|Celebrity Constellation and Four Eastern Caribbean Ports |
January 16 - January 24, 2015
St. Barts, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (Haiti)
We departed Ft. Lauderdale, Florida aboard Celebrity's Constellation and visited four ports: Gustavia, St. Barts; St. Croix, USVI; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Labadee, Hispaniola (Haiti). Constellation's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. The food is very good. The ship is very well laid out, clean and in very good shape. The Captain's Club events are very good, and the ship's entertainment is excellent. The ship's Captain, Tasos Kafetzis, and the Cruise Director, Alejandro Tortorelli, are the best we have ever seen. We experienced a few minor problems but nothing that would ruin the cruise.
Jump to Review of Ports
Part I - Precruise
A. 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.
B. Choice of Route
While we have been to San Juan several times, and St. Croix once, we were looking forward to visiting ports in Labadee, Haiti, and Gustavia, St. Barts. The cruise left from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and traveled to St. Barts, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola (Haiti). The other 4 days were "At Sea". We hoped to escape the cold weather and enjoy some nice weather in the Caribbean.
Day 1: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - Debarkation at 4:30pm
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: At Sea
Day 4: Gustavia, St. Barts
Day 5: St. Croix, U.S.V.I.
Day 6: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Day 7: Labadee, Hispaniola
Day 8: At Sea
Day 9: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida - Disembarkation at 7:00 am
C. Choice of Ship
We chose the route first, but were also happy to be cruising on Celebrity Constellation once again. We last sailed on Constellation to New England and Canada. Constellation is one of four Millenium class ships. She took her maiden voyage in 2002 and was refurbished (Solsticized) in 2010. She weighs in at 91,000 tons and has an occupancy of 2170 passengers, although it never really felt crowded.
D. Choice of cabin
We booked this cruise on CelebrityCruises.com less than 30 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 12 cabin on the Continental Deck (Deck 2) --- the lowest passenger deck. Our cabin (#2009) was reasonably spacious. The cost difference between an inside cabin and a balcony cabin was being able to afford the cruise at all, so we found ourselves with a forward inside cabin. An advantage of an inside cabin (besides a much lower cost) is how easy it is to sleep in them, since there is no sunlight. Inside cabins are the exact same size as the outside ocean view cabins, with 170 square feet, though they are smaller than the 183 to 200 square feet found on the newer Solstice Class ships' interior cabins.
We paid about $575 per person ($72/day/person) including port fees and taxes (but not including airfare, tips and incidentals) for this 8 day cruise. Note: I only include price information because it was requested by fellow travelers following my previous reviews. This price does not include the 1-2-3 deal, any beverage plan, or prepaid gratuities. It did include a $100 cabin credit. [Note that cabin credits usually take 24 hours after departure before appearing on your account.]
Even though we were boarding in Florida, we were visiting 2 foreign countries and 2 territories of the USA, so we felt it would be a good idea to bring passports. This trip we used passport cards. They were accepted without a problem and were so much easier to carry around than the standard passport book.
The passport card is the wallet-size travel document that can only be used to re-enter the United States at land border-crossings and sea ports-of-entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. The card provides a less expensive, smaller, and convenient alternative to the passport book for those who travel frequently to these destinations by land or by sea. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.
Therefore, since the passport book is the only document approved for international travel by air, we did bring the passport book with us in case it was needed for evac or air travel but we were able to leave it locked in the cabin safe the entire trip.
I insured the trip through Travelex, opting for their Travel Select 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.
G. Prebooking Excursions
Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads, we decided to prebook an excursion in St. Croix --- which we arranged privately via email. In St. Barts, San Juan, and Labadee we simply walked. More details later.
We have found that researching excursions ahead of time and making arrangements directly with the tour operator has always resulted in a more enjoyable, and less expensive, tour than can be arranged through the ship. Tour group size typically runs about 8 to 24 passengers versus the hordes typical of a ship's tour.
We packed for 2 Semi-Formal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 6 Casual nights (polo's/aloha shirts and Dockers, blouses and skirts), in addition to enough clothing to cover us for 4 days. Although it was an 8-day cruise, we packed for 4 and gave the ship our laundry on days 3 and 6 using a Captain's Club coupon. (Note that there is no do-it-yourself laundry on any Celebrity ship). Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed was a battery powered alarm clock, roll-up shoe rack (we use the pockets to store useful things), sunscreen, highlighters, collapsible dirty clothes bag, wide-brim hats, a backpack, magnets (to keep announcements and invites handy --- since the walls are metal) and a water camera.
We also made eight 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Monday, it must be St. Barts" and the like). The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets. Not only did they help us keep track of the day and our cabin location, we struck up a few conversations with our neighbors who appreciated the signage.
I. Water Camera
Speaking of the water camera, I highly recommend you get a rugged water camera for your cruise. They are so much more versatile than an ordinary camera and you'll enjoy taking them places regular cameras can't go (like the beach, waterfalls, and underwater). Just as I over-research ports, I spent hours researching water cameras. We wanted a camera we could indeed take everywhere, that took good pictures in and out of the water, and had a good optical zoom.
We purchased the rugged Olympus Stylus TG-830 for under $220. Wow! that's a great camera for the money. It has lots of easy-to-use picture modes and the panoramic mode just takes your breath away. Here's why it's rugged: it's waterproof to 10m/33ft, shockproof to 2.1m/6.9ft, crushproof to 100kgf/220lbf, freezeproof to -10C/14F, and dustproof (which also means it keeps sand out). It also has built-in GPS and e.Compass, 5x optical zoom, 10x enhanced (not fuzzy) digital zoom, and full 1080P Full HD Video. (They have a newer model out now, but the reviews are not as good). All of the pictures in this review were taken with our Olympus TG-830. If you don't have one, a cruise is a great excuse to buy one.
J. Marriott BeachPlace Towers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We flew into Fort Lauderdale one day early to help avoid the stress of travel delays that might occur on cruise day. We took a taxi from the airport to the Marriott BeachPlace Towers for $22 plus tip. Taxi dropoff is on the first floor. Check-in is on the 5th floor. The four elevators are notoriously slow. The front desk was very friendly. We were in studio lock-off room #1203 which featured a king bed, kitchenette (small refrigerator, microwave, bar sink, and coffee maker), couch, table, chairs, and a shaded lanai overlooking Ft Lauderdale Beach, with a table and 2 chairs.
