I've noticed that Cruise Critic reviews often come from those who have opted for the deluxe cabin category, such as Celebrity's Aqua class. Few actually reveal what it's like for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, those of us in inside cabins. This review is for those curious to know how the other, more budget-minded half, cruises.
As background, my 81-year old mother wanted to go visit the Greek Islands, but my father doesn't fly, so she offered me a free cruise if I would be her traveling companion. Now I am prone to seasickness, and I had only ever cruised once before, on a Carnival cruise in 1991, where I watched a fistfight break out in the shore excursion line over the last remaining tickets. I convinced her to select an itinerary that included Istanbul, and so we landed on the Celebrity Reflection.
As a Rick Steves devotee, I was convinced that we could embrace DIY for most ports, including travel to and from Civitavecchia, our port of embarkation. We took the regional train and walked from the train station to the port (we had only carry-on size luggage). A shuttle bus was waiting, and soon we were deposited in front of the processing center. Mom is a veteran of many cruises and many cruise lines, but she had not cruised on Celebrity for many years, and had never cruised in Europe. To me, embarkation seemed like barely controlled chaos, but she thought it went very smoothly. It barely took 10 minutes before we were cleared for boarding. Mom made it a point to sidestep ship's photographers wherever they appeared.
Once on board, Mom headed straight for the buffet in the Oceanview Cafe, which reminded me a college cafeteria. It's done in colors that will soon be outdated: orange and green. No announcement was ever made that the rooms were ready. After a time, we just decided to chance it and headed to our cabin. Mom said it was the most spacious inside cabin she had ever had. It was very nicely laid out, and was always spotless. However, the beds are oddly curved and at 5'8", I didn't appreciate that I could only fully extend on one side of the bed, while my foot hung off of the shorter side. We also discovered our bathrobes, which were a big hit. However, Mom was disappointed that there was no clothesline in the bathroom. Our cabin steward said that an earlier class of Celebrity ships had clotheslines, but they were omitted in Solstice class ships.
The Reflection had lots of mirrors, glass, and highly polished reflective surfaces. I never saw a fingerprint on any of these; they were spotless. Public restrooms were elegant (with individual cloth hand towels) and spotless as well. Later in the cruise, I noticed spills on the walking track that were not mopped up, but otherwise everything was very ship-shape.
I was determined not to cost Mom one penny more, so this meant that I had to give up drinking Coke for the duration of the cruise. We also ate exclusively in the MDR, except when it was more convenient to eat in the buffet. So, no specialty restaurants for us, not even a crepe. The food in the MDR was nothing to write home about. There were good dishes and really awful dishes. We had Select Dining; I'd made reservations so we never had to wait. However, you never get the same waiter twice. Because gratuities are prepaid, service was often indifferent. More than once I had to flag down one of our waiters to refill a water glass that had stood empty for some time. Then halfway through our cruise, we hit upon a wait team who were simply excellent and we requested them for every dinner thereafter. This waiter would tell us what not to eat, and we quickly learned to take his advice. These two truly made our dinners special.
By far the worst service was provided by Guest Services. There were never sufficient staffing levels. Consequently, there was always a line. After waiting in the line, Guest Services never had the answer to the question we were asking. This staff needs to be better trained and to have more information at their fingertips.
Free activities were few and far between. Scouring the Celebrity Today newsletter, the few free activities were often scheduled at the same time, i.e., trivia and zumba; ballroom dancing and the Beyond the Podium lecture. There would be long stretches of time without a free activity. Celebrity really needs to give more thought to spreading the free activities throughout the day. Activities like zumba and ballroom dancing needed bigger areas; if you showed up late for zumba poolside, you risked being in the last row where one wrong move would land you in the pool.
The constant hawking of specialty restaurants, spa treatments, fee activities, merchandise and shore excursions became grating.
As for entertainment, Mom enjoyed the Broadway-style show. I didn't go to any of the evening performances. However, the absolute best thing about this cruise was the Beyond the Podium speaker. She gave four (free) lectures on the ancient world and the sites we would be seeing, tying it all together for those of us who did not major in classical studies. While out touring, we would come across a statue or artifact and thanks to her, understand its significance. She was truly outstanding.
We took one shore excursion in Santorini. At this port, it is advantageous to take the shore excursion because you avoid the donkey and cable car queues and have more time to see the island. For this reason alone, it was worth it.
Celebrity also gave its shore excursions an unfair advantage In Naples. Those on shore excursions were allowed to leave the ship before the all clear was given. We would have missed our hydrofoil to Capri (I had bought tickets on the internet) if we had waited for the general announcement. However, I heard people "beeping" off the ship and so we too sashayed off the ship before the all clear. But I felt that allowing shore excursion people to slink off secretly was very underhanded and unfair.
Celebrity's shore excursion map/pamphlets would never mention the existence of nearby public transportation from some ports into the city (Istanbul and Athens in particular); instead, of course, they tried to sell shore excursions or shuttle buses that dropped hapless passengers nowhere near sites of interest but right in the middle of the "preferred shops". If my 81-year old mother can walk out of the port to the tram station and ride into the historic center of Istanbul, so could the majority of cruise passengers.
The ship needs a quiet public area where there is no piped in music. The Hideaway almost fit the bill except that it opened to the atrium so if live music was playing below it was no longer quiet there. The lawn on the top deck is wasted space, as were the cabanas for rent. I never saw anyone in them during the 11-day cruise.
In summary, I was underwhelmed by my cruise on the Celebrity Reflection; even as a lowly inside cabin dweller I expected more than what was on offer. I know I was not alone in feeling this way because I overheard a man next to me ask his companion "Where is the value added?" And the mere fact that there was a restaurant only for Aqua class passengers from which I was excluded (even if I wanted to pay a cover charge) only reinforced a class system of haves and have nots on the ship.