Pros: Most food, entertainment and service.
Cons: Electronic connections, laundry and some tours.
Suggestions: Sky Suite offers the best bang for your buck. Research your own tours. Avoid laundry.
My wife and I took the Solstice from Sydney, Australia on March 4th and to Auckland New Zealand 12 days later. It was our second season with Celebrity ( first on a sister ship, the Equinox, from Rome-Istanbul-Athens-Rome in May 2010 ). That was a 5 star affair, perhaps because it was the newest ship we ever sailed. This last cruise was almost as good, but with a few more shortcomings.
- Embarkation: By 1115 AM, hordes were heading for the luggage drop-off and starting the embarkation process. Overall, it was orderly. We booked a Sky Suite ( smallest suite on the ship ) and had priority check-in, but one staffer gave us bad directions into a 40 minute wait with the rest of the hoi polloi in hot, steamy conditions. Other family members showed up at 4 PM and breezed through in a few minutes.
- Sky Suite 8345: We selected a cabin in the rear corner of the 8th "floor" because we had the exact same one on our previous cruise. Spacious and amenity-filled with lots of natural light from a giant porthole ( 4 ft across ) and a king size balcony. Views of water churning behind the ship are rousing by day and haunting at night.
Service from our room steward was solid, if not spectacular. He was generally prompt, thorough and friendly. All suites get a butler...a personal concierge...and our's was okay. Unfortunately, I could only understand half his words, but he said them with a smile.
- Public Spaces: Clean, cool and understated. Some bars and entertainment areas offer more excitement, but the atmosphere is geared toward upper middle income couples in their 50s-70s.
- Main Restaurant (Grand Epernay): Large and sparkling without tipping toward gaudy. A well-heeled wedding with 1,000-1,500 guests. Not every appetizer, salad, soup, entree and dessert was award winning, but I was amazed at the quality given the mass quantities prepared.
- Speciality Restaurants (Tuscan Grill and Silk): We planned a French dinner at Murano, but canceled after our lactose sensitive group reviewed the butter-filled menu. Dinner at the Tuscan Grill (Italian) and Silk (Asian fusion) cost an extra $25/person, though we had passes to both due to our suite status. Essentially, it's all-you-can-eat of some fine food. Tuscan Grill was a bit more successful, but either one is worth the price of admission.
- Buffet (Oceanview Cafe): The food court of your dreams for breakfast, lunch and dinner. An amazing array repeated in 3 sections so each one is not overrun by the crowds of hungry passengers. Main issue was not "buffet food", but finding available tables and chairs. It's there for 3-5 hours/meal, but everybody still shows up at the same time.
- Entertainment: Very good overall. Best parts...acapella group, Full Tilt, and 3 Broadway style production shows. Best moment...singers and dancers from those shows going wild on 2 flights of stairs in the main atrium to the beat of Sonic Groove, a 5 piece band.
- Gym: Like a health club with relatively new machines and aerobic dance, pilates and spinning classes. Don't miss the zumba events by the main pool...either as participant or spectator. Be careful of sales pitches for skin treatment, muscular ailments and intestinal cleansing.
- Service: Very good, if not great, but almost unfailingly polite. Every member of the staff we met, whether for the first or fifteenth time, offered a nice greeting.
- Shore Excursions: Two of the 4 were fine, but other 2 mismanaged. First, we were behind schedule, but tour bus stopped at a roadside cafe for 30 minutes for no reason. Driver got lost looking for a winery and the winery visit was rushed, so he drove recklessly back to the ship on winding roads for an hour and arrived when the ship was scheduled to leave. Second "bad" tour advertised the Botanical Gardens in Wellington, New Zealand, but the start of that tour took so long there was no time for the gardens. Luckily, we skipped the bus, toured the fantastic gardens and walked back to the port.
- Disembarkation: Celebrity knows what it's doing. They divided passengers into 50+ groups..each told to meet in a large public spot at slightly staggered times between 630 AM and 930 AM. Luggage, gathered by porters at 11 PM the previous night, was easily found in the terminal building.
- Cost and Value: Reasonable. Watch for extras such as the spa, tours, onboard photographers (they're everywhere) and, of course, shopping.
- Problems: Mismanaged tours. Our laundry was "lost" for 3 days and only showed up when I complained to anyone who'd listen. By the way, all laundry is done by the ship and must be given to a Celebrity staff member. They charged an arm and a leg for an internet connection worse than 2 cans and a thread. And phone service wasn't much better.