Ship: Solstice (this is Celebrity's new mega-ship) Cabin 9257
Sail Date: Aug 30th, 2013
Duration: 7 days
Itinerary: Seattle, Sea Day, Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Sea Day, Victoria BC, Seattle
This is a rather long message, so if you just want to skim to the results, just look at the first paragraph after each section title. If you want more details, just keep reading within that section.
My experience was significantly sub-par on Celebrity Solstice and may reflect just that ship's management or may reflect on changes in Celebrity as a whole. If there is one takeaway from my experience, do not choose a cruise on Celebrity Solstice ship and seriously consider other cruise providers (especially look at recent cruise reviews by passengers) before booking your next cruise.
This write-up comes from a veteran Celebrity cruise customer (5 cruises with Celebrity), but is of course based on my personal experiences and desires of what I have come to expect on a cruise in general and Celebrity in particular. Read the details below if you want more information.
The Ship (Solstice)
The ship Solstice has some design flaws that may adversely impact the cruise experience in ways that the other ships in the Celebrity fleet do not. If you pick the right cabin and depending on your tastes for onboard activities, the flaws can be mitigated fairly well.
Sympathetic Vibrations (Harmonic Vibrations): The Solstice has vibrations at a constant frequency (about 15-20hz) that rocks the ship at various times. By "rock" I mean vibration so strong that dishes can rattle and you can hear it in your voice if you try to sing a constant note. Imagine being on an electric massage chairs. At times it can be relaxing -- if you are in the mood for one of those kinds of massages, but overall, it is unpleasant. And by "the ship" I mean a very large portion of the ship from the stern to mid-ship and all the way up to deck 14. And by "various times", I mean more than 50% of the time. Sometimes it goes on all day and all night. Although at other times isn't very noticeable so my first theory was a badly imbalanced propeller running at a certain RPMs. However, once I noticed that it happened once while the ship was stationary at dock, that theory was discarded. My current theory is it has do with the diesel engines or turbines that provide power. The last night of the cruise as we were slowly heading from Victoria BC to Seattle the vibration caused such a clicking noise in the cabin that it kept my wife and me from sleeping. That final leg of the cruise should be the quietest of all since the distance to travel is so short the engines would be on about 1/4 power and we were in the inside passage and there was very little wind so the motion of the ship was otherwise smooth as glass. It was the dang vibration was driving us crazy.
NOTE: This appears to be an engineering design flaw with the ship so the problem may be present in the sister ships of Equinox, Eclipse, Silhouette, and Reflection. Harmonics can be present with any vessel of any type, but there are engineering techniques and construction methods that can be used to dampen their affect. This wasn't done on the Solstice, so cruise customer beware.
The Central Atrium: The central atrium is a large vertical open area cutting through most floors of the ship and rises from the lobby on deck 3 (where Customer Relations desk, Excursion desk, and other ship service desks are located) and goes all the way up to the top deck. Although it is sealed from the elements, there is plenty of glass to let light in. The atrium is flanked by the inward facing glass elevators at one end and provides a quite picturesque view as you ride that doesn't depend on outside scenery as is the case with the smaller Celebrity ships and their outward facing glass elevators. There are two problems with this. The first is that they hold live music and group events (example, dancing classes) in the open area on the bottom floor -- right by the guest service counters. Since the service counters are the "business" part of the ship, it felt out of place to have the business part of the ship in such close noisy proximity with the entertainment part of the ship. Guests had to talk over the entertainment when dealing with the staff. This probably falls under the "quality of life" category where it more up to personal preference, but think about this for a minute, what other hotel have you seen that holds line dancing classes 30 feet from the front desk? If they restricted the entertainment in that location to just a cello player or small string group (no vocals) it might be fine. However the opposite of that was more typical of the entertainment in that location. The central atrium also causes a second unintended consequence...
The Library: the library is an open area that is two floors high but three of the four walls are open to the atrium which, as I mentioned earlier, is right above the central entertainment area on deck 3. This means that if you like to read in the library, you'll have to do so while listening to the DJ or other events taking place on the atrium floor. I hope you aren't one who prefers to read in quiet. However, who reads on a cruise? I generally do not, but if you are one to read and don't mind the noise, don't be fooled by the appearance of lots of reading material on the bookcases that are 12 shelves high. The bookshelves only have the bottom 5 shelves holding books you can read. The rest of the shelves going up are filled with decoration books that are out of reach. If you don't avail yourself of the library's small selection or are not bothered by hearing interactive cruise entertainment (such as dance instruction), then it is a flaw that has no consequence to you so just enjoy the view of the library as you ride the elevator. The smaller Celebrity ships also have a two story library, but they consist of two actual enclosed floors with all useable bookshelves and it is quietly tucked within the upper decks where the cabins are located.
