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Celebrity Constellation

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Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 2,034-­passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' Millennium Class. Over the years, the ship has developed a host of admirers and repeat cruisers who are drawn to its value, comfort, above-average food and drink offerings, friendly crew, spotless facilities and intriguing itineraries.

Constellation, and the Celebrity line as a whole, attract older cruisers looking for an experience that offers value and a bit of luxury. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie strives to balance the intimacy offered by smaller ships and the leisure, entertainment and dining perks offered by bigger ships. Passengers have access to nine bars and lounges; French, Italian and sushi alternative restaurants; a large casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment.

The staff is friendly and helpful, and senior officers, including the captain, are very visible and accessible. All go out of their way to chat with passengers on their frequent walks through the ship and at shipboard events.

During the day, dress is resort casual, but Celebrity passengers tend to dress up for dinner -- typically button-down or dressy Tommy Bahama-type sport shirts and slacks for men and dresses or smart-casual pants for women. Formal night on Celebrity has been replaced by "evening chic" in the main dining room. This means that men can ditch the full suit and tie in favor of a sport coat and collared shirt, with designer jeans. Women can wear cocktail dresses, sundresses or designer jeans or nice pants. In the buffet, almost any form of dress is allowed except swimwear, flip-flops, spa robes and bare feet.

The modern 900-seat Celebrity Theater is where most of the major entertainment action takes place. The banquet-style seats are comfortable enough for the nearly hour-long programs, and the small tables positioned along the rows of seats are handy. The two-tiered theatre is three decks high and hosts Vegas-style song-and-dance revues at night, focusing on Broadway and pop hits. Other evening headliners may include veteran singers, comedians and musical acts. Celebrity has a favourite list of entertainers, including a lot of musicians and singers from England, so regulars can expect at least one or two acts during a cruise to be a repeat from previous cruises. Fortunately, they're enjoyable performers whether you've seen several of their shows previously or none at all. The Constellation's in-house singers and dancers are first-rate, and the costumes and staging are professional. The house band deserves the many kudos it gets, backing up every type of entertainer the ship books without a hitch.

Evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship emphasizes music, with bands in the Rendezvous Lounge on Deck 4 performing '40s and '50s jazz standards, some pop songs (a la swing) and other danceable classics. The Reflections venue on Deck 11 serves as an observation lounge for readers or sea gazers and a quiet place for dance and craft classes by day, but it's also the official gathering place and watering hole for the Captain's Club Elite members from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. and later turns into a disco for the few who are willing or able.

Michael's Club Captain's Club Lounge is for the exclusive use of Zenith-level loyalty program members (3,000 points) and folks who inhabit premium suites. A superior breakfast and evening tapas and cocktails are served. Peek in on the way to a show, and you'll see a handful of well-attired folks trying to look as if they're having a good time. Many end up migrating to Reflections lounge, which turns into the nightly Captain's Club Elite gathering place where long-time Celebrity cruisers join friends to quaff drinks, munch finger food and swap cruise stories. Occasionally, especially during transatlantic cruises, there are too many members to be accommodated by the lounge, and drink tickets are given to members to use in several other ship bars.

The Martini Bar on Deck 4 is a favourite haunt for fun-lovers. It looks a bit like a frozen space pod, with a phosphorescent green bar with silver accents, topped by an ice skating rink surface that keeps one from leaning on the bar with your elbows. It's a combination of booze and entertainment, and the bartenders flip and juggle bottles of top-­shelf vodka and gin in time with disco music as patrons hoot and holler. Martinis of all colours and flavours are $10-plus. The colourful six martini tasting flight is $18, which is a very good value on its own, but the show put on to pour the six at the same time is priceless -- at least for the first two or three times. Finding seats around the main bar during peak time is a challenge, as is getting a bartender's attention. If you plan to be a regular at this bar, a tip (bribe) the day you come aboard of $20 or more may result in better service throughout your cruise.

Cellar Masters offers a great selection of wines by the glass, along with some premium beers all served by a very friendly and knowledgeable bartender. Celebrity offers a variety of all­-you-­can-­drink packages.

During sea days, the ship's cruise director and staff offer plenty of activities to keep cruisers busy, although many passengers are content simply to read, knit or play cards. There are usually two or three popular Celebrity Life enrichment events including lectures related to the cruise itinerary or subjects of intellectual interest including astronomy, history, arts and music. In addition, there's usually at least one wine tasting education event per day and several beer and booze tasting events during the cruise.

