This was an astounding cruise and an interesting mix of exotic ports and many days at sea. The embarkation process was smooth in Barcelona and we were quickly aboard. The cruise started well with a celebratory glass of champagne as we embarked. What we didn't know is that Celebrity allows passengers on board while entire corridors of staterooms are blocked off (this was a first in our many cruises). We were on board ship several hours before the announcement was made that the rooms were open. This left thousands of people roaming around with their carryon luggage trying to find a spot in the buffet or on the decks. Kind of messy and not the best first impression. The cruise took a turn for the worse when our luggage did not arrive by the time we sailed. We had already been aboard ship for 7 hours and had no idea where the luggage was hiding. Our cabin steward took me downstairs to the area where luggage is quarantined because there is a suspected forbidden item that requires security clearance. Our luggage was not there, wasn't on any list, no one knew anything, etc. Fortunately the bags arrived after we returned from supper. Our cabin steward said that he had received a call from his supervisor about the luggage, but the steward declined to give us details. Nothing was missing from the bags including the bottle of wine Celebrity allows per passenger and a corkscrew. Go figure. My anxiety level was running high because I wanted to complete the long job of putting everything away and getting a good nights sleep and that is a little hard to do when nothing has arrived yet. This glitch turned out to be our biggest issue on this cruise so all in all things went smoothly for us.
We really liked the service and attitudes of the crew. In 16 nights aboard ship we could probably count on two hands the number of times an individual crew member did not take time to greet us or talk to us, and that includes the officers. Our cabin steward Miguel was completely accommodating to our needs and we appreciated the fact that he delivered a pitcher of water and ice to our room twice a day, and clean glasses. We were probably easy passengers for him as we always kept our room picked up and we tried to minimize the work our steward needed to do but when we made rare extra requests they were always granted, including obtaining another mattress pad as the beds are hard on arthritic hips. We were lucky about this as on the day we asked for the extra pad someone else had decided he didn't want his. Normally there are not extra pads around.
The cabin on Celebrity Solstice was strange. We are used to a setup where the closet and shelves are located in the entryway. This closet was small and located next to one person's side of the bed. If my husband piled up a bunch of books or shoes next to his side of the bed I had to lean over sideways to try to get into the closet. Don't know what the designers were thinking when they came up with this. There is a lovely large storage space above the bed and the shelving situation in the bathroom is more than adequate so that made up for the closet inconvenience. The shower stall also has a closable door instead of the usual shower curtain and this was much appreciated. Our room was very far aft and so we had minimal traffic and noise outside the room. The balcony in this room (#7305) is also about 50% larger than others we have had. The down side was that because of the design of the ship it is not possible to look directly down into the water from the balcony, something we enjoy. We also had very loud neighbors who partied until bartime and then threw a mini party on their balcony every night. Sigh.
The entertainment crew aboard ship was topnotch. Not only were they relaxed, fun loving people, but they were talented. The cruise director and his assistant were sometimes heard singing with the band--and yes, had voices that were enjoyable to hear. The list of activities was creative and although we did not participate in a lot of group activities we did enjoy spectating the Pool Olympics and a few other competitions. We also participated in the egg drop contest in which we had to build a craft that would carry 3 raw eggs and safely land on a target 4 stories down into the atrium without breaking the egg. The creativity of the competitors was amazing and watching this competition was lots of fun. Sadly 2 of the 3 eggs in our vessel did not make it but it was still fun.
The dance lessons were given by the Stars of Solstice staff and were excellent although always very crowded. On the cruise before ours we heard that only 4 people attended the dance classes--try about 50 people on our cruise! My husband was disappointed that only one other person wanted to enter the casino poker tournament and so the tournaments were always cancelled. Even the slot tournament was canceled for lack of entries. The slots on this cruise were horribly tight and very few people were in the casino even at the tables. We loved the danceband Intenz who performed several times a day and were always fun whether it was ballroom dancing or get down and have fun dancing.
We ponied up an extra $100 per person to have privileges to the Persian Garden heated stone recliners, showers, sauna, and private relaxation room. The latter was a nice refuge and excellent observation post on the day we went through the Suez as it is directly in the front of the ship. Was this $100 worth it? Maybe, considering how tired we were after some of the excursions and how good the heated benches felt to us. Maybe not when the benches were filled and the spa staff told us that they limit people to 20 minutes (and then don't enforce it in the least). I don't know if we would spend this money again. One of our other complaints was that chairs on the pooldeck would not be monitored by crew for inactivity. A towel on the chair seemed to guarantee that the chair was yours the entire day no matter how little time you were in it. That certainly hampered our enjoyment of the pool deck as it was hard to get a chair until late afternoon.
