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Cruise Ship Review

Celebrity Constellation - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic

Like Celebrity Constellation?


Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 1,950-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed French restaurant and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flashes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words that welcomes passengers into the buffet -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

But now, surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Decks 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-deck, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus there is on the brand-new casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. The casual Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5 in space previously occupied by part of the old Champagne Bar. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completly redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steakhouse and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has leapt toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with more solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, the ship deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller ones.

That said, this is still a big ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And, I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it is a floating city -- in 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined environment.Editor's note: Celebrity Constellation went into drydock on April 16, 2013, for 19 days to complete its "Solsticization", as the line calls it. This will include adding 66 brand new cabins, and the introduction of 107 AquaClass cabins. Other new features will include: new verandas for suites; an upgraded basketball court; Craft beer in Michael's Club; and the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, informative classes on the latest products and technologies, and a retail store and a new meetings and conference space. The ship will also have Wi-fi throughout, new color schemes, new carpeting and new upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class; and new sun loungers on the pool decks.

Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

Surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.

That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.

Gratuity

Celebrity Cruises is increasing its suggested gratuity by 50 cents per passenger/per day beginning on all bookings made on or after April 29 for all cruises that begin on or after the same day. The new suggested gratuity will be $12.00 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites.

Dining

Celebrity Constellation's two-deck, 1,170-seat San Marco Dining Room features a curving double staircase that leads down to a trio of large flower bouquets. Balconies overhang on the port and starboard sides. Two rows of dark-wood columns with gold accents and capitols describe a corridor from the stairway to a dramatic two-deck stern window, which offers views of the ship's trailing wake. (One night, the large windows framed a brilliant sea-to-sky rainbow that materialized out of the Baltic mist.) Above it all, a jagged mosaic sunlight fixture provides a warm orange glow.

For dinner, passengers can opt for traditional set seating at 6 p.m. (early) or 8:30 p.m. (late), or pick "Celebrity Select Dining," which offers open seating between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Passengers choosing the open-seating option can pre-reserve space (online up to four days before sail date or while onboard) or walk in at any time during the allotted hours. Those walking in during peak dining times may have to wait for a table. The maitre d' said that just fewer than 400 diners had chosen open seating, roughly 30 of whom had changed from set to open once onboard -- perhaps as a result of first-night conversation that passed from polite to political. Officially, there are a limited number of open-seating spaces, which are booked pre-cruise, but staff will do its best to accommodate those wanting to switch once onboard.

Menus consist of appetizers, soups & salads, entrees and desserts, and dinner is served course-by-course over a leisurely two-hour-plus period. For a ship of this size, the food was consistently some of the best main dining room fare I've had at sea. Serving 2,000 diners a night is no easy task, but meals came out hot and well-presented, and mostly disappeared rapidly from plates. The signature meatballs, a recipe from Celebrity's VP of Culinary Operations, Jacques Van Staden, were just like mama's, and a tablemate who ordered the meatballs but was mistakenly given a beef dish instead eyed my plate covetously as I slowly devoured meatball after meatball. The Burgundy braised lamb shank with a caramelized pear and red cabbage slaw was another standout, and only a thoroughly cleaned bone remained. As in any big-ship main dining room, there were, of course, a few misses. The ribeye steak was equal parts gristle and edible beef. And the curry vegetable tagine, one of a couple vegetarian entrees I sampled, felt more like a side dish than a main meal -- its singular flavor left me craving a little variety.

Other options focused on blending of traditional cruise "luxury items," like frogs legs and ceviche, with a modern sensibility. The frog legs, for instance, were made Buffalo-style, deep fried with hot sauce. The ceviche, done with shrimp and bay scallops, was served island-style with fried plantains, cilantro and avocado.

For vegetarians, there are always meat-free options like vegetable and ricotta cheese stuffed "conch" shells and vegetable paella. Lower-calorie options, like the herb-crusted white fish or sugar-free cakes, are marked with a little heart. If nothing on the rotating menu suffices, "always available" choices, from soups to desserts, include escargot, lobster bisque, steak, chicken and creme brulee.

Celebrity deserves special commendation for its portion restraint (in the main dining room, at least). The reasonably sized appetizers and salads allow passengers to save room for dessert.

Passengers can bring their own wine onboard, but there's a $25 per bottle corking fee to drink it in the dining room.

The dining room is open-seating for breakfast and lunch. Classic breakfast items like Eggs Benedict, and made-to-order omelets are served for breakfast, but the menu also features a duo of more regional fish options, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels or Scottish kippers. The lunch menu offers the typical soups (including a chilled soup), salads and entrees. Passengers can also order items like burgers and dogs "from the grill."

For a casual breakfast, lunch and dinner, head to the Seaside Cafe, Constellation's top-ship buffet venue. The oval space feels a bit like a running track with various food stations positioned along the loop -- pizza, pasta and stir-fry bars; Asian (sushi) and English cuisine (fish 'n' chips, shepherd's pie and the like); sandwiches; and a build-a-salad bar. It was my common practice to make a full circuit before settling on a plateful.

I may be repeating myself, but Constellation featured some of the best main buffet food I've had. A meal of mushy peas and just-fried chips doused with malt vinegar was especially memorable, and the Indian dishes, like mini samosas and chickpea stew, exceeded expectations. On the other hand, the sushi, now as much a part of cruise ship DNA as main dining room lobster tail, wasn't particularly good -- the raw items were way too fishy.

The adjacent Seaview Bar, inspired by the richly lacquered cherry wood and khaki canvas sails of a classic schooner, provides al fresco seating on the stern for about 120 passengers. On sunny days, you'll find many passengers enjoying a quiet bite as and following the ship's wake into the horizon.

From noon to 6 p.m., the Pool Side Grill offers a standard menu of burgers, bratwursts and grilled chicken, with a full of complement of sauteed, sliced and chopped toppings. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available upon request. I had a couple of really juicy grilled chicken sandwiches, with a tasty chicken marinade that featured an unexpected kick. Also popular there was the taco/nacho bar setup -- start with deep-fried taco shells or tortilla chips, and then ask the chef to add a combination of beef (greasy and granular, a la Taco Bell), chicken, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, a few salsas, sour cream and vegetables. Salads, like chickpea and feta or potato, round out the options.

For the most upscale dining experience onboard, Ocean Liners is Constellation's alternative restaurant, emphasizing indulgent French food and white-glove service. The space is modeled after a restaurant on the classic ocean liner Ille de France. There's mahogany paneling throughout and walls and glass cases display ship paintings and memorabilia (restaurant menus, ship models). At $45 per person, it's one of the priciest for-fee eatery at sea. But for the price, you get unceasingly attentive service (the staff's collective psyche is clearly tied into making sure you have a perfect meal), tableside preparation if you order the crepe suzette or filet, and almost more rich French food than your body can handle. I went for broke and tried the goat cheese souffle; heirloom tomato, cantaloupe and mozzarella caprese; sweet breads; a filet with a cognac cream sauce; and a six-dessert sampler. The sauce accompanying the sweet breads -- made of veal stock, wine reduction, capers, grapefruit, celery greens -- was especially memorable, hitting all parts of the tongue. Ocean Liner's menu also features options like caviar (additional fee), foie gras, escargot ravioli and venison. There's also a multi-course meal that's paired with wines for $89 per person.

Constellation's second upscale alternative restaurant is The Tuscan Grille, a modern, Italian steak-and-wine venue, first seen on Celebrity Solstice. (It replaced Constellation's apparently revenue-draining top-ship flower shop.) The top-ship, circular space features wooden wine cabinets atop faux stone walls, and the restaurant is divided into two sections by a large leather banquette. The smaller side features two- and four-tops (and a view of the late-night Baltic sunset when I dined there); the larger side has bigger tables and showcases a prosciutto slicer (the Lamborghini of prosciutto slicers, said the maitre d'), a popular prop in cruise ship Italian restaurants (also found on Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships). The $35-per-head dinner is a multi-course affair. I had the antipasti plate with cheese, olives and marinated squash; fried calamari; crostini with bruschetta, tapenade and goat cheese; arugula salad with pine nuts and goat cheese; cajun ribeye steak with a pecorino mac 'n' cheese; and gelato in a waffle cone. While not quite as decadent as Ocean Liners, the Tuscan Grille creates the same memorable experience.

There are moments when the caloric intake becomes overkill. Do you really need a crispy onion topping on a salad that already features fat in the form of a heavy dressing, fried cheese and nuts? The pecorino mac 'n' cheese that accompanied the steak was so dense, I could feel the blend of cheeses flowing like lava to the bottom of my stomach.

After eating at both, I overheard something that seemed to sum up the experience. Man to woman on day eight of the 12 day cruise: "Now if you just don't eat anything for the next four days, you'll be back to 139 pounds."

For the health-conscious cruiser looking for some balance, Constellation has the AquaSpa Cafe, which is located within the glass-and-steel-covered solarium pool area. The venue is really just a buffet lunch counter, proffering light-fare foods and a few a la carte items (grilled pork, poached salmon). It was very popular with the bathrobed, post-gym or -spa treatment crowd, and everyone flocked there during sea days when the Baltic or North Sea wind was whipping over the open decks. Grab-and-go items on offer include sushi (vegetable rolls), grilled chicken, poached shrimp with avocado slices, whole-grain breads, a build-your-own-salad setup with a selection light vinaigrettes, a daily cold soup (melon with ginger) and a poached fruit bar. Finally, there was an extensive sorbet list, which ranged from the familiar (raspberry) to the bizarrely adventurous (boiled asparagus with shallots and thyme, which was, unfortunately, unavailable the few times I went to taste it). There is no cost to dine at the AquaSpa Cafe, which is typically open from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Bistro on Five, the new casual venue borrowed from Solstice, offers a variety of sweet and savory crepes, paninis (grilled, pressed sandwiches) and desserts for a $7-per-person surcharge. Set apart by clouded glass panels, the softly lit Deck 5 space features comfortable couch seating along the portholes and its own musical mix (funky soul, nouveau country). Wanting to try a sweet and a savory crepe, I asked them to make me two slightly smaller-than-normal blends. One had bacon, sausage, tomatoes, scrambled eggs and onion and was served with a cup of fruit and some breakfast potatoes; the other was "The Italian," a blend of Nutella (a narcotic chocolate hazelnut spread that's popular in Europe), bananas, creme sauce and pistachio toppings. Other crepe options included Cajun chicken, flank steak, Indian-spiced veggies -- or you could build your own. The venue was never really crowded -- after all, it's open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., 20 hours a day -- but on sea days, during lunch, the prime real estate next to the large, circular windows fills up fast.

A pair of symbiotic casual venues -- Cafe al Bacio, starboard, and the Gelateria, port -- are located on Deck 5, midship. Coffee drink prices at Cafe al Bacio are on the (very) high side -- $4 for a tiny cappuccino is outrageous, but you can fill up on the assorted mini-cookies and -pastries as long as you purchase a drink. The sweets are made from scratch every three or four hours, and the lemon tart and mini-chocolate cake I swallowed whole passed the taste test. During lunch hours, there are savory options like mini-ham and -turkey sandwiches and salmon mousse tarts. Across the way at the Gelateria, gelato costs $3 for a single scoop and $4 for a double. (Sprinkles, pseudo-M&M's, etc. are included in the cost.) The gelato was good, especially the After Eight mint flavor, but it was the wafting scent of the fresh-made waffle cones that drew passengers to the counter. As my dinner tablemate noted, the Gelateria is the best-smelling place on the ship.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, an important consideration for night owls looking for munchies between 2 a.m., when Bistro on Five closes, and 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the first early riser breakfast options become available and the bistro reopens. You can order room service items, including a tomato, cheese and avocado quesadilla or a turkey club, using the in-cabin interactive TV. Should you wish to tip, you must do so in cash. (There are no receipts.)

Gratuity

Tips aren't included in the cruise fare, but suggested gratuities are automatically added to your onboard account at a rate of $12 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites. If you would like to adjust the gratuities, you can make do so through the Guest Relations desk. A 15 percent charge is added automatically to all beverage and minibar purchases as well as spa and salon purchases. You can't remove these gratuities but can add to them.Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

In April 2013, Celebrity Constellation went into drydock for 19 days to complete its "Solsticization", as the line calls it. This included adding 66 cabins and the introduction of 107 AquaClass cabins. Other new features included: verandahs for suites; an upgraded basketball court; craft beer in Michael's Club; and the introduction of the iLounge, with Apple workstations, classes on the latest products and technologies, and a retail store and a new meetings and conference space. The ship also has Wi-fi throughout, new color schemes, new carpeting and new upholstery reflective of the Solstice Class; and new sun loungers on the pool decks.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.

That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.

Fitness and Recreation

In terms of spa-to-ship ratio, Celebrity Constellation's AquaSpa is cruising's largest -- a 25,000-square-foot complex that features a glass-and-steel solarium with a large heated thalassotherapy pool, hot tubs, a spa cafe and hardwood loungers; a for-fee thermal suite; a full-service hair and nail salon; 13 treatment rooms; and a fitness center.

Speaking of the solarium, it's one of Constellation's most tranquil spots, and the Rubenesque nude lying sidelong puts all who enter in a pleasant mood. We were sailing in the perfect region for such a warm, relaxing spot -- a Baltic Cruise, during which the weather can be windy and cold during the early part of summer -- but the place was never overly crowded. But all tables were usually accounted for by card-players and lunchers. The thalassotherapy pool features four large faucets, from which gush a constant stream of warm water. There is no fee to use the Solarium.

Constellation's decently equipped gym features a variety of Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and weight machines. I had no trouble snagging a treadmill on the sea days following my 5,000-calorie feeding frenzies at Ocean Liners and the Tuscan Grille. Cycling, Yoga and Chilates (a lower intensity version of Pilates) are $12 per person. Stretch and group cardio classes are free. Personal training is available for $85 per hour session or $210 for a three-session package. Take note that the 5 session "Cruise Special" was priced at $350 -- the same per-session cost at the three-session package.

The AquaSpa offers the standard pricey treatments, including a Swedish massage ($119 for 50 minutes), teeth-whitening ($199) and the now firmly entrenched Botox injections for your face. Folks at the spa told me about 20 people had the procedure during our cruise; prices start at about $300, but a (free) consultation is required to determine how much it'll cost to remove wrinkles on the brow or around the mouth or eyes. More unusually, the spa has begun offering a long-term hair-straightening procedure.

Look out for port-day spa specials like an offer that lets you mix and match three 20-minute treatments for $99.

The AquaSpa complex also features various "self-treatment" rooms, including The Persian Garden suite, which offers an herbal steamer, Turkish bath, tiled loungers and rainforest shower. The number of Persian Garden passes is limited to 50, so book a full-cruise pass on the first day if you're interested. Access to the Persian Garden is $99.

A private Rasul mud room is available for $95 per couple for 50 minutes of action.

His and hers saunas are available for free in the men's and women's locker rooms.

Celebrity Cruises was the first line to offer acupuncture at sea. Constellation's stand-alone acupuncture venue is located on Deck 6. Hours are very limited.

