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Adventure Travel Magazine

Larry Larsen's Media

Celebrity's Constellation - Caribbean Class

By Lilliam & Larry Larsen (c)

Celebrity's ConstellationSelecting the new Constellation for a Caribbean cruise is a "no-brainer." You are guaranteed great service, amenities and facilities on a ship that recently had yet to celebrate its first anniversary, and you visit some of the best ports of call in the entire Caribbean.  We kept busy on a very active 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise in early April 2003.

Prior to sailing, our expectations were quite high, having heard that Celebrity is several notches above other cruise lines. As customary on all Celebrity cruises, the food aboard the Constellation is a highlight throughout the week.

Arrival in San Juan, Puerto Rico and the check-in process were flawless.  We were welcomed at the airport by a Celebrity representative, who directed us to the bus.  In 20 minutes, we arrived at the cruise terminal.  Increased security required us to show our identification several times before even checking in at the cruise ship's counter.  It was only noon, but we could already board the ship. After the usual welcome photo upon entering the ship, we went to our stateroom. 

We had selected a Deluxe Ocean-view Stateroom with Veranda on the Vista deck, a 170 square foot room.  While it was spacious enough for two of us, a 191 sq.ft. Premium Stateroom would be preferable if more than two people share a room.   The cabin had the usual amenities: a mini-bar which can be used as a refrigerator; hair dryer in the bathroom; shampoo and lotion.  We quickly noted that guests should bring their own hair conditioner as none is available. Two robes are also provided, as are large beach towels each day.  There is ample closet and drawer space for all the stuff two people bring aboard for the week.

Welcome Aboard!

Since luggage often takes a few hours longer to arrive at your stateroom, we had brought along a comfortable change of clothes in our carry-on. We decided to have lunch and explore the ship in our shorts. After 6pm, "casual" dress is in order and that means slacks and collared shirts for men, dresses or pantsuits for ladies. "Informal" dress on a couple of the nights means jacket or coat for the men and nice outfits for the women. 

The first day on any cruise itinerary is often the most casual, and the welcome buffet was set up in the Seaside Café/Grill on Deck 10.  Each tray came with a cloth placemat, napkin and silverware, and we selected from a nice variety of fish, meat and salads spread out.  The bread selection was always extensive. Often, the waiters would take our tray and walk us to the table of our choice.

One of the interesting aspects of Deck 10 are the portholes on the floor, which allowed us to look down on the ship's decks below and all the way to the water!  What a view!  While the waiters assured us that the thick glass would hold several thousand pounds, we didn't see any guests who comfortably placed their chairs on the glass.

As usual on most cruises, we were assigned a table for the itinerary.  However, the first night on Constellation was open seating, as table assignments don't begin until the second evening.  The beautiful San Marcos Restaurant was unique in its two-level design, with two sweeping stairways connecting both levels.  Menu choices were good to very good on most nights.  We heard rave reviews about the fine dining restaurant, Ocean Liners, which was available for an additional $25 per person. If you are interested in true five-star dining, this is the place to go, but reservations should be made early in the week as it fills up quickly.

The mandatory muster is nearly always scheduled on the day of departure, often late at night. Having to wait for the late exercise is always unpleasant but necessary.

Glorious Spas and Pools

AquaSpaThe AquaSpa was also located on Deck 10.  Celebrity ships have the most extensive spa facilities of any cruise line we have yet experienced. The AquaSpa included the Persian Gardens, a separate area with steam sauna, dry sauna, aroma-sauna and mud bath facilities for which guests could pay an additional $99 per person for unlimited use. Lilliam chose to do so, since taking saunas is one of her favorite activities during a cruise. The spa facilities are co-ed, but perhaps due to the additional fee, she hardly ever had to share the sauna with anyone during the numerous times she enjoyed it.

The spa area also included extensive fitness equipment, hair salon, locker room and massage rooms. While we often like to participate in interesting fitness activities when on a cruise, the additional cost of $10 per person tacked on to stretching or kick boxing was disappointing and discouraged us from attending.

The scheduled times for massages were filled very quickly for the one day at sea, but Lilliam managed to find a slot for later in the week.  The AquaSpa also had a saltwater Thessalotherapy Pool (We have yet to figure out what it really did) and two Jacuzzis, open until 10 pm daily.  The outside pool was divided into two sections, and each section also had a hot tub adjacent.  The AquaSpa café also featured its own menu of low-calorie items in case you got hungry while walking to/from your stateroom.

