Holy Land Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation
10/21/16 to 11/2/16
Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.
Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Athens, Greece and Ship
Page 2 - Ship continued; Ports of Call: Kusadasi, Turkey; Rhodes, Greece
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Limasol, Cyprus; Haifa, Israel
Page 4 - Ports of Call: Ashdod, Israel - Day 1
Page 5 - Ports of Call: Ashdod, Israel - Day 2; Valletta, Malta; Disembarkation in Civitavecchia, Italy
Last year, when we did our first Transatlantic cruise, we booked our longest vacation ever. We booked a 12-day Mediterranean cruise that would include two places that we have always wanted to go to, Istanbul and Israel. Since we enjoyed the Transatlantic cruise in 2015, we thought that it would be nice to take another one back home. We found a 15-day TA that would leave from Civitavecchia, Italy 3 days after our Med cruise ended there. This would give us a chance to spend a few days in Florence, Italy between cruises. We would be gone for 32 days, our longest vacation ever. A couple of months before we were to leave for this Med cruise, terrorist activity in Istanbul resulted in Celebrity cancelling the port of Istanbul and moving the embarkation port to Athens, Greece. We were quite disappointed; but appreciated the need for safety reasons.
We normally book our own flights for cruises; but since we knew that there was a possibility that our itinerary could change in the Middle East, we had decided to use Celebrity’s Choice Air program. It was a great decision, since they had outstanding rates. One way flights are normally quite expensive; but Choice Air had gotten us flights to Istanbul for only $468 per person. It was also most beneficial when we had to move our flight to Athens, since there was no penalty or additional charge. We will always check with Choice Air for future Celebrity cruises.
Ten days before we were to Fly to Athens, I had terrible pain in my left foot and could barely walk. I didn’t know what was wrong; but I wanted to find out and get it fixed as quickly as possible. I had a lot of walking planned for the next month. The thought of missing out on the great tours we had booked was very stressful, to say the least. Since it was the weekend, I went to a walk-in Clinic. They took x-rays and thought that I had an inflamed ligament. He prescribed some anti-inflammatory drugs and gave me the name of a podiatrist if it didn’t clear up in several days.
On Monday, I called the podiatrist and luckily got fit in for the next day. I was grateful to be able to see a specialist so quickly, since I didn’t have much time to spare. He took different x-rays and ordered an MRI, since he thought that I might have a stress fracture of my left foot. I was most upset. He told me if I did have the stress fracture that I would need to wear a boot for about 6 weeks. I was able to get insurance authorization for the MRI and got it done two days later on Thursday. They told me that the results wouldn’t be back until Monday, the day before we were to fly to Athens. Good grief, I was stressing out. On Monday when I went in for the appointment, he told me that I didn’t have a stress fracture. They made a support for me to wear that would fit in my shoes that he thought would help to prevent my foot from getting inflamed again. Apparently it worked, since I walked a bunch at the airport the next day and many miles each tour day of the two cruises. My prayers had been answered and I was so grateful.
Pre-Cruise in Athens, Greece
We had been to Athens several times over the years; but had never stayed in the historic Plaka section. We thought it would be fun to be in the center of the activity and historic sites, especially since our friends Paul and Gail from Yorkshire, England would be with us for the cruise and pre-cruise stay. We had just spent several days staying with them a few months earlier, when they toured us all over Yorkshire before we boarded our recent Iceland cruise.
Our overnight flight arrived at 9:30 AM, so we would have almost a full day to explore. We had arranged a transfer from the airport to the Plaka with a company we had used in 2009, the last time we were in Athens. On that cruise we used Spiros, the owner of www.athenstaxi.net to give us a tour of the city. He had done an excellent job and we had been looking forward to seeing him again. His company has grown a lot since then. He was tied up with a multi-day tour with a group, so we wouldn’t get to see him. The excellent driver he sent for us, Andreas, took very good care of us. He gave us his phone to talk with Spiros, who apologized for not being able to pick us up. But it was nice to speak to him again; and we were quite happy that his business was doing so well.
We were staying at the Plaka Hotel (www.plakahotel.gr), which was a great location in the heart of the Plaka. Quite a few of our fellow cruisers, who we had been communicating with on our www.cruisecritic.com roll call, were also staying there. It was a nice hotel and had two of our must have features, elevators and air conditioning. Many hotels in Europe don’t have them. The hotel also had free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Since there were stairs up to the main lobby, we were glad that they had an elevator for luggage that was also used to get Carol and her TravelScoot to the main floor.
We were very pleased with the comfortable clean room and great beds.
Our room had a small balcony that looked out onto the Plaka.
One of the big selling points of the Plaka Hotel was its view of the Acropolis. I went up to the rooftop bar/lounge area to see it for myself. The area was quite large and had an amazing view of the Acropolis. I was looking forward to going up there at night, when the Acropolis is illuminated.
Turning around, I was able to see Lycabettus Hilll, the highest elevation in Athens. We have visited there the last time we were in Athens.
While Carol was unpacking I went out to stroll around the Plaka to get acquainted with what was close by and to find the restaurant that a group of us were going to the next night for dinner. A block from the hotel is a very nice walking street with lots of shops and restaurants. I was most attracted to the beautiful small church. Very Greek looking! This was the Holy Church of Kapnikarea built in the early 11th century. Unfortunately, interior photos were not allowed.
Our group of about 25 people were booked at the Bairaktaris Restaurant, which was just a short distance from the hotel. Walking down the street our hotel was on, were several Thanasis and Bairaktaris restaurants on both sides of the street. They were right next to each other. We would find out the next night that they are both apparently owned by the same families. They must have bought up almost the whole block.
I went back to the hotel to wait for our friends Paul and Gail to arrive. We actually took a short nap; which we normally don’t do after a long flight. It was good that we did, since we needed it. When Paul and Gail arrived, it was lunch time. From my research before the cruise, I wanted to try the Thanasis restaurant, since it was close to the hotel and the reviews were pretty good. We walked down the block and didn’t know which of the several Thanasis restaurants to go to. With the weather being perfect, we picked one that had some open outdoor tables. From the reviews I had read, I wanted to try the dish called Yogurtlu, which is a plate of beef kebabs in yogurt and a spicy tomato sauce. I was glad I did, since it was quite delicious. Paul and Gail got great looking Greek Salads; and we all got pita bread and Tzatziki sauce. We were in Greece, eating Greek food. Life was good! It was a most enjoyable lunch with good friends.
After lunch we began to explore the Plaka. After a while, Carol decided to go back to the hotel, since she was still tired; but the rest of us continued the trek. It was so nice to be staying in the Plaka, since there were so many beautiful buildings and historic ruins to see.
There was also a large number of shops along the streets and in the flea markets.
Of course there were lots of Greek pastries to tempt us along the way.
After returning to the hotel, I asked the reception desk attendant for a dinner restaurant recommendation. He told us that the Aohnaikon was very good. Later Paul and I walked down to check it out. It looked very nice, so we booked a table for later. Unbeknownst to me, Paul had been talking to the manager while I was taking photos of the restaurant while it wasn’t full of people. Even though she couldn’t speak much English, she was pointing out different objects on the wall and trying to tell us about them. She also pointed to a large glass covered opening in the floor. Apparently, it was an opening that went down into old Athens under the earth. I couldn’t understand why she was spending so much time with us. Paul later told me that he told her I was taking photos for a review I was doing. Then I understood. She didn’t realize that it was just for our little website.
Right across from the restaurant is the Mitropolis Cathedral. It is quite an attractive building from the outside, so I really wanted to check out the interior. But I would have to wait until the next day, since we needed to get back to the hotel to let the girls know about our plans and get ready. Later, on the way to the restaurant, I had to take some photos of the illuminated cathedral.
The Aohnaikon Restaurant turned out to be a great recommendation. All of the food was just outstanding. After dinner we were looking forward to getting back to the hotel to see the view from the rooftop. It was quite a site and a great reason to book this hotel. It was difficult to take our eyes off the beautifully illuminated Acropolis; but it was a bit cool outside and we were anxious to catch up on our sleep.
We had read that the Plaka Hotel had a very nice included breakfast. When we saw it, we understood why. They had a very large variety of American and Greek foods. Everything was quite tasty. It was a good start to a busy day.
Paul had booked a Jewish focused tour with a local guide, Salvador Levi (www.jewishtours.gr/jewish-walking-tours-athens.html). He was very knowledgeable and a very pleasant fellow to spend the morning with.
We began our walk passing through some of the same streets we had seen the previous day. Of course with Salvador pointing out specific things and telling us about them, it was more interesting. There were lots of narrow streets with interesting shops. We passed through the large square again on our way to the Ancient Agora.
Once at the Ancient Agora, it was a bit disappointing to see graffiti at this historical site.
Our next stop was at a memorial in the shape of the six pointed Jewish star. On each point were the names of different towns where Jews were taken and sent to concentration camps. Salvadore's stories brought out the meaning for the memorial.
We then passed by a section of the Roman Agora on our way to our next destination. This was significantly larger than the Ancient Agora we previously passed. We would see more of it later.
The main destination of the tour was to see the old Synagogue. This was not an easy place to visit, since they had lots of security requirements, which Salvador had handled for us. From the outside it looked very small; but once inside, it was larger than expected, since the building was fairly deep. We passed through the first floor office area and entered a courtyard.
We then climbed the stairs to where the synagogue itself was on the second floor. Salvador told us the history of the synagogue and about Jewish history in Athens.
He then took us across the street to the new synagogue, which was much larger.
On the way back, we passed by many shops; but I was most fascinated by one that had created some fascinating objects out of brass.
Salvador wanted to take us to an interesting place for a coffee break. We passed through a nice residential street on the way there.
We ended up at a most unique place, the Little Kook. I initially thought that they had misspelled Cook on the sign; but Kook did describe it much better. It was decorated for Halloween, which was just a few days away; but it apparently always has interesting decorations and the dragon on the roof is always there.
In addition to coffee, we had some little snacks that turned out to be big snacks. The menu items have interesting names like Malfoy’s Hair and Dragon’s Lava. I got Grandma’s Hair and Carol got some Ice Cream.
The inside of the place was even stranger than the exterior.
We continued the tour stopping at the Library of Hadrian.
Then we went on to the – Gate in the Roman Agora.
A beautiful structure in the Roman Agora is the Tower of the Winds. It is a beautiful structure with lovely carvings on it. It had a very important function, since it would whistle with the winds. The tower features a combination of sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. The whistle tone would tell people which way the wind was blowing.
We continued walking down the pretty streets enjoying the sights.
Our last stop on the tour was at the Parliament. We didn’t take the time go inside.
We stopped at a nice restaurant close to the hotel called Centrale for a late light lunch. With the large snack we had at the Little Kook and dinner not far off, we didn’t want much; but we did want to stop for a bit. The food was really good and we wished that we would have had time to have a full meal there; but we would be boarding the ship the next day.
After lunch, I headed back to the cathedral to get some interior photos. Now this was a gorgeous place. I love visiting churches and this one was quite special.
At dinner time we headed to the Bairaktaris restaurant to meet the group. I was concerned that we would not be able to find the right one to go to. Fortunately, one of the dinner organizers was standing in the street directing us where to go. It was an outdoor area with lots of tables put together for everyone. It was nice to get to meet a lot of people we had been communicating with on the roll call.
This was when I found out that Bairaktaris and Thanasis were basically the same restaurants. They had the same menu we had for lunch. I had recommended the Yogurtlu to some tablemates, since I had enjoyed it so much the previous day. What he received sort of resembled what I had; but it didn’t look as good. He also wasn’t that thrilled with the taste. So even though the restaurants are related, the different cooks must do their own thing. We still had a great time.
Rather than having coffee and dessert at the restaurant, we wanted to go back to the Centrale restaurant we had gone to for our light lunch. It was a nice ending to an enjoyable evening.
After dessert, we were anxious to get back to the hotel to get our last night time view of the Acropolis from the roof. It was just so beautiful.
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready to finish packing. Since I wake up earlier than Carol, I went out and walked around the Plaka for some morning exercise and to enjoy the area without too many people around. We had booked www.athenstaxi.net for our transfer to the ship at 10:30 AM. Since Paul and Gail were going with us, we had ordered a van to handle all of our luggage. Once again we had a professional and friendly driver. We gave our luggage to the porters and headed into the terminal for a very easy and quick embarkation process. We were ready to get started seeing the amazing ports on this cruise.
