May 2016 - Celebrity Constellation to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean
We are an American couple in our mid-60’s who were on a B2B in the Mediterranean and Adriatic for a total of 22 nights. We very much enjoyed the first one of our 12-night Mediterranean cruise which started on April 27 from Civitavecchia and ended on May 9 in Venice. I posted a summary of that cruise with details about the “Constellation”, food, entertainment, service and the ports called “Very Nice Mediterranean Cruise on Connie” if you’d like to check it out.
This review is for the second part of the B2B which was the 10-night Adriatic cruise RT from Venice starting May 9. It was our 14th on Celebrity and 37th overall. Since we’d been on the “Constellation” six other times, the “Infinity” twice and the “Millennium” once, we knew the ship and its features well.
Our experience on the ship on this cruise was very similar to the first one of our B2B. Our belongings were seamlessly moved from Cabin #8036 (2B Unobstructed Balcony) to Cabin #3008 (Ocean View) which were near the forward elevators on the starboard side. The layout of both cabins was very similar with a shelf under the window where the balcony door would be. The storage was adequate, but it would be nice to have a few more drawers in the closet. Since there are only two hooks on the walls, we bring magnetic hooks to give us some additional options for hanging clothes and papers.
The food in the MDR was very good and the pizza and pasta station in the buffet were good. The entertainment was excellent and we continued to enjoy three production shows (“iHollywood”, “The Land of Make Believe” and “Celebrate The World”) even though we’ve seen them many times. The cast was terrific especially Robert who also was a very funny guest on Celebrity’s version of the “Tonight Show”. Cruise Director Maarten and Activities Manager Taylor were the best team we’ve seen anywhere as they started the party and kept the fun going. Graeme Kelleher is without question the best Captain’s Club Host we’ve ever had. The DJs also kept playing danceable music in the Reflections Lounge until late several nights even though only a few couples were still there (sometimes after 2:00 am). The overall service at all levels was great. We’d had lots of problems with “Select Dining” on the first cruise getting tables in our preferred section, but it improved on this cruise with a couple of exceptions. So, overall we had an excellent time.
As with the first cruise, we had the Classic Beverage Package as one of our included perks. We really liked being able to get bottles of water when leaving the ship on every port call and during the day while onboard. We also got cans of soda and glasses of OJ whenever we needed them. In the evenings, we’d have several glasses of wine with dinner and other drinks in the theater as well as the bars and lounges. It was really nice to order whatever you wanted and not worry about signing for anything. It also lubricated our dancing! Obviously, there’s a balance for drinking alcohol late at night vs. being ready to go on an excursion the next morning, but we adjusted as needed during the 22 days/nights on the two cruises.
There were eight ports and two days at seas on this itinerary. We still like to do what we can on own but since we’re getting older, we did more ship’s excursions than in the past. This time, it was pretty skewed as we only did one port completely on our own and seven with the ship. Here’s a summary of what we did in each port:
We were in Venice overnight on the last day of first of our B2Bs. We walked from the ship docked at Marittimato pier to the People Mover station. There was a long line of people waiting to buy tickets for about $2. We didn’t bother to use it as it wasn’t much longer of a walk into Venice and we probably got there faster than people at the end of the line (and we saved $4). Once there, we each bought a pricey 24-hour vaporetto pass for 20 Euro (about $23) and went to Murano and Burano. Note that it took about three hours for that route so you need to allow enough time (especially if some of the vaporettos are so packed, you’d have to wait for the next one to arrive). The following day, we continued to use the same pass to go St. Marks. We had the typical Venetian experience as we wandered around getting lost until we found the train station. We then took our last boat ride and returned to the ship in plenty of time for the start of the second of our B2B cruises.
In Koper, Slovenia, we did the “KR16 Lake Bled and Island” tour at $130 pp. It was a little pricey, but the lake is a long distance from the port. We’d been there in 2009 on a land tour, but that was in February so the boats didn’t go out to Slovenia’s only island. It took several hours to get there by bus, but we enjoyed the boat ride with one man paddling with two oars. We trekked up the steep stairs to the top of the hill, but unfortunately the church was under repair so you couldn’t go in. However, it was still nice to get there.
