5/24/13 Celebrity Solstice Alaskan Cruise Review
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of my review, let me provide a little background info and a small disclaimer for my family. We are a family of 3 (late 40’s couple and 16 year old daughter) hailing from Phoenix, AZ. Our cruising addiction started in 1997, which now encompasses 20 completed cruises. Up until this cruise, our entire cruise history entailed just Royal Caribbean and Carnival. We went on this cruise solely for the itinerary, with the knowledge that Celebrity is not necessarily known for catering to families, especially those with teens. For those looking to pounce and dissect my every word, keep in mind this was my families cruise experience and the review below solely reflects our opinion. I was debating on doing a review simply because there tends to be a propensity of those feeling the need to adamantly defend one side or the other, rather than just gathering information. Every experience is different, so please keep that in mind as you read though. Further disclosure, I’m no Rhodes Scholar, so my apologies upfront for the typos / unconventional style.
We typically fly in 1-2 days early to rest up prior to a cruise, but due to my daughter’s school finals we ended up not getting into Seattle until 11:00 PM the night before. We stayed overnight at the Coast Hotel, which is just a couple minutes from the airport. Shuttle service was excellent…yes, even that late in the evening. Really can’t provide much info on the hotel, it was pretty much just a place to catch a nap and shower prior to the cruise. The room was nice, and the bed seemed comfortable. That being stated, I could have slept on a concrete slab at that point and thought it was comfortable. The following morning my sister, who lives locally in the Seattle area, took us to a very small mom and pop eatery for the most amazing crepes in the Georgetown area, and then proceeded to drop us off at the pier at right about 10:00 AM.
In all of our travels, we’ve found no two ports alike, and pier 91 is no different. Thank God, we had my sister, for we would never have found our way into this port, very unique location. I highly recommend not getting to this port prior to 10:00 AM. With those getting off, and those just arriving, the area coming in to unload is very small and congested in comparison to other ports . Dropping off luggage was unique as well. Instead of the typical unloading from vehicle and transporting to an awaiting porter, we rolled our luggage over to the entrance, and then porters came over and took luggage just prior to entering the building. Once inside, I don’t think we sat more than 5 minutes before being ushered on to the ship, which was just about 11:15 AM.
Coming from a cruise history outside of Celebrity cruise lines, we were surprised to see so many of the ship’s high level officers awaiting / welcoming us as we came off the gangway. What was more impressive was seeing this throughout the ports as well as we debarked / embarked the ship…nice touch. I seen somewhere a post about Celebrity eliminating complimentary champagne upon entering the ship. I’m happy to report flutes of champagne were awaiting us as we walked on, which we found to be a very nice touch to welcome us on board. We spent considerable time looking at images of the ship on line from others leading up to the cruise, and still was surprised as to how different the Solstice looked in comparison to what I had envisioned. Keep in mind we are used to “color” on all our past cruises. So to go from that to a very subdued white and polished chrome look was to some extent a let down for us. In retrospect though this look seemed to fit the ambiance and laid back demeanor in the common areas. Never crowded, and pretty quite with little going on other than folks milling about. My favorite spot was the solarium. Very tastefully done, and unlike RCCL, very easy to get a lounge chair / spot in the hot tub at any time. Being an avid reader, the library was our daughter’s favorite spot. While she had her own books, she was quite impressed with the selection on board, which is no easy feat. The shops on board are typically my wife’s favorite spots, but not on this ship. Prices are pretty much right on par with regular prices at a Dillards, and to some extent more. The ship is well maintained, with minimal wear and tear for a ship five years old. The music however…what is up with the retro top 40 music in the common areas…does not fit the ship or atmosphere!
We were in cabin #8250, a starboard hump balcony. We had some concerns about the location being that it is right next to the elevators. On any other ship, noise probably would have been a problem, but not this ship / sailing…very quiet! In comparison to other ships, other than the aft balconies we had on the Mariner and the Liberty of the Seas, this was our favorite cabin. Very nicely laid out, plenty of space and storage, modern bathroom, and very comfortable bedding. On the bed though, the considerable rounded corners didn’t play well with my 6’ 5” frame. To prevent excessive hang-over, I had to sleep in an angle with my feet in the middle. My wife and daughter had considerable fun at my expense on this one. For those who care, there is a pretty good selection of free on demand movies to chose from on the TV. Most selections are new releases to DVD. Our room steward was a ghost; or at least so we thought. We met her when we first got on the ship, but never seen her thereafter. With that stated, other than a couple of occasions in which we had to call for some toiletries, we had no problems with the service provided and the room was very well maintained.