Celebrity continues to entertain food-lovers with galley tours and cooking demos, but now the company has teamed up with the Bravo channel and the Emmy award-winning "Top Chef" to offer a special Top Chef at Sea experience on a number of sailings. Constellation offers a pared down version of the show's Quick Fire competitions with contestants chosen from the audience and senior chefs. The event doesn't quite equal the TV show's level of excitement, but it's still an enjoyable way to pass a few hours at sea.

For the active, there are exercise and dance classes, but the very popular Zumba classes that were offered at no charge have become not-so-popular now that they cost $15 per session. Other popular activities range from trivia and craft-making to photography demos and Apple-product how-tos. There seems to be an increased emphasis on shipboard marketing related to onboard art auctions, cosmetic and skin care services, jewellery sales and Riedel wine glass tastings -- all designed to sell shipboard products and services.

The ship, and the line as a whole, recently added the new position of destination concierge. An expert in the ports of call, this concierge will arrange private shore excursions for passengers who want to avoid bus tours but don't want to plan their own time ashore. The concierge will also book restaurant reservations and show tickets in port stops.

The midship pool area, with two pools, several hot tubs and plenty of whimsical sculptures (a big gorilla was a favourite), is where the action is on nice days. Get there early to get prime lounge chairs, but don't be a deck chair hog leaving a book on the chair while you go to a lecture and lunch. It really upsets folks and there's a good chance your stuff will be picked up by the pool attendant. If you're a non-smoker, take care to avoid smoking areas along one side.

The Canyon Ranch Spa Club's 25,000­square­foot complex features a glass­and­steel solarium with a large, heated adults-only thalassotherapy pool, hot tubs, a spa cafe and thermal suite, a full-service salon, 13 treatment rooms and a fitness centre.

The spa offers a host of head-to-toe treatments and services including facial and body waxing, peels, various facials ($122 and up), massages ($126 and up), acupuncture, scrubs, wraps, hair services, manicures and pedicures. Port-day spa specials offer discounts on several services.

The Persian Garden thermal suite offers an herbal steamer, Turkish bath, tiled loungers and rainforest shower. The Persian Garden passes run about $100 per week plus 18 percent gratuities and are limited to 50 passes, so book early if you're interested. You must be 16 or older to use the Persian Garden facility.

The gym features a variety of Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and weight machines. Yoga, Zumba and Pilates sessions, as well as personal training, are available for a fee. Stretch and group cardio classes are free.

Fitness buffs take advantage of fresh air and sea views around the oval jogging track on Deck 11; three times around equals a kilometre. For the sports enthusiast, a multi­-use court with basketball hoops is on Deck 12.

The social centre of the ship is the Grand Foyer, a three-deck atrium with warmly illuminated, polished quartz-like stone steps and decorative, gauzy curtains hanging from the ceiling. Anchored by the customer service centre and shore excursion offices on Deck 3, the space fans out and up into several popular venues and lounges including the Martini Bar, Cellar Masters, Cafe al Bacio, Gelateria and Sushi on Five. You'll frequently hear live jazz or classical music played in these venues.

The Photo Gallery, which brings out the gawker in all of us, is outside the Celebrity Theater on Deck 4. Prices begin at $19.95 for a single photo from a formal night. There's no charge to get your picture taken, either casually while dining or in a formal setting.

Outside the Celebrity Theater on Deck 5 is The Emporium, Constellation's shopping destination, featuring a series of stores selling jewellery, Celebrity logo items, some cruise fashions, high-end leather goods, forgotten toiletries ($2.95 for dental floss, so try not to forget it) and duty-free cigarettes and premium alcohol (that are held for you until the end of the cruise).

Itinerary-targeted items are available in some of the shops in case you forgot to pick up a souvenir ashore. Many of these goods are craft and jewellery items that could have been purchased for less at local markets. Sometimes there are bargains and sales of merchandise related to a previous cruise itinerary.

The library on Deck 8 is woeful -- under-stocked and unsupervised. The few books available are grabbed up a half dozen or more at a time by thoughtless passengers who obviously don't own a Kindle or iPad. Wander into the library a few hours after sailaway, and you'll be greeted by lots of empty shelves, a few fantasy paperbacks and some titles in German or French.

Wi-Fi is now available throughout the ship. For those who don't bring their own hardware or need a hand, the Celebrity iLounge on Deck 9 offers a small Mac accessory store, computers, printers and advice. The lounge hosts computer and internet classes, some for a fee.

There are no self-service laundry facilities, but laundry, pressing and dry cleaning is available for a fee.

