Celebrity Constellation - 14 Night Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise

While online window shopping on the 11th November 2010, I ended up being seduced by the itinerary and price for Celebrity Constellation’s 14 Night Exotic Southern Caribbean Cruise from the 3rd-17th December 2011.  I had looked around at cruises where my birthday fell and they were either not value for money or too expensive.  Even some 7 night trips weren’t that much less.  I booked Inside Cabin 2169, since it’s not so bad in one of those.  Just wish I could see out!  I paid the £150 deposit from the £2048.50 then started to dream of Celebrity Temptation, as she should be renamed!  I had never been to the Caribbean and doing the Med cruise in October 2010 gave me the confidence to try longer.  I just love this baby and was delighted another opportunity came up to sail on her!  With my mum the way she was, I didn't want to be in the country on the birthday after she died.  As it turned out, she passed away two weeks after I'd booked this.  I received the flight allocation on the 12th January 2011, just after midnight.  I did begin to worry about my back, since the Aurora cruise five months earlier seriously aggravated whatever was causing it but, I decided to take a chance and paid the balance on the 14th August.  Now I could only hope!

My flight was the 2nd December so after just three hours sleep, I was picked up at 7.55am and taken to Terminal 5.  I'd only arrived at that one so I hoped I would see my case again!  When I checked in, I couldn't get an aisle seat because there were just seven middle ones left, so she gave me 31J.  Unlike the hot, sweaty and packed T3 I was used to, this was so quiet, even for a Friday!  The problem with checking in three hours before the flight is the awful hanging around as you wait for your gate to open.  Not everyone wants to shop.  I bought something to eat as I waited and four bottles of water to take on the ship because I wasn't going to pay RCCL prices for Evian (which I don't like anyway).  Gate B35 was opened at 12.20pm so there was a rush to get the train.  It's amazing how many people barge in front when it won't get them there any faster.  There was one couple who were rushing to their flight somewhere.  Everyone knows when boarding is so is it mean to hope they missed it?  As we waited, I was talking to a Texan called Carol, who was returning after years of teaching in the Czech Republic and had seven cases.  It turned out, she was in the aisle seat next to me, but we didn't realise that until we were on the plane.  By the window was a Scottish lady from Paisley called Jane, who was happily divorced from her selfish, unfaithful husband and going on Constellation, which was her first cruise.  She'd had all her documents stolen, leaving only the luggage tags, so we hoped she would be able to get on the ship.  It's a long way to go to be told to sod off.  Well it happened on our flight - people didn't turn up at the gate so their bags were removed and then we were off on time.  Miami, here we come!

