Here are the 3 pivotal questions that every cruise vacationer wants to know.
Will I enjoy it?
Will it be worth the money?
Can I stand on the front of the ship and re-enact the famous scene from Titanic?
But seriously… deciding on a cruise line isn’t easy. Then you have to choose a ship and itinerary. So, I’ll share with you my recent experience on the Celebrity Reflection, on an 8-night Iberian Peninsula cruise which departed from Lisbon, Portugal. And you can make up your own mind.
I’ll give it to you straight and cut through the marketing BS so you can find out what it’s really like as a guest on this sparkling floating city.
Celebrity is all about luxury
First things first. If you are looking for the cheapest possible cruise, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a luxurious experience from the time you arrive at the departure terminal until you wave goodbye on the final day, then you’re in the right place.
Celebrity defines the phrase cruising in style.
There are no cutting corners – the food, the staterooms, the activities, they are all designed for the distinguished traveller. Someone who enjoys the finer things in life, or at least loves to splash out and feel like royalty when on vacation.
If you like that new car smell, then Celebrity Reflection will have you sniffing, as it took its maiden voyage only in October 2012. But just to avoid confusion, this ship doesn’t smell anything like a car. It’s just relatively new.
In a few short years it’s made a name for itself on the high seas winning a plethora of industry awards, and frequently coming up as one of the top ships in Celebrity’s fleet.
Considering its vast size, there’s space for up to 3,030 guests (in 1,523 staterooms), I never felt like Reflection was crowded. It was always easy to find a table at the lunch buffet and vacant sun lounges by the pool were plentiful.
I stayed in a Deluxe Oceanview Stateroom with Verandah on floor 9. These rooms are bigger and more modern than most other cruise ships out there at 194sq feet (18sq meters). A whopping 85% of the Reflection’s staterooms have verandas. No skimping!
Take a look around my stateroom:
The highlight would have to be the floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door opening to the verandah. It lets in plenty of light to give the room a more spacious feel. And nothing compares to leaning on the balcony with the warm sea breeze wafting over your face. Heavenly.
The other touches I appreciated: workspace with electrical outlet, in-room safe, spacious closet, and flat-screen TV.
My perpetually joyful stateroom attendant, Savio, helped get me settled in and kept the room spic-and-span every day.
If you want to splash out, there are 32 AquaClass suites (300sq feet) which includes priority boarding, access to Persian Gardens (more details later), Mediterranean-themed Blu restaurant, and other goodies.
There are 12 dining options on board Celebrity Reflection so I couldn’t complain for a lack of choice. However, be aware that 7 of those cost extra.
Food quality and presentation across the board was excellent. I’ve seen very average buffets before on other cruise lines, but the attention to detail on Celebrity Reflection deserves an applause. Service was faultless, there when you needed it, but never over-the-top in-your-face (more on that later).
The only fault I could find with dining on Celebrity Reflection was a lack of plant-based choices. In 2019 there is a massive social change underway, more and more people are turning to veganism. Now, I’m not trying to jam it down anyone’s throat, but catering for this growing portion of travellers simply makes a lot of business sense. And often times, it’s cheaper! I totally understand the huge effort required to feed a ship full of people and don’t want to discount that (more on that later too). Upon request, a vegetarian menu was provided at Opus and Luminae (see below) which helped, but menu items were not clearly identified as suitable for vegans which is becoming the norm in the restaurant industry. Fortunately, each restaurant I tried was extremely accommodating and the chefs frequently went off-menu to craft something special just for me. So, if you’re a veggie-head like me, rest assured you can still dine like a king (or queen) on Celebrity.
I’ll share with you my experiences at the restaurants I tried. Keep in mind, some of the photos are of food that’s not on the standard menus. You can see details on all the restaurants on the Celebrity website.
Oceanview Café (free)
This is the casual international-themed buffet dining room. Cuisines cover Italian, Indian, Mexican, roast meats, salads, and a large assortment of desserts. Seating is available inside with large windows, or outdoors in the rear of the ship.