Celebrity Constellation prides itself on delivering a consistently palate-pleasing dining experience. Considering that the galley delivers thousands of tasty meals three times a day to passengers with different culinary traditions and needs, occasional misses are not surprising. The good news is that if something doesn't satisfy, you can simply order something else rather than stew over a tough piece of meat or overcooked eggs. Servers stress this, knowing that everyone from the executive chef on down is determined to make you happy with your food and drink. Most servers guide passengers through the daily menu, suggesting popular items and warning you away from dishes that haven't passed muster with other passengers. We've learned it's wise to heed their advice.

Occasionally there are special theme-type parties and dinners celebrating a port or holiday; you'll find them along with the restaurant and drink specials of the day in the ship's daily newsletter.

Celebrity Constellation's massive two-deck, 1,170­-seat San Marco dining room features an elegant curving double staircase leading from the upper to the lower dining rooms. Two rows of dark wood columns form a corridor from the stairway to a dramatic two-deck-high wall of windows, which offers views of the ship's trailing wake.

For breakfast, served 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m., passengers can sip their coffee while enjoying eggs to order served with potatoes, sausage or bacon, omelettes, pancakes, waffles, cereals, pastries and other breakfast favourites. There is no assigned seating for breakfast or lunch.

Lunch seating begins at noon and ends at 1:30 p.m. Diners can choose from standard entree items like hamburgers, soups, sandwiches, pastas and salads or choose from specials like shepherd's pie, fried chicken, fish and chips and international dishes including Indian, Chinese and Italian.

For dinner, passengers can opt for traditional set seating at 5:45 p.m. (early) or 8:15 p.m. (late), or choose "Select Main Dining," which offers open seating between 5:15 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Menus consist of a choice of appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and desserts, and dinner is served over a leisurely two-­plus hours, which give diners time to get to know their new tablemates and share stories about onshore and shipboard adventures. The menu is divided into two sections: one lists items always on the menu -- ranging from escargot and shrimp cocktail to steak and grilled salmon -- while the other lists the day's specials. A fleet-wide tradition, a lobster entree is offered on the last formal night.

Menus offer a wide range of traditional international dishes from mild (beef Wellington, prime rib, fried chicken or veal chops) to wild (frog's legs, snails and ceviche). For vegetarians, there are several meat-free options like vegetable and ricotta cheese-stuffed "conch" shells and vegetable paella. Low-calorie specialities, like poached salmon, grilled chicken breasts or sugar-free desserts, are marked with a little heart on the menu. Celebrity deserves special commendation for its portion restraint (in the main dining room, at least). The reasonably sized appetizers and salads allow passengers to save room for dessert. It's also perfectly acceptable to order two starters, appetizers or desserts if you're really hungry or just can't make up your mind.

All of the dining venues offer their own selection of mostly American and European wines on a list that runs from $25 on up. There are also a few trophy wines like a bottle of Screaming Eagle ($1,000-plus). Sommeliers assigned to each table can be very helpful in selecting wines suited to your palate and pocketbook. If you plan on drinking wine most evenings, one of the wine packages can save you money. Service will save partially consumed wine bottles for your next dinner or lunch. As of now, passengers are no longer limited to bringing only two bottles of wine onboard for consumption during the cruise. Keep in mind that there is a $25 per bottle corkage fee to drink your own bottles in the dining room or any public spaces.

Celebrity now offers a new restaurant venue carved out of the San Marco dining room that is exclusively dedicated to suite passengers and upper-tier loyalty program members. It has its own chef's team and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For a casual meal, head to the Oceanview Cafe, Constellation's buffet venue on Deck 10. The oval space feels a bit like a running track with various food stations positioned along and inside the loop. Seating is casual and pleasant with views of the ocean. It can get a bit crowded at peak times, but there are enough duplicate food stations so passengers never have to wait too long for chow.

Breakfast offers a host of tasty and sometimes exotic items designed to satisfy Asian, English, Indian and American palates. Scrambled eggs are a favourite, fresh and never watery, though served from a steam-table tray. There's an omelette station where you can build your own or order eggs cooked your favourite way.

Lunch and dinner are international feasts with offerings like pizza and pasta, sushi and Asian stir-fries and curries, and fish and chips and other English specialities. Plus, there are sandwich and salad bars, along with a Caesar salad station. Desert choices are many, ranging from mini-tarts and sugar-free puddings to warm cookies, ice cream and soft serve. Beverage servers bring beer or wine (for an extra fee) on request.

The adjacent Sunset Bar, inspired by the richly lacquered cherry wood and khaki canvas sails of a classic schooner, provides alfresco seating on the stern for about 120 passengers. On sunny days, you'll find many diners there enjoying a quiet bite as they gaze at the ship's wake.

