Celebrity Constellation

Southern Caribbean cruise, January 2006

Lee and I booked this cruise before the end of our first cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas last April. We absolutely loved being on Navigator and since we had heard that Celebrity was a step-up in terms of service, food and so forth, we decided to book on Constellation. This ship has been named as the top cruise ship by readers of Condé Nast Traveller for a few years in a row and the itinerary sounded cool. So, before stepping off our first cruise, we had a booking for another. It’s a living…
We used Aeroplan points to fly to Puerto Rico to board the ship; we booked the plane tickets on a cell phone on a street corner last May once we had decided when we needed to arrive in San Juan. It was a bit of a round-about routing from Ottawa to Toronto to Philadelphia to San Juan. We were a bit worried since we had some flights on US Airways. Our flights were booked before US Airways had merged with Southwest and there were some doubts if the company would remain in business. Our paper tickets arrived last June.
We invited a bunch of people to come along including Tom and Rich our friends from D.C. and David and Tim our friends from Ottawa.

Thursday, January 5th, leaving Ottawa
We had decided that since winter weather can be touchy, we would try to get to San Juan with at least a one-day buffer before the Constellation set sail. We could not get a flight on the Friday using Aeroplan points, but we could fly to Philadelphia on Thursday evening and then fly from Philadelphia to San Juan on Friday. That seemed to the best option as we would have many options if air traffic was delayed because of winter weather.
We had a confirmed reservation on a 4pm flight from Ottawa on Thursday with a connection through Toronto. Toronto airport is a real problem for connections to the U.S., so we arrived at the airport early and we were put on standby for a 3pm flight. There was plenty of space on the plane, we got on the flight and arrived in Toronto without incident around 4pm. We followed the signs in Terminal One for U.S. connections to pick up our bags and go through U.S. Customs in Terminal Two. Our luggage was taking quite a while to come off the belt in the connections area at Terminal Two. We also noticed that our flight to Philadelphia was not listed on the video monitors. We inquired at the desk and we were told that we were at the wrong terminal. Since we were connection from an Air Canada flight to a US Airways flight, we’d have to meet our baggage in Terminal Three. So much for following the signage. By the time we got to Terminal Three and found the connecting flights luggage belt, it was about 6pm. Nothing had come out yet and the clerk who was working at the luggage belt told us that it can take up to two hours for the bags to transfer from one terminal to another. Luckily, we had time, so we went to have something to eat. At 7pm, we went back and our bags had still not come out. The dolt baggage clerk was still of no help, now she was saying that three hours was not out of line for the bags to be transferred. Our bags never showed up and it was time to catch our flight to Philadelphia. Neither of us was very happy about leaving Toronto without seeing our bags, but we were stuck.
Once we arrived in Philadelphia, we filed a delayed baggage claim with US Airways. We were issued a claim number and a phone number to track the claim. Luckily the insurance on our Visa cards will cover emergency purchases in the case of delayed luggage. Since neither of us had clean underwear or a shirt for the next day, we tried to get to the shops in the Philadelphia airport.  We were out of the secured area and did not have a ticket for a flight so we could not get in to buy anything that night. We stayed Thursday evening at the Hilton at the airport; it was a quick shuttle drive from the terminal to the hotel. Since it was getting quite late, they did not have any rooms left with a King bed. We were given a room with a Queen bed instead. One look at the bed, we realized it would not work for us size-wise (our skins might touch). We called back down to the front desk and were told to come get a key for a double room. The room we were given had a King bed in it. That seemed weird…we called back down again and we were told that it was a mistake. We got a THIRD key; this room was okay. It was 11pm by the time we got into bed.

Friday, January 6th, arrival in Puerto Rico
One of the first things we did when we woke up early on Friday morning was to check the status on our luggage claim. Our bags had still not been found. We had breakfast in our room and caught the shuttle to the airport. There is a Gap store in the Philadelphia airport, so we thought we could at least buy some underwear and a clean shirt. Unfortunately, this particular store was going out of business and only carried women’s clearance items. The only other store in the airport that had clothing was the PGA Golf store. I bought a golf shirt, but there was really nothing else we could buy.
The flight to San Juan was completely full; we could not get seats together. There was a lot of seat shuffling going on, and Lee ended up sitting next to some biker type. A few shuffles later, Lee was able to get the seat next to me. We flew to San Juan on a newer Airbus 330 that had an excellent in-seat entertainment system. You could pick what you wanted to watch on the video screen built into the seat ahead of you. There were several choices of movies, TV shows and music. I watched March of the Penguins while Lee watched The Iron Chef and some home décor shows. The flight went by very quickly. The meal on the flight consisted off a small container of cheese-like product and dry bread sticks to dip into it, two cookies and a single Lifesaver. I was stuffed!
