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Gina Robinson

Age: 32

Occupation:Cruise Enthusiast

Number of Cruises: 4

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Constellation

Sailing Date: August 30th, 2003

Itinerary: Western Europe

Previous cruises
May 2000: Celebrity Mercury - Los Angeles, Alaska, Vancouver
Nov 2001: Norwegian Sun - Boston, Eastern Caribbean, Miami
Sept 2002: Carnival Legend – London, Transatlantic via Iceland, New York

Day 1
Saturday, 30 August 2003: Arrival at Dover


We had a very smooth flight to Heathrow and were met by a company called “AirportTransfers.biz”. This is also their Internet address and we can definitely recommend them to transfer you to Dover. We arrived at Dover by 11am and embarkation was the fastest we have ever experienced: we were checked in and on the ship in twenty minutes!

All passengers were made aware that the cabins would only be ready by 12:30pm, so in the meantime, we strolled around, exploring this beautiful ship. Lunch was ready by 12:00 and (in case we had forgotten), we soon remembered one of the best reasons to cruise: the fact that you can eat an extensive variety of delicious food whenever you want to. We try to enjoy our food, but also not overdo it.

Talking about food, we also made our booking at the specialty restaurant Ocean Liners. As far as the main dining room was concerned, we already knew that we were confirmed for late seating (as we had requested).

An announcement was made at 12:30pm that staterooms were now ready. We immediately went to ours (no. 6111) a balcony cabin on the port side. There is enough packing space for a two-week stay and the cabin was clean and tidy. Colours are pastel oranges and greens. There is also a small writing desk and sofa bed. The shower is small, but adequate. You will be provided with shampoo and hand cream (both in dispensers) but the quality is not great. We also had the use of bathrobes. After unpacking, we had a short rest before the muster drill.

Constellation left Dover just after 5:00pm and the view was lovely. It was a sunny, clear day as we left with the white cliffs behind us on our way to Belgium.

Late seating guests had an early show where we met our cruise director, Dru Pavlov from Vancouver, Canada; and the entertainment staff. Dinner in the San Marco dining room was very good and we finished late (11:00pm) and were really exhausted by then!

Day 2
Sunday, 31 August 2003: At Sea

Today has been a wonderful opportunity to relax. What a great idea to have this restful day at sea. The ship is sailing extremely slowly; we were even traveling southwest instead of northeast overnight.

It is a formal evening tonight and we are looking forward to dressing up. What a wonderful privilege to be on this beautiful ship!

We really have decided to take it easy during the day and have a late night – we will also be up quite early tomorrow to enjoy our day in Bruges. More about the formal evening and Captains welcome another time. I’m now going to sit on the balcony and read a magazine!
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Formal evening was slightly different to what we are used to: instead of having the normal Captains Welcome cocktail party, this was ‘downscaled’ to a glass of champagne and a quick welcome by the Captain in the Celebrity Theatre fifteen minutes before the show.

We did however have our photographs taken (and to go ahead of myself – they have come out beautifully; but at $37 for one large photo and two small – it is a bit excessive).

We had asked to be moved from the large table we had occupied on the first night of the cruise in the main restaurant (San Marco). The reason? It was way too big (12 persons). It is best not to sit at such a large table because it takes much longer to get your food.

We were moved to a table of three ladies (all nurses) from San Francisco and this turned out to be wonderful because we really enjoyed their company at dinner throughout the cruise.

The show “Spotlight Broadway” was one of the best we have seen at sea. Don’t miss it. The Celebrity Theatre is well laid out and does not suffer from the problem of many other theatres at sea: pillars obstructing your view.

Day 3
Monday, 1 September 2003: Zeebrugge (Belgium)

We chose not to take any tours and instead make our own way to Bruges. Celebrity provided complimentary shuttle buses to Zeebrugge, close to the train station, so it was really easy to get to the lovely town of Bruges.

