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.
Grand Cayman was stop number two and we had booked an independent stingray and snorkeling tour through Captain Marvin tours. We’ve gone out with them in the past and they’re awesome folks. Now on the way into port the seas were pretty rough and I honestly didn’t even think we would weigh anchor, but the ship did manage to make the stop, even with the tenders. The tender operation was incredibly efficient, the best of any tender experience we’ve had. Within the first hour most everyone who wanted to go ashore was. However, with the seas and current running so rough and fast, the folks at Captain Marvin were only recommending experienced, strong swimmers go out that day. So they gave us a full refund for cancelling, which is another reason we love these guys. Very fair local tour operator and not forcing us to go out on a trip that we would not enjoy. We heard later that the stingray tours booked through the ship were also cancelled too due to the rough weather. But it was still an enjoyable couple of hours walking along the shopping district and seeking out some of the local food and shopping.
In Falmouth, Jamaica the seas were even worse. The swells looked like they were exceeding 8 feet with very very strong 35 knot+ cross winds. The Captain made the decision to bypass Falmouth as it was too dangerous to attempt to dock the ship. This is an extremely rare occurrence when the ship cannot come into a dock, typically it’s tender ports that are missed. However, it was plainly obvious even as we were starting to come into the harbor, the winds and swells were exceedingly rough. No worries, just an extra free Sea Day, although we did hear from our friends that there was the usual “my vacation is ruined” drama from some families at the Sunset Bar. Look, if your vacation has a make or break stop or activity and if you can’t do that one thing or your vacation will be ruined, then fly there instead. We’ve now been on 8 cruises and missed 3 stops due to weather. It happens and the cruise lines clearly state on your ticketing paperwork that itineraries can be changed and ports can be skipped without prior notice. So when cruising, just roll with it.
Labadee, Haiti greeted us with more high winds and very cloudy skies.
When we woke up we did not expect the ship to dock, but the Reflection did come in, high winds and all. I think the high winds kept many people onboard and away from the beach. The Adrenaline Beach was basically unusable with 25 – 35 knot winds and high surf. Some brave souls were sitting out there, but it was mostly empty. Most of the passengers went to Barefoot Beach Club, Nellie’s Beach and Columbus Cove which were somewhat protected from the winds, though there were still major gusts that blew through. Most of the Adventure Tours including the Wave Jet tour I signed up for were cancelled due to adverse weather conditions. The Zip Line and the Roller Coaster were running, but not much else.
We also booked a Beach Bungalow at Columbus Cove which was a bit disappointing. I’ve posted quite a few pictures of the Bungalow and the beach area below because the photos on Celebrity’s site don’t show it that well. The Cabana costs over $200 for the day and one of the great things about it besides the cushioned seats and cover from the sun, is the proximity to bathrooms, bar and food. When we arrived our Cabana steward informed us lunch would be served between 11:30am and 1:30pm. However, at 11:30am we noticed that absolutely no food service was being set up. At 12:30 our Cabana steward told us nothing was going to be served at Columbus Cove and we would have to go across the resort to Café Labadee for lunch. There’s two ways to get to Cafe Labadee, walk the gauntlet of the Artisan Market where you will be aggressively pursued to buy local goods, or ride the tram which is a bit inconsistent in moving you around the beach space. Either way, you give up about an hour or so of your day getting to the cafe, having lunch and getting back to your cabana, which kind of defeats the purpose of paying for the beach cabana. Even though the Cruise Director in his morning show and all the maps of Labadee advertised 3 lunch stations on the island, only 2 were actually opened while we were there. We only spent 3 hours at the Bungalow and then came back to the ship for lunch, kind of a waste of $200+ It honestly would have been better if the ship had just skipped Labadee this time since there was very little we could do on the shore and they shortchanged us on lunch. I know, “first world problems” but when you pay extra for something and the cruise line doesn’t deliver as promised, it gives you pause to both sail with the line again or pay for the premium up-charges.
