This was our third Solstice class cruise. Here are a few observations and thoughts.
Great ship, great cruise, loved it.
Very little has changed from previous ships in the class; the Hideaway and the Lawn Club are the notable exceptions.
On that front the Hideaway seemed popular, although we didn't make use of it ourselves. The Lawn Club, although we thought it went under-used on previous ships, didn't really work for us, and we really missed the Hot Glass Show, present on all the Silhouette's sister ships hitherto. The alcoves made the area feel very hemmed in and spoilt the previously wonderful views from up on deck 15. And at $99 for a port day, needless to say, we didn't avail ourselves.
Of course, this ship was as beautiful, imaginative and easy to navigate as her sisters, and the art work around the ship was, if anything, more interesting still.
Generally a very high standard. The food in the Grand Cuvee dining room was largely very good indeed. A few changes from previous cruises: no longer a choice of one hot and one cold soup (a blessing; we never liked the cold ones), and the every-day menu choice of escargots has sadly disappeared, with their bevelled dished now employed in serving crab-stuffed mushrooms.
Our waiter in the restaurant was exceptionally good; his assistant was, to be honest, quite poor, but very friendly and she tried hard. She was in her first few weeks on the ship, so there's time to improve. Our table was located on deck four in the far back left corner; we really disliked this location. As well as being out of the way, many of the tables around us went unused many nights (I think some of these tables were used for Select dining).
We were a party of three and we had requested a table to ourselves. However, we ended up sharing with a single traveller. To be honest, this doesn't work well. Both us and she, I think, would have preferred, if we had to share, to have been on a table for 6 or 8 rather than 3+1.
Qsine was fantastic. Great Maitre 'D, good staff and fantastic food. Not only good fun, but actually very good quality too. Tip: the lava crab, M's Favourites, Slider Party and the filet steak were our favourites.
This was our first time in Tuscan Grille and it was very enjoyable too. A tip: take a half portion of a pasta dish between the starter and the entree: you know you want to! We especially enjoyed the selection of antipasti circulated at the beginning.
Murano was deeply disappointing, though. Here I had the worst dish I had on the whole cruise (including from the Oceanview Cafe). This was a mushroom risotto which tasted of absolutely nothing. It was almost as if the chef forgot a stage. I complained to the waiter who offered me something else, but there was no apology, and no further comment was made. The other dishes were fine, but not exceptional, and certainly inferior to our previous visits to this restaurant on other ships. We had to ask three times for the sommelier to come to the table (he never arrived; our waiter perfunctorily took our wine order). Annoyingly, our waiter kept telling us how happy he was we had enjoyed our meal; he knew we hadn't. Really poor all told, especially given the $40 cover charge.
The Oceanview does what it does very well. Pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches went down especially well, as did the burger offerings at the Mast Grill.
We enjoyed breakfast in the dining room on several occasions. Although service was a bit hit and miss. It's quite cute the first time to have the pastry lady be forceful with her offerings, but it gets very waring very quickly.
DRINKS AND BARS
The Ensemble Bar remained our favourite for after dinner drinks. The Martini Bar is good if you're sat at the bar, otherwise poorly trained cocktail waitresses knock up the drinks in a back room, and they're always inferior.
Service was hit and miss around the ship. Ensemble was always good. We were harassed to a ridiculous degree in the Sky Lounge (can't they assign a waiter an area to patrol, rather than having literally 8 or 9 different waiters ask us if we wanted a drink?). And at the Sunset Bar one early evening we walked out after being unable to get any service after 15 mins.
The drinks at the Molecular Bar are really something special. I only wish the bar was better located and better used than it is. And that our surly barman cheered up a bit.
The new-style Michael's Club is a winner. Love the beers there (although they need stocking up; several menu choices weren't available).
Lastly a word about Cellar Masters. The sommelier/waiter in there told us there was 'something wrong with the machine' and 'people are being charged twice' when using their cards in the self-service machines. Better to let him get the drinks for us, he said. This, to be honest, spoilt the point of going to this bar, and seemed unlikely to be true. Could it be that he only gets his 15% service charge if he puts it on his card, rather than ours? And on that point, it can't be right that 15% is added when you're getting your own drink (the same being true for mini bar etc). And why do they charge for nibbles in this bar? Seems to go against the general ethos of the ship.
ENTERTAINMENT & ACTIVITIES
We didn't go to many of the theatre shows, only to the Broadway one, which was fine. However, a word of praise to Les DeMerle and his band who played around the ship. They were fantastic. We especially enjoyed their jazz, wine and cheese sets up on the Lawn Club. The a cappella singers were very good too.
We didn't take part in many activities on board, except that we were forced to by the noise coming from around the pool every day. I can't be selfish about it, as I am sure many people enjoyed the quizzes and other activities around the pool, but for us we enjoy the peace and quiet and would have preferred it to stay that way.
PORTS OF CALL
Venice -- wonderful, obviously. Don't bother with the shuttle boat. Walk to the monorail station (5 mins, EUR1), 2 min journey and then walk into the centre from there. You'll see some interesting sights slightly off the main tourist beat.
Ravenna -- nothing all that special in the town centre, but perfectly nice. Probably a good place to take a trip.
Kopor -- a delightful little port town. Only small; you can walk around it in a couple of hours.
Split -- The old town is splendid. Take time to climb towers, look in churches and explore. Again, it's not huge. The esplanade on the front seemed a nice place for a drink.
Dubrovnik -- The best port of the cruise. Wonderful place to explore. Obviously, you must walk the walls. Find the photograph exhibition about the Yugoslav wars; it's worth it.
Kotor -- Another walled town, but much quieter than Dubrovnik. The setting here is breathtaking, as it is at the end of a series of fjords. The walk up to the fort on the hill is strenuous but enjoyable. Get cameras at the ready for the sail out (and in).
Bari -- not much to write home about, but worth an explore.
Corfu -- Great old town, if a little scruffy.
Sea day -- at last!
Malta -- top tip: local buses are easy to use and really good. Mdina is wonderful and Valetta is a lovely town to poke around.
Messina, Sicily -- the town itself is best avoided. Go on a tour, or find your own way out of the town. Tip: don't attempt to escape the town on a Sunday, as we did; the trains won't work in your favour.
Naples -- the town has a poor reputation, but scruffy and edgy as it is, it has an energy which is infectious. Don't be afraid to wander around, and try some pizza.
A small word of criticism for the shuttle bus situation. They were undoubtedly needed in Ravenna ($14) and probably in Dubrovnik ($12). However, in Bari where we were told that walking in the port was "dangerous" we found this to be nonsense. There are clearly marked pedestrian paths and it is only a short walk to the edge of the port and thence to the town. In Corfu, it was a longer walk (around 30-40mins) but perfectly manageable and easy. More accurate information about how long the walk is would be helpful from Celebrity, and would help us avoid getting the impression that sometimes laying on such buses is profiteering.
It's difficult to think of many members of staff who were not cheerful, friendly and helpful (Murano waiter and Molecular buy guy being the only ones, I think). Our stateroom attendants did a great job, in particular.
This is an addition to the already-established Solstice Class which has rightly had rave reviews. We love the ship, the crew and the cruise. We'll probably return to these ships time after time. There is room for improvement in a few areas (Murano especially), but we can't expect perfection every time (despite what Celebrity's advert says!)