Background Info: This was my 25th cruise and our first cruise being Captain's Club Elite level on Celebrity. We both considered this cruise to be one of the best trips we have ever taken (on sea or land). It was quite simply fantastic (albeit exhausting). Great itinerary, great ship, outstanding food and even better service. Simply put, this ship would be very, very hard to beat.
Travel To Port of Embarkation: We stayed 2 nights in Barcelona pre-cruise and were very glad we did. I had not been in Barcelona for 20 years and our time was well spent doing the HOHO bus to all the major sights/attractions -- including Sagrada Familia. If you go to Sagrada Familia it is well worth the wait and price to go inside, especially to take the lifts to the top of the spires and take the long spiral staircase back down -- tremendous views and a totally unique experience.
Pre-Cruise Hotel Info: We stayed at the Hilton Diagonal del Mar. If you are an HHonors club member it is worth staying here for the great concierge lounge on the 15th Floor with a great balcony and views of the city and the sea. It is however located a good distance away from the major tourist attractions - in a newer neighbourhood that doesn't hold much tourist appeal (but close to the beaches); so taking the Metro is involved (but you can also easily catch the HOHO bus from here as well). Would I stay there again? Probably not -- would stay in a more central location, but not disappointed in this hotel. We knew the pro/cons of the location when we booked it and we were pleased overall.
Embarkation: Very smooth. Celebrity does this well. We arrived at the port around 1:30pm and there were no wait times at all. We were on the ship within about 10 to 15 minutes of arrival at the port. Couldn't have been easier.
Stateroom: We chose Aqua Class stateroom 1676 which had an aft facing balcony on Deck 11. We really liked this cabin. Our room steward and his assistant were excellent, the room was kept spotlessly clean and we would definitely book it again. Would be nice if it was a little closer to a stairwell -- but we would definitely book this cabin again.
Ship Info: Wow. This was our first time on an S-Class ship -- and I must say that we were VERY impressed. It will be hard to go back to the M-Class now...or to any other ship for that matter. The only thing I didn't like on this ship was the pool area -- it is a zoo. Don't believe anyone who tells you it is not. I realize I am probably alone in my opinion of the lawn club -- but I wish they would just rip it up and put some nice deck chairs up there instead....as it really was impossible to get a chair near the pool on sea days if you weren't up bright and early in the morning. The M-Class pools and sun decks are so much better. In fact, they are so much better that I might actually choose to sail on them in a hot weather itinerary instead of given a choice...but it would be a very tough call. I just absolutely hate fighting for deck chairs and feeling stacked on top of everyone else.
This deck chair issue aside, we were very pleasantly surprised with the S-Class -- we found it hard to believe we were actually sailing on a much bigger ship as it was laid out so well and (other than when we were at the pools) we never encountered any crowding issues at all. Perhaps this was because we were eating in the smaller Blu Restaurant...so we didn't spend much time in the buffet at peak breakfast times etc....but we felt like we had the best of both worlds in Aqua Class -- a small ship feel with the amenities of a larger ship when you wanted it. Good job Celebrity! If only Princess could have achieved this on their Grand Class behemoths....although they do have much better pools! :)
Dining: I can not rave enough about both the quality of the food and service we received in Blu. Having recently been on the solisticized Infinity in January -- we knew that Blu was going to be good -- but we had no idea it was going to be THAT good! This was the best food I've ever had on any ship -- including Azamara and Celebrity (before Royal Caribbean took over). If you can afford the extra to sail Aqua Class -- go for it. You will not regret it. If however the difference in price is substantial -- sail in a regular cabin and pay for the specialty restaurants. We ate in Blu every night except one (we chose to go to Silk Harvest one evening and wish we hadn't as it was very sub-par in comparison). There were very high marks from all on board for Murano and Tuscan Grille though -- so guess we chose the wrong specialty restaurant.
Activities: I took significant advantage of both the jogging track and the fitness classes. Fitness instructors were great -- and loved the track as well. Due to the port-intensive itinerary, we quite simply didn't have time to do anything else! ;)
Staff & Service: Best ever! This is a fantastic ship with an even better crew. Every expectation was exceeded. I don't think there could be a better crew at sea - at least I haven't encountered one yet!
Entertainment: Didn't go to many shows -- not overly impressed with the ones we saw, but the cruise director was very good as were the activities staff on this ship. They did their best to keep everyone entertained and had a high level of energy. I do wish Celebrity had a more active night life....but again, due to the port-intensive nature of this cruise everyone was pretty exhausted.
Shore Excursions: We booked our own private excursions for all the ports -- and were glad that we did. The priority tender tickets we received being Elite with Captain's Club came in very handy for getting off the ship early and meeting up with our tours.
Disembarkation: Super fast and efficient. Really well organized. We were off the ship with our bags in hand by 8:30am. Couldn't have been easier.
Summary: I simply can't rave enough about this ship. It was wonderful. I consider the cruise very close in comparison to our 18 night Azamara Quest cruise in Asia a few years ago -- and I thought no mainstream ship would ever be able to come close to that experience. Honestly, the Solstice was almost as good -- and was even better than Azamara in several aspects -- so we can't wait to cruise on another S-Class ship again in the near future. I am anxious to see what the Reflection will be like! Next up however will be the Xpedition to Galapagos for an entirely different cruising experience.