Travelin With Haley
At the end of January 2022, I set off on Yankee Trails’ Annual Customer Appreciation Cruise that Stephen Tobin, the president of Yankee Trails, and a group of about 80 travelers were heading out on. We left The Villages, Florida on The Cruise Express early Saturday morning and made our way to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
When we arrived at Port Everglades around noon, we seamlessly made our way to security after our bags were confirmed and transported from the Cruise Express to the ship’s staff who would bring them up to our room. We made our way through security impeccably with three important things in hand: our passport, our negative Covid-19 test that we took two days beforehand as mandated by the cruise line, and our Covid-19 vaccination card. These simple steps we took before getting on the cruise helped us and our fellow passengers feel safe traveling so we were able to relax while onboard.
After security and checking in, we made our way on board the beautiful Celebrity Reflection. The accommodations on the ship are second-to-none, with staterooms of every sort available for guests. Oceanview staterooms, AquaClass staterooms, Concierge Class staterooms, Veranda staterooms and suites all make up the accommodations on board.
There are different amenities that come with each class of stateroom. For example, guests who stay in suites are part of The Retreat, which gives them access to a private restaurant and lounge onboard, among other perks.
While I spent the nights snoozing comfortably in my stateroom, the days we’re filled with fun in the sun. We had two days at sea on this cruise, so I took advantage of the warmer temperatures and spent some time poolside. The Reflection has plenty of space for lounging in the sun, including on the pool deck, 14, deck 15 and deck 16. Deck 14 is full of comfy loungers surrounding the pools and whirlpools, while deck 15 has loungers on the upper deck where you have access to more sun and less shade, as well as a bar and place for quick bites. Deck 16 is for sun lovers, as it’s where the Retreat Sundeck resides where suite guests have access to the relaxation areas only.
If spending time outdoors is what you’re looking for during a cruise vacation, the Reflection certainly has something for you! Towards the back of the ship on deck 15 lives the Lawn. This oasis of real grass is surrounded by cabanas to lounge in and covered with comfortable seating.
Spending time on the lawn makes it feel like you’re not on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but gives you the vacation feel still. In addition to this, there is a giant movie screen located at the lawn where movies and shows play. There are even a few specialty restaurants in this part of the ship that gives you the perfect al fresco dining situation, (more on specialty dining later!)
If you like to stay active while on vacation (and we totally get it if it’s all relaxation all the time,) there are plenty of opportunities for this. The ship has a fitness center that all guests have access to on deck 12, as well as private workout rooms where spin and yoga classes can take place. The fitness center has weight lifting equipment, cardio equipment and even Peloton bikes that guests can log in to. In addition to the fitness center, there is also the jogging track around the pool on deck 15 that guests can use 24/7.
Located at the very front of the ship on deck 12 is the Spa onboard the Reflection. It’s hard to think about vacation without relaxation, and the spa is definitely the key to finding your Zen while on board. There is plenty that awaits you at the Spa- whether it’s the salon, the medispa or massage, there is something that will most definitely relax you at the Spa.
Dining on The Reflection
While on the Reflection, not one single meal disappointed! We dined at every place from the buffet-style Oceanview Café, to the main dining room to even a few specialty restaurants and each was a different, but enjoyable experience every day.
The Oceanview Café is great space to enjoy a casual meal at any time of the day. The buffet-style restaurant has a variety of different food for breakfast, lunch and dinner that will satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. The menu has international flavors along with familiar plates that we all know and love and is complimentary to all guests onboard. We loved going here for breakfast!
The main dining room is always one of the best dining experiences onboard any cruise. Some of the best parts about meals in the main dining room is getting to know your team of waiters as well as enjoying something new every night as the menu changes. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to try something you’ve never had before you can do that. If you feel like having two entrees you can do that too. There are no limits as to what you can or cannot enjoy in the main dining room. The food is incredible too! There was not one thing we didn’t enjoy while dining there.
Our group enjoyed just dinner there multiple nights during the Customer Appreciation Cruise, but you can also stop by for breakfast and lunch as well. For guests staying in suites or AquaClass guests, there are other complimentary restaurants to dine in instead of the main dining room. These include Luminae and Blu.
While we loved dining in the main dining room, there are so many other wonderful restaurants to explore onboard. We were lucky enough to dine at a few of the specialty restaurants on the Reflection during our cruise.
The first specialty restaurant we dined at was the Tuscan Grille. This Italian-inspired eatery serves iconic Italian dishes and features homemade pasta, artisanal salumi, fish, butcher cut meats and USDA Prime dry aged steaks. We loved everything about this restaurant.
