Review (Long): X Reflection 7-night E Caribbean 15 Dec 2012: Celebrity Reflection Cruise Review by Artemis

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Review (Long): X Reflection 7-night E Caribbean 15 Dec 2012

Sail Date: December 2012
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Miami
Top 5 Reasons Reflection is Remarkable: 1. Best food in 29 cruises. 2. Freshest and most consistently well-executed production shows on the seas. 3. Classy Celebrity touches like evening concerts on the lawn complete with plaid blankets, camp chairs and candles. 4. Friendly, professional service by experienced staff and crew guiding excited newbies. 5. She's drop-dead gorgeous from bow to stern. Do you get that we loved her?! There were a few "new ship kinks," of course, but nothing that dampened our enthusiasm one bit...we're all raves when it comes to Reflection! Here's our review: FEEL FREE TO SKIP TO THE GOOD STUFF: We published our collection of "Celebrity Today" daily news, stateroom pix, the laundry price list and more here: WHO - We're a mid-50's couple from Texas who were joined on this trip by our 19-year-old son and a buddy of his from college. We travel a lot by land and sea; this was cruise 29--we've done More all the mass market lines, except Disney (to heck with our kids, we're reserving that splurge for the prospective grandkids!). This was only our fourth Celebrity cruise, but we recently sailed (and adored) Solstice, and we like Celebrity's loyalty program perks--we are "Elite" on Celebrity, primarily because we're Diamond on Royal Caribbean. WHAT, WHEN & WHERE -- Reflection's second 7-night Caribbean roundtrip out of Miami, from Saturday to Saturday, December 15-22, 2012, with port stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico; Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten; and St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. WHY -- Just to have some fun in the sun! And to be honest, because the cost of this cruise trip was significantly less than spending the week at the all-inclusive our son wanted to return to (which is a fabulous place--we heartily recommend it, see, but for our tastes and interests, we get a lot more bang for the buck from cruising than an AI. Pre-cruise Thursday & Friday -- The four of us met in Fort Lauderdale (the airfare to is are almost always lower for us than flying into MIA) and then drove to Miami for two nights at the Hyatt Regency downtown because (1) it's close to the cruise terminal, (2) it's way cheaper than staying on the beaches, which you can drive to!--we paid $69 + taxes/fees per room per night on Priceline (the other "usual" 4-star bid winner is the Intercontinental, so you can't go wrong), and (3) the front desk aims to please--this time, they gave us premium rooms with concierge club privileges and covered half of the valet parking bill. While in Miami, we did the beach scene and enjoyed a few yummy meals--including dinner on the way into North Miami at Ni.Do. Caffe & Mozzarella Bar on Biscayne Blvd. at 73rd, lunch at The Filling Station near the Hyatt and a delicious, festive dinner at Versailles, "The World's Most Famous Cuban Restaurant," in Little Havana In case you're staying downtown and need same day dry cleaning services pre-cruise, we discovered River Cleaners, 99 SW 7th St, (305) 373-6247, a short walk from the hotel on the other (south) side of the river. Embarkation Saturday -- We had a final work matter to complete, then ran a few errands, drove to the airport, traded the rental car for the free shuttle to the port (a perk of renting with Alamo, National or Enterprise), arrived at the cruise terminal 20 minutes later, enjoyed a seamless check-in and were welcomed aboard with champagne at 3:20 PM (yup, too close for my comfort, but in my husband's view, we weren't due until 3:30 PM, so we made it with 10 minutes to spare!). We dropped our bags in our cabins (we always "carry on" our luggage), met our steward, scanned the "Celebrity Today" and other paperwork on the bed (including Elite coupons--nice!) and skedaddled off to muster at 3:45 PM. It was a very civilized lounge affair featuring a video safety briefing by the captain. Once they gave the "all clear" signal, I made a beeline to Guest Relations to get in the always-long embarkation day queue because we had to do the old key card switcheroo--passengers under 21 cannot be booked into their own cabin unless it is connecting or otherwise sufficiently close, so our set-up had to be changed from Cabin 1: husband/son and Cabin 2: wife/friend (:eek:) to Cabin 1: husband/wife and Cabin 2: son/friend. [Caution fellow parents: Please take a moment to confirm all aspects of the keycard switch have been properly completed. It's so routine--we've made it without incident on 20+ cruise--that we were caught off guard when we discovered it had been mishandled in two different ways: (1) when the young men tried to disembark on their own at the first port (ironically, San Juan = the US, and to report to a ship-sponsored shore excursion), they were stopped by security--we had to go to Guest Relations to clear their independent exit (fortunately, we were still on board), and (2) on disembarkation, the young men were again stopped by security and told to report to Guest Relations. What now?! They were considered deadbeats for nonpayment of their account--during the keycard switch, the staffer had failed to re-link their accounts to the master credit card on file for all four pax. Both stops embarrassed the young men