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aztex

June 18th Constellation Cruise - review by first time cruiser

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It took us a long time to have the freedom to cruise so we are certainly late in the game as compared to most on Cruise Critic. This review is from someone who had never cruised before and was fortunate enough to find an excellent itinerary and line for a first cruise. The review will be organized in a topical fashion for ease of reading. Because we had never sailed before it will not be biased by our experiences on other lines or ships - just a discussion of what we found on this cruise, based on our extensive travel experiences with other forms of travel. No set order of topics - just random as they come to me.

 

This is a review of the June 18th sailing of Constellation to the Baltic.

 

Overall Experience

 

An outstanding experience on a first class ship. "Sure wish we had been able to travel like this in the past".

 

Embarkation

 

We arrived at Dover Terminal 2 at 10:30 AM, by taxi. We had no trouble getting a taxi in Dover and the embarkation process was well handled by cruise personnel. We were on board by about 11 and our luggage was delivered early that afternoon. Very smooth process.

 

Settling In

 

We were in a CC cabin, 9127, which, to our senses, was roomy and well situated. It was a quiet cabin during the cruise and the balcony overhang was not an issue for us or our camera. Cabin attendant and assistant were both all smiles, all the time, and very pleasant individuals to be around. They were efficient to a capital E. In our view the CC cabin was worth the extra money as it afforded us fresh air, great views and a private place to enjoy the cruise.

 

Meals

 

We were in main seating at a table for six in a corner of the main dining room. We ate in the dining room every evening on the 14 day cruise except for one night in the specialty restaurant and one eating pizza after an exhausting day. Breakfast was at the buffet on deck 10 and lunch was usually in a local restaurant off the ship.

 

The food was all that it has been talked about here on Cruise Critic - excellent. In the dinng room meals were well proportioned, food was fresh, cooked to perfection and nicely balanced between courses. Service was outstanding. Our waiter and assistant waiter were top drawer at all times even though one of the tables they were waiting were real pains, as we observed. Our table mates couldn't have been nicer or more congenial during the trip.

 

The specialty restaurant was reserved on one evening during the trip and, again, it was a rare and delightful experience from staff to food to service. Each party must decide if the extra fee is worth it - for us, it was well worth the fee and, as have others, we highly recommend it.

 

Breakfast buffets were awesome with selections to please everyone. Eggs, waffles, pancakes, cereal, fruit, breads, etc and all well prepared and tasty delights. Service was friendly and caring.

 

In general, I have to give numerous kudos to a kitchen staff that must prepare for 2,000 meals every night, keeping it fresh and well prepared for all diners. I don't think they missed a beat during the entire cruise.

 

General Conditions on the Ship

 

To our eyes, the ship is well maintained and remarkably clean. A small amount of carpet is showing some wear but other than that nit pick it was an excellent vessel. While we did have excellent weather on the cruise the ship handled beautifully in light to moderate seas with very little roll. This was a very gentle ride in comparison to Amtrak and some flights we have been on.

 

Ship's crew was responsive and on top of all things. Two parties were late in getting back to the ship during the cruise, one in Stockholm and one in Klaipeda, and both were able to return to the vessel using the pilot boat. The Captain kept the ship on schedule even during heavy fog.

 

Even though the ship is large by some standards, it is well laid out and organized and one should not have a hard time finding things. The elevators, crowded at times, did a decent job of keeping up with flow. Only noticable crowding was on the glass elevators but the other elevators almost always had plenty of room.

 

Entertainment

 

Generally very good to excellent. Shows were well staged with good singers and dancers. Special guests were excellent. Shows were well attended and appreciated by the audience. Entertainment staff did a very good job keeping things moving and fresh.

 

Bar at the Edge..........

 

With apologies to those who love this experience, those we talked to during the course of the trip felt it was a waste of a great space. It was often used as a standing joke by many. I am sure that many loved it, but we were not in that crowd. I will point out that we did not attend the show - I am providing second hand feedback from numerous people talked with while on the cruise who did attend, if only for short periods of time. We did not attend because the experience was not something we would normally enjoy or go to - even though we appreciate and enjoy the shows put on by Cirque.

