Pay attention to the interwebs tomorrow, as according to Royal Caribbean’s PR Twitter feed, we can expect a major announcement about their upcoming Project Sunshine vessels sometime tomorrow. Could we finally get a glimpse of what these new ships are going to look like? I’ve got nothing but rampant speculation, so I can’t wait to see what the company has to say. My guess: we’ll see the logical extension of the Freedom Class vessels incorporating features from Oasis. And my money is on RCL introducing something brand new and unique to Project Sunshine too. Stay tuned.

As you are probably aware, MrsMJ and I completed a 14-night cruise aboard the beautiful new Celebrity Reflection back in November. I posted a bit of an initial review at that time, and have since posted some additional photographs from our cruise. With my “Ultimate Word on Celebrity Reflection” post, I’ll be bringing everything into one cohesive tome, for your review and perusal prior to what I expect will be an enjoyable cruise should you choose to book Celebrity Reflection.

Getting to the Port of Venice Cruise Terminal

In celebration of MrsMJonTravel’s birthday, we actually traveled to Italy a few days early where we spent one night in Rome, followed by 3 nights in Florence. We spent our time in Florence at the beautiful Hotel Alessandra. Our time there was spent enjoying Florence, and my birthday gift to MrsMJ, a private tour of Tuscany including a wine tasting arranged by our fabulous Virtuoso Travel Agent, Michelle, at McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia. After three great days in Florence, the time had finally come to head to Venice and the beautiful Celebrity Reflection.

We arrived in Venice via Trenitalia and proceeded outside the station. If you turn right, and walk across the bridge towards the Piazza di Roma, you will see signs directing you to the People Mover. For 1 Euro per person, you can then ride the People Mover (which is simply a tram system), to the Maritima Cruise Terminal stop. From there, it is a 5 minute walk to the terminals. It was raining the day we arrived, so we elected to wait for the Celebrity provided bus to transport us the remainder of the way to the ship. If I had it to do over, I would have walked in the rain and avoided schlepping onto the bus with the 50 other people….rain or not.

In any event, we were in front of the terminal soon enough. There was a small line to drop off your luggage, and then we entered the terminal. Once upstairs, it was obvious that we were not the only ones to have arrived early. It was a bit of a chaotic scene as the queues were jam-packed with people. I’m not certain if they were late beginning check in because the Italian immigration authorities were slow to clear the ship’s disembarking passengers or not, but it did appear that way. MrsMJ would opine that since we are 2 for 2 on semi-chaotic embarkations in Italy, it must be an Italian thing.

We were directed to a sitting area, where we remained for about 15 more minutes before the check in lines began to move. Once they did, we were processed fairly quickly, and then went on to security. There was a bit of a wait as the gangway was backed up with passengers, but I would estimate the whole thing took no longer than 10 minutes. And we finally stepped onto the ship. I found my previous Solstice Class experience to be very impressive. Simply put, these ships are beautiful, and Celebrity Reflection continues that tradition. Elegant, stunning, and cool. Three words that don’t necessarily fit in the same sentence, but all of which accurately describe Celebrity Reflection.

Celebrity Reflection, the last of 5 Solstice Class ships rounding out the Celebrity fleet represents a few firsts as well. In comparison to earlier ships, Reflection is one deck taller. And most important to me, Reflection also introduces Celebrity’s first Aqua Class Suites. This is important because I booked one of those suites for MrsMJ and me. :) I would say the biggest difference between the Suite and a standard Aqua Class room is the size. Our room was noticeably more spacious than the standard Aqua Class room we enjoyed on our Celebrity Equinox cruise in the summer of 2010. We enjoyed a full-size sofa, ample closet space, large bath with tub, and a butler. Yes, a butler. Here are a few pictures of the room.

Around the Ship and a Few of MJ’s Favorite Things

I have never found myself lacking for things to do on a cruise ship. Our itinerary was particularly port-intensive, which made for a slightly less relaxing, but incredibly enriching cruise. More on the itinerary later. First, let’s talk about the ship. As I mentioned earlier, Celebrity Reflection is the final Solstice Class ship to be delivered to Celebrity. I find these ships particularly elegant, and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, both inside and out. Reflection includes the first Reflection Suite, which looks like a destination itself. No, I didn’t get to visit, but that cantilevered shower looks pretty awesome! I suppose I could settle for one of the Signature Suites if I had to! :)

Let’s discuss what I did get to personally enjoy. Since we booked Aqua Class, we enjoyed dining in Blu. Reserved exclusively for Aqua Class guests (suite guests can be accommodated on a space available basis), Blu features “healthier” “spa” cuisine, but healthier did not equal less tasty. Frankly, I’ve never been as impressed with food on a cruise ship as I was with Blu on Celebrity Reflection. Delicious food with impecable service. Suffice it to say, we loved Blu! On the downside, while I was not impacted, probably because we tend to eat late, there were reports of overcrowding in Blu on our particular cruise. Again, I did not experience it, but I know it happened. I’m sure our 8:30pm and later dining times were the reason we never had any issues.

