I booked this cruise on the "Solsticized" Summit in an effort to take a relaxing, no-hassle vacation. We live in NJ, so avoiding the airport and driving directly to the ship fit the bill for less stress. We were on the inaugural sailing of the Silhouette last July (2011), sailing from Hamburg to Rome and thought the ship was absolutely beautiful. When I heard that $40 million had been put into the Summit to "Solsticize" it, I thought this was ideal. We were in Concierge class last year and enjoyed the amenities, especially a good-sized bathroom with glass shower doors and a lovely balcony with lounge chairs and footstools. I decided to book Aqua class for this cruise since I had read many positive reviews about Blu on CC and thought the extra cost would be worthwhile.
I booked the cruise directly with Celebrity after reading a lot of the above-mentioned reviews. Before I paid for the cruise, I asked the reservations agent about the balcony and chairs because I love spending time there reading (my hubby prefers the sun on the pool deck). I was assured that the cabin had the size and amenities I wanted.
About a week before we sailed, I had an unrelated question and called Celebrity. My question was answered and I asked this different reservations agent about the balcony again because I had read a passenger's review that said there were no footstools on the balcony of the cabin I had booked. This agent also said the cabin had these amenities.
We arrived at the port early, a little before noon, dropped our bags, parked the car ($133 paid in advance for 7 nights - uncovered parking lot), and took a shuttle bus for two minutes which brought us to the embarkation area. This was accomplished easily. We were guided to a less-crowded area to check in because we were Aqua class and were walking up the gangplank to the ship after the obligatory snapshot taken by one of the ship's photographers. We didn't buy any of the photos. They were about $19.95 each for a 5x7. You could get a package that was definitely cheaper, but we weren't interested. Perhaps if you are with a whole family or with people you don't see ordinarily, but pictures taken with our decent digital camera were fine for us.
As we got on board, we were greeted by servers holding trays of glasses with sparkling wine and mimosas, a very nice touch that Celebrity does for boarding passengers. The cabins weren't ready, which we knew would be the case, so we walked around the ship a bit. We got to our cabin a little early and I was dismayed to see a TINY balcony and NO Footstools! Immediately, I went down to Guest Relations. The person at the desk was polite, but wasn't empowered to do anything but apologize. There were signs saying the sailing was so old and no upgrades would be available. I asked for a supervisor who was not helpful, either. Then I asked for the manager of guest relations and after waiting a while, Erwin, the asst. manager, came to see me. He tried to tell me that my travel agent was at fault, but I told him I had booked directly with Celebrity and I showed him, on my iPad, the description of the cabin we had booked and told him how unhappy I was with the inaccuracy of the description. He was pleasant and said he would figure out the footstool situation by Monday and that there was a possibility we could change cabins even though the cruise was sold out.
We agreed that we would wait the day, but when we went back to the room saw that there was a very visible layer of dust on the TV and there was rust at the base of the shower. There were glass doors on the shower, and a multi-spray shower configuration, which was very nice, but really small.
The cabin was very small, smaller than the Silhouette, though the dimensions didn't seem different. The weakest spot was entering the room, where the closet (small) was on one side, and the bathroom on the other. It was impossible for two people to pass side by side there. One had to step away in order for the other person to pass by.
The cabin location of this Aqua class cabin, 9127, was very convenient, just a few steps from the library (small but nice-looking) and the elevators.
In the afternoon of the next day, Monday, there was a message on the phone from Erwin. He did a good job of following up and asked if we wanted to see the Sky Suite that was available to us as an upgrade. The Sky Suite was about 25% larger, where the bed faced the ocean and balcony, which was full-sized with footstools! The closet was also much larger, as was the hallway, so you could squeeze by each other. I found it very interesting that the Aqua Class cabins were upgraded to have glass shower doors, but the suite still had the original bathroom (large orange-colored marble tiles, which were nice-looking enough) with shower curtain. It was very clean, and it had a bathtub, which we didn't use. It was a very high tub, so if you have any mobility issues, it would be really hard to get in or out of the shower/tub. When we moved to the suite, Erwin asked if we wanted assistance. We gave the two stewards $20 to move our things, so there would be less strain on us. They moved the suitcases we hastily repacked. Erwin did make sure we were still able to dine in Blu and receive the one a day bottle of Evian per person that comes with the Aqua class privileges. Butler service comes with a suite, and Benjamin was very pleasant, but he didn't do much. We didn't know where to get the card to order room service breakfast until the next-to-last day. (They were in back of the blue looseleaf binder that was on the desk.) Were we supposed to ask him to do more?? He did get us a reservation in the MDR the one night we decided not to dine in Blu.