and were time-consuming to resolve...thank goodness they made their excursion and the final delay didn't cause us to miss our departing flights (the line at Guest Relations on disembarkation day is even worse than it is on embarkation day).] But I digress...back to: 4:30 PM Sailaway -- As usual, we missed the sailaway celebration because we were dealing with Guest Relations; but as soon as we finished, we headed up to the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) for a snack and found a table at my favorite X casual dining venue (first discovered on Millennium): the open-air back porch overlooking the mesmerizing ship's wake (not to be confused with the al fresco specialty dining venue one deck up called The Porch). It was surprisingly uncrowded, yet the perfect place for sitting and unwinding as we watched Reflection join the line of ships headed out of the channel. We also used the downtime to "check our list twice" and tick off the remaining cell service-dependent chores--a few phone calls, another Kindle download and one last Amazon Christmas order (cruising the week before forced me to get everything done pre-cruise...I had the most relaxing Christmas Eve ever!)--and then disabled all cellular voice and data service (our family lore already includes a tale of a whopping AT&T bill our most tech-savvy kid once racked up while avowing an entire cruise that he'd correctly configured his device!). Cabins -- It was time to explore our cabins and unpack. We booked this cruise about a month out, so there weren't a lot of cabin choices left--we chose balcony cabin 8224 for ourselves and a lower-priced guarantee balcony for the young men, who were assigned 6108. Click the "Cabin Pix" link here for pictures and my discussion of the pros and cons of both cabins (overall, we liked them, especially 8224), as well as my notes on features I assume are common to all standard cabins. In that regard, three things I detail there that bear mention here are: (1) there's not a lot of space for storing non-hanging clothes, (2) the cabin amenities are nice, and (3) the stateroom feels small, and what I didn't realize until we contemplated upgrading is, standard Concierge Class and Aqua Class cabins are the same size as balconies (also confusingly called "deluxe oceanview verandas"). So if you want more square feet, you've got to book a suite or try to snag a family veranda (which I gather go as fast as those coveted afts!). (If you're medically eligible, accessible cabins are more spacious, too.) 7:15 PM Evening Showtime -- For late seating guests, the show was always at 7:15 PM before dinner, except on formal nights, when it followed dinner at 10:45 PM. (Early seating shows were always after dinner at 9 PM; on formal nights, they started 15 minutes earlier at 8:45 PM.) Here are our thoughts on each night's production show or headline entertainer: - Saturday: Embarkation/Opening Night show -- It was good! I can't recall all the acts who previewed shows ahead, but I know the singers and dancers did a number, as did the a capella group, and there was a comedy routine. - Sunday: At Sea/First Formal Night production show "Center Stage" -- This show blew us away! It set a high bar for the shows to come. We were impressed with all aspects, from concept, song selection, arrangement and choreography to sets, costumes, staging, lighting and direction, and last, but certainly not least, the singers, dancers and orchestra who, to a person, gave an exemplary performance! Although this show was the most traditional of the week in that it was strictly a Broadway/West End revue, it was still much more contemporary than we've seen on other ships. I think the Wiz medley may have been the most dated? I recall selections from Wicked, Phantom of the Opera and Nine, and the Les Miserables segment was especially thrilling considering all the media attention on the movie opening! All in all, Reflection's entertainment is definitely, and appropriately, targeting younger audiences--it draws heavily on music from the life experiences of the 30- to 40-year-old cruiser and only rarely dips as far back as the 1950's for songs and cultural references. You'll see when we get to Tuesday's show.... - Monday: San Juan -- Neil Lockwood, who once performed with ELO, did an Elton John tribute show. He is very talented, and because we're old enough to have grown up on Bennie and the Jets, et al., we loved it! I assume this headline spot will change from time to time, perhaps even from voyage to voyage; it's a low-attendance show because most pax are off the ship enjoying their evening port call in San Juan. - Tuesday: St. Maarten -- If it's Tuesday, it must be Bootylicious! Yes, that is a big number in "Momentum," the edgiest production show of the week. If you only go to one show, make it this one. It's absolutely stunning! The show is roughly a 50/50 mix between high energy song and dance and jaw-dropping Cirque-like performances by aerialists, gymnasts, an artist who does incredible things with a huge hula hoop, etc. Before the closing number ended, the audience was on its feet--the troupe earned that standing ovation! - Wednesday: St. Thomas -- I don't usually go for magic shows, but Adam Trent was terrific. He grabs you right away with his "boy next door" looks and self-deprecating patter laced with frequent references to mom...then zings you with a masterful sleight of hand! Adam takes an original approach to timeless Houdini illusions and skillfully incorporates music, comedy, special effects and passenger volunteers into his fast-paced routine. This is another night in the line-up that I anticipate will change, but if Adam's on board when you are, don't miss his show! - Thursday: At Sea/Second Formal Night production show "Reflection The Show" -- Now I'm second-guessing my opinion that "Momentum" is the one show not to miss because the third and final production show is a crowd-pleasing rock concert! This one's also a mashup of song, dance and amazing feats, but it's more personally engaging--you'll be dancing in your seat to favorites by Springsteen, the Stones, Journey, Led Zeppelin and more. - Friday: Last Night show -- They opened with a short video excerpt from the cruise video and followed with numbers by assorted headliners and the ship's company. I thought the best part of the show was the closing piece, an Italian song called The Prayer. It was performed as a moving duet by cruise director Paul Baya and a lead female vocalist in tribute to the ship's four godmothers and all other breast cancer victims and survivors. Supporting breast cancer research is a Reflection commitment--there are several related activities and donation opportunities during the cruise. In sum, we've never come away from a cruise so excited about all of the production shows--even on our favorite show line, Royal Caribbean, there's generally one stale or uneven show, a weak lead vocalist or some other inconsistency. But all three shows on Reflection were so fresh and exceptionally-executed, we were wowed! Shows are a big part of why we like to cruise, so Reflection's strong performance in this area contributes significantly to our overall rave review. YMMV! 8:30 PM Late Seating in Opus Main Dining Room - We were assigned to #274, an 8-top table at the back of the 3rd (lower) floor of the two-story Opus main dining room. (Select Dining tables are on the upper level. I'm not sure, but I think some traditional assignments are also on Deck 4.) It's a stunning room, albeit a bit cool. On this sailing, the shiny silver and glass decor was warmed by swags of garland and a tasteful nod to Hanukkah or Christmas here and there. My husband had earlier checked out the table location and had a difficult time finding it--few table number markers were on display. (Also, your table number does not appear on the face of your keycard--it only appears on the dining confirmation card in your welcome packet of papers. All of this table number business will become relevant later.) Anyway, when a wait staffer showed table #274 to him, he wasn't thrilled--just one other table served as a buffer between ours and the main swinging door in/out of the galley. Sounds noisy and busy, right? To our surprise, we didn't experience either aggravation, and our wait staff team was fabulous, so we happily stuck with our table (and enjoyed the company of our tablemates). Arthur, from the Ukraine, was one of the most competent waiters we've ever had--I believe he's a five-year veteran, and it showed. His assistant, Anastasia, was as sweet and enthusiastic as she was green, so it was easy to forgive her (minor) faults. Olena, the section wine steward, was pleasant and professional--she gave me a couple of good recommendations within my stated budget. The drink waiter (whose name I can't recall) wasn't ever around when we wanted him, but we infrequently order cocktails and sodas, so after he figured that out the first night, it didn't shock us we had to be both aggressive and patient in getting beverage service later in the cruise. So here we are at the food, glorious food part of the review, and to our tastes, there's no contest. We thought the variety and quality of Reflection's food--viewed as a week's worth of dining in the MDR, buffet and the specialty restaurants we sampled--was the best we've had in all of our cruises! The menus were nicely varied and creative, but not so interesting as to be weird. I can't speak to how well the galley met challenging dietary needs, but all menus seemed to be dotted with vegan, gluten-free and other special diet items, and our vegetarian was happy with the breadth of offerings. The quality of the food was excellent--the ingredients were fresh, and rarely did a dish suffer from improper preparation. Even in the buffet, food quality was notably above average, and food trays were changed frequently to maintain freshness and proper serving temperature and avoid heat lamp degradation. Here's a summary of our dining experiences: - Opus MDR -- For breakfast and lunch, the MDR offers what is probably the most peaceful ambiance anywhere, but those menus seemed somewhat limited compared to the array in the buffet, and the service was a tad lackluster. As I indicated above, we loved everything about our dinners in Opus and would've happily dined in the MDR all week, except we "had" to try: - Lawn Club Grill ($40 per person) -- We reserved online pre-cruise, which I'd recommend for both LCG and Qsine, the two restaurants that seem to generate the most buzz. And with good reason! We had a delightful night at LCG interacting with the staff, and the flatbread and grilled meats are outstanding. Whatever grade of meat they're getting from suppliers, it's competitive if not better than what most land-based steakhouses serve. The sides underwhelmed, but the desserts more than made up for them (no matter what else you order, you have to get a cookie for the table!). Ma'tre d' Jordan is from New Jersey--he does a bang-up job circulating and managing the flow of food and fun. - Tuscan