We were also able to enjoy other specialty restaurants during our cruise including Lawn Club Grill, Murano, Tuscan Grill, and Qsine. All were wonderful in their own right, but Tuscan Grill was our favorite, followed by Qsine. Tuscan Grill featured wonderful pastas, great steaks, and fabulous service. We liked it so much, we visited twice, and requested the same server.

I suppose Celebrity’s typical crowd is a bit past the all-night clubbing phase, so another change for Reflection is the lack of a disco/nightclub space. MrsMJ and I had to improvise, and we had no trouble doing so. Our favorite nightspot on the ship was the Martini Bar. It’s a beautiful space with an ice covered bar, and best of all, great martinis!

In a tie for favorite spaces is the MJ’s Cellar Masters Wine Bar. A quiet spot, that was rarely crowded (wine tastings excepted) I really liked the comfortable atmosphere, and of course, the wine.

While I didn’t spend much time there, I really enjoyed what Celebrity has done with Michael’s Club. Michael’s Club features a really great selection of craft beers and other libations. The atmosphere is sedate, but just right for an evening after dinner. Hey, what can be wrong with a cruise ship bar that sells Dogfish 90 Minute IPA?!?! That’s right, not a thing!

One more favorite thing, Molecular Bar where the drinks are works of art.

There is so much more to write about that I doubt I could ever cover it all in one blog post. Frankly, 14 nights was not enough for me to visit every single space on the ship and enjoy the fabulous ports of call as well. Pool time is an important part of cruising, and Celebrity Reflection has a wonderful pool deck. Unfortunately, it was November in Europe, so the weather just wasn’t what anyone would consider pool weather. That didn’t stop me from snapping a few pictures though.

The solarium pool is very popular because it’s inside and warm during cool days!

There’s also the Lawn Club, and some really huge chairs. :)

Reflection features Alcoves on the Lawn Club as well that can be reserved for a fee of $99 dollars per Alcove in port, and $149 dollars per Alcove on sea days. I only witnessed one being used during our cruise, but I could see a market for them in warmer weather. They can be reserved online in advance of your cruise.

If you have any questions about areas of the ship or activities not depicted here, feel free to comment to the post or send me an email. I will gladly answer any question I can.

The Itinerary

Our fabulous itinerary was packed with ports. Depending on your perspective, that can be a good or a bad thing. In a perfect MJ world, a cruise like this would feature one sea day for every day in port. None of these are your typical port that I’ve visited half a dozen times. These were the kinds of places you really wanted to see! As a result, I found this cruise to be less restful than many I have taken. That is not a complaint, it is simply the truth of the cruise. It wasn’t labeled a 14-night Mediterranean Empires cruise for nothing. That said, I was truly envious of those who were continuing on to Miami (and there were hundreds) for the trans-Atlantic repositioning that featured 8 days at sea. That may sound tortuous to some, but frankly sounded awesome to me. I needed the time off. Maybe next time.

In order to avoid creating the world’s longest blog post, I will link to my blogs on each port where applicable. If there was no separate blog post for the port, I will link to my pictures. Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 – Venice

Day 2 – Venice

Day 3 – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Day 4 – At Sea

Day 5 – Rhodes, Greece (Cancelled, and spent at sea)

Day 6 – Kusadasi, Turkey (Ephesus)

Day 7 – At Sea

Day 8 – Athens, Greece

Day 9 – Valletta, Malta

Day 10 – Catania, Sicily

Day 11 – Naples and Capri

Day 12 – Rome

Day 13 – Livorno (Pisa)

Day 14 – Provence, France (More Pictures Forthcoming)

Disembarkation in Barcelona, Hotel Arts – Barcelona

Miscellaneous Items of Interest to Cruisers

This cruise, like all other Celebrity itineraries offered inclusive drink packages for sale. We don’t blink an eye at purchasing Celebrity’s Premium Drink Package. It is an investment of sorts, but I love not having to sign for every single drink you buy, and it makes your total cruise cost more predictable. As far as time in port, we booked a mix of ship-sponsored excursions, private tours through our travel agent, and touring on our own. Do what you are comfortable with, but if you can manage it, a private tour is a truly enriching experience, especially in places like Ephesus and Rome. Celebrity does offer youth programs, and there were younger people on our cruise, just not many. Most were pre school age that I saw. As DINKs, MrsMJ and I are not qualified to speak to the quality of Celebrity’s youth programs, but you can read about them here.

