Having burned through waayyy too much of my girlfriend's vacation time on the LAST two Celebrity trans-Atlantic cruises, (Constellation and Silhouette) I had resigned myself to sitting out this fall's crossing season, so she could be ready for spring of 2014. But when the price dropped to $449pp for a 15 night cruise on Celebrity's Flagship, I just couldn't resist!
I booked only 10 days before departure, and was STILL able to take advantage of a RIDICULOUSLY low one way fare (to FCO on Delta Airlines) of $508 through Choice Air. The $250 OBC from my RCCL shareholder benefit made this THE BEST deal I have EVER experienced for a cruise. The added benefit of attaining "Elite" status before changes were made to Celebrity's Captain Club program, was icing on my cruise cake.
I flew into FCO a day early and took the train (11 Euro) to Civitavecchia. I had booked a VERY reasonably priced Bed and Breakfast (47 Euro) through Hotwire, but had absolutely NO idea that the CAB FARE from the train station to the town only 15 kilometers north, would be MORE than the overnight stay! (I won't be making THAT mistake again!) The "Tarchon B&B" in Tarquinia was exceptionally clean, well equipped, and VERY quiet. Exactly what I needed to recover from the all night flight. Service was OUTSTANDING, very friendly and helpful. Conveniently located close to a couple of restaurants and a market, I would stay there again, but ONLY if I had use of a rental car.
I arrived at the port the next morning between 1030 and 1100, and after a quick and easy luggage drop, was issued a queue number for check in. After a fast and easy pass through security, the wait was about 30 minutes before my number was called. Once at the counter, the "check in" process took a grand total of two minutes to obtain my card key. (I really can NOT understand why people don't complete their check in on line/in advance.)
Reflection is totally, completely, and utterly GORGEOUS, inside and out. The artwork, overall décor, and general "feel" of the ship was even BETTER than Solstice or Silhouette. It DID take a little getting used to the floor plan change that inserted the "extra deck" of cabins under the pool. The sunset bar was very nicely improved and the replacement of "Quasar" with 3 conference rooms was a non issue. HOWEVER, the GUTTING of the Sky Lounge to make way for a half dozen suites was the WORST decision Celebrity has EVER made... REALLY BAD! Even though the DECOR of the Sky Lounge is even nicer than other S Class ships, the loss of the port side views COMPLETELY changes the feel of the place, as does the way the space is used. It is now the equivalent of Quasar, used almost exclusively as a disco (rarely any live music) with a FAR too small dance floor.
My inside room (1070) starboard side on deck 10 forward, was VERY quiet and spacious, as well as spotlessly clean and well maintained. It was just a short walk to the forward elevators/stairwell which made access to the fitness center, pool deck and Sky Lounge very quick and easy. Service from the room stewards was FLAWLESS and friendly, and my ONLY complaint is the lack of drawer storage that could be EASILY rectified by the more efficient use of the ample space in the room.
Food in the buffet was great! I absolutely LOVE the daily offerings of omelets and waffles for breakfast, and especially the Indian Curry dishes at lunch. The cinnamon ice cream was back, along with plenty of other wonderful choices. This is the very first cruise I didn't go to ANY of the Specialty Restaurants (GASP!!!) as the food in the MDR was completely satisfying! The lamb chops and shanks were WONDERFUL as was the Prime Rib, steak, and French Onion Soup. (ALWAYS ordered with TRIPLE cheese!) I had NOT ONE single complaint about the food the entire cruise.
Drinks and service at the Sunset, Passport, Pool, and Martini Bars were ALWAYS fast, friendly and efficient, but a special mention is in order for George at the Sunset Bar, and Agus at the Martini Bar. The "suits" at Celebrity STILL can't figure out that less than TWO PERCENT of their guests can stand to hear the far too loud and completely obnoxious techno beat music played at the Martini Bar. I asked the bar manager a couple of times if he would care to ask the hundred or more people sitting there on several nights if ANYONE liked it... "company policy" was always the response.
Weather for the ENTIRE trip was fantastic, only one night with a little "rock and roll." That one night of bad weather delayed the performance of the main show which was the THE BEST shipboard show I have ever seen, absolutely mind boggling! The party band was THOROUGHLY enjoyable, playing a wonderful mix of age demo appropriate music. The A cappella group was awesome! Great fun to watch several hundred people on three levels in the main atrium, foot tapping, dancing and singing along. Several of the "Beyond the Podium" speakers were quite good with only one notable exception.
The solitary downside to the cruise in general, was only three port calls. Tenerife, St. Kits and St. Maarten.
St. Kits was the only "new ground" for me and I enjoyed a tour of the island with several other CC members that included a stop at Brimstone Hill Fortress, "The Gibralter of the Caribbean."
Over 500 people were "Back to Back" cruisers from the previous Adriatic/Venice cruise, as well as over 1200 "Elites," which speaks volumes about either customer loyalty or prices! There were also over 470 Cruise Critic Members who enjoyed a fantastic "Sail Away" and "Connections" party, as well as a Cabin Crawl with over 15 cabins and over 150 crawlers!
Self debark in Miami was about as fast and painless as any. No waiting at all, just walked off the ship, less than 10 minutes to clear customs while everyone else was waiting to find/claim their luggage. Then on to a car rental shuttle. For a Space Program/Astronomy nut like me, the drive to Kennedy Space Center to view the launch of the Mars Maven Spacecraft was the PERFECT way to end a FABULOUS, as well as VERY reasonably priced vacation!
Can't wait to do it all YET AGAIN in April!