Review of Celebrity Reflection Cruise to Eastern Mediterranean
Title: Celebrity Excels Again!
We’ve just returned from the Celebrity Reflection cruise from Rome to Istanbul and what a wonderful time we had! We would say that there was a lot of walking to do on uneven surfaces around all the historic sites we visited, so appropriate and comfortable footwear is an absolute must!
There’s no point in repeating what the Whitehouse Family wrote on 7 September this year in their very comprehensive review, in Cruise.co.uk forum, so I’ll give information about the way we did things. My wife and I travel with another couple we befriended on a previous cruise and we arranged our own shore trips independently, as we like it that way.
We arranged our own flight to Rome, met our friends, who live in a different part of Britain, and took a prearranged taxi-van to our hotel for the night in Civitavecchia. We had an excellent dinner at a local restaurant on the seafront, and next day took a taxi-van directly to the ship for €5 each. You could walk to the dock and take the free shuttle bus inside the port to the ship, but we are all in our 70’s so chose the easy way! Embarkation only took about 30 minutes. We were in the Oceanview Restaurant by 12.30pm, our staterooms were ready by 1.00pm and baggage followed later in the afternoon easy! We were on deck 8, port side on the ‘bulgy bit’ near the lifts (which we could not hear). Our stateroom was kept in an immaculate condition and the staff was always helpful and responded to any requests immediately. Despite the fact that there was no kettle in the room, tea/coffee could be ordered at any time from Room Service at no extra cost.
We got Tender Tickets by queuing before 9.00am. The ship arrived at 1pm, but it took some time for tenders to become available as another ship was discharging passengers. Some tenders hold about 200 passengers, others less. The tender tickets were called in groups ours was group 17, but we ended up all jostling through the ship’s departure area together badly organised, and one of the few things on this cruise we could criticise. Once on land, at 3pm, we could see the long line for the cable car so opted for the fast boat recommended by the Whitehouse’s. Great idea - €15, including bus up to Oia and return to Fira later on. There were plenty of buses, too. Oia is a lovely town, but very busy with tourists. We took the cable car back at about 7pm, when the line was only about 15 minutes long. We didn’t try the donkeys (or mules), but they would have been OK. The donkey path is cobbled so a bit hard on the feet, but not impossible.
We had done our homework on TripAdvisor and checked out all the different tour companies in Istanbul, obtained quotes from them and chose one which would include Istanbul and Ephesus. We were happy with our choice. The four of us were met at the dock by our guide and driver, and we were on the go from 9am till 5pm. We had no queues as our guide took us straight to the front of all the lines. We visited Topkapi Palace, St Sophia and Hippodrome in the morning, had a great Turkish lunch (our choice) and went to the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar in the afternoon with enough time in each. The next day, Saturday, we started early with our guide to beat the crowds. We visited the Blue Mosque, having to join a line there, but not too long. Then we went to Beylerbeyi Palace, across the Bosporus which was a good choice. Our driver was brilliant at negotiating his way through the heavy traffic, and our guide was excellent. Another option would have been a Bosporus Cruise, but the weather was too cold (10 degrees C).
Again, we were met by a local guide with a car and driver at the port entrance and whisked off to the House of the Virgin Mary, up in the hills near Ephesus, then on to Ephesus itself and a guided tour there, including the Terrace Houses. This lasted till early afternoon. We had a light meal and beer at a cafe just outside the site, where stalls sell all the tourist stuff you might want, including Genuine Fake Watches (got a photo to prove it) costing TL50! We visited the Temple of Artemis, and paid a visit to a leather clothes outlet, at our request. The quality was good but the prices were on the high side.
The ship laid on coaches to town from the small dock a mile from Town. We thought we’d see what else there was, like the Water Taxi mentioned by the Whitehouse’s. We opted for a local bus, and for €1.50, we were at the edge of town. We strolled through the town, got wi fi with coffee at Little Venice and had lunch in a charming outdoor restaurant away from the sea front much better value. Charming, friendly island. We returned by bus as the sea would have been a bit too choppy in the Water Taxi.
It’s only a 5 10 minute walk from the ship (at Pier 12) to the dock entrance. There we found open-top buses charging €10 return to the Acropolis, including commentary. It was late season, so cheaper. We bought our own tickets for the Acropolis, in a short line. We were pestered by guides for use of their services, which we refused there is no need really, as it’s all clearly marked. After that, we went to the new Acropolis Museum which was well worth a visit; and had a light lunch there before touring the museum. Then back to the dock on the open top bus. An option is to take a bus from the port gate to the Metro, which runs above ground to Athens. The bus only takes 35 minutes.
We got off the ship and walked through the crowd of taxi drivers, all plying for trade. We negotiated a price of €20 each to Herculaneum Historic Site, time to visit 2 hours, and back to Naples. The ruins are more compact and user-friendly than Pompeii, which we had already visited. We had pizza in the Naples market area, where we bought Parmesan cheese, and then walked back the ship.
We disembarked quickly and easily and took the Shuttle Bus off the dock at about 9.30am. We negotiated a taxi-van for 6 of us at €25 each to Rome City, dropping each couple off at their respective hotels. My wife and I had booked a small hotel right outside the Vatican for 4 nights, so we spent our time ‘doing’ Rome, using the bus and Metro to get to all the important sites in the Historic Centre. As we are pensioners, we either get in free or get a reduction (but you need to show your passport)! However, we had to bite the bullet and take a guided tour of the Vatican Museum, if only to avoid the 1 to 2 hour queue to get in. It was worth it. We found a reasonably priced tour at a travel agent next to our hotel. For €45 each, including VIP Entrance Tickets and a mature lady guide who was a fount of knowledge, we did the tour in 3 hours, in a group of 5. We were provided with headsets so that we could hear our guide in the crowds of people.
This was our second cruise with Celebrity - the first being on the Eclipse, two years ago. We cannot fault the professionalism of the way things are done, or the dedication and enthusiasm of all the staff and their cheerfulness. We prepaid our gratuities so were able to have Select Dining. We chose the table we preferred on the upper floor of the MDR, and at a time which suited us best. The food was excellent and of great variety. If anything was not to our liking the most attentive waiting staff would either replace it or offer another choice.
The Cruise Manager, Damian, a Canadian, worked tirelessly on the entertainment front and was brilliant. There were two guest lecturers, but they spoke on subjects which did not particularly interest us. We attended one lecture but found the speaker poor, so left early. The standard of entertainment on this cruise was superb, far better than on the Eclipse. The singers and dancers were as good as you’d expect in a top stage show, and the accompanying acts were all excellent. The Captain engaged with his crew and the cruisers regularly he obviously loves his job and it shows!
Well done and thank you, Celebrity - can’t wait until our Norwegian Fjord cruise next year!