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The Celebrity Constellation in Port

That fall we spent a month in New England exploring coastal Maine and Rhode Island and then were off to Naples where we settled in very happily for six weeks. When it was time to go home we opted for a cruise to save ourselves from a long uncomfortable flight and to enjoy being at sea, both real plusses. We took a repositioning cruise with Celebrity, hoping as we'd heard, it was a step up from Holland America. Repositioning cruises occur in spring and fall and can be an economical way to check out the idea of cruises.

The Constellation was to leave from Rome and arrive in Ft. Lauderdale 17 days later having visited Livorno, Italy (Pisa and Florence), Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the three Spanish Canary Islands of Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. It sounded fine to us, but all in all, it was an astonishingly disappointing voyage.

The majority of passengers might have benefited from a manners class and bathing instructions. Because almost all food served was over loaded with garlic, in just a few days passengers began to smell so strongly that riding a full elevator became an impossibility. Most of the more senior staff were arrogant and dismissive, the quality of the food was at best second rate. It was poorly prepared and poorly presented. Deck chairs were profoundly uncomfortable.


One of the saving graces of any cruise voyage is the day to day continual encounters with service staff, from cabin stewards to serving staff in the dining rooms. They are all pretty young and come from all over the world. Most of them have yet to develop a distaste for passengers common amongst more senior staff. These are a few of the folks that made our voyage bearable, even at times enjoyable.

Yaroslav Matviygshin, Cabin Steward from The Ukraine

Ronnie Mindanao, Cabin Steward, from The Philippines

Catherine Carabuena, Dining Room Service, from The Philippines

Elena Cvetanoska, Dining Room Service, from Macedonia

Johnathan Thomas, Chef, from Jamaica

Each of these individuals worked hard to please guests and were grateful for the very occasional "thank you" they received. They were ready with a smile offering whatever they could to make a passenger's voyage more comfortable and more pleasant. They all have our admiration for doing very difficult jobs.

One of the big selling points of cruise ships is the destinations they provide to passengers. What isn't always apparent is the distance from the port to the dream destination. The port city of Citavecchia is about two hours away from Rome if you have a car waiting for you at the port. If not, you get off the ship, board a bus to the port gate then walk to the train station just a few blocks away hoping for a train leaving soon. Many passengers opt for expensive packaged tours. Bussed to a desirable location, they are herded along by a chatty guide.

On this cruise we started off with a bit of bad luck. We left Naples by train the day before our Citavecchia departure, planning to overnight and explore this little seaside port town. That all went well until the next morning when in the dining room we overheard that there was a problem. Bad weather had forced the ship to remain in port in Naples. We would be busses there to board. Chaos reigned most of the day, but once on the ship a lovely afternoon meal was served in the dining room. Sadly the chef left the ship in Naples to be replaced by a short enormously fat and incompetent "chef" called Tiny. That first lovely meal was the last one served for 17 days.


Arrival in Cartagena, Spain, brought a beautiful sunny day in an attractive city. Food in the dining room seemed to be rapidly declining in quality and they'd opened a pasta bar where you could have fresh ingredients fried to order. Unfortunately enough folks wanted a tablespoon or two of fresh garlic fried in the middle of the dining room so if you were eating dessert with the strong smell of frying garlic it tasted none too appealing.

Below is very chic food available on maybe the fanciest street in Cartagena. I think it's an interpretation of pizza. What do you think?


We arrived early in the morning in Cartagena on a Sunday. All locals who could possibly do so were sleeping in not out adding local color to our ship's location. Always take a look at the day of the week your cruise ship will be visiting your desired locations. Sunday is pretty DREADFUL everywhere.

Cartagena is not an exciting destination, but it is very civilized and it is spotless. Old architecture on the main thoroughfare has been restored, but one would hope something about the city was just a little more interesting.

Sailing from Cartagena brought dinner, a poorly prepared greasy dahl with floating chunks of garlic. The accompanying naans might have well served as frisbees.


Agadir is a coastal town best known for its beaches. It is hot and extremely dry. Many passengers stayed on board or opted for the long bus ride tour to Marrakech. Ever the independents, we got off the ship and were bussed to a parking lot with waiting taxis. We negotiated a price for a few stops and set off first for the curious garden I had found on the web.

