Zip01002

Zip01002
Second Mate

Joined: 05/18/2015
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Celebrity Constellation

May 2016 - Celebrity Constellation to Europe - Eastern Mediterranean

Great Adriatic Cruise on "Connie" B2B

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.

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Celebrity Constellation

April 2016 - Celebrity Constellation to Europe - Mediterranean

Very Nice Mediterranean Cruise on "Connie

We are an American couple in our mid-60’s.  We very much enjoyed this 12-night Mediterranean cruise which was our 13th on Celebrity and 30+ overall.  We’d been on the “Constellation” five other times, the “Infinity” twice and the “Millennium” once so we knew the ship and its features well.  This was the first cruise of a B2B with the second one being a 10-nighter in the Adriatic.

 

We flew into Rome from Boston and arranged with the Triano hotel in Civitavecchia to transfer there from the airport in a private van.  It cost 110 Euro (about $125) for the two of us, but it was worth it.  We stayed one night to ensure that we wouldn’t miss the boat.  It was reasonably priced at 94 Euro ($110) including breakfast with cappuccinos.  The location was fine as we were able to walk down to the beachfront and the pedestrian shopping area in about 15 minutes.  They also offered a free shuttle to the cruise terminal so we signed up for the first one to arrive early and were the second and third people to board.  It wasn’t fancy, but we’d recommend it for a pre-cruise stay.

 

The ports included Naples, Valletta, Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, Kusadasi (for Ephesus), Piraeus (for Athens), Souda (for Chania in Crete).  They were all interesting and the weather cooperated which made each day even better.  We also had two days at sea which were needed to rest up.  This cruise ended with an extra overnight in Venice so we had time to see the city again during the two days before our B2B started.

 

We booked a “Guaranteed Ocean View” and we were pleasantly surprised to get an upgrade to an unobstructed Balcony forward on Deck 8.  Our cabin #8036 was right next to the forward elevator lobby so they was sometimes some noise from people using that area, but it really wasn’t an issue as it was pretty quiet as there were other cabins on the decks above and below us.  It also didn’t have the overhang from Deck 10 which many of the Deck 9 balconies had. 

 

The TV offered quite a few channels including International CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox News, BBC, Euronews, Sky News, ESPN and ESPN2 and plus the usual Celebrity channels.  They had three free movies rotating at set times each day and PPV movies but no free movies on demand.

 

The food in the San Marco MDR was very good with a wide variety of choices each night.  The overall service in all areas and at all levels was excellent.  We were greeted in the hallways by all of the crew which added to our experience.  We’re also glad that many of the other guests still dress up for the “Evening Chic” evenings as it adds a touch of class to our cruises.

 

Maarten and Taylor did a great job as Cruise Director and Activities Manager.  They seem to have a terrific working relationship and are very friendly and approachable.  They made sure that people were having a good time and did a super job getting the parties going throughout the ship.  Their personalities and senses of humor made the fun contagious.

 

We also had the pleasure to renew old acquaintances with some officers and staff from other cruises.  They included Graeme Kelleher who is without question the best Captain’s Club Host we’ve ever had.  He appeared to personally engage just about all of the guests at the “Elite” events and was always interesting to talk to about his upbringing in Southern Africa and his time onboard with his wife Amy who is an excellent Stage Manager.  We were particularly pleased when Graeme selected us to be treated to special dinner with the Guest Services Manager and Food and Beverages Manager.  Along with them and two other couples, we had a wonderful evening of food, wine and camaraderie at the Tuscan Grille.  We were also happy to see Boban, our friendly Beverage Manager and Cecilia, our favorite sommelier.