There is a CVS (no pharmacy) in the mall fronting the beach. They have beer, wine, water, and just about any sundry or beach item you could want. The beach is busy with lots of people-watching opportunities, and there are lots of bars nearby.
Part II - Embarkation
A. Fort Lauderdale, Florida
We flew into Fort Lauderdale one day early and stayed at Marriott BeachPlace Towers. See details above. We enjoyed an early dinner at Coconuts (happy hour is from 4pm to 6pm) and picked up bananas for the next morning's breakfast since it is difficult to locate a reasonably priced breakfast before 9am in the area. We checked-out of the hotel at 9:50am and took a taxi ($12 plus tip) to Port Everglades.
B. Security Processing and Boarding at Port Everglades
On the way to the pier, everyone in the taxi must show their passports to security and the trunk is searched. We arrived at the pier itself about 10:05 am, gave our luggage and a $5 tip to a luggage handler, and waited until about 10:35am to enter the terminal. There were two lines outside. One for Suites, Aqua Class, and Zenith; and one for all other passengers. Once inside, our Express Check-in paperwork and passports were checked as we queued for security. We headed to Celebrity Check-in 5 minutes later.
Separate lines were set up for Suites and Aqua Class, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. Once in line, you waited until being directed to one of over a dozen Celebrity check-in agents. Priority was generally given to folks in the line order sequenced above. The agent checked our passport cards, credit card, and embarkation form. She asked us each to complete a health form. Within 10 minutes we had our Sea Pass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key) and were sent to yet another line to have our picture taken to electronically match our image with our Sea Pass card.
Boarding began at 11:00 am. Two or three more security checks later, we were on the Constellation. An attendant greeted us with a choice of champagne, mimosas, or orange juice; while others sold specialty dinners, alcohol packages, and spa appointments. Cabins were not yet ready, so we set out to explore the ship.
C. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
We found sustenance in the Oceanview Cafe on the Resort Deck - 10 for a buffet lunch. Hint: locate the Pool Grill near the Riviera Pool for a grilled hamburger, turkey burger, veggie burger, or hotdog. 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. While the Oceanview Cafe was already open, the Pool Grill and Aqua Spa Cafe didn't open until noon.
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 4 omelette stations, a poached egg station (get your poached eggs prepared several 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 getting reacquainted with the ship. The Celebrity Theater on Constellation is a grand entertainment venue. 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).
D. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 2009, an interior category 12 cabin with 170 square feet. (This is the same square footage as the Ocean View cabins). We were located portside near the forward stairwell and elevators on the Continental Deck - 2 under the Celebrity Theater. (We never heard any noise from above). Our interior cabin on this deck was accessed from the Port hallway. The cabin was 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 were provided. Rooms are supposed to include bathrobes, an umbrella, and a hair dryer as well. The robes showed up a couple days later and we had to ask for the umbrella. The bathroom no longer has a hair dryer attached to the wall. The former wall space has been repurposed as a much-needed nightlight. We located our hair dryer in the desk.
The desk also featured a number of informational brochures including Friday's event newsletter "Celebrity Today" and a letter itemizing many of the invitational events. In a paper and labor saving move, the invitation letter replaces the many individual invites that would normally be delivered throughout the cruise. The cabin has a cooler in a cabinet under the TV which looks like a small refrigerator but doesn't really chill items very much. It's full of mini-bottles. We asked our cabin steward to empty it out so we wouldn't have to worry about a cabin liquor bill and so we could use it for bottled soda and water we bought in Ft. Lauderdale. Our stateroom attendant did an okay job throughout our cruise. Actually he did a good job but was just not as stellar as previous attendants. I get the impression these folks are stretched pretty thin now.
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.
Our cabin also had our dining room table assignment. We requested (and were confirmed before we left) for the Main/Early/6:00pm dinner reservation yet were given a late dining assignment which was not acceptable. Some folks like eating late (9:00pm). We do not. So I sought out the Head Maître'd. There was a 35 minute wait while other passengers also looked to change their reservations. We were able to secure a table for 2 at the Main Seating. It worked out well. Our neighbors, also at a table for 2, were 2 inches away --- so we enjoyed dining with them as a quasi-table for 4. It was table #112 next to a large window on the Starboard side.
Our luggage was delivered around 2:30 pm.
E. Lifeboat Drill
About 45 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) which for us is the Celebrity Theater. After waiting for all passengers to arrive, you are directed on the proper use of the vest. Interestingly, we did not have to actually wear the life jackets during this drill, which was welcomed by all. We also did not need to actually visit the lifeboats. Your Sea Pass card has your muster station printed on it and life jackets are in your cabin. 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 Sunset Bar on Deck 10 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 table for 2 in the lower level (Deck - 4) of the San Marco Restaurant. As mentioned earlier we were assigned a table for 2 but due to the close proximity of a neighboring table for two we essentially had a table for 4 and thoroughly enjoyed our tablemates. Our server, assistant, and Maitre'd did an excellent 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 in the San Marco Dining Room. Our waiter, Metin, and assistant waiter, Aleksic, were very competent and aimed to please. Our Assistant Maitre'd was very friendly and helpful. He wanted to make sure we let him know if there were any problems or special requests. 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, 2 soups, 2 salads, and 4 or 5 main entrees. The following items were among those available every night (and appear on the left side of the menu): shrimp cocktail, escargot, French onion soup, Caesar salad, chicken breast, broiled salmon, NY Strip steak, apple pie, creme brule and NY cheesecake.
B. The Best Breakfast Items
Fresh fruits, smoked salmon, eggs benedict, sticky buns, omelettes, and poached eggs from the Oceanview Cafe; and the fresh fruit and muffins from the Aqua Spa Cafe.
C. The Best Lunch Items
The pizza, sandwich bar in the Oceanview Grill, fresh fruit and salmon (grilled or poached) 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 escargot and all of the items prepared with goat cheese. 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 was once traditionally a strong suit. However we found the soups tasty but generally weak (stretched too thin with broth). The French Onion soup was very good.
F. The Best Salads
These were all good and fresh. 3 different dressings were offered each night on a rotational basis. The "Celebrity" and "Tarragon" dressings were among our favorites.
G. The Best Entrées
All of the Lamb and Veal dishes, Caribbean Lobster Tail, Prime Rib, all Braised Beef items, and the Tenderloins.