The best thing about Blu was that it is a smaller venue. The MDR is so large that you can feel lost in it. The Maitre 'D, Nicholas, said all of the right things when something wasn't right, but we got the feeling he was reciting from a book. He sometimes repeated the same thing to us more than once, and we felt he didn't remember he had already spoken to us! He did give us a good waiter and assistant waiter after the first night was a disaster in both service and preparation of the food. Whoever cooks the steaks in Blu has no idea what he is doing! We spoke to several people who had the same poorly cooked filet mignon the first night - either over- or undercooked to what was asked.
After the first night we sat in the section of Rajesh and John Sebastian, who were very accommodating to our requests. We were able to get as many of the choices as we wished. However, if you asked to have one part of a selection added to your dish, they would just bring the whole other meal, so most of the time, I don't think they are actually preparing your specific plate.
You cannot get food from the MDR, contrary to what was reported in other reviews. We asked for the sea bass one night. Nicholas told us that wasn't possible, but if we wanted to order a dish from the MDR a day in advance, that could be done. We had the sea bass the next night. It was OK, but not great. The food in general was fine, but not great, There was a cheese souffle as an appetizer the first night and it was excellent. The always-available escargot were very good, too. The last night there was pecan crusted duck that my husband liked enough to ask for more. That request was promptly accommodated. There were lobster tails one night. It is 1/2 of a warm-water tail, so we each ordered two. My husband's were a little rubbery, but OK, mine tasted like iodine. I sent mine back, but had to wait an unreasonably long time to get a different order.
We ordered the Premium Beverage package and had different glasses of wines each night. Eren, the sommelier in Blu, was helpful and prompt in getting us what we wanted. There was also a pleasant bar waitress who got us bottled water with our dinner each evening. She knew what we wanted after the first couple of nights.
I can't decide if the Premium Package is worth $54/day plus 15%. I think the ship made money on me, maybe my husband got the advantage, however. It is nice, however, not to think each time about the price and about whether you want to order a drink, premium coffee, etc.
As for the rest of the food areas, Cafe al Bacio great! I went there every morning, sometimes twice for cappuccino. Yuni, the barista, was cheerful and after the first day remembered both my and my husband's names.
We ate in the MDR one evening because we wanted to see what it was like and the menu had osso buco, which we both ordered. Mine was very good, hubby's was fatty and difficult to eat. He picked around it and ordered another, which was much better. They made chocolate souffle that night for dessert, which we ordered before the main course. The came out on time and were quite good considering the amount they must have been making.
The Oceanview buffet was like a decent cafeteria. Nothing there impressed me at all. I ate fruit and egg-white omelet, cooked to order, or a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon most mornings. The first morning I asked a server behind the buffet for a bagel. He didn't understand me or know what I was requesting. There was a definite communication problem with lower-echelon workers and the passengers. Hubby tended to eat waffles or pre-packaged yogurt. The brand of yogurt served in the Aqua Cafe was much better than in the MDR.
The Saturday buffet looked pretty, but we didn't think it was great. The sushi was all vegetable rolls -- disappointing! You could get sushi in the Oceanview Cafe each night at 5:30, but since my husband doesn't eat sushi, if I ate it, I wouldn't be hungry for dinner, but he would be. There was some sushi at the 1st Captain's Club event. It was OK, but I guess you shouldn't expect great sushi on a cruise ship.
We didn't try any of the specialty restaurants this year.
