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Mike Desira

Age: n/a

Occupation:n/a

Number of Cruises: n/a

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Constellation

Sailing Date: August 31st, 2002

Itinerary: Europe to the Western Mediterranean

Mike Desira

About Us
We are a married couple in our early forties. We hail from Malta, which is a small 17 by 9 mile island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 60 miles south of Sicily, north of the African continent and east of Cape Bon of Tunisia. Most of our family had migrated to the States after the war, and the majority of our cousins are true-blue Americans whom we see every two years or so. In addition to that we have traveled quite a bit during the last 17 years, mostly to the UK, with a few visits to the states. We are a western culture with our own language, Maltese, which is a semetic based language with French, Italian and English influences. We read and write in the classic western style, but read our numbers by their Arabic names. Our population is currently nearly 400,000 and we drive on the right, like the British. Being strategically located spank in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, our island was occupied by every major power since the Phoenicians. Thus we have a rich culture, which sadly is being neglected. During the second world war, under British rule, the island proved priceless as a staging place for the allied war machine to hit the Germans in Africa. We took a pounding, but we persevered, and got awarded the George Cross for our courage. The Bush-Gorby summit, acknowledged as the beginning of the thaw of the cold war was held on our island. We now aspire to join the EU. We are a cosmopolitan lot, well used to strangers in our midst, and we suffer from no racial issue or apartheid. The only thing that gets us in a muss is politics, a topic that could divide us deeply at times. This is our first cruise, and this fact is to be firmly kept in mind whilst reading our offering below. We cannot compare to other experiences, but can only apply assumed standards. The following contains mainly a narration of our personal experiences on board the Celebrity Cruises ship, the GTS Constellation during a 13 night cruise from Dover, UK to Barcelona, Spain, starting on Saturday 31st August 2002. I purposely refrained from describing the ship or other features which can be found on Celebrity's website. We also did not avail ourselves of all the available features and amnesties onboard, and therefore am unable to comment on such things. Here goes.

Embarkation
Embarkation was a breeze. We arrived pretty early on Saturday at 1300, well ahead of the main crowd, and we were greeted by a Celebrity official. This being our first experience, we were a bit lost on what actually happens, but the courteous and efficient manner of all those bearing Celebrity badges soon put us at ease. All our questions were answered, all forms handed over, duly filled and handed back, and our boarding cards were handed over in no time at all.

Efficiency personified. We had to backtrack a bit during the form filling process, but that was due to our inexperience. After being given our cards, we had to queue at the one and only bottleneck of the embarkation process. Security screening. I hasten to add that the screening was Dover Harbor's thing, and really, one could not grumble about being safe. We got an inkling of Celebrity's hospitality in the form of two Celebrity people serving cold water or punch (non-alcoholic) from two urns to all in the security line. Thinking back, we had to spend more than 15 minutes in the queue when we came in before the main body of people started arriving, I hate to think what the wait was like when everyone started pouring in. So up the gangway and into the ship. Here we found Celebrity's security waiting for us for a second screening. No problem here, as all it consisted of was to insert our cards in a video game like thingy which took our photo and validated our card. An x-ray machine looked into our hand luggage, and from then on it was welcome aboard!A line of porters was waiting for us, and our hand luggage was courteously taken from us and we were led to our floor and cabin via the elevators.

The Cabin

We were allocated an inside stateroom on the Vista Deck. That was deck 7 on the elevator list, and our stateroom was number 7063. Without sounding unkind, the word “cabin” rises more promptly to the mind then “stateroom”, but it could either be an American thing - as in “elevator” instead of “lift” - or else a “statesroom” sounds and sells better then a “cabin”. Whatever the case may be, our cabin was wonderful and practical.  Every single thing was in place. The bed was immaculately made, all mirrors polished to heaven and back, the bathroom literally shining and the air as fresh as a mountain breeze. Bearing in mind that this cabin was occupied a few hours before, one simply has to stop and appreciate all the hard work that went into bringing it to such a pristine condition so fast and so thoroughly. We came to see that this pristine state was something commonplace during the cruise and not a one-off thing. More proof of Celebrity's attention to detail came in the form of a retractable clothes line in the shower - rather flimsy but practical, a neon nightlight, indispensable in our inside cabin, and a fixed bottle opener, strangely enough, fixed to the toilet door frame. Upon arrival, our attendant, Gloria, welcomed us and showed us around our cabin. He is a wonderful person, and eventually proved to be courteous and friendly, discrete and very efficient. One additional touch is that the cabin numbers mounted on plaques on the cabin doors have the number in Braille too. This holds true also to all location indicators throughout the ship and the elevators.