We wandered through an enchanting run down garden with crumbling structures and assumed it was the result of the earthquake that destroyed most of this oasis town and cost 20,000 lives. That was not so as the garden was created in the 1990's. Having been there for a half hour or so we encountered Abdellah Tamri who told us the garden was closed, but offered us the chance to see it anyway. He told us about the argon tree native to this area which produces an oil used in cooking and as a base for upscale skin care products. Here was a man who had to interact with tourists most of his days, but he was still a genuine human being. He loved the garden and his city. To see more of the garden click here Jardim de Olhao

Most important on our list was the souk, a two square city block sized market selling absolutely everything. It turned out to be closed on Monday, our only port day in Morocco. I was truly heartbroken. We tried to communicate with our driver the type of thing we were looking for and were taken to what he called the Berber souk, a tourist trap if there ever was one. There a young fellow named Fisal attached himself to us and accompanied us through five floors of Moroccan tourist goods at tourist prices in tourist styles.

Back at the ship we had a salad, having picked out the brown and decaying pieces of lettuce. Luckily I had bought some wonderful balsamic in Italy which we daily brought to the dining room. Tomorrow we land in Lanzarote and I have a cactus garden to look forward to.

That evening the short 500 lb affable Jamaican "Tiny," the "chef" in charge of the self serve dining room patrolled like a junk yard doberman. Young serving women seem very uncomfortable whenever he is near. I think Celebrity should be aware of this very serious problem.

During the night the most glorious thing happened in the darkness outside our window. Dozens and dozens if not hundreds of seagulls were flying with the ship. Gaining and losing ground, they made a dance I could not have imagined and they did so for hours to our enormous delight.


Lanzarote, the first of three Canary Islands on the ships list proved interesting after a frustrating start. My husband had taken up the offer of assistance on making the most of our visit offered by ship staff. He asked about rental cars as we thought it would be entertaining to drive the island on our own after stopping at the Jardin de Cactus in Guatiza. The accommodating staff member said there were no rental agencies in town. We would have to take a 25 Euro taxi to the airport to pick up a car and return the same way. He even seemed especially kind to call the airport agency to ask if a car could be delivered to our location in the port. Sadly that was not possible. So, we gave up on the idea of a round island road trip. But, when piled on the bus transport into town, midway there was a car rental agency which we rode by in the bus. Either ship staff are completely incompetent or they do their best to make individual travel as difficult as possible. Group tours are VERY lucrative.

We took a taxi to the Jardin de Cactus which lies on an hectare or so (maybe 2 acres). It proved a wonderful if very very hot garden full of large and small astonishing cactus. To see the garden on my gardening web site, please click here Jardin de Cactus.

Returning to the ship at 3 PM, we found little available for a light snack. There was the precooked pizza option, the inedible if not almost disgusting precooked pasta option, the pink slime hamburger and dull old hot dog options. We opted for a nap.

We went to dinner late, hoping to miss the crush of hungry passengers and we did. Sadly, what hungry hoards do to a self serve dining room that had not been managed or repaired is not a pretty sight. We got salads. The greens were in better shape than the evening before though the bins of additives proved as disgusting as was becoming the norm. They did finally have tomatoes -- pale torn slices floating in water at the bottom third of the bin. Luckily just as we were about to leave with only greens a young woman showed up with haphazardly sliced and chopped green and yellow peppers. That helped and of course we had our own balsamic as the chef had replaced the ship's balsamic with wine vinegar -- similar color, but not quite the same. My husband had a little sushi and some ice cream.

On the way back to our stateroom, we stopped by the formal dining room and stepped out into the hall to speak with the manager. The smell in the dining room was of over powering garlic. We explained that we prefer to have garlic used as a flavoring, not as a basic food group and that we would like to have garlic free meals delivered to our room. I am allergic to garlic so it was not a frivolous request. At first he said "No, that cannot be arranged." I told him that the chef had said we could order whatever special foods we wanted. Quickly he reversed his position and said of course just let him know when we want our dinners delivered and he would see to it personally. It didn't work out too well. On the plus side for Celebrity, we lost weight. Seventeen days with little edible food does wonders.

