This was our 7th cruise up to Alaska, 3rd on Celebrity and the 1st on the Solstice. We've sailed on the Equinox before so cannot say we were wowed and surprised by the S class. For us, the S class is absolute perfection on the water.
We arrived early in Seattle from the SF bay area and were greeted by a friend that took us on a tour of the Emerald City and out for breiakfast at this New Orleans style restaurant -- simply delicious.
We mentioned that we were on this 'Chef John Howie' cruise and she was impressed. I had never heard of him before but the TA said we would not be sorry -- well, she wasn't kidding!! More on that later but the special events set up for this rather small group (I would say it was no more than 50 passengers) were phenomenal.
We arrived at the ship and booked the Aqua Class for the first time and so were whisked over to the AQ line with very few passengers waiting to check in. Check in was quick but not so efficient -- they couldn't get their cameras to work and the clerk seemed to be overwhelmed but ended up getting the job done.
We were not allowed into our cabin as it was only about 12:30. We found some comfy chairs up by the pool and met some nice people also waiting for the room clearance. Norris, the cocktail waiter kept our whistles wet while we were waiting. We weren't hungry as we just had breakfast a couple of hours earlier and by about 2 PM, we were allowed to check into our rooms. We met up with our friends that we were travelling with and grabbed a bite to eat in the buffet. The fire drill was shortly afterwards, ours held in Murano, which had a very strange smell so we chose not to try it later in the cruise.
Stateroom: This was our first time in Aqua Class and there really didn't seem like there was any difference between this class and the Concierge Class that we booked on the Equinox. The cabin was nice, though, just missing the extras that were listed on Celebrity's website. We requested a body pillow (the pillow menu being a perk of the CC and AQ) but our room steward didn't seem to think we were entitled to it. He finally did bring it but only after he checked with his supervisor. It was much like that for the entire cruise. He never properly introduced himself or his assistant -- but we figured it out as we went along. We've had better room stewards in the past but didn't let it ruin our cruise.
The bathroom design is so fabulous on this class, however, the countertop was filthy the entire cruise -- before we got there and when we disembarked. The shower, however, was clean and the shower spigots were pretty awesome.
Celebrity's bedding and pillows are so comfortable and like the rounded corners -- made it feel a bit roomier. I find there is plenty of storage space in these cabins, despite what others have mentioned. I imagine if you are not very tall, the shelves above the bed are not quite as handy.
The balcony was standard and in Aqua Class, you also get a foot stool, but found it was a bit cramped with the chairs and stools ....but it was nice to have the stools for nap time outside, so not really a complaint. It was just a little squished when our friends came up to hang out with us out there. Oh yes, did I mention, we had the most gorgeous, unseasonably warm weather during this cruise so visiting and nap time was definitely outdoors.
The carpet in the room was getting a bit worn and very dusty in the corners. I think that room just needed a deep cleaning. Maybe the room steward was busy with the suite guests right next door, so for us, he was less than stellar.
The location of our room was perfect -- situated just aft of the midship elevators but seeing it was on the port side, a couple of times, I could smell the smokers from the pool deck above. I noticed they opened the windows up there and it wafted down to our room. I am really sensitive to the smell of smoke and just noticed it a few times and it was faint -- so really wouldn't keep me from booking in that location again.
We were nearby the library, which I didn't visit this time around but it would have been convenient if I were to read there.
Starting with Café al Bacio -- just fantastic coffee and pastries. Well worth the extra money for really good coffee.
Buffet: I really love the set up for the buffet on Celebrity. My favorites are the sandwich bar (very friendly staff there) the stir fry station (staff couldn't be bothered there but the food is good), the pasta station and the salad bar and Caesar salad station. The food is actually of pretty good quality throughout the buffet area -- I just like those the best.
We never had breakfast or dinner up in the buffet so am just commenting on snack time and lunchtime goodies.
Blu: Wow...this was the biggest surprise and just awesome all the way around. The food ranged from very good to amazingly excellent. The staff -- the BEST!! Laura greeted us warmly every time we went there and did her best to seat us at a suitable table. I don't really mind the table set up that others complain about. I find it makes it easy to either visit with your neighbor but the boundary exists if you don't feel particularly chatty. The waiters and wine steward also were very friendly -- no request they weren't happy to fulfill.
Main Dining Room: We went to the main dining room twice and it just wasn't that special after experiencing Blu so found other ways to visit with our travel mates. The food was ok but the seemed to sit us next to the same screaming kid and family and I just wanted to hurry through the meal to get out of there.
Tuscan Grill: This is an amazing restaurant with the most beautiful view on the entire ship. One of our Chef John Howie events was held in this restaurant and it was amazing (although the service was a bit slow). We were treated to whales playing in the wake towards the end of our special luncheon.
Aqua Spa Café: The food here is always a winner. We wanted to order a glass of wine with our lunch here and were sent somewhere else to purchase it. On the Equinox, they actually got a waiter to do that for us. Not a deal breaker but we were purchasing it so would have expected a bit more of a service aspect.
Mast Grill: probably the best French fries on earth, which is why we only went there once.
Grand Buffet: OMG -- the good was so good, however, They did seem to be running out of some of the food -- kind of rationing it or so it seemed. But, it didn't affect our enjoyment at all. The service was kind of poor though --- were given dirty coffee cups and it took them about 10 minutes to find some clean ones. The dirty dishes were stacked on our table for over 30 minutes and we had to ask somebody to take them away. So maybe they need to address that although it still was still very nice.
Room service: POOR -- we have not been happy with the room service on recent Celebrity cruises and haven't really learned our lesson yet ....well, maybe now. It just isn't worth the wait at all.
