Seeing a new ship for the first time is a thrilling experience. Celebrity Reflection towers majestically above the Eemshaven Sugar Terminal in Holland, surrounded by turbine windmills, cranes, containers and gantries.
There is a palpable air of excitement in the busy port, shared by everyone from the ground crew to Celebrity Cruises staff and passengers from around the world.
This two-day pre-inaugural cruise is to check everything is working as it should and there are a few signs of it still being a work in progress – tradespeople are applying finishing touches to fixtures and fittings – although, of course, the ship has undergone all her sea trials. Everything is open for business, from the bars, cafes and restaurants to the shops, casino and library.
Oh yes, the library. How do you reach the books on the very high shelves or are they just there for show? Certainly it’s beautifully designed, as are all of the ship’s public spaces – a clever combination of contemporary and classic. One ‘public space’ that does not exist is a laundrette, a facility many Australian and British cruisers will miss.
Sailing away at sunset is a stirring occasion – three long blasts on the ship’s whistle and Captain Nicholas Pagonis manoeuvres the 126,000-ton Celebrity Reflection gently astern and out to sea on her first official cruise, to Amsterdam. Captain Pagonis said he had been waiting for this moment since the ship’s construction in Germany began in 2011.
Reflection is the biggest of the five Solstice-class ships and can accommodate 3,030 passengers, although on this sailing there are about 1,500 plus the regular crew of 1,255. Celebrity Cruises president and CEO Michael Bayley says the ship is the “epitome of German engineering”, and that in five years the line has “outdone itself” in terms of environmental responsibility, as each ship in the fleet becomes progressively more efficient. British-born Bayley, who has been with the company for 31 years, says Celebrity Cruises aims to attract affluent guests who are willing to pay a premium for the experience of “modern luxury”.
In terms of modern luxury accommodation, the Reflection Suite on Deck 14 is the star of the show. This is the suite that features a shower hanging over the side of the ship, which is the brainchild of Celebrity Cruises chairman Richard Fain, as was the real-grass lawn deck that first appeared on Celebrity Solstice.
The Reflection Suite sleeps up to six people and boasts all the amenities found in the Signature Suites, including high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and balcony doors, a bath on the 194-square-foot balcony and iPad remote control for everything from the music system to mattress elevation. A personal ‘European-style’ butler is all part of the service, as it is in the Signature and AquaClass Suites.
My Deluxe Ocean View verandah stateroom on Deck 6 is spacious at 192 square feet (almost the same size as the Reflection Suite’s balcony!), comfortable and stylish. All staterooms on Reflection are, on average, 15 per cent larger than those on other Celebrity ships.
There are 12 eateries and restaurants on Reflection, but on such a short cruise it’s impossible to see all of them, let alone do an extensive taste-testing. However, we aim to please and had a lunch and breakfast in the Oceanview Café; one dinner in the dazzling white main dining room, Opus; another dinner in one of the line’s popular specialty restaurants, Murano; and a champagne high tea, again in Murano.
While you can find Murano, Tuscan Grille, Blu, Qsine and Lawn Club Grill on the other four Solstice-class ships – and various others in the Celebrity fleet – The Porch, which serves panini, pastries and salads near the lawn on Deck 15, and Bistro on Five are both new to Reflection.
One of the hallmarks of dining in Murano is the tableside service, so it is well worth choosing a dish such as flambéed lobster to see it being prepared in front of you. My perfect Dover sole is presented to me and then whisked away to be filleted and served. Delivery of the cheese course is nothing short of immaculate.
John Suley, the line’s director of culinary operations, makes an appearance towards the end of the evening to a round of enthusiastic applause.
Some of us repair to Cellar Masters for a nightcap; this bar carries a vast range of wines that you can buy by the ‘taste’, or in a small or large glass, with helpful advice from the sommelier.
Tours of the Opus galley are available for passengers as part of the ‘Celebrity Life’ program (mimosas are served and all the chefs and food and beverage managers are there to direct the tours and answer questions). Highlights include the bakery, which turns out fresh bread and fantastical pastry confections for every eatery on board, and the amazing dessert department.
Once a year there’s an ‘Excite the Senses’ event, which involves guest chefs and cooking and tasting competitions for chefs and passengers – definitely one to check out if you’re a serious foodie.
One of the outstanding features of Celebrity ships is their art collections. The works on board Reflection have a ‘reflection’ theme; the magnificent installation in the upper grand foyer is
a living tree ‘reflected’ by an electrically lit aluminium tree beneath it.
You can take a self-guided iPad art tour of all the ship’s exhibits or, if you want to explore your own artistic abilities, sign up for a sketching, painting or jewellery-making class at the Art Studio by the Lawn Club.
There’s a plethora of entertainment options on offer, from live music in various venues to dance and wine-tasting classes, Lawn Club games, interactive video games and, of course, musical and theatrical shows in the Celebrity Theater. We are treated to a brief behind-the-scenes tour of the theatre, where we watch Hayley, an American ‘aerobatic contortionist’, rehearsing her moves. Later we see her performing a mesmerising rope act in full spangled costume, which includes an eye-wateringly high-cut undercarriage.
Two days gave us the chance to check out many of the ship’s features, albeit fleetingly and in pretty chilly conditions. I believe Australian cruisers will jump at the chance to sail on Celebrity Solstice while she’s in our waters and, once they’ve experienced the ship, there will be a rush of converts to the Celebrity cruise style.
This review appeared in Cruise Passenger 50 and was written in 2013.