A midship pool area, complete with two pools, several hot tubs and plenty of whimsical sculptures (a big gorilla was a favorite) was somewhat underused during our Baltic Cruise, although sunbathers took full advantage of the lounging opportunities when the rays were there. Naturally, when the ship repositions to warmer climes, the pool area becomes the sea-day hub.

There's a jogging track on Deck 11; three times around equal a kilometer (or 5/8 a mile), so a little less than five times around equals a mile. For the sports enthusiast, a multi-use court with basketball hoops and mini-soccer goals are up on Deck 12 -- this area was largely left alone during the dry dock, and it shows; it's beset with rusted corners and ripped nets.

Dining

Celebrity Constellation's two-deck, 1,170-seat San Marco Dining Room features a curving double staircase that leads down to a trio of large flower bouquets. Balconies overhang on the port and starboard sides. Two rows of dark-wood columns with gold accents and capitols describe a corridor from the stairway to a dramatic two-deck stern window, which offers views of the ship's trailing wake. (One night, the large windows framed a brilliant sea-to-sky rainbow that materialized out of the Baltic mist.) Above it all, a jagged mosaic sunlight fixture provides a warm orange glow.

For dinner, passengers can opt for traditional set seating at 6 p.m. (early) or 8:30 p.m. (late), or pick "Celebrity Select Dining," which offers open seating between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Passengers choosing the open-seating option can pre-reserve space (online up to four days before sail date or while onboard) or walk in at any time during the allotted hours. Those walking in during peak dining times may have to wait for a table. The maitre d' said that just fewer than 400 diners had chosen open seating, roughly 30 of whom had changed from set to open once onboard -- perhaps as a result of first-night conversation that passed from polite to political. Officially, there are a limited number of open-seating spaces, which are booked pre-cruise, but staff will do its best to accommodate those wanting to switch once onboard.

Menus consist of appetizers, soups & salads, entrees and desserts, and dinner is served course-by-course over a leisurely two-hour-plus period. For a ship of this size, the food was consistently some of the best main dining room fare I've had at sea. Serving 2,000 diners a night is no easy task, but meals came out hot and well-presented, and mostly disappeared rapidly from plates. The signature meatballs, a recipe from Celebrity's VP of Culinary Operations, Jacques Van Staden, were just like mama's, and a tablemate who ordered the meatballs but was mistakenly given a beef dish instead eyed my plate covetously as I slowly devoured meatball after meatball. The Burgundy braised lamb shank with a caramelized pear and red cabbage slaw was another standout, and only a thoroughly cleaned bone remained. As in any big-ship main dining room, there were, of course, a few misses. The ribeye steak was equal parts gristle and edible beef. And the curry vegetable tagine, one of a couple vegetarian entrees I sampled, felt more like a side dish than a main meal -- its singular flavor left me craving a little variety.

Other options focused on blending of traditional cruise "luxury items," like frogs legs and ceviche, with a modern sensibility. The frog legs, for instance, were made Buffalo-style, deep fried with hot sauce. The ceviche, done with shrimp and bay scallops, was served island-style with fried plantains, cilantro and avocado.

For vegetarians, there are always meat-free options like vegetable and ricotta cheese stuffed "conch" shells and vegetable paella. Lower-calorie options, like the herb-crusted white fish or sugar-free cakes, are marked with a little heart. If nothing on the rotating menu suffices, "always available" choices, from soups to desserts, include escargot, lobster bisque, steak, chicken and creme brulee.

Celebrity deserves special commendation for its portion restraint (in the main dining room, at least). The reasonably sized appetizers and salads allow passengers to save room for dessert.

Passengers can bring their own wine onboard, but there's a $25 per bottle corking fee to drink it in the dining room.

The dining room is open-seating for breakfast and lunch. Classic breakfast items like Eggs Benedict, and made-to-order omelets are served for breakfast, but the menu also features a duo of more regional fish options, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels or Scottish kippers. The lunch menu offers the typical soups (including a chilled soup), salads and entrees. Passengers can also order items like burgers and dogs "from the grill."

For a casual breakfast, lunch and dinner, head to the Seaside Cafe, Constellation's top-ship buffet venue. The oval space feels a bit like a running track with various food stations positioned along the loop -- pizza, pasta and stir-fry bars; Asian (sushi) and English cuisine (fish 'n' chips, shepherd's pie and the like); sandwiches; and a build-a-salad bar. It was my common practice to make a full circuit before settling on a plateful.

I may be repeating myself, but Constellation featured some of the best main buffet food I've had. A meal of mushy peas and just-fried chips doused with malt vinegar was especially memorable, and the Indian dishes, like mini samosas and chickpea stew, exceeded expectations. On the other hand, the sushi, now as much a part of cruise ship DNA as main dining room lobster tail, wasn't particularly good -- the raw items were way too fishy.

The adjacent Seaview Bar, inspired by the richly lacquered cherry wood and khaki canvas sails of a classic schooner, provides al fresco seating on the stern for about 120 passengers. On sunny days, you'll find many passengers enjoying a quiet bite as and following the ship's wake into the horizon.

From noon to 6 p.m., the Pool Side Grill offers a standard menu of burgers, bratwursts and grilled chicken, with a full of complement of sauteed, sliced and chopped toppings. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available upon request. I had a couple of really juicy grilled chicken sandwiches, with a tasty chicken marinade that featured an unexpected kick. Also popular there was the taco/nacho bar setup -- start with deep-fried taco shells or tortilla chips, and then ask the chef to add a combination of beef (greasy and granular, a la Taco Bell), chicken, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, a few salsas, sour cream and vegetables. Salads, like chickpea and feta or potato, round out the options.

For the most upscale dining experience onboard, Ocean Liners is Constellation's alternative restaurant, emphasizing indulgent French food and white-glove service. The space is modeled after a restaurant on the classic ocean liner Ille de France. There's mahogany paneling throughout and walls and glass cases display ship paintings and memorabilia (restaurant menus, ship models). At $45 per person, it's one of the priciest for-fee eatery at sea. But for the price, you get unceasingly attentive service (the staff's collective psyche is clearly tied into making sure you have a perfect meal), tableside preparation if you order the crepe suzette or filet, and almost more rich French food than your body can handle. I went for broke and tried the goat cheese souffle; heirloom tomato, cantaloupe and mozzarella caprese; sweet breads; a filet with a cognac cream sauce; and a six-dessert sampler. The sauce accompanying the sweet breads -- made of veal stock, wine reduction, capers, grapefruit, celery greens -- was especially memorable, hitting all parts of the tongue. Ocean Liner's menu also features options like caviar (additional fee), foie gras, escargot ravioli and venison. There's also a multi-course meal that's paired with wines for $89 per person.

Constellation's second upscale alternative restaurant is The Tuscan Grille, a modern, Italian steak-and-wine venue, first seen on Celebrity Solstice. (It replaced Constellation's apparently revenue-draining top-ship flower shop.) The top-ship, circular space features wooden wine cabinets atop faux stone walls, and the restaurant is divided into two sections by a large leather banquette. The smaller side features two- and four-tops (and a view of the late-night Baltic sunset when I dined there); the larger side has bigger tables and showcases a prosciutto slicer (the Lamborghini of prosciutto slicers, said the maitre d'), a popular prop in cruise ship Italian restaurants (also found on Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships). The $35-per-head dinner is a multi-course affair. I had the antipasti plate with cheese, olives and marinated squash; fried calamari; crostini with bruschetta, tapenade and goat cheese; arugula salad with pine nuts and goat cheese; cajun ribeye steak with a pecorino mac 'n' cheese; and gelato in a waffle cone. While not quite as decadent as Ocean Liners, the Tuscan Grille creates the same memorable experience.

There are moments when the caloric intake becomes overkill. Do you really need a crispy onion topping on a salad that already features fat in the form of a heavy dressing, fried cheese and nuts? The pecorino mac 'n' cheese that accompanied the steak was so dense, I could feel the blend of cheeses flowing like lava to the bottom of my stomach.

After eating at both, I overheard something that seemed to sum up the experience. Man to woman on day eight of the 12 day cruise: "Now if you just don't eat anything for the next four days, you'll be back to 139 pounds."

For the health-conscious cruiser looking for some balance, Constellation has the AquaSpa Cafe, which is located within the glass-and-steel-covered solarium pool area. The venue is really just a buffet lunch counter, proffering light-fare foods and a few a la carte items (grilled pork, poached salmon). It was very popular with the bathrobed, post-gym or -spa treatment crowd, and everyone flocked there during sea days when the Baltic or North Sea wind was whipping over the open decks. Grab-and-go items on offer include sushi (vegetable rolls), grilled chicken, poached shrimp with avocado slices, whole-grain breads, a build-your-own-salad setup with a selection light vinaigrettes, a daily cold soup (melon with ginger) and a poached fruit bar. Finally, there was an extensive sorbet list, which ranged from the familiar (raspberry) to the bizarrely adventurous (boiled asparagus with shallots and thyme, which was, unfortunately, unavailable the few times I went to taste it). There is no cost to dine at the AquaSpa Cafe, which is typically open from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Bistro on Five, the new casual venue borrowed from Solstice, offers a variety of sweet and savory crepes, paninis (grilled, pressed sandwiches) and desserts for a $5-per-person surcharge. Set apart by clouded glass panels, the softly lit Deck 5 space features comfortable couch seating along the portholes and its own musical mix (funky soul, nouveau country). Wanting to try a sweet and a savory crepe, I asked them to make me two slightly smaller-than-normal blends. One had bacon, sausage, tomatoes, scrambled eggs and onion and was served with a cup of fruit and some breakfast potatoes; the other was "The Italian," a blend of Nutella (a narcotic chocolate hazelnut spread that's popular in Europe), bananas, creme sauce and pistachio toppings. Other crepe options included Cajun chicken, flank steak, Indian-spiced veggies -- or you could build your own. The venue was never really crowded -- after all, it's open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., 20 hours a day -- but on sea days, during lunch, the prime real estate next to the large, circular windows fills up fast.

A pair of symbiotic casual venues -- Cafe al Bacio, starboard, and the Gelateria, port -- are located on Deck 5, midship. Coffee drink prices at Cafe al Bacio are on the (very) high side -- $4 for a tiny cappuccino is outrageous, but you can fill up on the assorted mini-cookies and -pastries as long as you purchase a drink. The sweets are made from scratch every three or four hours, and the lemon tart and mini-chocolate cake I swallowed whole passed the taste test. During lunch hours, there are savory options like mini-ham and -turkey sandwiches and salmon mousse tarts. Across the way at the Gelateria, gelato costs $3 for a single scoop and $4 for a double. (Sprinkles, pseudo-M&M's, etc. are included in the cost.) The gelato was good, especially the After Eight mint flavor, but it was the wafting scent of the fresh-made waffle cones that drew passengers to the counter. As my dinner tablemate noted, the Gelateria is the best-smelling place on the ship.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, an important consideration for night owls looking for munchies between 2 a.m., when Bistro on Five closes, and 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the first early riser breakfast options become available and the bistro reopens. You can order room service items, including a tomato, cheese and avocado quesadilla or a turkey club, using the in-cabin interactive TV. Should you wish to tip, you must do so in cash. (There are no receipts.)

Entertainment

The Celebrity Theater hosts typical big-ship Vegas-style song and dance revues at night, focusing on Broadway and pop hits. Other evening headliners may include singers, comedians and musical acts.

Evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship emphasizes music, with bands in the Rendezvous Lounge performing 40's and 50's jazz standards, some pop songs (a la swing) and other danceable classics. The top-ship Reflections, by day an observation lounge for readers or sea gazers, turns into a (often sparsely attended) disco at night. Michael's, the ship's clubby cigar and cognac bar, features live sing-a-long piano music. Michael's Club also features evening events like Jameson whiskey-tasting (for $15.95).

The Martini Bar looks a bit like a frozen space pod, with a phosphorescent green bar with silver accents, topped by an icy surface for doodling. It's a combination of booze and entertainment, and the bartenders flip and juggle bottles of top-shelf vodka and gin in time with South Beach-style club music as patrons hoot and holler. Martinis of all colors and mixtures are $10 each, and a six-martini combo is $15. It certainly has a magnetic pull, and during sea-day demonstrations, small crowds gathered to clap and chant "Go Larry, Go Larry," as Larry the bartender executed the challenging six-martini pour.

Cellar Masters features self-service "enomatic" wine dispensers -- just grab a Riedel glass, swipe your card, and choose from three different sizes: an ounce, a half-glass or a full glass. (The distribution system has the added benefit of keeping bottles highly pressurized for up to three weeks.) There are numerous reds and whites on offer to satisfy most palettes, from a modest house wine to a $59-a-glass (Opus One 2003 on our sailing), and passengers can sample a few sips of the pricey stuff for a fraction of the per-glass cost. Human-free dispensing makes the venue one of the only 24-hour bars at sea. (If you have wine questions, however, it's staffed from 5 p.m. to midnight or 1 p.m.) The hotel director noted that he's seen passengers in their bathrobes in the early a.m. hours sipping away.

Editor's Note: Celebrity offers a variety of all-you-can-booze drink packages. For $44 per day you can drink unlimited beers up to $5 per serving and wine and spirits up to $8 per serving. The premium package, at $54 a day, allows you to drink every beer on the list, as well as wine, spirits and cocktails less than $12 per serving.

During the day, Celebrity is less activity-packed than Royal Caribbean, Carnival or NCL, and many passengers are content to get some reading done, participate in a wine tasting, take a dance class or enjoy a talk. The Celebrity Theater may host lectures, offering PowerPoint presentations on a variety of subject matter like the mating habits of dolphins or the exploits of the Viking civilization. Other activities may include art auctions, weight loss seminars and cooking demos. During sea days, the Reflections Lounge always features a row of passengers who line up to watch the ship's wake in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Considering the daily schedules, one thing that stands out is the number of wine- and liquor-tasting events held throughout the ship. Whether your drink of choice is red wine, small batch bourbon, margaritas or martinis, passengers have the opportunity to sample all manner of booze (fee applies).

The Celebrity Cinema, Deck 3 aft, plays second-run films, which are about a year out of theaters.Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

Surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.

That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.

Family

On our early-June sailing, there were 18 passengers younger than 18 (of 2,000 total), but during school holidays or summer vacations, there may be 250-plus children onboard, according to one youth counselor.

Celebrity breaks down kids' groups into Shipmates (3 to 5), Cadets (6 to 8), Ensigns (9 to 11) and Admirals (12 to 17). During peak family cruising seasons, teens are further broken down into 12 to 14 and 15 to 17. Toddlers (under 3) are permitted in Fun Factory only with parental supervision.

Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Deck 11 -- features all manner of toys, a bank of video games and draped area for movie-watching. There's an adjacent splash pool, ball pit and climbing apparatus. (Under 3's can use the facilities with parental supervision.) Teens also have their own venue, the Tower, a super-cool, cylindrical, windowed structure that sits atop Deck 11 and features a mini-pool table, flat-screen TV and video games.

