Last month, Kristin and I sailed on our 13th cruise, spending five nights in the Western Caribbean on Celebrity Constellation. I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the cruise, but be aware that this won’t be an extensive review. If you’re looking for something like that, check out Kristin’s Cruise Critic review.
Most of our cruises have been on Princess Cruises, but this time we opted to return to Celebrity for our second cruise with them. Our first cruise with them was an 11 day Eastern Caribbean cruise in 2011 on Celebrity Equinox.
We had not been on a Western Caribbean cruise since our first in 2001, and this itinerary offered a chance to visit Key West for the first time as well as return to Cozumel. The other draw was the ship, Celebrity Constellation. Launched in 2002, the last of four Millennium-class ships, Constellation underwent two major refubrishments as part of the “Solsticizing” of the Celebrity fleet. After the successful launch of the Solstice-class ships, Celebrity began upgrading their older ships with select features from Solstice and her sister ships. Celebrity dubbed this process “Solsticizing”. Constellation (affectionatelly nicknamed “Connie”) underwent the first phase in 2010 with a mini version of the upgrades. The other Millennium class ships received a full set of upgrades after a positive response from passengers. Constellation underwent phase 2 in 2013 bringing with it the full complement of features.
A key part of that second round was the addition of Aqua Class cabins including 37 brand new cabins on deck 11 aft. Aqua Class cabins come with additional features beyond standard cabins and the Concierge Class cabin we booked on our previous Celebrity cruise. Two of the main features are access to a specialty restaurant named Blu, exclusive to Aqua Class, as well as a Captain’s Club point bonus. Captain’s Club is Celebrity’s loyalty program.
We booked the cruise way back on July 10, 2014, over 500 days in advance! Most people are surprised when they find out how early we planned this cruise, but when you want a specific ship and cabin for an itinerary, it pays to book early. We also were able to take advantage of a great promotion Celebrity was running at the time. When we booked, we received the following:
- Pre-paid gratuities – $13.45 per person per day for our Aqua Class cabin; a total value of $134.50.
- Free Classic Drink package – $64.90 per person per day with 18% gratuities; a total value of $649. This package included unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, beers up to $6, cocktails up to $8, and wine-by-the-glass up to $9.
- $100 onboard credit
The normal promotion let you pick one of the three items, but by booking through CruCon, they offered all three with the booking. I don’t drink enough alcohol to normally make that kind of package economical, but since someone else was paying for it, I did my best to get
my their money’s worth.
Constellation far exceeded my expectations. The ship is thirteen years old, and even though Celebrity is a premium cruise line and she had been renovated, I was unsure how she would compare to a newer, larger ship like Equinox. I did not need to worry. Constellation looked brand new everywhere you looked. All of the common spaces, the dining areas, the lounges, the theater.. everything looked modern, clean, and very stylish.
All throughout our cruise, I kept remarking how amazing it all looked. I had been a bit concerned that by taking out first cruise with Celebrity on Equinox, that we had ruined our ability to enjoy the older class of ships but I was wrong. Needless to say, due to her size, she doesn’t have all the amenities of the larger, but what she does have is enough.
Probably the only areas that was a bit of a disappointment was the Persian Garden. This is a relaxation area in the spa with a heated seat to relax along with various saunas of different types and aromatherapy showers. We used an area like this on Royal Princess (The Enclave) quite a bit on a recent cruise, and wanted to check out the equivalent on Constellation. As Aqua Class guests, Persian Garden access was complimentary. Unfortunately, the day we picked to check it out was apparently a busy one, and the area was anything but relaxing. Too small with too many people. Of course, on a smaller ship, there’s only so much room for a feature like this, but I felt a bit claustrophobic in there. On a slower day, it might be more enjoyable.
Food onboard Constellation was all first rate. The buffet area was well laid-out and spread out sufficiently that it never felt crowded or congested. Celebrity does a great job of making a variety of dishes available, and the regular inclusion of various ethnic food was a treat.
We never ate in the main dining room because Aqua Class guests have their own, Blu. Blu is supposed to be a more fresh and modern take on cuisine, and it succeeds at that. It had the feel of a specialty restaurant with a very attentive staff of servers. On our cruise, Blu was serving approximately 210 guests staying in Aqua Class cabins. Overall I enjoyed it, but there were times I would have enjoyed some of the menu options being served in the Main Dining Room. I know that often you can get those items served in Blu if you ask because they share a common kitchen area, but I wanted to focus on the Blu menu items for this cruise.
There is one menu item I’ll call out specifically, a benchmark for me on cruise ships: pizza. The pizza available daily in the Oceanview Cafe was good, but it did not match what is offered on Princess ships. I don’t know how they do it, but the pizza on Princess is the best at sea.
We attended two of the production shows in the theater, iHollywood which featured music from classic movies, and Elyria an adult-themed show. iHollywood was just OK. As always the performers were talented, but there wasn’t any narrative to the show and songs just bounced around. The low point was when they performed Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid (Disney on a Celebrity ship?) backed by some horribly bad computer animation of underwater scenes.