We started with an antipasti board for the table full of amazing cheeses, meats and extras, then moved onto our own starters and main courses which did not disappoint. Some of the most popular dishes that our table tried out included crispy calamari, beef carpaccio, chicken parmesan, short rib ragu and of course we had to finish with desserts like an exquisite strawberry shortcake and classic tiramisu. If Italian food if your favorite, then the Tuscan Grille is a must for you while onboard the Reflection.
A few days later, we were lucky enough to dine at Le Petit Chef at Qsine. This experience was hands down one of the most exciting and interactive dining experiences that we have ever had. When you arrive, your waiter tells you about the menu that the petit chefs will prepare for you and checks for any food allergies, and then the show begins.
Your table acts as a projector screen, and the show comes to life on your plate and table around you. The chefs are introduced to you, and the premise of the show is explained. Each petit chef will prepare a course of the meal for you, and at the end, whoever is the crowd favorite by way of voting will be the winner for the night. To kick it off, the petit chef from Spain starts preparing your first meal right in front of you. Once she completes preparing the meal, the waiters bring out the real-life version of it for you to enjoy: a tomato and pesto salad.
Next up is the chef from Italy, and he creates the most delicious truffle and four cheese ravioli for you. The animated version looked amazing, but the real-life version of it was SO much better, we loved every single bit.
Next up was the chef from France, who was responsible for preparing our next course: the steak frites. The show he put on was highly entertaining, which made the meal taste just that much better.
By the time we made it to dessert we were so full, but the Japanese petit chef put on a show for us and we just had to try the matcha dessert he made. It truly did not disappoint!
After we completed dessert, the entire restaurant was given the chance to cheer for their favorite chef and course. For our dinner, the petit chef from Italy who handcrafted the truffle and cheese ravioli was the winner, and rightfully so!
This dining experience was so unique and so fun for everyone in the restaurant. Whether you’re bringing the whole family to dinner, or it’s just an adult’s night out- this will be the dinner that everyone raves about for the entire trip- for the food and for the fun!
Our last specialty dining experience was an al fresco delight- the Lawn Club Grill. This restaurant is located on Deck 15 right on the lawn and was the perfect place to catch the sunset while eating amazing food with your people.
The Lawn Club Grill is known for its grilled specialties like steaks, kabobs and fish, but they also have amazing pizza made to order and a refreshing salad bar that has every topping you could imagine. Everything from the salads, to the pizza we ordered, to the individual meals we had were just SO good. We can’t miss out on mentioning that the signature dessert here is a warm chocolate chip cookie with ice cream and it was everything dreams are made of.
Our meals were prepared on the open-air grill by the chef just steps away from our table, and we watched our pizzas get made right next to the grilling station. If we had to sum this experience up in one word, which is nearly impossible, we would use the word fresh.
While we took in just three of the six specialty dining restaurants onboard the Reflection, we would’ve loved to experience the others! They include: Sushi on Five, the sushi restaurant onboard, Murano, the specialty French restaurant, and the Porch, another al fresco dining option with seafood and a raw bar.
In addition to all the amazing restaurants onboard, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the bars onboard too! No matter what vibe you’re looking for, there is a bar for you at any time of day on the Reflection; Maybe the Pool & Mast Bar that lets you soak in the sun by the pool while enjoying a refreshing drink is your kind of thing, or maybe Cellar Masters wine bar before dinner is more up to your speed? The Sky Observation Lounge gives you breathtaking views by day and is a lively music venue at night, and the martini bar will delight you with its frozen bar top and amazing drinks. We’re just scratching the surface here on all the bars that you will find onboard, but there really is a perfect place for everyone to enjoy a drink.
For our second day of the trip, we arrived to our first port of call: Nassau, Bahamas. We originally had a private beach day excursion planned, but there was an unusually blustery cold front heading through the region, so our excursion was unfortunately canceled.
We didn’t want to waste the day at port, however, so we decided to lean into our adventurous side and get off the ship to walk around downtown Nassau. When we got off the ship we headed into downtown Nassau where we were able to experience fun mixed with the history of the island.
The streets were lined with colorful buildings that seemed even brighter thanks to the crystal-clear Caribbean water surrounding us. The cobblestone streets reminded us of the history that has taken place in Nassau, and we loved seeing some historic sites as we strolled around town.
We made it to a market that sold fun souvenirs and played music, brightening our spirits. Some popular places that tourists can walk to from the port include The Queen’s Staircase, Senor Frogs or Fat Tuesday’s, the latter two being located on Woodes Rogers Walk, a boardwalk overlooking the ocean just steps away from the pier.
