First, a little about ourselves. We are experienced cruisers, and this was our 24th cruise on Celebrity and our 3rd on Solstice. We are in our late 50’s/early 60’s, and while we enjoy meeting new people our real goal is relaxation more than socialization. It was our first cruise on the California coast, as our other cruises so far have been to the Caribbean, Alaska, and the Mexican Riviera when that was an option. It was our first experience in Aqua Class. As I have a lot to say in general, I will skip overall definitions of the ship and its facilities as those can be found elsewhere.
Overall cruise comments " A fantastic itinerary, a beautiful ship, and an overall great time. For this ten day cruise the average age in my estimation was 65-75. I literally saw only three children onboard, but there may have been a couple more.
Pros: Nice itinerary with some very interesting American cities with a lot to do, ship still in very good condition, service excellent in most cases, food good, and the usual entertainment.
Cons: Three tender ports (one of which was a great adventure " see below), a so-so experience in Blu, takes up to 2 hrs or more to tender everyone from the ship which causes difficulty to those renting cars to go on their own, worst casino on any Celebrity ship. As many of these ports rarely see cruise ships, and even more rarely the size of Solstice, they were not as prepared to handle the crowds as other ports we have been to. In most cases if you wanted to rent a car it was a logistical challenge, if not nightmare, especially considering the limited time in port and extra challenge of tendering.
Aqua Class " We had never tried this before and since it was not much more expensive, we chose it primarily for Blu. We had room 1580, on the 11th floor under the pool deck. It was so cool outside most days we could not really evaluate whether the location would be noisy. When on our deck we could hear footsteps above us. We did not like the large overhang which shaded the balcony at all times and did not allow us to see up into the foothills of ports like San Francisco. We only had two sea days so really did not make much use of the spa, which was in no way big enough to accommodate the number of AQ passengers. We also did not enjoy being on the 11th floor as elevator riding was an exercise in patience. Our room steward was great " no issues there at all.
Blu " We expected a lot, and were disappointed in some ways. The food was very good (only one so-so dish) and the asst. waiters were excellent. The regular waiters ran hot and cold. Sometimes we got really good service, other times poor " we had to actually get up and talk to the hostess one night to get service. We did not like how the” two tops” were crammed together, making it impossible to have a private conversation and awkward if the couples on either side of you were not inclined to chat. There were three large tables that were often empty, despite the fact that on several nights the wait time was as much as half an hour to get a table. More practical would be all two top tables which could be put together as needed - this would have helped solve the problem. I suspect also that suite guests are no longer seated as available’ but are given the same chance as the AQ folks. I do not like this, at use of this restaurant is a key perk of AQ, the room for which it was designed. There were usually two sommeliers, one of which was horrible (complete lack of service), and one of which was ok.
Elite events " We had vouchers, which overall we liked better, although we miss the days of quiet social times in Michaels Club. My one complaint is that with the number of Elites onboard, they really should have also extended the social hours. Between 5 and 7 the bars were sometimes literally so crowded seating was hard to find (including the Sky Lounge!). We did like the fact that they offered us more choice of drinks " within a certain dollar amount rather than just a few options. They need to up their beer allowance, though " why are beers only up to $5 but other drinks $8? Not fair I think. And one last comment " anyone who thinks being Elite is of little advantage has never taken a cruise with so much tendering! Being able to leave the ship on an early tender was a very, very valuable perk.
San Francisco " We had an overnight stay which was great " allowed us to take our time and not feel rushed like we did in the other ports. The ship docks right down the road from Pier 39. Easy walking distance there, and to Ghiradelli Square and that general area. The second day we took a private tour organized by someone on our roll call which we enjoyed. The Americas Cup was running, and the finish line was literally in front of the ship. We got to see two races, one of which the USA boat won. A once in a lifetime for us.