As for Aqua Cafe and the Solarium area, it was definitely quieter than outdoors. The pool there was the only one not crowded, but it is a spa pool, almost as warm as the whirlpool. This is probably great on an Alaska cruise, but Bermuda was very hot, so it wasn't a big attraction. The chairs are nice looking wood, but there are no cushions, so they aren't comfortable (probably another reason why the pool area there wasn't crowded!). As Aqua Class we were entitled to use the Persian Gardens (unisex) area. This is another place where the website is misleading. There were no windows there, and it felt like a dungeon. When I asked about the windows I saw on the internet, I was told there are only windows on the actual Solstice-class ships. The aromatherapy and regular saunas were fine, but the women's locker area and rest room were pretty far from the area, which wasn't convenient. I didn't try the steam room, but my husband said it was also OK.
One of the issues we found in general is the lack of enforcement of rules. I needed to ask a pool butler to tell someone that she shouldn't be smoking in an area one afternoon. There were always children in all of the whirlpools and once there were preteens in the Persian Gardens. There were also youngsters in the gym on the treadmills. The rule is 16 and over, and there was a wait for equipment on sea days, so it was annoying for there to be 12-year-olds on the treadmill. The gym was pretty empty on port days, so I could understand, for example, if a 14-year-old really wanted to use the treadmill properly. But the gym is not a playground! There were children in the casino even after repeated announcements that you must be over 18 to be there. Only after someone asked one of the casino employees to ask the family with at least 4 kids (including one in a stroller!) to leave, did she reluctantly go over and say something. If you said something about rules not being enforced, you felt like the "bad guy!" and that should not be the case. On the last night, we had a conversation with Pearline, manager of Guest Relations, because she greeted us and asked if we had a nice cruise. She listened very attentively. I wonder if there will be any improvements....
The entertainment was alright. There was an "adults only" 11 PM show where the comedienne was definitely X rated. Again, although this was announced multiple times, there were still teens (maybe 13-16) at the show. The show was pretty funny, but probably not for everyone. There was also a pianist, Liberace style, who was very talented, and the Aqua Fellas, an a capella group, was fun to listen to. Johnny Mantra, the guitar player, is a good guitar player, but was boring overall. I found this interesting because he was on the Silhouette last year, and we thought he was good then. The Celebrity band was talented. Overall, the entertainment is OK, but not more. We enjoyed the staff/guest Dancing with the Stars type of event. The Newly/not so Newlywed Game was cute. The Iron Chef event was a bit annoying. They want to be so fair, it takes a lot of the fun away. They said the chosen passengers had to cook and then one of the chef "assistants" did all of the cooking because the passenger that was chosen didn't know how to cook! They wanted a child to be one of the three judges, but they chose a 5-year-old who couldn't understand what was going on, so the others were holding up the numbers for him, which is just plain silly. Trivia was fun with Greg (very nice guy), but the day it was run by a woman from Peru, no one could understand what she was saying. I was able to understand her pretty well, but some people were really irritated by this.
Bermuda is very pretty and we had great weather. We took a very similar cruise on Celebrity 16 years ago, on the Zenith, which is no longer in service. Although things change, we were vacationing for the idea of the ship, not the ports. We didn't get off the ship the first day and enjoyed the almost-empty ship! The second day we bought the $12, 1-day ferry/bus pass as soon as we stepped off the ship. That's very convenient. We took the ferry to Hamilton, walked there and took a big walk, lots of uphill, to Fort Hamilton, where the views were beautiful. Then we walked to the bus and took the #7 to Horseshoe Bay Beach. It was beautiful, but very crowded. You can rent chairs and umbrellas for $11 each, plus a $5 each refundable deposit. It was too hot to pass on the umbrellas. Jumping, or even climbing from the rocks into the ocean seemed extremely dangerous. I definitely wouldn't advise anyone to do that. We took the bus back to the ship late in the afternoon. We got off the ship the last day in port just to go over to some of the shops at the wharf. We needed to pick up a few gifts and got back on the ship within an hour.
Yikes! What a long review! Anyway...
We had a very relaxing time overall. Certainly there were lots of things we'd have liked to be different, but the crew was very friendly and tried to be very helpful. Overall, everything is very clean. Getting the upgrade to the suite was terrific, but I don't ever expect that good luck again! We like Celebrity and think it is probably the best of the mainstream cruise lines. It can't realistically be compared to Crystal or Regent, which are phenomenal, because those are SO much more expensive. So we will sail with Celebrity again, but only a real Solstice-class ship, no more of the "Solsticized" ones. That just isn't the same.