Age-appropriate activities are scheduled for each grouping. The youngest cruisers might enjoy fingerpainting or making a cowboy hat, while older kids might participate in sushi-making demos and hip-hop dance classes. Other activities include scavenger hunts, Rockband play and group sports activities. During sea days, there are scheduled activities from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. On port days, there are activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but lunch (on port days) and dinner (each evening) parties from noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., respectively, are $6 per hour per child (for 3- to 11-year-olds). Nightly slumber parties, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., are also $6 per child, per hour, with an immediate surcharge for late pick-up (free on the last day of the cruise).

A small arcade, adjacent to the Fun Factory, features the typical mix of gun battles, car-racing and excruciating "use a robot claw to grab a prize" games. In a generous touch, each kid is given 30 minutes of free arcade play to rid crime from the streets of Tokyo, hunt big game and drive souped-up Mustangs.

Babysitting is available in the Fun Factory on port days from noon until 2 p.m. and in the evening from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. for a fee of $6 per hour per child. In-cabin babysitting for children 12 months or older is subject to availability. Fee is $19 per hour for up to three children in the same family.

Parents with young children need to bring formula, diapers and wipes, but there are extra supplies onboard, should they run out. Strollers are not available for rent, so passengers should bring their own.

Cabins

Celebrity Constellation features a variety of cabin categories to suit any passenger's needs, from tiny insides to lavish 1,500-square-foot suites, and 60 percent of all accommodations feature verandahs.

Constellation's standard cabins -- insides, outsides and balconies (called "Deluxe Oceanview") -- average a paltry 170 square feet (38-square-foot balconies), about 15 to 20 feet below the industry average.

Decor features hotel-style white bedding with light brown accents, rust carpeting and striking red love seats thrown in for a shock of color, all of which replaced the flamboyant turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean decor of the old abodes. (For a before and after, check out part three of our refurb slideshow.)

Insides, outsides and balconies feature two twin beds that convert to queens, safes, small desks, stocked mini-fridges, flat-screen TV's and bathrobes. The mini-fridges are locked; have your room steward open yours and clear out the for-fee booze if you want to store your wine or water. Shower-only bathrooms have hair dryers, shampoo, moisturizer and bar soap. There is no shower gel.

I was traveling alone, so I had no issue with drawers, but couples I spoke with said they were a little stressed for space -- especially with having to pack for a 12-night cruise. There are drawers hidden in a secondary closet in each room, which also houses the safe. There's another drawer above the flat-screen TV, which is also where extra bedding is stored.

I had two minor gripes with my standard balcony cabin, both of which were curtain-related. During summer in the Baltic, the new window curtains were no match for a vibrant 3 a.m. sunrise, and I had trouble falling asleep with my drapes emitting a gentle nuclear glow. An eye mask would have done the trick. A second irritation was the creeping, clingy shower curtain left in place during the dry dock. On the advice of a Cruise Critic reader, I solved the riddle early on. Pull one side of the curtain just outside the bathroom, then close the door over it. Might take a little tweaking, but with the now-shorter curtain pulled taught, there's no chance of feeling its tingling embrace.

For those looking for a little more space and a few more amenities, the ConciergeClass cabins are 191 square feet with 42-square-foot-balconies. Added touches for concierge passengers include welcome bubbly, a pillow menu, nightly canapes, a 32-inch TV and nicer balcony furniture. In 2012, Celebrity expanded the ConciergeClass services to include an exclusive pre-departure lounge with free coffee and juices. Sky Suites come in at 251 square feet with 57-square-foot balconies.

Continuing up in size, Family Oceanview cabins are 271 square feet with enormous 242-square-foot verandahs that feature pairs of loungers and tables with two chairs each. Inside, there's a partition separating the "master bedroom" from the lounge/extra bed area.

Eight 467-square-foot Celebrity Suites feature lovely floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows (but no balconies), a jetted tub and a pair of entertainment centers. The eight 538-square-foot Royal Suites (195-square-foot balconies) add more space and feature whirlpool tubs on the verandahs. On the top of the list are a pair of 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites with massive, 1,098-square-foot balconies. These suites also feature a baby grand piano, should you wish for a private concert or to tinkle the ivories on your own.

All suite passengers enjoy the service of a butler, who can help pack and unpack, set up in-cabin meals and help make onboard arrangements. Other suite extras include complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant (one dinner for cruises of seven nights or less, two for cruises of eight nights or more); priority check-in; in-suite breakfast, lunch and dinner; complimentary espresso and evening hors d'oeuvres.

There are 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, including insides, oceanviews, balconies, concierge class cabins and Sky Suites.Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

But now, surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.

That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts. It's $12 per person, per day, for passengers in Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms and $15 per person, per day, for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the Guest Services desk; 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

Dress Code

During the day, dress was resort-casual, but Celebrity passengers tend to dress up for dinner -- typically, button-down shirts and slacks for men, blouses or dresses for woman. There is also a good show of jeans on casual nights, albeit usually as part of the professorial sport-jacket-and-denim look. There were only two official formal nights on our 12-night Baltic cruise (though Celebrity's Web site calls for three on cruises of that length). During each formal evening, suits and tuxedos for men and fancy dresses and jewels for women were the norm, and only a handful of diners opted to bypass the penguin suits and eat in the buffet venue.

Fellow Passengers

Celebrity attracts an upper middle-class passenger base, the majority of whom are experienced travelers. It was mostly couples or groups on my particular cruise, typically in the 45 to 70 age range. During the summer and over school holidays, the number of kids onboard may balloon to 250 or more.

When Constellation is in Europe, the passenger mix is international, with a roughly even blend of North American and European cruisers, most of whom hail from the United Kingdom (the largest Continental contingent), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Passengers from Japan, Israel and South America were also onboard our sailing. In the Caribbean, expect the breakdown to skew much more North American.

Family

On our early-June sailing, there were 18 passengers younger than 18 (of 2,000 total), but during school holidays or summer vacations, there may be 250-plus children onboard, according to one youth counselor.

Celebrity breaks down kids' groups into Shipmates (3 to 5), Cadets (6 to 8), Ensigns (9 to 11) and Admirals (12 to 17). During peak family cruising seasons, teens are further broken down into 12 to 14 and 15 to 17.

Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Deck 11 -- features all manner of toys, a bank of video games and draped area for movie-watching. An adjacent splash pool, ball pit and climbing apparatus were out of service during our sailing, but new facilities will be installed. (Under 3's can use the facilities with parental supervision.) Teens also have their own venue, the Tower, a super-cool, cylindrical, windowed structure that sits atop Deck 11 and features a mini-pool table, flat-screen TV and video games.

Age-appropriate activities are scheduled for each grouping. The youngest cruisers might enjoy fingerpainting or making a cowboy hat, while older kids might participate in sushi-making demos and hip-hop dance classes. Other activities include scavenger hunts, Rockband play and group sports activities. During sea days, there are scheduled activities from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. On port days, there are activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but lunch and dinner parties from 12 to 2 and 5 to 7, respectively, are $6 per hour per child (for 3- to 11-year-olds). Nightly slumber parties, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., are also $6 per child, per hour (free on the last day of the cruise).

A small arcade, adjacent to the Fun Factory, features the typical mix of gun battles, car-racing and excruciating "use a robot claw to grab a prize" games. In a generous touch, each kid is given 30 minutes of free arcade play to rid crime from the streets of Tokyo, hunt big game and drive souped-up Mustangs.

In-cabin baby-sitting is available for $8 an hour for up to two children within the same family. Children have to be at least 12 months old to be eligible for in-stateroom baby-sitting, and there are to be no more than two children per baby sitter.

Parents with young children need to bring formula, diapers and wipes, but there are extra supplies onboard, should they run out. Strollers are not available for rent, so passengers should bring their own.

Fitness and Recreation

In terms of spa-to-ship ratio, Celebrity Constellation's AquaSpa is cruising's largest -- a 25,000-square-foot complex that features a glass-and-steel solarium with a large heated thalassotherapy pool, hot tubs, a spa cafe and hardwood loungers; a for-fee thermal suite; a full-service hair and nail salon; 13 treatment rooms; and a fitness center.

Speaking of the solarium, it's one of Constellation's most tranquil spots, and the Rubenesque nude lying sidelong puts all who enter in a pleasant mood. We were sailing in the perfect region for such a warm, relaxing spot -- a Baltic Cruise, during which the weather can be windy and cold during the early part of summer -- but the place was never overly crowded. But all tables were usually accounted for by card-players and lunchers. The thalassotherapy pool features four large faucets, from which gush a constant stream of warm water. There is no fee to use the Solarium.

Constellation's decently equipped gym features a variety of Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and weight machines. I had no trouble snagging a treadmill on the sea days following my 5,000-calorie feeding frenzies at Ocean Liners and the Tuscan Grille. Cycling, Yoga and Chilates (a lower intensity version of Pilates) are $12 per person. Stretch and group cardio classes are free. Personal training is available for $85 per hour session or $210 for a three-session package. Take note that the 5 session "Cruise Special" was priced at $350 -- the same per-session cost at the three-session package.

The Steiner-run AquaSpa offers the standard pricey treatments, including a Swedish massage ($119 for 50 minutes), teeth-whitening ($199) and the now firmly entrenched Botox injections for your face. Folks at the spa told me about 20 people had the procedure during our cruise; prices start at about $300, but a (free) consultation is required to determine how much it'll cost to remove wrinkles on the brow or around the mouth or eyes. More unusually, the spa has begun offering a long-term hair-straightening procedure.

Look out for port-day spa specials like an offer that lets you mix and match three 20-minute treatments for $99.

The AquaSpa complex also features various "self-treatment" rooms, including The Persian Garden suite, which offers an herbal steamer, Turkish bath, tiled loungers and rainforest shower. The number of Persian Garden passes is limited to 50, so book a full-cruise pass on the first day if you're interested. Access to the Persian Garden is $99.

A private Rasul mud room is available for $95 per couple for 50 minutes of action.

His and hers saunas are available for free in the men's and women's locker rooms.

Celebrity Cruises was the first line to offer acupuncture at sea. Constellation's stand-alone acupuncture venue is located on Deck 6. Hours are very limited.

A midship pool area, complete with two pools, several hot tubs and plenty of whimsical sculptures (a big gorilla was a favorite) was somewhat underused during our Baltic Cruise, although sunbathers took full advantage of the lounging opportunities when the rays were there. Naturally, when the ship repositions to warmer climes, the pool area becomes the sea-day hub.

There's a jogging track on Deck 11; three times around equal a kilometer (or 5/8 a mile), so a little less than five times around equals a mile. For the sports enthusiast, a multi-use court with basketball hoops and mini-soccer goals are up on Deck 12 -- this area was largely left alone during the dry dock, and it shows; it's beset with rusted corners and ripped nets.

Entertainment

The Celebrity Theater hosts typical big-ship Vegas-style song and dance revues at night, focusing on Broadway and pop hits. Other evening entertainment held there on my cruise included a bland but congenial comedian, offering observations on eyebrow rings and weight loss, and an operatic singer who performed songs made famous by Tom Jones and Pavarotti. Without a doubt, the most talked-about performances were Livewire, a high-energy fiddle and guitar duo that played Celtic numbers, and Bob Arno, a "professional pickpocketer," who blended a comedic routine (involving audience members -- hold onto your watch) with a fascinating video of real pickpockets performing in cities around the world. Arno also offered advice on how to avoid artful dodgers in crowded places.

Evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship emphasized music, with bands in the Rendezvous Lounge performing 40's and 50's jazz standards, some pop songs (a la swing) and other danceable classics. The top-ship Reflections, by day an observation lounge for readers or sea gazers, turns into a disco at night. But, after a certain point on our Baltic cruise -- say, midnight -- the beats mostly echoed around a nearly empty room. Michael's, the ship's clubby cigar and cognac bar, played host to a pianist in a bejeweled white suit jacket; he filled the venue nightly with his slightly dirty cabaret act. Michael's Club also features evening events like Jameson whisky-tasting (for $15.95).

The biggest question mark from the dry dock is the addition of the ship's new Martini Bar. The venue, which debuted on Solstice, looks a bit like a frozen space pod, with a phosphorescent green bar with silver accents, topped by an icy surface for doodling. It's a combination of booze and entertainment, and the bartenders flip and juggle bottles of top-shelf vodka and gin in time with South Beach-style club music as patrons hoot and holler their approval. Martinis of all colors and mixtures are $10 each, and a six-martini combo is $15. The problem, of course, is that as an evening venue on my port-intensive Baltic cruise, The Martini Bar was a bit of a dud. The beats that blasted into the early-morning hours bothered enough passengers that, early on in the cruise, the hotel manager decided to limit the volume. The bartender noted that the venue was much more popular during shorter Caribbean sailings, which makes sense. But, while it might not really work as a late-night party venue on a 12-night Baltic cruise, it certainly has a magnetic pull, and during sea-day demonstrations, small crowds gathered to clap and chant "Go Larry, Go Larry," as Larry the bartender executed the challenging six-martini pour.

Constellation's other new bar is Cellar Masters, which replaced the old Champagne Bar. What makes Cellar Masters unique at sea is its self-service "enomatic" wine dispensers -- just grab a Riedel glass, swipe your card, and choose from three different sizes: an ounce, a half-glass or a full glass. (The distribution system has the added benefit of keeping bottles highly pressurized for up to three weeks.) There are numerous reds and whites on offer to satisfy most palettes, from a modest house wine to a $59-a-glass Opus One 2003, and passengers like me can sample a few sips of the pricey stuff for a fraction of the per-glass cost. Human-free dispensing makes the venue one of the only 24-hour bars at sea. (If you have wine questions, however, it's only staffed from 5 p.m. to midnight or 1 p.m.) The hotel director noted that he's seen passengers in their bathrobes in the early a.m. hours sipping away.

Editor's Note: Celebrity introduced a variety of all-you-can-booze drink packages in November 2009. For $45 per day -- so $540 on my 12-night cruise -- you can drink unlimited beers up to $5 per serving and wine and spirits up to $8 per serving. The premium package, at $56.50 a day, allows you to drink every beer on the list, as well as wine, spirits and cocktails less than $12 per serving.

During the day, Celebrity is less activity-packed than Royal Caribbean, Carnival or NCL, and many passengers are content to get some reading done, participate in a wine tasting, take a dance class or enjoy a talk. There was a pair of proficient lecturers in the Celebrity Theater, offering PowerPoint presentations on a variety of subject matter as part of Celebrity's "Beyond the Podium" series. Both had a very light touch, whether talking about the mating habits of dolphins or the exploits of the Viking civilization. In line with the trend in competitive cooking, Celebrity also held its own "battle of the star chefs" in the Celebrity Theater. The Park West art auction wasn't particularly well-attended, and only a handful of passengers attended the "Grand Finale" art auction. During sea days, the Reflections Lounge always features a row of passengers who line up to watch the ship's wake in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Considering the daily schedules, one thing that stands out is the number of wine- and liquor-tasting events held throughout the ship. Whether your drink of choice is red wine, small batch bourbon, margaritas or martinis, passengers have the opportunity to sample all manner of booze for $10 to $16.

