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)
Tuscan Grille is tucked into the rear of the ship and is made to invoke the feeling of an Italian wine cellar. Now first off I’ll say the evening lighting for dinner was far too dark. I know you’re trying to set a mood but it was literally difficult to see what I was eating. Now that being said, the dinner experience was great although the vegetarian options are now limited. Tuscan Grille apparently recently changed their menu and in the old menu, which you can see online, there were two or three vegetarian pasta options, with the new menu, there’s only one, so know that as a vegetarian, your options are fewer than what you might expect. I suggest you check their menu before booking.
We were a party of four and the meal started off with some amazing fresh bread, proseco and wine. For starters and appetizers, we had Beef Carpacio, Kalamata Bruschetta, Caesar Salad Minestrone soup and the Burata. All very flavorful and great ways to start the meal. Our friends each got one of the steak main meals while my vegetarian wife went with the Gnocchi main dish. Myself I couldn’t decide between the short ribs pasts and the seafood pasta, so I opted for a half portion of each. I highly recommend going with the half portions if you can’t decide between two or more pastas. Just order the half portions of whatever you want and they’ll bring it all to you.
Prior to dessert, our server presented four glasses of house limoncello which was excellent and great way to end the main course and prepare for dessert. For dessert we were not that fond of the pistachio creme brûlée, there wan’t much of a pistachio flavor to it and it was sort of bland. However the Limoncello cheese cake and the Spumoni donuts were amazing. Highly recommend those desserts along with the cappuccino. All in all an excellent meal with highly attentive service.
First off, if you are a vegetarian, you have one choice of entree which is the risotto appetizer which they will make a larger portion for an entree. You can make a meal out of the four vegetarian starters as well. It would be nice if Murano would offer at least two proper vegetarian entrees, but this is our second time sailing with Celebrity and it was the same both times.
Our first experience in Murano on the Silhouette was impeccable. The experience on Reflection was not up to the same standards, in particular, the service was both slow and forgetful. We literally sat for 15 minutes at our table before anyone addressed us, which was unusual since this is a speciality restaurant with a larger staff to guest ratio than the main dining room.
Once we got started, my wife ordered the pear and roquefort starter and I ordered both the Mushroom Cappuccino and the Risotto starter. When the server delivered two pear appetizers, there was confusion. Then our main server came over and tried to tell us that I never ordered a starter and that my wife had ordered the pear for both of us. He then asked what I would like to have in place of the pear appetizer. So I ordered my original starters again.
The pear appetizer was very good as was the mushroom cappuccino. The risotto, however was very bland with little to no mushroom flavor at all. Completely a different culinary experience than what we had on the Silhouette and my wife could not wait to have the risotto again on Reflection. So for me it was one starter good, one bland. For her it was starter good, entree bland.
For my entree I was originally going to go with the Murano lobster which was fully prepared at the table when we sailed Silhouette in March. Our server informed me that’s no longer the case, the lobster is fully cooked in the kitchen and then the server simply reheats it with a cream sauce now. So on his suggestion, I went with the filet mignon and I will say it was one of the best filet mignon I’ve ever had. Cooked to perfection and melt in your mouth flavor with the red wine sauce. The cheese course was awesome as usual, although the selection of cheese choices has been trimmed. For dessert we were both so full that we decided to share a made at the table crepe. With dessert I had a cappuccino and for whatever reason, it was the worst cappuccino on the ship. Very bitter with a lot of coffee grounds.
So overall the meal was good, but not nearly the same level of culinary quality and service that we experienced on Silhouette just 8 months ago. Murano will be a question mark for our future Celebrity sailings as the inconsistency is not something you like to see.
Sushi On 5
Prior to our sailing we were excited to hear of the change of Bistro on 5 to the new Sushi on 5 as we are big fans of the cuisine. It was a 50/50 experience for us. My wife is a vegetarian and while Sushi and Vegetarian may sound mutually exclusive, we do eat out at sushi restaurants quite a bit and there are always good vegetarians options. Usually just a few, but they are often good. With Sushi on 5 she was limited to just the edamame starter and a vegetable roll. The edamame was ok but she was disappointed by the vegetable roll. The roll was a bit small, she didn’t overly like the rice and the roll itself was just ok. Often there are spices and sauces inside and run over the vegetable rolls, but in this case, it wasn’t. She said if the roll had been $4 instead of $8 it would have been worth it, but it was a bit disappointing for her.