Dinner Arrangements
Awaiting us on the dresser was our dinner seating arrangement in the form of a card. It said early seating - 0630. Not good. We had specifically requested the late sitting, and for us, much depended on it being so. We are late eaters by force of habit and even so, early sitting involves having to cut short the afternoon's after tea casual gathering. So we asked Gloria on what we could do, and he told us to see the Assistant Matre D' . In our case, the person was George. So off we went looking for George. We found him facing a small queue of people bearing the same request for different seating arrangements. One small sign on his desk bore the message that all late bookings were taken. Ominous, and not very encouraging. We stuck to our guns and we were put on the “waiting list” with the explanation that normally, things should work out ok. The only thing was that we were requested to attend to the first sitting as already booked and we will see for tomorrow. No problem in that, and since it was for a single day, things appeared agreeable to us. With that small niggle taken care of, we relaxed and starting slowly going over the ship as more people came abroad. There was no way we could have done that in a few hours, so we sort of followed our noses here and there until we arrived at the buffet lines at the rear of the ship. We fell in line and eventually had a good lunch. We finished eating and caught the ship departing from Dover. We gave tea a miss and went back to our cabin to prepare for dinner.

There we found our luggage waiting for us, so we unpacked everything, had a shower, rested a bit, dressed and went for dinner. Our table was an inside table for six on the top floor of the restaurant. Our table companions were a married couple in their late fifties from Moldavia and two elderly ladies from the UK. Everyone was nice and happy, but there was little common ground on which a friendship could take hold, so after the introductions, not much was said. Altogether an inauspicious start to our dining experience. However, after breakfast on Sunday, we found a card in our cabin telling us that we had been reallocated to a late sitting, as we wished. This proved to be the turning point of our cruise. When we arrived at our new table that evening, we found a table for ten near a porthole. Nice. Two more couples arrived and upon introduction, it turned out that both the other men had the same name as me - Mike. Coincidence or what? That was it. Tania, Rita, Lynn together with their three Mikes. All of us six turned out to be in our late thirties/early forties, and although we were as different as they came - we were Maltese, one couple were Russian Americans, and the other as hard boiled Americans as they can be - we soon discovered that we all shared a common thing - one hell of a sense of humor. The other seats were booked to three sisters on a reunion thing, but they were not regulars. During the cruise they appeared in different combinations of two, then they disappeared for most of the cruise from our table, until finally all three resurfaced towards the end with a nice gentleman from Hawaii. We three couples became solid friends after about fifteen minutes and when we were introduced to our waiter Emir and his busboy Jose, we knew that we were made for the rest of the cruise. Emir provided a wonderful service for us, attentive, humorous and fast. He was always joking and although he kept his professional distance from us, as it should be, after all, he made us feel like we were one big happy family.

Our busboy Jose only helped him by being efficient and very handy with his little tricks around the table. We were always looking forward to see what he's coming up with next, and he did not disappoint us. His favorite trick was the falling cup. He makes as if he is placing a cup and saucer on the table after the meal, and he would apparently drop the cup from the saucer only to catch it with his thumb. You could almost hear the cup breaking. The way he wove in and out between us, keeping our glasses filled and the table organized can only be described as being poetry in motion. I used to follow his every move with delight.  After dinner, Emir always found the time to chat a bit with us, even though at times he was visibly tired. At one time he even made roses for the ladies from paper napkins. That was a nice touch, especially since it was not forced at all. Jose hovered about and also chatted with us while he cleaned up the table. One time he made a mouse out of a napkin, and brought the roof down by making the cloth mouse jump in Rita's lap. What can I say? We attended the restaurant every single day just to be with Emir and Jose. Suffice it to say that we were the rowdiest table in that sitting, and we loved every single moment of it all. So if you cruise Celebrity, and your waiter is called Emir, then rest assured that you are in for a good time!!!