Grille ($30 per person) -- We were eager to repeat what had been our favorite on Solstice. Unfortunately, this was one of those rare "off nights" every restaurant suffers--the kitchen could not get food out in a timely fashion, which had the ripple effect of causing preparation mistakes as they tried to speed things up and service mistakes as rattled wait staff tried to placate antsy (and hungry) clients. To his credit, the manager worked the floor doing what he could to make everyone happy. - Qsine ($40 per person) -- As Dorothy would say, "Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!" Qsine certainly lives up to its "unique" hype. I predicted the rather stodgy, picky eater of our bunch (that would be my beloved hubby) would hate it; as it turns out, he's probably singing Qsine's praises the loudest! There are so many detailed reviews with photos (which are truly necessary to convey this very different dining concept), I won't even attempt to describe what we saw, smelled and tasted. It was a dazzling feast for almost all of the senses, to be sure! Practically speaking, I will say, please don't do what we did: (1) We over-ordered, and (2) we should've started the meal earlier because it can easily take three hours (without dragging)--we sacrificed a couple of appealing late night events to forge on to coffee and tempting sweet treats! - Bistro on Five ($5 per person) -- We liked this casual venue on Solstice, but curry and other good stuff happened (read on), so our son was the only one who dined here. He stopped in on a lark and said his crepes were delicious, but he wanted to try more savory and sweet combos--this is a place to dine with at least two and share! - Oceanview Cafe -- For us, the buffet is normally the last resort. Reflection's buffet was so surprisingly good, we were drawn to it. Plus, the buffet's offerings are so expansive, I think it must come pretty darned close to meeting every cruiser's idea of the perfect breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack. I know the ever-changing Indian curry bar called my name for lunch several days! The layout is bad and prone to back-ups, e.g., there's always a traffic jam at the eggs-to-order station at breakfast (but it is so worth it to get your eggs prepared "just so"). With that said, the service personnel we encountered were so helpful and paid special attention to diners who needed an extra hand carrying trays, getting drinks, etc. - Aqua Spa Cafe in the Solarium -- This was my preferred "go to" place before or after AM gym sessions--it features all kinds of delectable, healthy breakfast and lunch options. - Elite breakfast in Tuscan Grille -- We went two times, mostly to enjoy a cup of complimentary specialty coffee while gazing at the wake. I was astonished to learn Mimosas and Bloody Marys were also on the menu. Does anyone know where it is "5 o'clock" when it is 0800 in the Caribbean?! Maybe I'll figure that out for next time. The continental breakfast spread was attractive, but mostly carbs. - Room service -- It was excellent. Every delivery was prompt, and the food was exactly as ordered, with the necessary accompaniments. - All those things we didn't try -- Maybe next time we'll make Murano, which has earned so many accolades, and The Porch. I'd like to try a gelato at Cafe al Bacio and tapas at Cellar Masters...and while we're in the cellar, that enomatic self-serve wine pour sounds very intriguing, which is a perfect segue to... Packages & Spirits -- If you're new to Celebrity, please note there are specialty dining packages, e.g., if you eat at four or more specialty restaurants, the price is discounted, and all kinds of beer, wine and alcohol packages. We're not big drinkers, so we passed--for our "one off" drinks, we were pleased with the bar service all over the ship. I do like my wine with dinner (and appreciated the two Elite wine discount coupons, one for 20% off the price of a bottle purchased anywhere, the other for 15% off bottles bought in specialty restaurants). I'm no oenophile, though, so I can't say much about Reflection's wine cellar, except I thought it presented plenty of choices for all budgets. We did encounter one challenge with wine service, and for those wondering about the Molecular Bar, I'll tell you about our tasting: - Wine tracking issue -- When we ate at LCG, I didn't finish my bottle of wine. They asked for our MDR table number--remember I said that number would become relevant?--and when we couldn't recall it, they said, "no problem, what's your cabin number?" Next night, Tuscan Grille, same story. Next night, back at our something-numbered table in the MDR, I expected to show up to find two unfinished bottles of wine waiting for me. No such luck! So I asked the sommelier who had stopped by instead of our usual wine steward if he could retrieve my LCG and Tuscan Grille wine bottles. He was skeptical he could find the wine considering we hadn't been able to give the other restaurants our MDR table number, and the prospects of success were doubly grave because I couldn't rattle off the detailed provenance of each bottle. Really?! They were red. ;) Anyway, after extended discussion ending in his big display of brow-furrowing and head-shaking, he disappeared. I wasn't concerned--I'd never had a problem recovering partial bottles before, and as for the sommelier's attitude, I understood he wasn't thrilled because the task took him away from the restaurant and thus other wine sales. But the situation deteriorated when he returned with a