We also cruised on the 23 September 2013 Ensenada to Honolulu and we have also written a review on the first leg of the back to back if you are interested.
Our first day of the cruise was our second day in Honolulu, as we were back to back cruisers. As Celebrity wanted to undertake a complete clean of the cabins and they needed all back to back guests to be out of their cabins for a few hours, they gave us free Hop On Hop Off tickets for the bus and also a free lunch at the Bistro on Five when we returned ($5 each). We didn’t end up using the free bus tickets as we had a private tour of Pearl Harbour already booked but due to the US Government shutdown it was closed. The tour company instead offered a tour of the city and the Mighty Missouri for a reduced price, which we did. It was fabulous. They also took us to the Punchbowl cemetery and Royal Palace (drive – throughs, although we stopped to take photos). When we returned we ate at the Bistro on Five, which was a first, and it was lovely food, huge delicious crepes and great service. We had the classic drink package on this leg of the cruise too, so lots of coffees and alcohol, lots of time spent at the bars and Café Al Bacio.
The next day was back at Maui, and we did the Reef Dancer which is a glass bottomed viewing boat. They have two divers who go down to the ocean floor and pick out interesting items like sea cucumbers, star fish and other things and bring them up to the windows so everyone gets a good look. The Reef Dancer only moves along about one kilometre up the coast but a couple of people felt unwell and went upstairs to the sea level part of the boat. We were fine, it was smooth, and we saw a few fish but no turtles unfortunately. It was $35 each, and they take your photo in front of the ship for $10 which was a good price. We also took another look around Maui, and finally went to a Hilo Hattie store (at every port there is a shuttle to take you to Hilo Hattie’s but we never got around to going). We bought a couple of things but generally found them to be more expensive than the shops on the waterfront at Maui. We also went back to Starbucks for free Wi-Fi and another delicious cold coffee frappe.
We met the new band of CC members at the Oceanview Bar for a sail away party/meet and greet. It was lovely to meet so many new friends and a lovely person (Don) made name tags for us all. The ship also puts on a meet and greet party the first sea day which was good, they provide coffee/water/juice and pastries and they have the captain come along and other senior officers. We had a gift exchange which was fun, we received a lovely gift from England (thank you Janet!). There were six of us from the original group still on board, and it was lovely to catch up on the ship.
On this leg of the cruise we decided to purchase the three speciality restaurant special, as we had eaten at Murano we had not tried Silk Harvest or the Tuscan Grille. We usually ate at the MDR, we are on select dining. The food in the MDR is wonderful, and we had great service. The staff are really friendly and helpful.
We also participated in the Chef’s table, which was $269 for the two of us, includes all wines and food cooked at the table side by the Head Chef (Robert). We also got a signed copy of the large cookbook, a photo, a signed menu, and a single red rose. There were nine guests and an officer (Shannon from HR) dined with us at the table for ten in Murano. We met at the Cellar Masters and were introduced to the head sommelier, and we started with champagne and met everyone, then the head chef took us on a tour of the kitchen while in operation (you can do the tour of the galley on the ship which takes everyone through when the galley is not in operation) which was amazing and so busy and exciting with chefs running everywhere and lots of heat and noise, then up to the galley that feeds the speciality restaurants and Blu, then through a door into the back of Murano. The food was excellent, the service superb, the advice from the chef memorable, the company wonderful, and the wines were from all over the world and were expensive and it was an opportunity to taste wines that we would never would have bought due to the cost. It was a great night and I am so glad we did it.
The Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille were great, I had the best minestrone I have ever tasted at the Tuscan Grille, and I also had lasagne which was a funny choice when I could have ordered anything, but it was so good. The Silk Harvest food was also good, the starters especially, however we didn’t have the same atmosphere as the Tuscan Grille. I think it would be a better place to go with a group and try lots of different dishes. Also we had an early booking (6pm) and I think we just weren’t hungry enough to do the Silk Harvest justice. For the Tuscan Grille we made sure we were hungry, and we had great service from a wonderful waiter from India whose name was Custudio. He made sure our glasses were topped up, we had a wonderful table by the window as we sailed away from Bay of Islands, and it was a magical evening. We went back to Murano another night and had al a carte’ menu with lobster cooked at the tableside and we also had a dessert prepared at the table flambé-style. So you get dinner and a show. We had the same waiter we got on the first leg of the cruise (Eric) who was wonderful. Another great evening.
We were at sea for four days before we reached Papeete, Tahiti. We didn’t have anything planned for Papeete, which is the capital, we just walked around and looked at the shops and scenery. It was very warm and humid which is typical weather.
