by JandD Mom
March 29, 2003
Context: We were a group of 11 family members traveling including 4 children under 6. The grandparents (early 60s) had recently been on Silversea as well as the RCCL Monarch. My husband and I (late 30s to 40) were on the Infinity Southern Carribbean in March 2002 without kids, and on the RCCL Explorer of the Seas in July 2002 with kids. The others (32-35) had not cruised recently. Most of us live in the Philadelphia area and we are used to going out to fine restaurants (more of the newer, trendy type) and going to shows in both New York and Philadelphia. We would have been very disappointed with food that was just ordinary or banquet food. Because the ship is moving to Europe for the next 6 months, I will not say much about the ports we visited in this review.
Embarkation: I can sum it up in one word: HASSLE. The Constellation moved from the Pan American pier to the pier at Old San Juan. As a result the taxis drop passengers off with their bags at the sidewalk and it is up to the passengers to get the luggage to the "gate" themselves where they have to show ID and have a porter take the luggage. Porters do not come through the gate to help you get the bags from the sidewalk to the gate like they do at the Pan American pier, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami, or virtually every other cruise ship embarkation port. Given that we were a group of 11 traveling with young kids this was very difficult for us. Fellow passengers were shoving so getting through the line was not easy and the officials in San Juan exercised no line control. When I finally got to the front of the line to get my ID checked, I stood there, literally blocking my fellow shoving passengers, while the men in our party handed me the luggage one-by-one which I pushed through the gate so a porter could take them. Other passengers in the meantime pushed their way in front of the rest of the party so we had to wait for the others to work their way through the line to show their ID. I don't know who was responsible for this mess but it was disgraceful. Once we finally got to the terminal, the agents checking people in were the slowest I ever experienced, even though we had filled out the online passenger information, and though we were all Captain's Club. After we finally checked in, we went to a table where we registered the kids for the fun factory, and got information on the program. From then on, getting to the ship was a breeze, though they routed us so we had to walk past every shop in the terminal (this is the long way around the terminal). Once onboard, we were met by friendly staff offering champagne and orange juice and 2 people escorted us to our 4 cabins.
Passengers: This is one area in which the cruise differed substantially than the Infinity cruise the year before. First there were between 450-500 children aboard as it was a holiday week. Second, I would say 50% of the guests were from Puerto Rico. Often it was difficult to find fellow passengers who were not speaking Spanish. Most announcements were still in English though in some shows they also did announcements in Spanish. Some of the staff told us that the bars were not as busy this week as usual, and the golf pro said not as many people signed up for golf outings as usual. The kids were generally happy and well behaved though there was the "too frequent" annoyance of getting on the elevator to find all of the buttons had been pushed. I noticed this more toward the end of the week. Also, I did notice one night a lot of teens hanging out on the 11th deck outside the tower, many of whom were smoking or drinking. They all seemed to be Puerto Rican as they were speaking Spanish. There were also a lot of uniformed security officers walking around frequently, but I did not notice them do anything about the drinking teens. To be honest, they weren't loud, unruly or bothersome so maybe security left them alone. One of the guards told us they were with a private company hired by Celebrity to "patrol" public areas whenever there are a lot of kids on board.
Cabins: My husband, myself and one child were in cabin 7045 (cat 2B) connecting with cabin 7047 with my parents and my other child. Our cabin steward was Benedito and he was one of the kindest, most gracious people I have ever met. The cabins were clean and everything was in working order. They were decorated in a pale green motif with lots of wood trim. The minibar is in a cabinet built into the wall with the TV and another cabinet above it. If you want access to the minibar you have to ask the cabin steward to unlock it. The pull out sofas are big enough for one small child only. I can't imagine a teenager or adult sleeping on them comfortably. Also cabin 7045 is slightly bigger than 7047. With the pull-out sofa extended there is about 1 foot of space between the bed and the desk in 7045 to get through to the balcony. In 7047 there is no space when the bed is extended so you literally have to crawl over the bed to get to the balcony. We tried to move the bed back but could not. Also the king sized bed in 7045 was slightly longer as it curved out in the front, while in 7047 it was square. With the doors closed we could hear people in the connecting cabin. However, we could not hear people on the other side of us and, they reported to me that they could not hear us (which is good because my kids were not always quiet). We had plenty of storage space for everything and were able to keep the cabin fairly neat. The balconies seemed to me to be the same size as the cat 1B I had on Infinity, and the Cat 9 I had on Explorer. There are frosted glass partitions between cabins on the balconies and if you lean forward you can see into the stateroom of the people next to you. My brother and his family were in Cat 9 cabin 7055 (inside). They had 2 bunk beds that came down out of the ceiling, and you could not see them when they were up. They had the same amount of storage that we had, though the room was laid out differently. My brother reported that the bunks were comfortable. He is 6 ft. 1 inch tall and slept comfortably in the bunk a few times while his younger children slept in the bed. My sister had an inside cabin by herself and it connected to the cabin next to hers. She observed some noise from the adjoining cabin.