The entertainment on board ship was very good. We enjoyed the production shows especially Ghostlight, and the Cirque du Soleil type of show. Don't miss the presentations by Glenmore Trenear-Harvey who is an expert about international intelligence and spies. His presentations about Mossad, Russian intelligence, and the Liberty, were especially good. We missed his presentation on piracy and couldn't see to catch the rerun on the TV. Drats! Would have enjoyed it. Another astounding presentation is the Corning Museum Hot Glass Show in which talented artists create blown glass vases, urns, etc. Wow!
We are Celebrity Select members and the perks given with this patronage level were very much appreciated. We went to a theater backstage tour, a wine tasting, and a welcome party. We missed the Celebration Event but heard that that was very nice too.
The food in the dining room was quite good of course depending on the day and type of food. We frequently tire of 3 course, 2 hour meals or have schedule conflicts such that we go to the buffet or the pool hamburger place for some variety. The fries and burgers at the latter are outstanding. I thought the buffet was the best I've had aboard 6 different cruiselines. The food was appropriate in temperature and hadn't seemed to be sitting around forever under a heat lamp, there was a significant variety in the food, a very nice salad bar,the crew was accommodating, there was always a place to sit and enough dishes and silverware. A bonus was the ice cream available about 10 hours every day and served by one of the bubbliest people on earth, Andreea Rau. How anyone could scoop ice cream 10 hours a day and be so happy and delightful is a wonder!
The connectivity to the internet was advertised as being problematic on this cruise because of maintenance issues. I just wish that they had charged 1/2 of the usual price because it took so long to get anything done on the internet and even a quick check of email was impossibly long.
It was amazing to us to be sailing in this part of the world passing Somalia, Yemen, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Sudan, Dijibouti, and of course Jordan, the Sinai peninsula, and Egypt. At one point we actually saw Yemen on the port side and Somalia on starboard! Yes, there were piracy precautions once we entered the Gulf of Aden. For the last 6 nights we were not allowed to open our stateroom drapery when we had lights on in the cabin, some ship lights were turned off, and most significantly, we were not allowed on the open decks after sunset. This did cut down on the enjoyment of the pool deck and their dancing lighted water show and we would have liked to have sat out on the deck at night under the stars but so be it. We felt safe and weren't worried about pirates, just had to plan ahead a little more. By the way, speaking of enjoyment of the pool deck, we do wish that the Celebrity Solstice had movies under the stars like Princess. Celebrity offered movies but the seats were quite uncomfortable and there is something about being wrapped in a cozy blanket eating popcorn and watching the big screen under the stars.
We took this cruise because of the ports and the Suez Canal transit and all of these completely met our expectations. We would have liked 2 days in Aqaba, Jordan so that we could travel both to Petra and Wadi Rum, and we could have given up the extra night stay in Safaga, Egypt. Most people stayed on board ship the second day in Safaga so this is wasted time. We contracted with Our Egypt Tours for private tours of Giza, Dashur and Sakkara (Alexandria port for Cairo); Alexandria city tour; and the Valley of the Kings and the temples of Hatsheput and Karnak (from Safaga, Egypt port). We were very pleased with the services we received from this company, from the booking process in which we negotiated about what we wanted to do and did not want to do, the prices (which are less expensive or competitive with the ship's), and the trained and professional Egyptologist guides that explained and instructed us as we travelled through Egypt. It was fascinating to hear about the "peaceful revolution" from the viewpoint of our guides, and yes, we were very fortunate to be in Egypt before hostilities heated up in Israel, and before Morsi proclaimed total power setting off a new wave of protests. Our excursions into Egypt were wonderful and we felt safe and well informed because of our excellent guides and drivers. In Aqaba we took the ship's excursion to Petra and it met our expectations although it had the usual hassle of dealing with a busload of people, some noncompliant with the time expectations stated by our guide of when we would meet to start the trip back to the ship. Oh well.
Debarkation in Dubai was smooth and we hailed a taxi into the city for the next stage of our adventure. It was probably one of the best cruises we have been on and we are very happy we experienced the long days at sea and the exciting shore excursions.