First time cruisers
I am usually an avid trip advisor detailed reviewer so this forum is a little new to me. When originally planning our trip to Greece I wanted to check out all my options and came across Cruise Critic. I was always looking forward to reading the reviews and getting as much information as I could from experienced cruisers. I was a little disappointed that there were not as many reviewers like I found on Trip Advisor so I hope this review helps for the first time cruisers.
When we travel we usually like to spend at least 2 to 3 days in each city to get to see as much as we can but with most cruises I found out it is one day in each port. When checking our options to go to the Greek Islands we had a choice of ferry, smaller ship or the luxury cruise lines. I found a very interesting 10 day itinerary with Celebrity Reflection which covered most of where I wanted to go in Greece and had also Italy and Turkey included. We thought why not let's do this in luxury and avoid the unpacking and packing in each Hotel Port.
We started our trip with 2 days on our own in Rome. Ideally we needed 3 days to see all the highlights. We chose UNA Hotel Roma which is a block away from Termini Station. An ideal location as we originally planned to take the train from the Fiumicino Airport to UNA Hotel and take the train on August 30th from the Hotel to Civitavecchia Port to start our cruise on Celebrity Reflection. After all it is only 14 Euros one way versus Airport transfer 50 Euro or Port transfer 130 Euros. Well worth it if you can manage your luggage up and down stairs and avoid pick pockets. But we reconsidered this after we packed our suitcases and they weighed a TON!! We decided to reserve all our transfer services with Rome Cabs which is highly recommended on Trip Advisor. We joined the Roll Call on Cruise Critic hoping we could share our transfers with other cruisers but there were no takers as I guess our schedule did not coincide with others. In Rome on our first day we met up with this New Rome Free Tours at the Spanish Steps at 5:30pm. A great way to see some highlights of Rome on our first day and the guide was excellent. On the 2nd day we reserved in advance the pm VIP Colosseum Underground Arena & Forum tour with Walks of Italy. I highly recommend this tour company. The tour guide David was excellent.
We arrived for embarkation at 1:30 pm and it was well organized and we were on the Reflection in a short time. I can't say the same thing about Disembarkation. We took the Extend Your Stay option which allows you on disembarkation day to be able to stay on the ship until 3:30pm. When we left at 1:30pm and went to guest relations to pick up our carryon luggage (checked luggage had to be outside our cabin the night before no later than 11pm) we asked where we pick up our passport (we had to give the passport in at Guest Relations by 9am that morning in order to have an Extend your Stay day pass) we were told that on Deck 2 when leaving the ship you receive it there. Well what confusion! At this time passengers are arriving on the ship for embarkation and going through the security check so they are saying wait to the side. Then they say go to the other side entrance. When we went to the other side they about to tell us to go back to the original side we went to. Finally we got our passports. We asked where we go to pick up our luggage. They just point saying towards the terminal. We went to the terminal and asked many Celebrity Reps and nobody knows where we find our luggage. We were by this time frantic since we were having a transfer pickup to the airport and it was almost the pickup time. Finally a Celebrity employee offered to call somewhere to see where the checked baggage was located for the Extend Your Stay passengers. It was only next door to the terminal where they store all the luggage in different sections. This scenario was all so unnecessary if they would be clear on their directions for passengers.
I found being new to this I would of liked when first on the ship there would be someone who could direct us to venues or given a tour of the ship but instead you are given a map with your Seapass Card and left to find your own way. We decided to check out our cabin and there we were welcomed by Gina our room attendant. We told her this was our 1st cruise and asked her some questions about ship schedules and locations.
We were very impressed with our cabin. I did not expect it to be so spacious. We brought a lot of clothes and there was enough storage to fit everything. The closet was a regular size and there was an enclosed shelf above the bed. There were also 3 deep drawers under the counter top beside the desk that also had a safe and a fridge. There were 2 small night tables with 2 shelves beside the bed. We were able to fit our very large now empty suitcases under the bed. The bathroom had plenty of small deep shelves to store our toiletries and also a small cabinet with more small shelves inside. The bathroom was a good size with a nice sized glass door shower. The bed was large for a Queen size and very comfortable for a good night sleep. I must say our cabin was lovely and was very quiet. We had a balcony Starboard and enjoyed the view coming into port early morning. We also had the sun and usually got to see the sunset from our balcony. I think I made the right choice of cabin for location in regards to the Port itinerary. Better than having a view of another ship or the Port docks (which usually is an ugly view of buildings). Since we did not know if we would experience any seasickness I chose a lower deck mid ship. We were fine. In regards to our room attendants they were always friendly and wishing us a good day when passing them in the corridors. They came twice a day to clean the room and did a good job. I found though they tried not to overextend themselves. For instance the 1st time I tried to plug in the hairdryer it seemed to not fit in the socket. I went down the hall to find our attendant who was cleaning one of the cabins and told her my dilemma. She told me just push it in hard. I told her I tried all the sockets and it just doesn't fit can she come to my cabin and show me. She did come but I just felt that on a few occasions there was a little attitude or laziness.