The Celebrity Cinema, Deck 3 aft, plays second-run films, which are about a year out of theaters.

Editor's Note: Many of the onboard activities fit within Celebrity's newish "Celebrity Life" program, which breaks activities down based on food, enrichment and wellness. (The line was busy touting the related events throughout the cruise.) It struck me as a repackaging of already-existing activity options -- like food demos, wine-tasting and fab abs classes. But, Celebrity has introduced a few new activities as part of the program, like the for-fee Rosetta Stone self-teaching language classes and its aforementioned Beyond the Podium lecture series.

Shore excursions during our Baltic cruise, which called in classic Northern European cities like Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Copenhagen, were predominantly the big-bus, panoramic-city-tour type, with a few forays out into the countryside to visit castles or historic fishing villages. There were a few more atypical options on the books -- like a roof tour in Stockholm that involves being suited up in a safety harness and then wandering over historically important buildings. Just note that they might be cancelled, due to lack of interest, as the roof tour (plus two other active excursions) was, unfortunately, on my cruise.

Cabins

Celebrity Constellation features a variety of cabin categories to suit any passenger's needs, from tiny insides to lavish 1,500-square-foot suites, and 60 percent of all accommodations feature verandahs.

Constellation's standard cabins -- insides, outsides and balconies (called "Deluxe Oceanview") -- average a paltry 170 square feet (38-square-foot balconies), about 15 to 20 feet below the industry average.

Decor features hotel-style white bedding with light brown accents, rust carpeting and striking red love seats thrown in for a shock of color, all of which replaced the flamboyant turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean decor of the old abodes. (For a before and after, check out part three of our refurb slideshow.)

Insides, outsides and balconies feature two twin beds that convert to queens, safes, small desks, stocked mini-fridges, flat-screen TV's and bathrobes. The mini-fridges are locked; have your room steward open yours and clear out the for-fee booze if you want to store your wine or water. Shower-only bathrooms have hair dryers, shampoo, moisturizer and bar soap. There is no shower gel.

I was traveling alone, so I had no issue with drawers, but couples I spoke with said they were a little stressed for space -- especially with having to pack for a 12-night cruise. There are drawers hidden in a secondary closet in each room, which also houses the safe. There's another drawer above the flat-screen TV, which is also where extra bedding is stored.

I had two minor gripes with my standard balcony cabin, both of which were curtain-related. During summer in the Baltic, the new window curtains were no match for a vibrant 3 a.m. sunrise, and I had trouble falling asleep with my drapes emitting a gentle nuclear glow. An eye mask would have done the trick. A second irritation was the creeping, clingy shower curtain left in place during the dry dock. On the advice of a Cruise Critic reader, I solved the riddle early on. Pull one side of the curtain just outside the bathroom, then close the door over it. Might take a little tweaking, but with the now-shorter curtain pulled taught, there's no chance of feeling its tingling embrace.

For those looking for a little more space and a few more amenities, the Concierge Class cabins are 191 square feet with 42-square-foot-balconies. Added touches for concierge passengers include welcome bubbly, a pillow menu, nightly canapes, a 32-inch TV and nicer balcony furniture. Sky Suites come in at 251 square feet with 57-square-foot balconies.

Continuing up in size, Family Oceanview cabins are 271 square feet with enormous 242-square-foot verandahs that feature pairs of loungers and tables with two chairs each. Inside, there's a partition separating the "master bedroom" from the lounge/extra bed area.

Eight 467-square-foot Celebrity Suites feature lovely floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows (but no balconies), a jetted tub and a pair of entertainment centers. The eight 538-square-foot Royal Suites (195-square-foot balconies) add more space and feature whirlpool tubs on the verandahs. On the top of the list are a pair of 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites with massive, 1,098-square-foot balconies. These suites also feature a baby grand piano, should you wish for a private concert or to tinkle the ivories on your own.

All suite passengers enjoy the service of a butler, who can help pack and unpack, set up in-cabin meals and help make onboard arrangements. Other suite extras include complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant (one dinner for cruises of seven nights or less, two for cruises of eight nights or more); priority check-in; in-suite breakfast, lunch and dinner; complimentary espresso and evening hors d'oeuvres.

There are 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, including insides, oceanviews, balconies, concierge class cabins and Sky Suites.

Public Rooms

Constellation's social locus is the Grand Foyer, a three-deck-high atrium with warmly illuminated, polished steps and decorative, gauzy curtains hanging from the ceiling. Several bars (coffee, martini, wine) and lounges and the casual creperie fan out from there.

Deck 3 features the Guest Services and Shore Excursions desks, plus a concierge desk for those looking to make onshore arrangements like car rentals and restaurant reservations. All passengers, not just those in suites, can take advantage of concierge services, free of charge.

The Photo Gallery, which brings out the gawker in all of us, leads into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 4. Prices begin at $19.95 for a single photo from formal night.

Funneling into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 5, The Emporium is Constellation's shopping destination, featuring the standard series of stores selling jewelry, Celebrity logo items, forgotten toiletries ($2.95 for dental floss, so try not to forget it) and duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. Itinerary-specific items are also available there; on our itinerary, there was an expansive collection of Baltic amber jewelry. And, just in case passengers had any lingering guilt about not buying tchotchkes in St. Petersburg, the Emporium held a "Russian Bazaar," featuring matryoshka dolls -- which we'd spent two days seeing onshore -- for inflated prices.

Online@Celebrity, the ship's Internet café, has been moved from Deck 5 to Deck 6, midship. There are four terminals and about 15 laptops set up for passenger use, and the space also hosts free (how to shop online, how to use Word) and for-fee computer classes (Rosetta Stone self-teaching language courses, starting at $25). Taken in industry context, Celebrity is a little stingy with its Internet minutes, especially considering the oft-frustrating at-sea speed. Pay-per-minute will run you $.65 a minute, but the following packages are also available: $29.95 for 49 minutes ($.61 a minute), $49.95 for 90 minutes ($.55 a minute), $79.95 for 150 minutes ($.53 a minute) or and $99.95 for 237 minutes ($.42 a minute). Wi-Fi is available, but only in designated locations like the Seaside Cafe and the conference rooms on Deck 3 (the best signal, says the Internet manager). If you want to access the Web with your laptop, make sure you consult Online@Celebrity's resident techie. There are some quirky rules to establishing a Wi-Fi connection.

Unfortunately, there are no self-service laundry facilities, which is especially bothersome on a 12-night sailing, and per-item charges border on price gauging. Do-it-yourselfers should bring detergent/use the shampoo and wash in their cabins.

Dining

Celebrity Constellation's two-deck, 1,170-seat San Marco Dining Room features a curving double staircase that leads down to a trio of large flower bouquets. Balconies overhang on the port and starboard sides. Two rows of dark-wood columns with gold accents and capitols describe a corridor from the stairway to a dramatic two-deck stern window, which offers views of the ship's trailing wake. (One night, the large windows framed a brilliant sea-to-sky rainbow that materialized out of the Baltic mist.) Above it all, a jagged mosaic sunlight fixture provides a warm orange glow.

For dinner, passengers can opt for traditional set seating at 6 p.m. (early) or 8:30 p.m. (late), or pick "Celebrity Select Dining," which offers open seating between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Passengers choosing the open-seating option can pre-reserve space (online up to four days before sail date or while onboard) or walk in at any time during the allotted hours. Those walking in during peak dining times may have to wait for a table. The maitre d' said that just fewer than 400 diners had chosen open seating, roughly 30 of whom had changed from set to open once onboard -- perhaps as a result of first-night conversation that passed from polite to political. Officially, there are a limited number of open-seating spaces, which are booked pre-cruise, but staff will do its best to accommodate those wanting to switch once onboard.

Menus consist of appetizers, soups & salads, entrees and desserts, and dinner is served course-by-course over a leisurely two-hour-plus period. For a ship of this size, the food was consistently some of the best main dining room fare I've had at sea. Serving 2,000 diners a night is no easy task, but meals came out hot and well-presented, and mostly disappeared rapidly from plates. The signature meatballs, a recipe from Celebrity's VP of Culinary Operations, Jacques Van Staden, were just like mama's, and a tablemate who ordered the meatballs but was mistakenly given a beef dish instead eyed my plate covetously as I slowly devoured meatball after meatball. The Burgundy braised lamb shank with a caramelized pear and red cabbage slaw was another standout, and only a thoroughly cleaned bone remained. As in any big-ship main dining room, there were, of course, a few misses. The ribeye steak was equal parts gristle and edible beef. And the curry vegetable tagine, one of a couple vegetarian entrees I sampled, felt more like a side dish than a main meal -- its singular flavor left me craving a little variety.

Other options focused on blending of traditional cruise "luxury items," like frogs legs and ceviche, with a modern sensibility. The frog legs, for instance, were made Buffalo-style, deep fried with hot sauce. The ceviche, done with shrimp and bay scallops, was served island-style with fried plantains, cilantro and avocado.

For vegetarians, there are always meat-free options like vegetable and ricotta cheese stuffed "conch" shells and vegetable paella. Lower-calorie options, like the herb-crusted white fish or sugar-free cakes, are marked with a little heart. If nothing on the rotating menu suffices, "always available" choices, from soups to desserts, include escargot, lobster bisque, steak, chicken and creme brulee.

Celebrity deserves special commendation for its portion restraint (in the main dining room, at least). The reasonably sized appetizers and salads allow passengers to save room for dessert.

Passengers can bring their own wine onboard, but there's a $25 per bottle corking fee to drink it in the dining room.

The dining room is open-seating for breakfast and lunch. Classic breakfast items like Eggs Benedict, and made-to-order omelets are served for breakfast, but the menu also features a duo of more regional fish options, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels or Scottish kippers. The lunch menu offers the typical soups (including a chilled soup), salads and entrees. Passengers can also order items like burgers and dogs "from the grill."

For a casual breakfast, lunch and dinner, head to the Seaside Cafe, Constellation's top-ship buffet venue. The oval space feels a bit like a running track with various food stations positioned along the loop -- pizza, pasta and stir-fry bars; Asian (sushi) and English cuisine (fish 'n' chips, shepherd's pie and the like); sandwiches; and a build-a-salad bar. It was my common practice to make a full circuit before settling on a plateful.

I may be repeating myself, but Constellation featured some of the best main buffet food I've had. A meal of mushy peas and just-fried chips doused with malt vinegar was especially memorable, and the Indian dishes, like mini samosas and chickpea stew, exceeded expectations. On the other hand, the sushi, now as much a part of cruise ship DNA as main dining room lobster tail, wasn't particularly good -- the raw items were way too fishy.

The adjacent Seaview Bar, inspired by the richly lacquered cherry wood and khaki canvas sails of a classic schooner, provides al fresco seating on the stern for about 120 passengers. On sunny days, you'll find many passengers enjoying a quiet bite as and following the ship's wake into the horizon.

From noon to 6 p.m., the Pool Side Grill offers a standard menu of burgers, bratwursts and grilled chicken, with a full of complement of sauteed, sliced and chopped toppings. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available upon request. I had a couple of really juicy grilled chicken sandwiches, with a tasty chicken marinade that featured an unexpected kick. Also popular there was the taco/nacho bar setup -- start with deep-fried taco shells or tortilla chips, and then ask the chef to add a combination of beef (greasy and granular, a la Taco Bell), chicken, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, a few salsas, sour cream and vegetables. Salads, like chickpea and feta or potato, round out the options.

For the most upscale dining experience onboard, Ocean Liners is Constellation's alternative restaurant, emphasizing indulgent French food and white-glove service. The space is modeled after a restaurant on the classic ocean liner Ille de France. There's mahogany paneling throughout and walls and glass cases display ship paintings and memorabilia (restaurant menus, ship models). At $40 per person, it's one of the priciest for-fee eatery at sea. But for the price, you get unceasingly attentive service (the staff's collective psyche is clearly tied into making sure you have a perfect meal), tableside preparation if you order the crepe suzette or filet, and almost more rich French food than your body can handle. I went for broke and tried the goat cheese souffle; heirloom tomato, cantaloupe and mozzarella caprese; sweet breads; a filet with a cognac cream sauce; and a six-dessert sampler. The sauce accompanying the sweet breads -- made of veal stock, wine reduction, capers, grapefruit, celery greens -- was especially memorable, hitting all parts of the tongue. Ocean Liner's menu also features options like caviar (additional fee), foie gras, escargot ravioli and venison. There's also a multi-course meal that's paired with wines for $89 per person.

Constellation's second upscale alternative restaurant is The Tuscan Grille, a modern, Italian steak-and-wine venue, first seen on Celebrity Solstice. (It replaced Constellation's apparently revenue-draining top-ship flower shop.) The top-ship, circular space features wooden wine cabinets atop faux stone walls, and the restaurant is divided into two sections by a large leather banquette. The smaller side features two- and four-tops (and a view of the late-night Baltic sunset when I dined there); the larger side has bigger tables and showcases a prosciutto slicer (the Lamborghini of prosciutto slicers, said the maitre d'), a popular prop in cruise ship Italian restaurants (also found in the Italian restaurants of many Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships). The $25-per-head dinner is a multi-course affair. I had the antipasti plate with cheese, olives and marinated squash; fried calamari; crostini with bruschetta, tapenade and goat cheese; arugula salad with pine nuts and goat cheese; cajun ribeye steak with a pecorino mac 'n' cheese; and gelato in a waffle cone. While not quite as decadent as Ocean Liners, the Tuscan Grille creates the same memorable experience.

There are moments when the caloric intake becomes overkill. Do you really need a crispy onion topping on a salad that already features fat in the form of a heavy dressing, fried cheese and nuts? The pecorino mac 'n' cheese that accompanied the steak was so dense, I could feel the blend of cheeses flowing like lava to the bottom of my stomach.

After eating at both, I overheard something that seemed to sum up the experience. Man to woman on day eight of the 12 day cruise: "Now if you just don't eat anything for the next four days, you'll be back to 139 pounds."

For the health-conscious cruiser looking for some balance, Constellation has the AquaSpa Cafe, which is located within the glass-and-steel-covered solarium pool area. The venue is really just a buffet lunch counter, proffering light-fare foods and a few a la carte items (grilled pork, poached salmon). It was very popular with the bathrobed, post-gym or -spa treatment crowd, and everyone flocked there during sea days when the Baltic or North Sea wind was whipping over the open decks. Grab-and-go items on offer include sushi (vegetable rolls), grilled chicken, poached shrimp with avocado slices, whole-grain breads, a build-your-own-salad setup with a selection light vinaigrettes, a daily cold soup (melon with ginger) and a poached fruit bar. Finally, there was an extensive sorbet list, which ranged from the familiar (raspberry) to the bizarrely adventurous (boiled asparagus with shallots and thyme, which was, unfortunately, unavailable the few times I went to taste it). There is no cost to dine at the AquaSpa Cafe, which is typically open from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Bistro on Five, the new casual venue borrowed from Solstice, offers a variety of sweet and savory crepes, paninis (grilled, pressed sandwiches) and desserts for a $5-per-person surcharge. Set apart by clouded glass panels, the softly lit Deck 5 space features comfortable couch seating along the portholes and its own musical mix (funky soul, nouveau country). Wanting to try a sweet and a savory crepe, I asked them to make me two slightly smaller-than-normal blends. One had bacon, sausage, tomatoes, scrambled eggs and onion and was served with a cup of fruit and some breakfast potatoes; the other was "The Italian," a blend of Nutella (a narcotic chocolate hazelnut spread that's popular in Europe), bananas, creme sauce and pistachio toppings. Other crepe options included Cajun chicken, flank steak, Indian-spiced veggies -- or you could build your own. The venue was never really crowded -- after all, it's open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., 20 hours a day -- but on sea days, during lunch, the prime real estate next to the large, circular windows fills up fast.