In San Juan, we checked on the status of our luggage and a clerk from US Airways took us into their lost luggage room to see if it was there. It was a creepy, dark closet in the corner of the terminal. There were quite a few bags there, none were ours however. There were going to be a few more flights arriving from Philadelphia that day, so we had a few more chances for our luggage to catch up. Both of us were getting pretty worried. It would not be fun to go on a week’s vacation with only the clothes on our back. We alternated between “we’ll be fine” to “how can this happen to us!”. We caught a cab to the Embassy Suites in Isla Verde, within spitting distance of the airport. This room was a freeby using Hilton points I had accumulated on my trip to Sweden earlier this year. It was a very nice large and comfortable room. One of our first tasks was to find a store and buy some clothes. January 6th however is Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico and all the malls and stores were closed. There was a 24-hour grocery store next door to the hotel so we went there to see if they had t-shirts or something of the sort. No luck there, so we went to a Walgreen’s that was close by. We bought a few toiletries we were missing, some underwear and Lee bought a shirt. We called several times about our bags with no luck, then after a bath and a nap we called the airline again, and found out that our luggage had been found and they wanted the address in Philadelphia where we wanted the bags delivered. There was a bit of confusion when we explained that were in Puerto Rico and needed the bags there. Luckily, we called in time for our luggage to make the last flight to San Juan that day; our bags were going to be on the flight arriving at 10:30pm that night. That was a relief!
Tom and Rich were staying at the Courtyard Hotel close by and came to our hotel for drinks before heading out to eat. Lee had received a suggestion from someone in the Cruise Critic newsgroups on the Internet of a restaurant on the beach in San Juan called Pamela’s. Rich had booked a reservation by Internet. The cab ride to the restaurant was pretty scary; we were driving through some very questionable neighbourhoods. The restaurant was located in the Numero Uno Guest House in the Ocean Park neighbourhood, right on the beach. We had to pass through a security gate to get into the neighbourhood, so we felt a bit better about where we had ended up. We were some of the first people to arrive and we got a great table right on the beach. It was a beautiful evening and there were fireworks going off in the distance for Three Kings Day. The restaurant owner had a cat named Spot that likes to hang out with the customers, so we had some kitten company for dinner. The meal was good (I had a nice grilled mahi-mahi), but very expensive. It was worth it for the ambiance however. After dinner, the four of us stopped by the grocery store to investigate wine to buy to bring onboard. The prices weren’t really that great especially since we’d have to pay a corkage fee in the restaurant on-board to bring in our own wine.
Instead of letting the airline deliver the bags to our hotel when they could get around to it, Lee and I went back to the airport to pick up our luggage. We had to talk our way into the baggage area since the doors leading into the terminal in that area are “exit only”. The flight from Philadelphia was delayed, so we had to pace around for a while. It ended up that our bags were coming on the same flight that Tim and Dave were to arrive on. We ran into them at the luggage carousel. They didn’t believe our story that we were only there to welcome them to Puerto Rico! We waited around nervously, the baggage carrousel started to move and eventually one of our bags appeared. Then another…then another. We were doing the dance of joy. Then the carrousel stopped. Three of the four bags had arrived; one of Lee’s bags was still missing. So close…but yet so far. The baggage clerk was very surprised since their records had shown that all fours bags had been placed on that flight. While we were waiting at the carousel, we struck up a conversation with a couple of women who were on the same cruise as us. It was pretty clear that they were on the team as well, and we told them we would see them on board. It was a late night; we didn’t get back to the hotel until after midnight.

Saturday, January 7th, embarkation
When we got up around 8am, we both had the weird feeling of being excited about getting on the ship but also a feeling of worry about not having Lee’s bag. The one bag that had arrived was a grab-bag of shoes, personal items and some clothes. Lee was still missing things like underwear and dress shirts but could potentially manage if we could buy a few things that day. Our plan of attack was to board the ship and later in the day if the bag did not show up we would cab it to the mall and buy a few things. Our hotel included breakfast so we ate at the hotel, then, knowing darn well that we were quite early, we left for the cruise terminal around 9:30 am. We were not the first ones in line however. A couple had arrived on a flight at 3am. We spoke to many people in the line as it formed, including a couple of nice ladies from Windsor. At 11:30am they let us into the terminal building and we were able to check in around noon. One of the reasons we wanted to be in the front of the line was that Lee knew that there a few balcony cabins that were still unsold and they sometimes would offer a discounted upgrade at the pier. Unfortunately we were told there were none available. We thought the guy was full of shit, we thought we had a good idea of what cabins were unsold! Not only that, we saw the print-out on the guy’s desk showing the empty cabins on this sailing. There was a duty-free liquor store at the terminal so we bought a couple of bottles of wine on sale. Not knowing what the wine prices were going to be onboard, we took a chance in buying some wine that was one sale two-for-one.
