|Celebrity Constellation and Seven New England and Atlantic Canadian Ports|
October 16 - October 30, 2009
New England and Atlantic Canada
We visited Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Maine; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Quebec City, Quebec; Charlottetown, P.E.I.; Sydney, Nova Scotia; and Saint John, New Brunswick aboard Celebrity's Constellation. While the weather was not as nice as we had hoped, we were still very active at each port exploring the area and enjoying the local seafood. We were impressed with the ship and crew of Celebrity Constellation, and would like to return to these ports when the weather is nicer.
Part I - Precruise
We chose Celebrity due to our prior experience. We chose Constellation because we have enjoyed all of Celebrity's ships and had not been on this ship yet.
B. Cruise Critic
Cruisecritic.com was once again very helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.
C. Choice of Route
This was our first time cruising the North Atlantic seaboard, which allowed us to travel to 7 ports we had not cruised to before. We were hoping to see some pretty countryside and colorful trees on this late Autumn cruise.
D. Choice of cabin
We booked this cruise on Travelocity less than 60 days before the cruise. We chose an inside guarantee, meaning we did not have a say in the actual cabin choice. In return we paid a lesser fare. We were assigned a Category 11 cabin on the Continental Deck --- lowest passenger deck. All of the inside cabins have 170 square feet of space. Our cabin (#2028) was reasonably spacious.
We paid about $1150 per person ($82/day/person) including port fees and taxes (but not including airfare, tips and incidentals) for this 14 day cruise. Note: I only include price information because it was requested by fellow travelers following my previous reviews. Note: Celebrity Cruises makes it very clear now that they reserve the right "to impose a fuel supplement of up to $10 per guest per day on all guests if the price of West Texas Intermediate fuel exceeds $65.00 per barrel". Although it hovered over $70 in the two months before the cruise, we were not assessed this charge that could have cost us $280.
We brought our passports which we got several years ago. Hint: AAA members can get really good passport pictures for free at AAA offices.
I insured the trip through Travelex, opting for their TraveLite product, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process. I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure there would be no questions about "existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance. Here are 18 great tips on How to Select Cruise Insurance.
H. Prebooking Excursions
All of our port excursions were done privately, except one (and that one was not prebooked). We typically do not book any excursions with the ship. We find that the ship's excursions are pricey and crowded. We also find that well-researched private excursions let you see more and go more places. Our primary source of research is the Port of Call boards at CruiseCritic.com.
Packing hints came from this board. We packed for 3 Formal nights (suit and tie / fine dinner dress), and 11 Smart Casual nights (polo's and Dockers plus dress shirts and a dinner jacket, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 14 days. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed were battery powered alarm clock, shoe rack (we hang it on the wall and use it to hold all of our other items), rounded scissors, bottled water, cards, a digital camera, binoculars, highlighters, collapsible dirty clothes bag, insulated travel mugs, multiple outlet, and an 9-inch clip-on fan to keep air moving in the cabin. We also made fourteen 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Sunday, it must be Boston!" and the like) and mentioning Cruise Critic in hopes that someone else on the boards would notice and strike up a conversation. (It worked!) The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets.
Part II - Embarkation
A. Cape Liberty in Newark, NJ
Normally, we like to fly in one day early. While it adds some additional expense for hotel and meals, it does wonders for your stress level. This trip we opted to take the first direct flight out in the morning, leaving lots of time for any delays --- and indeed we were delayed about 2 hours.
Upon arrival in Newark at 10:45am, we picked up our bags which were already waiting for us at baggage claim. This was impressive as it only took us 10 minutes to walk to the baggage claim from our gate. After collecting our bags we called Black Car Transportation to take us to the pier. We had made reservations about two weeks before our trip via their website BlackExecutiveCars.com (1-866-374-8530). Recommended! At the time of our trip, rates from Newark Airport to Cape Liberty Pier were as follows: 2 passengers = $45, 4 passengers = $50, 6 passengers = $60, and 8 passengers = $65. I didn't ask about 10 passengers, but they can carry up to ten in their van. Unlike a taxi, this included all bridges and tolls, and it was a little less expensive and more convenient that the bus transfers ($55 pp roundtrip) available through the cruise line. We were picked up in front of baggage claim within 5 minutes by Black Car Transportation and were at the port 30 minutes later.
We arrived at the pier about 11:30am. We tipped the driver $5 and the baggage handlers $5 for 4 bags and proceeded into the building.
B. Security Processing and Boarding
We were in the terminal by 11:50am. Security was very quick and check-in went relatively smoothly. It helped that we completed all of our documentation online before we left home. We had our pictures taken twice: once for a debarkation souvenir opportunity and once to imprint our mugs electronically on our Sea Pass cruise cards for use on the ship and when leaving and returning to the ship. There is a large waiting area with chairs and tables. Elite members were allowed to board at 11:50am. All other passengers had to wait until their number (which was given to you upon arrival) was called. They started calling numbers at noon. When our number was called at 12:15pm we proceeded to a bus which took us to the ship where we walked across a ramp and boarded on Deck 1. We boarded Constellation and were greeted with a choice of champagne or orange juice. Rooms were ready so we went to our cabin first to drop off our carry-on baggage. The whole process from arrival at the pier to arrival in our cabin was just less than an hour.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 2028, an interior category 11 cabin with 170 square feet. We were located near the forward stairwell in the center of the ship, on the Continental Deck - 2. Our interior cabin on this deck was accessed from the Starboard hallway. The cabin was extremely well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets for our clothes. The bathroom has lots of room, storage, and a shower. There is a large mirror covering the entire far wall which helps create the illusion of extra spaciousness. Our cabin also had a desk and loveseat-sized couch/hide-a-bed. Hangers and robes were provided. Hint: you can secure additional wire hangers from your cabin attendant. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Friday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today". Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the following day's gathering. Our stateroom attendant did a wonderful job throughout our cruise. Of note, we found the inside cabins really easy to sleep in. Since there is no window, the room stays dark --- making it really easy to sleep late or take a nap any time of day.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Seaside Cafe on the Resort Deck - 10 for a buffet lunch. Hint: locate the Seaside Grill near the Riviera Pool for a grilled hamburger, or other daily special. While everyone else is in line at the buffet, you could be enjoying a great sandwich with no lines (the first day). The grill will get discovered by day two. There are two buffet lines on deck 10 with lots of hot meal and salad choices. Work your way aft and your find a pasta station, a pizza station, and a sandwich station. In the afternoon there is also an ice cream station (all ice cream is made on board). In the morning you'll find omelette stations, a poached egg station (get your poached eggs prepared 7 different ways) and a waffle and pancake station. At night, there is a sushi bar. Going forward on this deck, you'll find the Aqua Spa Cafe which features healthy meals at breakfast and lunch. There is no extra charge for any of the food on this deck.
The ship is well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. We spent 2 hours exploring the ship. The Celebrity Theater on Constellation was the grandest entertainment venue we have ever seen. The seating spans three decks with excellent views from almost all of the seats. (The far seating on the left and right sides of the upper level have minor obstructions).
E. Lifeboat Drill
About 30 minutes prior to leaving port, we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill. If you've never been through this drill, a loudspeaker announcement is made for all guests to report to your assigned muster station (as directed by the sign on the back of your cabin door). After waiting for all passengers to arrive, you are directed on the proper use of the vest, and then directed to your assigned lifeboats for additional instructions. You do not actually board the life boats. Interestingly, we did not have to actually wear the life jackets during this drill, which is a new policy welcomed by all. Your Sea Pass card now has your muster station printed on it and life jackets will now be available on the life boats. (Formerly, your muster station was printed on your life jacket). A final announcement will dismiss all passengers. The drill went smoothly and lasted about 20 minutes.
F. Cruise Critic Sailaway
Following the lifeboat drill, we donned our Mardi Gras beads and headed to the Bar at the Edge of the Earth on Deck 11 (Forward) to meet folks I had been talking to on the Cruise Critic message boards. The beaded necklaces were intended to help us spot one another.
G. Dinner - 6:00pm First Seating
We requested a large table as we enjoy meeting other passengers and sharing experiences. We were seated at a rectangular table for 10 in the upper level (Entertainment Deck - 5) of the San Marco Restaurant. Our server, assistant, and Maitre'd did a very good job throughout our cruise.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals generally met our expectations. There was good variety. Nice presentations at lunch and dinner. Our Maitre'd was very friendly and helpful. He sincerely wanted to make sure we let him know if there were any problems or special requests. Our table mates twice requested items never seen on the menu and the Maitre'd had them delivered to our table the following night. Meats were cooked to order. Yes, you could even order "medium rare".
A. Always Available
Each night we had a new menu of items we could select for dinner which included 4 appetizers, 3 soups, 2 salads, and 6 main entrees. The following items were available every night (even if they do not appear on the menu): shrimp cocktail, escargot, antipasto platter, French onion soup, lobster bisque, Caprese salad, Caesar salad, chicken breast, broiled salmon, NY Strip steak, apple pie, creme brule and NY cheesecake. Always available side dishes include baked potato, mashed potato, rice pilaf and an assortment of vegetables.
B. The Best Breakfast Items
Mixed berries, fresh fruits, Belgian waffles, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, pecan sticky buns, omelettes, banger sausages, and poached eggs. There is also a heavy brunch with lots of food stations in the San Marco Restaurant (Deck 4) on a couple of the sea days. Don't miss it!
C. The Best Lunch Items
The pizza, sandwich and salad bars in the Seaside Grill, fresh fruit from the Spa Cafe (Deck 10 - Forward/Amidships).
D. The Best Appetizer
All appetizers were well presented and among the best menu selections. We especially liked the lobster ravioli, escargot, shrimp cocktail, all of the items prepared with goat cheese, and the roasted vegetable crostini. On many days the selection was so appealing that we ordered 2 different appetizers to enjoy.
E. The Best Soups
If there was one area that did not live up to expectations, it was the soup. This is traditionally a strong suit. However we found the soups generally weak (stretched too thin with broth). The Hungarian Goulash, French Onion soup, Butternut Squash soup, and Wild Mushroom Bisque were outstanding.
F. The Best Entrées
All of the Lamb and Veal dishes, Halibut, Grouper, and Orange Roughy, and some of the steak offerings (Prime Rib, braised beef items, and the Tenderloins were all better than the NY Strip steak).
G. The Best Desserts
Fresh made ice creams (also available noon to 6:00pm in the Seaside Cafe), crème Brule, cherries jubilee, all cheesecakes, bananas Foster, apple pie, the chocolate cake served for birthdays, and baked Alaska on parade. The best ice creams included: cinnamon, blueberry, strawberry, butter pecan, peanut butter, pistachio, and the mango sherbet.
H. Room Service
You can order room service from a limited menu via your television. We didn't order anything from room service.
I. Midnight Buffets
There was one late night (11:30pm) buffet served at The Bar at the Edge of the Earth on Deck 11. We did not attend as we were too tired.
J. Sushi Bar and Stir Fry
Beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi, and made to order stir fry, was available most nights from 5:30pm to 9:30pm in the Seaside Grill (located Aft on Deck 10) which they decorated with a Japanese restaurant theme. It is a winner. An opening time of 5:30pm better accommodates passengers with the Main Seating for Dinner.
