We are Celebrity Aqua Class loyalists and chose this 12 night, 8 port cruise because it ticked off many new places on our bucket list. The overall Celebrity experience was exactly what we value and expect: an overall classy product, very ... Read More
We are Celebrity Aqua Class loyalists and chose this 12 night, 8 port cruise because it ticked off many new places on our bucket list. The overall Celebrity experience was exactly what we value and expect: an overall classy product, very well-maintained ship, exceptional dining experience in Blu, and generally attentive service throughout the ship. However, the itinerary that sounded so great on paper translated into an EXHAUSTING vacation with too few sea days sprinkled-in to even begin recovery onboard. Lesson learned.
We arrived in DUBLIN on the morning of Jun 13th, which gave us a full day and night to explore the city before boarding the ship on the 14th. Embarkation was easy and efficient, and we gained access to our stateroom by mid-afternoon. Since we didn't sail until 8 pm on the 15th, we could have continued sightseeing but just didn't feel compelled to do so. Generally speaking, we found Dublin disappointing - not enough of interest to do or see, and a bit 'sad' overall. Weather was cool and misty, which didn't help.
In BELFAST, we did the ship's Game of Thrones excursion to Winterfell, and found the trip entertaining, informative and quite memorable! The Celebrity tour guide was quite good, and the Winterfell personnel (who guided us through all of the onsite activities) were all former extras in the series who shared great insights to what went on both in front of and behind the camera. Highlights: an archery competition, mock sword fights, great scenery, and a chance to meet 2 of the Dire-wolves in person.
We felt the port in LIVERPOOL was close enough to the 'action' to self-tour. We walked to the Cavern Club, good shopping, and a casual fish 'n chips eatery near the water. This actually turned out to be one of our more favorite stops, maybe because we could do it independently and at our own speed.
Next up was the port of COBH/CORK, where we docked overnight for 2 full days of sightseeing. The first day, we took the commuter train from Cobh to Cork (very easy - station is adjacent to the dock) and self-toured the city for a couple of hours. The English Market (especially O'Flynn's gourmet sausage sandwich) was the highlight. Besides shopping, there isn't much there. We took an 8 hr Celebrity excursion to Kinsale and Blarney Castle on the 2nd day. Our time in Kinsale, where there are some cute shops but too many tourists, was too short - and we were running to the bus after about an hour there. The tour included lunch at a hotel outside of Cork ... this facility was very nice (tho not quaint or interesting in any way), and we had a surprisingly tasty lunch complete with Irish music and dancers. It left us feeling like we had attended a very restrained Irish wedding reception. This was followed by a bus ride to see Cork 'highlights' (completely unnecessary) and finally a lengthy stop at Blarney Castle and Woolen Mills. Underwhelming.
Finally, we enjoyed a restful (and sunny!) sea day on the 20th. This would be a good time to point out that at no time on this trip did we feel we were actually 'sailing', since the distance between ports was always nominal and the captain maintained a very slow, steady speed. We did, however, have 1 or 2 (depending on who you talked to) medical evacuations while at sea.
We arrived to DOVER early on Friday and were docked there from 7 am to 7 pm. Some passengers opted for excursions near to port, but we (and at least 25 busloads of people) headed into LONDON. Big mistake! We rode an hour before picking up our tour guide at a rest stop, then another 1.5+ hours before getting into London. The sheer number of tourists, cars, buses, demonstrators, and road closures made it near-impossible to get around the city or enjoy the sights. After several grueling hours in city traffic, we were deposited near the London Eye for a 'find it on your own' fast food lunch and toilet break. Friends on another bus weren't as lucky --- demonstrators sat down in the road just ahead of their bus, causing them to do a u-turn on a bridge(!), and taking so much time away from their tour that they never got lunch at all! I guess our tour guide was fed up too ... he exited the bus in London, and avoided the 3 hour trip back to the ship entirely. Note to Celebrity: consider providing a 'boxed lunch' on these very long excursions and require that the tour guide actually start and end the tour with the group.
Next stop LE HAVRE for an overnight. On day 1, we did a 10 hour private, small group tour of NORMANDY with Overlord Tours. We saw Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, the American cemetery, and the town of Saint-Marie-Eglise. Overall, this was a long but fantastic day and our tour guide was amazing in his depth of knowledge and ability to transport us back in time to D-Day. We HIGHLY recommend this tour operator, and their representative, Thomas. On Day 2, we took a Celebrity excursion to PARIS and had a gourmet lunch and city tour aboard the Paris Bustronome, with 2 hours of free time after lunch to stroll/shop the Champs Elysees. The bus ride to/from Paris was long (2.5 hours each way even on a Sunday) but the tour guide was very entertaining. We thoroughly enjoyed this whole experience (except for inadequate a/c on the lunch Bus) and believe anyone who complained to Celebrity that they didn't enjoy the food or wine had clearly not done their homework - the menu was posted on the Bustronome website since April 1st and was done to perfection.
After another sea day (where we absolutely crawled to our next stop), we arrived in the port serving BRUGES. We had pre-arranged a taxi with friends to take us into town, an easy and cost-effective way to get there and self-tour. We enjoyed walking this charming little town, chocolate shopping, and an outdoor cafe, especially before the crowds arrived around midday.
Disembarkation in AMSTERDAM was crowded but fairly efficient. We walked to Central Station, bought a 3-day Amsterdam & Region Travel ticket (highly recommend this as it allows easy, unlimited travel on trams, buses, and metro), and proceeded to enjoy our 3 additional days in AMS touring the city, and visiting Zaanse Schans, Volendam, and Marken. The Heineken Experience was very well done and getting around in this city is a joy. Loved it.
A few words about our shipboard experience.
- BLU Restaurant has never disappointed us. We had exceptional service (thank you Mario and Raj), lovely meals, and entertaining dinner conversations with new friends.
- At age 7, the Reflection is still a remarkably lovely ship. This was our 3rd sailing on her, and all of her public rooms and our stateroom, were in excellent repair.
- The Martini Bar and Sky Lounge personnel need to take it up a notch - a BIG notch. Uncharacteristically, we found the service in these venues to be inattentive, disengaged, and terribly disappointing. Fortunately, we found better bar staff in the Passport Bar who were interested in knowing our preferences and anticipating our needs.
- The Casino is sadly very 'tight' on this ship, even though our long port stays kept it closed for most of the trip.
- Evening entertainment was uninspired. Read Less