The Ship
In a word, fantastic. This cruise was almost booked to capacity, but there never was that crowded feeling anywhere. Not even at the buffet lines with everyone going every which way. The ship was as clean as a whistle. No salt stains, hardly any window smears and the wooden decking pristine. All this, of course, is thanks to the endless work of the cleaners, who were always to be seen mopping up, polishing and vacuuming away constantly and unobtrusively. When in port, The side cleaning gizmos they have were in constant use keeping the sides of the ship clean and at times, paint touching up work was to be seen too. All this leads to the ship maintaining a brand new look.
Movement around the ship was always easy except perhaps when the elevators where busy. One had to wait a bit then, and you have to watch out in which direction the elevator is going. One tour which Celebrity does not advertise is the ship floor tour, via elevator stopping on every floor during the busy eating times. Taken that life onboard was relaxed, this always amused us. However its a minor niggle. The way the buffet lines are organized is yet another shining example of people management. There are four buffet lines, and a waiter takes your full tray and carries it for you to your table. What is impressive is that with all those people milling around, hardly any sidestepping or brushing with other people occurs. There is no hint of confusion at all, and the people flow is smooth and efficient. All tables were kept clean with a used tray being removed almost immediately after the person rises from the table. Those opting for the San Marco Restaurant dinner in the evening can gather in the two floored Rendez-vous Lounge and wait until the restaurant doors are opened over a quiet chat, drinks, or just chilling out whilst listening to and watching the cabaret. When the time comes, the restaurant doors open and everybody can walk the short distance into the place and be seated. The San Marco is your friendly neighborhood two-storey restaurant. Tasteful ceiling decorations illuminate the place over a central staircase. The light is subdued which allows the tabletop candles to stand out. Huge round portholes open out to the outside, and the far end of the restaurant, which is also the aft side of the ship is all glass. We never attended in daylight, but I'm sure that the effect would be spectacular. After finishing from the restaurant, one can saunter over to the Celebrity Theatre located up front of the ship for the night's entertainment. To do this one must pass from either the casino, on the Promenade deck, or else from the Cova Cafe and Emporium shopping area on the Entertainment Deck. This has to be a strategic thing as one cannot be but tempted to try his or her luck at the casino or enter one of the welcoming shops while going to the theatre! If one prefers to work up an appetite for the midnight buffet, one could always forfeit all the entertainment locales for the Reflections night club situated on the Sunrise Deck. Here one can dance away to different types of music, whose nightly theme was advertised in the shipboard daily “The Constellation Daily” If on the other hand, one prefers a nice quiet romantic stroll, then the place to go to is to the aft of the ship on the Sunrise deck, where one can look down at both pools or watch the sea go by. This is the place where the jogging track is and a notice on each side of the ship states that three times round the track equals one kilometer. There is another place, not readily obvious, but as accessible as any other part of the ship, and this is the deck situated over the Reflections Night club. This place offers a dark - nice for smooching - sheltered place which is somewhat marred by the number of ship's antennae and radio equipment. This has to be the only place where one can have no doubt that one is onboard a ship! But for all that, its the place to be when the wind blows and the seas roll. This cruise was a quiet one, weather-wise, much to my frustration and, I'm sure to the relief of the rest aboard! As far as we can tell, no-one had motion sickness. We had a couple of days rolling a wee bit early in the cruise and the day we entered the Mediterranean Sea. Considering that the ship has only 26 feet under water and 11 stories above, the stabilizers did their job well keeping us on the straight and level. But there never was that much sea to talk about, and it would be interesting to see how they would cope with a real sea coming up from the front and gusting winds from the sides.

The Decor on the ship exudes understated luxury. Fitted carpets everywhere. An illuminated Marble staircase in the foyer. Co-ordinated paneling and ceiling help set the atmosphere of the place. Soft practical color schemes in the cabins and corridors. Loud and brash in the Casino - how else should it be? - relaxing in the public areas, subdued in the restaurants, bar and cafe, fantastic at the nightclub. The one thing which seemed excessive was the number of artificial flames set in coves all along the sides of the Celebrity Theatre, but then again that could be just me. Throughout the ship, nooks and crannies harbored works of art. From paintings to sculptures, abstract to obvious, serious to entertaining, one cannot but pause and look at the offerings. Two notable sculptures are the fat lady at the Aquaspa pool and the gorilla holding a fish located on the starboard side on deck 11.Indeed, if fault is to be found with the decor, it would be that it tries to make the ship look more like a hotel on solid ground then a floating autonomous piece of machinery.

