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Fun42

Constellation Baltic Cruise

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Well I just returned from the Baltic Cruise on Constellation. We sailed from Dover on 5/8 and retuned on 5/22/04.

 

The trip was just wonderful and the ship is great. Here are a few of the things we did which may help others plan their trip.

 

We were booking this trip for our 35th anniversary. We had not been in this area of the world so we were very excited. This was our 11th cruise.

 

We booked through Crucon on the internet (www.crucon.com) as they had a good price and availability. We had used them previously on an Alaska trip and had no major problems. Well I take that back, we did not get our tickets for the Alaska trip until the day before we left and one couple did not get there tickets at all. We all got on the plane to Anchorage and on the ship without incident but you are a little gun shy when you go that far and don’t have a ticket in your hand.!!

 

We used frequent flyer miles for the Baltic trip to fly from San Diego to Gatwick. We chose Gatwick because we could take the Gatwick Express train direct to Victoria station (45 minutes and about 12L sterling/pp one way). We had planned to get to Dover on the train and it leaves from Victoria. We booked our trip in November and as our friends found out about it they decided to go along. In all we had a group of 27 that went so some of our initial plans were changed.

 

We left San Diego on Thursday to arrive in London on Friday morning. We wanted to have a little buffer in time in case we had any problems and if all went well we could sightsee in London for a half-day.

 

Our group all booked their own air flights so we all just planned to meet on the ship on Saturday. One other couple booked on our Delta flight so we decided to hire a van to take us from Gatwick to our respective hotels in London. We booked Eddie Manning on the internet (www.limo.co.uk). Let me tell you this guy is the best. Eddie himself was waiting for our flight with a sign, Coat and tie and a new Toyota mini van. He helped us with our bags and then off to London.

 

We had booked in at the Elizabeth Hotel at 37 Eccleston Square (www.elizabethhotel.com) as it was walking distance to Victoria train (3 blocks) and Coach stations (2 blocks). The Elizabeth is a small classic English hotel. (Got the recommendation form [from] Rick Steve’s “Europe through the Back Doorâ€) It is neat and clean with small rooms on multi floors. Elevator holds 2 people and 2 bags. Nice breakfast room downstairs which is included in the price. Check in time is 2 pm but you can leave your bags in their lobby if you arrive early. The rack price was 99L for an in-suite room but they gave it to us for 89L as I booked direct (internet) with them and not through a 3rd party. I asked for a non-smoking room overlooking the park and I got it! Even though I was on the front of the hotel it was very quite as the street is not a major street.

 

We got to the hotel at about 1 so we left our stuff and went off for the “Original London Bus Tourâ€. (15L pp hop off and hop on for 24 hrs). Our traveling companions had not been to London before so we thought this would give them a quick overview of the city. We rode around until we got to St Paul’s and hopped off. We had told our group that we were going to try to make Evensong at 5:00 so to meet there at 3:30 if they wanted to take the tour of the church and climb up to the top of the dome. We met about 15 of our group there and visited the church. After our climb to the top of the dome we all sat down early in the main seating area and were waiting for the service to start when the Priest came down and invited our group to sit in the Choir. Talk about front row seats!

 

We had enquired of our tour agent if Celebrity had any transportation to the ship from London and were told they did not. My wife thought that was unusual so she got on the phone and called Celebrity direct and sure enough they have a bus that runs from Victoria to the Ship on Saturday. Cost was $134 USD pp round trip so a little more than the train but takes you direct to the cruise terminal and we would not have to fight with our luggage on the train and in a cab. As it turned out they had 2 busses one at 11:00 and one at 11:30. The busses leave from Victoria Coach station which is a block south of the train/underground station. They leave from gate 1 and they want you there at 10:30 to sign in. There were quite a few people there but Celebrity had things under control. The local porters want to help you put your bags on the bus but the Celebrity ticket people (they have Celebrity uniforms on and name tags) will do it for you so you don’t need to pay the locals. One note here. The bus departs from the Coach station on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Buckingham Palace Road and arrives back across the street to the north and when you walk out of the back of the arrival area you will be on the narrow alley Eccleston Place. We did not realize this and promptly got lost until some local took pity on us and set us right.