Nobody’s Perfect

OK…with great ports, great service, and a glowing review, it can’t all be that good, right? Well, actually it can, but there were a few hiccups along the way, some I was impacted by, and some I just heard about. Port security in Venice was interesting. On day 2, returning to the ship for sail away from Venice, there was a security setup by the port outside the ship. One mobile x-ray for nearly 4,000 guests. We returned early and didn’t really have a problem. Others were not so lucky and I heard the line got really long. To top things off, you had to go through security again onboard the ship.

From my perspective, the biggest service issue during the cruise was a mechanical issue that developed during the night when we were sailing towards Rhodes. The Captain called it a “technical problem” but it was later learned and reported online that the issue was electrical. Long story short, we had to sail slower than planned, which is why we missed Rhodes, and continued directly to Kusadasi. It also made us late into Valletta, so we missed out on our self-purchased Hypogeum tour tickets. That is an important reminder about touring on your own and your contract of carriage with the cruise line. In reality, they aren’t responsible for stopping at a particular port. If we had booked that tour through the cruise line, our tickets would have been refunded. Since we did not do that, we were on our own. We did have travel insurance, but the price of the tickets vs. the use of my time to file a claim just is not worth it in this case. Frankly, beyond these two things, the problem did not impact our cruise, though it did make for an extra sea day on the trans-Atlantic cruise. If there is one thing that I would have changed about the whole experience, it would have been this.

The folks traveling on the trans-Atlantic crossing did not find out until the day before that the problem would impact their sailing, deleting one port and adding a sea day. It just struck me that there was, in my opinion, a lack of information about the problem. Granted, not everyone is a junior wannabe sailor like myself, so maybe I was the only one looking for a better technical understanding of what happened. There were complaints of crowding at Blu, and some didn’t like the crowds at the Captain’s Club evening receptions either. You can read all about those with a quick search on Cruise Critic. I’m sure these issues were experienced by some, just not by me. Otherwise, I can’t think of a thing that Celebrity could have done better.

The Bottom Line

Celebrity Reflection is currently sailing 7-night Caribbean cruises before returning to the Mediterranean this spring for the summer sailing season. We enjoyed a phenomenal cruise on Celebrity Reflection. A beautiful ship, fabulous itinerary, and great service. I really did want to stay on board for the trans-Atlantic crossing! :) I would jump at the chance to sail Celebrity Reflection again. Enjoy your cruise!

- MJ, January 21, 2013

A reader writes:

Hey Marshall, I enjoy reading your blog and also enjoy traveling and…CRUISING (esp. with Celebrity!)!  I thought you would like to know the current season of Top Chef (Seattle) will have an episode where they cook on the Celebrity Millennium during an Alaska itinerary.  Do you have a credit card you recommend using to pay for cruises (free insurance/trip interruption/etc)?  Keep up the good work!
Thank you very much,

MJ Responds:

Hi there. Thank you for your email. I had seen a couple of advertisements for that Top Chef episode. Looks like fun. :) Credit cards and cruises are a trick. There is no one perfect solution, and I am not aware of any card that provides the kind of insurance that would cover the cost of a cruise if something went wrong and you were unable to cruise. The American Express Platinum Card and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card do offer some travel insurance that covers things like lost baggage, flight cancel protection, etc.

The Amex Platinum Card offers a program called Cruise Privileges which includes onboard credits, possible upgrades, and some ship board amenities. I weigh those benefits against booking through another channel which may include a bigger onboard credit or other benefit when making a decision on how to pay for the cruise. If the Cruise Privileges bennies win, then I pay for the cruise with my Amex Platinum Card. The downside of this card is that it carries an annual fee of $450 dollars. That said, I fly a lot, and the card offers airline lounge access with Delta (my primary airline). If I didn’t carry the Amex Platinum card, I would be buying lounge access from Delta, which incidentally, costs the same as the Amex annual fee and offers none of the other benefits that come with the card. There are other benefits with the card for travelers that in my mind, at least, pay for that annual fee, but those benefits aren’t worth the same thing to everyone.
Now, if I decide that the benefits of using the Amex Cruise Privileges program are outweighed by another offer like a significant onboard credit by booking with the cruise line, I pay for my cruises with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. This card offers 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar for all travel purchase including cruises. I like Ultimate Rewards a lot. They can be transferred to airline programs like United or British Airways, Hotel programs like Hyatt or Marriott, and you can even use them to pay for your cruise. I actually wrote a blog based on a reader question about cruise credit cards a few months ago. You can check that out here.
I have links to each of these credit cards on the blog. Please note that if one applies for and receives a credit card through those links, I will receive a referral bonus. There is no requirement to do so, and you are welcome to just click on those links and read the information available on the cards I mentioned without applying for any credit.
I appreciate your email, and hope this information is helpful. Feel free to write back if you have any questions.
Disclosure: There are no direct links to my credit card offers in this post as it is a cc of an email between a reader and myself. However, I do reference my “Credit Cards for Traveling Well” page, so in the interest of full disclosure, it is possible to click through to some links that will offer me a referral bonus if a credit card is applied for and received through those links. As always, your readership is appreciated whether you use my links or not.

