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May 29, 2013

Exploring Santorini: An Outfit Fit For Donkey Riding

Cruising makes you do weird things. Case and point, my momentary lapse in judgement in thinking I should do a little outfit post...my very first outfit post in the history of ever...composed of my fabulous cruise attire. Enjoy it while it lasts, folks, because it might not last long. I'm not sure I'm cutout for outfit posts. Putting this "exploring Santorini" get-up was very thought out. My brain hurts just thinking about my thought process while rifling through my suitcase that morning. Brightly colored cropped jeans? Check. Grecian blue patterned scarf? Check. Obligatory straw fedora? Ohhh yes...check. I was a walking Greek cliché that day. And I loved every second of it. Little did I know that morning, this would also become my donkey riding outfit. Oh, you guys just wait. 
Santorini gets GOOD.

 Shirt & Coral Cropped Jeans: Gap (jeans & shirt-similar), Scarf: H&M, Sandals: Target, Straw fedora:

BIG hugs & kisses to my handsome hubby for taking these outfit photos for me! For his first go round (and mine), I think he did a pretty stellar job. He was less than amused, but humored me anyway. Cream of the crop, that fella.

Look out for more from Santorini tomorrow!

May 28, 2013

Cruising with the Cotés: The Food

Half of the fun of going on vacation is knowing you're going to be consuming gobs and gobs of amazing food. Am I right, or am I right? The food aboard the Celebrity Reflection was no exception. D and I had heard that the average cruiser comes home at least 5 pounds heavier after just a week of sailing. If this bit of knowledge was true, for our 12 day sailing, we were looking at almost double that in weight gain. That wasn't going to fly with either of us...so, we devised a plan. We would try our hardest to eat as if we were home. No splurging on pancake breakfasts, skip dessert at least 6 out of the 12 nights, avoid pasta as a main course, salads for lunch most days, keep a head on the cocktail count each night (no more than 2), and hit the gym at least every other day. Sounded doable, right? Yeahhh...so that snappy plan lasted all of 5 days...then we said to heck with it. Vacations are for splurging, so who are we to deny ourselves the best vacation ever? D and I didn't go crazy, but we also didn't worry ourselves sick about the amazing cheeseburgers we ate every "at sea" day by the pool (the Mast Grill burgers are some of the best we've ever tasted!), or the room service breakfasts we ordered 6 out of the 12 days on board. We hit the gym a handful of times (not to mention all the walking in port that we did while sight-seeing), so we had ourselves a nice balance. We ate all the amazing food we wanted, but remained physically active. I'm happy to report that neither D nor I gained a single ounce on our cruise! So there you have it, folks...it is possible to get the most out of your vacation without having to bring your fat pants for the ride home. 

As much as I wanted to take photos of every course we ate in the Opus Main Dining Room each night, I refrained. We met a fabulous group of cruisers whom we ate with almost every night, and while they all knew I was a blogger, they'd not been subject to my incessant food picture taking. D was the only one privy to that annoyance. I didn't want to scare them off, so I kept my food photo snapping to a minimum. Although, I mustn't have done a great job of hiding my obsession with food photography because by the end of the cruise, they were all holding up their own meals for me to get shots of. Ahhhh, the Celebrity Gang. They knew the way to my heart. Coolest people ever. More on them later...back to the food!

So, the Opus Main Dining Room was the setting for our meals almost every night. We opted for the Celebrity Select Dining option so we had the flexibility of choosing what time we wanted to go to dinner each night instead of having to either be seated at 6pm or 8:45pm. Every night, Opus had two kinds of menus: a set menu with items that could be ordered every day, and a specialty menu with options that were unique to that evening only. Both menus had great variety, each having 3 options for appetizers, 3 for soups/salads, at least 5 or 6 options for main courses, and 3 options for desserts. It wasn't hard to find something you liked from either menu...and I never ate a meal I didn't enjoy. The portions, while on the smaller side, were perfect so as not to over indulge on one course before ever receiving your main meal. The Sommelier's were excellent and offered great wine paring suggestions to enhance the dining experience. Celebrity had a wonderful German Riesling on board that kept this girl happy! As if the food and wine wasn't already fabulous enough, the ambiance and decor of the Opus Dining Room was definitely an added bonus. The cool brown and silver accents made Opus feel like a swanky 1960's venue reminiscent of Disney's "Tomorrowland." If you can make me feel like I'm in Disney World while sailing the high seas, you've got a place in my heart forever (maybe we should try and Disney Cruise next, huh?). From the pristine white table settings to the friendly wait staff, the Opus Dining Room left absolutely nothing to be desired.

{Celebrity also offers vegetarian, vegan, allergy-concious, and gluten-free options...you just need to talk to the maitre d' before your first meal there to make sure your dietary needs are taken care of accordingly.}

Are you drooling yet? I know I am! D and I also ate at one of the Refection's specialty restaurants, Qsine, but that meal deserves its own post, as 3 hours of dining should. Up next, exploring our first port...Santorini, Greece!