From noon to 6 p.m., the Poolside Grill offers a standard menu of tasty burgers, bratwursts and grilled chicken, with a full range of complement toppings including crisp bacon, sauteed onions, sliced red onions, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available upon request. Salads, like chickpea and feta or potato, round out the options.

Constellation's upscale alternative restaurants are Qsine and Tuscan Grille, both open for dinner.

Tuscan Grille is a modern Italian steakhouse. The Deck 11 circular space features dark-wood wine cabinets atop faux stone walls, and the restaurant is divided into two sections by a large leather banquette. The $45 ­per-head dinner is a multi-course affair. Favourites include the antipasti plate (with cheese, olives and marinated squash), fried calamari, bruschetta with tapenade and goat cheese, arugula salad with pine nuts and goat cheese, tender and juicy rib-eye steak with a pecorino mac 'n' cheese and meal-ending gelato. The steak portions are huge for most eaters, and the chef will reduce the portion as you request. Come hungry, otherwise, you'll be stuffed when the dessert plate arrives. 

The Tuscan Grille is also open a few times per cruise on an irregular basis, usually on a sea day from noon to 1:30 p.m. The fee is $20 and the menu features items from the dinner menu including a pasta, steak and veal chops.

Foodies, as well as those looking for an exclusive dining experience, should sign up for the little-publicized Chef's Table dinner, which features plentiful servings of some of the best food and wine on the ship. The availability of these dinners varies by cruise and passenger demand. Sometimes, they are mentioned in the daily newsletter; otherwise, it's best to inquire at reception. The fee tends to be pricier than similar offerings on other cruise lines; you'll need to inquire about the exact cost once onboard. If you're really into food and wine, you'll likely enjoy this three-hour-plus feast with great free-flowing super-premium wine and the opportunity to chat with other cruisers, senior officers and the executive chef. It's a meal to remember.

The Blu restaurant is the sophisticated white-table-clothed dining venue touting "clean cuisine” and available only to AquaClass passengers. (Certain suite passengers can get a table, based on availability.) The dining spot is open for breakfast 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and dinner 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Although there's a preconception by many passengers that the menu is full of flavourless vegan-type dishes in small portions, the reality is that the chefs strive to prepare popular dishes that are palate pleasing and reasonably good for you. For instance, they serve a steak with tasty truffle vinaigrette instead of a rich caloric bearnaise sauce. Breakfast includes the standard comfort foods like pancakes, waffles and French toast as well as eggs cooked to order -- of course, you can order yoghurt and a fruit plate as well. A typical dinner menu would start with appetizers like braised beef short ribs with chive pancakes, crispy corn fritters or mussel ceviche followed by a soup or salad course of New England clam chowder, Caesar salad or Waldorf Salad. Entrees include manicotti stuffed with ground veal, chorizo and beef, roasted wild Cornish game hen, and prime rib.

For health-conscious cruisers looking for some balance, Constellation has the AquaSpa Cafe, which is located within the glass­-and-steel-­covered solarium area and is very popular with the bathrobed gym-and-spa crowd for breakfast and lunch. The venue is a smallish stainless steel buffet lunch counter, featuring SPE-certified lighter fare, including low-calorie soups, low-fat entrees and sugar-free desserts formulated with no compromise in taste. Breakfast items include yoghurts, fruit plates and whole-grained cereals. Grab­-and-­go items on offer include sushi (vegetable rolls), grilled chicken, poached shrimp with avocado slices, whole­grain breads, a salad with a selection of light vinaigrettes, a daily hot or cold soup (melon with ginger) and poached fruit bar. There is no cost for most items, although there is a fee for certain desserts and smoothies. The smell of chlorine hangs heavy at times in the misty air, so many diners opt to take their goodies out to the main pool area. AquaSpa Cafe hours are 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from noon to 2 p.m.

Sushi on Five, the a la carte sushi bar is hidden away on Deck 5, is the spot to grab a roll or Asian entree for lunch or dinner.

If you're a Starbucks fan, you'll love Cafe al Bacio and the Gelateria located on Deck 5. Coffee drink prices at Cafe al Bacio are around $4 for a cappuccino and other speciality coffees, but you can fill up free on the delicious assorted pastries, mini-sandwiches, cookies and cakes only available here. It's open from 6:30 a.m. until midnight. Passengers eagerly await servings of some of the best desserts onboard, including the lemon tart, cheesecake and cream-layered coconut cake. During lunch hours, there are savoury options like small ham and turkey sandwiches and salmon mousse tarts. Adjacent high-backed chairs with porthole ocean views are much in demand by cruisers looking to relax with a coffee and book. Across the way at the Gelateria, gelato costs $3 for a single scoop and $4 for a double. (Sprinkles, crushed nuts, M&M's and other toppings are included in the cost.) There is a free ice cream station in the Oceanview Cafe, but their not-so-creamy offerings paled to the gelato here.

