Background: I consider myself an experienced cruiser, and have sailed most of the world. While my favorite line is Crystal, I like to cruise more than I can afford with them and have also sailed with Windstar, Silversea, RCI, Cunard, HAL, and now Celebrity. While the cruise was very pleasant, I am unlikely to return to Celebrity. I saw little reason to choose it over other cruise lines and several reasons to go elsewhere.
This itinerary was essentially 2 cruises in 1. The first week to Tenerife was essentially a classic Transatlantic with 7 consecutive days at sea. The second week was more typical of a cruise with 4 ports in 6 days.
Pre-cruise: I spent 3 nights at the Hyatt Pier 66. The hotel is nice but not exceptional (especially for the price). The hotel overlooks the harbor but the 17th street causeway was near the limit of my field of view. There was a tower with an observation point which should have had great harbor views but most guests were not permitted access there while I was present. I think any of several hotels on 17th Street West of the causeway would have been better choices.
Post-cruise: In Barcelona, I stayed post cruise at the Barcelona Center Hotel. I was very happy with both the hotel and the location.
Ship: The Solstice was built in 2008. and is one of the largest ships I have sailed. At 2850 passengers it is my largest in passenger capacity and her 122,000 tons is my second largest after QM2. It was clean and well maintained.
Activities: There was a full schedule of activities, generally adult oriented, on sea days. According to the Cruise Director, this was the first voyage for "Celebrity Life Plus", with a variety of lectures she called unprecedented in the cruise industry, and she constantly reminded us of that throughout the voyage. We actually had 3 presenters, while on my last QM2 voyage there were 4. The Smithsonian Journeys speaker, a newspaper reporter talking about the space program was the weakest of the 3 and was only fair. A second talking about show business I considered good. The best of the 3 was retired NBA Steve Javie. I am not a basketball fan but his presentations were informative, interesting, and entertaining. He was excellent. One difference I noted between Celebrity and Cunard was that the end of cruise evaluation asked us to individually rate each of the presenters while the Solstice evaluation called only for the Celebrity Life program as a whole.
Service: The service in Blu was excellent, attentive, and personal. Service in the remainder of the ship was good and professional, but not special, very typical of a mainstream line.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: I traveled by train from Washington to Ft. Lauderdale. The train ran 3 hours late but was very comfortable and pleasant. I stayed 3 nights at the Hyatt Pier 66. It was a very nice hotel but I was expected much more of a view of the port than I saw.
Stateroom: My Aqua stateroom was comfortable and well laid out.
Dining: I was in Blu for this cruise. The service there was excellent and the food quality was generally excellent although the selection was somewhat limited and the French Toast was gooey. I would rate Blu overall at roughly the same quality as Cunard's Britannia Club (1st premium level). I had 1 dinner and 2 lunches in the main dining room. Overall I thought that experience was within the range expected of mainstream cruise lines, roughly the equivalent of HAL R-class and regular Britannia. The lido was well organized but the food uninspiring. I did not dine in any of the specialty restaurants.
Entertainment: There is a strong influence on this ship on acrobatic activity. This to me distracted somewhat from the natural talents of the excellent cast. The cast did 3 production shows with outside entertainers other nights, mostly excellent with a few exceptions.
Disembarkation: I had booked a half day tour with Barcelona Day tours with an 8:30 meeting time, and requested an 8am departure from the ship. The announcement that the ship had been cleared I think came about 7, and I went to deck 4 Epernay dining room to await departure. The call came about 7:50, pretty close to the expected time.
Summary: This was my 12th transatlantic voyage and 12th best. I tend to prefer smaller ships but not uniformly. I'm sure if this had been my first cruise I'd have been blown away, but my overall impression was great frills with mediocre basics. I enjoyed this cruise but found little to recommend Celebrity over it's competitors and several significant disadvantages.
1. Having the cabin wired for internet was an improvement over relying on wifi (although the link is still satellite).
2. Choice air is the best cruise air in the business.
1. Vista lounge closed to all but Captain's Club Elite 5+ hours every day. In the entire time of the westbound crossing I never once had the opportunity to watch a sunrise from a sheltered location. I was supposed to be a customer, not a pledge at a college fraternity and have never felt as much as a second class citizen. RCI (at least on Enchantment) does these things either in the unused level of the dining room or half of the Viking Crown Lounge, rarely if ever closing off the entire observation lounge.
2. A tiny, poorly stocked, and completely unstaffed library, much less than anything I've encountered on HAL, Cunard, or even Windstar's tiny ships.
3. A "port lecturer" who was nothing but a shill for the ships excursions and recommended shops.
4. The miserable "jogging track". Much worse than most anything I've encountered yet:
A. The understandable:
I don't expect the 122,000 Solstice to match the 150,000 ton QM2.
Worse than the Crystal (half the size) ships, but hey, they're luxury ships, and I expect more.
B. The less understandable:
Worse than HAL's R and S Class ships and Prinsendam (mainstream ships half the size or less)
C. The downright shameful:
RCI's ships are not well equipped for walking but Solstice is worse than either the 90,000 ton Jewel of the Seas or the 80,000 ton Enchantment of the Seas.
Worse than the 15,000 ton Wind Surf. Come on!
3 of the ports are under the ports section of the review. Malaga was not listed as an option:
I spent the day about 45 minutes east of Malaga in the small village of Nerja. The caves of Nerja were discovered in 1959 by several farm boys, and were quickly developed as a tourist attraction. There are 5 large chambers totaling 2 miles in length but only 3 are open to the public. The spaces run from very small to some rooms that were likely 100 feet tall and perhaps 80 feet wide. The first of the rooms are about 20 feet
below the surface with other rooms much deeper. The description said "strenuous" with "more than 100 steps", likely something of an understatement. After I started counting I climbed 150 steps and probably a total near 250 (another 250 down), so everybody got a pretty decent workout. There was sufficient (artificial) light to see the many calcium formations but the lights were not really good for photography. At one point some of the columns were at a strange angle due to an ancient earthquake.