 

All three of the production shows (“iHollywood”, “The Land of Make Believe” and “Celebrate The World”) were excellent.  We’d seen the same shows on other Celebrity ships, but we found this cast of singers and dancers to be the best we’ve seen on all of our past cruises.  The aerial artists were amazing (although we always worry that they might slip on the moving ship).  The dancers also did several shows in the Reflections Lounge.  Elyria (the late night show for adults only) was a pleasant surprise as it’s unique to the Celebrity fleet.  We really enjoy the live orchestra and hope that Celebrity continues to keep them.  The two DJs did a great job keeping the party going late at night in the Reflections Lounge, even if there were only a few couples dancing (sometimes after 2:00 am).

 

The other performers were also very good.  We were in the third row for the show that Matthew J. Dowden did so we were as close as you could get to his card tricks.  We still don’t know how he was able to do the sleight of hand so smoothly.  The “West End” singer, Phillipa Healey, had a great range of song types and could really handle her operatic solos.

 

Casablanca was the “House Band” and we saw them in most of the venues.  The musicians were very competent and could do a range from jazz to Santana (and maybe even Jimi Hendrix if they were let loose).  However, their singer, Maria, seemed to have technical problems in every venue and even missed some slots.  She was obviously reading the lyrics to the songs from her tablet to almost every song which was very distracting.  That’s fine for karaoke, but not for a singer in a professional band.  They appeared to be miscast in this role and probably should have been the “Dance Band”.  We’ve seen many of these bands on Celebrity with much more energy and charisma so Casablanca was very disappointing.

 

Since we understand that there will be some problems during any cruise or other vacation, we typically accentuate the positives and ignore the occasional negatives.  However, we consistently had difficulties with our “Select Dining” experience which impacted our enjoyment.  Well before we arrived onboard, we’d made reservations online for a table for two at dinner each night in the San Marco MDR.  The first couple of nights, we were seated at a table with Halim as our waiter, Igor as our Assistant waiter and Cecilia as sommelier in a section near the railing overlooking the lower level.  We were very happy their service and banter as well as the table’s location so after dinner, we asked the ladies at the front of the house to see how we could arrange to be in that area again at any table at or near the railing.  They told us that it was not possible to reserve a table for the next night or any other night, but that they’d make a note about our preference.  We thought this procedure was a bit odd as we’ve done reservations for the next night on other Celebrity cruises, but we went along with it.

 

We arrived on the next night at our appointed time and mentioned that we’d like to be seated where we’d been before.  The lady smiled and quickly printed out our ticket so we were surprised to be led to a completely different section in a line of tables for two which were about a foot apart.  We sat there for about ten minutes and nobody came over so I went back to the front desk and asked why we were seated there.  They really didn’t have any explanation so we waited until they could find a table in our section.  We continued to come in at our reserved time, but this situation didn’t get much better.  We told them that we were flexible on when we’d come in and we willing to wait.  We then arrived earlier several times in the hope that we’d be accommodated, but we were still seated in various areas.

 

After we were seated, we’d then see open tables that would have be perfect for us, but instead they’d just seat us anywhere they felt like.  We weren’t asking a specific table or a specific time so we’d expect that they could make some effort to try to place us as requested.  Even though we were overdressed if anything and I wore a tuxedo several times, it was the same routine.

 

We really have no idea why this particular group handled seating like this.  Just as the servers in the fixed seatings get used to the diners’ preferences, that’s also been our experience on just about all other cruises for “Select Dining”.  In March, we’d been on a 14-night Southern Caribbean cruise on the “Eclipse” where their staff made sure that we were consistently able to do that.  It’s actually counterproductive to the staff and the guests to randomly be bounced around the dining room from night to night and having to get used to each other.  We felt that this was a totally unnecessary runaround that didn’t benefit anybody.

 

Maybe this was an aberration with these ladies on the “Constellation” so we brought it to Celebrity’s attention in our survey as it was the only negative experience that we had on the entire cruise.  In the coming months, we have three more cruises booked on the “Millennium” and another three on the “Solstice” so we’re hoping to get an explanation and some advice from Celebrity on how we can avoid this situation in the future.

 

We also gave them a couple of minor suggestions to make their guests’ stay better:

Post the dinner menus online so that they can anticipate the evening’s offerings

Add some free “on demand” movies to choose from as you do for PPV as is done on the “Solstice” class ships.

