Do you get that feeling when reading reviews of both your cruise and the ones around it....that while you were on the same ship that departed the same day and the same cruise line as them....it must have been in a parallel universe when you read their complaints. Well thats what I'm getting now which prompted me to write my own.
Male couple in mid 40's, first time Celebrity Cruises and decided not to venture far from home this time and sail Australia/New Zealand. We have travelled the world, from economy to business class, from 2 star to 5 star hotels and from broom cupboards to suites. So have experienced most facets of travel and have references points. Can be demanding but also realistic as to what is achievable is certain circumstances.
Travel into Sydney (Australia):
We flew up to Sydney the day before (3rd March) on Virgin Australia thanks to some frequent flyer points. Checked in online 2 days before and rolled up to T1 Virgin Australia terminal at Melbourne airport (lines were crazy at the bag drop although did move in a fashion) and headed off to the The Virgin Lounge. Arranged for a town car limo to meet us at Sydney airport (no we are not extremely wealthy, it was just more convenient and the cost including tolls was not much more than the taxi).
Booked a 1 bedroom hotel/apartment at The Rendezvous The Rocks hotel which is only a 5 minute walk (2 streets back) from the OPT (Overseas Passenger Terminal) in Circular Quay, Sydney. Hotel room/apartment nice and spacious, clean and staff friendly although decor a bit dated and needs freshing up. The Rocks area of Sydney is basically one 'end' of the Harbour Bridge (which runs through the middle of it) and is where the cruise terminal is and 10 minute walk from the famous Sydney Opera House. It is the location of Australia's first colonial settlement and has heaps of historic/ restored buildings which contain hip (and tourist tack) shops, restaurants, bars and cafes with a strong residential element as well.
Fairly easy although somewhat a crowded facility (Overseas Passenger Terminal) in Sydney - total inadequate for its purpose. Bag drop is outside in a tent....fine if no rain but not impressed if there was rain. Then they don't let you go straight into the terminal as there is not enough space...you line up outside partially in the open (once again god help if it rained) and they let groups go upstairs to the check in area - 20 or so at a time. There was a separate line for suite passengers and the upper levels of the Captains Club. Line was long at 1pm but did move fairly quick. Upstairs - check in was once again fairly quick but the counters are squashed together with people at either side encroaching into your area (not that they can help it). Through Customs/Immigration quick and boarded with an offer of a drink. Total time from joining queue to boarding -- likely around 30-40 minutes at most. Would have been a worse experience if raining.
None of this is Celebrity's fault and I would not think of laying the blame with them. Sydney needs to get its act together and spend money on the cruise terminal. Very impressed with Celebrity's side of the entire boarding process.
We waited until cabins were released in Cafe El Bacio which would have been literally minutes after we sat down (so between 1.30 and 2pm).
We had a Veranda on the hump (slant) facing forward -- 8228. Larger balcony, with 2 chairs and a full height table and still room to stretch out. The cabin itself was the average balcony cabin (non suite) on this class of ship. Spacious enough for 2 but I wouldn't have wanted 3 in it. I will make these points;
1. - I have seen mention of lack of storage space. If by that they mean the cupboard built above the bed (door opens out and up), the 2 bedside tables big enough for a book, watch, pen, cup and full SLR kit (such as I had on mine), the space under the bed big enough for our 3 suitcases, a leather garment bag, and 2 large cabin bags, the 4 full sized draws in the area under the tv, the large doored cupboard above the fridge unit, the wardrobe (which also had a shelf above it plus a safe big enough for a laptop, and 2 further shelves/draws underneath that, and a big full height glass front cupboard in the bath room more than enough to take the most demanding persons toiletries (oh I think I also forgot 4 clothes hooks around the place), then I suppose there isn't enough storage. But for most normal people there is plenty of storage.
2. - Fridge is a mini fridge with drinks already in it. Big enough to have several full sized wine bottles stand up in it.
