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Benjamin Smith

Age: 43

Occupation:Editorial Quality Control

Number of Cruises: 7

Cruise Line: Celebrity

Ship: Constellation

Sailing Date: Dec. 7, 2002

Itinerary: Southern Caribbean

This is the second cruise my wife and I did with the Viking Group. This one was Dec 7-14 on the Celebrity Constellation. Some of the ports we visited were St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Thomas, Antigua.

Precruise. Just have to mention staying at the Radisson Ambassador in Puerto Rico. For a purported upscale hotel, and though the hotel had polite service from what we experienced, the room we stayed in was one the dirtiest rooms that I've been in. The carpets were filthy and the whole room was dusty. Had a free drink having sailed with the Viking Group and I chose a screwdriver but could not drink it because it was made with some sort of powdered orange juice. Can't recommend this hotel, not at all. Hopefully it isn't always in this state.

Embarkation: Puerto Rico. Not sure what part of the pier it was but there was a long, fast-moving line outside going into a building. It was sort of a pain dealing with it with all of the luggage we had. Captain's Club (CC) members had to wait in this line until we got inside the building and then, after filling in the forms, we got priority boarding. I think CC members should have not had to wait in the line.

Onto the ship: Fairly positive first impressions. It was new and had a high quality look to it, furnishings looked expensive. We were escorted to the room by a white gloved attendant who knew where he was going. Impressions of the ship crew was very positive. We were greeted with a lot of "how are you today" "thanks for visiting us and enjoy your day" "I hope everything is OK with your order" type of comments. The ship is noticeably clean. Our stateroom was the usual Celebrity stateroom, an inside job, we really aren't that particular about staterooms, and it was clean and kept that way during our cruise.

Lido: usual Celebrity structure with the four areas to get the food. Trays with linen and silverware are handed to us, and waiters and assistants served the food and wore gloves. Food was very good, excellent selection of fruits, salads, meats and vegetables and desserts. Buffet food was, for the most part, uniformly tasty and well prepared with items like salmon and crepes throughout the whole cruise. There's an omelet station and a pasta station and there's a small area in back that had theme food, a different theme per day. Every day, including the day of disembarkation, waiters lined up to carry trays for women and children, and they offered sometimes for men as well.

We meet Granville: It is in the lido that we finally meet Granville Baily. I first saw Granville on a show made about the intro of the Galaxy to Florida that profiled the Captain, at the time Capt. Korras, a lounge singer Jane Alexander, social hostess Amanda, and Granville, a bar server. His warmness, sense of humor, friendly interaction with people and making them feel comfortable, were apparent in the show and we felt great to get him on this cruise. He lived up to billing, and our group specially requested he serve us, that he was our "booze doctor" in the dining room, for the duration of the cruise. His shooters were great, especially one called "Skip and go Naked".

Something's missing: It didn't take long to see that we weren't going to get some of the things we got on previous Celebrity cruises. On the second day we noticed that there was no aft-located lounge. There are two lounges that offer dance floors on the Millennium class ships, the Rendezvous and Revelations. Those familiar with the Rendezvous know that it is the lounge that is placed forward of the dining room and usually features a duo performing, and that it has a dance floor. Revelations is the Millie's version of the forward observation lounge with huge windows and panoramic views and has a disco area in the back of it, usually portioned off. However, the Millie ships don't have portioned off areas, so this is one big room, with some circular areas that have a bar and a piano, has very slight tiering that goes from the outside in, has chairs of 3 styles in 3 colors in the 3 not so very well-defined areas, and a pretty large dance floor in the center. What's missing? The aft-located lounge. The lounge where people who want to dance to big band music or listen to the Celebrity orchestra can get together. It is the Savoy on the Galaxy, the Pavilion on the Mercury, the Rainbow Room on the Zenith, the Crystal Room on Century and the Zodiac on the Horizon. It is the place where my wife and I have had some of our most wonderful moments on our 2 Celebrity cruises. It is the place having the most "period" ambiance, and a place of arrival. Since it is aft, there is no pass-through sense, and areas are well portioned off and the feeling is intimate. It is, essentially, not only a lounge, but a small club, and small club atmosphere. In fact, it feels to me like a ballroom, popular during the 20s through early 50s. It is the place where we met ship friends on the Century. What do the Millie class have instead? They have an area that is very similar in layout to the Rendezvous, but with higher level appointments, and no dance floor in the middle but a cutout to look down on the Rendezvous and for its music to filter up into the area, and two bars on either side at the back of the "lounge". It, in essence, feels like the upper level of the Rendezvous, it can not be an independent space with independent ambiance, music as it is connected to the Rendezvous by music and by the hole in the floor. Can you get from one to the other if suddenly you are upstairs in the Martini/Champagne area and want to dance? OK, theoretically one could go over the railing and jump down to it, but if you want the preferred and less painful way of going you exit the Martini/Champagne bar "lounge", go down the aft staircase, and enter the Rendezvous lounge to dance..Somehow, I don't find this an optimal solution and think since the two spaces are connected then a staircase should connect them.