K. Cova Cafe
Hint: Locate this early in your voyage. The Cova Cafe is located amidships on Deck 5. They are open 2 to 3 times a day. Croissants and danish from 8:30am to 10:30am most mornings, and in the afternoons (3:00pm to 5:00pm) they serve cookies and pastries. Some nights they serve tapas (traditional Spanish bites) from 5:30pm to 8:30pm. They offer fancy coffees and wines for sale. There is no additional charge for the food items. This is also one of the places you can pick up a "soda sticker". At a cost of $5.00/day (plus 15% gratuity) they will place a sticker on your sea card which entitles you to unlimited fountain sodas anywhere on the ship. A minor item: the foot long cinnamon twists found on some Celebrity ships was missing from the Cova Cafe on this voyage. (Bummer).
L. Aqua Spa Cafe
Hint: Locate this early in your voyage. Hidden forward/amidship in the Aqua Spa on Deck 10, they offer healthier offerings at breakfast and lunch. Be sure to stop by for a plate of fresh vegetables, tropical fruits, fruit muffins, and fruit tarts.
M. Pizza, Pasta, and Salad
There is a dedicated Pizza Bar and a dedicated Pasta Bar on the starboard side of the Seaside Cafe. Both are open noon to 11:00pm. The pizza bar features a daily special and over a dozen toppings if you wish to create your own which they will bake fresh for you. The pizza is quite good. The pasta bar features several sauces, mix-ins, and noodle selections. The salad bar (located on the port and starboard buffet lines is also open noon to 11:00pm.
N. Ocean Liners - Constellation's Specialty Restaurant
We enjoyed a meal in Ocean Liners one night to celebrate our Wedding Anniversary. This is really the only food on the ship for which there is an extra charge. The cover charge is $30 per person. For this, you are swept back in time to dine in the style of the transatlantic cruise ships of the mid-twentieth century. Seating is limited and reservations are required. Service is very high end --- as is the food. What you are paying for is a special dining experience that you won't soon forget. We enjoyed a delicious goat cheese souffle appetizer, lobster bisque, tenderloin filet (which my wife says was the best she has ever eaten), lobster tail, and for dessert we enjoyed a dark chocolate souffle. My wife also enjoyed an Aspen Coffee with dessert. Your bread plate and water glass never go empty. We were not bothered with picture taking opportunities, flowers, or given a hard sell on wine (although we did each order a house Merlot to enjoy with the meal). It was a very pleasant 2-hour dinning experience in a very fancy venue with great food and outstanding service.
O. The Captain's Table
We did not receive an invite to join the Captain for dinner. This is generally reserved for the more experienced cruisers. Although we now have 11 cruises behind us, we were but infants on this ship filled with longtime cruisers. We find that the longer itineraries and those that cruise while school is in session tend to bring out the elder and more experienced travelers.
Part IV - Entertainment
Two movies are shown each day. These are relatively recent DVD releases. Most of the movies were shown in the Cinema on Plaza Deck 3. One movie was shown in the Celebrity Theater. Of interest, popcorn is not served. A batch of fresh popcorn would be a nice touch.
The Celebrity Theater spans 3 decks and is just beautiful. Seating is very comfortable and sight lines are very good. We have not seen a better theater in any of our prior voyages, although the Millenium's theater is comparable. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers performed three shows. We enjoyed the Spotlight Broadway and Celebrate the World productions best. Guest entertainers included comedian Fred Klett, ventriloquist Mark Merchant, singer Lelani Marrell, and energetic concert pianist Antonio Salci. We thought the most impressive show was the Aerialists/Adage Duo "Alex and Sally" who performed absolutely beautiful dance and aerial feats.
The Fortunes Casino on (Promenade Deck - 4) is filled with slot machines, one craps table, a roulette table, and a few poker and blackjack tables, and an electronic Texas Hold'em table. The casino was open while at sea. Closed while in ports. The casino is no longer a smoke-filled venue as Celebrity has prohibited smoking here. The upside is that I no longer avoided the casino. The downside is that I left some money on the craps table.
It is located Forward on the Resort Deck-10. We did not use the spa on this trip.
E. Outdoor Pools and Hot tubs.
The Seaside Pool saw little action on this chilly cruise, while the indoor hot tubs were reasonably active.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
This ship has more talent than any other Celebrity ship we have sailed. The Celebrity Orchestra, Eugene Villarino (guitarist), Paradise String Quartet (classical strings), Sipra (the party band) were all very good. Our favorite group was an a cappella quintet called The Voice Males that primarily performed in The Bar at the Edge of the Earth on Deck 11. There were less that a dozen passengers in attendance on their first night, but as word spread their audience grew nightly to the point that they filled the room during the second week. Perry Grant, a flamboyant cabaret piano entertainer, performed nightly to standing room only crowds in Michael's Club on Deck 4. While he does engage his audience and has quite a following, it was not a show that we enjoyed.
G. In-room TV
There were several closed-circuit ship channels and sporadic satellite stations (namely ESPN, CNN, TNT, Discovery, a movie channel, and CBS "Eye on Celebrity") available on the TV in the cabin. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well. Apparently Celebrity subscribes to a satellite service that works well in the Caribbean but not in northern latitudes. This was really disappointing as we had NO access to NFL football games or the Major League Baseball playoffs.
H. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service. We have used room service on prior cruises. They don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!
I. Sporting Events
Big sporting events like NFL football games and the MLB Playoff Series were NOT available for viewing due to Celebrity's contract with a programming provider that has very poor satellite coverage. More often than not, we had 3 blacked out channels. ESPN was generally not available for any extended period of time.