 

In the ports, 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 five on our own and three with the ship.

 

In Naples, we went out on our own to Capri on one of the ferries that were docked about a ten minute walk from the ship.  It cost about $42 RT for each of us which was a little pricey but much less than the ship’s unguided transfer at $100 each.  We queued for about 45 minutes to take a small crowded bus up to the town of Anacapri which costs about $6 more each.  It was touristy and crowded, but we enjoyed seeing it again.

 

In Valletta, the ship arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon so there wasn’t time to do much.  So, we went up on the elevator for 1 Euro each to the Upper Baraka Gardens and on to St. John’s Co-Cathedral.  We’d been in Malta before, but we didn’t have much money then so we weren’t willing to pay the 10 Euro entrance fee.  This time, we definitely didn’t want to miss it.  The interior was very ornate and the included audio guide helped us to understand what we were seeing.  After that, we walked around the walls of the city and the Lower Baraka Gardens and then went back down to the ship on the elevator which is free in that direction.

 

In Santorini, we’d done the usual tours so we booked the “SO65 Kaiki Ride and Volcano Hike”.  After tendering to shore, a small wooden ship took us to a nearby island where we then trekked up some pretty steep trails to the top.  It was strenuous as advertised but it was worth doing.  This tour included a RT pass for the cable cars to Fira so we went up and took a public bus to Oia for about $4 each.  It’s a bargain as we really enjoy seeing this amazingly picturesque town so we keep going there when we’re in this port.

 

Next was Kusadasi with Ephesus nearby.  It’s a very popular site and is certainly worth doing if you haven’t been there.  Since we’ve been there four times, we took the day off and went to the Starbuck’s on the pier and each spent several hours on the internet in a comfortable chair for the price of a cup of coffee.

 

In Rhodes, we unfortunately arrived on a national holiday of Easter Tuesday so all of the museums and archeological sites were closed.  We had planned to take a public bus to Lindos to see the acropolis there, but there was no point since you couldn’t get in.  We’d hoped to see the Palace of the Grand Masters last time but it was under renovation.  That’s now completed, but it was also closed so we’ll have to wait until we’re back there.  We walked around the town and the walls until the rain poured down and everyone got soaked by the unavoidable rivers of water in the cobblestone streets.

 

In Mykonos, we’d been there before so we skipped the ship’s day pass transfer into town at $5 each and walked in the other direction over a hill to a beach to get some exercise.  There’s no real sidewalk so you need to watch out for traffic, but it was fine and served the purpose.

 

In Piraeus, we skipping our usual train trip into Athens and opted for the “PR01 Corinth Canal”.  After a couple of hours on the bus, we arrived in Corinth and went out on a bridge to see the canal from above.  The bus went down to water level where our group hopped on a private boat to traverse the canal.  They provided a surprising nice selection of local Greek food including spanakopita, shrimp, octopus and other snacks, washed down with a small glass of Ouzo.

 

When docked in Souda, we took the “IQ10 Real Crete” which drove around the island to some high spots with great views of the water.  It ended in Chania with over an hour of free time.  We’re not shoppers so we were a little concerned about killing time, but the harbor area and markets were very nice and we then wished we’d had more time.

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Celebrity Eclipse

March 2016 - Celebrity Eclipse to Caribbean - Southern

Very Nice 14-Night Cruise

We’re a couple in our mid-sixties and this was our 36th cruise and our 12th on Celebrity.  The past two winters, we were on the “Equinox” in the Caribbean and enjoyed both cruises.  We decided to do it again this March and selected this cruise as it was fourteen days with interesting ports.  Also, we hoped that length would limit the number of “Spring Breakers” onboard.  Since there were only a few children and college-age passengers, our plan worked well.

