Jet Set Sail with Celebrity Cruises

John Barling and his wife are highly impressed with their sail around the Greek Islands on Celebrity Constellation

Katakolon

Katakolon

Santorini

Santorini

Mykonos 1

Mykonos

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

It isn’t often that you enjoy a near perfect holiday but we have just returned from a 10 days cruise around the Greek islands which will live long in our memories for all the right reasons. This was arranged through Reader Offers “Jet Set Sail” programme aboard the Celebrity Constellation and visited the islands of Katakolon, Santorini, Mykonos and Corfu with an interim stop in Piraeus as this is the port for Athens.

Aside from the itinerary, a big plus point of the holiday were the travel arrangements. No jostling with the crowds and long queues at Heathrow or Gatwick. Instead we flew from Stansted’s private planes departure point on the far side of the airport and well away from the main terminal building. Things couldn’t have been smoother – we pulled into the dedicated car park an hour before the 7.30am departure time, an attendant took our keys (and parked where we could see our car), we walked 20 yards to drop off bags, there were the usual passport checks and security screening, minus the queues, and then into a relaxing lounge for refreshments before takeoff.

The whole process took no more than 15 minutes. A 30/45 minute wait while other passengers arrived and then everyone boarded a Titan Airways jet for Venice. The flight was a very welcome reminder of the halcyon days of air travel – comfortable seats, free newspapers, complimentary drinks, and a cooked English breakfast served with proper cutlery and a crisp linen tablecloth on the dropdown tray. Unless travelling 1st class, how many other airlines nowadays cosset their customers in this way?

The transfer of both passengers and their luggage from Venice airport to the port was both efficient and uneventful and we never cease to marvel at how the vast majority of bags seem to arrive on time and undamaged outside their owners’ cabins. The first impression of the Celebrity Constellation was “this is big” and it has to be as it carries over 2,000 passengers but mercifully not so huge as some of the behemoths currently congesting the seas. We had a mid price range en suite cabin with an outside balcony on deck 9 which, while compact, was absolutely fine so long as we were organised – wardrobe and drawer space was at a premium. But most passengers are more interested in a ship’s facilities and here the Constellation certainly didn’t disappoint – seemingly countless venues in which to eat and drink, a casino, sports and gym facilities, spa, shopping arcade, a vast theatre for shows and talks, open air pool, and despite its size plenty of spaces where one can simply relax quietly with a book. Our overall views of the Constellation were:

For many cruisers, food is the most important feature of their holiday. We dined mainly in the Blu restaurant, it was more intimate and with a relatively short menu which is slightly more formal than the main San Marco restaurant. On the top deck was the self service Ocean View restaurant open virtually 24 hours for meals and snacks according to the time of day. Additionally, there was a speciality Tuscan grill, Japanese and contemporary dining restaurants plus poolside bars for burgers, hot dogs, and ice cream. Whatever your choice, quality appeared outstandingly high as was the waiter service in the Blu and San Marco restaurants.

There is probably more agonising about a ship’s evening dress code than any other aspect of a cruise. What constitutes formal/informal/casual creates confusion and uncertainty in the minds of many; the definitions vary between cruise lines and, indeed, between ships belonging to the same company. Thankfully, Celebrity have simplified matters and now have just two codes – the delightfully named Evening Chic and the familiar Smart Casual. For men, smart casual would be a pressed shirt and trousers including designer jeans but no tie and evening chic could be the same plus a jacket. For ladies, cocktail dresses and suits would satisfy both codes. Of course, passengers are perfectly entitled to stick with tradition if they wish but we didn’t see any dinner jackets or long dresses on board and we didn’t hear any moans about standards slipping or “not being what they used to be”.

Evening entertainment in the vast theatre varied between male and female singers, acrobats, magicians and edited versions of popular musical shows. All performances lasted about 40 minutes since there are usually two shows each night and research has shown that cruise audiences attention spans don’t extend much beyond that time, perhaps they’re anxious to visit the gaming tables in the casino? Performers weren’t exactly household names but some of the younger ones could be fairly described as up-and-coming and standards were high, particularly amongst the house band.

We paid in advance for a basic all-inclusive beverage package covering alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks from the Constellation’s bars and restaurants. Even if you’re a modest imbiber, this is probably a sensible idea as you are likely to consume far more than you would at home, either wittingly or unwittingly, over 10 days. One thing which did concern us was the amount of “upselling” of these packages during the first 2 days of the cruise i.e waiters fairly forcefully urging passengers to buy a more expensive deal which didn’t go down well with some older travellers.

To our minds, a big advantage of a cruise is that it gives a small taste of new places and then you can decide whether to visit for a longer stay at another time. With the exception of Corfu, all the ports of call were new to us and so we decided to join Constellation’s organised tours. These may seem expensive on paper but they were well planned, the guides were very knowledgeable, and we avoided hassles with taxi drivers and the like. Also, if an organised tour is late returning, then the ship will wait – if you do your own thing and fail to return by departure time, you’re left behind.

Brief thoughts about the places we visited? Katakolon, gateway to ancient Olympia the ruins of the temples of Zeus and Hera were well worth a visit. Santorini and Mykonos, two of the islands with picture postcard views to die for. Corfu, we only saw the town centre and it not particularly memorable, and Athens, the Acropolis and the Parthenon, understandably both are must-sees, strong walking footwear is essential. The two highlights were Santorini and Mykonos which both justified the praises already given by many travel writers. I wouldn’t like to nominate a favourite – maybe Mykonos but it’s a close call and we certainly want to visit both islands for a longer stay.
Did we enjoy the Celebrity Constellation, the cruise and the itinerary, and was it good value for money? On all counts, the answer is definitely yes and we would certainly do it all over again.

For more information on Celebrity Cruises go to www.celebritycruises.co.uk

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