Unlike when I went to Los Angeles, the customs cards were handed out before refreshment.  I can barely sleep on planes because it's just too noisy.  I spent the entire trip talking with Jane.  We landed at Miami airport at 6.08pm, which was earlier than scheduled.  After the half hour wait at US immigration before collecting my luggage, I went out and found the Celebrity/Royal Caribbean reps, who made their presence felt.  We were then led to another area and waited for others to turn up.  One family was going to the Miami airport hotel while the rest of the Celebrity lot were spread over three hotels across Fort Lauderdale.  Mine, the Hilton Fort Lauderale Marina, was called first so we followed the woman to the bus, left our luggage to be loaded then boarded the bus for the drive along the I95.  Jane was on the bus too, going to another hotel.  Once we arrived at 8.20pm, after a forty minute journey, we were shut in until they offloaded the luggage then allowed to leave.  I was first off, grabbed my case, which the driver had unwittingly helpfully put at the end of the rest. and went in.  Ken MacLean was already waiting and said he'd missed at the airport, even though I told him to be there for 9.30pm to give me a chance to freshen up.  Before I'd gone, he kept pestering about picking me up from the airport and taking me to/from the shis despite being told time and time again Celebrity were doing it.  We knew each other a long time from Facebook and he moved back to Florida from Texas a couple of months before.  He had been looking forward to meeting me ever since he knew he was moving, and would be picking me up from the airport at the end, since my flight was 5.15pm and we get dumped far too early, and showing me around Miami.  Back in August, he was most insistent I didn't cancel the trip and then I found out why.  While I was on Aurora a month earlier, he'd booked a cruise on Norwegian Epic specifically to be in St. Maarten with me on my birthday.  He later booked a tour for us there and at St Thomas.  It had been an open secret on Facebook he had a thing for me so I didn't know whether to be flattered or freaked out.  I just hoped we got on after all that expense!  My dad was on his side, insisting I went since I'd had a rotten couple of years with my mum, then my friend Steve Read dying suddenly less than three months after she did and then my favourite Dutchman, Ben, being diagnosed with the same cancer my mum had and he was given two years at the most.  He's just a couple of weeks older than me and it's still hard to take in.  The twelve months leading up to the cruise showed me what was important and what wasn't so past angers were forgotten.  Life's too short so we have to enjoy every second.  I would have spent my 40th at sea if Cunard hadn't taken the QE2 away before the stupid 2010 SOLAS regs came into force, then P&O cancelled Aurora for refit.  My birthday a year later wasn't that great since my mum's funeral had been five days before so I was determined to enjoy this one if it killed me!  Knowing my luck, it would!  I checked in and was given Waterway View room 2121 on the ground floor in the East Villa so no view of the ships - pah!  I was handed a letter telling me various things, including my hotel pick up was 11.30-11.45am and at the bottom of it, thanking me for choosing Royal Caribbean.  Eh???  Has my gorgeous shippy now become Celebrity Constellation of the Seas?  Someone couldn't be bothered changing the template.  Ken came with me to my room and waited while I freshened up.
The aircon was weird.  If you put it on the maximum, 80F, it was hot but just ten degrees less was freezing.  How does that work then???  Ken took me to the Marriott Hotel for dinner and it flipping rained, was a bit windy and cold.  For some reason I was unable to phone my dad even though texts were no problem.  It was the same number I'd used from LA in 2008 so can only assume it was stupid AT&T, who were polluting my phone.  There was only them and T-Mobile as options.  Ken wasn't feeling well.  Despite living about an hour away, he'd booked into the Lago Mar Resort and Spa hotel, getting a room with a view for the crack of yawn shippy arrivals, and the dozy twonk forgot to pack his medication in his excitement at meeting me.  And he insists he's clever!  We went for a drive then he checked the type of room he'd been given at his hotel.  It was a lovely hotel (have to be at those prices!) and I kept making it clear to the bloke behind the desk I just arrived, had another hotel and we weren't together.

Ken took me back to the Hilton, where I was back at 11.50pm, just in time to not turn into a jetlagged pumpkin!  The stupid Scholl flight socks have no grip so I had to take them off rather than risk breaking something by ice skating on the tiles.  Lovely bed at 12.25am after being awake twenty-three hours and twenty-five minutes - eek!

My alarm was set for 3am, since these were early shippy arrivals.  Connie would be first, but I didn't know whether the time on the movements (4am for her) was docking or pilot boarding time.  Turned out to be the latter so no need to have rushed!  Ken, who lives in the place so should have known the timings, knocked at my door at 3.15am and was rather loud as he called my name.  Shhhhh!  People are asleep, you inconsiderate pillock.  The bloke behind the desk was still there and waved as I went through and Ken parked his car.  I went onto the balcony, which didn't have that great a view.  It reminded me of the one from my bedroom with obstructions on either side, but it was better than somehow managing on the beach with my back.  Carnival Freedom was out there, heading my way, as well as Norwegian Epic, Miami bound.  Connie made her grand entrance having ended her repositioning from Barcelona.  Seeing her made me even more excited.  Carnival Freedom was next followed by Oasis of the Seas, Grand Princess, Eurodam, Crown Princess and finally, in daylight, Celebrity Infinity.  Infinity had left Freeport, Bahamas, about fourteen hours earlier after being more 'Solsticized' than Connie had been.  They added Aqua Class cabins at the stern of deck 11, which ruined her look a little, and apparently the Blu restaurant for said cabins, was put into part of the Trellis Restaurant because there's nowhere for it.  It's a shame they're cramming more of the things found on larger, newer ships onto the smaller, older ones.  Millennium class Celebrity ships are NOT Solstice class any more than Vision class Royal Caribbean are NOT Oasis class and I for one am glad.  I shudder at the additions they've made to 70,000grt Splendour of the Seas to bring her into line with the 220,000grt Oasis.  As much as I love both RCCL brands, vive la différence when it comes to ship classes!  They're crazy and personally I think they'll regret going too far with alterations because they're changing the ships from what people love about them so will go elsewhere.  Anyway, it was a bit of a mini-reunion since both Princesses, Eurodam, Connie and Oasis had all been in the Solent (though only Oasis never made it into Southampton).  I had last seen Grand Princess on the 8th November in Vigo when I was heading home on Queen Mary 2 and she was repositioning to Fort Lauderdale.  I miss my ships when they've buggered off for the winter.  Ken ordered me room service breakfast which you had to pay extra for.  Considering the room rates, room service should have been included.

