Number of Cruises: 6
Cruise Line: Celebrity
Sailing Date: April 28th, 2006
Constellation Cruise Review
My sister Janet and I
scheduled this cruise due to the amazing price we got from Online Vacations for
a complete vacation package - $1500, which included the cruise in a balcony
guarantee cabin, transportation from Dover to London, 3 nights in London,
transport back to Heathrow and a 1 way flight back to Newark on Virgin Atlantic.
This was my 6th cruise, 3rd on Celebrity, and Janet’s first. My review will be
long and detailed, so if you just want a quick summary – FABULOUS!
Now for the pesky details:
Day 1 – Friday April 28, Embarkation from Port Bayonne, New Jersey
Jan and I both live in the Detroit Metro area, so we took an early morning flight out of Detroit to Newark. I am the older (and bossier) sister, so I made all the arrangements, from the cruise itself to our flights. We are both divorced and 40 something (one of us more “something” than the other). The flight went smoothly, and we navigated quickly through Newark airport, collecting baggage and making our way to the taxis. A taxi to the port was a set price of $35, plus tip. We made it there in about 15 minutes. We checked in our bags at the curb, and headed inside the terminal building, giddy with excitement. This was my easiest embarkation ever – there was absolutely no line (we arrived about 12:30 pm) and we walked right up to the counter. We had completed all the on line registration forms, so check in took all of 5 minutes (just had to show our passports and credit card). Then we headed out back to a shuttle bus to take us to the ship. That was about a 5-minute ride, and then we stepped on board the beautiful Constellation.
My first cruise, back in 2001, was on the Connie’s sister ship, the Millennium. The Constellation is even more beautiful, and I didn’t think anything could top the Millennium. We started being treated famously right away, when we were handed a glass of champagne and directed to the elevators and the buffet. We downed our champagne and then got ourselves a nice lunch to start our cruise. Since our rooms weren’t ready yet, we were going to explore the ship, but decided to sneak down and see if we could leave our carry on luggage in the room. We found our room, 6094 with no problems. It was already cleaned and lovely, with a small balcony, located mid-ship. We dropped off our bags, and headed back out.
Janet was amazed with the ship, both the size of it, and the beautiful artwork and silk flower arrangements everywhere. We stopped by the Olympic restaurant to make our specialty dinner reservations, and it was a good thing we did. I remembered from the Millennium what a wonderful experience this would be, and didn’t want Jan to miss out on this trip. The restaurant was almost completely booked – the first reservation we could get was for Thursday night! Once that was secure, we went to confirm that my birthday gift from my boyfriend, the MI (Melancholy Italian) was on record with the ship. He had given me 2 packages, the Platinum fitness package and the Celebrate at Sea package. He may be melancholy, but he does know what I like! He was staying at my house while I was gone to look after my flock of cats, since they prefer to have live in help while their Mommy is gone.
After checking with Guest Services and being assured that both packages showed up on my account, we headed up to the spa and fitness area. We got a private tour of the spa, where our guide extolled the virtues of all the glorious treatments offered; everything from teeth whitening to a 2-hour body wrap/massage/float event. I registered for a deep tissue massage (one of the 2 treatments included in the Platinum Fitness package) for the following morning, and then we headed to the gym to sign up for fitness classes. I am a dedicated yogini and yoga teacher, and had, of course, brought my traveling yoga mat with me. Since I practice yoga on my own, I decided to try something different for this trip, and signed up for my first spinning class. More on that later!
After getting those important details taken care of, we headed back to our room. Almost as soon as we arrived our wonderful room attendant, Vivianna, greeted us. She was probably the best attendant I’ve ever had; completely unobtrusive, but kept our room immaculate, even if we stepped out for only a few minutes. We were dubbed “Madame Catherine and Madame Janet” and she greeted us every time we saw her in the hallways for the next week. She must work very long hours, since she had many cabins to attend to and people tended to sleep in on all those sea days in a row (6). Yet she was always pleasant and smiling, a real delight. We both signed up for the automatic tipping charged to our shipboard account ($10.50/day if not in a suite, which covered the room attendant, head housekeeper, waiter, assistant waiter, and maitre’de). However, we did slip her an extra $20 each for her wonderful service, and felt it was well deserved.
