This is a review of the 7 Day Eastern Caribbean March 23-30, 2013 cruise that my Partner and I just returned from. This is our 2nd trip on a Solstice S-Class Ship. This is also our 25th and 24th cruise respectively and 12th on Celebrity. Reflection is a lovely ship and is a work of art from an aesthetic viewpoint, though as you read my review, you will see that it is not the most practical ship for passengers. Also, I would have thought as this is the last ship built in the series, many of the organizational bugs and practicality issues would have been worked out, but several remain in comparison to the Celebrity M-Class ships.
We drove to the Port of Miami and parked at Premier Parking (the one in the garage on Biscayne Blvd.). They are just outside the port and charge a lot less than the garage inside the port and even gave an additional discount. I suggest booking ahead of time.
We arrived at the ship at 12:30PM to check our luggage and to our dismay and (unlike Port Everglades) they had few porters. Luggage was thrown all over the sidewalk and practically out on the road. We left our luggage there, as there was little to do about it. One of our fellow CC passengers did end up losing a bag, as someone could just drive along and pick up a bag and drive off. They need a better operation at Port of Miami.
We were on the ship within 30 minutes. We went through the embarkation process quite swiftly. We were met with Champagne and Mimosas upon entering the ship. The ship is very sleek and elegant.
We had an Inside cabin (mid-ship) on the Sky Deck which was spacious. Suggestion: get a room close to the elevators, since there are only two banks of elevators instead of three and it is a distance if you are at the far ends of the ship.
Unfortunately, the space was not used effectively in the stateroom. Though the bathroom was a nice size and the shower was wonderful with clear glass doors that magnetically close together, storage space was limited as was counter space in the bathroom. They created custom drawers that are approximately 2-3 inches deep so they were worthless; cabinets on the side are nice with plenty of storage for toiletries. We tend to pack on the heavy side and have never had a problem on the M-Class or Century Class ships before. There are only 3 dresser drawers in the room with some nook and cranny storage. The closet is about 2/3 of the size of the M-Class ship and was actually in a better place than in the balcony staterooms. Additional storage is located over the bed and a bit lower than Solstice, so I did not have to stand on the bed to get my shirts. We did not have to crawl on the floor to get our valuables in or out of the safe this time, as Celebrity moved the safe up on Reflection. Our two cabin stewards were wonderful; Alexander did a great job with Rajan his Assistant.
The only issues were that paper information was not being given to the Steward or Assistant to deliver. We missed the Cruise Critic Party and did not receive our table information either. We met with Susan the Hotel Manager and she got to the bottom of things, as it was not only our cabin being affected. She sent us a bottle of Champagne and fresh fruit, which was very nice and unexpected. We met her again at the Elite cocktail hour and Senior Officer Party. She had her staff reschedule the Cruise Critic party and also spoke to the dining room staff as well about issues there too (see below).
Main Dining Room
The food was very good to excellent as was the service. We were still not impressed by the layout of the MDR. The restaurant is set up in modern fashion and is visually pretty, though I still personally like a more elegant traditional main dining room. The problem is that Celebrity kept the about same amount of space for the dining room as they did for the smaller M-Class ships. It was extremely crowded and many tables were set up rectangular in a cafeteria type style. We were to be seated at a table for 8 with two friends. However, we ended up at separate tables for two. We waited 45 minute for the Maitre'D to fix this problem. We ended up at a table for four. Organization, as mentioned in an earlier Reflection review, seems to be an issue across all areas of the ship.
We had a wonderful Waiter Imade and Asst. Waiter Olga at Table 330. They were an excellent team and were happy to bring you what you want and as much as you want. There is an everyday menu on the left side of the menu that includes many old favorites that you can have daily and the menu of the day is on the right. Ask for the CrÃ¨me Brule to be heated, as it comes out cold. No Escargot this trip as they are having trouble with supplies. Shrimp cocktail was available daily; Rack of Lamb, Prime Rib, etc... were on the menu too. Don't miss out on the French Onion soup. There was something on the menu for everybody -- and best of all, you do not have to pay extra, as you do on some other cruise lines for quality food -- kudos goes to the Chef who came to visit the tables. We prefer late seating, as we do not like to rush on vacation though early and anytime dining is available.
There are three specialty restaurants Qsine, Murano's and Tuscan Grill. The Lawn Grill is also an option. We spent a special evening at Murano's and the food was excellent; service was very good. Expect to spend 2- 2 1/2 hours for dinner -- it was wonderful -- that is the type of experience you should pay extra for -- not to just have a regular meal. As appetizers, I had the crab cake and my partner had the Goat Cheese Souffle. For the main course, we both had Surf and Turf. For dessert, we both had the Chocolate and Gran Marnier souffles.
The buffets were fairly good and offered quite a nice selection. There were separate areas for Asian Cuisine, Indian, Mexican, Pasta and Deli. Hot Dogs and Burgers are available in the pool area. Pizza has a separate section and is quite good. This was in addition to the regular buffet items. We loved the garlic asparagus, roasted eggplant and peppers.