When you board the Constellation for the first time, you are greeted with a glass of champagne. Those people who boarded after the official boarding time also got an escort to their room. Some people really get off on having someone in a tuxedo show them to their room. I hate that kind of stuff, so I am glad that we could just go ahead on our own. Once on board, we stopped by our room to drop off our carry-on bags. We ran into our room attendant, Hilda. She said she had not finished getting our room ready and she apologized profusely. We knew we were early, so we dropped our bags off in the room and left right away so Hilda could finish. The lunch buffet was not open yet, so we took the opportunity to take a look around the ship.
The first thing that struck us was that this ship was very “boat looking” This might strike someone as a strange comment, but it was true. The Constellation is beautiful, but you do really have the impression you are on a ship. Much of the mechanics of the ship, particularly outside are exposed. On the Navigator of the Seas, you had more of the impression that you were in a luxury hotel that just happened to float. The Constellation however is definitely a ship, mind you, a very luxurious one.
The buffet area was now open for those people who had boarded early. There was not much difference in the buffet between Constellation and Navigator, the choices we pretty standard fare. One difference in that on Constellation, there are servers who will dish out your choices. People are not free to scoop their own food. That is nice! Plus, there are uniformed waiters who will help people bring their trays to their table if required. Another bonus is that the drinks station is open, so you can get lemonade, ice tea, and coffee on your own. On the Navigator, you had to ask a waiter for a drink. There was a long line to actually get to the buffet, since you had to wait for a waiter to hand you a tray. Um...I think I can take a tray on my own without having to wait for it. The buffet lines were long (well, what I saw of them) all week because of this.
After lunch we stopped by the concierge desk. The luggage attendant at the airport said that the cruise ships have people stationed at the airports and they could facilitate getting Lee’s bag to the ship. The concierge was very helpful and took down all the information about the luggage. Lee mentioned that his dress clothes were in that bag and was worried about not having clothes for the formal evening the next day. The concierge said that if Lee’s bag did not arrive, they would offer him a free tuxedo rental. I think that really comforted Lee knowing that if his bag did not arrive he would not feel out of place on formal nights.
We unpacked the things that we did have and put the suitcases out of the way under the beds and took off again to look around the ship. Exploring the ship is one of my favourites things about cruising. We had set a time before we left home for all of us to meet in the Martini Bar before dinner. Today, the Martini Bar was offering a sampler of different martinis. They had a placemat that had six different circles on it; you got a small sample drink for each spot. It was a great way to taste a few different drinks. However, by the time we had finished five of the six martinis, we were a bit looped. The sixth martini was the classic gin variety; neither Lee nor I drank it. Too much like paint thinner.
Since the ship did not leave Puerto Rico until 11pm that night, the first dinner is open seating. The meal was not the greatest. Lee and I both had veal piccata, it was kind of spongy and not very lemony. Celebrity offered the option of sending bon voyage gifts to people taking cruises. We ordered a couple of bottles for ourselves and one for David and Tim and one for Tom and Rich. A really scary woman was working as sommelier in our area of the dining room, she did not believe we had purchased the wine on board and was quite hostile about it. She looked it up though and saw it was provided by Celebrity. Service was pretty slow, and we ended up missing the entertainment for that evening as there was only one show at 7:45pm for both dinner seatings. Some people we were talking to later in the week said the launch night show was not very good. After dinner, we were going back to our room, and ran into a large group of very drunk people. A couple of staggering women wanted to come party in our room, so we made a run for it to get into our room before they could catch up. Lee tripped on a piece of luggage in the hall and was about to curse when he realized that it was his lost bag. It had arrived. There was much happiness in room 2160! We unpacked that bag and took off for a walk. We ran into Tom and Rich in the AquaSpa, they were enjoying the Thalassotherapy pool (I will call it the T-pool from now on…) The T-pool is shaped like a + symbol. It is about 4 feet deep and the water is hot like a whirlpool tub. On two sides of the + there are bubble jets and there are benches formed by metallic rollers which allow you recline right over the bubble jets. Each bench could accommodate 5 people. Super comfortable and very relaxing. The T-pool became a prime destination at the end of the day and would become very busy. In the AquaSpa, there is also a café which served a selection of healthy food options. The AquaSpa café became a favourite for lunch and snacks with our group. We also had breakfast one day and it was very nice, with lots of fruits, cereal and lighter meal options. I don’t think Tim and David will every cruise again if there is no AquaSpa. I would tend to agree with them. It was the best feature on the ship in my opinion.
The Muster Drill was called around 10:30pm and we were required to go to our room to collect our life vests and meet at our pre-assigned location. We were to meet during the drill in the Rendezvous lounge on the fourth floor. When we got there, we ran into the ladies from Windsor from the check-in line and we chit-chatted and giggled through most of the drill. We watched the sail-away from San Juan from the back of the top deck of the ship with David and Tim and hit the sack around 11pm. We were now on the open seas heading toward St. Marteen.
