Celebrity Constellation - 12 Night Immersive Wine Cruise
When Celebrity Cruises announced in October 2011 that the fabulous Constellation would be coming to Southampton instead of repositioning to Turkey, I booked the short cruise while contemplating a longer one.  The main problem for me was the itinerary was boring, with too many overnights.  However, the pull of spending more time onboard my first Celebrity love was just too strong and on the 31st May 2012, I surrendered.  I booked the trip on the 13th-25th October for several reasons.  Firstly, it would be six years since my very first cruise and from the QEII Terminal (where Connie would be berthed).  Secondly, there were four other ships in Southampton and thirdly, Connie would not only be meeting Eclipse in Southampton, but also the brand new Reflection in Le Havre the following day as she made the second stop on her maiden voyage.  I paid some before I went back to back cruising on Ventura and Oriana, the rest on the 11th July.

So here was Connie waiting in the QEII Terminal for me.  It hadn't been so exciting going over the the ferry since Vision of the Seas was in Mayflower in 2011.  It was hard to believe she had been my second cruise and I have sailed on her three times in the past two years, four in total.  It was a busy port today with five ships.  Besides Connie and Eclipse we had Balmoral in the fruit shed, Arcadia in Ocean and Aurora (which I'd actually cancelled to do this instead) in Mayflower.  Two of my faves in one place - Aurora and Connie!  I wasn't too upset as not going on Aurora since I can do her any time and have cruises booked for 2013.  After getting Connie and Eclipse arriving from the house, we went to the marina for the other three.
After getting back home, time for a short nap before heading out.  I was meeting Marie and Mark Kennedy at Town Quay so went an hour later than usual.  They came down an day earlier when I told them there would be five ships in, so would also see QM2 the following day before their visit to Aurora on her return.  Due to their train being late it was straight to the terminal so they could get some pics of Connie.  In the terminal there was a new model of Capetown Castle.  No idea when it was added but definitely not there in October 2008.  We had to wait a while for the sudden downpour to stop.  Every so often we'd think it was about to then would bucket again.  After getting the bow, we walked back just as the boat train chartered by Barrhead Travel pulled in.  I knew I had to get going fast otherwise there'd be a massive queue.  I saw Marie and Mark into a taxi then went to check in.  This is my favourite terminal and I wish it was used more.  I was pleased nothing had changed and more pleased when I saw a Canberra poster on the wall behind the check-in desk.  It had been fifteen years and three days since she headed to the breakers.  Security was empty and my shoes didn't set the machine off, unlike in Ocean (which hadn't in June but did in August) then up to departures.  The old QE2 model was still there - wooo!  Up to the observation area and the door was open.  It was a better view without the cranes.  Then off to board and we went in the opposite direction to when we used to board Lizzie then down a deck to cabin 2134.  My steward was Romeo with Ricardo as his assistant.
I decided to skip lunch, instead heading to the Rendezvous to find the Maitre d' and ask about changing my table.  Most of the time, you're stuck in a huge queue outside the restaurant but here you gave your cabin number and waited to be called.  When it was, I told him I saw him last month and he responded, "I remember.  You wanted to be on Loreto's table."  Impressed!  They had changed all the numbers so he had to find which Loreto was working then put me from 100 to 122.  As I had a dietary requirement, he said I could pre-order there.  Muster was 4.15pm and I thought the voice was familiar - Sue Denning, who was cruise director in December.  We also had Captain Peppas again.  Some of the crew in the muster station (casino) had no idea Eclipse was also in but one told me about Reflection the next day, which I knew.  There were three Americans who turned out to be in the room opposite me.  The old bloke seemed downtrodden while his female friends were barking.  One of those was a bit dumb while the other had a very loud mouth (being shushed by the muster guides one more than one occasion) and claimed to be psychic. "Are you our neighbour?" she asked me.  Shouldn't she know???  Then it was a bit of a wait for a lift to go to deck 11 for sailaway.  Thank you, shippies, for waiting!  Aurora was first off followed by Eclipse.  I thought Eclipse wouldn't blow her horn but did as she was bow to bow.  We then followed her out while I got a little emotional, remembering six years ago when I set out on my first cruise knowing absolutely nothing.  Arcadia and Balmoral made up the rear and I was so pleased the rain held off.  It was like deja vu.  Arcadia had stalked me this very day in 2006.  Once we passed our sailaway party at Hythe marina consisting of my dad, Mark and Marie Kennedy, Anthony Marshall and Steve and Gita and Andrew and Donna Cooke on the pier, I went down to get shots of Eclipse and Aurora, chatting to an American couple about the places we were visiting.  Apparently, Celebrity were useless at giving information on what to see at Le Verdon so I was able to tell them about the pretty seaside town of Soulac-sur-Mer.
