12 Night MedCruise on Solstice May 2012
Perspective: We are both 50ish ;). We have cruised 25 or so times mainly on main stream cruises, and did cruise once on Crystal. We favor value for the buck and cruising off season away from school holidays. Usually we cruise just to be on a ship and enjoy a relaxing vacation. This cruise it was about the ports.
Pre-Cruise: We purchased a roundtrip ticket on AA to Barcelona. AA did just fine. We arrived 3 days early for sightseeing in Barcelona. We used the Aeroport bus service because one of the drops in Barcelona was only a few hundred yards from our hotel. This works great and saves money if your hotel is close by; otherwise a taxi may be the best bet. The first day of arrival was mainly used to adjust to the time and to revisit many of the sites that we have toured before in Barcelona. The full day of sight seeing was for Plau Guell and Parc de Ciutat. We used the T10 Metro ticket.
Embarkation: Our hotel had an 11:00 am checkout time. Checked out then and pulled luggage to taxi stand. Taxi was quick and easy to port. We paid â‚¬25 for service from Plaza Catalouana to the port with 5 bags, this may have been a bit high but close enough. Porter met us at taxi for checked bags; he provided luggage tags. We went straight in to port security which was a breeze, no mention of the bottles of wine that we had in our checked luggage. No lines anywhere. We then did the Celebrity check in. Since we are Select there were no lines. We got a letter informing us that the ship was doing extra cleaning for norovirus and that we would be a bit delayed getting to rooms but the sailing would not be delayed. We were called shortly after 1 to board.
Cabin: We had an inside cabin. We booked a guarantee inside. We were assigned aft on deck 8. The room was large, probably one of the 200 square foot ones and layed out very well. Very nice for the times we order room service. Loved the decorating scheme and the bathroom layout. There were two easy chairs and one desk chair, no loveseat. Bed was comfortable with pillowtop and duvet. Hanging closet was small but adequate. One of the best inside cabins we have ever enjoyed. Safe was large and worked fine. Our AC dial was labled with red and blue arrows to show temperature adjustment. We adjusted it quite often since our weather varied from hot to cold and rainy.
Cabin was serviced twice daily. It was very clean with very little wear noticeable. Three cute towel animals. Our attendants were very efficient and friendly; small communication problem but all was worked out.
Overall Service: Excellent.
Beverages - We carried on bottled water both at embarcation and from port visits. We carried on wine. There is a corkage fee of $25. After late days in port we had room service one night and enjoyed our carried on wine with no corkage fee. Since Celebrity allows ordering from the MDR at night this was a delightful experinece. The food from the nightly menu including the always available New York strip steak. It was excellent.
Wine list was varied and offered at good price points. Celebrity still has sommeliers. Our sommelier was good and added to our dining experience.
For Breakfast, we did room service three days. There was the call telling us they were on their way and then the delivery. All breakfast items were as ordered. We ordered before the hot breakfast started at 6:30am on early port days from the contintenal breakfast menu and the always available menu.
The Oceanview Cafe was the best buffet we have experienced on mass market lines. Large selections. Most stations were nice and hot, a few not so much. For breakfast, they prepare eggs and omelettes to order. Lots of meat, potatoes, fruit, and cereals. For lunch, there is a good variety, a hot service line, salads, pasta, pizza, curries and stirfries. There are tea type foods in the PM followed by sushi in the late afternoon. All presented nicely. Handmade ice cream was excellent.
Aqua Spa Cafe ( no extra charge for food) was excellent as well. We only had lunch there. We ordered the salmon or tuna several times. We also had the salads. We ordered a carafe (355 ml) of wine for our lunch at around $11.00. Seating is limited. We could normally get a seat and sometimes shared a table which is a great way to meet others.
For dinner, we had the late seating in the Grand Epernay Dining Room. We thought the room was beatiful and took time to look at the wine tower. We were seated at a table for two. Service was excellent and professional. Waiter always shared the chef's recommendation as well as his own. Everything that was the waiter's recommendation was indeed excellent.
Celebrity shines in their traditional approach to dinner. They still have formal nights and dinner served by courses. Most nights we had an appetizer, soup or salad (sometimes both), entrees and desserts with coffee. Many times added extra items such as an extra appetizer or entree and the waiter served it seamlessly into the flow of our meal. One advantage of being at a table for two.
Some stand outs in the dining room were -- Escargots returned to the always available menu, the beef dishes especially the New York Strip steak were very good (on most lines we avoid steak), the duck a la orange, lamb chops, lobster, and risottos. We enjoyed the salads and the handmade dressings. They are better than any other lines.
We did not try the specialty restaurants. No need; the dining room was excellent.
We enjoyed the different small ensemble musicians throughout the ship. On sea days they play in many places several times of day. For example, we enjoyed the flamenco guitarist at the Sunset Bar next to the lawn on afternoon. There was also a jazz ensemble and classical trio. In addition they have a great cover band, Intenze. There is a DJ that plays various kinds of dance music including ballroom maybe for the European market.