We then made it through muster, and headed down to one of the lounges to watch the ship head out to sea. For the first time in my life (in spite of many trips to New York City to visit the MI’s Sicilian mother) I saw the Statue of Liberty as we pulled out of the harbor! She was a ways away, but it did make my eyes tear up as I saw her raising her lamp high.
On this trip, for the first time, I had asked for early seating for dinner. I’ve always had late seating on previous cruises, which has been great on trips where we have lots of port days. But, since we had mostly sea days on this trip, and given that both Jan and I are early risers and early to bedder's, I thought it would be nice to have dinner at an earlier hour this time. As a result, we had to get ready for dinner right after we sailed away. Vivianna had been keeping a watch out for our bags, and the last one arrived just as we got back from watching the sail away. We quickly unpacked and dressed (casually) for dinner, and headed to the dining room.
We were SO lucky in our tablemates! We were on the 5th floor, near the railing overlooking the 4th floor, at a table for 8. There were 3 other couples with us, Peter and Isobel from Montreal, Don and Nan from New Jersey, and another great couple from New Jersey that none of us caught their names. All our companions were well traveled (Don and Nan had been on 43 cruises) and we hit it off right away. Our waiter was Ottoniel, and he and his assistant were fabulous. We had the first of many wonderful meals, and headed out afterward for a brief stop in the casino before the evening show.
Now Janet is a real slot machine fan, so we hit the casino every night after dinner. We are not high rollers though, and budgeted ourselves to $20 for the slots every night. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to lose $20, so once we accomplished that, we headed to the theater for the first night’s show.
On previous cruises, both with my best friend Joan and the MI, we didn’t think much of the entertainment, and rarely attended the shows. However, we went most nights on this trip, and enjoyed every show we saw. The Celebrity singers and dancers were fabulous, and we also had Circe de Sol perform one show (amazing) and had a couple of their performers in 2 of the Celebrity singer’s shows. Our favorites throughout the week were the Celebrity singer’s tribute to Broadway and the Circ de Sol performance on the last sea day. How they can dance and do their stunts on a rocking ship I will never understand, but they did, and they were awesome. The theater is beautiful, with very comfortable seats and good sight lines from almost every area. I was really glad we took in the shows, as they made a great way to wind up the day.
We headed back to our room, where the wonderful Vivianna had separated the beds into 2 twins for us. I found the beds quite comfortable, and the rooms quiet, and the temperature easily adjusted to perfection. We both took Bonine every morning, and never had a moment of seasickness, in spite of some really high seas. We fell quickly asleep and slept like 40 something babies.
Day 2, Saturday April 29, through Day 6, Thursday, May 4, Sea Days!
On our first full day at sea, the weather not the best, but we didn’t care. We began to settle into the ship and established our daily routines. I got up early and headed to the buffet for breakfast. Heaven, for me, will have hot oatmeal, grapefruit with the sections already cut, bacon and coffee, just like a cruise ship. I explained to Janet the delights of the nightly newspaper in our rooms, and how you read it through and select all the exciting things you want to do (or will try and do) the next day. We both wanted to attend the lecture on the Titanic, so after I showered and Janet got something to eat, we headed down to the theater for the lecture. It was very well attended, and he was an excellent speaker. The eerie part was that we were passing very close to where the Titanic went down, also in April! Luckily, the nervousness didn’t affect our appetite, and we headed for lunch after the lecture. We ended up taking all of our breakfasts and lunches in the buffet, since we could always find something we liked there. The pizza was really, really good, and we both liked the sandwich bar at the very aft of the ship. They have great rolls and wraps, along with a couple of pasta salads and soup. Then we finished every lunch with a scoop of home made ice cream – always delicious – but the butter pecan on the first day was the best I’ve ever had.
In the afternoon, we started our tradition of reading and/or napping (but not in public, like so many people did. We saw people sound asleep all over the ship throughout the whole trip). We both are voracious readers, and had each brought 5-6 books to read. It was such a luxury to have so much time to relax and read without someone coming up and demanding something from us (as children, co-workers and cats tend to do).