We didn't try any of the specialty restaurants so really cannot comment on them.
Persian Gardens / Observation Lounge / Indoor Pool: This is one of the perks of AQ -- I loved it immensely but my husband, not all that impressed. The Persian gardens heated tile chairs ranged from being completely filled to nobody using them. It was nice using them while in port as it wasn't crowded or noisy in there and seemed to really penetrate the tired muscles.
The observation lounge, at the front of the ship, was no heavily used and had tea and water available. The girls working in front there were top notch....so friendly and accommodating. We were in this room during sail away from Ketchikan -- wow! Phenomenal views.
The indoor pool is a must for Alaska, although we had such great weather. Nonetheless, love the beehive chairs and padded loungers. What a relaxing place to spend the day all with a great view from the windows, take a dip or soak in the hot tub. Very relaxing indeed.
Entertainment: The cruise director wasn't really out and about as I am used to seeing but great entertainment was set up the entire cruise. We went to the magic show, which was just ok but the same guy did the hypnotist show and he was hilarious. We went to a couple of production shows, both of which were really good -- missed the Cirque type show, but heard it was great. We don't really attend the shopping talks or demonstrations -- so cannot really speak to those. The newlywed show is always a winner, this was no exception. I love that Celebrity has their shows in venues that actually seat the number of people that are attending. Too many times we've been skunked out of seeing a show because we didn't go an entire hour early...the venues are too small....but not on Celebrity. Love that.
The centrum had the greatest singers -- really got the crowd involved. Everybody seemed to be dancing, singing, just having a good time.
The martini bar is always fun but the freeze of the bar feature wasn't working. Again...not a deal breaker but it is a fun feature when it is working. It didn't seem to have the same allure without it.
Captains parties: These are always fun ...the one for select and elite is just great. They aren't stingy with their most loyal passengers -- NICE!!
The casino didn't seem to have a lot of activities set up but maybe they were just kind of quiet about them. We found the poker machines were not so friendly but did have some luck on the slots. The staff was very friendly and they had plenty of smaller bills on hand.
Chef John Howie experience: So, we booked this without knowing what it was really going to entail. We were quoted four special events for this group, which consisted of about 50 passengers (or so it seemed). We had a hard time finding the first event, which was at sail away up in the observation / sky lounge. There were excellent appetizers and cocktails available....and some really nice people in our group. The chef made himself available for conversations -- very friendly man. What a great way to start off the cruise.
One of the events was a galley demo -- but it wasn't really our thing but no way out. I heard the one for the rest of the passengers was much better. There was also a cooking demonstration by John Howie but we had something else to do so didn't attend.
The best was saved for last, which happened to be on our anniversary. We were treated to a four course luncheon in the Tuscan Grill with wine pairing -- all Washington State wines which were excellent. John Howie has a few top notch restaurants in Seattle (or so we learned) but heard most of them were steak places. I was expecting to have some good bread and salads as I don't eat red meat, but we started off with a seared scallop appetizer -- simply excellent -- paired with a Riesling, once the waiters figured out we were sitting there without any wine, bread or appetizer , that is.
Next, came the salad with either peaches or nectarines and a nice vinegarette which wasn't overpowering at all. Just the right combo ...and this was paired with a lovely Chardonnay. We moved on to the salmon over mashed sweet potatoes ...couldn't figure out the sauce used but it was delicious. This was pared with a Saggi )never heard of that before but it was a red wine that did not steal the thunder from the salmon dish. Then, came the dessert -- a fantastic strawberry shortcake drizzled with a gran marnier (sp?) paired with a dessert wine. The chef went around and visited with every table in the grill at which time we mentioned this had been the first cruise up to Alaska where we hadn't seen whales. No sooner had I said it, the whales made their appearance off the back of the ship....they seemed to be playing in the wake of the ship. What a treat!! This made our trip and our anniversary very special.
That night, we were in Victoria and chose to stay aboard. We went up to the lawn club and enjoyed a special bottle of wine that was given to us for our anniversary. Since we had such a fantastic lunch, we just got some little appetizers from the buffet and enjoyed the sunset from the back of the ship.
Disembarkation: This was handled so nicely with Select and Elite members or maybe it was AQ and Elite members able to use the Tuscan Grill as their disembarkation lounge. They kept us notified but also stated if we weren't in a hurry, we didn't have to disembark until we wanted to....so we stayed for a bit until the crowds died down.
Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 for this cruise. There were just a couple of service issues but overall, it was such a lovely cruise and the positives far outweighed any slight negatives.
The Chef John Howie experience and the Aqua Class ....namely, Blu, made our cruise so very memorable. We actually booked the Solstice again next year but for a bit longer cruise. Seven days just isn't long enough....but alas, we didn't book the Aqua Class due to the increase in cost.
At least we will be on the ship!!
Post Cruise in Seattle: We stayed at the Sheraton in downtown Seattle. The location was fantastic -- 5 minute walk to Pikes Market, 1.5 blocks from the monorail to the Space Needle / Seattle Center, and just two blocks from the light rail that takes you to the airport. The room was absolutely spotless and quiet. The beds were so comfortable and the room was nicely appointed. We ate at the Chowder place -- advice we got here on cruise critic. It was fabulous. Our travel mates also stayed one night in Seattle but don't really care for downtown so we asked around on good places out of town to eat and ended up at Chinooks at Fisherman's Terminal. This was such a great casual atmosphere, excellent service and fantastic menu. We loved it and would highly recommend it. It was such a warm night that we took a little walk that night after dinner and didn't find it to be dicey at all. All in all, a great trip ....and a great memory!!
PS -- I took over 500 pictures in Alaska so not likely to forget it any time soon