The Solstice is a beautiful ship, and although carrying about 3,000 passengers, rarely seemed crowded (the exception would be the buffet area). The stateroom (9286) was very comfortable and we loved the veranda. Every crew member we passed smiled and said hello or engaged us in other conversation. It was a very friendly ship (most of the passengers were that way, too).
Food in the Tuscan Grill (specialty restaurant, $30/pp cover charge) was fantastic (we ate there twice). Can't say as much for the dining room (Grand Epernay). While the meats were full of flavor and always deliciously prepared, the pasta dishes and fish entrees were hit-and-miss -- usually miss. Lack of seasoning? Overcooked? Perhaps both. The side dishes for the beef, lamb, and pork did get boring -- typically grilled without much seasoning, and without variation. The soups were usually good (mushroom was amazing, French onion was a hit, the miso was good but too salty). Appetizers and desserts (especially the Gran Marnier souffle and sorbets) were delightful. The Bistro on 5 ($5 cover charge) served great paninis and crepes. The coffee drinks at Bacio were a morning favorite for me. Poolside grill generally overcooked the burgers. Wait was too long at the Aqua Spa cafe, so we never did eat there. The buffet had a nice selection of foods, flavors were good, just nothing exciting. The ice cream bar always had a few people in line. Really enjoyed the freshly squeezed orange and grapefruit juices. For lunch and breakfast, we avoided the dining room. The service was inattentive the two times we did go. For breakfast and lunch, you're seated at random tables with waiters who knew their tips didn't depend on the people seated there.
Some of the special entertainers that came onboard were fantastic. The ship's own entertainers were just OK. The Corning hot glass blowers were quite entrancing, and there was probably a good crowd for each show, every day. We went around the nightclubs once or twice, looking for 60's-80's dance music, but didn't find it. Older or younger, but not what we were looking for.
Fortunately, there is a good selection of movies on the TV. Oh, and the casino -- never dropped a dime, although we typically would have. We steered very clear of it, as the second day we went through, the casino smelled like vomit. It continued to reek for at least a week, and by then we learned to walk the 5th deck back to the Solstice Theater instead of the 4th. I can't imagine that the management or staff didn't smell it.
Initial embarkation took about an hour. There was some confusion over which additional forms needed to be completed, and finding people with the forms. For docked ports, the lines were not too bad (exceptions: Dunedin (bus), & Adelaide), considering many of the 3,000 passengers were disembarking and embarking. The tender service lines (Akaroa, Esperance) were ridiculous, however. Perhaps Celebrity should consider providing entertainment to those in line, as during the peak times (2Â½- 1Â½ hours before gangway closing time), there was a ' -- 1Â½ hour wait. They did provide water and wet washcloths, but the long wait just made get people upset. In Esperance, some off-shift entertainers ahead of us in line had a CD (or Ipod) player. After Â½ hour in line, many of us decided to dance to "YMCA" and various other tunes they were playing. This was at least a fun way to wait.
Everything about the stateroom service was terrific. The starboard side was perfect for the Auckland to Perth itinerary, and the veranda was well worth the additional cost. We had fun watching the docking manuevers, and in Sydney, our view was of the Opera House.
Kudos to the ship for creating a fun, impromptu Super Bowl party in the Theater -- huge screens, balloons, banners, food, and beverage bars. It was well-attended, even by non (US football) fans.
We purchased the premium beverage package before we left, choosing convenience and prepayment. Estimating our habits on a spreadsheet, we thought we'd about breakeven. Turns out we could have saved quite a bit by buying individual drinks, and had more of a wine selection. We did drink freshly squeezed juice, lots of bottled water (kept some in our room), and coffee drinks as well. In reviewing the statement at the end of the cruise (because the info is not available daily for drink packages) I believe one venue actually charged our card many more times than the drinks we asked for. Didn't matter as for pricing, but I believe they get tips based on drinks served. Sometimes I did notice them swiping the card twice; I thought perhaps the first swipe didn't go through. If you're paying for each drink, I'd sure keep track of the receipts!
I would have liked to find the daily activity schedules posted around the ship. The coffee bar had them sometimes, but often I didn't have a pocket large enough to carry a full sheet of paper, and therefore was either missing something I wanted to do, or running back to the room to check the schedule when my notes ran out. Oh, and how about a few clocks? I don't generally wear a watch, but found I had to in order to get to various activities. The ship photographs were very expensive at $19.95 -- about $5 more than I was willing to pay, and therefore did not buy any.
Notes about ports not listed in Port Reviews:
-Akaroa, New Zealand: Walked around Akaroa. Nice town; good exercise. Long queue for the tenders. 3 rating.
-Esperance, Australia: The beaches are beautiful in Esperance, but we didn't find much else there and didn't want to lay around in the sun. We signed up at the Visitor's Office for the hop-on, hop-off bus, which had trouble starting. Eventually, it made its loop, but we did not hop on or off for fear of being stranded seven miles from town. This port could easily be skipped in favor of another day in Sydney, or Perth/Fremantle, or even Albany. The queue for the tenders was ridiculous again -- at least 1 Â½ hours. 1 rating.
-Albany, Australia: The ship was greeted by a bagpiper. Albany was an enjoyable town; we walked everywhere. The Museums opened early with the ship in port, and there was an arts/crafts fair in a park. Very friendly people. 4 rating.
-Bring strong sunscreen! New Zealand is under the "hole in the ozone layer" and the sun is VERY strong.