We were among the lucky ones who received an Email from celebrity that notified us about the delay in boarding so we extended our time on Waikiki beach and took advantage of our hotel's courtesy clean up room before heading over to the pier. when we arrived at around 5:30 pm there were no lines and check-in was quick. We boarded just as the announcement was made that the staterooms were ready. we noticed all the folks waiting on the floor... we dropped our carry on luggage in the room which wasn't really ready... the bed wasn't made and some of the bath amenities were missing. The things I expected to be there from our previous sailing on the Equinox included a Celebrity Today, bottles of water, pitcher of iced tea, pen and pad...
I really love the design of the Solstice and it's sister ship the Equinox. they are great examples of modern but classic decor. You feel as if you are in a chic New York hotel. Many areas have floor to ceiling windows and that makes it feel spacious. The design is circa 2008, but is definitely not dated.
The two outdoor pools are a bit smaller than you might expect for a ship it's size. The Solarium (indoor pool) is nice but sometimes has a chlorine smell. Nevertheless, it creates a comfortable area to sunbathe (without being exposed to UV rays) when the weather outside is chilly. It was quite busy on the final sea days across the Pacific.
Gym and Spa, Persian Garden
The gym is spacious and clean and if you like treadmills it has plenty.The TV's and touchscreen displays on a number of the machines don't work very well. Towels and antiseptic wipes were plentiful. The Persian Garden room is one of the big selling points of the Solstice class ships. Access is included in the Aqua class fare and we think it's worth every penny. There were usually lounges available. The heated lounges worked well, but there were some problems with the dry sauna and the showers. Also every now and then some machinery would kick on and it sounded like church bells chiming in the distance.
Entertainment and Activities
The poolside entertainment was minimal to non-existent, and when it was going, it was not pleasant to listen to. We attended three of the evening shows... The first was a Broadway review that I would have really enjoyed if the singers were better. The song choices were predictable crowd pleasers and spanned the decades. They included numbers from West Side Story, Carousel, Rent and Wicked. The second show was by a headliner named Greg Bonham from Australia who also appears in Las Vegas. He is a decent singer and a talented trumpet player. His original songs were enjoyable and the covers were good but he didn't really put his own artistic spin on them. The last was an acrobatic show which was probably the best we saw. It was colorful and creative. and you have to give these folks credit for performing on a moving ship!
I watched about an hour of the Hot Glass Show since I missed it on the Equinox. it was an entertaining and informative demonstration of how art glass pieces are created. It certainly included some "Aha" moments!
Our de facto hangout was the Martini Bar & the Crush. While the vibe and the drinks are big attractions, the bartender's show and playful attitude are what really draws people in. The clubby cubes around the perimeter are nice hangouts, but I found that the seats were too far apart to have a decent conversation -- so our impromptu group of 8 would gather around the Crush table, order some fun martinis and chat about the day.
Quasar (the nightclub) was pretty un-happening during this voyage. The only time when there were more than a handful of people in the place was during one of the many "blow-out" sales during the day. I don't think it is the DJ's fault -- the couple times we peeked in there the music was good -- it's just that the space is cold and uninviting. The small bar is pushed up against a side wall and so it's not the place to "see and be seen".
The Sky Bar is a great space, and attracted a good crowd for Karaoke. We had a lot of fun the one evening we went. Unfortunately, music from my favorite artist (Billy Joel) is not included in the selections, so I didn't sing. However, it would have been fun to go again, but there were only two Karaoke nights on our 11 night sailing. I'm not sure why they didn't schedule a third, given the number of participants.
Michael's Club is a beautiful room off of the Ensemble Bar (which is basically a hallway from the hub of the ship to the specialty restaurants and Blu). It was usually empty -- though by the end of the cruise a few folks had discovered it. The piano and comfy sofas make it a great place to take very elegant photos, especially with a snifter of brandy in your hand.
