Finally!! Back to Sea, but Something is New!
After two long years away, the Traveling Bradburys finally returned to cruising when we embarked on the Celebrity Reflection. Prior to the pandemic, had I been asked, I would have scoffed at the idea of switching cruise lines. We had started with Carnival and would stick with Carnival. However, after several canceled cruises, we instead had spent our time at All-Inclusive Resorts in Mexico and Jamaica. Our cruises kept getting pushed out until instead of having 5 trips booked, we were down to one. Had those cruises not canceled, I am sure we would have continued to cruise with Carnival since we would be almost Platinum Level in their rewards program, and we have loved every minute we spent on those ships.
However, some of our great friends that work for Celebrity Cruises insisted we give them a chance. With some open time on our calendar, I started looking at options for getting back to sea. The new Celebrity ships looked amazing, and every new cruise video seemed to be coming from the Edge or Apex. So, I started doing my research and shopping around, comparing different ships and itineraries versus our old favorites. As it turned out, with their promotions and my military discount, the pricing worked out to be more than competitive on Celebrity, so I took the bait and booked our first luxury cruise experience.
Living that Suite Life
Celebrity Cruises offers Always Included fares that bundle Wi-Fi, drinks and tips into your cost. While we don’t usually purchase internet packages, the drinks and tips are easily $1,000 or more when purchased separately. The more I looked around, the more benefit I found in the inclusive pricing versus what we had been used to paying on Carnival. Ultimately, after a lot of back and forth, we went one step further and booked a Sky Suite to enjoy the ultimate luxury experience.
All Suites on Celebrity are part of the Retreat – An all-inclusive experience that includes private dining, bars and lounges, a personal Retreat host (think Butler Service), premium drinks package, streaming Wi-Fi and an additional $400-600 to spend on board. Retreat Guests receive priority boarding thru a separate lounge in which snacks, drinks and Champagne await. On chic nights you get reserved seating at the shows. If tendering, you get priority service. Reservations at specialty dining is handled thru your Retreat Host and you are given priority, and if you book the top-end suites the cost of the specialty dining is included as well. Consider this the ultimate all-inclusive package at sea.
Michael’s Club – Retreat Lounge
The Retreat also has Concierge services available 24/7. On our sailing, Michael’s Club held the private bar and lounge where we would meet our concierge team, Briton and John. The Concierge Team would immediately prove their worth when they found my lost luggage after a nightmare day of travel. After I told them I had boarded without my bag, they immediately went to work and got to working the phones. They had the airline find and deliver my suitcase to the pier, John waited personally for the van to drop it off, then delivered my bag to my room and finally called to let me know it had all been taken care of. I cannot begin to tell you what a huge relief this was, because when I boarded, I was certain I would not see my suitcase until I got home.
Behind the bar in Michael’s, Cranston was serving up some of the most delicious drinks on board. All premium liquors are available here and you can pick your own beers, waters, juices and sodas from standup coolers that line the back wall. The lounge was resplendent in wood trim and touches that reminded me of an old cigar lounge or private Golf Club. There were plenty of comfortable seats, tables and couches to lounge in if you didn’t want to belly up to the bar.
Stop in anytime, day or night, and there was someone to meet your needs. Hungry? Have a cheese plate, or some finger sandwiches. Want a glass of cold milk? Just ask. Enjoy tea at sea? A lovely spread was set on sea days to enjoy your favorite tea, or to try something new. The variety seemed endless, and the atmosphere was matched perfectly with soft jazz playing in the background.
You could also book your excursions, reserve specialty dining or even have change made if needed. Anything you could do at the customer service desk, could be taken care of at Michael’s Club without having to wait in a line. The Future Cruise rep even met us the lounge to book our next cruise. In fact, they always offered a drink while we worked on our requests, making it even more comfortable. The service level was beyond outstanding. The staff were attentive, professional and friendly making you feel quite at home. I can honestly say that the time I spent in Michael’s was some of the best I have ever spent at sea.
Suite 2176 – Deck 12
Our New Year in 2022 started off in an Executive Suite at the Omni Hotel in Louisville. Maybe we got a taste for it and have an addiction, but I can say that staying in a suite is better than a regular room on both land and sea. Our cruise cabin was about one and a half times the size of a regular veranda stateroom. It was ready as soon as we boarded, with a bottle of complimentary Champagne on ice for us as well.
Our Retreat Host, Arun, was there the moment we arrived. He served the Champagne and proceeded to give us a tour of our cabin, setup our mini bar, walk us thru the safety briefing and sign us into the ship’s Wi-Fi. He explained what services he could offer and went out of his way to make us comfortable. Our room steward Nino popped in and introduced himself and throughout our sailing, we could not have been happier with the service.
Our room was serviced twice daily. To start the day, our beds were usually made, before we had even finished our breakfast and morning walk. Nino also decorated our cabin for our Anniversary celebration including the cutest little bride and groom towel mice. Competent and attentive to every detail, Nino was never intrusive, but always smiling when we would meet in the hall. We rarely had to even open our own door, as one of the team would be there before we could get our keys out.
