I relied heavily on Cruise Critic reviews and deck plans to organise our Celebrity Reflection Cruise . We are Australians and with the travel logistics and added expense of getting across the world, I needed to make sure I was making the right choices. And I like to do my own reservations and do what we want to do. My husband and I had never been on a cruise before, and 3 months ago if anyone had asked us if we were ever going on a cruise … "doubt it", would have been the answer. But this cruise actually chose us. My brother and sister in law asked me, the family expert on trawling through internet sites, to find them a cruise through the Greek Islands at very short notice, for them to celebrate a special anniversary. Finite timelines helped me narrow the options - Celebrity Reflection's Eastern Mediterranean Cruise which set sail on July 25 was my only option ! And to cut a long story short, within 24 hours, after I enthused to my husband the arrangements I was making for my inlaws, we decided to join them. Life is what happens when we are making other plans !
After a serendipitous 2 day pitstop in Rome, after we had shaken off jet lag, we headed for Civitavecchia one sunny Friday afternoon and with a minimum of fuss, we were soon on board. (can highly recommend Bob's Limos who were waiting for us at Rome Airport, shuttles to and from ship and our homeward drive to the airport - they were on time, nice drivers and lovely clean vehicles - and of course travelling with 4, private transfers are cost effective ). Perhaps one memo to Celebrity re embarkation (do they read these reviews !) - the health form everyone has to fill in at the last minute - surely that could be advanced to intending passengers online for completing prior to arrival. Tacky introduction to the cruise sitting in a grotty marquee juggling a pen and paper on one's knee ! Civitavecchia needs a good facelift - for the numbers of cruise ships going in and out of there, it is a dirty dusty hole of a port - but I guess that is not Celebrity's fault.
But I have to say, if we had booked 12 months in advance, we could not have got better cabins or location. After doing a lot of research on the internet looking at Deck plans, etc, I was thrilled to unexpectedly snare 2 Aquaspa verandah staterooms wedged between the suites on Deck 12 - ours on the bump gave us an angled slightly larger balcony, and a bit further along midship a similar cabin for my inlaws. We were both very happy with our cabins - which are a wonderful example of good design in a confined space. Others have already written of the nice decor, spacious feel and well appointed bathrooms. I agree. And nice cabin crew whose job, it is apparent by their can-do and eager to please attitudes, is to give maximum pleasure and comfort on our holidays.
I was very sceptical about being on a ship that carried 3,000+ passengers and 2,000 crew … but we decided this was a holiday (we travel a lot all over the world for business) and we were going with a good heart and not go looking for things to nitpick about. Our gorgeous cabin steward Floris hugged me, when I told her, on our first meeting, that was where we were at :) We actually under-used her services because our needs were simple. The bed was divinely comfortable
Gotta say, for a super size ship, Celebrity Reflection do it well - never did we feel we were amongst mobs of sheep penned up in a confined space - just so many places and spaces for people to spread themselves out on the ship … As we were Aquaspa, we made the most of dining at Blu - we lucked-in with a good table location with a great view regularly reserved for us - there is something about dining when the coast of Sicily, Mt Vesuvius or a Greek island is sliding past :) We also thoroughly enjoyed the uber-casual buffet cafe on Deck 14 - so convenient for us just to walk up the stairs from our cabin on Deck 12 (there is no Deck 13 !). We would load our plates with the myriad of choices and head for a table out on the deck. Wasn't that why we were on a cruise ? … to enjoy the sunsets and languish over dinner with the wake of the ship stretching behind us into infinity where the bluer than blue sea merged with the bluer than blue sky … liife was good at those moments. People who whinge about the food need to get a life - there was so many, nicely presented, fresh and different daily choices each time we dined there - and we met some most interesting people who had come out of their super-suites to also enjoy the food and casual ambience of the cafe. And we did so enjoy working the crowds for short and some long conversations with our fellow passengers … everyone has a story ! I will buy the blurb that the demographics of passengers was upper middle class and upper middle age … with a nice smattering of bright young things and families - it was school holidays - but we noted the ship's Fun Factory keeps all kids well entertained - and segregated from the more serious adults. One of our NBFs was even a naval captain taking his long suffering wife on a first-ever cruise ! And a family taking up several uber-suites with their children - with the caveat that this cruise was ideal for their whole family to enjoy, because it offered enough space for their handicapped son. It was a real international roll call that gathered on the Sunset Deck for sundowner drinks each evening … but with the ship particularly US-based and focused, I found it better to have a Pina Colada than ask for a more European style aperitif. So what ! We were on holiday :) We had open-seating for Opus, but only used that once - nothing wrong with it, (cafe dining in glam, upmarket surroundings) but we preferred the camaraderie in 'our' elegant, more personalised Blu restaurant . We did the Tuscan Grill another night, to treat our travelling companions somewhere different to mark their anniversary - but really we did not need to pay the cover $45pp extra charge - and after dark, on the open sea, dining with an ocean view means zilch ! We could have been in any nice restaurant anywhere.