With the ship not leaving port until 10:30 PM, the muster drill was scheduled at 9:45 PM. Just a terrible time for a muster drill; but I can understand that they needed to wait for everyone to board before having it. It did mess up the dining and entertainment schedules. The only evening show was at 10:30 PM. I don’t know, since we didn’t go; but I have a feeling it wasn’t well attended.
It had been a long time since we last cruised on the Constellation. We were on her for a short cruise to nowhere in 2002 when she first came into the fleet. She has been refurbished several times, with the last one in 2013. She is getting another one in Spring 2017. Based on how nice the ship looked, I am surprised that she even needs one. The various public rooms are shown below by category.
Dining Rooms -
San Marco Restaurant – This is the main dining room and is located on two decks. I have always thought that the dining rooms were very elegant on this class ship, with the large open two story room and the large windows across the back. It is just a lovely room.
Oceanview Café - This buffet is of the old style rather than the island style that we prefer on Celebrity’s S Class ships, yet like on the Solstice ships, no trays are used. With it being a very long room, it required a lot of walking from one end to the other to see what was available. After a few days, we knew where different types of foods were; but it was still a hassle to walk the full length of the restaurant to see what specific items they were serving.
The buffet seemed to be crowded most of the day, since there was some food always available. Although it was always crowded at lunch and breakfast, we could normally find some place to sit. With the weather being cooler than usual for much of the cruise, the tables outside the back of the restaurant in the Sunset Bar area didn’t get used as much for diners. That made it a bit more crowded in the inside area.
There was an area at the front of the buffet for ice cream that was very popular. There was a line most of the day waiting to get either hard or soft serve ice cream. Since there was no other self-serve ice cream on this ship, everyone had to wait in line to order some. It was most inconvenient.
Sushi on Five – This specialty restaurant was recently added to replace the Bistro on Five. It is an ala carte restaurant for sushi, that seemed to be rather expensive. Rather than a low flat price for the meal, like Bistro on Five was, diners paid for each piece of sushi they ordered; which could be expensive. I never saw many people in the restaurant. A down side of this restaurant was that they stopped serving sushi in the buffet every day.
Blu – This is the restaurant used by Aqua Class passengers. It is a small restaurant on deck 5, that at one time was part of the main dining room. It only seats 100 passengers. There are no fixed seatings for Blu, so Aqua guests can come to dinner anytime they like. The large white rose wall decorations do add an elegant touch to the room. It is only used for breakfast and dinner. Since we were in Aqua Class this cruise, I will discuss this restaurant in the dining section of the review.
Luminae - This the dining room that is used for suite guests. It is supposed to be a step above the main dining room food. It is a small restaurant on deck 5, that at one time was part of the main dining room.
Ocean Liners Restaurant – This is the Constellation’s upscale restaurant with a $50 per person up charge. Discounts are regularly offered to get guests to dine there. It is defined as “Classic World Continental Cuisine with European Style Service”. It is the prettiest room on the ship, in my opinion. This and the similar restaurants, like the SS United States on the Infinity are our favorites of the specialty restaurants. Unfortunately, when Constellation is refurbished in Spring 2017, it will be replaced with a different restaurant. I was glad we got to go to it one last time on this cruise.
Tuscan Grille - This is the ship’s steak house located in the middle of the ship on deck 11. At one time, it was located where the flower shop was at the top of the ship. As a result, anytime you go up to the top floor on the middle elevator, you have to walk through the restaurant to get to the upper deck. The charge to eat there is $45 per person. I have heard that the quality has decreased to where it isn’t worth eating there anymore, even with the regular discounts that were offered. Since we didn’t go there, I don’t know how good it was.
AquaSpa Café - This restaurant has healthier food and is open for breakfast and lunch. The serving area is broken out into two separate sections. I have used it several times on our previous cruises and enjoyed it; but didn’t visit there at all for this cruise. It also used to be more appealing when they didn’t charge for some of the items.