Food
I have read somewhere on the net that Celebrity's food slipped a bit lately, so I paid special attention to it. Apart from some little moans, all I can say about the food is that it was splendid. Breakfast buffet had everything from scrambled eggs and bacon to waffles and pancakes. And then some. Fresh fruit, peeled and ready to eat, Croissants, bread, bagels, cookies, you name it. Sometimes marinated herrings and smoked salmon too. The two rear pasta stations serve freshly made omelets to order. There was also a choice of cereals with additional nuts and seeds, and of course a worryingly wonderful choice of sweets and gateaux. Drinks were available round the clock from well equipped drink stations. Ice, cold water, hot water, decaf and regular coffee, non alcoholic punch, lemonade, iced tea, skimmed and regular milk were always on tap. Tea and cocoa can be made up by adding to hot water. For those wanting stronger stuff, or perhaps just a fizzy drink, Bar Staff were always available from whom drinks could be ordered.  I cannot comment much on the lunch buffet, as we missed most of them on port days by being on shore excursions, however, during sea days, lunch always was a wonderful experience. Tea was equally fulfilling with finger sandwiches, cookies, cheesecakes, cakes....need I go on? The one experience we positively did not miss was dinner at the San Marco Restaurant for reasons already mentioned. The daily menu hardly repeated for the 13 day period, and when it did - rarely - you would take the opportunity to eat something which you wanted to before but lost out for a better choice. Filling in between the main eating times, pizza was always available in three forms, cheese, veggy and pepperoni. The two ice-cream- actually it was frozen yoghurt and sherberts - stations at the entry of the seaside cafe were always busy, but I do not recall ever seeing chips from the burger bar by the pool. Every time I passed by it, it seemed to be serving pizza too. As if this was not enough, there was usually a midnight buffet serving themed food. How people can eat lasagna and /or pizza at midnight is beyond our comprehension. We are used to a late evening meal everyday and little else more except from a light noon meal. But I guess customs vary from one individual to another. While on the ship, we really pushed it by having a good breakfast, usually followed by a hearty tea time snack and of course the daily dinner at San Marco's. However, I am glad to report that I was still buckling my belt in the same hole at the end of the cruise as it was before we went aboard, albeit slightly tighter.

Information
I guess when on a cruise, the main thing on one's mind would be relaxation, but some degree of organization would still be required so as to get the most of the holiday. Organization requires information, and this is another area which Celebrity has addressed well. There is a daily publication entitled “The Constellation Daily”. This is a four page affair which contains information pertinent to the day. Thus on the first day issue, we find introductions to the ship, its staff, systems, what's where, and other useful information. During the cruise, the paper settles down to supplying information on the place we are going to, the day's highlights, dress code, dining hours, drink of the day, bar hours, and other items of general information aimed towards making the cruise a more pleasurable experience. Included in the “Daily” is a flyer containing the day's activities in detail. Suffice it to say that there is a list which is a page and a half long containing a timetable of the day's doings. These are aimed to please as wide a swath of interests as possible, and are very creative. One would be hard put not to find something of interest to attend to daily. Flyers giving basic information on the ports of call are available in the cabin and the guest relations desk. These give a short description of the place in question, and although necessarily short, offer the basic details on important things such as local places of interest, local customs, shopping facilities, office and telephone details, tourist information office addresses, details on local transport means, even some useful words and a rudimentary map of the area. This should be more then sufficient if one is planning a lazy day shopping in the vicinity or just strolling through the port of call. A slightly more detailed flyer and maps are available on a table just prior to disembarking. For those who wish to see what is happening to the outside world, there is available the “instant news”. This is a précis of the current news originating “via satellite from the world's foremost newswires”. Thus there is the “USA Times”, the “Britain Today” and others with news from France, Italy, and other countries.

One sweet thing was that accompanying the good night chocolate on our pillows, we always found a different postcard from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of various states. These depict drawings themed on cruising made by young children. A nice way to round up a wonderful day.