 

Well we arrived at the Cruise Terminal in Dover without incident and were shuttled through with out any problems. They did have a form to fill out that asked where and what you ate in the previous days. They are trying to screen people that may come on sick and spread the Norwalk virus.

 

On board finally: I always check with the dinning room the first thing to make sure my dinner seating is what I have booked. This time it was a mess. As I mentioned we were 27 and were expecting to have 3 adjacent tables at early seating. Well the travel agent forgot to book us as a group and instead booked us as individuals. What happened was that Celebrity had no way of knowing that they should put us all together. So we were scattered all over the dining room. Next time I will confirm this point with Celebrity myself.

 

Our Matri-d was able to fix the problem after 2 days. He was a class act.

 

Oslo: We only had 5 hrs in port so we booked the ships Viking Heritage tour. It gave a nice quick overview of the city and the important things. We enjoyed our tour

 

Stockholm: We were in town all day so we decided to catch the ships shuttle to town and walk it on our own. When we got off the ship there was a TI (tourist info) right at the dock and we went inside to check for local tours. There was a sightseeing hop off and hop on bus tour that did the city,. We decided to take this tour as the bus was right there at the ship and we thought we could get out of waiting for the ships shuttles. That was a mistake. We paid our $25 each and got on the bus. The problem was that the driver waited there at the ship for 1 hr as he filled up his bus. As we found out too late this was the sightseeing companies shuttle bus to town to catch the regular city tour bus. So we wasted that time. We would have been better off taking the ships shuttle to town and then catching the sightseeing bus in town for the tour. When we finally got on tour it was nice. We walked the old town and shopped in some of the stores. Found a good bakery to try some local goodies and saw the changing of the guard at the palace. We got back on the bus and it did the city and took us to the Vasa Museum which is a must see. ($10 pp) Incidentally you can walk to the Vasa from where the ships shuttle drops you off (at the Palace in old town) in about 20 min.

 

Helsinki: Here again we decided to take the ships shuttle to town and walk it ourselves. When we got to town we walked the Esplanade and went to the TI . They gave us a walking map of the city which has several tours you can take yourself. We walked to the Russian church with the classic onion domes first and then to the Lutheran church. At the Lutheran church the organist was practicing and we had a mini concert. My wife was moved to tears it was that good.

This is a great place for some photos of the locals. Right at the end of the Esplanade is a neat 19th century coffee house called Kappeli (again Rick Steve’s suggestion). We had some very good Borsch soup for lunch. After lunch we bought day tickets (4 euro pp) to the 3T city bus/street car from the TI and took a tour of the city. We got off at the Rock church and walked about 4 blocks to see this interesting place. We hopped off at the Olympic stadium and ended our tour back at Stockman’s department store. This is the Harrods of Finland and really is a must see. Go downstairs to the food court and supermarket. We bought 2 bags of Finish junk food for our upcoming excursion to Berlin. Then we walked 1 block back to the place where the ships shuttle drops you off and returned to the ship.

 

St Petersburg All the mystique of Russia comes into play at this place. You dock in a commercial steel yard several miles from town. There are no shuttles or legal cabs that can take you to the gates of the shipyard (about 3 miles with security gates) so unless you are on a tour you are going to have some trouble getting to town. I understand that there are some illegal cabs that somehow get into the yard to pick up people. We saw some cars that could have been cabs from the ship. The Russians have a customs office right at the dock. You walk off the ship and into there office, show your passport and tour ticket and they give you a red entrance card that you can’t loose or you don’t get out of the country. The customs people and the guards are all business so don’t try taking their pictures.

 

We had initially thought we would book a tour with a local Russian company as the ship’s tours were quite expensive. We contacted Denrus (OlgaT@denrus.ru)

and Red October. (redoctober@peterlink.ru) Both companies responded and had good itineraries but about 8 of our group got cold feet after they received there cruise book from Celebrity which states in no uncertain terms that you must have a Russian Visa or be on a ships tour to get off the boat. If it was just me and the wife we would have booked with one of the Russian companies but I was not about to take any chances with 27 of my friends vacation plans so we used Celebrity’s vans. (Just as a point of interest I would like to hear from anyone who used their services as how they got through customs.)

 

We ended up booking all day vans through Celebrity. You need to do this online 2 wks before you leave or you may not get one. The cost is $1100 for the van, driver and guide.

