My husband and I were on Celebrity Reflection’s June 17 cruise departing from Civitavecchia, going to Santorini, Istanbul (o/n), Ephesus, Mykonos, Athens, and Naples, and finally back to Civitavecchia. This was our first time cruising with Celebrity and we LOVED it! Although there were a few minor glitches, our trip was everything that we dreamed of, from the wonderful food, attentive services, to their great itinerary.
We found the ship to be beautiful, clean, and spacious. This was the largest ship that we have ever sailed on – with over 3,000 passengers – and yet we never felt crowded. Finding seats in the buffet area was never a problem; however, finding deck chairs near the pool was. But there were still places where we could put down our towels and swim in the adult-only pool. (Children can swim in another pool, but having adults-only pool means that we can actually swim.) Also, finding available treadmills during the sea days in the gym were bit difficult, but usually not for long. There were other exercise equipments available until one opened up. The biggest problem was taking tenders, which took much too long, but I suppose that was unavoidable with so many passengers onboard.
We pre-booked Celebrity’s 5-specialty dinner package and will never do it again. This package includes dining in Murano (1X), Qsine (1X), Lawn Club Grill (1X) and Tuscan Grill (2X). You can’t change this selection. This info was different from what the Celebrity's phone rep said when I called to inquire about it. (I was told we could dine at Murano 2X, which was not true.) No matter, we end up loving Tuscan Grill a lot (it has a GREAT view!) and gladly ate there twice.
But the most annoying aspect of this pre-booked package was that we couldn’t choose the time we want. The only available time was an early time slot, often right after we came back to the ship after a long day of sightseeing. We had to quickly rush to shower and change, causing a lot of stress. On more than one occasion, my husband refused to budge from the sofa, saying he was too tired. I had to NAG him until he got up! The saving on this dining package simply wasn’t worth all the hassle. Also, you must prepay your mandatory gratuities if you choose this package. Our favorite specialty restaurant was Murano. Be sure to try their lobster dish, as it will be cooked right in front of you.
We loved all the specialty restaurants EXCEPT the Lawn Club Grill. Eating at this restaurant was very uncomfortable. We dined outdoor, with flies buzzing, and it was HOT. After a day of walking under the sun, the last thing I wanted was the glare of the sun while I eat my dinner. When I complained to the waiter, he gave me this ridiculously oversized toy sunglass to wear. Surprisingly it did help, but I felt silly and I was extremely unhappy. I couldn’t wait to leave this place and get back to our cool stateroom, so I skipped their dessert. This was the first time I ever skipped eating dessert while on a cruise.
Blu Restaurant was simply AWESOME! This fabulous restaurant is limited to the people who booked the Aqua Class staterooms. Eating here was worth the extra cost because the food and service was top notch. It’s open for breakfast from 8 AM – 9:30 AM and dinner from 6:00 PM – 9:30 PM. You can eat here at any time during their limited dining hours.
The main restaurant is Opus Restaurant and it’s very large, taking up two floors in the aft area. We ate here once, just out of curiosity, and were pleased with the meal and the service. But you can’t compare it to Blu.
On this trip, there were two formal nights. The first one was on the first sea day where they served filet mignon. The second one was on the last sea day and they served lobster tail and soft-shell crab.
On the Embarkation Day, the ship offered 2for1 specialty restaurant promotion. I highly recommend taking this offer, as it’s a very good deal!
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
Reflection Theater is beautiful and the seats are comfortable. We only saw two shows and enjoyed both. There’s always some kind of activities going on. You can choose to participate or not. Poker tournament buy-in was $60 with no re-buys. Slot machines are plentiful but you need to bring your money. If you use your keycard, there’s surcharge.
Eh. Persian Garden has dry sauna, steam and cold rooms and heated tile beds. That’s about it. (We cruise with NCL a lot and their spa has thermal pool with jet streams. We missed having that amenity.)
Our room was very comfortable and quiet. Every day, our wonderful room attendant Danny delivered a jug of flavored tea drink, 2 bottles of water, and hors d’oeuvres. He made us feel very much at home. (I left him extra tip at the end of our trip, separate from the mandatory gratuities.)
The room has a mini fridge, safe, and our own thermostat. I knew the storage was limited (thanks to the YouTube videos), so I bought along a folding closet organizer (helped with putting away shirts/tops) and collapsible cubes (helped with putting away socks and under garments). Underneath the bed has plenty of space. This is where we put away our luggage. Life jackets were also located here. There was more storage directly above the bed, but it was cumbersome to get anything out, so we couldn't use it.
