Toss aside every excuse you ever had to not go on an extended duration cruise, and treat yourself to a delightful cruise itinerary, on a spectacular ship, with an amazing crew…and for less than you will pay for most other shorter sailing cruises. This sailing has it all: Itinerary, Ship, Crew, and affordability.
First, some brief background about us: We are a 55-year-old married couple from the Atlanta, Ga. area. We are not yet retired and have sailed about every two years or so. This was our 10th cruise, almost evenly split between several cruise lines: Disney, RCCL, and Celebrity. We have mostly done 7-night sailings in the Caribbean, bringing the children when they were younger, and sailing with a group of close friends. On our last cruise we broke out of the mold and sailed on the Celebrity Millennium to Alaska. This was an amazing trip, see my May 2016 Cruise Critic review if you are interested in detail at: https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=535553. This created an issue for all future cruises, as 7-days was no longer enough time for us to fully enjoy the full benefits of a cruise vacation – especially to locations far and away. We got spoiled!
While in Alaska, we booked our next cruise to sail on the Celebrity Reflection with our normal group of close friends and relations: A 10-night Italy & Greek Island itinerary in June 2018 – and then disaster struck, but in a good way…the announcement of our first grandchild’s birth was expected by June 15th. Good news/bad news. So, we cut loose from the group and rescheduled to this April 2018 transatlantic sailing. For good measure we had my mother join along as she is in good health and had never been to Rome, though she had toured extensively in Italy back when my father was in the Army. We missed the opportunity to sail with our normal cast of characters, but in the end, we had a truly magnificent time.
For about half the price of our original 10-night Med cruise we were able to secure cabin #9294, a category 1A deck 9 cabin on the slant of the hump. All cabins on the slant have larger balconies due to basic geometry (hint: the 1st and 3rd cabins off the hump have the largest balconies still). The mid-ship location made for smooth sailing throughout the cruise, and the views from the balcony of the eternal blue sea, sky and hillsides on entry to each port was glorious. We found ourselves on the balcony every day taking in the fresh air, sun and views with elation. The only slight issue with this cabin was you could sometimes hear the elevator chime from within the cabin when all else was quiet.
Please allow me to tackle one question right up front that we often heard prior to our sailing: “What do you with so many sea days?” The answer is: As much, or as little as you like! There is not much difference between having 7 days at sea, or 2 days. The ship has more planned activities than any one person can physically participate in, so there are ample opportunities to keep you engaged. Please follow this link to see the daily “Celebrity Today” newsletters listing the activities on board: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2630059
My personal routine was: to sleep in, hit the fitness center and then the wet sauna/cool room/ Infrared dry sauna/cool room again/aroma therapy room/and heated tile lounge in the Persian Garden, eat a light healthy lunch at the Aqua Spa Cafe, read a book (always have good intentions to do this but never seem to have enough time to ever start a book, let alone finish one), and catch a "Behind the Podium" talk: We had three speakers on this cruise: One was talking about behind the scenes at the White House, another was a NASA Director and discussed the Space programs, another was a photographer who worked with the Royal Family and several 60’s and 70’s rock groups - these are one hour presentations over multiple days - think "TED Talk" on steroids. At night things really go full tilt. After dinner we go to the evening entertainment show (comedy, vocalists, stage shows, impersonators, etc.), and visit an after-show dancing and/or audience participation event. That about sums it up. Quite a full day, and yet barely scratched the surface of all we could have done.
As for the weather, we REALLY lucked out, the entire trip was sunny, and temperatures ranged from the low 80’s while in the Caribbean, to the high 60’s in Tenerife, and back into the mid-70’s for ports in Spain, Corsica, and Italy. In all, we had splendid weather! Not a single day of rain (though in port on Tenerife, those that stayed on ship or in the city had rain while we drove up to Teide National Park and above the cloud cover, enjoying another sunny and warm day…more to come on that later). The ocean wave height was less than 5 feet (read: flat!) for most all of the Atlantic crossing portion of the trip and within the Mediterranean. However, we did have three days, two before Tenerife, and one after, where the waves were around ten feet. You could feel the ship move on these days, but it did not seem to affect this seasoned passenger crowd much, many of which took it in stride. Talking with the crew, they say you usually don’t really feel anything major until the waves exceed 20 feet (yikes!). A tribute to the S-Class Celebrity ships, and how nice the weather was overall on this crossing.
