Returning from the Caribbean just a week ago now, I find I'm longing for an excuse to book our next cruise aboard the Solstice! Our third cruise in 18 months, we finally made the jump from Royal Caribbean to Celebrity, and found it met all of our expectations.
A little background: We're two friends from college, both in our early 30's, and while we're always mistaken for a couple, we've found that we're just great travel partners! We've both taken 6+ cruises, spanning the range from Carnival to Regent, with our 'standard' having been Royal Caribbean to this point. Both active individuals, we tend to look for a balance between beach time and activities, and always appreciate meeting new people while traveling, and have been lucky enough to make some great friends along the way.
After fare changes pre-cruise, we upgraded from a Veranda stateroom to AquaClass. Excited about the added amenities, we most looked forward to dining in Blu, and use of the spa facilities. That, along with preferred embarkation and disembarkation, we thought we were already living the life of 'Modern Luxury'!
We flew into Fort Lauderdale the morning of embarkation, and arrived at the port without issue around 11:00am. After a very quick check-in process, we were escorted to the AquaClass waiting area and only a minute or two later, invited to board the ship. Something to note regarding the Port Everglades cruise terminal -- it's big! Six ships were setting sail that day. In addition, port staff, and not the ship staff that so often takes forever with other cruise lines handle the check in process. This made a tremendous difference in efficiency and quickly getting through the cue.
Greeted with a glass of champagne, we were on our way to tour the ship. Rooms wouldn't be available for another couple hours, but that didn't stop us from getting acquainted with the ship -- and it's a beautiful ship -- and heading to the pool.
The short version of what happened next is this: Cabin's were ready around 1:30 and after proceeding to our room found the floor was being dried after a 'flood' from the air conditioning unit the previous day. Our cabin attendant was right there waiting for us, and kept us well informed of what was being done, and assured us everything would work out well. After returning from the muster drill, it was clear the issue was larger and we would need to be moved. A quick chat with our room attendant, and a trip to the Guest Relations desk, we were invited to move to a Sky Suite on deck 12.
We now found ourselves in a unique position to experience the benefits of both AquaClass and a Sky Suite. The Guest Relations staff made sure to apply our AquaClass status to our new room (suite guests normally need to pay to dine in blue or use the spa facilities), and brought us up to speed with the suite amenities -- a complimentary dinner in one of the specialty restaurants, and butler service. Whatever would we do with a butler!?
First, the AquaClass cabins: Great rooms in general, and in comparison to other lines, quite luxurious. The welcome champagne, afternoon iced tea, and cabin layouts are all pluses. Uncertain that they're worth the additional $ (on average about $100 per person), but certainly jump on them if fares change or deals are being offered.
The Sky Suite: extremely large, and well appointed. Never have we spent so much time on our balcony while at sea -- clearly having twice the amount of space makes a difference! Add in the fact that we weren't tripping over each other and it was clear this was a tremendous upgrade from our normal balcony room. Only downside is the excessive noise coming from above. Being on deck 12, we were directly below the Oceanview Cafe. Unfortunately, nothing can be done about the noise -- just be aware of your room location when booking.
Dining & Food
Dining in Blu was a welcome change from the main dining room. Something to note -- when you book AquaClass, you don't receive a main dining room table assignment, rather you're expected to be dining in Blu each night. The food is wonderful, and while it's billed as a 'healthier' alternative to the main dining room, it's not that different. Food in both locations is great, and if you want to order off the menu -- that is, the standing menu for the night is not to your liking -- feel free to request something else. The biggest difference we appreciated was that Blu is a much more intimate dining location, and while busy each night, it doesn't have the same 'organized chaos' of the main dining room.
In fact, all dining locations on the ship were great -- the food was a definite step up from Royal Caribbean. The buffet never seemed too crowded, and always an option for a sandwich, salad, slice of pizza, or sushi.
Bars & Drink Packages
We thought long and hard about the drink packages, and at the end of the day decided on the Premium Alcohol package for each of us. A few notes about the differences in packages: The Classic package is good for cocktails up to $8. If you order a drink that costs more than that, you need to pay the full price of the drink. In contrast, the Premium package is good for drinks up to $12, and if you order a drink that costs more than that, you only need to pay the difference in price. Give a lot of thought to what you'll be dinking. Add in bottled water, specialty coffee drinks (latte's and cappuccino's), Pellegrino and wine at dinner, and without doubt we made the package work for us. It was also nice not having to sign for each individual drink!
The Pool Bar is SLOW -- a complaint we heard from many people. Plan on sitting and waiting for a drink for a good while. Instead, I recommend heading up to deck 14 just above the pool bar to the mast bar -- much friendlier and faster service! Great crowd too, and where we met some good friends. The Ensemble lounge is fantastic -- great for a pre-dinner or post-dinner drink and to listen to live music. The Martini bar is also a great crowd, and fun to try new drinks at.
This is the first time we didn't book at all through the ship. We've booked excursions directly in the past, but almost always found something that jumped out at us through the ship. This time, we were much more in the mood to sit on a beach and enjoy the sun. And that we've decided doesn't warrant booking through the ship.
- We got it wrong here. The problem with 7 Mile Beach is that it's 7 miles! Where's the right spot!? We headed for Royal Palms beach club, and were quickly disappointed when the $2 admission fee was met with $10 per beach chair, and super crowded. Also keep in mind that tendering in Grand Cayman takes time... plan on an hour to reach your destination, and an hour to get back on the ship. There's no particular reason for this -- it just takes time to get off the ship, to the dock, in a cab, and to the beach. Plan accordingly!
- On the recommendation of a friend that had visited a few weeks earlier, we headed for Paradise Beach. What a great day! We shared a cab with a family of four ($4 per person) and headed to the beach resort. Admission is $2, and use of the water activities (snorkel gear, kayak's, and water trampolines) will cost you $12, but is completely optional. Unlike the day before, our $2 admission gives use of all the facilities including chairs and umbrellas! The complex is huge, with a full bar and restaurant, and failry reasonable prices.
- On a whim, we headed for Little French Cay. Great location, but how we got there was the issue... Uncertain of the port layout, we missed the taxis and wandered through the gauntlet of tour operators. We arrived at our destination about an hour and twenty minutes later, only to come across some soon to be friends that took the taxi option and had been on the beach for an hour already. Regardless, it turned out to be a great day, and while it got busy in the early afternoon, we had a relatively peaceful morning.
- Following the advise of our newly found friends in Roatan, we headed for Pez Quadro Beach Club. Great location and an extremely relaxed beach atmosphere. Being Good Friday, there were a lot of local's visiting the beach, but it never seemed chaotic despite being busy. Getting to the beach was $2 per person by taxi (located outside the cruise port), and once there we opted for an all-inclusive package. Not the best deal of the trip, but still nice to have an easy and relaxing day.
At the end of the day, this turned out to be a great trip -- probably our best yet. Not necessarily because of the ports, but more because of the ship and level of service. The attentiveness of the crew and staff was a noticeable difference to our previous cruises, and despite getting off to a rough start with our cabin, any issues were resolved effectively and quickly.
If you're looking at sailing the Solstice -- I highly recommend it!