A pair of symbiotic casual venues -- Cafe al Bacio, starboard, and the Gelateria, port -- are located on Deck 5, midship. Coffee drink prices at Cafe al Bacio are on the (very) high side -- $4 for a tiny cappuccino is outrageous, but you can fill up on the assorted mini-cookies and -pastries as long as you purchase a drink. The sweets are made from scratch every three or four hours, and the lemon tart and mini-chocolate cake I swallowed whole passed the taste test. During lunch hours, there are savory options like mini-ham and -turkey sandwiches and salmon mousse tarts. Across the way at the Gelateria, gelato costs $3 for a single scoop and $4 for a double. (Sprinkles, pseudo-M&M's, etc. are included in the cost.) The gelato was good, especially the After Eight mint flavor, but it was the wafting scent of the fresh-made waffle cones that drew passengers to the counter. As my dinner tablemate noted, the Gelateria is the best-smelling place on the ship.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, an important consideration for night owls looking for munchies between 2 a.m., when Bistro on Five closes, and 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the first early riser breakfast options become available and the bistro reopens. You can order room service items, including a tomato, cheese and avocado quesadilla or a turkey club, using the in-cabin interactive TV. Should you wish to tip, you must do so in cash. (There are no receipts.)Affectionately known as "Connie" by its fans, the 91,000-ton, 1,950-passenger Celebrity Constellation debuted in 2002 as the fourth and final ship in Celebrity Cruises' quirky Millennium class. Over the years, Constellation and its sisters have developed quite a few admirers, with passengers drawn to the entrance-making atrium and marble stairway, the ocean liner-themed, gut-busting French restaurant, and the impressive (for a big ship) two-to-one ratio of passengers to crew. Design-wise, Constellation features numerous eccentric flourishes, like the existentially unsettling "Word Thief" sculpture -- an amorphous, kneeling figure constructed out of strings of words -- and a pair of curved sea-view elevator banks that undulate over the ship's superstructure.

But now, surpassed in size, innovation and, some would say, style by Celebrity's innovative Solstice-class vessels, the line decided to transform the Millennium-class ships in the image of their more modern sisters. Constellation was the first in the series to receive the $40-plus million overhaul during a 15-day dry dock in May 2010.

Much has changed for the ship in the form of decor and onboard features, but Constellation's most visible alterations focus on the Deck 4 and 5 social hub, which forms a two-floor, shiplong link between the San Marco main dining room (aft) and the Celebrity Theater (forward). The focus here is on casual food and drink options. The old Martini Bar has been replaced with a new one, a glowing green pod with a shaved ice-topped bar and juggling bartenders. Cellar Masters, a wine venue utilizing a self-service dispensary system, has replaced the original, staid Champagne Bar. Bistro on Five, a for-fee creperie that was a surprise hit on Solstice (and on Equinox and Eclipse, the ships that followed), has been added to Deck 5. Constellation's old coffee bar setup has been completely redone, and the line has added a gelateria, from which the scent of fresh-made waffle cones wafts about the ship.

The other notable dry-dock addition is the Tuscan Grille. The for-fee steak and wine option has replaced a lovely but apparently revenue-draining flower shop. Combined with the new creperie and gelateria, the trio of dining venues has effectively doubled the options onboard Constellation.

Visually, the ship has sprung toward the more contemporary design introduced by Celebrity Solstice, with solid-colored upholstery added to lounges in lieu of the candy stripes and checker patterns of the old Connie. There's a lot you can do to change the feel of the ship through new carpeting, upholstery and bedding, and the cabins have been reinvented in fall colors: oranges, browns and reds, replacing the original turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean flair.

Despite the alterations, much of what made Constellation many a cruiser's pet remains intact. Ocean Liners, its stalwart for-fee French restaurant, still doles out a blend of rich dishes and white-glove service. Passengers continue to look quietly out to sea as they ride in the exterior glass elevators. The whimsical art lives on, like the series of PVC sculptures of green weeds ("Abandon") on display in the forward stairwells, and statues -- a hipster, big gorilla and coyly laying Rubenesque nude -- still stand guard by bathrooms, deck chairs and the solarium pool.

Constellation is a ship that makes the most sense for someone 40-plus looking for an experience that straddles mega-mainstream and luxury-lite. In both price, quality of food and service, and general ambience, Connie deftly balances the choices offered by big ships and the intimacy offered by smaller vessels.

That said, this is still a mega-ship, and the buffet can get frantic during the sea-day lunch rush, art auctions still over-stay their welcome, and "talks" that aim to promote products and services rather than enlighten sill abound. And, while the modern additions are mostly successful, there are a few misses (with caveats). On our 12-night Baltic cruise, the Martini Bar initially blasted its trendy South Beach beats into the wee hours of the morning -- much to the chagrin of many passengers. The hotel director put the kibosh on the party after a few days. A port-heavy European itinerary with an older audience that rises early to prep for onshore activities may not be the best setting for a Martini Bar. (Caribbean or shorter Mediterranean cruises might be better.)

And I had one or two qualms about the cabins. A ship sailing summer Baltic and Norwegian Fjord cruises, at which point total darkness is rare, absolutely needs black-out curtains in all seaview accommodations.

Beyond these mostly minor quibbles, Constellation offers a pleasant big-ship experience. Indeed, it's still a floating city -- with 10 bars and lounges; French, Italian and crepe alternative restaurants; a sizeable casino and nightly Vegas-style entertainment -- but it's all wrapped up in a slightly more refined package.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day, to onboard accounts. It's $12 per person, per day, for passengers in Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms and $15 per person, per day, for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the Guest Services desk; 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor

Dress Code

During the day, dress was resort-casual, but Celebrity passengers tend to dress up for dinner -- typically, button-down shirts and slacks for men, blouses or dresses for woman. There is also a good show of jeans on casual nights, albeit usually as part of the professorial sport-jacket-and-denim look. There were only two official formal nights on our 12-night Baltic cruise (though Celebrity's Web site calls for three on cruises of that length). During each formal evening, suits and tuxedos for men and fancy dresses and jewels for women were the norm, and only a handful of diners opted to bypass the penguin suits and eat in the buffet venue.

Fellow Passengers

Celebrity attracts an upper middle-class passenger base, the majority of whom are experienced travelers. It was mostly couples or groups on my particular cruise, typically in the 45 to 70 age range. During the summer and over school holidays, the number of kids onboard may balloon to 250 or more.

When Constellation is in Europe, the passenger mix is international, with a roughly even blend of North American and European cruisers, most of whom hail from the United Kingdom (the largest Continental contingent), France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain. Passengers from Japan, Israel and South America were also onboard our sailing. In the Caribbean, expect the breakdown to skew much more North American.

Family

On our early-June sailing, there were 18 passengers younger than 18 (of 2,000 total), but during school holidays or summer vacations, there may be 250-plus children onboard, according to one youth counselor.

Celebrity breaks down kids' groups into Shipmates (3 to 5), Cadets (6 to 8), Ensigns (9 to 11) and Admirals (12 to 17). During peak family cruising seasons, teens are further broken down into 12 to 14 and 15 to 17.

Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Deck 11 -- features all manner of toys, a bank of video games and draped area for movie-watching. An adjacent splash pool, ball pit and climbing apparatus were out of service during our sailing, but new facilities will be installed. (Under 3's can use the facilities with parental supervision.) Teens also have their own venue, the Tower, a super-cool, cylindrical, windowed structure that sits atop Deck 11 and features a mini-pool table, flat-screen TV and video games.

Age-appropriate activities are scheduled for each grouping. The youngest cruisers might enjoy fingerpainting or making a cowboy hat, while older kids might participate in sushi-making demos and hip-hop dance classes. Other activities include scavenger hunts, Rockband play and group sports activities. During sea days, there are scheduled activities from about 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. On port days, there are activities from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., but lunch and dinner parties from 12 to 2 and 5 to 7, respectively, are $6 per hour per child (for 3- to 11-year-olds). Nightly slumber parties, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., are also $6 per child, per hour (free on the last day of the cruise).

A small arcade, adjacent to the Fun Factory, features the typical mix of gun battles, car-racing and excruciating "use a robot claw to grab a prize" games. In a generous touch, each kid is given 30 minutes of free arcade play to rid crime from the streets of Tokyo, hunt big game and drive souped-up Mustangs.

In-cabin baby-sitting is available for $8 an hour for up to two children within the same family. Children have to be at least 12 months old to be eligible for in-stateroom baby-sitting, and there are to be no more than two children per baby sitter.

Parents with young children need to bring formula, diapers and wipes, but there are extra supplies onboard, should they run out. Strollers are not available for rent, so passengers should bring their own.

Fitness and Recreation

In terms of spa-to-ship ratio, Celebrity Constellation's AquaSpa is cruising's largest -- a 25,000-square-foot complex that features a glass-and-steel solarium with a large heated thalassotherapy pool, hot tubs, a spa cafe and hardwood loungers; a for-fee thermal suite; a full-service hair and nail salon; 13 treatment rooms; and a fitness center.

Speaking of the solarium, it's one of Constellation's most tranquil spots, and the Rubenesque nude lying sidelong puts all who enter in a pleasant mood. We were sailing in the perfect region for such a warm, relaxing spot -- a Baltic Cruise, during which the weather can be windy and cold during the early part of summer -- but the place was never overly crowded. But all tables were usually accounted for by card-players and lunchers. The thalassotherapy pool features four large faucets, from which gush a constant stream of warm water. There is no fee to use the Solarium.

Constellation's decently equipped gym features a variety of Life Fitness treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and weight machines. I had no trouble snagging a treadmill on the sea days following my 5,000-calorie feeding frenzies at Ocean Liners and the Tuscan Grille. Cycling, Yoga and Chilates (a lower intensity version of Pilates) are $12 per person. Stretch and group cardio classes are free. Personal training is available for $85 per hour session or $210 for a three-session package. Take note that the 5 session "Cruise Special" was priced at $350 -- the same per-session cost at the three-session package.

The Steiner-run AquaSpa offers the standard pricey treatments, including a Swedish massage ($119 for 50 minutes), teeth-whitening ($199) and the now firmly entrenched Botox injections for your face. Folks at the spa told me about 20 people had the procedure during our cruise; prices start at about $300, but a (free) consultation is required to determine how much it'll cost to remove wrinkles on the brow or around the mouth or eyes. More unusually, the spa has begun offering a long-term hair-straightening procedure.

Look out for port-day spa specials like an offer that lets you mix and match three 20-minute treatments for $99.

The AquaSpa complex also features various "self-treatment" rooms, including The Persian Garden suite, which offers an herbal steamer, Turkish bath, tiled loungers and rainforest shower. The number of Persian Garden passes is limited to 50, so book a full-cruise pass on the first day if you're interested. Access to the Persian Garden is $99.

A private Rasul mud room is available for $95 per couple for 50 minutes of action.

His and hers saunas are available for free in the men's and women's locker rooms.

Celebrity Cruises was the first line to offer acupuncture at sea. Constellation's stand-alone acupuncture venue is located on Deck 6. Hours are very limited.

A midship pool area, complete with two pools, several hot tubs and plenty of whimsical sculptures (a big gorilla was a favorite) was somewhat underused during our Baltic Cruise, although sunbathers took full advantage of the lounging opportunities when the rays were there. Naturally, when the ship repositions to warmer climes, the pool area becomes the sea-day hub.

There's a jogging track on Deck 11; three times around equal a kilometer (or 5/8 a mile), so a little less than five times around equals a mile. For the sports enthusiast, a multi-use court with basketball hoops and mini-soccer goals are up on Deck 12 -- this area was largely left alone during the dry dock, and it shows; it's beset with rusted corners and ripped nets.

Entertainment

The Celebrity Theater hosts typical big-ship Vegas-style song and dance revues at night, focusing on Broadway and pop hits. Other evening entertainment held there on my cruise included a bland but congenial comedian, offering observations on eyebrow rings and weight loss, and an operatic singer who performed songs made famous by Tom Jones and Pavarotti. Without a doubt, the most talked-about performances were Livewire, a high-energy fiddle and guitar duo that played Celtic numbers, and Bob Arno, a "professional pickpocketer," who blended a comedic routine (involving audience members -- hold onto your watch) with a fascinating video of real pickpockets performing in cities around the world. Arno also offered advice on how to avoid artful dodgers in crowded places.

Evening entertainment elsewhere on the ship emphasized music, with bands in the Rendezvous Lounge performing 40's and 50's jazz standards, some pop songs (a la swing) and other danceable classics. The top-ship Reflections, by day an observation lounge for readers or sea gazers, turns into a disco at night. But, after a certain point on our Baltic cruise -- say, midnight -- the beats mostly echoed around a nearly empty room. Michael's, the ship's clubby cigar and cognac bar, played host to a pianist in a bejeweled white suit jacket; he filled the venue nightly with his slightly dirty cabaret act. Michael's Club also features evening events like Jameson whisky-tasting (for $15.95).

The biggest question mark from the dry dock is the addition of the ship's new Martini Bar. The venue, which debuted on Solstice, looks a bit like a frozen space pod, with a phosphorescent green bar with silver accents, topped by an icy surface for doodling. It's a combination of booze and entertainment, and the bartenders flip and juggle bottles of top-shelf vodka and gin in time with South Beach-style club music as patrons hoot and holler their approval. Martinis of all colors and mixtures are $10 each, and a six-martini combo is $15. The problem, of course, is that as an evening venue on my port-intensive Baltic cruise, The Martini Bar was a bit of a dud. The beats that blasted into the early-morning hours bothered enough passengers that, early on in the cruise, the hotel manager decided to limit the volume. The bartender noted that the venue was much more popular during shorter Caribbean sailings, which makes sense. But, while it might not really work as a late-night party venue on a 12-night Baltic cruise, it certainly has a magnetic pull, and during sea-day demonstrations, small crowds gathered to clap and chant "Go Larry, Go Larry," as Larry the bartender executed the challenging six-martini pour.

