With airfare credit that was getting to the "use or lose" state, I had been keeping my eyes open for an expensive getaway, and found it in the Celebrity Solstice 9-night "Wine Cruise". We got a interior guarantee cabin for a great price, did a bit of research on what to expect and started on our "adventure" to reach the ship. The point of this cruise was just to get away from reality and recharge my internal batteries. We planned very few excursions.
I knew, from reading on Cruise Critic, that it might be an adventure to reach the ship itself. Due to the Passenger Vessel Service Act, the Celebrity Solstice was not allowed to sail from Hawaii to the mainland US. Instead, it was required to use a foreign port to disembark passengers finishing one leg of its trip, and embark new passengers. As a result, Celebrity provides service from San Diego to the ship in Ensenada, MX. I also knew that there might be issues with buses, but I was prepared to be patient, knowing I would have 9 nights to recover before starting back toward home from Seattle, WA.
Monday, May 6: Upon reaching the airport in San Diego, we spotted a Celebrity representative near the baggage claim. We grabbed our bags, and she had us escorted to a bus to head to the nearby Sheraton for check in. We were told to leave our bags near the bus and they would be loaded onto a truck for transport to the ship. While a little nervous, we knew we had ID on the bags, as well as the cruise line luggage tags (which we put on there twice just in case), and we saw them moved away to a holding location for the next truck.
We were transported to the Sheraton Pavilion for check-in. As we arrived, we saw they had already started checking in guests, about an hour earlier than they said they would begin. The line for regular (non-elite, non-priority) guests took about 30 minutes to move through. We checked in and were given transport group numbers in the mid-40's. At that point, we realized we had a bit of a wait, since they were only loading buses with groups in the mid-teens, and we had a while to go.
Unfortunately, there was not a way to really go anywhere else, since we were traveling with a couple with an infant and no infant seat. The only restroom facilities were only semi-permanent, with long lines, and they had run out of water. While the cruise line was providing a "snack" for the bus ride, it appeared to be a sandwich and bottle of watter. The line for this snack was crazy, they had run out and were making more on the spot, and we realized that many of our fellow passengers were helping themselves to more than one lunch. Rather sad, but we didn't let it deter us. We decided, with a little while to wait, that we'd try walking over to the main part of the hotel to look for a snack there. We found a nice and clean restroom with real running water and and Starbucks. With refreshments in hand, we headed back to see what boarding group they were on. We finally got on a bus a little after 3pm. From the time we arrived to the Pavilion to the time our bus left, it was about 3.5 hours. This wasn't great, but at least I had known it might be an issue. If I take this trip again, requiring the bus ride, I'll seriously consider paying for a higher class cabin. Those with priority boarding did have an advantage here.
Our bus was not as clean as I'd like, but it could have been a lot worse. I really appeared like a city bus after the end of a long day - nothing a good vacuuming and spray cleaner wouldn't have fixed. We set off for the border and ran into no issues. The driver stepped off to speak to the border guards, both on the US and the Mexico sides, but we had no issues. A dog walked around the bus, then tape was put on the compartments under the bus, and we were through. The bus ahead of us was not so lucky, as all luggage was being removed. I have no idea how long they were there. At the last stage of crossing the border, the driver stopped again, and a man with a guitar stepped on. We started driving through Tijuana to Mexican folk songs, like La Bamba, and as we neared the outskirts of Tijuana were asked for tips by the singer. The driver let the singer off the bus after he collected a little cash from some of the passengers, and we were off on the coastal road.
The speed limit was 60 KPH (about 45 MPH if you need the conversion), and our bus appeared to be safely driving it. It was a pretty drive once we were on the coastal road. We had a good driver. Later on the ship, we heard some horror stories, both about buses in very poor condition or breaking down on the way as well as about scary drivers.
We reached the ship, went through security, handed in our passports (they collected them and gave us a receipt) and boarded the ship just in time to hear the ships horn blow. We arrived at the end of the safety briefing. I knew they would find a way to get us the info, however, since there were plenty of buses arriving after us. Having been on the Eclipse and Reflection, I had a good idea of what would be in the briefing. We checked to see what emergency station we were in, and where that was, and headed to our rooms. As we got there, we found a red card stuck in the lock. Luckily, our room steward showed up just as we started to remove that card. Supriman, who answers to "Superman" would make many appearances over the next few days!
