DESPITE turbulent economic times, luxury cruise ship launches show no sign of slowing down. Just months after the maiden voyage of European line MSC’s Divina, the Americans are showing off their big rival to it – the stunning Celebrity Reflection.
Imagine a luxury hotel, complete with pools, hot tubs, spa, gym and cosmetic treatment centre. Then add 12 restaurants – ranging from casual to haute cuisine – with superb service.
Throw in a dozen bars and lounges too, complete with jazz bands, musicians and concert violinists.
Don’t forget a theatre that dwarfs our own Gaiety; more than 18 shops and boutiques; a massive casino with bar and 16 playing tables; and an art studio.
Then make it moveable, calling on ports as diverse as Rome, the Greek island of Santorini or the Caribbean island of St Thomas.
And remember that you’ll wake up to these delights each day, luckily with a nice ocean view cabin.
Aimed at holidaymakers (mainly late 30s to 40s) who want the finer things in life, a Celebrity Cruises holiday is a step up in class from its better known sister line, Royal Caribbean.
I gota sneak preview of Reflection (the fifth, and best, in the Solstice class of ships) before it made its maiden voyage from Amsterdam last week.
My stateroom (the posher word for cabin) was a cut above the norm; an AquaClass room with direct access to the spa, along with goodies such as spa robes, slippers and toiletries.
It was a good-sized room with a spacious balcony area with sun lounger. The flatscreen TV (which swivels for watching in bed) features normal channels as well as a great range of new
release movies and shows, powered by Apple technology.
If yo’ve got more cash than me, you can stay in a sumptuous Reflection Suite. Expect butler service, an enormous living space and the remarkable all-glass shower that extends over the side of the ship as you’re travelling high over the ocean waves. It’s yours – for under €10,000 a week. Lucky you.
The deck feeling is pure upmarket Hamptons – a lawn club (real grass) with genteel lawn games; private cabanas for hire; and al fresco drinking and dining.
The heart of the ship – decks four and five – have Fifth Avenue designer stores, such as Michael Kors, but it’s also the place to head to if you’re looking for the duty free drinks or cigarettes or beach wear.
I’ve included some lead-in prices for upcoming trips, but keep an eye our for deals if you’re on a budget and still want to try some luxury.
And just note that this is a ship where you can spend as little as you like, dining in the main – and breathtaking – Opus Dining Room at night, but you could easily splurge an extra $30 for the likes of the superb Tuscan Grille.
So throw in a few spa treatments and plenty of shopping, and the cost will add up.
But the beauty of a ship is that it’s up to you. If you want to spend as little as possible on board, you can.
If you want to splash out, Reflection is up there with the best in the industry.
Molecular Bar: If your other half is off shopping, hang awhile here. It’s got knockout cocktails (mine was topped off with safely-administered liquid nitrogen), and unusual takes on classic mojitos, martinis and all the rest.
Cellar Masters: Wine, wine, wine. Try a variety straight from the high-tech taps at this classy, wooden-panelled wine bar.
Martini Bar: My favourite – a bar counter that’s made out of ice to keep your beer nice and chilled. There’s a great selection of spirits too, but be warned; it gets busy before and after shows at the nearby Reflection Theatre.
Sunset Bar (pictured): Just gorgeous. Take in the setting sun on the ocean at this al fresco bar beside the lawn club area at the rear of the ship. But beware – it’s non-smoking, which may win you over or just irritate you.
Sky Observation Lounge: Unusually, Reflection has no downstairs nightclub, but the crowd dance the night away on the smallish floor up here at the top of the ship.
It’s big, it’s trendy and it’s very loud.
Aquaspa (inset): Fancy botox on a boat? Now you can. Acupuncture’s on offer too, along with a variety of treatments. The gym’s huge, and offers new fitness crazes from New York, including competitive spinning classes in the dark.
Reflection Theatre: I really do hate shows, but you’ve got to witness Bendy Girl. Don’t know her name but any gal who can put her legs over her head and spin around is cool. The venue’s beautiful, and reminiscent of a grand opera house.
Celebrity iLounge: Geek central - a place where you can facebook the folks at home on spanking new Mac computers – or even buy an Apple product to bring home. The wifi’s great and the staff are knowledgeable.
Fun Factory: Children are VIP guests too. Expect great games and high tech fun.
Solarium: There’s pools aplenty on board – but the indoor area is something special. Padded loungers, mini-cabanas before or after your dip in the heated pool, and a host of hot tubs make this a place of solitude and pleasure.
A seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruise, departing December 8, takes in Miami, Puerto Rico, St Maarten and Basseterre, and St Kitt’s, costs €634pp (cruise only) with Celebrity Cruises.
A similar cruise, departing a week later, costs €688 with American Holidays (cruise only).
An 11-night trip around the Eastern Med, beginning in Rome and taking in Santorini, Athens, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Naples, costs €1,370, cruise only, with Travel Counsellors.
For more info and bookings, see celebritycruises.ie (phone 1800 932619); americanholidays.ie (01-4331088) or Travel Counsellors (travel counsellors.ie) Chris Ryan on 021-4813966 or Derek Dunne on 01-8567445.