The Reflection is a beautiful ship. Loved taking the glass elevators to the different decks with the view of the Library, The Hideaway and Grand Foyer. It is also very convenient that the stairs are nearby so when the elevators are busy the stairs are another alternative.
We enjoyed having Breakfast and on Sea Days Lunch at the OCEANVIEW CAFE on Deck 14. Sometimes we sat outside on the deck which is just lovely. There are tables in the sun and also in the shade. At the Port of Mykonos we decided that we were not taking any excursions so we could start our day later and have lunch at the Oceanview Cafe. We wanted one last chance to try their amazing buffet. There is so much choice and the food was excellent. The Indian food is very good. What I found disappointing is that their lunch finishes at 2pm. On our 1st day on the ship I ate this delicious herbed chicken and when I went for seconds they were already clearing up the trays of food. I also realized when we came back from most of our Celebrity Shore Excursions around 3:30pm I missed out on eating lunch and had to wait for the 4 o'clock tea time for their tasty party sandwiches. They always have pizza, spaghetti, salads and sweets available at any time. I feel we are paying so much money for this cruise and being so port intensive we were not able to take advantage of the meals that were included. I find that when we are on vacation lunch can run quite late in the afternoon and Celebrity should not have time restrictions for lunch and have a full buffet available till late afternoon. When we were on excursions and there was free time available we wanted to eat in the restaurants at that particular port to try their cuisine speciality but there were times that the excursion did not have that available free time for lunch. The other service we could not take advantage of when we really needed it was Room Service for Breakfast. Room Service is 24 hours but not really. One Port we had an excursion for 7 am and wanted room service breakfast before 6am. Well, Breakfast room service only starts at 6 or 6:30am. The Oceanview Cafe only starts their Breakfast at 6am. Of course you can always get a beverage and muffin before 6am but NO TOAST?
One day coming back from a late excursion I wanted to try the MAST GRILL on Deck 15 for a hamburger and fries. Very good and a nice change from all these meals. They are open from 11:30am to 6pm. They have burgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs and fries.
On our Extend Your Stay the BISTRO ON FIVE was included for Lunch. I enjoyed the steak crepe and my husband liked the veggi crepe but you must try the Nutella dessert crepe. Was that delish! Nutella, banana and walnuts. During the cruise if you eat here it costs $5.00. They also have soups and salads.
Another must try is the CAFE AL BACIO on Deck 5. They have all kinds of specialty coffees and teas for a charge. BUT their French pastries, cakes and cookies are no charge. You can eat them there or they can bag it for takeout. The chocolate brownies and the miniature strawberry, blackberry custard tarts are to die for. The carrot cake is also good.
Now for the OPUS RESTAURANT... we had pre fixed seating for 8:45pm. at a table of ten. There were 2 couples from the US, 2 couples from the UK and us 1 couple from Toronto Ontario. We found the time much to late for dinner especially we would finish around 10:45 pm and the entertainment started at 11:00pm. Then try getting up in the morning for the early shore excursions! We found 6:30 pm to be to early for dinner when we were eating lunch so late and getting back from some excursions late afternoon. Our travel agent suggested sitting at a table for 10 as we wanted to meet other cruisers and that is really why we stuck with the 8:45 seating. Otherwise there is the choice of Select Dining between 6pm to 9:30pm but I don't think you have the opportunity to sit with other people. The restaurant is beautiful. The service is very good. Our waitress Nela was amazing. She was delightful full of humour, efficient and always wanting to please us. The food on the whole was ok. There were some dishes that I ordered that were better that just o.k., and very good. These included the escargot, French onion soup, ham & pea soup, pear & Gorgonzola salad, Kale salad with walnuts, lamb brochette, duck l'orange on 2nd formal night (better than the lobster tail that was chewy), osco buco on the last night, cr'me brule, baked Alaska on 2nd formal night.