Entertainment
One thing that is definitely not missing onboard is entertainment. Celebrity tries really hard to provide a wide spectrum of entertainment, and it succeeds admirably. For the first time, it even booked a concert pianist who also happened to have a very entertaining sense of humor, Brooks Aehron, for a couple of shows. He was so popular that he gave an extra show. Lindsey Hamilton, a West End star was also onboard, and gave a couple of performances. A swath of performers gave their best, and several Broadway style shows were offered. We are not used to seeing such shows so I cannot comment on them. There was also a harp player and pianist, both of whom performed in several locations around the ship. For cinema goers, there was a small cinema which offered current movies at an acceptable level.

Cabaret style performances were always going on at the Rendez-Vous Lounge, together with the inevitable Karaoke nights. For the more energetic, the Reflections Nightclub provided dancing music with various nightly themes interspersed with Dance music. If one wished to listen to some music by one's self, Celebrity has provided the equivalent of a music library in the shape of Notes. This concept features a comfortable seat with a touch screen and headphones. You navigate through the easy to use menus to select your favorite songs from a vast database of music. Then just press ”play”, lie back and listen to your heart's content. There is also a conventional library loaning out books, and a beautiful conservatory full of exotic trees and plants where one can sit down amongst nature and relax.

As far as we can tell, there weren't that many kids running around on this cruise, but they have their own programs and organizers. There was a play area for kids on deck 11, but we never saw it occupied. On 11th September, a memorial service was held in the Celebrity Theatre. Bearing in mind that more than half of the ship's passengers were American, it seemed to me passing strange that the Theatre was mostly vacant.

Shore excursions
By being on a ship, one has the opportunity of seeing more than one country, albeit by catching a fleeting glimpse afforded by a few hours ashore. Therefore, it would be a shame if this advantage was not exploited. The simplest way is to book with Celebrity and let them work things out for you. However, this can be, and is, very expensive. By doing a little research before the cruise via the internet, one can get an idea on what to expect at the ports of call. Thus equipped, one can either come up with a private schedule involving trains and buses, or else can team up with others and take one of the several taxi tours on offer at the dockside by the ship. These tours are basically the same as the ones offered by Celebrity, but since the charge is by the trip, the total expense can be very low indeed if split between a group of four or six. If you feel lazy, you could always stroll over to the town or port centre and do the shops there. Celebrity acknowledges the fact that not all people will want to do an excursion by providing courtesy transport to central places like a train station and/or the town centre on a regular basis until the ship leaves port. One thing Celebrity is adamant about, and that is the return time for disembarked people. It has to be so, as the ship is, after all, on a schedule and has to stick to it. There simply cannot be any waiting for the convenience of the odd passenger. This is offset by the fact that they require the last return time as being only fifteen minutes prior to sailing time, which, in my opinion is extremely reasonable.

The Celebrity Cruise Signature Card
Prior to embarking for the first time, we were given a “signature card” each. This card contains our names, ship, sailing date and a “folio number”. This white card was to be our passport to the ship, and is used by the shipboard computer system in a seamless way for a multitude of purposes. It is the key to your cabin, the account to which any kind of shipboard purchase is billed, and your access to both the quayside and the ship. As the advertising blurb states, the ship uses a cashless system, in which the signature card forms the central tool of transaction. Call it the house credit card, in other words. One nice touch is that the account is always available for review on a channel on the cabin tv. At the end of the cruise, one is presented with a hard copy of the account which can either be settled by paying cash or charging it to one's credit card account. The method of payment is selected during the pre-boarding procedure at the start of the cruise. No fuss, no muss, just plain efficiency. The card is also used for security purposes while going ashore and returning. On first embarkation, a photo is taken of the individual when he is asked to insert his card in this machine. A person has to re-insert his card in the same machine before going ashore, no doubt registering the fact with Big Brother. Upon arrival, the card is reinserted, and the photo originally taken is brought up and presented to security for a fizzog check. Neat. The system also gives a constantly updated list of who is where, important at departure times to see who is going to hoof it to the next port of call.

This, that and the other Life onboard was very relaxed. The only thing that needed watching was the schedule for the timing of meals and things one wanted to attend to, like talks or movies. Our daily routine was rise at 06:30, catch breakfast at 07:15, disembark at 08:30, back in time to catch tea, relax, watch the ship leave port, wash, dress and do dinner. Depending on the night's activities, we either attended something or else dropped off to sleep after getting a glass of moo juice and looking at the midnight buffet offerings.

