Celebrity Reflection Mirrors Excellence

Sacramento Region, CA (MPG)  |  By David Dickstein
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Celebrity Cruise's largest and newest ship, the Reflection, leaves Kusadasi, Turkey. --Photo by David Dickstein

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It's strawberry fields forever and for dessert at Qsine, a whimsical specialty restaurant on the Celebrity Reflection. --Photo by David Dickstein

Ground chuck makes for a delicious burger, but if you’re the type of consumer who will spend a bit more for the quality of sirloin, let me introduce you to premium cruising. I’m assuming you’ve never had the pleasure as only 15 percent of American adults have ever cruised at all, let alone treat themselves to the “better” class of cruise lines in the good-better-best marketing model. After taking 19 voyages on “good” ships, I finally tasted the sweet life of “better” and it was delicious.

What a difference spending 25 percent more makes. That was the takeaway after this self-paying travel writer took a 10-day Italy & Greek Isles cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection out of Rome. Don’t get me wrong: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and other Big Ship-category players generally offer a solid product at economical fares. In fact, the ship, crew and service were so good on the new Carnival Vista in May, at times it felt like premium-class cruising. But on the Celebrity Reflection, with few exceptions, there was zero interruption of excellence.

Celebrity is to Royal Caribbean what Lexus is to Toyota. Premium ships, marketed as a more personalized alternative for an upper-middle-class demographic, are typically smaller, and that holds true here; the 3,046-passenger Reflection is the newest and largest in Celebrity's fleet, yet dwarfed by every Royal Caribbean ship launched in the past decade. The next generation of Celebrity ships is scheduled to debut in 2018, and it has big hulls to fill thanks to the feature-rich Solstice class now gracing many of the Seven Seas. When Reflection debuted in 2012, it immediately set itself apart from its four older siblings with an additional deck, more staterooms and roomier restaurants, lounges and theaters.

Food, Glorious Food

With over a dozen eateries, including six specialty dining venues and a buffet that blows away those on the megaships, going hungry is one activity never on the daily program. Bright and cheery Oceanview Café is a buffet that gets it right, offering sumptuous made-to-order pasta, pizza and stir-fry alongside other international fare. The carving station actually has leg of lamb, and nearby is hand-scooped gelato ranging in flavors from pistachio to tiramisu. We climbed the mountain of shipboard buffets, yet things only went higher from there.

Two-level Opus is the main dining area. Elegance without pretentiousness, a vibe running throughout much of the ship, welcomes all passengers. Like the main dining rooms on less expensive competition, Opus’ menu includes prime rib, salmon, pork chops, escargot – you name it – but the quality of ingredients, preparation and plating is noticeably higher.

Well above average for “regular folk,” dining on Celebrity gets kicked up a notch, along with service, at the two restaurants dedicated to passengers splurging on AquaClass or suite accommodations. For suite guests, Luminae serves breakfast, lunch and dinner in an intimate, opulent atmosphere. The gourmet selections and slightly lower density of the table configuration are appealing. Blu, open for breakfast and lunch, befits the AquaClass brand by serving spa cuisine that is appropriately portioned, high in quality, taste and flavor, and nontraditional. Breakfast selections include a smoked salmon and asparagus frittata, and for dinner, it’s out with heavy béarnaise and in with a truffle vinaigrette on cuts of tender steak. Not all is perfect in Blu, however. One evening’s dessert menu contained a misprint: It said the to-die-for Café Pot de Crème has no sugar added. Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see Nacho Cheese Doritos on my sushi.

Of the Reflection’s specialty restaurants, the most unique is easily Qsine ($45 cover), serving up a whimsical “dining journey” that begins with ordering from iPads and ends with picking your own chocolate-covered strawberry from a field of grass strapped to your “tour guide” (don’t call them servers at Qsine). In between are the shareable courses of tasty tapas you selected, but how they come out is out of your hands in this guided journey. When the effervescent Nathan scampered to our oceanview table, bringing with him a tray of signature sushi lollipops, I pointed to two of them that were dusted with some sort of orange powder. “What’s that?” I asked. “Nacho Cheese Doritos,” he replied. They were incredible. So were the pulled pork spring rolls served upright in springs, and M’s Favorites that comes to your table in an open-air case with 12 compartments, each containing a sample of Mediterranean dishes.

Other specialty restaurants of note include the posh Murano ($50) for a contemporary bent to classic French cuisine, the Italian steakhouse Tuscan Grille ($45), the open-air Lawn Club Grill ($45) where you can be the grill master, The Porch ($25) for fresh seafood, and Sushi on Five (a la carte pricing).

Put Down the Fork

In between meals are many non-caloric ways to get your fill, starting with the impressive array of entertainment. “Broken Strings” is a standout production show, featuring a talented, tireless and attractive cast singing and dancing to music from this actual decade – a rarity on cruises. Mainstage shows still feature a live band, and consider yourself fortunate if trombonist Mike Daigeau is your cruise’s band director. The affable “Big Mike,” who just left the Reflection for a new contract on the Celebrity Silhouette, is a three-time Grammy winner with a crazy-impressive resume. Cruise director Sue Denning is no slouch, either, having got her start as a teen singing star in the U.K. and as an adult performed in movies alongside such A-listers as Michael Caine. On each cruise she performs a one-woman show that even Millennials were heard raving about the next morning. Catering to a more adult demographic, evening entertainment includes Liquid, more a theme than a show, transforming the usually tranquil Solarium sanctuary into a Miami Beach-style nightclub complete with DJ, pulsating music and seductively costumed eye candy in and out of the pool. Who ordered the hot mermaid?

If You Go

Through at least spring 2018, Celebrity Reflection is making Italy and Florida home. Six months of 7-day Caribbean cruises out of Miami begin on Nov. 5, then she returns to Rome for Mediterranean itineraries of 10 to 15 days from May to October 2017. Reflection resumes service in Florida, this time Fort Lauderdale, in November 2017 with a range of itineraries to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. Information on staterooms and bookings is available by calling Celebrity Cruises at 800-647-2251.

Celebrity Cruise ItThe cast of "Broken Strings" does justice to recent contemporary hits aboard the Reflection. 
--Photo by David DicksteinDavid Dickstein