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Fifth and final member of Celebrity’s well-received Solstice Class of ships, Celebrity Reflection arrived in late 2012. Weighing in at 126,000 tons, Reflection is the biggest in Celebrity’s fleet, carrying 3,046 passengers on cruises through Europe each summer and to Caribbean islands during the winter season.
Like its predecessors, Reflection exudes a classy, sophisticated ambiance, with dramatic public spaces enhanced by contemporary art and a live ficus tree suspended midair within the ship’s 12-story atrium. It’s somewhat akin to a sleek boutique hotel, but without a clique-y or exclusionary atmosphere, meaning few cruisers will find they don’t fit in—it’s a solid match for boomers. But as the Solstice Class ships have evolved, we take issue with a key change to how one of our favorite spaces has been redefined since the first vessel in the class emerged.
Founded in 1989 by a Greece-based passenger and shipping company, Celebrity Cruises has always aspired to an upscale crowd. The line was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1997, and as the two companies have matured, similarities between their products have started to crop up. While Celebrity still aims for a slightly more upmarket ambience, the biggest difference between the two is size; Reflection is Celebrity’s largest ship, but half of Royal Caribbean’s fleet is comprised of even larger vessels.
Celebrity Cruises took a big leap forward with the introduction of Celebrity Solstice in 2008, a ship that reportedly upped its green credentials, with a hull designed to maximize fuel savings, silicone hull coatings to minimize resistance, and enough solar panels to power the ship’s elevators. The Solstice Class vessels arrived at a rate of one per year, culminating with the debut of Celebrity Reflection in 2012. Like its siblings, Celebrity Reflection is handsomely designed, a vessel that provides lots of stimulating eye candy in a reasonably sophisticated environment.
Overall, we found our cruise agreeable. There’s a wide variety of cabin options on this ship, especially for those inclined to to spring for a suite, and our veranda cabin was comfortable and inviting. The service we received was right-on, and the range of activities and diversions available was extensive, especially the attractive spa and large, well-equipped gym. Smoking areas were limited, and Celebrity is one of the few cruise lines to offer non-smoking casinos.
The amenities and ambience on Reflection will be familiar to those who’ve experienced one of the four earlier Solstice ships. The look is certainly consistent—from the modern art pieces generously distributed throughout the common areas to the live ficus tree sprouting from midair halfway up the central atrium, a root-like metal sculpture emerging from the base of the planter (much of the art echoes the ship’s moniker with reflection motifs). As on the other Celebrity ships, surcharges can add up: There are no laundry rooms on Reflection, consigning guests to the expensive laundry service, and most of the movies available in cabins are pay-per-view—$10 a pop.
We found food at the specialty restaurants to be ambitious and flashy, but the meals didn’t always live up to the hype, especially considering the add-ons of up to $45 per person. Still, our meals in the main dining room were mostly satisfying, and the well-designed buffet venue on Reflection is diverse and appealing, with an emphasis on fresh and flavorful.
Over the course of four years, Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships have evolved in subtle but notable ways. For starters, the ships have grown; guest capacity on Celebrity Reflection is 7 percent greater than on Celebrity Solstice, with 98 additional cabins. Yet Reflection is just 2 feet wider and only 6 feet longer than Solstice. To our eye, the amount of deck space devoted to pools and deck chairs does not appear to have grown, which might account for why we found pools jammed and deck chairs at a premium on sea days. Still, at almost any hour of the day we found indoor areas of the ship that were uncrowded—even deserted. The new Hideaway (which replaces the Team Earth space on the earlier ships) has been sensibly reconceived as an unattended lounge with coffee service—we never saw more than two or three people here. And indoor bars such as Michael’s Club and the Molecular Bar were easy to find a seat at in the evening.
Our primary disappointment with Reflection was how one notable Solstice innovation has evolved. We loved that Celebrity Solstice (and the two ships that followed) came with a half-acre of real turf called the Lawn Club, where anyone could picnic or roll out a towel for sunning. We also enjoyed the open-air Hot Glass Studio that fronted the grass, providing free shows by professional glassblowers. What’s become of these assets? On Celebrity Reflection (and its 2011 predecessor Celebrity Silhouette), the glass shows have been replaced by the Lawn Club Grill, a fee-added steakhouse. The open-air setting is lovely, but the food did not impress us. And much of the lawn area—close to half the space—has been turned over to the Alcoves, private cabanas that are rented by the day. Because the cabanas almost completely enclose the no-fee lawn area, the grass now feels like an exclusionary space reserved for big spenders. There is also the addition of the Porch—another fee-added restaurant—and the small art glass museum found on the earlier Solstice vessels has been replaced by an Art Studio, where classes are available (again, with a surcharge).
The net result is that some of the public real estate on the original Solstice ships has been converted to private areas requiring a surcharge. Combined with the fact that there are roughly 200 additional guests sailing on Reflection, this means passengers may find common areas to be more crowded than on the earlier Solstice Class ships. For instance, to add some of the new suites, the airy and attractive Sky Observation Lounge has been downsized; the disco Quasar on Deck 4 has been removed in favor of meeting space (which was also relocated in favor of additional suites). The lounge and disco are areas used primarily after dark, and the impact on crowding at night is probably minimal, but open-air decks that are popular by day have been decreased. With overall ship capacity increased, no wonder we noticed a shortage of loungers around the pool on sea days.
There have been improvements to several spaces on Reflection. In addition to the peaceful Hideaway venue on Deck 8, immediately above on Deck 9 the Card Room has been converted to a space called Game On. Cards are still welcome, but the area—which overlooks the central atrium—now has a few free video games and a broader selection of board games that can be borrowed. The Sunset Bar, an aft perch on Deck 15, has been favorably reconfigured into a truly seductive place for—what else?—sundowners. And we did enjoy our breakfast at the Porch; the modest surcharge was well worth it for a plussed-up fruit selection in a breezy, Hamptons-like setting next to the Lawn Club.
Celebrity Cruises positions its line as upscale and contemporary, and Reflection succeeds on these fronts in many ways. The ship boasts lots of assets that are included in the cruise fare but, more than most cruise ships, many areas and features of Reflection involve surcharges. While most of these add-ons are optional, cruisers should know up front that there will be lots of opportunities to spend onboard, and not all are worth it. Considering how the top decks have been reconfigured, we’d have a preference for booking a future cruise on one of the three earliest members of the Solstice Class (Celebrity Solstice, Celebrity Equinox, Celebrity Eclipse). However, Reflection is otherwise a fine addition to the Celebrity fleet.
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