Solstice Seattle Roundtrip August 23-30
Cabin: 9182, balcony
Background: My husband and I are both in our early 30's. This was our 5th cruise and our 2nd cruise on the Solstice. This was our first trip to Alaska. We had an amazing and exhausting time! Little things were not up to our expectations, but we try to make the best of any situation. We have travelled a lot and have learned that our vacations are what we make them, so we don't sweat the small stuff. Here are my thoughts on the cruise:
Arrival in Seattle: We took the light rail train from the airport to the Westlake station and walked less than 2 blocks to our hotel. It was a very easy and cheap way to get downtown from the airport. $2.75 per person. The train ride was 40 minutes. We stayed at the Sheraton. It was an adequate hotel. The bed was really comfortable and the gym had great cardio equipment (and wonderful views of the city). The location was ideal for shopping, restaurants, and Pike's Place Market. Warning: we woke up early and went to the Market and nothing was open! Seemed like the vendors were preparing for a 9:00am opening. There was a Target right on Pike Street for last minute necessities. In the morning we took a taxi from our hotel to the port. Cost was around $15. Tip: the flowers at the Market were so beautiful and inexpensive. I saw a lot of people carrying a bouquet onto the ship. I would have done the same if I knew it was allowed.
Embarkation: What a breeze! We arrived around 11:30 and basically walked right onto the ship. There was no line at all. There were so many Celebrity workers offering greetings and directions, it was sort of overwhelming! It was the easiest embarkation we had ever experienced.
For lunch on the first day, we headed straight for the Mast Grill. We wanted to avoid the chaos of the buffet on the first day. We went up to the counter to order our lunch and the worker said: 'you know the buffet is open, right?' I read that another reviewer of this cruise had the same experience. We also couldn't determine if he was telling us to get lost or trying to be nice. It was strange. Nevertheless, we ordered our food from the Mast Grill and enjoyed a relaxing lunch outside. The Mast Grill was only open 'weather permitting.' But then they served burgers/hotdogs/fries in the buffet.
The ship was rocking and rolling during the days at sea at the beginning and end of the cruise. Even my husband made comments on the movement and usually he's the one who says 'I don't feel anything.' Try going to the gym during one of those days. It adds a new element of difficulty to your workout! Plus you can see everyone swaying on their treadmills. ? Once we were closer to land, it was smooth sailing.
We only ate in the MDR twice due to our 3-dinner package and long days in port which ended with dinners from the buffet. We made Select Dining reservations in the MDR for both nights and were seated right away. Overall, the food was average. The most memorable thing we ate was the hummus that was served with the bread basket. That was delicious. Service was great, including the wine steward. On our last Solstice cruise, we ate in the MDR every night during the late seating. Then, the service was lacking, especially with the wine steward. So we were pleasantly surprised with the great service in the MDR with Select Dining. We would choose Select Dining again on our next cruise. Tip: we had such great service our first night, that on the 2nd night we requested to sit with the same server.
With the 3-dinner package, we ate all three specialty restaurants. Upon embarkation, we went straight to the reservations desks at Murano and made all of our reservations. Murano was average to below average. We ate at Murano during our prior cruise on the Solstice and loved the experience. This time around, we left disappointed. The service was terrible. We waited at least 15 minutes for someone to greet our table. We didn't even see our main waiter until about 25 minutes after we sat down. After that, we barely saw the wait staff. The starters and entrees were just ok. The cheese plate and desserts were amazing!! On our next cruise, we will not return to Murano and would not recommend it. Silk Harvest was very good. The food was very tasty. Much better than I expected based upon some poor reviews I read on Cruise Critic. The sushi was much better than the sushi served in the buffet. Service was good, but there was a language barrier with the waiter. Our best experience was at Tuscan Grille. Our server was outstanding!!! The food was all delicious, from starters to dessert, from wine to coffee. I was surprised about how large the entrees were. Not the typical smaller size as served in the MDR. We had such a great experience that we spoke to the manager and included notes on our comment cards at the end of the cruise. We will return to Tuscan Grille on our next cruise. Tip: When you book the package online, it seems as if they force dates/times on you for your first dinner. This could be easily changed at the Murano reservations desk upon embarkation.
The buffet was acceptable. We thought the food was usually hot. Breakfast offered made to order Eggs Benedict. Lunch had hot pizza. The salad bar was extensive but the salad dressing offerings were slim. At 5:30, sushi was available. On a few occasions, we made up a cheese plate with cheese, bread, nuts and dried fruits. We took this and glasses of wine up to The Lawn and had some our most memorable late afternoons together, enjoying the beautiful scenery. (although the Sunset Bar was rarely open, see below). The gala brunch buffet was on the last sea day. It was spectacular.