After that part of the tour, we were offered two options: you could stay in the town to shop, eat or just wander around or the bus would take you up to the Bled Castle. If you opted for the castle, you could walk up a fairly steep cobblestone ramp to the ticket booth and get somewhat of a view. For 10 Euro, you could enter the courtyard where you got the full panorama including the island. While we were in line, a man gathered 10 people and got us in at a discount at 8 Euro each. There were more than 10 of us from the bus so the guide could have mentioned this to us so we could have done the same within our group.
Once inside, there was an interesting museum, a wine cellar and an indoor restaurant plus outside tables overlooking the walls. The restrooms were free even if you didn’t buy anything. Even though we’d been there before, it was well worth the small additional cost (especially since we’re not shoppers and would have been a little bored in town).
In Zadar, Croatia, we booked the “RZ13 Krka National Park – Half Day” tour at $85 each. We drove into the mountains for a couple of hours and finally reached the park. There were hundreds of small and large streams and waterfalls everywhere as you walked for about an hour on a boardwalk around a loop. About halfway out, there were some picnic tables where we had sandwiches, cookies and sodas that we brought from the ship. It was an interesting tour although some avid photographers blocked the path many times to take a ridiculous amount of “selfies”.
We’d been to Split, Croatia before and seen Diocletian’s Palace and the other major sights in the town. So, we booked the ship’s “AT08 Ancient Salona and the Town of Trogir” (aka “Roman Ruins of Salona and Trogir”) for $60 each. It was a very gray day and drizzly, but we were able to see the ruins in Salona without getting soaked. We walked around the area to see how large the town used to be when it was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. There was also a small museum which had free restrooms. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to visit the amphitheater as it was too far to see it within the time constraints on this tour.
We then continued to the town of Trogir which was founded about 2,300 years ago. It’s said to be the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex not only in the Adriatic but in all of Central Europe. There were many limestone buildings and we visited several churches. We were also treated to some Croatian songs from an acapella group of five men who were selling CDs. After trying to stay out of the rain on the promenade, I climbed up the bell tower of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence which was included in the admission price as part of the tour. There were quite a few stairs leading to a steep ladder and a tight squeeze to get to the highest level which offered a great view of the tiled roofs below. The only problem was that it started to pour and the rain came flying in through the open sides of the tower. I was soaked to the bone, but so was everyone else as they made their way back to the bus!
In Dubrovnik, we did the “DU10 Highlights of Dubrovnik Riviera” for $73 each. We went to higher ground on the bus where we stopped to take pictures of the panoramic view of the walled city below. We drove further to the Konavoski Dvori restaurant which was next to a river with some of the water routed to waterwheels. We were served some local meat, cheese and bread plus a choice of a glass of red or white wine. It was only about 10:00 am so it was a little early to be drinking, but it was a nice stop for a break and restrooms.
We continued down the coast to Cavtat, a fishing village and seaside resort, where we had about an hour of free time. The promenade was nice and had many benches where you could rest and look out over the quiet harbor. We then returned to Dubrovnik where we had a guided walking tour. The streets were very crowded and noisy so we weren’t able to hear much of the commentary (even with the earbuds for the “whispers”). Since it was early May and there were only two large cruise ships in port, we couldn’t imagine what the crowds would be like in the high summer season with many more ships there. Dubrovnik is the classic example of the double-edged sword of cruising: being able to see wonderful sights from the comfort of your ship vs. finding an overwhelming number of people doing the same thing which lessens the experience for everyone.
At that point, we decided to break away from our group and the crowds to head for the cable car station above the city. On the stairway to get there, many shops were selling RT tickets for 120 Kuna ($18 pp), but we weren’t sure if they were higher priced than the official venue. It turned out that they were the same price, but you still had to wait in the same queue with or w/o tickets. It was not an original idea as there was a pretty long line when we arrived. Some people bailed out to take a taxi up to the top which made it a little quicker, but we still waited for about 45 minutes before we got to the ticket booth.
