Excuse this rather lengthy review, but I am going to try to include some of the 'other' details that people seem to want to know about!
Introduction - My husband and I are in our mid 50s and from the UK. This was our fourth cruise -- third with Celebrity and second on the beautiful Solstice.
Travel Arrangements - We drove down to Heathrow after work on 29th March and stayed in the Heathrow Airport Crowne Plaza Hotel and used their park and ride facility. This is a lovely hotel, where we were able to leave our car for the duration of our holiday. We got the shuttle bus from the hotel to the airport at a cost of Â£8 pp return. It's convenient, but the buses only run every 30 minutes and can be busy! We flew to Miami International Airport with British Airways, and although we had no real complaints about the flight, we much prefer Virgin Airways, who we feel look after you much better than BA, but that is just a personal opinion. We were met by Larry's Limos, which we had pre-booked on line, and were pleased with the service we received. They took us to our hotel in Hollywood Beach for a 2 night pre-cruise stay.
Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach Resort - We were booked into the Crowne Plaza Hollywood Beach Resort and I must admit we were disappointed with our room on level 8, which was very noisy due to the close proximity of the lift. Also, our intercostal waterway view was only just visible, but the view of the car park was great! As we were booked into the same hotel for 2 nights post-cruise, we spoke to one of the duty managers who arranged for us to have an amazing room for our next stay. More about this later! Our room was spacious and had a separate shower and toilet, but the washbasin was in the main bedroom. We had a microwave and fridge in the room, but no plates or cutlery. There were mugs and glasses available and a coffee maker with coffee, sugar and powdered milk provided. There is a 7eleven store next door to the hotel, and a large Walmart just a 10 minute walk from the hotel. The water taxi stops at the hotel and a full day adult ticket was $20 pp and we used this extensively on the Saturday. If you want to access the beach, you have to cross a very busy road, but we preferred to use the lovely pool, which also had an outdoor Jacuzzi! The Hollywood Broadwalk was a 10 -- 15 minute walk away.
Embarkation - On Sunday 1st April, we took a taxi to Port Everglades. The taxi fare was $30 and took about 25 minutes. We arrived at the port at 11.45am and within 15 minutes we were on board the ship and being welcomed by smiling staff and a glass of 'bubbly'. The cabins weren't ready until about 2pm, so we waited in one of our favourite places on the ship -- Cafe Al Bacio. This is a wonderful coffee shop which, as well as serving a variety of teas, coffees and sodas at a cost, they also serve different types of free 'finger' food; small croissants at breakfast, open sandwiches and little rolls at lunchtime, cakes mid afternoon and cookies all day! Wonderful!
AQ Cabin 1625 - Once we were allowed in our cabins, we headed to our Aqua class cabin on deck 11 to find a bottle of bubbly waiting for us. The cabins do, in our opinion, have more than enough storage space and the bathroom is a very good size, with lots of storage space and a super shower. We chose our cabin location under other cabins, not the pool, and it was always quiet. The balcony did have an overhang but as we were on the port side, we had glorious sunshine each morning during the first 5 days, and in the evening for the last couple of days. We each had the use of lovely bathrobes and slip-on slippers during our cruise and throughout the 7 days we received a total of 3 free bags! Also, beach towels were provided for each port day. In AQ we were entitled to a flask of iced tea and 2 small bottles of water daily. Canapes are also delivered each day, if you fill in the daily request form. As my husband is allergic to all fish, we spoke to our wonderful cabin steward and instead of the daily canapes, we had a cheese platter delivered each day. After unpacking, we attended the compulsory safety drill before buying sailaway cocktails, served in souvenir plastic glasses!
Dining. We ate breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe most mornings, but also had room service a couple of times. Both were very good but the Oceanview Cafe did get very busy at times. Throughout the cruise, we dined in Blu -- a firm favourite of ours, but I must admit we were slightly disappointed with Blu this cruise. I would probably give it 9 out of 10 this time instead of the normal 10 out of 10! We love the atmosphere in Blu and enjoy having a table for 2 each night, and we personally don't mind sitting at a different table each evening and meeting different guests each time. However, this cruise, we felt that Blu was very overcrowded and the waiters were always extremely busy and the service was much slower than on previous cruises. This was our first cruise since some of the old CC cabins have become AQ cabins and wondered if this was why the restaurant was more crowded than we had experienced in the past. I must mention the wonderful Brunch which was served in the Grand Epernay Dining Room on the last sea day. This was amazing!
Entertainment. Generally the entertainment each evening was very good and we thought the cast of the shows were excellent and very talented. Our only slight criticism was the timings of the shows, especially on the two formal nights -- they were 7.45pm or 10.45pm! Talking about formal nights, I won't get involved with the controversial issue of dress code, but I will say that about 90% of dinners in Blu were very smartly dressed for both formal nights -- I would guess approximately 60% of men were in suits and 30% wore tuxedos.