Dinner was a bit crazy, as they decided to just seat everyone using Select style, but using the entire dining room a section at a time. We finished dinner and went for a walk around the ship to get a feel for what was different about the Solstice from the two previous S-Class ships we had been on. The most obvious thing was on deck 5, by the Molecular Bar, where there were fewer tables and chairs than on the Eclipse, and instead was a small "art gallery". This area was taken over by Park West and was a waste of space. Since it had been a long day, starting about 3:30 AM Central time, and it was after 8pm Pacific time, we decided to make an early night and get started again in the morning.
"Clang" and "Bang" were heard a few times in the night, from our neighbors above us who couldn't control their cabin door. They also turned up their TV so loud that we could hear it through the floors, and then they yelled over it. Oh, well. While this happened a lot, it was never so bad that we called Guest Relations to complain. I was tempted to a few times, but their hours weren't terribly different from ours.
Tuesday, May 7:We headed to breakfast about 8am in the Main Dining Room. There was a bit of chaos with getting the ship cleared, and Customs and Border Patrol had apparently decided to change how they were going to clear the ship. Instead of them clearing the entire ship at once, they instead decided to interview every person. We heard a few announcements over the intercom, asked our breakfast companions what that was about, and found out that we should have received a letter in our rooms before breakfast. It seems that all foreign citizens had to present themselves in the Sky Lounge and all US citizens in the MDR on 3 to be cleared individually. By the time breakfast was over, they had at least started letting passengers off the ship. We got back to our room, found the letter had been left while we were out. It told us to report to the MDR on 3 between 11am and 11:30am to be interviewed. So, we had an hour or so to goof off on the ship, then got in line. We were given back our passports by ships security and proceeded to the other side of the dining room to show them to CBP and back out. Another waste of time, but I blame CBP. We could finally start our day! Luckily, our plan was simply to walk down to the USS Midway. We paid our entrance fee to the Midway and spent the next 4.5 hours there. For us, it was a great day. We arrived back at the ship in time for Tea - warm scones to tide us over until dinner. While at dinner, we spoke with Vladimir the Asst Maitre D' with a special request - Spanakopita. He was happy to request it for us - stating it used to be on the menu but was no longer on there, and that he missed it himself. We received it a couple of nights later :) Oh, and it was formal night. After dinner, we reported to the theater for the showing of the emergency video and quick demo for those of us who missed it. Then, the Captain's Toast - except the Captain didn't make it. Instead, the newly arrived Cruise Director handled it. Hmmm, she is from Chicago and attended SEMO. We know where that is!
Wednesday, May 8: LA. The ship took forever to be cleared for passengers to go ashore. Since it was a nice day, we decided to stay on board and get some sun. We headed to the Solstice Deck. They had removed the sign allowing topless sun-bathing, which had reportedly been at the steps previously. We could see where it had been. I wonder, is that because they were now in the US? We ran into the IT Manager, and learned that they were in the middle of upgrades to their network and had satellite contractors on board working. We decided the Solstice Deck would be a good place anyway. There were very few passengers that high on this day. Unfortunately, we never saw a bar waiter while up there. On previous sailings, a bar waiter would walk through every 15 minutes or so. We also noted that the blue pool towels often seemed worn and thinner than we remembered. Later in the afternoon, the previous two days caught up with us. A nap was in order. Upon waking and showering, I realized I had a mild sunburn. Dinner in the MDR, a check in with the kids at home, and we pulled away. At some point, I also managed to put my elbow through the sheet on the bed. It apparently had a thin spot.