Lanzarote was the first of three Canary Island port visits. It is a pleasant place, but extremely dry and very hot even in middle November. We hopped a taxi and sped off to Guatiza to visit the Jardin de Cactus. It was wonderful. You can see more on my garden website, Green Gardening Cooking & Curing.

Sadly most of the folks who had found their way here were sitting in the shaded bar enjoying cold beers.

Guatiza, Lanzarote



Here we planned on using the shore day to take a leisurely walk through town after a breakfast delayed until most of the other passengers had eaten their fill and been on their way. I rarely eat breakfast, but I surely do love French toast buttered and floating in Vermont maple syrup. With that in mind we made our way to the dining room where as is our usual we do a walk about to see what's there. On the way to French toast we discovered chocolate croissants, slices of swiss cheese (good to have on hand in the stateroom fridge for those times there's no food worth eating in the dining room), and a couple of breakfast croissants for making cheese sandwiches.

Ah, now we made it to the French toast serving area. But, what is this? I took out my glasses and still wondered. We asked one of the serving staff about it and were told it was "corn flake French toast." Sounded like something served in primary school, but with its appearance I don't think even kids would eat it. Damn!! Foiled once again. My husband had yogurt and nuts and one of those chocolate croissants. It remained uneaten as there was only a dribble of chocolate at either end were it could be seen and nothing else. Chef "Tiny" is nothing if not parsimonious.

Did I mention the other breakfast offerings? There are omelet stations where you select your ingredients and an omelet is made before your eyes in oil in an old scratched Teflon® pan where the cook uses a burned and stained rubber spatula as his only cooking tool. Yum, Teflon® and burned plastic omelets. Moving on to the freshly cooked eggs station you'll find duplicate second rate equipment. Down the aisle a ways you'll come to the Eggs Benedict area also with the same very old scratched Teflon® pan. This time it is filled with very cloudy water in which your eggs will be reheated as amazingly they are precooked poached eggs. Here the options include something called English bacon, but even with my glasses I couldn't identify it as bacon like, sausage burgers, older than sin precooked spinach, barely tan low quality English muffins and topping the whole mess is something they pass off as Hollandaise sauce, except that it has the wrong color, the wrong texture and the wrong taste. Oops, "Tiny's" touch once again.

Everyday I try to wake with a good attitude, something that will see me through the day's disappointments. But here on Celebrity, there are just too many disappointments.

We left the ship and took a long walk through town, here and there finding something totally charming.


Grand Canaria has a clear cut feeling of Spanish history as you can see in this church. The surrounding areas are visually charming and studded with delightful cafes. We enjoyed the town.


Tenerife is mountainous and visually appealing with green mountains and bright sunshine. But it was a distraction for only one day before we would voyage across the Atlantic.

Maybe This is a Better Way to Travel by Sea

Gratefully we arrived in Fort Lauderdale and were on our way back home to Guatemala, never to voyage again on a Celebrity ship.

Some Notes:

1. One day we were served batter fried fish that had gone bad before being fried. Maybe this is why so many ships now have outbreaks of food poisoning relabeled as some sort of incidental bacterial or viral problem.

2. The salad bar was truly a health hazard as all foods were contaminated with others largely because of faulty serving tongs and inadequate management.

One evening I waited 15 minutes for a food server to find some black olives that weren't in a bin with pieces of ham and chicken and green olives and some kind of oil. Beside me was a young woman waiting for a dressing that had been available only the day before. Now there was none in the large upstairs self service dining area. It had to be retrieved from several decks below. After 20 minutes our requests were met. She had a bin of her dressing and I was faced with a salad plate of "black olives." The black olives were floating on about two tablespoons of mystery oil, along with one green olive and some generic minced greens. When I said I wanted 'clean' olives the young server asked if I wanted them "washed." I said no, I just wanted them free of oil, green olives, and miscellaneous greens. He didn't really get the idea until I showed him the salad bins all of which were contaminated with other foods.

3. The casino raised its prices after leaving Naples. When a passenger on a continuing voyage asked why, he was told. "Because Americans will pay it."

4. The quality of food was appalling and again I truly think it was because Americans will eat it because they are used to it. Europeans would have staged a mutiny.