As a sort of farewell to three years of living in Malaysia, we decided to give ourselves a treat by booking a cruise of the Black and Aegean Seas out of Istanbul, Turkey. It was our first ever cruise and it began on Arlene’s birthday in case we were looking for another excuse for booking.
We arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, three days before the cruise began so we could have some time to explore this exciting city which straddles two continents. Our time here was spent mainly in the Old City on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait.
As we sailed out of port and headed north towards the Black Sea, we passed under two magnificent bridges over the Bosphorus Strait linking Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Bridge built in 1973 is just over one kilometre long and is one of the longest single-span suspension bridges in the world. A pilot came on board to advise the crew on navigation through the strait. A fee is paid for this service yet the pilot assumes no responsibility should an incident happen.
Our ship was the Celebrity Constellation and for twelve days and nights it became a floating community of over 2,000 passengers and crew. Our room was an inside stateroom on the third deck, meaning it didn’t have a port hole view of the sea. Though efficiently small, it was clean and comfortable without being claustrophobic. We have had smaller hotel rooms in Japan and Singapore. The cleaning staff were very polite and friendly. Often when they saw us coming down the corridor, they would unlock and hold the door open for us. Sometimes we would find some Turkish Delights on our bed. Each day we received a copy of Celebrity Today, the cruise newsletter, telling us about the upcoming port of call and what entertainment was on that day. There was also a 2-page news summary called ‘The Canadian’ to bring you up to date on important events back home, which could be picked up in the main foyer.
A towel ‘sea turtle’ made up on our bed
The next morning we arrived at our first port of call at Burgas, Bulgaria. The ship arrived in the early morning, so by the time passengers woke up, the gang way was ready and they could simply swipe their ‘sea pass’ card to go ashore for the day or for a few hours to grab a coffee and sample the Bulgarian food. The next port of call was Varna, up the coast in Bulgaria but despite being the largest port on the Black Sea we were not able to dock the Constellation. Usually passengers would be tendered in to the port but because the waters were so rough Captain Nickolaus made a decision to abort this landing and have a day at sea as we headed for Constanta, Romania.
From Constanta, it’s a long cruise right across the Black Sea from west to east, to the Eastern Turkish seaport town of Trabzon. Some of the world’s seas are quite small and more along the size of our Canadian Great Lakes but not the Black Sea. It is approximately ten times larger than Lake Superior so it is a sail of two nights and a day. For that day at sea, all that you see in any direction is water, but there is no way that you could be bored in these huge cruise ships as there are so many amenities and things to do. For entertainment there was the Celebrity Theatre which looked like a smaller version of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, where bands, musicals, musicians, comedians, aerialists, a hypnotist and presenters performed daily. For the gambler there was a casino on board. There’s a fitness centre, massage studios, basketball court, walking/jogging track, outdoor and indoor pools, spas and a photographic studio. Shoppers are not left out, as you could buy Apple products, watches, men’s and women’s clothing, alcohol, Christmas ornaments and there was even an art auction. Purchases were only available when the ship was at sea and not in port, and were tax free. For music lovers there was a 4 piece rock band, a violin & cello trio from Russia, a solo singer/guitarist, DJ and Lady Sax duo and the Ocean Band which backed the featured guest musicians. If this was not enough there were other musicians and comedians who came aboard for 2 or 3 shows. I really enjoyed a band from Philadelphia called Emily and the Nightcaps. A favourite comedian was a Canadian from Vancouver by the name of Sean O’Shay. Presenters in the Celebrity Theatre gave talks about the history, culture and geography of many of the countries we were visiting. Apple techs gave lectures on the latest Mac products and technologies. The 91,000 ton Constellation debuted in 20002. It’s entrance atrium on the 3rd deck has a marble staircase. There are a pair of curved sea-view elevators to whisk you from the gangway on Deck 1 all the way to the top of the ship on Deck 11.
There are 10 bars and lounges and if it’s peace and quiet you want, there are many hide-away spots with comfortable chairs where you can read your book or use your iPad. The ship claims to have WiFi available, and although that’s true it is very expensive. Most of the crew wait unti they’re in a port where they can access free WiFi.
From Trabzon we sailed west to the town of Sinop and then back through the Bosphorus Strait, once more past Istanbul. Everyone was out on the decks to view the bridges, mosques, palaces, towers and other sights of the Old City as we cruised into the Sea of Marmara.
From the Sea of Marmara we entered the Dardanelles Strait which connects to the Aegean Sea. Water flows in both directions along the strait via a surface current in a westerly direction and via an undercurrent in the opposite direction. This is the reason the Black Sea is a mixture of sea water and fresh water which comes from the rivers flowing into the sea. Food is always plentiful on cruise ships and the Constellation was no exception. Several eateries around the ship included the Ocean View dining room, the San Marco (main dining room), Martini Bar, Cellar Masters, Bistro on Five and the Tuscan Grill. Room service operated 24-7 to satisfy your hunger at any time of the day or night. There were two formal dining nights for those who wished to dress in a tux or suit. Otherwise the Ocean View was available for more casual cafeteria-style dining. After a day ashore, we made our way to the San Marco where we had our same table for six every evening for dinner and were served by the same waiters, hostesses & sommelier. Afterwards we would take in one of the exciting performance at the Celebrity Theatre. One of my favourite entertainers on board was Sean O’Shea, a Canadian from Vancouver who was described as Rich Little meets Jim Carrey. A nice thing about these acts were that they lasted 45 minutes to an hour, so that you could then retreat to one of the lounges and listen to some music until it was time to retire for the evening.
Entering Greek water our first stop in the Agean Sea was the island of Mykonos. After spending a few hours walking around the town we returned to the Constellation and an overnight sail took us to Peraeus, which is the port of Athens. Arlene & I took a 4-hour bus tour of the city which took us to the Acropolis, the Olympic Stadium, the temple of Olympian Zeus and other archeological sites in this capital city which is one of the oldest cities in the world. From Athens we sailed overnight through the Greek islands to the town of Kusadasi in Turkey. Kusadasi is the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus and the ruins dating back to 1400 BC and even beyond that. As I had done quite a bit of walking over cobblestones and hills in Mykonos and Athens, I decided to stay on board Constellation and have a rest day. While in port in Kusadasi, a Celebrity sister ship, the Reflection, an even bigger boat than ours, docked alonside the pier. Passengers on both boats waved to each other like we were family.
From Kusadasi we sailed overnight through the Dardanelles Strait back into the Sea of Marmara. We slipped past the former battle site of Galipoli, into the Bosphorus Strait and after 12 days we were back in our home port at Istanbul. We had sailed 2,250 nautical miles in the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles Strait.