We spent most our nights at the Martini Bar, both before and after dinner. Service from these bartenders was amazing. They work so hard for hours at a time. Night after night, they did not disappoint. And they know how to make a good drink there, which was not the case at all of the bars. The best margaritas on the ship came from the Martini Bar. Honestly, service at most of the other bars was lacking. Many bartenders were not friendly and seemed upset that you were ordering a drink. On several occasions at multiple bars, I would order a specialty drink from the menu sitting on the bar. Most of the time, the bartender did not understand what I asking for. That was fine. I understand there can be a language barrier. I learned to point at the drink on the menu while I was ordering. Even then, they would act as if I was ordering some crazy drink that they had never heard of. I didn't understand that since I was ordering a drink from the menu sitting on the bar where they were working. We were also disappointed that the Sunset Bar was not open very often, even when the weather was sunny and warm as we left the various ports. The Lawn area would be full of people and the Sunset Bar would be closed. We had the premium drink package again on this cruise. We did not notice any long lines or wait-times at the bars that others have said in their reviews. We booked the premium drink package on two Solstice cruises and think they are worth every penny.
In the mornings, we went to Caf' al Bacio for a specialty coffee. There was always a waiter taking orders at the tables. She provided great service. Tip: if there is a long line at the counter, you can sit at a table and order a drink to-go from the waitress. This was usually much faster than waiting in the line.
The gym had good quality cardio equipment. My only complaint is that there were not enough machines, especially ellipticals. We went to the gym at various times throughout the morning, and there were always people waiting for the elliptical.
In Ketchikan, we did not book an excursion. It rained, which is the typical weather. We walked around the town and Creek Street. We saw the salmon running up the river. Tip: take the Married Man's Trail up the river to see amazing views of the salmon! They were very active in the upper part of the river. It was worth the 10 minute walk. Do not be deterred by the 'no trespassing' sign at the base of the trail. This is just pertaining to the private home that is located on the trail.
In Juneau, we booked the Tracy Arm excursion at the last minute. I could not possibly explain how amazing this experience was for both of us. The boat took us so close to Sawyer Glacier and we witnessed two HUGE pieces of the glacier fall into the water. Honestly, I was crying because I was so overwhelmed with the experience! The guide on the boat said they were the two biggest pieces they have seen in a while. The boat then took us to the other Sawyer Glacier and up-close to several waterfalls. It was such an unforgettable excursion. I would recommend it to anyone. I do not know if the tendering experience on our cruise was good or bad. When we came back on the ship from our excursion, we were allowed to hop on the next tender. So for us, it was a breeze! In Juneau, we took the Blue Bus to Mendenhall. After our great experience with our excursion, Mendenhall was disappointing to us, except for the fact that we saw a bear!!!! It caught a salmon right in front of us. Crazy! Taking the Blue Bus back to Juneau was a bit of a pain. Lots of people trying to scramble and cram onto the bus. We ate lunch at Tracy's Crab Shack. The crab chowder and crab cakes were really good. The crab legs were good, not great.
In Skagway, we rented a car through Avis so we could drive up to the Yukon and Emerald Lake at our leisure. We picked up our car at 8am and were on the road less than 10 minutes later. We are so glad that we rented a car rather than take an excursion. You should do this! We purchased Murray's Guide and pulled off the road whenever we wanted to snap so many beautiful pictures. Upon return from Emerald Lake, we spent the afternoon walking around Skagway. It was our favorite port town. We stumbled upon a hidden gem called the BBQ Shack and shared a delicious pulled pork sandwich for lunch. Skip the tourist 'brew pubs' and find the BBQ Shack! Skagway has a small grocery store (IGA) that we unfortunately needed to buy some medicine for the cold I was battling since the 3rd day of the cruise. We could tell how small the town was when we saw a sign stating the grocery store would be closed on Sunday for the wedding of two of its employees. The wedding invitation was posted by the door and said all were invited to the reception at the Elk's Lodge. Too bad we weren't in town on Sunday! The weather was so warm that we changed into our swimming suits and hung out by the pool on the ship.
In Victoria, we took the harbor walking path to reach downtown. The walk took about 40 minutes, but it was scenic. We walked (in the pouring rain) around for a bit and then headed back to the ship. There wasn't too much to do in Victoria. If you don't have an excursion booked, I would recommend to just stay on the ship.
Other thoughts on the ship experience: We reviewed our bill on the TV during the cruise. There was one mistake. We went to Guest Relations, and the mistake was corrected. We even received a follow-up telephone call to confirm the charge was removed from our account. Our cabin was cleaned consistently. We are not demanding guests, so I can't comment on anything other than our room steward always had our room cleaned twice per day. On our prior cruise, we ordered room service for lunch so we could eat on our balcony, and we were very impressed by the variety on the menu. On this cruise, the room service menu was very limited. That was a disappointment. I thought the ship would provide blankets on the outside decks so guests would be more comfortable while enjoying the scenery. I did not see any throughout the cruise. Maybe I missed them.
Disembarkation was the usual craziness. The Celebrity workers by the suitcase area asked our number for our suitcases and then directed us to the wrong area. Not very helpful, especially when that area is such a mad house. The taxi line took 45 minutes. The cab fare to the airport was around $50 plus tip. I would recommend hiring a private towncar or take a shuttle. It would have been cheaper and more efficient.
Overall, we had an amazing cruise. Our return trip to the Solstice did not disappoint. We took our first Solstice cruise when we first started dating, and this second Solstice cruise was to celebrate our 1st wedding anniversary. The cruise was not perfect, but what vacation is perfect? We loved this ship just as much as the first time we sailed her. The only wear-and-tear I noticed was the cushions on the lounge chairs on the outside decks. We will cruise again on an S-class ship and will continue to recommend Celebrity.