When I was 19 years old, my father decided that it was time to take the family on an ocean cruise. Strictly speaking it was not the first cruise I’d been on: when I was about 2 he had attended a medical conference on a cruise ship that sailed around off the coast of Cape Town for 2 days, but I remember nothing of that (other than being told repeatedly by my mom that all I ate the entire time was 2 olives!). But I do remember the day my dad came home with tickets to the Achille Lauro. Yes – that Achille Lauro. Face it – the ship was cursed, suffering an onboard explosion in 1964; a huge fire in 1972 while being converted to a cruise ship; a collision with a cargo ship in 1975; an onboard fire in 1981; an infamous hijacking in 1985 in which a passenger was killed; and finally another huge engine fire in 1994 that led to her sinking off the coast of Somalia in December 1994 (and not a moment too soon!). Understandably, we were less than ecstatic with my father’s plan to cruise to Mauritius on this deathtrap in 1989 (that is to say, somewhere in between the hijacking and the final sinking!). Since then, my memories of cruise ships have entailed: feeling seasick; being unspeakably claustrophobic in our cabin; the omnipresent smell of olive oil; and singing Rod Stewart’s We are sailing with tears in my eyes as we left Mauritus – I was ready to seek political asylum rather than re-board the Ship of Doom.
I think it is safe to say that expectations of cruising were not unduly high when I agreed to go on a 2-night pre-launch cruise to introduce 1500 travel writers to the Celebrity ReflectionSM, the fifth and final planned ship to be added to the Celebrity Cruises award-winning Solstice Class® series. Built by Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, she was completed on 12 August, and sailed backwards (impressive video available here) down the River Ems before being delivered to Celebrity Cruises for sea testing. The Celebrity ReflectionSM is the largest in the fleet with a weight of 126000 tons, a length of 1047 feet, and a maximum passenger capacity of 3046. Celebrity Reflection boasts an extra deck, 72 additional staterooms overall, more seating in the main and specialty restaurants, more sun loungees on the pool deck, and more seats in the theatre. After a flight and a long bus trip, we finally arrived in Eemshaven and caught our first glimpse of our home for the next 2 nights. Huge is an understatement. Imagine a 10-storey block of luxury flats as long as a city block and you are coming close. What also immediately struck me is how many of the cabins have balconies – I heard later that the figure is 85% – something which has radically changed in the world of passenger ship design since my encounter with the Achille Lauro. Soon, my fellow-traveller (the lovely Yvette from Simply Luxury Travel) and I were checked in and walking up the gangplank, headed for our sparkly new AquaClass cabins.
The Celebrity Reflection offers 7 different types of suites (including the new and spectacular 2-bedroom Reflection Suite with a sea-view bathroom and shower cantilevered our over the sea) and 7 different types of staterooms (some of which are also available as wheelchair-accessibile options), including the AquaClass staterooms in which I stayed. The Aqua class cabins are identical in size to the more familiar Concierge class staterooms on other Celebrity ships 54 sq feet of verandah), but with added benefits, such as exclusive access to the Blu restaurant; unlimited Persian Garden thermal spa access; and free daily deliveries of water, tea and canapés. If I was expecting it to look anything like our ghastly 4-bunk “family” cabin on the Achille Lauro, I was in for a surprise. At 194 square feet, the cabin is like a full-size hotel room, albeit a little narrower, with a double bed, sofa, coffee table, small console desk, bathroom with funky Grohe shower panel, lots of clever storage space, fluffy robes, slippers, and (my favourite part) sliding doors onto my very own 54 sq foot verandah, complete with a table and 2 loungers where I sat down to enjoy the complimentary canapés. Bliss. It also had “new ship smell” – like new car smell, only bigger The temptation was enormous simply to kick off my shoes and lock myself in the cabin for 48 hours, enjoying the 24-hour complimentary room service that is included in the price – but there was a giant ship to explore and less than 48 hours to do so.
During the trip we were also able to gain access to view some of the other stateroom and suite classes, although the show-stopper Reflection suite was sadly still being finished off, so we never did get to see that crazy cantilevered sea-viewshower. I would have been perfectly happy with the petite Signature suite – what I was really after was the hot tub on the terrace!
