We took the Celebrity Solstice from Auckland to Sydney, 12 nights. We flew to Auckland 3 days early because we are from the eastern US and wanted time to overcome our jet lag. We stayed at a Best Western in Auckland which was centrally located and very reasonably priced. The room was mediocre but clean.
We took two tours from Bush and Beach tours. The first was a half-day tour to Piha Beach and the Waiketere Range. We did a bush walk through a forest with Kaori trees. We covered a lot of sites during the tour and it was very enjoyable. The next day, we took the Bush and Beach tour to the Coromandel peninsula. This is a 12.5 hour tour. It was spectacular. We drove to Coromandel and took a ride on the zig zag railway. It was a memorable experience and the view from the top is awesome. We took a short hike through a forest and saw majestic Kaori trees. We had a delicious lunch at a cafe near Hot Water Beach. We took a stroll along Hot Water Beach and got to feel the thermally heated water on our feet. We could have sat in a hot water pool, but declined the experience. We also traveled to Cathedral Cove. It is about a 1.75 mile hike down to the cove and back. The scenery is definitely worth it. The excursion cost around $310 NZD, with lunch included. It was definitely worth it. The Coromandel Peninsula is beautiful.
The Solstice docked in the center of Auckland, right by the Hilton Hotel. It was only 4 or 5 blocks from our hotel. There was a line for cabs, so we walked. Easy, since it was downhill most of the way. We put the tags on our luggage and turned it over to the baggage stewards. Check-in and boarding was very quick because we are Celebrity Elite.
Our balcony cabin was on deck 6 near the Internet cafe. That was fortunate, because the Internet service on the ship was terrible. It took at least 2 minutes to log on, another 2 minutes to download email and log off. A large number of passengers complained about the Internet service. The two gentlemen who ran the Internet cafe were very courteous and patient. I commend them on their composure since most of the time passengers were complaining about the poor quality of the Internet service.
Our cabin was very clean. Most days, when we went to breakfast our room was cleaned up by the time we returned.
We had a free Classic beverage package. The problem with the Classic package is that many of the drinks on the menu exceed the $9.25 limit on the Classic package. We were told if we chose a drink above the limit, we would have to pay for the entire cost of the drink. Other passengers were told they would only have to pay the difference between the drink cost and 9.25. We never did get a clear answer. Every time we went to customer relations, we got a different answer, depending on which CS rep was at the desk.
Because we are Celebrity Elite, we got a free cocktail party every night, so we didn't use the drink package all that much. It was nice to have, since it was free, but for us it wouldn't be worth it at $55 per day. You would have to consume a lot of alcohol to break even, and we don't drink that much. We did get free water when we went on excursions. However, Celebrity would only provide a big bottle of water if you had a beverage package. If you wanted a smaller, easier to carry bottle, you had to pay for it. To me, that was really petty.
The food in the main dining room was good, but not great. We had Celebrity Select dining, so we had several different waiters. The service was very uneven. Some nights it was very fast, and other nights it took over 2 hours to eat dinner.
We ate in the main dining room twice for breakfast. The breakfast was very good, but the service was very slow.
The Oceanview Cafe was very crowded for both breakfast and lunch. It was not well managed. The waiters didn't clean off dirty tables very quickly, and it was often difficult to find a seat. They ran out of oranges at the fresh juice bar every morning, and the juicer jammed up. They also ran out of cups for cappuccino and coffee at the coffee stations. The breakfast food was hot and the cooks who made the omelets did an outstanding job of serving so many people. The lunch food was often lukewarm, not even close to hot. Also, food frequently ran out, and there were long delays in replenishing it. We were on the Silhouette in September 2012 and the food and service were much better on that ship.
In Celebrity's defense, we have been on 23 cruises, and I have never seen people eat the volume of food that was consumed on the Solstice. Perhaps we were on the Gluttons Anonymous cruise. Also, at the Captain's Club cocktail hour, many people consumed a large number of drinks, ordering 2 at a time from the waiters.
The first cruise port was Tauranga, New Zealand. It was lightly raining. We took a private tour to a kiwi farm and to Rotorua. The kiwi fruit was ready to be harvested and the vines were full. It was lovely. We saw a Maori dance exhibition and the hot springs and geysers at Rotorua. New Zealand is a volcanic island, and that is evident at Rotorua.
The next port was Wellington. It was raining pretty hard, so we went on the cruise ship shuttle to the city center. We docked in an industrial area where they load pine logs on ships headed to Asia. There was absolutely nothing to do at the port, and it was a long way from the city. We went to the Te Papa museum. It's sort of the Smithsonian natural history and cultural history museums combined. Great place to spend a rainy day. They even have an earthquake simulator. Te Papa also has free high speed Internet. Several passengers were using Skype there, which is prohibited on the cruise ship.