For the Romantic Package that I had ordered pre-sail, Arun arranged our in-room dining and served breakfast on our balcony complete with freshly made omelets, thick cut bacon (much better than buffet offering), a basket of breads, fresh squeezed orange juice, a pot of coffee and mimosas. I added a spicy Bloody Mary to my order which was delivered in minutes. Later that evening, the team delivered a beautiful chocolate cake complete with a special message for my wife. A dozen beautiful red long-stemmed roses in a vase, and a bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne completed the surprise. Yes, very bougie! But again, the price was surprisingly reasonable for the experience.
Our suite bathroom was tiled in marble and came complete with a tub, which absolutely thrilled my wife. She loves to take baths and so that alone was worth the upgrade in her opinion. There was plenty of storage in both the drawers, and behind the large well-lit mirror. For myself, the large rain shower was perfect and had more than enough pressure to leave me feeling fresh and ready for fun.
Sail Away Only Made Things Better
To make our trip even more special, and to make sure we enjoyed our first Celebrity experience to the fullest, our friends joined us on our trip. It means a lot to us that they would spend their vacation time with us! And since they knew the lay of the land, or ship I should say, they positioned us perfectly for our departure from Port Everglades. The Sunset Bar on the Reflection is awesome any time of day, but as the sun went down and we sailed the channel heading out to sea, things could not have been more perfect. A couple of fine cigars and stories from the good old days, accompanied by some fantastic cocktails and possibly too many shots of Patron, made for a very memorable night.
For dinner that evening, our hosts had made reservations at Tuscan Grille to take advantage of the first night discount. We had not been able to get the same dining time and so we were not planning on going. However, when asked if they could accommodate us as well, the staff made it happen. Tuscan Grille is an intimate Italian Steakhouse serving Prime Dry Aged Steaks, Pastas that are handmade daily, and traditional Italian Dishes with a modern flare. After a long day of travel and getting acclimated to the ship, this dinner was a perfect cap to the day.
An Experience Like No Other
Due to the pandemic, cruising was still slowly recovering. We spent the week on what some call a Ghost Ship, since it was nearly empty. Only 884 passengers made this sailing, allowing us plenty of space to which we took full advantage. There were times when it felt like we were the only two people around because we were the only two people around. Other than late night trips to the ice cream bar or early morning pizza runs, we had never seen so few passengers on a ship.
From the World Bar to Cafe al Bacio we rarely waited a beat. When we were seated away from the bar, our favorite server Devandre would come find us. He found me at breakfast and brought me Cappuccino. He found us on the pool deck and brought us frozen drinks. He saw me walking towards the gangway at port and grabbed us bottled water. At the Martini Bar, he made sure our glasses were never empty. The personalized attention continued everywhere we went.
Whether or not the ship was fully booked would not have affected our dinner plans on this cruise. Having a suite gave us access to Luminae, a private dining venue with a menu created by a World Class Chef, Daniel Beloud. Breakfast and Dinner was served daily, and lunch was available on days at sea. Everything here was delicious, especially when paired with the wines offered by Red, the house sommelier. If you didn’t find something you liked, they would bring you menus from the MDR or Blu. You could not go wrong. The dining room was immaculate, and the service was impeccable. From the host to the server assistants, we felt like they could not be happier to have us there. Our waiter would worry when we didn’t finish our plates and beg to bring us more. But we were full, not unhappy and so we declined dessert, opting for coffees instead.
Reflections on the Reflection – see what I did there?
From hanging out in a giant Adirondack chair on an actual lawn at sea, to the shopping, to the beautiful art installations scattered around the ship, Dawn and I experienced everything the Reflection had to offer. We enjoyed delicious hamburgers from the Mast Grill and later relaxed in the gorgeous library with a book off the shelves. We would grab an Espresso and Coconut Macaroon and then chill out in the clever nooks of the Hideaway. Challenges awaited us in the GameOn area, with tabletop games that would test our skills or our memory. The Casino took our donations, and the auctioneers tempted us with Art sales at sea, luckily, we made it through both unscathed and mostly intact. The showmanship of the Martini Bar staff fit perfectly between the live entertainment offered in the main atrium and the shows we would enjoy in the theatres later at night. Our sail away from Costa Maya was an event that included, a meet and greet with the ship’s Captain, and an amazing view while enjoying champagne on the helipad.
Day by day, hour by hour, our experience more than satisfied our thirst for travel. We enjoyed the ports and swam with the Dolphins in Cozumel at Dolphinaris. We enjoyed ourselves so much in fact, that we booked our trip on the Celebrity Apex for 2024 while still on board. Then, after returning home and discussing how wonderful our trip had been, we canceled our fall trip to Jamaica and booked a trip on the Celebrity Summit that has now turned into our first B2B (back-to-back) Cruise. Carnival was fun, but it wasn’t always our brand of fun. The style of cruising on Celebrity is more traditional with less theme park frill and more attention to service and leisure.
For now, we have our group trip left on Carnival Magic in January of ’23, and we very much look forward to enjoying the fun with our friends and families. However, for our future bookings, Celebrity will always be the chosen brand. Thank you to both Melissa and Josh for bringing us into the “suite life”!