This was our 4th cruise, and our previous 3 have all been on Solstice ships (Equinox and then twice on Silhouette) so we went in having got the first-timers 'wow' thing out the way, and felt we knew what to expect on this ship. There was a lot as expected, some things a bit better, some not so good.
The ship overall is just what we knew we'd get from this class of ship and in terms of what is available and where, it was just small variations on a theme we were used to. One highlight for us was having Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis. He has got to be the funniest ever. If he was to produce a CD of his ships announcements we'd buy it. He could do his own spot in the theatre at night and it would be a sell out. The downside to this cruise was having just 2 sea days and having them as the first and second days of the cruise. It means no break from all the port days and by the end of the cruise we were pretty tired (even though we bailed out and stayed on ship during our second day in Barcelona with poor weather). We were also unlucky in that our first day at sea was pretty rubbish weather. We were warned at the muster meeting that we could expect rough weather the next day. I woke at 3am on the Tuesday and while the rolling movement didn't unduly bother me, the creaking made it impossible to sleep through. I did make it to breakfast and lunch and while somewhat entertaining watching people staggering around (“only the drunks walk straight today”) it wasn't something I could do for long and I spent quite a bit of time lying on our bed. Some people, including a number of crew, were quite poorly from what I heard later. We did a bit of side to side as well as up and down movement that went on until about 6pm. Not the best fun!
Overall we enjoyed this cruise, with some great ports and mostly lucky with the weather. Much was what we have come to expect from a Celebrity Solstice ship, the things we know and love. We did feel the size of the ship had a detrimental effect in terms of service as described specifically elsewhere in this review, but it just took this down from a great to a very good experience. I have rated the service a 3 (average) but that was because I didnt feel it merited a 'very good' 4. Good would be better, but maybe average isn't so bad when compared to what we have come to expect from celebrity in the past.
Would we choose Celebrity again – absolutely? Would we choose Reflection – probably not if we found an itinerary we liked on a smaller ship, but if Reflection ticked all other boxes we would sail on her again, maybe just with slightly different expectations.
Transfer and embarkation:
One of the best embarkation experiences ever I think! We had a transfer from Rome FCO airport, and had done this before so we knew the score. Collect bags from the carousel and head to the Celebrity reps. At the airport there were loads of Celebrity people so it would have been near impossible to not have got sorted quite easily. Bags dropped, onto the coach and just a short wait until we drove off to join the ship. Once at the port we sailed through (pun intended) the check in part really quickly, no queues at all so we were actually on board with very little delay. We had no need to go explore; I headed up quickly to grab some food and then we headed down to Martini bar to make ourselves feel at home :)
Food and drink:
Buffet. We knew what to expect in terms of what is on offer and I personally thought this one was the best buffet in terms of what was available. Plenty of choice of items, and only limited if you went at changeover time. At breakfast the usual hot food offerings included an English selection with 'proper' bacon and English bangers. The egg counter with various options to order was usually popular but wait times weren't too bad. Waffles and pancakes were always plentiful but beware if there's only one jug of syrup...it turned out to actually be chocolate sauce as the maple syrup was being topped up. I saw a couple of people come a cropper with that! Lots of hot and cold selections, and too many dessert options to count! And their cookies are lovely, soft and gooey ones! My personal favourite treat became the honey and raisin scones, especially if getting them when still warm.
We did a couple of evening meals in the buffet and had a good choice, though not spectacular.
My only drawback with the buffet, which was a theme for other food and drink venues, was that service seemed slow. We had premium drinks package and on previous cruises would very quickly be able to order a nice coffee or fresh juice on previous cruises. This time round we found it took longer to get served, and a couple of times we went to the bar if we were in a hurry. We put this down to the actual venues being the same size as smaller ships but catering for an extra deck of passengers.