 

At first glance it seems like a lot of cash but they hold 10 people so your individual cost is $110. They advertise in the brochure that you can go anywhere you want with the van and guide which was what we wanted to do. We had told then we wanted to visit Putkin and Peterhof on our first day. Well when we got off the ship at 9:30 which is what our tickets said and consulted with our guide they told us that because it was late we could not go there that day and that we should go somewhere else. I kept the pressure on them and finally they agreed to take us where we wanted to go. They were saying that we were going to have to wait in line for hours and they had no special entrance permits at this late hour. I really don’t know if they were trying to shake us down or telling the truth but we finally were off at about 10:00. An interesting note here. Our guide told me later that all the vans and guides come to the dock at about 7:00. So I think if you got off at 8:00 you could start your tour early and not have the problems we encountered. The vans were nice and roomy and they seated 15 people! I had specifically asked if we could take 12 people in the van but Celebrity had told me no on several occasions. Well after our first day touring we went to the Tour Desk and found out after confronting them with the fact that the van had 15 seats that they can guarantee a 15 passenger van for another $500. On our second day we took 14 people in our van.

 

We booked the ships Ballet tour Friday evening and that was excellent. They reserve the entire Conservatory for the ships guests. Coat and Tie is appropriate.

 

Saturday our vans took us to see Peter and Paul’s fortress, to some local churches and then we visited the Hermitage.

 

Saturday evening we sailed at 6:00 and at dinner the waiter said that we were going to be going by a Russian navy base soon. I slapped my 310 mm telephoto on my camera and went up on the top deck and took some very interesting photos. Russian subs and trawlers, docks full of ????. Old forts and sunken ships, abandon dry-docks and a really large old domed church out in the middle of nowhere. I was wondering if it housed a spy radar station. Oh well, too many Tom Clancy books.

 

Tallinn This was the most interesting stop for just poking around on the whole trip. Take the ships shuttle to old town and then just wander. Eat lunch at one of the cafes in town and walk up to the fort on the hill.

 

Rostock I wanted to see Berlin but was unwilling to pay the $300 pp the ship wanted for their basic Berlin tour. I found a company online who offered tours of Berlin. This was the best tour we had on the whole trip. Klaus of Berlin Stadtfuhrungen (www.berlin-sightseeing-tours.de)was just superb. He made all the arraignments for us. I booked a bus for 30 people. It picked us up at the dock at Rostock and took us to Berlin. The trip takes 2.5 hrs whether you are on a bus or on the train. Our driver stopped half way for a bathroom stop and a smoke in both directions.

 

In Berlin Klaus got on the bus and began our 4 hr tour of the city. We stopped at all the important places. Got off the bus several times and finished the tour at the Pergamon Museum.

 

The Pergamon is the top museum in Berlin and I can’t figure out why none of the ships tours go there. Here we spent about 1.5 hrs wandering the museum and were awestruck by the Alter of Zeus and the Ishtar gate from Babylon.

 

Our bus picked us up at the museum and took us back to Rostock where we arrived at 8:00pm.

 

The total cost for the 22 of us was $75pp including tips to the drivers and guide!!

 

Copenhagen Here we decided again to walk the city on our own. We took the ships shuttle bus to town and walked the “shopping mall streetâ€. We ate lunch at one of the local sandwich shops and I had a sandwich with chicken, potatoes, mangos, sweet peppers and some others stuff which was the best. We were in town all day and ate supper at the same shop again then walked to Tivoli Gardens. The last ships shuttle leaves at 5:00. After that time you need to take a cab ($20 for 4 people) back to the ship or ride the city bus ($2 pp). The ship will take you to Tivoli Gardens at night for $18 pp which includes the entrance ticket ($9euro pp).

 

The gardens are nice. It’s where Disney got his ideas. The evening we were there it was cold so we only stayed until 8:00 and then took the city bus back to the ship. You catch the #26 bus to Langelinie in front of the City Hall plaza and take it to the end of the line. It drops you off about 2 blocks from the docks.

 

London We got off the ship at 9:30 and got our Celebrity bus back to Victoria station. As I mentioned earlier we got lost on our way back to our hotel. We dropped off our luggage took the tube to Portobello Road where we walked the market street finding the travel book store from the movie Nottinghill. Then we were off to Abby Road for the mandatory walk across the street (abbyroad.co.uk). Evening found us taking the London Eye for a sunset ride (15L pp). Spring for the picture they take of you as its good quality and a nice memory.