May 22, 2013

Cruising with the Cotés: Our Room

True story. About 6 weeks before we were scheduled to set sail, I got a packet from Celebrity with all our pre-cruising luggage tags and boarding information. As I was combing through the mounds of paperwork for our upcoming vacation, I noticed something a little off. Our stateroom number. It wasn't the same room number I'd originally booked. In a slight panic, I went back through my laundry list of emails from our booking agent trying to see if maybe I'd forgot what room we were in or if our booking had somehow gotten screwed up. Sure enough, I was right. It wasn't the original stateroom we booked. It was better. Celebrity had upgraded us (gratis) from our measly picture window stateroom to a glorious Deluxe Ocean View VERANDA stateroom! Cue squeals! I'm not sure why or how it all happened, all I know is that instead of looking out a tiny window each morning, we would be having our room service breakfast served to us on our spacious ocean view balcony as we sailed along the Mediterranean. We were floored, to say the very least.

Upon arriving to the room, D and I were both giddy as school girls. We couldn't wait to see our veranda room and all its glory. I must say, it definitely didn't disappoint! The veranda rooms were much bigger than I'd pictured (even with only 194 sq ft to work with) and had storage in every nook & cranny of the room. We never felt cramped or cluttered (unpacking your suitcase and hiding it under the bed makes a world of difference!). Not to mention, we had the absolute best stateroom attendant in the world (Hi, Ivoky!). Everyday he greeted D and I with the biggest smile and well wishes for a wonderful day out exploring. Anything we wanted or needed...he got for us. Every night upon returning to our stateroom after dinner, our beds would be turned down, chocolates on our pillows, and a cute towel animal at the foot of our bed, wishing us sweet dreams. By the end of the trip we were all best buds, and I found myself teary-eyed while telling him goodbye. It's amazing how much you feel like family after only being together for 12 days!

I have to say, Celebrity exceeded our expectations in every aspect of this cruise. For example, you could order room service through your TV (the whole ship is wired with Apple technology) at any time of the day. For free (well, it was included in the price you paid for the cruise, so why not use it!). I love room service, almost to a fault (like there are times I'd rather just eat in the bed than go out. Waving my old fart flag!), so we ordered it almost every day for breakfast. It saved us a lot of time when we had those 8 am tour meeting times, had to be up at the crack of dawn, and didn't want to fight the crowds at the buffet. We'd order breakfast via our TV the night before, and at 7 am sharp, Ivoky would be there, bright eyed and bushy tailed with our breakfast in hand. I just couldn't get over the level of impeccable service we had on board every single day. Being such a brand new ship, you'd figure there'd be hiccups and kinks to work out. Not this ship. Everything moved like clockwork. D would dirty up a hand towel and we'd step outside for a moment...when we came back, a new, clean towel would magically be there. You see why we're spoiled rotten now? I blame Celebrity. D still hasn't quite gotten the hang of making towel animals yet. Don't worry, he'll get it. ;)

Coming soon...the food of the Celebrity Reflection! I'm gaining weight just thinking about it.

May 21, 2013

Cruising with the Cotés: The Celebrity Reflection

When planning our dream cruise, we really only had 3 stipulations: 
1) The cruise had to include ports in Istanbul, Turkey & Santorini, Greece...2) We had to cruise in May (for travel planning/work leave reasons)...and 3) We absolutely would not cruise on Costa or Carnival cruise lines...for reasons I'm sure you'd all understand. Little did we know that just those three seemingly small requests would narrow down our cruise line choices considerably. I'm talking there was only one cruise line left that fit the bill. So, we booked with...I feel like I need a drumroll for this...CELEBRITY CRUISES! And it turned out to be the greatest decision we could have ever made about this trip.

Granted, we forked out a little more dough than we'd originally budgeted for this vacation, but hey, you can't take it with you when you're dead, right? So, go big or go home! And GO BIG we did. We sailed on the brand spanking new 126,000 ton, 3,046 occupant, immaculate and impeccably decorated Celebrity Reflection. The ship is newly completed, having an inaugural date of October 2012, and while we were aboard, it completed its first Mediterranean sailing! D and I had no idea the ship was going to be THIS new and that we'd be on the flagship Mediterranean sailing. Total bonus for Team Coté! Even though it was our first time cruising and we really had nothing to compare it to, from the reviews we read and the conversations we had with avid cruisers on board, we were sailing on the crème de la crème of cruise ships. Any ship we sailed on in the future was going to pale in comparison to the Reflection...and I'd have to say they're right. This ship was top notch in every. single. way. Let's go on a little tour of the Reflection, shall we? This post's a long one. Consider yourself warned!
*All photos below were taken by me, unless otherwise noted.*

This ship was MASSIVE. The only way to get a full photo of it and all its gloriousness was from the cliffs of Santorini or walking back to the port from the beaches of Mykonos. I'm sure there were other photo opportunities, too, but those are the times I remember standing in front of the ship and thinking...holy freakin' WOW. As we were pulling away from the dock in the port of Kusadasi, joined by a few other cruise ships from various other cruise lines, fellow cruisers from those ships were all on their balconies snapping photos of the Reflection as we sailed away. This ship was simply a sight to behold.