Afterwards, we went to Walgreens so I could pick up some toothpaste, since I'd forgotten to put a new tube in.  I thought America was supposed to be cheaper than Rip-Off Britain.  That's what they brainwash into believing anyway.  $7 for toothpaste????!!!!  I'd only taken $22 to be spent on specific things, with a little over for emergencies, which shows how often I get to America.  Ken drove around to various locations to get photos of the ships, including the bridge, which was a bugger to get onto with my back.
Back to the Hilton and some much-need kip!  I managed to get a couple of hours then went down at 10.45am rather than hang around.  Everywhere was chocka with passengers for all the ships.  I was led to the RCCL desk inside, ticked off the transfer list, given a bus ticket number, told to take my luggage to the truck outside and handed another letter.  This one informed us that due to a mandatory US Coastguard inspection (all ships returning from months in Europe undergo one apparently), boarding would commence around 1pm while cabins wouldn't be ready until 3pm.  It was signed Celebrity Constellation.  Wow!  Literate as well as being gorgeous!  Is there no end to this ships' abilities?  I took my case to the van, checked out then waited outside because it was too crowded in.  The Oakland Raiders NFL team had been staying in the hotel, though none of us cruise passengers knew that until some were told to bog off from the steps.  They would be playing the Miami Dolphins the next day and lost 34-14.
I went back in around noon and the passengers for Oasis were being called.  I found a seat near the window and talked to an American couple playing cards who were going on Infinity on the repositioning to South America.  They were getting a taxi rather than doing the transfers and got a cheaper room because she works for the Hilton chain.  She told me Infinity boarding was also delayed due to a Coastguard inspection yet their passengers were called well before ours, as were both Princess and Eurodam.  Finally my lot were on the move and I was on the second bus.  One good thing about being docked the farthest away was you had to pass the other ships!  We set off towards my gorgeous Connie at 12.35pm.  I was as excited as I had been when I saw her waiting for me in Barcelona in 2010.  It's funny how certain ships have that something which make you love them to bits.  Give me a sledgehammer and I'd removed parts of the design I don't like, but that's the same on most I've sailed on.  It was like coming home on Connie.  She was my first Celebrity ship in April 2007, this was my first trip to Florida, first Caribbean cruise, her first of the final season of this type (winter 2012 she'd be insulted by doing four and five nighters from Miami like Millennium) and it would be my first birthday at sea.
When we arrived fifteen minutes later, they took the luggage and we headed inside the terminal.  We were told to have out passports and Xpress pass out as we went through security.  Then came the unnecessary hassle.  The signage for check in was badly done.  The Captain's Club queue had a sign next to another and the people you wanted to ask kept buggering off.  Some people weren't even given a norovirus form.  The CC queue wasn't long but still took a while, and longer than I was used to in Southampton or even I'd had in Barcelona.  Afterwards, it was up two floors to the departure lounge.  There was a choice of lift, escaltor or stairs.  We sat in two rows and when each chair was full, we were allowed to board.  You could go left to have your boarding photo taken or right to go on the ship.  I had heard you're practically shot for daring to a take a photo, despite either having been cleared by security or disembarking, but I sneaked one anyway.  I never understood why America is like that when you can take as many as you like from buses, taxis, cars, boats, buildings or land.
Near me waiting to board was an elderly couple in wheelchairs who would be celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary on my birthday!  We were on by 1.25pm, which wasn't bad.  I changed my credit card as soon as I boarded, avoiding all the welcome aboard drinks, bought the soft drinks package, had a chat to my friend Mustafa, who was trying to get bookings for the Tuscan Grille.  I'm glad he's still there.  Quite a few, including Larry from the Martini Bar, have moved onto other ships.  Then booked my shore excursions.  Usually, I do it online after it's paid off but, because of my back, I was unable to do several I fancied so decided to discuss options with them and they were very helpful.  Then I went to look at my surroundings since there was still more than an hour before the cabins were ready.
Apart from the dead end Promenade deck, the only other thing which I loathe about the Millennium class ships is the bloody awful windscreen.  If that dirty, reflective glass wasn't there, the above photo would be better.  I'm glad the Solstice class doesn't have any.  Even Radiance class Royal Caribbean's go shoulder height so you can take great photos over it.  But why did they do this to a ship sharing the same basic platform as the Radiance class????  If they're so intent on 'Solsticizing', the least they can do is remove half of this.  Anyway, I was getting hungry.  It was now gone 2pm and had been a long time since that awful $10 room service breakfast at Ken's hotel so rather than fight in the Seaside for food, I decided to have a cheeseburger.  Seats outside were limited but I managed to find a seat (unfortunately near the speakers!) at a table where two elderly American friends called Blanche and Blanche were finishing.  I was still having trouble phoning home so my dad called me and that got through easily enough.  So what was the problem????  Stupid mobiles!

