Cruising: More than the bare necessities at sea

Celebrity Reflection set sail this month with a mission to leave old-school stuffiness in her wake. Leslie Woit climbed aboard to discovered the naked truth

Only a thin membrane of clear glass stands between me and the bright lights of Amsterdam's infamous red-light district. Bit by bit, I unzip and undress. Off comes the frock, then the bra. Reluctantly, slowly, my pants are last to roll to the floor. Like many women in this city do each day and night, I am putting it all out there. And even though it's legal, I've got to be honest: I feel the frisson.

I get no customers, not least because I am standing on the 14th deck of Celebrity Reflection, about to depart on her maiden voyage. My glorious vitrine moment is held, unadmired, in cruising's first-ever "smart" shower. Part of the lavish two-bedroom butler-enhanced Reflection Suite, this sexy glass-bottomed-and-walled box not only juts out over the water, its privacy-guarding windows can be changed from transparent to translucent at the flick of a switch.

Unlike mine, Reflection's act may be hard to follow. The 3,030-passenger vessel is the final one of a record five new ships launched in the past four years by Celebrity Cruises. In addition to new ships, it remodelled all its older Millennium ships in "Solstice" style – a version of a modern luxury liner that is likens to the difference between a sexy iPad and an old-school newspaper, a groovy Audi compared with a Mercedes. Think Philippe Starck sharing appletinis with the QE2.

The "medi-spa" does botox, teeth whitening and acupuncture. There are 23 sommeliers on board. It takes days to absorb the onboard collection of hundreds of funky photos, paintings and sculptures. I commit to using the 15 flights of stairs to see more. After all, I need every calorie-burning strategy possible. Twelve restaurants await: in addition to the glittering grand Opus Dining Room and five others included in each package, six "speciality" restaurants from Tuscan to French to fusion are available for an extra charge of between US$5 and $30 (the onboard currency).

A massive gym (free) and spinning and yoga (for a fee) are also there, for those who find time. There are Spanish lessons, Texas hold'em tournaments and Impressionist painting classes. A wellness area features a hammam, saunas and an ice room; the full Elemis Spa does a mean bamboo massage.

Reflection's first voyage from Amsterdam to Barcelona is a marriage of mobility and magically altering menus. We fall asleep in Holland, wake to the belfry and frites of Bruges, float steadily into a world of pata negra and pilgrims near Santiago de Compostela, and cruise onwards to Gaudí-land.

The outside is as valued as the inner world: 85 per cent of accommodation on this behemoth of the sea comes with a balcony. And the style and amenities are sugared by cruising's standard blessing: the ease of returning to base after each excursion. As an American guest with 17 cruises under her belt said: "Heaven is unpacking once."

What I understood about modern cruising until now you could write on the back of a prescription pad: seasickness, norovirus, high cholesterol. What I see here is people making an effort on formal evening attire (is that a train trailing behind her?), dining rooms aglitter with a thousand mirrors, real grass on the top deck that's heaven for boules and picnics, a swanky martini bar, a library brimming with actual paper books and comfy chairs – and plenty of greying but nimble couples sauntering past the jazz singer, throwing shapes, arm in arm on the walk to dinner.

"We want a customer who has good taste, high standards and high expectations," explains Michael English, head of sales at Celebrity Cruises. "One who stays at the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons, The W."

But standards collide with expectations at the on-trend Celebrity iLounge (the ship is the first Apple re-seller on the water). With a queue snaking out the door, there is only one capable yet ruefully solo technician to cope with a roomful of people saying, "How do I find the Send button?" I head down to deck five's automated wine-tasting bar and push the button marked Puligny-Montrachet instead.

Over a shared glass, I talk to a charming couple from Washington DC, veterans of cruises such as these and impressed by the flow of the rooms and the chance to find cozy corners: "It feels very much like being at home." In a decadent Signature suite equipped with bathtub and rain shower on the balcony, I should think even the Romneys would feel chez nous.

This elegant pair sounds precisely like the bull's eye at which Celebrity president Michael Bayley is aiming Reflection. British-born Bayley, who worked his way from purser to president, has come to see off his latest baby on her maiden voyage. "We are particularly interested in the affluent segment, in customers who are willing to pay a premium for the experience."

Regardless of thread count and art collections, it's an experience that may soon get more expensive for the 1.7 million UK passengers who cruised last year and are expected to do so again in 2012, part of a 20.6 million worldwide community. Rules aimed at forcing ships to burn cleaner fuel are likely to raise prices and reduce the average distances covered.

Even when stationary in port, Reflection is a multiple-choice of touristic pleasure-ticking. Which prompts a little niggle of doubt about my sea-edged wash with a view. With so many decks, dinners and diversions, I can't be sure I did push that "Privacy" button after all. Still, there is always the butler to blame.


After a short turn about the Med in October and November, Reflection heads to Miami for seven-day Caribbean cruises. Next summer she will be based in Rome.

The Reflection Suite starts at £6,747 per person based on two people sharing (cruise only).

Celebrity (0844 493 2043; celebrity offers a seven-night Eastern Caribbean fly/cruise from £1,310 per person, based on two people sharing an inside stateroom. Price is based on 23 February 2013 departure.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor