After a dry spell brought on by the pandemic we just needed to get back out to sea! A few days on the Wonder of the Seas did not cut it and we just had to spend some more time on the water. So, we had to get back on Celebrity and found the excellent itinerary on the Celebrity Reflection in the Mediterranean in early August 2022.
The booking process was quite uneventful, taking place only 10 weeks prior to the cruise. We enjoyed great benefits from Celebrity Cruises’ Memorial Day campaign and we opted for an Aqua Class stateroom with the Always Included option with prepaid tips, classic beverage package and onboard allowance. Only glitch was, that we failed to receive the usual booking confirmation e-mail and invoice–but our booking was present on the Celebrity Cruises website. We did receive a copy of our confirmation and invoice after calling our local Celebrity Cruises office closer to departure. We chose to use some of our onboard credit to upgrade to the Premium beverage package as well as reserving some of the specialty restaurants on the website before the cruise. We also booked an excursion in Dubrovnik and made appointments in the spa for embarkation day.
One of the perks of Aqua Class is the 5 Club Points to expedite us towards the coveted Elite membership level. Also, as passengers in the Aqua Class we would be able to enjoy extended services onboard, including upgraded stateroom amenities, access to the Persian Garden and the Blu dining room, which is exclusive to Aqua Class guests–but more about these amenities later.
The whole summer the news and social media has been flowing over with stories about randomly cancelled flights and misplaced luggage at airports across Europe, if not the whole world. Hence, we opted to fly to Rome a few days ahead of the cruise to allow time in case our luggage would be delayed by the airline–it happened before for one of our cruises on the Celebrity Reflection. Anyways, a few days in Rome can always be recommended and we enjoyed our time there, our fourth visit to the Eternal City.
Back on the Celebrity Reflection
One of the remnants of the Covid-19 Pandemic was the mandate to present a negative Covid-19 test at embarkation, a test that was less than 2 days old on embarkation day. This meant that we arranged for a Covid-19 test with a local lab in Rome. We did test negative and had all our paperwork in order when our car pulled up in front of the beautiful Terminal Amerigo Vespucci inside the Civitavecchia cruise port. The terminal is a few years old, but did look clean and welcoming.
As usual the local porters were swift to grab our bags and whisk them into the terminal to bring them to our stateroom. Our porter was courteous and made sure to direct us to the escalators with a word to make sure we had our documents ready to be presented once inside. At the top of the escalators we went through the standard airport style X-ray check, though less relaxed than at any airport I did have to remove my belt.
Checking into the cruise was a breeze with the regular desks replaced by a line of check in agents on the floor each with an iPad ready to process us. Our documents were checked and before we knew it we could proceed to get our boarding photo taken. And from there along the outside walkway with a beautiful view of the beautiful Celebrity Reflection in bright sunlight. Up the covered gangway and then we could set foot on deck and have our app scanned–SeaPass cards are no longer issued at check in, but are waiting for you at your stateroom. As we entered the ship from the outside promenade on Deck 5 midships we were not presented with the customary glass of champagne upon boarding (we are not big champagne drinkers and didn’t miss this) but rather ice cold towel were distributed and these were welcome on this bright yet hot day.
Once onboard the ship we made our way to the Café Al Bacio for the first coffee of the day and showed our app to validate our beverage package. The coffee, the café and the Atrium made us feel home again. This is the time for a shoutout to Jayne from the Philippines for great service at the café at day and the Ensemble Lounge in the evenings. This was our fourth cruise on a Solstice class ship and everything felt right. It took less than 30 minutes from we left our car at the curb until we had our coffee in hand and were ready to roam and explore the ship. First off was heading past the World Class Bar and Galleria Boutiques to the forward elevator bank. We quickly stopped by our room on Deck 11, just to pick up our SeaPass cards and drop our carry on luggage in the closet. The room did seem ready for us, but as the official announcement hadn’t been given we quickly made our way to Deck 14 and the Oceanview Café for our first meal of the day.
We have earlier sailed in Concierge Class on the Celebrity Eclipse and did enjoy the special Concierge Class lunch. Now we were in Aqua Class and had to resort to the “public” dining options. No bad thing, the Oceanview Café was ready for us with the full spread. From the Steamship roast to the white chocolate fountain everything looked fresh and well prepared. We quickly found a table by the windows and had great views of the Mediterranean Sea and the bustling cruise terminal. We were quickly approached by the sommelier Phelise from South Africa, who welcomed us onboard and we had a nice chat. Due to the worldwide supply chain issues we were not able to enjoy some of the wine and beers of preference, but this did not make our cruise experience any less. We did make full use of our Premium beverage package and Phelise did find us what we needed to drink for our lunch.
An all new Experience
This was our ninth cruise in total and our fifth cruise on Celebrity all in the course of 13 years. We have earlier cruised out of Civitavecchia and we have cruised the Mediterranean. Yet each cruise is unique and a brand new experience and we are genuinely curious to explore both the ship and the ports of each cruise.