Main dining room:
We ate in here on both the evening chic nights, and a few others. Food was mostly good but on a few days my husband and our friends said their meals weren't as hot as they could be. We did notice again the slower service, and whereas on previous cruises we were used to having our wine and water topped up very regularly, this time we had a couple of occasions with wine glass sitting empty and having to call for replenishment. It just felt like there were so many people, it was impossible for the staff to keep watch over all so well. On one occasion in a group of 4 we found ourselves put round in a table tucked right back in a corner where we had particularly poor service. We had to twice request a side plate, chase up a drink order which still hadn't arrived when starters came out, and it felt we were generally being made to wait. It's one thing to not be rushed but this was just plain slow. On the last night, when we thought it might be busier, it actually felt like they'd got everything right; it was just a shame we hadn't had consistent service throughout.
This has always been our favourite speciality restaurant and we ate there twice. My husband said the steaks there were superb, and my pasta dishes were lovely. It has a lovely relaxed feel in there
This has now become my husband's top choice and if there'd been any tables available we would have had a second night in here. Food and service are just the best, perfect atmosphere and made to feel like royalty. Absolutely first class, and for fussy eaters who think it may be a bit fussy, as I am and did, they look after you well and will tailor things to your choice.
I was a bit confused about this before I'd left as I had heard it had now become 'Le Petit Chef' but I was still seeing Qsine listed. Confusingly, they have kept the Qsine name but totally changed the restaurant. I don't get this at all. You wouldn't turn the Tuscan grill into an Indian restaurant but keep the tuscan name, so I don't understand why they haven't changed the name here.
Qsine as known and loved by many was the 'tapas on speed' as my husband called it. The name Qsine is there but none of that food choice. There is basically one set menu and if you have that you get your dinner presented with 'Le Petit Chef' pixel mapping presentation. It's like having a little 3D cartoon chef on your plate. There is just one other menu option available but this would not have the graphics. We didn't fancy either menu choice so didn't eat there, so I can't review the food but just wanted to try to de-confuse people who think they know what Qsine is but not sure where 'Le Petit Chef' fits in.
This was the only other speciality restaurant we ate at and had a lovely meal. There was some confusion over our flatbreads which delayed things but once sorted the meal was great. It was a little cool that evening but blankets were provided before heating was then turned on so we were all comfortable.
Mast Bar grill:
We love the burgers here and there is something about sitting out in the sun with a juicy burger. We did have a couple of days where the weather was not so kind and that is when the Mast Bar needs a bit more caution. After one port day in grotty weather, we returned to the ship and I decided to grab one of their burgers and meet my husband in the buffet area. The burgers were in less demand and so had been sitting keeping warm. They then became quite average. Definitely at their best when cooked fresh.
Other dining options are Porch and Sushi on 5 (additional charge) and the healthy options by the spa/solarium (as well as Blue or Luminae if you're in the right 'class') but we didn't use them so cannot comment.
This is our second home, we love this bar and the guys make it such a fun place, especially if you can sit at the bar and not just in the booths around it. They have a menu of drinks and cocktails but will make things to order. And of course there's the entertainment when somebody orders a flight! Always popular, always busy, but never a problem getting served. This place has it right
Previously our pre-dinner go-to place, before sail away each evening, or during the day if at sea. On Reflection the bar is more central with seating around it and we found service really poor. We ended up always going to the bar to order as the table service seemed non-existent. This was where the layout and increased number of passengers seemed to have the worst effect. It is lovely up there but just not the same. There is a chunk of the seating given over to smokers which we personally found off-putting and avoided, but it was the time and effort to get drinks which was the worst point for us.
I don't sit by the pool much but when I did there was good service for drinks by the main pool or in the solarium. However on deck 15 if using the sunbeds, it was hard to get drinks service and so I ended up queueing at the pool bar myself. Seemed a reflection on the numbers and possibly lack of staff again.
This is somewhere we've enjoyed occasionally in the past as a bit of a chilled out area. This cruise on the days at sea the space round it was used for art auctions so the relaxing seating element was gone. That was a shame and we didn't return there apart from one brief visit.