There is no lack of things to do: movies, bingo, 4 trivia contests throughout the day, ping pong, darts, musical entertainment, shows, historical enrichment talks (which were all very interesting), culinary demonstrations, seminars, workshops, casino tournaments, cards, Mah Jong, and dancing to name a few. The activities staff was outstanding. The Activities Manager, Alejandro Tortorelli, is hilarious! His 5-minute taped daily activity briefings with another member of his 4-person staff on the closed circuit tv channel are laugh-out-loud gems not to be missed.
Part V - Parties and Tours
A. Cruise Critic Connections Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an email confirmation that a party would take place. An invitation to the party, set for 10:00am on Saturday (our first day at sea) in Michael's Club greeted us in our cabin upon arrival. At the appointed time we arrived at Michael's Club. In total, about 75 folks attended. A Cruise Critic member, who goes by the screen name "Grandma Rainbow", distributed really nice name tags that she had made for all the members who signed up. We had a great (albeit limited) time meeting and greeting other cruise critics. Light refreshments were provided. The Cruise Director, Joshua Riffe, and numerous officers including Captain Dimitris Manetas made an appearance. While I do think that Josh was one of the best Cruise Directors we have seen, we felt he monopolized the meeting (intentionally or unintentionally). He did a lot of good "Q and A", but left us with almost no time to ourselves to mingle. A picture opportunity emptied the room of most members. About 30 folks participated in a gift exchange that was well received. Coffee service was cut off early. It should have been made available for the duration of the meeting.
B. Captain's Club Parties
There is a party of some sort happening daily. These included a party for all Captain's Club Members which included a great ensemble performance by representatives of all the ship's entertainment, a party of Elite and Select Captain's Club Members, a Captain's Club Elegant Tea, a party celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and others. We did not make all of the parties. The Captain's Club events were well attended and top notch.
C. Captain's Club Wine Blending Seminar
This is a really cool event which took place in the Ocean Liners Restaurant. The sommelier walks you through the finer points of wine tasting, then, with the help of six Kendall-Jackson white wines allows you to craft different blended wines.
D. Cruise Critic Bridge Tour
All of the Cruise Critic members that registered for the Cruise Critic Connections party, received an invite to tour the Bridge. This was the first time we've seen the Bridge. An officer explained the finer workings of the navigation controls and propulsion system and answered questions. This was a really neat experience.
E. Captains Club Backstage Tour at the Celebrity Theater
Due to a scheduling conflict, we were unable to attend this tour that takes you behind the scenes of the Celebrity Theater to view the dressing rooms, props and other backstage areas. It is surprising how much the talent can do with so little room at their disposal.
Part VI - Health Concerns
There was no smoking in the restaurants, show lounge, Michael's Club, library, casino, card room, hallways, elevators, inside any stateroom or on any stateroom veranda. "Cigarette smoking is permitted in designated indoor and outdoor areas of the ship, while cigar and pipe smoking will only be permitted in designated outdoor areas". Generally, smoking was permitted on the port side of The Bar at the Edge of the World, and outdoors on the port side. The air circulation in The Bar at the Edge of the World was generally poor. All it took was for one or two folks to light up and the air quickly became less than hospitable. A lot of passengers were upset about the smoking but there was nothing that could be done about it. This was unfortunate since a lot of functions (like trivia, dancing, and entertainment) occur in this wonderful venue. They had every right to smoke in The Bar at the Edge of the World, and unfortunately a few did. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege on the ship.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
Only the indoor hot tubs and thalassotherapy pool were generally used. No problems were reported.
C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
In a word: impeccable. You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! We did not witness any torn carpets or peeling paint. Constellation is really in good shape.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence.
We had rough seas on the first couple of days and especially rough seas on our last sea day. A few passengers had a problem with sea sickness. I alternated a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. Despite that, I still had some queasiness on the rough days and walked like a drunk down the hallways as the ship pitched. My wife had no problems at all.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship's Crew
We were very impressed with the ship and crew. Very friendly and competent.
B. Our Stateroom Attendant
He was very attentive. Kept the beds made and bathroom clean. Upon arrival we requested 36 wire hangers, and an a egg crate foam mattress pad for the bed. Both were handled promptly. We were asked on numerous occasions throughout the cruise if everything was okay and if we needed anything. (We didn't).
C. The Shops
Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. The booze prices on the ship were generally attractive. There is a lot of space dedicated to shops on this ship. Most are very high end.
D. Internet Service
There is a good number of computers with internet access available on the ship. Due to the new Elite member benefit of 90 minutes of free interest access, the computers got a lot more access than we've seen on previous cruises. This benefit was well received.
Given that school is in session I don't think we saw more than 6 passengers under the age of 18 on this voyage.
F. Dress Code
About 15% of men in the Main Seating wore a tux on Formal nights. Most wore coat and tie. Did not see any major violation of the dress code in the dining room.
We went through customs in Newark upon our return. Basically just left the ship, picked up our baggage and spoke to a customs officer with no waiting. This was very fast.