 

Port Debarkations

 

We had no problems with debarkation at any of the ports, including St. Petersburg. We had heard many of the stories about independent tours and St. Petersburg - trying to hold independent tours 'til last. There is a new process being used in St. Petersburg which we found to be excellent. Independent tours sign up at guest relations in advance and are given a time to coincide with their tour start. On the day of the tour the independent groups are put into various locations a half hour before their stated departure time and then blended in with all the others who have ship tours for departure. We were off the ship and through customs by 7:40 AM on the first day with minimum wait times.

 

In Stockholm, people using independent tours, cabs or other private arrangements should be aware that new security arrangements there make it a little bit of a walk to get to your tour, cab or other arrangements. Buses can get to the point of debarkation but not private cars, including cabs.

 

General Thoughts

 

We left the cruise obviously impressed with the quality and product offered by Celebrity and its crew. On a scale of ten we would certainly rate this a 9.3 overall experience and we look forward to future cruises with Celebrity.

 

The negatives, that we heard about but did not directly experience, were the high cost of medical treatment, Bar at the Edge, some who thought the constant introduction and lauding of staff at various functions was a little over the top and cost for computer and similar services.

 

Roll calls are an excellent way to meet folks in advance and have a real positive output during the cruise. Can't say enough about those.

 

We thoroughly enjoyed our fellow cruisers and the mixture of age and experience they represent. It added a dimension to travel that most other forms do not offer.

 

For the life of me, I still cannot understand how a company that offers such quality of service and product on the seas, has such a difficult time offering the same quality of service and product on land in their pre-cruise support and service. It's like two entirely different companies are at work.

 

Recommendations

 

We made our own travel and tour arrangements for the cruise so I cannot comment on Celebrity tours and excursions.

 

In Dover, we highly recommend the tour services of Denise Ryeland at "Tours of the Realm" and the East Lee Guest House, a bed and breakfast. Both are well managed and a joy to be around.

 

In Stockholm, we highly recommend Maria at "Stockholm Stories" as a guide and tour leader for small groups.

 

In St. Petersburg, we highly recommend DenRus Tours. Our guide, Nadya, was outstanding in all ways as was our driver and the arrangements made. A real value for the money.

 

This is a great cruise itinerary. The ports of call are all first class and of interest.

 

Bottom Line --- like Mikey, we are pretty choosy and we liked it very much.

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thanks for your review. what did you do in finland and did you go to the ice bar in stockholm and if so was it worth it. thanks again for sharing.

marilyn:)

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Thank you for you informative and well put-together review.

 

You said this was your first cruise. What have you done on previous vactions? What age group do you fall into?

 

Thanks again for you post.

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Hi:) Welcome to the world of cruising and thanks for an excellent review:)

 

I am glad you had such a good time! I was on Constellation in December and she

is a beautiful ship.

Hopefully one day I will be able to do your itinerary!

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For the life of me, I still cannot understand how a company that offers such quality of service and product on the seas, has such a difficult time offering the same quality of service and product on land in their pre-cruise support and service. It's like two entirely different companies are at work.

 

 

 

This has long been our observation and has been echoed by our TA. From our first Celebrity cruise right up to the last one we have been astounded by the lack of responsiveness by the cruise line prior to, and after, the actual cruise.

 

Obviously, the service and professionalism once underway makes up for these deficiencies, since we keep coming back.

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Marilyn, we found Helsinki to be relatively expensive in comparison to the other ports of call. We toured on our own and had no problem at all, except that we landed in Helsinki on a National Holiday with most stores and museums closed. So we walked and saw just about all that we could see including the lovely market down by one of the docks.

 

As for the Ice House in Stockholm, no, we did not go to that and I don't think anyone on our cruise was able to because of timing. The ship left just shortly after the Ice House opened for the day and the small number of people allowed in at one time would have been another limiting factor, even with reservations.

 

Suzanne, previous to this cruise our vacations have centered on land and air based travel, usually in shorter time frames. We use timeshares for many of our trips. Much of my work was travel related, generally in the US, Canada and Mexico so we did a lot of travel while working, to the point that a suitcase looked like an enemy. My wife and I are in the 50's and 60's club and remain very active.