About the ship: The Reflection is the current flagship and latest ship in Celebrity’s fleet, though later this year that will change as the new Edge-class ship premiers. Built in 2013, and recently refurbished during dry dock in January 2018, she is fresh and seemingly brand new. Compared to her four sister Solstice-Class ships, she is similar, though there is an additional cabin deck on top, making her the largest of the S-Class ships. Some would say that this makes her more crowded too, and technically they would be correct; however, the public spaces and activities are designed to disperse guests so that it does not feel that way. Embarkation and disembarkation was a breeze – though we did embark rather early at 11:30am and disembarked with our own luggage in tow at 7am. This makes things simpler for us. The crew is what we have come to expect from Celebrity: Totally accommodating. You ask, they provide. Disney is the only line that comes close in the service department from our experience and from what I hear from other passengers about the main-stream cruise lines we have not cruised on. We pre-purchased several packages during 25% off on-line flash sales offered before sailing, this included: Unlimited Internet ($215), 6-Night Specialty Dining ($159pp), and an unlimited print and digital photo package ($200). The photo package was a first for us, and it freed me from having to do the sole photography work during the sailing. Practically every time we saw a photographer, we took a photo. We knew them all by name after a few days! In all, the Celebrity staff took a total of 297 photos of us, and we walked off the ship nearly needing another suitcase to carry them all home. If you do the math, that comes out to less than $1 per 8x10 photo – and we also received a link to download every one of them in digital format after the cruise. Best deal ever, especially considering that a single 8x10 runs $25 on board. Upon boarding we also hurried to the Spa and purchased a 14-day pass to the aforementioned Persian Garden for $175pp including gratuity. Aqua class passengers receive entry to the garden as part of their fare, but 40 additional passes go on sale each cruise. We tried this on the Millennium and found the Reflection’s garden to be far larger and superior. In all, there is nothing not to like about this ship in my book. The entertainment was good for the demographic on board, and Celebrity did mix it up a bit to appeal to the younger set.
Now let me comment on each of the ports, for those interested:
Santa Cruz, Tenerife (Canary Islands): After 7.5 days at sea, this island looked like heaven, setting the foundation for what was to be a delightful visit. We had a previously arranged car rental with Enterprise, and after walking to the wrong building, we discovered that Enterprise was aligned with Cicar which is conveniently located on the pier. The kind folks at Cicar upgraded us to an automatic 2018 Fiat with all the bells and whistles for no extra charge, so we happily drove off into island traffic. Having heard that traffic in Europe can be chaotic, I expected the worst but that never materialized. All of the ground work using Google Maps and Google Earth to get a preview of the roads prior to our arrival paid off, and navigating the streets and highways was a breeze. We drove toward our objective destination: Mt. Teide National Park. We had purchased tickets on-line (https://www.volcanoteide.com/en/teide_cable_car) for the cable car that takes you nearly to the top of Mt. Teide, and also requested a free summit pass (from http://bit.ly/dQ3Tah) to be admitted to the volcano’s peak at over 12,000 ft. Hint: Be sure to book your summit pass 60 days prior to your trip, they tend to go fast. Unfortunately, the cable car does not run when the weather is bad, and it had been windy there all week and on the day of our visit, so instead of ascending up to the pinnacle of the highest mountain in all of Spain, we had a very enjoyable stay in the park. As we were above the cloud line, it was sunny and beautiful, and it was also much warmer than we had anticipated. After sheading our multiple layers of clothing, we enjoyed the other worldly scene of lava flows, lava towers (where cones had been), and the clouds wafting over other nearby mountains and hills. It was like we were on Mars, but less red and we could breathe. After a couple hours of touring, we returned via the coastline for a different view of the interior island than we had on the way up along the spine of the mountain ridges. You descend through several thermal and ecological zones: Lava rock yields to high altitude flora & fauna, which yields to a rain forest of majestic trees, which finally yields to the lower coastal zone at sea level. Very beautiful, and a nice change of pace from simply touring the port city of Santa Cruz. Especially since we would be doing just that in every port to come.