The Stateroom Service (Balcony room, Concierge Class)
Concierge Class apparently does not mean what it used to mean for Celebrity guests. To get the same level of service you may have to upgrade to a suite. Overall, Concierge Class is not a reasonable value added service.
Toiletries: In most (all?) hotels there are toiletries (lotion, conditioner, shampoo, and sometimes body-wash) set out in the restroom in a special place, usually a tray or indentation on the counter. The housekeeping staff, when they attend the room, replaces any of these toiletries that have been removed from their designated spot. This means guests are always greeted with fresh toiletries when they return to their room even if they still have a half used shampoo container in the shower, for example. This was not the case with our Celebrity experience. Fresh toiletries were not provided unless specifically asked for. Of course one set of toiletries will not last two people for 7 days so we had to ask a couple of times for specific refills. Previous cruises weren't like this. Is this a problem with just the housekeeping staff on that floor, the ship in general, or is it new policy throughout the Celebrity fleet?
Water Bottle in Stateroom: Our stateroom came with an Evian water bottle. Excellent. Having ready access to drinking water is a good thing. We took advantage of the bottle one evening, but the next day, a fresh bottle was not placed in the spot where the Evian bottle goes. Just like toiletries, if the bottle of water is not in its designated space (even if it is half consumed and sitting nearby), a fresh one should be replaced when the room is serviced. Why wouldn't they replace the bottle? They charge for the bottle, so there is no financial incentive to not replace the bottle if the previous one is used. They even left a receipt showing how much the water bottle was billed to our seapass card, but still never provided a new bottle.
Note: Both occupants of the stateroom had the premium beverage package which granted unlimited free Evian bottles (of the exact same size) if we asked for one at any of the bars. Note to Celebrity corporate: Don't charge the room for an Evian water bottle when one or especially both guests have the premium beverage package which grants free unlimited Evian water bottles. It's not like this service can be abused as only ONE bottle was supplied for the whole cruise. Even if we drank the bottle and the housekeeping staff replaced the bottle every single day, there is no meaningful savings for Celebrity (we could have just brought two bottles to the room each night if we happened to think of it when we were near a bar) that is worth the unpleasant experience of being billed for something that is normally free in unlimited quantities for us.
Canapes (aka "savories" or "hor d'oeuvres"): Typically, with Concierge class, a small tray of canapes consisting of 4 or 6 small pieces are delivered to each stateroom in the afternoon. They are a welcome surprise treat when returning to the cabin. This was no longer the case with our recent Celebrity cruise. In order to have canapes delivered to the room you had to fill out a special request form that would result in canapes delivered for the following day. Each day the housekeeping staff would leave out a fresh blank canape request form that the guest can fill out. Talk about sucking the life out of that small treat one used to expect with Concierge class. We tried it once, but no more. The treats were fine, but it was a disappointment knowing that to get canapes in the room we would have to fill out a special request form. Every day.
Fruit bowl was just three small green apples: This might be a minor point, but with previous cruises the fruit bowl was stocked with some combination of bananas, pears, apples, and oranges. It was nice to have, but on this cruise there were only three green apples. We ate one and it was replaced the next day (with another green apple). Hooray, I think. I don't care much for green apples, but would have loved a pear or orange like previous cruises. Also, the knife we used (there was a cloth napkin and two knives next to the fruit bowl) to cut the apple was not replaced. I half suspect (read the rest of this post and you'll see why) that if we had used the second knife it would not have been replaced either.
Welcome Aboard Champaign: Actually Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine was provided in an ice bucket along with two Champaign glasses at the start of the cruise. This is part of Concierge Class service and is quite welcome and makes the guests feel special. On previous cruises we usually delayed opening the bottle until the second or third night. The staff would replace the ice in the ice bucket each day until we consumed the bottle. This was a nice treat as it meant the bottle was chilled whenever we got back to the room in the evening. On this cruise however, the ice was never replaced. In addition, we used one Champaign glass for some other reason and the soiled glass was removed, but never replaced. Our stateroom greeted us each evening to the sight of a warm bottle of sparkling wine and a solitary Champaign glass. Not very exciting, to be sure and quite unlike the previous cruises with Celebrity.
No Priority Tendering: On previous Celebrity cruises, Concierge Class would provide priority tendering departure. This would be in the form of colored cards delivered to the stateroom on the previous day to any port where tendering was required. With these cards, the Concierge Class passenger could take whatever tender was available. Without such a priority card (and if you didn't have an excursion that required priority tendering) you would have to go to the main theater, check in, and then wait for your number to be called which could take about 30-45 minutes and sometimes longer if you are trying to tender early.
Hair Dryer missing: All rooms contain a hair dryer, but Concierge class rooms are supposed to have an extra hair dryer. Only one was provided in our room. It had no adverse impact on us as we only had need for one, but I mention it as another example of a deviation from what was advertised as Concierge Class perk and what was actually provided.
