New Orleans Mardi Gras & Mexico Cruise
on the Celebrity Reflection
2/21/20 to 3/2/20

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Page 1 –  Embarkation, Ship, Cabin, Dining, Activities, Entertainment
Page 2 –  Ports of Call:  New Orleans, LA  Days 1 & 2
Page 3 - 
Ports of Call:  New Orleans, LA  Day 3; Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico

Preface
I booked this cruise in November 2018 when my buddy Jim told me that he thought it would make for a great Martini Mate reunion cruise.  The Martini Mates was formed in 2005, when a bunch of us met on a Cruise Critic roll call for a west coast repositioning cruise.  Several of us have been friends for fifteen years now and cruised with each whenever we can.  We have added to the group since that time and always look forward to seeing each other.  Several couples planned on doing the cruise.  Even though Carol was receiving treatment for her lung cancer, we still booked the cruise, hoping that she would beat it again.  Unfortunately, she didn’t; but I still wanted to go on the cruise.  Some folks couldn’t take the cruise, others had to change their plans and the wife of one the couple also died not long before the cruise.  But we still had three couples going, plus two couples from my neighborhood joined in on the fun.

We had lived in Fairhope, AL for eleven years and had been to Mardi Gras parades there and across the bay in Mobile, where Mardi Gras originated.  We had also been to New Orleans many times, since it was only about 2.5 hours away and we had kids who lived in the area.  But I had never been to a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade, so it made the trip quite appealing. 

Two of the Martini Mate couple, Jim & Kathleen and Bob & Judy, spent the night before the cruise at my house, so the fun started early.  It was a preview to an enjoyable and laugh filled vacation.

 

Embarkation

I had originally planned on going to the port in Jim’s rented van; but they gave him a large SUV rather than the van that he had requested, so there was no room for me.  Fortunately, my neighbors, Hans & Barbara, offered to take me with them.  They would have normally gone to the port with the other couple that was going from the neighborhood, Terry & Allen, but they never told them that they were even going on the cruise.  They wanted to surprise them when they were on the ship.   Needless to say, when Terry & Allen saw Hans & Barbara at the bar for pre-dinner drinks, they were totally shocked and thrilled.

When we got to the port, we parked in the parking lot across from Terminal 25, which is the same new terminal that is used by the Celebrity Edge.  It is a nicely laid out terminal and most efficient for boarding and disembarking.  Even though we arrived close to Noon, it wasn’t crowded, and we moved quickly through the security and check in process.  Celebrity’s online check-in with their app makes it so much faster than previous systems.

Our Cruise Critic roll call had over 100 couples sign up.  A very large group!  As usual, we had planned on having a sailaway get together at the Sunset Bar on deck 15 at the back of the ship after the muster drill.  We did have a lot of people show up, but the unusually cool weather probably kept a lot of people away.  Some people did get dressed up in Mardi Gras attire for it.

   

It is always a pleasure to see the Ft. Lauderdale beach pass by as we head out of the inlet for a cruise.

 

Ship

Having been on the Reflection in 2013, as well as ten other times on different Solstice class ships, I didn’t take photos of the public rooms.  They are basically the same as the last review I did on the Reflection in 2013 at this link - http://thepreismans.com/ecarib_reflection.htm

I do want to use this area to make some comments regarding the ship.  The most positive item that I noticed was that the latest version of the Celebrity iPhone app is now so very useful.  Besides making embarkation easier, it did let you know when your various reservations and activities that you marked were approaching.  I especially enjoyed using the chat feature, since some of our group did have it on their phones.  There was no alert given if a message came to you, but you would see a banner when the phone was opened.  The daily MDR menus were also quite helpful to have in advance.

My main issue on the ship was with the ship’s service level with drink waiters.  There just weren’t enough waiters available.  Getting someone to take drink orders was extremely difficult in the various bars around the ship, even in the theater.  We frequently had to walk up to the bar to get a drink.  It is very obvious that wait staff has been reduced.  It was even difficult in the buffet to find someone to order coffee or orange juice from for breakfast.  They are obviously reducing labor costs.   I am sure it also saves a lot of cost by making it difficult for those on drink packages to order more “free” drinks.  It is disappointing to see what was my favorite cruise line downgrading the experience.

 

Cabin

Once again, I was able to book what was our favorite cabin, 8257.  I have had this cabin on 4 previous cruises and other ones just like it on three other Celebrity cruises.  Its location on the hump is perfect in that it is close to the midship elevators.  This is important on the Solstice Class ships, since there is no aft elevator.  Cabins near the back of the ship require much more walking to get to different areas of the ship.  Cabin 8257 also has a balcony that is 3 times larger than the standard balcony, because it is on the edge of the hump. 

