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aqua

Constellation Baltic June 19-week 1 review

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Our extended family of 9 just returned from the Dover to Stockholm sailing of the Constellation. It was my 10th cruise, as well as that of my parents. We were all extremely impressed with Celebrity. The service and food were outstanding. My parents usually sail on Princess, but are now Celebrity converts.

We went to London 2 days early. We bought 4 tickets for the price of 2 for the Gatwick Express at the ticket office just outside passport control. The train was spacious and convenient. The train took us to Victoria Station, where we boarded the tube to travel to Russell Square. I would not recommend the subway for people with lots of luggage, as there are many stairs. We stayed at the Holiday Inn London-Bloomsbury. It was a good choice- reasonably priced, great location, and very nice. We were a short walk from the Russell Square tube station and the British Museum. Highlights of London included seeing the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London and a visit to Wimbledon (unfortunately, the tournament started 3 days later!)

We took the National Express bus from Victoria Coach Station to Dover. It was inexpensive and nice. Embarkation was a breeze and we were greeted with champagne. Our family had 3 cabins; 2 regular outside and 1 balcony. All were very nice and comparable to other ships that we have sailed on. There was a safe and small refrigerator in each room, as well as a powerful hairdryer (great for drying wet clothes!)

The first port was Le Harve. We took the ship's Beaches of Normandy tour and were very pleased. My daughter did the Taste of Paris excursion. She liked it, but felt very rushed. Of course, that was to be expected considering there was 3 hours travel time each way.

Monday was a sea day and a chance to try to overcome the jet lag. We were fortunate enough to be joined for dinner by the Assistant Hotel Director. We very much enjoyed talking to him; it was great fun. There were lots of activities on the ship, but we concentrated on the art auction, gym, and the sushi cafe ( a family favorite!)

We arrived in Oslo on Tuesday. In most ports, my parents took a ship's excursion and we toured on our own. We found Oslo to be relatively easy to navigate. We arranged to be at the Royal Palace at 1:30 for the changing of the guard. That was worthwhile. We also walked all around the city, including the Vigeland Sculpture Park. As it was relatively far from the ship, we took the tram back to City Hall. Oslo is a nice place, although it was very expensive. (As was all of Scandanavia!)

Our next port of Copenhagen greeted us with monsoon-like rain. Nevertheless, we put on dollar-store ponchos (thanks to the foresight of my sister) and started walking. We had planned to rent bikes, but the weather made that a bad choice. The ship had a shuttle that went to the pedestrian mall. Unfortunately, we didn't read what time it stopped. So after walking for 5 hours in the pouring rain, we had to walk back to the ship. (We couldn't get a taxi to stop- they probably didn't want us in their cab!) My parents took the ship's harbor tour. It might have been a good excursion if the rain had subsided, but they couldn't even take photos. The next day they took a Copenhagen city tour and were pleased with it. We once again walked the city, but only after checking the shuttle schedule. I doubt if many people on the ship went to Tivoli because of the weather. We walked around it, but didn't go in. The city has lots of charm and I know that we would have loved it had the weather been better.

On Friday the ship docked in Rostock. Five of our group took the ship's Berlin On Your Own excursion. They took the special train to Berlin where they met info@berlin-starting-point.de for a private tour. They were very pleased with the tour and recommend the guide. However, there were some problems, but not with the tour agency. I had called Celebrity before we left the country to verify the name of the arrival train station. Once on board, I stopped by the Shore Excursions desk to confirm the station. After 2 days, they notified me that the train would arrive at a different station. I was able to email the tour agency and they were met at the correct place. While our family left the train station with the guide, the remaining passengers were bussed downtown. During that time, Celebrity changed the meeting time for the return to the ship. However, our group had no way of knowing this. Fortunately, they saw people they recognized at the meeting place and they were able to meet the bus to go to the train station. The train ended up being 2 hours late, and the captain had to hold the ship.