One personal highlight of the day was at tea, when we always congregated at the rear open deck to meet our friends and make new friends. Like I have said earlier, the three couples seated on table 533 all had men named Mike. So it was a natural progression that Mike's Corner came into being at the rear open deck. It served as a focal point for us friends to meet up and discuss important things like should Bush invade Iraq, and why it took us about 36 hours to cross from Dover to Zeebrugee when a normal ferry run does it in three!!!! Regular additional friends were Karine and Kenneth, two retirees from Belgium, and later another couple from the UK on a cruising quest. One amusing episode involved our cabin. The ship started to roll and lo and behold, a creak materialized in our cabin ceiling. It was more amusing rather than annoying, but eventually we decided to do something about it. We had just came down in our cabin about to shower and dress for dinner, when our steward came up and asked us how we were doing. We said fine, except that we have a creak in our cabin. Oh, he said, I'll see to it. Yes please, thank you, I replied and we retired to our cabin after hanging the “Do not disturb” Sign outside. Barely five minutes passed by when the phone rang. It was the Guest Relations desk asking about our problem. I was surprised at the speed they moved, but I was lost for words when the desk told us that the ship's carpenter was currently outside our cabin door, but since we had the ”do not disturb” sign outside, he did not knock, but was waiting for our convenience to see to the problem. WOW. Is this service or what?

We put on our bathrobes and opened the door so that our erstwhile carpenter could hunt our creak down. So there we were, us in bathrobes, him in a clean blue boiler suit, standing still and waiting for the creak to happen. Roll, ship, roll. He eventually had to stand up on our bed, displaying the cleanest pair of white socks this side of the Atlantic, and finally located the creak in the ceiling. It was residing behind the stowable bunk bed in the ceiling. The only way he could stop it was to stand on my bedside table and press up the roof paneling. No problem, I seriously told him, you can stand like that for the rest of the cruise. The look he gave me had to be seen as I can never describe it. I then laughed and he relaxed. He then packed a couple of towels on the bunk bed, which when stowed stopped the creak. Relieved, he stepped down my bedside table and after putting on his boots, we spent another five minutes in companiable silence waiting for the creak to happen again. It did not and after thanking him, the guy left. Ten minutes later, CREEAAKKKK!!!! We decided to let it go.

The ship in general is very quiet, especially in the cabin. No machinery is evident, and by far the loudest thing evident, apart from my snores, is the air-conditioning. Which is very low indeed. Until you flush the toilet. The ship uses a vacuum system to collect everything, and this leads to less water usage and a raft of other operational advantages. But when you press the ”flush” button, you would start thinking that you would be next down its gullet!!! It's that frightening. However, when a toilet is flushed elsewhere, only the slightest hum is heard, the cabins are that soundproof. One curious event involving noise happens at least twice daily. A sound reminiscent of a huge door being slammed shut, or machinery being brought up to speed used to happen at 07:00 and 20:00. It was so punctual that one could set one's watches by it. It was in no way alarming, but it was felt as well as heard in our cabin. If one lifts the toilet cover up at night, with the lights out, a faint light can be made out in the toilet bowl. Curious. Using the shower is a pleasure. I must have been a duck in one of my previous incarnations, I really love to splash about, and I want my showers to be really hot and powerful. The shower units are equipped with thermostatic mixers, and ours worked like a dream. Maybe the fact that the whole ship is only a few months old has a bearing on the matter. I have seen thermostatic controls with a stop button to prevent you going over 38' C inadvertently, but having a stop on the volume control was a first for us. And boy was it needed. The shower head had two settings, Shower and pulse, and on the pulse setting, the water was positively lethal, it was that strong. I was in heaven, but I wouldn't recommend it on the face or other tender parts!!! Having a bar fridge in the cabin is nice, if you use it, we didn't, but why is the bottle opener located inside the toilet, screwed in by the entry door?

Celebrity also supplied a neon nightlight to be used in the dark, wonderful, but no mention is ever made of it anywhere, which is unusual, considering that it is in Celebrity's interest to highlight all its plus points. Maybe I missed that part. Electricity is supplied in both 110V via American prongs socket, and 220V in the European round socket. That way, people can use equipment from all over the world without difficulty. Another plus point. Some people can never be pleased no matter how much one tries to do so, but the cake can well and truly be awarded to the guy who was grumbling with staff on the lack of fish during tea. He must have insisted on it, as I saw, and heard an officer explaining to him that whilst there was a different choice of foods available daily, one has to be reasonable in one's demands. Fish for tea! I had a passing thought of asking the officer for some fresh monkey brains, but I'm sure he would not have seen the funny side of it, so I desisted.

