We are just back from the most amazing cruise ever. We were on the 16 night Reflection Transatlantic: our third Celebrity cruise, first TA and first time in a suite on Celebrity. We selected this cruise for its great itinerary with the initial 7 sea days to relax and enjoy the ship and for its ports of call in Spain, France and Italy. The weather turned out to be wonderful, with sun almost every day – there were a few raindrops, but all in all a sunny cruise with calm seas. The captain commented that this was his smoothest TA sailing.
Cruise Planning: The roll call for this cruise was very active and helped make the cruise for us. There were 3400 posts, with many active posters. Everyone was very helpful with the planning process and we were able to plan many private tours, with several roll call people joining us. For the Sail Away in the Sunset Bar after muster, we were all to wear happy face stickers, buttons, t-shirts, etc. so that we could identify each other. This turned out to be predictive of many happy times to come.
Pre-Cruise: After a nasty Vermont winter (seemed colder and snowier than normal) and a drizzly, cold April, we were ready to fly to Miami for some sunshine. Miami did not disappoint – it was 85 degrees and sunny both days. We had a lovely time at the Embassy Suites, with friendly staff, great bar, a decent restaurant and a nice pool area. They have a free cocktail hour in the evening, which was a madhouse and did not have top quality drinks, so we headed to the quiet of the bar and had a lovely time. Dinner in their restaurant was actually very good. The breakfast in the morning was what you would expect for a complimentary breakfast, but we were too excited to worry about the quality of the food!
Embarkation: We woke up to another gorgeous day and after breakfast, got a cab to the port. We left around 10:30 and arrived at the port within 10 minutes. A friendly porter took our bags and we made our way into the terminal. We were able to check in immediately, but they were not quite ready for us to board. There was a line of people standing and waiting to get onboard – we were directed to the suite waiting room, which had a few empty chairs. They let us onboard at about 11:15 and the party started!
The Ship: I was surprised at how much I liked the ship itself – maybe because we had 8 sea days and I got to know her better than I usually get to know ships we sail on. Everything was immaculate and the art was interesting, if you took the time to stop and really look at it. It was well laid out, except for the lack of aft elevators (though good for walking off the calories).
The Suite: After two cruises in AQ, we decided to go for a Sky Suite (S1). I chose a Sky Suite because of the location – we love being in the aft and these are the only suites in the aft. There is also lots of sun because there is little coverage of the balcony. I chose 1214 on deck 10 because 1) wanted starboard corner for more sun on an eastern TA, 2) did not want the S1 on deck 12 because of potential noise above from Oceanview Cafe or on deck 11 because of window washing equipment. It turned out to be the perfect stateroom for us. It was very quiet and private, from the large entry area off from the hallway to good soundproofing in the cabins. We never saw or heard our next door neighbors. Our stateroom attendants, Leslie and Hariyanto, were the best we have had – everything was spotless and they always had a smile and made sure we felt taken care of.
The balcony was huge and was private except next to the railing, where those above could look down on you. Being a corner suite, it wrapped around to the starboard side so had views off the back and starboard side. We had 2 blue padded lounge chairs brought to the balcony (in addition to the 2 chairs with foot stools). When on vacation, my husband loves to lay in the sun for hours and read and take an occasional nap. He was able to do this to his heart’s content in the privacy of our own balcony. The loungers could be positioned so only our ankles/ feet were visible from above. One word of caution: when the stateroom attendant for the S1 above cleans the balcony (seemed they did it daily and during nap time), watch out – my husband had a rude awakening a couple of times as the spray extended to our balcony.
Having the extra loungers made it a little crowded, but we were able to stack them and have plenty of room when we wanted to set the table up for dining. Dining on the balcony was one of the memorable things on the cruise. Our butler, Hilario, was superb – he started the cruise by saying “I am here to help you have a wonderful cruise” and he certainly lived up to that! We had 3 wonderful dinners on the balcony with white table cloths, fancy napkin folding (once had kissing swans), flowers, wine and course by course dining. A wonderful experience on beautiful evenings while watching the sun set (and on the overnight in Barcelona, watching the city lights come on). It was so nice to stay in the cabin for dinner after a day of touring (in comfortable clothes). Our breakfasts on the balcony were also wonderful – Hilario insisted on the white table cloths and other touches to make it special. He went the extra mile to get us Eggs benedict that arrived warm. We knew he had several suites to look after and we worried about putting him out with the breakfasts and dinners at prime times, but he insisted that he had time for us and even asked in the evening if we needed him to bring us breakfast or when we wanted another dinner in the cabin.
Another suite perk was having the space and a butler to have a party. We had a party for one of our tour groups of 10 the night before the tour so we could get to know each other. We asked Hilario for some appetizers – something simple – and we got finger sandwiches, platters of cheeses, dried fruits, crackers, olives and desserts. He brought wine chillers with ice for the white wines. He set it all up in a lovely way – a beautiful display. It made for a nice get together.