H. The Best Desserts
Fresh made ice creams (also generally available noon to 10:00pm in the Oceanview Cafe), crème Brule, cherries jubilee, all cheesecakes, bananas Foster, apple pie, the Australian chocolate cake, and baked Alaska (no longer "on parade"). The best ice creams included: cinnamon, blueberry, strawberry, butter pecan, peanut butter, pistachio, and the mango sherbet.
I. Room Service
You can order room service from a limited menu via your television. We didn't order anything from room service.
J. Oceanview Grill
This is a very versatile location with lots of fresh food. Breakfast items included waffles and pancakes (with lots of toppings). Lunch items included sandwiches and salads. Dinner items included fresh pork, chicken, fish, lamb, and steak grilled to order.
K. Sushi Bar
Beautifully prepared (very fresh and chilled) sushi was available most nights from 5:30pm to 9:30pm in the Oceanview Grill (located Aft on Deck 10). It is a winner. The number of items is very limited now and the choices rotate nightly. We didn't see California Rolls on the 3 nights we had sushi. An opening time of 5:00pm would better accommodate passengers with the Main Seating for Dinner.
L. Aqua Spa Cafe
Hint: Locate this early in your voyage. Hidden forward/amidship in the covered pool area, the Aqua Spa Cafe on Deck 10 offer healthier offerings at breakfast from 7am - 10am and lunch from noon to 2pm. Be sure to stop by for a plate of fresh vegetables, tropical fruits, fruit muffins, fruit tarts, and fresh entrees. Oddly they also offer an large assortment of less than healthy (but very tasty) snacks like pastries, pies, cakes, donuts, and empanadas here from 4pm to 5pm daily.
M. Pizza, Pasta, and Salad
There is a dedicated Pizza Bar and a dedicated Pasta/Stir Fry Bar on the starboard side of the Oceanview Cafe. Both are open noon to 1:00am. The pizza bar features several pizzas with different toppings as well as a number of grilled vegetables you can add to your pizza. 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 varying hours.
N. Ocean Liners - Constellation's Specialty Restaurant
Located midship on Deck 3, this is one of two specialty restaurants on the ship for which there is an extra charge. The cover charge is $50 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. On our last trip, 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. Tuscan Grille - Constellation's Specialty Restaurant
Located midship on Deck 11, this is the other specialty restaurants on the ship for which there is an extra charge. The cover charge is $45 per person (or $35 if you book on Celebrity's website precruise). It's an Italian Steakhouse which serves pastas, seafood, steaks and salads. I was anxious to try this restaurant and we booked it for the first night. Olena provided us outstanding service that night. You can enjoy anything and everything and as many courses as you like since small portions are as available as normal portions. We most enjoyed our salad with goat cheese, lobster alfredo, and the fresh waffle-shell bowl with sorbet at dessert. We both ordered the tenderloin filet but next time would likely order the veal chop and experiment with several small portions of the various pastas available.
P. Bistro on Five
Located across the foyer from Cellar Masters, Bistro on Five offers all-you-can-eat soups, salads, panini, crepes, and deserts. It's not normally very busy. The $5 cover charge seems to keep people away which makes it a nice and quiet alternative to the Oceanview Cafe primetime madhouse. It's open most of the day.
Q. Cafe al Bacio
(Formerly the Cova Cafe). Hit up Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5 midship for a variety of espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiatos; as well as a dozen premium hot teas and iced teas. My wife fell in love with the Cafe Mocha Caramel Machiatta on a prior cruise. It was a great place to stop in the morning on the way to breakfast. If you want a quick bite to eat, they offer free croissants, pain au chocolate, brioche, fresh blueberry muffins and apple turnovers in the morning; light lunch items; and desserts at night. The baristas at this cafe are very friendly and efficient.
Located across from Cafe al Bacio, the Gelateria offers 10 or 12 flavors of Italian gelato. The charge is about $5 for a 1-scoop waffle cone if you don't have a Captain's Club coupon.
S. Classic Drink Package
We did not have a drink package on this trip. Bars are plentiful however. If you have a package (or not) you won't go thirsty.
T. Midnight Buffets
There were no midnight buffets.
U. Grand Buffet
The sea day grand buffet event has not been resurrected. This used to be a signature cruise highlight. The presentation alone was picture-worthy!
V. Pillow Chocolates
Nightly pillow Chocolates have been discontinued in favor of a quality chocolate-covered Oreo on the first formal night only. Apparently the former chocolates were causing a mess when accidentally sent to the laundry or health concerns when they migrated into another cabin.
Part IV - Entertainment
There is no cinema on this ship. The former cinema was converted into conference space. Free and pay-per-view movies were available on the cabin tv. Pay-per-view movies were priced at $12.95 each and there were 71 choices (though many were offered in several languages). These are relatively recent DVD releases and very obscure releases. There were also about 24 free movies available throughout the cruise with 4 free movies per day shown on a rotating schedule throughout the day.
The Celebrity Theater spans 3 decks and is just beautiful. Seating is very comfortable and sight lines are very good. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers performed three shows. We enjoyed all of the entertainment which included three production shows: iHollywood, The Land of Make Believe, and Celebrate the World. These were some of the most talented performers and best productions we've had the pleasure to watch on any Celebrity ship. Guest entertainers included comedian Jim David, singer Jordan Bennett, juggler Jeff Taveggia, a very high-energy world champion pianist Ryan Ahern (who seemed to torch 30 keys a second), and comedian Joe Yannetty. The aerialists were equally impressive with very aggressive stunts. The Celebrity Singers and Dancers also performed a couple of great bonus shows in the Reflections Lounge: Sideshow, and Motown. Another well-attended show was "Liar's Club" featuring Alejandro, Sara (from the Activities team), and Captain Tasos Kafetzis. It was a laughfest from start to finish!
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. The casino was open while at sea. Closed while in most 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.
D. Canyon Ranch Spa
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 Swimming Pool and indoor hot tubs were reasonably active.
F. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
This ship has more talent than about any other Celebrity ship we have sailed. The Celebrity Orchestra, Roberta Amaral (guitarist), and Gran Volta (classical string trio), were all very good. Also available were dance band Deja Vu, house band Shenanigans, and 1 Kilombo (a DJ duo) which we did not seek out.