Our room was located on Deck Two of the ship. It was an outside view room, with a large glass porthole. Up until leaving San Juan we only had a view of the terminal building. Once we got back to our room and opened the curtains, we could see the water fly past our window. I got momentarily dizzy and had to sit down. It made me queasy to look out the window with the water rushing by. The boat rocked quite a bit that evening, so I took a Gravol-type pill just in case. I felt the ship movement much more on Constellation compared to Navigator. With our room being on a lower floor, the movement was less distinct in our room than on the upper floors or even in the dining room. Tom didn’t think he would be able to handle the movement but after a day or two he was okay.

Sunday January 8th, St-Maarten
Our first port stop was St-Maarten. This was one of the stops we did on our previous cruise and it was our favourite stop. One reason why we chose this itinerary was that we would be coming back to St-Maarten. Orient Beach in St-Martin (on the French side, hence the different name) is spectacular, there was no questioning whether we would be coming back here this time around. Lee and I ate in the dining room this morning at a nice table for two and were ready to get off the ship once it docked at 9:30am. We met up with Tom and Rich and jumped in a cab to Orient Beach. The cab was minivan and we shared the ride with eight totally loud Spaniards. I have come to the realization on this cruise that it is impossible for anyone to speak Spanish quietly; it is always spoken at the top of your lungs it seems. The fare for the cab ride divided between twelve people worked out to $5 each. We rented chairs and umbrellas close to the same spot we sat on our previous visit. After taking a short walk on the nudie side of the beach, Lee and Rich went parasailing. I got to sit in the boat while they went up. Business was a bit slow that morning. While Rich was in the air, the boat driver kept dropping him in the water or having him float over the beach to try to draw other customers. The driver wanted me to go up as well, and whenever I refused he would dunk Rich in the water. We asked for restaurant suggestions on the beach and the parasailing guys pointed to a place close to where we were sitting. It was run by an older couple from New Jersey. The owner’s wife was the waitress and she was a lot of fun. While we were sitting there enjoying a Carib beer, we saw Tim and David walk by; they came in and joined us for lunch. They had taken a cab to Marigot on the French side of the island, but since it was a Sunday, everything was closed. They jumped in a cab and came to the beach. The food was very good; it was a wonderful feeling to be sitting close to a beautiful beach in the sunshine and warmth. Since this beach was on the French side of the island, many women were topless. They sat in the restaurant without their tops on like it was the most normal thing in the world. Around 2:30pm we decided to return and take a quick look around Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. There was not much other than duty-free jewellery stores in town, so Lee and I took the water taxi back to the cruise pier. One nice little thing that Celebrity does is that when you get back on the ship, they give you a cold damp facecloth which you can use to rinse your face and hands off while getting back onboard. It was very refreshing. I took a quick dunk in the T-pool and a bit of a lie down.
Sunday was the first of the two formal nights on the ship. Lee and I got dressed a bit early and had a few portraits taken at a few spots around the ship. None of them really turned out however. We ordered a bottle of bubbly at the Champagne Bar, and had the remains of the bottle delivered to our table for dinner. The meal tonight was outstanding; we started with a delicious goat cheese appetizer, corn soup, salad and beef tournedos. For desert I enjoyed cherries jubilee.
The show after dinner was salute to Broadway over the years. The Celebrity theatre is quite very large, with couch type seating and cocktail tables every couple seats. The show was quite good; some of the material was a bit dates (Hello Dolly, for example), but the musicians and singers were very good. The stage was very elaborate with a turntable and risers and things that would pop up from the stage. You can tell their material was chosen for an older crowd, but they did a good job with what they were given. After the show, we all went our separate ways. Lee and I stopped by the casino so he could play a bit. We ran into our airport lesbians, Robin and Laurie. We had a lovely chat. We were totally dragging our butts by that time and we both dropped into bed at 11:30pm just exhausted from the active day.

Monday January 8th, Dominica
Our next stop on the cruise was to the small island of Dominica. Dominica is one of the youngest islands in the Caribbean. The island is nearly all covered by rainforest, it is quite green and lush. They are new to the tourist industry and have been very careful to cultivate an environmentally-sound tourist business. There are no beaches and not much shopping on Dominica, but there is a lot of outdoor activities such as hiking.
Lee was up early this morning and went up to the pool before I was awake. The boat had already docked in Dominica before we awoke. The pier in Dominica is very small; only one ship would be able to dock at a time. We met Tom and Rich for breakfast in the dining room. It was very sunny out, but there would be short rain showers almost all day long. Tim, David, Rich and Lee had booked an excursion to do a rope and zip line course in the rain forest. I had considered maybe going on a hike or something of the sort, but come Monday morning I was totally bagged. After taking a few pictures on deck after the boys left, I went back to the room and took a nap.
