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spearmint

Constellation review, Baltic, Aug. 26

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Lots of ideas were obtained for this cruise, over the preceding months, and I want to thank all of you for your advice, and ideas. We used so many of your suggestions!

 

We left the hotel in London with transfers from Celebrity, at about 8:45 a.m. It was overcast and rather drizzling with rain, off and on, but everyone was somewhat upbeat at the thought of cruising. There were two busloads of us heading for Constellation at Dover, but the busses went independently of each other. The Celebrity Rep did not accompany us and, it later turned out, our driver, George, was new (to this route at least).

 

Upon reaching Dover, about an hour and a half or more later, we approached the port area and there she was, waiting for us over at her berth. We turned away from that area to enter the actual port and then it started...we could see Constellaton, but could not seem to get to her! We were in the cargo port, and actually had to have the bus driven into a large shed-like building where we were made to leave the bus and enter the office area, single file with our passports. They were stamped and we returned to the bus. Someone noticed that the stamp was in French. To this day, most of us think that we had gotten into French customs; what did the officeres think--that we were cargo? We were now sure that George was lost, which meant that we were too. After driving around and asking several obvious workers/officials, we managed to slowly go in the direction of the ship. Much of our upbeat mood had disappeared. Finally, travelling up an interchange, we headed toward the town itself and saw the roadsign "cruise terminal". It seemed obvious that our George had missed the sign on the way in; could happen to anyone, of course. By this time, we all realized that we were on the right road and the mood improved immediately.:D

 

Embarkation was easy and quick. The really, really welcome glass of champagne was appreciated; we had finally arrived! After that, it was off to the room, which was actually ready but with no luggage, we just went for the usual lunch in the Seaside Grill.

 

The North Sea and the Baltic are really busy waterways. Ship traffic was constant with often seven or more ships visible close and far off at any one time.

 

The ship:

Constellation is the same as Millenium and Summit, both of which we like. The beds were somewhat harder and perhaps less comfortable than we remembered on the others, but not terribly so. Eventually we got our luggage, and met our stateroom attendant, Rebecca, from the Phillipenes. What a lovely person she turned out to be. Both Rosemarie and I were really taken with her. In fact, she and her assistant, Kevin, as well as a neighboring cabin attendant, Cheryll were the most friendly, approachable cabin people that we have had on all five cruises with Celebrity; and they have all been fine cabin attendants. But these three stopped whatever they were doing, wherever they were, to come out to talk to us and wish us well. I have already written to Celebrity about them and, as well our waiter, "Mini" (I Wayan Miniartha) from Bali.

 

He was great, and along with our sommelier, Zulkuf, from Turkey, made our time in the San Marco dining room an extra pleasure. For the first time, we asked about his recommendations, and if we liked the dish or its components normally, we followed his advice. He was never wrong. (Also, for the first time, our assistant waiter was a dud. Actually, if compared to all other assistant waiters we have had, he would have been classed as 'incompetent'. Usually it has been the assistant waiter that deals with us the most, but not this time. Mini had to cover for him often, taking plates away before delivering the next course, bringing coffee after dinner etc. I could not bring myself to berate him to the company, but he really stands out from the rest of our assistant waiters.)

 

The menu is not much different from other times, which I like, because some of my favorite things appetizers, entrees and desserts were still on it. (I took the advice of one of the posters here, and tried the creme brulee. Yep. It is fantastic.) If Mini advised a dessert other than my favorite -- chocolate anything -- he would insist on bringing up his recommedation as well, for us to try. By the end of the cruise, I was foregoing chocolate in favor of his choices.

 

Lunches were mostly good, whether in the dining room or the seaside grill; the one day when nothing appealed, I got a cheesebuger and french fries from the outside grill by the pool. I was always pleased on previous cruises, but this time, everything was cold; even the cheese would not melt.

 

We tried the 'formal' tea in the dining room for the first time. We enjoyed the experience and will do it again on future cruises. Another idea that we got from Cruise Critic.

 

A couple of things were different and disappointing from the other ships. Often, in the morning, the coffee stations, Deck 10 aft, in the Seaside Cafe were empty of coffee and/or milk... sometimes on both sides. No one seemed to be monitoring them, as on the other ships.

Also, it could take some time to go through one (or more) of the queues to get breakfast, such as the omelet station and the regular line or the waffle line. That is expectd. But. If you got coffee and/or any kind of food first and set it on a table, while you went back to one of the lines or to the coffee machine, you could and would find that it was not there when you returned, and even that other people were now seated at your table! This happened two or three times at least to us. The same could occur if you happened to be alone, and went back to get another coffee; your food might not be there when you returned. You could wait a long time for someone with a coffee pot coming around, and you took your chances getting another coffee from one of the machine. (I guess I am spoiled from our other cruises, but this was the first time that we lost our breakfast/table and I found it quite annoying.)