Back inside as the light was fading and we were still following Eclipse a little while longer.  I decided to see the Captain's Club host about my impending Diamond status with Royal Caribbean's Crown & Anchor Society.  As I was doing a cruise on Independence of the Seas six days after returning to Southampton, there wasn't enough time for the points required from Celebrity making me Elite, to be added and get Diamond privileges.  I had my instructions from both Celebrity and Royal Caribbean but the host didn't care about that.  Instead he changed the status on my card to Elite so I could take it to show his equivalent on Indy, I got a new events list but my voucher benefits stayed Select.  On the way back, I booked some shore excursions for Bilbao and Leixões as well as get a shuttle ticket for Le Verdon.  The vast majority of the tours were to vineyards, which is fine if you like wine.  There was even one with wine expert, Oz Clarke at well over $200 - sod that!  I was there because I love that fabulous ship so had no intention of paying for overpriced booze tours.  With my back, I'm limited what I can do anyway and they made the choice even less.  In the end it was basically coach tours for both while the shuttle was $8.  I didn't like how you had to choose a time to take the shuttle.  It should be any time.  Before dinner I went to the Rendezvous where the waitress thanked me for returning, after I told her it was my fifth time, rather than go to one of the new ones.
Dinner was good and I was delighted to have Loreto again.  He had been absolutely excellent during the Caribbean cruise.  It's actually the first time I've returned to a ship and requested the same waiter.  His junior was Tomruk or something from Turkey who was absolutely hilarious.  He will go far.  My table companions were couples - Sheila and John from Radcliffe, Nottinghamshire, Shirley and Alan from Southall, Nottinghamshire and Marlene and Michael from no idea but they lived separately.  John used to work for Saga Holidays, sailing on the ships using his concession, and was full of funny stories.  I was very tired so went to the cabin afterwards, only to spot something big with lights outside from the window - Mary!  She was going from Le Havre to Southampton while we headed the other way.  She also left over an hour early.  The satellite connection made texting slow but I got confirmation fro Rob Ellerington Parr after I'd got photos it was indeed her.  Then it was time for bed.
An early start in the morning as we were due to dock in Le Havre for 7.30am which Reflection half an hour later.  We were early, which was good, but the windscreen Connie and her class have isn't for photos.  When whichever bright spark at RCCL in Miami decided to 'Solsticize' these ships (change them to something they aren't rather than Vive La Difference, why the bloody hell didn't they change that too?  In fact, why does the Radiance class have one you can look over but these are dirty monstrosities?  Even Aurora and MSC Opera have gaps to poke the camera through.  Then there are all the lights, which cause a reflection so you get yourself in the filthy glass day and dark.  Whoever designed these idiotic things is clearly 1) not a ship lover, 2) not a photographer of anything except holiday snaps and 3) probably not even a cruiser.  If there was a guarantee I wouldn't be arrested, I'd have taken a hammer to it.  It prevented getting great photos in the Med and Caribbean and was doing the same now.  The forecast had been rain all day but thankfully at this moment, it was dry.
I had arranged to meet Marie Mariani from Facebook in Rouen so I headed off via the deck 3 gangway.  It was bloody lethal!  The one from deck 4 was for disabled and worse but nowhere near as bad as those on Reflection who were on 4 and 5.  I had enough of that while on Equinox and Eclipse when they COULD use their own gangways or have the port ones attached to a lower deck but it seems it's only RCCL brands who want to kill or maim their passengers, many of whom are old so could sue!  Usually when I'm at this port we dock where Reflection was and that terminal building is dreadful.  I had a new appreciation after seeing ours, and no one tells you tourist information is in this.  In fact, as the Captain's Club desk the night before, the bloke was telling someone there is NO information point and the map provided by Celebrity was wrong.  Well this was lovely and had a vending machine with seating.  There were also models of two past ships, Liberté and Champlain plus stuff referring to the last France at both ends.  Pity there was no model of her.


© Patricia Dempsey 13th-25th October 2012
Not to be reproduced without permission