The more popular main outdoor pool was usually quite busy, with excellent musical entertainment often playing at the busiest times.

Naturally, we had to visit the Casino aboard the Constellation, but that was easy. It took over the entire width of the ship on Deck 5. You couldn't go from one end of the ship to the other on this deck without going through the Casino.  While there were "no smoking" areas posted in the casino, the strong smell of cigarettes throughout prevented us from enjoying the various gambling opportunities and spending our usual $5 per person.

Casa de Campo Resort

Casa de CampoOur first port was the Dominican Republic, an island that hasn't had the fanfare of many others. The ship scheduled an anchorage during the morning at the private Catalina Island, and for beachgoers, this is a great start to the itinerary!  Numerous water activities for all ages, a beach lunch of hot dogs, hamburgers, grilled fish and plenty to drink provided enough entertainment for everyone. 

We took this opportunity to schedule golf and a day-long visit to Casa de Campo, long renowned for its status as a premier all-inclusive Caribbean resort. In fact, that famous resort has put the relatively unknown Dominican Republic "on the map" in many respects. We caught a ride to the mainland with the tender which was scheduled for the "packaged" golf group that was also heading to Casa de Campo. That tender is typically not available to the other cruise passengers wanting to go to the resort, unless they are part of the golf group.  

Trying to schedule several of the resort's great activities in one day is rough, but somehow we managed!  Lilliam started at the Equestrian Center with a two-hour horseback ride through parts of the new Dye Fore golf course, to the marina, and through some of the most beautiful housing areas we have seen in a long time.  Larry's light tackle fishing trip was cancelled due to rains and muddy waters in the river, so an extensive property tour around the 7,000-acre resort was in order.  After a delicious lunch, we walked to the pro shop for our afternoon round on the famed Teeth of the Dog (ranked #1 in the Caribbean). We just wished we had time to play their other two golf courses, the Links and the brand new Dye Fore. Guess we'll have to go back!

Other activites/facilities to enjoy on the fabulous resort include their Sporting Clays/Shooting Center, Tennis Center, beach with all the toys and craft found at the most complete resorts, and their beautiful new marina and yacht club.

Altos de ChavonIn the afternoon, the ship relocates to the main port terminal at Dominican Republic near Casa de Campo.  After golf, it's easy to take a short taxi ride to the cruise ship for a quick change and then return to the resort's Altos de Chavon Village, a unique Italian Renaissance-style village with beautiful shops and excellent restaurants. The village is located at the summit of a rock cliff overlooking the scenic Chavon River several hundred feet below.  Many of the shops feature unique local arts and crafts as well as contemporary items. A highlight is the Kandela Show, an evening entertainment with an "Afro -Caribbean" theme which is often scheduled at the impressive outdoor amphitheater.

After such a full day we returned to our cabin thoroughly ready to rest! 

Adventure At Sea

A day at sea is always welcome during a cruise. It gives passengers time to enjoy the ship's amenities with plenty of time at their leisure. It's also the busiest day for all the amenities, including spa, massages, indoor and outdoor pool, games, etc. Still, we never felt overwhelmed by the number of people on the ship.

Larry participated in several computer classes that were much more educational than we originally anticipated.  The lessons were held in the Online@Celebrity room which featured two dozen computers with internet access. For a nominal fee, guests could send e mails or make phone calls. This was a popular room throughout the week as it seems the availability of e-mail actually attracts people to try it out.

We received a pleasant surprise when an invitation came to join the Captain's Table that evening, the first formal night of the week.  Our tablemates, all members of the "Captain's Club" program, apparently were selected based on the type of cabin they had reserved (such as the Penthouse Suite) or the number of cruises they had taken (this was the 31st cruise with Celebrity for one couple).  Our captain, Michael Karatzas, a native of Athens, Greece, was very sociable. He had been with the Constellation for two months and would soon be transferred to another Celebrity ship.  Getting to meet him and learn more about the ship operations was certainly a highlight.

Barbados Jaunts

Barbados, the easternmost island of the West Indies, welcomed us with its British charm. The west coast of the island has over 10 miles of white-sand beaches with crystal clear waters. This is the only of the Windward Islands completely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.  And it's not called Windward for nothing; Barbados' mountainous east coast is craggy, windy and rugged, constantly pounded by the Atlantic.