The cabin is nicely arranged and relatively roomy for a non-suite cruise ship cabin.  The air conditioning worked quite well, and I was able to leave it on the same setting for most of the cruise; which is quite unusual. 

   

   

I had plenty of storage space, which would be expected since I was traveling solo; but the cabin always had plenty when there were two of us also.   The luggage fit nicely under the beds too. 

   

The desk has two US plugs and one European two post plug.  The safe was above the refrigerator next to the desk and drawers.  It is convenient to have the safe high enough up to be able to easily use it.  Some ships have them at the bottom of the closet.  There were no pens in the cabin.  I had to ask for a pencil to fill in a laundry order.  This change was apparently made to help the environment, but I would have to assume it was more of a cost savings item, since the pens were taken home, rather than thrown in the ocean.

   

The bathroom is adequately sized and there is plenty of storage space.  I also like that they have a night ligt built into the light fixture.

   

With the cabin veranda being about 3 times the size of a standard veranda, it is a real benefit on a Caribbean cruise.

   

The view to the front and back of the ship is nice; and the view down to the water is pretty much unobstructed. 

   

I had an awesome Cabin Attendant named Peri from Indonesia.  He was so very pleasant, helpful and efficient.  As has been the case since 2016, Celebrity’s cabin attendants don’t have assistants; but they have less cabins to clean than when they did have the assistants.

Dining (Link to All Menus)

I have included copies of the menus for the lounges and specialty restaurants at the Menus link just above and at the top of each page of the review.  Food on Celebrity has always been one of their strengths.  It still is, but it isn’t as good as I remember.  Perhaps having cruised with Oceania and Azamara since my last Celebrity cruise has affected my opinion.  Below are my thoughts on the restaurants I visited

Opus Restaurant
Our group of eleven all had anytime dining in the main dining room.  Jim had requested a table for the 11 of us at 6:00 PM as soon as he got on the ship.  They confirmed it, but when we got to the MDR for dinner, there was no reservation.  They told us that they would see what they could do.  Jim asked that they set us up at 6:00 PM for the rest of the cruise, so we wouldn’t have an issue.  They confirmed they would.  After waiting for a while, they then told us that a table could be available in 45 minutes.  They gave us a buzzer.  It wasn’t a certainty, so 3 of the couples headed for the buffet.  Since it was prime rib night, like it always is on the first day, the other five of us waited.    We were surprised when in about 20 minutes the buzzer went off.  They sat us at a table for 11 and didn’t add anyone else to our table for some reason.  The next day, the Celebrity app showed that were all scheduled for 5:30 PM.  They fixed it for the rest of the cruise after day 2.  It is surprising that a system for open seating that they have been using for some time isn’t as smooth as it is on other lines.

The food in the MDR didn’t seem as good as it has been in the past.  It wasn’t bad, it just seemed to lack something with a few of the entrees and appetizers.  It was also a bit disappointing after enjoying the very good food on the Edge the previous year.  I had hoped that all the ships would be that good.  Even the bread basket lacked some of the variety they used to have.  Also disappointing was the service level.   We did have a large table, so it was expected that it would take a bit longer to eat.  Each night it took at least two and quarter hours.  What was most disappointing was that we didn’t see the waiter or assistant unless they were bringing us one of the courses or taking away dirty dishes, which were few and far between.  The service staff was great when they were there, but it was obvious that there were less staff than on previous Celebrity cruises.  It was very disappointing that a major appeal of Celebrity was disappearing.

 

Oceanview Café
I was pleased that the buffet was very good as always.  There were some areas where there have been cutbacks, but the quality and selection were still good.  One area that was quite frustrating for all of our group was the salad bar.  We were not able to get all of the ingredients at any one of the salad bars.  We had to walk around the whole area looking for items.  Only one of the bars had blue cheese crumbles.  I had to go to different stations to find green peas, carrots or croutons.  I had to go to the pasta station to get any green, red or yellow peppers.  They weren’t at any of the salad stations.  Sliced hard boiled eggs were non-existent.  These aren’t life threating issues, but very frustrating to us salad eaters that like those items on a salad. 

With the weather being cooler during the first part of the cruise, people weren’t out by the pool or even eating in the open area at the back of the buffet.  This did make the ship more crowded, but there were always seats to be found in the buffet if you looked long enough. 