Following the Pandemic we knew that protocols might be in place to restrict the spread of the virus and that these protocols might impact our cruise. Some recent reviews mentioned that face masks could be mandatory in the theatre and casino as well as in some ports. Luckily we did not experience any of these protocols on our cruise, apart from noticing that the port side Deck 3 stateroom corridor was blocked off. Hand sanitizer was available at all venues as it always has been on any cruise ship we have visited–a thing land based venues only learned the hard way during the Pandemic.
One “new” cruise experience was going to the spa on embarkation day. My wife had booked a pedicure and I had booked a shave. Despite our best efforts our times were not matching so I got time to unpack my part of the luggage while my wife was at the spa and then she had time to unpack her things while I was getting my shave. We were both unpacked and felt ready to cruise as Captain Michael Karatzas came on the PA system and announced our departure. The cruise was on, we were heading out to sea! Cruise WonderFULL℠.
A large part of our cruising experience is the great food we have always found onboard. And like we said, the Oceanview Café did not let us down for lunch. For the sail away dinner we had booked Tuscan Grille hoping for a window table with a sweeping view of the ship’s wake as we left Civitavecchia behind. On the online booking we could only select dinner at 6pm even if we wish to dine a bit later. A call to the specialty restaurants coordinator during the afternoon left us with the impression that the restaurant was booked solid and we had to remain with our assigned dining time. When we entered the restaurant close to 6pm we were given a free choice of all the tables along the aft glass wall, wonderful. I’m sure we opted for the same table we have enjoyed on both Celebrity Reflection and her sisters Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Solstice. However, this was the last positive note about this dinner… as time passed a few tables were occupied, but not nearly enough to warrant that we could have had a later dining time. The wait staff was amble and attentive, overly so as there were very few guests in the restaurant and every one was more than eager to assist us. Still they all seemed preoccupied and lacking any real enthusiasm. The food too was lackluster and all in all we left the restaurant with a feeling that it was not the best meal we’ve had on a cruise.
As you already know one of the perks of being in Aqua Class is the Blu restaurant which is exclusive for Aqua Class guests, with sauite guests allowed in pending availability. The restaurant is more intimate than the Opus Dining Room which seats almost 1,500 guests at a time and the menu has a Clean Cuisine option to cater to the spa theme of the Aqua Class. The smaller dining room also allows for the food to be served fresh and hot. But, it is still a main dining room with tables close together–so the many two-tops does not enjoy the privacy as you will find at the for-fee specialty restaurants. We had dinner in Blu on the second day of the cruise and enjoyed it. Once Andrea, the Maître d’ had registered us she knew our names and greeted us by name whenever we met her throughout the ship. Our server was Sebastiane and he did an excellent job trying to remember our food preferences and explaining about the port of call the next day.
Variety is the spice of life and we usually try to sample as many specialty restaurants as possible during each cruise. This time, in addition to Tuscan Grille, we pre-booked dinners in Murano, Qsine and the Lawn Club Grille. Each restaurant has it’s own distinct characteristics and ambiance.
To mark a special occasion we had dinner in Murano on the third night of the cruise. This restaurant is the most elegant dining venue onboard and boasts the most attentive service found in any eatery on the ship. The décor and ambiance is that of a high end French style restaurant with thick white table cloths, gold placeholder plates and exceptionally courteous staff. Most of the entrees are prepared tableside and always served simultaneously for all guests at the table. The sommelier was very knowledgable, but as we do not drink wine (and the only wine we do prefer, was not onboard) we asked for cocktails that came from the Ensemble Bar, just outside the Murano restaurant. Before the first starter course a amouce bouche is served, this is usually a small, yet extremely tasty soup to open your palate to the delicious courses to follow. Next follows the starter (the goat cheese soufflé is highly recommended! The only dish anywhere, on land or at sea, that is prepared with goats cheese, but does not have that strange taste of the goats’ farmhouse stable). For our main we chose the Chateau Briand for two which was skillfully carved and plated tableside. For dessert we had the chocolate mocha soufflé and the “ballon rouge” (pancakes flambéed with strawberries and served with ice cream).
On the evening of our departure from Kotor we enjoyed the grand views of the mountains (and wildfires) from the Lawn Club Grill as the Celebrity Reflection navigated the narrow passages through Europe’s southernmost fjord out to the open sea. Dining al fresco on the lawn (yes, that’s real grass) is unique and the setting with a view of the mega screen showing Red Bull high octane stunt races made the whole experience just like a backyard barbeque. And that is what it’s supposed to be – start with a flatbread (just like a pizza) and then select your cut of meat or kabobs and watch on big screens as they are expertly prepared for you. Soner, the restaurant manager, and Billy our server did all they could to make us feel at home and provided us with great service and big smiles.