3.- TV is interactive and powered by Apple -- so must have an Apple tv unit in the background somewhere. You can access limited cable tv, the ships own tv, bridge view, on demand free movies (around 15), on demand pay movies, order room service, access and view you on board account (and charges), ships information, you photo's taken by the ships photographers. Was a nifty little unit.
4. - Bar set up we ordered (scotch) was already there as was the accompanying nut pack (no not the occupants). When we saw the room stewardess we asked if we could have 6 diet cokes as mixers which was attended to that day.
5. -Bathroom had a small collection of toiletries in it plus a box of tissues and cotton wool buds.
6. - Cabin was just up from the doors that opened to the atrium/lifts. Rarely heard a noise and barely heard anything from neighbours on either side.
7. -Met our room Stewardess. Violet, wonderful lady. Ask for extra hangers and they were there after dinner and also requested the mini bar to be emptied.
8. - Room always made up by 10am (when we usually returned from breakfast) and turned down around 6.30-7pm (when we would go out for the evening). Chocolates on pillow, some towel animals (although they are not make or break and once again not a cause for complaint if we don't get them like some appear to want to do).
9. -Ice delivered in the evening and at lunchtime (we requested that but not sure if ice at lunchtime is usual).
10. -Cabin in good state of repair and clean.
Food was great. Presentation good. Service prompt. Would not have sent anything back and choice was fine on a ship in the middle of an ocean. We purchased a 3 speciality restaurant package upon boarding (discounted 23% on individual purchases).
Munaro - service was excellent without being overbearing. Fine dining at its best. Table side preparation of lobster was fun. Enjoyed it so much we booked a lunch they had there on the last sea day.
Silk Harvest - have heard some people say it isn't good - don't believe them. It is good...gourmet probably not but an enjoyable atmosphere and good decent asian food. As the waiter explained, it is slightly westernised for our palates (could you imagine the complaining if they served authentic food from China? Most westerners couldn't eat it). As someone whose parents worked for asians so often ate at the bosses house, they was nothing to complain about on our plates at Silk Harvest.
Tuscan Grill - sat at a table for 2 looking out the back windows at the forming stern. Once again nothing but praise for the service and food. The calamari served in old newspaper (actually reproduction) was a great fun idea and the Caesar salad made table side was also entertaining. If I had one complaint...maybe they turned/dimmed the lights a tad to much otherwise it was an enjoyable evening once again.
One thing I learnt at all 3 restaurants....you get so much food your fit to be rolled out.
We also ate at Bistro on 5 one night - I was a bit cynical of the menu but after trying it am definitely a convert. The savoury crepe for entree (main course to us Australians) was both tasty and filling. The desert of Chocolate mousse was both rich and to die for. We both had a soup for a starter. All for $5.
Oceanview buffet - the set up of several different stations worked well and the food choice was extensive (more so at lunch and breakfast than at dinner when I assume more people ate at one of the other places). Another often heard complaint was that food often wasn't hot which, I suppose on reflection is correct HOWEVER, if you try to keep buffet food on a hot temperature for extended periods guess what? The food dries out very very rapidly or continues to cook...both not a good look. The buffet was good for what it was...quick food if you didn't want to dress for dinner.
Without going through each and every room. The ship is lovely, well maintained and clean. They were always cleaning somewhere.
I would compare the decor as similar to a W Hotel or a Kimpton Hotel (the later in the US) or a Morgan Hotel (US or London). Very hip and very 21st century. Not to everyones taste although they did have some lovely 'classic' rooms such as Cellar Masters and Michaels Club - both very 'gentleman's club' like decor. And the ship must have elastic sides as although it carries 2,800 people, it rarely felt crowded except maybe when disembarking in Dunedin and when the crowd was leaving the theatre. Otherwise it absorbed the people very well.
Pools - 3 pools, 2 outside and the solarium pool inside. Always found seats together although sea days did get busy. Spa's not overcrowded and just the right temp..not to cold nor too hot.