Room service is available 24 hours a day. You can order items, including a tomato, cheese and avocado quesadilla or a turkey club, using the interactive TV. Between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., there's a $3.95 charge for passengers in interior, oceanview and balcony staterooms. Breakfast can be ordered in advance via a door-hung ticket or the interactive TV the day before.

Celebrity Constellation features a variety of cabin categories to suit any passenger's needs, from tiny inside accommodations to lavish 1,500 ­square-­foot suites. About 60 per cent of its accommodations feature verandahs. Constellation's standard cabins ­­ inside, oceanview with a window and balcony cabins with a verandah (called "Deluxe Oceanview") ­­ average 170 square feet (with 38­-square­-foot balconies, where applicable), about 15 to 20 feet below the industry average. They are small, but well laid out, and after a couple of days, we got used to the size.

Tip: Deck 6 is the penthouse and primary suite deck and considered the best real estate on the ship for less expensive staterooms as well because it is where many of the best cabin attendants are assigned.

The decor features hotel-style white bedding with light brown accents, rust carpeting and deep red love seats for a splash of color. All staterooms now sport premium Reverie Dream Sleep System mattresses that were very comfortable. (Cruisers who like their onboard mattress can purchase the identical sleep system from Celebrity to be delivered to their home.) And -- perk alert! -- Celebrity has reinstated chocolates on the pillow at night as a sweet bonus in all cabin categories.

Inside, oceanview and balcony rooms feature two twin beds that convert into one queen, a small couch, a safe, small desk, a flat-screen TV and bathrobes. Minifridges offer pricy "emergency rations" that include hard liquor, beer, wine, snacks and water.

Small (except for suites) but efficient bathrooms provide shampoo, conditioner, bar soap and body lotion. Hairdryers are stored in one of the desk cubbies. It can be challenging finding room to store everything, but there are drawers integrated in most of the pieces of built-in furniture including the secondary closet, which also houses the safe. There's another drawer above the flat-screen TV, which also houses extra bedding. Empty luggage, even large pieces, easily fit under the beds.

For those looking for a little more space and a few more amenities, the Concierge Class cabins offer 191 square feet of living space with 42­-square-­foot ­balconies. Added amenities for concierge passengers include welcome bubbly, a pillow menu, daily canapes, a 32­-inch TV and nicer balcony furniture. In addition, passengers can access an exclusive lounge with free coffee, pastries and juices.

Sky Suites are very similar in layout to the oceanview cabins but not as cramped. They come in at 251 square feet not including the larger 57-square-foot balconies.

Continuing up in size, Family Veranda cabins are great for families of four. They are 271 square feet with enormous 242­-square­-foot verandahs that feature pairs of loungers and tables with two chairs each. Inside, there's a partition separating the "master bedroom" from the lounge and sleeping area for the kids. They are in short supply and sell out early.

Among the most popular choices on all Celebrity ships are the spa-inspired cabins, called AquaClass Staterooms. These accommodations boast a personal spa concierge to arrange spa treatments, an upgraded room service menu, a pillow menu, a spiffy Hansgrohe shower panel and a fog-free mirror. Plus, passengers in this category have exclusive access to the chic restaurant Blu, which features health-conscious cuisine.

The 467­-square-­foot Celebrity Suites feature a bedroom separated from the living area, which in turn contains a sitting area with a stuffed chair, a couch and a dining table with four chairs. Most of these suites spoil passengers with spacious 85-square-foot balconies, but Celebrity Suites 6104 and 6106 do not have verandahs, offering floor-to-ceiling windows instead.

The 538­ square­-foot Royal Suites (with 195 ­square-­foot balconies) add more space and feature whirlpool tubs on the verandahs. At the top of the list is a pair of 1,432-­square-­foot Penthouse Suites with massive, 1,098­-square-­foot balconies. These suites also feature a baby grand piano, should you wish for a private concert or to tinkle the ivories on your own.

All suite passengers enjoy the service of a butler, who can help pack and unpack, set up in­cabin meals and help make other onboard arrangements. Other suite extras include complimentary dinners at specialty restaurants, priority check-in, in-suite meals, complimentary espresso and evening hors d'oeuvres.

There are 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, including inside, oceanview, balcony, Concierge Class and Sky Suites.

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