Irwin J. Kappes
Number of Cruises: 14
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: April 15th, 2005
Itinerary: Southern Caribbean
This was our fourth cruise on Celebrity and our first on the new class of super liners. Constellation is truly a beautiful ship and met our expectation in nearly every way. The cabins are relatively roomy and well-designed for comfort and convenience. We did have a few reservations however. First, the cuisine appears to have suffered a decline in quality. We were initially impressed with international chef Michel Roux's menus and oversight on previous cruises but suspect his influence, still heavily touted, appears to have waned. For example, a "canard a l'orange" we awaited with great anticipation turned out to be tough and flavorless. Secondly, One has the impression of being regarded as a cash cow ready to be milked at every turn. The apparent avarice of Celebrity management is palpable. For example, the cheapest red wine in my local liquor store is a Chilean brand selling for $3.00 a bottle. That same brand was offered in the dining room at $8.00 a glass. Now, I am familiar with the economics of bartending, but this profit ratio is simply unconscionable.
I am a professional artist and will refrain from commenting on the art auctions on Celebrity except to say "Buyer beware". If you intend to bid on any of the offerings, do your homework ahead of time and be especially wary of any art offered as an "investment". Buy what you like--for its value to you as an enhancement to your home. If you want to buy art as an investment, do it ashore and get access to appraisers or you are almost certain to get burned.
Our cruise called at Casa do Campo in the Dominican Republic. Our take on this choice is that Celebrity wanted to flesh out its itinerary on the cheap, because it happens to be close to San Juan. But there is really little of true interest to see there. A free shuttle does take you to a faux-medieval village where you are beset by vendors of faux-Cuban cigars, though there are shops offering the usual touristic offerings. Overall, it was worthwhile but should be avoided by anyone with weak ankles because the cobblestones were more treacherous than any we've encountered anywhere else. Beachniks reported to us that the beach at nearby Bayahibe was a worthy destination except for the pesky natives selling all manner of trinkets.
In Barbados we took ship's tour BB-18 "Natural Wonders of Barbados". This consisted of a drive through just about every back road on the island culminating in two high points: Andromeda Gardens and the lovely vista from Bathsheba on the east coast. On a previous cruise, we took tour BB-1 "Beautiful Barbados & Colonial Plantation House." This tour took us up the beautiful west coast with its gorgeous homes and beaches and a visit to a charming plantation house. All in all, a much preferable choice for any first-visitor to the island.
Grenada has still not recovered from the devastating hurricane of two years ago. We had been to this island several times and found little of interest in the island's interior, focusing on the careenage, which is (or was) one of the gems of the Caribbean. Celebrity offered a basic tour of the island for $37.00 but we readily found a taxi driver with an air-conditioned van who offered the same tour (Grand Etang, Annandale, Fort Frederick) for $15.00. We took it only because we had a European couple in tow who were making their first trip to the Caribbean. We discovered that there is no "best place" to buy local offerings here because the prices tend to be the same everywhere--e.g. $2.00 for a small bag of about 7 whole nutmegs, with grater and $6.00 for a basket of spices that includes cloves, nutmeg, and about 4 other locally-grown spices. (The so-called "saffron" is in reality turmeric). It's not an intentional deception: The locals simply know turmeric as "saffron".
Not having been to Antigua before, we took the ship's basic offering, AN-1 which gave us an overall view--beautiful vistas from Shirley Heights and a visit to Nelson's Dockyard. Unfortunately, there were two other large cruise ships in port at the same time and the crowds were more dense everywhere than we've ever experienced in our touristy experience anywhere we'd been. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that you could hardly turn around.
We had been to St. Thomas more times than we could count and have always considered Magens Bay one of the most beautiful we'd seen anywhere. But with three other large ships in port we decided it would be too crowded and repeated what we'd done on our last visit and took a ferry over to St. John where there are drivers readily available for tours of the island that's our hands down favorite for natural beauty. For shoppers, St. Thomas can't be beat and there are undoubtedly more jewelers here per square mile than anywhere in the world. But we'd "been there, done that".
All in all, Celebrity offers good value if one avoids the temptations of dining room extras, physical therapies of dubious merit and, of course, the casino.
Service aboard was still good, but appears to have suffered a slight decline in attentiveness over the past five years. We suspect that the policy of permitting tips to be charged to one's account may have engendered an attitude of entitlement among crew members. Maybe there's no substitute for handing over an envelope containing cold, hard cash. One man's opinion.