The next day was Bora Bora and it was absolutely spectacular, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We did a private tour (Patrick’s full day tour) which we did four wheel driving in the morning, so we were taken all over the island and up really rough and rugged 4WD tracks to get to the top of the hills for the amazing views of the lagoons and islands below. The water is a range of different colours, it was just beautiful. Then we met the other half of our tour group and we were taken by boat to a private Motu (island) for a Imu lunch which was cooked in the ground like a (Hangi, Lovo or Umu) so whole suckling pigs, bread fruits and plantains and other exotic fruits etc were cooked for hours in the ground. There was also heaps of lobster, fish, chicken, cooked on a BBQ and lots offresh fruit. Heaps of food, served in a banana leaf and eaten with your fingers traditional style. There were also lots of drinks, sparkling wine, Tahitian beer and soft drinks/juices. After lunch two of the guys did a fire show where they threw fire sticks into the air and flipped about and it was wonderful. Then we got back in the boat and had an afternoon of swimming with the stingrays, black tip sharks, snorkelling and sailing around the bays while the guy in the boat strummed his guitar and sang Tahitian melodies. It was beautiful, just a stunning day all round. It was $200 each for the day, which was great value for money. Make sure you buy an underwater camera, there are heaps of fish and coral and our underwater shots are wonderful.
The next day was at Moorea, which is visually stunning, huge sheer hills/mountains coming up from the sea, it was amazing to look at that morning. Another tender port, we were collected at the pier and did another private tour (Hiro’s tour), which was a day at a private island for lunch, swimming, coral, fish, and on the way we stopped to swim with and feed the sting rays and the sharks came along too but they are harmless and they don’t get any food. It was another lovely day, the lunch was not as good as the previous day but it was totally fine and they had beer and juice too. The lunch was chicken, salads, fruits. After lunch our guide did a demonstration on how to dress with a sarong, all of these different ways to wear it. He chose a girl and guy from the group as models and it was very funny. Another perfect day, it was $75 a head, great value.
Then we were at sea again for four (really five days due to the International date line) before we sailed into Auckland harbour. I have been to Auckland before but I didn’t realise how lovely the harbour was, it was a treat to sail in in the morning sunshine. There was a shower before we got off the boat then the day was sunny and warm, warmer than we expected. We walked up to the park that overlooks the city and back down again, and went to shops looking for free/cheap Wi-Fi but we were unsuccessful connecting in. We had bought a connection on the ship so it was no problem as we like to be able to remain in contact with home every few days.
The next day was Bay of Islands, and I have been here before too so I knew it to be lovely. But I had no idea just how spectacular it was from the sea, especially from the vantage point of being up high in the Sky Lounge. There were lots of interesting ships, dolphins, beautiful blue sky and heaps of gorgeous islands everywhere. Beautiful! New Zealand turned on another great weather day, just perfect. Mic went over to the bay itself to have a look and a walk around and he took some wonderful photos, I stayed on the boat and watched from level 14.
Then two more days at sea, we had a great time on the ship, played lots of trivia, went to shows and caught up with friends. The activities crew were wonderful, led by a fantastic woman named Maria, she was everywhere, full of energy and always smiling. We enjoyed trivia, and Chris, Michael (fynn!), Tamika and Tam were great trivia hosts and a lot of fun. There is so much to do on the Solstice you don’t have enough time to fit it all in one day. We also went to cooking shows, the glass blowing show, films, guest speaker lectures on dinosaurs, space, sharks, the Panama Canal, and heaps of others by an interesting and funny guy called Milos. There were party nights, and days, the crossing the Equator ceremony, lots of stuff on all the time. Heaps of stuff that we didn’t get to at all.
We also had a memorable last night again at Murano with some lovely friends from California who had not eaten there before. We did the five senses menu which is all five courses and matching wines for $89 a head. The food was wonderful and the wines delicious! And the company was very good too. A great evening.
The next morning we sailed early into Sydney harbour, the most beautiful harbour in the world. We were parked next to the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge by 6am and off before 9am. The Australian immigration officers came on the ship in New Zealand so over the next two days you were given an allotted time to present yourself with your passport which only took 15 minutes in waiting time and about a minute to get your passport stamped. Very civilised. So when we arrived in Sydney it was a very smooth exit process, no delays or hold ups. And a beautiful morning on the harbour, blue sky and sunshine. It was a short walk to Circular Quay train station, a short train ride to the airport ($18.60 per head) and a short flight home to Canberra.
So, we sailed from Mexico on 23 September and sailed into Sydney on 23 October. It was the longest time we had spent on a cruise but we didn’t feel as though we were ready to get off the boat, we could easily have stayed on to do the next cruise, which was to Fiji. But all good things have to end!