One of the the questions I get more than any other from first time cruisers, or people just thinking about taking their first cruise is what about “that virus thing?” That virus thing, known as Norovirus is on the television news as I type this post, in fact, as Cunard’s Queen Mary II has apparently been stricken with a higher than average number of sick passengers. My friend, The Weekly Flyer, over at Points, Miles, and Martini’s sent me this article and I thought it was worth a blog. I also think it’s worth noting that in the case of the Queen Mary II, approximately 200 passengers and crew have contracted Norovirus, but the total number of passengers and crew on board is 3,868 (2,613 passengers, and 1,255 crew) according to the article. In other words, a lot of cruisers are enjoying themselves and hardly experiencing a “Christmas disaster” as described in the article.

Let’s talk about what this really is for a minute. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) “Noroviruses are a group of related viruses. Infection with these viruses affects the stomach and intestines and causes an illness called gastroenteritis (GAS-tro-en-ter-I-tis; inflammation of the stomach and intestines).” You can read the rest of CDC’s take on Noroviruses by clicking here. You can contract Norovirus anywhere, not just on cruise ships.

I’ve been on 30 cruises, and have yet to have the “dis” pleasure of Norovirus. In fact, the only person I have ever known to contract Norovirus caught it in his college dorm. That said, it obviously can impact a cruise, so what do I do to ensure that I am doing my best to not contract Norovirus? First, I wash my hands regularly and take advantage of opportunities to use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer when appropriate. Hint: If a member of the ship’s crew is offering you the opportunity to sanitize your hands and you haven’t washed them recently, it’s probably a good idea to take the hand sanitizer.

Cruise ships make a big effort at keeping things clean. One thing you will notice on your cruise is that a member of the crew is always polishing the hand rails. That’s not just to keep them shiny, it’s to kill germs that your fellow cruisers might be spreading. Sometimes, the illness breaks through and grows to a certain number and then the cruise lines are required to report it. That is why you don’t often hear about Norovirus outside of the cruise industry even though it may be running rampant at a local hotel right now. The reporting requirements are different for ships than they are for hotels, or college dorms. Further, for an eager reporter, the thought of 200 people having a bad stomach bug while on vacation just sounds like a better story than 200 college kids getting sick in their dorm. (Obviously, that is just my opinion, but I stand by it.) You can read about Norovirus reporting for the cruise industry here (the Vessel Sanitation Program (VSP)), and everyone else here.

The bottom line is that Norovirus could impact your cruise, but cruise lines do take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen. You can do things to make sure it doesn’t happen to you as well. Primarily, wash your hands with warm soapy water at every opportunity. And oh yeah…please don’t stick your nasty used water bottle on the water dispenser to refill it in the buffet line. (Sorry, had to get that in there.)

Updated with more pictures.

I posted a bit of a mini review/initial impressions of Celebrity Reflection here. I included a few photos in that post. Since then, I have managed to upload more photos. Rather than wait until I complete my comprehensive review, I thought I would get the photos I have ready online now for those of you that are interested. My photos are organized by port of call, with a couple of specialized folders containing ship pictures, restaurants, etc. Here’s what I have so far. I will update the links as I get the photos ready to go, and include the index in my overall review. In the meantime, if you have any questions about Reflection, please comment to the blog, or email me. I’ll be glad to tell you what I think. We had a great cruise and really enjoyed Reflection.

