This was our first time on Celebrity and it certainly impressed us. Our transfer from the airport to the ship at Auckland harbour was expertly handled by the Celebrity staff. The embarkation procedure was quick but a little chaotic. They failed to tell us that we had to fill out a form to activate our teenage daughters' cruise cards which stopped working after a couple of days. For some reason the embarkation photogaphers had packed up and left even though there was still 4 hours to departure. No big deal - just one less thing we would be tempted to spend money on.
Cabins are small but comfortable and the Aqua-class amenities are nice but nothing exceptional. Our stateroom attendant (the wonderful Theresa) quickly sorted out our adjacent cabins and removed the divider on our balconies giving us extra room to stretch out.
Food and service in Blu was wonderful. We considered eating elsewhere but quickly realised that everywhere else would probably be a step down (except perhaps Murano). We did attend the MDR for the brunch on our last sea day which was absolutely incredible in terms of food but terribly chaotic from a service viewpoint - the staff didn't realise how overwhelmingly popular it would be and were run off their feet. The MDR looked nice enough but I much preferred the ambience of Blu.
There were 3 formal nights which was about 3 too many as far as I'm concerned which is why we booked Aqua class. Many people in Blu still dressed up but there were plenty of tie-less and jacket-less men and also a few polo shirts. Overall I think the majority of passengers made at least an effort to fit in with the formal theme but there was no sense anywhere on the ship of it being enforced and no one seemed bothered by those who dressed casually.
Although the prevailing demographic on the ship seemed to be middle-aged to elderly couples there were still plenty of children and younger people. A very good mix and everyone seemed happy no matter what their age.
Entertainment was all very professional although some acts (like the smarmy Vegas-type entertainers) were certainly not to my taste. One act in the main theatre played Yakkety Sax on guitar and followed it up by singing an Engelbert Humperdinck song. Truly awful but I guess it appealed to a certain demographic - one woman seated behind me was certainly loving it. However the ventriloquist/comedian was hilarious and the production shows were quite good.
Other activities were well-organised and the entertainment staff were great. Friendly without being over-the-top and always on time to the activities.
We only went on one ship's Shore Excursion which was overpriced but well-run. I'm not sure however why they don't give shore excursions priority on the gangway/tenders.
The ship is absolutely beautiful and it never felt crowded. Overall the ship feels like a luxury upmarket hotel but the atmosphere is never stuffy. On one formal night I saw some people in shorts and sandals stroll past a couple in evening gown and tuxedo and it just seemed perfectly natural. On the other hand the Solstice is the type of ship where some people dress up every night. The atmosphere of the ship seems to encourage elegance without enforcing it which I find very appealing.
I really have nothing bad to say about this cruise and I'll sail with Celebrity any time the opportunity arises.