Elyria was better, and at least had a story to it, although it was pretty flimsy. There was a central character who served as our narrator and brought the risqué humor into the show. I think Princess’ shows are generally better, and of course nobody tops Disney at that game.
The magician/illusionist, Jason Bishop, was amazing. Probably one of the best shows of this type I’ve seen in person. Jason is quite funny, and his act defies explanation. We sat quite close, and I was stumped about how he pulled any of it off. Great show.
In addition to the theater shows, we also enjoyed some of the roving musical talent. Vocalist Peter Fisk played the guitar and was one of my favorites on the cruise. Anyone who includes Mumford and Sons in his repertoire gets my vote. There were also two DJs on board, and I especially enjoyed DJ Lancero. He brought a high energy to the ship when he was playing.
I was actually surprised at the amount of time dedicated in the evenings to the DJS and EDM music. Not sure if Celebrity is trying to aim a bit younger, or not, but it seemed to be well-received, especially by the patrons at the martini bar, the hottest spot on the ship. The only problem with the EDM was it was often scheduled in the atrium at the same time other performers were playing in nearby lounges. It’s hard for a guy with an acoustic guitar to overcome the thumping of a DJ. On the last night, Peter Fisk let one of the DJs have it for drowning him out. They talked it out, and the DJ seemed quite apologetic, but I can understand Peter’s frustration. Poor planning on Celebrity’s part, and I highlighted this in my post-cruise survey.
I should also touch on another entertainment option that I often frequent on cruises: Bingo. I’ve had my fair of luck playing Bingo over the years (I used to go with my Grandma when I was a kid). I’m partial to how Princess runs their Bingo games with four games, set prizes., and paper cards where you sue a dauber or punch through. On Constellation, they only play three games in a set, and every session had the same three games. Princess mixes up the middle two games so you get a bit more variety. On Celebrity the prizes depend on how many people bought tickets, so they can offer a higher payout on Princess, but if a session isn’t popular, it can go the other direction. Celebrity also uses gigantic permanent cards with sliding shutters to cover numbers. They are obviously less wasteful than paper cards and are durable, but it’s awkward to hold them during the game. Sadly we didn’t win any games this cruise despite getting down to one number on a few occasions.
This was a short cruise, so we only had two spots: Cozumel and Key West. We had been to Cozumel once before, back in 2001, and we were looking forward to our return. On the previous visit we headed to the mainland to tour the Tulum ruins, but for this trip, we wanted to stay and enjoy the island.
We spent the day at Nachi Cocom Beach Club, a private beach area about 15 minutes form the cruise terminal. With capacity limited to 100 guest each day, Nachi Cocom promised a relaxing day at the beach, and it didn’t disappoint. For a flat rate of $55 US, you have access to a private beach with loungers, many with palapas for shade, all you can drink open bar including beer, wine, sodas, etc., and lunch. Nachi Cocom promised a more relaxed atmosphere, less party-like than some of its neighbors.
There were far fewer than 100 people the day we were there which made it even more relaxing. The water was warm and clear, the food was good, and service was excellent. They even had WiFi at no cost (despite what the web site said about there being a nominal charge), just perfect for sending photos back to
taunt share the experience with your friends your family.
We enjoyed the day and will definitely be back on some future cruise. If you’re headed to Cozumel and want to take it easy, do check out Nachi Cocom Beach Club.
Out second (and final) stop was Key West. We spent the day doing a self-guided walking tour from the Old Island Restoration Foundation. The web site say the tour is 1-2 hours, but you’d have to jog the whole time and not stop to actually look at anything. The tour has 51 buildings on the tour, and we only had time to get through two-thirds before needing to move on to see some other sites. You get a good look at historic properties in Key West, but better done as two separate tours.
We also toured Truman’s Little White House and the Hemingway House. Both were very interesting, and well worth a visit. The Little White House looks very much like it did when President Truman was a frequent guest, and the tour guides do a great job of covering the history from both Truman’s use of the house as well as how it has been used by other Presidents and notable people. I also enjoyed touring the Hemingway House, although due to time constraints we toured the home on our own rather than with a docent-led tour. I have to admit I’ve read little to nothing of Hemingway, but this visit has me thinking I should try and correct that. The six-toed cats were delightful, and they have the run of the place. It’s amusing to see the cats completely ignore the signs warning that the furniture is not to be sat upon.
I would like to come back to Key West at some point, hopefully for an actual visit and not just a port stop someday. We kept ourselves pretty busy the entire day, and it would good to come back and slow the pace down a bit.
At five days, the cruise was too short, but I had a great time. Celebrity continues to delight as a cruise line, and while our next cruise is on Caribbean Princess, we’ll be back again before too long. It was also good to get back to Cozumel, and even better to finally add Key West to the list of places we’ve visited. It’s also now on the ever lengthening list of places to go back to separate from a cruise. Retirement and the time it offers for travel can’t get here soon enough.