Monterey - A nice pier right next to where the tenders unloaded. We rented a car (Hertz, who picked us up but not without hassles), and drove the 17 mile drive, stopped at Pebble Beach, and spent some time in Carmel and at the Mission. All in all a great time until we got back to the pier and saw the 45 minute line to get the tenders. Why? The wind and subsequently the seas had picked up " seas were up to 10’ . What a roller coaster ride " have never experienced anything like it. The boat was rocking and rolling like you wouldn’t believe and water was pouring through the side door where one of the zippers was broken. I do not exaggerate! Our tender half-unloaded once we finally arrived and then one of the ropes snapped and the captain of the tender yelled at the crew to detach the other. Thankfully we had already disembarked the tender. Someone could have been killed had they fallen in when the rope snapped. That tender boat and the remaining additional two had to ride the waves for close to half an hour while the ships’ Captain turned on the thrusters to create a small area of calm water next to the ship so the tenders could unload. The port is so beautiful I am glad we were able to have our day but I question whether in retrospect that was the correct/safe decision by the Captain, presuming the weather was forecasted. Kudos to the crew for handling the challenge so well!
Santa Barbara " Tendering again " no issues this time. A beautiful town we had never visited before. Word of caution " there was only ONE public trolley running that day. We bought tickets online ahead of time and were happy we got to the trolley stop very early. Others had done the same but could not board as it was full " they were quite unhappy as the trolley only stops near the dock every hour or longer. We could not use it as we had originally intended (hop on/hop off) as we knew we would have issues trying to get on again. On a cruise day, I cannot honestly recommend this option. Rent a car or cab it. We loved the mission, the town, and the funk zone. A beautiful area.
Catalina Island " Tender #3 " again no issues. I guess we had not learned our trolley lesson as we took the trolley up to the botanical garden. The trolley was inexpensive, but again there were significant issues with overcrowding. The garden itself is small but nice " we have a reciprocal agreement with a local garden so got in free " not sure I would pay the regular price. The town has some nice shopping and cute restaurants in easy walking distance of the pier, and the casino is a short walk as well. I would love to visit again.
Los Angeles " Ugh. Traffic as bad as expected. We had been there before (albeit years before) so rented a car and skipped the usual touristy spots. We drove to a museum we had always wanted to see " the Autry Museum of the West I believe it is called. A very, very nice museum, but plan up to 1 ½ hours to and from. The ship actually docks in San Pedro, which is a considerable distance from…...well, almost everything. They did have a free shuttle to Long Beach which has a number of attractions and an inexpensive shuttle bus in-between. Unless you have a must-see in LA I would do that next time for sure. Renting a car and driving is an exercise in patience and frustration.
San Diego " A lovely town with a lot to see. We had been several times, so rented a car and took in Old Town and some other sights. They have a great zoo, but be advised it is quite pricey. We had seen it before so did not want to spend the $$ for such a short day (onboard at 6 if I recall). Same for SeaWorld. Too much $$ for such a short time " we wish they could overnight here as well.
Disembarkation in Ensenada " What can I say " we were on a very early bus so our transit time took around 3 hours and our bus and driver were decent. Others on our roll call had horror stories to tell " from buses full of ants, to overflowing toilets, to 3 hour waits at the border crossing, to bus drivers getting lost. This is completely unacceptable and Celebrity needs to do more to fix it! I would hesitate to take this cruise again because of the issues still experienced by many. Celebrity also needs to change their literature to NOT tell cruisers the transfer takes two hours. Ours went very smoothly and took longer than that. The ride itself should take two hours " no way of knowing what the border crossing time will be. I know their hands are somewhat tied as they do not control Customs but I would think they could negotiate a more smooth process with the governmental powers that be if they tried. They need to try.
In summary, this was a very enjoyable cruise, if not necessarily that relaxing due to our own desire to cram too much into each port, while dealing with tendering, car rental, etc.. I wish Celebrity would consider more cruises along the west coast. Once Vancouver can handle S class ships (or has that happened?) I wish they would run some cruises up and down the coast and expand their choices beyond Alaska or Hawaii. Hopefully if they start or end in Vancouver they could avoid Ensenada - presuming that would satisfy the government regulations. The ports all have so much to see and do in nice, clean, safe, and beautiful areas I suspect they would sell-out regularly. We would definitely be one of the first to book if that happens based on this cruise!