For me I went with the albacore tuna starter that was amazing and then a Tataki Trio that was pretty good. Again, the roll was pretty small with 8 small pieces vs. what you get on land in a good sushi restaurant. I thought the flavors were pretty good and it was an average roll you would get on land.
For dessert we went with the mochi ice cream trio and a gingerbread with green tie ice cream. The mocha was ok, the gingerbread concept didn’t work at all. It was a sliver of something that was supposed to be gingerbread, but just didn’t taste right at all. Didn’t taste like gingerbread, just basically sugar. The green tea ice cream was just ok.
The restaurant could expand its menu a bit to perhaps offer vegetable tempura both as an appetizer and as part of a vegetarian roll for example. A fried rice or teriyaki option for both vegetables and beef/chicken would be good as well. Many sushi restaurants on land have expanded beyond just sushi and sashimi. With a little tweaking, Sushi on 5 could be awesome, but as it stands right now, it’s ok.
Oceanview Café (Buffet)
This is a surprisingly good buffet for such a large ship and on par with what we experienced on Silhouette. In particular I’ll single out the Indian dishes as being very very good and occasionally quite spicy. If you’re a fan of that cuisine you’ll find some great offerings. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, this buffet really hits the spot with outstanding dishes (with a few misses of course, like the pizza) but overall you should be able to find items you really enjoy in the buffet for all the meals of the day.
When it’s not too windy, there’s a great outdoor seating area at the very back of the buffet. You’ll also find a full service bar on the port side of the buffet that also serves as array of coffee drinks.
Cafe Al Bacio / Gelateria
The Cafe Al Bacio is always very busy due to the great coffee and tea drinks they provide. Don’t be put off by a long line as they have quite an efficient operation and you’re usually through there in 10 minutes or less no matter how long the line is.
The Gelateria was one of my favorite spots on Silhouette but I’m not sure if they changed gelato providers because the gelato was not nearly as good on Reflection as her sister ship. It tasted much more like ice cream with too much air and bland flavors. Gelato has a lot less air than regular ice cream and the flavors are generally much more pronounced. As the Gelato has an additional fee applied, I suggest just getting the ice cream in the buffet which, ironically, was much better than the ice cream on Silhouette.
World Class Bar
I’m going to mention this bar because most people will talk about the Martini Bar which does put on a great show some evenings with the bartenders making dozens of martinis at once. But the World Class Bar on Deck 5 makes some of THE best drinks on the entire ship. They use top shelf ingredients and their bartenders actually know what they are doing, they’re not just slinging ingredients around. The drinks cost a little more, and they can take 5 – 7 minutes to make, but if you really want to experience a hand crafted drink, often with hand shaved ice, make some time to hit the World Bar. Now the World Class Bar drinks are not included in the Classic Drink Package so if you have that package, you’ll have to pay full price for each drink. If you’re in the Premium Drink Package, more of these drinks will be included, or you’ll have to pay the difference between the package and the drink itself.
Since we’re talking about bars, the bars were VERY inconsistent on Reflection, especially compared to Silhouette. They couldn’t even make the standard, Caribbean drink, a Mojito. I tried three different bars, the Pool Bar, Sunset Bar and Il Secondo Baccio and they were terrible. First off, they can’t muddle the ingredients right so the lime and mint don’t get broken up to release their flavors. There’s not near enough lime in the drink and then the alcohol to soda ratio is completely off. If you want a good Mojito, get it at the World Class Bar. If you want a beer, or a frozen drink, the rest of the bars can take care of you. Although Celebrity has this deal of pouring the alcohol on TOP of the frozen drinks instead of blending the alcohol into the drink. That was the same on both ships and I honestly don’t understand that practice.
