One would think the last of any class might be ho-hum for agents and guests, but nothing about Celebrity Cruises' (www.cruisingpower.com) Solstice class has been typical.
So Celebrity Reflection, the fifth and last ship in that class, has now taken up residence in south Florida for the winter, sailing from PortMiami on Caribbean voyages. Agents who ventured onboard for preview cruises last week are “oohing” and “aahing” over the ship’s design and features.
The Size Factor: The 126,000-ton Celebrity Reflection is slightly larger than other Solstice-class ships with 72 additional cabins. So the overall passenger count is a bit higher. Expect up to 200 additional guests on a sailing.
The Wow Factor: The 1,636-square foot Reflection Suite on Deck 14 is the perfect home away from home at sea. Featuring 24-hour butler service, it has an opulent entry, high ceilings, a large living area, dining room and panoramic forward-facing windows.
We particularly liked the two lounge-type chairs along one area of the forward windows. Set away from the main living room furniture grouping, they were the perfect set of relaxation perches for terrific sea views.
Both bedrooms have Reverie Dream Sleep Systems, soothing colors and large flatscreen televisions. An iPad Reverie Remote app operates the television, the lighting, and mattress massage features.
But it’s the master bath that really wows. Expect double sinks, a telescope, whirlpool tub and a full glass shower that’s cantilevered over the ship’s side; it features a privacy fogging feature that prevents guests from seeing in, but the person in the shower can see out.
Journalists and travel agents couldn’t wait to take turns standing in this shower and having their photo taken. It’s a bit eerie looking straight down to the water below.
The suite, which can accommodate six guests, also has a second large bathroom with a full walk-in shower plus 194-square foot balcony with table and chairs and a hot tub. Guests access this suite and other new 441-square-foot Signature Suites along a special corridor with key-card only access.
Travel Agent asked executives if the suite was still bookable, given the obvious demand and the fact that there is only one such suite on the ship. The answer from Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity's senior vice president of sales, was that “it’s selling well, but it is not sold out."
The Other New Features: The ship has an additional deck that it didn’t have on previous Solstice-class ships. In addition, AquaClass staterooms with added perks like slippers, robes, aromatherapy scents and so on, have become so popular on other Celebrity ships, that the Celebrity Reflection now has 34 new AquaClass suites; perhaps one of the best perks is the ability for guests to dine at Blu, an alternative dining venue on Deck 4.
A new Art Studio at the Lawn Club (also on Celebrity Silhouette but not the previous Solstice-class ships) provides guests with activities such as drawing, painting, beading, mixology, culinary lessons, taste tests, demos and chef dinners. "One of my favorite new things on the Celebrity Reflection was the Art Studio," said Candie Steinman of CruiseOne in Fort Myers, FL; she sailed with her husband Dick on the ship last week. "I did one of their projects and made some earrings."
In other changes, Quasar, the brightly colored disco and dance club on Deck 4, is gone, replaced by a conference center, which doubles as a wedding facility and banquet site as needed. "Another great addition is the conference [center], which will be very good for groups," Steinman believes. The previous conference facilities atop the ship are now replaced with the upper end suites previously mentioned.
The popular Persian Garden has been expanded; it has more tiled loungers, a new cold room and a Turkish Hammam.
At the Deck 15 Lawn Club, the line has added four more covered rental cabanas to The Alcoves area for eight total. Guests who want to relax in comfort, enjoy room service or butler service, use WiFi and enjoy time outside can rent these for $99 on port days and $149 on sea days.
Molecular Bar is the place for one-of-a-kind cocktails chilled with liquid nitrogen; the staff will make the drinks to taste and suggest weird combinations. It’s fanciful and fun.
The stern-facing Sunset Bar has been tweaked with new décor, a new “pitcher” drink program, and a bit different configuration. It now extends a bit out over the aft deck; round bar stools glow in the dark.
And, the ship has entirely new art, with much of the artwork themed around the concept of "reflection."
The Favorites: Guests will be happy to know most of their favorite spaces from all or some Solstice-class ships are still found on Celebrity Reflection. These include the two-deck-tall Hideaway, a quirky, fun and yet inviting relaxation area in tones of green, tan and brown.
Also a staple on the Solstice-class ships is the Library, a towering book sanctuary that will attract book lovers like a magnet. The library walls span several decks and are filled with novels and non-fiction books alike. Guests sip tea or coffee and curl up in wingback chairs.
The popular alternative restaurants from some of the other Solstice-class ships also remain including Blu, Qsine, the Tuscan Grille and Murano. Lounge lovers can head to the Martini Bar.
And of course the Lawn Club remains as the only real grass lawn expanse at sea; as with its predecessor Celebrity Silhouette, this ship has a Lawn Club Grill and The Porch, a casual eatery.
Each Solstice-class ship replicates the same elegant, yet comfortable feeling, but in a bit different way. We particularly liked the trendy, yet simplistic circle design in the Sky Observation Lounge, for example.
Celebrity Reflection sails the Caribbean this winter, and will reposition to Europe next spring for 10- and 11-day eastern Mediterranean cruises.
The Sales Expectation: Over the past few years, many analysts and media have talked about the need for Celebrity to raise its per diem rates to more accurately reflect the premium product it offers. Travel Agent asked Ritzenthaler what the progress is in that regard.
Ritzenthaler said the line is making progress in getting "price for the cruise" that travel partners and the cruise line think they deserve. For the 2013-2014 product the line's executives are aggressively targeting top destinations including Mexico City as well as many cities in the U.S. and Canada where a large number of affluent customers reside.
She also said the line is trying to push the booking window further out to get those affluent customers to book at higher prices, which helps in maintaining higher yields on cruise fares.
One factor that's helping? The large number of balconies on Solstice-class ships - approximately 85 percent of all accommodations - and the Solsticizing of Millennium-class ships with new features is also helping, Ritzenthaler said.
Celebrity officials identified three types of customers they're specifically targeting for the coming year. "We're actually going after three targeted customers segments," said Ritzenthaler.
First are the "globe trotting culture seekers," she said, describing them as married, well-educated professionals.
Second, according to Ritzenthaler are the "metropolitan trend setters," who are "on the go, in the know, love their technology" and they're from major cities.
Third is what Celebrity calls "the golden nuggets," a smaller target group. These guests love and have an affinity for cruising, cruise with Celebrity often. They're also known to enjoy and purchase items sold on the ship including artwork, alternative dining fees, wine offerings, gaming play and so on.
Celebrity will focus strongly on those three target segments and 10 key markets that are best for those types of clients - focusing their sales efforts and marketing spend there, said Ritzenthaler.