|Celebrity Reflection and 8 Eastern Mediterranean Ports|
Jump to Reviews of the Ports (Part X)
Part I - Precruise
A. Cruise Critic
I over-research every port and possible tour excursion. The good news is that our excursions at each port have almost always been worthwhile. We always start our search at Cruisecritic.com which is helpful in securing key information for all of our ports of call and getting to know some of our fellow travelers before the cruise.
B. Choice of Route
We were interested in a Mediterranean cruise and ended up booking a back-to-back cruise out of Rome (Civitavecchia) and spending 3 days exploring Rome and The Vatican prior to the cruise. The first half we sailed to the Eastern Mediterranean ports of Messina (Taormina) and Naples (Pompeii) in Italy; Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, and Athens in Greece; and Valletta (Mdina) in Malta.
While this review focuses on our Eastern cruise, the second half of our trip we sailed to the Western Mediterranean ports of La Spezia in Italy; Nice (Villefrance) in France; Barcelona, Malaga, Cartegena and Ibiza in Spain; and Gibraltar. The cruise left from Civitavecchia (the port city closest to Rome). This was our first trip to all of these cities. We looked forward to exploring all of the cities on this cruise.
C. Choice of Ship
We chose the route first, but were also happy to be cruising on a Celebrity ship we had not yet cruised on. The Reflection is the largest ship we've ever been on. Built in 2012, the Reflection is the newest of Celebrity's five Solstice class ships, and currently its flagship. Reflection weighs in at 125,000 gross tons and has an occupancy of 3609 passengers, although it never really felt crowded.
D. Choice of cabin
My wife lives on the balcony when we book them so a cabin with a veranda is our first choice. However, this 10-day cruise was not inexpensive. The cost difference between an oceanview cabin and a balcony cabin was significant, so we settled into a comfortable oceanview cabin midship on Deck 3.
We chose to travel in late April/early May as opposed to the Peak Season of Mid-June through August for 3 primary reasons: 1. it's less expensive, 2. it's a lot less crowded, and 3. the weather is significantly nicer.
F. Passports and Other Documents
Passports are required for airline travel, upon arrival and departure at airports, and upon checking in at our hotel and the seaport. We were able to leave them locked in the cabin safe the entire trip once we were on the ship. We were never asked for identification of any kind other than our "Seapass" card. None of the ports we visited requested our passports. The Seapass card is issued by the cruiseline. It's used for charging purchases on the ship, access to your cabin, and for identification to get you through port security and back on to the ship. Most travelers do not need a VISA or any special immunizations.
I insured the trip through Travelex, which I concluded was a good choice due to: relative cost comparisons, ease of access and booking, good disclosures, excellent coverage for what I needed, well rated, and especially because their insurance is "primary", meaning that I do not have to involve any other insurance in the claims process.
I had no interest in proprietary insurance offered by a travel agency or cruise companies because if either goes under your insurance is worthless and defeats the purpose. We bought the insurance within 14 days of our booking to assure their would be no questions about "pre-existing medical conditions", although I am not aware we have any. Thankfully we never had a need for the insurance. Here are 18 great tips on How to Select Cruise Insurance.
H. Prebooking Excursions
Based upon the recommendations we got off the Ports of Call threads on Cruise Critic, we decided to prebook excursions in most of our ports --- which we arranged privately via email. More details later. We have found that researching excursions ahead of time and making arrangements directly with the tour operator has resulted in more enjoyable, and less expensive, tours than can be arranged through the ship. Tour group size typically runs about 8 to 24 passengers versus the hordes typical of a ship's tour.
The ship had 2 Semi-Formal nights (suit and tie / dinner dress), and 8 Casual nights (polo's/dress shirts, blouses and skirts). Although it was a 10-day cruise, we packed for 5 days and gave the ship our laundry on days 2 and 6 using a Captain's Club benefit. Among the most helpful "extra items" we packed included a roll-up shoe rack (we use the pockets to store useful things), sunscreen, highlighters, clothes line, collapsible dirty clothes bag, wide-brim hats, magnets (to keep announcements and invites handy --- since the walls are metal), a 30x zoom digital camera, our phones, and a pair of 10400mAh external batteries to charge our phones. We used our phones primary as cameras, and for texting when we could find wi-fi.
Solstice ships all have storage above the beds but it's tough to do much with it. We saw a recommendation on Cruise Critic to use ClosetMaid Fabric Drawers. These lightweight collapsible $6 square drawers are 10.5 x 10.5 x 11 inches, fit nicely in the above-bed storage, and make it easy to store everything from socks to miscellaneous cruise things. They fold flat for easy packing.
We also made eleven 8x10 posters for our cabin door (one for each day, "If this is Wednesday, it must be Rhodes, Greece!" and the like). The cabin doors are metal. We held up our signs with little magnets. Not only did they help us keep track of the day and our cabin location, we struck up a few conversations with our neighbors who appreciated the signage.
More details on the clothes: 1. we packed underwear, t-shirts, shirts, shorts, and pants that were easy to hand wash and dried quickly overnight. 2. I also brought 5 dress shirts and a pair of pants that were a little past their prime (minor discoloring, slightly small, a small hole) that I simply threw away at the end of the trip which allowed a little extra room in the suitcases for things we accumulated. 3. My day clothes included 3 pairs of my pants, 1 pair of shorts, and 1 shirt that were made by Clothing Arts. These are comfortable, quick-dry, "pickpocket-proof" clothes.
J. Electrical Outlets and Travel Adapters
Celebrity Reflection cabins have just three electrical outlets and they are all in a row next to the desk. Two are your typical 3-prong USA outlets and one is an indented european-style outlet which will readily accept a 3-prong Type L, or 2-prong Type C adaptor. Either will allow you access to a third plug. (The 2-prong Type E/F might also fit. We did not attempt it). There is also a single low-voltage 2-flat-pronged outlet in the bathroom for electric shavers only.
I purchased two sets of travel adapters for the trip. A cool Dual USB Charger with Adapters got the most use. We also brought a couple of adapters from the Ceptics Adapter Plug Set. We never once had any need for an electrical converter and were glad we didn't lug one. We made good use of our 3-prong Type L, and 2-prong Type C adaptors in our hotel in Rome as well.
Barcelona, Rome, and Athens are 3 of the world's top ten worst cities for pickpockets. This shouldn't stop you from traveling to these cities, but it should get your attention. We never felt unsafe, and we had absolutely no problems with pickpockets. We did hear firsthand from two women who had a purse stolen from the chair they had absentmindedly draped it over. We took the following precautions. I highly recommend all of these (or use something similar).
L. Cell Phones
- We read up on pickpocket methods and watched videos so we were better educated on how to help prevent becoming a victim.
- I wore comfortable Clothing Arts "pickpocket-proof" shirts and pants.
- My wife carries a Travelon Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bucket Bag. She likes these so much she now has 5 different colors and uses them as her primary everyday purse.
- My wife wore this Lewis N. Clark Hidden Travel Belt Wallet which was so comfortable it was easy to forget she was wearing it.
Cell phones can be an expensive proposition when traveling internationally. We did not wish to be tethered to our phones for work or family purposes but we did wish to keep in touch when it was convenient. Our goal was to incur no data or voice charges for the entire time we were overseas while still having GPS, and the ability to text photos and messages, as well as taking pictures and using a few other useful apps. We succeeded!
Set up your phone as follows to prevent unwanted data charges. As long as you maintain all of these settings, you shouldn't incur any data charges. Settings vary by phone.
Free or low cost wi-fi can be found in every city. We found the following free apps very useful.
- Turn off data: Phone Settings > Data Usage > Cellular Data.
- Turn off data roaming: Phone Settings > Data Usage > Settings > Cellular Networks > Data Roaming.
- Turn on Airline mode. (Very important that this is always on the entire trip).
- Turn on Wi-Fi (when desired).
- And of course turn on GPS (when desired).
We also used a cool wrist/neck strap for our cell phones that kept the phone secure from drops as well as thieves. It's called Phone Lasso. It features a strong peel and stick grip patch that you can attach to the back of your phone or inside your phone case. It includes a wrist strap and neck strap for wearing your phone which doesn't interfere with your USB charging port.
- WhatsApp: this needs to be installed on your phone and every phone you wish to communicate with. You can then text anyone with WhatsApp in real time via wi-fi, as well as send them photos and even conduct choppy video calls. I made a group "Europe Trip" chat and added everyone to it so we could simply post to everyone at once.
- Google Translate: easily translate text, spoken words, or use the camera to translate in real time.
- Airline App: download and logon to the app for your airline.
- Virtual Private Network (VPN): A virtual private network extends a private network across a public network. This will protect any of your data that you send while using a public wi-fi. I found two free VPN's (supported by ads) that we used: Yoga VPN and Turbo VPN. Activate the VPN immediately after you logon to wi-fi.
- Currency Converter: easily find and calculate the current conversion rates.
- Rick Steves Audio Europe: install and then download free audio tours.
- Google Maps - Navigation and Transit: GPS works without data or wi-fi, but the map itself requires data UNLESS you download offline maps of each city you will be visiting before you leave. Then when you arrive in each city, simply load the applicable offline map.
- City Specific Metro and Bus Apps: these can be very helpful.
M. Credit Cards, Securing Euros and Finding ATM's
We each carried an ATM card from our bank (which rebates all ATM fees up to $5) and a credit card which doesn't charge foreign exchange fees. We notified our bank and credit card companies of the dates and countries we were visiting so they didn't refuse our overseas charges.
When we took this cruise the US Dollar was worth about 0.82 to 0.84 Euros (€). In other words it took about $1.20 to $1.24 to buy 1 Euro. Despite the US Dollar being worth about 20% less than the Euro, the value received oversees was very good.
Since bank ATM's are plentiful in most large cities, you should only need to take 1 to 2 days worth of Euros with you on your trip and hit the ATM as needed. Bank ATM's are generally more secure and will usually give you the best exchange rates. Use your debit/ATM card and never use your credit card for an ATM cash advance. Be sure to take your 4-digit numeric pin with you.
When possible, withdraw cash from bank-run ATM's located inside, or just outside, the bank. Ideally use them while the bank is open so that you can go inside for help in the rare event the machine eats your card. Many European banks place their ATM's in a small entry lobby. If feels more secure and gets you out of the weather. Look for a credit-card-size slot next to the door and insert your card to gain entry.
Avoid "independent" ATM's and currency exchange kiosks such as Travelex, Euronet, Moneybox, Cardpoint, and Cashzone. These have high fees and/or high exchange rates. "Independent" ATM's are often found near bank ATM's in the hopes of tricking travelers.
N. Choice of Airplane, Hotel and Transportation from the Airport
While checking airfares some time ago, I discovered we could use airline miles to book our flights quite reasonably, so we used points to fly United over, via a connecting flight, and flew American back. Direct flights are the best way to go! We flew into Rome's Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) four days early to explore Rome and help avoid the stress of travel delays that might occur on cruise day. We prearranged with RomeCabs for transportation from the airport to Vittoriano Luxury Suites (Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 21, 00186 Roma RM) for €50, plus tip. They met us in the airport lobby just past baggage claim and drove us to the hotel. It was a good experience.
Vittoriano Luxury Suites is on the 4th floor of a building in a great location just 3 blocks south of the Pantheon. The hotel is serviced by a small elevator and a very friendly and helpful staff. They only have 6 rooms of varying sizes. We booked the Matrimoniale Superior (Room 102). It is a very modern and comfortable room with free wi-fi, and includes a nice buffet breakfast each morning. Highly recommended.
We walked to many of the major sites in Rome from our hotel (for example: Pantheon - 5 minutes, Emanuele Monument - 10 minutes, Capitoline Museum - 10 minutes, Piazza Navona - 10 minutes, Trevia Fountain - 15 minutes, Colosseum - 20 minutes, Spanish Steps - 20 minutes) and caught a bus to The Vatican. Although The Vatican is also walkable in 35 minutes, a bus stop is just a half block away.
Part II - Embarkation (Departure) From Rome By Ship
A. Civitavecchia, Italy
We flew into Rome's Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) four days early to explore Rome (details under "Ports") and help avoid the stress of travel delays. We left our hotel at 11:00 am via Rome-Airport.net Shared Shuttle Transport to the port. Cost was €75 per couple with pickup at your hotel and dropoff at the ship. Check their website for rideshares that need more passengers or start a rideshare yourself. This is one of the most efficient ways to arrive. It's a lot more trouble if you arrive by train (requires walking, shuttles or taxi upon arrival) or by bus (dropoff is outside the port with shuttle service to each ship).
B. Security Processing and Boarding at Civitavecchia
We arrived at the pier about 12:45 pm, gave our luggage and a tip to a baggage handler and immediately entered the terminal. Security took 5 minutes and we headed to Celebrity Check-in. Priority lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. In any case, the lines were minimal. Once in line, we waited until being directed to one of about two dozen Celebrity check-in agents. The agent checked our passports, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Seapass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key).
Boarding had begun before we arrived, so we headed straight for the ship. A couple more security checks later, we were on the Reflection. An attendant greeted us with champagne. Cabins were already ready, so we headed straight for our cabin.
C. Explore The Cabin
We were in cabin 3111, a category 8 Oceanview Stateroom with about 177 square feet of space in the lowest passenger level of the ship --- Deck 3. We were located slightly forward of midships, port side, close to the Forward elevators. The location was great.
The cabin was well laid out. Lots of drawers and enough room in the closets and over the bed for our clothes. The bathroom had a toilet, sink, and a spacious glass-enclosed shower. Hangers and really small light robes were provided. The small safe had plenty of room. The desk featured a number of informational brochures including Friday's event newsletter "Celebrity Reflection Today" as well as a note informing us of our 6:00 pm dinner seating and table number. Oh yes, and a good sized window.
Being Cruise Critic members, we received an invite to the gathering scheduled for later that day. We asked our cabin attendant for a dozen wire hangers, and asked that our mini-fridge be emptied. All of these items were taken care of promptly by our efficient and friendly cabin attendant, Lucy.
Although we were on the "port" (left) side of the ship, that doesn't mean we always had the best view of the port. It all depended upon where our specific pier was located in relation to where the most interesting views of the port were. I don't recall having any bad views though.
D. Tour of Ship and Search For Food
The ship is gorgeous, and really well laid out with ample sets of stairwells and elevators. 8 elevators can be found midship with 3 additional elevators forward. We found sustenance in the Oceanview Cafe on the Deck 14 for a buffet lunch.
E. Dinner in the Main Dining Room - 6:00 pm "First Seating"
Opus Restaurant is the main dining room (MDR), located on Decks 3 and 4. Passengers with assigned dining times (Early or Late) ate on 3 while passengers with anytime dining at upstairs on 4 (with some accommodated overflow on deck 3). The dining room is beautiful.
F. Lifeboat Drill
At 4:15 pm (about an hour prior to leaving port), we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill at our assigned muster station. We were not required to wear lifejackets. We simply had to get to our muster station, watch a humorous lifejacket demonstration, and listen to announcements from Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis and our muster crew.
Part III - Food!
Celebrity has a good reputation for their cuisine. The meals met our expectations. Not only was it good, it was downright outstanding on many nights. There was excellent variety throughout the ship.
A. Our Favorite Items
B. Opus Restaurant
- The Best Breakfast Items: Made-to-order eggs and omelets, fresh fruit, oatmeal with choice of toppings, and smoked salmon in the Oceanview Cafe; and the donuts and pastries at Cafe al Bacio.
- The Best Dinner Appetizers: Escargot, dill salmon, anything with goat cheese, roasted beets, and meats in puff pasties. There were at least 6 appetizers each night. All appetizers were well presented. You can't go wrong.
- The Best Soups: Butternut squash, French onion, and Mushroom.
- The Best Lunch Items in the Oceanview Cafe: Fresh fish and chips, a buratta station, grilled colossal shrimp, salad bar, caesar salad, fruits, pasta bar, and daily grilled special.
- The Best Entrées in the Main Dining Room: Prime rib, Portabella mushroom with spinach and goat cheese, Lamb chops, Veal, Roasted trout, Australian Sea Bass, Lamb shank, Braised beef ribs, Seared Salmon, Mediterranean seafood with orzo.
- The Best Desserts: Baked Alaska, cheesecake, ice creams and sorbet; and the coconut macaroons.
Opus Restaurant is the main dining room (MDR), located on Decks 3 and 4. Passengers with assigned dining times (Early or Late) ate on Deck 3 while passengers with anytime dining at upstairs on Deck 4 (opposite the dedicated dining room for suites). The Opus dining room is beautiful with nicely plated presentations at dinner.
Meats were cooked to order, including Medium Rare upon request. We never needed to send back an undercooked or overcooked item. Our Waiter (Noel), our Assistant Waiter (Roger), and our Sommelier were all very friendly, efficient, and offered good guidance.
In addition to the daily menu, the following items are available every night: shrimp cocktail, escargot, seasonal fruit, French onion soup, Caesar salad, chicken, salmon, NY sirloin steak, NY Cheesecake, creme brulee, apple pie, and chocolate cake.
C. Specialty Restaurants and Premium Casual Dining
Reflection has four premium "dressy" specialty dinner restaurants for which a cover charge applies. Murano is very fancy and serves a "blend of Classic and modern continental cuisine, freshly prepared in multi-course meals, as exquisite European-style service attends to your every need". Qsine is now exclusively featuring Le Petit Chef, an animated character that appears beside your plate via an immersive table display technology and prepares each course you’ll be enjoying right in front of you before you’re served the actual dish.
Tuscan Grille is an italian-themed steakhouse that serves pastas, seafood, steaks and salads. Lawn Club Grill is a casual outdoor grill with an expansive salad bar, build your own flatbread pizza, and several grill specialties, including USDA Choice Beef, poultry, seafood, and vegetables.
We ate at Lawn Club Grill twice. Both times my wife ordered a beautiful, huge, filet mignon; and both times I ordered the milk-fed veal chop (essentially a bone-in veal ribeye). Both are really good. The veal chop is simply incredible --- very tender and flavorful. A secret gem of the Lawn Club Grill. We did not visit any of the other three venues, though fellow passengers gave especially high praise to Murano.
There are also two premium "casual" restaurants on Reflection that charge a cover. Sushi on Five (formerly Bistro on Five) offers freshly prepared sushi and Japanese favorites; while The Porch features fresh seafood and raw bar.
We enjoyed a meal at The Porch while watching Greek islands pass by. We enjoyed the Seafood Tower (cold lobster, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and seafood salad) as an appetizer followed by lobster bisque and a lobster roll. The mussels are the tastiest I've ever had and everything else was also quite good. Most passengers never find The Porch which is hidden on Deck 15 next door to The Lawn Grill Club. Seek it out if you like seafood. For just $30, you'll be glad you did.
Most of the restaurants are located on Deck 5. Lawn Club Grill and The Porch are on Deck 15. While the food in the Main Dining Room was quite good, we ate at the Lawn Club Grill and The Porch as a change of pace. The cover charges run $15 to $50, but discounts of 10% to 50% can be found most nights at one or more of the venues --- depending upon the current bookings. You'll find representatives from the restaurants each morning outside of the Oceanview Cafe on deck 14 at breakfast and sometimes at lunch. Ask them about any available discounts.
D. Oceanview Cafe
Found on Deck 14 aft, Oceanview has several hot, cold, and carved meat buffet stations which change daily; as well as a salad bar, pasta bar and pizza station. Be sure to wonder around to check out all of the offerings before plating. Surprises abound. The food was generally quite good. Hint: at breakfast, check both grill areas. Although both offer omelets, one seemed to always be busier.
E. Cafe al Bacio
Hit up Cafe al Bacio on Deck 5 for a variety of espresso, cappuccino, latte, mocha and macchiatos; as well as a dozen premium hot teas and premium iced teas. My wife fell in love with the Cafe Mocha and the Caramel Machiatta on a prior cruise. Once I discovered the Raspberry iced tea I would pick one up as soon as we got back from each day's port excursions. Very refreshing! It is also a great place to stop in the morning on the way to breakfast. If you want a quick bite to eat, they offer free croissants, brioche, fresh muffins, berliners (great jelly doughnuts) and apple turnovers in the morning; light lunch items; and desserts at night. The baristas at this cafe are very friendly and efficient.
