at Ocean Liners and the Tuscan Grille. Cycling, Yoga and Chilates (a lower intensity version of Pilates) are $12 per person. Stretch and group cardio classes are free. Personal training is available for $85 per hour session or $210 for a three-session package. Take note that the 5 session "Cruise Special" was priced at $350 -- the same per-session cost at the three-session package.
The Steiner-run AquaSpa offers the standard pricey treatments, including a Swedish massage ($119 for 50 minutes), teeth-whitening ($199) and the now firmly entrenched Botox injections for your face. Folks at the spa told me about 20 people had the procedure during our cruise; prices start at about $300, but a (free) consultation is required to determine how much it'll cost to remove wrinkles on the brow or around the mouth or eyes. More unusually, the spa has begun offering a long-term hair-straightening procedure.
Look out for port-day spa specials like an offer that lets you mix and match three 20-minute treatments for $99.
The AquaSpa complex also features various "self-treatment" rooms, including The Persian Garden suite, which offers an herbal steamer, Turkish bath, tiled loungers and rainforest shower. The number of Persian Garden passes is limited to 50, so book a full-cruise pass on the first day if you're interested. Access to the Persian Garden is $99.
A private Rasul mud room is available for $95 per couple for 50 minutes of action.
His and hers saunas are available for free in the men's and women's locker rooms.
Celebrity Cruises was the first line to offer acupuncture at sea. Constellation's stand-alone acupuncture venue is located on Deck 6. Hours are very limited.
A midship pool area, complete with two pools, several hot tubs and plenty of whimsical sculptures (a big gorilla was a favorite) was somewhat underused during our Baltic Cruise, although sunbathers took full advantage of the lounging opportunities when the rays were there. Naturally, when the ship repositions to warmer climes, the pool area becomes the sea-day hub.
There's a jogging track on Deck 11; three times around equal a kilometer (or 5/8 a mile), so a little less than five times around equals a mile. For the sports enthusiast, a multi-use court with basketball hoops and mini-soccer goals are up on Deck 12 -- this area was largely left alone during the dry dock, and it shows; it's beset with rusted corners and ripped nets.
On our early-June sailing, there were 18 passengers younger than 18 (of 2,000 total), but during school holidays or summer vacations, there may be 250-plus children onboard, according to one youth counselor.
Celebrity breaks down kids' groups into Shipmates (3 to 5), Cadets (6 to 8), Ensigns (9 to 11) and Admirals (12 to 17). During peak family cruising seasons, teens are further broken down into 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Toddlers (under 3) are permitted in Fun Factory only with parental supervision.
Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Deck 11 -- features all manner of toys, a bank of video games and draped area for movie-watching. There's an adjacent splash pool, ball pit and climbing apparatus. (Under 3's can use the facilities with parental supervision.) Teens also have their own venue, the Tower, a super-cool, cylindrical, windowed structure that sits atop Deck 11 and features a mini-pool table, flat-screen TV and video games.
Age-appropriate activities are scheduled for each grouping. The youngest cruisers might enjoy fingerpainting or making a cowboy hat, while older kids might participate in sushi-making demos and hip-hop dance classes. Other activities include scavenger hunts, Rockband play and group sports activities. During sea days, there are scheduled activities from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. On port days, there are activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but lunch (on port days) and dinner (each evening) parties from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., respectively, are $6 per hour per child (for 3- to 11-year-olds). Nightly slumber parties, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., are also $6 per child, per hour, with an immediate surcharge for late pick-up (free on the last day of the cruise).
A small arcade, adjacent to the Fun Factory, features the typical mix of gun battles, car-racing and excruciating "use a robot claw to grab a prize" games. In a generous touch, each kid is given 30 minutes of free arcade play to rid crime from the streets of Tokyo, hunt big game and drive souped-up Mustangs.
Babysitting is available in the Fun Factory on port days from noon until 2 p.m. and in the evening from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee of $6 per hour per child. In-cabin babysitting for children 12 months or older is subject to availability. Fee is $19 per hour for up to three children in the same family.