Here is a quick rundown of available accommodation:
- Inside stateroom (183-200 sq foot) – no windows, sleeps max 4 people
- Ocean View stateroom (177 sq foot) – window but no verandah, sleeps max. 4 people
- Veranda staterooms (194 sq foot) – 54 sq foot verandah, situated throughout the ship, sleeps max. 4 people
- Sunset Veranda stateroom (192 sq foot) – 54 sq foot verandah, situated in desirable locations aft, sleeps max. 4 people
- Family Veranda stateroom (575 sq foot) – 53-105 sq foot verandah, separate sitting and sleeping areas, sleeps max. 4 people
- Concierge Class stateroom (194 sq foot) – 54 sq foot verandah, special services like concierge, priority booking for restaurants, and priority check-in (amongst others), sleeps max. 4 people
- AquaClass® stateroom (194 sq foot) – 54 sq foot verandah, special services such as priority access to the spa & priority booking at Blu restaurant (amongst others), sleeps max. 2 people – below you can view a video of my Aquaclass stateroom:
- AquaClass® suite (301 sq foot) – 79 sq foot verandah, bathtub, special services including a butler service, some free dinners at speciality restaurants, reserved theatre seating and free access to the Persian Garden spa, sleeps max. 4 people
- Sky suite (300 sq foot) – 79 sq foot verandah, bathtub, special services including a butler service, some free dinners at speciality restaurants and reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 4 people
- Celebrity suite (394 sq foot) – 105 sq foot verandah, bathtub, separate sleeping and seating areas, special services including a butler service, some free dinners at speciality restaurants and reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 4 people
- Royal suite (590 sq foot) – 158 sq foot verandah, bathtub, guest toilet, separate sitting and sleeping areas, hot tub on the verandah, special services including butler service, free dinners at speciality restaurants and reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 4 people
- Penthouse suite (1,291 sq foot) 389 sq foot verandah, bathtub, guest toilet, separate sitting, dining and sleeping areas, hot tub on the verandah, baby grand piano (!), special services including butler service, free dinners at speciality restaurants and reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 4 people
- Signature suite (441 sq ft) – 118 sq foot verandah, bathtub with opaque glass front, separate sleeping & sitting areas, walk-in cupboard, hot tub on verandah, ceilings 22% higher than normal cabins, special services including butler service, free meals at speciality restaurants & reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 4 people. Situated in private area on deck 14, adjacent to Reflection Suite, that can only be accessed by private key card.
- Reflection suite (1636 sq foot) – 194 sq foot wrap-around verandah, 2 bedrooms, separate sleeping dining and seating areas, seaview bathroom with spectacular cantilevered one-way glass shower, hot tubs with rain showerheads on verandah, ceilings 36% higher than normal cabins, special services including butler service, free meals at speciality restaurants & reserved theatre seating, sleeps max. 6 people. Situated in private area on deck 14, adjacent to Signature Suite, that can only be accessed by private key card.
All cabins have en suite private accommodation and all the cabins are fitted out to an extremely high standard. Even the cheapest inside cabin felt relatively spacious, which really surprised me. All prices for cabins are per person sharing and include the following (plus premium accommodation has extra amenities/services, as stated above and on the website):
- friendly, personalized service with a guest to staff ratio of nearly 2:1
- twice daily service (makeup and turndown)
- daily ice service in stainless steel ice buckets
- 24 hour complimentary room service
- complimentary toiletries
- premium bedding and 100% pure Egyptian cotton linens
- hair dryer
- bar fridge
- interactive Samsung flat-screen television system to view and select shore excursions, order room service (on-demand movies cost extra)
- 3 meals a day in either the Opus main dining room or Oceanview Café
EATING AND DRINKING
If you picture cruise dining as night after night trapped in a cramped, dark below-decks dining room, sharing a 10-seater table with a ghastly bunch of strangers and fighting your way to the buffet table – fear no more! Even if you buy the cheapest cruise package and do not want to pay any dining supplements, dining in the lovely double-volume, light, airy, sparkly Opus dining room seems like no hardship at all. This restaurant split over 2 decks, open to all passengers for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and features a choice of fixed or open dining. A traditional two-sitting option is available on the lower deck, while on the upper deck you can choose the Select Dining option which enables you to eat whenever you want (prepaid supplement of $11.50 per person per day). There is also a funky glass-walled wine cellar containing an astonishingly large wine collection. Alternatively, theOceanview Café on Deck 14 is open for breakfast, lunch adn dinner and serves pretty much anything you can dream of (from eggs to order to pickled herring to fresh waffles to Canadian bacon sliced off a whole ham before your eyes) from numerous serving stations in a relaxed canteen-style environment with plenty of window and even outdoor terrace seating. Another option for breakfast (at an extra charge) or a snack between meals is one of the 2 onboard cafés (Bistro on 5 and Café al Bacio), the former of which even makes crêpes to order. For those who feel like something different to the dining room, there are a number of so-called speciality restaurants available for which you have to make a reservation and pay a supplement, but which all offer premium a la carte dining. These include Blu, the Tuscan Grill, the Lawn Club Grill, Murano, Blu and Qsine. My next post will be devoted entirely to these restaurants, so I will not go into detail about the meals we had here.