Part VIII - The Ports
A. Boston, Massachusetts
8:00am to 6:00pm. We berthed at the Black Falcon Terminal in Boston. It not near anything. Taxi's are available. We booked online with the Old Towne Trolley Tour which has a special stop at pier (16A) when ships are in port. Adult tickets are $36 (or $32.50 online). This is the same tour company that runs the ship excursion except that excursion is a separate non-stop tour of the city. The guests taking that tour will be picked up at the cruise ship terminal. We booked their standard tour of the city which includes a free pass to the Old State House Museum as well as hop-on hop-off privileges throughout the day. They are suppose to pickup passengers at 16A about every 20 minutes throughout the day from 9am-5pm. We had especially bad weather in Boston. It was cold, windy, and raining (which eventually turned to snow). After 4 couples were left waiting awhile at 16A we called Old Towne Trolley and was informed they were not picking up at 16A that day. They directed us to another stop. This was not a good start. Once we did board the drivers were friendly and informative. Unfortunately, we couldn't see much as the rain and dark skies made viability difficult outside the trolley and the plastic window that kept the rain out of the trolley fogged up on the inside. Advice: I've taken this tour on a nice day and it's a good value. Skip this tour when the weather is bad.
Directions to stop 16A: When you disembark you will go into the terminal and walk out Gate B. Turn left and follow the path until you exit the gated lot. Cross Black Falcon Avenue, follow a sidewalk running between a parking lot and a building and then cross Drydock Avenue. You should see a Dunkin Donuts directly in front of you. For reference, it's part of the Harbor Place Building. Turn left, cross Harbor Street, and go to the bus stop labeled "Drydock Avenue". This is stop 16A. They pick you up at that bus stop. It is a 5-8 minute walk. Note: Anyone can get on at this stop, whether you have a ticket or not, and everyone has to get off at stop #1. At stop #1, if you have an e-ticket, you will have to get it stamped for use as a regular ticket (for reboarding at stops); and if you don't have a ticket yet you can buy tickets at stop #1.
If they aren't picking up at stop 16A, then keep walking past this bus stop to Summer Street. Turn right, cross the street, and walk about 3 blocks up Summer Street to the Westin. There is a bus stop right there on Summer Street (at the bottom of a bunch of marble steps leading up to the Westin) where the Trolley will pick you up. Officially this is their stop #16.
After the extensive 90-minute tour that pointed out over 50 points of interest, we were dropped back off at stop #1 located outside the Boston Marriott Long Wharf. We ate lunch at Tia's, which is just around the corner (attached to the outside of the Marriott). It's a great spot for lunch, dinner, and drinks. We each enjoyed their lobster dinner special: two lobsters plus fries and cole slaw for $24.95 (or 1 for $12.95). This was the best steamed lobster we ate on this trip. It was so good, in fact, that we ate 7 lobsters for lunch, and loved every bit of it!
After lunch we walked around the shops near Faneuil Hall and took in a free lecture within the Hall itself. After a while we caught the trolley back to the ship. This time they took us all the way to the terminal, which was nice.
B. Portland, Maine
7:00am - 3:00pm. We berthed at Portland Ocean Gateway Terminal at 50 Commercial Street (near Franklin). It is an easy walk to town. We considered a narrated tour from Portland Discovery Tours (formerly Mainly Tours). They run a Land Tour and a Sea Tour. Cost is $18 pp or $33 pp for Land and Sea. Each runs 90 minutes. We opted instead for Portland's $5 "Peak At Portland Metro Bus", Route 8A Metro, with hop-on and hop-off privileges. The METRO typically provides "Peek at Portland" bus service to larger cruise ships with 1000 or more passengers. Self-guided tour maps can be found at the Greater Portland Landmarks site.
The town's $5 Metro bus is a narrated route that runs through most of town. It goes past several landmarks and has stops close to the Shipyard Brewery, L.L. Bean Outlet Store, and the Museum of Art. We bought tickets at a booth inside the protected pier area. At a welcome booth we were handed a "Maine Passport" which is a coupon book with discounts at many of the stores in the downtown region (including LL Bean's factory outlet). If you dock at the Visitor's Center, come out and turn left. You'll find a ticket booth and Metro stop about a block away.
We took the Metro bus and got off at the L.L. Bean Outlet at 9:00am. This was a good sized store packed with clothing. (However I understand it pales in comparison to their flagship store in Freeport). We bought two "Mad Bomber" winter hats lined with rabbit fur. This turned out to be one of our best purchases on the cruise as there were very comfortable, kept us warm, and generated numerous complements at every port.
We walked around town, which has lots of historic buildings scattered about, and then headed for The Portland Museum of Art (a AAA Gem) which opens at 10:00 --- but it was closed. It closes on Mondays after Columbus Day. So we hopped back on the Metro bus and got off close to the Shipyard Brewery for a tour. Tours are free and run on the hour starting at 11:00am. They also have an extensive gift shop. The tour consists of a 10-minute movie, a visit to the bottling floor, and finishes with a tasting of all of their beers and a couple of sodas. Their Eli's brand Root Beer, made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup, was really good. We bought a 4-pack to enjoy on the ship. The Maine Bear Cafe in town serves Eli's Root Beer on tap for under $2.
We enjoyed a bowl of clam chowder and a lobster roll for lunch at Gilbert's Chowder House. I recommend the clam chowder. The lobster roll, while fresh and good, was dry. We prefer our lobster rolls moistened with mayonnaise and bits of celery and onion.
Following lunch, we visited the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum. It's interesting for about 10 minutes unless you are a real enthusiast. It's worth the $2 price of admission.
Ship Hint: be sure to be on the starboard side of the ship as you leave Portland. You will go right by Portland Head Light which is the oldest and among the most photographed lighthouses in the world.