Parents with young children need to bring formula, diapers and wipes, but there are extra supplies onboard, should they run out. Strollers are not available for rent, so passengers should bring their own.
Celebrity attracts an upper middle-class passenger base, the majority of whom are experienced travelers. It was mostly couples or groups on my particular cruise, typically in the 45 to 70 age range. During the summer and over school holidays, the number of kids onboard may balloon to 250 or more.
When Constellation is in Europe, the passenger mix is international, with a roughly even blend of North American and European cruisers, most of whom hail from the United Kingdom (the largest Continental contingent), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Passengers from Japan, Israel and South America were also onboard our sailing. In the Caribbean, expect the breakdown to skew much more North American.
Celebrity Constellation features a variety of cabin categories to suit any passenger's needs, from tiny insides to lavish 1,500-square-foot suites, and 60 percent of all accommodations feature verandahs.
Constellation's standard cabins -- insides, outsides and balconies (called "Deluxe Oceanview") -- average a paltry 170 square feet (38-square-foot balconies), about 15 to 20 feet below the industry average.
Decor features hotel-style white bedding with light brown accents, rust carpeting and striking red love seats thrown in for a shock of color, all of which replaced the flamboyant turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean decor of the old abodes. (For a before and after, check out part three of our refurb slideshow.)
Insides, outsides and balconies feature two twin beds that convert to queens, safes, small desks, stocked mini-fridges, flat-screen TV's and bathrobes. The mini-fridges are locked; have your room steward open yours and clear out the for-fee booze if you want to store your wine or water. Shower-only bathrooms have hair dryers, shampoo, moisturizer and bar soap. There is no shower gel.
I was traveling alone, so I had no issue with drawers, but couples I spoke with said they were a little stressed for space -- especially with having to pack for a 12-night cruise. There are drawers hidden in a secondary closet in each room, which also houses the safe. There's another drawer above the flat-screen TV, which is also where extra bedding is stored.
I had two minor gripes with my standard balcony cabin, both of which were curtain-related. During summer in the Baltic, the new window curtains were no match for a vibrant 3 a.m. sunrise, and I had trouble falling asleep with my drapes emitting a gentle nuclear glow. An eye mask would have done the trick. A second irritation was the creeping, clingy shower curtain left in place during the dry dock. On the advice of a Cruise Critic reader, I solved the riddle early on. Pull one side of the curtain just outside the bathroom, then close the door over it. Might take a little tweaking, but with the now-shorter curtain pulled taught, there's no chance of feeling its tingling embrace.
For those looking for a little more space and a few more amenities, the ConciergeClass cabins are 191 square feet with 42-square-foot-balconies. Added touches for concierge passengers include welcome bubbly, a pillow menu, nightly canapes, a 32-inch TV and nicer balcony furniture. In 2012, Celebrity expanded the ConciergeClass services to include an exclusive pre-departure lounge with free coffee and juices. Sky Suites come in at 251 square feet with 57-square-foot balconies.
Continuing up in size, Family Oceanview cabins are 271 square feet with enormous 242-square-foot verandahs that feature pairs of loungers and tables with two chairs each. Inside, there's a partition separating the "master bedroom" from the lounge/extra bed area.
Eight 467-square-foot Celebrity Suites feature lovely floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows (but no balconies), a jetted tub and a pair of entertainment centers. The eight 538-square-foot Royal Suites (195-square-foot balconies) add more space and feature whirlpool tubs on the verandahs. On the top of the list are a pair of 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites with massive, 1,098-square-foot balconies. These suites also feature a baby grand piano, should you wish for a private concert or to tinkle the ivories on your own.
All suite passengers enjoy the service of a butler, who can help pack and unpack, set up in-cabin meals and help make onboard arrangements. Other suite extras include complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant (one dinner for cruises of seven nights or less, two for cruises of eight nights or more); priority check-in; in-suite breakfast, lunch and dinner; complimentary espresso and evening hors d'oeuvres.
There are 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, including insides, oceanviews, balconies, concierge class cabins and Sky Suites.
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