Constellation's other new bar is Cellar Masters, which replaced the old Champagne Bar. What makes Cellar Masters unique at sea is its self-service "enomatic" wine dispensers -- just grab a Riedel glass, swipe your card, and choose from three different sizes: an ounce, a half-glass or a full glass. (The distribution system has the added benefit of keeping bottles highly pressurized for up to three weeks.) There are numerous reds and whites on offer to satisfy most palettes, from a modest house wine to a $59-a-glass Opus One 2003, and passengers like me can sample a few sips of the pricey stuff for a fraction of the per-glass cost. Human-free dispensing makes the venue one of the only 24-hour bars at sea. (If you have wine questions, however, it's only staffed from 5 p.m. to midnight or 1 p.m.) The hotel director noted that he's seen passengers in their bathrobes in the early a.m. hours sipping away.

Editor's Note: Celebrity introduced a variety of all-you-can-booze drink packages in November 2009. For $45 per day -- so $540 on my 12-night cruise -- you can drink unlimited beers up to $5 per serving and wine and spirits up to $8 per serving. The premium package, at $56.50 a day, allows you to drink every beer on the list, as well as wine, spirits and cocktails less than $12 per serving.

During the day, Celebrity is less activity-packed than Royal Caribbean, Carnival or NCL, and many passengers are content to get some reading done, participate in a wine tasting, take a dance class or enjoy a talk. There was a pair of proficient lecturers in the Celebrity Theater, offering PowerPoint presentations on a variety of subject matter as part of Celebrity's "Beyond the Podium" series. Both had a very light touch, whether talking about the mating habits of dolphins or the exploits of the Viking civilization. In line with the trend in competitive cooking, Celebrity also held its own "battle of the star chefs" in the Celebrity Theater. The Park West art auction wasn't particularly well-attended, and only a handful of passengers attended the "Grand Finale" art auction. During sea days, the Reflections Lounge always features a row of passengers who line up to watch the ship's wake in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Considering the daily schedules, one thing that stands out is the number of wine- and liquor-tasting events held throughout the ship. Whether your drink of choice is red wine, small batch bourbon, margaritas or martinis, passengers have the opportunity to sample all manner of booze for $10 to $16.

The Celebrity Cinema, Deck 3 aft, plays second-run films like the Brothers Bloom and latest Transformer movie, which (as of the writing of this review) were approximately a year out of theaters.

Editor's Note: Many of the onboard activities fit within Celebrity's newish "Celebrity Life" program, which breaks activities down based on food, enrichment and wellness. (The line was busy touting the related events throughout the cruise.) It struck me as a repackaging of already-existing activity options -- like food demos, wine-tasting and fab abs classes. But, Celebrity has introduced a few new activities as part of the program, like the for-fee Rosetta Stone self-teaching language classes and its aforementioned Beyond the Podium lecture series.

Shore excursions during our Baltic cruise, which called in classic Northern European cities like Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Copenhagen, were predominantly the big-bus, panoramic-city-tour type, with a few forays out into the countryside to visit castles or historic fishing villages. There were a few more atypical options on the books -- like a roof tour in Stockholm that involves being suited up in a safety harness and then wandering over historically important buildings. Just note that they might be cancelled, due to lack of interest, as the roof tour (plus two other active excursions) was, unfortunately, on my cruise.

Cabins

Celebrity Constellation features a variety of cabin categories to suit any passenger's needs, from tiny insides to lavish 1,500-square-foot suites, and 60 percent of all accommodations feature verandahs.

Constellation's standard cabins -- insides, outsides and balconies (called "Deluxe Oceanview") -- average a paltry 170 square feet (38-square-foot balconies), about 15 to 20 feet below the industry average.

Decor features hotel-style white bedding with light brown accents, rust carpeting and striking red love seats thrown in for a shock of color, all of which replaced the flamboyant turquoise-and-yellow Caribbean decor of the old abodes. (For a before and after, check out part three of our refurb slideshow.)

Insides, outsides and balconies feature two twin beds that convert to queens, safes, small desks, stocked mini-fridges, flat-screen TV's and bathrobes. The mini-fridges are locked; have your room steward open yours and clear out the for-fee booze if you want to store your wine or water. Shower-only bathrooms have hair dryers, shampoo, moisturizer and bar soap. There is no shower gel.

I was traveling alone, so I had no issue with drawers, but couples I spoke with said they were a little stressed for space -- especially with having to pack for a 12-night cruise. There are drawers hidden in a secondary closet in each room, which also houses the safe. There's another drawer above the flat-screen TV, which is also where extra bedding is stored.

I had two minor gripes with my standard balcony cabin, both of which were curtain-related. During summer in the Baltic, the new window curtains were no match for a vibrant 3 a.m. sunrise, and I had trouble falling asleep with my drapes emitting a gentle nuclear glow. An eye mask would have done the trick. A second irritation was the creeping, clingy shower curtain left in place during the dry dock. On the advice of a Cruise Critic reader, I solved the riddle early on. Pull one side of the curtain just outside the bathroom, then close the door over it. Might take a little tweaking, but with the now-shorter curtain pulled taught, there's no chance of feeling its tingling embrace.

For those looking for a little more space and a few more amenities, the Concierge Class cabins are 191 square feet with 42-square-foot-balconies. Added touches for concierge passengers include welcome bubbly, a pillow menu, nightly canapes, a 32-inch TV and nicer balcony furniture. Sky Suites come in at 251 square feet with 57-square-foot balconies.

Continuing up in size, Family Oceanview cabins are 271 square feet with enormous 242-square-foot verandahs that feature pairs of loungers and tables with two chairs each. Inside, there's a partition separating the "master bedroom" from the lounge/extra bed area.

Eight 467-square-foot Celebrity Suites feature lovely floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows (but no balconies), a jetted tub and a pair of entertainment centers. The eight 538-square-foot Royal Suites (195-square-foot balconies) add more space and feature whirlpool tubs on the verandahs. On the top of the list are a pair of 1,432-square-foot Penthouse Suites with massive, 1,098-square-foot balconies. These suites also feature a baby grand piano, should you wish for a private concert or to tinkle the ivories on your own.

All suite passengers enjoy the service of a butler, who can help pack and unpack, set up in-cabin meals and help make onboard arrangements. Other suite extras include complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant (one dinner for cruises of seven nights or less, two for cruises of eight nights or more); priority check-in; in-suite breakfast, lunch and dinner; complimentary espresso and evening hors d'oeuvres.

There are 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, including insides, oceanviews, balconies, concierge class cabins and Sky Suites.

Public Rooms

Constellation's social locus is the Grand Foyer, a three-deck-high atrium with warmly illuminated, polished steps and decorative, gauzy curtains hanging from the ceiling. Several bars (coffee, martini, wine) and lounges and the casual creperie fan out from there.

Deck 3 features the Guest Services and Shore Excursions desks, plus a concierge desk for those looking to make onshore arrangements like car rentals and restaurant reservations. All passengers, not just those in suites, can take advantage of concierge services, free of charge.

The Photo Gallery, which brings out the gawker in all of us, leads into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 4. Prices begin at $19.95 for a single photo from formal night.

Funneling into the Celebrity Theater on Deck 5, The Emporium is Constellation's shopping destination, featuring the standard series of stores selling jewelry, Celebrity logo items, forgotten toiletries ($2.95 for dental floss, so try not to forget it) and duty-free cigarettes and alcohol. Itinerary-specific items are also available there; on our itinerary, there was an expansive collection of Baltic amber jewelry. And, just in case passengers had any lingering guilt about not buying tchotchkes in St. Petersburg, the Emporium held a "Russian Bazaar," featuring matryoshka dolls -- which we'd spent two days seeing onshore -- for inflated prices.

Online@Celebrity, the ship's Internet café, has been moved from Deck 5 to Deck 6, midship. There are four terminals and about 15 laptops set up for passenger use, and the space also hosts free (how to shop online, how to use Word) and for-fee computer classes (Rosetta Stone self-teaching language courses, starting at $25). Taken in industry context, Celebrity is a little stingy with its Internet minutes, especially considering the oft-frustrating at-sea speed. Pay-per-minute will run you $.65 a minute, but the following packages are also available: $29.95 for 49 minutes ($.61 a minute), $49.95 for 90 minutes ($.55 a minute), $79.95 for 150 minutes ($.53 a minute) or and $99.95 for 237 minutes ($.42 a minute). Wi-Fi is available, but only in designated locations like the Seaside Cafe and the conference rooms on Deck 3 (the best signal, says the Internet manager). If you want to access the Web with your laptop, make sure you consult Online@Celebrity's resident techie. There are some quirky rules to establishing a Wi-Fi connection.

Unfortunately, there are no self-service laundry facilities, which is especially bothersome on a 12-night sailing, and per-item charges border on price gauging. Do-it-yourselfers should bring detergent/use the shampoo and wash in their cabins.

Dining

Celebrity Constellation's two-deck, 1,170-seat San Marco Dining Room features a curving double staircase that leads down to a trio of large flower bouquets. Balconies overhang on the port and starboard sides. Two rows of dark-wood columns with gold accents and capitols describe a corridor from the stairway to a dramatic two-deck stern window, which offers views of the ship's trailing wake. (One night, the large windows framed a brilliant sea-to-sky rainbow that materialized out of the Baltic mist.) Above it all, a jagged mosaic sunlight fixture provides a warm orange glow.

For dinner, passengers can opt for traditional set seating at 6 p.m. (early) or 8:30 p.m. (late), or pick "Celebrity Select Dining," which offers open seating between 6 and 9:30 p.m. Passengers choosing the open-seating option can pre-reserve space (online up to four days before sail date or while onboard) or walk in at any time during the allotted hours. Those walking in during peak dining times may have to wait for a table. The maitre d' said that just fewer than 400 diners had chosen open seating, roughly 30 of whom had changed from set to open once onboard -- perhaps as a result of first-night conversation that passed from polite to political. Officially, there are a limited number of open-seating spaces, which are booked pre-cruise, but staff will do its best to accommodate those wanting to switch once onboard.

Menus consist of appetizers, soups & salads, entrees and desserts, and dinner is served course-by-course over a leisurely two-hour-plus period. For a ship of this size, the food was consistently some of the best main dining room fare I've had at sea. Serving 2,000 diners a night is no easy task, but meals came out hot and well-presented, and mostly disappeared rapidly from plates. The signature meatballs, a recipe from Celebrity's VP of Culinary Operations, Jacques Van Staden, were just like mama's, and a tablemate who ordered the meatballs but was mistakenly given a beef dish instead eyed my plate covetously as I slowly devoured meatball after meatball. The Burgundy braised lamb shank with a caramelized pear and red cabbage slaw was another standout, and only a thoroughly cleaned bone remained. As in any big-ship main dining room, there were, of course, a few misses. The ribeye steak was equal parts gristle and edible beef. And the curry vegetable tagine, one of a couple vegetarian entrees I sampled, felt more like a side dish than a main meal -- its singular flavor left me craving a little variety.

Other options focused on blending of traditional cruise "luxury items," like frogs legs and ceviche, with a modern sensibility. The frog legs, for instance, were made Buffalo-style, deep fried with hot sauce. The ceviche, done with shrimp and bay scallops, was served island-style with fried plantains, cilantro and avocado.

For vegetarians, there are always meat-free options like vegetable and ricotta cheese stuffed "conch" shells and vegetable paella. Lower-calorie options, like the herb-crusted white fish or sugar-free cakes, are marked with a little heart. If nothing on the rotating menu suffices, "always available" choices, from soups to desserts, include escargot, lobster bisque, steak, chicken and creme brulee.

Celebrity deserves special commendation for its portion restraint (in the main dining room, at least). The reasonably sized appetizers and salads allow passengers to save room for dessert.

Passengers can bring their own wine onboard, but there's a $25 per bottle corking fee to drink it in the dining room.

The dining room is open-seating for breakfast and lunch. Classic breakfast items like Eggs Benedict, and made-to-order omelets are served for breakfast, but the menu also features a duo of more regional fish options, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels or Scottish kippers. The lunch menu offers the typical soups (including a chilled soup), salads and entrees. Passengers can also order items like burgers and dogs "from the grill."

For a casual breakfast, lunch and dinner, head to the Seaside Cafe, Constellation's top-ship buffet venue. The oval space feels a bit like a running track with various food stations positioned along the loop -- pizza, pasta and stir-fry bars; Asian (sushi) and English cuisine (fish 'n' chips, shepherd's pie and the like); sandwiches; and a build-a-salad bar. It was my common practice to make a full circuit before settling on a plateful.

I may be repeating myself, but Constellation featured some of the best main buffet food I've had. A meal of mushy peas and just-fried chips doused with malt vinegar was especially memorable, and the Indian dishes, like mini samosas and chickpea stew, exceeded expectations. On the other hand, the sushi, now as much a part of cruise ship DNA as main dining room lobster tail, wasn't particularly good -- the raw items were way too fishy.

The adjacent Seaview Bar, inspired by the richly lacquered cherry wood and khaki canvas sails of a classic schooner, provides al fresco seating on the stern for about 120 passengers. On sunny days, you'll find many passengers enjoying a quiet bite as and following the ship's wake into the horizon.

From noon to 6 p.m., the Pool Side Grill offers a standard menu of burgers, bratwursts and grilled chicken, with a full of complement of sauteed, sliced and chopped toppings. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available upon request. I had a couple of really juicy grilled chicken sandwiches, with a tasty chicken marinade that featured an unexpected kick. Also popular there was the taco/nacho bar setup -- start with deep-fried taco shells or tortilla chips, and then ask the chef to add a combination of beef (greasy and granular, a la Taco Bell), chicken, nacho cheese sauce, guacamole, a few salsas, sour cream and vegetables. Salads, like chickpea and feta or potato, round out the options.

For the most upscale dining experience onboard, Ocean Liners is Constellation's alternative restaurant, emphasizing indulgent French food and white-glove service. The space is modeled after a restaurant on the classic ocean liner Ille de France. There's mahogany paneling throughout and walls and glass cases display ship paintings and memorabilia (restaurant menus, ship models). At $35 per person, it's the priciest for-fee eatery at sea, matched only by Oasis of the Seas' 150 Central Park. But for the price, you get unceasingly attentive service (the staff's collective psyche is clearly tied into making sure you have a perfect meal), tableside preparation if you order the crepe suzette or filet, and almost more rich French food than your body can handle. I went for broke and tried the goat cheese souffle; heirloom tomato, cantaloupe and mozzarella caprese; sweet breads; a filet with a cognac cream sauce; and a six-dessert sampler. The sauce accompanying the sweet breads -- made of veal stock, wine reduction, capers, grapefruit, celery greens -- was especially memorable, hitting all parts of the tongue. Ocean Liner's menu also features options like caviar (additional fee), foie gras, escargot ravioli and venison. There's also a multi-course meal that's paired with wines for $89 per person.