Comment Card not provided: Celebrity (maybe all) cruises have comment cards placed in the cabin on the afternoon of the day before the disembarkation day. We had pleasant experiences with many of the staff and wanted to put a note about it on the comment card as the staff suggested we do. However... No comment card was placed in our stateroom. We had to go down to the Customer Service desk and have them print up one for us. They were nice to us and apologetic and assured us that this was not supposed to happen. My conclusion was that it was a problem with the housekeeping staff and not likely to be a common occurrence you can expect. I mention it here because it indicates a bit of sloppiness I have not seen in Celebrity before.
"Welcome Aboard" letter arrived on last day: The Welcome Aboard letter, customized stationery, and 2 postcards were delivered to our stateroom on the evening of the last cruise day (prior to docking in Seattle the next morning). Oops. These were supposed to be delivered on the first day of the cruise. Again, I suspect it was a housekeeping staff problem and not something you can expect from Celebrity in general.
Final night cleared things out of room in an unusual way: The housekeeping staff will typically remove (or hide in a secret place such as a small hollow behind the sofa) various items that might be in danger of being accidently packed away in guest's luggage. For example, these items would be umbrellas, binoculars, ice buckets, drinking glasses, etc. This is normal and expected. However, on this cruise the only things "hidden away" on the final night were the binoculars, ice bucket, the drinking glasses in the bathroom, and the hand towels. Yes, they actually left the umbrellas and the drinking glasses in the main cabin, but hid away the hand towels. How is that for bizarre? Fortunately, the Solstice uses washcloths for hand drying in the public bathrooms so it only took a short walk and elevator ride to bring a washcloth back to the room for washing up.
Mysterious Beach Towels: A beach towel was sitting on our bed on day three when we got back to the room. It was not soiled or anything and looked just like it was delivered there by request from housekeeping. We did not request a beach towel. I suspect it was supposed to be delivered to another room and got delivered to our room by mistake. What makes this even more interesting is that ANOTHER beach towel was delivered to our room on day five. Maybe it was the previous guest wondering why his beach towel was not delivered and housekeeping misdelivered it again. There might be serious housekeeping staff issue at play here. Again, not likely that you will experience the same thing, but it is another indication of sloppiness that I don't expect from Celebrity.
The dining experience was less satisfying than previous Celebrity cruises. It was not necessarily because of quality of the food itself (with kind of one exception, see below), but rather the ambiance and service. In the future don't expect much from the main dining room as it appears the attention to service and quality has shifted away from the main dining room and more toward the specialty (premium charge) restaurants. Even the buffet was worse, for various reasons, than previous Celebrity cruises. Celebrity was known for its fine dining experience, but not as much anymore it seems.
The Main Dining Room is now more like Diner than Fancy Restaurant: Our place setting in the main dining room consisted of a bread plate, butter knife, main plate, two forks, and a knife. If you have experienced Celebrity dining on previous cruises, this is quite a shock. Previous cruises had place setting more like a high quality restaurant. There used to be three forks on the left, a fork and two spoons above, three knives on the right, and a spoon on the right. Each piece was for a particular purpose. After placing your order, certain pieces of silverware that would not be needed would be discreetly removed by the wait staff. They never needed to bring silverware with the food as you had all you would ever need from the start -- just like a fancy restaurant.
Note: The wait staff also no longer comes by and scrapes off the crumbs from the tablecloth between the main course and desert.
Less Attentive Service in Main Dining Room: On our first night, no bread was delivered to our table. We were drooling over the delicious looking bread all the other tables were provided with, but in the end had to flag down one of the waiters who were servicing other tables to request bread (our waiter and assistant waiter were nowhere to be seen at the time). When the meal arrived, the waiter just dropped off the plate and left quickly without the usual courtesy of asking "is there anything else I can get you?", which would have come in handy as there was something we desired. As we opened our mouth to say something his back was turned and he was racing away. Overall, he was a nice waiter as we found out on subsequent nights, but it sure felt like we were in Denny's that first night. I suspect it was a problem with the assistant waiter that caused the main waiter to be overworked.
The Oceanview Cafe is very crowded: The cafe (buffet) on a cruise ship can be crowded sometimes, but on the Solstice it is much more severe than other smaller Celebrity ship designs. This seems to be because the cafe is about the same size as the smaller ships even though there are more passengers. I think they realized the error of this as all the tables are decorated with signs that tell the passengers to please leave the table as soon as they are finished to make room for the other passengers which are invariably wandering around with plates in their hands forlornly looking for a place to sit.