G. In-room TV
There were several closed-circuit ship channels and sporadic satellite stations available on the TV in the cabin, namely: ESPN, ESPN-C, ESPN2, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, BBC World News, Sky News, Engage, HLN, TBS, TrueTv, TNT, Family Channel, Cartoon Network, movie channel (see above), and a series of Celebrity channels: Cruise Director's Channel, Celebrity International, Celebrity Life, Celebrity Special Events, Shore Excursion Channel, Port and Shopping Channel. You can also order room service and check your current account on the TV as well. Hint: be sure to tune into the Cruise Director's Channel every morning. You'll get good laughs courtesy of Cruise Director Alejandro and get a good idea what's happening that day.
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
The NFL playoffs were available on the cabin TVs and on TVs in the casino. Due to overwhelming passenger demand, the ship eventually set up two TVs and good speakers in Cellar Masters. Despite no advance notice or announcement, the room was absolutely packed with passengers. We might have filled the theater for these two games but it was not available. To their credit, they have already announced plans to show the Super Bowl live in the Celebrity Theater.
There is no lack of things to do: movies, bingo, a couple of trivia contests (with "life changing prizes") throughout the day, ping pong, musical entertainment, shows, culinary demonstrations, water volleyball, seminars, casino tournaments, cards, and dancing to name a few. The activities staff was outstanding. The Cruise Director, Alejandro, is hilarious! His 5-minute taped daily activity briefings with another member of his 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 at time, place and date to be determined. We were supposed to receive an invitation to the party in our cabin. We did not receive one. We found out the party was set for 10:15am on Saturday (our first day at sea) in Tuscan Grille. Due to some invitation confusion and a low turnout due to the Captain's Enrichment Talk, our meeting was rescheduled and new invites were sent out for 5pm on the following Wednesday. I didn't receive that one either, but since I can't take a hint I showed up anyway.
In total, about 24 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other cruise critics. Light refreshments were provided. The Cruise Director, Alejandro, and another officer were in attendance. He did a lot of good "Q and A", and left us with time to mingle.
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.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Celebrity does this right! There was no smoking in any of the indoor areas including the restaurants, casino, lounges, Celebrity Theater, Solarium, cabins or verandas. Smoking was only permitted outside on the port side, and rear of the ship, on Decks 4, 10, and 11. We are very sensitive to smoke and applaud Celebrity on it's smoking policy. The ship's interior environment was very enjoyable.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
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.
Until last year, I always alternated half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. This trip I again tried going unmedicated. It generally went well as I never got seasick but did feel odd on all of our sea days. On the roughest day I did need to get a Bonine tablet (free) at the front desk. I also sought out ginger ale and wore Sea Bands with limited success.
F. Drinking Water
All Celebrity ships have their own desalination and purification process. The drinking water on Constellation was good, but not as good as Equinox which has the clearest and tastiest water we've ever experienced on a cruise ship.
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 reasonably attentive. Kept the beds made and bathroom clean. I believe these folks are stretched very thin however as there were noticeable deficiencies we had not experienced the last time on Constellation, like delays in getting the room cleaned in the morning.
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.
D. Internet Service
The Celebrity iLounge located midship on Deck 9 has about 14 Apple computers and 1 printer. Due to the Elite member benefit of 90 minutes of free interest access, we were easily able to get online and print our airplane boarding passes. We were successful in not giving in to the temptation to check our email while on the cruise.
There might have been 2 or 3 dozen young kids on this voyage.
F. Michael's Club
Michael's Club is now a highly restricted private lounge for use by suites and Elite Zenith level passengers.
G. Dress Code
Very few 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.
H. Time Changes
We stayed on port time during this voyage, adding an hour before arriving in St. Barts and setting the clock back after our final port.
We only tendered at one port - St. Barts. Tendering requires getting tickets which dictate the order of when you'll be allowed to board a tender (lifeboats holding over 100 passengers each) from the ship to shore. Priority is given to folks who have booked ship tours and those in Suites and Elite status. Tendering began at 9:50am and was not completed until after 12:30pm. Non-priority passengers were asked to line up at the Emporium on Deck 5 starting at 9:30am to get their tickets. Hint: be ready to leave the ship at 9:00am and get in line for tender tickets early!
Returning to the ship simply requires lining up at the dock and boarding the tenders on a first-come / first-served basis.
J. Upon Returning to the Ship
When you return to the queue to re-board the ship after a day in port, you are greeted with ice cold hand towels, water and fruit punch. This is a really nice Celebrity touch.
We went through customs upon Disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale. Basically we just got in a 20-minute line to show our passports and customs declaration cards to Customs Officials. An express lane was available for handicapped passengers.
L. Kids Club
The Kids Club and Fun Factory are located on Deck 11 Forward. There were only about 36 kids on this particular cruise. Those that were involved in the kids club could be seen occassionally at different place on the ship in groups actively engaged in different activities, like a scavenger hunt. They looked like they were well taken care of, and appeared to be having fun.
Part VIII - 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. Celebrity automatically bills your onboard account for tips on a daily basis. You have an opportunity to change, add, or remove them.
Celebrity suggests $12 per day per person; or $192 for a party of 2 on an 8 day cruise which breaks out as follows: Waiter $60.90, Assistant Waiter $35.10, Stateroom Attendant $58.50, Dining Room Management $16.70, Other Service Personnel $20.80, and additional tips for room service, bartenders (even though a 15% gratuity is already included in all bar drinks), the Sommelier, and any other personnel who you wish to tip. And feel free to tip above these guidelines. Here's a really handy Cruise Tip Calculator covering all major cruise lines. If you have purchased a drink package, a 15% gratuity is already included.
Part IX - 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 Captain's Club express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts, casino and spa discounts, free entrance into the wine appreciation seminar, a backstage tour, private departure lounge, and a one cabin upgrade. Some exclusions apply. Elite members also receive coupons for 90 free minutes of internet, one item drycleaned for free, and an opportunity to have a bag full of laundry (about 30 items) cleaned free, as part of their sheet of coupons. Elite members also have access to the Reflections Lounge for free drinks between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm on most nights.
A. 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.
B. Captain's Club Wine Appreciation Seminar
Due to a scheduling conflict, we were unable to attend this event which took place in the San Marco Restaurant.