POOLS and OUTDOOR SPACES
We love the Solarium Adult Pool which features a multi story indoor glass solarium. The space is air conditioned which can be nice with the heat and humidity of the outdoor spaces in the Caribbean. The Solarium is only for passengers 16 and over, though during the Thanksgiving cruise they did seem to let that rule go lax at times. But if you’re looking for a great space to relax that’s out of the heat and predominately child free, this is your space.
The regular Outdoor Pools feature the usual suspects of bars and activities. Such as golf chipping game, pool volleyball along with a stage where they host dancing and the DJ. The most fun event for me is the Officers vs. Guests volleyball game. It’s a fun, spirited game and the officers generally play in their full uniform shirts. It’s usually one of the last days at sea.
BUT the one area that Celebrity has most others beat is outdoor shade in the pool area. There is more outdoor shade on the Reflection (and Silhouette) than on any other ship we’ve sailed. Both on the main pool Deck 14 and up above on Deck 15 through the use of nice overhead ‘sails.’ I call them sales because that’s what they mimic, but if you’re wanting to stay out in the open air and get under shade, your chances of doing so are pretty good on Reflection.
The Lawn Club is a great space with real Bermuda grass that has outdoor sports like bocce and croquet along with just being a really neat space to relax when the grass is open. There are private cabanas you can book up on the Lawn we didn’t book any but they are there and they seem kind of nice. But you are looking back out each other rather than out at sea. There really didn’t seem to be any reason to book the private cabanas unless you want to ensure you’re outside and under shade.
I’ll be honest here and say the daytime activities skewed heavily to Trivia and Casino types of games. The activity mix was not nearly as good as what we experienced on Silhouette back in March. The Activities department seemed much more involved with the passengers on Silhouette than Reflection. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but we saw and interacted a lot more with the activities folks on Silhouette and they always seemed to out and about on deck during sea days. The pool deck was largely ignored other than the occasional game and the DJ playing music.
The Art Studio was completely closed all week for some inexplicable reason. We enjoyed the studio on the Silhouette and it was in all the paperwork and online information that the studio would be open during our cruise. It remained dark all week.
I’ll also point out that the actual activities on the ship and those shown on the daily activities schedule don’t always match. Some events that are announced via the Cruise Director’s channel don’t happen, or they do happen but they’re not printed on the schedule, or they happen at a different time and location than what is printed. First time we’ve experienced that on any cruise and, again, a digital app would help address that since that could updated on the fly.
PORTS OF CALL AND EXCURSIONS
First off, just gotta mention that after cruising 8 times now on a variety of cruise lines (5 of them) we are definitely done with the “official cruise line shopping.” It’s the same stores over and over and over and over….. because these companies pay the cruise lines to hawk the stores. In reality, we’re always looking for the true local experience and I really wish the cruise lines would start offering real suggestions for the local stores and restaurants to see. The only way to find this information now is to talk to the crew before you get to a port. They’ve been to these ports dozens of times and they know the “real” places you want to go. I’m looking forward to the day when cruise lines actually promote the local port, culture and food in their excursion maps instead of the same usual suspects. If I never ever EVER see ‘Diamonds International’ again, that’s perfectly fine by me.
Cozumel was our first stop and we opted for the Chocolate and Wine pairing excursion. This is only offered through the ship.
We were introduced to the history of chocolate, the basic process of turning the cocoa bean into chocolate, and then working in teams of 2, made our own chocolate. It was actually a lot of fun and requiring some teamwork to work the hand crank and keep the chocolate going down into the hopper. After making the chocolate, it was time for the wine and chocolate pairings. We sampled two chocolates with white wine and then 6 chocolates with red wine. My favorite chocolates were the 60% cocoa and the Aztec chili version, though the coffee/chocolate was awesome too. The event finished with a shot of incredible hot chocolate.
At the cruise port there’s an eclectic set of local shops with everything from clothing to art to tequila. I recommend the vanilla from the Del Sol store, it’s their own brand. All the other stores sell a different brand but this is a better version. This is one of the few port stops where the local shops dominate over the crappy “official cruise line” stores. Not saying they’re amazing shops, but they do primarily appear to be locals.