 

Overall, we found the “Eclipse” to be in very good shape.  There were only a few places that we noticed even the normal “wear and tear” of a ship that’s six years old.  The hard-working crew is very visible as they keep the public areas clean and neat.  They even opened bathroom doors to limit what the guests would touch.  The staff in the Oceanview buffet were much quicker in clearing tables and wiping them down than we’ve seen on other ships.

 

We didn’t do the casino, spa or the gym.  We did the hot tub and the inside pool a few times, but didn’t use the outside pool at all.  It was very crowded with sunbathers and noisy so it wasn’t very inviting for us.  We’ve got light skin that easily burns so we deliberately avoid the sun so it’s not a problem for us.  We did notice that more options for sun and shade were available on the forward upper decks away from the pool.

 

We had a 2D obstructed view balcony (Cabin #6204) mid-ship on the starboard side near the atrium elevators.  In that category, the larger lifeboats block the view directly down to the water, but you can see the ocean and shore beyond them.  At that location, we didn’t smell any smoke as that area was on Deck 5 on the port side.

 

The cabin was comfortable and well designed.  There aren’t many drawers, but there’s enough storage in the closet and in the hinged bins above the bed.  There were lots of channels on the flat-screen TV including MSNBC, CNBC, TBS, TNT, BBC, Skynews, etc.

 

Our cabin was extremely quiet.  We hardly ever heard our neighbors unless they were talking on their adjacent balcony.  We were in the cabin many times when we left a port or arrived in the next one and we never knew the ship was moving or stopped.  On the final morning, I woke up at about 6:00 am to see an orange glow so I got my camera to take a picture of the sunrise.  When I opened the curtain, it was coming from a halogen light stand where we were docked at the Port of Miami!

 

Our cabin attendant, Blasido, did an excellent job figuring out when he could refresh our cabin since our hours varied over the course of the cruise.  He was available when needed, but also almost invisible which is what we like.  Our cabin was always perfectly clean and made up without us having to request that anything be done.  

 

We opted for "Select Dining" on Deck 5 in the Moonlight Sonata dining room and were seated the first couple of nights at Table 553 overlooking the lower level.  Jesus, Benito and Yezani were our servers and they turned out to be the best trio of all of our cruises.  As we couldn't make our normal 5:45 dinner time on two of the evenings, we were seated in different sections and were very disappointed with the service there.  So, we made reservations for the rest of the cruise at Table 553 and had our great servers for 12 of the 14 nights.  Jesus and Benito were always professional and attentive without being intrusive and made our dining experience a pleasure each night.  Yezani was especially helpful in selecting the wines to go with the various courses.  He's a very personable sommelier with his solid expertise and friendly approach.

 

We’d read other reviews which said that the food quality had gone down in the MDR.  We found it to still be very good with many tasty options.  The appetizers were especially interesting so sometimes, we’d order four of them and skip the entrée.  We particularly like the Ahi Tuna app and several mains like the Chicken Chiquita and Beef Wellington.  Granted, the steaks on that menu are not the same thick cuts that you’d get in the Murano alternative restaurant, but they were OK.  We also enjoyed the sushi, pizza and Indian food at the Ocean View buffet and the cheeseburgers at the Mast Grille.

 

Among the entertainers, pianist Jordan Peterson was outstanding.  He's extremely talented, but he is really down to earth and easy to talk to.  Jordan genuinely seems to love what he does as he encourages the guests to request songs they'd like to hear (and then can do almost all of them).  Since many people saw him in the lounges, his “Elton John” matinee show with the orchestra at the end of the cruise was well attended and he got a well-deserved standing ovation.  We loved Elliot Finkel when we saw him on the Equinox, but Jordan is our new favorite pianist so we hope to see him again on one of our future Celebrity cruises.  He’s very different from Perry Grant when he was with Celebrity, but we think that Jordan will develop the same sort of loyal fans following him to the various venues.