Constellation's second upscale alternative restaurant is The Tuscan Grille, a modern, Italian steak-and-wine venue, first seen on Celebrity Solstice. (It replaced Constellation's apparently revenue-draining top-ship flower shop.) The top-ship, circular space features wooden wine cabinets atop faux stone walls, and the restaurant is divided into two sections by a large leather banquette. The smaller side features two- and four-tops (and a view of the late-night Baltic sunset when I dined there); the larger side has bigger tables and showcases a prosciutto slicer (the Lamborghini of prosciutto slicers, said the maitre d'), a popular prop in cruise ship Italian restaurants (also found in the Italian restaurants of many Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean ships). The $25-per-head dinner is a multi-course affair. I had the antipasti plate with cheese, olives and marinated squash; fried calamari; crostini with bruschetta, tapenade and goat cheese; arugula salad with pine nuts and goat cheese; cajun ribeye steak with a pecorino mac 'n' cheese; and gelato in a waffle cone. While not quite as decadent as Ocean Liners, the Tuscan Grille creates the same memorable experience.

There are moments when the caloric intake becomes overkill. Do you really need a crispy onion topping on a salad that already features fat in the form of a heavy dressing, fried cheese and nuts? The pecorino mac 'n' cheese that accompanied the steak was so dense, I could feel the blend of cheeses flowing like lava to the bottom of my stomach.

After eating at both, I overheard something that seemed to sum up the experience. Man to woman on day eight of the 12 day cruise: "Now if you just don't eat anything for the next four days, you'll be back to 139 pounds."

For the health-conscious cruiser looking for some balance, Constellation has the AquaSpa Cafe, which is located within the glass-and-steel-covered solarium pool area. The venue is really just a buffet lunch counter, proffering light-fare foods and a few a la carte items (grilled pork, poached salmon). It was very popular with the bathrobed, post-gym or -spa treatment crowd, and everyone flocked there during sea days when the Baltic or North Sea wind was whipping over the open decks. Grab-and-go items on offer include sushi (vegetable rolls), grilled chicken, poached shrimp with avocado slices, whole-grain breads, a build-your-own-salad setup with a selection light vinaigrettes, a daily cold soup (melon with ginger) and a poached fruit bar. Finally, there was an extensive sorbet list, which ranged from the familiar (raspberry) to the bizarrely adventurous (boiled asparagus with shallots and thyme, which was, unfortunately, unavailable the few times I went to taste it). There is no cost to dine at the AquaSpa Cafe, which is typically open from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Bistro on Five, the new casual venue borrowed from Solstice, offers a variety of sweet and savory crepes, paninis (grilled, pressed sandwiches) and desserts for a $5-per-person surcharge. Set apart by clouded glass panels, the softly lit Deck 5 space features comfortable couch seating along the portholes and its own musical mix (funky soul, nouveau country). Wanting to try a sweet and a savory crepe, I asked them to make me two slightly smaller-than-normal blends. One had bacon, sausage, tomatoes, scrambled eggs and onion and was served with a cup of fruit and some breakfast potatoes; the other was "The Italian," a blend of Nutella (a narcotic chocolate hazelnut spread that's popular in Europe), bananas, creme sauce and pistachio toppings. Other crepe options included Cajun chicken, flank steak, Indian-spiced veggies -- or you could build your own. The venue was never really crowded -- after all, it's open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., 20 hours a day -- but on sea days, during lunch, the prime real estate next to the large, circular windows fills up fast.

A pair of symbiotic casual venues -- Cafe al Bacio, starboard, and the Gelateria, port -- are located on Deck 5, midship. Coffee drink prices at Cafe al Bacio are on the (very) high side -- $4 for a tiny cappuccino is outrageous, but you can fill up on the assorted mini-cookies and -pastries as long as you purchase a drink. The sweets are made from scratch every three or four hours, and the lemon tart and mini-chocolate cake I swallowed whole passed the taste test. During lunch hours, there are savory options like mini-ham and -turkey sandwiches and salmon mousse tarts. Across the way at the Gelateria, gelato costs $3 for a single scoop and $4 for a double. (Sprinkles, pseudo-M&M's, etc. are included in the cost.) The gelato was good, especially the After Eight mint flavor, but it was the wafting scent of the fresh-made waffle cones that drew passengers to the counter. As my dinner tablemate noted, the Gelateria is the best-smelling place on the ship.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, an important consideration for night owls looking for munchies between 2 a.m., when Bistro on Five closes, and 5:30 or 6 a.m., when the first early riser breakfast options become available and the bistro reopens. You can order room service items, including a tomato, cheese and avocado quesadilla or a turkey club, using the in-cabin interactive TV. Should you wish to tip, you must do so in cash. (There are no receipts.)Celebrity Constellation, the last in Celebrity's Millennium-class series, is not much different than Millennium, Infinity and Summit, its ever-so-slightly older siblings. These ships have long been the fleet's biggest and most innovative (though they've lost that title after Celebrity Solstice, the line's new-style vessel, launched in fall 2008) -- and years after their debuts they continue to impress.

The design of these ships is reminiscent of the grace and style of the great ocean liners, offering signature features such as a genuinely gorgeous atrium with a sweeping polished stone staircase and the grand San Marco dining room. Yet the amenities -- refreshingly innovative when the first Millenium-class ship debuted -- still offer that wow factor: an expansive spa (along with the AquaSpa cafe, the first-ever dedicated healthy fare eatery), a multi-million dollar art collection, a high balcony ratio and an outstanding, retro liner-themed alternative restaurant.

If Constellation doesn't distinguish itself from its siblings as far as design and layout are concerned, the ship's decor is fresh and unique -- even on our most recent cruise in spring 2008.

What's ultimately most interesting about Constellation -- as well as the other vessels in its Millennium family -- is its commitment to creating an ever-so-slightly superior big-ship experience.

Luxury big-ship operator Crystal Cruises has said many of its new passengers are trading up from premium lines like Celebrity and, while the two brands are nowhere near on a par, Celebrity Constellation is a good "everyday" choice for travellers who like to cruise in style -- but can't afford to join a luxury line on every trip.

Public Rooms

Most of Constellation's indoor public rooms are centered on Decks 3 through 5, and generally bridge the journey between dining room and theater. Though the lounges are fairly large, spaces are broken up so there is always a convivial spot to plunk oneself for cocktails and conversation. Rendezvous Lounge serves as the secondary activities lounge venue, as well as a great place to meet for pre-dinner cocktails and music. The nearly mirror image Martini and Champagne Bars sit on opposite sides of the ship, perched on a mezzanine overlooking the Rendezvous, and are within earshot of its musical offerings.

Michael's Club -- all leather armchairs, antique maps and brass table lamps -- is a good haunt if you're a fan of English country house style, but we were put off evening visits by a rather loud (though admittedly popular) Liberace-style pub pianist. The wood-panelled, two-tier library is equally stylish and rather quieter.

The prettiest space for my money is the Cova Cafe di Milano, which surrounds the ship's main staircase and -- with its warm shades-of-earth decor and harlequin-design seating -- is old Italian style at its best (it was based on the 18th century cafe that stood next to Milan's Opera House).

Other public spaces of note are scattered in various locales. The 416-seat Bar at the Edge of the Earth -- the haunt of weird and wonderful Cirque du Soleil acts before Celebrity ended its arrangement with the troupe -- is the ship's most eye-catching lounge, with exquisite mosaic floors, panoramic sea views and other-worldly draperies.

Also worth a look is the pretty florist / conservatory area up at the top of the ship on Sunrise Deck. Art investors may prefer to haunt the ship's Art Gallery and size up what they plan to buy at auction; gamblers will find the Fortunes casino on Deck 4; and those with money left will find plenty to spend it on at Deck 5's Emporium shops, which stock everything from basics like sunscreen ($12) to dress jewellery (from $40), pashminas (from $15) and rather gaudy handbags (from $85). Higher up the price range, a tailor offers bespoke suits.

Unusually, the ship has two computer centres and offers classes in computing (some free, some $20) as well as Internet access (from 38 to 53 cents per minute depending on which package you buy, the most basic costing $40 for 75 minutes).

Cabins

A fairly recent addition to Celebrity Constellation's range of cabins is a new "Concierge Class," priced halfway between balconied staterooms and suites.

The extra cost covers a slightly larger-than-average balcony cabin (191 sq. ft.) and balcony, as well as the services of a concierge (who proved highly efficient in pursuing the baggage I lost at Heathrow's dreadful Terminal Five).

Concierge Class travellers also get decent bathrobes, more choice of room service options, afternoon canapes and priority tendering and embarkation (which effectively means that instead of standing in a long queue with the hoi polloi they get to stand in a slightly shorter queue with other suite passengers.) Balconies are also equipped with nicer furnishings -- a real table (so eating meals outdoors is a pleasure) and cushioned chairs.

My Concierge Class cabin (9181) was compact but quite cosy, with a small sofa, honeyed wood walls and well-placed mirrors giving a sense of space. Wardrobes were limited but adequate. The shower-only bathroom was small, though, with limited room for storage.

The most popular stateroom is the standard verandah -- these feature twins that convert to a queen, a vanity, three closets and a seating area with a glass-top table. Bathrooms are efficient (though, again, small) with minimal storage. Balconies come with two plastic chairs.

All inside, outside and standard balcony staterooms (called Deluxe Ocean View) span 170 square feet, which is considered fairly space-stingy these days.

Beyond the standard cabins, there's a Family Ocean View stateroom (271 square ft. with a 242-square-ft. balcony), Sky Suite (251 square ft. with a 57-square ft. balcony), Celebrity Suite (467 square ft. with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows), Royal Suite (538 square ft. with a 196-square-ft. balcony), and the Penthouse. The swankiest suite onboard, the Penthouse is 1,432 square ft. and features separate living and dining rooms, a baby grand piano, a PC with Internet access, and multiple audiovisual entertainment centres. The whopping 1,098-sq.-foot balcony comes equipped with a whirlpool, wet bar and lounge seating. The master bathroom has a tub set into a bay window.

All suite residents are entitled to the services of a butler.

All cabins have interactive television through which you can order shore excursions and room service, or watch pay-per-view, closed circuit or satellite TV. There are in-stateroom data ports and stocked mini-fridges (a price sheet is provided).

Celebrity Constellation has a number of cabins -- both inside and sea view -- designed to accommodate travellers with disabilities.

Entertainment

Now that Celebrity has ended its arrangement with Cirque du Soleil -- under which members of the famed troupe performed on the ship -- Celebrity Constellation's entertainment programme has largely regressed to the kind of song-and-dance routines interspersed with the odd spot of comedy or magic that are the staple fare of so many cruise ships.

The venue for production shows is the two-deck Celebrity Theatre, an elegant show lounge that -- with its raked seating, good sightlines and atmospheric flame-effect wall lamps -- deserves a higher standard of entertainment.

In fairness, the performers on board were good quality and did a perfectly competent job, but the material was dull, and this is a complaint that can be levelled at far too many cruise ships.

The entertainment highlight of our cruise was an evening performance of Beatles and Eagles classics given by a solo performer in the ship's Cova Cafe Milano. It's a bit sad to think that we have to look back 30 years for some music that gets our feet tapping.

Constellation offers a cosy cinema (albeit showing rather out-of-date films), and the usual bands and soloists perform around the ship's pools by day and in the lounges every evening.

Daytime entertainment is also fairly limited; an American psychiatrist offered some entertaining lectures and other speakers gave a few talks about the history of the Caribbean (a subject pretty much done to death on sailings from Florida).

In between, Constellation offered the usual Bridge and line dance classes, quizzes and occasional "close up magic" sessions, but far too many events were linked to spa, art auction, shop or acupuncture promotions designed to encourage passengers to spend, spend, spend.

Again, this is a situation all too common on many mass market ships, be they Budget, Contemporary or even Premium class. But a particular disappointment on Celebrity Constellation was the dearth of any really usable information about ports of call.

A duo engaged to discuss port options on the in-cabin TV system did little more than witter vacuously about a few "recommended" shops, and "information" in the daily news sheets was largely of the "beaches and crystal clear waters are ideal for relaxation and water sports" variety.

Passengers who hadn't researched the itinerary in advance (or hadn't snuck in quick and nabbed a guidebook from the library) were at a loss for details about what to do independently and therefore reliant on the ship's shore excursions -- the usual mix of catamaran trips, coach tours, and scuba, snorkel or submarine expeditions.

In fairness, these were not unreasonably priced (a five-hour catamaran trip around Aruba, including snorkelling and a beach barbecue, cost $72 per adult, $52 per child), and a wide range of options was available.

But a cruise line that aspires to attract fairly sophisticated passengers who want the choice of taking a tour or exploring on their own needs to do a better job.

Fitness and Recreation

Celebrity Constellation has a jogging track on Deck 11, overlooking the substantial outdoor lap, splash and whirlpools on deck 10. Other sports offerings include a golf simulator, basketball court, shuffleboard and ping pong tables.

A pretty (and free-to-use) glassed-in thalassotherapy pool and solarium sit at the entrance to the AquaSpa, which spans a spacious 25,000 square ft. and has 12 treatment rooms, a well-equipped, large-windowed gym and a Persian Garden thermal suite.

Pilates, Yoga and spinning (indoor cycling) classes cost $10 per session, use of the Persian Garden's mosaic-covered steam and sauna rooms and tropical showers costs $17 a go, and treatments are priced according to when they are taken, with port-day treatments a bit cheaper than those taken at sea.

For example, a 50-minute facial costs $109 in port and $120 at sea, while a 75-minute hot stone massage costs $175 in port and $193 at sea.

Perhaps the credit crunch is starting to bite on both sides of the Atlantic (or passengers are just tired of paying sky-high ship spa prices), but I saw plenty of spa special offers during my sailing -- including a rather pleasant Reflexology Combo, which comprised a 25-minute back massage with 25 minutes' reflexology for $89.

The treatment took place in an Indonesian themed massage room with a large window and, refreshingly, didn't include the "hard sell" that mars so many otherwise relaxing spa treatments.

The only jarring note was a long and rambling address by the captain, which came through loud and clear on the ship's emergency announcement system. My therapist assured me they were in the process of putting this right.

Dress Code

Celebrity Constellation is a fairly dressy ship, in the evenings at least. By day, passengers dress casually but fairly smartly; this is not a ship for string vests and flip flops. Most sailings include at least two formal nights, when you'll see a fair number of dinner jackets and evening frocks.Celebrity Constellation, the last in Celebrity's Millennium-class series, is not much different than Millennium, Infinity and Summit, its ever-so-slightly older siblings. These ships have long been the fleet's biggest and most innovative (though they've lost that title after Celebrity Solstice, the line's new-style vessel, launched in fall 2008) -- and years after their debuts they continue to impress.

The design of these ships is reminiscent of the grace and style of the great ocean liners, offering signature features such as a genuinely gorgeous atrium with a sweeping polished stone staircase and the grand San Marco dining room. Yet the amenities -- refreshingly innovative when the first Millenium-class ship debuted -- still offer that wow factor: an expansive spa (along with the AquaSpa cafe, the first-ever dedicated healthy fare eatery), a multi-million dollar art collection, a high balcony ratio and an outstanding, retro liner-themed alternative restaurant.

If Constellation doesn't distinguish itself from its siblings as far as design and layout are concerned, the ship's decor is fresh and unique -- even on our most recent cruise in spring 2008.

What's ultimately most interesting about Constellation -- as well as the other vessels in its Millennium family -- is its commitment to creating an ever-so-slightly superior big-ship experience.