Next to the Lawn Club is The Porch, a small New England inspired seafood restaurant with grand views of the ocean. We enjoyed both the view and the delicious seafood in a nearly empty restaurant. Yudha, our server went above and beyond to serve us. One one of us wished to have the “seafood tower” which is normally served for two, but no problem, they easily found a way to serve for just one. Everything was fresh and delicious! And we knew we had chosen a great place to dine when the master of the vessel entertained a small party only a few tables away from ours.
Another evening, we visited “the Petite Chef at Qsine” which is a funny and unique dining experience. We were seated at a separate table for two and asked not to touch anything on the table…there seemed to be a good reason! Once the beverages had been ordered and distributed the lights were dimmed and the show started. First with a brief introduction and help to reposition the plate should it have been misaligned with the projection. Next started the actual presentation with a miniature cartoon chef growing vegetables before throwing them on the plate and catching, cooking and plating the fish for the starter. Then the lights came on and the food was served, plated to resemble the design from the cartoon. One of us had an alternate menu and this did not align with the cartoon, but that’s how it works in Qsine. As our waiter had cleared our table the lights went out again and another story with the “petite chef” played out right on the table in front of us and soon the actual food was presented with the same plating as in the video. While we ate each dish the video continued to play with a background/table covering design relevant to the dish. The show continued with the little chef skating and plating dessert stepping in chocolate and leaving footprints on the plate. The dessert came plated with his chocolate footprints on the rim of the plate. Great fun. Yet, now we’ve tried it, we might not return–it was fun, but not really something for us.
Breakfast, lunch and one dinner
On the first morning we enjoyed breakfast in the sun on our balcony as the volcano island of Stromboli passed by. Aqua Class and Concierge Class enjoys an upgraded room service menu and we had our eggs, pancakes and toast delivered promptly at requested time. What a way to start the cruise and to start the full day at sea!
The second morning we opted to get up early and have breakfast in Blu. While most breakfast items are the same whether delivered from room service, picked from the buffet or served in the dining room the food is more fresh and hot when served in the dining room. The presentation and service was attentive as always, but the dining room stops serving breakfast at 9 am so it’s not really for late risers like ourselves.
On the note of breakfast, said to be the most important meal of the day, we usually choose to have our breakfast in the Oceanview Café. Here breakfast is available until 11 am and eggs, toasts and coffee is prepared to order. And the selection of breakfast meats is vast, as is the trays of fruits and yogurts.
When time comes for lunch, the main dining room, Opus on Deck 4 is open on sea days offering free seating, just show up when you’re hungry. The lunch menu has a selection of starters, mains and desserts and some easy options like burgers and hot dogs. We were seated at the window and hand a pleasant lunch though some of the food was served less hot than we would have liked, most likely due to the distance from the galley as well as the fact that most food is prepared in bulk and served when someone orders it.
Less formal lunches are served from the Mast Grill on Deck 15 above the main pool deck. Here burgers, hot dogs and fries are cooked to order and you can choose from a large selection of garnishes. There’s even a self service soft serve ice cream machine with toppings of the day. And one deck below, in the Solarium (access only for adults 16 years or older) you’ll find the Aqua Spa Café which serves light refreshments catering primarily to those wishing to mind their calorie intake.
Watering holes everywhere
With all the food available almost all the time, there’s no reason to go hungry. Likewise, there’s always a bar within reach. From the Passport Bar on Deck 3 at the base of the Atrium to the Martini Bar and Celler Masters wine bar on Deck 4 not to mention the Casino Bar and the bar at the Entertainment Court. Visit the Ensemble Lounge bar and Café al Bacio and the World Class Bar on Deck 5 you’ll be able to find anything liquid you’d like. Continue to the Sky Lounge bar with the magnificent views forward on Deck 14, the Pool Bar and Second al Bacio as well as the Oceanview Bar likewise on Deck 14. And finish your bar hopping tour at either the Mast Bar or the Sunset Bar, both on Deck 15. There’s no reason to go thirsty and as we had the Premium beverage package, we found all we could wish for at any of the bars. There are certainly cocktails and wines that are priced above what is included in the Premium package, but we didn’t find the need to try to bust the limit.
We did frequent the World Class Bar each night to enjoy the handcrafted cocktails expertly prepared by Milica from Montenegro and Joseph from Venezuela. Both knew their craft and after only a few drinks they knew our preferences and were able to introduce cocktails (both on and off the menu) that were just right for us. The Beverage Trainer Alexandra from Romania even prepared a few special cocktails especially for us.
The Celebrity Today daily program as well as the onboard app had more than 60 entertainment options every day. Boredom is not really an option onboard the Celebrity Reflection. Check the program for yourself below:
The cruise was 10 nights and 9 full days. Two days at sea meant no less than seven ports of call in countries as diverse as Greece (two ports), Croatia (1 port), Montenegro (1 port) and Italy (3 ports). We had initially pre-booked an excursion through the Celebrity Cruises website, but once we were onboard we changed our mind and were happy to receive a refund to our onboard account. However, in Corfu and Dubrovnik we did use the shuttles provided by Celebrity Cruises for a fee.