We have gone here on other cruises for a pre-show or pre-diner drink in a lovely chilled atmosphere. Again we noticed it felt busier and my husband ordered at the bar on more than one occasion. We still enjoyed the place but it didn't feel quite as laid back as we've experienced on other ships.
Cafe El Bacio;
We love this place to end the night when we have it pretty much to ourselves. Victoria working there got to know us, and always had cookies left for us, not to mention the biggest smile on the ship. Truly lovely going there for that personal touch. During the day it is so busy and we've never yet managed to get there on a sea day and get a seat. People do 'camp out' there, making a coffee last an eternity and just sit and read. That's fine but it does mean customers are forced to grab a takeaway and miss out on a lovely cafe experience. The cake selection is great there and remember they are all free!!
The gelateria there never seemed that busy, maybe as people can get free ice cream in the buffet. I would happily pay however as their ice cream is just delicious.
We attended a couple of shows in the theatre, often we just didn't manage to find time between getting ready to eat and being in restaurants. The 'brought in acts we saw:
Mark Walker, comedian, first time seeing him and he was good
The Macdonald Brothers, we've seen them on British TV before, good but not our favourite
Reitta Ann Austin, she can belt out a tune but not really our cup of tea
Goronwy Thom. A comedy juggler who we've seen and enjoyed before. Fast and funny
Matt McGurk, fantastic Bristish magician specialising in sleight of hand tricks. And managed to also make Blackpool sound like Las Vegas – now that's magic!!
We only saw one of the 'ship's own' shows and it was appalling. Maxx was dated and slow, it probably wouldn't have been that amazing in the 80s which is where it felt it belonged. We hung on hoping for the speciality acts to rescue it. There was some hoop work but too little too late, and we left before others came on as we were just bored beyond belief. We spoke to several people on the ship and many had quit even earlier. Didn't find anybody with a good word to say for that particular show
Apart from one quiz (which we won!!) we didn't take part in other activities. Many were on when we were off ship, or just busy eating or doing nothing! There is a lot around but it suits us to do our own thing. We did join a cruise critic gathering but that was less well attended, possibly because our day at sea turned out to be rather bumpy and many people were being ill or lying down to stop being ill. And we also joined one Captain's Club gathering, more fancy nibbles and some drinks but didn't actually get to talk to any crew.
We only had one day where we tendered, in Villefranche. My memories of previous tenders were long queues in the Passport lounge waiting to get called. This time tenders were due to start at 9 with tickets available from 8.30. We went down about 8.20 hoping to get a good spot in the queue and were pleasantly surprised to find tickets already being dished out with minimal queue. The call for first boat came around 8.40, and we were called about 10 mins later (our batch was boats 4,5,6). We were off the ship a little after 9 so very impressed with that.
I have accidentally ticked 'very good' for shore excursions and now can't change it! We didn't do any ship excursions as all of these ports lent themselves to DIY or we had private excursion booked
We had a tax booked for 8.30 and aimed to be off the ship around 8 just to give us time to get cases sorted etc. There were calls for numbers but we had been told we could pretty much go when we wanted. As it was they called our number pretty much as we were planning to go anyway, and again it was effortless. Quickly off the ship and found our luggage instantly. Very smooth process all round
We had stateroom 7215. Like similar ones we've chosen before, this was near the aft lifts/elevators, just past the Hideaway, and was on the front of the rear hump. I like these as it gives a bigger balcony and facing forward gives a great view. It gave us a really good view the next day when we could watch the bridge going up and down against the horizon when we had a rough day at sea!
The rooms are apparently a very good size compared to some other lines; we have nothing else to compare to but always found them fine.
The wardrobes have proper removable wooden hangers, not those annoying hook types, and we had 20 between us. I know some people did ask for more; we'd brought a few with us so with what they provided it was plenty. Bedside tables are just small with cubby holes. There are 3 large deep drawers in the main desk unit, and small drawer under the vanity unit. I also took a shoe holder bag which we used for storing the sort of things we'd otherwise clutter the desktop with and that was a godsend. They can be used over doors but we looped ours with a cord to hang over the 2 wall hooks. Bathroom storage is excellent, putting many hotel rooms to shame with several shelves and drawers, more than enough to store all our toiletries, suncream etc.