The rest of our group took the shuttle into Rostock and then took the train and tram to Warnemunde. It costs 1.50 euros each way to go to Warnemunde. The beach resort was a nice town, sort of like a tourist area of Florida, only much colder! We did enjoy the day, and found the prices to be a nice relief from Oslo and Copenhagen.

Saturday found us in Gdynia, Poland. We took the shuttle into town and then walked to the train station. Be sure and take a map, as few people speak English. We were lucky to find an angel who waited while we withdrew money from the ATM at the train station, helped us buy tickets (about $1 each way) and then took us to the proper platform. Gdansk was a nice town, but we really didn't stay long. We had been warned that trains in Poland were not reliable, and they were also in poor condition. I don't think many people from the ship traveled that way. Most took taxis or the ship's tour. The taxi cost about $25 each way. We bought amber here, as did many others.

I will continue with week 2 on another post.

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Sunday was a sea day, only the second one on the trip. It was good to rest!

The ship docked in Tallin, Estonia on Monday. We took the shuttle into town and were given a "free tour" by a local guide. He did a great job and profitted nicely with the tips. The city is easy to walk and is beautiful. It was one of our favorite places.

 

If it's Tuesday, it must be Helsinki. We were getting tired, but still managed to walk around the city. Helsinki is clean and easy to navigate. We especially liked seeing the Olympic Stadium.

 

We were all anxiously awaiting our next port, St. Petersburg, as we had arranged a 2 day tour with Red October. Celebrity sent everyone a note asking all guest with private excursions before 9AM to go up to deck 11 that morning. Based on an email we received from Laura at Red October, we ignored the request and waited at the gangway as soon as we docked. We were among the first people off of the ship and were in our private van by 7:45. Our guide, Irina, was amazing. We saw much more than we could have seen had we done the ship's tours. We always went to the front of the lines, sometimes passing Celebrity tourists. She was an excellent guide and we were very pleased with the tour.

 

Friday found us in the final port, Stockholm. We took the shuttle into town and walked around for hours. The beauty of the city took our breath away. We walked to the Vasa Museum, but arrived too late to see it properly. We really loved Stockholm and wished we had more time there.

 

Debarkation on Saturday was easy. Celebrity has a great system; we were even able to eat breakfast at the buffet and still be in the Celebrity Theater by 6:20 AM. The Stockholm airport is not so easy- everyone found it to be a chaotic mess.

 

We flew to Paris where we overnighted. We stayed at the airport Holiday Inn. It was a good choice as they have a continuous shuttle between the airport and the train station. It was also reasonable and nice. We landed at CDG at 2:00 and were at Notre Dame at 5:00. We bought all-day tickets for the train and subway and had a great evening traveling all over Paris.

 

In summary, the Constellation is a wonderful ship. She deserves her #1 ranking from Conde Nast Traveler. The itinerary is a challenge, as it is very port intensive. However, it was wonderful to see those places that you only read about. And the Midnight Sun was awesome! I would highly recommend the trip to anyone. I will be happy to answer any questions!

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aqua: Thank you for a great review. Jay and I will be on the 07/02/05 Constellation "Scandinavia & Russia" cruise. Needless-to-say, we are looking forward to the trip and reading about your recent cruise just adds to the anticipation. Thanks again.:)

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Hi! We booked a different itinerary, but I am very interested in your report concerning transportation from the airport to London and from London to Dover. As of now, we have the ship's air/transfers. But...if it is not too difficult to do it on our own (I am worried about all the luggage, of course!) that would be our choice. I have read about the National Express from Victoria Coach Station to Dover. If we take a taxi to the station, is it difficult to get from the entrance to the actual bus if we have lots of luggage? Are stairs involved? Are there porters? Thanks for the info.

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My husband and I are doing this trip in August. We will also be using RO. Where did you have lunch on these days or did you bring your own lunch from the ship? Thank you.

