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Trip Report A Cruise Review: The Connie Anew

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You never forget your first cruise. Like your first kiss, the memory sweetly lingers.

It’s those warm fuzzies that drew us back to Celebrity’s Constellation in December—eight years after she introduced us to a whole new way to travel.

But those were the days of midnight buffets and chocolates on our pillow. They’re long gone and the Constellation is a different place, run by the same—but yet a very different—cruise line.

The Ship: Wearing the Years Well
The Constellation has held up very nicely since its 2002 inauguration. Its upgrade and “Solsticization” in 2013 brought new beds to the cabins, refreshed carpeting throughout, new restaurants, bars and more. It’s a handsome ship, with a commanding marble staircase dominating the Grand Foyer on Deck 3.

One of the ship’s highlights is at the very back of Deck 10, what I call the “Teak Deck” for its upgraded picnic furniture (officially, it’s the “Sunset Bar”). The little patio, like most of the ship (including rooms and balconies), is now smoke-free, enabling all of us to enjoy the view of the stern’s wake without wheezing.

The ship is compact and easy to get around; we had the layout down in a day. Its relative smallness at 91,000 tons gave it an intimate feel, which, after many trips on larger vessels, was a nice change of pace.

The Entertainment: Mixing It Up
There’s been a big change in the daytime activities. Where once there were guest speakers, there are now “Life Enhancement” lectures on health and fitness. “Enhance Your Life Through Exercise” and “Happy Feet for Healthy Life” were some of the offerings.

There are also more pool and game show activities, as the cruise line works to appeal to younger cruisers. An officer vs. guest pool volleyball game made its debut on this trip, joining the usual “Newlywed Game” takeoff, “Battle of the Sexes” and “Liar’s Club,” which—a first for us—featured the ship’s captain on the panel.

Evening entertainment was good quality, albeit standard fare—Broadway-style shows, a comedian, violinist, magician and singer. Off-stage entertainment ran the gamut, from folk music to classical to rock and salsa.

The Food: A Turn Toward Ordinary
Alas, from this foodie’s perspective, quality was sacrificed for quantity. When we first took the Connie, the three-star Michelin winner Michel Roux was running the show and each meal in the main dining room was a gastronomical high. Today, the food is plain at best. Entrees ranged from good (there was a nice crispy breaded pork chop and decent tenderloin) to poor (one steak had a very strange consistency). Desserts are merely ordinary. Instead of the rich and decadent “Opera” pastry I enjoyed on Princess, for example, the Constellation serves up chocolate layer cake.

The ship’s buffet, the Oceanview Café, runs until 9:30 p.m. at dinner, but compared to buffets on competing lines, seems an afterthought. There are some nice features, such as made-to-order grilling (choice of steak, salmon, chicken and pork), stir-fry and pasta, good pizza and an ice cream bar with syrup and candy toppings. But the desserts seldom varied from puddings or cupcakes.

On the other hand, the breakfast and lunch buffets offered a huge variety. (Although sorely missing was the array of fabulous rolls we once looked forward to.)

The Extras: A Few Still Remain
Some of what earned Celebrity the reputation of a premier cruise line is still there—the welcome champagne at embarkation, iced towels greeting you after a hot day at port, but we find it a changed cruise line, and the Constellation, a changed ship.

Those sailing on the Constellation for the first time will enjoy a smaller ship experience, quality entertainment and a crew eager to please. In short, a good cruise, but not a spectacular one.

--Musing About Cruising, http://musingaboutcruising.blogspot.com

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