This was our 22nd cruise with Celebrity, 28 in all, you can see where our loyalties lie. I am decidedly biased.
We love this itinerary in February. Not a family oriented passenger load. I saw 4 kids. We were youngsters at 64 and 66. That does not mean the passengers don't have fun. Its just a little quieter after 11pm. Fine with us. We've done this itinerary twice out of San Juan, PR, this is the first out of Fort Lauderdale. I prefer flying into RP from Atlanta (where we live) but I did enjoy the two sea days outbound and inbound Fort Lauderdale. Celebrity has placed Summit in San Juan and offers two different 7d itineraries so, you can still do two weeks from there on B2B sailings ..... and Summit fares are a very good deal.
The Solstice class ships are technological marvels and, IMO, the best designed passenger cruisers in the world. Roomy without feeling like there are 3700 passengers milling about, stable, extremely reliable. For those worrying about propulsion failures such as those that occurred on Carnival Triumph, the likelihood of that happening on ships built since 2006, like the Solstice class ships, is remote. Different build standards plus the lead cruise lines, like Celebrity, are building extensive passenger safety back-ups into all their ships systems. Why? The bottom line. A mishap at sea of any kind will crush your business in a very competitive market place where capacity exceeds demand by quite a bit these days. Competition for passengers is fierce. Check out the ridiculously low prices on industry wide cabin offerings these days. If you've heard about the Azipod problem in Millennium Class ships, first, that has been solved in those ships and it was solved quickly; second, the Solstice Class ships don't use the Rolls Royce Product but rather ABB Azipods which have been trouble free on these ships since first launch of Celebrity Solstice in 2008.
We've not used specialty dinning much lately. Mainly because it is expensive and the main dinning room, with the right table mates, wait staff and section Assistant maitre'd, is just as good. That is not to say Tuscan and Murano are not outstanding, they are. We went to Tuscan just once and only because one of our previous waiters had been promoted to Tuscan and sold us on coming early in the cruise. He was as entertaining and efficient as we had come to know him on Millenium a few years back (Blago). We do like The Bistro on 5 ($5). Used that once for breakfast and also went there after we boarded while waiting for our cabin (nice and quiet with no hussle-bussle). Q-Sine (Tapas) seems not for us although I should have tried it .... unfair to write it off when I haven't even been there although we did take a tour and played with the iPad menu's. Bottom line: Celebrity dinning is a cut above no matter where you dine, suing the specialty restaruants depends, for us anyway, how much we are enjoying our overall dinning experience in the main. On this cruise it was excellent.
Celebrity is pushing wine sales. Cellermasters offers 6 wine tasting events on this cruise that are all reasonably priced at $15-20pp. There is one with a full meal that is pricey. I suspect it is worth it. The Sommeliers are an enthusiastic bunch. We went to two of the tastings (Wines of the World and How to Pair Wines with Food). It was a lot of fun and I learned a ton ...... but not much more useful than the constant lesson on wines, if you like it, drink it. I like how Celebrity does this though. I bought more expensive wine than in the past because (1) I had a great sales person in my table Sommelier in the main dinning room and (2) she said if I didn't like something, she'd take it back ... and she did on one bottle out of 6 we drank at dinner on this cruise (a $65 bottle of French Bordeaux, a Medoc).
The production shows have decreased in number but increased dramatically in quality. I'm fine with that. Some aren't and have complained about it. In the eye of the beholder I guess. My recommendation: Don't miss any of them. They are strikingly good. First time appearance for a group from the state of Michigan named Hard Day's Night. The well known Cruise Director, Sue Demming, brought them aboard. They did a Beatles anthology from the 60s to their last group days in the mid 80s with wigs and costumes to match the transition in style and music. They were unbelievably good. Of course I know all the words so was wildly singing along. The audience loved them and I spoke with several group members, "Paul" and "George" on the pool deck and they were just overwhelmed with the positive response they got. This was their first cruise gig. I hope they get a lot more.
Ports of call are what they are. I have to admit, I should have booked some more of the ship's offerings. We have been to all of the ports at least twice, some more than that. After our first 5 or 6 cruises, I stopped booking ship's tours because I could do the same thing with fewer people at 1/2 the price. That is no more. Celebrity has gotten smart. You can arrange for a private tour with them (not cheap and usually about $175-200 in most ports for 6h) or go with smaller groups (about 25-30). You can still find savings by booking independently but, from what I hear, independents are getting squeezed by the cruise ship offerings. They're still out there but unless you are absolutely sure of the guy you hire (Cruise critics is good for that) be careful. I could go on and on about this but won't.
Fitness center and Spa. We cruise to stay fit. I learned that Steiner fitness staff design their own schedules for classes. Cosman and Jake were really good at making a schedule that fit our needs and desires. I love to spin so I did 8 of these classes in the 14 days on board. I signed up for all 8 on day one and got one class free for doing that. Always ask about packages. Its up to them how they do it. These guys were really up on Nutrition and fitness training in ways that are leading edge. Yes, Steiner wants to sell product but I never felt these two were into that at all. Both very knowledgeable. Only because the spa staff included a Physiotherapist from South Africa, did I engage her for treatment. Needless to say, she knows exactly what she is doing. I've had exactly three messages in my life. Two of them were on this cruise. Pricey but you have to pay attention to deals. Its cheaper in port and as the cruise closes out the prices are cheaper still. Don't rush in. Wait for the prices to come down and they do depending on what kind of demand they are getting. My wife loves Zumba and I'm happy to report, Celebrity is expanding this. It is done by the activity staff and is not part of the fitness program. It is done on the pool deck and was scheduled as much as twice a day as it became clear that plenty of people like it and want it. A new instructor came on board mid-cruise and he was terrific. I even went to a class and could follow him. Not my thing but it was darn good exercise.
One word on debarkation and I'm done. As efficiencies in port operations increased, getting on and off cruise ships became increasingly easy. Then came the mega-liners like Oasis of the Seas (5500 PAX) and ...... sequestration. US Customs Service has been hit by it. Apparently it has affected overtime so, less agents are going to be on duty. We had three, yes three, for 3700 some PAX and 500 or 600 crew debarking from Celebrity Eclipse in Fort Lauderdale. I think there were 4 other ships (6 were in port) debarking at the same time we were. I heard there were 5 agents for Oasis. It took 90 minutes from the time we left the gangway until we hopped into a taxi headed for FLL. Apparently, wait times for clearing customs and the like in Fort Lauderdale have varied greatly. Some are quick and easy, some not. I would plan for 90 minutes to debark, 30 minutes to taxi to the airport and 30-40 minutes to get from the curb to the gate at FLL. Another option if you are traveling lite, is to walk off when the bell sounds. At least you'll be among the first 100 or so awaiting the three customs agents. Just be prepared.