 

Well that’s the high lights. Oh, one other thing you may want to consider is the Ocean liners restaurant on the ship. Great fun well worth the $30pp they charge.

 

T&J

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Thanks T&J -- we just booked the Baltics in 2005 on the Constellation and the information you provided should assist in our pre-planning for excursions.

 

Did anyone you talk to take the "Behind the Iron Curtain" tour with the ship? The one with the tours by ex-KGB agents?

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Fun42:

We had initially thought we would book a tour with a local Russian company as the ship’s tours were quite expensive. We contacted Denrus (OlgaT@denrus.ru)

and Red October. (redoctober@peterlink.ru) Both companies responded and had good itineraries but about 8 of our group got cold feet after they received there cruise book from Celebrity which states in no uncertain terms that you must have a Russian Visa or be on a ships tour to get off the boat. If it was just me and the wife we would have booked with one of the Russian companies but I was not about to take any chances with 27 of my friends vacation plans so we used Celebrity’s vans. (Just as a point of interest I would like to hear from anyone who used their services as how they got through customs.)

<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

 

Since you asked about anyone who has used their services...Too bad you didn't see the many, many posts on the "Ports of Call" section of this board, where this issue has been addressed often. There was never an issue with getting off the ship; Laura from Red October sums it up by assuring people that the ship wants to sell their own excursions...

We were off the ship and in Red October's van at 7:45 AM - they send tickets to your home in advance which you present at immigration - with a look at a passport and those tickets, the officials send you out the door.

 

Glad to hear you had a good cruise!

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Thank you so much for this very informative review. My Husband are going to take this trip in 2005 and you were very helpful. Lorelle

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"T&J"

 

Thank you for the great report! Very detailed and informative!

 

Donald & Laurie McElvain

 

 

 

Celebrity Century 09/07/02 Eastern Caribbean

Celebrity Infinity 08/29/03 Alaska IP

Celebrity Constellation 03/06/04 Southern Caribbean

Celebrity Summit 03/11/05 Southern Caribbean

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TO FUN42,

Thank You so much for your review!! I am leaving June 13th to start my journey towards the June 19th sailing of the Connie to the Baltics!

The Berlin agency you used has been full for over 2 weeks. Do you know of any other?

Also, I am in Solana Beach- are you in San Diego? If so, could I talk to you re: the trip?

Thanks again!

Jane

globaljane@adelphia.net

(858/350-9026)

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Globaljane, We are using this agency for our tour of Berlin: info@berlin-starting-point.de

I found them online and arranged the tour months ago. They have been very good at replying to my emails. Looking forward to seeing you onboard!

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Hello Aqua & Fellow Baltic Cruisers!

Thatnks for the tip on info@berlin-starting-point.de. Unfortunately, I already received a reply back from them that they are fully booked! Oh well, I'll keep trying!

Looking forward to meeting you on the ship!

Janie

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Thank you so much for the very informative review. I am planning a similar cruise in May 2005 on the Constellation. A little different itinerary. I may have a few questions concerning the Berlin trip and transfers to Dover if I could have your e-mail address. Thanks, janicenylund@hotmail.com

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Many thanks again for the informative report on your recent Baltic cruise. My husband and I will be on the July 2, 2005 sailing out of Dover. We will be celebrating 30th anniversary.

Eileen

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Eileen,

 

I have booked the July 2 Jewel and have a hold on the July 2 Constellation. Did you debate this choice? Trying to make up my mind which one and would appreciate thoughts on the issue.

 

Jerry

 

Jewel of the Seas 7/05

Brilliance 1/05

Constellation 9/04

Radiance 1/04

Constellation 9/03

Golden Princess 1/03

Radiance 4/02

Explorer of the Seas 12/01

Voyager of the Seas 2/01

Monarch of the Seas 8/00

Splendour of the Seas 12/99

NCL Sea 8/96

A bunch others

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Jerry: I posted a note to you on the "Europe 2005 just released!" post. It's hard to keep track with all the misc. Baltic posts.