Malaga, Spain: Here our ship docked near the town, but since it was still a 20-minute one-way walk, we decided to take a taxi and begin our next DIY adventure into this historic city. We began at the Alcazaba palace and Roman Theatre. We paid a small fee of $6 euro for all three of us and entered thinking that we could breeze through the site. That proved not to be a valid assumption, and during the 2.5 hours we spent there we were impressed with how the Muslim inhabitants had lived. They had gardens, ponds, fountains, trellised patios, and the best views you could ever imagine. It was a photographer’s paradise. There are many steps here, and the palace is built along a hill, so the elevation rises a couple hundred feet as you tour from one end to the other. There is a nice café at the top and end of the palace tour that serves beer, wine, and sandwiches. We enjoyed our first real Spanish Sangria there and loved it! Which was good, because prior to then we did not know that there was no exit on top and had to traverse back to the entrance in order to exit. In our Sangria-ized state, it did not matter, and we enjoyed many of the views in reverse on our way out. We had planned to take a cab to the fort (Castillo de Gabralfaro) on the hill next to the palace, but after all of the walking we did at the Palace, my mother was in no mood for more. We instead strode by Cathedral Square and took in the view of the outside of the huge church there. We would have went in too but felt it better to get back on board for Mom’s sake, so we taxied back to the ship. For those with more energy, you can instead head to the Plaza de la Constitution and explore it and the Thyssen Art Museum near there, and then head back toward the marina/port via Calle de Larios for the finest shopping in Malaga. The Atarazanas Market is also popular with tourists and is a little further West of Calle de Larios.
Cartagena, Spain: The port here typically only handles a single cruise ship, read: The town is pleasantly uncrowded. The dock is right in the middle of town, making Cartagena one of the best ports too walk around on your own. We used a Tomsportguide.com for a free downloadable 28-page guide that we carried on an iPad mini during our day in port. The guide provides step-by-step directions of key points of interest, all of which are in a 1.4-mile rectangular radius from the ship. We toured the marbled (yes, really, marble!) streets of the downtown city hall area. Gorgeous stone edifices pay tribute to the post 19th century architecture. A truly European town: Beautiful, clean, picturesque, with friendly citizens. Across from the city hall building is the entrance at $5pp euro to the museum that provides access to the Roman Forum. We did not go in as we were there before the museum opened at 10am, and (Here’s a tip…) later we discovered that a walkway leading from the Fort at the top of the hill provides a top-level view of the forum, so we felt we vindicated and happily took many “free” photos of the ruins. The Church of Santo Domingo lay about fifty yards further down the Calle (street) and was free to enter and see the ornate tributes to the Holy Family. We toured the $2.50pp euro House of Fortune to see the recently reclaimed ruins of a wealthy Merchants home that is actually under the current street level. I was surprised how interesting it was to walk through a 2,000+ year old home and upon the original streets outside the domicile. Amazing. A video shows how the home likely looked back in pre-first century Cartagena. The guide also shows where to catch the lift to the Castillo de la Concepcion – or conception castle (the fort on the high hill near the port). The lift and castle entry is $4.25pp euro. The grounds are beautiful, the view overlooks the entire city and port (take your ship photo from here!), and videos provide a description of the most interesting thing in Cartagena, and for that matter the whole of Europe: The history of conquest and change over millennia is fairly well preserved in this wonderous land. You see Roman ruins beside Islamic castles that are built next to Christian and now modern-day buildings – all preserved or in a state of restoration. If you are able to walk down about 150 steps, be sure to take the path down toward the aforementioned roman ruins rather than back down the lift. The pathway ends at City Hall, and the port facility is across the street.
Barcelona, Spain: This is a large city, with all of the hustle and bustle that goes along with it. We took a taxi from the port directly to the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) Temple. The taxi from port to the Temple has a flat rate of $19 euro total for 3 passengers, or $25 euro for up to seven. You WILL need to order your entry tickets in advance at www.sagradafamilia.org/eng/tickets/index.html. We paid $29pp euro for entry, a lift into the Nativity Tower, and an audio guide. The Antoni Gaudi architected temple is hard to describe and has to be seen to be believed. Gaudi’s vision is pure genius, it is simply a jaw-dropping sight to behold and experience. We spent three hours there, and it felt like three minutes. The site is still under construction and will be completed in 2026, which is not too much longer, considering that the building was originally designed by Gaudi in 1909. As Rome was not built in a day, it will be over 100 years before this glorious tribute to the Holy Family is completed. Fortunately, most of the temple is in a ready state for your visit. The audio guide was superb; including discussion of the structures, details on what and where to look to see the finer details, building techniques, and Gaudi inspired insights into why the building is built the way it is and what it represents. Anyone, whether religious or not, will walk away inspired from this site. We then took the L1 train for $2.20pp euro to the Plaza Catalunya and walked down the Las Ramblas thoroughfare toward the port. This is a mostly pedestrian street with shops and eateries. Though it was a bit too “touristy” for me, we did stroll into the “La Boqueria Market” and sampled some candy and fruit drinks there. Note: Just about anything you may want to buy is here too! If you want tapas, it may be a better and less costly fair if you walk a block or too away from Las Ramblas to find a more local (non-tourist) restaurant. We had racked up about 3.9 miles walking up to this point, so even though we had intended to use Rick Steve’s free downloadable “Barcelona City Walk” audio-guide to tour the Barri Gothic Quarter beginning halfway down Las Ramblas, we opted instead to take an $8 euro total taxi from the market back to terminal B in port and re-board the ship. It was a full and splendid day, but we had to hit the pool to cool off our tootsies!