Millie class doesn't follow Celebrity precedents: ship to ship, Celebrity has always modified and improved upon previous ships with their successive ships. The Zenith is about 1000 tons bigger than the Horizon and improved the observation lounge's bar area. But, some significant improvements went from the Century to Galaxy. Some of these are an added foyer placed in front of the restaurant facilitating an easy way to get to both levels of the restaurant and adding a meet and mingle area; adding of overhang areas in the lido area effectively widening the lido; addition of an aft located pool under sliding glass replacing the very underutilized Sky Bar. Mercury improved on Galaxy with signage, relocating the champagne bar, and making the observation lounge and other areas more handicap accessible replacing steps with ramps. The Millie class makes less extensive improvements, but didn't change any of the dimensions of the ship and have what I feel are glaring shortcomings and the list are:

- no way to go from the 2nd to 3rd floor of the foyer without leaving it. Cova is on the 3rd level of the foyer. (not easily fixable)
- library has no writing tables and furniture is oversized (easily fixable)
dining room's wings are too long before getting to the main section (not easily fixable)
- too many shops (not easily fixable)
- placement of conservatory: a quiet, fragrant oasis. Right near the pool and above the lido? I think not. On Infinity to Constellation this is the place for it. Doesn't seem optimal to me. I think Millie actually placed it into a better space for this purpose in one of the forward glass towers.

Better on the Century class: the llasotherapy pool was an intimate space on the Century class, peaceful, quiet, exclusive feeling and the fee was fairly nominal. Millie has it as an open area. It has loss its feeling of peacefulness and exclusivity.

Lounges: the key to so many spaces is how they are portioned off. Tricks for creating intimacy is in creating small areas including groupings and tools are chairs and tables of various sizes and shapes, also used for separators and quite stylish can be railings, different flooring can designate different areas, different lighting as well, and a very good tool to separate spaces is putting the sections on different levels. Celebrity did a fine job of this in the Century class. Not so well in the Millie class. Martini/Champagne whole area is on the same level, flooring doesn't separate it, the same sort of chairs are used in most of the area. There's only 2 highback couches per side, stylish, could use more IMO, and the whole room sort of looks like a hallway with chairs on the side and in the middle of it. The Rendezvous isn't as bad, the outer areas are circular and higher than the middle area with the dance floor. The observation lounge has the same problem as the Martini/Champagne bar area. It is one huge room and not really portioned off. There are slight differences in the heights of the areas but it really isn't well defined. On the Galaxy the 2 levels of the Stratosphere are very well defined and the disco is in the back, and a small area near the bar that feels intimate. The Mercury also has plenty of different sections in her Navigator Club. But the Millie ships, all pretty much the same old observation lounge, have a very open disco and no matter where you sit you feel like you are in a huge room. The seats are different in style in the 3 areas, but that's just not as much as what you get in the Century ships

Restaurant: two long wings on either side have plenty of tables for those seated in the restaurant. They seem away from the main restaurant. This is just not a design that I find well thought out.

Space utilization: for some reason the Millie ships have a lot of meeting areas near their cinema. For the most part they won't be used much on sailings. So why? Why only 2 dance floors on a 91,000 ton ship, on a line that's supposed to be more romantic than fun?

The area around Michael's Club. Michael's is too big, doesn't feel intimate but feels like a large room in a house. Then there's a lot of area in this rather RCI styled photo gallery. Seems this could have been put to better use.

Why is shore excursion area so large?

