We have sailed Celebrity several times, and every cruise we believe that things could not possibly get better, and yet each next cruise, somehow, they do! The Silhouette, the 2nd newest Solstice Class ship, though clearly a Solstice ship, seems somehow to be a cut above it's predecessors, though it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why. I personally love that the Corning Glass Show has been replaced with the Lawn Grill - the fee is minimal and though we personally did not eat there as, simply put, with so many ports of call, there was very little time to do all that Silhouette has to offer - we met many many guests on board who were raving about their experience and returned several times to the Lawn Grill, enjoying the fun, camaraderie, party atmosphere, and excellent food. I also love the addition of The Porch, on the same deck as the Lawn Grill - another low additional fee restaurant - the location frankly was always screaming for The Porch to be there - a stunning spot to sit, have a light meal, the ocean at your feet - quite beautiful. We are also thrilled that Q-Sine has replaced Silk Harvest - this is the case on the Millennium Class ships, but Silhouette and Reflection, to my knowledge, are the only Solstice Class ships that have Q-Sine. We LOVE Q-Sine, having first eaten there on Summit. Q-Sine serves delicious, inventive, exciting food in a highly stylized tapas-esque manner. I believe that Q-Sine is the brain child of chef Jacques Van Staden, created as a key addition to Celebrity's evolving culinary vision, and we are very excited about it. We ate in Q-Sine twice on this cruise - it is our favorite specialty restaurant, as we personally find Murano and Tuscan Grille, though the food is very good, to be a bit too traditional and frankly, almost passé. I think that Celebrity has an eye to the future and realizes that a new generation is coming up - lines like Cunard and Holland are geared to a clientele 'of a certain age', but Celebrity seems to be focused on the younger set, or at least, the younger at heart set, who are upwardly mobile, have refined sensibilities - those that are more of the "foodie" generation, who enjoy more than a slab o' meat and some boiled veg.
To that end, Celebrity has instituted a new certification, "SPE Certified", for certain of it's dishes in Aqua Class and in the Main Dining Room - on Silhouette, that's the Grand Cuvee. The SPE certification ensures that the dish is the ideal portion size, low in sodium, low in processed ingredients and saturated fats, and takes into account seasonality, sourcing - and makes sure it is delicious. On this cruise, we ate in Grand Cuvee on the Select Dining plan, and I chose primarily SPE dishes and found them to be fabulous - in fact, this cruise in particular, I found all of the food to be the best I've had on Celebrity - I am assuming this is due to the work of the Executive Chef Anthony Wilson on board, and his collaboration with the head of dining for the line, Chef Van Staden, John Suley, and other head chefs - from our experience on Silhouette, innovation is afoot - the food quality was exceptional - my husband and I were both very aware of that - we are already Celebrity fans, but the food was definitely kicked up a few notches on Silhouette - more modern, creative - we were very pleased.
All that said, and I could say more positive things about the food in the restaurants - we were not happy with the room service. Not sure why, but the breakfast menu is very limited, pared way back from the last time we sailed non-Aqua class - no pancakes, no waffles, not even oatmeal on the menu! For eggs, you can only choose scrambled or an omelet - again, on the printed menu. In order to go 'off the reservation', I called, and on the phone, I was able to order oatmeal and pretty much anything else that I wanted - but, you have to make a call. Clearly, the room service model is being streamlined for efficiency of the overall operation, but the guest definitely suffers - however, if you call, you can get what you want - those that ask, get.
The Cruise Director, Lisa Richard and her direct report, Tyler - both from the USA - are quite possibly, in my experience, the most entertaining activities duo in the Celebrity fleet. Their daily morning film on the Cruise Director channel 2, outlining the highlights for the day, was hysterical. I often had to watch it several times as I was so engrossed in their antics, that I missed what they were saying. Lisa generally plays the Dean Martin role to Tyler's Jerry Lewis, with great success! The activities team as a whole was very good - being that the cruise was so port intensive, and we were off the ship far more than we were on, we did nevertheless manage to participate in several activities such as lawn game competitions, trivia, and poker - my husband played lots of poker - OH, and that is another uptick regarding Silhouette - on Silhouette, every night, there was a dealer poker cash game, with actual cards, not the machines and an actual human dealer (sorry, you can tell that I don't play, my terminology is all off!). He loved that, and it was something that was missing on the other "X" ships we have sailed. We also enjoyed the Battle of the Sexes at 10pm in Sky Deck 14, loads of raucous fun! My husband in fact led the charge for the men, picking Tyler up in his chair, throne style, and parading him around the room, clearly giving the men a competitive edge in the game! The entertainment provided by the Silhouette Production Staff performers was outstanding, and there were more of these performers than on our other cruises - yes, the standard 4 singers, but there were more dancers, more acrobats - we lost count, frankly, and we started to get confused because some of the dancers were also the acrobats. There did seem to be 2 acrobats that were exclusively only acrobats……anyway, yes, talented to the max, for sure. All of the productions done by the Production Staff were excellent, like the Masque Theme Party in the Grand Foyer, which included the Activities Staff - very fun and well done - and of course the main shows like the Broadway production and Velocity. We were not so enthused over the specialty acts that were brought in. We found them to be just ok, not as exciting as on prior "X" cruises - with the exception of the magician, Brett Sherwood - he was terrific.