I had signed up for the spinning classes at 4:00, so I changed and wandered up to the gym. Now I’ve never taken spinning before, and haven’t been bike riding in many years, so I was quite unprepared for the experience. Isobel from my dinner table was also in class, and I quickly realized she was a spinning expert. It turns out she takes spinning class every morning at 6:00 at home, and I was very grateful to be at the opposite end of the class from her. I was gasping for breath by the end of the 45 minute session, and felt like a dunce for not bringing a water bottle with me. The perky little instructor was quite good, but the class was definitely challenging. Isobel, of course, felt it was quite a few notches down from her regular workout. Hmmpf.
This was our first formal night, so we dressed to the nines and traipsed down to dinner. Because of the high seas, the Captain had mentioned in his daily announcement that it was recommended ladies not wear high heels to dinner. Well, my gown was long, and would drag on the floor without heels, so I rebelliously disobeyed and brought out my exquisite sequined stilettos. I managed quite well, at least before I had 2 glasses of wine with dinner. No lobster on the first formal night, but the food was delicious, and we enjoyed every bite. Then we were off to the casino, but skipped the show, as the dancers had the night off due to the high seas. We then headed back to our room for another restful night.
The seas were a bit calmer by noon on the 3rd day. The sun even came out, and the dedicated sunbathers were out on the pool deck, albeit covered up in blankets. Jan and I quickly realized that even though it was cool outside, our balcony was lovely as long as you sat out there with a toasty blanket wrapped around you. This I did most afternoons, since I love the sight and sound of the ocean. We attended many of the crafts class, where we made picture frames out of mini shells and origami animals. We may have been the youngest crafters there, but we still had fun, and mentioned what a thoughtful gift our frames would make for our niece Crystal (who is 17, a punk rocker, and unlikely to consider a hand made picture frame a proper gift at all).
Every night we had another wonderful meal, lost our $20 in the casino, and then saw a fabulous show – Best of Broadway, Music around the World, and the amazing Circe de Sol. How they can do that performance on a moving vehicle is what I will never understand. I strongly recommend you attend at least this show if you get the chance.
Wednesday was the night of the Masked Ball, so after our usual routine of breakfast, rest, and then lunch, we headed back up to the Bar at the Edge of the World to make masks for the Ball. All the craft classes were here, and we just loved it. We never got one of the beds along the front of the ship (people apparently staggered up there at dawn and then snoozed the day away) but all the couches and chairs are very comfortable, and the ambience is amazing. HOWEVER, the place was just packed with potential mask makers, and the activities hostess was completely overwhelmed. She was prepared with supplies for maybe 20 mask makers, and there were at least 120 people waiting anxiously. She had a complete melt down, and started yelling at us like we were kindergarteners. In an effort to maintain control, she refused to let us take the suppliers to our tables, instead insisting we cluster around her table at the front of the room. Things got ugly fast, and she was soon surrounded by an angry mob trying to snatch scissors, string, glue and glitter. I, being small and quick, darted in to the table, snatched up glue, glitter, shells, scissors and construction paper, and headed back to our table. We were joined by Peter and Isobel from our dining table, and we all giggled as we worked quickly with our pilfered supplies. With some spirited bargaining with our neighboring tables, we were able to get our masks made and the supplies returned without being caught by the activities hostess, who, by now, was yelling that if we did not behave she would take all her supplies and we would all have to return to our cabins. A group time out – that really put the fear of God into us. We slunk away, still giggling, with our illegally created masks trailing glitter all the way back to our rooms.
Unfortunately, we were so tired after our busy day that we never made it to the Masked Ball (and found out most of our fellow mask makers, including Peter and Isobel, didn’t either). I guess there were less than a hundred people at the Ball, but those who went said it was lots of fun.
Eventually, the days started to blend together. We had no news of the outside world, so Janet, a newspaper editor, was jonesing for information. She did a little web surfing and it seemed as though the only item of interest was that Keith Richards had fallen out of a palm tree and given himself a concussion. While we were sorry to hear that, it didn’t spoil our day. We had both purchased the internet package of 100 minutes for $70, expensive, but worth it to be able to e-mail our friends and family members to make them jealous and keep in touch with work.
We had one bit of excitement when a passenger took ill and a helicopter arrived from France to whisk him to a hospital. The captain announced that he was stopping the ship so the helicopter could land, and asked that no one go out on the upper decks outside. Sure enough, we were able to see the helicopter from our balcony, and it was only a few minutes before the passenger was loaded and the helicopter had faded away into the distance. We never did hear if the passenger recovered or not.