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eileen and jay- Thanks for your kind comments. I learned from the experiences of others, so it is fun to try to return the favor!

 

babylene- Victoria Coach Station is not hard to navigate with luggage. I didn't notice porters, but I don't recall any stairs. If you order your tickets in advance, leave one person near the entrance with the luggage. The other one can go to the will-call area. You do not need to wait in the long line! There is a special line for pre-paid tickets. I was very concerned because the website mentioned a luggage size and weight limit. However, that didn't seem to be enforced as there were about 18 Constellation passengers on our bus, all with lots of suitcases! The bus was supposed to terminate at the Dover ferry port, but the driver was kind enough to take us all the way to the pier. (It is a very short distance, but would be difficult to walk as a busy road comes between the two places. We were planning to take a taxi from the ferry port to the pier, but were lucky that the driver got special permission to take us.)

 

cruising diva- We brought food from the ship the first day. We brought several soft coolers with us on the cruise, and ordered room service the night before. The guides liked the ham and cheese baguette sandwiches. We also brought some bottled water, fruit, and snacks such as trail mix. After we returned from our first day tour, we read the cruise news which said not to bring food off of the ship. We really hadn't noticed that before, but I think they said that in every port. We ate lunch at Our Petersburg restaurant the 2nd day. We were charged $17 for lunch, and it was good. I would recommend it if you are considering a restaurant lunch.

 

Please feel free to ask any more questions!

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babylene, I forgot to mention that I hope that your hotel is reasonably close to the coach station. Taxi fare in London can be expensive (as is EVERYTHING!!!!) I heard some people who stayed at a hotel (I think it was a Hilton, but am not sure) complain because it was far from the major tourist sites and they had to pay high taxi fares to go anywhere. Be sure and use the tube system, it is wonderful except when you are dragging luggage around!

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Thank you Aqua. So far we are doing the air/cruise. But I may change it and fly in a few days early. In that case I will forget about the Celebrity transfers and book the bus as you did. Do you have the website? Did you take a taxi from the airport to London? Did you like your hotel? So many questions! Thanks

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babylene, We took the Gatwick Express train from the airport to Victoria Station. We were able to buy 4 tickets for the price of 2 at the airport ticket office. The train was easy and nice. The website is http://www.gatwickexpress.com/

If you are flying into Heathrow, there is also a train, but I don't have any experience with it. The website is http://www.heathrowexpress.com/

My sister-in-law took the subway from Heathrow and found it a challenge with their luggage. The train would probably have been a better choice.

 

We were very happy with the Holiday Inn London-Bloomsbury. It had been recommended by a Cruise Critic poster. By London standards, it was reasonable priced. It was airconditioned and the rooms weren't cruise-ship small as so many European hotels are. We had a family room for 4 people and were very pleased. The location is also great. You can take a photo tour of the hotel on Holiday Inn's website.

 

I know you are doing Celebrity's air-sea package and that is probably fine. But just a word of warning- their flight schedules may not be great. My parents had to get air deviation because they were scheduled on a flight with a 40% on-time record that was supposed to meet the last flight out of the country from Chicago. They ended up being routed through Dallas, and that flight was delayed. They made the sailing, but I know of 3 people (a single lady and a grandmother with a child) who did not get to the ship until late on the second day. They completely missed Paris/Normandy. That was not totally Celebrity's fault, as there were airport problems. But had they gone a day or 2 early, that would have been avoided. The grandmother was very upset,as she had chosen the Constellation just to take the child to Paris.

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I am going to let my DH read what you wrote! I would not be too happy if I missed the first 2 days. The way the airlines are these days, anything can go wrong. I was thinking that in summer, we would be spared, but obviously snowstorms aren't the only problems!

 

I will check out the Holiday Inn website. Thanks for all your information. I saved your websites.