For the first time, we sailed in an aft cabin, and absolutely loved it. We were on the 8th floor. The only downside was that it is a VERY LONG WALK from the elevator or stairs to the aft cabins! One must plan accordingly, as you can't just casually 'run back to the room'! Still, the views we had from aft far outweighed the downside of the extra long walk. Being aft negates the wondering about hmmmmm, is the better view on this cruise starboard or port……..being aft, you see it all. We loved our sail away from Venice on our own veranda since we could see in all directions, both sides, straight ahead, all from the privacy of our veranda. BTW, we had sailed out of Venice once before and had enjoyed the gorgeous gala event that Celebrity makes it, by piping in Venetian-esque music, such as songs sung by Andrea Boccelli and Sarah Brightman - for your first sail away from Venice, you don't want to miss that, but since it was our second, we very much enjoyed the privacy of our own aft veranda. Our steward was very good, a request to him producing our desired pillow request. This was not Aqua Class, so no proverbial so called phantom pillow menu, but those that ask, get. We also had two nights with towel art - yes, I love towel art, and I was not disappointed!
The captain of Silhouette, Captain Alevropoulos, was exceptionally available - he was not at all stuffy, in fact to see him in the Celebrity game show, "Liar's Club", a version of the game of Balderdash, well, that was something to see! First, the captain generally does not participate in this, but this captain was very dynamic, social and accessible. One night we were dining in Q-Sine, and he came in and stopped at each of the tables to greet the diners and yes of course, I had my husband take my picture with him!
We are members of the Celebrity reward program, Captain's Club - I am an elite member, so my husband and I enjoyed gratis cocktails and appetizers in the Sky lounge every night from 5-7pm. The 90 minutes of free internet is particularly useful, not to mention the free bag of laundry. The Captain's Club hostess, Donna, was extremely lovely. All of the Elite events I thought were very well run. We especially enjoyed the wine tasting as the sommelier was dynamic and got everyone to participate actively. We also were invited onto the helipad for the sail away from Dubrovnik - a select number of guests are invited to the helipad for certain notable sailaways, and we were very happy to have this pleasure. And also for the first time, we were invited to dinner at the Captain's Table, hosted by two of the senior officers on board. Eight guests are invited, and I can't say enough about what a lovely experience this was. I do hope that in the future, we receive that honor again.
I will do a brief review of the ship's shore excursions that we took. On our own, or with private tour companies, we explored Venice, Malta, Capri (from the port of Naples) and Rome but the rest of the ports we did with a Celebrity excursion.
Koper, Slovenia - KR13 Best of Ljubljana: Walking Tour, River Cruise & Lunch 7 1/2 hours
We very much enjoyed this tour - our guide David, who looks exactly like Matthew Perry from the TV hit show "Friends" - and he has often been told that - was outstanding, lots of information throughout the tour. He is dynamic and extremely well informed. Upon arriving in Ljubljana, a bathroom opportunity is presented before the tour formally begins. It was raining rather heavily for the walking tour, so it was not as extensive as it might otherwise have been but it was still quite good. Lunch was at the Sokol restaurant - a traditional Slovenian restaurant where the staff wears local folk costumes. The food was very good, turkey with outstanding mashed potatoes made with caramelized onions, but the apple strudel was the highlight. The river cruise was very nice, and we had 1 1/2 hours to explore Ljubljana on our own - a non-touristic city, beautiful, clean, lots of markets to explore. The bus driver on the way back to the ship played a mix of local pop and traditional music, things that the people of Slovenia listen to every day - a nice touch.