Thursday, May 9: Santa Barbara. Again, the ship took forever to be cleared for passengers to go ashore. This was complicated by the fact that Santa Barbara was a tender port. We sat in the Cafe al Bacio, watching tenders go back and forth, seeing that it looked pretty, and trying to decide if we wanted to go ashore. The sun came out, and we stepped outside. We ended up having a nice conversation with Rachelle, the ship's Concierge. A beautiful young woman, we found that she shares some of our taste in music and likes the same wines we do. We shared that we had decided to make the day a "sea day" of our own and enjoy the ship while it was nearly empty. We visited with her for 10-15 minutes and found out that the reason things seemed "off" for a Celebrity cruise was because the Mexican authorities refused to allow any crew to join or leave the ship while in Mexico, and that the US authorities were very selective in who they would allow to join the ship. Plus, the ship had just come off a Code Red a few days earlier, and the crew was quite tired. She asked us to come down and see her in her office later in the day. When we did, she asked us our room, and what kind of wine we liked. What a surprise! I guess it was just for being nice? From what we later heard, a lot of people had been complaining up and down like crazy. We spent some time in the Solarium so as to not make my sunburn worse. Definitely a lack of bar waiters. Also, I noticed that the towels in my room looked rather worn. Kind of like the once I trim, zig-zag with my sewing machine, and send to school (PE) or camp with my teenagers. Not what I expect from Celebrity's Modern Luxury. We had lunch today in the Bistro on 5. Yum!
Friday, May 10: Sea Day - everything was crowded. The weather was not friendly to being outside, and there was not enough to do inside. Park West took over the Sky Lounge for an art auction. When we had bad days like this in the Caribbean in February, the Hotel Director showed movies in the big theater. Not here! The ship had a new (she boarded on Tuesday) Cruise Director, and I think she was still getting into her job. We spent some time in the Solarium just chilling. Again, no bar waiters in 3 hours. Not sure what is up with that! No worries - Rachelle sent us a delightful bottle of wine.
Saturday, May 11: San Francisco. We had purchased tickets for Alcatraz a couple of weeks before, and was glad we did! The early sailing were all sold out! The ship cleared a little faster, but not as fast as it should have. We reached Alcatraz Cruises about 8:45 for our 9:10 sailing. We spent the morning out at the island, learned a lot, and arrived back hungry. We considered a few other places, but we have been to San Francisco before and didn't need anything.
Checked in with the kids, all is well back home.
Sunday, May 12: Mother's Day, and a day at sea. The "Brunch" is today. We avoided that chaos since the same food is available elsewhere on the ship. DH took a few photos of it. Formal night as well. So, we dressed up. Afterwards, I wanted to relax in the Solarium. The pool and hot tubs are supposed to be open until 10-11pm. We got up there and they were drained! The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
Monday, May 13: Astoria, OR. It is raining. We'll stay on the ship. I think everyone from Astoria is on the ship to visit it! All wee there have been groups touring the ship, but even more today! Lunch isn't being served in the MDR because we are in port, but the buffet is CRAZY! I think they should have opened the MDR.
Tuesday, May 14: Victoria, BC. We finally cleared the ship and stepped off. It was a very steep ramp off from deck 4 (I think). I don't understand why they used so high a deck. In the Caribbean, we often left from 2-3 instead. A number of the passengers struggled to get down that ramp. We were on shore just a few minutes, then decided we were cold and went back to the Solarium. We know we have to go home tomorrow. And darn, there is definitely a lack of bar waiters!
Wednesday, May 15: Seattle, WA. We have a disembark time of 9:20. They only have one line open to leave the ship for passengers, not two like in Florida. That line is rather long, but does seem to move pretty fast. Getting off the ship was easy, Customs didn't even want to see our passports. Just handed in our declarations and went looking for our ride. We had transportation booked with "Already There" car service. We reserved an SUV with a car seat. I don't know that I'll do that again - the car seat wasn't installed and the driver didn't know how to install it. The car was older - a 1999 model and the car seat was a number of years newer, and didn't have the extra clip to secure it correctly in that older car. Plus, the car STUNK of smoke. By the time we reached the airport, we needed to pull out the Benadryl and inhaler.
In all, the Solstice is a nice ship, but is showing a little wear compared to her sister ships. She was under-staffed and it showed. There were not enough bar waiters, not enough sommeliers, and a couple of the sommeliers were poorly trained. Yes, I would take this trip and sail this ship again, but I wouldn't want it to be my first Celebrity sailing.