Midway through the week the seas acted up again, but Bonine and flat shoes kept us upright and un-sick.
All too soon, it was our last day at sea. We decided to get most of our packing done since tomorrow would be filled with a long day’s excursion to Paris. Packing is always sad, but we were excited about seeing land again and going to Paris for the first time. We did our gift shopping on the ship, since there were some good end of trip sales going on. Celebrity had just opened a beautiful Baltic shop, and there were many unusual Russian gifts available, including unique hand painted small boxes, enameled jewelry, and dolls of all types.
I had my second treatment in my spa package, which was a sort of spreading you with mud and wrapping you up in tin foil experience. While I lay there like a mummy I got a nice scalp and foot massage. After that, though, I had to hop like a giant hopping cocoon to the door of the shower, where my therapist helped me unwind and let me shower off all the mud in privacy. Having seen some of the clips on the ship video of the trip, I sincerely hoped my experience would not be included. Apparently this treatment was supposed to detoxify me and leave me glowing. It was relaxing, but I prefer a nice massage any day.
Thursday was our night for dinner in the Olympic Restaurant. We dressed up a bit, and headed to the lounge to watch the ballroom dancers. We did that most nights before dinner, as we are both admirers of good dancers, even though we can’t dance to save our lives. There were many couples of excellent dancers on board, and we really enjoyed watching them.
The fact that we can’t dance was brought glaringly to light when one of the ships paid “escorts” asked me to dance. When I protested that I didn’t know how, he brushed away my protests with “A blonde that doesn’t know how to dance? I don’t believe it!” Well, I proved that I was right very quickly. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that Janet was also stumbling around the dance floor with Robert, a man who had been sitting near us with his wife who didn’t want to dance. Once he saw Janet was alone, he pounced, and so the both of us proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that some blondes AND redheads just can’t dance.
After excusing ourselves from our partners, we headed to the Olympic for one of the very best meals of my life. We ordered off the a la carte menu, with Janet having the goat cheese soufflé, and the lamb, and I had the Caesar salad with the lobster and scallops. We both adored the cheese cart, allowing our server to select several choices for us. Janet had the soufflé for desert, and I had the plate of tiny pastries. This is truly a not to be missed experience, and completely worth the $30/person charge.
After dinner, we made our nightly pilgrimage to the casino, and low and behold Janet came out a winner! She is still mad at me for dragging her out before she could return all the winnings to the ship, but that’s what big sisters are for.
Day 7, Friday, May 5 – Paris!
Part of my Celebration Package from the MI was a “suite breakfast”, meaning anything off the menu suite guests used. We had saved it for this morning, both to fortify us for the day, and as a wake up call. I still don’t understand why ships don’t have nice alarm clocks in the rooms, even though we had brought one ourselves. Ours gave us trouble, though, since we moved the clock ahead almost every night, and were always a little confused of the time.
We were up early and headed to the theater where all the excursions originated. We had selected the “Taste of Paris” tour from the ship, which gave us a bus ride into Paris, a quick tour of the city (no stops), and 3.5 hours on our own to explore. It was a long ride there (3+ hours) but worth it, since we had never been to France before, and were both dying to see Paris. We were quickly separated into groups and loaded on big comfortable buses with facilities and whisked through the beautiful rolling hills of Le Havre south to the City of Lights.
Our tour guide was wonderful, a native Parisian. She kept up a very interesting running commentary on the way down, and throughout Paris. The countryside was especially pretty since it was early spring and every shade of green was represented. There were also huge yellow fields of canola, or rape, dividing the green fields into checkerboards. The ride passed quickly, and soon we could see the outlines of Paris in the distance. We ducked into a tunnel similar to the one where Princess Diana was killed (our guide reassured us it was not the same one), and then emerged to the sight of the most famous Paris landmark of all, the Eiffel Tower.
The escorted tour of the city was wonderful, but almost painful, since we just drove by all the famous sights; The Louvere, the Arc de Tromphe, Champs Elise, the opera house, the Ritz Carlton, the Left Bank, the Tuilleres gardens, the Seine, and so many more. We stopped under the Eiffel Tower and were sternly warned to be back to the bus no later than 3:45 pm.