After spending some time in Nassau, we headed back to the ship to enjoy the rest of the afternoon poolside. One perk of spending more time on the ship during a day at port- less crowds! We were able to find great spots in the sun near the pool and enjoy the afternoon without the entire pool deck being crowded with other passengers- we’ll call it a silver lining!
Our next port of call was on day four of the trip; we called on Cozumel, Mexico and were welcomed with a bright, sunny and warm day! Our excursion this day was an ancient Mayan Ruins tour, so we headed off the ship in the morning to catch up with our excursion group.
The excursion was fantastic, and an excellent way to get to know Mexican history and culture. Our first stop was at the Mayan Bee Sanctuary. While here, we were able to look at a few ancient statues and artifacts and learn about the importance of bees and the benefits of honey in the Mayan world.
After that, we headed to the San Gervasio Ruins where our tour guide took us around the property telling us about the different ruins and which buildings were used for what. We saw religious building, cobblestone streets and other structures that were thousands of years old.
After seeing the Mayan Ruins, we headed to the beach. Here there was a restaurant where we got amazing tacos, margaritas & guacamole before we lounged in the sun on the soft, sandy beaches. We could have stayed here all day! After 90 minutes, we headed back to the port to get back on the ship. Overall, the excursion took about 5 hours total and we loved seeing so much of Cozumel.
Belize City, Belize
After Cozumel, our next port of call was to Belize City, Belize. We were up early this morning- we needed to catch a tender to shore as there’s no docking in Belize City. We gathered at the group meeting place early this morning and boarded the tender with other passengers who were going on the same excursion as us, which was cave tubing.
It was about an hour-long bus ride to get to the cave tubing site. While on the bus, our tour guide told us all about the history of Belize and showed us some notable landmarks in the city. When we arrived at the tubing excursion, we were greeted by a dense and tropical rain forest. The staff guided us to the lockers where we tucked away all our belongings before splitting us into groups to begin our cave tubing adventure.
After our safety briefing, we geared up with a lifejacket, helmet and head lamp, and then set off on a short hike through the jungle to get to the cave opening. We entered the cave and started getting in the crystal clear and quiet waters one by one. As we started slowly floating through the caves, we were surrounded by darkness except our headlamps. We were able to see all the amazing stalagmites and stalactites glisten around us as we learned about the historical impact these caves had on Mayan culture.
Half way through, we disembarked from our tubes and started a walking tour through some higher elevations of the caves. Here, we were able to see the formations up close and even see artifacts left behind by the Mayans. After this short walking portion, we got back on the tubes to head back. This was an experience we had never had before and loved every minute of it. After exiting the caves, we were provided a delicious lunch before making our way back to the port.
The ship departed Belize around 3 p.m., with the last tender of the day leaving at 2 p.m. and we made it back with time to hop on that. After we returned to the ship from our excursion, we took the rest of the afternoon to lounge by the pool before getting ready for the evening festivities. We couldn’t stay out too late though, as we had an early morning in Roatan the next day for our final day of excursions.
For our final day calling on a port, we spent half a day on the island of Roatan in the country of Honduras. When we arrived, it was humid and balmy and the perfect escape from the winter that we were trying to escape, it felt amazing!
We checked in for the excursion on the pier and got ready to go ATV’ing through the jungle and then relax on the beach for a couple hours- we were so excited. Our group loaded into a sprinter van and we were off through Roatan to make it to our destination.
When we made it to the ATV’ing site about 15 minutes later, we were greeted by friendly staff and a dense jungle with a trail that would lead us on a thrilling adventure. We started off by watching a safety video and learning how to operate the automatic ATV and then we were off. Our guide started us on an easy, flat path that we circled around for the first few minutes to get our bearings, and then we started our trek.
The guide led us through lush forests and past colorful gardens full of fruits and vegetables. Even while riding the ATV’s, we could smell the scent of the tropical flowers that surrounded us floating through the air and could see the tropical paradise and it truly was a blast. About halfway through the journey, we climbed to the top of a mountain and reached a lookout point. We saw amazing views of the ocean, wildlife and local crops like cashew trees. The guides offered us coconut water and took our picture from a lookout point, it really was amazing and we had so much fun.
After that, we started to head back down the mountain and rode all around the trails until we headed back to the basecamp. In total, we spent about 90 minutes ATV’ing. The whole time we were ATV’ing we felt safe and in control of the vehicle. Some of us had never been ATV’ing before and still felt totally comfortable riding, so if you’ve ever thought about doing an excursion like this, don’t let your novice status intimidate you!
From there, we hopped back in the sprinter van and spent another 15 minutes taking in the sights before we made it to the beach club that we had two hours to relax at. Beach chairs were provided, along with some fun water floats if you wanted to take a dip in the ocean. The gorgeous beach club had an entire menu of food and tropical beverages to enjoy if you were hungry or thirsty- it really was a treat.