There are two cable cars, one going up and one coming down. They each hold about 35 passengers and move quickly to the top or bottom in less than 5 minutes. Once you’re up there, you’ll get a great view of the walled city on the sea side and the mountains on the other side. There’s a restaurant, a small amphitheater where you can eat your own food and free restrooms. We brought sandwiches and cookies from the ship and relaxed there enjoying the views in all directions. There was a line for going down, but it didn’t take too long. It’s definitely worth the cost if the weather is clear.
Once we got to the bottom, we walked back to the city, went to the Pile Gate area and joined the short queue for the shuttle bus to the ship. It’s free if you have any Celebrity excursion sticker or you can buy tickets if needed. It took about 15 minutes to get back.
In Kotor, Montenego, we booked the “KV19 Seaside Resorts of Budva and Kotor” at $65. On the way to Budva, the bus stopped at an overlook so we could see Sveti Stefan, the famous high-end resort island on the Montenegrin Riviera. There was a lot of construction going on to widen the road and to build more hotels and casinos. Once in Budva, the weather wasn’t great, but we did a walking tour to the stone fort, citadel, church and other buildings above a nice harbor and a beach with some pounding surf. We had about an hour of free time to walk around with an option to get some food and drinks at a local restaurant.
We then returned to Kotor where we were led on a walking tour through the Sea Gate inside the walls. It’s one of the best preserved medieval old towns in the Adriatic and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The architecture was interesting and there were many shops. If the weather wasn’t so gray and drizzly, I might have attempted to walk up the many steps to St. John’s Castle high above the city. Maybe we’ll give that a shot next time.
When we were in Naples on the first cruise of our B2B, we did the ferry on our own to Capri and Anacapri. As we’d been to Pompeii many times, we opted for the ship’s “NP06 The Ruins of Herculaneum” for $73. We were surprised to see that the site was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood in the modern city/commune of Ercolano. Our first view of the ruins was looking down from above into the excavations. Our guide was great as he explained that only one fourth of the buried city has been uncovered so you got a sense of how large it was at that time. Unlike Pompeii, it was quickly buried in ash so it was virtually untouched when it was excavated. Casts were made of many skeletons of the people who were instantly killed by the intense heat of the eruption and are placed where they found them. The tour was very comprehensive as we visited pretty much every street, house and building. We’d definitely recommend it as a nice alternative to the crowds at Pompeii.
In Catania, Sicily, we did another ship’s excursion called “CQ21 Panoramic Catania” for $55. Unfortunately, this was the most disappointing tour of our B2B as the city and surrounding area were very gray and rundown with litter everywhere which looked like it had been there for years. The bus dropped us off at an overlook of the Aci Castello, a castle built on black lava almost 1,000 years ago. We then did a “drive by” through some cities and historical areas, but we didn’t stop again. We returned by the same route to Catania where we had a walking tour. This was certainly better as the buildings and church exteriors were very interesting. We also saw the Roman ruins and the fountain from the underground river that provides drinking water to the city. Our guide also helped us to buy two deep-fried arancinis for 1.80 Euro ($2) each. They were the size of your fist and both had rice with one having tomato added and the other with eggplant and cheese. It was a very filling local treat and the highlight of this tour.
At the end of the cruise, we booked the ship’s transfer by bus to the Marco Polo airport at $34 each. We did that to simplify things so we wouldn’t have to hassle with cabs or water taxis at the port. We got on the Celebrity bus w/o any problems and things were looking fine. However, when we got to the airport area, the bus stopped in a parking lot and everyone had to roll their bags up an incline in the rain with construction in progress. There were no carts to use and really not much direction from the staff as to what to do. Apparently, their buses are not allowed to drive to the covered airport entrance which was a surprise to us and the other guests. Not exactly the best way to end an otherwise nice cruise!
All in all, we had a great time, even with so many ports in so few days. About the only thing that didn’t please us during the cruise was Celebrity charging $12 pp for transfers from the ship’s port to some of the cities. If they have to dock that far away, they really should be included. We did ship’s excursions those days so we didn’t have to pay, but it’s not fair to the independent travelers.
In the coming ten months, we have three more cruises booked on the “Millennium” in Asia and another three on the “Solstice” in New Zealand, South Pacific and Australia. We’re definitely enjoying our experiences with Celebrity and we hope that our satisfaction continues.