The ship's coffee was ok.......for you heathen Americans out there, that is. For us cultured Europeans, coffee means using fresh grounds and serving it immediately. No really, the coffee was quite good actually, however it pales when compared to the Italian ”ristretto”. This is the essence of two or three cups of coffee sweated out in as little water as possible, served in a thimble sized cup with saucer to match. You can add sugar, but not much as it will dry what little water there is. You haven't tasted coffee until you have experienced the “ristretto”. From then on, its to the bin with the percolator!!! One comment from Mike, when I introduced him to the ristretto was that you could peel paint with it. Celebrity really pounds it in everyone's head that we must be aboard in time for sailing when going ashore. They do it as gently and as subtly as possible, and its everywhere. In the daily paper, on a small notice board, which is the last thing you see before going ashore. However, it must have slipped the minds of a couple one time, and the ship slipped its moorings missing two people. We punctual and correct people were treated to the sight of the pilot boat come chasing after the ship and delivering the two errant passengers to the ship. Luckily the ship was still negotiating the harbor and had not yet picked up speed. On the subject of speed. We left Dover on the dot at 17:00 on Saturday. We docked at Zeebrugge on Monday at 07:00, namely 38 hours later. A ferry covers the same distance in about three hours, so what is happening? Us in a brand new ship, equipped with four gas turbine engines, usually found hanging from aircraft wings rather than resting in the belly of a ship, being passed by every rust ridden bucket that is heading in the same direction. Word was that even the jelly fishes were having a field day racing us and morale plummeted. Celebrity contracts were consulted, to no avail, as the company craftily did not guarantee a minimum cruising speed. Desperation filled the air. Then it dawned. The ship was half full with Americans flown in from the states. These poor souls were ridden with jet lag, and needed time to adapt to Eurotime. Also, the day being Sunday, and the land being Europe, everything was usually closed so there was precious little to do on land on a Sunday, especially if the land in question was Europe. This prompted Celebrity to leave the Constellation to traverse the seas with her throttles set at jelly-fish speed to give the recovering Americans a relatively lazy sea day on Sunday.

Morale was quickly restored when the ship picked up speed more appropriate to its status in between most ports, and hurriedly booked post cruise sessions with psychiatrists were just as hurriedly cancelled. Any last doubts and remaining sessions where cancelled by the last days when we were accompanied by the ”Sunbird”, a cruise ship belonging to the competition. It left harbor with us in Livorno, and set a course parallel with ours. For a moment, it seemed that it was going to overhaul us, and talk of keelhauling our captain abounded. But eventually, we picked up speed and left the other ship behind. On leaving Villefranche, the Sunbird had the cheek to leave before us, and post cruise sessions were re-booked again. These were hurriedly re-cancelled when we not only caught up with the ship, but we left it far behind us in a matter of minutes. Yes!!! Our ship was in such a hurry to get to Barcelona, that that night you could have served a vodka martini shaken, not stirred, just by placing it on the dinner table.

The ship sports two saunas, one for each sex, complete with changing rooms, showers and washrooms. There are little lockers in which one can place one's possessions while one cooks oneself in the sauna. To get a key for these lockers, you need to present your Signature card to the Aquaspa people, in exchange of which, they hand over the locker key. Admirably, ever so cautious, they ask you for your first name before returning the card to you when you give back the key.  Mike came over at teatime and asked me if I wanted to go and grab a sauna with him. Sure, why not? So we went to get our locker keys. It so turned out that he had his wife's card by mistake and he had to turn it over to get a key. When eventually we went to return the keys and get our cards back, the Aquaspa girl asked him for his name. Ever so correct, he replied “Rita”. One had to be there to see the girl's reaction.