All in all Labadee was just an ok experience due to the high winds. Again, it would have been much better for the Reflection to have just skipped this stop and stayed out at sea.
SHOWS, MOVIES, NIGHTTIME ENTERTAINMENT AND CLUBS
The main production shows in the Reflection Theater are, to put it gently, disappointing. The casts are quite good, the orchestra is good, the lighting design is good, however the shows themselves are a mess with the fault lying at the hands of those who create and choreograph them.
Elysium has the honor of being THE worst show we have ever witnessed at sea with this being our 8th cruise. It seemed like someone who has zero experience in theater watched Cirque du Soleil on TV and said “hey I can make a show like that.” No, no you can’t. I have no idea who the target audience is, but it’s not the audience on the ship. The story involved a girl who had to take over for a queen of seasons or something like that, but it was what we lovingly call a “hot mess.” The storyline made no sense. The choreography and staging made no sense. There was a period of about 6 minutes with absolutely no dialogue and a never ending dance number that got more confusing as it went on. At one point I made a joke to my wife that the oompa loompas were being controlled by the queen with the TV antennae on her head. Immediately after I said that, she started singing “A World of Imagination” from Willy Wonka. I kid you not. After 22 minutes of nonsense, we left the theater literally trying to figure out what the hell we just saw. Here’s the thing, we are on a cruise ship enjoying our evening, we just want to be entertained and have a little fun. I understand that it’s cheaper for the cruise lines to create original shows so they don’t have to pay royalties for popular songs, but there is no need for some existential ‘deep intelligent’ theater show. How about some fun songs and little comedy. If you feel the need to see Elysium be sure to either sit in the very back or along the aisle so you can easily escape the theater.
Maxx…. Maxx…… Maxx….. what can I say about Maxx. I would barely put it a notch above Elysium. I’m sure this came from the same amazing creative team that created Elysium because again, I have no idea who the target audience was, but it wasn’t this cruise ship audience. I’m not sure there were 200 people in the audience, the theater was far emptier than it was for Elysium. Ok, the premise is a kid is completely stuck in his virtual reality world of i-devices. He gets sucked into a computer and re-built and then….. well I have no clue because we left 20 minutes in. I only lasted that long so I’d have something to write. So how bad was this show? Our lead character, Maxx, was a very talented young black performer who was wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. When get got “sucked into the computer” he was a white guy wearing sunglasses and a hoodie. I kid you not. The “sucking into the computer” bit was done by Maxx stepping behind a video wall and when he did, he turned white and his baseball cap turned into hoodie. I should also point out that the video walls were not working properly and stayed blank for most of the first 10 minutes of the show. It looked like the Apple computer the show was running from was having issues. I know it was an Apple because the Menu bar appeared across the top of the screens for most of the first 10 minutes. Not that properly working screens would have mattered, the show was another hot mess of bad original songs, costumes from Mortal Kombat and Zoolander and completely missing the point of a cruise show. We all just want to have some fun and a few laughs. If you want to do “artistic and make a point” go try college theater or off-Broadway.
Speaking of off-Broadway, another show was simply Broadway at Sea. This was closer to what cruise shows should be. It was just the vocalists performing classic songs from the great white way. The only problem with a show like this is that all of the singers want to sing power ballads which showcase their voices. So what you end up with are 15 power ballads which puts you right to sleep. As a New Yorker who loves Broadway, I can tell you there are many great and fun songs that invite the audience to sing along and get involved. Sprinkle some of those songs throughout the show and lighten up the the mood. Then you’ll have a great and fun show the audience will stay through. Oh and add the dancers back to this show. Each song could be accompanied by a couple which would make this show a little better. I did notice this show had a much larger audience than the other production shows. We don’t need experimental “art” at sea, just something fun.
The live music provided throughout the ship was outstanding. Anything from a string duo to a solo guitarist to a couple of 4 piece and larger bands. You could find them all over the ship in the evenings and our favorite was a 5 piece group that sounded predominately from Ireland who were really entertaining. The Grand Foyer on Deck 3 was the primary “big party” area which is kind of fun, but the dance floor space is really limited, especially with a huge piece of art that takes up a large chunk of dance floor. The A/V guys could also back up the band about another 10 feet into the elevator corridor to allow more dance floor as well.
