I booked a verandah guarantee for my wife and myself and our 12-year-old daughter, and were almost immediately assigned an accessible cabin port side, Deck 7. This was roughly three weeks prior to departure. We would not dream of trying to book an accessible cabin, but were very happy about the assignment. As it turned out, this cabin made our voyage at least 50 percent more pleasant than it would otherwise have been.
The room was quite large at 300 sf (area equivalent to that of a sky suite), with an extra-large balcony and extra-large bathroom. We would never pay suite prices, but felt we had something equivalent for a bargain price with this assignment.
I say this not just to boast at our good fortune, but also to encourage anyone who may end up with an accessible room assignment. Enjoy the ample space, and don't let anyone guilt-trip you about it.
Our only quibble in connection with this cabin was the motorized door. It was great to have it open automatically from either direction. But it stayed open for about ten seconds before closing, allowing passers-by to look in and see whatever underwear may have been strewn about the room at that moment. And when leaving the room, we felt obliged to wait outside the door to be sure it shut properly and locked before we could proceed down the hall. But we would take such a room versus a standard cabin any day.
We chose the Select dining option and reserved dining times for the whole week in advance online. I highly recommend this approach, for the following reasons:
The fixed dinner sittings are at what we feel are awkward times: Six is too early and 8:30 is too late. Most nights we booked for 7 p.m., give or take 15 minutes. This allowed us a lot of flexibility to participate in both afternoon and evening activities.
We were always seated immediately upon arrival at the dining room. But several evenings we noticed a number of other passengers without reservations being asked to come back later. So I would recommend booking dining times in advance. For us, the Select reservation system worked flawlessly.
When reserving, we chose to join other diners on some nights, and had some very pleasant conversations with a variety of people. We also realized after the first two evenings that the quality of dining room service was quite inconsistent among waiters. On the third night we had the pleasure of being served by a truly professional team, and asked for them and were served by them at each supper thereafter. We also asked for and were given tables at the window and/or well distanced from the bussing stations, which greatly enhanced our dining experience.
To each his own, of course, but for us this flexibility and freedom to maximize satisfaction makes the Select dining option a good one.
The food on board was quite good. The house coffee was awful. Undrinkable. I spoke with Guest Relations about it and was asked to consider purchasing specialty coffees or a beverage package. On principle, I refused. I feel that if the hotel is going to provide coffee for general consumption, it should make an honest effort to supply a product that is at least average or better. It would almost seem Celebrity has a strategy of pushing guests into premium drinks purchases.
McDonald's coffee is far better than the coffee served on Celebrity Solstice (as is the coffee served on Princess and Royal Caribbean). I ended up using the supplied Maxwell House instant coffee, which, while not comparable to even a mediocre fresh brew, is at least drinkable and somewhat enjoyable. Bad coffee is not a deal-breaker, however. Next time I cruise Celebrity, I will bring a mini coffee-maker and coffee and brew my own in my room. Problem solved. And anyhow, if the coffee quality is the only significant complaint one can make, then overall it must have been a pretty good cruise. And it was.
Our preteen daughter loved the cruise from start to finish. In addition to the meals and swimming and port visits and other family things she did with us, she very much enjoyed the kids' program. She told us that participants were encouraged to get to know each other, and she was able to make friends with a couple of nice girls. Activities were fun and engaging.
The entertainment program was, in a word, excellent. The Solstice band are a very tight, talented and versatile group; their music anchored a wide variety of extremely enjoyable evening presentations. Xylo-synth virtuoso David Meyer was riveting and earned a standing ovation with an explosive performance that had to be seen to be believed. Chuck Gunter combined laugh-out-loud comedy with an exceptionally slick juggling routine. The enthusiastic house song-and-dance troupe presented at least four different and highly-entertaining evening programs, including a Cirque du Soleil-style extravaganza which called forth another standing ovation.
I'm not one to sit inside when there's a world of beauty slipping past outside, but I did take in a couple of informational sessions featuring members of the ship's crew. These were extremely interesting and I learned a lot about how a large cruise ship works. For example, did you know that the Solstice can sail with as little as a foot of water under her bottom? I also caught on-board wildlife expert Brent Nixon's fascinating presentation on orcas. A more knowledgeable, passionate and entertaining lecturer you will not find. Brent presented frequently (and, I presume, expertly) on numerous wildlife topics. He also gave us the "play-by-play" through the ship's video system as the Solstice navigated up the wild and lovely Tracy Arm to the Sawyer Glacier.
In the sunshine, the Pacific coast of Washington, British Columbia and Alaska is breathtakingly beautiful. And we had sun, sun, sun. We were continually reminding our daughter to apply sun-screen lest she get burnt. The weather was perfect--warm in the sun, comfortably cool in the shade. It was warmer than on the Caribbean cruise we took in 2010. If the weather is right, there are few places on earth to compare with this wild, green, mountainous coastline.
To sum up, if you can arrange good weather, the Celebrity Solstice cruise to Alaska is an excellent way to spend a week. There's much more I could say--about the whale-spotting, the picturesque ports, the best pineapple afloat-- but it's time to turn in.