 

To answer your question, we never considered any other cruise line. We love Celebrity. This will be our first time on the Constellation and have heard only wonderful comments about the ship.

 

And per a cruise director on a recent Celebrity cruise we took, I think we'll be in for some different types of circus entertainment. icon_wink.gif

 

Hope it turns out to be true.

 

Eileen

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Fun42, Thank you for the review. Can you tell me more about the Norwalk questionaire? We are boarding June 19, and I don't want any problems! Thanks

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Dear Fun 42,

 

Thanks so much for the excellent review. We hope to make the trip in 2005 . . .same time frame. What was the weather like on the Baltic?Is it worth the extra investment for a Balcony cabin?

 

cb

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Thank you for posting your report. We will be sailing on the Constilation Aug 14. You should repost it on the Baltic Ports of Call board.

 

Dawn Princess 11/97

Regal Princess

Grand Princess 7/99

Renaissance R4 7/13/00

Rotterdam 7/20/01

Radiance of the Sea 12/22/01

Royal Princess 8/10/02

Brilliance of the Sea 7/23/03

Golden Princess 12/27/03

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Carsiebee, Cabin selection is a very personal thing. But since you took the time to ask here was my logic.

 

Point 1: The Baltic trip was planned for May 8 and the high temperatures at that time of year have been running in the 40s. . The ship travels at about 23 knots so you have a wind chill factor that is COLD in my book. On this point alone I can’t see the advantage in a balcony because it will be just to darn cold to use it.

 

Point 2: We were going very close to the artic circle so it would not get dark until 10pm and the sun would rise at 3:30. I am a light sleeper at best so even with the dark drapes drawn the room is going to be way too light for me to get any quality sleeping done. On this point I really see an advantage in an inside cabin. When you turn off the lights its DARK. ( I slept in until 9:00 one of the sea days).

 

Point 3: How much time do I actually spend during the day in my room? There are only 4 sea days on this trip.

 

I booked inside, 7th floor center ship. Worked perfect for me.

 

Now if we were talking Caribbean or Greek Isles…Well now that is a different story…

 

Interestingly enough one of my friends moved from an inside cabin to the balcony one right across the hall from me for his last 2 days. He said that it was so windy that the balcony slider rattled and kept him awake.

 

T&J

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Dear Fun 42

 

Thanks for your most helpful feedback! I will reconsider my Balcony fantasy. . .and save it for a warmer climate. Your insights are valuable. I hope to combine the cruise with a trip to long lost relatives in Lithuania. . .sounds like there will be lots of daylight for the visit!

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Hello Fun42,

 

Great review! I’m booked on the Connie Baltic for August, and I was also interested in the St. Petersburg van/private car. I had an impression that this type of shore excursion is for VIPs and the private guide can get you into the museums/palaces with no lines at all or like the ship tours before the general admission. Also Celebrity advertises that they buy the tickets for the attractions in advance according to your requests. From what you wrote, they seem like amateurs.

They should have stated in the tour tickets an earlier departure time for your private tour. Do you know if that was the experience for other people who booked these kind of vans/cars? How was the guide?

 

Thanks in advance,

Sima

 

----------

Ship's Log http://geocities.com/sima22222

The Webcam Collection http://geocities.com/sima1111/

 

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Sima,

 

Celebrity contracts with Arctur Travel (www.arcturtravel.com) a Russian company for the tours.

 

There seemed to be some minor breakdown between Celebrity and the tour operators.

I was on the first cruise of the season so these issues probably have been worked out by now.

 

When you book the van/car you tell them what your plans will be and they get you tickets and preferred admission to places you want to visit. This is what they did for us except that Arctur Travel were expecting us on the dock at 7:30 so our admissions were for 8:30. Our Celebrity tickets said we should be on the dock at 9:30. So by the time we showed up our preferred entrance times had lapsed. This was what was explained to me.

 

I enjoyed the van tour and if you can get 10 or so of your friends to book with you it can be cost effective.

 

If I booked again I would watch the dock myself to see when the vans came. If necessary I would get off the ship and speak to the Russian tour agent as to when I could begin our tour.

 

The guides we had were excellent. One of the ladies was named Alla and she had a degree in Economics and the other was Alexandra. Both girls spoke perfect English and were very helpful and knowledgeable.

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