The train tickets cost 4.40 Euro return and this journey only takes about twenty minutes. This town comes highly recommended by both of us. It has been called “Little Venice” and you will soon see why. It has many canals on which you can take boat trips – a great way to take in the scenery. Bruges is famous for its chocolates and lace; and you really can’t walk past the chocolate shops without stopping in and trying some for yourself: delicious!

We made some purchases of lace items and enjoyed a lunch of waffles with strawberries and caramel pancakes at a Belgian café. You can also take a horse and carriage ride through the town.

It started raining in the afternoon, so we took a bus back to the Bruges train station and went back to the ship. Our show was early (before dinner) and we were treated to the fantastic performance of Brooks Aehron on piano. He is a spectacular performer and we so enjoyed the show that we will be going to see him again when he performs his classical show. Please do not miss Brooks if you cruise the Constellation.

Dinner was once again delicious and we wandered through the various lounges, listening to the music before going to bed.

Day 4
Tuesday, 2 September 2003: Le Havre, France

We decided that we were going to use this day to film the ship on our video camera. We were in Le Havre last year this time and so preferred to take the day at a leisurely pace.

Once again, Celebrity did provide a free shuttle bus into Le Havre. If you would like to read about our trip last year to Honfleur (from Le Havre), please refer to my review: Carnival Legend Transatlantic via Iceland.

It was a lot of fun to walk around the lounges and restaurants on the different decks and make our own video. We then went to enjoy the pool area at the AquaSpa. The atmosphere is one of sheer relaxation and coupled with the beautifully presented health food, it feels like you’re in a Health Hydro.

In between, we spent some time in the gym and also in the pools and jacuzzis over the course of the afternoon. We felt like it was the best choice we made to remain on board as it was lovely to virtually have the ship to ourselves.

Later in the afternoon, we enjoyed the sushi on offer in the sushi bar. The dining area is turned into a Japanese restaurant, complete with soy sauce, wasabi and chopsticks. They also have Japanese beer on offer and you can watch the chef making the sushi.

After a relaxing day on board Constellation, we also enjoyed dinner at the San Marco and the show featured marionettes and then a violinist: both enjoyable.

Day 5
Wednesday, 3 September 2003: At Sea

We slept late this morning and ordered room service breakfast. The order was exactly right and arrived at the correct time. Make sure you order croissants: they are very good.

The weather has been excellent today with plenty of sun (a bit windy perhaps) so we went out on deck 12 in search of a good place to soak up the sun.

At 3:30pm we went to the Celebrity Theatre to once again enjoy Brooks Aehron on his piano. His concert was entitled “Classical Favorites” and judging by the number of people at the show – he is very popular. Once again his performance was outstanding.

Since that we have had a “siesta”. The balcony door is open and it is lovely to listen to the sounds of the sea as we sail by. We have had very calm seas and seldom feel any motion. Tonight is the second formal evening. We look forward to another wonderful evening of dining and entertainment.

Day 6
Thursday, 4 September 2003: Vigo, Spain

After doing some research on the city of Vigo, we decided that there was very little to see and that a shore excursion would be a better idea. This proved to be a wise decision and I would encourage any ship visitor to Vigo to do the same.

We booked the “Typical Galicia Tour” to experience some of the culture of the area. Also, as this was our first visit to Spain, we thought it would be nice to see some of the countryside.

The first stop was at the Santa Maria de Dozo church which dates back to 1580. The church is roofless and it was declared a national monument in 1943. We then went through to a wine cellar and tasted some of the local wine called Vino de Albarei. It was a very good (white) wine and plenty of cheese is available to add to your enjoyment. Our guide, Maria, translated the cellar tour as the lady at the wine cellar could only speak Spanish.

On this trip, we met Lisa Rollin who was the solo violinist at one of the shows and we enjoyed chatting to her. She is an excellent performer and a very friendly person.

After visiting the wine cellar and making our purchases, we went to the island of La Toja. The island is very scenic and is home to a church totally covered in scallop shells. We also had a chance to buy some of the toiletries that are locally produced and there are also local people selling their seashell crafts.