We were just standard class and so were provided with robes, waffle cotton ones but no slippers. That was fine, I did use the robe a lot as the towels were not very big. Bathroom towels is a big thing for me and it's one of my pet hates in a hotel. I am less fussed about having thick fluffy towels, but I do like a full sized bath towel to wrap in and it amazes that this is standard in some budget type hotels but even some so-called luxury hotels provide only smaller ones. Celebrity is recognised as a luxury line, and describes itself as a hotel in many aspects, but for me it falls short on the towels.
We asked for our mini bar to be emptied on arrival. This gave us the space to use it as a fridge and ensured no sneaky charges for items. We asked our room attendant to do this right away and clearly it's something they are used to doing.
The room was serviced twice daily and we found that towels were changed each time, although we didn't specifically ask or expect this. While it may be less environmentally friendly, given that it is hard to leave things to dry (actively discouraged from putting out on balcony) it was useful to have clean ones each time. Each evening we came back to the little chocolates on the pillow but this cruise was a first in getting no towel animals!!
But generally everything was as we'd expect. Decent hairdryer, kettle available if requested (we didn't bother). Plug sockets are 2 x US and 1 European, no UK sockets. No ironing facilities available and laundry charges are quite high – again we didn't bother. Shower tidy and never a problem with hot water, and well stocked with toiletries.
We've done cruises in/out of Rome before and previously had done tours with the ship of Colisseum and Vatican before heading to the airport. This time we had booked 2 nights in Rome and so got to see a few more sights. We spent a full day pretty much at the Roman forum (self guided/Rick Steves combination) and half another doing a Rick Steves guided walk round the city centre. From a ship in one day you could only scratch the surface. The Vatican, and Colisseum are must sees, and to do the forum and Pallatine Hill is equally as impressive. There are just so many 'wow' things in Rome and it's a city we know we'll want to go back to as we only saw a fraction of it
Having some technical difficulties so am saying no to having taken an excursion, though we did take a private one.
The main sights are a short shuttle ride away. This was a local bus and cost £2/3euros each way per person. It's about a 5 minute ride for what is described as a 15-20 minute walk, but it's not a particularly pretty port so the ride suited us fine.
For any Brits doing this cruise, or others who might go here from having spent time in UK, the currency is pounds sterling though euros are accepted.
There are many firms offering taxi tours up the rock and having had a tour ourselves I am glad we did this. Our tour was a small taxi group for 4 of us, lasting around 2hrs and cost £220. We were picked up at 9 and drove up firstly to the Pillars of Hercules where we had great views over towards Africa. We then drove up to St Michaels cave and had time in there ourselves, but no tour within it. That was fine – it is a lovely cave and there was information available. We did see some monkeys there but got more of that when we went up to the top of the Rock. Here we got stunning views and saw more of the furry inhabitants. There is a viewing area with a glass walkway, worryingly partly sealed off with a crack in it just a few months after opening! The views over the town area were great too especially seeing a plane coming in to land. The main road from Spain runs across the runway so when a plane is due in they close and 'sweep' the road until after the plane has landed!
After some time here we went to the Great Siege Tunnels where we had our own time to explore. Again no guide in there with us but plenty of information boards. And we finished off with Mustapha dropping us in the main street so we could wander round the shops and find somewhere for lunch.
Mustapha was great – really friendly and a mine of information as we drove around. Our trip also included all entrance tickets and with his local knowledge we felt we had a really good morning out.
Once back in the town and having had some refreshment, we found it was fairly compact and we were happy to stroll back to the shuttle early afternoon
Another port needing a shuttle. The walk would have been a bit nicer view wise but with no shelter and a very hot day looming the shuttle was a wise move. This was a 5 euro return trip, lasting about 10 mins ride, and we bought tickets in the terminal building as we left the ship.