Ho's and Hum's
Were there any complaints about anything? Definitely not. Was the experience a totally positive one, then? Ermmm........yes, but with minor niggles. And here they are. On checking our ship account, we found that $198 were inexplicably billed to us. This was followed by a credit of the same amount to our account, effectively canceling the previous debit. There was no explanation, just the note “guest relations” and we did not ask for one. I enquired about the possibility of an engine room visit, but I was told that it was not possible. I did not insist, but having an engineering background, and the ship being powered by a relatively novel system, I sorely would have liked to see the works. I would have gladly signed a disclaimer for Celebrity, and accept to be clapped in chains and surrounded by security, if that is what it takes to do a tech visit. The good night chocolates on the pillows bore signs of improper storage. This was evident when one unwraps them. At times, the chocolate itself felt granular upon eating and had lost its surface sheen. This is usually no cause for alarm, as the confectionery is still safe to consume, but its creamy texture would be lost. Also, the chocolates themselves lacked a “best before” date. During tea, sandwiches are on offer at the buffet lines. These are made out of various types of bread. Unless the sandwiches are taken as soon as they are presented, they had a tendency to dry up and curl unseemingly.

I doubt if Celebrity can do anything about this, as the bread is actually fresh and wonderful when initially presented, but the air-conditioning wreaks havoc and dries them up real fast.  On offer during tea, there are also small hot croissants filled with some tasty ingredient or another. Like some of the sandwich filling, these ingredients are usually tied with what was on offer yesterday on the cold table. No problem in that, and the food is always of prime condition. At best it can be viewed as utilizing perfectly good food left over from the buffet, and at worst, it can be called recycling food. An example of this is that fresh almond flake coated fingers originally served the day earlier were turned over and coated with chocolate and re-served again as an entirely different item. I did not mind, as they tasted better with the chocolate. It was noticed that the sun reaches easily into the rear verandah bar. Thus liquor bottles on the shelves were being subjected to spells of direct sunlight. I am sure that this does nothing to improve the contents of the bottle. On drinks served from the bar. The only alcoholic drinks we ever had were in the Reflections Nightclub. My wife usually had Bailey's on ice and I had Banana or Strawberry Daiquiri. Not being habitual drinkers, my wife usually starts feeling the drink halfway through her second Baileys. She had three and still felt nothing. Ditto with me. What's wrong?

The middle elevator of the aft cluster has what sounds a loose cable banging about. The sauna room area was as sumptuously decorated as the rest of the ship, but the effect was marred by the presence of blue toweling placed on the floor. These appeared to have been placed there to prevent wet bare feet from slipping, an admirable, if unsightly solution. However, this could have been considered in the design stage and appropriate non-slip materials specified for the flooring. The cinema seating proved disappointing. The back to front angle of the seats was too shallow, resulting in the bottom third of the screen being obliterated by the persons sitting in front of you. The ship has this habit of showering those downwind of its stack on deck 11 with a drizzle of fine drops of water. This usually happens when the ship leaves port, while possibly bringing yet another turbine on-line. This temporary rain is accompanied by visible steam emerging from the stack, which leads me to the conclusion that we are experiencing condensate precipitation until the exhaust system reaches the proper operating temperature. No problem in that, and most probably, the rain consists primarily of water, but a note on the possibility from Celebrity would have been nice.

By far the biggest disappointment was unfortunately the Ocean Liners' restaurant. For all the hype the restaurant was pushed with, our dinner there proved to be a non-event. It could have been the way that it is advertised as being the ultimate dining experience, thus setting our expectations very high. It could have been the fake French accent used by the head waiter. It could have been the way the knifes and forks busboy kept muttering to himself and correcting misplaced tools. Perhaps it was just us having an off night. Maybe it was a combination of everything which while not actually spoiling the event, proved enough to throw it out of whack. On a lighter vein, we watched in trepidation as the flames rose from the brandy-flamed steaks towards an overhead sprinkler. The crowning glory would have been the sprinkler going off. I think that if the Americans are more natural instead of trying to imitate other cultures, they would succeed more. Earlier on, I have stated that nothing warranted complaining about. I was wrong. There is something, and it is purely Celebrity Cruise's fault. Due to the excellent time and brilliant service given to us by Celebrity during our cruise, I hereby do complain that like all good things, the cruise had to come to an end. If we were not given such a wonderful time, and looked after in the way that we were, we would not have had to complain so strongly that the cruise had to end. We were given a questionnaire to fill in and it was with extreme feeling and truth that I answered the question ”will you cruise with Celebrity Cruises again?” with a heart-felt ”yes!

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