Big ships are not for us, or so my wife and I had convinced ourselves following a bad experience we had on P&O Ventura 18 months ago, so when our Cruise Agent Bolsover offered us a cruise on Celebrity Solstice around the Mediterranean on 29th April 2012, we were sceptical.
To be fair, Ventura did have its good points but there were so many negatives (see my review "Never again Ventura" December 2010) and that put us off big ships in general and P&O in particular. But just about everything P&O Ventura got so wrong, Celebrity Solstice got just right. Our faith in big ships has been restored.
The package involved Solstice Aqua Class cabin which brought with it two key benefits, we had free access to the Spa facilities and our designated restaurant was Blu, a special "healthy" cuisine restaurant for Aqua Class clients.
We were in cabin 1508 on the top 11th floor of cabins, just 4 cabins back from the front so very little foot traffic passed our door. The cabin was very pleasant, it was well equipped; it had a settee and also a small but adequate balcony, enough for two reclining chairs with foot stools and a table.
We both like Spas, so as Aqua Class includes free access to things like the Persian Garden with its heated stone Z beds, panoramic views, steam room and sauna, we thought this was a real bonus and gave it a lot of use. Treatments were extra and could be expensive but were very professional. From our cabin it was only a few steps to enter the Spa area so that was very convenient.
The only downside of our cabin's position on the starboard forward quarter was that we were directly beneath the running machines in the Gym, so some noise breakthrough could be heard if you were trying to have a quiet afternoon nap.
But for food junkies like us, Blu was the best bit. We were very critical about the food on Ventura, at best reasonable, at worst rubbish. On Solstice it was excellent but in Blu for the most part it was superb. Our initial fears were that the cuisine might be too healthy, bland and lacking flavour but nothing could have been further from the reality. Right from the very first evening, a sublime starter of a full flavoured blue cheese savoury souffle, so light it nearly floated off the plate followed by strips of crusted Tuna (rare in the middle) on a bed of black rice that was so, so delightful. And all this in surroundings that would not disgrace a top end London restaurant. In fact it was so good that apart from one night eating in Murano (also excellent) we never felt the need to try any of the other restaurants. We also preferred Blu for a civilised served breakfast whenever possible
We did use the Ocean View buffet for some breakfasts and most lunches. Unlike Ventura's buffet restaurant, on Solstice the food servery islands had been designed as open plan so although busy at times, there was none of the rude pushing and shoving we experienced on Ventura. There were always plenty of plates and cutlery and we never failed to find a seat. Indeed, Solstice never ever felt crowded, despite it being a full cruise.
Our favourite watering hole was the Ensemble Lounge, near Blu. It often had a great little jazz quartet so with a good meal inside us that was about as far as we went, cognac in hand and a comfy seat and jazz on tap -- bliss !
Drinks could be a bit expensive, particularly when you add in the obligatory gratuity, but Solstice had an answer to that too. There were several "Beverage Packages" you could purchase which gave you unlimited drinks and meant you didn't have to worry about the bar bill getting out of control. We chose the Classic Package (one below Premium) which included all soft drinks, coffees etc, wines, beers, and spirits up to $8 per drink. Above this you had to purchase the Premium Package, but we found the Classic gave us more than enough choice. It even included wine (by the glass) at dinner
But the real thing that made the difference was Celebrity Solstice staff. They were without doubt the best, most friendly and accommodating we have ever experienced on a cruise, full marks to them all, from the excellent personal and friendly attentive service we received from the staff of Blu, right down to the most lowly deck hand, who always took the time to smile and wished you a nice day.
We'll be using Celebrity Solstice Class again, no doubt about it.