The shuttle dropped us off by the port gate, right opposite the main road way through to the town. We had no real expectations about Malaga and found we loved it. A very pretty town, some gorgeous buildings and going up the Alcazaba fortress gave us some amazing views over the city. We spent quite a while in there before coming back to the main town and heading down towards the bullring. We had decided not to go up to the castle, though it is available on a twin ticket with the Alcazaba. To be honest we were a little daunted by the walking up the steps there in the heat, and having taken that decision we didn't feel we missed out tremendously. We didn't go in the cathedral but it is a lovely building we walked round outside.
I know many people chose to do tours out to Granada from this port, but staying at the port is not a waste – it is a lovely town, far nicer than we had hoped for
Nothing beats having a sunny day and being able to just stroll off the ship and be in the town. A short walk from the ship and you find yourself by the city hall and the Roman Theatre Museum. This starts as a museum/exhibition area and gave us an unexpected highlight from a fellow tourist. Coming from the UK and near Chester, we have Roman remains pretty much on our doorstep, and usually find our US friends to be far more enthusiastic about things that we're very used to. So it was quite funny hearing an American man walking through the museum exclaim' God, if I see another broken pot...' Some people clearly were a little underwhelmed by years of history!! From the museum you then enter the actual amphitheatre area. Men with whistles are quick to warn off people climbing over areas they shouldn't be in but there are a lot of areas where visitors can freely explore and take in great views. The excavation work has impacted on buildings in the area, some of which are now little more than shells or fronts, propped up from the back to look good from the street side! There is a lift up to the castle and more spectacular views from there. The city looks like any modern urban area from high up but with a 'rubble' patch which is more archaeological sites. Old and new side by side quite spectacularly. Having been in Malaga the day before and found that quite pretty, Cartagena didnt have the same appeal initially, viewed mostly from above. But when we came down into the town we appreciated it a lot more. Having had some lunch we then wandered off round the streets, and with siesta time on us found ourselves in some gorgeous quiet backstreets, with lovely old architecture. It's very easy to do this place by yourself with just a simple map. There's certainly a lot more to this place than just some broken pots!
Another shuttle ride, longer one taking about 20 mins and costing 10 euros per person for the return trip. This took us to the port area where lots of very nice expensive yachts are moored up, so an excuse for some envy time before heading up into the old town. We had a small map but it is very easy to find as you see the castle dominating the skyline in front of you, so just head forwards and upwards! We had expected the old town to have a bit more character and I think we missed out as much seemed closed, possibly as it was Sunday. Once off the shuttle it's very easy to do on your own. We did the walk up round the city walls and got some great views but overall felt a little underwhelmed; this was our least favourite port on the trip. It was OK, just didn't really wow us
We had an overnight stop here but 2 short days, as we didn't arrive until 11am on the Monday and then left at 5pm on the Tuesday. We have been to Barcelona before so decided not to go mad and used the first day just to wander round the streets in the Gothic quarter and suss out our route to get to Park Guell which we had tickets for on Tuesday morning. This made things much more relaxed for us than for others who were fitting in the HoHo buses and visits to the Sagrada Familia (which is an absolute must see if it's your first time in the city.
We docked at terminal A and they say it is a 20-30 minute walk into the city, but I think that's probably an underestimate, and it is down a main road bridge so no weather protection (sun or rain). Also that journey is only to the shuttle drop off point near the World Trade Centre way. From there you need to walk another 10 minutes to get to the start of Las ramblas, the famous street through the centre of the city. I would say definitely get the shuttle if your ship stops where ours did. Others do stop within walking distance of the city but it is a big port with many ships and not all are that lucky!
We walked Las Ramblas, figured out where we'd need to get our bus on Tuesday to get to the park and then took a stroll round the amazing Bouqueria market, possibly the best food market I have ever seen. Even if you don't buy anything you get great photos of the amazing stalls, and if you're lucky, grab a seat and enjoy a drink or some tapas in there.
A short walk from here takes you into the Gothic Quarter, with quiet mazes of streets, authentic little bars and cafes and a feel of real Spain away from all the tourist trappings, so we spent some time just strolling through there enjoying the place and memories of our stay there 2 years previously. We also spent a bit of time in Ciutadella park but sadly the prime feature in there, a wonderful fountains area, was out of action and had building work round it.
Our second morning saw us wake to torrential rain and the realisation of having to leave the ship by 9, to get the shuttle, to do a 15-20 min walk to the bus stop, for a 25-30 min bus ride to the park. We didn't take long to decide we didn't fancy it. We know we'll come back to Barcelona sometime and so we gave it a miss and had a ship day instead. The weather did brighten up later but then given the shuttle time and the early departure we felt we'd have no real time to enjoy the day there.
Barcelona is a fantastic place but one word of warning...public toilets are really hard to find, so be prepared to have to go to bars if you need a bio break! But that aside there is so much to see and do there and if you can come back you will want to as you will not fit it all in from a cruise stop!
Last year we had stayed on holiday near Nice and spent time in Villefranche, so had no desire to do the same again, and instead decided to go to Monaco. This was my husband's wish list item as he wanted to walk the F1 circuit. The train station is a bout 10 mins walk from the port terminal, and there were ample staff on hand to sort us out with tickets. Our train came in almost immediately so within about half an hour we were stepping off in Monaco. We had some guides about doing the walk which were great once we actually found where the start was meant to be. Some conflicting advice, and also confusion about the correct road saw us head off on a wrong road initially but we were soon sorted out. The nice weather had come back and the uphill walking took its toll to start with but what goes up does have to come down! We didn't do any diversions into the town itself at all, though the route takes you right by the casino so it's impossible to miss that sight. Being entirely a street circuit it is possible to walk the entire route in race order and that's exactly what we did. By the end we contemplated doing some more of the town but were tired and decided against. We wandered round some streets but took a lazy option to head back as the walk had been our mission and we had achieved that! I have written a separatye document with instructions of the route, including photos but not figured out if I can attach that there , seems not!
Back in Villefranche we wandered a little round there, stopped in bar to get a sandwich only to be told they had none so we ended up getting a late lunch back on the ship! Villefranche itself does have some lovely areas to explore but having done them just a year ago we could afford the lazy approach again!
We consciously decided against a tour to Florence as we didn't fancy a long coach ride for just a few hours there. We are lucky enough to know we can come for a weekend break from home quite easily. Instead we decided to visit the Cinque Terre towns by train (we're not big hikers) and had read a great guide on Cruise Critic to help us with that. The weather was wet and grey but we had waterproofs and a plan! We got off the ship (free shuttle as people are not allowed to walk the pier area) and picked up a taxi to go to the main station. The driver was talking about the bad weather and how wet we'd get but we weren't worried. But then 15 minutes and 15 euros later we were at the station to be told they wouldn't sell train tickets to the Cinque Terre due to the bad weather, and that the shops would all be closed at other stops. This wasn't in the plans! We had our trusty Rick Steves guide book with us so decided not to immediately declare we would go back to the ship (if nothing else I wanted to get something for that 15 euros!) The book suggested we could walk through the town and down to harbour gardens but then I also saw it mention Porto Venere, about half an hour away by bus on a scenic ride. The lovely Rick told us the bus number and street where we could catch it so we headed off there. 20 minutes later we were on the bus buying tickets from the driver; note, buy them in a local shop and it's half the price! It was a nice ride with views over the bay and half an hour later we dropped down into Port Venere.
The place is quite lovely and being so wet and rainy there weren't many people about. We did a lovely walk up to the church and then the hilltop with some gorgeous views that would be stunning in sunshine...but also would have been cluttered with other people. We spent quite a bit of time here, and it turned out to feel like we salvaged our day.
After returning to La Spezia we took the walk back and again it was quite pleasant. I had heard it described as a transport hub and thought it would be more bland and industrial so was happily surprised to see some lovely old buildings on our walk back to the port terminal.
Not a patch on Florence but a nice alternative if you don't want to do a full tour day