I had lunch by myself in the buffet (not very good…) and decided to get off the ship to look around the town of Roseau. There was not much to see or do, so after about a half hour of wandering I got back on the ship. Lee had returned from his excursion. He said they had a great time, and then he showed me the brutal rope burn he got on his arm. I shrieked, it looked like his arm had been through a meat grinder. When I calmed down, I realized it was redder than anything. I accompanied Lee and the boys for lunch in the AquaSpa, and then popped into the gym to do some time on the cross-trainer. The nap did me a world of good, my energy was back. The gym on the ship was well equipped, but two of the six or so cross-training machines did not work properly. Upon returning to the room, we found a beautiful flower arrangement that Tom and Rich has sent us. It certainly brightened up the room
Just before dinner, we had plans to meet in the Rendezvous lounge for drinks before dinner. There are three featured drinks of the day on the ship, today it was a coyote margarita (a peach frozen margarita). Holy crap it was good!! We watched the ship sail away from Dominica from the Promenade on Deck Four. It was very beautiful with the clouds over the mountains. It was casual night in the dining room, so we did not have to get dressed up. Dinner was excellent once again; I had a grilled tomato and cheese appetizer, gumbo soup, a lamb shank and tiramisu for desert. We also had a bottle of the el-cheapo wine from duty free. It wasn’t great, but what can you expect for less than $4.
Before we left on the cruise, Lee had requested that the cruise line hold a mixer for their gay and lesbian passengers. The Friends of Dorothy party (as they are called on the daily schedule) was held in the Martini Bar. We met a few other couples: Bill and Josh from the D.C. area and Andrew and Gerry from Virginia. Andrew and Gerry own a guest house on Chesapeake Bay. Andrews was a bit of a complainer and even though he was chatty and friendly he was not too pleasant to be around.
We sat in the Martini Bar chatting until around 10:30pm when we decided to go check out the bar on Deck Eleven called the Bar at the edge of the earth. The bar was designed by Cirque du Soleil and used to feature an interactive experience featuring characters from the cirque. That didn’t really work out, so now it is a disco. Lee decided to head to bed instead, on my way back to the room a little bit later, I ran into him in the casino. He played a bit more then we hit the sack around 11:30pm.

Tuesday, January 9th , St. Lucia
The next stop on this itinerary was St. Lucia. After breakfast in the dining room, Rich, Lee and I jumped into a cab to head towards Reduit Beach. Access to taxis is quite controlled at the pier. Before getting into a taxi, an attendant asks you where you are going, and then tells you what the fare will be. That way, the taxi driver can not take advantage of us poor tourists. They were people outside the fenced-in area yelling that they will take us to the beach for half price. No thanks, I prefer to take the taxi where I know how much it will cost before I leave! The taxi driver was nice, but didn’t shut up for the whole time. He’d ask questions but would not give you the opportunity to answer. He wanted to show us around, but we wanted to go to the beach. To insure that we can get a cab back to the ship, we asked him to return at 2pm. We were given a ticket that will insure that we get into the same taxi to get back. I guess there are lot of scavengers trying to get people to take a different cab back.
The beach was very nice. It is quite narrow, but the sand was soft and the water was nice and clean. We rented a chair and umbrella and proceeded to get installed. Within moments we were hounded by locals trying to sell us crap. Lee and Rich went to change at a restaurant bathroom. While they were gone I was shooing away locals like crazy: no, I don’t want a necklace, or a jet-ski ride, or a tour of the island, or a hollowed out coconut with carved birds on it, or my hair braided. It was very harassing, and gave me a bad impression of the place. One guy, when we told him we didn’t want a tour, started to comment on how flabby we were and how we need to get out and do stuff instead of sitting on a beach all day. Yeah...fuck off! We hung out at the beach for a few hours then went into a beachside restaurant for lunch. Lunch entrees were listed at $50, $75, $100 and so forth. We panicked until we realized that the prices were posted in Eastern Caribbean dollars, not in US dollars. I had a fantastic grilled fish, Lee and Rich has scallops that they really enjoyed. We also had some of the local beer called Piton. It was very good, nice and light and cold. Our taxi drive Jean Louis was waiting for us when we got out of the restaurant, again he wanted to drive to show us the Parliament and so forth. We wanted to go into Castries instead. People in St. Lucia are big fans of Canadians, we have provided a lot of aid to their country, in fact the local school was built with Canadian money and the school uniform is red and white in our honour. Jean Louis even had a Canadian flag sticker in his cab. As we drove into town, we passed Tom on his way to the craft market so we had the taxi driver pull over. We went into a few stores and a little shopping plaza and realized it was the same stuff we had seen everywhere else, so we took the water shuttle back to the ship. Castries was not a very nice looking place, and again, people were harassing us to look at their stuff so we had no desire to hang around too long. Back at the pier there was a small shopping area, we all popped into a rum store and sampled some of the local rums. Lee tasted some weird-ass peanut butter cream rum drink. Too weird for me!