The “Love And Marriage” game that is so popular on cruises was done as The Wedding Games on Reflection. It was ok, but honestly the weakest variation of this game we have seen. It seemed that Cruise Director, Maarten was having some difficulty understanding some of the American slang so some jokes were lost and his questions to the couples just were not as comedy inducing as on other ships. Activities Manager, Liam, as co-host was actually hilarious and I think the game would have been more fun with him as the primary host.
The Disco Never Dies party was probably the most fun big event we saw on the ship featuring the “largest balloon drop at sea.” Who knows if the balloon part was true, but Maarten and Liam did a great job leading the crowd through the classics of Disco and tossing prizes throughout the 3 decks of the Grand Foyer.
Yes, they did drop a whole net of balloons, looked like a couple hundred of them. Honestly it would have been more fun without the balloon drop and put this party up on the Pool Deck where there is much more room to dance. But Reflection didn’t utilize the pool deck nearly as much as Silhouette. That’s a shame because it is such a great party space, even if the winds might kick up. In fact as far as we could tell the Pool Deck was completely ignored in the evenings except for one or two nights where they did Liquid in the Solarium which looked a bit weird.
The Frisky Feud hosted by Liam was quite fun. A very adult version of the classic Family Feud game where couples competed trying to get the top 6 answers to some very funny and very adult questions. That’s the first time I’ve seen that particular show at sea.
The one event we really missed was the Liar Liar Show. The Cruise Director announced it on his show one morning but it never appeared in the Activities Guide so I’m not sure if it ever happened. It’s a fun game whereby three of the ship’s officers tell the audience a story. It’s up to us to decide if they are telling the truth or lying.
Movies are primarily shown in the Celebrity Central theater on Deck 4 and it’s a pretty small screen so it’s not the best viewing experience. But it’s not horrible. When they show movies in the Reflection Theater it’s a better viewing experience.
DISEMBARKATION, LEAVING THE PORT
While the official paperwork says to have your bags outside your room by 10pm the night before you arrive back in port, the room steward asked if we could have them out between 6 and 8pm so they could expedite the movement of the bags. I understand the request so they can grab the bags as part of their normal evening service and we were happy to oblige.
First off let me say that there are VERY FEW general disembarkation announcements. You can’t just sit anywhere in the ship and listen for a general group disembarkation announcement because you won’t hear them. You’ll ONLY hear a general call for the Express Walk Off folks. You MUST go to your assigned waiting area where the crew in that area will announce when your group is called. In our case it was the Reflection Theater so it was necessary to go there and wait for the person in the theater to call out Group 26, which was our group.
Exiting the ship was simple and there are three baggage carousels at the end of your escalator journey down to baggage claim. A porter was waiting for us to take our bags to the taxi stand. If you drove your own car, the porters will take your bags all the way out to your car in the garage.
All in all, an excellent disembarkation experience.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON REFLECTION AND CELEBRITY CRUISES
As mentioned at the beginning of this review this was our second cruise with Celebrity. I have to be very honest here and say that if this was our first cruise with the company, we might not have been as excited to get right back on their line. The experience on-board Silhouette was superior to that on the Reflection. Basically the same ship as they’re both Solstice class ships. But there was something about Silhouette, the food, the crew and the Activities that were much more involved with the passengers than this time. The lack of multiple vegetarian options in most of the speciality dining was a little disappointing, especially after coming off the Disney Fantasy where vegetarian options are more plentiful and very good.
The missing daytime activities, less than optimal specialty dining, confusing schedule and “ok” experience at Labadee and I have to say if this was our very first Celebrity experience I’m not sure we would be excited to get right back on the cruise line. It was a still a fun trip, don’t get me wrong, but it was definitely not the same “wow” experience we got on board Silhouette.