Room service: We did get room service a few times and it never took more than 10 minutes. It was usually delivered by Zifka (spelling) from Bulgaria. She was also an in-room babysitter and watched the kids for us one night while they slept, and watched my brother's kids for them 4 nights. Another Bulgarian lady in housekeeping, Pavlina, stayed with our kids while they slept a couple of nights. We were pleased with both ladies and felt comfortable with both.
San Marco restaurant/Food: We found the food to be very good to excellent. My parents reported terrible service at breakfast on Sunday morning in the main dining room. I ate there Friday with the kids and service could not have been better. For dinner when we arrived Saturday we discovered they messed up our table assignments and split our party up so that our tables were not even on the same level. This was rectified and the next day we were all put at 1 table by the window on deck 5. Our waiter Neels from South Africa, was the most exuberant person I met on the ship. He is young, attractive, tried very hard to please, and was a lot of fun. Our assistant waiter "Mr. Z" (we could not say his name and he did not talk much) was the hardest working person I observed on the ship. Between the 2 of them we had excellent service. Of all the meals, the only one I did not care for was the duck (it was well-prepared, I just did not like it). The leg of lamb was terrific (contrary to previous reports about it being tough and inedible), the rack of lamb was as good as any I have ever had in fine restaurants, and beef dishes and all fish dishes were excellent. The spinach salad the first night is my favorite, but all salads and soups were superb. I thought it was a very nice touch that they have a different children's menu every night (though you could always order the "usual stuff:) - RCCL had the same kids' menu every night. My kids loved all the food, but my kids are not picky eaters. My nephews are picky eaters and there was plenty to please them. Some nights my kids even ate from the adult menu. And some nights, we adults ordered some items from the kids menu. If you are a fan of creamed corn or macaroni and cheese, ask your waiter to bring you some when they are on the kids menu. They were both TO DIE FOR. The creamed corn was so good we placed a special order for it later in the cruise. It is not on the adult menu. We also experienced terrific service from our sommelier Bruno, and our drink waitress Vesta. Vesta was only too happy to get me my soda every night even though I purchased the sticker.
Seaside Café: We were very impressed with both the quality of the food and service in the buffet. In the morning, even after you got your breakfast, servers came around offering coffee, and others came around with trays of pastries, just like they do in the dining room. They did have waiters helping to carry trays but more often than not I ended up carrying my own, even if I was trying to manage the kids at the same time. The food at lunch was very good, and they always had a pizza station at the aft starboard side, as well as a "made to order" pasta station at the aft port side. In the aft section of the café they had soups, salads and sandwiches. This section was open later than the main buffet. We never ate there for dinner. My husband and sister-in-law went up for sushi one night which was set up in the same place as the pasta station at lunch. They announced they did not enjoy the sushi because the rice was cold. They never went back. I did enjoy the "afternoon tea" set up in the Seaside. The tea sandwiches are something they did not have on Explorer and I really enjoyed them.
Soft Drinks: We purchased the soda sticker but we noticed the water on the ship tasted funny. As a result, all fountain drinks tasted funny, especially at the beginning of the cruise. My sister says she would not get the sticker again because she hated the taste of the drinks.
Ocean Liners: As we enjoyed ourselves in San Marco so much we ended up cancelling our reservation.
Pool and chairs: I did notice people having trouble finding chairs around the pool on the sea day if they did not get out early. Because my kids are early risers, we were always out early and had no problem getting padded chairs around the pool in around the same location. People were not very aggressive and I did not notice excessive hogging like I did on RCCL. The smaller pool at one point was so crowded with children that it was not possible to get in it. The kids all seemed well-behaved however.
Bars: We found the bar service by the pool to be exceptionally slow during the day. Our favorite bar became the Martini Bar, which was run by the infamous Sudi and his side-kick Kirk (aka Tom Cruise). We had such a good time with them. They were truthfully some of the best entertainment we had on the ship. I highly recommend that anyone cruising on a ship in which Sudi is working to look him up. Not only does he make a fabulous drink but his charm and "magic" are engaging. Whenever he saw one of us, he never failed to ask where "the rest of the family" was. One night when my husband and I "snuck away" from our family in the Rendezvous Lounge, Sudi made our martinis for us then told us to go back downstairs to the Rendezvous, where he would bring our drinks. A few minutes later he showed up with our drinks, socialized with my family, and even teased my sister because she was not drinking a martini.
