In the last 15 years, we have taken a January cruise in 9 of those years. It can be a great time to cruise - warmer weather in the caribbean vs. the northeast, less children onboard, and great prices! On our cruise aboard the Eclipse in January 2012, we booked a January 2013 cruise on the Silhouette. Well after doing 3 cruises in 2012, my wife used all of her leave at work (a month total on cruises last year), so we decided to cancel the January '13 cruise. But as the holidays rolled around, I started getting the itch - yeah you know the one I'm talking about! I started looking at the options Celebrity had in the caribbean for January and I happened upon the Reflection itinerary - the same exact one that we did on the Eclipse last year - Miami, San Juan, St. Maarten, St. Kitts, Miami. We loved it last year so I was not hesitant to do it again. But we had this small problem - my wife did not have enough vacation time. Me being self employed can make as much time as needed! After discussion for numerous days, my wife finally said the words - 'honey, you and our daughter can go without me'. She didn't have to say it again.
On New Years Eve, I booked a cruise on the Reflection for my 12 year old daughter and I to sail on January 26th, 2013. I have used a travel agent for the last 17 cruises I've been on, but since it was a holiday, the agent's office was closed, and the price was so unbelievable for this particular sailing that I did not want to lose it - the biggest reason for sailing this cruise. Being internet savvy, I booked directly through the Celebrity website, booking a guaranteed balcony cabin - another first. We normally book a balcony cabin, but we always pick our room, so there was some hesitation with this booking. Four days later, I received an email from Celebrity with our cabin assignment - a 2B - not bad, but I wasn't pleased with the location towards the front of the ship. We normally book a room near the stairwell/elevator for the sake of convenience, not because we can't walk or are lazy. After reading the Cruise Critic forums through the years, I realized that I wasn't necessarily stuck with this cabin, so I called the Captain's Club hotline to see what could be done. I received a pleasant response and a woman that was willing to help me find something better. Not a lot of choices left, but she was able to get us a bit closer to the elevators with cabin #7123.
A week later we booked flights aboard American into Miami International and a week after that we booked a hotel room at the Double Tree near the airport. (We always fly to the port the day before.) Though the Double Tree did not get rave reviews on Trip Advisor, I figured it can only be so bad - it's a Hilton property, and being a Hilton Honors member, near the bottom rung mind you, I was familiar with the Hilton brand. Part of the reason for this particular hotel was also because they offered 24 hour shuttle service from the airport. Our flight was not due to arrive until after 11pm. Because of a bit of snow in our home state on the evening of departure, our flight was delayed, so it was after midnight when we arrived at the airport. The reviews on Trip Advisor of the Double Tree were accurate - a tired hotel but fits the need for a pre-cruise stay. The hotel has an 'alliance' with a shuttle service to the Miami cruise port - $10 per person. This worked for us.
As usual, Celebrity does a great job at embarkation, whether it is in Fort Lauderdale, Barcelona, Baltimore, or Miami. And just as indicated by Cruise Critic members, cabins are usually ready about 1:30pm. One of the 1st things my daughter and I noticed upon entering the ship was the 'new ship' smell in places. The ship was absolutely gorgeous! Having already reserved the alcohol package for me and the soda package for the kid on the internet 2 weeks prior, we only had one must-do when we boarded - make a reservation for a specialty restaurant to take advantage of the 1st night discount. We decided to give the Lawn Club Grill a try since we had already done Qsine, Murano's, and Tuscan on previous Solstice class ships. Our 1st drink order at the Sunset Bar revealed that my daughter's key card did not indicate her soda package purchase. No problem - a quick visit to guest relations fixed this problem! And now that I think about it, I never did recheck my bill to see if that soda purchase at the Sunset was deleted. Oh well - nothing to lose sleep over! We are not complainers and we don't squeak when we walk.
Concerning food, the most important thing on a cruise, and especially the most important on a Celebrity ship! The Lawn Club is something you should try, but in my opinion, not worth the full price of $40. If you get it at a discount, go for it. But beware of the weather forecast for the night you decide to try it. It was a bit chilly when we left Miami, but we were dressed properly. Others around us were asking for blankets. My daughter and I were the only ones who participated in our food preparation during the 2 hours we were at the Lawn Club Grill. We did enjoy it. All other nights, we went to the main dining room for late seating. Having been with Celebrity twice last year, I was very familiar with the menu and it did not disappoint either night. The buffet was excellent as well. Another venue I tried for the 1st time was Bistro on 5 - wow! This was a pleasant surprise and something I will definitely do again, if for no other reason to try dessert, since I was too stuffed to give it a whirl this go round.
Celebrity has not always gotten high marks for their entertainment, but I think this cruise was an exception. My daughter and I were very pleased with the productions in the theater and all of the musical acts. One of our favorite shows was the Liar's Club held in Celebrity Central one night. Who knew that a ship's officer could be so relaxed and funny and do this without any written notes?! The comedian was also great - especially for the under 18 crowd. The enrichment lecturer talking about how you can tell if a person is telling the truth or not was also very good.
I got a new lease on port life with this itinerary. In the past, San Juan has not been a favorite of mine, but my daughter and I enjoyed this stop after doing the zip-line excursion through Celebrity. If we had tried to do this 'on our own', we would have been screwed. This particular location is not open on Mondays - they opened for the 20 people on the Reflection on this day. At St. Maarten, we rented an ATV/dune buggy and drove around the island. It was not planned, but as we turned the corner approaching Maho Beach, the KLM 747 was just about to take off - what a sight! And as a bonus, I spotted a couple of topless babes at this beach during our 90 minutes here watching the planes. And at our last stop of St. Kitts, we rented a scooter from Ride-St.-Kitts that had been prearranged online. Out of my 20+ years of cruising the Caribbean, this was probably the best time I've ever had at a port! The owner of the scooter rental business was very helpful and pleasant - one of those people you would want as your employee in your own retail business. The scooter was in excellent shape and it was an enjoyable ride around the island. We will definitely do this again when in St. Kitts.
The only complaint I can muster about this cruise would be the cabin. I believe cabin #7123 had the Interstate 95 of sewage pipes in our bathroom wall. It was that or the cabin next to us had serious bowel problems. I believe the main shitter line from all the cabins above us went through our cabin - constant flushing noise from 6am through midnight. It was not enough to keep us awake, but for people who are light sleepers or are complainers, you will not be happy in this cabin and guest relations will not be happy with you. For us, when we start complaining on a cruise, we will stop cruising.
So I purposefully saved the minor complaint for last since this was a lengthy review and most people will not read to the end. Having sailed Holland America, Princess, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and soon Carnival, Celebrity Cruise Lines is the favorite of my wife, daughter, and I. We enjoy the sophistication and quietness that Celebrity ships offer. We also enjoy the benefits that our Elite status offers. Our favorite ship was the Galaxy, but we have not sailed the Century since it was new in 1997. We hope to one day try Azamara.