Our day excursions - interspersed with local cuisine, drinks and gelati - also meant we were never starving at night - hence dining in all the other restaurants for an extra cover charge did not hold any appeal. The world is full of interesting restaurants - I don't need to be on a ship to ensconce myself in more.
The ship was our on the move resort hotel. Our focus for the cruise was really the land excursions - "we come this way but once" - and we were not going to waste opportunities to see that part of the world. Hence for us it was often, early to bed and early to rise. Although we did enjoy 2-3 late shows in the theatre. All were really good.
Our experiences in every port were all good. Excellent in fact. Again, I put a lot of work into making arrangements for our own tours before we left home - including chumming up with one group for an Athens minivan tour through Cruise Critic roll call An excellent experience. The thought of a mass ship's excursion on a bus with a guide with a sign whipping us into line, just did not hold any appeal - and I think our private tours were also cheaper … and allowed us to beat the crowds early each morning … we had the Acropolis almost to ourselves as the sun came up - a magic memory … and when we had done enough sightseeing in Ephesus - stunning, amazing … HUGE ! … after a lovely lunch off the tourist trail in someone's back garden, surrounded by archetypal Turkish pomegranate and lemon trees, with mama cooking in the kitchen and family ferrying absolutely delicious food out to us under a vine arbor - ditto in Santorini …( and after being channeled to the ubiquitous presentation in a Turkish rug factory - which we thoroughly enjoyed. We loved learning about making and designing Turkish rugs - and how to spot a fake ... and we know how to politely say "no thank you, we are not buying a Turkish rug today") … we headed back to the ship for a very civilised afternoon siesta, waking in time to greet some of our fellow passengers just trooping back on to the ship, hot and exhausted after being trapped on a non-negotiable all day bus tour. No thanks. I was not born to suffer.
I agonised over whether we would buy drink packages when I booked the cruise. In the end I decided against it. We like to drink quality, not quantity .. we are Australian winemakers :) Our traveling companions drink almost zilch, but will have an evening cocktail or beer or a glass of wine with a meal … it just wasn't worth buying them the packages , and I gather it was an absolute no-no for us to buy and share our rations with them … the basic package also meant there was an 'ordinary' wine list - and anything 'more special' one has to pay for extra anyway - so we opted to freelance drinks. We bought a 'good' bottle of wine for dinner most nights - or glasses of perfectly acceptable house wine and had the 4 bottles of our own wine we took on board, paying a reasonable cover charge - plus the free bottles of champers given to us on board (a few more also mysteriously came our way :) … and when I totted up the drink accounts at the end of the cruise, we came out slightly ahead than if we had locked into a package. Our account also included a few nice pay as you go cappuccinos in Cafe Bacio.
My husband and I loved getting up early and prowling through a very quiet ship, discovering all sorts of nice places. Did not even get to see the casino - had no appeal. But each to their own. Lying by the pool was also a complete waste of time for us - but obviously plenty think otherwise - lots of pink bodies working hard to take home their souvenir tans - and by the look of the gorgeous young brown bodies (and some not so gorgeous, nor young) the tanning salons must have been busy giving them a headstart before they got on the ship. But I did treat myself to a workout in the beauty salon one day - it was beautifully appointed, nice operators to gossip with, and I did not think the price was much more than my own hairdresser - but the view from my suburban salon now just doesn't compare with the view out of the large window as we slid out of Naples as my hair was being blow dried, while my husband hung over the rail upstairs taking in the glorious view and yapping to a new ship mate … holiday pleasures.
Yes, I have to agree, the music and the pretend dance-floor in the main atrium is not conducive to dancing - you feel a bit silly being an exhibit for the passing parade - and again I agree, a place where people can sit with a drink or a gaggle of friends, would make for a more club-like atmosphere. But I do not agree with suggestions of noise rising from music in the atrium being an annoyance. Our cabins were extremely quiet, well insulated from any noise and I did use the library, apple computer area, etc a couple of times - and noise was not a problem ... Maybe I just don't mind happy noise.
