Celebrity Solstice - Australia/New Zealand 12-23-2012 to 1/4/2013 12 night pacific cruise
With over 20 cruises under my belt, I looked at this cruise as one of the ultimate cruises to go on. Coming from "The States", it is not often that we get to travel so far. This was our first trip to Australia. This was also our first cruise on Celebrity. I had to say our expectations were pretty high for this trip. The cruise ship especially. In short, some areas surpassed while other areas fell short. Keep in mind that this was a holiday cruise with over 450 kids on the ship. Not the typical celebrity experience.
We booked our cruise through a TA with insurance. We also booked our air through choice air. Choice air was very limiting for us. I would not use them again. Difficult to deal with when Qantas pulled out of Auckland for the LAX direct flight. You can get better deal going through the airlines directly. They also had changes without communication to us. Definitely no more Choice air for us. Since we were flying from Atlanta, we would most likely book Delta next time. Now, I have to say, the Qantas Airbus 380 was an amazing plane. We flew from ATL to LAX on delta. We stayed a night at the Marriott LAX. Wonderful hotel with free transfers. We did walk about 10 minutes to go to the In-and-out. Yum! We stayed a night in LA before our overnight flight to Sydney.
12/20 We got to rest up and enjoy some time in LA. We took the 10:00 flight out. Definitely pay for the upgrade to premium economy. It is worth it. Economy is a little bigger than our economy in the US, but still looked painful for a 15 hour flight. The service on the plane was fantastic. Could not asked for a better flight. It was a little bumpy during the night due to the airstreams, but still not bad. We skipped a day due to the international date line.
12/22 we landed in Sydney. We stayed at the Marriott Quay. (Pronounced "key") Very nice rooms. Easy access to everything in downtown Sydney. We booked the bridge climb a few months prior. The express climb, same climb, but less time to prep due to groups. An amazing experience that you should not pass up. We ate at Sydney Cafe. Wonderful view! Pricey. We rode the hop-on-hop off bus for a tour. We took the ferry over to the zoo and spent some time in the zoo. US credit cards were no issue. You also have Internet access in the hotel and at several of the coffee shops around. The hotel does have a US conversion power plug. The cruise ship is set up for the different types too. You will not need to buy one.
12/23 the hotel held our bags. We took a tour of the Opera House. You definitely need to see this. Amazing. If possible, book a show. There are 5 theaters in the opera house. Concert hall is the biggest, followed by the opera hall. There are three other smaller venues too. We got back to the hotel and took a cab over to the ship. It is a relatively short walk to the ship if everyone can carry their bags. Once we checked in at the ship... We went back out to finish our time in Sydney.
12/24 the ship was still in port. We took a full day excursion to the blue mountains. It is a long drive out to the mountains. It is very pretty. I reminded me of the blue ridge mountains. The steep train ride was fun. The view of the cliff, three sisters, etc was nice. Not sure if it was worth the price. I probably would of done more in the city. If you have not seen mountains, I would recommend it. If you have seen the Grand Canyon, then skip it. We got back late to the ship while the safety drill was going. This was not a problem since we booked through the cruise line directly. Since we missed the drill, we had to go down for a 20 minute presentation the next day. We left out and had a beautiful journey from the dock.
Celebrity knows how to build unique and beautiful modern ships. The Solstice is in excellent maintenance. The carpets are in nice shape. Very little signs of wear and tear. The feel is very modern and crisp.
Our room was on the 11th floor - room 1596. Our other family members had the room next door 1594. This floor is the Aqua class. We actually received the upgrade as a very nice gift from our family. There are no kids on this deck. You get free access to Blue dining room. You get daily water and teas in your room daily. Special soaps etc. You also get access to the front spa relaxation room at the front of the ship on the same floor. The rooms were not any bigger than the standard balconies. Is it worth it, maybe for some. You do not get any discounts for the spa. You get a nice coupon book with some goodies in it though. We used the discounted laundry service twice. The storage in the room is pretty good. There are other ships with more storage from a room this size. The interactive system on the TV is the best. Lots of recently released movies that are free and available. The balconies are larger on this ship. Nice balcony with table, 2 adjustable chairs with footrests. The view is a little limited for this floor due to the overhang that goes across. Good coverage for rain though. When you are taking photos, it can get in your way. Noise in the rooms are less due to no kids. The only problem is the pool deck is above you. There will be foot traffic and sliding chairs during the early evening and mornings. Not real bad, but if this bothers you, you may want to move down a floor or two. Deck 11 is the top floor for rooms. The bump outs in the aqua class may be a better choice if you do not want the obstruction.
Our room attendant was amazing, one of the best. No issues there. This met my standards for the aqua class on Celebrity.
Ocean View cafe - this is their version of the Lido/Windjammer. This is one area that Celebrity let me down. There was no difference from this versus the many other cruise lines out there. Service was lacking here. I wish cruise lines would improve this area. They need to learn from Disney on this. Allure of the Seas is the only other ship that seemed to master this. Wait times for special foods could be reduced with more staffing. Clean-up and table service cold be improved also with more employees. They do have a bar in here so you can get quick access. We purchased a soda card. We got cans of soda with ease directly from the bars. Line cutting here seems to be a little bit of problem. You can stand there and be the next in line, yet someone walks up and they take care of them first. Come on Celebrity, you are better than that! Improve your table service. More people making drinks and more people serving drinks would help. Also, the employees here do not seem to be very happy. I saw several times where employees were arguing with other employees. That is not good. Work as a team folks. Food quality was pretty good. Best pizza out of all the major lines. Wow! Pasta bar is great, but the service is very slow. Great salads! More variety with desserts. Great ice cream and gelatos! The oriental chicken need to be improved. The fajitas are good, but you need better taco meat etc. Please improve your Mexican food station. Much better with Allure.
