It always amazes me how you can take a group of vacationers, put them all on the same ship, same itinerary, at the same dates and yet the experiences can be so different. I can only speak of our experience and how we chose to handle certain inconveniences. This review will focus more on the items I know we were searching for information on before we sailed but found little on: Hump cabins, Ensenda Embarkation, Halloween on a ship, Fitness Center and All Inclusive Premium Drink Package.
We were lucky to secure a Hump Cabin within Aqua Class meaning we had a slightly larger balcony in a room that sat directly below the Aqua Spa cafe / Solarium. It was a great room with no noise disturbances. Having sailed on both the Equinox and Solstice we were interested to see how comparable the retro-fit ships were to the actual Solstice builds. We are pleased to report that the cabins look virtually the same with the exception of the missing overhead storage typically above the bed however; there was no lack of storage space without it (with 6 suitcases packed I put the storage space to the test!).
So let's talk about the Ensenada embarkation which is such a hot topic with this particular sailing. Having cruised often and as we are usually flying in from a winter wonderland, we typically fly in a day or two early to limit the stress of having to "catch a ship". Therefore we just caught a $9.00 cab from the car rental drop off rather then take the shuttle back to the airport to then have to take the Celebrity shuttle to the pier. Best $9.00 spent of the entire cruise!
Staff at the pier were very friendly and accommodating considering they were under vast amounts of pressure due to the ship being parked right behind the check in counter and then seeing it sail away. Kinda funny when you think about it... For those that were shocked and panicked all I have to say is your cruise tickets clearly stated we were sailing from Ensenada Mexico not San Diego. When we checked in we were given bus ticket #6 and were told to come back before 3:00 pm to board. I appreciate that they told us to go out and enjoy San Diego pier as opposed to waiting in the terminal and I was even more impressed that they took care of our carry on luggage while we did this. We went for a lovely lunch on the pier and even managed to get some shopping in. Armed with my Starbucks Latte in hand we headed back to the terminal at about 2:45 where we spent about half an hour chatting with the people sitting next to us and by 3:30pm we were boarding our bus. Were we delayed a little due to a couple of people requiring scooters and oxygen tanks to be loaded. Ultimately we ended up being about bus #11 to pull out at around 4:00 pm.
Border wait time was 60 minutes (not bad considering I have waited longer at airports to clear customs and at least here I was seated in a comfortable air-conditioned bus). Personally I enjoyed the bus ride along the coast, it was beautiful and we got to see the sunset. To expedite the process we were given declaration forms to fill out on the bus to be handed in once we arrive at Ensenada. Unfortunately we ended up on a bus that got lost in Ensenada and ended up going the wrong way down a one way street and then thought that he was rear-ended so stopped in the middle of another intersection to check things out (Luckily he wasn't hit). This all added about 30 extra minutes to our journey but with every U-Turn this driver performed with this motor-coach the bus cheered to show how impressed we all were with how well he maneuvered it. Eventually after 3 passes by the ship we made it to the dock overall time from San Diego to Ensenada was approx 3.5 hours.
This was the first cruise we decided to experiment with the drink package so once we were a little settled in, we headed up to Blu for dinner and a drink. We definitely utilized our purchase with everything from: smoothies over breakfast, vitamin waters after a workout, fruity frozen drinks by the pool, lattes in the afternoon, pre-dinner drinks, cocktails and wine with dinner, after dinner drinks in Michael's lounge and a Martini at the Ice Bar. Now it sounds like we are lushes and that we should have been drunk for the entire cruise but that is not the case. Truly we used it to sample drinks that we normally would not. My husband is a beer snob so each night he sampled a different beer at Michael's and for myself, I do not like wine so I took this opportunity to utilize the the sommelier in Blu and tried to find wines I could enjoy...Success!!!
To order the drink package again though I'm not so sure I would. We looked at the $1400.00 drink package expense as if it was a tour package or upgraded room. (only way I could justify it in my mind). Yes we drank our monies worth but in the end it was only empty calories that we didn't need and although the sampling was fun, we've done it once and don't feel the need to do it again. At least I know for certain that I do not like Cognac.