Activities. There were lots of different activities going on throughout the ship and I would be very surprised if there was not something to suit every taste -- these included trivia quizzes, food and drink presentations, scrapbooking, bingo and different lectures. Our cruise director this cruise was a female -- Esperanza -- and although we could tell she was quite nervous, we found her a breath of fresh air, as she was quite humble and not as 'pushy' as previous CDs we have met, but this of course is a personal opinion.
Drinks package - Now to drinks packages!!! On our last cruise on the Eclipse, we took the premium alcohol package and loved the fact that we could have anything we wanted, without having to sign for it, but as we are not great martini drinkers, we felt we didn't get full value for money. So this time, we went for the classic alcohol package and we definitely 'broke even'. The sommeliers in Blu were outstanding, and our wine glasses were never empty! We were frequent uses of Cafe Al Bacio and all the coffees, including Irish Coffee, were available on this package. We could enjoy any of the frozen drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, plus all the sodas and fresh orange juice or mimosa each morning. The only thing we couldn't get was the premium water, but we had sufficient water in our cabin each day, and they served iced water with dinner each evening.
Grand Cayman -- We took the Celebrity tour 'Turtle, Stingray, Land and Sea Adventure'. As this was a Celebrity organized tour, we met in the theatre and had no problems getting on a tender to take us ashore, although we used one of the ships lifeboats as our tender and it was rather 'rough' compared to the local tender boat we returned on! The tour was interesting and well organised and we had great photo opportunities when swimming with the stingrays. After the morning tour, there was a very long queue to get back on the tender boat, but staff from the ship came down the waiting line with cold drinks and iced towels. The Royal Caribbean passengers queuing adjacent to us were exceptionally jealous of this wonderful service as they queued in the heat without anything! (Cold drinks and iced towels were available every time we returned to the ship!)
Cozumel -- Again we took a Celebrity tour -- 'Dolphin Push, Pull and Swim and Manatee Interaction'. Sadly the initial organisation of this tour was appalling. We were told to meet on the pier but there were so many different groups trying to find their correct tour and we didn't see a single Celebrity representative - it was very chaotic! However, after we found our meeting point and set off, the tour itself was excellent and we absolutely loved swimming with the dolphins. The photographs they took were pricey, but excellent quality. A really super tour.
Roatan -- We did the 'Roatan Island Tour and Highlights' through Celebrity. Again we had to meet our tour on the pier, but there were a few Celebrity reps visible this time, so it wasn't as bad as the previous day! The tour was enjoyable, but we didn't really feel we got a true 'feel' for Roatan as the tour definitely focused on the better parts of the Island.
Costa Maya -- This was the only tour we booked privately. We did the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins Tour through Native Choice. We had a short walk to the Native Choice office and were greeted by lots of friendly and efficient staff. The whole tour was, in our opinion, extremely well organised and very informative. The small mini buses were comfortable and air-conditioned and water (not well chilled) was freely available. A most enjoyable tour and on our return we were given the choice of being dropped off back at our starting point or being taken into town where you would have needed a taxi to return to the ship. We got off at the Native Choice office and enjoyed wandering around the purpose built port at Costa Maya.
Disembarkation -- As we were having 2 days post cruise at Hollywood Beach, we chose to leave the ship at 10am. We had to vacate our cabin by 8am and breakfast was served until 8am. However, Cafe Al Bacio was open and we got good value with our drinks package whilst waiting to disembark. This was the positive. The negative was the massive, somewhat disorganised queues to get through Customs! We found our cases without any problem but then queued for well over an hour to get out of the port building. Once outside, we had no difficulty finding a taxi for our return to the Crowne Plaza at Hollywood Beach. We had told them that we would be arriving early and were pleasantly surprised to be able to go straight to our wonderful room on floor 6. We had a massive room, with 2 balconies, a wonderful view of the intercostal waterway and all the facilities previously mentioned. We had a fabulous 2 days this time!
Heading Home - Larry's Limos picked us up for our return trip to the airport, and even though the road outside our hotel was temporarily closed due to a VVIP arrival in town, the company were in continual contact with us, and eventually delivered us to the airport in time for the flight. We would certainly use this company again. Our BA Flight to Heathrow was uneventful and after a lengthy wait for the shuttle bus back to collect our car, we headed home!
Conclusion -- We had a really enjoyable and relaxing cruise, with a broad mix of ages on board. We found all the staff exceptionally helpful and polite and the ship was always being cleaned! We did see a few signs of 'wear and tear' around the ship, especially around the outdoor pool, but generally we thought the ship was in wonderful condition and she is definitely our favourite ship to date. The only real disappointments were the overcrowding in Blu and our first ever Cruise Critic 'meet and greet'. Although this was enjoyable and free tea, coffee and pastries were provided, we only got to chat to one lovely lady as the event was not well attended and therefore ended really quickly. Otherwise a super trip!
Sorry this review is so long, but hope it may help someone! Happy cruising!