The flat TV can swivel so we can check our onboard account, review our ship photos (we also can see another family’s photos!), or watch any number of int’l TV channels without straining our neck. The bed was very comfortable with plenty of pillows. The balcony was good size with two lounge chairs (plus foot rest) and a table. We got several freebies, such as Celebrity bags and a cardholder, as well as a bottle of Celebrity’s own brand of champagne upon arrival. We felt like celebrities!
The bathroom is beautiful and the shower has multiple showerheads. The amenity includes bottles of Lemongrass shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. There’s tiny shelf inside the shower -- it doesn’t hold very much. We each got a robe and slippers.
Tip - if you want to put your own drinks in the fridge, ask your room attendant to remove the content of the mini bar; otherwise, every drink you take out will include the price of the drink plus a 15% gratuity added to your bill.
CIVITAVECCHIA – this port is about 40-minute drive (without traffic) from the Fiumicino Airport. We flew to Rome a day earlier. We took the airport’s Leonardo Express Train (14e pp) to the Termini train station. (For those people on a budget, there are buses that go to Termini for cheaper price.) Follow the overhead sign at the airport. Our Rome hotel was mere two blocks away from Termini. We were able to check in and then spend the rest of the day sightseeing Rome. We’ve been to Rome before, but didn’t have a chance to see Pantheon. This time we were able to see it without rushing. While it was free to go inside, it was VERY crowded!
Embarkation Day – since we didn’t need to check-in until that afternoon, we spent the morning touring the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. We knew our time was limited, so we booked the Viator’s “Skip the Line” Vatican tour online before leaving home. This wonderful tour lasted 3 hours. We were amazed by opulence and grandeur of the whole place! Afterwards, we had plenty of time to get our luggage from the hotel’s storage (we had checked out earlier) and catch our train to Civitavecchia from Termini.
We’ve been to Civitavecchia before but never with luggage. We had no idea there were so many stairs – and NO ELEVATOR! Carrying our two large luggage to the street level was a feat unto itself. On top of that, the Celebrity’s shuttle bus was quite a long walk away. We were both drenched in sweat by the time we got to the ship. This was the first time where I didn’t buy our Embarkation picture. We looked like wet rats!
SANTORINI – it took close to two hours just to get a tender to go to the island. (I guess this is where the disadvantage of having 3,000+ passengers kicks in!) We’ve seen sunset from Oia before when we came here with our children a few years back, so we chose to stay in Fira this time. We took a donkey ride up (5e pp), had a wonderful lunch, and shopped around, before taking the cable car ride back down (4e pp). Beautiful island but very touristy.
ISTANBUL – during the Embarkation, Celebrity notified us that this port might be changed due to the recent unrest in Taksim Square. But luckily, it was calm while we were there so the ship was able to dock as scheduled. (Interestingly enough, the ship docked at Salipazari Cruise Terminal, which was lot closer to Taksim Square than Karakoy Cruise Terminal nearby.)
This was our first time in Istanbul and we both fell in love with the city! Istanbul was very easy to navigate on our own by using the city’s tram system. (You’ll need to have Turkish Lira on hand - no euro or dollar.) The trams are cheap (3 TL), clean, efficient and safe – and it has A/C! The closest tram station was the Tophane station. After leaving the terminal, turn LEFT and walk until you see a small station in the middle of the street (about 7 minutes). You insert the money and a token comes out. You use this token to go through a turnstile. Make sure you get on the tram heading towards “Bagolar” if you are going to the Old Town to visit Istanbul’s famous sights (i.e. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, etc, etc). Get off at Sultanahmet station (5 stops away). When you want to come back to the ship from the Old Town, take the tram heading towards “Kabatas” and get off at Tophane station. There is only one tramline running here so you can’t miss it. The trams run very frequently until late in the evening.
You also can walk across the Galata Bridge to the Old Town. It’s very do-able and the bridge is very pedestrian-friendly. You’ll see a lot of fishermen with their day’s catch. We peeked into some of their buckets and they were full of fish!
Since the ship docked overnight, we crammed as much as we can on the first day, including taking the Bosphorus Cruise and visiting the Istanbul Archeological Museum. We ate the Galata Bridge’s famous fish sandwich (6 TL, very dry), and their roasted corns from a street vendor (2 TL, very good!) I wished we had tried their shish kebabs, but we were too tired and sweaty and just wanted to get back to the ship. (For those of you who are homesick, there’s Burger King and McDonalds nearby.)
The following day, the ship was scheduled to sail in the afternoon, so we spent the morning visiting Spice Market (my favorite!), Grand Bazaar (pricey), as well as visiting the fascinating underground Cistern Basilica before catching the tram back to the port.
Tip – to save time, buy the entrance tickets to Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and Istanbul Archeological Museum online and print it out. Even with a ticket, you’ll still have to wait, but the wait won’t be as long.