 

We enjoyed the cast of productions shows (especially Nicola Ward who did her own solo performance).  There’s a new set of three shows: “Rock City”, “Chandelier” and “Topper”.  They have a mix of songs that you’d know plus original scores.  These shows are high energy and loud which was fine for us, but they might be little much for others.  I did the Backstage Tour which I do on most cruises.  Since most of the singers are from the UK, it's amazing to hear their accents when they speak which are entirely unnoticeable when they are singing.  I'm always astonished at how young the singers and dancers are as they are in their early twenties.  They are so poised and professional at such an early.

 

Ryan Joyce is a terrific illusionist (even though we've figured out most of his tricks after seeing him before).  When he does his hypnotism show, he does a great job picking out the most suggestible people and then makes them do some hilarious things.  Why someone would get on stage knowing what's likely to happen is beyond me, but I'm glad that there's no shortage of volunteers!  Also, we’re pleased to report that there is still a live orchestra as it really makes all of the shows more professional and sophisticated.  Most of the other performers were very good although a few that weren’t our style.

 

As usual, we had a beverage package which really makes our cruises more inclusive.  It's great to have a drink before dinner, wine with the meal and afterwards at the show without thinking about the cost or signing a tab.  We also took advantage of the specialty coffees and teas at Al Bacio as well as the bottled waters, cans of soda and fresh squeezed orange juice.

 

For the last four nights of the cruise, we upgraded to the Premium Beverage Package for $10 per day plus the 18% gratuity.  We were then able to get beers, wine and liquors up to $13 which allowed us to get Guinness, Boddington and Sam Adams as well as many more wines, top-shelf liquors and full-size martinis at the Martini Bar.

 

Since we had it, we only went to the daily Captain's Club gathering twice, but we hope that Celebrity continues to host them in a specific venue so that the guests would have an opportunity to meet and get to know each other.  It's disappointing that Michael's Club is still exclusively reserved for passengers in suites, but we know that it's a lost cause to hope Celebrity changes this.

 

One thing that was unusual was the public appearances (or lack thereof) of our Cruise Director Damian and Activities Manager Jane.  Damian introduced the performers and did his other duties, but he wasn't particularly friendly.  When we boarded the first day, we noticed a man standing to our right sort of staring into space.  He didn't say anything to us or any of the other cruisers who were boarding so we were very surprised to find out later that he was the Cruise Director!  At the end of the cruise, I was alone taking pictures of the cast singers/dancers on the TV near the theater and he walked right by me without saying hello.  The only times I saw Jane were on the daily updates on the cabin TV.  On other Celebrity cruises, the CD and AM were much more visible and personable as they interacted more with the guests.  Maybe they were getting some "down time" or in some other venue that we missed.  Anyway, not a big deal, but a little odd for Celebrity.

 

The seven ports of Aruba, Curacao, Barbados, St. Lucia, Antigua, St. Kitts and St. Maarten were just fine with a good mix of five days at sea.  The stop in Curacao included an overnight there rather than a visit to Bonaire which we would have preferred, but maybe it worked for others.  We did six Celebrity excursions and five included snorkeling which unfortunately isn't as good as it used to be.  The ones in Curacao and St. Kitts/Nevis were the best but on other islands, we were taken to different locations from what was listed, ostensibly due to rough seas.  More often than not, there were only a few fish to be seen in murky waters with sand covering some of the reefs.  We know that this is due to hurricanes, global warming and pollution, but it's still disappointing.  The non-snorkeling excursion to Harrison Caves in Barbados was very interesting and was easy for all guests as it used a tram.  The commentary on the bus when we were traveling to and from the caves was very informative (including hearing about Tiger Woods' wedding there).  We’d been to St. Maarten before so we took a day off and stayed on the ship.

 

Overall, we had a great cruise and have booked 8 more with Celebrity in the next 12 months.  We're looking forward to seeing the Mediterranean and Adriatic on the "Constellation", Asia on the "Millennium" and Australia, New Zealand and the South Seas on the "Solstice".  So, we hope that Celebrity keeps up the good work.