Jan and I had wanted to climb the Effie Tower, but one look at the line convinced us to keep moving. We were almost immediately accosted by a pretty young girl who asked if we were Americans, and then handed us a note to read, which stated she was from Bosnia and needed money for food. We, old softies that we are, coughed up a couple of Euro. Later we found out that these young girls were actually gypsies, and were all throughout Paris. We only got caught the first time, so we chalked it up to our Parisian experience.
We wandered up the Champs Elise to the Arc de Triumph, stopping at a small sidewalk sandwich shop for a wonderful Brie sandwich on a fresh baguette. I also took advantage of the unique public toilets on the street. After a user exits, the entire capsule seals itself off and sanitizes itself with a complete spray down. It then dries itself off, and opens for the next user. I was fascinated, and think every big city should do the same thing. I can’t tell you how many cups of Chai tea I’ve purchased in a Starbucks in Manhattan just to use the restroom.
When we saw the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs Elise, I had to go in. Imagine my surprise when I was stopped by a French Secret Service agent type, complete with earpiece and cord running into his pocket. “Non, Non, Mademoiselle”, he said sternly, point me in the direction of a long line that wrapped out the door and around the block. I was flabbergasted, a LINE to get into a store! Full of righteous indignation, we stomped out, muttering rude things about the French under our breaths. Actually, everyone we met in Paris was lovely, but I still can’t get over them making you line up to come into a store to spend your money.
Luckily, we were able to enter several other stores without incident, and Janet, a perfume addict, was happy to find some of her favorite brands in one shop. Prices were not any cheaper than at home, but the selection was much better. We got some more souvenirs and then headed back for the bus.
We were lucky to have a good group, since everyone made it back on time. Thank heavens they did, because our drive back took almost 2 hours longer than the drive down, due to awful Parisian Friday night traffic and a couple of accidents. It was dreadful, and our driver, Danielle, was a saint. He patiently wove us in and out of the mess, and we were one of the first groups back to the ship at 8:30. We were late in leaving Le Havre due to so many tour groups getting back late. I guess that is a little plug for the ships tours, as the ship will wait for you. We did see one unlucky man who had been on his own, his cab pulled up just as we were pulling out from the dock, 1.5 hours later than scheduled. “Ahoy there!” he yelled, as Janet and I stood on our balcony watching the ship pull away. “Any way on the ship?”
“Only if you can swim!” Janet yelled back, as he faded into the distance. The poor guy had to then make his way to Dover on his own, to collect his luggage and check out. They really do mean it when they say be back to the ship on time!
Day 8, Saturday, May 6 – Dover and London!
We arrived right on time, and awoke to the bustling sounds of a ship unloading. Thank heavens I have a good internal clock, because we (the Royal We) had set our alarm incorrectly, and would have overslept by 2 hours (damn blonde hair dye – rots brain cells. I was certain there were only 22 hours in a day). Celebrity did a pretty good disembarkation; we had a nice room service continental breakfast, and then took our carry on luggage to one of the lounges to wait for our group to disembark. It took a bit longer than we expected, but it was very easy to find our bags, since they were sorted into small groups by disembarkation color and number. We didn’t have to do any customs, so we were outside and on a bus for Online Vacations in about 5 minutes. 3 of the 4 couples at our dinner table had also booked through Online Vacations for this package, so we were reunited with our old friends. The ride from Dover to London was quick and painless (just over an hour) and we had the pleasure of a wonderful tour guide who gave us a lot of historical info on the area. She also took the time to go up and down the bus isle to individually answer questions from each group. When we got to London, we entered the city on the east side, and our hotel was on the west, so we got to see a good bit of the city on the way. She gave us some more historical information, and added some wonderful suggestions on where to eat and things to do while there. Her tips were phenomenal; we tried several of her suggestions (especially for reasonable places to eat) and loved them all.
I’m sure it’s been said before, but we were astounded at how expensive London is. It made Manhattan look like a Wal-Mart. Thank goodness our hotel, the Millennium Gloustshire, served a fabulous full English breakfast every morning. The hotel was included in the package, and it was in a great location, near Kensington Palace, Harrods, and the Victoria and Albert museum. The breakfast had fried eggs, toast, baked beans, roasted tomatoes, ham (which they insisted on calling bacon), cold cereals, huge sausages, amazing chocolate croissants, regular croissants, 3 kinds of juice, yogurt, fresh fruit, coffee and tea. We quickly learned to stuff ourselves at breakfast, because even a hotdog from a truck on the street was 2 quid ($4.00). When we went to a local pub for true English fish and chips (with green peas), lunch was $20! All the tours were at least $30 or higher, and dinners averaged $40+ a person (without drinks). We were flabbergasted.