A dip in the T-pool has become customary after a day’s excursion; I also went on deck to take some pictures as we left St. Lucia. We had a long way to go to get to our next stop, so the ship was moving pretty quick and you could really feel the movement. Dinner this evening was roast turkey. It was good but an overly large portion. After dinner, we went right to the theatre to get a seat for the Cirque du Soleil show. The interactive “experience” in the Bar at the edge of the earth did not work out well for Celebrity, so they now have an evening show they call A Taste of Cirque du Soleil, basically three cirque acts and some clowns/comedians. One of the clowns was walking through the audience at the beginning of the show and as she walked in front of Lee she pointed to his drink (a daiquiri) and said “foofey” and giggled. One act was a guy who rolled around the stage in a big metal ring; there was also a female acrobat and a couple of hot jugglers. They also did a bit on stage with the comedians where they drag some shlub from the audience. It was a great show, very extravagant considering it was on a cruise ship. After the show, there is a masquerade party in the Bar at the edge of the earth. We were a bit early for the party so we stopped by the piano bar called Michaels’ Club to hear the lounge singer. She was outstanding; she had a very Diana Krall-esque voice. I don’t know why we didn’t spend more time in this bar, it had a very nice ambiance and the music was great. Lee and I had bought some masks before leaving Ottawa since they are compulsory to get into the masquerade party. They had dance music playing and video images projected on the walls. It was fun to dance. Some weird lady (a self-proclaimed fag-hag witch from Ottawa) was hanging around us, so Lee and I left to see the karaoke going on in the Rendezvous lounge. It was roadkill karaoke, with a bunch of drunken straight people singing Marguaritaville and My Way. There was no seating so we left. We ended up at the casino again where we ran into Tom. They were serving really great canapés in the casino and other public areas, so we trailed one of the waiters. They had these good little Beef Wellington things, and little smoked salmon rolls. I had a few dessert treats as well. We retired for the evening close to midnight.

Wednesday, January 10th , Marguarita Island, Venezuela
Oh, it was nice to sleep in until 9am this morning. The boat had docked earlier this morning. The reviews we had heard of this stop were not great, so we had no great need to rush off the ship and look around.
In the Celebrity newsgroups, people always rave about the waffles served in the buffet on the ship. We tried them out and they were not very good. They were doughy and hard and instead of fruit, they have some kind of jam-like substance to put on them. We have waffles often at home, so maybe we are used to having good ones, but after all we had heard about them, it was a let-down.
There was a crafts market just off the ship in the “compound” at the pier. It was a bit scary; the placed was fenced in, with a guard tower. It ended up not being too bad, at least at this craft market, there were actual handmade local crafts. I saw some nice wood bowls that I would have considered buying. No one hounded you to buy anything, if you liked something, you could ask the people about it without being pestered. There was a Princess ship that was tendered just offshore. The line-ups to get back to that ship were quite long as they were going to be pulling out soon. There was also a nice beach just off the end of the pier area. At one end of the beach there was lot of trash and the bugs were kind of bad, so we decided that we would spend our sun time by the pool instead. The crafts market was not an all day thing, so we returned to the ship and had lunch in the dining room. We were both kind of pooped so we tried to take a nap in the afternoon. It didn’t work for us though.
Our ship was set to leave at 3pm that afternoon. From our room on Deck Two, we had a great view of the gangway. As it was coming time to leave port, we could see people running back to the ship. It is funny how people can be so careless to hang around to the point of almost not getting back on. The sail-away was quite fast and before long, we were going full steam ahead. The ship was rocking quite a lot and the waves viewed from our window were quite high
Wednesday was the second formal evening, referred to as the Captain’s Dinner. We had martinis again (do you sense a theme?). The dinner was fantastic, a great cream of celery soup and broiled lobster tails. They were delicious and ample. For dessert, they made a big production of the Baked Alaska (It was more about theatrics than about serving a good dessert!). Tom and Rich treated us with wine for dinner; they ordered a delicious gewürztraminer and a Riesling. We had abandoned the cheap wine we bought at duty free and we were buying from the wine list in the restaurant. The selection was good and the prices were not out of this world.
At 8pm, there was another Friends of Dorothy party in the Rendezvous lounge. We had 12 people show up; I think were only missing two couples we knew of. Unfortunately, the show was going to be starting soon, so we had to leave to get seats in the theatre. The show this evening featured music from all around the world. There were some songs in a French style, songs from Italy, Ireland, Russia, Africa, Australia, Brazil and others. There were many elaborate costume changes. Alas, the show bordered a bit on the cheesy. The performers certainly were kept busy with the set changes and costume changes. After the show, while Lee, Rich and I were browsing the shops, we ended up talking to the guy who runs the art auctions. He was trying to talk up some really ugly piece of art and we weren’t going for it. He was very pleasant though and we had a nice chat. Lee told him we might come for the auction if there is no one of interest in the sauna, his way of testing his gay-dar on the guy. He understood the comment and laughed. It was an early night and we were in bed by 10:45pm.