Located next to Cafe al Bacio, the Gelateria offers 12 flavors of Italian gelato. We enjoyed a refreshing gelato after one of our day's excursions. The mint chocolate chip is a winner.
G. Mast Grill
Located midship on Deck 15, Mast Grill offers limited bar service, hamburgers (beef, turkey or vegetable), chicken breast, hot dogs and french fries --- along with favorite toppings like sauerkraut, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, American cheese, bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Yes, you can ask for just a BLT. Hint: there is a softserve ice cream station here and the flavor changes daily, and almost nobody knows it exits. My wife loved the fudge brownie ice cream.
H. Aqua Spa Cafe
The Aqua Spa Cafe is open for lunch and is located midship in the Solarium on Deck 14. They only have about 7 tables which is usually plenty since most folks either don't know it's here or think it's only for Aqua Class passengers. Hint: The food is free but it's no longer the gem it once was when they offered poached salmon. There is only a surcharge for fruit juices, smoothies and parfaits. They offer grains, fruit plates, and salads. The food is good but very limited.
I. Room Service
You can order from morning to late night. We didn't order anything from room service this trip. From past experience, they are generally punctual and they don't just drop the order off at your door --- they come in and set it up for you. Be sure to tip!
J. Classic Drink Package
We had the Classic drink package on this trip. Bars are plentiful and the bartenders and service staff (looking at you Alexandra) did a great job of getting drinks out to everyone. We enjoyed wine each night at dinner. Plenty of red and white wine choices. If you have a package (or not) you won't go thirsty.
The Classic Drink Package includes an array of beers, spirits, cocktails, liquors, frozen drinks, wines (up to $9 per serving), sodas, basic bottled water, and premium coffees and teas from Cafe al Bacio. Although it was never necessary, we could have simply paid the price difference to upgrade to any premium beer, wine or liquor selection on an as needed basis.
Part IV - Entertainment
A. Celebrity Shows in the Reflections Theater
Reflections Theater is located on forward on Decks 3, 4, and 5. The theater itself is beautiful and the viewing is excellent downstairs and with few exceptions the second floor as well. Almost all of the third floor seating is partially obstructed by high glass safety walls, safety rails, or the occasional pylon. Sound and lighting is excellent. The Stars of Reflections Production Cast (aka Celebrity Singers and Dancers) took part in 4 shows. They are a very talented and energetic group. We felt many of the song selections were pretty obscure. The finale "Euphoria" is not to be missed!
B. Guest Appearances in the Reflections Theater
Our guest artists included: Steve Lasiter (comedian), Jayne Curry (entertainer), David Deeble (comedian and juggler), Christopher Caress (hypnotist), Just John and Paul (tribute to Lennon and McCartney), Claire Maidin (singer, pianist, entertainer). We enjoyed all of the guests, especially the two female entertainers.
C. Celebrity Orchestra and Other Ship Bands
The Celebrity Orchestra was truly excellent and performed at most of the shows in the Celebrity Theater as well as occassionally at other venues. Among the other entertainment we enjoyed was Fiesta Duo (Classical Strings), The Sammy Tones (House Band), The Cardinals (House Band), Pipoka Duo (Guitar and Vocal Duo), and Linda Capewell (Solo Guitarist). Most played at various venues on the ship.
D. Shows in the Celebrity Central
Celebrity Central is an all-purpose venue. They offered movies, guest speakers, and travel talks in here.
E. Enrichment Speakers
Sea Days are typically when you get to hear about fascinating topics from engaging speakers. Celebrity calls it "Beyond The Podium". On our first sea day, Jim Kennedy, Director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, gave two presentations "50 Years of Space Exploration" and "Space Shuttle & International Space Station" that were well attended and full of great information, stories, and anecdotes. On our second and final sea day, Jim Kennedy gave two more great presentations "Future of NASA and Why Should I Care?" and "Stories of Space Exploration".
On the second sea day, Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis also gave a presentation entitled "Oceans Ahead: Secrets of Ship Navigation". The Captain, full of humor and interesting information, played to a full house.
F. Port Talks
If you like to shop and only take shore Celebrity excursions (or are otherwise looking to take a nap) then "Port Talks" are for you. They will highlight the excursions available through Celebrity and the port shopping opportunities that partner with Celebrity. I understand this is a commercial venture. Conversely, there is a definite hunger for good port information for do-it-yourselfers that is severely lacking on Celebrity.
Along this same line, Celebrity provides each cabin with a map of the next day's port. The bits of the town that they map is very clear and easy to read. However, this is not a map you want to use for sightseeing. The map is typically only useful for finding the recommended stores mentioned at the "port talks". Either bring good port maps with you or seek out Tourist Information booths for free maps.
Booths aren't always open and the maps vary significantly in usefulness depending upon the port. In general, fee maps from Western Mediterranean ports were better than those from Eastern Mediterranean ports.
The Fortunes Casino (amidship Deck 4) is filled with slot machines, two Craps tables, two roulette tables (1 American, 1 European), a few blackjack tables, texas hold 'em table, three card poker table, and a bar with flatscreen tv's. The casino was open while at sea and closed while in ports. The Casino is a fresh-air, non-smoking, environment. Kudos to Celebrity for their non-smoking policy.
H. Movies and TV Channels
Movies are available on your TV and nightly in Celebrity Central on Deck 4 and occassionally on the Jumbotron on Deck 15. Some of the movies shown included "Thor Ragnarock", "Shape of Water", "Red Sparrow", "Moana", and "Justice League". Your TV includes both pay-per-view and a dozen free on-demand movies (some of the same offerings as above). Satellite TV channels were very limited. They included several ship-related channels, 4 news stations, 3 sports stations (MLB is not shown), Travel, HGTV, and Food Channel. You can also order room service and check your current account balance on the TV as well.
I. Canyon Ranch SpaClub
This full-service spa is located on Deck 12. "The Persian Garden" (free for AquaClass passengers, fee for others) features steam rooms, infrared sauna, aromatic steam room with a mixture of warm steam and aromatherapy, sensory rainforest showers, and a dozen heated-tile loungers with awesome floor to ceiling exterior views accompanied by the calming music.
J. Outdoor Pools and Hot Tubs
There are six hot tubs and two outdoor pools along with an indoor pool (Solarium) on Deck 14. We did not use the pools. I found the hot tubs needed to be at least 10-degrees hotter.
K. The Lawn Club
Located on open-air Deck 15 aft, The Lawn Club features real grass to enjoy under foot along with lawn games like Bocce (lawn bowling), putting, and croquet.
Part V - Parties
A. Cruise Critic Rollcall Gathering
Our rollcall group met for sailaway drinks shortly after muster drill at the Sunset Bar, Deck 15 aft. This is a great bar for frozen drinks. The mango daiquiri is excellent.
B. Cruise Critic Connections Party
We signed up for the Cruise Critic party on the Celebrity web site. We received an invitation to the party on our first sea day in Cellar Masters lounge on Deck 4. In total, about 40 folks attended. We had a great time meeting and greeting other addicted cruise critics. The Cruise Director was in attendance along with several of the ships key officers, the Captain's Club representative, and the Captain.
C. Theme Parties
Due to being late at night, we missed all of the theme parties: Masque Interactive Theme Party, Silent Disco, Time Machine Party, ABBAmania, Full Moon Party, Groove Interactive Theme Party, and Disco Never Dies.
D. Captain's Club Parties
Members of Captain's Club had access to parties depending upon your level. Elite members were invited to a Captain's Club Celebration and a Senior Officer's Party.
Part VI - Health Concerns
Celebrity does this right! There was no smoking in the restaurants, casino, lounges, Reflections Theater, cabins or verandas. Smoking was permitted outside on the port side and rear of the ship. We are very sensitive to smoke and applaud Celebrity on it's smoking policy. The ship's environment was very enjoyable. We did not observe anyone abusing the smoking privilege.
B. Pools and Hot Tubs
We did not witness any babies in the pools or tubs.
C. General Cleanliness of the Ship
You could not take a stroll without witnessing some type of cleaning going on at all hours. The ship was constantly being cleaned or painted: floors, walls, fixtures, everything! The ship appears to be in really good shape.
To the best of our knowledge, there was no outbreak on our ship. Kudos to our fellow passengers and Celebrity personnel for their personal diligence.
Overall, we had beautiful weather and fairly calm seas. Almost like glass a couple of days. Until a couple voyages ago, I always alternated half of a patch behind my ears for the duration of the voyage. This trip I again tried going unmedicated. It generally went well as I never got seasick. I did get low-grade headaches on our two roughest days at sea, despite waves being no worse than 2-5 feet.
F. Drinking Water
All Celebrity ships have their own desalination and purification process. The drinking water on Reflection was excellent.
Part VII - Ship Notes
A. Ship and Crew
The ship was under the command of Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis. We were very impressed with the ship, captain, and his crew. Very friendly and competent. The ship and furnishings were in very good shape. She was very clean.
B. Our Cabin Steward
Our room steward (Lucy) did a great job with our cabin (no complaints). She kept the room clean and bed made.
C. The Shops
We're not shoppers. You'll find jewelry, watches, clothes, sundries, and souvenirs. Merchandise did not rotate very much. There was something on sale each day. Bottled liquor was not sampled or sold during this cruise due to European Union law, and a Value Added Tax (VAT) was added to all purchases in the shops, spa, iLounge, and photo gallery.
D. Internet Service
There are about 16 computers available in the Celebrity iLounge located midship on Deck 6, and while busy at times there always seemed to be an available computer to use. All had internet service and free printing capability. It was nice to be able to use our Elite benefit good for 90 free minutes. The internet was slow, but better than what we experienced on Equinox three years ago. Wi-fi was also available for use on your phone, and there is a keyboard to access the internet in your cabin too (though we didn't test it).
How to Access the Ship's Wi-Fi:
- Turn on your phone's Wi-Fi.
- Open Chrome or another browser and go to site: Logon.com
- Create account
- Select a plan (including the 90-minute free Elite benefit option)
- Enjoy the internet. It works best in public areas. Not so good in most cabins.
- Important: when you finish using the internet, your time will continue to tick unless you specifically logout.
- Open Chrome or another browser and go to site: Logoff.com
- You'll see a screen showing your remaining time left that you can use. At that point you're officially logged out.
We saw a few kids and a couple of babies on board. All were well behaved.
F. Dress Code
Formal nights have been replaced with "Evening Chic". We had 2 evening chic nights and 8 smart casual nights. Most men were well dressed (with jackets and ties) on evening chic nights, and most of the women dressed up.
Evening Chic is dressier than Smart Casual but intended to be less dressy than Formal attire. "Get glamorous and be sophisticated in your own way". Women should feel comfortable wearing:
A cocktail dress or a skirt, pants or designer jeans with an elegant top. Men should feel comfortable wearing: pants or designer jeans with a dress shirt, button-down long-sleeve shirt or sweater. A sport coat or blazer is optional but was also the norm.
With "Smart Casual" women should feel comfortable wearing skirt, pants or jeans with a casual top, and men should feel comfortable wearing pants or jeans with a sport shirt.
Note that T-shirts, swimsuits, robes, bare feet, tank tops, baseball caps and pool wear are not allowed in the main dining room or specialty restaurant at any time. Shorts and flip-flops are not allowed in the evening hours. The dress code will be enforced at all restaurants. Guests are asked to follow the dress code in the Reflections Theater for all evening performances.
G. Time Changes
The ship stayed on "local/port time" so we set our clocks forward one hour while in Greece. It was great to be on the same time as the ports we visited since this helps alleviate any confusion between "ship time" and "local/port time".
The ship docked at all but one port, which made getting off the ship really easy. The gangplank was typically on Deck 2, but was sometimes on Deck 5 --- depending upon the tide and facilities at the port. We tendered in only one port: Santorini. Tendering involves taking a small boat of 100 to 300 passengers from ship to shore, and back again. Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith.
On prior cruises we received tender tickets. Essentially the lower your number, the earlier you can get off the ship. On this cruise we were simply invited to report to a specific lounge between 8:30 am and 11:00 am (the expected busy tender time) to be escorted to the tenders, but we didn't take advantage of this service. Instead, we simply went straight to the tenders on Deck 2 at 7:00 am when we were cleared and caught the first tender off the ship.
I. Upon Returning to the Ship
When you return to the queue to re-board the ship after a day in port, you are greeted with ice cold hand towels, and fruit-infused water. This is a really nice Celebrity touch.
J. Solstice Deck
At the very top of the ship (forward) is a nice, quiet deck with lots of chairs and loungers available. While it can be breezy with little shade here, the deck is also uncrowded and pretty quiet. There is no elevator access.
Part VIII - Tipping
The service personnel on Celebrity receive meager wages and rely on your tips for income. While Celebrity says it is customary to offer gratuities to the ship's personnel who service you on the voyage, it is now entirely expected and you should figure the cost into your cruise budget. The ship's personnel work long hours to service you and the other passengers, and the bulk of their pay has increasing been borne directly by the passengers rather than the cruiseline.
Celebrity Cruises automatically adds gratuities to your onboard Seapass account. The "suggested" gratuities can either be prepaid or added to your account on a daily basis. The cost is $13.50 per day, per passenger for most cabins. It's $14/day/pp for Concierge Class and AquaClass, and $17/day/pp for suites. The gratuities are shared by your stateroom service, waiter, assistant waiter, dining room management, other service personnel (and concierge or butler, if applicable). If you wish to adjust the amount you pay (up or down), this can be done onboard the ship at Guest Relations on Deck 4. Gratuities for 10 days for two passengers in an Oceanview Cabin totalled $270.
An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to all bar bills, unless you have a beverage package --- in which case it's already built in. You should also tip for room service, extra to your favorite bartenders, the Sommelier, and any other personnel you wish to reward.
Part IX - Captain's Club
If you have taken a previous voyage and are not a member of the Captain's Club, sign up. It's free. Benefits include a Captain's Club express line at Embarkation, priority Disembarkation, some small cabin welcome gifts (my wife likes the Celebrity travel tote), casino and spa discounts, and a one cabin upgrade when booking. Some exclusions apply. Elite members also receive 90 free minutes of internet, and some valuable laundry services. Elite members were invited to a free wine-tasting seminar, a Backstage Tour, and an Elegant Tea; as well as breakfast in the Tuscan Grill and a Private Departure Lounge. Elite members also have access to the Sky Lounge for free drinks and canapes between the hours of 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm. If both husband and spouse are members, then you each get all of the benefits.
Here's a review of the Elite Benefits
A. Priority embarkation while boarding the ship
We arrived at the pier about 12:45 pm, gave our luggage and a tip to a baggage handler and immediately entered the terminal. Security took 5 minutes and we headed to Celebrity Check-in. Priority lines were set up for Suites, Aqua Class, Concierge, Elites and Select members, and a line for all others. In any case, the lines were minimal. Once in line, we waited until being directed to one of about two dozen Celebrity check-in agents. The agent checked our passports, credit card, and embarkation form. Within 10 minutes we had our Seapass (which is used as your ship ID, ship credit card, and door key).
Boarding had begun before we arrived, so we headed straight for the ship. A couple more security checks later, we were on the Reflection. An attendant greeted us with champagne. Cabins were already ready, so we headed straight for our cabin.
B. Access to the Captain's Club Lounge for daily coffee house style breakfast
This lounge is located in the beautiful Tuscan Grille, located on Deck 5 aft. It's open daily from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. This was formerly a continental-style buffet. Now it's a full-service venue with a limited menu. Food quality is high and service is attentive. Despite this, my wife preferred the former arrangement.
C. Captain's Club Elite Cocktail Hour (excludes embarkation day)
This lounge is located in the Sky Lounge on Deck 14 forward and is open from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. Menu-specific drinks included wine, well drinks, soda, juices, Heineken, Bud light, and O'Douls. They also served appetizers. Due to the number of Elite members on this voyage, the Seapass was loaded with 3 free drink coupons each night good at any bar in lieu of Sky Lounge-only service, though the venue was still reserved for Elite members during this time and canapes were served.
D. Complimentary 90-minute Internet package
The Celebrity iLounge is located amidship on Deck 6. They have about 16 computers and 2 free printers. It's open 24 hours with limited staffing during daylight hours. It was nice to be able to use our Elite benefit good for 90 free minutes. The internet was slow, but better than what we experienced on Equinox three years ago. Wi-fi was also available for use on your phone, and there is a keyboard to access the internet in your cabin too (though we didn't test it).
E. Complimentary access to Persian Garden (on one port day of your choice while ship is in port)
"The Persian Garden", located in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Deck 12, features steam rooms, infrared sauna, aromatic steam room with a mixture of warm steam and aromatherapy, sensory rainforest showers, and a dozen heated-tile loungers with awesome floor to ceiling exterior views accompanied by the calming music.
F. One complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold)
This is one of the most appreciated benefits as it allowed us to pack lighter. They will wash and fold up to 30 pieces. On day 2 we gave them a bag a laundry and again on day 6. You also can get 2 items pressed and 1 item dry cleaned.
G. A private shipboard departure lounge, serving continental breakfast
We had the option to sit in the Elite departure lounge located in Tuscan Grille.
H. Priority Tender Service in Tender Ports of Call
We tendered in only one port: Santorini. Tender priority is first given to passengers on Celebrity's tours (which is as good a reason as any to book a ship's tour in a tender port, especially if it's an ocean-related tour), then to Suites, Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith.
On prior cruises we received tender tickets. On this cruise we were simply invited to report to a specific lounge between 8:30 am and 11:00 am (the expected busy tender time) to be escorted to the tenders.
I. Priority wait list in Main Dining Room
We requested the 6:00 pm "Early" seating in the Main Dining Room and we got it.
J. Elegant Tea invitation
We received an invitation for tea for the final sea day. It was held in Blu Restaurant. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tea.
K. Backstage Tour invitation
We received an invitation for a Backstage Tour on Day 8 in the Reflections Theater. Due to competing events, we did not attend the tour.
L. Other coupons and benefits that may also be applicable to Classic and Select club members
Complimentary Wine Tasting: We received an invitation for wine tasting in the OPUS Restaurant at 11:00 am on the final sea day.
Senior Officers Party: We received an invitation for this cocktail party on day 8. It was held in Sky Lounge.
Gift: My wife received a rose and a nice note on day 2.
Other useful coupons: Double payout on any $5 1-to-1 Roulette or Blackjack wager, discounts on wine and various spa services.
Part X - The Ports
A little information about us: we are in our late 50's and don't exercise regularly. This doesn't stop us from getting an early start to our day and exploring each port, usually on foot, and we have no problem jumping on local buses and metros. We thoroughly research each port for months in advance of our trip (and thus you'll significantly benefit from this report). We get a lot out of each day but, where possible, it's more important to us to spend time experiencing a few points of interest rather than doing a flyby been-there-seen-it-move-on Clark Griswold tour.
Each port has a lot to see and do --- some more than others. Therefore we can't see everything we want to see if we're going to spend time doing it, so we had to prioritize our sightseeing while leaving time to walk and enjoy the ports. We also hired tours when they offered a specialized experience or saved us from having to spend time in long lines. A good tour guide can really enrich your visit. I can't stress enough how much you can see and do between 7:00 am and 9:00 am in the morning, before the heavy crowds materialize. It's absolutely charming. I won't delve into too much detail in my descriptions of each place we visited as it could fill a novel. Instead, I'll look to just give you a quick idea and you can Google them to learn more.
A note about tours: We are major proponents of getting off the ship as early as possible and exploring each port. We didn't take a single ship-sponsored tour on this entire cruise. We have taken 2 or 3 ship's tours over our lifetime --- when the tour we wanted was far from the port and we were willing to pay up for the assurance we'd get back to the ship in time or when the tour we wanted was otherwise unavailable from a private tour operator.
