Great Cruise but Not Quite up to Celebrity Standards
CRUISE SHIP: Celebrity Reflection.
OCCUPANCY: 3,046 (double occupancy)
PORT & ITINERARY: Miami Roundtrip. Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth, Labadee.
WEBSITE: Celebrity Reflection
We are veteran cruisers and this was our second time aboard Celebrity Cruise lines. Having just turned 50 in 2016, we cruise just for the pleasure of unwinding and the freedom from never having to get in a car to go anywhere on vacation. We’re very spontaneous and just go with the flow once on board. Our primary concern with any cruise or vacation in general, is enjoying good food and some good laughs.
We actually sailed one of Reflection’s sister ships, the Silhouette back in March 2016 on a 7 day Caribbean cruise out of Port Canaveral. So we were well familiar with the Celebrity Reflection and her amenities although there are a few subtle differences. The Reflection is currently the newest ship in the fleet until the new EDGE class ships arrive in 2018 and 2020.
BOOKING THE CRUISE
We actually booked this cruise while on-board the Silhouette and managed to book the exact same cabin, 8345, which is one of the last cabins on the port side and features a “kick out” balcony. More about this and the cabin in general in that section of the review. At the time we booked we could choose two of their “included amenities” so we went with the Classic Drink Package and the On-Board Credit which for us was $450. We also book all of our cruises through Costco, so the future cruise planner on Silhouette transferred the reservation over to Costco. That earned us an additional $190 in ship-board credit so we came on-board the Reflection with $640 in ship-board credit. Which we put to great use!
One travel tip, purchase these Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruise Lines luggage tags for your luggage. These are perfectly sized for the Royal Caribbean / Celebrity Cruise tags so they don’t get ripped or damaged in transit from the port curbside to your door. There are versions of these tags for the other cruise lines too.
EMBARKATION – MIAMI
The Port of Miami is a busy port and we had 5 or 6 large ships all headed out the day we arrived.
Now our paperwork from Celebrity advised us to arrive around 1:30 – 2:00pm for boarding, but fortunately, Celebrity is not a stickler for boarding times. With an 11am checkout time at our hotel, we really had no choice but to head to the port at that time. We arrived via taxi at 11:30am and were dropped off at Terminal 6 where the Reflection was docked. She was actually the last ship in line at the pier.
A porter was available immediate at the curb to take our bags and then we proceeded to the security line. This took about 10 minutes to move through and then we were on our way upstairs to the main terminal to check in. At Check-in it took about 15 minutes to move through the line and get up to counter. All in all a very fast and easy process and then we were boarding the ship.
If you come on after 12 noon, you are offered a glass of champagne as you enter the ship. It’s a nice touch, though we boarded so early, we missed this.
The cabins are generally not ready to enter until 1:00 – 1:30pm so we prepared for that by only bringing on board a few small bags of necessities including swimwear in case we wanted to hang out by the pool. DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF GOING TO YOUR CABIN FLOOR EARLY. It’s generally just a mass of bodies loitering waiting for the doors to open. When the cabins are ready, there WILL be a general ship board announcement so my advice is go to the buffet, find a bar to relax at, listen to the music or hang out by the pools. No reason to stand around a stagnant mass of bodies waiting to get to your cabin. Relax until the announcement and then give it another 10 – 15 minutes before you head to your cabin.
As I mentioned previously, we were in cabin 8345 which is the last balcony cabin on the port side and it features a “kick-out” balcony. We love the extra real estate from the extended balcony which allows you to look down the entire length of the ship instead of having to lean out of the railing to look forward. It also gives some extra room for seating.
The bathroom layout is among the most efficient of any we’ve seen on all the ships we’ve sailed. The space is better utilized that other ships allowing plenty of room to stand with the placement of the shower and toilet. There are plenty of cabinets and shelf space and even the trash can is tucked away. The shower controls are really nice with the water pressure and hot/cold controls separated so if you need to turn off the water during your shower, it comes right back on at the same temperature as when you turned it off. The shower is small, but functional and includes sliding glass doors so you don’t have to worry about shower curtains sticking to you during a shower.
Inside the cabin there is a good sized closet, but the dresser / drawer space is somewhat limited, just three of them. So we learned a trick from a fellow Celebrity traveler by purchasing 12” x 12” folding cubes that we place in the cabinet above the bed. This cabinet can easily hold 8 of these cubes and we’ll put our underwear, socks, t-shirts and other stuff in there. Another great tip is to get a wall hanging, canvas shoe rack like this one and hang that on the bathroom door. We’ve used that for most every cruise we’ve been on. Also, there’s generally just one or two outlets available in a cabin and most cruise lines have now outlawed power strips, power squids and extension cords that have a cord on them. So get yourself a power cube like this one that also features some USB outlets to charge up your various devices.
We usually try to book an aft cabin because we enjoy the vibrations from the engines which helps us sleep, Also, being at the rear of the ship is generally quieter with little hallway foot traffic outside the cabin. Being on Deck 8, the vibrations are quite gentle up here and I do love to sit out and look forward as the ship moves through the waves.
INTERNET and CELEBRITY APP
Our absolute LEAST favorite part of the Celebrity Experience. They’re still charging by the hour / day which just feels like blatant price gouging. At the time of our sailing, $22 for one hour, $44 for one day and $224 for the entire cruise (7 nights). Single device. Now after you are at sea for a day or two, you’ll see another option show up which is something like $54 for 90 minutes, not continuous minutes. You can log in and out to use it. But you won’t see that option the first day.
Disney has set the internet standard that I wish everyone in the cruise industry would follow. They charge by the data usage, NOT the time spent online. So when I sailed the Disney Fantasy I paid less than $100 for 60MB of usage because I only planned to check emails. That was more than enough for what I had to do. That’s what I really wish Celebrity would do, switch to a data plan rather than a time limit plan, then I would actually use their internet package.