The bathroom was not huge, but bigger than the typical stateroom. It did have a nice, deep tub and there was plenty of storage. The big round porthole window was a highlight of the cabin and I have many pictures to prove it. It made a great frame for pictures in each port.
One of the downsides of the S1 suite is that it is one big room, so there is not a separate bedroom as in most suites. It did give us a lot more living area though (if you don’t mind a bed in the middle of it) – we went to a gathering in a Celebrity Suite and there was a lot less room in the living area for a large group, because of the separate bedroom.
The other downside was not being able to use Michael’s, since only Celebrity Suites and above can use Michael’s (the Michael’s lounge change happened after we had booked). It would be a hard decision about whether to give up the great location, bigger balcony, more sun and more living room space of the S1 to step up in suites to have access to Michael’s.
Activities Onboard: After reading about cutbacks in activities on Cruise Critic, I was nervous there would be less to do onboard during the 8 sea days. There was nothing to worry about – there was a huge variety of things to do every day and some days it was hard to choose between 2 or 3 different things happening at the same time. Alexander, the CD, seemed to be doing a good job.
One of my husband’s favorite activities was the “See How It’s Done” ship tour. It was a few hours long and included the Bridge (met with Captain), Engine Control Room, Theatre, Kitchen, Crew Area (I-95), etc. for $150 including lunch at the Lawn Club Grill with an officer and the “Excite the Senses Cookbook”. He absolutely loved this tour.
Entertainment: The production shows are not our thing, but we went to one on formal night The show was pretty good (Cirque du Soleil-type show), but not memorable. We went to Steve Morris, who is a baby boomer singer/comedian. He was very good and we enjoyed his matinee too. We also went to Gareth Oliver, a British ventriloquist who did well on Britain’s Got Talent. He actually turned out to be very entertaining. There was also a comedy magician (we got bad reports about him from friends) and a comedy juggler, who no one I knew went to see. We were disappointed that there was no Sin City or regular stand up comedians – the first cruise we have been on without stand ups.
The musicians onboard were very enjoyable. Vibes, the house band, was excellent and seemed to be well-appreciated by all. My husband loves to listen to musicians in the various lounges and loved the Walker Black duo and also enjoyed the Off the Record jazz band and guitarists/singers Danny and Jaime.
Food: We had Select Dining in the MDR. We had been in Blu for our other Celebrity cruises so this was a first. We ended up eating there only 3 times as we just didn’t feel like it was a good fit for us. The staff seemed rushed and we had different staff each time – they were polite, but all business (not their fault – they were busy). We had tables for 2 and no one nearby to chat with (we prefer not to sit at a big table) We had been spoiled with the more intimate Blu experience and being able to talk with other couples (if we all were into it) while having a table for 2 and having a consistent sommelier who knew our likes. The soups and salads in the MDR were good and the entrees were pretty good, with some misses. I think we would have enjoyed it more if we went there consistently and asked for the same section.
We ate in our cabin 3 times (MDR food, but it somehow tasted better in the relaxation of the suite), in Blu once (no problem getting in – had a wonderful time with great soups and starters, but didn’t like the entrée choices that night), in the specialties several times (had wonderful dinners in all), in Bistro on 5 a couple times (good food and relaxing atmosphere) and even the buffet the last night (since all our cruise buddies decided to go there – fun, but not memorable from a food standpoint).
For specialties, we liked the Lawn Club best this time around. The manager, Darby, runs a great restaurant. You can choose as many things to grill as you want. We loved the lamb chops, filet mignon, shrimp and scallop skewers, vegetable skewers and the warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream for dessert. Though the flatbread appetizer is yummy (you can make your own and put as many things as you want on it), we skipped that and the sides and just had the salad bar and grilled meats and veggies. It’s a fun, relaxing place.
We again enjoyed the Wine Connoisseur dinner in the Tuscan Grille. Delicious wine flowed while we enjoyed a wonderful dinner. For the previous 2 connoisseur dinners we attended, we had 2 choices for each course. For this dinner, there was only choice for each course, which I found less desirable. I did ask to substitute the raw tuna appetizer and they gave me a crab cake so they may have been flexible with the other courses. The mushroom-filled pasta in cream sauce was the best course, in my opinion. They were generous with the wine and we had a lot of fun, as usual.