C. Halifax, Nova Scotia
10:00am - 6:00pm. We berthed at Pier 20 which is the closest pier to town. It is easily walkable. Halifax offers a local FRED (Free Rides Everywhere Downtown) bus that runs from 10:30am - 5:00pm. It stops at the Cruise Ship Pavilion/Pier 21 on the :30/:10/:50 and at the Top of the Halifax Citadel on the :48/:28/:08. Frankly, we never saw the bus. It's easy to walk around town but it is a tough 30-minute walk up to the Citadel as it is mostly uphill all the way. We did it, as did many others, so don't let the hill dissuade you. Once inside the Citadel ($7.25 pp, AAA Gem) there were a number of very interesting demonstrations by members of the 78th Highlanders regiment in period uniforms. They discussed each piece of the uniform, fired weapons, and demonstrated cannon movement. A 50-minute movie on the history of Halifax was also worthwhile, as were the museum displays. You'll enjoy panoramic views from the top of the fort as well.
Walking down from the Citadel was easy. We lunched at McKelvies (located directly across the street from the Maritime Museum). McKelvies is where you want to go to enjoy tender, buttery, melt in your mouth, Digby scallops, and lobster rolls (properly moistened with a little mayonnaise, and bits of celery and onion). It all goes down good with a Garrison Irish Red draft beer. This is where we enjoyed the best Digby scallops and lobster rolls on this cruise.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic ($8.50 pp, AAA Gem) has numerous ship related exhibits including the Titanic, sunken treasure, lighthouses, ship models, and other maritime artifacts. A short movie on the 1917 explosion in Halifax Harbour (the world's largest man-made explosion before Hiroshima) was very interesting.
Hint: A short 10-minute walk from the ship is an Atlantic Super Store (grocery). Take a left on Terminal and a quick left on Hollis. You can't miss it. Good opportunity to pick up a 12-pack of your favorite soda (made with sugar instead of corn syrup), or other sundry items you may have forgotten to pack.
D. Quebec City, Quebec
10:00am - Overnighter - 4:00pm. We berthed at the Quebec City Wharf #93 which is on the edge of Old Quebec. Easily walkable. Grab a seat in The Bar at the Edge of the Earth on Deck 11 to view the impressive approach to the city via the Saint-Laurent Seaway, berthing just below the imposing fortification defenses and Chateau Frontenac. We arrived about 11:00 am to 20-30 mph winds, rain, sleet, heavy snow and a 33-degree high. It was downright miserable, so we wasted no time and went for a walk, thankful for our rabbit-lined mad bomber hats we purchased at the L.L. Bean Outlet in Portland, Maine. We had originally intended to visit Montmorency Falls but saved it for our second day in hopes that the wether might improve.
Quebec City's population speaks French. All the signage is also in French. We strolled the many shops in the lower city, with friendly greetings of "bonjour" upon entry at each, as we worked our way up to Chateau Frontenac --- a very impressive hotel and landmark that was built in the late 19th Century. It turned out to be our respite from the sandblasting sleet and cold. Once we warmed up we headed out for a tour of the Citadel.
The Citadel (a AAA Gem) was built from 1820 to 1850 and contains over 25 buildings. It is a huge fortification and home to the governor-general. Since it is still an active military facility (the largest fortification in North America garrisoned by regular troops), guided tours are mandatory. We slogged our way through two inches of accumulated snow and heavy winds to the entrance where there is a small museum display. Continuing into the Citadel, we made our way to the tour office where we were greeted by a guide. We signed up for a tour ($10 pp), which turned out to be a private tour since apparently no one else was crazy enough to show up in this weather. The tour lasted about 75 minutes and included time in two museums on the site. The museums included dioramas, weapons, and artifacts on the many wars that occurred here and those overseas in which Canadians fought. Exiting the Citadel, we got some great winter pictures of the fortification walls, arches, and fairy tale like streets of the city.
We woke up the second day to beautiful sunny skies. Having not noticed any local taxis at the pier on day one, we opted for a ship excursion to Sainte-Anne-De-Beaupre (St. Anne Basilica) and Montmorency Falls. It was a 3-hour morning tour for $56 pp, plus tip, including all entrance and parking fees. The bus ride out of the city gave us picturesque views of a snow-dusted country side as we made our way out to St. Anne Basilica. It's a huge complex. The church itself is stunningly beautiful, with its stained glass windows, archways, ornate columns, and mosaic ceilings. It houses two relics: an arm bone and another bone fragment from Saint Anne (Mary's mother, Jesus' "grandmother"). The main floor includes numerous alcoves dedicated to specific Saints for individual prayer. Doors and pews are carved. The entrance doors are adorned with embossed scenes --- two on each side of every door.
The second stop on the tour was Montmorency Falls (a AAA Gem). The Falls are 270-feet high --- about 50% taller than Niagra Falls (though not nearly as wide). There is a visitors center at the bottom of the falls. A gondola ($8 pp) provides rides to the top and there is also a footpath with grueling stairs that will take you the long way around to the top as well. We opted for the bus ride to the top instead. There is a footbridge which spans the top of the Falls. And once again you have a choice as there are two routes to the bridge. The easiest route is to take the path above Montmorency Manor. The more scenic path, with a couple of stairways starts in front of the Manor. It's about the same distance either way. We opted for the easy route up and the scenic route back. Lots of good picture taking opportunities. Our tour guide was very good and provided us with great information. Upon our return to the ship I found several taxi van tours offering a similar tour for $41 pp for parties of 6. I would recommend this tour.
After lunch we set out for the Farmers Market (Place du Marche du Vieux Port). The Farmers Market is the best place in town to buy maple syrup ($8 for a 524 ml can), maple butter, maple fudge, produce, seafood, wine, and other products de Quebec. It's a level 30-minute walk or take Quebec City's small white and blue electric bus called The Ecolobus. It's free, and it's ideal for cruise ship passengers, as it starts its route right at the Ferry Terminal (which, depending upon where your ship is docked, either right at, or within two blocks, of your ship). It runs every 20-minutes. You catch it at any regular bus stop along the route, which includes access to the upper town as well. We caught the Ecolobus next to the Ferry Terminal (it's a glass-enclosed bus stop at the corner of du Marche-Champlain and Dalhousie) and then walked back.
E. Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
8:00am - 6:00pm. We berthed at the Charlottetown pier which is on the edge of town. The cruise ship terminal is a long warehouse building with a few shops and free wi-fi. The town is easy to walk. We started our day at Founders Hall ($7, AAA Gem) about a block and a half from the ship. Pick up your $2-off coupon at the InfoCenter kiosk in the terminal. While 4 or 5 of the exhibits were out of service, the step back in time to follow the founding of the Confederation of Canada was very interesting. Founders Hall also has a Starbucks and free wi-fi.
We walked around town and saw the Province House where delegates first discussed Canada's evolution, and visited Anne of Green Gables Chocolate Shop, near the corner of Queen and Richmond, for a free sample of their chocolate covered P.E.I. potato chips which you can watch them make right in the window. We then set out for local seafood.
We lunched at Water-Prince Corner Shop at the corner of, you guessed it, Water and Prince. We enjoyed a dozen outstanding Malpeque oysters on the half-shell ($16.95) and a pot of Blue Mussels ($9.95). But we weren't done yet. We had to find a source for the famous P.E.I. lobsters as well. One block from the ship, right on the water, is a restaurant called Lobster on the Wharf. It's great if you want a sit down meal with all the trimmings and a price to match. The real prize is next door at MacKinnon's Lobster Pound. It's in the same building and owned by the same folks. As you approach the restaurant, the door to the right takes you into Lobster on the Wharf, while the door on the left takes you into MacKinnon's Lobster Pound. You can buy 1.00lb-1.25lb cooked and chilled whole P.E.I. lobsters for just $7.75 each and they will crack them for free (and give you a free plastic lobster pick to help get the meat out). We bought two, which they bagged for us, and walked over to the picnic table in the park next door. No need for drawn butter! The chilled lobster meat was the sweetest lobster we ate the entire cruise. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I have to go back!
Back at Founders Hall, we caught a red double-decker bus ($20 pp) for a 1-hour narrated tour of Charlottetown. It's a worthwhile informative tour.
F. Sydney, Nova Scotia
8:00am - 4:00pm. We berthed at the Sydney Marine Terminal located at the corner of York and Esplanade. You are in town. There really isn't much of note in the town itself. You've got to get out of town. Fortunately, they have good local bus service. We set our sights on The Miners' Museum (a AAA Gem) located in nearby Glace Bay. They are open 10:00am - 6:00pm and costs $6 pp + Mine Tour $6 pp. The bus stop is about 4 blocks from the pier. Take Esplanade to Dorchester to George. Wait at the glass-enclosed bus stop on Dorchester just short of George Street. Take the #1 Glace Bay bus at 9:00am. It may arrive early but it will wait and leave on the hour. The ride takes about 50 minutes. Once you arrive in Glace Bay, get off on Commercial (between Marconi and York, across the street from Tim Hortons). Walk downhill on Commercial St. Commercial becomes South after you cross over a stream. Continue on South St and turn left at Birkley St. The museum will be straight ahead, about 2 blocks. (Total walk is 1.1 km, which will take you about 20 minutes). You will see occasional signage.
The Miners' Museum has a movie and exhibits on coal mining, methods, tools, and history. The real value in visiting the museum is the tour, led by retired coal miners who share with you their coal mining experiences. You go underground into a 1932 'room and pillar' coal mine where you will see coal-lined walls and learn from a true insider about the mining methods and working conditions. He will share his stories with you as you enter one tunnel after another. The tour is advertised to last 20 minutes. Our 10-person tour lasted at least an hour. Highly recommended!
Catch the return bus on Marconi Street, near where you arrived, at Noon or 1:00pm (and arrive 1 hour later). If you get back to the bus stop a little early, stop in at Tim Hortons for a fresh Krispy Kreme-style doughnut or muffin, and coffee or hot chocolate.
Cost for the bus is $3.25pp 1 way (except Saturdays where all fares are just 1 Loonie). Discount bus fare books of $13.75 can be bought for $12.50 at any Shoppers Drug Mart store or Sydney Citizen Service Centre (320 Esplanade in Sydney 8:30am - 4:30pm). Allow a total of 6 hours for this excursion (1.5 hours for the bus and walk each way and 3 hours for the museum and mine tour).
G. Saint John, New Brunswick (Bay of Fundy)
8:00am - 6:00pm. We berthed at the Marco Polo Terminal (formerly known as the Pugsley Terminal), which is literally right in town and close to the Harbour Passage Walking Trail. Upon arrival, women were presented a rose and men were given a lapel pin souvenir. You can walk to Reversing Falls (no falls, really just rapids) along the Harbour Passage from the cruise area in about 50 minutes. If you get there while the tide is rising you'll see the river water running inland from the ocean. The rapids occur when the rising tide coming in is fighting the out flowing river water.
Exit the pier and turn left. Follow the red sidewalk along Water Street until you see a Moose on your left. Turn left and walk towards, and then around along the boardwalk in front of, the Hilton. Once you clear the Hilton you'll see an entrance to the Harbour Passage with a sign overhead and the red sidewalk once again. Follow the riverside trail until it dead ends under a bridge, then backtrack a little and follow the red concrete trail to the road. (Ignore all of the other forks you encounter along the way). Turn left and stay on the sidewalk next to the highway all the rest of the way. Don't worry that they failed to paint this sidewalk red. You will eventually get to the Reversing Falls lookout which once again will feature a Harbour Passage sign overhead and a red walkway. Most folks continue from here and cross over the bridge to the other side of the river for more impressive views. There are two restaurants and one has a short movie you can view. There are a number of good lookout points as well as a dock for river tours. Across the parking lot is an elevated park with great views of the surrounding area.