Not sure what formal nights are really - yes we put on our glad rags - and it was so nice to see lots of others promenading in their finery - but meals in all the restaurants seemed to be just the same, (no formal captain's dinner or the like) and with the aforementioned comment about the dancing situation, not sure of the point of it all. To minimise packing, I would leave the jacket and tie, and dancing shoes home next time.
I was pretty disgusted/disappointed to learn, after carefully grilling a table steward, he let it slip that meat, dairy and some of the fish is brought from the USA, (so much for a Mediterranean cruise !) and as an Australian, where we pay our people proper wages, I loathe tipping above the inbuilt gratuities - cruise lines should pay their crew decent wages, and I should not be expected to subsidise their profits :)
Would I recommend this ship and this cruise ? Definitely. Would we book another Celebrity cruise ? Probably not. We have had a really nice holiday on board Celebrity Reflection, but our ever increasing bucket list with ever diminishing opportunities, means we will probably concentrate on a smaller cruise ship or our more usual land based destinations. Some people seem to be addicted to cruises !
As I said at the beginning, I found Cruise Critic reviews extremely helpful - and to repay the favour, I hope someone might get something useful from this one.
FYI - here are the private tour operators we used - all highly recommended.
Messina - this was a special day for us - it was the port where my husband and his brother, as children, left from as Southern Italian emigrants to Australia. We hired a car and just went off at a leisurely pace exploring the city of Messina and drove along the north coast, and then headed south of the city where we enjoyed a picnic lunch on a lovely beach . I found it difficult finding a hire car on-line, for just one day, particularly a Saturday - but this company - www.atlaschoice.com - booked us a car with a Maggiore office, which was just across the road from where we docked - perfetto !
Athens - private minivan tour - don'tt recall the name - someone else organised it .. but there are lots of them in Trip Advisor, etc
Ephesus - I booked through Triptelligent : email - firstname.lastname@example.org
"Ephesus Deluxe Sightseeing Tour" - 7 hours
Rhodes - ship pulls right up alongside Old City - very conducive to doing your own thing - I downloaded an excellent walking tour including a map
We also caught the Rhodes hop-on hop-off red bus which took us around the top of the cape to lovely resort beaches on the other side … I was not wanting to do much shopping on this trip, but I did find Rhodes and their shopkeepers conducive to a pleasant session fossicking out some nice clothes and gifts to bring home.
Santorini - Oceanwave Tours - email: email@example.com
Patricia and Dimitris … as they said in emails we swapped beforehand - " Our goal is to show our visitors the beauty and the hidden treasures of our island and not just the touristic “highlights” .
After a delightful 5-6 hour tour with them showing us 'their' Santorini … we parted like old pals.
Mikonos - we loved ! We had nothing planned - as we wended our way across from the port - we spied a car rental place. 10 mins later we were on the road and spent a gorgeous day going in and out of all sorts of beach coves and resorts, making a mental note to return one day and spend more than a day there. We lunched under palm trees with the sand between our toes at a beautiful resort … www.nammos.gr - Psarou Beach … on freshly caught fish with a glass of luscious cold Greek white wine. One day we WILL return :) The crabbiness I felt that afternoon having to leave Mikonos, and return to the ship by 6pm sailing (life begins at that time on Mikonos !) was compensated by pulling out of the port with the view of another beautiful sunset washing over the island ,as we sipped our cocktails on the sunset deck :). And knowing we did not have to be up early the next morning for a shore excursion - it was sea-day ! Yeah ! A lazy Sunday.
Naples we just enjoyed being non-tourists - well kind of. We had a friend living there - whom we met dockside and after a quick spin around the city, we did what Neapolitans do on Sunday - squirrelled the afternoon away in the sunshine at a gorgeous seafood trattoria by a little marina - and back to the ship for our last night on board. But we felt we had done all we wanted to do on the ship by then, and it was time to move on.
5 am Monday morning back where it all began - Civitavecchia - easy and fuss free disembarkation - our luggage was where it was meant to be and our shuttle service for the airport arrived right on time. As we drove away from the port, one final glance at our ship - gosh it is HUGE - a cruise on that was just what we said we would never do … but our little foursome said to ourselves "Aren't we lucky - What a lovely holiday we have all had on that lovely ship taking us to all those nice places - And no hiccups !".