My favourite dish: made-to-order stir fry with rice noodles.
Opus Main Dining Room (free)
This is the ship’s formal dining venue for breakfast and dinner. Cuisines are inspired by the ship’s region, but slant towards North American preferences. Traditional fixed dinner times are available (early or late), or flexible timing (although there could be queues). Lunch is open on sea days. Tables can either be private (for 2 or 4) or part of a larger group, so you could be sitting next to someone you haven’t met yet. Evenings entail a smart casual dress code, and sea days mark “evening chic” as the replacement for traditional formal.
The benefit of choosing a fixed dinner time is that you have the same wait staff who remember your preferences, and are ready for you every evening.
Luminae (free, Suite class only)
Sorry, no riff-raff here! Only modern cuisine inspired from all corners of the globe from Alaskan halibut to fennel crusted grilled lamb chops. Menus changed daily, and the sommelier provided spot-on wine recommendations. Smart casual dress required for breakfast and dinner, with sea days offering lunch. I enjoyed most of my meals here.
Tuscan Grille (paid, cover charge)
This is an Italian ristorante with a sophisticated twist open for lunch and dinner. Pastas are homemade, regional Italian wine is plentiful, and sea views are endless.
Sushi on Five (paid, a la carte)
This Japanese themed restaurant was converted to an Indian pop-up restaurant called “Taj” one evening, so I tried that. Prices here are a little steep for what you get – especially considering a perfectly good “free” meal is waiting at Opus or Oceanview. But the relaxed, quite ambiance paired with delicious food made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Le Petit Chef At Qsine (paid, cover charge)
I stopped in here at the end of a galley tour, and the Qsine restaurant team put on a small demonstration showcasing their whimsical 3D table animation. It was incredibly cute! A miniature chef humorously puts together a dish before the actual food comes out. Michelin star quality food is paired with a unique form of entertainment you won’t find anywhere else on the high seas. So, for that alone, it’s worth the cost at least once.
Aqua Spa Café (free)
This small eatery is available for a casual light, healthy breakfast or lunch. Only a few options are available each day in small bowls, but it’s conveniently located near the indoor pool and spa.
8 bars and lounges are available on Celebrity Reflection. Here’s the ones I tried:
Michael’s Club (free, Suite class only)
This private lounge offers daily continental breakfast, afternoon canapes and pre-dinner drinks from 5pm-8pm. And best of all, it’s free for Suite class members. If you have a couple cocktails each day (and I tried… for research purposes), it can be pretty good value. The friendly concierge staff were also really helpful in terms of suggestions around the ship and in port. And on the final day, I was able to relax in the lounge before disembarking.
Each day was not complete without the very talented and humorous Mr Cranston putting a little magic in my glass.
Sky Observation Lounge (paid)
I loved chilling out in this quiet lounge during the day. Clusters of comfy seats set an intimate vibe without feeling closed off, and the expansive windows give an impression that there’s nothing between the sea and me. At night, the place comes alive with entertainment like karaoke and live music.
Completely true fact: karaoke sounds better the more everyone drinks – singers AND audience.
World Class Bar (paid)
If you’re tired of the typical drinks, and need more pizzazz, then this swanky bar won’t let you down. Creative flavour combinations and beautiful presentation come together in each glass.
Ensemble Lounge (paid)
An oval-shaped bar surrounded by cosy seatings areas, and often paired with chilled live music performances in the evening. A great place for a drink before dinner, or to relax and unwind after a long shore excursion.
Pool & Mast Bar (paid)
Chilling by the pool only gets better with a cocktail in your hand. An absolute essential experience on any cruise… otherwise it’s not really is a cruise, is it? Unless you’re in Alaska.
If you’re partial to drinking, several beverage packages are available. You’ll have to work out if it’s worth it for you.
Entertainment & Activities
This is one area that Celebrity really shines. I’ve been to world-class musical theatre productions in London’s West End, Broadway in New York and more, and what I witnessed on Reflection would comfortably fit beside those. The singers, the dancers, the musical arrangements, the fresh new storylines, all world class.