Note 1: To make the crowded situation even worse, the buffet food stations are broken up into "islands" where passengers with plates of food are randomly moving between them in a delicate game of "bumper cars" were guests often stop and change direction suddenly. Some of the islands contain the same food as other islands and some do not which encourages even more confused wandering around in this crowded area of the cafe. The original way of buffet style service where food is served in long rows allowed a single walk-by to see what food was available and encouraged an orderly procession of guests past the food trays as they served themselves with a minimum of bumping and collisions.
Note 2: There were several broken decorations in the cafe that made it seem a bit more rundown than I would have expected. These decorations could have been easily fixed with some glue or epoxy so it gave the impression that the staff just didn't care about appearances.
The Silk Harvest (specialty restaurant): Fist I have to say I generally like the concept of these specialty restaurants on the Solstice. The premium fee is not too extravagant and the service is more attentive than elsewhere. One could argue that the service should be just as attentive in all the restaurants, but that aside, it is nice to have access to a more cozy dining location with a specialty menu. That is, if your waiter could speak your language. Our waiter was pleasant but only had a tenuous grasp of the English language. We asked if a certain chicken dish used white meat only and the waiter said "yes". We asked again to be sure "White meat chicken in this dish" and again the answer was "yes". The dish turned out to be all dark meat chicken. The waiter didn't seem to understand the adjectives "white" and "dark" as it applied to chicken meat and thus wasn't able to give us the correct information. My wife can't eat dark chicken meat so we were apologetic about being unable to eat the dish and the waiter was very nice about it too. However, my wife asked for the "noodles with tofu" that was on the menu and when the order arrived it didn't have ANY tofu. Apparently the waiter thought she asked for "no tofu". We did the best with what we had and made a mental note to avoid the Silk Harvest restaurant in the future.
Note: When first seated at the Silk Harvest restaurant, my menu was blank. Just the outer folder with no inner sheets that held the actual menu. We had a bit of a laugh at that and the problem was soon corrected once the wait staff became aware of it.
The Tuscan Grille (specialty restaurant): All our experiences were not bad, by any means. I must point out that the Tuscan Grille was excellent. The staff was friendly and attentive (and spoke English quite well seeing as it wasn't their native language). The food was exceptional as well. Oh and the location of the restaurant with the ceiling to floor windows facing out the stern of the ship was spectacular. I can't recommend the Tuscan Grill enough. If there is only one specialty restaurant you visit, make it the Tuscan Grille.
The entertainment options have shifted a bit away from small groups or solo performers at small venues and more toward the main showroom which has much better production values as compared to the smaller ships. If you like the showroom entertainment, you will be pleased. If you more prefer the cozy small venue entertainment, you will be less pleased.
Michael's Club no longer has piano player: Michael's Club is much bigger on the Solstice than on the smaller ships which would normally be good, but there was no piano player performing there. Piano players have a personality that is usually quite entertaining in their own unique way and not just from their playing of the piano. The experience is almost always quite enjoyable and it was sorely missed to no longer be able to enjoy the piano entertainment in Michael's Club.
Less live entertainment?: I'm not sure if this is true, but it felt like there was less live entertainment throughout the ship. Less groups playing and playing less often. I can't say for sure, but I would risk betting money that there was less musical entertainment on the Solstice. I don't count line dancing classes, ping pong tournaments, ballroom dancing classes, or name-that-tune contests as entertainment for this purpose.
Main Showroom Entertainment was better: I noticed that the main showroom had more elaborate and entertaining productions than found on the smaller Celebrity ships. There were more Celebrity performers and better and more elaborate sets. Good job.
No small tables for resting drinks in the showroom: The showroom in the smaller Celebrity ships have a small table by each seat that drinks can be rested on. The Solstice has no tables, but rather cutouts in the armrests that could fit some drink glasses if carefully inserted. However, they don't seem safe from being bumped since the drink actually becomes part of the armrest in that case. If you have a beer, for example, the armrest drink holder gimmick won't work at all and you have to hold the drink throughout the performance. I can't say that this design is an improvement in any way.
The Naturalist Brent Nixon was cringe worthy: He was the naturalist who performed many short one-man shows on various wildlife and nature subjects. His performance consisted of presenting a slideshow and using wildly over the top bodily animations and expressions that seemed to be geared toward 5 year olds in some cases and adults in others -- like Robin Williams on 50 cups of coffee but without the humor. He called himself a scientist, but it is much more accurate to call him a performer with a 15-20 year out of date education. His show was more geared for entertainment and not very good science. I could go through some of the many out of date and discredited information he presented but it is easier to leave you with just one nugget that in indicative of his show's content and is easy for you to research yourself for veracity. Brent Nixon said that humans only used a tiny part of their brain and even Einstein only used 15% of his brain.
David Meyer was fantastic: The performance of David Meyer on the Xylosynth in the main showroom was second to none. He could easily perform in Las Vegas. Good job in choosing him as a performing. Celebrity should book him every cruise if possible. He is very good.