 

Mast Grill
I always enjoy going to the hamburger/hot dog venue on deck 15 when I am not interested in a big lunch.  It is also great when returning from a late morning excursion or for just a mid-afternoon bite.  I was only able to go there one time on this cruise and it was really good.  Much better than I remembered.  Had I not waited so long to go there, I would have gone a few more times.  With it being in an open area above the pool deck, it wasn’t that desirable during the colder weather days of the cruise.  The day I did go there after a Grand Cayman excursion, there was a very long line waiting to order.  I am glad that I waited, since the hamburger, hot dog and fries were very good.  With there only being seven small tables in the venue, no seats were available.  A couple did offer me a seat at their table; but my friends Han’s and Barbara had to eat on lounge chairs.

 

The Porch
I had previously been at this restaurant while on the Silhouette in 2012, when it was primarily a fancy sandwich bar.  It has now turned into a much better venue specializing in seafood.  Jim and Kathleen had raved about how good it was, so our group all went there for lunch one day.  The Porch’s location is such a pleasure.  It is on deck 15 in a protected outdoor area, where the wind doesn’t have too much effect on you.  It is a relaxing place to watch the sea pass by, relax and enjoy conversation with friends while waiting for the next course.  The meal took well over two hours, but it was a most enjoyable two hours.  The highlight of the $35 per person meal at the Porch is the Seafood Tower, which is a shared plate.  For our group, they put out four towers.  We could get more if we requested it.  The tower includes shrimp, chilled lobster tail, scallops, mussels and seafood salad.  I am putting a photo of the tower below, since it is worth seeing.

The lobster isn’t the traditional lobster tail, it is more like langoustine.  In addition to sharing the Seafood Towers, you can also pick an appetizer and entrée.  The food was good, and I would go again on another cruise.

 

Lawn Club Grill
I have wanted to try the Lawn Club Grill for some time.  Most of the Solstice class ships I have been on didn’t have the venue.  When I was on one with it, I couldn’t get reservations, so I wasn’t going to miss it this time.  Our group of eleven went one evening.  Even with it being an outdoor restaurant, it was protected enough to make it most comfortable.  They take your order for the type of meat and sides you want, and which of the five types of flatbreads you would like as an appetizer.  The meal starts with a salad bar and then they bring out the flatbreads, which are basically pizzas, very good pizzas.  They were so good; I would go to a specialty restaurant that only served these. 
Then they brought my ribeye steak.  Oh my!  It was perfectly cooked, tender and so delicious.  It was probably one of the best steaks I have ever had.  Having had steaks in specialty restaurants before, I was not expecting perfection; but this day I had it.  I could not have been more pleased with the meal.  It was well worth the $45 charge. This is a photo of our group at the Lawn Club Grill.  It was a fine group indeed!

On the last day of the cruise, a few of us still had non-refundable onboard credit, so we came back to have one of their $20 hamburger lunches.  It was a good burger, but I should probably have gotten their Classic Burger rather than their Signature Burger.  I usually prefer not to have a bunch of different things on a burger, other than the basics, to distract from the main meat’s flavor.  I would have been better off with the delicious Mast Grill cheeseburger.  But I had to see what the Lawn Club Grill burger was like.

 

Entertainment

I was very pleased to find out that our Cruise Director was Rich Cleeson.  We had Rich as our CD two years earlier on a Suez Canal cruise and thoroughly enjoyed him. He has a very pleasant personality and always has time to talk to the passengers.  For the evening shows, he didn’t waste time trying to be an entertainer or just talking too much.  Some CD’s like to hear themselves talk; but Rich spends the right amount of time telling us what we needed to know.  He really seems to love his job and I loved having him again for my CD.

   

Performers

Dan Wilson – This was one very funny comedian.  He has a deadpan delivery while telling his observations about the world.  I never saw him smile, but the audience couldn't stop laughihng.  His expressions added to his humor, so I am putting in photos of some of them.

        

   

December ‘63 – This group recreates a Frankie Vali & the Four Seasons concert.  They are very talented entertainers and did a great job.  It made for a very enjoyable evening. There are apparently several groups going by the same name that tour around the country.  This group was a good one.  They picked a lady from the audience and the boys sang to her individually.  She was impressed.