One of the downsides of this particular voyage is that the bar menus were removed until the second to last night of the cruise. I suppose they were being quarantined. It's a shame because there was really nowhere to find out what the special drinks were (other than the ones published in the Celebrity Today), and the bar staff was not able to recite all the selections. Seems like there should be a better way to advertise the drinks -- for example, the Molecular Bar has video screens -- but they are dedicated to an art installation and couldn't be used to display the unique drink selections. I think Celebrity should consider better ways to present these menus. It would be great if we could view them on the stateroom TVs, but that feature was not available.
Staterooms 1648 and 1650
The staterooms on the Solstice class ships are designed really well. They seem spacious even though you know they are half the size of a typical hotel room. The decor is clean and elegant with granite tops and blonde wood. Lots of storage, including a large cabinet above the bed.
The bed is very comfortable and has a memory foam topper.
While the cabins do not have connecting doors, you can have the staff open the glass divider on the balcony so there is private access between the two rooms. On deck 11, this works as long as the cabin doors are right next to each other since angled support beams are placed every two cabins.
The bathroom is the highlight of the stateroom. The shower is roomy and in Aqua class there are additional body sprays along with the handheld shower head. The tall cabinet and several drawers provide a lot of storage places for toiletries. The only complaint is that the sink faucet is large like a kitchen faucet and gets in the way. Though we were able to push it back toward the mirror. Another issue is that the shower stack is hollow so you can't put anything on top without risking that it will fall inside and you will not be blue to retrieve it. We learned this lesson on the Equinox so I make sure to spread the word (the Equinox staff actually retrieved an item for us, given the boarding issues on our sailing, I don't expect that the Solstice crew would have done the same).
I do like that they provide Qtips and cotton balls, as well as very pleasant soap, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lip balm and lotion.
I love the Blu concept. It's one of the primary reasons why I think it's worth paying extra for Aqua. I like the intimate dining experience, the dedicated serving staff and the clean, creative menu. An additional benefit is the excellent breakfast service that includes muesli prepared tableside so it's just as you want it.
Blu combines the best of "anytime" dining and traditional seatings. As the staff in Blu get to know you, they provide the kind of service you expect from a traditional seating but allow you to dine at whatever time you choose. The layout of Blu is such that the tables are less dense than in the MDR so you feel like you have more elbow room. The space is also quieter, and since you're dining with a smaller set of the ship's passengers, you do meet and socialize with folks at other tables.
We ate lunch one day in the upper level of the MDR and it was quite enjoyable. We were seated a table by the window. The service and the food were excellent.
I'm not a big fan of the buffet, so the AquaSpa cafe is perfect for me. Even though the food selections are limited, the items available were tasty and varied throughout the sailing. The salad bar was fresh and delicious. Additional protein options are available (grilled chicken, pork or fish) to supplement the salads. It is informal, quick and much less frenetic than the buffet. Breakfast at the AquaSpa cafe is also limited, but if you want yogurt, fruit, muffins and coffee, it's awesome.
As others have mentioned, the buffet was not a lot of fun during our voyage. For most of the trip, you waited in line for everything. My few trips to the buffet were at off times (late breakfast, appetizers before dinner or an afternoon ice cream) so we could avoid the craziness. Under more "normal" circumstances, the buffet is reasonably nice, but the layout makes it a bit crazy until you learn where things are. I do like the seating areas with floor to ceiling windows, comfortable seats and banquets.
We ordered breakfast to be delivered to the stateroom on several occasions. The complicated and frustrating TV system for ordering food was not working properly (you would put in your whole order and then be told that there was a system error), so we used the door hanger forms provided in the stateroom (and filled them out with our own pen until we got an official Celebrity one). Unfortunately, the menu on the door hanger is not the same as that on the TV, so I had to hand write in some of the selections. The quality of the food was very good and it was delivered at the requested time. One time the coffee was only lukewarm, and they didn't have any bananas, but those are minor complaints.
Our particular sailing had a lot of folks in the 70 and above category. The Med cruise on the Equinox had a younger crowd -- so I don't think it's fair to say that Celebrity is primarily for older cruisers. There were very few families with children on board, and this was true on the Equinox as well. We really enjoyed the folks we met on board. They were diverse, energetic, out going and well-educated.