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Norwegian Dawn

May 2015 - Norwegian Dawn to Bermuda

Cigarette Smoke-a-thon on NCL Dawn

We're a couple in our 60's who went on a 7-night cruise to Bermuda from Boston on the NCL Dawn.  We've been on 30+ cruises on various lines (with 11 on Celebrity).  This was our third cruise on NCL.  We knew that the guest demographics would be different from the ones on the Celebrity and other lines, but this was quite a departure from what we’re used to.  Since it was only seven nights, it attracted a younger crowd who could get away from work with a quick cruise w/o flying and it appeared to be the first cruise for most of them. 

Apparently NCL encourages smoking as you could do that anywhere in the casino and on any of the outside decks.  You could even smell it on people’s clothes in the elevators and in the dining rooms and bars so you could never really get away from it.  We’d be sneezing and getting stuffed up from all the smoke.  There was even an ashtray mounted in the toilet area of the bathroom as they allowed you to smoke in the cabins until 2012!  

We booked an outside porthole cabin to get the drink package included.  The queen size bed was fine but the cabin was so small that you had to crawl into the bed as the other furniture blocked access on the sides.  The buffet was really crowded and the food there was bad.   The dinners in the MDRs were passable, but they were pretty basic and not very interesting.  On Celebrity, we look forward to each meal but on this cruise, we had to drag ourselves there.  The décor was tacky and things were worn down.  There were no formal nights and people dressed down in every venue.

On the other hand, the staff was hardworking and friendly and the bars, shows and bands were very good.  We danced more on this cruise than on others since you weren’t on display in the center of a room as you would be on other ships.  We partied every night as we enjoyed our drink package.  We’re pretty adaptable so that made things somewhat acceptable.  However, we were very happy when the seven days were over so we could get off!

We did this cruise as a way to check out NCL so on that level, we met that goal.  This experience may not be typical of other NCL cruises and ships but we’ll be extra careful before going with them again.  In the meantime, we’ll likely stick with Celebrity and may also try RCCL again now that we’re Diamond with them.

Bermuda was a pleasant surprise.  We did our own tours as it was very easy and safe to do that. The ship arrived at 11:00 am so we walked around the Royal Naval Dockyard area the first afternoon.  We went to the National Museum of Bermuda which is a 5-10 minutes walk from the ship.  The Commissioner’s House was closed due to damage from a hurricane but we enjoyed visiting the other museums and walking on ramparts.  We also spent about an hour at the Dolphin Quest watching the staff and guests interacting with the dolphins.  It was surprisingly interesting (especially since it’s free to watch).

The second day we bought a 2-day ferry/bus pass.  We took the first ferry of the day to St. George and then connected by bus to visit the Crystal Caves.  It was a little pricy at $30 pp for the two caves but it was much cheaper than the ship’s tour.  We took other buses and stayed on just to see St. David’s and got off to check out several beaches before we headed to Hamilton for the ferry back to the ship.  The last day we took the bus to Horseshoe Beach and swam there.  We then went to Hamilton and walked around the town and saw plenty of locals wearing Bermuda shorts.

The weather was perfect so we really enjoyed our time there.  It’s a really nice destination and doesn’t have the crusty Third World feel of some of the Caribbean  islands. So, we now know why people like it some much.