Gym - large with plenty of equipment. Did get busy at certain times. 2 or 3 machines out of service so they need to look into that (not repaired during cruise however, its hard to get a repairman in when your at sea).
Shops - plenty of shopping opportunities although I do think that whoever runs them needs to improve the range of menswear a bit better. I did buy a couple of things and prices were not bad but not spectacular. The liquor store had a good range at some good prices (I bought a single malt for US$49 for one litre...saw it at Auckland airport duty free for NZ$93 (US$79). Shhh keep it quiet. The downside is you can't take your purchase with you..its delivered the night before the cruise ends.
The shows were generally very good. The Solstice's own entertainment crew were great young guys and girls. We also had a couple of singers including a lounge singer (both good), a concert pianist who was a great story teller and also played songs right across all genres (great). I think the only entertainer I walked out on and didn't see the end of the show was a magician...bit corny IMO. Oh and there was an Aussie boy group/singers that, sorry, I found a bit cringe worthy but that was because of the cliche songs they sang for I assume the US and Canadian guests on board.
They had a small band and a female lounge singer in the Ensemble lounge who was also great.
Ports: Sydney- Melbourne-NewZealand Fiordland-Dunedin- Akaroa-Wellington-Tauranga-Aucland. All the ports were fun. We did our sight seeing independently.
We boarded and overnighted in Sydney which was great (our cabin looked over the Opera House).
Melbourne - fun sailing in as this was our home town - we live near the port so took a taxi home and threw some stuff in the washing machine. Lol. was a very hot day though.
New Zealand - a beautiful country..no..its extremely beautiful and we had fun in all ports. The Fiords (or Sounds) were so dramatic and lovely...and to see pods of dolphins racing the ship several times was just wonderful.
Dunedin - Got the ships shuttle downtown from Port Chalmers ($15 unlimited). Booked online a tour of Speights Brewery. Informative and it ended in the tap room for 30 minutes where you could sample all the beers and ciders. Went to Dunedin railway station - took snaps and found the same people that took the ships rail tour into the mountains for $280 - also run a train 3 times a day along the coast line for $50. Train runs for about 1 hour 50 mins - its an old 2 carriage stainless steel streamliner. Hugs the coast weaving in and out and through tunnels - spectacular coastal views from up high. The train has a little tea trolley selling crisps, soft drinks ,wines and tea/coffee. It was quaint and uncrowded.
Akaroa - a tender port. Tenders ran fine (we were not in a hurry to get off). We just wandered around this quaint town and up into the hills behind. Bought some art work from a gallery and had lunch in a fish and chip shop.
Wellington - got shuttle into downtown. Went to Te Papa museum, the Beehive National Parliament House and got the cable car up the hill to the Botanic Gardens.
Tauranga - hired a car and did our own tour down to Rotorua and the thermal volcanic areas.
Disembarkation in Auckland was quick once our number had been called. Located our luggage in 5 minutes and were out of the terminal in another 5 minutes. As we were staying at the Hilton Auckland which is sitting on the cruise pier it was only another 5 minutes to the lobby. No early check in but left bags with concierge and went exploring this nice city.
It was a lovely cruise. Relaxing in parts but busy when exploring. The Solstice is a lovely ship, well maintained and classy. Food was good. Crew were very friendly especially the stateroom stewardess, the staff in the specialty restaurants and the staff at Cafe El Bacio. You would have to be picky to find fault. was it perfect...no. Some issues here and there but nothing big and nothing they didn't bend over to sort out. That means a lot to me in my book...its not the fact you make a mistake but its how you recover from it...and they did on the occasions they needed to.
It is a ship for a certain demographic. You would have to like a big older crowd (thats not to say there were not any young people on board but they were not a big percentage - I would say 70% would have been over 40) and not be night owls as the ship did wind down by midnight most nights.
As a first time Celebrity cruiser (but not a first time cruiser), I liked the ship and line so much have already booked another Celebrity cruise for next year.