If it’s bars you are after, you’ve come to the right place as there is a selection to suit everybody. Cellarmasters aims to transport you to a stone-walled Napa Valley winery, complete with Enomatic portion-control wine system so that all wines by the glass are as fresh as when they were first opened. The Ensemble Lounge is a large, plush live music lounge bar with live jazz conveniently located outside some of the speciality restaurants. My favourite was definitely the Martini Bar with its louche Art Deco look, its 26 varieties of Martini, and its frosted bar counter – a whole other level of awesome. When it’s not too busy, the barmen are also pretty adept at doing a passable impersonation of Tom Cruise flicking glasses and bottles a la Cocktail. For the more traditional there is Michael’s Clubstocks over 50 international craft beers as well as whiskies, and offers food plus occasional live music. The Molecular Bar provides a slightly more off-beat cocktail experience as the resident mixologists create innovative cocktails from unusual natural ingredients right before your eyes. If you want to have a drink while the sea breeze ruffles your hair, head for thePool Bar between the solarium and main pools the Sunset Bar at the back of the ship, which has been given a Moorish makeover; or the Mast Bar. The Passport Bar right off the grand Foyer is the first and last bar you encounter when embarking and disembarking the shop, making it the perfect place to stop for a glass of champagne. And for stunning views at any time of the day or night, try the Sky Observation Lounge on Deck 14, a space which provides a glamorous refuge by day for gazing out to sea sipping a cocktail, but comes alive at night with music and dancing.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Riley
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Riley
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Riley
RELAXATION AND ENTERTAINMENT
Where to start? To acquaint yourself with the ship, take one of glass elevators through the hugely impressive central atrium, from where you can get a view of various quiet relaxation areas including the Library, the Hideaway, and the Celebrity iLounge. There is also an usual mid-air tree sculpture in the centre of said atrium, one of the many pieces of unusual public part on board. If you are a water baby, you will love the numerous opportunities that the ship offers for getting wet. There is a large outdoor swimming pool as well as four hot tubs; and for chillier days, there is the Solarium with its heated pool and a further hot tub under a glass conservatory. If lazing about is your favourite way to spend a day, there are literally miles of sun loungers available both around the pools and along the deck. On Deck 15 you will find the Lawn Club featuring a surprisingly large area of real grass lawn for passengers’ enjoyment – you can even play croquet or boules. On either side of this are the Alcoves, private cabanas with a retractable sun shade that can be booked for private use all day for a supplement ($99 on port days, $149 on sea days). For the more energetic, a demarcated jogging track runs along the deck too, and there is a small basketball court aft. Even more impressive are the facilities in the fitness centre: a main exercise area packed with stationary bikes, weight machines, free weights and more treadmills than I have seen in most land-based gyms, all facing out to sea. If all gyms looked like this, even I would exercise! There are also fitness rooms for Flywheel (think competitive spinning class in the dark) and TRX training, which uses suspension cords for a full body workout. There are also two private gym rooms each containing a weight machine, a treadmill, a stationary bike and an elliptical trainer which you can rent for up to two people from $45 an hour.
