We just returned from our first cruise, 11 days around the Caribbean on Celebrity Cruises incredible Reflection ship. It was absolutely wonderful and I can’t wait to do another one. Words prior to going on this cruise, I never thought I’d say. While I’m a big traveler the thought of staying on a boat for over a week had me intimidated. Fortunately the itinerary on this trip was too good to pass up and my fears were replaced by an incredible experience from the ship, food, staff, wine and incredible destinations!
Departing from Fort Lauderdale, we stopped at 5 ports, Grand Cayman, Aruba, Columbia, Curacao and Bonaire. While I’ve extensively traveled several times all over the Caribbean, these were all firsts for me and why we picked this cruise. The value and ships outstanding reputation for food, wine and entertainment made this a big draw and if nothing else were looking forward to the sample plate of island travel to scout our next winter getaway.
As it turned out we fell in love with Bonaire and Curacao, two locations that we’re not on our radar. Plus they serve Lavazza coffee, and you all know how I feel about that. I was an ambassador for them 2 years after falling in love with them while traveling through Zanzibar after being good-coffee deprived in Uganda for over a week. I also coined the term B-Y-O-C, ‘bring your own coffee’ and travel with a pack and single french press every time I go international to avoid future coffee mishaps. Funny enough I way over packed for this trip (or did I? 11 days is no joke) and reluctantly cut them from my list. Imagine the delight in seeing them all over the ship as the coffee provider.
A few notes before you get excited to book a cruise. Repeat after me “not all cruise ships are the same”, and I get that there are a lot of horror stories and cruise nightmares out there — we’ve read the articles and heard the stories. However, in the same way you don’t judge all airlines comfort, quality, food and service based on Spirit Air, same goes for cruises. So I’m only speaking for Celebrity Reflection when I go on my pro-cruise rant, until I try others! The ship is well thought out and the staff and crew put a lot of work into perfecting the experience. The pool area was so relaxing with a plethora of hot tubs, the entertainment and programs of activities was exceptional with great specialty restaurants, and unbelievable service. Here’s our travel diary:
We flew to Fort Lauderdale and stayed at the W Hotel the night before, leaving from the Port Everglade. We did not want to “miss the boat” in a literal sense. We gave our suitcases to the porters and headed to our stateroom, which had a nice balcony, full bed, coach, tv and was well laid out for the space. There are some incredible suites available, however this was perfect for our needs.
We spent 2 days at sea before docking at our first stop, Grand Cayman. After spending a little time in Georgetown, we excitedly headed out to our first adventure. Here we did an excursion to see dolphins and my lifelong dream, swimming with sting rays.
After that it was back onto the Reflection, and we were headed to Cartagena, Columbia for another day trip. For Cartegena, we purchased a hop on/hop off pass, however we jumped off in the beginning and started making our own way through the city seeing the old town getting lost in their colorful streets. We explored the old city behind the walls as well as the artistic Getsemani district and ate at a charming slow food restaurant called Beiyu.
Our next stop was Aruba, where we docked overnight, giving us almost 2 days to explore. Wanting to make the most of it, we went horseback riding on the first day and then in true Aruba form, gambled at the casinos at night.
The next day we rented an ATV, and visited a donkey sanctuary and then drove around the island exploring and beach hoping. Depending on which part of the island you’re on, we highly recommend Eagle Beach, Manchebo Beach and Baby Beach.
We then headed to Curacao, which honestly was my favorite island and one of the best kept secrets of the Caribbean. Traveling by cruise made this trip an incredible value given we immediately jumped online after visiting to look at flight prices which were upwards of $800 from NYC. Curacao is part of the is a Dutch Caribbean island, which explains the charm and color of city which was incredibly clean with heavy Dutch influence. We started in the capital city, Willemstad, with its vibrant buildings.
We rented a car and drove to the Hato caves, the tour was a bit long (it took for 45 minutes but could easily have been condensed into 15 minutes — although maybe that’s just the impatient New Yorker talking).
We then drove up the coast to Playa Kalki and Playa Grandi, it was paradise. A refreshing dip in crystal clear blue waters followed up by a catnap in the sun and small food stand with coffee shakes and French fries. We then drove down to Kenepa beach, a very highly rated beach which was pretty empty by the time we got there an hour before sunset (but rumor is it fills up in the afternoon). It was a beautiful cove with some great swim and snorkel opportunities. We could re-live this day on loop for a very long time.
Our final stop was in Bonaire where we boarded a water taxi to No Name beach and snorkeled. With an incredible reef around the island, this is known as a diving and nature destination. We met several exotic fish and found a turtle friend! Later we walked the town before getting back on board and sailing home.
The final two days at sea going from Bonaire back to Ft. Lauderdale we’re beautiful. We shopped the stores (I got some cute items from Kate Spade and Rebecca Minkoff while James got a Tommy Bahama top), hit the casino and ate our way through each floor. I also spent some time at the Spa, they have a Canyon Ranch on board! And while I laid in a seaweed, kelp scrub, I couldn’t help but feel so incredibly grateful for the amazing 11 days adventuring we had, especially during the winter weather back home.
This was one of the most relaxing trips of my life. I didn’t have to think about anything — cooking, itinerary, cleaning my room. It was amazing! I can’t wait for the next one? Galapagos anyone?