Why take a private tour? We've taken over 4 dozen private tours and we have never failed to get back to the ship with plenty of time to spare. Private tours are significantly less expensive and have significantly fewer passengers. This makes them customizable, quicker, and more nimble to go places the big tours can't. All this helps (but doesn't guarantee) a better sightseeing experience. The key is to do your research to find the best tours and either join or build a group of 6 to 12 passengers to make the tour really affordable. The good news for you is that I've done a lot of the research for you.
A note about decorum: Proper attire (knees and shoulders must be covered) is required to enter most churches in Europe. You should remove your hat when entering. Keep your voice low and turn off both your camera's flash and the sound. Don't leave a live mass service before making an offering. And do not take pictures when it's not allowed (like "never" at the Sistine Chapel or in the tombs below St. Peter's Basilica, or during services at most other churches). Can you get away with sneaking pictures? Yes. I saw it occur. Did I want to take pictures too? You bet! Did I? No. Decent, civilized folks should respect local wishes and the sanctity of the venue.
A. Rome, Italy (Pre-Cruise)
We stayed 3 nights at the Vittoriano Luxury Suites. It's on the 4th floor of a building in a great location just 3 blocks south of the Pantheon. The hotel is serviced by a small elevator and a very friendly and helpful staff. They only have 6 rooms of varying sizes. We booked the Matrimoniale Superior (Room 102). It is a very modern and comfortable room with free wi-fi, and includes a nice buffet breakfast each morning. Highly recommended. We walked to many of the major sites in Rome (for example: Pantheon - 5 minutes, Emanuele Monument - 10 minutes, Capitoline Museum - 10 minutes, Piazza Navona - 10 minutes, Trevia Fountain - 15 minutes, Colosseum - 20 minutes, Spanish Steps - 20 minutes) and caught a bus to The Vatican. Although The Vatican is also walkable in 35 minutes, a bus stop is just a half block away.
ROME DAY 1: Pantheon, Emanuele Monument, Chiesa di Sant' Ignazio di Loyola church, Piazza Navona and More...
We arrived from the airport too early to check in to our room but were invited to enjoy a free breakfast and leave our bags until the room was ready. After breakfast, we left to explore the area on foot. Hint: Rome is 6 hours earlier than Eastern Standard Time. To better acclimate to the new time zone, it's advised to keep active during daylight hours and not to nap. Out first stop was the Pantheon, just 5 minutes away.
The Pantheon is a former Roman temple built circa 120 A. D. It's now a church and a tomb (including Renaissance artist Raphael, and a couple of Italian Kings) so reverence is to be observed. The most impressive feature of the Pantheon's architecture is its domed ceiling with an oculus in the top. This dome is still the world's largest unsupported dome at 142 feet.
After about an hour, we wandered the streets for about 8 to 10 blocks in all directions just for fun and to get our bearings. (Hint: the free tourist newspaper-thin map of Rome is worthless. Bring a small decent street map with you). We explored several churches, Emanuele Monument, and came across several other monuments including Trajan's Column, Elephant and Obelisk, the ornately carved Column of Marcus Aurelius, Largo di Torre Argentina, Piazza Navona, and the Temple of Hadrian. Late in the afternoon we found ourselves at the Spanish Steps (pretty, but overrated).
You will get thirsty walking around Rome. However, you'll never need to buy water. Just carry a water bottle. Rome has 2500 drinking water fountains --- some are more ornate than others. The water is pure spring water piped in from the mountains above the city via an aqueduct created centuries ago. Hint: If you don't have a water bottle just cover the spout with your finger and water will come out of a small hole in the top.
We chose a couple of cafes with outdoor seating and free wi-fi for lunch and dinner. Both were good (but not spectacular) for food and people watching. More than anything else, they gave us a chance to rest.
ROME DAY 2: The Colosseum, The Forum, Trevia Fountain, Chiesa de Gesu, Capitoline Museum, and More...
Since we went to bed early last night, we were up early and arrived at the Trevia Fountain by 7:00 am, an easy 15 minute walk. There were very few visitors when we arrived and it was easy to take good pictures and enjoy the fountain. By 7:50 am, the tour groups and crowds began arriving in ernest so we headed for Chiesa de Gesu Catholic Church, a block from our hotel.
While the exterior is nondescript, it hides one of the most impressive interiors we saw in all of Rome. In addition to the magnificent frescoes on the ceiling (including a "dome" which is actually an optical illusion) and the beautiful architecture, Chiesa de Gesu also has a pair of relics: a chapel with the tomb of Saint Ignatiusa; and a reliquary containing the right arm of Saint Francis Xavier. He was co-founder of the Jesuits. It was said this arm baptized 300,000 people. If you want to see the rest of his body, it's entombed in Goa, India.
We headed over to the Capitoline Museum (Musei Capitolini) which is close to the Emanuele Monument. This is the first site we visited that required admission (€15) and it was well worth it. This immense museum is comprised of a pair of buildings on either side of a square designed by Michelangelo. We spent 2.5-hours exploring the museum and want to go back to see everything we missed. It's filled with paintings and sculptures, bronzes, and statues; including originals of the Capitoline Wolf Suckling Romulus and Remus, Marcus Aurelius, Dying Gaul, and Discobolus (Discus Thrower). While exploring one of the lower floors, I came across a breathtaking passage with a panoramic views of the Forum and Palatine Hill.
We grabbed a quick bite to eat from a cafe on our way to the Colosseum for our 1:30 pm tour "Colosseum Arena Floor with Roman Forum". We booked this 2.5 hour tour online in advance with The Roman Guy for €49 per person (using a 10% off "ricksteves" discount code). It was well worth it. Our meeting place was just outside the Metro station across from the Colosseum (one of two places on this trip that gave us goosebumps just being there. It truly is an impressive site). Our group was small, with only 9 folks including our knowledgeable English-speaking guide. She gave us some history and an overview before we went inside. We skipped the ticket line and our security line took less than 2 minutes since we were able to enter through the lesser used "Gate of Death" on the backside of the structure. We went up some stairs, through an arch, and found ourselves on the reconstructed arena floor for about 15-20 minutes. This was AWESOME!
Only about 25% of the arena floor has been rebuilt, giving you a glimpse at what it once looked like as well as excellent views of the underground hypogeum and a rebuilt animal trap door. From here we explored a couple different levels of the Colosseum (but not the underground nor the recently opened upper lever Bob Uecker seats, which require a different access pass).
Leaving the Colosseum, we walked past the Arch of Constantine to the Arch of Titus at the entrance to the Roman Forum. Our escorted tour included Julius Caesar's Temple, The Eternal Flame, Vestal Virgins Atrium, Senate House, Basilica of Atoninous and Faustina, Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine. Following the tour, we briefly hiked up Palatine Hill for some light exploring before heading back towards our hotel. We located a small grocery store where we purchased fresh bread, smoked meats and cheese, and took them back to the hotel to make a sandwich for dinner.
ROME DAY 3: The Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica, Scavi Tour, Castel Sant'Angelo, and More...
We got up early and took a 6:15 am bus to The Vatican (the smallest county in the world at 109 acres) for our "First Entry: Express Sistine Chapel and Vatican Museums Entrance Tickets" tour, prebooked online with Dark Rome (City Wonders) for $58.75 per person (after discount). This tour granted us pre-ticketed special entrance access to the Sistine Chapel at 7:30 am. The selling point for this tour was access "30 minutes before any other group and 90 minutes before the general public, finding this incredible room empty" along with a group size of 20 people or less. We met our group across the street from the Entrance to the Vatican Museum at 7:00 am. Our tour guide led us into the museum, through the Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Tapestries, and Gallery of Maps, to the Sistine Chapel where we had a lot of room to view and enjoy Michaelangelo's work. At 8:30 am, we had the option to exit the Sistine Chapel via a special skip-the-line exit to St. Peter's Basilica, or go back into the museum, unescorted, to explore. We chose to explore.
Our tour guide was good, the museum spectacular, the 90 minute jump start on crowds and the special skip-the-line access to St. Peter's Basilica were priceless. With 20,000 visitors a day, the Vatican gets very crowded. While the tour was entirely worth it, City Wonders didn't meet their promises. Our group was over the size limit by 15% and we had around four dozen other visitors in the Sistine Chapel with us when it opened. However, contrast this with the enormous hard-to-move-around crowds we encountered after 9:00 am and we considered ourselves very fortunate to have selected an early-entry tour.
Our second tour for the day was "The Scavi Tour". It was scheduled for 11:15 am, with an 11:00 am meeting time about a block from St. Peter's Basilica. This gave us only about 90 minutes to explore a few key exhibits in the Vatican Museum before exiting at 10:00 am via a special skip-the-line tour group exit for a quick visit to St. Peter's Basilica. This exit allows you to enter St. Peter's Basilica without going all the way back to the museum exit, walking 10-15 minutes to the Basilica, and then waiting in a two hour line! I'm told that this line, which we saw snaking all the way across St. Peter's Square in the sun, is a fairly constant 2.5-hour line all day long. While it's actually free to get into the Basilica, it's worth booking an official vatican partner tour just to skip this line.
St. Peter's Basilica is the largest "church" in the world. The opulence is breathtaking, from the high ornate ceilings (the dome is 385 feet up) and statuary to the marble and gold that is employed throughout. If you have time, visit The Vatican Grottoes. They are in the level below the floor of St. Peter's where many popes are buried. You can access the Grottoes by taking the stairs near the papal altar.
Below the Grottoes is the ancient Necropolis and excavations of St. Peter's tomb. These can only be seen on The Scavi Tour. The tour features everything from papal tombs to an ancient Roman street and St. Peter’s mausoleum. This incredible 90-minute escorted tour into the Excavations of the Necropolis (City of the Dead) underneath St. Peter's Basilica, is one of the most fascinating tours we took our entire trip. It's also one of the toughest tickets to come by in the Eternal City. Only around 250 visitors per day are permitted to enter, and groups are composed of approximately 12 people. Tickets (a bargain at just €13 per person) can only be purchased in advance (typically months in advance), via their official website.
