Friday, 20 January 2017

Sailing on Celebrity Constellation

I watched as a mother berated her two kids for playing in the road when they were meant to be crossing it. She led them safely to the pavement and kept a watchful eye on them to make sure that they were obediently following her.

Why I was spellbound was that the mother was a goat. You see in Khasab, even the goats are well-behaved ... and expect their young to be the same.

In Khasab, even the goats are well-behaved

The Celebrity Constellation had just docked in Khasab, a pretty port on the Musandam peninsula in Oman, just one of the amazing places on my cruise.

This place lived up to my fantasy of what an Arabian adventure would be like. Bursting with character and charm this area, often referred to as the “Norway of Arabia”, is stunningly beautiful. Steep fjords and cliffs along with seductive turquoise waters give it a wild yet tranquil feel.

A souk awash with people talking a wide range of languages and a harbour full of boats loaded with goods ready to be smuggled into Iran as soon as dusk falls gives Khasab an air of excitement. 

Cruising takes the hassle out of seeing several places in one trip. You unpack once yet you wake up in different ports. You are cocooned in an environment where you should be spoilt rotten. Everything is supposed to be on tap and can be served up at a whim. Passport control is taken care of and there are guided tours you can purchase to get you round your destinations. Perfect for those travelling solo. 

Meeting people is easy. Guests always smile at each other as you pass by. Conversations are struck up easily in restaurants and bars as well as on tours. You do not have to worry about anything. 

It seemed like months ago since we had set sail from Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates. In fact it had only been days. 

Celebrity Constellation in Khasab

We were welcomed on board the Celebrity Constellation with a warm glass of flat prosecco by a  bunch of waiters who looked as if they were have rather been anywhere else but doing what they were doing. Ducking crew trying to sell you packages for drinks or for dining in their speciality restaurants before you were even on the ship was not a great start.

Celebrity states: “If you love modern luxury, outstanding service and a choice of inspirational global destinations to explore, a Celebrity cruise will be your perfect holiday. It’s the little things that make all the difference – whether that’s our helpful staff greeting you by name or your favourite dessert appearing after dinner.”

It sounded like a dream holiday as luxury, good service and excellent food are what I expect on a cruise. I have been on a lot over the years and have sailed with most of the top lines. The reality, in this case, was that it did not live up to its promise.

Celebrity Constellation went into service in 2002 and was renovated 11 years later. Luxurious with outstanding service it was not. To quote two of my fellow passengers, a stylish couple from Belgium, “It is more Ryanair then British Airways.” In other words, it was mass market rather than luxurious. 

The crew, obviously, had been told to say etc. It came over so insincere. All they seemed interested in was trying to sell you something. Luckily, I had an internet package included in my cruise otherwise it would cost approximately $249 (£203) for 9 days. No wonder many people declined.

There was one member of the crew who stood out a mile and that was a lovely man from the Philippines. Saying washy-washy while handing out antibacterial wash each time you boarded the ship brought a smile to most people’s faces. He made sure that nobody got passed him. So important in this environment. Others around the ship were not so fastidious. I have never been on a cruise where the captain, his officers and entertainment staff were less visible.

Abu Dhabi

Paying the extra to have a stateroom in Aqua Class was worth it. It was spacious and kept reasonably well. Spa elements were supposed to be injected into the stateroom experience though I am not sure what they were as I found nothing more than you would get in any decent hotel room.

Aqua Class has its own restaurant, Blu, which is open for breakfast and dinner. It focuses on clean cuisine. The line is supposed to dish up excellent food but compared with other ships it was extremely average. Food was seldom piping hot. Of course, there are always people who are special and Wilma from Honduras was one. He was Blu’s best waiter by far. He really seemed to care about you. 

The Oceanview Café was quick and convenient for lunch. The buffet, served here, did not seem to change much over the cruise. The salad bar was the highlight. It would have been good to see some dishes of the areas we were visiting included on the menu. Even dates were nowhere to be found. Although I was told that they had appeared once by the cheese board and had gone quickly.

Included in my cruise fare was the Classic drinks package. The wines available were, on the whole, quite poor. You had to search hard to find one or two interesting numbers. When you pay about £10 a glass including compulsory service charge of 18 per cent, you expect a reasonable quality. 

Shows in the Celebrity Theatre varied. One or two were good, the rest made me think of Simon Cowell when he tells contestants they are a “bit cruise ship”. On the last night it was so bad that lots of people walked out. That could not have been the first time that had happened.

The music playing throughout the ship in the various bars was pleasant as was the group that played on deck throughout the day. Lectures were not that interesting compared with other ships, but we were only at sea one day so I suppose that was reflected in the programme.

I had gone for the ports. To stand on my veranda and see the skyline of Dubai glittering in front of me as it punched the sky was magical. Three days to explore this fascinating city was a key factor in picking the cruise. As was getting to go to see the port city of Muscat, Oman. Set against the backdrop of the Hajar Mountains, this city respects its past while eagerly embracing the future. Khasab was a lovely surprise.  Last, but certainly not least, was Abu Dhabi. Exhilarating with a distinct Arab flavour, it is a classy city that has so much to offer. 

Like any holiday, it is who you meet that makes the trip and I met so many interesting people. Another cruise is not out of the question but I would pick a more upscale line.

By Daralyn Danns

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