The foodies went on a New Year’s cruise. We have recapped some highlights here.
Many years ago my husband went on a New Year’s cruise with his parents. They always speak very highly of the experience, so several times I asked, why don’t we do that? Last year I finally talked everyone into it and we went on a Carnival cruise that was really, really bad. We tried to have fun (several friends went with us) and enjoy not being at work but the food was awful, the ship was tacky, dirty, and poorly maintained, the bars sucked, and the crew was surly. We were standing on our balcony in port and across the dock I saw a beautiful ship with REAL GRASS on the top deck. I said to my husband, “We should be on that ship.” It was a Celebrity ship (likely the Reflection). Within two weeks of getting back last year, we had booked this year’s cruise.
Thanks to our awesome cruise agent, Sharon Smith (email@example.com) at Cruise.com, we got the basic drink package as a bonus for booking early, and then we were able to upgrade to premium for less than $100 per person for the whole sailing. The premium drink package included all cocktails, beer, and wines by the glass (excluding the Enomatic wine bar) $13 and less, all sodas, premium drinks (like premium coffee and fresh juices), and bottled water, plus 30% off of any bottle of wine. For anything over $13, we merely had to pay the difference. The premium drink package is extremely worth it if you are a drinker (which we all are). The basic drink package covers all cocktails, beer, and wines by the glass under $8 but I’m not sure what the other perks are as far as sodas, etc.
I’ve tried to hit the highlights of our experience here. I don’t think you want a day-by-day replay (and I couldn’t remember it even if you did) so I’m just giving you the things that really stood out in my mind.
First impression upon boarding was WOW. The Reflection (built in 2012) looks like a new hotel in Las Vegas. The décor is very modern with many upscale features. The ship is 126,000 tons with a capacity of 3,046 guests. One thing that we ALL commented on was the amount of space on the ship. Every other cruise ship I’ve been on (including Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas) always seemed crowded in the public areas, especially in the buffet. But this ship was just wide open spaces (and the cruise was sold out). Also, NO smoking inside at any time, including the casino!!! That was the cherry on top for me.
The Molecular Bar was one of our favorite hangouts on the ship. Very original drinks and great bartenders.
The drinks take a little longer because everything is handcrafted but it’s definitely worth the wait.
One of the bartenders there introduced me to my new favorite shot: the Flat Line. Tequila, Sambuca, and some Tabasco (which floats between the tequila and Sambuca). Sounds disgusting but it’s amazing. Spicy yet smooth.
Crush is sort of a side bar that has a large vodka and gin selection, plus caviar. Well, supposedly caviar. The couple of times we tried to order it we were told a) the kitchen was closed or b) you have to call ahead for caviar service. We definitely would have had caviar if it was more readily available. Celebrity did drop the ball there and missed out on some revenue.
Michael’s Club (adjacent to the Ensemble Lounge) is Celebrity’s attempt at a craft beer bar. And it’s not bad! Nothing really rare there, of course (because they need reliable supply), BUT it is definitely better than the usual cruise ship selection. A little heavy on European beers for us, though.
Cellar Masters is their Enomatic wine lounge. Lots of dark wood and leather. Very comfy. You have to go during their “open” hours to get your Enomatic card (you pre-load it with a dollar amount of your choosing) but after that you can go 24 hours a day. They always leave one of the cabinets with glasses unlocked. After all the other bars closed, we would go there and try tiny pours of super expensive or unusual wines.
Now let’s talk FOOD!
The main dining room was very nice, especially the two-story wine cellar at one end of it.
The food was inconsistent. Some things were awesome (like my veal ragu the first night) but other things were pretty mediocre. New Year’s Eve was especially disappointing. They tried to do an abbreviated menu featuring lobster tail and other specialties but the menu was too abbreviated for such a general venue and the food was only so-so.
The wine steward covering our table was terrible. Maybe she was just overwhelmed but she would disappear for long stretches of time. You couldn’t get a glass of what you wanted any time close to when you wanted it. Forget trying to pair wine with courses.
The Oceanview Café was definitely the nicest buffet I’ve seen on a cruise ship. Very spacious with tons of selection. The crew did a great job keeping it clean and well-stocked. I just wish the opening hours were longer with more options in the mid-afternoon.
We went to three specialty restaurants for dinner. The first one we went to was Murano, which is $45 per person, and that really spoiled us for the rest of the trip. In fact, we tried to go back but they were fully booked.
Unfortunately, I was still a little hungover when we went BUT I still enjoyed my meal immensely. I started with the phyllo baked Anjou pear with Roquefort cheese – a daring starter for a cruise ship restaurant. Very well executed. For my main, I had the herb crusted lamb rack, also delicious. I don’t recall what I had for dessert (whatever it was is no longer on the menu) but I do remember it was awesome. Other highlights of the meal were the presentation (and taste!) of the lobster bisque, the tableside lobster tail flambé, the tableside carving of the Chateaubriand for two, and the cheese trolley. We really forgot we were on a cruise ship.
The next specialty restaurant we went to was Tuscan Grille, which is $35 per person. The entrance to it is really spectacular. I can’t believe we didn’t get a picture of it. It’s made to look like the inside of a giant wine barrel. The food was very good and the wine list had lots of reasonably priced Italian wines. Overall, it was a solidly good meal but I’m not sure we would spend the money on it again.
The last specialty restaurant we went to was Qsine, which is $45 per person. Qsine has really awesome ideas and great potential but I’m not sure that the staff is quite able to execute at this time. The focus at Qsine is really on sharing, small plates, and international mash-ups. The iPad menus were pretty cool. We would definitely give it another shot, especially now that we know more about what to expect.
Hubby and I went to The Porch ($5 per person) for lunch one day. I was underwhelmed, although Hubby indicated he would go back. The pie was not good – don’t order that.
My favorite lunch of the cruise was at Bistro on Five ($5 per person). We were both really peeved we waited until the last day to try it. We would’ve had lunch there every day. They have soups, salad, and tons of crepes. And the crepes are really, really good. The only hiccup was that they had run out of a lot of stuff by the time we got there. I started with Thai soup (similar to tom kha gai) and had a Tuscan Sun crepe (artichokes, mozzarella, and sun dried tomatoes with sun dried tomato aioli). Hubby had the Buffalo crepe (chicken, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese). For dessert I had a crepe with Nutella and bananas. I think Hubby got the same thing without bananas. Great service and really nice little wine list, too. The captain was eating there, which tells you something.
We all agreed we are Celebrity for life now, at least whenever possible. Royal Caribbean is fine but Celebrity truly is a step above.