For the bars on the ship they are very nice. The Martini Bar is really nice with the ice counter and sometimes the Bartenders put on a show while pouring the drinks. It is a photo op. These drinks are $11.00 and are not covered in the Classic Beverage Package. I don't like Martini's but they had 2 kinds made with Gin so I tried the one called Saphire London Club. It was good!! There is also the Molecular Bar where the drinks are $12.00 each also not included in the Classic Beverage Package. I mentioned to the bartender I like sweet drinks like Pina Coladas and also Gin & Tonic. She said that Gin is not a good combination for their drinks but the Tanned Russian would be nice for someone that likes sweet. It was good!! We had the classic beverage package which we had included with the promotion 123 go. We are not big drinkers so I don't think we really took full advantage. But it did come in handy. While I like sweet drinks like Pina Coladas (very good at the Opus Restaurant) and Daquiris (did not like how they were made at pool bar) and wine at dinner we were able to have a good selection of these beverages under $8.00 included in our package. Beers under $5.00 are included. All sodas, juices and bottled water are included. Note at the Opus restaurant you are entitled to bottled water not the tap water. Only stipulation is you can order only 1 beverage at a time. If the beverage is worth more than allowed you can't pay the difference you pay the full amount. Also a good tip in trying new drinks is to look at the daily newsletter left in your cabin in the evening for the daily Cocktail or Non-Alcoholic special of the day. I was a regular in ordering at the Oceanview Cafe bar the Strawberry Banana Soda. It was so refreshing. The Peach Sangria (non-alcoholic) was also very good. I really liked the Bali Hi and the Fresh Cucumber Gimlet for the Cocktail Special of the day.
For the entertainment and activities on the Reflection I am sorry we were unable to take full advantage of everything there is to offer. The problem was this was such a port intensive cruise that it was exhausting and it has been a week since we got back home and we are still recuperating from this trip. The problem was that since we had the late seating for dining at 8:45pm we had to go to the 11pm show in the Reflection Theatre. For the 6:30pm dining they went to the 9pm show. I don't understand why there wasn't an earlier show like 7pm for the late seating diners. It would have made more sense as the 11 pm show was poorly attended. I also like to dance and only a few times I was able to go dancing after the show finished at midnight or sometimes before dinner if I opted out of a predinner cocktail at the bar. Dancing in the Grand Foyer was great whether it was a DJ or a band. But it caught up to me and there were times I was so exhausted I had to miss even the show. I think Celebrity should rethink their scheduling of events for the cruises that are port intensive to make it more appealing to their guests to participate in their activities. For the shows in the Reflection Theatre that we did see they were entertaining and quite good. One group that stands out was "These Guys" A Cappella group. They were excellent. Another show which was by pool side in the afternoon just before sail away in Kusadasi Turkey was a Folkloric Dance Group. The Entertainment Director who was always very energetic and upbeat brought on board this fantastic group of dancers. It was one of the best memorable entertainment on the cruise.
The other events that I attended was the Art Auction. It was suppose to be 90 minutes long. I ended up sitting in there for 2 ' hours. Too long. I could of walked out earlier but I was never at an auction and wanted to see what it was like. It was quite interesting and the auctioneer was entertaining PLUS at the end there is a catch. They raffle off a painting and when you leave you get a print. Not worth it to waste precious time (for a print).
The other gimmick is their advertising of one hour sales of this one time offer. They had watches one day for $19.99 regular $99.00. Another day there was Bella Perlina bracelets ranging from $14.95, $29.95 and $39.95. They have countdown days till the sale. These items are not available for sale before the specific day and time of the one hour sale. They get you hyped up before the sale by giving you a ticket for the chance to win one just before the sale starts. You have to be present to win. Then they do the countdown where the items are on a long table cordoned off by a rope. Mobs of guests are all around waiting in position for the countdown when they drop the rope. And then when that happens, it's a stampede. Like vultures, grabbing as many items as they can. I can't understand the logic of this process even though I was in on the action also. I had been admiring these Bella Perlina bracelets for 5 days in the display case and I really wanted to buy them. They are very pretty. After continuously hearing them say there is only 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 20 minutes left to take advantage of these prices I saw these same items, for the same price for sale on tables outside the shops on deck 4 Shops on the Boulevard the next day. The duty free shops on the Reflection are nice and you will find lots of nice things to buy at all price ranges especially if you are looking where to spend your onboard credits.
We were quite surprised that after trying our luck at the casino slot machines and putting in only $5.00 we won $50.00. I guess we got lucky!
Another nice area is to be able to walk on Deck 15 all around the ship. A good way to burn off some calories from all the food and drinks.