C. 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.
Here's a review of the Elite Benefits
A. Priority embarkation while boarding the ship
Upon arrival in the Fort Lauderdale cruise terminal, we found separate lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge Class, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. Once in a priority line, you waited until being directed to one of over a dozen Celebrity check-in agents. Priority was generally given to folks in the line order sequenced above. Once called, the agent checked our passport cards, credit card, and embarkation form. Within about 10 minutes we had our Sea Pass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key). SUCCESS.
B. Access to the Captain's Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast
This lounge is located in the beautiful Ocean Liners Restaurant, located on Deck 3 midship. It's open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. This is a fast continental style breakfast with Mango Smoothies, Strawberry Smoothies, pastries, fresh fruit, smoked salmon, sliced deli meats, fresh orange juice, tea, coffee, cappuccino, espresso, and mimosas. The coffees are very good. We had some difficulty getting served on the first morning we attempted breakfast here and did not go back. FAIL.
C. Evening Cocktail hour (excludes embarkation and evening of Senior Officers' Party)
This venue is located in the Reflections Lounge on Deck 11 forward and is open from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Available drinks included wine, well drinks, soda, juices, beer, and O'Douls. They also served appetizers. SUCCESS.
D. Complimentary 90-minute Internet package
The iLounge Internet Cafe is located on Deck 9 midship. They have about 14 computers and a printer. It's open 24 hours with limited staffing during daylight hours. I used it to print our boarding passes. SUCCESS.
E. Complimentary access to Persian Garden (on one port day of your choice while ship is in port)
Persian Gardens is part of the Canyon Ranch Spa on Deck 10 Forward. This garden is a bit antiquated in comparison to the new ships but gets the job done. They have several different dry and wet saunas. SUCCESS.
F. One complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold)
This is one of the most appreciated benefits as it allowed us to pack lighter. They will wash and fold up to 30 pieces. On day 3 we gave them a bag a laundry and again on day 5. SUCCESS.
G. A private shipboard departure lounge, serving continental breakfast
We had the option to sit in the Elite departure lounge located in Ocean Liners. Since we had the Early Departure Option we did not use this lounge.
H. Priority Tender Service in Tender Ports of Call
We tendered in just 1 port: St. Barts. All other ports had piers. Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith. We received 2 Priority Tender Tickets in our cabin the night before the tender port. We arrived at the appointed lounge about 30 minutes before we were officially scheduled to start tenders. We were sent to catch a tender about 10pm. This was great since some passengers were unable to catch a tender until after 12:30pm. SUCCESS.
I. Priority wait list in Main Dining Room
We requested the 6:00 pm "Early" seating in the Main Dining Room and we were confirmed online. Unfortunately, upon getting on the ship we found they had changed us to the late seating. I had to spend 45 minutes to get this resolved. We were fortunate to get a table for 2 at the Early seating after speaking with the Head Maitre'd. I understand that there was so much demand for the early seating that half of the 5th floor dining was converted to early seating use for the first 3 hours. This led to heavy backups for folks assigned to "Any Time Dining", which usually occupies all of the 5th floor tables, for folks that wished to eat before 8pm. FAIL.
J. Elegant tea invitation
We received an invitation for tea on the last sea day. It was held in the San Marco restaurant from 3:30pm - 4:15pm. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tea.
K. Other coupons and benefits that may also be applicable to Classic and Select club members
Complimentary wine appreciation event: We received an invitation for wine appreciation event in the San Marco Dining Room at 11:15am on the second sea day.
Senior Officers' Cocktail Party: We received an invitation for this cocktail party on day 5. It was held in Reflections Lounge.
Gift: My wife received a rose and a nice note on day 2.
Other useful coupons: Double payout on any 1-to-1 Roulette or Blackjack wager, free dry cleaning of 1 item, and discounts on various spa services.
Welcome Gift: normally we've received a light Celebrity carry-all bag. We did not receive a welcome gift on this cruise.
Part X - The Ports
A. Gustavia, St. Barts / St. Barts / St. Barthelemy
10:00am - 7:00pm. All ports except St. Barts had piers. We anchored in Gustavia Bay and took tenders to Port de Pleasance in Gustavia (which is located directly across from Sunset Hotel on Rue De La Republique on the left side of the harbor. The tender procedure was slow, primarily due to regulations in St. Barts limiting the tender speeds to 3 MPH in the harbor. We were on a 10am tender and got to shore about 10:30am.
Upon arrival we set out on a 35 minute walk across the island to visit the airport and Saint Jean Beach (Baie de St. Jean). To get there, walk to your right (facing the island) until you get to the first cross street (Rue De La Suede) and turn left. Turn left again on the next street (Rue August Nyman). Keep right at each fork. The second intersection is a roundabout with an awesome bronze Indian statue of “Savaku” the Arawak spirit. Turn right here as well. This area is the highpoint of your walk and offers breathtaking views of the airport and west side of Saint Jean Beach. Commuter aircraft (puddle jumpers) begin their landing just 50 feet above your head and must land on a very short looking runway that ends in the ocean. It's lots of fun to watch planes land. They also come in off the ocean but those flights are more fun to watch from St. Jean Beach.
Continue down the road parallelling the airport. Just across from the airport terminal (which has free, clean, modern restrooms on the northern end of the terminal) are a couple of strip malls. The second strip mall has a grocery store where we purchased litres of cold water for 1.35 Euros (about $1.50 US) and a 16-inch sandwich made on an awesome local baguette for 4.75 Euros (about $5.50 US). These prices are 25% to 50% of what you would pay in town. You'll find the sandwiches near the small deli counter in the rear of the store. The sandwiches are very popular and may sell out at lunchtime. The store will take US currency and give you change in Euros.
At the end of the airstrip (about a block past the shops) is an entrance alley to St. Jean Beach. St. Jean Beach is actually 2 beaches separated by Eden Rock, upon which sits a hotel with restaurant and attached "Sand Bar". St Jean is a very pretty beach, with several shops, bars and restaurants, where you can watch planes flying over surfers while landing or taking off at an airport whose runway spills out into the ocean. Don't bother renting chairs and umbrellas here as these command $50 to $100 for a set!
Head back to the ship the same way you came, making a left at the Indian Statue and keeping left at the next intersection. (You'll still get to the port if you make a right at the second intersection --- it'll jut take you a little longer. This same intersection (which has a dialysis/medical center on the corner) is the entrance to the lighthouse and the smaller of two forts guarding the harbor. A very short uphill walk to the fort/lighthouse will reward you with picture-worthy views of the ship, harbor and surrounding area.