Thursday, January 12th 2006, Aruba
The whole ship was abuzz with talk about the American girl who went missing in Aruba a while back. Tom, Rich, Lee and I met for breakfast in the dining room. The ship was not supposed to dock until 11am, so after breakfast we had the opportunity to sit and enjoy the view from the Promenade deck. The ship circled the island before docking early at 10:30am. David, Tim and I had an excursion to go mountain biking after lunch, Lee, Rich and Tom were going to the butterfly farm and aloe vera factory. Rich, Lee and I got off the ship as soon as it docked and spent some time walking around Oranjestad. It was a very nice town; you can tell that this is one of the better developed islands. The stores are quite nice and the town is clean and well manicured. Rich wanted to buy a specific fragrance for his mother, so we popped into a few stores looking for the product. We all met at the AquaSpa Café on the ship for lunch before heading on our excursion.
David, Tim and I took a bus to the south side of the island to begin our bike ride. The landscape was very arid and desert like; there were huge cacti everywhere you looked. The starting point was right where the Natural Bridge used to be. It had collapsed last year, so it is now a big pile of rubble. The bike ride was fun, the terrain ranged from very flat and firm to very bumpy and sandy. The route we followed hugged the southern coast, which is very rugged and desert-like. The waves crashing against the rocks were very impressive. We saw wild donkeys, dogs and goats. We stopped for a rest at an old gold mine, an outdoor church and at the lighthouse. The ride was fun, but our asses were killing us by the end. It was about a three hour ride, I think we went about 10 miles. One thing that was disturbing was how much garbage was washing up on the rocks from the ocean. We finished our bike ride at Palm Beach. Our bus had not arrived so we had to wait around for about 30 minutes. Then we had to wait some more because our fruit snack was not there yet. I think we all could have passed on the fruit snack by that time, but it came and it was a nice fruit salad. The ride back to the ship was fun; the driver was a crazy woman who didn’t like to wait in traffic. At one point, she jumped the curb in her bus and drove across a parking lot before pushing her way back into traffic. We were all cheering her on since it got us back to the ship quicker.  A dip in the T-pool was much enjoyed after the exertion of the bike ride. Lee’s trip to the butterfly farm was enjoyed as well, but the trip to the aloe vera factory was nothing more than an opportunity to buy stuff in the gift shop. He did not like the tour guide much since the guy was talking too much and making stupid jokes.
Dinner this evening was a nice filet mignon. Lee and I bought a nice cabernet wine to go along with it based on the suggestion of the sommelier, Elliot from Australia. Elliot was quite tall, very cute and friendly. We were ready to share the wine, but each couple bought their own bottle. That worked out well, we wondered beforehand if people would want to share wine or buy their own. After dinner, we popped down to the duty-free store on the ship and bought a couple bottles of flavoured rum. It was still early, so Lee and I went back to the T-pool to relax, before watching the sail-away from Aruba with Rich on the Deck Eleven. Once again, we witnessed people running for the ship as they were pulling the gangway in. It was a spectacular clear night. We stopped by the casino with Rich on the way back to the room and he learned all there is to know about slot machines. Lee didn’t do very well, but we got to try a few more of the yummy canapés. It was 12:30am before we hit the sack.

Friday January 13th, sea day
Our last day was spent at sea booting it back to Puerto Rico as it is quite a long haul from Aruba. Lee and I started the day with breakfast in the AquaSpa café, and then we played the chair scramble, trying to find deck chairs by the pool. It was still early and most chairs were already occupied, or had stuff on them being “saved”. I’d just move the stuff if there was no one actually using the chair, but Lee wanted to avoid confrontation. We took the time to fill out postcards, and I popped in and out of the pool when I got overheated. It was very windy out, so we had to make sure that everything was weighted down. There were two games of Bingo today, during the morning session you could win an Alaskan cruise. Lee and I played this session, but neither of us did very well. We met the other guys for lunch in the AquaSpa Café. I checked out the buffet, but it didn’t seem all that exciting for lunch. After lunch we sat out a while longer. The boutique staff had set up a table with a clearance t-shirt sale, so I bought a white golf shirt with the Celebrity logo on it. The guys from the boutiques took their sweet time setting up; people were on them like starving dogs on a pork chop. I tried going back to the T-pool, but the ship was rocking so much the water was sloshing from one end to the other and I was feeling a bit sea-sick watching the tsunami happening in front of me. We had lots of packing to do, so Lee and I went back to the room for a while and started to pack some of our dirty clothes. We took a break and went and had a Mai-tai while watching the waves from the Promenade on Deck Four.
Our final dinner was going to be at the specialty restaurant called Ocean Liners. This is a premium dining experience; they charge a $30 cover charge. We booked the reservation minutes after getting on board as it fills up fast. Before dinner, David and Tim hosted a wine and cheese get-together in their balcony room. We watched the sunset on their deck and sipped their half price duty-free wine.