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I didn't want to scare you with the stories of the people who missed the ship, but I thought you should know what I saw. I actually met the people I talked about, and I know there were more. The single traveler told me about a group that missed the ship, flew to Paris, and then couldn't find the Celebrity representative at CDG. They ended up taking a taxi to Le Havre and arrived before we sailed. But most people arrived on time without major problems. We were glad we did the 2 days pre-cruise because it helped with the jet lag, we had a time buffer if there were delays, plus we enjoyed the wonderful city of London.

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Aqua, thanks for the great review! I love to read what other people have thought before we sail. I was just wondering if you or anyone you met on board had the opportunity to dine in the specialty restaurant? If you or someone you met did what did they have and was it worth the extra $$.

Also, I was wondering if you had your hair done on any of the formal nights and who you had in the spa for that service? Thanks so much for answering these questions. Oh, a question from my husband, do you remember any of the movies they had on the ship?

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Thanks for your nice comments. I'm sorry but we didn't go to the specialy restaurant or the spa, nor did anyone I knew. The Assistant Hotel Director told us that the restaurant was outstanding, and he recommended that we go. However, we were so happy with the regular dining room (and our waiter, Marius) that we never felt the need to eat there. We did go and look at it- it's lovely. We used the gym almost every day, and that is very nice. But the people who work in there weren't very helpful- they never seemed to have a clue when a machine wouldn't work or when we had other questions.

 

Here is a list of some of the movies onboard. There may be more, but my husband is holding the cruise news hostage while he organizes the photos!

The Company, Master and Commander, Monster, Tripletts of Belleville, Fog War, The Cooker, House of Sand and Fog, and Girl with the Pearl Earing.

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Thanks Aqua,

It's allways nice to read a favorable review of our upcoming cruise. We are on the Constellation Aug.14. By coincidence we a staying at the Bloomsbury Holiday Inn and taking National Express to Dover where we are staying over night in a B&B. We plan to take the tube from Heathrow to Russell Sq. We did it two years ago with no problem. We just have to pack light. I'm sure I will post a report when I return.

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SteveS, I wish we had been able to go early to Dover. I hear the castle is wonderful! I hope you have a great trip!

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There is a train directly from Gatwyck to Victoria Station. There is a train from Victoria Station to Dover (Dover Priory)about every hour, train trip takes about 2 .5 hrs and train station is very close to the bus stationTaxi cab from train station to the Pier in Dover is about Five pounds, $10. If you want the bus, the Victoria Coach Terminal (bus satin) is about a block from Victoria Station (I saw no porters or luggage carts), but it is easier just to go from the Airport>Vic.Station>Dover. From Heathrow, take the subway from Terminal 3 ( one subway change) to Vic station(about 45 minutes). Hope this helps.

Stan

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Hi! We booked a different itinerary, but I am very interested in your report concerning transportation from the airport to London and from London to Dover. As of now, we have the ship's air/transfers. But...if it is not too difficult to do it on our own (I am worried about all the luggage, of course!) that would be our choice. I have read about the National Express from Victoria Coach Station to Dover. If we take a taxi to the station, is it difficult to get from the entrance to the actual bus if we have lots of luggage? Are stairs involved? Are there porters? Thanks for the info.

The train, about every 40 minutes, from Victoria Station (about 2.5 hrs)goes direct to Dover (Dover Priory)and a taxi to the pier is about 10 minutes.

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aqua: Thanks for your review and answers to questions! We are on the last Constellation Baltic cruise this year. I have a few questions:

 

1. We also use the gym a lot when on cruises. Does the Constellation have the elliptical trainers?

2. Does the gym have the disinfectant spray?

3. The Fog as a movie - is that the Robert McNamara Fog of War?

4. Do you know if Elena (Romania) was working in the Photography Shop? (she went from Galaxy to Constellation, but might be on her holiday now)

 

Thanks!

TDC

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TDC,

The Constellation has 5 or 6 eliptical trainers and does have disinfectant solution available. Sorry but I don't know about the movie or Elena. I'm happy to try to answer any questions. I hope you have a great cruise, the ship is wonderful!