Now for our shore excursions. I did a lot of research before our trip on what to see. Since it is our 1st cruise I was worried about doing tours on our own or getting together with other cruisers on roll call just for the fact that if something happens and you don't get back on time to the ship they leave without you. Afterall anything could happen even in our own city where you can get delayed if there is an accident on the highway or a car breaks down. I just didn't want that stress on vacation. If I had to do it all over again I would definitely try sharing an excursion with others on roll call or go on my own for only the ports where the city is close by and is a half day excursion. This way if there are any problems that arise there is plenty time to get back to the ship. For the excursions that are further away like an hour drive I would stick with the Celebrity shore excursions. Overall my opinion of Celebrity Shore Excursions are that they are very expensive, there is not enough time for enjoying the sites (very rushed). We did have a few excursions that were amazing with fantastic tour guides that were very interesting and would highly recommend.
Messina Italy: Tour: Lovely Taromina Our guide Martina Bus#17
When we arrived in Taromina (1 hr. bus ride) and got off the bus we were led from one end of the main street to the other end which was the location of the Greek Theatre. During this time of being led through the crowds people were getting left behind. The tour of the Greek Theatre was interesting and our guide Martina made sure to continuously let us know that she is the only guide that takes you around on top. Then we were free to check out the bottom of the theatre and we had one hour to explore on our own the main street of shops and restaurants before meeting back at the bus. In my opinion you don't need a guide to lead you from one end of a street to the other end and the Greek Theatre entrance is only 8 euro and you are very capable of walking on top and below the theatre on your own as long as you don't have mobility issues. Then you will have plenty of time to enjoy strolling along the shops or stopping for a canolli or gelato (recommend Etna Pasticceria for canolli $2.50E). Either take the Celebrity tour Taromina on your own or share a private tour by van with other cruisers.
Athens Greece: Tour: Taste of Athens Our Guide Natasha Bus#30
We had 1 hour at the Acropolis. It was a little disappointing. There was alot of scaffolding. The stones on the pathway were very slippery. Saw people falling. You have to be very careful while walking looking at the ground and walking very slowly. We then had a short city tour, stopped for photos at the Olympic Site and was dropped off at the Plaka for 3 hours free time. We were given coupons for entrances to 5 sites by the guide but really no idea of where the sites were. When I questioned the guide of where the Temple of Zeus was she showed us that it was just across the street from the Plaka where we were to meet the bus. This is something to see. Amazing. I liked it better than the Acropolis. I really liked Athens but if you can do this tour on your own for cheaper I would suggest it. The Acropolis entrance is 12 Euro.
Kusadasi Turkey: Tour: Ultimate Ephesus Our guide ?(male) Bus#19
This tour was amazing and the tour guide was excellent and made it very interesting. Sorry I couldn't remember his name. I highly recommend this tour through Celebrity. We were told that in order to be a tour guide in Turkey they are required to go to University for 4 years and then they have to pass an exam to get their licence. Our guide was an historian and we were also so lucky to have an archeologist take us through the Terrace Houses. A lot of people are not aware of the Terrace Houses and miss out on seeing a very important part of Ephesus. I can't emphasis enough that seeing Ephesus requires a good tour guide. The tour guide we had was exceptional. He made the history of Ephesus very interesting and easy to understand even if you are not a history buff. We also went to a carpet factory demonstration which I have read that a lot of cruisers want to skip. I thought it was so interesting to see the process from the beginning (cocoon of a silk worm) to the end on making a silk carpet. They also offer a beverage and this is where I tried the delicious cold drink Apple Tea. When the demonstration was over we were not hassled into buying a carpet when we politely said we were not interested. I was very impressed with Kusadasi. The city is so clean and I found the people so nice. Even walking through the market just across from the Port I was not harassed like I have read in other reviews. Yes they ask you to come see their shop as you pass but politely I said later or if I did enter the shop I would just say I am only looking and they left me alone. Be careful when you buy Turkish Delight. The one that they give you to try and is delicious might not be the same quality that you are buying in the enclosed box. I didn't take a chance and I bought it at the Port duty free for 6 Euro (make Hazer Baba) when they were selling another brand name at shops for 2 euro's. Also I bought the Apple Tea (make Ephesus ) at a shop recommended by the tour guide which sells the same tea that I tasted at the Carpet Factory.