Continue down the road, make a right at Rue De La Suede, and you'll find yourself back in Gustavia. From here we meandered through the shops and worked our way to Shell Beach (aka Anse de Grand Galet), the closest beach to the ship and a very easy 10 minute walk --- longer if you linger in the stores. Shell Beach is so named because the beach is covered in small and medium-sized shells. It's a good idea to wear water shoes. The further from the entrance you get, the less crowded you'll find the beach and the more large rocks you'll find where you can leave your towels and "claim your territory". Other than the bar and grill, there is very little shade here.
Notes: 1. The walk to the airport is along a fairly narrow road and can be uneven at times. There are sidewalks from the airport to Saint Jean Beach. Although we never felt in danger you should definitely stay alert to traffic and road conditions. 2. Taxi service from the port to Saint Jean Beach runs $30 to $50 each way. 3. Some passengers rented a car and enjoyed a beautiful day exploring the island and her 14 beaches. 4. Most of the shops, bars and restaurants in town are outrageously expensive and close from 1pm to 3pm. 5. While we enjoyed our visit to this beautiful island, I heard from Celebrity personnel that they may not return due to the logistics and passenger complaints about tendering and absurdly high prices for almost everything from beer to t-shirts.
B. Frederiksted, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
8:00am - 5:00pm. St. Croix is the largest of the four US Virgin Islands. We arrived on a Tuesday. A reggae band was playing on the pier when we arrived. From the ship, you can see the quaint town of Frederiksted in front of the pier with lots of shops, to the left is an old fort (Fort Frederik) with a beach and then about 2 miles further left was a popular beach called Rainbow Beach which had a bar and rented watercraft. On our last trip we had prearranged a 1.5-hour ATV jungle tour, explored the town, and cooled off in the water at a nice beach next to the fort in front of the ship.
This time we prearranged for a 4-hour island tour with Sweeny's Safari Tours. The tour includes the Cruzan rum factory, the town of Christiansted and Columbus landing. We covered about 3/4 of the island. The tour cost is $40.00 cash per person (plus tip), and Cruzan will charge you $8.00 per person (credit card only) for entry [prices as of January 2015]. We met our driver on the street at the dock entrance. The tour rep was holding a sign that reads "Sweeny's Safari Tours". We departed just before 10:30am and returned by 3:45pm. This is a very good deal. Just the cost of roundtrip taxi fare to Cruzan and back is $20 per person. This is a 4-hour tour (though ours actually lasted over 5 hours) that includes the Cruzan Rum tour. For just $20 more per person than taxi fare to Cruzan you can get a tour of the island!
There were 6 of us in a 14-passenger air conditioned van with a very accommodating driver who allowed us to stop and take pictures or alter plans on the fly. Our first stop was the Cruzan Rum Distillery where for $8 we were part of an escorted tour of the facilities and rum making operation. At the end of the tour you get 2 rum drinks (Rum Punch or Pina Colada) and samples of up to three of their premium, spiced, or flavored rums. Our bartender had a very generous pour and was anxious to give everyone basically whatever they wanted. Once my wife tried their Cruzan Velvet Cinn Rum --- a Horchata beverage made with rich dairy cream, bakery cinnamon, and Cruzan rum --- she was hooked and we bought 2 bottles for $18 each to enjoy at home. It's great by itself or as topper to your morning coffee.
We viewed the sunny countryside, got rained on as we drove through the rainforest (go figure), drove by Cane Bay Beach, traversed "The Beast" (a steep winding road that is part of St Croix's annual triathlon-qualifying event), and viewed picturesque Columbus Landing. From there we headed to Christiansted, the larger of St. Croix two main towns where we had 1.5 hours to eat lunch and explore the sites. Our driver recommended Harvey's for an authentic local lunch which 4 of us enjoyed. Among our entrees we ordered Goat Stew (very tender meat with a nice rich dark gravy), Fried Grouper, and very tender Conch in butter sauce. Each of the meals was about $14 and included 4 sides like macaroni and cheese, rice, fungi, cassaba, slaw, and mixed vegetables. Cold Carib beer was $4 bottle. Service was very friendly.
After lunch we split up and explored the town. My wife went window shopping and I headed to Fort Christiansvaern. There is a $3 entrance fee. I got lots of good pictures from the second floor of the fort. Resuming the island tour, we drove past the Hovensa Oil Refinery which was once the largest in the world and would still qualify as one of the 10 largest. The 1500-acre site currently sits dormant but is in talks to be reopened. It took us fully 10 minutes to completely pass the entire complex --- the scope of which is pretty awesome. (Check it out on Google Earth). We returned to town at 3:45pm in plenty of time to take some additional pictures, hit the beach quickly, and casually walk back to the ship.
Additional information from Cruzan [as of January 2015]: Cruzon Tour Hours During "the Season" (which runs from the first week of November through the second week of April): Monday through Friday, From 9:00 am - 4:30 pm, with Saturday and Sundays from 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. A guided tour of the Cruzan Rum distillery takes approximately 30 minutes and leaves every 30 minutes at the top of the hour. The tour entails a walk through the Mixing Tank Room, the Fermentation Room, the Still House, the Warehouse, and the Filter Room. Following the tour they take you to "The Pavilion Visitors Center" which houses the Gift Shop and their "Don't Hurry" Tasting Room, where guests are invited to sample award-winning rums. The gift store has many items for sale including hats, T-shirts, shot glasses, and of course, rum! They do not accept cash but they do accept credit cards (Mastercard, Visa, and Discover). When cruise ships are in port, the distillery is very busy. To avoid the crowds, they recommend visiting between 9:00 am and 11:00 am. The drive from the cruise ship port to the Cruzan Distillery is about 10 to 15 minutes. The Taxi fare is around $20.00 round trip. Walking is not recommended, as the path between the port and the distillery is a busy road. It is approximately 5 miles from the cruise ship port to Cruzan Distillery.
C. San Juan, Puerto Rico
7:00am - 2:00pm. Given that the forts don't open until 9am, we slept in and left the ship at 8:30am for a leisurely 20-minute walk up the hill to Castillo San Cristobal, which you can partially see from the ship. Both San Cristobal and the better known El Morro fort are very impressive, massive structures worth detailed exploring. The combined fortresses and connecting wall are designated as a United Nations World Heritage site. San Cristobal, covering 27 acres, is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. Yes, it's actually larger than its more famous sister El Morro.