The Scavi office is accessed on the left (south) side of the colonnade (columns) as you're facing the Basilica, through the Sant' Uffico gate. They do not let you go through security until it is almost time for your tour. Go through security, show the Swiss Guards your reservation and say "Scavi". You then walk to the Scavi office which is a short walk up a driveway and to the right where you'll be checked in. If you are late, they will leave without you. Our tour guide was excellent and he was full of good historical information. This tour literally ends inside the main floor of St. Peter's Basilica. Had we not already explored it earlier, this would have been a good time to do so.
After lunch we walked over to Castel Sant'Angelo, also known as Hadrian's Tomb. It's a 139 A.D. fortress located on the bank of the Tiber, close to the Vatican City. The castle (€14) offers some interesting rooms and panoramic views from the top. Unfortunately you need to pay extra for a tour that runs only twice a day in English that will take you into the interesting subterranean sections, like the prison. The castle once protected the Ponte Sant'Angelo (Bridge of Hadrian) which now features a series of angelic statues.
B. Messina, Sicily, Italy (10:00 am - 7:00 pm)
The highlight in Messina is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Messina "which contains the biggest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world. Designed by the firm Ungerer of Strasbourg it was inaugurated in 1933 and is the city’s main attraction even today. At noon a complex system of counterweights, leverages and gears, determines the movement of the gilded bronze statues located in the facade. The mechanism moves every day at 12.00am and lasts twelve minutes."
Prior to the show at the Bell Tower, we wandered around town for about 90 minutes and climbed up to the Santuario della Madonna di Montalto church that offers 180-degree views of the immediate area down to the port.
Other than that, the recommendation is to travel to the nearby town of Taormina. "The climate is a dream, its position, perfect panoramas, monuments and luxurious flora and fauna render Taormina a location admired by all who visit it. The city lies on a terrace, with a view of the ancient Greco-Roman theater against a backdrop of citrus groves with Mount Etna engulfed in the glory of the Ionian Sea beyond."
So we arranged in advance with TourShuttle.com for roundtrip transportation for 8 to Taormina at a cost of €31,50 per person. The driver was waiting on us when the Cathedral of Messina tower completed its multiple level show. Travel time is about 49 minutes each way which conservatively gave us about 4 hours to enjoy Taormina before returning to the ship. That was the plan anyway.
Unfortunately, the A/C in our van quit almost immediately and the engine totally quit while on the highway. Our driver pulled over onto the shoulder where we were safe and immediately called for a rescue. No worries. Within 30 minutes we had a new taxi with cold A/C pick us up and take us to Taormina, leaving our original driver awaiting assistance. For us, this minor setback was not a problem. We only needed about 2.5 hours to fully explore the town and the Greek Amphitheater (€10 per person), see the beautiful views, and enjoy a fresh cannoli. We returned a little early in the same taxi that rescued us, and we paid him in full.
I highly recommend watching the show at the bell tower and then heading over to visit Taormina. That's a good and inexpensive plan for the day. Kudos to our original driver for his skillful handling of a bad situation. However, since I received no response from TourShuttle.com when I informed them of our transportation problems, I cannot recommend them, and suggest you book transportation with someone else.
C. Valletta, Malta (8:00 am - 6:00 pm)
Hint: Get up early and don't miss any of the sail-in to Valletta, it's one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. And if you get off the ship early, you'll have the to yourself until about 8:45 am.
Malta has way too much to offer for a single day in port. We decided to keep it fairly simple and inexpensive on our first visit: attending mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, visiting Mdina, enjoying lunch, then returning to Valletta for further exploration.
St. John’s Cathedral aka "Co-Cathedral" is a must-see. However, due to services, it's closed to tours on Sunday and pictures are prohibited. You can still visit the church if you'd like to go to mass (no charge) at 9:15 am. On any other day, you can get a ticket for €10 per person, and visit Caravaggio's painting of the beheading of John the Baptist. Either way, the interior of this church, built in the 1570s by the Order of the Knights of St. John, is spectacular with it's painted ceiling frescos, marble and gold columns and arches, and ornate inlaid marble tombstones that cover the entire floor! They commemorate some of the most illustrious knights of the Order and date from the early seventeenth century into the late eighteenth century.
You have to work your way up since the old city is on the cliff top. As long as you use the elevator it shouldn't take you longer than 20 minutes to walk to the Co-cathedral from the ship. Turn right upon exiting the cruise terminal and walk towards the Barakka Lift (€1,00 up / free down). The Lift will let you out at the Upper Barakka Gardens which offers nice views overlooking the harbor. Start walking down Castille Street and turn right on either Republic Street (three blocks). Walk down 2.5 blocks to Triq San Gwann. You can't miss the Co-Cathedral.
Following mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, we walked back down Republic Street and out the City Gate to pickup a taxi near Triton Fountain. I prearranged roundtrip transportation online with eCabs to Mdina and back (just €5 per person each way for a party of 8). A comfortable van was waiting on us when we arrived.
The driver dropped us off at the Mdina Gate. Mdina is a small, walled town with narrow streets. “The elegance of the architecture, the pop of colors, the panoramic views and the sheer beauty of the town are all incredible. You can really feel as if you are in another time when here.” This is one of the “Game of Thrones” filming locations. After exploring the walled city, we went back out the front gate to get lunch at BOTTEGIN PALAZZO XARA, a reasonably priced restaurant which had received rave reviews online.
It's only a 6-minute walk to the restaurant at Palazzo Xara, Triq San Pawl, Rabat RBT1243, but we had some trouble finding it despite the building's distinctive dark royal blue doors and shutters. We chose to eat outside in their courtyard. Two of our fellow travelers enjoyed pasta dishes while my wife and I loved our locally raised roasted rabbit with pumpkin-infused mashed potatoes and a glass of Serina Merlot. Highly recommend.
We met our driver back at our prearranged pickup spot at 1:45 pm and were dropped back off at the Triton Fountain. This gave us about 2.5 hours to walk the streets and explore Valletta before returning to the ship.
D. Mykonos, Greece (7:00 am - 6:00 pm)
There are basically 3 things to do in Mykonos: wander the town, go to a beach, or take a ferry over to Delos (the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis and a UNESCO archaeological site). Unfortunately, on May 1, the water is too cold to go to the beach and Delos is closed due to their Labor Day holiday.
Delos Ferry provides half-day guided tours to Delos from April 25th through October 31st for €50 pp inclusive of the roundtrip transportation by ferry and an authorized tour guide. Mykonos is also a good beach island and Paradise Beach can easily be reached via local bus for €1.2. Since both of these options were out, we wandered the town. All of the buildings are painted white; with blue, red, or yellow trim, and the occasional blue domes.
We got off the ship at 7:30 am and took the first free shuttle bus to town (about 8 minutes). Walking takes about 30 minutes, but I'd advise against it. There is no sidewalk or shade once you exit the port and the road doesn't look safe due to the turns, hills, and traffic. Another option is to take a Sea Bus Water Taxi for €2 from the port directly into the heart of town.
Since we arrived early, we explored an empty town and got lots of good pictures before the rest of the 6,000 passengers from 3 cruise ships descended upon the pretty town and clogged the narrow streets. We walked beyond the windmills, coming back into town from behind them. We stopped in at Katrina's for a coffee and their homemade hibiscus lemonade. They also offered free wi-fi. We sipped our drinks on their open-air shaded balcony on the edge of the Aegean Sea with a great view of the town's iconic 16th-century windmills.
We wandered through the thick crowds, past the now-open shops, to explore more of the town before returning to the ship for a late lunch.
E. Rhodes, Greece (7:30 am - 6:00 pm)
The medieval city of Rhodes is a UNESCO World Heritage site and formerly the site of the Colossus of Rhodes --- one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. We got off the ship about 7:30 am and walked into town, bypassing the first Gate and entering the city at the main Marina Gate. At that hour shops are still closed and almost no one is around. We enjoyed wandering the near-deserted streets of this old town which dates back to 407 BC. We ventured up the cobblestone Street of Knights and came upon the Palace of the Grand Masters which had just opened at 8:00 am. A €10 combo ticket is valid for the Palace and the Archaeological Museum.
After exploring the Palace, we walked past the Temple of Aphrodite and exited the walled city to catch the first Rhodes Little Red Train (€7), a 45 min tour "around the more out of the way sights of Rhodes town". The "station" is on Pl. Eleftherias in front of Aktaion bakery (a worthy stop in its own right for inexpensive sandwiches and Greek baked goods). Unfortunately, as of May 2, it hadn't yet opened for the season, so we walked back towards the walled city and ended up taking a fascinating 1 mile walk around the outside of the city walls, primarily circumnavigating the Palace of the Grand Master, past strewn stone cannonballs, before reentering the ancient city via a moat entrance near the Gate of St Antonios.
Back on the street inside the walled city, we found ourselves surrounded by interesting souvenir shops and cafes. Looking up, we saw the Medieval Clock Tower Roloi and were drawn to it. Upon arrival, we found the entrance guarded by a pretty local woman who required €5 to pass. Inasmuch as we were parched and the tribute included a free drink at the tower's shaded courtyard bar, and free wi-fi, in addition to accessing the tower's 360-degree panoramic views and picture-taking opportunities, we gladly handed her our Monopoly money and went in. This was a bargain. It was a great place to enjoy a couple bottles of Mythos beer and unwind in the middle of the day.
After our respite, we headed for the Archaeological Museum to make use of our combo ticket. This is a huge and interesting museum with lots to see. The more you explore, the more you'll find and the more you'll want to look. About 90-minutes later we found our way out and headed back to the ship. The streets were packed and highly festive with shops and cafes lining our route out to the Gate of Virgins, which is closer to the ship and is a different route out than we came in. Lots of beer (some in big glass boots) and Greek food specials were advertised by the cafes along the route. Hint: avoid a potential scam and confirm the price of the big glass boots of draft beer before you imbibe.
F. Santorini Island, Greece (7:00 am - 6:00 pm)
Santorini was the only port where every ship has to tender. And not only must you tender into the small port, you then need to find a way to the top of the 700-foot cliff that greets you upon arrival. Of course, once you're up there, you also have to find a way down. You have four choices:
- Ride the cable car (€6 pp, one-way, 3 minutes after you've boarded). There are only two sets of cars (one going each direction) with six cars per set, each seating six passengers. Upside: quickest option, and they offer great views. Downside: can be scary, and the lines are known to reach over two hours (especially coming back down in the afternoon) since they can only service about 600 passengers in each direction per hour.
