We were very pleasantly surprised by the quality of our cruise experience, the first on such a big ship.
We were delighted to be upgraded to a suite following the double booking of our Concierge Class cabin and really appreciated the unexpected extra space and the perks that we received, not least being our very affable and efficient butler Rudolph. With his help, and the work of our two cabin attendants Newton and Brian we felt very well looked after and we enjoyed Newton's decorative touches with the towels.
We preferred to swim in the Solarium with its shaded pool which had much easier access then the outdoor pools. We appreciated the quietness of the area though regretted that the Captain's announcements at 10am were not broadcast there. The pool butlers worked hard to keep the area as free as possible from excess water, and falling a minor slip one day, one of them always enquired after my well-being.
We ate in the MDR (anytime dining) and at all the specialty restaurants but generally preferred the access we had to Blu because the meals were smaller and more freshly cooked than the MDR. We found the flagship restaurant Murano over-decorated and the service bordering on obsequious. We found the food too rich and portions too big, disappointing when modern French cuisine uses classic techniques and ingredients to produce a much lighter result. Also wonder why they call their French restaurant after an Italian island! Generally we were disappointed with the lack of fresh seafood although we acknowledge that logistics of the food service are enormous.
As this was our first experience of such a big ship we were delighted that it was always possible to find somewhere quiet to relax, and surprisingly, one of the most pleasant was the lawn area though the bar service there was probably the poorest on the ship.
We found the entertainment options were quite sufficient for our need, both the big shows, many of which we enjoyed and the live performances around the ship. We also enjoyed the Glass Show but still wonder why it was there!
Overall we found Solstice to be clean, well maintained and the standard of service was, with a few exceptions, very good. The grumbling and occasional displays of temper by our fellow passengers were lowlights. Tendering when so many people are wanting to leave and return to the ship would I imagine always be a major logistical exercise and impatience achieves nothing.
Unlike most cruisers we particularly enjoyed our stay in Hedland as we were met by my son who has lived there for 11 years. He drove us around Port and South Hedland before taking us to his house for coffee and Tim Tam biscuits (which he'd ordered his housemate to buy that morning) then took us out into the nearby bush areas to show us the salt pans/mining and to get an idea of the countryside, before taking us to lunch with the parents of one of his mates.
We have visited Bali several times and had read of difficulties in the tendering in Bali during Solstice's previous stop there so we not particularly upset by the delays. We found the attitudes of some of the passengers, particularly one who was most abusive of a staff member, to be quite unacceptable. The difficulties were out of the hands of the ship's crew and there was much unnecessary ill temper. Obviously, if the ship is to continue to use Bali as a stop, issues need to be sorted out with the Indonesian and Balinese officials at a management level.
We had our own driver for the two days and we adapted our planned program according to the weather. The rain (it IS monsoon season) no doubt affected some passengers enjoyment, but it is not up to the cruise company to tell people what the weather in different parts of the world may be like.
We gave the transfer bus a miss and got a taxi, asking the driver where to go apart from the Museum and she took us out to the market at Nightcliff which was the usual Sunday market fun with an excellent array of Asian food for sale that made a great morning tea. Later we enjoyed the Museum and especially the Cyclone Tracy display. Lunch on the verandah there was pleasant, with lots of family groups.
Again there were many complaints about the tendering, despite the explanation that a medical emergency required priority evacuation. Puzzling how people can't put others' needs first. Again we took a taxi into town and had lunch at the gallery before swimming at the saltwater Lagoon on the seafront, where lots of backpackers were enjoying the water.
The rain, the rain! Fortunately a friend picked us up and we enjoyed a family lunch with her and didn't need to worry about sightseeing in the inclement weather.
A beautiful morning in prime position in the beautiful harbour. Disembarking was tedious but orderly and the taxi queue was handled with good humour by the terminal officials, but once again the usual grumbling. It was nothing compared to the chaos at the Virgin terminal, a combination of Monday, 2 cruise ships docking and the end of the Mardi Gras but we got home safely after a happy holiday.
We enjoyed our time on Solstice and although we would prefer to be on a smaller ship, we would certainly be happy to sail again on Solstice or one of her classmates.