Ajaccio, Corsica (France): I write this sitting on our balcony overlooking this wonderful city. I was surprised by this island, a providence of France. It was quaint, uncrowded, and g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s! Of all the islands visited on our Western European itinerary, this is the one I can see myself retiring on…and not just for the fine French wine or pastries here. We began our visit exiting the port building and turning left, after which you can catch the “Ajaccio Vision” double decker open air tour bus. I read about this on TripAdvisor, and it was 100% accurate: We took the 55-minute $8pp euro (was actually 1 hour and 5 minutes…there is also a 1:30 minute tour that includes a 20-minute stop at the end-of-the line…no real reason to stop) tour that hits upon the major in- city sights, but spends over half the tour beyond the city and along the picturesque coastline where the history and major sites along the way are explained. This is where you become sold on the prospect of never leaving this place. The water is clear, the landscape is green with trees and foliage, the beaches are plentiful…and, sorry ladies, the women enjoying the beaches may be topless. Oh my! Let’s just say, France is OK in my book. Moving on…the terrain is hilly and interesting in that it has a Malibu, California feel to it – sophisticated, gorgeous, and pristine with many private homes along the shoreline. What is there not to love here??! Oh, and a side note: Everywhere you look in town is a monument to the “Emperor” Napoleon Bonaparte, as he was born and christened here (you can visit the church) and see the many monuments to his name located at nearly every turn. The tour will show you most all of these sites – albeit in a drive by fashion. After the bus tour we traced back to a couple of Napoleon sites to get a better view (and pictures): The “Monument a la memoire de Napoleon” (in place de Gaulle square, the monument pictures Napoleon and his four brothers), and the “Place de Austerlitz” which is a monument up a hill (don’t worry, my 82-year-old mother walked it) is yet another tribute to Napoleon. It is beautiful and worth the visit. We then turned off the beaten/tourist path, always looking for the true local flavor of where we are visiting – and we exited to the south of the base of the monument and headed down the street to the sea shore. Here we (finally!) dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea and strolled along the beach. It was S-P-E-C-T-A-C-U-L-A-R! We then walked along the sea edge board walk (though it was a concrete path lined by palm trees) and back through the narrow city streets to the port building. We spent 4 hours ashore, and in the future, should we ever have the opportunity to visit again, I would probably also rent a car and drive into the interior of this lovely island. I am told that the Prunelli Gorges are a vision to see. Next time…it is always good to have a reason to come back.
Rome Day 1: We disembarked the ship today and were pleasantly surprised especially because we were going to do the unthinkable: Take the train into Rome rather than a driving service. To make matters “worse,” we were also going directly to the Vatican in order to have more time there rather than to our Airbnb apartment near the airport (wanted to be close to the airport due to an early AM flight on departure). Guess what – we survived! It can be done. Although take note, I am able bodied and was able to heft three large 50lb suit cases up and down the two dozen or so steps in between the train platforms at each train station. I would venture to say this was not a good proposition for about 90+% of those in the demographic sailing with us. For those, I would recommend using Romecabs with an advance reservation to get to where you need to go. Once we exited the ship we used the free shuttle bus that deposited us at a staging area for taxis and other shuttles. We took the $2pp euro city bus from there to the train station and purchased our $5pp euro train pass (and validated the tickets prior to boarding) to Roma San Pietro. We had to walk downhill two blocks from the train station with the bags and deposited them at CityInLoop for storage ($7 euro per bag). Free of our suit case shackles, we were now 200 yards from the entrance to St. Peters Square. This is where our cameras exploded, relatively speaking. I think we took a hundred photos within 15 minutes – and none of them do justices to the sights your eyes take in. Truly fantastic! Whether you are Catholic or not, or even agnostic or atheist, try to view this place through a Catholics eyes just for the time you are here. You will get so much more from the experience. We made a beeline to the Vatican post office and sent several cards with Vatican postage stamps, then walked 15 minutes around the outside wall to the entrance of the Vatican Museums. Before entering we had lunch at a restaurant (Fomoi Feliziani) a couple blocks from the entrance. It was recommended in Rick Steve’s Europe guide book, and it was great! Getting back to the museums, we had purchased our tickets