Cruise enthusiasts can be as avid as sports fans: We know the stats, celebrate the milestones and share the pain when something goes wrong. And the current buzz in the cruise community is all about the arrival of Celebrity Reflection, the newest and last ship in Celebrity Cruises' Solstice Class. (A “class” is a family of cruise ships that share a similar superstructure; it is usually named after the first ship in the series.)
During my first look at Celebrity Reflection, I experienced an unexpected revelation. When the line announced the name “Reflection” a few years ago, my initial reaction was not positive. But now I see the relevance: The ship is a reflection of everything unique in all five ships in the Solstice Class.
When the first vessel in the class, Celebrity Solstice, debuted in late 2008, it wowed us with its opulence and grandeur. But as the four planned sister ships followed, each one seemed even more beautiful and alluring. So I suppose it follows that number five, Reflection, has the best of everything the Solstice Class can offer. This was no accident; Celebrity Cruises did it by design. And in many cases, the innovative features of the newer ships have been retroactively added to their predecessors.
Reflecting on the Solstice Class
As the best ships of a premium cruise line, Celebrity’s Solstice Class is an important piece of the cruise industry. Its ships are among the most beautiful and capacious ever built, with gourmet cuisine, sophisticated interiors, plush accommodations and quality entertainment. It’s hard to pick a better cruise, especially with a series of newly planned varying and wide-ranging itineraries in Europe, Asia, South America and the Caribbean.
Unique Reflection Attributes from the Top Down
As the fifth and final Solstice Class ship, Reflection has the best features. The original Celebrity Solstice was the first cruise ship ever to have a lawn of real grass onboard, but somehow it felt superfluous - as if even the designers were not sure why it was there.
But the lawn on Reflection is integral to the experience. It is surrounded by eight private cabanas they call "Alcoves," available for private use for $169 per unit. You and your guests can enjoy the warm tropical sun in comfy chairs and hammocks, use an iPad to enjoy pre-programmed music or surf the web, and order a picnic basket filled with “artisan” food items created by your choice of onboard restaurants, with a specially paired bottle of wine. Food, drinks and access to the WI-FI are additional and a la carte.
Nearby is the Lawn Club Grill, where guests select their own cuts of raw meat or vegetables and do their own grilling under the stars (and the supervision of an expert chef, of course). The food here is not only delicious, but the sounds and smell of the hot grill in the sea air make for an unforgettable experience.
Around the corner is The Porch, a new bistro-style café with sandwiches and pastries, perfect for a fast but quiet al fresco lunch or nosh.
As with all Solstice Class ships, the atrium is an interior open space soaring to the full height of 10 decks. A ride in one of the glass elevators from top to bottom has you passing through a series of rooms that appear like life-size diorama vignettes.
At the bottom is the three-deck-tall Atrium Lounge, where the focal point is a stage for live music -- soothing string quartets by day and South Beach-inspired DJ dance music at night. Moving up to deck six brings you to the Celebrity iLounge, essentially an Internet center but also an Apple Store at sea; guests can use the provided computers or buy an iPad or MacBook to access the ship-wide wireless Internet.
Next up, decks six and seven gives us The Hideaway, featuring two winsome wooden treehouse-like spheres, each containing a cozy couch perfect for snuggling.
Deck eight brings “Game On,” a brand new “card room” where all the games are played on any of six “virtual” game tables.
The Library is found on decks 10 and 11, the Spa Deck is Deck 12, and the Pool Deck is at the top.
In the middle of the atrium on all five Solstice Class ships is an emblematic live tree that appears to be growing out of thin air, although closer examination reveals a tiny conical planter for holding and feeding it. Only on Reflection does the bottom of this tiny planter have “roots” coming out of the bottom, but they are not real -- they are sculpted works of art that represent the “reflection” of the tree.
New Suites on Reflection Only
Reflection has added a deck 14 for a larger spa and a collection of new suites behind a private access door. The most beautiful one is the 1,636-square-foot “Reflections Suite,” located in the forward port-side corner. It has the most conspicuously placed shower in the world, built like a lantern on a lighthouse; the shower sticks out of the front, topmost, left-hand corner of the suite, with nothing but seawater below. On the inside the walls are clear glass - floor to ceiling - but from the outside they are opaque, so no one can see in. Although I won’t speculate on who might find this appealing, the illusion will be like taking a shower in full view of thousands of people.
Next door is a row of five Signature Suites, also new to the class; each one is 441 square feet, plus a 118 square foot veranda. All suites come with an iPad to control the lights, television, stereo, etc. Suites come with complimentary espresso coffee service and 24-hour in-suite dining upon request, plus bottles of vodka, scotch and mixers.
Another entirely new category of accommodations only on Reflection is the AquaClass Suites, at 301 square feet, with 79-square-foot verandas. These suites include access to the signature restaurant called "Blu," as do the AquaClass staterooms on all Solstice-class ships.
While other cruise lines’ newest ships now have real Broadway shows (Royal Caribbean) or branded entertainment like Norwegian Epic’s Blue Man Group or Carnival’s “Hasbro Game Shows,” Celebrity still shows more traditional cruise ship productions -- but they are not clichés by any means.
The show format will appeal to many generations, with “cirque” flying acrobats and contortionists performing to music of the ‘80s and beyond. The band members wear fluorescent makeup and costumes, and play live rock and roll quite capably. The singers and dancers sport outlandish costumes reminiscent of Kiss, Lady Gaga or Madonna.
Other Notable Attractions
Some Reflection features are not new to the Solstice Class, but have been improved. Michael’s Pub was originally themed as a “man’s cigar bar,” but now it’s a “craft beer emporium” for everyone. It offers a huge selection of imported brews from France, Belgium, Britain, Germany, and anywhere else with a notable brand.
Another bar on every Solstice ship -- but none more outstanding than the one on Reflection -- is the Molecular Bar (deck five), featuring cocktails fashioned with liquid nitrogen, so normally liquid or viscous ingredients can be frozen into place for an unusual taste sensation.
What Will No Longer Be
Finally, there is no more Quasar Disco on Reflection. That room on Solstice had huge white sofas and hanging egg-shell chairs. On the new vessel, that space is a conference center with banquet facilities. Additionally, the formerly huge Observation Lounge is half the size on Reflection, with the other half given over to the new suites mentioned above.
Over the last few years, Celebrity and its parent company (Royal Caribbean) have focused on replicating the best elements of individual ships on other ships. But it is always easiest to add features to a new design than to an existing structure, so we have seen many of the announced “upgrade” programs to existing ships by several cruise lines moving forward more slowly than originally announced. But Celebrity Reflection already has the best the Solstice Class has to offer.
Paul Motter is the editor of CruiseMates.com, an online cruise guide. Follow him on Twitter @cruisemates.