It was a lovely tour to get a “feel” for the area and we returned to the ship just before 2:00pm. After a quick lunch, we walked to the town of Vigo (about a ten minute walk from the ship). There really is very little to see besides perhaps for the Citadel. (Apparently it has lovely views and was one of three forts that guarded the town). The city itself has many sidewalk cafes and plenty of souvenir shops selling very “kitsch”, cheap items. You can give them a miss.

What is lovely is being out on the deck when the ship leaves the port. The view is spectacular. We stood on the deck and watched as a number of small boats came and journeyed alongside our ship.

Next, we went through to Reflections, the observation lounge and the view was amazing. We sat there for a long time, admiring the beauty and tranquility. We also saw some dolphins swimming in front of the ship.

We have now been enjoying the view from our balcony and have decided to miss the show and rather soak in the beauty of the ocean. We’ll go for dinner shortly: it’s after 8:30pm and still the sun hasn’t set. It’s been a great day.

Day 7
Friday, 5 September 2003: Lisbon, Portugal

Our first visit to Portugal and the port of Lisbon has been the most beautiful so far. We decided that to begin our visit, we would take a drive out and so took the shore excursion to Sintra and Cascais.

Our guide (also Maria!) was very knowledgeable and gave us excellent info about the history of Portugal as we drove through to Sintra. Sintra is one of Portugal’s oldest towns and our first stop was at Sintra Palace (Palicia Nacional de Sintra). This palace used to be the home of the Portuguese Royal Family and it is spectacular. We were free to wander through the cobbled streets of this town, which is charming, and we really enjoyed the views and also shopping for souvenirs.

Maria then told us about Cascais as we made our way to this seaside city. It is regarded as the place where the wealthier people own coastal property. Cascais is a lovely place to stroll around and it has many shops and open-air restaurants. We enjoyed some of the local beer and coffee.

The weather was once again hot and sunny and it was perfect timing to be doing this cruise in September. After visiting these two lovely places, we returned to the ship and enjoyed lunch at the Aqua Spa café.

Once again, Celebrity provided a complimentary shuttle to Lisbon, so we decided to go for a quick visit. Lisbon was “hustling and bustling” – very busy. The main shopping streets are free from traffic (no cars allowed) so the atmosphere is very conducive to lots of people shopping and sitting at outdoor cafes. We also went to Lisbon’s cathedral, which is very big and quite beautiful. It was damaged in an earthquake but rebuilt in the 18th century.

It was a busy day for us in Portugal but very enjoyable and we would definitely recommend it. Sailing out was peaceful and the view stunning. You will sail under Portugal “Golden Gate Bridge”. The bridge looks like a smaller version of San Francisco’s famous bridge and was built by the same company. Calm seas, clear skies, sunny weather and beautiful scenery. What more could we ask for?

We rounded off the day by going to the Cova Café (deck 5) and listening to the music of Darryl Orr. He is an excellent guitarist and set the scene with Spanish music. We thought we would just have a quick drink and move on, but the music and ambience was so good, we stayed until just before dinner. Don’t miss Darryl Orr – he is excellent.

Day 8
Saturday, 6 September 2003: Cadiz, Spain

Another beautiful, sunny day and we were looking forward to our trip to Jerez to visit first a sherry cellar and then to a horse show.

Jerez de la Frontera is a town 50km from Cadiz. Our guide (believe it or not – also Maria!) told us that Cadiz is the capital of the Spanish province but is much smaller than Jerez. Jerez is a very fertile area with lots of rain. The tour to the sherry cellar (Tio Pepe) was very interesting. This cellar uses a time honored blending process where the sherries are placed in American oak barrels and then 1/3 is removed and placed in the barrel below containing an older vintage and so on. This means that the consistent quality of the sherry is maintained and there is never a bad year.

After the tour through the cellar, we went through to the tasting room, which was huge! Each table has four chairs and a bottle of fino sherry. This is the dry sherry and has a very unusual taste. We preferred the oloros sherry, which is a sweeter sherry. You can then purchase your favorite from the extensive shop. (Incidentally, we had no problem bringing our purchases onto the ship).

