Departing from the West Coast made it necessary to fly in the day before. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami Downtown and were very pleased with the hotel. We didn't see much of the area but it was right across the street from Bayside and we could have had all the shopping we wanted had we been able to stay awake after the red-eye flight out of LA. After a good night's sleep, a quick shower and an excellent room service breakfast, we were ready to go cruising! (HOTEL IMAGE)
A $10 taxi ride got us to the ship at around 11:30 AM and despite warnings concerning delays, we were checked in and on board by 12:15 PM. Having sailed on the Solstice, we had high expectations for the Reflection and we were not disappointed! The ship's layout is virtually identical to its sister but it had touches here and there that made it unique. (ALCOVES) The alcoves on the grass of the Lawn Club were new to us. They were cute but the heat and humidity of the Caribbean make them less attractive than they would be to people who actually enjoy the heat and humidity. The rest of the ship was a marvel of elegance and tasteful design. Our only disappointment was slight and purely a matter of personal taste. (FLOWER ROOM) The entryway into Michael's Club and the specialty restaurants was decorated with floral designs on the ceiling, floors and walls with bell tones ringing at random intervals. It was actually very intriguing, but to me it didn't hold a candle to the Golden Ant Room on the Solstice.
Since this was our first Aqua Class cruise, it was our first experience with Blu (the restaurant). We didn't eat there until the second night since there was a 2-for-1 offer if you booked a specialty restaurant for the first night. We choose Qsine and were glad that we did. (QSINE IMAGE) Each tiny tapas portion was different and delicious and they just kept bringing them until you told them to stop or you exploded...whichever came first. Highly recommended, even at full price!
Back to Blu. Celebrity's main dining room has always been great for us and their specialty (BLU IMAGE) restaurants are some of the best on the ocean. Blu is somewhere in between. The food is very good and the service is excellent. Breakfast and dinner are served but no lunch. The restaurant itself is beautiful if a little crowded with the tables set quite close together. The anytime dining (no early/late option in Blu) appealed to us and may be a new way to go on future cruises if we are traveling alone.
Because of various shore excursions and events, we ended up eating breakfast and dinner at the Oceanvew Cafe a few times. (OV IMAGE) The food was tasty, well presented and there was a good variety. They even had fajitas! Cruise ships, for some reason, do not do Mexican food well but this was an exception. The fajitas, tacos and accessory beans, salsa and guacamole were quite good.
Now for the real reason we chose this cruise...BEER! We booked this trip through Costco (EVENT IMAGES) Travel's Samuel Adams Craft Brew Cruise package deal. It included several exclusive events that featured beer history, a food pairing luncheon , cheese pairings, and social events. All of these were fueled with a generous supply of various Samuel Adams brews including one event featuring their Utopias brew, a limited edition $300 per bottle specialty brew that sports a naturally brewed 29.2% alcohol content. The events themselves were well run, interesting and fun. High marks to the Celebrity, Samuel Adams and Costco representatives for their effort in arranging this program.
Our cabin was an A2 (CABIN IMAGE) Aqua Class verandah and was the same size and layout as virtually every other balcony cabin on the ship. The difference was in the amenities which included upgraded pillows, daily gourmet iced-tea, canapes, free bottled water, expanded room service menu and an upgraded shower. It also included access to the Aqua Spa facilities which we did not use. The only negative was again, a small one. Royal/Celebrity apparently uses the same industrial toilet tissue fleet-wide and boy, is it thin! It would be nice to have an upgrade available that doesn't require a neurosurgeon's touch to unroll a useable length without shredding it. Since that was the only negative I could think of, I'd say that Celebrity did a pretty good job keeping us happy in our little cruise-cave for a week.
The itinerary was mild with as many sea days as port days, which was fine with us. the stops were at San Juan, St. Maarten and St. Thomas.
San Juan: Been there, Done that. We didn't get off in San Juan. Nothing against the city, we just had a nice day on board before the late arrival and decided to take the day off. Turned out to be a good day.
St. Maarten: Skipped the shopping and went straight to Maho Beach. It had been a few years and last time it was recovering from a hurricane with most of the Sunset Bar missing or wrecked. What a difference! The Sunset bar has expanded and now offers a full menu and live entertainment...that is, other than the airliners buzzing the beach. (MAHO IMAGES) What a great way to relax, get some great shots and look out on a beautiful Caribbean bay. If you have never been there, grab a taxi and you camera and plan on spending a few hours being amazed. The trip ended with torrential rain and we skipped shopping on the way back as well. No regrets. Another fun day.
St. Thomas: Skipped the shopping there as well and hopped the ferry for a shore excursion tour of the beaches of St. John. After a pounding 40 minute boat ride, we boarded an open-air tour bus and headed for the beaches. Our impression? Wow... St' John has some of the most beautiful beaches we have ever seen and the island itself it worthy of the National Park status it has been given. There is a small but interesting shopping area back at Cruz bay that we stopped at before ferrying back to St. Thomas and a cold Corona.
I'd like to add a few more words of praise for the ship and staff. The ship is new, which always adds to its wow factor but the wow went beyond the newness. The Solstice class ships are shiny without being gaudy and subdued without being dull. I used "elegant" before and I'll use it again. The Reflection is an elegant ship. I have read complaints on the boards that the staff is too friendly and how these people were annoyed at the constant greetings. Some people would complain about the color of their parachute after bailing out of a plane! We found the staff to be friendly, attentive and eager to please. Even the young lady behind the Molecular bar never lost her smile after a solid hour of frantic and complex bartending (the Molecular Bar serves what can only be called "art", not just call drinks, beer and wine!)
Even though the debarkation was delayed, by "sequestration" (which went into effect a couple of weeks after our trip), our choice of Celebrity's baggage valet service paid off and we were able to get off the ship by 8:00 (ish) and we arrived at the airport by 9:15. Our flight was also delayed by weather but a generous layover in Houston let us catch our last leg with plenty of time left over. When we got to LAX, our bags all showed up and we closed the book on our trip on a no regrets and a lot of happy memories. Thanks Celebrity, Samuel Adams and Costco!
Images from the trip are here: http://galleries.pptphoto.com/reflection2013