One of the downers of any cruise is getting charged for things you shouldn’t be charged for – it seems to happen on every cruise and on Celebrity, seems maybe to be the fault of the computer system. I purchased all of our dining reservations for the specialties ahead of time and had booked the 2 complimentary reservations for being in a suite (had it arranged that the more expensive reservations were the complimentary ones, with the help of Celebrity reservations person). Once onboard, we found out that the formal night was on the 3rd night instead of the presumed 2nd night and found out the night of the connoisseur dinner so needed to switch some reservations around (and cancelled one of the Tuscan ones since the connoisseur dinner was there). The butler very kindly cancelled that reservation and switched the others around. All was well until we got charged for a dinner we had already paid for and did not get credited for the cancelled dinner. We went round and round (they said that the 2 complimentary ones were the first 2 dinners we had, even though we had prepaid for specific ones) – luckily I had my receipts and got it all straightened out after about 3 tries. One dinner was still on my bill the last night after we were told 2 days before that it was all taken care of – knowing how hard it is to get something taken off after a cruise, I called at 9 PM on the last night. David, the guy in Guest Relations, apologized profusely and said he would personally take care of it. A little while later, he called back and said it was off the bill – I checked and it was – great service! I think on the next cruise, I will tell the specialty waiter before they print the receipt that it was prepaid – I just don’t think it always shows up in the system, especially if the reservations have been modified. I also noticed twice that people with prepaid dining packages were being charged at the end of the meal. They were not happy because it made them late for shows to have to fix the bill (and it mars the experience a bit after a great, relaxing meal). Again, I suggest mentioning it to the waiter so they can sort it out in the system before giving you the bill. I also might reconsider pre-booking dinners since we had messages on our phone almost every day offering discounts for one or more specialty restaurants. There didn’t seem to be a problem adding/modifying reservations onboard so hopefully good dates/times would be available.
Drink: The 123 Go did not include transatlantic cruises so we had to pay for the Premium Package for 16 nights. Though costly, it may have meant a little better service than some other recent cruisers have described, since there were likely fewer people with packages on board. We had excellent service everywhere we went. We were able to get wines by the glass that we liked. We very rarely had to pay extra for a drink. We did the martini tasting at the Martini Bar for about $3 extra (difference between $13 maximum for package and $16 charge). The preparation was fun to watch and then drinking them was fun too.
We enjoyed Stefania in Cellar Masters. We went to Cellar Masters immediately after boarding to sign up for wine events – we introduced ourselves to her and she became a great resource onboard. We had some good wine tastings with her and she always delivered when we needed a glass or bottle of wine. She would run to the MDR to get me a glass of Conundrum or my husband his favorite Shiraz. She always said hi when I walked by Cellar Masters and asked how my day was going.
We planned a private wine tasting with 3 other couples we met through the Cruise Critic roll call. It was held in one of the couple’s Celebrity Suite and their butler (Hilario) went all out with hot and cold hors d'oeuvres. We each brought some wine and had about 10-12 wines to try (we brought a bottle onboard and Stephania helped me choose a great wine). It was a wonderful party and these people turned out to be fun cruise buddies throughout the cruise.
My husband had enjoyed Michael’s on the 2 previous cruises, as he is into craft beer and also enjoyed the tastings (such as Jameson and scotch, in addition to beer tastings). The bartenders were pretty knowledgeable about the beer and he met some interesting people there. Though he missed being able to go to that venue on this cruise (and there was nothing like it onboard to replace it – some of the beers were in Cellar Masters, but the sommeliers there were not sure what they had), it was not a deal breaker. He is still telling people it was the best cruise ever.
Staff/Crew: This was a very friendly ship – we really had no complaints about the staff/crew. These amazing people helped us have a wonderfully relaxing cruise!
Ports: I can’t say enough about the great ports. I will give a few highlights here:
Tenerife: I booked Patsy Little, a US native who married someone from Tenerife, so has lived there 26 years. She picked our group of 10 right in front of the ship and took us to La Laguna, a UNESCO site (beautiful former capital) and then to a winery for a wine and mojo workshop. We had a lot of fun, tasted some wine, learned how to make the local mojo sauces and learned a bit about the culture of Tenerife. We liked this island and Patsy is a great guide and very personable.
Malaga: I booked a Malaga Gourmet Market and Tapas Tour. Ten of us took the free cruise shuttle bus (very easy to do) to the city center where we met up with our wonderful guide. She took us on a walking tour of the city, with stops at 4 different tapas bars to taste a variety of tasty local delicacies with their native beers, wines and sangrias. It is a lovely city and this was a fun way to explore and taste local food and drink.
Cartagena: We didn’t book a tour here, but explored the city on our own. It is easy to walk off the ship and see the sights. There is an interesting maritime museum here – just watch out for siesta time in Spain – it was closed at ~3 PM for a while so we ended up missing this (heard it was good from other passengers).
Barcelona: We booked a Barcelona Day Tours tour of the city and Montserrat. It was a minibus tour of 14. Highlights for me were everything Gaudi (including La Sagrada Familia and an extensive tour of the unbelievable Parc Guell) and Montserrat, an incredible monastery built into the hillside an hour or so outside the city. We stayed overnight in Barcelona and enjoyed watching the city lights come on as we had a lovely view from our balcony.