If you don't want to walk back, you can catch the #2 Bus back into town. Catch the bus at the corner of the parking lot, at the entrance, across from where the restaurants are. Bus fare is $2.50 pp and it runs every 20 minutes. The ride will take just 10 minutes. Get off at Barbours General Store, about 2 blocks from the ship. If you don't wish to walk at all, there may be a private shuttle boat called the Falls Shuttle Service and they go out to the falls and back for $4.00.
Back in town we visited the New Brunswick Museum ($6.00, AAA Gem) in market square. This family museum has dioramas of logging operations, intensive shipbuilding exhibits, artifacts recovered from sunken ships, art, whale and mastodon skeletons, a hall of stuffed birds, and children's discovery exhibits. Worthwhile.
We ate lunch at Billy's Seafood Company located at the far end of City Mall on Charlotte Street across from Kings Square. We enjoyed a pint of Pump House Blueberry draft beer with our "Seafood Splash" which consisted of a 1.00lb lobster, 8 Digby scallops, 8 Grand Island clams, and a dozen P.E.I. Blue Mussels. It was a good sampler platter ($36).
H. Days At Sea
We had five days at sea, nicely spaced between ports. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea Days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. It also helped pace the cruise. We slept in late. You can also eat, play games, attend art auctions, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), watch movies in the room, attend shows, eat, nap, blackjack tournament, slots tournament, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, shuffleboard, ping-pong, paddle tennis, basketball, darts, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, Bingo, eat, rum tasting, shopping, gambling, exercise, movies, live entertainment... the list goes on!
F. Ships in Port
Visit CruiseCal.com or the links provided above to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise.
Part IX - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it really is expected, and it's something you should figure into your cruise budget. I say it's expected, but the ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers. They genuinely do everything they can to service your needs. The Celebrity guidelines total $322.00 per couple on an 14-day cruise. The tip guidelines break out as follows (per couple): Waiter $102.20, Waiter's Assistant $58.50, Assistant Maitre'd $28, Stateroom Attendant $98, and Assistant Chief Housekeeper $35. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. Early in the voyage, Celebrity gives you the option of charging all of the tips to your cruise account.
You'll also tip for room service, bartenders (a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks), the Sommelier (that wine guy or gal with the silver cup dangling from his neck), Spa Personnel (a 10% service charge is automatically included), baggage handlers, taxi drivers, tour drivers, and any other personnel who you wish to tip.
Part X - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a CC express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, casino and spa discounts, cocktail parties, free entrance into the wine-tasting seminar, and a one cabin upgrade. New benefits for Select (5-9 cruises) and Elite (10 or more cruises) include laundry and internet discounts, and Elite also has access to the free Happy Hour drinks in Michael's Club. Some exclusions apply.
Part XI - Disembarkation and Customs
On the final sea day, rather than attend a disembarkation briefing in person, we were advised to watch a disembarkation video that played on a loop all day on a tv channel in our cabin. This worked great. Josh Riffe presented a very informative and easy to follow briefing.
On the morning of disembarkation, a full buffet breakfast with all the trimmings was available in the Seaside Cafe on Deck 10.
Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Color-coded disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage and set them outside their cabin before going to bed. Clearly those folks needing to catch plane and train connections or who were on escorted tours in Newark and New York had high priority. Select and Elite members had good priority as well. Other Captain's Club members had priority within their color group. Disembarkation was scheduled to begin about 8:15am. All passengers were instructed to sit in specific public areas until their group color was called. Once off the ship, you clocked out with your sea pass card one last time, collected your bags from the terminal, showed your passports to customs personnel while declaring your purchases and exited the terminal. Bags were arranged by color for easy retrieval in the terminal.
Unlike our arrival, we had no prearranged transportation back to the airport. Upon exiting the terminal, we walked to the extreme left of the open-air staging area to grab a taxi. They had a large number of 10-passenger taxi vans available. Cost per person is $14 plus tip. This was a relatively good value given the alternatives. 20 minutes later we were at the airport.
According to the U.S. Canadian Embassy, each U.S. citizen traveling to Canada is permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 1 liter of alcohol per person. Smokers are limited to 200 previously exported cigarettes and 100 cigars. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
Part XII - Praises and Gripes
Constellation's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. The food was very good. The ship is very well laid out, clean and in very good shape. The Captain's Club events were very good, and the ship's entertainment is excellent. My wife wanted me to give kudos for the larger coffee cups Constellation uses in stark contrast to the small mugs we've seen on previous cruises. We received a big red rose and a nice note of congratulations welcoming us to "Elite" status beginning with our next cruise. The newly expanded non-smoking policy was very much appreciated.
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about, although if you got any group of folks together, similar themes emerged: 1. The photos were very professional and creative. The price of the photos was outrageous. I still don't understand the mentality of taking tons of pictures of passengers and then expecting us to pay $10 to $20 for each. We won't. 2. Smoking in The Bar at The Edge of The Earth. Great venue. Too bad a single smoker or two can ruin the air for the majority of passengers. 3. Poor satellite TV service. We missed the MLB playoffs. 4. An occasional faint sewage smell in our bathroom. Never lasted all day. 5. Heavy chorine shock on or about October 26. The entire water supply, from the bathrooms to the drinking water took on a very heavy smell of chorine.
Information is from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. The information presented is an opinion intended to assist travelers in preparing for their New England and Atlantic Canada cruise.
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© 2009 Topher
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