Blue dining room - not impressed. Service was severely lacking. You had to wait to be seated during the busier times. It is all first come first serve with different servers that are killed with several tables. One time, we asked three times for a drink. This is the worse part of the ship in my view. It should be a highlight. A star for those who book Aqua Class or Suites. I got an excuse that it was due to the different cultures eating at different times than the western cultures. Adapt, compromise, adjust... Staff up and fix this. The food was better in the main dining room.
Main dining room - wonderful. Charles was our matre'd. He was fantastic. He worked us in with some amazing servers. You would ask for something flexible, and they would not blink. They would serve it. Wow. Wonderful service that met my expectations of Celebrity. The food quality was very good. The drink service was fantastic. No issues here.
Specialty Restaurants - wonderful choices. Our favorite that we ate at twice was The Tuscan. It is an Italian inspired steak house. These Omaha steaks were absolutely amazing. Cooked to order with perfection every time. When the place got busy, the service did from down some. Samuel, the manager, took care of anything we needed. Alexander was a terrific server. Need more dessert options.
Bar service - overall, the bar service is pretty good. Easy access to drinks. The Ocean View cafe was the only area that needed improvement with this.
Shopping - the shopping choices are pretty good. It is catered to the bigger spender. There are not many t-shirts, candy etc options. The art shows is a big part of the cruise. Your typical park west art auctions. Here is the deal, if you want to buy art... Just talk to them directly. They will bring out what they have and make you a deal. The best art we got were not purchased during the auctions. If they know you are serious, they will go out of their way to help you.
Pools - easy access to pools and towels. You do not need to sign out for towels. They have plenty of them. The solarium is very nice. There are plenty of spas. The pools are well kept and open almost all of the time.
Spa - pretty standard like all of the other cruise lines. The views in the massage rooms are not like Disney Dream or Allure/Oasis.
Easy process at the Sydney port. You check your bags. Tipped a few dollars. Walked in. The lines were not bad. Since we had two days in port, guests getting on the ship were spread out over the few days. Gratuities for the cruise were taken out each day as a daily rate. Not one big payment. Aussies do not tip typically. You need to stick with the auto deposit, pay the folks directly the same or more, or take Carnival that has a no tipping policy for their Australian cruises. These people live on tips.
Seas were calm all cruise long. Even when we had larger waves, the stabilizers worked extremely well. No issues at all going over the Tasman Sea.
Sea Day after embarkation - Formal night #1
Melbourne - pronounced Melbin. A very modern city. We took a tour of the city and the Animal Preserve. Great stop. Up close to the signature animals. Puffing Billy was a great train ride. Lots of flies at the winery lunch and visit.
2 Sea Days - Enjoyed the ship! Relaxed. Spa visit.
Fjords and Sounds Day - Have your camera ready. Reminded me of Scotland and Alaska combined. Beautiful pictures - postcard views. Weather will vary, but still beautiful.
Dunedin - pronounced "dun eat'n". A Scottish based city that we really enjoyed. We took a tour of the city, including the walk of the steepest street in the world - Baldwin St. A visit to the Botanical Gardens was nice. We booked a private tour through the Cadbury Factory in town. Wonderful. Lots of free Chocolate. The price was $16.00 each - somewhere around there. Book online ahead of time. It gets busy.
Arkoa - (however you spell it) the replacement tender spot for Christchurch. The only tender spot. One of the prettiest port stops on the cruise. We took the very long bus ride up through the mountains. Lots of beautiful views. Then we travelled into the Alps. Saw a sheep show and ate lunch at a old ranch. We rode the train back down the mountain. Hobbits, Lord of the Rings, and Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe were filmed in these areas. Outstanding, but long day. Nice little town at the port to visit.
Wellington - This is a very modern city. They are very proud of The Hobbit movie here. I believe the studios are nearby this town. We toured the city. The cable car up the side of the mountain was nice. This was followed up with a visit to Zealandia. A sort of Jurassic park that is trying to recapture what life was like before humans arrived. Great photo opportunities for nature and rare animals.
Another nice day at sea. (Formal night #2 - only two for this cruise.)
Tauranga - Our last day was a trip to the countryside to ride a jet boat! What a blast we had! You must do the river jet boat ride if you want a fun thrill. Everyone had so much fun. Kiwi capital of the world here. Lots of Kiwi all over. This is a retirement and vacation community with lots of beaches nearby. Lots of things to do here. I wish we had more time here.
Auckland and debarkation - Our end to the cruise. Debarkation was very smooth. No issues. All sorts of options for times etc. Easy customs process. Luggage service was fine. the best part is that we stayed in the Hilton Hotel. The Hilton Hotel shares the same building as the terminal. You walk out. Take a right. Walk about 50 steps. You are at your hotel! Very pricey, but nice. Ask for the conversion if you need it. The wall outlet conversion in 220. the can give you a 110 transformer if you need one. Safer for smaller appliances. Auckland was a beautiful town. We went to the Japanese steak house across the street from the Ferry Building. The hotel service was top notch. Easy access to cabs for a ride the airport. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the airport. Early morning may only take 25-30 minutes. The airport process went smooth. Amazing international terminal with lots of shops in Sydney. We flew back to LAX via Sydney. Gained back a day. First time in my life where I left at 6:00 am on a Saturday, flew 22 hours (flights and holds), and arrive the same day at 6:20 am on the same Saturday.
We stayed at the Marriott LAX again. We took a $25.00 cab ride to Manhattan Beach. We ate at an amazing restaurant called Rock'n Fish. Say hello to Matt for me. Tell him the Clemson folks from GA referred you. Matt is the GM for the location. Best seafood on the entire trip. Wonderful atmosphere.
Please e-mail me if you have any questions. This is a once in a life time trip for most. Enjoy it!