Cost is $5.00 per person for one or both sites --- just save and show your receipt --- or free with the Senior Pass and Golden Age Passport. [Price current as of January 2015]. Don't make the mistake of hiring a taxi, unless you are physically unable to walk up a hill. It is pretty easy to walk to both sites as places are closer than they appear on maps. Highly recommend visits to both which offer lots of history, information, and picture opportunities. Adventurous kids and adults alike will enjoy crossing over the drawbridges (which span dry moats), exploring numerous tunnels, unique stairwells, arched passageways, barracks, storerooms, ramparts, cannons and dungeons. Each fort also offers a gift shop with cold bottled water for under $2.
The walk from San Cristobal to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro) is an easy 20-minute walk via the city wall walkway parallelling the sea. You can also take a free US Parks Service shuttle between the two forts, or wait for the free hop-on/hop-off trolley. However you may have to wait a long time as these are often packed, and yes, you can also catch the trolly from a stop near the port to both forts.
El Morro is a real gem of a fort, with 6 levels and 60-foot walls overlooking the ocean. It also features a pair of spiral stairwells, one of which is triangular. Even the restrooms in El Morro offer picturesque views. (You won't find a restroom anywhere with better vistas). It's a 30-minute walk back to the ship from El Morro.
D. Labadee, Hispaniola (Haiti)
10:00am - 6:00pm. Haiti itself occupies the Western third of the island of Hispaniola, while Dominican Republic occupies the Eastern side. Labadee is not a private island off of Haiti as some believe. It's actually a peninsula on the beautiful northern coast of Haiti. This is a really pretty port offering a nice beach day with expensive excursion options for the more adventurous. Here's a map of Labadee you can print. I'll walk you clockwise around the map starting at the pier:
From the pier (bottom left) you are spilled out on Buccaneer's Bay where you can schedule tours. North of there is Dragon's Bay which includes the main tram station (#2), and 1 of the port's 5 lunch pavilion "cafes" (#4), a drink station "pub" (#5), a lookout point (#6) worth a view of the entire north side beach areas and the zipline landing. There are no swimmable beaches in Dragon's Bay due to the rocks and reefs in the water.
As you move inland (to the east) on the north shore you'll encounter Adrenaline Beach which has waves and good views of the zipline participants. The further east you walk, the sparser is the shade. The Dragon's Tail Coaster (#33) is located at the far eastern border, just past rentable cabanas (#35), and the zipline is up the hill to its left but is only accessible by truck.
Just south of Dragon's Tail is Town Square, with a bar (#18), lunch pavilion "cafe" (#19), the second tram station (#25), small amphitheater (#30), and Artesian's Market (#21, housed in a building). This is where the friendly no-haggle, no-hassle, local shops are located. They sell local arts and crafts. As you head south from here, you'll run into the Artesian's Village (#20, looks small on the map but it's really over 200 yards long and on both sides of the walkway). This is an uncomfortable gauntlet of outdoor "hassle and haggle" shops, manned by very aggressive locals offering similar wares, that stretches until you reach the sanctuary of Columbus Cove.
Columbus Cove is an oasis of sun, sand, and lots of shade with a beautiful beach, no waves, and an unobstructed view of the ship. It's very pretty and the water is very comfortable. Being the furthest beach from the ship, it will typically have the lightest crowds of all the full-access beaches. It also has a tram station (#43), "pub", "cafe" (#38), and an aqua park (#39) with waterslide (fee applies for both).
Now, heading west across the south shore you'll hit Nellies Beach, a beach cove featuring rentable cabanas (#31, if you rent one, be sure to pay a little extra for the cabanas on the water). This is also the southern route to Columbus Cove which will thankfully bypass the entire Artesian Village complex.
Heading further west toward the pier on the south shore is the Barefoot Beach Club, an exclusive gated beach cove for guests residing in Grand Suites and above. It's the closest southern beach to the pier. They have rentable cabanas (#13), a tram station (#15), and their own food and beverage facilities.
Our day at Labadee started when we left the ship at 10am and wandered around the peninsula as we made our way to Columbus Cove, the furthest beach from the ship. We came across the Artesian Market building with low-key local vendors doing a brisk business. Just past the Market, you hit a gauntlet of high-pressure local vendor shops. There must be over 50 of them. All of the stuff they were selling looked very similar. As you pass by the shops you are greeted with "Follow me", "Where are your from?", and "Can I ask you a question?" --- all intended to get you to engage with them and look at what they are selling. Most folks will feel very uncomfortable and want to exit the area as rapidly as possible. (If you do buy here you can easily haggle their first price down by 50% to 75% as long as you don't show too much interest). If you have no interest, just ignore them (or say "no thanks") and keep walking. You'll survive the ordeal unscathed.
We eventually worked our way to Columbus Cove and found lots of beachfront shade at the far end, complete with unobstructed views of the water and ship. This is despite being the second of two ships to arrive in port and having arrived at this beach at 11am. The beach will get a lot busier come 12:30pm. A buffet lunch was served in the pavilion behind us starting around 11:30am. Lunch was free and included juices, water, tea, breads, grilled chicken, pork chops, beef, hamburgers, hotdogs, ribs, slaw, green salad, potato salad, corn on the cob, light desert bites, and a few other items. Each pavilion offers several additional covered structures with lots of shaded picnic tables.
We enjoyed our lazy beach day at Columbus Cove and exploration of the peninsula. Fee-based activities available included Dragon's Breath Flight Line (zipline, $96 per ride), Dragon's Tail Coaster ($26 per ride), Adrenaline Coastal Boat Tour ($50), Haitian Cultural TOur ($75), Labadee Wave Jet Tour ($100), Sandbar Island Getaway ($50 - $55), Parasail Adventure ($86), Kayak Adventure ($40), Dragon's Splash Waterslide ($24) and Arawak Aqua Park ($20 per hour). [Prices current as of January 2015].
Notes: 1. small lockers are available at several locations for $8. 2. Alcohol was available and free if you were on a beverage plan (same rules as on the ship). 3. The south side beaches were prettier and nicer than the north side beaches, offered more shade, and calm water. North side beaches offered more sun, wind, waves, and great views of folks using the Dragon's Breath Flight Line (zipline) and Dragon's Tail Coaster. 4. You only needed your Sea Pass Card (no other ID required at this private port) and your beach towel from the ship. Lounge chairs are free but you might tip an attendant a dollar or two to haul and setup your lounge chairs and wipe them down.