Rhodes Greece: Tour: Journey to Lindos Tour Guide?(female) Bus#4
When we got off the bus we were led by the tour guide from one end of the main street to the other end to where the entrance to the Acropolis is. Be warned the main narrow street is packed with tourists and is difficult to pass through. Then at the entrance to the Acropolis it is an upward steep pathway with a long line of people slowing following each other to reach the entrance. It is so dangerous as this narrow pathway is also the same pathway where the people that are leaving the Acropolis are taking. It is also very windy here. The Acropolis stones are very slippery. It is a magnificent site to see but I found it very dangerous and very crowded. I feel it should be better organized with all these tour groups. The guide leaves you at this point to observe the Acropolis on your own. The guide was very good in speaking very clearly with good instructions in keeping the group together and emphasising to always look down when you are walking to keep safe as you're walking on slippery windy path. I would not recommend this tour if you have problems with mobility. Also it comes back to Rhodes a little late as we had an unexpected stop at a pottery shop which takes away from spending time in this medieval city. There are 3 entrances to Medieval Rhodes directly across from the port. We were limited for time but we did have time to see the Jewish Synagogue which was very close to entering the 1st entrance. Walk a short distance to your right and then a left at the next street. We were lucky to find it right away as I went into a jewelry store close to the 1st entrance and the lady said you are close by but hurry as they close at 3pm. There is no entrance fee but there is a donation box where a man makes sure to point it out to you. It is very beautiful inside and there is also a museum. You are allowed to take photos without flash. We wanted to go to the Palace of the Grand Master but it closes at 3pm.
Santorini Greece: Tour: Village of Oia & Santorini Island
Tour guide? (female) Bus #6
This was a tender but we were taken to a different location to meet our bus tour. We were taken on a scenic bus ride to Oia while our tour guide spoke in a sweet soothing voice. We had only 1 hour to explore Oia which ended up being 45 minutes if you had to use the washroom. What a letdown. We were told start by going to the right on the main street and then come back to the square and if there is time go to the left. What can I say is do this on your own. Take the bus or boat to Oia. Others have done it and had no problems with transportation. You need minimum 2 hours in Oia to enjoy the beauty it has. We were then taken to Santo Winery. We did not have a winery tour but were given a choice of red, white or sweet wine for tasting. I really liked the sweet wine. You could go back as many times as you wanted for wine tasting. Then they had on a table of Mezes which consisted of bread, cheese, olives and tomatoes. Very nice. And there is also a magnificent view while enjoying your wine on the patio. There is a shop where you can buy their products which I was sorry I didn't. The sweet wine is called Vinsanto and was quite expensive cost of 16 Euro. In the town of Fira shops were selling it for 19 Euros. We were then taken by bus back to Fira and were given our cable car tickets for when we were ready to go back to the tender. We were told to give ourselves 45 minutes to have enough time to get back to the tender. We had so much time in Fira to browse in the shops (because really that's all there is) that I don't understand the logic in the schedule of the tour excursions. More time should be allotted to visiting Oia and less time in Fira. Some recommendations for Fira...the best chicken souvlaki pita I tried in all of Greece. It is called Lucky's Souvlaki. Only $2.50 Euro. It is located across the street from the bus stop. If you are interested in buying white cotton dresses or shirts they are cheaper in Fira at $20 Euro. Luckily I bought them there because in Mykonos everything is more expensive and the same dress was $29 Euro.
Mykonos Greece was suppose to be a tender but we docked. We paid Celebrity $8.00 US each for an all day Shuttle to the main town. We walked around the town. If you follow the shoreline you will pass the Church of Paraportiani a beautiful white structure along the way to Little Venice where the Windmills are. Never saw the Pelican. Lots of restaurants and shops.
Naples Italy: Tour: Almalfi Drive & Pompeii Tour Guide Rosana Bus#1
This tour was amazing and the tour guide was wonderful and she made it so interesting with her passionate commentary. I highly recommend this tour through Celebrity but of course the tour guide added such so much to this excursion with all her passion. Don't forget to sit on the right side of the bus to get a magnificent view of the Almalfi Coast. The scenic drive was amazing and the bus driver Alexandra manoeuvred those narrow winding roads alongside the cliffs with ease. We passed on the way the beautiful scenic Positano and Sorento. We stopped for lunch at Best Western Hotel Marmorata in Ravello. When Rosana was talking about our delicious lunch we were to have and describing the menu I couldn't wait. Especially cannelloni which I love and is usually not on the menu in Italian restaurants. She talked about the mozzarella known for in this area. So soft and delicious. Well I was quite disappointed in the food. The cannelloni was just ok. The bread roll was tasteless. The chicken parmesan was so tiny and bland. Dessert was cake nothing special. Included was a glass of sparkling wine, bottle of wine , water tea or coffee. After the restaurant we continued on to Almalfi for some free time. We went to this church in the beginning of the square. Very beautiful inside. If your looking for a washroom ask at the church museum for the key. The next part of the tour was seeing Pompeii near Naples. I enjoyed Pompeii as much or even more than Ephesus. It is amazingly so well persevered and Rosana our tour guide really brought it to life with her commentary and passion. I can't emphasis enough that seeing Pompeii requires a good tour guide.