One thing I noticed about Guest Relations is they typically route every request to another area and thus make you feel like you are in a Department of Motor Vehicles office rather than on vacation. Instead of taking ownership of simple requests like having a form delivered to the stateroom, they would me to my stateroom attendant, the Captain's Club or the Future Cruise Sales office. Many of the forms that should have been in the stateroom upon sailing were missing and I expect that was because of the problems caused by the health issues.
Another issue is that each Guest Relations crew member that you spoke to gave a different answer. Folks should be trained that if they are unsure of a correct response they should simply take your stateroom number, find the correct answer and then call you back.
One of the reasons why I really like Celebrity is that the staff is pleasant and always acknowledge you when you go by; This was true even with the additional stress the staff was under through the voyage. Unlike other sailings (on Celebrity and other lines), there was a noticeable absence of officers patrolling the ship and greeting passengers. I suppose they were busy -- but I do wonder if they were hiding from us.
Overall, the Solstice class of ships are just awesome -- well designed and extremely comfortable. However, the Solstice is showing it's age, and does not appear to be maintained terribly well. The items are mostly cosmetic, but you do wonder if there are more serious issues that aren't being taken care of. Some of the items we noticed are:
- stateroom drawers don't slide well
- in-stateroom safe malfunctioned
many TV features did not work (for example, there was no "current
location" screen and the outside temperature was routinely reported as somewhere
between 139 and 146 degrees). When we asked Guest Services about this, we were told that it was just our TV and it needs to be reset by a technician. We don't know if anyone ever serviced the TV, but we heard from many others that their TVs were not working either, and the problems persisted throughout the cruise.
- ordering in stateroom dining on the
TV was not functional (as mentioned above)
- fitness equipment issues (as mentioned above)
- trying to get a message from the phone system did not work, and we were told to "call back later". This was because all the messages we got were broadcast to half the passengers and everyone was trying to access them at the same time.
- speaker phone feature did not work - this was inconvenient because we were put on hold by Guest Relations on several occassions.
- the frozen surface of the Martini Bar was broken, and has been for months. It's a shame because its useful to keep your drink cold, and it also allows you to scribble in the frost!
- Lahaina, Maui, Tendering (twice)
- Hilo, Big Island
- Kona, Big Island, Tendering
- Ensenada, Mexico
I was impressed that Celebrity hired about 70 buses to get us all from the dock in Ensenada to San Diego airport. Loading the buses was slow and because we were on a later departure, we did not board our bus until about an hour after the scheduled meeting time. It was also frustrating that the announcements were localized to the original meeting area, which quickly ran out of seats as the loading delays mounted. So while we were sitting at Cafe al Bacio, we did not hear the announcements being made at th Ensemble lounge only steps away. We brought this to the attention of the staff member announcing the bus departures and she seemed quite surprised, but then they started broadcasting ship wide since folks were scattered throughout the public areas looking for seating. Unlike the tenders at port, you were assigned to a specific bus (since your luggage was loaded on it), so they had to find any folks that were missing before a bus could depart the pier. The bus stopped first in Rosarita so the Mexican government could collect a simple form. Then we continued north toward the border.
While it is annoying that you have to re-enter the US after sailing from Hawaii, Celebrity did their best to ease the process and so crossing the border at Otay Mesa (instead of San Ysidro) went quickly. They collected our customs forms, two different dogs sniffed us and then some folks got off to use the restrooms. When we arrived at the airport, we got off the bus and collected our luggage.
Note to travelers... Food choices at San Diego airport are poor. There is only one restaurant in the non secured area of Terminal 1 and since the gates are in small clusters with separate security screening areas, it is not possible to go to a secured area other than where your assigned gate is located. Also, Southwest would not take our luggage until 2 hours before our flight, so we had to hold on to it. I remembered that there are some hotels right across from the airport on Harbor Island, so we called the Sheraton and got some information about their dining choices. Then we took their free shuttle bus over to the hotel, had a decent lunch and took the shuttle back. We were thankful for a decent meal because our flight was delayed and when we finally got home there was no food in the house.