KUSADASI (EPHESUS) – is a very modern port with a European twist. We took a dolmus (pronounced “dol-moo-sh”), which is a Turkey’s minibus, from the port to the bottom of Ephesus. It costs 5 TL pp (or 2.50 euro). We picked up a dolmus at a bus stop few blocks from the terminal. There was very little signage and we got lost looking for one. Every person we asked for direction wants us to take his taxi at an exuberant price. Eventually, we found the stop and were able get on the van. The ride wasn’t very long (about 20 minutes), but it was hot inside the van. The only breeze came from the front open windows. We and the other tourists got off at the bottom of Ephesus. (If you are taking dolmus, be sure to let the driver know you are going to Ephesus; otherwise, you’ll end up in Selcuk, a town that’s further away from Ephesus.)
We found a very nice taxi driver there who offered to take us to all the places we wanted to visit at a very reasonable price. We went to the House of Virgin Mary (believed to be the place where Mary spent her later years, but in reality, there’s no such proof), then to the magnificent ancient city of Ephesus, then to the quaint village of Sirince (about 25 minutes drive away), then it was back to Selcuk to visit St. John’s Basilica and then finally to the Temple Artemis (which was nothing more than a single column standing). Every site was in the open field with very little shade (except for the Terrace House in Ephesus which was covered).
Tip - before leaving the ship, take a plastic bag and ask your room attendant to fill it up with ice. Put your water bottle and a small face towel inside. Both will help you tolerate walking under the glare of the sun. (Of course, be sure to wear a hat and put on sunscreen also.)
MYKONOS – needs tender again. This time, it was over three hours before we got to the island. (Our fault for not getting the tender tickets earlier.) Luckily, the boat ride was only 5 minutes. The iconic Mykonos windmills and Little Venice is very easy walking distance from the port. We had a wonderful lunch there and did some shopping before taking the tender back.
PIRAEUS (ATHENS) – we docked at Terminal B. We hired a private driver here because there were just too many places to cover on our own. Our driver was waiting outside the terminal at 7:30 AM with our names. He drove us to Acropolis (we beat the crowd!), Ancient Agora, Temple of Olympian Zeus (the largest of the ancient temples of Athens), Olympic Stadium, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (where we watched the changing of guards), saw Arch of Hadrian, drove through Athens’ posh neighborhoods, had a wonderful lunch at Palea Fokea (quaint seaside village with cheap fresh seafood), and ending in Cape Sounio to see the Temple of Poseidon. Our driver was not a guide, but he told us all about the history of the places we were visiting so we were well informed. While the ship’s excursion here was much cheaper, we couldn’t have gotten the personal attention we received from our wonderful driver.
NAPLES – we docked at Molo Angioino Terminal. It’s a beautiful port where you can see Mount Vesuvius in the distance. We took the #1 tram from the port to the Circumvesuviana train station and got off at the Ercolano Scavi station. From there, we took the Vesuvius Express van, which dropped us off at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius. We climbed to the rim (very exhausting!) before heading down to our waiting van to take us back to the Ercolano train station. Since Herculaneum was also located nearby (it was buried at the same time as Pompeii in 79 AD), we spent some time there as well. It was easy to take the train back to Naples, where we had the BEST pizza we ever had just one block from the train station! We had our leisurely lunch there before taking the tram back to the port.
Tip – while you can buy the Circumvesuviana train ticket at the station, you need to buy your tram ticket at the newsstand. Get it stamped as soon as you get on as someone will come around and check your ticket.
Also, be warned that taking the Circumvesuviana trains are not for the faint of heart. The trains and stations are both rundown and covered in graffiti and you share your ride with local commuters as well as pickpockets. No need to be paranoid -- just be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be fine. (This holds true for ANY crowded areas!)
Alas, that was our last port. The following morning, we were back to Civitavecchia.
Disembarkation – was very easy and stress-free. Celebrity will notify you of your time to disembark from the ship. If you disagree with the time given, visit the Guest Relations desk on the 3rd deck. Let them know which time you prefer to leave and they will print out a new schedule & luggage tags for you. Even though we will be carrying our own luggage, we were still required to leave our luggage outside our room before 11:00 PM. You will pick them up on your way out of the ship in the morning. (This way the elevators won’t be jammed with people and their luggage.)
We arranged a ride back to the airport with Bob’s Limo for 79e for both of us. The driver was on time, very professional, and the SUV was very clean. We shared our ride with one other couple. It was a GREAT ending to our wonderful cruise! Our spirit wasn’t dampened even when we found out our flight home was delayed for 3 hours. All in all, we had a wonderful time cruising with Celebrity Reflection!