The in-house team alternated with special one-off performers – comedians, magicians and singers. So, every night was something different. The comedic highlight was Kev Orkian. It was not possible to keep a straight face for more than 5 seconds while he was on the stage. Joe Enock made magic tricks look so easy, I had a few double takes. And 4-piece vocal team, Vox Clever, had every audience member bopping in their seats to groovy tunes.
Also, in regular rotation were several more intimate live musical performances around the ship each day. One evening I relaxed with a drink in Michael’s Club listening to a beautiful stringed duet, while on another day I took the recommendation of an Instagram follower and turned up to a set by singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Chelsea Reynolds. Holy moly! What a voice! Do yourself a favour and listen to her debut album on Spotify.
Called “Heartbeat of the Operation”, this free tour took guests behind the scenes into one of the ship’s 14 kitchens where food is prepared daily. We listened to a presentation by the Executive Chef, Javier De Jesus, before being escorted through the stainless-steel-clad kitchens where 250 cooks, chefs and cleaning personnel work around the clock. Over 16,000 meals are prepared daily for guests and crew. It’s only once you see the sheer scale of the food operation on a ship like this, that you can appreciate the enormity of the challenge of not only feeding over 3,000 guests, but more importantly, doing it with excellence.
Our lively Cruise Director, Dan, organised a full schedule of on-board activities each day – some were themed special events, others were cruise classics. Events like the silent disco, live karaoke and Halloween-themed full moon dance party proved very popular. It really was hilarious listening to a group of people with glowing headphones all singing perfectly off-key. You had to be there!
Dan later shared some of the amusing lyrics people just got plain wrong. Not a dry eye.
Other activities received less participation. As an example, one of Dan’s up-beat team members tried to engage guests lounging around the pool with trivia and bean bag tossing games, and I felt a little sorry for him since most guests didn’t even twitch – they looked more like limp seals basking on warm rocks.
I turned up to a “bocce tournament” but was the only participant. They just left a bag of equipment on the lawn on the top deck. So technically I won the tournament. I also got involved in the scheduled basketball game one afternoon – only one other guest turned up. So, it was really a mixed bag. Some events were uber popular, and others fizzled. If you’re travelling with a large group of friends or extended family (as many were on the Reflection), then these types of self-paced activities would be better suited. For me it was a “meh”.
There are plenty of other things to do on the ship which I didn’t have time for or didn’t strike my fancy – the casino, bingo, shopping for luxury watches and art auctions. If those things flick your switch, then you’ll be happier than a pig in mud.
Art & Décor
One of the first things I noticed when stepping onto the Celebrity Reflection was the art. It just can’t be missed. A modern, bold theme is consistently applied across the entire ship, from paintings to carpeting to the art installation in the Grand Foyer – a live tree growing out of an illuminated aluminium “pot”. And I use the word “pot” very loosely. Really, it’s art.
This trip was my 6th cruise so far (and 4th cruise line) – so I my expectations were firmly set. Top-tier cruise lines focus on excellent service – especially for North American clientele who expect it. But somehow the Reflection staff and crew went above and beyond in such a consistent way that I found every interaction completely faultless.
From the stateroom attendant who wore a permanent smile to the cheerful house and wait staff in Luminae restaurant. The attentive, personalised service was nearly overwhelming. I’ve seen a lot of things in my years travelling – and I can easily tell when someone is being friendly because it’s their job. This is nothing like that. There was a genuineness that shone through. I give an applause to both the recruitment and training teams, as well as the individuals who work so hard on the ship to give a memorable experience to each guest.
One of the highlights of each day was walking into Luminae restaurant and receiving a bright personal greeting from hostess, Mary or maitre d’, Diana. They were interested in what I’d been up to during the day, and asked about my experiences. Head waiters, Vishal and Davut, were perpetually helpful in suggesting dishes that would suit a vegan, and even requested special dishes from the chef just for me. Waitress, Zinoviia, found out I had a cold at the time and kindly offered to make a natural ginger and lemon tea from scratch. The next day, she brought it out without even saying anything. These team members interact with dozens of guests on a daily basis, and are able to remember every small detail and preference. I can barely remember where I left my keys. So, I take my hat off to these guys. Bravo!