Ravenna, Italy - RV25 Ravenna & Bologna 9 hours
Bus directly to Bologna which is a bit of a drive, but the tour guide was excellent, so she made the time pass quickly. Upon arriving in Bologna, a bathroom break comes first before beginning the tour. Bologna is a beautiful city, especially the parts that we explored, not touristic. A highlight is the Basilica di San Petronio which was to have been larger than St. Peter's in Rome until the Pope got wind of it, but you'll learn about that on your tour! Lots of sites, refer to the official Celebrity description, including the twin leaning towers of Bologna. Lunch is at the Cantina Bentivoglio where we were served the best lasagna that I personally have ever had - pasta as thin as parchment, super al dente! You can take a photo with a nonna-esque woman who is rolling out all of the pasta by hand. We got 90 min on our own, before lunch, to shop and explore the beautiful markets, to visit some of the sites such as the leaning towers on our own, or to simply get a cappuccino in the square. The drive to Ravenna is short. The mosaics in the Basilica di San Vitale and the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia are impossible to describe and an awe-inspiring must to see! The guide walked us through, providing excellent commentary, a memorable day. We had only a short amount of time in Ravenna to jump into a gift shop, only about 10 min.
Split, Croatia - AT42 Krka National Park & River Town of Skradin 7 hours
Note: Make sure you bring kuna! Even though Croatia is now part of the EU, they do not take Euros - the shops at the falls, and there are several, are in fact on the militant side about ONLY accepting kuna. Before joining the EU, they used to accept Euros, kuna, even dollars, but now, only kuna. Our tour guide, Ivo, was not cut from the traditional tour guide cloth of the warm and fuzzy variety, but he was kind, informed and witty - his is a dry wit. He had a challenge at the national park, when a few guests came up missing - apparently, the guests that were missing did not understand English, didn't know or, we learned, care very much, about the meeting point, and so they missed the river boat ride to Skradin. Our guide was able to hook them up with a cab to Skradin to meet us at the restaurant (though, the restaurant was so bad, they should have just gone back to the ship, but no, that would have been way too far!). So, my point being that our guide was very capable - there were 44 of us on this excursion, and he was alone, having to deal with the lost members as well as get us all onto a river boat, then walk us through the town of Skradin and to the (awful) restaurant. This tour would have been fabulous if not for the restaurant, but, don't let that dissuade you as by the time you take this tour, maybe if I complain enough, the tour operator will contract with a different restaurant! The National Park itself is beautiful, not to be missed! The walk through the park on a wooden plank path, over many and various small waterfalls, gorgeous vegetation, and then, the huge falls, the main event so to speak, the Skradinski Buk Waterfalls - stunning! You can bring a bathing suit and swim in the natural pool at the base of the falls, lots of people were doing this, though not from our tour. You explore the falls and the park on your own, though, so there is plenty of time to swim if you like. Upon arriving at the park, we got approximately 90 minutes to explore it all on our own, and that is enough time. After our 90 min exploring Krka and the falls, we took a riverboat to Skradin - this was the part of the tour when the guide realized that several of the guests had not shown up at the meeting point. It's a scenic boat ride, and the town of Skradin is beautiful - but very sadly, there is no time to explore it. However, if your restaurant is Restoran Visovac, then ditch lunch and explore the town on your own. Eat lunch somewhere else, trust me!! Ask your guide what time the bus is leaving and meet the tour at that time - seriously, because the town is super charming and it was so sad to miss it, especially since we were stuck at such a horrible lunch spot. We were fed a "traditional meal", supposedly, but the turkey, or was it chicken, was leather dry and the veg they gave us was OBVIOUSLY frozen. The potatoes were simply boiled - not roasted, just boiled. Oh, and the dessert - a frozen chocolate cake very much like Sara Lee, I'm not kidding you. A huge disappointment, and only the 2nd bad lunch I have ever gotten on a Celebrity excursion and I have taken MANY of them. The drive back to the ship is over an hour, but most people slept on the bus. Maybe if I had drunk the wine served with lunch I wouldn't have minded the bad food so much!
Dubrovnik, Croatia DU19 Bike Adventure in Konavle Valley 4 1/2 hours
Excellent excursion! Only one other couple took this tour, too bad for those that missed it! Our guide met us at the ship and we took a mini-van to the bike office, which is attached to the winery that we visited at the end for a wine tasting (yes, amazing wines are produced in Croatia!). The bike ride is not strenuous, as the path is through the valley, so it is quite flat. It is rural, scenic, charming, and we had fantastic weather - as we were riding our guide plucked ripe figs from the trees, handing them to us while we were all peddling along! We stopped several times for explanations along the way of vineyards, farms, a house that was full of bullet holes from the war in the early 1990s, a church, fruit trees, etc. The guide brought lovely fruit with him for us for a snack. We stopped at a mill which is also a restaurant, with a fresh water spring - we filled our water bottles with fresh spring water, quite lovely! After the ride, we tasted several wines from the winery and we actually purchased a bottle of Merlotina Merlot, quite nice, and what was nicer was that no one noticed that it was stashed in our backpack when we got back on board so we did not have to turn it in, to get it back on our last cruise day. After the excursion, we asked the van driver to drop us at Pile Gate, Dubrovnik old town - we spent several hours exploring old Dubrovnik, the many shops, Diocletian's Palace - had a fabulous lunch at Konoba Jezuite and then caught the Celebrity shuttle bus back to the ship.