The pool and spa areas were well maintained, but the pools are smaller than on other M-ships and one pool appeared to be totally dedicated to children. They got rid of the spouting water area for children, which was a wise choice as this is not the demographic you are seeking on Celebrity. Also, the indoor pool (adults only) appears a bit bigger than Solstice, but does not have the Thallostherapy jets and beds, as the Millennium class ships which is disappointing. The spa area was nice, but the changing area was very small. One area with open large spaces was the public restrooms.
The pool band played daily which was very nice.
We were very happy to again see John, our favorite waiter, this time at the Pool Bar. This was our third trip together. The Martini Bar was very nice, but placed in an open and noisy area where you could not hear yourself talk. It was not at all intimate. We did not take the drink packages. We felt it was not worth the expense and not in the consumer's best interest unless you are an extremely heavy drinker. There are no specially-priced daily drinks on this ship. The drink of the day was in the $8 range.
San Juan - been there; done that - we just took a walk around Old San Juan and hit the casino at the Sheraton.
St. Maarten -- best Shopping; no better prices on liquor, cigarettes, jewelry, perfumes, colognes, etc.. And you can bargain too. Go down Front Street away from Water Taxi docking point for better prices.
St. Thomas - great for snorkeling and shopping (downtown), as we came in the Crown Bay dock. We missed not going into the Havensight Dock, as Crown Bay is more industrial with few shops, though more than on earlier visits. We took the
St. John snorkel trip to Trunk Bay -- one of our favorites; highly recommend this excursion.
The Sky Observation lounge was attractively decorated and spacious, as on earlier ships. More cabins adjacent to the lounge were added ruining the 180 degree view as it is cut off on one side. Bad choice -- especially if Celebrity decided to move the ship to Alaska.
Rollie did a great job as waiter in the Sky lounge. This venue is being utilized again, now that the old Quasar Disco has been turned into conference rooms. But they need a separate Disco for the 17- 20 year olds, as they took over the disco (until midnight) and people over 21 who drink and spend money walked out, because of all of the teenagers.
The three level theater was very nice and the Cirque de Soliel type show was excellent. We were glad that many of the shows were after dinner rather than at 7:00PM (pre-dinner) which did not suit us at all in the past, as we prefer not to rush on vacation. The production shows were all very good.
Casino was nice to play, but very tough to win. Most table games have been raised to $10 from $5 which deterred some players, including me. They also had $15, $25 tables. The slots were tight most of the time.
Paul Baya, the Cruise Director, did a nice job but was not an overly visible Cruise Director. Donette the Captain's Club Hostess was wonderful and very visible and helpful. She assisted us in many different ways. Captain Bouzakis and his Senior Staff, was very personable and friendly.
We had 107 wonderful people in our Cruise Critic group. We met for our big sail away party at the Mast Bar which was the perfect meeting place, as we sailed away from the skyline of Miami. No one from the Entertainment staff contacted us, even though we had such a large group in contrast to Millennium in which the Entertainment staff set up several ship tours for Cruise Critic members.
My partner and I coordinated a slot pull (which was a big hit). We all invested $9PP and the Casino hostess was a great help. She assisted us in selection of a slot machine and provided a polo shirt to the highest scorer and coupon prizes for others. Everyone had a great time. We had 29 participants. We hope to see everyone again on a future cruise.
As Elite members of Captain's Club, the benefits were great. We loved the 5-7 PM cocktail hour. Though we did have late dinner, we entered the Sky lounge with nice clean dress pants (no shorts) and Polo or Tommy Bahama shirts and that was fine. The free 90 minutes of internet was great. Some of our Cruise Critic friends were also part of this Captain's Club group and had a wonderful time together.
Though things were a bit bumpy organizationally on this cruise, we are always sad to leave -- when we are on Celebrity it is like being at home with food, service (most of the time) and all of the little extras the staff do to make your vacation a success.
Disembarkation and customs was an absolute disaster due to the sequestration. We were supposed to be off the ship by 9:30AM. Well, at 11:00AM we were finally getting off, as the Port only had 3 Customs Agents for 3,000 people. It took about 45 minutes to get through customs, once you found the bags which were not laid out as well as in Port Everglades. We found a Porter who was very helpful, and he stuck with us the whole time and we took good care of him. Once we got outside the fun really started -- with the late disembarkation and the new cruise passengers coming in -- need I say more; it was a nightmare...
We were so thankful to see the Premier Parking van (though the first Premier Parking van was a different company). We finally got on the road about 12:30 PM.
You cannot compare the quality and service received on Celebrity to the other mass market cruise lines. This ship is clearly more for adults 40-70; though many children/teens were aboard and all appeared to be happy. We are ready for our next cruise -- on Celebrity whenever possible, but I think we will stick to the M-Class ships, if possible.