   

       

   

Tom Franek – This fellow is one great entertainer!  He is a piano player that sings, jokes and entertains the whole time.  What is truly amazing is how he can play the piano in so many unusual positions, as shown in the photos below.  He has a short video on his webpage https://www.tomfranek.com that is worth watching.  I missed Tom’s first show, since I was at a Mardi Gras parade.  I am so glad that he was on a matinee later during the cruise to be able to see him perform.  He was Princess Cruise’s 2018 Entertainer of the Year.  He has been on many TV shows and has been considered for Grammy nominations. 

       

   

   

Domenick Allen – He is a vocalist who plays several musical instruments, even the bagpipes.  His main claim to fame was that he played with the group Foreigner.  From doing some research on him, there were posts calling him a fraud, since he never played with Foreigner or he might have only filled in one night for them.  Even if he didn’t play for them, he was a very good instrumentalist and had a lot of energy.   His vocals were a bit weak, but the show was OK.  After watching the show, I assumed that Domenick was in his 70’s or older; but it turns out that he is only 61 years old. 

       

   

James Cielen – He is a Gold Medal winning illusionist.  And he is a good one!  He has a great personality and is a true entertainer.  He performed some great tricks and kept the audience amazed.  He was only on for one matinee show. 

       


All McCartney Live – This is a Paul McCartney tribute band with some very talented musicians.  The lead singer was in the Broadway production of Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles and the UK’s LET IT BE. It focused on McCartney’s music after he left the Beatles.  It was a most enjoyable show and the audience loved it.

   

       

   

 

Production Shows

I thoroughly enjoyed all of the production shows on this cruise.  Perhaps I enjoyed them more, since my previous two cruises were on very small cruise ships that have weaker entertainment due to the size of the ships.  The singers and dancers were all very good and made for shows that were satisfying.  The staging and costumes were also first class in my opinion.

Elysium – This is a fairy-tale type show with the forces of good and evil battling.  As usual, the story lines are silly and not easy to follow; but the show itself was most entertaining.  The well-done popular music in the show more than offset the silly story line.  Of course, there were some aerialists and gymnasts showing their talents, which also made the show more enjoyable.

   

       

   

   

   

   

       

       

   

   

   

 

Broken Strings – The show was described as a “hand-clapping, foot-stomping live music performance”.  It was that and it was a high energy show with some great music and dancing.  It was a true fun production show.

   

   

       

   

   

   

       

   

 

Euphoria – Before the show, Captain Skylogianiss came out and thanked us for cruising with him.  He is quite a sociable fellow and was regularly talking with passengers during the cruise.

   

Euphoria was described as “a breathtaking performance of daring acrobatics & creative artistry.  It was a good description of the show.  As with the other shows, the singers were very good; but this show belonged to the aerialists and special effects.  I have never seen a cruise ship show like this.  Having seen so many aerialists shows in the past, they have less appeal to me; but they did provide an outstanding show.  The large balls that turned into what looked like huge insects was an interesting transition.

       

   

   

   

   

   

       

       

   

   

   

 

Activities

Cruise Critic Meet and Greet (www.cruisecritic.com) - We always look forward to the Connections Party, where the people we have been communicating with for many months on our roll call get to meet each other.  Over 100 couples had signed up for the party and a good number of them showed up in the Sky Lounge at 10:15 AM on the first sea day.  Cruise Critic had sent a box of logo goodies to raffle off; as well as including Cruise Critic blue beaded necklaces to pass out.  It made the event a lot of fun.  Cruise Director Rich Cleeson hosted the event.  The Captain and some of his department heads also attended the event.

   

   

Cruise Critic had asked Jim to send a group photo for them to use on their website.  I took the below photo before everyone was able to get in position, but you can see that we had a large crowd.

Beyond the Podium Speakers - I always enjoy the enrichment speakers, especially if they are good and keep your interest.  Both of the speakers on this cruise did.  It is always nice to be able to learn something when on vacation.

Bill Cashell - He provided interesting talks on various subjects related to the ports we were visiting.  He was a very good speaker and maded the topics most entertaining.  His lectures were titled:  History of Music and All that Jazz, Mardi Gras in the Big Easy, Exploring the Secrets of the Mayan Civilization, The Real Stories of the Sea and Magic Music of the Caribbean

Hal Tinberg – Hal’s talks all dealt with forensic science and how DNA is solving historical mysteries.  It was rather fascinating and quite informative.  I saw most of his talks and learned a lot.  He went into a lot of the science of DNA on his first talk, which I am sure confused a lot of folks, but once past that stuff, his lectures were a treat.  His lectures were titled:  History of the Romanovs, Search for the Unknown Titanic Child, Identifying America’s Fallen Heroes and Identifying the Famous and Infamous

 

 

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