Kotor, Montenegro KV70 Baroque Delicacies of Boka Kotorska 4 hours
This is a tender day, the ship is anchored close off shore and we take a tender. I do not understand why this tour is titled the way it is - the word "delicacies" to me implies food - a better title would have been simply, "Walking tour of Perast and Kotor with visit to Our Lady of the Rocks", because that's what this tour is about. If I had not read the actual description provided by Celebrity, I would have missed this amazing tour, so I am very glad that we read, as truly, this is a great excursion. From the tender dock, we took a short scenic bus ride to Perast, a beautiful Baroque village where we immediately boarded a small boat to take us out to the island of Our Lady of the Rocks Church. We have a guided tour here and are able to explore a bit on our own. It is a beautiful spot, with a mystical story behind it, you will enjoy it very much. After about an hour here, we went back as a group to Perast where we all went to a charming seaside restaurant for a delicious snack. We were all seated outside, by the water, and were served a slice of the local cake, an indescribable almond cake, a large slice, though I could have eaten three pieces of this for sure - moist and scrumptious! We also could have a coffee or tea, I had a cappuccino - why don't cappuccinos in the USA taste as good as those in Europe?? Then, we were allowed to explore Perast on our own - we had about 45 for this. Gorgeous, small village - stroll the uber scenic seaside walkway and visit St. Nicholas.
Then, the bus took us back to Kotor - very close. The guide provided a walking tour of the old town, but we decided to give back the headpieces and explore completely on our own. We spent several hours in Kotor - it is a large walled city, quite ancient, reminiscent of old Dubrovnik, definitely a must-do. After our extensive exploration, we walked back to the very nearby port and caught a tender back to the ship.
Catania, Sicily CQ26 4X4 Adventure: Fire & Water 8 hours
This is a day spent wholly on Mt. Etna! We truly loved this excursion! Luckily for us, the weather was gorgeous - I have heard that Mt. Etna is often shrouded in clouds, but not today - it was sunny and clear, hurrah. There were only 14 guests who took this tour (I actually don't think more than that can take it, as numbers are limited - yes, I am quite sure that 14 is the max number of guests allowed, and that is the number we had.) Three 4X4 vehicles held everyone - 6 guests in one car, 4 each in the other two. The guide rides in the front car and talks to everyone in the other vehicles through a very effective radio system - she came in loud and clear at all times. The cars picked us up at the pier, and drove directly to Mt. Etna - it is a very scenic ride, once we got out of Catania which is not a desirable destination, as we went up and up and still higher up! Our guide was terrific, very informative and humorous. We stopped at several lava fields, we hiked over the rims of past eruptions. Many of the hikes were quite strenuous - some, not everyone could actually do. The lava rocks can be slippery and the declines steep, so you often have to walk down sideways so as not to have your shoes slip - I myself slipped a few times but the 3 drivers were always walking with us to lend an elbow or strong arm for stabilization. We stopped for a bathroom break at an alpine outpost, Rifugio Citelli - google it - the photos you see are what we saw, yes, it is that beautiful! While there, we had time for a cappuccino and a pastry, cost on our own. The break was followed by more driving to various spots from which to hike, a highlight being a "repel" down into a lava cave, ok so "repel" may be overstating it, but we did have to lower ourselves into a cave, no stairs, using a rope, hand over hand, to go down. Very exciting! Also, since it had been raining for a few days before our visit when the sun decided to come out in our honor, wild mushrooms were growing everywhere, so townspeople abounded - they had driven up to Etna to harvest them bringing their rustic straw baskets - even the drivers were picking them, and then showing them to us - amazing to have portobellos and porcinis growing wild, BIG gorgeous specimens, right there, under bushes, there for the taking! For lunch, we went to the Monte Conca Ristorante - truly delicious! Plate after plate was served to us family style - a plate of beautiful fresh green beans in an herbed olive oil marinade, sweet peppers, olives, tomato bruschetta far above the ordinary, beautiful roasted eggplant, roasted spiced potatoes, several cheeses, a few dishes that I am still not sure exactly what they were, but similar to quiche but much more intriguing and on and on - there was also a very nice pasta dish, but to me, the stars were the many and varied vegetable dishes - so fresh, so expertly prepared! This was an excellent excursion, but definitely not for anyone that has mobility issues!