However, none of that kept us from having a fabulous time. Our room was lovely, large with a HUGE deep bathtub and heated towel racks. HOWEVER, service in the hotel left much to be desired. Our heat was on full blast, and in spite of 4 calls and 2 visits to the desk, including a long chat with the Chief Engineer, they never got it fixed. It was 80+ degrees in the room, and we would have died, except we managed to wrench open the window and got enough cool English air in the room to bring it down to a reasonable 70 degrees. This also let in all the traffic noise though, so we slept with earplugs and pillows over our heads. There was no ice available in the hotel – you had to order a bucket from room service ($4.50) and it came with no lid, so it melted quickly in that heat. The maid was horrid, she never changed the sheets during our stay (we could tell by the stains on the pillow cases, pillow shams and sheets that were there 1st night to last), never wiped off the counters, and left us varying numbers of towels every day, depending on her mood. The mini-bar was one of those dreadful ones that charge you if you move something for 20 seconds, and it wasn’t cold, so you couldn’t put anything in it.
The concierge, however, was wonderful. They recommended the Big Bus tours to us, and even made us dinner reservations at the oldest restaurant in London for after our theater show the first night. We met up with an old friend of mine I had met on my first cruise on the Millennium, Shari, and we headed out to the British Museum for a quick look around. Janet is an Egyptian history buff, and the thought of seeing the Rosetta stone had her salivating with excitement. We were just a few steps away from the Gloustshire subway station, so we bought our daily passes (5 pounds, $10) and headed out into the rain (surprise).
We made a quick tour of the British Museum, and enjoyed it. Then we had to hurry back to our respective hotels to change for our theater show, Dancing in the Streets at the Aldrich Theater. This is a new show, and features a musical review of all the Motown stars in their heyday. Janet and I changed in record time, grabbed our umbrella, and dashed back to the subway. I had done some serious subway map studying and figured out a route that I thought would bring us pretty close to our destination. With one stop for directions (and a second umbrella), we found the theater after only a 5 minute walk. Unfortunately, my friend Shari took a cab, and was caught in a huge traffic jam. The theater was great; they let us leave Shari’s ticket at the box office and promised to watch out for her (she’s easy to spot, with glorious dark red hair down to the middle of her back. The doorman was eager to keep watch for her.)
She made it just as the lights went down, and we watched a great show from the 2nd row center! I had ordered the tickets on line before we left, and had them held at the box office. Being Detroit girls, we really appreciated the Motown songs – but everyone in the audience was equally pleased.
After dinner, we took a London cab to Rules, which can count both Charles Dickens and several Princes of Wales as customers. It’s located in Covent Gardens, and even has a secret door one Prince of Wales use to use to smuggle in his mistresses. They get most of their game from their own preserve in the north of England. The menu was heavily weighted to wild game dishes, but Jan had a fabulous curry and I enjoyed a lovely sea bass. Shari had lamb, (which to me is like eating baby kitten, but each to their own). The food was great, and after a brief fainting spell when we got the bill, we paid and had the hostess call us a cab. It was after midnight, so we had little traffic, and made it back to our tropical hotel room in good time.
Day 9, Sunday, May 7 – London!
We woke up fairly early, drowning in sweat. I headed down to breakfast (and logged our 2nd complaint on the heat in the room with the desk). I had a huge breakfast, and smuggled some croissants out for Janet. Shari was at our hotel by 10:00, and we bought our Big Bus tickets and headed out. It was a glorious day, about 65 degrees, clear and sunny. We hopped off the Big Bus at Kensington Palace to see the Princess Diana dress exhibit, along with an exhibit of traditional court clothing. Shari had been through Kensington Palace before, so she just looked at the dress exhibit (which was amazing, and very touching) and headed outside.
