We're home from a Celebrity Solstice cruise/tour starting in Auckland, NZ on March 16th. This was our 2nd Celebrity cruise ( the first was many years ago), and was chosen because of it's itinerary and the reputation of the Solstice. We've never traveled that far from home before (we live in Tennessee), so about the only negative about the trip was the air travel.
We left Knoxville for Auckland on March 11 arriving there on the 13th, using Air New Zealand premium economy seats from LA to Auckland. Compared to Delta, ANZ is in a different class. The seats were great, food fantastic, and plenty of entertainment throughout the 12 plus hour flight. I had pre-booked the Supershuttle from the airport to the hotel and that went very well. We stayed at the Hilton Auckland on the harbor and had a harbor view room. A great choice for luxury and comfort. The harbor views from our room and other places in the hotel were fabulous! The food there was great, also. There are many places to eat in the area around the hotel.
We had booked the Hobbiton Express tour thru Bush and Beach for the 14th and had a great time. We really would not want to have missed seeing that. We booked Bush and Beach the next day for a half-day Auckland tour and a half-day tour of Auckland's west coast, beaches, and rain forests. That was a bit tiring but well worth it to see all that we saw.
I woke up early on the 16th just as the Solstice arrived in the harbor and I watched it back into the dock just in front of my hotel room. We were on the 7th floor and the Solstice towered over us. The hotel had warned us the day before to close our blinds because of the Solstice arrival. What an exciting experience!
Celebrity had told us not to check in before 2:00 on the 16th, but we decided to try about noon. We walked the half block to the check-in area, left our bags with the luggage handlers and walked into the the check-in area. After filling out the standard form, we walked over, got our room keys, and walked on board the Solstice. Smoothest embarkation I've ever experienced. Rooms weren't ready yet, so we explored a bit and sat around the Atrium area waiting for our room. Also had some Gelato, which was great. Finally, the rooms were called ready, so we made our way up to our room on deck 10 starboard (1070, to be exact, which is Concierge Class), and started putting away the stuff we had in our carry-ons. There was adequate storage in the room, although we could have used more hangers. The storage areas over the bed were great for things like the carry-on bags. Suitcases fit under the bed nicely. They arrived a bit later and we quickly unpacked everything and made like home. By the way, there are 2 us-style 115v outlets at the desk and 1 eu-style, which I had an adapter for. Also, in the bathroom over the sink in the ceiling is another 115v outlet. I had 2 iPhones, and iPad and a camera battery charger so had no trouble keeping everything charged.
That evening, we had booked dinner in the Tuscan Grill, primarily because of the first night discount available. That was a great choice! The Tuscan in on the rear of the vessel on deck 5 and had a beautiful view of Auckland, as well as the line handlers when the Solstice dropped lines to sail at 8:00. And along with the great view, the food and service couldn't be beat.
We had pre-booked most dinners in the Grand Epernay main dining room. We were Select Dining and requested table for 2 at 6:00. We were always given a table next to a window. Food and service was always very good. We usually had breakfast brought to our room at no extra cost due to fairly early excursions. The breakfast menu includes about anything you could get in the main dining room, including omelets. The few times we ate lunch on the ship, we ate at the Bistro on the Five, which I highly recommend. For $5, you get a really great tasting meal and we never had to wait for service. And while you're in the area, we might want to go over to the Cafe al Bacio and pick out some desert goodies from their display cabinet. Food from the cabinet is free for the asking.
We ate at Murano one night. The food and service was great, but views are very limited. We also ate at the Oceanview Cafe twice. I liked eating there because of all the variety, but my wife didn't like having to run around looking for food and then, not being able to find a table readily.
We only did Celebrity excursions and were quite happy with them. At Tauranga, we did the Rotorua Thermal Outing & Blue Baths Tea. I think seeing the geysers and bubbling mud was a must see.
In Wellington, we did the Wellington City and Shipwreck Coast. They refer to Wellington as windy Wellington and it lived up to its reputation. It was also raining pretty hard throughout the day. That put some damper on the tour but we saw a lot anyway.
We just tendered over to Akaroa and walked around a bit instead of taking one of the tours available. It was a beautiful day for a stroll and very enjoyable. I think I'd like to live there!
In Dunedin, we choose the Queenstown Overnight because we wanted to see some of the interior of NZ. This excursion could have been better planned. We felt a little rushed, partly because of the number of people participating in the tour. They should have limited the size to no more that 2 busloads of people. In Queenstown, people were divided up between at least 4 hotels. The scheduled lake cruise and dinner was much too late in the evening. Who wants to cruise this beautiful lake in the dark? The meal wasn't outstanding or worth the trip in the dark. We didn't get back to the hotels until close to midnight and had to leave the next morning early. Travel from Queenstown to the ship seemed rushed but the scenery was outstanding with the snow-capped mountains and beautiful lakes. Getting back on the Solstice was an exciting adventure in itself because we had to walk from a large tour boat on to the Solstice and they had to physically hold the ships together while we walked across a small bridge between them. And another negative to taking this tour is the loss of seeing Dusky Sound and Doubtlful Sound. The part of Milford Sound we got to see was beautiful. The weather was sunny, which is very unusual for the sounds.