We upgraded our meal at Ocean Liners to the Menu Exceptionel, a six course dinner with wine pairings. The first course was a lobster velouté soup paired with a nice Chardonnay. Second course was a truly spectacular goat cheese soufflé, paired with a Sauvignon Blanc wine. After a cleansing granité of passion fruit and rum, I had a rack of lamb “en croute” paired with a Cabernet Franc/Merlot. (This wine on the wine list was $35 for a glass!) We were then served an assortment of cheese from the trolley, with an accompanying dessert wine and for dessert I had the chef’s surprises which was a tray of little bite sized desserts. The dessert course was served with a great port wine. It was a wonderful meal. The ambiance of Ocean Liners was scintillating with live harp music playing in the background. We were dressed up for dinner, after the meal we all went back to our rooms to change into shorts and went to the Martini Bar for the last Friends of Dorothy get-together. We met a new couple, two over-tanned, thong-wearing over-whitened-teethed Nellie types from Chicago. We had seen them many times during the week, including a few times on the beaches. They were very chatty, but come 11pm, it was time to get our luggage outside the room for pickup. We returned the room and finished our last bit of packing and we were in bed by 11:15pm.

Saturday, January 14th, Puerto Rico disembarkation and home
We had already arrived in port in San Juan when Lee and I awoke at 6:45am. The night before, we had checked our itinerary on the interactive TV system, and it showed the ship just off the coast of Puerto Rico, we must have docked early during the night. We decided to book a tour of San Juan for Saturday since our flight was not leaving until later this afternoon. We met Tom and Rich for our final meal in the dining room, and then assembled in a meeting room with the other people on our excursion. We were led off the ship into the Customs Hall, then into a warehouse where all our bags were stored. We brought our bags to a big cube van and got on the bus for our tour. The tour brought us to see the fort in San Juan, and the Old City. We also had an extended stop for a tour of the Bacardi factory. The tour was a bit disappointing in that we did not actually tour the factory, we saw some exhibit type spaces instead. We did however get a couple of coupons for two free rum drinks. The tour finished around 2:30pm as we were dropped off at the airport.
We said goodbye to Tom and Rich and shuffled some of the content of our luggage around to redistribute some weight. When we got into the airline check-in line, we ran into Tom and Rich again. We said goodbye once more. Then we tried to find some food and ran into them again. Then, after we went through security and tried to find our gate, we ran into them again. Our flight left San Juan a little bit late. We had lots of space on the flight since the window seat in our row was empty. The flight to Toronto was very bumpy and was quite scary with all the turbulence. We arrived in Toronto a half hour early, getting through Customs and rechecking our bags to Ottawa was easy, but we had a few hours to wait in the Maple Leaf lounge. We finally arrived in Ottawa at 1am after another turbulent flight. By the time we got a taxi and got home it was almost 2am. It was freezing out; the temperature had dropped by -20 degrees C from the daytime. Both Lee and I only had thin fall jackets on while we waited for a taxi home.

Overall impressions
The ship
The Constellation is a beautiful ship. It was very well laid out; our room was in a great location on Deck Two. We could get to the dining room and bars easily. This ship was launched in 2002 and is already in need of a refresh as the comforters in the stateroom and the chairs are starting to fade and fray. Many of the chairs in the dining room were quite dirty as well. The ship was not as spotlessly clean as the Navigator, for example there were always fingerprints on the mirrors and windows in the public areas and there were stacks of boxes and chairs and so forth at the end of hallways and in corners.
Service on the ship was touchy. Our room attendant Hilda and her assistant were great in cleaning the room the moment we left. The restaurant waiter was okay, he did not do anything exceptional, he did his job, but not with much enthusiasm. Not once were we addressed by name, which quite a switch from Royal Caribbean. The assistant waiter was very efficient in getting things moving along. He has aspirations of being a waiter so he had asked us to give him a good review. The bar waiter in the dining room was totally inept; he came to take our cocktail order just as we were starting our main course. After a few days he just stopped coming, we would get our cocktails and soft drinks before coming into the dining room. The sommelier was a delight, he was always there to help, and when he got busy the head sommelier would come to our table. My glass did end up empty a few times, but the guy was cute and Australian, so I can be more forgiving.
It could be very difficult to buy a drink on this ship, there were never enough bartenders working. Getting a drink by the pool or in the casino took forever.
The itinerary was one of the highlights of the cruise. We saw jungle, beach, desert, developed islands, undeveloped islands. Each port was quite different one from another. The islands seemed quite far apart, so we did have to boot it from one port to another and you could feel the ship moving.

Total costs:
Cruise: US $802
Flights: CAD $179 (using Aeroplan points)
On board charges (drinks, laundry, excursions): $500
Hotel on Philadelphia: US$ 61
Hotel in San Juan: free (using Hilton points)
Souvenirs and other purchases: CAD $60