To counter balance the consumption of food and drink we did utilize the gym frequently an participated in a spin class. Great experience and would do it again (I do think Celebrity should drop the $10.00 class fee though). But...the spin class led to a discussion with Daniel (Celebrity Fitness Instructor)about private training sessions and from that I enrolled in a 3 session personal training package complete with body composition analysis and a 17 page customized workout regiment to take home. The document covered everything from nutrition to an analysis specific to my body type and current fitness level. I was very impressed and have continued using the program Daniel built for me. Only downside was after the first session I had difficulty moving and was very sore the next day so I had to remind Daniel that I was on vacation and did need to be able to move about without pain. Once again... Money well spent.
Halloween: We were sailing out of Maui the day of Halloween which was neat because Maui shuts down their main street in Lahaina for a children's parade right where we tender to the ship. Very fun and entertaining to see both children and parents dressed up following behind a fantastic marching band. Back on the ship we were one of the couples that brought costumes (remember the 6 suitcases)so we had fun dressing up that night. There were actually many passengers that dressed up as well as the crew and it was an electric atmosphere that night. They had a costume contest and we spent the night having people stop and ask if they could take photos of us. If you are sailing on Halloween we suggest that you join in the fun even if only with something simple. Kudo's to Rockin Ron the DJ for his incredible Rolling Stones Routine dressed up as Batman. He also showed an interesting and informative lecture on Marilyn Monroe which we thoroughly enjoyed. We weren't impressed with the Party Band "Kenosis" but stilled enjoyed dancing most nights.
Those are my detailed comments on the items I thought are not usually reported on. Here are some remaining shorter comments and thoughts:
Aqua Spa Cafe for breakfast was our favorite, Persian Gardens were terribly disappointing (no windows or private beds and was very dark and dingy), Bistro on Five was O.K., Olympic Restaurant was outstanding! We really enjoyed the progressive trivia (met some great people) and the shows were fantastic especially the backstage tour! We stayed away in general from the buffet (many grumpy pushy people up there) but the pizza was a favorite to grab and take away. Staff was ALWAYS friendly and outstanding especially the "washy, washy" guy by the elevators outside the buffet. The seas were generally smooth (relative to a pacific cruise)and the officer's pool volleyball game is always a pleasure!
***TIP*** We exercised the option to walk off the ship carrying our own luggage for disembarkation. We have done this several times and highly recommend it. We didn't have to send our suitcases away the night before or wait for them to be unloaded only to have to sift through the rows of black suitcases to find our own. We were off the ship with absolutely no crowds to fight through by 7:00 am, in our rental car and on our way to Pearl Harbor. Easy, simple and efficient.
Clearing customs - There is no reason to bad mouth Celebrity regarding having to clear customs in San Diego (if arriving out of Country), then to have to do it in Mexico, and then one last time in Hilo... These are not "Customer Service" line-ups designed for your comfort but rather arrival and departures into and out of COUNTRIES!!! Celebrity has no control, nor should they, over being given "special treatment" for getting their 2400 passengers across. Additionally common sense should tell you that you have booked KNOWINGLY that you have to enter and exit out of Mexico along with 2400 fellow cruisers and the rest of travellers crossing that border at that same time. 2400 passengers do not clear customs all in under an hour whether or not you are entering or exiting a country by tender or bus, this is why this specific cruise cost less than the other ones sailing in and out of San Diego. Kudos to Celebrity for staggering the buses and allowing passengers to explore San Diego longer that day for their comfort. To complain about it is like being upset because you don't get the free blanket and pillow flying in coach as do the people paying double in first class.
Overall this was a fantastic holiday especially for the price paid. Was everything perfect - NO but we chose to choose our attitude and as such it attracted the same attitude back. Honestly the most un-enjoyable part of the vacation was having to listen to others complain in the elevators, on the buses and in the line-ups. There was so much to do and enjoy on the ship that 5 days at sea truly wasn't enough.
It's vacation, pull up your big panties and enjoy!