Promenade deck: it doesn't wrap around the back of the ship like the Century ships. Also, though cleaned fairly often, the light non-skid surface on this ship takes on a soiled appearance. I don't like it on the Century ships as I find it tends to look soiled, but at least Century ships don't use it on the promenade. I don't buy the non-skid safety argument either. Teak is grippy enough, especially if one wears boat shoes. HAL and Carnival provide teak here, Princess questionable appearing fake teak, Celebrity is premium, teak is nicer, IMO. And on RCI ships the promenade deck wraps around the back, why not on Celebrity ships? In fact, on RCI, the promenade deck completely encircles the ship, as they do on Princess and HAL. Don't let the cruise lines get away with getting rid of this aspect of cruising, use them or not, ships should provide promenade decks that encircle the ship.

Is Millie class really designed to be a Celebrity ship and facilitate a Celebrity cruise? I don't think it is, I think it is forced to.

Getting back to the thellasotherapy pool this area reminds me a lot of something I've seen before. The Solarium on the Explorer of the Seas. Different theming and decor but in a similar spot and a similar sort of blueprint. That's telling me that Celebrity had to use this space and thought a bigger, free, thellasotherapy pool would be a good idea. Well, it wasn't. Celebrity had the place overrun with kids and crowded. So, they tried charging for it to make it less crowded and feeling more intimate. But, that did not go over well which led to a sort of embarrassing apology and Celebrity admitting they made a mistake.

Galley below the restaurant!!! Some folks that know Celebrity personnel know that some wait staff hate the new ships due to this feature. These poor men and women have to go down high speed escalators to get the food and then go back up to the restaurant. The galley is not right next to it. Now some think this is great, don't have to go up and over the galley. Turns out you may have to go at least up anyway. And here's why. Many of the public areas are on the second level of the dining room like the Cova and Martini Bar. And the Mercury and Galaxy did a great job of providing access to the lower level of the dining room. One could either go through the dining room and make a descent down the stairs in the dining room *or* they could use the aft foyer, right in front of the dining room, to go down to the lower level of the dining room. The crew has to use the ship more than pax. A galley next to the main dining room, not below it, makes for more efficient movement to and from, faster delivery for the food, and less worn out wait staff. Based on this I consider the galley placement a terrible design element.

RCI elements: glass towers, glass areas protruding into the promenade area, round windows, photo gallery style, glass areas on either side of the ship housing glass elevators on one side and staterooms with huge windows on the other side, cots in the stateroom rather than Celebrity type of beds, spiral notebook document instead of vinyl billfold Celebrity used to use, silly "Save the Waves" name badges, kiosks used in the shops, placement and function of library and Notes.

Constellation decor: I like this ship less than other Celebrity ships I've been on. The ship is pretty, but I don't like Celebrity's ships because they are pretty. I like their understated elegance, chic, period, art deco inspired environment. The Constellation, while quite pretty, didn't have that Celebrity thing that makes me enamored to other Celebrity ships. It didn't have the Millie's richness and elegant, period simplicity, either. It just seemed like a Celebrity-decorated ship but based on a formula, with no soul, no emotion, no New York City connection, no sense of nostalgia, colors more tropical and less vibrant and/or rich than what I like in Celebrity. I didn't care for the foyer carpet, finding it too busy and a fairly crude pattern for Celebrity, and I didn't like the fairly heavy use of gold leaf on some of the seating surfaces on the first level of the foyer. That's a bit too obvious luxury nicey-nice for Celebrity, IMO. Finally, I don't like the cookie cutter approach that Celebrity took with the Millie class regardless of whatever business advantage it may have. They showed different aspects of their style in the Century class, I'm sure glad the Galaxy and Mercury are their own ships and not the Century with the same spaces using different colors and patterns.

Millie class advantages: better space ratio; better flow aft to forward with few if any bottlenecks; nicer pool area; food available in the T-pool area; and I think the most important feature is the high quality specialty restaurant.

But, hey, people do stuff on a ship. What happened on this ship that I find poorly designed?

I mentioned the Viking Group. This really are folks that celebrate the wedding anniversary of travel agent Sue Whitfield and her husband Dave on a cruise ship. We are her clients and friends and there are around 50-60 or so of us in the group. The group usually does RCI ships but did 2 Celebrity ships in 2002.

