We arrived at the Smith Cove cruise terminal in Seattle at about noon. It was packed - the cab line was so long that it took us almost ten minutes just to get dropped off. The lines inside were reminiscent of Disneyland on a summer weekend - we actually stood in one line just to get into another line! But everyone was quite helpful and we were on board in about 45 minutes. We had lunch and wandered about the ship. My suitcase arrived in our cabin about 4:30, and my wife's about 6:00 (it had been delivered to the wrong cabin, but out steward sorted that out). This was quite a change from our first cruise, where we got on board in less than 10 minutes and had our luggage delivered 30 minutes later.
This was our second cruise. Our first was a couple of years ago on the Holland America Oosterdam. There was a quite a contrast between the two; the Solstice is a lot bigger (2,800 passengers vs 2,000) and the decor is less ostentatious and more modern. Our stateroom (veranda stateroom on 8th deck, starboard side, forward) was quite nice. It was clean, and we both thought it was more spacious than our similar stateroom on the Oosterdam, especially the bathroom. Our veranda was not only larger, but because they have sliding glass doors on the Solstice (unlike the Oosterdam), all of the space was useable. And use it, we did. It was nice that we could lock the door in an open posotion and not have it take up space either inside the stateroom or on the veranda.
Without exception, they were all helpful. In a sharp contrast with the crew from our previous cruise, they didn't spend a lot of time trying to sell us stuff. All spoke English very well, and were unfailingly polite and friendly.
We chose the freestyle dining option instead of the fixed dining times, and ate in only two of the restaurants; the buffet (I forgot the name) and the main dining room (the Grand Epernay, whatever that means). I thought the main dining room was quite nice and not at all overdone, but I overheard others saying it looked "plain" and "minimal".
The buffet: we ate breakfast in the buffet every day. Breakfast is a hard meal to screw up and the Solstice didn't. It was hard at times to find a seat, so I took advantage of being an early riser to eat before 7:00 most mornings and had no problem. My wife ate later and we settled on a method of finding a table for two, and then each of us getting our food separately. I was really pleased to find that Solstice offered an English breakfast section, with baked beans, broiled tomatoes, cooked mushrooms, English sausages, etc. However, I discovered the next day that the American-style sausages and the English-style sausages both tasted exactly the same. At lunch, the cafe offers a variety of offerings, from Indian food (I *loved* the papadams and accompanying relishes and ate them every day) to Chinese food to hot entrees to Mexican food to pizza to sandwiches, soups, and salads. I found something new every day, and enjoyed it all.
The Grand Epernay: we made reservations for the main dining room almost every night. I don't know if it's the case elsewhere, but every time we sat at a "table for two", we found that our "table for two" was about two inches away from several other "tables for two", which was a slight surprise but not a disappointment. The food in the Grand Epernay was really good. Given the number of meals they have to turn out, I would have been surprised if the food had been outstanding, but a couple of our meals reached that level - especially the salmon. There were a few curiosities: I ordered prime rib, which was great, but it came with no horseradish. And in general (especially in the buffet), much of the food required salt and pepper. For every table there was a head waiter, an assistant waiter, a wine steward, and a cocktail waitress/waiter. I never knew who to order from. There were two formal nights. Ladies wore nice dresses (some very formal), and men more coats and ties (and pants of course).
Other shipboard stuff:
There was a wide range of passengers from around the world, of all ages. I'd say that the average age was 45-50.
We really enjoyed the music on board. There were two jazz combos, which made a jazzoid like me *very* happy. There was also a good singer-songwriter, a pop band (or two), a country-western band (with a small Elvis imitator!), and a classical music trio. They were all great.
There were lots of on board activities but we cruise to relax, so we spent most of our time either staring at the beautiful scenery, looking for whales, or reading. The Solstice had just one daily general announcement - every day at ten AM the captain would give a brief report, and the cruise director (is that his title?) would give a very brief rundown on activities for the day. That was a nice change from our previous cruise, where there were several announcements daily.
We only attended one of the evening shows, and didn't care for it. But we don't care for that sort of thing in the first place, so we might have been biased.
We really enjoyed the ship's naturalist, Brent Nixon. He gave several extremely educational and highly entertaining talks about the flora and fauna of the Inside Passage.
There are several bars on the ship, and we found two that we liked. The Martini Bar is a "flair" bar on the 4th deck, where the bartenders juggle bottles, and pour multiple cocktails at once - one of them poured 12 martinis at once. Highly entertaining. There was also a quiet bar on the 5th deck (the Ensemble Lounge), just outside the specialty restaurants. That was where the jazz groups played.
No sweat; no hanging around waiting for your group to be called. We carried our own bags and were off the ship and into our cab in less than five minutes.
We really enjoyed the cruise. The scenery was spectacular, and the amenities on board were great. I think we've found a cruise line we can stick with.