For those who are into more relaxing pursuits, there is much on offer other than lounging about on the numerous deckchairs and watching the world go by (tempting as though that may be!). The AquaSpa® by Elemis® provides the perfect space to pamper yourself. There are two floors of Elemis treatment rooms (massage below and beauty treatments above), two rooms (and a doctor) dedicated to non-surgical treatments like Restylane, a barber shop, and a hair & nail salon. I was treated to an exceptionally lovely Elemis Pro-collagen Quartz Lift facial (from £77) in one of the treatment rooms which are serene, white spaces amid the colourful mosaics of the rest of the spa. My facial lasted about an our and included a head, neck and hand/forearm massage – I have seldom left a facial feeling so blissed out! After your treatment, if you have more time than we did (!), slip on a robe and head to the Persian Garden thermal spa, a series of beautiful calm mosaic-tiled spaces filled with a variety of dry heat, steam and aromatherapy-scanted mists. For those who like to learn new things while cruising, The Art Studio can be found near the entrance to the Lawn Club. Its large central table makes it a great informal venue for art demonstrations and a variety of other classes on topics such as painting, drawing, beading and mixology. (Dance and wine-tasting classes are also on offer). If you prefer looking at art to creating art, there is an art and photo gallery on Deck 5; and shopaholics also needn’t worry – they can get their fix at the rather plush gallery of shops and boutiques on Decks 4 and 5. While mom and dad are off enjoying all the ship has to offer, the Fun Factory and X-Club have activities for children from age three to 17, in a secure and attractive environment on Deck 15: think board games, table football, Playstations and even a dancefloor for the teenagers complete with disco lights. And for after dinner entertainment for the grown-ups, there is the casino, complete with both machines and tables. Alternatively, grab a martini from the Martini Bar and do what we did, which is to visit the quite jaw-droppingly large Celebrity Theatre. I have seen smalled theatres in the West End – it’s huge, with two lower tiers and a balcony. I particularly liked the bar counter seats around the sides of the lower tiers – good fo martini-toting theatre-goers! Once per cruise, passengers will be treated to “Reflection – The Show” which is what we saw – think We WIll Rock You meets Cirque du Soleil and you will not be far off. Cruise entertainment has evidently come a long way.
As I said, I arrived fully expecting not to be convinced by the idea of cruising. I left a believer. In a nutshell, I would say the Reflection is an ideal boat for people who think they do not like cruising. It is often easy to forget it is a boat, given its size, and there reall can be no question of claustrophobia, given the generously proportioned staterooms (even the inside cabins) and public areas. Then there is the variety of public areas. Don’t like the indoor pool? Try the outdoor one. Don’t like the Martini Bar? Try the Sunset Bar. Don’t like Qsine? Try eating at the radically different Murano – and so the list goes on. I also loved that the design is the antithesis of what you’d expect from traditional dark wood panelled ship’s decor – it is light and lovely throughout and very modern. The pieces of art scattered throughout the ship are a nice touch (the “painting” which is set alight by one of its occupants and self-destructs outside Blu is particularly amusing!) and even the perspex “you are here” ship’s models in each lift lobby are tactile and lovely. But by far the best aspect of the ship for me was the staff – from Jesus, our eternally smiling cabin attendant, to the lovely South African chap who was managing the Oceanview Cafe on the morning we visited, to the waiter in Blu who has been with the company for decades and told us this was his fourth launch with Celebrity. Everybody seemed genuinely to enjoy what they were doing and truly engaged with passengers, and it was striking to hear how many of them had been with the company for years and years.
With some of the eastern-Caribbean 7-night cruises this year starting from just £466 for an inside cabin or £588 for a veranda cabin (per person sharing); or 15-night transatlantic cruises in 2013 starting from £927 for an inside cabin or £1,200 for a veranda cabin (per person sharing), I was quite surprised at how reasonable the prices can be. However, that said – it is easy to see how things can quickly mount up. Many things that you might take for granted cost extra, for example non-alcoholic branded drinks packages (so Coke, not generic cola) come at a per person per day cost, as do various levels of alcoholic drinks packages. Renting a Lawn Club cabana costs money, as do shore excursions, some of the courses aboard, and of course all dining in the speciality restaurants (more on this in my next post). Also, you submit your credit card details upon embarkation and are then issued with a guest card which you can use for all purchases on board (all of which are priced in US dollars, and none of which may be paid for in cash) – so it is easy to rack up a large bill for extras without thinking about it.
But, that said, if it is a special luxury and glamorous experience you are after, I think you will find it hard to find fault with the beautiful Celebrity Reflection. I know I did.
Click here for Yvette’s version of our adventure onboard.
GOOD TO KNOW
After a couple of cruises in Europe, the Celebrity Reflection crosses to the Caribbean where it will remain, sailing out of Miami, till about May 2013 when it returns to these shores for the summer season. As mentioned, prices for a 7-night eastern-Caribbean cruise in November 2012 start from just £466 for an inside cabin or £588 for a veranda cabin (per person sharing); and from £927 for an inside cabin or £1,200 for a veranda cabin for 15-night transatlantic cruises in 2013 (per person sharing). More information on forthcoming cruises and prices are available on the website www.celebritycruises.co.uk or call (0845 456 0523).
DISCLOSURE: I enjoyed this pre-launch cruise as a guest of Celebrity Cruises. I received no remuneration to write this post other than the cruise itself and all opinions are my own.