Short version… you’ll feel like a king or queen on Celebrity Reflection.
One of the most important features on any cruise ship is the pool. Reflection has both outdoor and indoor pools and hot tubs.
If you’ve been on several cruises before (with other lines), you probably will recall seeing guests clamour for vacant sun lounges like seagulls fighting over a solitary chip. Every time I hung out by the pool there were plenty of available lounges – no pressure. That made relaxing in the sun so much more enjoyable.
I got to meet a bunch of fascinating folks hanging out in the hot tub, and soaked up some rays with a cocktail in-hand.
Now that’s a vacation!
Canyon Ranch spa is available for all guests on a paid basis. This covers therapeutic massages, beauty services, and hair stylists. Also, within the spa is the Persian Garden which consists of heated tile loungers, steam rooms and saunas. No, there were no shrubberies. This area is available to AquaClass cruisers for free or everyone else for US$25/day (cheaper for multi-day packages). You just hand over your room key at the concierge desk, and receive a white bathrobe. Changing rooms house lockers where clothing and valuables are stored. And then it’s just a matter of putting your feet up on one of the tile loungers and blissfully floating towards nirvana.
I easily spent a few hours pottering between the loungers, steam room and cold room. And by the end of it, I was as relaxed as jello.
Here’s a controversial topic – wireless Internet on a cruise ship. Some would say you should just unplug and enjoy the vacation. Others live online and can’t go without. I’m not going to judge – use it or don’t, it’s up to you.
Celebrity offer a high-speed wireless Internet service called Xcelerate. Now I take creative license using the phrase “high-speed”. Compared to landlubber norms, I’d call it “just usable”. Running several speed tests gave me an upload and download speeds around 2Mbps. It was good enough for browsing the web, sending emails, and streaming music. VoiP calls (such as WhatsApp) worked, although tended to drop out a handful of times during a half hour conversation. I wouldn’t bank on streaming Netflix at that speed.
But considering we were in the middle of the ocean, and perhaps several hundred people were simultaneously sharing a satellite connection, it was relatively impressive from a technical perspective. And the network signal was strong pretty much everywhere in the ship – the stateroom, by the pool, in the theatre, in restaurants. I couldn’t fault the coverage.
Up to 2 devices may be connected with 1 Xcelerate account, such as your phone and tablet, or phone and laptop, or 2 phones for 2 guests.
If you didn’t bring your laptop, you can use an iMac computer in the Celebrity iLounge 24 hours a day (it looks a lot like an Apple retail store).
The real question is how much are you willing to spend to stay online? Rates vary based on the length of the cruise. But on mine it was US$202.50 for 8 nights (~$25/night). Keep in mind they turn off the Wi-Fi from 7am on the day of disembarkation. So, don’t count on it to book your Uber to the airport.
The best thing about the onboard Internet connection is that you can use it for the Celebrity mobile app and it doesn’t cost anything. More on that later.
Pro tip: I used my Tep Wireless hotspot during shore excursions, and it also worked fine while in port. So, there’s a viable option that could save some pennies if you don’t need 24×7 connectivity.
The free Celebrity Cruises App (iOS, Android) was unexpectedly one of the most important parts of the whole cruising experience.
I suggest installing and configuring the app once you’ve made your cruise booking so it’s ready to go when you need it. It provides an easy check-in tool before departure, and displays your Xpress Pass for faster processing at the embarkation port.
But where it really shines is on board. Much of the functionality only works once you’re connected to the ship’s “celebrity-wifi” network. The app provides the daily schedule with the ability to build your own calendar so it’s easy to filter your preferred activities and shows. No more lugging around a paper schedule. The deck plan makes navigating around a large ship a breeze. Specialty restaurants and shore excursions can be booked with just a tap. Browse menus for each restaurant so you can decide where to have lunch or dinner. I particularly like the small “fork and knife” button which takes you to “hungry now?” – a list of eateries that are open right now, with directions.