California Syrah and said hopefully, "Your bottle from Tuscan Grille?" "No, I'm afraid that's someone else's bottle of wine. You'll recall I said mine was a super Tuscan, and the bottle from the Lawn Club was either a cab or a Malbec." He grunted in exasperation. And now, I was peeved--why was this such a problem? Curiously, in too short a time for him to have made another roundtrip to Tuscan Grille, he produced my super Tuscan. I thanked him profusely for his trouble, then dared ask, "And the Lawn Club bottle?" He didn't break his stride (away from our table), but turned, held up an index finger and thumb as if to measure an inch and sniffed, "There's only a tiny bit left in that bottle." you threw it out? I should be embarrassed to have asked for it? It's a good thing he was out of earshot, or I might have said something ugly out loud! Ultimately, I got the second bottle (which was low, but not an inch! it yielded a far more generous glass than the ship's standard pour). However, the entire process was such an unpleasant ordeal, and the repeated interruptions spoiled the natural flow of not only my meal, but also our table's conversation. I don't know if this was a new ship kink or if it's an emerging issue industry-wide considering the push for cruisers to dine in as many restaurants as possible; but there's got to be a wine tracking solution (and one that's linked to stateroom number, which all passengers know and possess--what's a Select Dining guest's MDR table number?). Maybe some enterprising CC'er will develop a handheld wine tracking app for cruise ships! - Molecular Tasting -- Our sophisticated young men persuaded us we needed to do the Molecular Tasting (they're science guys, so were especially interested in the injection of liquid nitro into cocktails!). So we did. It was $24 per person (plus the standard 15% gratuity) and well worth the price considering the amount of alcohol received. But that was sort of a problem for us! The tasting involved five different cocktails ("house favorites") and they pour about a half-glass of each. Of course, the Molecular Bar drinks are the stuff mixologists live to make--they're composed of a variety of liquors mixed and infused with all kinds of fruit, herbs, spices and other stuff. But that means the alcohol concentration is high! So...we (lightweights) probably would have been better off ordering individual drinks and swapping sips. As it was, we "peaked" at 5:30 PM and had to go to the buffet to put a little comfort food on our stomach to thwart an early crash and burn! (In case you're wondering, our favorite was the Black Mamba. If you're a Scotch lover, this is pretty divine. I'm sort of bummed I can't find the recipe seems that's a popular name, but I can't find another Scotch-based version.) Daily Activities & Nightlife - If it sounds like all we did was eat, drink and go to the shows, that wouldn't be too far from the truth. We were in serious rest and relaxation mode this cruise! So I can't tell you about the educational lectures we should have attended (there was a Caribbean history/culture expert on board, as well as a woman who knew all about suspense/criminal TV and movies). We didn't go to a single art auction, bingo game or shopping event, either. But we were awfully glad we attended this: ** Highlight event ** Talk by Captain Pagonis (on our itinerary, at 11 AM on the Thursday sea day following all of our port stops) -- Capt. Pagonis is one of the most visible and personable captains you'll ever run across, and he is passionate about giving his weekly lecture and PowerPoint presentation on ship navigation. I highly recommend it, plus, Reflection is his baby! So he gets very excited talking about her during the post-lecture Q&A. Of special interest to CC'ers who were on or followed Reflection's maiden European and trans-Atlantic voyages, Capt. Pagonis said Reflection continues to cruise at a slightly slower than maximum speed (with no impact on maneuverability or safety) while waiting for a part to be custom-manufactured. When ready, it will replace a failed component of one of the four electrical transformers that power the propulsion system. The slight slowdown caused a modest adjustment of our San Juan port call arrival time from 3 PM to 4 PM (with a corresponding lengthening of the time in port from 10 PM to 11 PM). I'm not sure, but I don't think our 10 AM arrival in St. Maarten was impacted. I know for a fact we arrived timely in St. Thomas, as we had an 8 AM independent excursion to meet and did so, without incident. Daytime activities -- To be honest, we sort of puttered through each day: - Reading and snoozing in Those Chairs -- Everywhere you go on Reflection, indoors and out, there is an interesting, comfy chair! I adore this signature feature of Celebrity's Solstice-class ships. Of course, you'll want to get your picture made while sitting in one of the over-sized Adirondacks on the lawn, and while you're there, check out the Alcoves. They seemed to attract many takers on our cruise--I look forward to hearing how people used them to their best advantage. If you need a book, the library has a respectable inventory of mostly fiction. There are daily crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, and every morning outside Guest Relations, you can pick up an abbreviated newspaper (from US and a few foreign language news media). - Doing the pool scene - There's lots of seating around the main pool and the Solarium pool (as well as on the sun decks), but those chair hogs do wake