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Tom Baker

Age: 46

Occupation:Tax Fraud Investigator

Number of Cruises: First Cruise

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Constellation

Sailing Date: August 30th, 2003

Itinerary: Best of Europe

This guide is really aimed at first time cruisers and having taken our first cruise I hope it helps. We holidayed with Celebrity on their Constellation so everything in this review is about them and it!

Whatever you do make sure your first time is on a good class of boat and the Constellation more than fulfills this criteria. If you can afford it, choose a cabin or, as they are called, Staterooms with a veranda or balcony. The thrill of waking up each day with a new view or just sitting and watching the sea whilst having a snack or drink from room service is unbeatable. Certainly you can consider an inside room next time and maybe save £500 to £600, personally I don't think I could go without at the very least a window!

So you're going to book your holiday - a couple of tips here: Try and get a room amidship (the boat moves less here), if you smoke ask for a portside stateroom as smoking is allowed only on the portside of Constellation in the sundeck area, certain other decks and in your cabin. We do not smoke and very occasionally if we were on our balcony we caught a whiff of smoke from one of our neighbours out on theirs. What is worse are the cigar smokers so if in doubt go starboard side. On our cruise the portside did however have the better views!

Get to the boat early. If they start boarding at 12 aim to be there for 12.15. This way you can get on board and explore whilst the majority are still in the queue. There are also tours of the boat and we missed these because we got on mid-afternoon. Get unpacked and either stow your cases in a wardrobe or under the bed - yes there is room for normal sized cases. You can also have them taken away to be stored.

With regard to clothes on a 13/14 night trip there will be 3 Formal days where you really have to dress up, 3 Informal where the men need to still wear a jacket and 7/8 casual days which still require some kind of shirt and trousers - jeans/shorts not allowed. We actually saw people being turned away for not being dressed properly. If dressing up is not your thing the boat is casual dress all day and there are options for casual dining in the evening.

Guys if you do not have a dress suit/tux and you are not sure if you will ever need one again hire one from Celebrity. The cost for 2 shirts, bow tie, cufflinks, DJ and trousers for 2 weeks is approx £50 and it is waiting in your stateroom when you arrive. It also saves you packing one in your suitcase! They need at least a week before sailing so don't leave it too late and be truthful with your measurements otherwise it will only end up with uncomfortable evenings. Still on the subject of packing, there is a laundry service on board that is very good but of course at a price. We actually washed out certain things and let them dry in the bathroom (there is a line suspended in the shower). How much you bring is up to you some say cut down personally I like fresh clothes each day.

So now you are on board, unpacked and maybe wandering around, go get some lunch. One thing you will never be on the Constellation is hungry. The food is quite simply superb and plenty of it. On deciding your dinner seating the main sitting is at 6.15pm and the late 8.45pm. You need to consider which is right for you. We choose the later one as we thought that coming back from trips ashore at least it would give us time to shower, change and maybe have a drink. It did, but it meant that we were still dining at 10.30pm and it was too late for us. If you are too tired to stay up you go to bed on a full stomach. Several night we opted for the alternative casual dining and went in at about 7.30pm. Also with the late sitting some shows are before you eat which seems the wrong way around. Also by eating late you never sample the late buffets unless you have the constitution of an Ox! We went to look at several which were magnificent but having only eaten an hour ago it made us feel ill just looking. Early sittings obviously take advantage of this but as I said, it means you really have to be showered and changed for about 6pm - its your choice. We choose a large table to sit on and have made some new friends who come from Toulouse France, California and Arizona USA. We were really lucky with our dining companions but if you feel you really cannot get on with your fellow diners after the first night, ask to be moved! The menus are superb with plenty of choice. If you really really like something or can't choose between two dishes ask for both! No-one bats an eyelid, it really is the norm but it took me 9 days to summon up the courage to ask for another steak. All drinks wherever you are have a 15% service charge automatically added so wine can be expensive with the cheapest bottle around $25 (£18). You can bring you own but there is a corkage charge. Unless you have children do not sign up for the beverage deal, there is unlimited tea/coffee/iced water/punch and lemonade available throughout the boat at counters. There are always 2 or 3 cocktails of the day which are considerably cheaper than normal and we took advantage of these.

On board shopping needs careful thought, generally the prices are not as competitive as ashore but they do have sales each day and these are the things to look at.

Excursions are expensive and can really add to the cost of your holiday. Have a look at each port of call and by looking on the internet you can find out if you can do it yourself and how much it will cost you. The ship normally provides coaches to take guests into the main town area of the port and back again, free of charge, on a regular basis throughout the day. We did not take one organised tour, and doing them ourselves saved over £500. One word of caution; leave a safety margin when calculating times so you can get back to the ship in time, the one advantage with the organised tours was that if the coaches were late getting back the ship would wait - it won't if you are doing you own thing.

Gratuities - The hidden cost to you holiday. On Constellation to "help" you they have introduced a form chargeable to your account to cover tips. Whichever way you do it, on our cruise the bill was $267 so allow for this. I do not begrudge the tips. The staff work really hard, but all of a sudden you account starts to look like a telephone number. You can check through your television how much your bill is but I wouldn't - you'll only upset yourself! You shouldn't consider a cruise of this standard if you are working to a budget.

On board photographs - If there is an opportunity for Celebrity to take a photo of you then it will be taken, you have been warned and if you buy them all then you really will be crying over your bill. We bought one which consisted of one 8x6 and two 6x5 all of the same picture for $37.50 (£25) so think before you buy.

The shows on board are as good as it gets and the Celebrity Theatre puts many places I've been to in the shadow. Go to as many as you can and also use the cinema as well. Each night you get the next days programme so you can plan the day ahead.

Well there is so much more I could say but enough for now!

We had a great time, Celebrity really are one of the greats and you will certainly not regret using them. The Constellation was absolutely spotless and wonderful. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like some info. We are by no means seasoned cruisers we were as lost as you guys will be and our experience may be of help.

Happy cruising!

Tom & Jill Baker

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