Photos of Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity Reflection Specialty Restaurant – Qsine

Celebrity Reflection – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Celebrity Reflection – Athens, Greece

Celebrity Reflection – Valletta, Malta (Don’t laugh at our choice of a walk on/walk off bus) :)

Celebrity Reflection – Catania, Sicily

Celebrity Reflection – Naples and Capri

Celebrity Reflection – Rome

Celebrity Reflection – Livorno (Pisa)

Celebrity Reflection – Provence, France

Post Cruise – Barcelona

I posted a bit of a mini review/initial impressions of Celebrity Reflection here. I included a few photos in that post. Since then, I have managed to upload more photos. Rather than wait until I complete my comprehensive review, I thought I would get the photos I have ready online now for those of you that are interested. My photos are organized by port of call, with a couple of specialized folders containing ship pictures, restaurants, etc. Here’s what I have so far. I will update the links as I get the photos ready to go, and include the index in my overall review. In the meantime, if you have any questions about Reflection, please comment to the blog, or email me. I’ll be glad to tell you what I think. We had a great cruise and really enjoyed Reflection.

Photos of Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity Reflection Specialty Restaurant – Qsine

Celebrity Reflection – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Celebrity Reflection – Athens, Greece

Celebrity Reflection – Valletta, Malta

Celebrity Reflection – Catania, Sicily

Celebrity Reflection – Naples and Capri

Celebrity Reflection – Rome

Celebrity Reflection – Livorno (Pisa)

Celebrity Reflection – Provence, France

Post Cruise – Barcelona

Things are busy here at MJ on Travel, but I do have a few things to say. Just a reminder that the Chicago Seminars are coming up this weekend, and I couldn’t be more excited. As you know, I am speaking Saturday evening at a session entitled The Cruising Crowd with Marshall Jackson. In fact, I’m finishing up the presentation for our session tonight. I will be hitting the highlights on why I think cruising is a great vacation value, and offer some tips and tricks to help make sure you enjoy your first cruise or your 50th! Even if you aren’t attending my session, I hope you will say hello if you see me around the seminar.

Later this week, I will post a blog on my recent visit with the social media folks at Delta Air Lines. I spent about 3 hours at Delta HQ yesterday meeting with various groups including corporate communications, the great people at @DeltaAssist, and taking a tour of the Delta museum and the operations control center, a spot where I could spend days just hanging out and watching what’s going on. Yes, I am an airline operations geek/nerd at heart. :) Can’t wait to share the details.

Another reason things are so busy here, is that we are just 3 weeks away from leaving for our big trip to Italy and our Mediterranean cruise aboard Celebrity Reflection. I think we’ve put together a great trip…an adventure….really something special that I will be blogging about along the way. I expect to be blogging on a daily basis, in fact. Just got to figure out how to keep internet costs in check. :) Stay tuned. More to come this week.

 

 

As you may know, I am presenting at this fall’s Chicago Seminars. The session is titled “The Cruising Crowd with Marshall Jackson.” That’s a pretty good session title and I’m looking forward to meeting those of you who will be attending. I have some ideas about what I want to say, and I’m leaning towards calling my presentation “Vacation 101: Frequent Floating for the Frequent Flier.” Looking forward to talking about the basics of cruising, the do’s and don’ts, and giving a little 411 on life as a cruiser. I’ll be taking questions during the presentation, and will answer anything, but I thought I’d post this. Is there anything specific that those of you who will be participating in the session want to talk about? Let me know, and I will ensure that I include something in my presentation.

Can’t wait to meet everyone at the 2012 Chicago Seminars whether you are attending my session or not!!!

Royal Caribbean launched its July Extended Sales event today with some pretty decent deals on short-notice cruises. Lots of itineraries ranging from 3-night Bahamas weekenders to 12-night Mediterranean cruises. If you still haven’t settled on your summer vacation plans, consider cruising. Click here for details.

If I wasn’t committed to an extensive cruise this fall, I’d be all over one of these. Good pricing from my favorite cruise line. Offer ends July 6, 2012.

I know many of you are attending the Chicago Seminars in October. I know I am, and I can’t wait!!!! I attended the first seminars and it was a great experience. The only reason I missed the 2011 seminars is because I was on…..a cruise! Actually, back to back cruises aboard the world’s largest cruise ship, Allure of the Seas. In any event, the Seminars are a great event, and a big gathering of miles and point junkies from all over the world.

All the greats will be there like One Mile at a Time, MommyPoints, and The Points Guy presenting on all the latest tips and tricks to maximize your miles and points. There’s also some guy named Marshall Jackson talking about vacationing at sea at 6pm on Saturday evening. The seminars are filling up rapidly, and frankly, there’s already a pretty big crowd signed up for The Cruising Crowd with Marshall Jackson as well. Check out the threads on FlyerTalk and Milepoint and if you’re on the fence about attending the Seminars…sign up now! I hope to see you there!!!

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