After relaxing on the beach for a couple hours, we headed back to the ship, which was leaving the port around 1:00 p.m. We spent the afternoon lounging in the sun as we started to make our way back to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.
As I mentioned, the Customer Appreciation Cruise had a group of about 80 people traveling together with Yankee Trails. There are a lot of perks that come not only with booking your cruise with Yankee Trails any time of the year, but especially booking a special Yankee Trails’ sponsored group cruise because of all the fun additions to the itinerary! Our annual sponsored group cruises include the President’s Cruise, Julie’s Manager’s Cruise and the Customer Appreciation Cruise.
One of my favorite events that always happen on these cruises is the Yankee Trails cocktail party. Usually how the cocktail party works is on one evening, Yankee Trails has an entire bar on the ship reserved for an hour before dinner with free cocktails and refreshments for anyone in the group who attends. We’ll give away fun prizes like Yankee Trails swag, bottles of wine, and gift cards. On this cruise, one lucky couple even won $1,000 towards their next Celebrity Cruise- they took the opportunity to book next year’s Customer Appreciation Cruise on the Apex with this prize!
The cocktail party is a really great opportunity to get to know the Yankee Trails staff members on the trip and also get to know your fellow travelers. A lot of the guests who went on this cruise came from The Villages or Stonecrest Community in Florida, so groups from those communities were hanging out with each other and really had a great time together. In addition to that, many find this cruise a great couple’s trip. There were plenty of couples on vacation with their friends on this trip and we loved seeing how close some groups of friends were.
Another great perk that comes with traveling as a group is that we were all seated near each other in the main dining room during dinner. This gave everyone another great opportunity to get to know each other better and check in with each other about how their days were. There was such comradery with the guests in this group and we had such a good time with everyone!
Traveling in general can leave you with many logistical questions, and this is quite true while cruising as well. To bring even more assistance to guests traveling with Yankee Trails, we had our friend Kim from Celebrity Cruises set up at a central part of the ship every day from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. where guests could swing by and ask her any questions that may pop up along the way. These questions ranged from dining related questions, to onboard credit questions, to even questions about booking another cruise while on board. Our guests found this incredibly helpful and Kim had visitors every day, which she loved!
A new experience we had on the Customer Appreciation Cruise, which had to be my favorite, was getting the opportunity to have a cocktail hour on the helipad of the ship as we sailed away from the port in Cozumel.
All guests traveling with Yankee Trails were invited to head to the very front of the ship about 15 minutes before we departed Cozumel to take in the views, including the sunset.
When we arrived, there were cocktails and light refreshments for all guests and we took in the sights of Cozumel and the ships around us as we departed the port. This truly was an incredible experience- guests usually don’t have access to the helipad under regular circumstances, so this was a bucket list opportunity and the entire group loved it!
On Ship Entertainment
Like all great cruises, the entertainment on the Reflection kept us enthralled daily. The programming on the ship made sure that there was never a dull moment on the ship, and we can attest that there was indeed never a dull moment.
The Reflection Theatre had nightly shows that wowed us, including a tribute to Stevie Wonder, an amazing production complete with singing and dancing, a magician and the show that everyone was talking about- a tribute to Aretha Franklin which blew us away.
The Reflection has a world class casino onboard to try your luck at, and if casino games aren’t your thing, there are plenty of trivia games and team challenges to be a part of. One evening, we attended a battle of the sexes game show in the Entertainment Court and had some great laughs watching the teams play charades, guess trivia and play name that tune. By the end of the game, the entire court had filled up with guests watching on and laughing.
There was amazing shopping to be done onboard the Reflection. Anything from clothing, to jewelry, to cosmetics to handbags were all part of the shopping experience where you could fully indulge.
Every day by the pool, the activities director hosted a number of different games to participate in or just watch and enjoy. We loved the energy the games brought to the day and it was so fun to watch teams battle it out in pool volleyball, do a group dance competition, or play ring toss.
The 2022 Customer Appreciation Cruise was so much fun and it’s easy to see why Yankee Trails has such a big group book it every year. The Reflection was the perfect ship to relax and unwind on for a week, and we miss the warm temperatures and good times already.
The 2023 Customer Appreciation Cruise itinerary is already up on our website and can be booked today! We’ll be sailing around the Eastern Caribbean on the Celebrity Apex, one of Celebrity’s newest and most breathtaking ships. If this sounds like a blast to you, (and trust us- you will definitely enjoy yourself a lot!) check out the itinerary and give one of our travel advisors a call today to book your spot!