Pool Grill – This popular venue is located behind the buffet in the pool area. The hamburgers and hot dogs, as usual, were good. After eating richer food than normal for many meals, it is so nice to have a place to just get a hamburger and fries. There was normally a line of people waiting to get served.
Lounges (Link to Menus)-
Cellar Masters - This is a nice sized bar dedicated to wine. Since we aren’t big wine drinkers, we have never been in a Cellar Masters other than to pass through or take photos. It does seem to be the most underused venue on the ship, which is a shame, since it is a nice room.
Reflections - This is a large venue in front of the ship on deck 11. It is a wonderful place to go during the day to read while getting the best view from the ship. In addition to being a bar, many activities took place there, since it is the largest gathering space other than the Celebrity Theater. It hosted the evening game shows and late night music and dancing. There is an interesting multi-colored glass decoration at entrance to the lounge
Martini Bar & Crush – This is where you can get fancy martinis and expensive vodka. We have always enjoyed the Martini Bar; but didn’t go there at all for this cruise. Since we had the classic drink package, we could not use it at this bar, like we used to be able to. Previously I could order a dirty vodka martini there in a small glass and it would be a drink that was allowed for the package. Now, they would only serve me if I paid for the drink or had a premium package. I was not happy about this; and I was apparently not alone, since the bar was never crowded like it used to always be.
Mast Bar – The Mast Bar is the bar for people sunning themselves on deck 11.
Michael's Club – This venue is a private club for suite guests and the highest Celebrity loyalty level, Zenith. I am normally able to sneak in to take photos; but I was so busy on this cruise, that I didn’t even bother. Below are photos of Michael’s Club that I took on the Infinity. They look just alike.
Rendez-Vous Lounge – This is the perfect lounge for before dinner drinks since it is located on deck 4 just in front of the main dining room. They had some excellent musicians that would start playing at 5:30 PM each evening, which fit in perfectly with when we liked to get a pre-dinner drink before going into get our meal at 6:00. During the day, it was used for the art auctions.
Sunset Bar – Located at the back of the buffet on deck 10, it is a great place to come to eat your meal from the buffet. The view is very nice and a great place to spend time. It is a very popular place for Cruise Critic roll call attendees to meet for sail away; but since the ship didn’t leave Athens until 10:30 PM, it didn’t happen this cruise.
Café al Bacio & Gelateria – This is the extra charge premium coffee and ice cream area. It is a very popular place most of the day. With our Elite Plus status with Celebrity, we are able to get free premium coffees there all day. It is a great benefit. Since they also have free pastries, Carol would frequently go there for breakfast.
I normally wouldn’t purchase ice cream at the Gelateria; but since we had free coupons for our status with Celebrity, Carol and I each had the one scoop. The ice cream in the Gelateria wasn’t any better than what they had in the buffet; but there was a better selection.
Pool Bar – This is the main bar for the pool area.
Celebrity Theater - This is a very nice entertainment venue. There are no obstructed view seats and they have first class lighting and audio equipment. There was plenty of room between the seats. We liked the way the little glass drink tables rotated and turned sideways to allow the audience to have more room at their seats.
Conference Center – I had no reason to use these rooms during the cruise; but wanted to see where they were. The Alpha and Beta rooms were easy to find close to the main foyer on deck 3. They are small conference rooms used for various meetings.
The Gamma Room, which is the largest conference room, was difficult to find, since it is down the hallway near the back elevator. There is also an open area there that is used as a headquarters or information center for larger groups on the ship.
Since all the conference rooms are adjoinging, the smaller Beta Room walls were open to make the Gamma Room even larger.
Fortune's Casinos - On this class ship, we had to go through the Casino to get to the front of the ship, so we had to pass through many times. They had the normal gaming equipment and plenty of customers; but it was by no means full when we were there.
Library – The small library is on deck 8 and it shares the space with the Concierge Desk. There is a stairway that goes up to the iLounge on deck 9; which at one time was the 2nd floor of the library.
Celebrity iLounge – The computer center is on deck 9. It is set up very nicely for their classes and the Apple equipment is a pleasure to use. It is a very popular place, especially the day before disembarkation, since people are printing out airline boarding passes for their flights home.
The system for registering to use the ships Wi-Fi network is very easy and does not require one to go to the iLounge anymore; although many still do. The new improved Xcelerate service that Celebrity promotes was better than the old system; but still not great. The system had difficulty at times when too many people were trying to use it. Since we use T-Mobile as our mobile phone provider, we receive free international data in most ports. It is at a lower speed; but works great for email, text messages and GPS mapping. As a result, I only used half of my 240 free Wi-Fi minutes we each receive for our status level. Even when we were at sea, I could receive cell service when we were close to populated land. It is a wonderful benefit of using T-Mobile.
The Emporium – This is the main shopping area where they have plenty of stores. They would also set up counters and have sales in front of the various stores. It could get really crowded when a big sale was going on.
Photo Gallery - The photo gallery used to be important to us, since we would go there regularly to see the photos they had taken the previous day. Since we aren’t interested in getting any more photos of us, we don’t go there anymore. It was a fun activity; but with the photos being so expensive now, it is hard to justify bothering with them. Plus, our friends take photos of us with their cameras and ours, so ship photos aren’t really needed.
Pool Deck – There are two swimming pools and four large hot tubs on deck 10. When it was last renovated, they added the large beds, which were quite popular.
Canyon Ranch SpaClub – A large area is devoted to providing massages and other body treatments. It also contains the beauty parlor and nail salon.
Fitness Center – The fitness center is a reasonably well equipped gym. I was getting a lot of exercise walking on our tours, so I didn’t bother going to the gym. Plus, I didn’t want to aggravate my injured foot any more than I had to.
Persian Garden – This is the area of the SpaClub that has the sauna, steam room, aromatherapy room, etc. There is a charge to use this area of the spa; but the room was rather small and didn’t look that appealing to me, like those on the S Class ships. Because we were in an Aqua Class cabin, there was no charge for us and we could go whenever we liked. Since it was a very port intensive cruise, there wasn’t much time to take advantage of it. On one of the sea days, I decided to try it out. I was the only one in there and it wasn’t that great, so I didn’t stay very long. I didn’t care as much for the seated ceramic lounge chairs, since they were in an enclosed area; rather than on the outside of the ship, where you could look out onto the ocean while you relaxed on the S Class ships. Plus, the S Class ceramic loungers are in a lay down position, which is much more desirable to me.
Art Gallery – There was a small room for the art gallery; but their art was displayed on easels all around the public area to encourage purchasing it. The manager of the gallery didn’t want me to take photos of the room, so I didn’t. I guess he was worried that I could copy the art from the wide-angle photos. Not hardly.
Grand Foyer – Like most ships, the Grand Foyer is an impressive area. There are dramatic views down to it as well as up from it. The grand staircase is always a center piece.
Guest Relations - This is located at one end of the Grand Foyer on deck 3. It is always a popular place with people needing assistance with one thing or the other. The few times I needed assistance, they were always pleasant and most helpful.
Shore Excursions - This desk is located at the other end of the Grand Foyer on deck 3. This is where passengers can find out about the ship’s shore excursions. With this being a very port intensive cruise; and in ports that people really wanted to see as much as they could, it was a very popular place. We normally book private shore excursions; but Carol did book a couple of panoramic type tours in Israel, since my tours would not have been appropriate for her scooter. A couple of months before the cruise, Celebrity had an online shore excursion sale that dropped the tour prices from $175 to $120. It was quite a deal.
Upper Decks – There are lots of areas for sunning on the upper decks. It was very popular on this cruise, even with the cooler weather. The sun was quite warm as long as the wind wasn’t blowing too much. I liked the large gorilla with fish statue on deck 11.
Solarium – The Solarium is a covered swimming area with comfortable chairs. The highlight is the Thalassotherapy Pool. It is a heated pool with large whirlpool loungers and pipes pumping out streams of water to relax your back. For some reason these types of pools aren’t on the newer S Class ships, so we were glad that they weren’t changed when the ships were renovated a few years ago.
Artwork - I wanted to mention an of item of artwork on the ship that freaked us out when ever we passed it in the rear stairwell between decks 10 and 11. I have seen a lot of unusual artwork on ships, but this one just didn't make sense to have it on a ship; or too many other places for that matter. What was going through the interior decorator's mind when she thought "I have to have this for the Constellation."
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