The cabins were ready at 2.40pm - yay!  So off I went to find 2169.  I would have preferred a balcony on a trip like this but hey, insides are okay, especially when you get such a great price.  It was my second inside on this ship (first cabin had been a balcony) and they were always very spacious with plenty of storage space.

My steward, Blasido, introduced himself and I immediately told him the battery in the safe needed changing.  He then proceeded to tell me about muster and stuff, which I already knew.  It had been due at 3.45pm but was delayed twenty minutes.  That was a bugger with the ships beginning to move at 4pm.  My muster station was the Rendezvous Lounge on Deck 4 and we didn't have to take our jackets.  It was over fairly fast then up for sailaway!  Because of that bloody awful glass, I couldn't get any of the other ships sailing by, so had to be on either dock side or ocean side.  I decided to go for dock, althought I'd have loved to have seen them sail into open water.  Next time I go on a Caribbean cruise, it'll have to be a ship with better observation areas.  Thankfully, none of the others had moved but that didn't last long.  Crown Princess was first followed by Grand Princess, Carnival Freedom, Eurodam, Oasis of the Seas then us.  It was clear from the fact they were still loading baggage, we weren't leaving at 4.30pm as scheduled.  Infinity didn't look like she was going anywhere either, since she still had the washing drying, there were a couple of cranes with workmen on and the gangway was still attached, which was great because we'd pass her.  We had a tug, which tooted quite a lot.  Up there too were some Brits, Canadians and Americans so we all had a good natter.
It had become very windy and cold as we went into open sea so I went Ii because I was also fed up with being caught by sea spray all was way up on deck 11.  Infinity was still there, for some reason not leaving until 10pm.  There was no sign of my case, which is always a worry, and for the first time ever, I forgot my cabin number and left the card holder in the room.  I had to go to Guest Relations like a nit and ask.  I'd been trying 2159 so was close!  I bought my boarding photo and later, went to dinner.  I was given table 423 in the San Marco, nearer the stern.  Only three others turned up who were Bill from Atlanta and mother and daughter from Chester, Barbara and Cheryl, so unless anyone else came on the other nights, it would be a quiet table.  My dietary requirement hadn't got through but my lovely waiter Loreto made some suggestions of menu alterations, including steamed veg and removed the yukky lettuce from my salad.
Skipped the Welcome Aboard show and popped to the cabin.  My case was there - yay!  I went to the photo shop instead to find my boarding photo.  It came out ever so well and the photographer was very pleased, because it was the first time he'd changed the setting and not used flash.  It's a little blurry but he got Infinity behind, which was the main thing.  Then much-needed bed!


© Patricia Dempsey 2nd-17th December 2011
Not to be reproduced without permission