Our first few seconds in front of the Celebrity Reflection...our home at sea for 12 glorious days! D was obviously happy to be there. :)
Now, onto more from inside the ship! We were able to check-in and climb on board around 11am the first day of our cruise. The entire ship (aside from the staterooms...which didn't open up until 1pm) was open for cruisers to roam around, explore, and to get their bearings. Each of the 11 restaurants/cafes, the spa, the gym, the pools, the bars...all open for the viewing. With my camera in hand, D and I took advantage. I don't think there was a section of that ship we didn't discover! Here's a photo breakdown of the Reflection by deck:

Solstice Deck (Deck 16)- highest point of the ship that housed tons of lounge chairs and great views. 

Deck 15- home to a running track, the Sunset Bar (one of our favorite bars), the Lawn Club Grill & Alcoves, the Mast Grill (best hamburgers on the ship!) & bar, The Porch (a salad/panini restaurant), The Art Club, Kids Club, and stunning views!!

Pool on the Lido Deck (Deck 14)- also home to the Sky Observation Lounge & Night Club, Aqua Spa Café, Solarium, & the Oceanview Café.

The Solarium-the sun warmed this room and it stayed a cozy 80 degrees all the time. D and I would come here when it was too chilly to sit outside and would subsequently fall asleep in one of the comfy red loungers. I equate this room to feeling like a womb; warm and inviting.

Oceanview Café- this is the incredible buffet where we would enjoy breakfast (when we didn't order room service), lunch (if we weren't lounging by the pool) and late night snacks (after drinking too much at the bar). Oh yeah...and 5:30pm sushi rolls. YUM. With pasta, cheese, salad, Mexican, Thai, pizza, sandwich, Chinese, and dessert stations (are you still with me?), there was something to eat for everyone on the ship! Celebrity also offered Gluten-Free, low-sodium, vegetarian, and low-fat choices. I was quite impressed! We wasted no time upon arriving on board and got ourselves two beers, delicious salads, and read all there was to know about our floating hotel for the next 12 days.

Deck 12- in the forward (front) of the ship, there was the AquaSpa & Persian Garden, the fitness center, & the hair salon. Mid-ship & aft (back) area was reserved for staterooms.
D and I only ever used the fitness center (great free weight & machine selection and the treadmills overlooking the ocean were AWESOME), although a spa day would have been wonderful!

Decks 11 through 6 were reserved mostly for staterooms. We were on Deck 8. I've got a whole post devoted to our fabulous ocean view veranda room coming soon!

The Library on Deck 11 & 10-a small lounge area where you could leisurely read and check out books.

 The Celebirty iLounge was on deck 6. Here you'd find Apple iMac workstations where you could check emails, surf the web, and print off boarding passes. They also hosted classes where you could learn all about using Apple products (and buy them, as if you hadn't already spent too much money, hehe).

Deck 5- Location of the Galleria Boutiques (like a small, high-end shopping mall), Art Gallery, Café al Bacio & Gelateria (coffee & gelato shop), Ensemble Lounge (jazz bar), Michael's Club (really great beer bar), The Photo Gallery (where you could buy and print photos from the ship), Bistro on 5 (nice sit-down breakfast, lunch, & dinner restaurant), The Molecular Bar (our favorite bar!), 4 specialty restaurants, and the balcony area of the Reflection Theatre.
D and I only ate at 1 of the 4 specialty dining restaurants. Be looking out for a post about our 3 hour, 6-course dinner at Qsine, Celebrity's unique fusion restaurant that takes your senses on a culinary journey. Absolutely the best (and most filling!) meal we had while on board the Reflection. We were also regulars at the Molecular Bar, a bar serving eclectic handcrafted cocktails designed to awaken your tastebuds. The Mixologists there were phenomenal. Might I recommend the Coming up Roses or Scorpion Kiss cocktails? SO. GOOD.

Deck 4- on this deck you can find the Reflection Theatre (where all the big nightly shows would take place--which were all FANTASTIC), Fortunes Casino (where you loose all your money, thankfully we stayed clear of here), Crush Martini Bar, Shops on the Boulevard (more of the mini high-end shopping mall), Celebrity Central (small theatre for comedy & game shows), Cellar Masters (wine bar), & the Opus Main Dining Room (where we ate dinner almost every night).

Crush Martini Bar-really potent (and delicious) martinis. Complete with real ice bar!

Opus Main Dining Room- the food & service here was out of this world. Every night.

Deck 3- home to the lower level of the Reflection Theatre & the Opus Main Dining Room, Guest Relations, the Passport Bar, and the Grand Foyer. You also got a really great view of the Atrium complete with glass elevators and REAL TREE growing from the top of it.

So, there you have it...the fabulous Celebrity Reflection, in a nutshell! We couldn't have picked a more wonderful ship than this for our first cruising experience. Celebrity really knows how to do cruising right by us! If you've made it to the end of this tour, bravo! Did you feel like you were there with me? Totally what I was going for. ;) Up next, a short tour of where we laid our heads each night on the beautiful Reflection. I'm still pinching myself at our luck. You'll see. Until tomorrow, friends!
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