The Celebrity App is completely and utterly useless when you’re onboard. Literally USELESS. It’s just a sales tool for future cruises, it does absolutely nothing to help you while you are on-board. Again, Disney sets the standard with an app that is free to use onboard, with or without an internet package. The biggest thing the Disney app includes is in-app messaging to anyone else on-board so you can stay in contact with people in your party or anyone else you meet, without the need for internet service. That’s an awesome way to easily stay in touch with everyone. The app also includes the entire daily schedule, the ability to select ‘favorite’ activities and receive notifications that they’re about to start and the restaurant menus.
On the Reflection, it’s still that old fashioned paper schedule, and the use of shipboard telephones or home brought walkie talkies to stay in touch with everyone if you don’t have an internet package. Actually I suggest you take a photo of the daily schedule with your smartphone so you don’t have to worry about the paper. Celebrity has a real push to share “across the world networks” while on board, but they make the process cost prohibitive to do so. And they don’t offer any sort of a useful app for those of us who WOULD like to utilize our modern electronics more efficiently. As I said, internet is our least favorite part of the Celebrity experience. I hope they at least come up with a decent app that we can use to eliminate that paper schedule and allow us to stay in touch with each other on-board.
DINING (including Vegetarian options and Coffee)
We typically don’t use assigned dining times on our cruises opting for “anytime” dining because we like the flexibility that brings. We did go with the anytime dining but we also opted for the Four Night Dining Package which essentially gives you 4 speciality restaurant experiences for the price of 3. The package includes QSine, Murano, Tuscan Grille and Lawn Club Grille. However, we did not really like Lawn Club Grille when we sailed on Silhouette, so we requested to change that dinner to a second QSine meal, which they accommodated. We LOVE QSine which I’ll talk about more later.
Vegetarian options could be greatly improved. Celebrity is average in terms of their main dining and speciality dining vegetarian options, with the exception of Q-Sine. In fact, Tuscan Grille REMOVED some vegetarian options from their menu before we sailed leaving only one main course. I’m honestly not sure why Celebrity can’t offer a minimum of 2 – 3 main vegetarian courses on every menu in every restaurant. For vegetarians, Q-Sine and the Oceanview Cafe (buffet) are your best two choices.
I’ll start with coffee because I LOVE COFFEE and that’s always one the things I test right away on a ship, the free coffee. The free coffee that is available at most of the drink stations is Lavazza and it’s the best ‘free’ coffee I’ve had on any cruise line. On other cruise lines I purchase a lot more cappuccinos and lattes but on Celebrity, I’m able to enjoy the regular coffee and cut down on the speciality stuff. There are a few places to get a good specialty coffee, for a fee including Cafe Bacio and Il Secondo Bacio in the Oceanview Cafe.
Since we’re on coffee I’ll mention that coffee and drink machines are available 24/7 in many areas across the ship. You’ll see the Lavazza coffee machines and drink machines in the pool areas, the Hideaway and of course the buffet area.
Breakfast we varied between the Opus Dining Room and the Oceanview Cafe (buffet). On sea days we generally hit the buffet, but on port days, we would hit the Opus. The Opus has a great selection of both egg and non-egg options including an amazing greek yogurt frittata. The buffet is full of both healthy and regular breakfast options you’d come to expect along with some more unique offerings from around the world. Another breakfast option is the Aqua Spa Café in the Solarium (adult pool). They offer healthy breakfast options like fruits, smoothies (for a fee) and cereals.
Opus Dining Room
As mentioned above we had breakfast a few times in Opus and Lunch once. We never had dinner in this dining room. Why? Well because that one lunch took almost 2 1/2 hours because the service was incredibly slow and poor. We heard from our friends that as a couple of 2, they received similar service at dinner and long waits not only to order and receive their food, but even to just pay up for their drinks at the end of the meal. Lunch was very unimpressive so we just skipped Opus for the buffet and the Speciality restaurants instead.
Man we love this restaurant experience, unlike anything else that we’ve experienced at sea. This time we were fortunate to introduce a few friends to it too. Be prepared to eat a LOT of food, both the carnivores and the vegetarians. I cannot stress that enough, you will eat until you tell the waiters to stop. So this is essentially a tapas / small plates restaurant that features cuisine from all over the globe. American, Indian, Mexican, Greek and everything else in between. When you first sit down, each person is presented with an iPad with dozens of types of cuisine represented by icons. When you click the icons, you’ll see the plates available for that cuisine such as meatballs, sliders, Mexican chicken, popcorn shrimp, steak, seafood, soups, mediterranean ensemble… and so on. You create ‘Favorites’ from the dishes that interest you. When everyone at your table has made their selections, the server will collect all the iPads and then make selections for the table based on everyone’s interests. So what actually comes out to your table is a bit of a surprise.
After the first round of plates come out, the server will then bring out a second round of plates, again based on the Favorites from everyone. This process will repeat itself until you say “no more.” The food is just so incredibly good, it’s hard to stop and because the portions are small plates, you really don’t realize just how much you’ve eaten until it all sneaks up on you. You WILL be very full when you leave this restaurant and you will be very happy. We have eaten just the two of us and we’ve eaten as a party of 4 and I will say the more folks you have, the more fun it is. We had dinner twice during this cruise and we’re already looking forward to visiting again on our next Celebrity cruise.
I will say they missed an opportunity to provide a unique experience for Thanksgiving by simply offering either a special Samosa or Empanada filled with turkey, stuffing and mashed potato served with a gravy dip. That would have still fit the small plates / tapas theme and yet allowed them to recognize the Thanksgiving dinner.
(dining review continues after the gallery)