up early! The crew members wearing "Pool Butler" shirts try their best to monitor who has marked their territory but not returned for hours. I was impressed with how tactfully they handled clearing the Solarium of kids under 16. We hit the hot tubs during sailaway from the island ports--they're a pleasant place to meet and chat with other people. There was live music by the pool all afternoon, and Celebrity continues their tradition of serving poolside sorbets around 3 or 4 PM. The pool games and activities were lively, and we did catch a few hilarious minutes of the officers playing water volleyball while fully dressed (and drenched!). - The gym -- The first morning, the gym was packed! After that, I rarely had to wait for a machine, and there was always room to do some mat work or free weights. There are about 18 treadmills across the front of the gym (which is on the bow of Deck 12--what an inspiring view!) and maybe 9 ellipticals and 6 cycles, one or two rowing machines and a decent variety of crunch boards, curling machines, medicine balls, etc. I like the fact that all of the cardio workout machines support not only audio from your personal device, but also feed from the TV station of your choice. And I love the frig full of icy towels! For health and safety, I wish they'd provide a water station next to the icy towels--there are fountains, but they are kind of hard to find. - Zumba and fitness -- I see a lot of CC interest in Zumba. Reflection offers poolside Zumba, usually twice daily. I PDF'd the week's fitness class schedule--you can check it out under "Misc. Docs" here I believe the standard class fee is $20--if you're Elite, there's a coupon good for one class. I never made it to a fitness class, but most looked full, so sign up early if you're interested (the sign-up sheets are on the table when you enter the gym). - Steiner Salon & Spa -- My hair went Bozo on me with the humidity, so I got it straightened for the second Formal Night for $25, which I thought was a fair price, but they suggested I apply my Elite 20% off coupon applicable to any salon/spa service, so for $20 plus tip, it was a deal. We didn't do any massages or other spa stuff this time, so I can't report, except to say that we should have taken advantage of our Elite coupon for 2 free hours in the Persian Gardens (only on a port day--the AM before San Juan would've been perfect). I do like the fact that there is a dry sauna in the ladies' locker room, which is "free" to access--it's located on the spa side, but also serves as the restroom and changing/shower area for gym rats. - Arts and crafts - I did one Art Studio Class (for $20). There are two instructors and a variety of classes, including jewelry-making, painting and print-making. I thought this was a lot of fun! I noticed there were scrapbooking sessions, too. I am not sure if those were reserved for a particular group or open to all? - In-room movies -- I'm too fidgety to hang out in the cabin, but the men in my life report the in-room "free on demand" movie line-up was fairly current, and if you're willing to pay (average $9.99), there's a lot more to choose from. While dressing, I watched a few of the documentary shorts on how Reflection was made--they were fascinating and narrated by popular Cruise Director Nick Weir. - The casino -- By the end of the trip, all of our blackjack players had broken even or were a little ahead. Note, at 19, the young men were "of age" to play, although they couldn't drink without us to order for them. - Televised ball games -- We didn't watch any, but there were several pro and college games broadcast in the casino and Michael's Club (which is also a craft beer bar). If you will be cruising during a major game or any other type of event, just ask--it will probably air in some venue! - Playing trivia - We are ordinarily trivia hounds, but the early morning lounge hours didn't suit our sleeping-in schedules, and we weren't keen on the Sunset Bar setting. Picky, picky! - Playing other games -- We thought the "Game On" lounge on Deck 9 was an interesting concept, but the interactive game boards seem best-suited for a young audience, maybe tweens? We had fun playing old-fashioned Scattergories. - Foodie events -- We went to the Iron Chef competition, which was a lot of fun, but totally missed the brunch extravaganza, sushi rolling class, etc. Entertainment & Nightlife -- As the old saying goes, there's something for everyone! - For example, in contrast to the usual cruise ship entertainment, Reflection's got acoustic guitar duo Matt & Riley. I liked them! - If you're looking for the cruise-standard classical string quartet, though, you won't find it. The CD told me it's not sustainable on Caribbean itineraries. - The ship's party band D'Revelations is phenomenal! It was a first for us to scan the "Celebrity Today" to find out where they'd be and plan around their performances! They play around the pool and most nights in various locations. The lead female singer is simply amazing. She sings all genres and has incredible endurance--she can go on for hours. If you're interested, ask her when she'll be doing her interpretation of Gangnam style. - CD Paul Baya is a talented vocalist and pianist--one afternoon, I caught him playing the piano in the grand foyer. Each of us in the small, appreciative audience encouraged him to include his piano playing in the official entertainment line-up. So who knows, maybe Paul on Piano will be programmed when you sail? - Theme parties - Do not miss Paul, the