Luxury big-ship operator Crystal Cruises has said many of its new passengers are trading up from premium lines like Celebrity and, while the two brands are nowhere near on a par, Celebrity Constellation is a good "everyday" choice for travellers who like to cruise in style -- but can't afford to join a luxury line on every trip.

Dining

Celebrity still emphasizes the classic format of shipboard dining -- two sittings with assigned seating -- though they long ago joined the ranks of lines offering alternate dining in a more formal, personal restaurant (at an extra fee). Ironically, the traditional dining room (San Marco Restaurant) serves the more contemporary, creative cuisine, while the alternate Ocean Liners is more classic in decor and menu selections, consistent with what one might find on the menus of the great liners to which it pays homage. Still, good quality food, charming service and beautifully designed restaurants make the dining experience a real strength of this ship.

The San Marco dining room spans two decks and can accommodate 1,170 guests in each of the two seatings. High-ceilinged, balconied and dominated by grand staircases and enormous stern windows, it offers a wide choice of main courses (including "available anytime" options) and excellent cream soups.

Puddings (desserts) are good too, though the practice of waiters presenting that night's selection on a tray for inspection is an old-fashioned, rather downmarket practice that could be abandoned. The wine list is very good -- both extensive and affordable. A decent Rioja, for example, will cost you $25 (£13).

Top marks go to San Marco's staff for honouring passenger requests to dine a deux or even alone.

For a treat, $30 buys an evening of very fine dining at the ship's wood-panelled Ocean Liners restaurant, where a harpist, candles on every table, snowy cloths, Reidel glasses and a fabulous menu create an unforgettable experience. There are two options here; you can order from the main menu, or for an extra $27.50 you can try the Gourmet Menu, which includes five glasses of wine chosen by the sommelier to accompany every course.

But the main menu provides a delicious-enough meal; we feasted on airy goat cheese souffles with olive toast, butter-soft filets mignon and one of the finest French cheese selections I've seen on any ship.

And though the wine list extended to a 1945 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Premier Cru at a cool $2,500, our sommelier charmingly commended our choice of a $35 Tempranillo (thus displaying what I call style). Make dinner here a top priority at least once per cruise -- it's very special indeed.

Another way to dodge the crowd at dinnertime is to head up top to Constellation's pretty Seaside Cafe, a section of which is cordoned off every evening and beautifully dressed with snowy tablecloths for $2-a-head three-course suppers. Top tip here is to eat early and enjoy the magnificent sea views before sundown.

Another alternative to San Marco is the cafe's Asian section, which opens at 6 p.m. and serves a selection of freshly made sushi and noodle stir-fries. This area is also well presented, with Chinese lanterns, bamboo placemats and chopsticks.

By day, the 754-seater Seaside Cafe offers a good range of breakfast and lunch dishes, including freshly made omelettes and lunchtime pasta dishes. A separate section serves up quesadillas and slices of pizza. The flow of the cafe would be improved if this area could be transformed into the omelette / pasta zone, which is currently part of the main serving counter -- even though its popularity causes considerable hold-ups at peak times.

In general, traffic flow throughout the Seaside Cafe is generally good and there are plenty of tables, so you shouldn't have to endure the horrors of breakfasting with strangers.

I preferred The Grill (just outside the Seaside Cafe on Resort Deck), which offers chicken and salads as well as burgers and hot dogs -- all in the open air.

For lighter, healthier fare, the Aqua Spa cafe features herring, yogurts, smoothies, fruit and bagels with lox for breakfast. At lunchtime (and on through the early-dinner hour) the tiny cafe area, tucked behind the ship's thalassotherapy pool, offers fresh salads, cold salmon and low-fat desserts.

For a continental breakfast, don't miss the absolutely decadent pastries at the Cova Cafe Milano.

Twenty-four-hour room service features the usual salads, grilled chicken and pizza. All passengers can also order off lunch and dinner menus during appropriate hours. Breakfast is continental except for those with Concierge-class or suite-level accommodations.

Public Rooms

Most of Constellation's indoor public rooms are centered on Decks 3 through 5, and generally bridge the journey between dining room and theater. Though the lounges are fairly large, spaces are broken up so there is always a convivial spot to plunk oneself for cocktails and conversation. Rendezvous Lounge serves as the secondary activities lounge venue, as well as a great place to meet for pre-dinner cocktails and music. The nearly mirror image Martini and Champagne Bars sit on opposite sides of the ship, perched on a mezzanine overlooking the Rendezvous, and are within earshot of its musical offerings.

Michael's Club -- all leather armchairs, antique maps and brass table lamps -- is a good haunt if you're a fan of English country house style, but we were put off evening visits by a rather loud (though admittedly popular) Liberace-style pub pianist. The wood-panelled, two-tier library is equally stylish and rather quieter.

The prettiest space for my money is the Cova Cafe di Milano, which surrounds the ship's main staircase and -- with its warm shades-of-earth decor and harlequin-design seating -- is old Italian style at its best (it was based on the 18th century cafe that stood next to Milan's Opera House).

Other public spaces of note are scattered in various locales. The 416-seat Bar at the Edge of the Earth -- the haunt of weird and wonderful Cirque du Soleil acts before Celebrity ended its arrangement with the troupe -- is the ship's most eye-catching lounge, with exquisite mosaic floors, panoramic sea views and other-worldly draperies.

Also worth a look is the pretty florist / conservatory area up at the top of the ship on Sunrise Deck. Art investors may prefer to haunt the ship's Art Gallery and size up what they plan to buy at auction; gamblers will find the Fortunes casino on Deck 4; and those with money left will find plenty to spend it on at Deck 5's Emporium shops, which stock everything from basics like sunscreen ($12) to dress jewellery (from $40), pashminas (from $15) and rather gaudy handbags (from $85). Higher up the price range, a tailor offers bespoke suits.

Unusually, the ship has two computer centres and offers classes in computing (some free, some $20) as well as Internet access (from 38 to 53 cents per minute depending on which package you buy, the most basic costing $40 for 75 minutes).

Cabins

A fairly recent addition to Celebrity Constellation's range of cabins is a new "Concierge Class," priced halfway between balconied staterooms and suites.

The extra cost covers a slightly larger-than-average balcony cabin (191 sq. ft.) and balcony, as well as the services of a concierge (who proved highly efficient in pursuing the baggage I lost at Heathrow's dreadful Terminal Five).

Concierge Class travellers also get decent bathrobes, more choice of room service options, afternoon canapes and priority tendering and embarkation (which effectively means that instead of standing in a long queue with the hoi polloi they get to stand in a slightly shorter queue with other suite passengers.) Balconies are also equipped with nicer furnishings -- a real table (so eating meals outdoors is a pleasure) and cushioned chairs.

My Concierge Class cabin (9181) was compact but quite cosy, with a small sofa, honeyed wood walls and well-placed mirrors giving a sense of space. Wardrobes were limited but adequate. The shower-only bathroom was small, though, with limited room for storage.

The most popular stateroom is the standard verandah -- these feature twins that convert to a queen, a vanity, three closets and a seating area with a glass-top table. Bathrooms are efficient (though, again, small) with minimal storage. Balconies come with two plastic chairs.

All inside, outside and standard balcony staterooms (called Deluxe Ocean View) span 170 square feet, which is considered fairly space-stingy these days.

Beyond the standard cabins, there's a Family Ocean View stateroom (271 square ft. with a 242-square-ft. balcony), Sky Suite (251 square ft. with a 57-square ft. balcony), Celebrity Suite (467 square ft. with floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows), Royal Suite (538 square ft. with a 196-square-ft. balcony), and the Penthouse. The swankiest suite onboard, the Penthouse is 1,432 square ft. and features separate living and dining rooms, a baby grand piano, a PC with Internet access, and multiple audiovisual entertainment centres. The whopping 1,098-sq.-foot balcony comes equipped with a whirlpool, wet bar and lounge seating. The master bathroom has a tub set into a bay window.

All suite residents are entitled to the services of a butler.

All cabins have interactive television through which you can order shore excursions and room service, or watch pay-per-view, closed circuit or satellite TV. There are in-stateroom data ports and stocked mini-fridges (a price sheet is provided).

Celebrity Constellation has a number of cabins -- both inside and sea view -- designed to accommodate travellers with disabilities.

Entertainment

Now that Celebrity has ended its arrangement with Cirque du Soleil -- under which members of the famed troupe performed on the ship -- Celebrity Constellation's entertainment programme has largely regressed to the kind of song-and-dance routines interspersed with the odd spot of comedy or magic that are the staple fare of so many cruise ships.

The venue for production shows is the two-deck Celebrity Theatre, an elegant show lounge that -- with its raked seating, good sightlines and atmospheric flame-effect wall lamps -- deserves a higher standard of entertainment.

In fairness, the performers on board were good quality and did a perfectly competent job, but the material was dull, and this is a complaint that can be levelled at far too many cruise ships.

The entertainment highlight of our cruise was an evening performance of Beatles and Eagles classics given by a solo performer in the ship's Cova Cafe Milano. It's a bit sad to think that we have to look back 30 years for some music that gets our feet tapping.

Constellation offers a cosy cinema (albeit showing rather out-of-date films), and the usual bands and soloists perform around the ship's pools by day and in the lounges every evening.

Daytime entertainment is also fairly limited; an American psychiatrist offered some entertaining lectures and other speakers gave a few talks about the history of the Caribbean (a subject pretty much done to death on sailings from Florida).

In between, Constellation offered the usual Bridge and line dance classes, quizzes and occasional "close up magic" sessions, but far too many events were linked to spa, art auction, shop or acupuncture promotions designed to encourage passengers to spend, spend, spend.

Again, this is a situation all too common on many mass market ships, be they Budget, Contemporary or even Premium class. But a particular disappointment on Celebrity Constellation was the dearth of any really usable information about ports of call.

A duo engaged to discuss port options on the in-cabin TV system did little more than witter vacuously about a few "recommended" shops, and "information" in the daily news sheets was largely of the "beaches and crystal clear waters are ideal for relaxation and water sports" variety.

Passengers who hadn't researched the itinerary in advance (or hadn't snuck in quick and nabbed a guidebook from the library) were at a loss for details about what to do independently and therefore reliant on the ship's shore excursions -- the usual mix of catamaran trips, coach tours, and scuba, snorkel or submarine expeditions.

In fairness, these were not unreasonably priced (a five-hour catamaran trip around Aruba, including snorkelling and a beach barbecue, cost $72 per adult, $52 per child), and a wide range of options was available.

But a cruise line that aspires to attract fairly sophisticated passengers who want the choice of taking a tour or exploring on their own needs to do a better job.

Fitness and Recreation

Celebrity Constellation has a jogging track on Deck 11, overlooking the substantial outdoor lap, splash and whirlpools on deck 10. Other sports offerings include a golf simulator, basketball court, shuffleboard and ping pong tables.

A pretty (and free-to-use) glassed-in thalassotherapy pool and solarium sit at the entrance to the AquaSpa, which spans a spacious 25,000 square ft. and has 12 treatment rooms, a well-equipped, large-windowed gym and a Persian Garden thermal suite.

Pilates, Yoga and spinning (indoor cycling) classes cost $10 per session, use of the Persian Garden's mosaic-covered steam and sauna rooms and tropical showers costs $17 a go, and treatments are priced according to when they are taken, with port-day treatments a bit cheaper than those taken at sea.

For example, a 50-minute facial costs $109 in port and $120 at sea, while a 75-minute hot stone massage costs $175 in port and $193 at sea.

Perhaps the credit crunch is starting to bite on both sides of the Atlantic (or passengers are just tired of paying sky-high ship spa prices), but I saw plenty of spa special offers during my sailing -- including a rather pleasant Reflexology Combo, which comprised a 25-minute back massage with 25 minutes' reflexology for $89.

The treatment took place in an Indonesian themed massage room with a large window and, refreshingly, didn't include the "hard sell" that mars so many otherwise relaxing spa treatments.

The only jarring note was a long and rambling address by the captain, which came through loud and clear on the ship's emergency announcement system. My therapist assured me they were in the process of putting this right.

Dress Code

Celebrity Constellation is a fairly dressy ship, in the evenings at least. By day, passengers dress casually but fairly smartly; this is not a ship for string vests and flip flops. Most sailings include at least two formal nights, when you'll see a fair number of dinner jackets and evening frocks.

Gratuity

Guidelines recommend $12 (about £6) per person per day in regular cabins, $15 (£7.84) for those in suites, but to make life easier you can either pre-pay these or have them added to your shipboard account.

--updated by Maria Harding, Cruise Critic contributor

Family

Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Sunrise Deck 11 -- now offers the Celebrity X Club Youth Programme divided into four age groups: Shipmates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Admiral T's (13 - 17).

Activities include dinosaur studies, sushi making, miniature boat building and treasure hunts, while indoor / outdoor Fun Factory facilities include climbing frames and ball pools, paddling pools and water chutes, computer areas (offering plug-in guitar lessons) and The Tower -- a tall, large-windowed space for teens at the prow end of Deck 11.

The youth programme will cater for children under three, but if they're not potty trained, they must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Slumber parties offer babysitting until 1 a.m. for $6 per hour per child (rising to $20 after 1 a.m., $25 after 2 a.m.). Child minding while the ship is in port is also offered at the $6 rate.

Fellow Passengers

American passengers dominate, but Celebrity is starting to make its mark in the U.K., so you can expect to find quite a few Britons on board too, alongside a smattering of Europeans. During Southern Caribbean sailings, a higher-than-average number of Puerto Ricans will be onboard because the San Juan cruise terminal is a "drive to" for them.

Age-wise, Celebrity attracts a broad fan base; we met a wide range of people from twentysomething newlyweds to septuagenarians -- and a fair number of people were travelling in multi-generational family groups with grandparents, parents and kids all finding something to suit them on board.

This ship is less appropriate for solo travellers, who will find few opportunities to hook up with others.

Gratuity

Guidelines recommend $12 (about £6) per person per day in regular cabins, $15 (£7.84) for those in suites, but to make life easier you can either pre-pay these or have them added to your shipboard account.

--updated by Maria Harding, Cruise Critic contributor

Family

Celebrity Constellation's Shipmates' Fun Factory children's area -- located on Sunrise Deck 11 -- now offers the Celebrity X Club Youth Programme divided into four age groups: Shipmates (3 - 6), Cadets (7 - 9), Ensigns (10 - 12) and Admiral T's (13 - 17).

Activities include dinosaur studies, sushi making, miniature boat building and treasure hunts, while indoor / outdoor Fun Factory facilities include climbing frames and ball pools, paddling pools and water chutes, computer areas (offering plug-in guitar lessons) and The Tower -- a tall, large-windowed space for teens at the prow end of Deck 11.

The youth programme will cater for children under three, but if they're not potty trained, they must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Slumber parties offer babysitting until 1 a.m. for $6 per hour per child (rising to $20 after 1 a.m., $25 after 2 a.m.). Child minding while the ship is in port is also offered at the $6 rate.

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