We are only relatively new to cruising, having sailed once on Rhapsody of the Seas for a 3-day sampler from Sydney and then 12 nights on Celebrity Century 14 mths ago around NZ. Well..... we fell in love with Celebrity after being on Century and were so excited to board the newer and highly recommended Solstice.
From the moment we entered and walked past the central area of the ship called the 'grand foyer', I felt my heart sink. On the two previous cruises, the main or central area of the ship was a feature and a hub for the cruise whereas the so-called 'grand foyer' was really just a tiled floor area below a huge shaft of natural light. It certainly wasn't grand and lacked impact.
The cabin itself was excellent. We were very pleased with it and the ship itself was beautiful, being tastefully furnished (although many of the lounge chairs weren't very comfortable) and impeccably clean.
The disappointments we found were with the layout. Since there are so many balcony cabins on Solstice, many of the other areas are without natural light which made us feel like we were in a shopping centre or a cave much of the time.
We love playing table tennis and on Century the tables were ideally located. Whereas on Solstice they were placed on a tiled floor in what was effectively a thoroughfare with extremely poor lighting. Consequently we didn't play much at all.
On Century we loved the Aqua Spa Cafe since it provided a quiet alternative dining venue. Whereas the Aqua Spa Cafe on Solstice isn't actually a cafe at all but rather, a food counter on one of the pool decks.
On Century we had lots of fun at karaoke which was hosted in an ideal room. Whereas on Solstice the set-up was clumsy and not conducive to a group atmosphere.
On Century we loved sitting quietly in the relaxing Hemisphere lounge reading or just enjoying the views over the water, whereas on Solstice, the equivalent lounge (Sky Lounge) was often hosting various other events, mostly art displays and auctions which meant that the lounge was often inaccessible for guests wanting to 'chill out'.
On Century we loved going to Michael's Club to listen to the grand piano being played and to enjoy the lovely ambience of the room. Whereas on Solstice there is a grand piano that no one plays and the room is largely void of any atmosphere. Michael's Club is positioned next to another lounge called the 'Ensemble Lounge' which was so dimly lit at night is was actually laughable. You could hardly see anything it was so dark and it felt like a gloomy cave. Why would they have the lights so low?
On Century there was a huge lounge area (Rendezvous Lounge) where you could always find a seat to relax and read whilst looking out at the water. Whereas on Solstice there really wasn't a lounge like it which surprised us. There were lounges available but mostly they were quite dark and had net curtains across the windows hiding the life boats that were outside so there's not really a quiet lounge to sit in and look out over the water. The only place a bit like what we were looking for was Cafe al Bacio which is the coffee shop and it was always quite busy and noisy and not a quiet lounge looking over the water that you're looking for on a cruise. The library and card room etc were quiet but had no windows looking out at the water, being internal rooms.
I acknowledge that these are factors important to persons like myself whereas of no consequence to others.
As noted in another review, the tender boat process was a disaster. Not really sure who's fault it was but....... it does make us think that cruising on a smaller ship that can dock is a big advantage.
And finally, the most disappointing factor of all was the music playing in almost ALL public areas including lounges and dining venues. We both love music of many genres but ....... the choice throughout the cruise was almost always jazz with no distinct melody. It was so irritating to be eating breakfast to the wailing of a woman who sounded like Mariah Carey with food poisoning. Who wants that first thing in the morning? Or anytime for that matter? We did approach the 'powers to be' twice about the music but nothing changed. There was no escaping it, apart from your own stateroom which we ended up retreating to many times because of the 'so-called' music. Celebrity call it 'Modern Luxury'. We call it 'Modern Torture'. On Century we didn't even notice the music, indicating it truly was relaxing background music as it should be.
Now to finish on the positive. We loved the wait staff. They were all excellent as were the entertainment staff. We really couldn't fault any of them. And we had the most AMAZING meal in the Tuscan Grille. We loved sailing through the islands above Cape York and through the Whitsundays and although you are on a ship with thousands of other people, you don't really feel that you are. So there were some positives.
On the whole though, our high expectations were not met. We were so looking forward to a relaxing and rejuvenating holiday but it wasn't. It had some highs but too many lows.
If you've got a trip planned on Solstice and you don't like jazz, take your iPod with you.
Oh well ...... you live and learn.