This was our first Celebrity cruise, having sailed three times in past on Royal Caribbean (RCCL) and once on Princess. We were originally booked for a cruise out of Boston on RCCL in September, but decided to cancel that when our favorite winery, St. Francis in Sonoma, advertised this wine cruise traveling to Alaska on the Celebrity Solstice in August. We had a fabulous cruise and are completely happy with our decision to switch vacation plans.
Knowing that Celebrity was the line "next in class" above RCCL, we did have high expectations for a luxury experience. But, other than REALLY appreciating the non-smoking environment and a nicer/bigger cabin bathroom, we certainly would not rate the line above RCCL. The service staff were excellent - friendly, attentive & customer-focused. We had a slight issue the first evening with our room steward not bringing ice, and the response from guest relations was overwhelming. They switched our room steward, delivered a bottle of wine and chocolate covered strawberries, and the head of customer relations came by our cabin to apologize in person. That was certainly much more than the situation warranted, but the immediate response showed an impressive emphasis on customer service.
We were not as impressed with quality and taste of food throughout the ship. The buffet had a wide selection, everything "looked" amazing, and I really like the set up with stations, but almost everything we ate was a disappointment. But, they did get the basics right with lots of cut up fruit, cartons of fresh milk, and the omelets freshly made were pretty good. Most of the time, I only ate a bite or two of dessert since the taste wasn't worth the calories. The food in the main dining room wasn't any better. As a matter of fact, when we did enjoy something - we were really surprised. But, I don't believe this is reflection on Celebrity overall, and would not stop me from booking another cruise with them. Princess had the best food in my cruise experiences, but I won't sail with them again because I don't like the ships. The food on RCCL has been mixed - some ships fabulous and some .not so. As long as we can get fresh fruit and decent vegetables, we don't place too much emphasis on food for our vacation experience. We did have a better experience during our St. Francis food and wine pairing in the Tuscan Grille, and dinner there on our last night. But still, certainly not a 4 or 5 star experience.
Another minor negative was the gym on board. Too small for the number of passengers, which resulted in waiting lines for equipment and the need to limit work out times. I don't get hours of free time at home to exercise, so it's frustrating to be limited while on vacation. I'm not sure what Celebrity can do about this, but I've never noticed the same issue on RCCL. (Note that my comment about never sailing Princess again is primarily due to their inadequate gym facilities, so you see where my priorities are)!
For the details that most people probably look for in a review:
Arrival into SeaTac on the morning of the cruise and transfer to the airport went quickly. We pre-arranged a town car through Seattle Tacoma Airport Express website. The cost was $50 for the two of us - simple and quick! Once getting through the traffic at the pier, we dropped our bags with a porter and waited for the check-in lines to open. Since this was our first Celebrity cruise, we had no "status". But, it didn't delay our embarkment in the least. We were on board, exploring the ship, and eating lunch in the buffet before 11 AM. After lunch, we read in the Solarium until our room was ready about 1 PM. After dropping off our carry-ons, we explored the ship some more. Our luggage arrived around 3 PM; we did the muster drill, and then went to the first wine event reception (fabulous) in the Wine Cellar.
The St.Francis wine events on the cruise were outstanding. In addition to the welcome reception and food/wine pairing noted above, there was a very nice Zintastic wine tasting and a number of exclusive ship tours with champagne. All were special, and combined both Celebrity and St. Francis delivered on some wonderful experiences. We are certain to book another wine vacation in the future!
In Ketchikan we booked the adventure boat and hiking tour. It was a very nice day. Took the bus about 30 minutes to the boat launch, traveled by zodiac boat about 30 minutes, then did some very light walking through the rain forest, repeat boat/bus going back. Great experience in a beautiful place.
Traveling through the Tracy Arm Fjord was amazing. I guess we broke the record for the Solstice going into the channel the farthest (or do they say that to all the cruises?). But either way - really spectacular. We will do this cruise again in 2015 just to experience that one more time. Get up early, dress warmly, load your camera card, and ENJOY!
In Juneau, we meet up with my boyfriend's family that had a boat and lots of whale watching experience. We were very lucky to dock (instead of tender) and we enjoyed several hours of wildlife viewing from our private family boat. We also did a drive by of the Meddanhall Glacier. Wow! Impressive. Worth the visit, no doubt.
In Skagway we rented a car through Costco with Avis, and drove the 60+ miles to Emerald Lake. It was beautiful, and a wonderful way to spend the day. Our weather was amazing, and had I known I would have considered a kayak tour in one of the many pretty lakes. But maybe next time. Going to Emerald Lake is not about the destination, but more about a good spot to turn around. There is nothing really unique or special about that spot. (Although, I live by Lake Tahoe, which might spoil me for other sights).
We didn't get off the ship in Victoria. We had vacationed there two years before, so we'd seen it before. We enjoyed the solitude of an almost empty ship and special dinner at Tuscan Grille. Again, the food was okay (lobster pasta was fabulous, filet just okay, fish very good) , but enjoyment of surroundings, waiter staff, and my sweetheart - - off the scales!
Disembarkment was a breeze. We were picked up by family at the pier, so chose the latest depart time. So, we sat outside after breakfast until they made us leave. Then, walked off the ship with no lines or crowds. Bags were waiting for us downstairs.
Overall we had a wonderful cruise experience that we would repeat anytime. Celebrity treated us very well, the weather was beyond expectations, and the ports offered a lot to see and do. What more could we ask for?!? We are already planning our next cruise vacation for 2014 - back to RCCL for that New England experience. We can hardly wait!