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Zip01002's Tips

Naples, Italy - 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.
Catania, Sicily - 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.
Koper, Slovenia - 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).
Venice, Italy - 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.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - 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.
Zadar, Croatia - 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”.
Split, Croatia - 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!
Kotor, Montenegro - 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.
Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation - The sightlines in the theater are very good from almost any location. So, you can sometimes arrive late and still see the show if you don't need to sit down front.
Valletta, Malta - In Valletta, the ship arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon so there wasn’t time to do much. So, we went up on the elevator for 1 Euro each to the Upper Baraka Gardens and on to St. John’s Co-Cathedral. We’d been in Malta before, but we didn’t have much money then so we weren’t willing to pay the 10 Euro entrance fee. This time, we definitely didn’t want to miss it. The interior was very ornate and the included audio guide helped us to understand what we were seeing. After that, we walked around the walls of the city and the Lower Baraka Gardens and then went back down to the ship on the elevator which is free in that direction.
Naples, Italy - In Naples, we went out on our own to Capri on one of the ferries that were docked about a ten minute walk from the ship. It cost about $42 RT for each of us which was a little pricey but much less than the ship’s unguided transfer at $100 each. We queued for about 45 minutes to take a small crowded bus up to the town of Anacapri which costs about $6 more each. It was touristy and crowded, but we enjoyed seeing it again.
Venice, Italy - Since we were in Venice overnight, we used the rest of our 24-hour pass the next day. We went to St. Marks and then wandered around getting lost until we found the train station. We then took our last boat ride and returned to the ship for the start of our B2B cruise.
Mykonos, Greece - In Mykonos, we’d been there before so we skipped the ship’s day pass transfer into town at $5 each and walked in the other direction over a hill to a beach to get some exercise. There’s no real sidewalk so you need to watch out for traffic, but it was fine and served the purpose.
Piraeus (Athens), Greece - In Piraeus, we skipping our usual train trip into Athens and opted for the “PR01 Corinth Canal”. After a couple of hours on the bus, we arrived in Corinth and went out on a bridge to see the canal from above. The bus went down to water level where our group hopped on a private boat to traverse the canal. They provided a surprising nice selection of local Greek food including spanakopita, shrimp, octopus and other snacks, washed down with a small glass of Ouzo.
Rhodes, Greece - In Rhodes, we unfortunately arrived on a national holiday of Easter Tuesday so all of the museums and archeological sites were closed. We had planned to take a public bus to Lindos to see the acropolis there, but there was no point since you couldn’t get in. We’d hoped to see the Palace of the Grand Masters last time but it was under renovation. That’s now completed, but it was also closed so we’ll have to wait until we’re back there. We walked around the town and the walls until the rain poured down and everyone got soaked by the unavoidable rivers of water in the cobblestone streets.
Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey - Ephesus is a very popular site and is certainly worth doing if you haven’t been there. Since we’ve been there four times, we took the day off and went to the Starbuck’s on the pier and each spent several hours on the internet in a comfortable chair for the price of a cup of coffee.
Souda (Chania), Crete - When docked in Souda, we took the “IQ10 Real Crete” which drove around the island to some high spots with great views of the water. It ended in Chania with over an hour of free time. We’re not shoppers so we were a little concerned about killing time, but the harbor area and markets were very nice and we then wished we’d had more time.
Santorini, Greece - In Santorini, we’d done the usual tours so we booked the “SO65 Kaiki Ride and Volcano Hike”. After tendering to shore, a small wooden ship took us to a nearby island where we then trekked up some pretty steep trails to the top. It was strenuous as advertised but it was worth doing. This tour included a RT pass for the cable cars to Fira so we went up and took a public bus to Oia for about $4 each. It’s a bargain as we really enjoy seeing this amazingly picturesque town so we keep going there when we’re in this port.
Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy - We flew into Rome from Boston and arranged with the Triano hotel in Civitavecchia to transfer there from the airport in a private van. It cost 110 Euro (about $125) for the two of us, but it was worth it. We stayed one night to ensure that we wouldn’t miss the boat. It was reasonably priced at 94 Euro ($110) including breakfast with cappuccinos. The location was fine as we were able to walk down to the beachfront and the pedestrian shopping area in about 15 minutes. They also offered a free shuttle to the cruise terminal so we signed up for the first one to arrive early and were the second and third people to board. It wasn’t fancy, but we’d recommend it for a pre-cruise stay.
Celebrity Constellation Celebrity Constellation - The coffees and other drinks at Cafe al Bacio cost extra unless you have the beverage package. However, the cookies and desserts in the glass case are free to all.
Celebrity Eclipse Celebrity Eclipse - Book a cabin near mid-ship and on a lower deck if you are prone to seasickness.

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