 

Before we left home, we knew that the weather would possibly preclude much time in the outdoor pools, but we did not care, as we knew about the thelassotherapy pool. Wrong! All hot tubs, inside and out, and the thelassotherapy pool were empty and closed for the entire cruise, due to health reasons. How disappointing! We did have two good-weather days, sunny and warm, and enjoyed the outdoor pools, though. And, surprise. The pools were heated, something that is not done in the Caribbean. M-m-m-m. Nice.

 

Ocean Liners was good, but I thought the food better in the Normandie on Summit. Maybe I was expecting too much in my memory. But, for sure, the chocolate soufflee did not come even close. Still, the atmosphere and staff were as great as those that I remembered on Summit,and we even had Ivor, the same sommelier as on Summit. I would still recommend either restaurant as it's just such a nice experience.

 

This time we pre-authorized our tips, so that we could leave all that cash at home, since it would have had to be carried around with us all through our 3-day pre-cruise in London. It is a good idea, except that in order to use the feature, you must agree to tip all people on the list. I do not see why I should tip the assistant Maitre d' or the assistant head housekeeper, unless they have done something special for us. Coming to the table to say hello just isn't it. If we have another long cruise, we will probably use it, but otherwise will not. I would rather overtip the people who make our stay special, which we did.

 

It was great to attend the CruiseConnections party, and even though 25 people had signed up, far fewer showed up. But we met "Sandyruth" from Britain, and "Daisy Queen" from California, which was neat! We also met Pat and Terry, and their friend Annette from California. Pat told us that she was not a member, but she reads a lot of the posts on CruiseCritic. It was nice to talk to them at other times later,when meeting around the ship.

 

The ports:

One of the posters mentioned that not everyone would manage walking, and that everyone's idea of "easy" was different. Good point! We decided that it would be better if we walked some and drove some. To that end, we took ship's tours for all places except Copenhagen and Saint Petersburg.

 

Copenhagen:

It rained in Copenhagen and we had chosen to walk after taking the shuttle bus to town; between fighting to keep ourselves dry as well as the camera with an umbrella, and still take pictures, and from fatigue from previous days, it did not take much to send us back to the ship. This was our second last stop and we should have known we would be tired. We should have followed our idea for all the other ports and taken a tour.

 

All our guides were good, and we learned a lot both of the area, buildings and history. And all of them would inform you if there was a bathroom that did not charge a fee to use, where it was and when the next one might show up. Sometimes there was no place like that.

 

Gdansk:

This was our first tour stop and, not knowing what to expect, we were very pleasantly surprised. The old city has been painstakingly restored from the war (WW II) and communist dictatorship. ( Our guide made many references to ****s and I realized that the war is still very much with these people, who suffered directly, and it is different from our war veterans who were able to come home to an untouched land.) Although rebuilt, some of the buildings are so new, that it looks as it must have when actually constructed originally in medieval times. We had part of the time on our own, and had a beer and coffee at an outdoor cafe in order to make use of the restroom facilities. 13 zlotys, which came out to be $4.10 Canadian on my Master Card. I always asked if any establishment that we wanted to use took credit cards (most did) and so did not bother with any local currency, except in Britain for our pre-cruise. Another set of information that I had gotten from CruiseCritic posters. Tips in American money were never a problem.

 

Stockholm:

Yes, Posters, you were right! The sail in to Stockholm is great. We awoke around 6:30 a.m to find that on the starboard side, out our ocean-view window, almost within touching distances were myriad islands of all sizes. With the morning sun, the views up on deck 11 were stunning. Great photo opportunities.

Our tourguide again was knowlegeable, and the all day city tour was worth it. We had lunch on our own in the square of the old town near the Nobel musem, that the guide pointed out. The proceeds went to help the homeless, and the food, although cafeteria style, was scrumptious. We both had the "croque monsieur" (a grilled ham and cheese), a pop, and a chocolate nut pie. I would recommend the place in an instant. The Vasa museum turned out to be quite wonderful, the town hall, interesting.

 

Helsinki:

The city tour is OK, and really takes in all there is. It is actually lengthened out, I think, by having the bus cross and recross its path of streets going form one venue to another. However, we had been warned of this on these boards, and the guide was really topnotch. The Lutheran church was having a service, so we could not go in, which we only discovered after climbing Mount Everest to get up to it!:) The outside photo stop at the 1952 Olympic Stadium is just that. The Sebelius Monument looks so simple, that you may be tempted to stay on the bus. But do see it up close. The artist rendered a beautiful filegreed set of pipes. The Rock Church is interesting in its construction to be sure. But th-th-th- that's all,folks!