Villefranche: I had booked a tour for 6 with Michel of Exclusive Riviera Tours and we had a lovely tour of the coastline, Antibes area and had a wonderful lunch at Oliviera in Nice. Their passion is French olive oil and we tasted delicious, beautifully-prepared food with various olive oils. I ordered some olive oil to be shipped to our home so we are still enjoying the tastes of our visit there. I thought the town of Villefranche itself was a pretty town - we enjoyed walking around there after the tour. This was the only tendered port, and there were some issues in getting off in a timely manner, but was only mildly annoying for us.
Livorno: We had a Rome in Limo tour for 6 going to Pisa and Florence. We had a great day and the guide even went off the scheduled tour for us and drove us into Tuscan wine country before taking us into Florence. I was prepared to think Pisa a cheesy place, but ended up enjoying our short time there – it was a Sunday morning and it wasn’t crowded yet – it is a nice college town. The Tower of Pisa was actually quite lovely. Florence was beautiful, though crowded – I loved seeing David. Our memorable lunch in Florence included delicious antipasto platters, pastas and wine, which became the pattern for the next several days in Italy. Our time in Florence ended with our first taste of yummy Italian gelato (but not the last).
Rome: Sadly, we had to leave the ship here and took Rome in Limo with 2 other couples from the port to our hotel, where we stayed 3 nights after the cruise. We stayed at the Hearth Hotel, a comfortable boutique hotel across from the Vatican. We had a good-sized terrace with a view of the Vatican wall. They were very friendly at this hotel – they helped us with restaurant choices and we had some interesting and wonderful meals with the locals.
Rome in Limo picked us up the next day, along with 2 other couples from the ship, and we did the Rome in a Day tour with a wonderful guide, with excellent English-speaking skills (all our Rome in Limo guides were easy to understand). He took us around to the key sites in Rome, including the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, etc. and after a delicious lunch at the Restaurant of the Popes, we went to the Vatican. We had a private guide at the Vatican, Massimo, who turned out to be one of the highlights our trip. He knew everyone there and got us into places without waiting in long lines. He made the Vatican history come alive for us and by the time we saw the Sistine Chapel, we were in awe of what we were seeing. An amazing experience!
The next day we had the same guide from Rome in Limo again – we had 6 of us from the ship going to the Amalfi Coast, Positano and Pompeii. We absolutely loved the Amalfi Coast and Positano – it is hard to describe the beauty. We had time to shop in the spiraling streets – they grow huge lemons there and I found a wonderful shop where I purchased most of my gifts for family and friends – mostly lemon-oriented, including a beautiful tablecloth for me that was made right in the shop. We had lunch in a restaurant perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean (with window seats) and again had a beautiful lunch and wine. We had a private guide at Pompeii, who did an excellent job showing us this fascinating place. We were glad we had a private guide – we met someone else from the ship there and they said were having a hard time knowing what they were seeing. Another amazing day!
Venice: The next day we took the train from Rome to Venice. The train station was not hard to navigate. It was a 2 ½ hour trip and was extremely comfortable. When we arrived in Venice at Santa Lucia station, it was surreal to walk out of the station and immediately see the Grand Canal with boats going back and forth. We then we had to do the “walk of shame” with our cruise luggage. I had booked the Santa Chiara Hotel, which is only one bridge from the train station (the reason I booked it). It still is quite stressful to get 50 lb and 20 lb pieces of luggage up and over the bridge in the 80 degree sunshine. The bridge has steps and dragging the luggage doesn’t work well, so we ended up carrying it. Once that was done, all was well. It was funny because our room had a view of the Grand Canal and of that bridge – we spent some time watching others do the walk of shame. There are porters at the train station to take your luggage over the bridges – not sure what they charge - there appeared to be some imposters there so take care who you give your luggage to. The hotel was older and some might think it needed refurbishment, but we actually enjoyed the vintage wallpaper, chandeliers and furniture. The location was perfect.
Venice was our favorite city. We had a private guide, Antonella of Discovering Venice, who took us on a 2 hour walking tour and then a 1 hour private water taxi tour. We first went away from the touristy areas into picturesque areas and learned about the history of the city and its culture. We had a wonderful tour of the market – the fish market was amazing (and we had seen several markets on this trip). We then went to Saint Mark's square, St. Mark's Basilica (skipped the lines), Rialto bridge, etc. and then had a lovely ride in the water taxi. She gave us ideas for lunch and dinner, which turned out to be spot on. A perfect day!
We reluctantly left for the airport the next day and headed home. This cruise exceeded our expectations – we relaxed, we read 9 books between us, we ate wonderful food, listened to great music, saw amazing places, met special people and laughed like we haven’t laughed for a while. Thanks to Celebrity and their wonderful staff and crew and to the smiley face Cruise Critic people that we met onboard!