We then went through to see the Carthusian horses. These are purebred Spanish horses and they are very proud, elegant horses. They are born a mottled gray/brown colour and as they age, they become white. A small percentage remains gray and even fewer are black.

The show was unique and fascinating. Most impressive was seeing the young horses “storm” into the stadium, kicking up clods of earth as they run past. The exhibition and art of guiding the horse drawn carriages was also demonstrated as well as the “dancing” horses. The show ended with the young foals (under five months) running into the stadium, followed by their mothers. It is amazing how each foal finds their own mother and everyone was enthralled. There was also time to enjoy some more sherry and see the horses in their stables. This was really one of the best shore excursions we have done.

After returning to the ship, we took a walk into Cadiz (the old part of the city). It is a short walk from the ship, so no shuttle buses are needed. Because of the Spanish siesta, most of the shops were closed, so Cadiz was very quiet. Nevertheless, it was worthwhile to stroll around and a much nicer city than Vigo.

We spent some time on our balcony and then on the deck as we sailed out of Cadiz and Captain Papanikolaou announced that we would be sailing past the Rock of Gibraltar at about 11:30pm.

The comedian Rich Ceisler in the Celebrity Theatre was excellent. Don’t miss his show. We enjoyed it and were worried that we had missed seeing the Rock of Gibraltar, but the Captain had slowed the ship and we had a perfect view. Dru Pavlov (the cruise director) had arranged a deck party and there was also a fruit buffet and the atmosphere was very festive with lots of people enjoying themselves.

Day 9
Sunday, 7 September 2003: At Sea

We are pleased to be enjoying a day at sea after three very busy ports of call. We had asked if we could possibly do a bridge tour and were very happy to find an invitation from Melanie Burger (the social hostess) for a 10:00am bridge tour.

The Captain was not present at first but came later and what an interesting man he is. You can clearly see that he loves his job. It was quite amazing to hear about all the navigational equipment, engine room, and life on board; and it was a rare privilege.

It’s now time to relax on board, swim, go to gym, the hair salon and later to Ocean Liners.

Our experience at The Ocean Liners Restaurant: The moment you step into Ocean Liners, you know you are in for a special evening. The cover charge is $25 per person and well worth it. The service is impeccable and the food delicious. Our dinner recommendations are the goats cheese soufflé with tomato coulis for the appetizer and either the flambéed scampi or rack of lamb en croute for entrée. (The scampi is cooked at your table). When it comes to desserts, the Michel Roux Bite Size surprise desserts are “to die for”. The dessert soufflés tend to be a bit bland.

It was the perfect ending to a lovely restful day at sea and highly recommended. Before we knew it, 2½ hours had passed and we did not even care that we had missed the evening show in the Celebrity Theatre.

Day 10
Monday, 8 September 2003: Palma De Mallorca

Palma is a very easy place to do on your own – so no shore excursion required. The shuttle bus will take you close to Palma Cathedral which is a must see. The cathedral was built in the 13th centaury and is Spain’s third largest. It is awesome to see the magnitude and marvel at the stained-glass and art.

After visiting the cathedral, we wandered around the streets of Palma. Palma offers everything you are likely to want, whether it be shopping or museums and has an excellent transport system. There is also a “hop-on / hop-off” bus and numerous street cafes.

Time passes very quickly when you are enjoying such an interesting city. Before we knew it, it was 12:00pm and time to make our way to the beach. We suggest you stroll along the delightful streets making your way to the Pl D’espanya from where the buses take you to their beach. (Maps are provided by Celebrity).

Catch bus #15 to Platja de Palma (numerous, #15 buses) for a mere 1 Euro. The trip takes about 45 minutes and you will find miles of beach and plenty more shopping opportunities. The beach was very busy (especially considering it was a Monday and September). You can hire two deck chairs and thatch umbrella for 7.80 Euros for the entire day. Sheer Bliss!

