In summary – we had a FABULOUS cruise! We are Aussies, both in our 40s, and this was our eighth cruise, our third with Celebrity and second time on the Solstice.
We flew Canberra to Melbourne to Los Angeles to San Diego and spent three days pre-cruise to get over the flights and because we love San Diego, it was our fourth visit. We stayed at the Wyndham Hotel (previously Holiday Inn) which is located directly opposite the cruise terminal. You can’t beat the location for convenience, it is close to the airport and the trolley (tram) and train system operate just a couple of streets behind. Shopping is another couple of streets behind that. We met up with some Cruise Critic (CC) friends from our Infinity Panama Canal cruise in 2011 at Sea World and had a great day with them. The night before we sailed a group of us from CC met at the Elephant & Castle (the pub within the Wyndham) and had a pre-cruise meet and greet dinner. It was wonderful to meet so many lovely people face to face after so many months of ‘chatting’ online.
On sailing day we went to the cruise terminal at 11am (a quick walk across the road). We were processed fairly quickly and then waited for our bus number to be called. We were on a bus just before noon, and we were given a bottle of water and a packet of crackers. The drive to Ensenada was two hours but when we arrived at the ship we had to wait almost an additional hour. We were kept on the bus because there were only two x-ray machines/security stations to process all of the passengers. This was an oversight; with 2800 guests and presumably hundreds of ship personnel needing to go through the security process you would think that someone would have thought two machines will not be enough. So everyone was kept on their buses, when we arrived there were 8 buses already there and it took a long time to process everybody.
Once on board all was fine, the ship is beautiful, very clean the service is wonderful and all of the staff are super friendly. We had five days at sea on our way to Hawaii. We met all of the cruise critic people and a lovely lady named Betsy made us all a beautiful name tag. Thank you!
We love to spend time on the ship, we love trivia and games and tried not to miss any of the sessions. We always have select dining, so we can eat whenever and with whoever we want. The service in the MDR was good, we only had one or two slip ups the entire time, overall they were attentive and the food is very good. We ate a lot as usual. We also had the classic alcohol package so we drank a lot as well. But we were on holiday, so we live it up. We ate at Murano for our wedding anniversary and it was delicious! We did the five senses menu ($89), they pair wines with the courses and it is just fabulous. The usual cost at Murano is $45. Make sure you don’t have lunch that day, because there is so much delicious food, and the service is excellent. The wines really make the additional cost worth it, and the sommelier and waiter go to great pains to explain how and why they work together with the food. It was a wonderful and memorable meal. Our waiter Eric was fabulous, he was a really nice and friendly guy, and he suggested that as we were also doing the next cruise (we were on the back to back to Sydney) we might be interested in the Chef’s table. See our next review for 4 October 2013 for detail on that.
We spent time in the bars listening to the bands most evenings before dinner, there was a string trio, a jazz band, and a singer who had a big range of songs. There was also a party band that played by the pool and at night a lot. All of them were very good, and it was great to meet friends for a pre-dinner drink and be entertained with live music. The music in the Martini Bar is pre-recorded and is hit and miss, we spent more of our time in the Passport Bar and the Ensemble Bar. There is a show every night, and the majority were fabulous. We were also on the ship in March/April this year, so some of the ship’s company of singers and dancers routines were repeated so we didn’t go to every show. Also sometimes we were just too busy to make it to the show with dinner and meeting friends etc. Overall the shows we did catch were wonderful. The Solstice show is a Cirque-Du-Soleil inspired show, and it is amazing. Very good. One of the guest entertainers is an impersonator and we had also seen before, but he is just hilarious and a great mimic, so definitely worth a return to see him. I cannot remember his name, James?
We also used Café Al Bacio a lot, the baristas are wonderful and make a great cappuccino and Raisa was a great waitress who remembers your names and your order and is always friendly and happy to see you. Raisa also was the drinks waitress at night in the MDR and even though we ate there at different times and at different tables she would keep an eye out for us and bring us our after dinner drink. Excellent service, she is a credit to the company.
It was our first visit to Hawaii, so we were excited to get to the first port of Hilo. The US immigration officers came onto the ship to process everyone which was a long wait, we waited an hour to have our passport stamped. There were only about 8 officers I think to process the entire ship, and the first people got off the ship about 10.15am. We had a ship’s tour booked for the early afternoon (helicopter over the volcano and waterfalls) so we waited until the crowd passed before we got off. The helicopter tour was great, you could see lava and the caldera but there was not a lot of lava flow. It was very interesting, there was a small bush fire as the lava was burning the forest away slowly. The tour also takes you over the coast line of Big Island, and over the waterfalls, which are lovely. You can buy a DVD of your tour as well. The cost was $269 per person, but we considered this to be good value, and a once in a lifetime flight. You can do it slightly cheaper if you buy directly from the helicopter company, however you need to get yourself to and from the airport at the right time, and we were originally booked in for a morning flight which was cancelled because of the immigration hold-up. But because we were on a ship’s tour, there was no loss or inconvenience to us, we were just put on the 1pm flight instead.
The next port was Kona, also on Big Island, and our first tender port. Here we did the Atlantis Submarine which was wonderful, it goes down over 100 feet and they show you a range of shipwrecks which are full of fish as artificial reefs. It was smooth and comfortable, nobody was unwell on the submarine, it was very pleasant. You can buy a big photo which comes with a DVD of the trip and your photo on the DVD too for $20 which was reasonable. When we got back on shore we went on the free shuttle to Walmart, which for us Aussies is always fun. We bought souvenirs and some flippers there. It was very warm at Kona.
Then onto Maui, we didn’t have anything planned, so we just walked around for a couple of hours and checked out the amazing giant Banyan tree, looked at the shops, and walked a block or so up from the shorefront to Starbucks – where we had icy coffee drinks and free Wi-Fi, so we caught up on email. There was a supermarket next door to Starbucks, so we bought some stuff there too. We were at Maui overnight, so many people went to the Luau that evening, but we stayed on board as we had booking at Murano for our anniversary. The next day we went back over and did a similar walk around, and spent the afternoon by the pool. We had great weather just about all cruise, a couple of showers here and there but that was about it. We were very lucky.
Then we sailed into Honolulu for an overnight, and there was a beautiful turtle swimming in the harbour. I love seeing wildlife from the ship, we saw flying fish most days from Mexico but not many birds. At Honolulu we had a Circle Island Tour booked privately (Lani’s E Komo Mai tour - $133 each) with some other CC friends, there were six of us in a large SUV and we were taken all over the island to different look-outs and beaches and we took some terrific photos. We also stopped at a macadamia nut farm, and our guide was surprised to hear from us that macadamia nuts are Australian, and the first plants were given to Hawaii about 200 years ago. Most people think they are native to Hawaii. We also stopped at a shrimp truck for lunch, and had a swim at a beautiful white sanded, bright blue clear water beach. I can’t remember what it was called, there were so many beaches. It was lovely.
We awoke to another great day at Honolulu. The only sad part was saying good bye to so many new friends (the Hulagans!) as they got off the cruise. We were sailing on to Sydney so see the next review for more information.
As we said, overall the cruise was fabulous!