As always there is considerable discussion regarding proper MDR attire, and determining the level in which Celebrity is enforcing dress codes. Speaking for myself, I really didn’t want to tote a suit, and instead opted for a sport coat at the recommendation of others on these very boards. Even with that, I was somewhat concerned about being under dressed in comparison to others. We were in the MDR both formal nights, and I was surprised to see some of the attire sported that just walked right through the doors without the slightest of regard, or concern by Celebrity dining staff. There were t-shirts and jeans, dresses that were more “working girl” than formal, and my personal favorite two ladies strutting their stuff in cheetah and zebra tights. There was one family that looked like the were straight off the set of the Beverly Hill-billies and no one even batted an eye as they walked through the doors. Most men were in sport coats, some in suits / tuxes, as well as quite a few in just shirt and tie. Women were for the most part dressed in pant suits, or pants with a nice blouse. Some were in nice dresses, but not to many formal type dresses. Regrettably, we only dined in the MDR three nights. Our first night on the ship our luggage didn’t get to our room until 6:30, so we missed out on a fourth night. When stating regrettably, by no means does this have anything do with the food quality and selections, but rather everything to do with the service our waiter Ahmed, and assistant waiter Yosef (both from Turkey) provided us at table #112. Both were very nice, energetic, and just down right nice to talk to. Courses came quick, and both seemed genuine in making sure our dining experience was a pleasant one. The food however, was a disappointment. I know this is where the defenders of all things Celebrity will come out of the wood works, but I found the food selections / quality on RCCL far superior to Celebrity. For all the reading I did leading up to the cruise about the food on Celebrity, what a let down. With all that I have read, I truly do wonder if changes in menus have been made recently that have affected selections and overall quality. Another thing about the dining arrangements, table #112 was a table for four, with another one adjacent to us, and a table of two adjacent to that. The atmosphere in the MDR was quiet, largely due to the division of tables, and for the most part folks just keeping to themselves. I guess we kind of got spoiled over the years with being at large tables and meeting / conversing with folks from all over the world. Maybe not so much for others, but for us this has become an important part of our cruising experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife and daughter, but I kind of look forward to listening to someone else babble for seven days other than them.
Lido Deck Buffet:
For the life of me I don’t even recall the name of the buffet area. So with respect to my suspect typing skills, and for the sole purpose of me getting this review done, I will refer to it as the lido deck buffet. The first day, maybe even the second, I found the buffet concept and food somewhat appealing. After that it was like ground hog day, with the same food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Omelets were good, and by default I took a liking to the stir fry area…very good! Other than that, I really can’t think of anything that sets this ship apart from any other ship, or cruise line for that matter. I found the buffet food selections and quality to be better on RCCL, and in some instances even on Carnival. One of the things I enjoy about RCCL and Carnival is the staff with carts that go around inquiring as to whether they can get you something to drink. Only Celebrity, nowhere to be found. Instead there are countless staff walking around inquiring whether you want something from the bar. On one morning, one of these employees / bar waiters(?) asked the elderly couple at the table next to us if they wanted anything to drink. The gentlemen pleasantly asked for water he he and his wife. To this, the bar waiter informed the gentlemen he didn’t do that and only took alcohol orders, and then proceeded to walk away. So surprised at the reply, I then proceeded to go get this nice couple water. Such a small request, but it’s the little things that add up and set cruise lines apart. Seating is at a premium, there is clearly not enough to deal with heavy demand times. Each meal, we spent considerable time walking back and fork in search for a table for three. On one of those occasion’s in which we were able to get a table in a relatively short amount of time (when compared to other days), we were fortunate enough to share our table with a gentlemen from South Africa, who walked up from nowhere and asked to eat with us. What ensued was a very pleasant conversation that all 3 in my family thoroughly enjoyed.
Terrible, simple as that, I’ll leave it at that.
Our first exposure to Celebrity entertainment, was a mid-day beyond the podium speaker on Alaska. The show opened to a single spot light on a gentlemen sitting cross legged in the middle of the stage, while beating on a drum. Within seconds I was eyeing my best escape route without being seen. Luckily we stuck it out, and were treated to a humorous, and very informative show on Alaska. I highly recommend this show for anyone going on this ship / itinerary.