D'Revelations and the CD's staff at the energetic 80's theme party (the only decade dance party of the week--bye, bye 50's, 60's and 70's!). It was a blast. We missed the Wonderland theme party the last night because we were still at Qsine, but I ran out to take a peek--the costuming, music and staging looked so imaginative! - Rory Bolton -- This young man is the talented piano player in the orchestra. He blogs at about what's happening on Reflection, and his girlfriend frequently posts on I cracked up when the CD made a joke before one show to the effect that Rory had been up all night because he had just learned his wife had a baby...although he hadn't seen her in 11 months. - The late night scene -- There were game shows, blue comedy, karaoke and similar late night events--all quite creative, you never know what's going to spark things! Yet this cruise was pretty dead come midnight--DJ Constantine had a hard time getting the party going. In our experience, whether a ship's hopping late or not varies cruise to cruise depending on demographics--I think the week before Christmas skews old because it's an unnatural vacation time for anyone in retail, employees who must meet pre-holiday and year-end deadlines and families with school kids who are, well, still in school. Okay, it's time to wrap this up! Here are some Miscellaneous Tidbits: - Speaking of Cruise Critics, we didn't receive an invitation to the Connections gathering--and based on other threads here, it seems no one did--the ship dropped the ball on that one. - We rarely use the laundry, but this time, my husband needed it, and we had some Elite coupons to cover it, so voila! They did a good job. I've posted the price list in "Misc. Docs" here: - Elite stuff -- I published a copy of the Elite letter overviewing our benefits and events in the "Misc. Docs" section here As you may have gathered, we're all about the coupons! For example, the Internet discounts were sufficient to cover all our usage--although we got a boost from having AT&T cell coverage in both San Juan and St. Thomas. We didn't make any of the Captain's Club parties and only once went to the nightly Elite cocktail reception featuring complimentary drinks and hors d'oeuvres. The problem with that arrangement (in contrast to what we've experienced on Royal Caribbean) was the timing--a 5-7 PM cocktail hour is too early for guests like us who dine at 8:30 PM. We also didn't realize you need to sit in a certain place near the bar to receive attentive beverage service--it wasn't pretty on the outskirts. - Holidays -- We cruised Dec. 15-22. The last two days of Hanukkah occurred at the beginning of our cruise. There were services at all the appropriate times, but other than the large menorah in the grand foyer, I saw only a few pieces of Judaic decor and blue and white/silver touches scattered about the ship in celebration of Hanukkah. There were more--but still not many--Christmas trees and red and green accents. We've taken many holiday season cruises, and this was easily the most "low key," arguably most tasteful, approach to holiday decorations we've ever seen. (Of course, we, personally, felt no such constraint and hung twinkle lights from the rails of our balconies! We were the only two starboard balconies with lights (I never saw the ship's port side at night), which we thought was odd in contrast to other holiday cruises, but up and down the passenger hallways, many a door was decorated.) As for holiday tributes, on our cruise, there were none other than the Jewish services. But the house band was warming up with carols, and on the last night, the culinary staff put out a wondrous display of gingerbread houses. As we've sailed Christmas (and New Year's) weeks several times, I will look forward to hearing what special things were done on Reflection to mark both holidays. - Reflection's good looks and that Art Collection -- I mentioned at the outset that we thought Reflection was "drop-dead gorgeous." Actually, to my tastes, I like the clean lines of the S-class ships, period, and I admire the sophisticated interior design. Others might think it's boring, but to me, it provides the perfect backdrop for displaying art...and we thought there was a lot of interesting, even intriguing art on this ship! To be sure, it's modern, and a lot of people don't care for it. But it might just be my favorite ship collection. The curator's theme is, appropriately, "The Seductiveness of a Reflection," and it's fascinating to see how each artist chose to incorporate that concept in their work. (For example, this is a great read on how the artist came up with the stunning "tree reflecting upon itself" installation hanging in the atrium: Ports of Call -- We had been to all of these ports several times. We're not shoppers--we like active excursions and usually make independent arrangements, but sometimes, the cruise-sponsored excursions just make sense. For planning purposes, be aware that some but not all US cell carriers treat Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as locations within the "domestic coverage" of your cell plan. We're with AT&T, which extends coverage to both--so in San Juan and St. Thomas (and St. John), we called, texted, used the name it! Celebrity always welcomes you back from your day in port with ice cold water and towels--just another classy touch. (Detailed port reviews for San Juan, St. Maarten and St. Thomas appear in the separate Port Reviews section) Disembarkation -- Because we self-carried our luggage off, we