We had to make our way back to Palma at about 3:00pm and had some time to walk around until getting the shuttle back to the ship.

The weather was hot and sunny and we enjoyed an ice-crème outside on deck 10 – just soaking up the beauty. Palma is a wonderful port to visit. As we sailed away, we listened to Darryl Orr playing his guitar and watched the Palma Cathedral and the city grow smaller and smaller.

Dinner was enjoyable and it was lovely to see our “table mates” again. On a long cruise, you start getting to know more people and building friendships and shared memories. If only the time could pass more slowly!

Day 11
Tuesday, 9 September 2003: At Sea

We awoke at about 3:00am to the sound of a storm. (We keep our sliding door open at night to enjoy the sound of the sea). The wind was howling and lightning lit up the room. However, there was very little motion: Constellation is the smoothest ship we have sailed on.

Today has been a day of sleeping late, enjoying a delicious breakfast and laying around reading! It is still cloudy after last night’s storm – the perfect weather for catching up on sleep.

Day 12
Wednesday, 10 September 2003: La Spezia, Italy

Captain Papanikolaou made a small change to our itinerary last night – due to high swells in the narrow port of Livorno we were unable to go there. Instead we visited the port of La Spezia (slightly north of Livorno), which meant that we were still able to go to Pisa.

Of course, we had ensured that we knew how to get to Pisa from Livorno (we were making our own way to Pisa for two reasons: one, that we felt the shore excursion was too rushed and two, that the shore excursion did not allow for climbing to the top of the leaning tower).

The Guest Relations desk provided us with train schedules from Le Spezia to Pisa, but also with a very useless map of La Spezia. We tendered into the port (tenders were handled very efficiently) and fortunately decided to take a taxi to the train station with another couple.

Travel in Italy is quite a challenge when you cannot speak Italian, but the trains were pretty much on time. It took about an hour to Pisa (try to take the Intercity trains – it is much quicker). The cost is 12.50 Euro per person return.

Once at Pisa train station, we again shared a taxi to the leaning tower. I have wanted to see the tower ever since I went on a tour about eight years ago (and saw Rome, Venice and Florence), but missed out on Pisa. The tower is one of those sights that is far more impressive when you’re there than any photographs you may have seen. Very special and worthy of its place as one of the seven wonders of the world.

My suggestion is that you book to go up the tower as soon as possible as only forty people at a time are allowed at once. Thus, you can wait a few hours before you are allocated a time slot. We were lucky because we arrived at 11:00am and were able to get a 2:30pm slot. The cost is 15 Euro per person.

We wandered around and once you are there, you will see that everything is very close to the tower, the Duomo Cathedral, Baptistery and museums. The cathedral is very impressive (2 Euros to enter) and was built in 1063. It has a beautiful dome, lovely mosaics and is supported by 68 columns. It is built in the shape of a Romanesque Cross.

We decided to have pizzas for lunch and found a vibey outdoor pizzeria. As far as shopping is concerned, you will find mainly souvenir shops: but many of them!

At 2:30pm, we were ready to climb the 300 stairs to the top of the leaning tower. You will be required to lock your bags away (a secure locker is provided) before going in. The tower was begun in 1172. It stands 180 feet high and is built of white marble. The builders became aware that the areas soft soil would not create an adequate foundation after completing only three stories.

It leans a total of 14 feet from the perpendicular. It has only recently been reopened after extensive work was done between 1990 and 2001 to reduce the “lean” and make it safe for visitors.

I would highly recommend a visit to Pisa – we certainly had a wonderful day there.

Going home on the train was quite stressful however, because there was an accident at one of the stations, which caused delays. We very fortunately were delayed for less than half an hour, but some people on the ship were delayed for two hours.

Coming back to La Spezia, we soaked up the atmosphere of this town, which really was “buzzing”. It was already 5:30pm (Wednesday afternoon) and everyone seemed to be shopping or sitting at café’s. Children were out and about and people were walking their dogs. Captain Papanikolaou had told us that La Spezia has a wonderful atmosphere: more so than Livorno, and he was not wrong.