 

Hope all are having a nice day.

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Good review...In the ports of Oslo and Stockholm what time were you docked and able to get off the ship. Also what time did you have to get on the ship to leave.

 

Thanks,

 

Kurt

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Hi Aztex !

 

Excellent Review ! Thanks for sharing your comments. I am glad you had a great time !

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Good review...In the ports of Oslo and Stockholm what time were you docked and able to get off the ship. Also what time did you have to get on the ship to leave.

 

Thanks,

 

Kurt

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AZTEX: Did you have Denise Ryland at Tours of the Realm pick you up at the airport (Gatwick)? Cost? We have booked the East Lee Guest House for next year, and Denise was recommended by Patricia Knight at East Lee.

 

Grace

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Kurt, our cruise did not go to Oslo so I can't help you there. In Stockholm we docked about 8 AM and were cleared to leave the ship before 9 AM. In most ports, including Stockholm, they want you back on board at least fifteen minutes before the announced departure time. We were almost always underway within minutes of the announced departure time, as two couples found out along the way, so they are very serious about the departure times.

 

Grace, we asked Denise to meet us at Gatwick and provide us with a four hour tour of the countryside on the way to Dover. She was there on time and we had a great time with her. We asked her to join with a group of us for dinner the evening before we sailed which she gladly did. Cost for the pick-up and tour was about 180 pounds sterling as I recall. A straight pick-up with no tour is not that expensive but I do not recall what that figure is. You can contact Denise at http://www.toursoftherealm.com/index.html . Hope this helps.

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Gil,

 

Great review, thanks for taking the time to post.

 

Before the new security measures were implemented two years ago we were able to walk right up to the gangway and ogle the ships, Maria and I used to ride our bicycles over there all the time and get pix etc. Sadly, those days are gone as you well know.

 

Anyway we enjoyed reading your post, and Maria sends her regards.

 

Skål from Stockholm,

 

Al

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sorry... another related question, In Stockholm you were cleared to leave the ship by 9:00 you said, what was the scheduled arrival time.

 

Curious about the stated arrival/departure time and the actual. (Not enough time in Stockholm, every minute counts!)

 

Regards,

 

Kurt

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Kurt,

 

The pre-cruise itinerary noted an arrival at 8:30. On board, that was changed to 9 AM. We actually arrived in port at about 8 AM and were cleared, as I recall, by about 8:40. Getting off was very easy and quick and we had no trouble meeting our guide by 9:30 as planned. Departure time was at 5 PM and we left port at 5:05 with one person waving to us from the dock - one of our passengers.

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Al,

 

Please convey my best regards to Maria. I have a couple of photos that I will email along once I get a little better organized.

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Wonderful review Aztec.

 

A few questions. We have heard that to tour St pete's independently, you need to obtain Russian visas. Must you send your passports to washington DC for this? Is it true that if you take the cruise's sponsored excursions, you do not need these visas?

 

Also, how did you find the independent guides you used in each port?

 

Thank you.

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Hi. No, you do not need Russian visas to tour independently IF you arrange an independent tour with an authorized tour company in St. Petersburg or you use the ship's tours. The two independent companies recommended most, other than those of the cruise line, are DenRus and Red October. They both offer wonderful service and personalized service for small groups. Both can be found on the internet using Google. Please understand that if you tour with an independent company and do not have a visa you cannot just wander off - you must stay with the group to remain legal.

 

We found the tour companies that we used by reading past material from Cruise Critic, to see who was recommended most and also by just using Google for the various ports of call. Hope this helps - this kind of homework is a lot more fun than what we had to do years ago.:)

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Hi Aztex,

 

I see that you took a tour with Maria from Stockholmstories. Can you tell me what tour you took and what your impression of it was?

 

Six of us are booked with her in about 2 weeks for a 2 hour walking tour of Gamla Stan! I noticed that Kim on the Baltic's board was not overly thrilled with her tour with Maria. Therefore, I am asking for your feedback to compare to what Kim thought.

 

Thanks much! Sounds like you had a fantastic cruise!!