Well, at least that’s what we thought she did. Somehow, after Jan I finished the full tour of Kensington Palace, we couldn’t find Shari anywhere. I wandered around looking for her while Janet sat by the exit to the palace for at least an hour with no luck. So, since we knew Shari was an experienced traveler and had been to London many times, we decided to strike out on our own. We hopped back on the wonderful Big Bus, and toured all around London until we got to the Tower of London. We are both big English history buffs, so we disembarked and did the Tower of London tour, enjoying it enormously. We had quite a chuckle at Henry VIII’s suit of armor, especially the cod piece, since it appeared the thought very highly of his manly prowess!
After the tour, we jumped back on the bus and headed back to our hotel. Once there, we left a message for Shari and sat and relaxed. She soon called our room, and we reunited for a couple of drinks before heading out to dinner. There is a great Indian place right next to the hotel, and we had a lovely meal (quite reasonable, only $30/person with no drinks!).
Day 10, Monday, May 8 – London!
We woke on our last full day in London to a typical London downpour. We met Shari for breakfast downstairs in the hotel, and then grabbed our umbrellas and hit the subway for the quick ride to Harrods.
What can I say about Harrods? It was truly the most amazing store I’ve ever been in, and we toured it for a good 3+ hours. My favorite parts were the food court, the Egyptian area, the pet area, and the Harrods section. We had a quick pot of tea ($6.00 each), purchased some gifts to take home (gasping again at the prices) and admired the statue of Princess Diana and Dodi in one of the stairwells. It was placed there by Dodi’s father, and was quite touching.
After Harrods, we headed to Piccadilly Circus to try and find some “band shirts” for my niece. We found a Virgin Records store, where Janet got a great Sex Pistols shirt for Crystal, the Punk Rocker. Shari was dying to see the carriage exhibit at the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, so we trudged through the park until we came up to the Palace itself. The Royal Family was not in residence, and the Palace was not open for visits until later in the summer. We found the Royal Mews, but it had just closed! Sadly, we wandered into the gift shop, where Shari saved the day by finding out the closest place that was serving high tea. It was a beautiful small hotel just up the block, and we were there in about 5 minutes, comfortably settled on a sofa in the window so we could watch people walking by. We ordered the cream tea, since I had no idea what that was. In a few minutes, we had tea, delicious scones with currants, blackberry jam and Devonshire clotted cream. That was some amazing stuff, like a very sweet butter, and served in two scoops that looked like ice cream ($25/person). We wolfed it down, and then took the tube back to our hotel. Shari had to return to Switzerland, so we sent her off with big hugs and then wandered over to the nearby supermarket to buy sandwiches and snacks for dinner. I was able to get all the candy that friends had requested, and we staggered back to the hotel to collapse on our beds in total exhaustion.
Day 11, Tuesday, May 9 – London to Newark!
The next morning, we were up for breakfast, and then dragged our suitcases down to the lobby. Our Online Vacations rep showed up right on time, and we were loaded onto the bus and whisked to Heathrow. We had a splendid time in Heathrow, sampling the duty free liquors and buying piles of English tabloids to read on the plane. Our return flight was on Virgin Atlantic, and I’ve never had a better flight. It left exactly on time, and since the plane wasn’t close to full, we were able to have a whole middle row to ourselves. We loved the interactive TV screens in the seats, the fabulous meals (including wine with lunch and afternoon tea) and the gift bags full of fun items like socks, earplugs, eye masks and a toothbrush. We landed in Newark a bit early, quickly disembarked, collected our luggage and made it through customs in record time. Since we didn’t get to Newark until about 8:00 pm, there were no flights to Detroit so I had booked the Airport Courtyard by Marriott in Newark through Priceline for only $75/night (LOVE Priceline!). We took a cab to the hotel and once there found out there was a free shuttle we could have used. Our flight out was early the next morning so we grabbed newspapers to catch up on current events, had a drink at the small bar/dining room, called our friends and families to let them know we were back on American soil, and collapsed into bed.
Much too early the alarm went off and we staggered up and down to the lobby to wait for the shuttle. It arrived right on time, and we headed back to the airport. After much waiting around (a plane was down in Detroit, so we had to wait for 2 mechanics and a big airline part to be loaded on before we could go) we set off for the brief flight home.
All in all, it was an amazing trip! I strongly recommend a Transatlantic cruise to anyone looking for both a great bargain and a totally relaxing way to get to Europe. If anyone has any specific questions, please e-mail me.
May your next cruise be your best,