Several nights they have special parties that feature the band and the dancers from the showroom. Some of the parties are held in the Sky Lounge and some in the Atrium. Our favorite was the 60s party held in the atrium, the showroom staff had great costumes and choreography. Totally unique and enjoyble, people watched from many levels all around the atrium. There were several parties of this magnitude.
There are many bars with very good and varied atmospheres. Happy hours are offered daily.
There are events called Celebrity life. Some include interaction with the ship's officers and staff. These events were a great success. The lectures were also well attended. Sometimes the venues were too small for the number of participants.
There was a nightly show in the showroom each night at two times for the two dining times. Sometimes the early show was for late dining and others the show was after dinner. The shows were similar to the ones on other major lines. We enjoyed them.
The main pool area and the solarium are very beautiful areas. Nicer than most ships. But they do get very crowded on sea days. Every seat will be saved or have a body in them around 10 in the morning on a sea day. Staff did not remove items obviously saving chairs, but some passengers did.
The running track is a nightmare on sea days. It is on the level above the main pool. Anytime from 7AM to 7PM it is crowded with wanderers and even loungers who have no concept that others are trying to use it for exercise.
The gym is nice. Good variety of equipment. Occasionally crowded on sea days, but that always happens when everyone wants to exercise at the same time. Wait awhile and it's almost empty.
Did not use the for-pay services in the spa area. The locker/changing room, showers, and sauna are very nice and don't get crowded.
The Lawn Club and Glass Blowing area is a unique feature of the Solstice. We enjoyed this area very much. There was laid back entertainment like the glass blowing shows, putting contest, bocchi ball, and music. Plus the aft views were fantastic. We vote for leaving the area as is and not upgrading to revenue generating venues like on Solstice's sister ships.
The internet room and staff were very nice. Very patient explaining that the onboard service is not broadband and slower than what most of us are used to. They even warned us the one day that the service was not working right because of bad weather which saved us sitting down and experiencing it ourselves. We used it to check email and to get an airline boarding pass.
The Casino is attractive; but was not very busy on this port intensive cruise. They have the usual arcade games plus a real blackjack table where they deal about 6 decks deep into an 8 deck shoe, $6 minimum bet. They have some of the popular slots. They did a few promotions including playing blackjack with the Celebrity staff.
Ports of Call:
Started in Barcelona which makes a good embarcation port. The airport is not far from the city and there are several transportation options depending on your budget -- trains, buses, and taxis. The pros and cons of each are discussed on the ports of calls page. Each time we visit Barcelona we visit a Gaudi site, this time it was Plau Guell which had been closed for restoration on our previous visits. Great way to spend a half day.
Naples -- Port area is run down. We visited Pompeii on our own following the advice given here on Cruise Critic in the ports of call boards. Very easy, affordable, and worthwhile.
Venice -- We overnighted in Venice. The first day had great weather and the second had very bad. We purchased the 24hr valporetto pass for â‚¬20 each which made it one of the more expensive DIY ports that we visited. Definitely enjoyed cruising the grand canal. St. Mark's square gets very crowded. Recommend a short visit there and spend more time at some of the other sites in Venice or just walking, browzing, and riding the valporetto.
Dubrovnik -- We did a city walk inside the walls which we enjoyed. We walked in the morning then ate on the ship and rested a bit. Then went back out for the afternoon. Celebrity offered a shuttle pass for $12 each which worked great with no waits.
Rome -- Again using the advice from the Cruise Critic boards, we toured on our own. Took the train (BIRG ticket) for â‚¬9 each that provided train, metro, and bus transportation for the day. We focused on the Coliseum, Palatine, Forum, a few churches (beaurtiful art and no entry charge), Piazza Navona and Piazza Venizia.
La Spezia - This port is sometimes listed as Florence but it is about 1 and Â½ drive from Florence with no direct train service. We hired a private tour for Lucca and Florence. Since we had lots of rain, having a private tour allowed for us to enjoy the sites and stay relatively dry by adjusting the day to fit the elements.
Ajaccio, Corisa -- Another day of just walking inside the city. Saw the statues of Napoleon who was born here. Rained most of the afternoon.
Toulon -- Similar to La Spezia, this port is a bit hard to get to many sites from. Takes awhile to even get to mass transport like trains and not a lot of direct cities are served. We opted for a Celebrity tour to Marseille, Sanary Sur Mar, and Cassis. Weather did not cooperate in the morning with pouring rain, the afternoon was very nice. Tour was a good value.
Disembarkation: We had a fairly early flight at 11:20 am. We booked the Celebrity transfer. It was well organized and went as scheduled. We were to leave the theater at 7:45 which we did, collected luggage, dropped luggage on a truck for transferring, boarded a separate bus for transport, and we checked in for our flight a little under 2 hours early. Turns out there were plenty of taxis and a taxi would have been as easy and quicker.
This was a very port intensive cruise and we tried to pace ourselves. We saw as much as our poor feet would allow but still could visit each port several more times. Visiting the ports was the highlight of the trip.
The cruise experience itself was also one of the best we have had in 25 or so curises. Celebrity has a winner in the Solstice class ships. They offer the newer features of cruising plus the traditional features.
We currently will look at the Solstice class first for our next cruise which says it all ?.