 

Ginny

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Hi Ginny,

 

I had momentarily put the Baltics thread out of mind, focusing on South America, and just went over and reviewed things there before responding to you.

 

Maria is: well organized; has a fine knowledge of Stockholm's history and architecture; is very personable and adaptable to a group's need. The key, in my opinion, as noted by Kim, is to be very specific and up front about what you want from the tour; what you expect to receive and do. If you want to tour the interiors of certain buildings then my suggestion is to include that information in your up-front communication.

 

Her natural style is to be relaxed and not overly intense; to allow people to see and experience some of what is going on around them and to permit choices along the way. Her information is given in a conversational style and not as a lecture going from pre-determined point to point with lots of facts thrown out every five minutes. ( I often think of that movie - can't remember the name - where a guide keeps saying after each stop, "We're walking".)

 

Many groups probably say that they want an historical tour of, say Gamla Stan, and then, when they get on site, a schism occurs. Some want detailed history, some want time to shop and we need to be through in two or three hours. It isn't easy to meet the needs of a group with diverse backgrounds and interests, often never having met before, much less putting them into a tight time frame in a small area of the city with narrow streets inundated by several thousand people all on tours of various sizes. A small group can be engulfed by groups of hundreds and flexibility is necessary in Gamla Stan.

 

Our itinerary for the tour was changed several times due to schedule changes by Celebrity and my difficulty in not knowing exactly when we would be in Stockholm and how much time we would have. Our schedule went from an overnight stop to a shortened day so there were complications along the way. We were still having to adjust the itinerary on the day that we arrived in Stockholm because of this.

 

Our group of eight spent five hours with Maria which included Gamla Stan, the Vasa Museum, a ferry ride and lunch at the Grand Hotel. After the tour, Maria spent additional time on her own with four of our tour members helping them shop and find stores of interest. She met us at the pier with two taxies as we had pre-arranged. Two of our tour members would have liked more historical information than was given while four found the balance of information and sites to be excellent. As already noted above, on reflection, I think she did an excellent job given the situation and that her information was accurate.

 

It could be that her intention is clearly shown in the name of the business, "Stockholm Stories". To summarize all this into a recommendation:

  1. be specific with what your group wants and don't get sidetracked by all the temptations in Gamla Stan during the tour.
  2. if your group wants a detailed history of Gamla Stan with information on key structures, state that in advance - especially if you have only two hours.
  3. Maria's style is conversational as she is with a small group and she will answer questions, provide additional information as needed and respond to a group's need. Don't hesitate to make suggestions or focus on topics of interest during the tour - a conversation is a two way process.
  4. Anyone wanting a highly structured tour with a guide leading and doing all the talking at varioius points would be happier with someone else, in my opinion. This style is more in keeping with a museum or house tour such as normally found on large traditional guided tours where time and control is important.

I don't know if this has been of any help to you or not. It is just my opinion and provides you with some information as to why I thought the tour was excellent. Kim's review and comments are equally valid and I would just emphasize the need to clearly communicate your wants with Maria in advance and to not expect a traditional tour, as defined above.

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Aztex,

 

Thanks very much for the long and concise answer to my question about your tour with Maria! You have provided a lot of helpful detailed information for my group of 6 to talk over and I appreciate your direct manner in telling us to make sure we are on the same page before we get there and suddenly, get side-tracked!!

 

It sounds like you all had a great tour day with Maria! We are only planning a 2 hour walking overview of Gamla Stan.

 

We will definitely make sure we communicate exactly what we want to her ahead of time as it seems that is the best advice. She certainly seems easy to work and very friendly!

 

By the way, how did you enjoy lunch at the Grand Hotel?

 

Thanks again for taking the time to write such an organized and helpful answer! I hope many other people will read it and be able to benefit from it, also.

 

Ginny

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Lunch at the Grand was, well, Grand! Food was excellent. Wait staff was friendly, even providing samples of some items we were unfamiliar with. We thought it was a highlight.

 

If you get a chance in Tallinn be sure to eat at Olde Hansa, just off the square in the lower town. It was an experience all by itself and the food was top drawer. If you do eat there don't plan on a big dinner. We ate there as a group of eight and had several different meals - all uhm and ahh caliber.

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