- Walk the 588 steps (Free, about 15 to 25 minutes). I understand it's not as bad as it sounds as long as you watch your step and take it slow. There are lots of opportunities to rest. Upside: cost, exercise, and great photo opportunities. Downside: you're taking the exact same route as the donkeys, so you need to avoid the donkeys and their droppings.
- Ride the donkeys (€5 pp, one-way, 10 to 15 minutes). There are dozens of healthy-looking donkeys and mules that allow you to ride in the old traditional way. Upside: it might be better than standing in a long line, or walking. Downside: can be frightening, uncomfortable, and you'll smell like the donkey you rode in on. (Our ship's cruise director vehemently discouraged passengers from riding the donkeys).
- Take speedboat to Oia and bus back to Fira. (~€25 pp, one-way, over 60 minutes). Upside: avoids all of the above. Downside: might only be one way, takes a long time, is costly, and you still have to get down. This is really only a good option if all you want to do is visit Oia and Fira.
According to the ship's officers, the heaviest tender time was expected to be between 8:30 am and 11:00 am. We avoided prime time and simply went straight to Deck 2 at 7:00 am when the ship was cleared and caught the first tender to shore. From there we waited about 5 minutes to board the cable car.
Once up top we explored a little then met our tour guide. We joined a fellow traveler's tour that he set up in advance with Santorini Tours. It was a private 6-hour Santorini sightseeing tour in an air-conditioned minibus with a driver and a tour guide for only €42.50 pp (plus tip) for the 12 of us. Our guide provided us a lot of good information about the island and its history. She took us to lots of picturesque lookouts and photo opportunities.
We started in Fira and in no particular order, we enjoyed stunning caldera views from the cliff-terraced villages of Imerovigli and Oia; visited the Prophet Ilias Monastery at Santorini’s highest view point; saw the famous blue dome churches; visited the old towns of Emporio, Megalochori, and Pyrgos; and saw both Red Beach and Black Beach. We covered the island pretty thoroughly. By mid-afternoon the group was hungry and opted to enjoy lunch at Forty One which is located on the black sand beach --- instead of doing a wine tasting (€10 pp); and we ran out of time to check out the Akrotiri excavations (€12 pp).
G. Athens, Greece (6:00 am - 6:00 pm)
This is another port with way too many cool things to see. To make the best use of our time, we opted to join a fellow passenger's private all-day 6-passenger tour that he pre-arranged with MyAthensTour.com. The cost was a bargain at $95 pp, plus tip, lunch, and about €39 in various entrance fees.
Stavros Striligas was our driver and tour guide. He's a very educated and smart guide intent on showing us all the key sites while proving good historical context. He was also able to get us to most of the sites when they weren't too busy. Since this was a private tour, we were able to give Stavros our personalized list of sites we wanted to see and allow him to figure out how to best achieve it and add anything else interesting that he could fit in.
Our first stop was The Acropolis Complex featuring the Parthenon, Erechtheion, and Herodion Ancient Theatre. Other than the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon was the only other site that gave us goosebumps. It's just an incredible feeling to explore this amazing historical building and surrounding structures and artifacts on the plateau.
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus was also an impressive site which also featured the remains of a Roman bath and The Arch of Hadrian (Hadrian's Gate). The ruined Temple, now primarily a series of impressive columns, was built in 6th century B.C. on the site of an ancient outdoor sanctuary dedicated to Zeus.
Our next stop was the Old Olympic Stadium (Kallimarmaro), site of the first modern Olympic games in 1896. The first marathon commemorated the run of the soldier Pheidippides from a battlefield near the town of Marathon, Greece, to this spot in Athens in 490 B.C. to announce Athens victory over the Persians. Legend has it that he covered the distance of approximately 42.195 kilometers (26.219 miles) which is today's official distance of a marathon.
We went to the House of Parliament to watch the changing of guards, but rather than watch the "show" in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier along with hundreds of other tourists, we watched a semi-private changing of the guards on a side street and these guards had to cover a lot more ground! Since we arrived a few minutes early we were also able to take pictures with a guard, after getting permission from the guard's superior officer. (The guard was a stoic non-participant who appeared next to us in our pictures).
We stopped for lunch at The Greco's Project (located on a plaza next to a Greek Orthodox Church in the Monastiraki Flea Market area) which offered really big portions of Greek lunch favorites at very reasonable prices. The cafe was only a block away from Hadrian's Library, so we quickly checked out that site before being picked back up by our driver. Not much of the Library, created by Roman Emperor Hadrian in AD 132, remains but the north facade with its Corinthian columns is pretty impressive and worth a quick visit.
We had the option of visiting either the New Acropolis Museum or National Archaeological Museum. Based upon my prior research and our guide's recommendation, we opted for the significantly better National Archaeological Museum where we spent about an hour before heading up to Lycabettus Hill, the highest point of Athens, for close to 360-degree views of Athens, and a return to the ship.
We briefly stopped at Aristotle's Lyceum (the remains of his former school where he taught), and drove by the Presidential Mansion among numerous other sites. Athens has a lot to offer and, like Rome, we'll need to plan for a future return trip.
H. Naples, Italy (7:00 am - 6:30 pm)
Naples, a city in southern Italy, is another port with too much to offer. Among your tour choices here:
- Explore the city of Naples: Highlights include Duomo di San Gennaro, the city's cathedral, which is filled with frescoes; the Royal Palace; Castel Nuovo, a 13th-century castle; the spectacular Piazza del Plebiscito; Maschio Angioino castle, surrounded by deep moats; Galleria Umberto I with its marble floors and world's largest glass-roofed arcade; and several museums including The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, displaying the most valuable heritage of works of art and archaeological artifacts in Italy (including some of the best finds from Pompeii).
- Visit the Island of Capri: One of the most picturesque and visited locations in the region. Also features the Blue Grotto, a dark cavern where the sea glows electric blue due sunlight passing through an underwater cave.
- Visit the Amalfi Coast: Explore the picturesque coastal towns of Sorrento and Positano.
- Peek inside Mt. Vesuvius: Journey to the top of this still-active volcano that destroyed nearby Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
- Explore Pompeii and/or Herculaneum: Explore the ancient ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii which are now vast archaeological sites.
The one place my wife specifically requested to visit on this entire trip was Pompeii, so we set our sights on seeing Pompeii and the lessor-known city of Herculaneum. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can find tours and taxis to both ruined cities, or you can get there easily and inexpensively on your own. Pompeii is just a 30-to-40-minute train ride away, and Herculaneum is just 15 minutes away. Thankfully they can both be accessed from the same trains, but you still need to get to the train station from the port.
Both sites are free on the first Sunday of each month. Sure, we saved €13 pp at Pompeii and €11 pp at Herculaneum, but we had to deal with much heavier crowds than we otherwise would have. Since we only had one day in port we got off the ship as soon as we docked at 7:00 am and headed into town to catch a metro to the train station in hopes of reaching Pompeii when they opened at 8:30 am.
The Naples cruise port is located in the historic center, facing the medieval Castel Nuovo. You can walk from the ship, through the Maritime Station, across the parking lot, and past a snack bar and smack into a 7 lane road Via Ammiraglio Ferdinando Action. There will be a very obvious cross walk in front of you. Cross the street and walk up a ramp alongside the castle which will take you to its entrance.
If that's your destination, turn left and go in. Another 1.5 blocks up the road (Via San Carlo) is Galleria Umberto I, across from the San Carlo Theater (18th-century Opera House). Just one block past that is Piazza del Plebiscito with equestrian statues fronting Basilica Reale Pontificia San Francesco da Paola which features Greek-style columns lining the facade of this Pantheon-style church filled with sculpture and paintings. The Royal Palace is across the street (as you head back towards the port).
If you're heading for the metro, turn right instead and walk two blocks down Via Vittorio Emanuele III to Piazza Municipio, a small one block plaza. The metro station, designated by a big "M" can easily be seen. Buy your metro pass (€1,10) in the little shop on the right before heading downstairs to the station. Use your metro ticket to enter the turnstiles and go down several floors following signage for Garibaldi. Once at the correct station, take the first subway arriving from your right and traveling to your left, regardless of the "next train" time shown on the overhead monitor.
You'll arrive in 5 to 10 minutes. Follow the crowds or signage to the exit upstairs. You'll find yourself in a mall. Turn left and stay to the right. Ignore the first escalator you pass on your left and instead take the first escalator on your right. At the top turn right and follow the signs to Circumvesuviana (train). You will see ticket booths. Buy your one-way (€3,30) train ticket to "Pompeii Scavi". Go through the turnstiles, go down stairs and wait on the middle platform #3.
You are going to take the train toward "Sorrento". The trains run about every 30 minutes. The monitor will tell you when the next Sorrento train is scheduled to arrive. "Pompeii Scavi" is one of the stops. You'll arrive in about 30 minutes. Follow the crowds to the right, past a few shops and cafes, and a half-block later you'll be pleased to see that you've arrived at the entrance to Pompeii!
We arrived around 9:00 am. Since admission was free today due to being the first Sunday of the month, we bypassed the ticket booth and headed straight for the turnstiles. Wrong! We still needed a ticket. So we went back to the ticket window and secured our free tickets. We also picked up a free sitemap in the little room to the right of the ticket windows. This was the only place we saw maps all day. With tickets and maps in hand we went through the turnstiles and headed in.
Once a thriving Roman city, Pompeii was buried under tons of ash and pumice courtesy of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The preserved site features excavated ruins of houses, buildings, and streets and you can freely roam. The nicer houses (with tile mosaics, infrequent statuary, courtyards, and columns) open and close on a rotating schedule. The site is massive and a lot of fun to explore. Photo opportunities abound.
We easily could have spent the whole day there, but we also wanted to see Herculaneum and get back to our ship before it left. On our way out, we noticed the entrance had closed to new visitors. The policy is to close by 12:30 pm, with expectations to reopen again after 2:30 pm, to regulate the flow of crowds on the free Sundays. (If they reach 15,000 people before 12:30 they will close earlier.)