could have left when they first started disembarking passengers. I'm not certain, but I think the ship was cleared around 8:30 AM. The four of us met in Tuscan Grille, which served as the Elite departure lounge--there was very basic coffee and pastry service. By the time we tried to disembark and then sorted things out with Guest Relations (recall the keycard switch-related snafu over billing the young men's charges to the master credit card), it was 9:30 AM. We went straight through immigration and customs, out to the curb, caught our return shuttle to MIA, made it through a modest security line and were at the gate at 10:25 AM for an 11:45 AM departing flight. [NOTE to passengers planning to disembark with the assistance of Celebrity-escorted wheelchairs: There were so many passengers leaving the ship in wheelchairs being pushed by Celebrity staff that their departure process was slow. Some people became impatient and cranky, but Celebrity simply couldn't task the number of employees required to escort everyone at once, so it naturally took quite a while for each staffer to push a passenger from the departure lounge to the port terminal, through the baggage search and claim process (securing a porter, if required), through immigration and customs lines and finally out to their (hopefully waiting) ground transport, then rush back to do it all again. I do not know the particulars of this, so it would probably be a good idea to investigate further to learn your options.] Whew! If you're still with me, thanks so much for reading. I hope something I've mentioned is helpful to someone planning a Reflection cruise. Happy cruising in 2013 to one and all! Less

Published 12/31/12

Cabin review: 2B8224 Deluxe Ocean View with Verandah

Very quiet, great location a few steps off central (main) elevator/stair lobby, bed by balcony door, view out to sea is great, view straight down is lifeboat, bathroom is spacious, cabin feels a little cramped and non-hanging clothes storage is limited.

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Port and Shore Excursions

We parents just walked around Old Town (it's a short, easy walk from the pier). The young men took the ship's excursion "Nocturnal Canopy Tour Zipline Adventure." The ad copy claims "bioluminescent bugs and plants are alight all around you" while zip lining through the jungle canopy at night. They had a good time, but they didn't see a thing that was "bioluminescent," and our son said the course was a little tame compared to the other canopy tours he's been on. I note this "coded" language to that effect in the shorex description of the daytime tour: "This tour has been designed as a family experience although even those who have done ziplines before will find it an amazing experience."
Read 2983 San Juan Reviews

We decided to take the no-brainer "booze cruise" approach to doing St. Maarten and went out with the Golden Eagle catamaran (through Celebrity). It was just what we wanted! They get lots of positive feedback on the Ports of Call>Caribbean>St. Martin forum, for good reason. The logistics are a snap--you meet on the pier and then walk through the cruise terminal out to a dock where the cat's waiting. The roundtrip sail is refreshing--you may lounge on the tramp or sit in the cockpit--and the snorkel/beach break is fun. There's not much coral or fish life to see, but don't miss the crazy fish-feeding frenzy! The libations flow on the return, and the crew works hard to make your day both safe and enjoyable. (If you've gone out with Golden Eagle in the past, as we had, note that they're no longer allowed to go to Tintamarre, the deserted island with the mud baths--it's an environmental protection thing).

(Reflection docked at Crown Bay, which is west of the more familiar cruise terminal at Havensight) -- I had looked at the online port schedule and decided with six large ships in port, we didn't want to compete for beach space at Sapphire, Coki, Magens, etc. So it seemed like a day on St. John would be perfect (the island is largely a US national park, and consequently much more natural and laid back than commercial St. Thomas, plus the beaches are gorgeous and snorkeling is excellent). However, I wasn't keen on the hustle and logistical hoops involved, plus with four of us, the roundtrip taxis on both islands + ferry fares were starting to add up to a lot of money just for transportation. So I did some research, and the #1-rated St. Thomas tour on TripAdvisor is a daysail from St. Thomas to St. John with Morningstar Charters. When I cross-checked them through CC's St. Thomas/St. John forum archives, Morningstar got rave review from cruisers. Long story short, we booked (very easy via email and phone), and they provided the perfect day! A taxi picked us up at the port and took us to their marina at Point Pleasant. They sailed two boats carrying six guests each to beautiful Honeymoon Beach in Caneel Bay, where we snorkeled with sea turtles--OMG, that was a first!--and also saw rays and all kinds of fish. They fixed us a tasty lunch (including veggie options) and generously poured the infamous USVI "painkillers," beer and whatever else we wanted to drink. The sail back was so relaxing...and then, it was time to return to the ship (our "all aboard" time was 4:45 PM). We were really happy with our Morningstar daysail and recommend it without hesitation. See (when they divvied everyone up, we actually went out on their second sailboat, the Winifred, see
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