Viking Group and Celebrity Constellation--not the right mix: The Viking Group is a fun group. Fun for the Viking Group is wearing silly party hats into the dining room to see how the crew and pax will react , this involves them in the festivities. Fun is drinking a fair amount of booze from time to time. Fun is calling one member President, because he looks like Bush Sr. Fun is liking pool games and having guys well built for belly flops to compete in them. It so turns out that Celebrity thought the Viking Group was fun on the Galaxy, hats were encouraged, belly flops provided, they even came up with the idea for the musicians in the dining room to play music to the theme of the hats worn. Constellation. Said it was OK at first then said No, not appropriate for our brand transformation. So far Millennium has undergone a brand transformation. She's painted differently, is doing the champagne thing, chilled towels, piano bar. But Connie isn't, she's doing some of the enhancements, sometimes, but she officially isn't undergoing the brand transformation. So, they were sending mixed messages, the group was resistant because they thought they were getting things that Celebrity later rethought. So, this cruise wasn't going to be like the Galaxy. Now, some of the group found the Galaxy pretty lively where others thought it was dullsville. Celebrity is quite sedate in some ways compared to RCI. The style is different, few if any announcements, no towel animals, no singing waiters, fewer pool games, no toga party, more formal nights, more formality. Some in the Viking group are formal type of folks, but most aren't, and the group dynamic doesn't favor being so formal. Celebrity does have some funloving, interactive staff members. Granville sure is. Swings the hips and dances. But, the directive these days is make Celebrity more formal. Hmmm.

The group is going back to RCI, more activities, looser staff, food not as good, well as good or better, usually not as good. Who knows? More on this later.

My friend Tom: We met on the cruise newsgroup and Celebrity is both one of our lines of choice. Tom's a big snorkeling fan and travels to the islands quite a bit. What I enjoyed about Tom was that he immediately struck up a good relationship with the island residents and supported them by buying their goods. He recognizes for them it is their livelihood and doesn't dismiss them as being an annoyance to his good time or peace. He was game to wear the hats with the group. He's a talented painter and painted a portrait of the Constellation that he presented to the Captain. The Captain loved it.

Tom brought all sorts of snorkel gear for us. He suggested we get sand shoes and these probably saved our feet. He guided us to the best areas of ports that he was very familiar with.

The crew member from various countries: Tom told us about this worker that he always finds on the same ship he's cruising, no matter what Celebrity ship or itinerary. And he's always from another country. One cruise he's from Ecuador, the next Costa Rica, the next, who knows? On the night of the sock hop in Reflections I saw Tom talking to an animated young man. Turns out this was the fellow from the country of his choice. He told us that his job was very easy, just mingle with people and have fun. He's going to do quite well methinks with that attitude.

Meeting the Captain: We've heard of Ioannis. Those that have sailed with him love him and have stories about him. Peg and Derek are great friends of his and have many stories about him. When we met him and presented gifts to him he greeted us warmly and we were then invited to see him on the bridge.

Ioannis on the bridge: He's the Captain. You know that. It is his bridge. Really, men like their toys, and the Connie is a big toy. It has lots of buttons and computer screens. Push the right buttons and it programs itself. But it takes the instincts, the gut instincts, of the Captain to know how to make it feel comfortable and to compensate and to put it a little off course to make the pax more comfortable. Ioannis, who speaks Greek Ioannis English, speaks more with his fingers than his hands. He loves telling stories, both funny and moving. He told us of the difficult-to-maneuver Amerikanis and picked it because it was the biggest challenge to a Captain but also that he had a not so kind name for her (he was asked if he had any nicknames for his ships), he told us the moving story of where he was on 9/11 and how he heard about it, he showed us pictures of the wondrous scenery of the Norwegian fjords on the Northern European itinerary, he served us Greek coffee. He's quite a character, very warm, very welcoming, yet a proud Greek Master. Good guy.

Captain's table: Service was fantastic. Attentive, ladies first, all sorts of sauces brought, fresh pepper out of the pepper mill. Food presentation, very nice, much better than at our table. Then fantastic wine. 1994 Port. When the server asked Ioannis if he should have the gentleman (me!!!) taste it Ioannis says, No, just pour it! This was a flavorful wine, yet pretty light. We got a nice picture of us the next day of us at the Captain's table. And my wife sat to his right, the honoured guest.

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