The Tasman sea is known to be rougher than some of the other bodies of water, and it proved so during our crossing to Australia. The first day was the roughest and the second day was either significantly smoother or we were just getting used to it.
In Melbourne, we caught a tram to go into the city to visit a friend. She met us at the train station and we walked about a block to have lunch. After returning to the ship, we had an excursion (Melbourne City & River). The excursions was quite nice and the weather was beautiful. I wanted to move to Melbourne, it is such a lovely city.
In Sydney, we did the Sydney Sights, Opera House, and Bondi Beach excursion. The best part was, of course, the tour of the Sydney Opera House. What a fantastic piece of art and architecture. Since the ship backed into the dock in Sydney, our starboard room was facing the opera house. What a sight!
The weather throughout our cruise was outstanding, except for rain in Tauranga and Wellington. It seems like they had extended to summer for a few weeks just for us. It was sad to leave the Solstice that Thursday morning. It had become home for us for 12 days. Other than language difficulty with the crew, they were always eager to serve and engage in conversation. We had difficulty understanding the Captain when he made announcements. Some of the wait staff were also difficult to understand. We've never had this problem with Princess or Norwegian. It could have something to do with our 70 year old ears, too, but that can't all be our fault. Our cabin stewards were easy to talk to and did outstanding jobs keeping our room just right for us.
The Solstice is a beautiful ship, well maintained, and clean. I couldn't have been happier with our stay on the ship. I would love to have been able to stay onboard all the way to Alaska.
We had booked the cruise tour, so at disembarkation, we were met by our tour director and found our bus. Disembarkation went very smoothly. We waited for our number in a lounge where coffee and pastries were provided.
After loading the bus, we were taken to the Sydney airport for our flight to Cairns. After landing, we visited the Rainforestation Nature Park in the Kuranda Rainforest, where we were introduced to many of the Australian animals and could pet and feed the Kangaroos. Then we were taken to Port Douglas to check into a beautiful hotel (Peppers Beach Club hotel) for a free evening.
The next morning, we traveled to the Great Barrier Reef on the Quicksilver ship for a day of viewing the reef up close. This was a relaxing day for us. There were many activities available but we mainly looked at the reef thru the underwater windows or on the submersible. If we got too hot, we walked back onto the Quicksilver to relax in the air conditioning.
The next morning we were taken back to the Cairns airport for our flight to Ayers Rock. We knew the temperature there had been over 100 degrees for a long time, so we expected hot weather when we arrived. Also, we were warned about the flies and encouraged to buy fly netting before arriving in Ayers Rock, which we did. Well, when we got off the plane, it was raining and cool and no flies could be found. I didn't bring anything for warmth, since it was supposed to be so hot. Most of our luggage had been left in Sydney. Our Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru was canceled due to the rain and cold, so they provided a gourmet buffet at the hotel. The next morning (Easter Sunday), they took us to Uluru for the sunrise, which we couldn't see due to clouds. We toured around the base of Uluru for a few hours, with me freezing in the cold. At least it wasn't raining any more. The many colors of Uluru and surrounding area are beautiful.
We returned to the hotel for a full breakfast and were then transported to the airport for our flight back to Sydney. By the way, all of our flights in Australia were with Quantus. Just wish US airlines were half as good! Small meals provided on each flight for free. Great service.
On arrival in Sydney, we were transported to our hotel (Sheraton on the Park) for overnight. Celebrity doesn't scrimp on hotels. All of our hotels have been outstanding!
The next morning, we were transported to the Sydney airport. We flew Air New Zealand from Sydney to Auckland, then Auckland to LAX. Delta from LAX to Atlanta, where we spent the night since we arrived about midnight. Then Delta from Atlanta to Knoxville the next day. One change we will make in our flight schedules if we do this again will be planning an overnight in Los Angeles both ways. We flew over 25 hours going and 27 hours coming home, including airport layovers.
I would give this cruise/tour at least 5 stars!
New Zealand and Australia are places you don't want to miss in your travels. New Zealand is the most beautiful country I've ever seen. We only touched on it on our cruise tour. We hope to go back again, at least to New Zealand, and see more of the country at a slower pace. And I'll certainly cruise on Celebrity again if I find an itinerary I like.