Keeping track of charges is simple (it takes up to 20 minutes for latest transactions to be reflected). And if you’re travelling with a group, an instant messaging tool works wonders so you can coordinate plans. All these goodies function just fine without purchasing an internet package. Genius!
I took the 8-night Iberian Peninsula cruise with the following itinerary:
Lisbon, at sea, Gibraltar, Malaga, Cartagena, Valencia, Ibiza, at sea, Barcelona.
The Reflection tends to get around and not just repeat the same itineraries over and over (check upcoming sailings). So, you might not be able to book this exact same itinerary or excursions, but you can still get an idea of what the they are like:
Rock of Gibraltar Tour
Our jovial guide, Tito, drove a minibus south along the west coast of Gibraltar’s peninsula, stopping at Europa Point. The iconic Trinity House Lighthouse, marking the Strait of Gibraltar, is only 24km from coast of Africa. We then ascended the mountain to reach St Michael’s Cave, a cavernous hall filled with coloured lights synchronised to pop music. Outside the cave awaited the famous Barbary macaques who politely posed for photos. We stopped one more time at the scenic lookout, Ape’s Den, before returning to the ship.
Malaga City Walking Tour
This runs in small groups (25 max participants). Our first stop was the Mirador de Gibralfaro scenic lookout. Then after stopping near the rose garden in Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso, we walked through town and explored Malaga Cathedral. After more strolling down narrow laneways, we finished at the Roman Theatre and were given 30 mins free time.
Cartagena Segway Tour
It’s been a while since I’ve been on a Segway, but I picked it up again very quickly. Guide, Sam, led our small group through the back streets of Cartagena, stopping at locations such as Submarino Isaac Peral (world’s first submarine), Plaza del Ayuntamiento, and Castillo de la Concepción for panoramic views over the city.
Ibiza Jeep Tour
This was the craziest experience of them all. That’s Ibiza for you. We traversed the south coast of the island along small dirt roads in a 4WD. First stop was at Sa Caleta (the location of an ancient Phoenician port), followed by a lookout near the apparently magical Isla de es Vedra, a drink break at Cala Vadella, and wrapping up at Playa Cala Conta. Our very skilful driver, Teresa, kept us safe on roads that were just a bit bumpy to say the least. I’d suggest visiting Ibiza in October so it’s not so busy, but the weather is still beautiful.
You Should Know…
Unlike other cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises have done away with formalwear for special dinners, in lieu of “evening chic”. And I’m a fan of that, as it’s much easier to pack for. Regular dinners ask for smart casual. What might catch you out, if you haven’t sailed with Celebrity before, is that poolwear isn’t allowed in the main restaurant or speciality restaurants.
Tip: Choose a stateroom located midship and on the upper floors for smoother sailing and quicker access to the pool areas.
Who Will Like It
Each cruise line targets a slightly different demographic. While people of all ages would well enjoy the Celebrity Reflection, this ship tends to draw in a mature crowd that is typically 50-75 years old with a more sophisticated slant on life – enjoying better quality food, traditional western meal preferences, classier shore excursions, more subdued, distinguished on-board activities, and not too many children running around.
Families with young children tend to make up less than 4% of the guests. In saying that, the kids club called Camp at Sea looks like it is packed with amazing activities, that more academically-inclined kids would love.
Millennials like me will still have a great time, especially if travelling with multi-generational family or a group of friends. Don’t expect a wild ride like Carnival, but having seen Reflection’s guests on the dance floor and karaoke stage after tipping back a few drinks, it’s safe to say there’s still a ton of fun to be had.
The Bottom Line
There you have it. I gave it to you straight just like you asked. Now you are better equipped to make an educated decision on whether cruising aboard the Celebrity Reflection is right for you.
I thoroughly enjoyed my 8 nights aboard this ship, and if I had the chance to do it all again, I’d be more than happy.
If you’re thinking about taking a cruise and my article got you inspired, go ahead and check out the upcoming itineraries for the Celebrity Reflection.
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