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aqua: Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate it. Have to have that elliptical trainer :D and disinfectant solution although I'll probably bring Clorax wipes anyway!

 

I thought of another question (well, actually a series of related questions) that you may or may not be able to answer. We also are going in a small group (8) with Red October in St. Petersburg. Are you aware of any do's or don'ts with video cameras (small mini-DVD digital camcorder) or digital cameras at the sights in St. Petersburg? I think there is a fee to use a camcorder. Do you know if we notify Red October (in advance or that day?) and then they make the arrangements for using it? Is it a one-time fee or a per-sight fee to use it? Can we just take it inside the sights and not use it (I'd rather have it on me than in the van)? Or do we have to check it somewhere until we're finished with that sight? Any other video restrictions that you are aware of in St. Petersburg or the other countries? To narrow down the type of museums, we mainly plan to visit a couple museums with pre-historic artifacts (Helsinki and I think Stockholm - or maybe Copenhagen) and ship museums in Oslo and Stockholm: Viking Ship, Kon-Tiki, Fram, and Vasa.

 

Oh, leave it to me -- another question. Did you find Oslo, Stockholm, Tallin, and Copenhagen would take US $ or Euros for small things like museum entrances (plan to get Oslo Card with credit card, Euros for Helsinski, & credit card for Red October) and a coffee at a sidewalk cafe or should I plan to convert at ATMs? We'll have Euros, pounds, and US $ (plus credit card & ATM card).

 

Thanks again!

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There are lots of camera restrictions in St. Petersburg! And they have very serious looking ladies enforcing them in some of the palaces.....Your Red October guide will tell you at each site how much it costs to use a camera. A still camera averaged around $5 and a video cost between $9-14 per site. (The Hermitage was the most expensive, but the church at Peter and Paul Fortress was free- the only exception to the fees.) Our guide usually collected the fee before we disembarked from the bus You can photograph the outside gardens at Peterhof and Catherine's Palace without charge, but you have to hide your camera when you go inside if you haven't paid the fee. You aren't allowed to take photos of the Amber Room in Catherine's Palace, except from the doorway. We didn't go into the Gold Room, so I don't know about that. We designated my husband as the official group photographer, and everyone else left their cameras in the van. Actually, I left my purse in the van at each stop. I was probably brave or foolish to do so, but I felt that RO was more trustworthy than the people on the street! I also left my coat there- it was hot in the museums even in the cool, rainy weather we experienced.

 

Before we left the US, I obtained currency for England, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and counties using the Euro. With the expection of the UK, I probably could have waited and used ATMs or the ship's bank. The purser was open lilberal hours, and converted money both ways. (bills only) However, you couldn't obtain money for Poland, Estonia or Russia from the ship. In those countries, we used credit cards and US dollars without a problem. We did have to obtain Polish Zloty for the train, and we got that at an ATM. In the other countires, we used the local currency. We never tried to use US dollars, so I don't know if they would have been accepted.

 

Regarding museums, we didn't go in them except in St. Petersburg. My family loves walking the streets, so that is what we did mostly. However, my parents visited the Viking Museum and the Vasa Museum. Everyone said that the Viking one was so crowded that it was hard to see anything, and the Vasa was a favorite. I'm sorry that we missed it, because it was on my "to do list."

 

Please feel free to ask any more questions. I'm glad to share our experiences because everyone helped me!

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aqua: Thanks so much for your information. I'll pick & choose where I'll use the video camera in St. Petersburg and will use the video camera to do the stills too since it has that capability (versus using a better digital still camera). We plan to get off the ship as soon as possible and beeline right over to the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Hopefully, it will be less crowded since we'll be there at the very end of August. The Viking Ship Museum is at the top of my priority list along with Finland, which is where my grandmother came from, and of course, St. Petersburg.

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