The next port was Akaroa, the port for Christchurch. It was a tendered port. What a disaster. We took the cruise ship excursion to the High Country and Mt. Potts station. Our excursion left 45 minutes late because they did not have enough tenders running. Celebrity put the people on cruise ship tours on the tenders first. Passengers who had private tours had to wait over 2.5 hours to get a tender to shore. The High Country of the south island is spectacular. Some of the scenes from Lord of the Rings were filmed there. It is so pretty that it doesn't look real. Because Akaroa is some distance from Christchurch, the trip to the High Country is very long. We spent almost 6 hours in transit. This was not communicated in the tour write-up. Our tour guide said that Celebrity was the only cruise line that had problems tendering in Akaroa. The other cruise lines were able to tender passengers with minimal delays. Akaroa is very picturesque and the people are extremely nice. Other passengers who took the train to Arthur's Pass also complained that they spent way too much time in transit and not enough time seeing the sights. The Shore Excursion desk did nothing to resolve complaints. I have still not heard from Celebrity regarding my complaint about the Akaroa excursion.
The next port was Dunedin. What a lovely city, the Edinburgh of the southern hemisphere. We took a private tour that went through Dunedin to the train station, which is incredible and supposedly the most photographed train station in the world, up and down the world's steepest street, and to several scenic views in Dunedin. We also went to Penguin Place, the Albatross Center, along the peninsula road and to Larnach Castle. It was a great tour.
The next day we sailed into Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. The weather was good and the scenery was outstanding. The naturalist on the ship did a good job of pointing out the highlights of each sound.
The next two days we sailed across the Tasman Sea to Melbourne. The seas were a little rough. We were disappointed in the limited number of activities available on the ship. Mostly trivia contests and Zumba exercise classes.
The next port was Melbourne. We took the ship's tour to the Puffing Billy train, a winery for lunch, and the Featherdale animal sanctuary. The train ride was underwhelming. It is a short ride and the scenery is unremarkable. The winery was lovely and the food was good. The service at our table was terrible. Our guide was drinking wine and ignored our group during lunch. The other groups got much better service. We really enjoyed the animal sanctuary. You can pet a koala there. This was a good tour, we just had a bad guide.
We had another sea day, and then we got to Sydney for an overnight stay. Sydney is a gorgeous city and we were docked right across Circular Quay from the Opera House. Spectacular view. We took the hop-on, Hop-off bus tour and went out to Bondi Beach. You can't really see that much from the bus because all of the tall buildings and the trees block your view. Better and quicker to take the regular bus to Bondi and back. Or take the ferry boat tour of Sydney harbor and go to the Taronga Zoo. One of the best zoos I have been to. Allow about 5 hours to see the zoo and the animal shows there. The combined ticket for the ferry and zoo is around $50 and includes zoo admission and the cable car ride, plus the hop on hop off ferry.
We were on back to back cruises. We had to change rooms for the cruise to the Great Barrier Reef. Celebrity told us that they would move all of our clothing on hangers to our new room. We had to pack up our other stuff and they would also move our suitcases. We had to leave the ship on disembarkation day through a special exit, and we had to surrender our boarding pass cards. They told us we needed to leave the ship by 10 and reboard at noon. We asked if we could take a private excursion and be gone all day and were told "no", we had to be back on the ship by 4 PM for the lifeboat drill. We told them we had sat through the lifeboat drill on the first cruise. They said if we were not on the ship at 4 PM, we would be denied boarding. I think the ship actually, sailed at 7:30 PM.
We got off the ship, walked around the Botanical Park, including the Government house grounds, and came back to the ship at noon. We were told to reboard through the special entrance, so we walked the whole way to the front of the ship. When we got their, we were told to go to the main entrance and board. When we got there, they told us to go to the special entrance again. We asked to speak with whoever was in charge and a Celebrity employee said we needed to go through the main entrance. They had a special desk set up for the back to back passengers. There were over 400 of us. We got back on the ship with a new boarding card. They had a special lunch for everyone who was a back to back cruiser.
I went back out to see more of Sydney. My husband decided to stay on board. Good thing. Celebrity did not move our clothing from our old stateroom to our new one. My husband had to move our clothes himself. Fortunately, no one had checked into our old room, so our clothes were still there. What a disorganized mess. I got back on the ship at 3:45 PM. Went through the lifeboat drill a second time. Then sat on the balcony and watched numerous passengers and crew board the ship well after 6 PM.. We found out the next day that other passengers were told they just had to be back on board 30 minutes before sailing if they were back to back. Again, totally inconsistent information from the customer relations staff. Very pleasant people, but absolutely no consistency in the information they provided.
The ship was very clean. The one exception was cleaning up the tables quickly in The Oceanview Cafe. Some of the areas were showing wear. The furniture in the Lounge where they held the Captain's Club cocktail hour was worn out, as was the seating in the theatre. All public areas of the ship were immaculate. Our stateroom attendant did a good job. Our room was kept clean. The beds were quite comfortable. We do not like the design of the staterooms with the storage over the beds. It is very awkward trying to access items stored over the bed.
The captains club ambassador greeted us once during the entire 12 night cruise. He spent most of his time with a few passengers and ignored the rest of us. What a difference from the Silhouette, where the ambassador made a point to speak to every passenger in the Elite lounge every evening.
In general, the ship seemed very disorganized and did not have good management. One of the crew members told us that several members of the crew were overdue to leave the ship because Celebrity was having a difficult time getting staff to come to Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps that was why the crew lacked dedication to their jobs.