Entertainment: This is still Celebrity's weak point. There is a dearth of entertainment between the end of the first dinner seating and the end of the second dinner seating, except for the "headliner" shows. Because the main entertainment seems to be squeezed into the time after second dinner seating, I think guests at that seating might think there is more entertainment on the ship. Truthfully, I prefer second seating but because of our children we could not do it this time. We thought the duo in the Rendevous Lounge, Karen & Carl, were just awful. Everyone in our party felt they were like a "Saturday Night Live" skit where they make fun of lounge singers. But this couplewas serious. My parents went to most of the main shows and though they were all very good. We went to the comedian (Cary Long) /magic show(Gossamer Magic) and thought it was excellent, particularly Cary Long. Musical reviews are not our thing so we avoided them ourselves. We enjoyed the guitarist who played outside the Seaside Café on deck 10,Cory Heydon in the evenings, but he was pretty mellow. We enjoyed the piano player in Michael's Lounge, Jim Brookhart, but he was also mellow. I was desperately hoping for some sort of funny, entertaining piano lounge act like Matt Yee on the Explorer. Sometimes in the evening we wanted to laugh and have a more raucous, and not mellow time earlier in the evening. I think if they moved some of the more "fun" entertainment to an earlier time slot, people might stay up later. The mellow entertainment just made us sleepy. We did enjoy the sock hop one night, and the activities staff did a great job getting everyone involved. We also enjoyed the "Not so Newlywed Game" which was moved to 11:15 in the evening (it was around dinner hour on the Infinity). I was disappointed that they no longer have the Caribbean night on the pool deck on Wednesday - it is Saturday while sailing out of San Juan. After that, there is never anything going on at the pool deck at night for the rest of the cruise. We did go to the Casino. I had said the casino on the Infinity was the nicest casino I had ever seen on a ship because of the way it was laid out. It was much nicer than the one on the Explorer which held 1500 more passengers. The Constellation is virtually the same. My parents agreed it is a much nicer casino than what they experienced on any other ship.
Fun Factory: Because of all of the children on this sailing, Celebrity ran the full, 4 tier program. My kids were in the youngest group, the Shipmates. Celebrity definitely has the most underrated children's program out of the major cruise lines. As compared to the Explorer, the facility seemed much larger, with a huge ball pit and double decker twisting slide in the facility. The ship does not have a water slide like the Explorer. Also, they do not even fill the small baby pool in the play area except on the day at sea. They also had a large, circular room for drawing and coloring. The bathrooms were also much cleaner than the ones on Explorer. The activities were similar to the ones on the Explorer, except that throughout the week they had several activities that were "family" activities - ie. parents could (were expected to?) come. These were the talent show, karaoke, bingo, Caribbean party night (for the kids not adults), and the final night when they showed the kids cruise in review at the cinema. We went to all of the events if my kids were going to be there - many parents did not go. To tell the truth, it became a pain, there was really not enough room for all of the kids plus their parents at some activities (notably karaoke and the Caribbean party which were in the tower), and to be at the kids activities we missed out on some adult activities (like the Captain's Club reception). As a pleasant surprise, the Fun Factory was open Saturday evening - the night of embarkation. They even had the slumber party that night. You just had to pick up the kids prior to the muster drill. Explorer did not offer this notwithstanding it was a holiday week. The Fun Factory also offered a complementary children's dinner pizza party every night of the cruise - not just on the formal nights. We allowed the kids to go twice, though they would have liked to go every night. I liked most of the counselors except one. That one told me one of my daughters had been crying "all day" (it was evening when she told me that and they had only been there a few hours that day - and my daughter does not usually cry "all day"), and that they tried to reach me but could not. When I checked with another counselor, Lilli, I was told she had not been crying and they never had to call me. Not sure if the other counselor confused me with another kid's mother, but I could not figure out her problem. Also BIG DRAWBACK: Constellation does not have pagers for parents like they do on Explorer. It was a little disconcerting to know that in case of an emergency I could not be reached easily. Celebrity invested so much in a nice children's facility, they should have the pagers. My kids announced they liked the Fun Factory better than the kids club on the Explorer but then, at this age, they live for the moment.
Enhancements: We really loved the chilled towels at poolside and when boarding the ship in ports. I also enjoyed the sorbet (only came around with it on the sea day) and the lemonade (only saw that when I was by the pool while docked in St. Thomas). I never noticed pool side massages or fashion shows. We never went to the topless deck but I know where it is and it is a very remote location. We did enjoy the late night bites on 2 occasions. The rest of the nights we were not up when they came around.
Spa: All of the women in our group but me had treatments in the spa and all reported that they LOVED them. All had massages. My mother also had a facial and my sister had a wrap. They indicated there was no pressure to buy products at the end of the treatments.
Disembarkation: It was very orderly. We had beige tags (for Captain's Club Founder Members) and were the first major color called off the ship, after the people with much too early flights. Instead of having general announcements, they give you a letter telling you where to report and what time based on your color. Beige reported to the Celebrity Theater at 8 am. Other colors reported to other places at later times. Once assembled there, one of the activities staff was there to tell us when to go, and to escort us off the ship. Disembarkation in the terminal was much better than embarkation. Porters were readily available, and the luggage was lined up in a neat an orderly fashion. Porters then took us right through customs and then out to the curb to get us a taxi. Very easy.
Summary: I would not hesitate to recommend the Constellation, but it is not for everyone. I would not recommend it to someone who is looking for nonstop wild entertainment. Even at its best, the entertainment is never wild. A Puerto Rican lady in our next door cabin told me her family has taken the RCCL Radiance before and liked it better because there was more of a "party" atmosphere. Her elderly mother remarked "A harpist! Am I dead?" I do believe people with late seating would find the entertainment more acceptable.