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New Years Cruise, Dec 31, 2016 - Jan 7, 2017
Western Caribbean Cruise from Miami
We flew into Miami the day prior to the cruise knowing that it’s always a good idea to have extra time in case of any delays, you never want to miss your cruise ship. We arrived early evening off the non-stop flight with American Airlines, we had a smooth uneventful flight and departing of of SFO’s Terminal 2 is always a pleasure (something we do often with Virgin America).
We stayed at the Element Hotel Miami International Airport- which was a quick 5-7 minute ride from the airport. The hotel does provide a shuttle, but the Miami airport is not marked very well for ground transportation and after a long and tiring day of travel with not much sleep the night before we hopped in a taxi, which are readily available and the cost was a flat $13 fee. Check-in was smooth and our hotel was overall very nice.
More about the hotel: this is part of the Starwood family of brands and we are Gold status with Starwood so we usually get something extra as a result. In this case, we were upgraded to a one bedroom suite, which for a pre cruise stay is fabulous because we had plenty of space to “live” out of our suitcases. Once we were settled we ventured to get some dinner and a bottle of wine to officially begin the relaxing vacation. The hotel’s restaurant is OK, nothing too special and the food was just OK. Service was good, so it served it’s purpose. Our room came with complimentary breakfast the next day and we really could have skipped that. In my opinion, it was horrible. They could have done several minor things to upgrade the offerings, I was happy that I had my protein shake! As for the room itself, we had a full kitchen, dining area, living area, bedroom and bathroom. The bathroom was very modern, nice and clean and the bed was very comfortable. There were laminate hardwood floors through most of the unit except for the bedroom and the carpets in this room were old and felt a bit grungy. The Hallways were also very old looking and again felt grungy and dark. All in all, the hotel served its purpose, we had a good night of sleep & easily got to the cruise terminal the next morning. We opted to pay for the hotels transportation at $13 per person, but we probably could have gotten a taxi or Uber for overall less cost. I just didn’t really bother to check in advance. (The Travel Professional never has time to work on her own travels)
Now onto the Celebrity Reflection. We arrived to the pier and the check-in process was fairly easy. The lines moved quickly and all in all it was probably about a 45 minute process from luggage drop off to walking onto the ship. Celebrity welcomes you aboard with a glass of sparkling wine, which always puts a smile on my face. Since we were about 45 minutes early to when the rooms would be ready and we had baggage that we carried on, we decided to hang out at one of the bars, review the shore excursion options and make some decisions while sipping another glass of bubbly.
About 1pm they announced that the rooms were ready, so we went to our cabin and dropped off our bags, got a bit settled and then began to explore the ship. We went to the shore excursion desk to sign up and we were able to secure all of our first choices, then we walked around. The Reflection is a Solstice class ship - so my review of the Celebrity Solstice speaks to the nuts & bolts of the ship and having been on the Solstice already, this ship was very familiar and easy for us to navigate around, it’s also a much smaller ship vs the ones that we have sailed upon most recently.
Our room was wonderful, we had a balcony stateroom and it was average in size, the bathroom was a very good size and like her sister brand (RCCL), the showers have doors- not the nasty curtains that other lines have had..and the shower had room for you to turn around. We had a midship location which also afforded us an extended balcony, though have to say on this ship even without the extended balcony it would have been a very spacious balcony. I actually did part of my gym workout on the balcony and there was plenty of space to do kickboxing moves.
We were on Deck 6, so we were very close to all of the public spaces located on Decks 3-5, then of course it was a trek to the pool deck, buffet and lawn club located decks 13-15 and we did use the stairs the majority of the time. Like any cruise ship the Atrium is the gathering place, there are a variety of bars located on the 3 decks, there is a cafe, a sushi restaurant & then the atrium itself is where they have live entertainment for dancing throughout the evenings up until approximately 10pm most nights. It’s the gathering spot before and after dinner. We found our “home” at the Passport Bar on Deck 3 and had such Amazing service with our trio of bar gals- Diana, Rowena & Shireka. These ladies were awesome, so attentive and friendly and they made you feel as though seeing you was the best part of their day. We will remember them for years to come.
Celebrity has their main dining room, one level is traditional seating times - early and late seating and then the other level is for “Celebrity Select” dining, the ability to make nightly reservations for any time you would like or to show up standby for a table. We had Select dining and I had pre-booked our dinner reservations most nights between 630pm-645pm and this works very well for us. Celebrity also has several specialty restaurants that you can visit for a surcharge. I had pre-booked the Tuscan Grill and the Lawn Club Grill ahead of time. The Tuscan Grill was fabulous, romantic location, excellent food, great service and the feel and aura of Italy- including homemade Limoncello - we loved it, so much that we decided to go back for our last night of the cruise. It was definitely worth the surcharge. The Lawn Club Grill fell very short of our expectations. I felt as though the tables were too many and you were crammed into this small dining space, the service was OK and our food was just not that good at all. When we were ready to leave, our server was nowhere to be found, so we left. I discovered a few days later that they had charged us for the surcharge again and had to dispute the charge since we had prepaid. It was fixed, but just upsetting that we had to do that. There are other restaurants- BLU which is for the Aqua class guests and Luminae which is the Suite guests. Then there is Qsine. I did not pre-book this because I was a bit leary about finding something that I’d enjoy to eat- boy was I wrong! We looked at the menu a bit closer (on ipads) and decided to give it a try, what an incredible experience. All the food presented in very different ways and brought out as tapas, so plates to share. Well, Hubby & I have very different palates but knowing that, they advised us of how to order and we had a few things that we shared and then some items for our own. It was really a wonderful dinner and experience. Cool & Fun in the “Wonderland” sense from Royal’s’ Quantum & Harmony of the Seas ships.