 

Tallinn:

I think we expected too much from Tallinn. So many posters raved about it, that I found myself somewhat initially disappointed. Also, it came directly after Saint Petersburg which really is over the top. Still, I would not have missed Tallinn as it really is charming. Its age alone makes you blink, to realize how old everything is. You can be standing on 800-year-old cobbles within 600-year-old walls!

 

Rostock:

We were well over an hour late docking, as we had to steam around in circles for a while. The ship had been a little rocky the night before and the authorities would not give permission for such a large vessel to dock, due to the high winds. This was the first time that I had seen one of the ships needing the help of a tugboat (while another stood by) during the docking process.

The city tour is OK. The brewery tour, besides providing a beer and pretzel (European size), shows you the bottling works. The mechanics are really neat when in operation, but it stopped while we were there, and did not start up again, for whatever reason. The old town tour is short. If you are a walker, then you might want to stay in town, or you might just go in on your own. Many people went to Berlin, and were late leaving and returning. The ship adjusted sail time accordingly.

 

Oslo:

We were surprised at how lovely this city is. The viking ship museum is OK, but disappointing after the immensity of the Vasa. The age of the ships and the way they were built was impressive though. The ski jump was interesting in that it is so high up in the air! But it is not somewhere you want to spend a huge amount of time. We went at the end of the day, which was beautifully sunny, and the view was spectacular. The outdoor museum of collected old buildings of Norway was neat. But by far the most wonderful visit was to the Vigelund sculptures. They are indeed worth the tour and absolutely not to be missed. We only arrived in Oslo at 3:00 p.m. and left at 8:30 p.m. so with this tour, we could not visit Akershus Castle, which is directly across the street from the ship. Too bad, as it looked interesting. As we dined in front of our window table, the ship left, and as it turned a little, a perfect full moon was up over the city in a totally clear sky. It stayed in the window for quite a ways over the fjord until another turn of the ship moved it farther on. What a nice way to enjoy dinner. The fjord is another lovely sight on the way in to Oslo, too.

 

Saint Petersburg:

For this tour, we chose the DenRus Value Excursion Tour and we could not have been more pleased. I have written it up on another thread, so as to do justice to our much-maligned (on these threads) guide, Ljudmilla. She was the best of all our guides, and all of our group of ten thought so, because I asked them. She was just so very knowledgeable, interesting and humorous. I often commented to Rosemarie and other group members who happened to be on subsequent tours that the current guide was really good, but was no Ljudmilla.

Yes, we were very fortunate; we were only ten. Ljudmilla took us around the Hermitage in such a way as to avoid some of the large crowds of bus tours, and we got to know each other and interact well over the two days.

As so many posters have said, Saint Petersburg is the jewel of the cruise. We could have spent a third day there; we could not include the Catherine Palace in our tour. We did visit the Hermitage, Peterhof Palace and its fabulous gardens, Saint Isaac's Cathedral, the Church of Spilled Blood, and the Fortress of Peter and Paul. We saw all that the tour advertised including the rostral columns, the cruiser Aurora and many of the absolutely breathtaking buildings that make up this city, often from the water when we had our canal ride. We did not have a lot of time to shop, but then we did not want to. We did stop at a couple of places for a short time, really to get a bathroom break, as Ljudmilla told us that if we looked interested in the merchandise, no one would bother us about using the washrooms. She always told us how long it would be before another freebie would come along. In one of the stores, we bought the only souvenir of the trip. A Faberge-like egg, for 89 Euros, which was converted to roubles on the bill, and which then translated into $132 Canadian by MasterCard. We had tried to find out costs on the ship, and there eggs were much more expensive we found, after we sailed. For those of you who are rich: in one of the stores in the Emporium on board, before we ever got to Saint Petersburg, I noticed a lovely white egg with gold filegree/carving which had a small palace inside. It was probably eight inches or more high. I asked the shopkeeper who told me that it really was a Faberge egg, as the company was still in business and run by a great-grandchild I think. Anyway, the egg cost $18,000.00! I did not buy it.

 

As all posters who have done this cruise before us have said:

-it was wonderful and we are so glad that we decided to take it.

-it was port-intensive, and different in calibre to a Caribbean cruise.

-we would highly recommend it, but make sure that you do it on the terms that suit your own physical and mental limitations. :D

 

Hope you get something from this writing. I have no idea how long it will turn out to be when printed up on the boards. :cool: Bill

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