in advance (recommend that you do this too, unless you like waiting in two hours lines to purchase them upon arrival), and upon entering the museum an hour before our designated time (not sure why they let us in, but they did), we donned our earphones and started up the Rick Steve’s audio guide we had downloaded onto our cell phones months ago. Hint: Use his downloadable App, makes using his guides a breeze. They also include maps! Rick then guided every step and turn through the museum. If you run the app continuously you can get through it in 1 hour and see much more than just highlights. The guide is very detailed and satisfying. It took us about two hours though, as we hit pause often to venture off the beaten path or spend more time on interesting articles. The artwork is not to be believed, truly awe inspiring. We then headed into the Sistine Chapel and using another Rick Steve’s guide spent nearly 45 minutes standing in the chapel with our necks craned and in a locked position viewing the majesty of Michelangelo’s God inspired work. After seeing everything else in the Museums we did not think our jaws could be dropped any lower – we had to pick them up from the floor later in order to leave. One note about leaving, be sure to casually walk through the rear right door of the church. This is technically for tour groups only, and they are constantly pouring through this door, so it is not difficult to join them. Doing so, you will avoid having to be re-security screened to enter St. Peter’s Basilica; and since you were already screened to enter the museum there really is no need to wait in another several hours in line. Once through the door there is a short walk into the Basilica itself. We began yet another of Rick Steve’s guides, and here we spent another two hours that was gone in a flash. With every step you are in a constant state of amazement at the grandeur and devotion to the Risen Lord. We had planned to have dinner near the Vatican, but chose to go back to the apartment, relax a bit, and then eat dinner nearby before turning in for the night after a blessed day.
Rome Day 2: Today we hit the other major highlights around Rome. We purchased a $7pp euro one day metro pass good for all busses and trains in the city center. Getting around was easier than I had expected, but only because I took the time to download the subway map and bookmark a link that showed the stops of each bus route. That combined with google maps just to figure out where you are was a godsend! We began our day with breakfast in the apartment provided by our host, and then set off by train to the Colosseum. The entrance is within 100 yards of the metro station exit and using pre-purchased on-line tickets we again skipped the ticket purchase line (saving an hour or more) and breezed into the entrance of the Colosseum. Once again Rick Steve was our handy electronic guide, also previously downloaded within his App. He hand held us through the entire venue, provided historical details and novelties. After another round of oh-so-many-photos, we then headed into the Roman Forum. With Rick Steve’s again as our guide we toured this larger than life cradle of the Roman Empire. Steeped with history, we relived the 1,000 year rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I would have never thought that we would spend a couple hours here, but we did. Simply could not get enough of it. Hail Caesar! Upon exiting near the Plaza Venizia we took in the amazing structure of the Victor Emmanuel Monument and Santa Maria in Araceli Church. Both larger than life and real eye poppers of of historic architecture. After finding the #64 bus stop and riding rather than walking for a few blocks, we exited and made our way toward the Pantheon. We had originally planned to go to Campo De Foiri and stroll through the Plaza Navona using (yet another) Rick Steve’s “Heart of Rome Walk.” But he had only enough juice left to do a protracted version, so we began at the Pantheon – but only after refueling at a nice off-street restaurant, Vini & Cucina Blasi, where the spaghetti was made the same day, and the ravioli was heaven sent. A glass of wine there did not hurt either! With the help of Rick’s good guidance, we found our way to the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, and finally the Spanish Steps. All are worthy of your time and will be fascinating visits. One word before I close, when you are facing the Trevi Fountain, the best Gelato shop in all of Italy is there: The “Gelaterla Ice Cream” shop. We gave it a try on the recommendation of one of the cruise staff – and they were right! Gave us that final boost to make it up the Spanish Steps, back to the train, and “home” to the apartment in time to do last minute repacking and ready for our departure home the next day.
In closing, we had a bucket full of bucket list moments. You will not go wrong with booking this itinerary on this ship and will be amazed with your experience. Cruising enables you to relax and be pampered like no other vacation experience, and cruising with Celebrity is a pure joy. Happy “sails” to you! Read Less