We did have a few meals at the Oceanside Cafe which is the buffet but really not much and then there is the Grill by the pool, so we did have burgers and hot dogs a few days for lunch.
We had decent pool service, we met “Bobby” on the first day by the pool and he was very attentive from there on out. We were sad that we missed him on the last day, but in talking to Shireka at the Passport Bar, we discovered that Bobby was her boyfriend and she told us where he worked at night, so we were able to have one last goodbye with him and extend our thanks and additional gratuity to him.
As for entertainment on this ship. The House Band Blind Vinyl was just mediocre, we have had much better “house entertainment” on other ships. All of their songs seemed to have a much slower tempo than the originals and they were just rather boring. The Orchestra was very good and when they included this spotlight singer/guitarist, they were way better than the house band. The DJ’s were good, most of the time we were hearing DJ Positive P, though they have 3 DJ’s on this ship and they were all doing a very good job. Some of the DJ parties were held in the Atrium Foyer and some were held in the Sky Lounge on Deck 14. Overall, our dance options were good, a few nights a bit hit or miss and we did not like that they would have Latin Hour at 11pm, they Open Disco at 12am...just open at one hour and play a mix of all music so that everyone can dance throughout the night. they also had this “Silent Disco” twice during the cruise where enough put on these headphones and listen to one of 3 channels. You can switch the channels at any time, but you have a venue full of people wearing headphones and dancing & singing to 3 different channels at any given time. It’s amusing for a short while and then it’s just stupid...but people were doing it, so guess I’m just a traditionalist.
We only went to one performance show in the theatre- the Tenors of Rock and they were amazing, it was a great show which we thoroughly enjoyed. We also went to the Newlywed/Not so Newlywed show which is always funny & we attended the Liars Club show one night and that was entertaining as well. We missed plenty of other shows, but between our dining and dancing we had to prioritize.
The spa & fitness facility is of a good size, though we didn’t visit beyond the initial tour. The main pool is filled with lively activities during the day and there is also the Adults only Solarium area, though I’ve never been a fan of the enclosed pool area when it’s so gorgeous outside. There is the lawn Club where games of bocce ball take place during the day, we never quite had the time for that. Casino is a good size, but they don’t have my Let It Ride game, so I did not make a donation and we didn’t even go to bingo the last day- the weather was just too nice to waste in January!
Speaking of weather, it was perfect and we had smooth sailing the entire week. Could not have asked for any better seas. Our ports of call were: Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Falmouth Jamaica and Labadee, Haiti. Since this was Bill’s first visit to Grand Cayman we did the excursion to Stingray City, which was good and he got to see the stingrays. Cozumel we did lunch at our favorite place- Pancho's Backyard and enjoyed a wonderful afternoon & I got to play the Marimba with the entertainers - lots of fun. We began to walk back to the ship, but realized after 45 minutes that if we wanted to have some time to shop, we needed to taxi the rest of the way. There are two ports in Cozumel and this time our ship was docked farther from Pancho's Backyard than our last trip. Jamaica we decided to enjoy the quiet ship and pool day and then Labadee which is the cruise lines private island, we went on a sailing yacht for the afternoon. It was a very relaxing day and Bill enjoyed this better than Stingray City.
All in all, we had a great cruise. Celebrity is wonderful and we met some wonderful crew members that helped to make this a very memorable cruise. Everyone was very helpful and overall the ship never felt very crowded except for the last sea day- finding a pool lounge chair was tough..but I think that is partially because they don’t make you check out and check back in again with your towels, so people abandon them and you can never be sure if lounge chairs are available or not. But I do appreciate not having to keep a tally on the towels. Then the Atrium area was very crowded on New Year's Eve for the parties and then again on 70’s night, other than that, we never had any crowd issues. A good majority of the ship went to bed after the show, we pretty much kept California time our entire trip, staying up until 230am and getting up around 11am or noon east coast time.
We really do enjoy cruising over New Years though, it’s a great party and wonderful way to ring in the new year. We met some fun folks from Florida who were originally from New Jersey--70’s years young and married 46 years...they has such style and could dance up the floor, we enjoyed getting to know them and sharing the dance floor with them each night. I don’t think we’ll forget Linda & Wolf any time soon!
For our final day, we booked a cruise line excursion to the Everglades with airport drop off. The tour to Gator Land was fabulous, this is our 3rd time doing something similar and this was by far the best. Great show of alligators, crocodiles, lizards, Owl..the guy who was doing the shop had to be related to Crocodile Dundee...really a great show. Our experience at Miami Airport was enough for us to say that we will always fly in and out of Fort Lauderdale. Miami International Airport is a dump! American Airlines at the Miami Airport is extremely disorganized and was just a mess. Now granted, there were plenty of flights to the Eastern Seaboard that were canceled due to snow storms & with a shooting incident the day prior at Fort Lauderdale which resulted in some canceled flights, I know that the Miami airport had an influx of people, but we waited a good 2.5 hours in line to check in because the kiosk would not allow us to check-in and then when we did get to the agent, she informed us that we didn’t have seat assignments, which I had booked and paid for 10 months ago and reconfirmed what I had just 8 days ago. Well seems there had been a schedule change right after we left on our cruise and with that our seats were screwed up, so we were stuck in two middle seats for 6 hours to get home - not the most ideal way to travel. Of course, our flight was also delayed due to weather in SFO. Nothing worse than coming home from a wonderfully warm Caribbean vacation to rain and more rain and more rain. HAPPY NEW YEAR!
To view pictures of the Celebrity Reflection, you can click here for my Flickr album.