On our first visit to Barbados several years ago we had rented a van and toured parts of the island on our own.  Few road signs made a good map imperative in order to find the attractions we were looking for.  One of the most interesting is Harrison's Cave, a natural wonder very easy to visit for all ages and mobility levels.  This time, we chose to play golf at the newly-renovated Barbados Golf Club. Cruise passengers can easily take one of the taxis outside the terminal for the 15-minute ride to the course.  Redesigned in 2000, the Barbados G.C. recently attracted a professional European tournament.  The hilly layout certainly made for a challenging game!

Other cruise passengers thoroughly enjoyed the kayak and turtle encounter and the rainforest hike and cave adventure which requires you to immerse yourself literally in water as you explore one of the newest caves recently opened to visitors.

Finally, on our fourth evening, we joined our tablemates for the first time.

Scuba St. Lucia

Anse ChastanetSt. Lucia, the second largest of the Windward Islands with almost 240 square miles of green hills, was both a French and a British colony for several hundred years until finally coming under British control in the early 1800's.  The locals in its capital of Castries and the surrounding countryside speak a mixture of French/English dialect. The majority of the ruggedly beautiful island, despite a spurt in tourism and economic growth, still retains an unspoiled atmosphere.  The Constellation docks in the Castries port harbor which lies within the flooded crater of an extinct volcano. 

Perhaps St. Lucia's most interesting and picturesque sights are the majestic Pitons, two half-mile high peaks jutting from the ocean as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago.  Near the impressive Pitons and not far from the island's Mount Soufriere Volcano on the southwest side lies the beautiful Anse Chastanet Resort. Just off its beach is the Anse Chastanet Reef, which is among the premier snorkeling and diving locations on the island. 

Protect the buffet from the birds!To experience the glory of this end of St. Lucia, we elected to participate in Celebrity's Scuba St. Lucia shore excursion program to Anse Chastanet. There we enjoyed a full day of snorkeling and diving, which also included an all-you-can-eat buffet.  A coral wall that dropped from 20 feet sharply into 140-foot depths harbored varieties of sea life including moray eels, shrimp, goat fish, parrot fish, wrasse and crabs. Most of the diving, accessible just a few short yards from the warm, volcanic sand beach, occurs in 40 to 60 foot depths. It is ideal for divers of all skill levels.

Antigua's Marine Interactions

Whether it means "tranquil" in the Carib Indian dialect, or named by Columbus after a church in Spain, Antigua (pronounced "An-tee-ga") has been inhabited since 2,400 BC.  Beachgoers may enjoy learning the 16-mile long island has 365 beaches, one of the every day of the week as the locals like to proclaim.  The most popular Constellation shore excursions are the dolphin encounter and the stingray swim. Both were booked well in advance of the cruise trip, and a waitlist yielded few confirmed reservations for the activities. For those that want to shop, the markets in St. Johns, the capital of Antigua, were open and ready to deal.

St. Thomas Waterscapes

Wyhdham Sugar BayThe commercial trade capital of the Caribbean, St. Thomas and its capital, Charlotte Amalie, continue to be a most popular destination in a large majority of cruise ship itineraries. St. Thomas is one of more than 50 US Virgin Islands and one of three with significant populations . While shopping is a major activity here, other fun things to do are many. Changes to the unincorporated U.S. territory from year to year are minimal, yet more shore excursions are offered here (29 in total) by the Celebrity Constellation than at any other stop. 

Perhaps one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a day on St. Thomas is to visit the luxurious Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa located on the east end of the island past Red Hook. A Day Pass is available to Cruise Ship passengers and it includes all activities and meals while at the resort. For $75, visitors can snorkel the reef just off the white sand beach, swim in several beautiful freshwater pools with water falls, "boil" themselves in a large Jacuzzi, watch the Iguana Feeding, play pool basketball, beach volleyball or participate in numerous other activities along the beach or in the pool area.

The Day Pass is also good for unlimited drinks at their poolside Turtle Rock Bar (love their Strawberry Daiquiris; watch out for the Rum Punch!) and for a great buffet luncheon at the Mangrove Restaurant or grilled items from the Iguana Grill, both adjacent to the pool. A taxi from the Cruise Port to the Wyndham is $8 per person. The great thing about such a shore activity is that you can leave and return to the ship at your leisure without being on the pressing timetable of some shore excursions!

 

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