After a good dinner at the San Marco, we were really tired. We will certainly miss our wonderful waiter (Piminta from India) and his assistance (Cruz, also from India). Where has the time gone to?

Day 13
Thursday, 11 September 2003: Villefranche

Since we have visited the French Riviera a few times before, we decided to take it easy and only leave the ship at 10:00am. We once again tendered in and enjoyed a relaxing morning in Villefranche. It was lovely to walk through the winding streets and it was amazing to see just how many of our fellow passengers also decided to enjoy Villefranche.

For lunch, we savored our “chocolate crepes” at a charming brassarie and watched the world go by. In a way, it was a sad return to the ship, as we knew this was our last time to board – tomorrow would be only a disembarkation.

Dinner was a whole bunch of farewells and “till we meet again – Au Revoir”.

Au Revoir to France, Air Revoir to new friends and familiar faces, Au Revoir to the wonderful crew of Constellation whose service went beyond our expectations, Au Revoir beautiful Constellation. Yes, till we meet again, we have our wonderful memories.

Summary
This was a wonderful cruise: beautiful ship, excellent service and lovely itinerary.

Food
However, as far as the food goes, we were not altogether impressed. The food did not measure up to our last Celebrity cruise (on Mercury in 2000) or to the food on Carnival Legend last year. Some nights we did have delicious meals (as mentioned above), but this was not consistently the case. Food at the Ocean Liners restaurant was however excellent.

Our favourite places
We would recommend a visit to the Martini bar before dinner – it has a wonderful atmosphere. Reflections is wonderful for “soaking up the scenery” during the day. The Aquaspa café is a good choice for lunch and the Seaside Grill has a beautiful view for a sunset drink. Constellation’s onboard CD library “Notes” is a great idea but is badly positioned: it has no view of the sea and would be much more popular if you could listen to your favourite music while watching the sea. The Aquaspa gym is very well equipped and was never overcrowded.

Service
Staff were friendly no matter where you went on the ship: our cabin attendant, waiters, bar servers and sommelier, guest relations staff, shore excursion staff, Captain Papanikolaou and last but not least the Social Hostess Melanie Burger who is an absolute asset to Celebrity.

Here are a few tips for your cruise:

Tip#1: Arrive early on the day of embarkation – you will be checked in and on the ship while the majority of passengers who arrive later will have to deal with the queues.

Tip #2:
Don’t eat anything on your plate that you are not absolutely enjoying- as we say: the calories are just not worth it! Your waiter will be only too happy to bring you another meal.

Tip #3: Try to book at the Specialty Restaurant (Ocean Liners) for a sea day so that you are relaxed and refreshed, and ask for a table away from the centre of the restaurant.

Tip #4: Do not sit at a large table in the San Marco restaurant because it takes FOREVER to get your food. Rather ask to be moved to a smaller table.

Tip #5: The Aquaspa pools and light lunches are highly recommended.

Tip # 6: Make sure you are booked for late seating dinner if you enjoy being out on deck when the ship leaves the different ports. We love to enjoy the scenery as the ship leaves and if you are booked for early/main seating you will be getting ready for dinner and will miss the sailaways.

Tip # 7: The Reflections lounge is a wonderful place to enjoy the view of the ocean: it has floor to ceiling glass and it is beautiful.

Tip #8: Try to avoid doing your Med Cruise in August as this is peak season to visit as well as European school holidays. Rather wait for September when you will still have excellent weather but less crowds.

Tip#9: The Constellation has many activities throughout the day and you can get overwhelmed if you try to take part in all of them. Rather take time out for yourself to relax – read a book or lay in the sun.

Tip#10: Enjoy the build up to your cruise – research the ports you will be visiting and decide which shore excursions you would like to do. For those who have cruised before you already know that there is no holiday like a cruise and the experience is truly like nothing on earth. For those going on their first cruise: expect a holiday better than you could ever imagine. ENJOY!

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