E. Days At Sea
We had four days at sea. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Eat, play games, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, lots of trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, "behind the scenes" galley and stage tours, art auctions (aka "how to overpay for art" while drinking free champaign), wine seminar, gambling, exercise (no, not really, but there is an exercise room), eat, book your next cruise (and get two stackable bonus deals), live entertainment... the list goes on! Captain Tasos Kafetzis conducted a very interesting and humorous enrichment talk on "The Building of a Solstice Class Ship".
F. Ships in Port
We were the only ship in port at St. Barts and St. Croix, but we saw two other ships in port at San Juan (Carnival Freedom, Disney Fantasea) and one other ship at Labadee (Celebrity Reflection). Visit CruiseTimeTables.com or CruiseTT.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise. It's a really good idea to either book tours way ahead of time, or have a good plan, for any ports that are due to be crowded.
G. Other Caribbean Ports
You'll see several other islands while cruising at sea and you may be sailing on a back-to-back cruise that takes in other ports than the four described here. We've now visited over two dozen different ports in the Caribbean and have posted our very detailed first-hand information on excursions we've taken, complete with photos. Visit "Secrets of the Caribbean" to view these other ports.
H. Cell Phones
Using a cell phone while on the ship is expensive, so most folks wait until they are in port before using them. Check with your phone carrier to see what coverage is included with your current phone plan. Verizon covers Puerto Rico for voice and text, and St. Croix for texting only, as part of their domestic plan. Data plans, ship plans, and international plans are available for an upcharge. For data and texting the smart traveler will look for free and low cost wi-fi locations at ports.
Part XI - Onboard Credits
When booking a cruise you often receive onboard credits from Celebrity and/or your travel agent which you can spend on anything charged on the ship including specialty dinners, onboard shopping purchases, excursions, casino credits, bingo, spa, beverages, and gratuities. Most onboard credits are non-refundable while others like a port tax refund are refundable credits. You can view your credits starting on day two either on your TV set or by asking for a copy of your current billing at Guest Services. Refundable credits are coded as "OBR - ONB" while non-refundable credits are coded as "OBN - ONB". The difference of course is that refundable credits can literally be taken in cash if unspent, while non-refundable credits are a "use them or lose them" proposition.
Part XII - Disembarkation and Customs
Earlier in the week everyone completed surveys which were used to prioritize passengers. Clearly those folks needing to catch early plane connections or who were on early escorted tours in Fort Lauderdale had highest priority. Numbered disembarkation luggage tags were issued to all cabins, and passengers were instructed to place the tags on their luggage, and tear off the stubs for bag retrieval in the cruise terminal before proceeding through customs. On the final sea day, everyone is supposed to receive their disembarkation letter and numbered luggage tags. We are asked to place all of our luggage outside of the cabin by 11pm for pickup. All luggage is sorted by number in the cruise terminal. The number also dictates the time you'll be asked to depart. The times start at 7am and end at 10am. All passengers were instructed to exit their cabins by 8am and sit in public areas, or lounges, until their assigned time.
Breakfast was served in the Oceanview Cafe from 6am to 8:30am, Blu Dining Room from 6:30am to 8am, and in the Main Dining Room from 6:30am to 8am. Celebrity won't send you home hungry.
If you wish to get off the ship as early as possible, you can sign up for "Walk-off Express Departure". Under this plan, you keep all of your luggage in your cabin overnight and haul it off the ship yourself. Departure began about 7:20am. It took just 10 minutes to leave the ship and 20 minutes to work our way through customs. We were on the street by 7:50am and shared a taxi with another pair of passengers who were waiting in the taxi line.
B. Taxi Rates
The taxi rate from the port to FLL (Ft. Lauderdale airport) runs $15 - $20 total for 1 to 4 passengers. By sharing a taxi we shaved our cost in half. Don't worry about not fitting into a regular cab, as they have taxi vans available which will comfortably hold 5 passenger plus driver and luggage. We arrived at the airport by 8:10am.
C. Parking Rates
As of January 2015, it costs $15/day to park at the Ft. Lauderdale port parking structures.
D. Customs Allowance
According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website, US citizens traveling to the Caribbean are permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods including 2 liters of alcohol per person (as long as at least 1 liter was manufactured in a CBI country). US citizens traveling to the U.S. Virgin Islands (aka St Croix) can bring in $1600 worth of duty free goods including a total of 5 liters of alcohol (as long as at least 1 liter was a product of, and purchased in, the USVI). This higher limit includes no more than $800 in Duty Free goods from other Caribbean countries. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
E. Luggage Valet
If you sign up for Luggage Valet ($20 total fee for up to 3 bags per person), you'll receive disembarkation instructions, airline boarding passes, luggage tags and baggage claim checks on the final night of your cruise. Celebrity will handle the baggage from the ship to your airline. You simply set it outside your cabin door and pick it up when you get to your home airport. This service is only available in select departure ports only (like Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Seattle, San Diego, and Seward) with only with select airlines that depart between 11:30 am and 11:59 pm. The following airlines participated in the program: From Ft. Lauderdale = American Airlines, Jet Blue, Air Tran, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways; and from Miami = American Airlines, Air Tran, Delta Airlines, United Airlines and US Airways. Bags are screened by customs and normal airline baggage fees apply. Unfortunately, luggage valet was not available on this cruising.
Part XIII - 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. The ship's Captain, Tasos Kafetzis, and the Cruise Director, Alejandro Tortorelli, are the best we have ever seen.
We certainly didn't have too 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. We miss the big sea day "Grand Buffet" in the Main Dining Room. The awesome presentation alone was worth a visit. 3. The acapella group is gone. They are worthy of a reprise. 4. There was no "Enrichment Seminars" related to our ports of call. These are usually very interesting and worth attending. 5. It took the effort of a lot of passengers to get Celebrity to set up a public venue for the NFL Playoff games. They need to be more attuned to major sporting events and people's strong desire to watch games in a group environment. 6. There was a communications breakdown as we didn't receive invites to either cruise critic party, nor did we receive any disembarkation documents. We were happy to use the Walk-Off Express Departure, but we didn't request it.
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