Didn’t really care for the first big show on the first formal night. The stage is to small for what they were trying to do, and the singers were not very good. The dancers however, top to bottom, were better than any other ship we have been on.
The second formal night show ( Cirque du Soleil?) was arguably the best show we’ve seen on any ship. Dancer’s are very talented and multi-faceted in being able to perform so much more with their aerial acts as well. This show should not be missed.
Ports of Call:
Ketchikan - We didn’t have anything planned here. We pretty much winged it, taking in the sights, while getting in some souvenir shopping. There were many great photo ops from our balcony and throughout town. Really enjoyed the Creek Street area and got some great family photos.
Tracy Arm Fjord - At the time, the thought of getting up at 5:00 AM to go through Tracy Arm didn’t really appeal to me…I’m so glad we did. For anyone weighing whether to spring for the balcony or not…get the balcony! We had such a good time as a family taking in the amazing scenery of Tracy Arm. For those who know me, I don’t go anywhere wearing anything but shorts, and Tracy Arm was no exception. That stated, it does get cold out on the balcony, and I actually donned a beanie for the first time in forty years. We took some amazing photos on this stretch.
Juneau - Took in the local sites prior to going out on a private whale watching tour with Orca Tours. In choosing our tour guide for whale watching in Juneau, it’s tough to gauge from all the pro / con reviews on-line. Now speaking from experience, we were very satisfied with Orca Tours. Great boat, and Captain Larry / crew are very knowledgeable of the waters, and extremely energetic / proud about sharing the history they have encountered throughout their years in these waters. Came across a humpback named “Sasha” not far from the dock, and then encountered numerous Orcas toward the tail end of the trip. Managed to get many great photos.
Skagway - In going with recommendations made from these very boards, we did the Yukon bus and White Pass rail excursion through Chilkoot Charters, which turned out to be another great choice. Our guide Bruce was amazing. Great sense of humor, very knowledgeable about the area, and knew all the best places to stop for photo ops. He did a great job of staying ahead of all the large cruise line tours with big buses, allowing us to get in and out of areas for photos without big crowds and long lines. The stop for lunch was ok, nothing note worthy to speak of other than the husky puppies our daughter had fun petting. Pretty much a tourist trap, and wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the cruise passengers.
Victoria, BC - By accident, and for the most part what I perceived as an exaggerated health epidemic, we visited Victoria on one of those H1N1 cruises some four plus years ago. That sailing, an entire day was devoted to Victoria and we enjoyed our visit immensely. Really love the architecture, the color with everything in bloom, and just how down right clean everything is. This visit was different however. Not just from the standpoint of arriving late and only having but a few hours there, but also from the vibe we got from the locals this time around. Walking through the neighborhood on the way to Parliament and the downtown areas, we encountered many locals who wouldn’t give us the time of day, or look our way when greeted politely. Granted 3000 cruise passengers unleashed to wonder aimlessly through their neighborhoods can get old, but they should take their anger out on the local politicians who sell their souls to get the cruise lines into their ports, not the cruise passengers. For the most part downtown was already closed down by the time we got there, with only some shops on the main drag open. Obviously Celebrity needs to satisfy the foreign port stop prior to coming home, but they need to do it in a place where cruise passengers feel welcomed, and for more than a few hours.
Ship Activities / Conclusion:
As I stated above, we went on this ship for the itinerary, knowing this ship doesn’t offer much to do for families with kids. Even with this understanding, I really felt bad for our teenage daughter, who really had nothing to do on board. There were few kids on board, and none were found to be hanging out in the teen area. Celebrity might go to great lengths to give the impression they have made big strides in becoming a more family oriented cruise line, but make no mistake, they are not. That’s not to be construed as a negative on Celebrity, it’s just stating the obvious, they have a certain demographic they cater to, and families are not it. The activity level is somewhat subdued on this ship, and some of that could also have to do with the itinerary. If you like colorful parades, water games, sports activities, and many other family oriented activities, this is probably not the ship for you. If you are middle age or older, more mature, not traveling with kids, and just enjoy a more peaceful low key atmosphere, then I would recommend this ship. In closing I hope you got something out of this review that was informative and helps you in preparing for your next cruise. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.