We were sure glad we arrived early. Pompeii did seem to get crowded by 10:00 am. However, the further you get from the Forum (central square about 3 blocks in from the entrance), the less crowded it feels. Heading back to the train station, we bought our tickets (€2 each) to "Ercolano Scavi" (the stop for Herculaneum) and waited on platform #2, which requires that you take the stairs which directly across from the ticket office down and go under the tracks to the other side. Take the first train that comes as they'll all stop at Ercolano Scavi on the way to Naples / Napoli.
Carefully watch for your stop as signage isn't great and the stops are short. The train to Ercolano Scavi takes about 15-20 minutes depending upon the number of stops your particular train makes. We accidentally got off one stop too soon and had to use the GPS and offline maps on my phone to journey, mostly downhill, to Herculaneum's rear entrance. Assuming YOU get off at the right stop, walk directly downhill about 6 blocks on Via IV Novembre and you'll be at the rear entrance to Herculaneum. You can't miss it. If you're hungry, stop in at Bar Sandwich / Herculaneum Cafe across the street for an inexpensive meal. We shared a caprese sandwich with a wonderfully tasty fresh roll.
We secured our free tickets and map and walked into the site. Although Herculaneum is a significantly smaller city (about 1/4 the size, and only a fraction of that has been excavated), it's a much better preserved site than Pompeii. It's therefore easier to feel transported back in time. Herculaneum was smothered by the same volcanic event that destroyed Pompeii, albeit a later phase.
While Pompeii is all on "street level", Herculaneum is in a huge open pit. Pompeii was buried under just 12 feet of mostly volcanic debris, whereas Herculaneum was buried in 60 to 70 feet of mud and volcanic ash. Keeping in mind that Herculaneum used to be an oceanfront city, you instantly get a better idea of the magnitude of what they were buried under. Nearly 80% of Herculaneum is still unexplored, mostly due to being hidden underneath present day buildings.
The solemn visual representation of the death of each city's respective inhabitants is starkly different. Pompeii enthralls visitors with the bodies of victims that have been recreated through casting of plaster of Paris into soft cavities in the ash. These cavities were actually the outlines of the bodies that retained their shape despite decomposition --- though they still held the bones of the cadavers. The bones became incased when the plaster filled the soft ash. By contrast, visitors to Herculaneum can view boat houses with hundreds of skeletons waiting in the shade for a rescue that never arrived. So far, about 300 skeletons have been unearthed in 12 arched chambers.
Exiting Herculaneum, we headed for the Ercolano Scavi station, bought out ticket (€2,60 pp) and caught the first train back to Napoli, which turned out to be a train to Porta Nolana. (If you want to catch a train to the metro, essentially reversing the original route, be sure to catch a train to Garibaldi / Napoli Centrale instead). Upon exiting the station you can take a taxi or bus #151 back to the port; or turn left and walk. We walked three blocks, turned right, and walked 30 minutes (about 22 long blocks) along Via Nuova Marina back to the port. Walking wasn't hard but it wouldn't be my first choice next time.
G. Days At Sea
We had two days at sea. There was no lack of things to do on the ship. Sea days actually provided nice rest spites and allowed us to get reenergized. Eat, play games, port shopping briefings (basically a way to kill time watching a talking advertisement), attend shows, eat, nap, midday snack, cards, pools, bars, eat, trivia contests, read, chat with fellow passengers, eat, board games, gambling, exercise (no, not really, but there is an exercise room), eat, book your next cruise, live entertainment... the list goes on!
H. Ships in Port
There were no more than 2 ships with us in any port, and most of those ships were relatively small. There were no more than 6,300 passengers in any port, including our 3,000 folks. This is one of the advantages to traveling in the Spring. Visit CruiseTimeTables.com to see which ships are likely to be in port during your cruise. It's a really good idea to either book tours way ahead of time, or have a good plan, for any ports that are due to be crowded.
Part XI - Disembarkation, Customs, and the Airports
Two days before the end of the cruise everyone was given numbered luggage tags. Bags had to be packed, tagged, and set outside your cabin by 10:00 pm the night before Disembarkation. The number corresponded to a specific meeting time in an assigned lounge, and the system was based upon your travel arrangements. The folks that had the earliest flights or other arrangements were assigned earlier exit times. Meeting times began at 6:45 am. We were docked in Civitavecchia by 4:00 am and the ship received clearance to allow passengers to depart around 7:00 am. Guests were escorted by group number to the terminal to claim their baggage. An exception to the above called the "Self-Assist Program", allows passengers to skip this entire process, hang on to their bags, and walk off the ship at their leisure anytime after clearance.
Breakfast and coffee was available in Cafe al Bacio from 5:30 am - 8:30 am, Oceanview Cafe from 6:00 am to 8:30 am, Opus Main Dining Room from 6:00 am to 8:00 am, Blu from 6:30 am to 8:00 am, and Luminae from 6:30 am to 8:00 am. Room Service closed at 1:00 am.
Passengers were expected to be off the ship no later than 9:30 am. Disembarkation went smoothly.
B. Back to Back Passengers (B2B)
We were among approximately 56 passengers who had booked a back-to-back cruise. Some of the benefits included: $50 cruise discount on the second cruise, lunch in the Opus Dining Room on the changeover day, special passes that allow you to skip the general boarding process if you decide to leave the ship, the ability to stay on the ship, full access to your cabin if you keep the same cabin, and a genuinely easy immigration and changeover process.
We changed cabins and it also couldn't have been easier. We simply packed our suitcases, except for everything that was hanging in the closet and vacated our room around 8:30 am. Our bags and closet items were all relocated by ship personnel. Around 1:00 pm we moved into our new cabin.
We did not wish to leave the ship for an excursion. Instead we took it easy, stayed onboard, and basically had the run of the ship. All B2B passengers that stayed onboard met around 9:00 am outside Cellar Masters. We settled our bills, turned in our old Seapass cards (which they gave us back later as souvenirs), completed a new express pass and health form, got our new Seapass cards and had a new security picture taken. It took no more than 5 minutes per couple to complete. It was a ridiculously easy process which was greatly appreciated.
If you were on a B2B and decided to get off the ship, you did not have to wait for the 9:00 am meeting. You could get off anytime and get processed when you came back. B2B passengers were provided a special Transit Pass which would expedite getting back on the ship.
C. Customs Allowance
Each US citizen returning from Europe is permitted $800 worth of Duty Free goods, and adults 21 and older may include 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes, and 100 cigars. All you needed to do was to declare the total value. Anything greater had to be itemized (declared) and a duty paid.
D. Arrival into Rome: Customs and Passport Control at the Rome Airport
Most international flights arrive into Terminal 3. There are no Customs to be concerned with upon arrival in Rome if you have nothing to declare. You do need to get into a potentially long line to have your passport stamped prior to proceeding to baggage claim.
You’ll walk a couple of blocks from your arrival gate to the Passport control, wait in line to get your passport stamped, then walk another couple of blocks to Baggage Claim. No matter how long the Passport Control line is, you're likely to have to wait on your baggage. Once you retrieve your bags, it’s a short distance to the Customs and the exit. (For all of this, just follow fellow passengers and the signage.) You’ll exit through the “Nothing to Declare” door, and then you will be in the main arrivals hall where lots of drivers will be waiting with placards to pick up passengers.
E. Departure from Rome: Customs and Passport Control at the Rome Airport
Most international flights leave from Terminal 3. Once again there are no Customs to be concerned with when departing Rome if you are flying directly to the United States. We arrived early to the airport, yet we still encountered a 45 minute wait just to check-in at the airline counter and drop off our bags.
You’ll then follow the herd through security. If you have TSA Precheck, get in the line for "Fast Track". Everyone else will be herded into the regular security screening. Fast Track took us 15 minutes. Upon exiting security, follow the signage to walk a to the Passport Control for USA-issued passports, and wait in line to get your passport stamped again. This took just 5 to 10 minutes. Then just follow signs to your gate.
F. Arrival: Customs and Passport Control back in the United States
Assuming you are flying directly back to the USA, without a change of planes in other country, you will need to go through Customs upon arrival. Upon exiting the plane, follow the signs to Customs. If you have "Global Entry" (which also includes TSA Precheck eligibility) you can shave your customs time from an hour or more to just 10 minutes. Get into the Global Entry lane. Walk to an open GLobal Entry kiosk, scan your passport and fingerprints and smile for a picture, and answer up to 8 yes or no questions. A receipt will be printed. This all takes 5 minutes. Flash your receipt to a Customs Agent and continue to baggage claim. If you have items to declare that are in excess of the allowance they may have questions for you. Claim your bags and take all of your baggage to yet another agent who will want to see your passport yet again and collect your receipt. Only then are you done being processed and are free to exit the airport.
Part XII - Praises, Gripes and Your Questions
Reflection's personnel are very attentive, friendly and helpful. Officers made themselves very accessible. Food was very good to outstanding, and the drinking water was excellent. The ship is clean, beautiful, in very good shape, and built with a lot attention to detail with a layout that makes sense. It's nice to see Celebrity still believes in live music for the production shows as the Celebrity Orchestra was outstanding. The perks for repeat cruisers are worthy. And we really appreciated Celebrity's smoking policy.
We certainly didn't have much to gripe about. The internet is a bit slow. American sports rarely air on the ship. We would like to see a better selection of songs performed in the Reflection Theater. (Celebrity tends to perform a lot of obscure songs and broadway selections). Port talks should include more than just Celebrity excursions and shopping partners. Port maps could be significantly improved.
Feel free to ask any questions.
Information is from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. The information presented is an opinion intended to assist travelers in preparing for their Celebrity Reflection and Eastern Mediterranean cruise.
Since we do not have complete control over the "Ads by Google" appearing on this page, we do not directly endorse their sites or products. Please notify us if you find any of the advertisers to be misleading.
Feel free to contact me with any questions, to correct any information in this article, or to alert me to additional information one should consider.
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All information and photos © 2018 Topher
All of the pictures on this page were captured on my Moto C Pure cellphone. Some detail may have been lost due to resampling and resizing to allow the images to load quicker.
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