We are married late 40s Americans living in Australia, and have cruised twice on Century and once on Expedition. We were really excited to try the Solstice for a change! We scored the free classic bev package and upgraded to premium. We had the premium package on our two previous Century voyages, and we won’t cruise without it. We opted for Concierge Class to put us over the top for Elite, but will not again unless cabin location is a key player.
We arrived in Sydney the day before the cruise and stayed at the Park Hyatt so we had a short walk to the terminal. We joined the queue at around 11:30. Luggage drop was easy and everything was well arranged at the terminal. We decided on a concierge class cabin because the price difference was small enough and the extra point took us took to elite status for our next cruise. The queue for CC was slightly shorter, but as we waited we felt the progress was similar to general boarding so this perk didn’t really pay off. Total time from bag drop to stepping onboard was about one hour. Now, I didn’t want to believe what I had read about not getting a glass of sparkles upon boarding, but I was disappointed to see that this treat was not provided. Trust me I looked around, and even asked and was told that drinks were not being offered which was very sad in my opinion. As recommended by Cruise Critic, we decided to try Bistro on Five. Excellent choice! As we finished lunch, the announcement was made around 1:30 that our rooms were ready.
The room was larger than that on Century and nicely appointed. There was ample storage space and extra hangers were already in the room. I also liked the shower being larger with doors instead of a curtain. The storage space was more than enough, and I do have a lot of stuff so this is saying something. As for Concierge Class, yes the towels are nicer and the robes fluffier, but the other perks are lost on us. We got the canapés twice, and then asked to have them stopped. It was a plate of hummus, pita chips, olives and fruit balls. We saw no real difference in boarding, and we have been happy with the other towels and robes we were given in regular rooms. As for the room attendant, he was very sweet and kept asking if we needed anything but otherwise he dropped the ball on a couple key things. We had to request our Captains Club materials, and on three nights we either received the wrong Celebrity Today or did not receive one at all. We were also charged for the mini bar that we did not use. No real drama since we are pretty low maintenance and keep the room general tidy.
We checked out the menu in the MDR for the first night and decided to try to get into Tuscan. We did and even got a 20% discount because it was the first night. We really enjoyed Tuscan. They come around with fresh bread and antipasto before the first course which was really nice. All of the food was excellent, and the service wonderful. A highlight was the sommelier. As we were on the premium package we asked to have our wines selected for us by the glass for each course. Unlike previous Murano experiences, the Sommelier picked perfect wines within the price limit. We also enquired about a lunch during the cruise and we were able to book in easily. The lunch was on a sea day later in the cruise and was ideal in Tuscan because you can really enjoy the beautiful views. The lunch is not advertised which I have mixed feelings about because it is easy to miss. It is a lower price with a smaller menu. The food and service was just as wonderful, but there is no hot bread or antipasto.
The other specialty restaurant we went to was Murano, and enjoyed lunch there which is run the same was as Tuscan. The food was superb as was the service, but as usual with Murano the wines never fit in the beverage package. We paid a bit more, but were pleased with the selections but laughed that Murano can’t stay within the limits.
The rest of our dinners were taken in the MDR. We opt for select dining, and we love it. There were far fewer tables for two on Solstice than Century, but we never had trouble getting one. We always booked for 8 pm, and only had to wait when we request our preferred waiter. We had great service regardless of where we sat, but we found a sommelier we loved and the waiter was perfect for timing our food service with our wine service. We take an easy two hours for dinner with time between courses and wines paired to each course. We never once looked at a wine list and the sommelier did not disappoint. On the few occasions we did not like the wine he quickly came up with an alternative. The food was generally very good. We split meals and often have a meat and fish so we got a good variety. The menu was a bit different from our last cruise in Dec 12, but we always had too many good choices.
We usually had breakfast and lunch at the buffet. I am addicted to the eggs benedict, and treat myself often during the cruise. I also enjoyed the omelets, and the naughty American bacon and sausage that I can’t get here in Oz. On healthier days, I enjoyed the yogurt and fruit on offer at the aqua spa café. We could only guess that they were covered in the premium bev package because they were priced at $6 but we were never charged. We did not enjoy the juices or smoothies, but this is just our preference. We never made it to the café for lunch, but the items looked good. I think the biggest issue with the café was the lack of seating and it being in the solarium. It was just not inviting. As for lunch in the buffet, we enjoyed the many choices and it was difficult trying to control portions and overeating. We never had dinner at the buffet, but we walked through one evening on the way to the sunset bar and could not pass up a bite of pork from the beautiful suckling pig. We left wondering what else we had been missing. One thing to note is the lack of trays. I am going to scream from the rooftops that I hated it! People were staking out tables, and I really struggled not being able to have my water bottle and cutlery. The worst part was that the plates were huge and so hot I couldn’t hold it. There were some smaller plates, but most stations had the large ones. As for stations and queue cutting, this worked well for the most part but was funny at times. I noticed a couple of ladies waiting and it was clear to me they were waiting for eggs to be cooked. I said excuse me and attempted to get some sausage, and I got the meanest glare ever. I apologized and stepped aside to wait only to see the lady get her eggs and move on. The next day I avoided eye contact and got my sausage without waiting.
Production shows were pretty good. Guest singers included a group of young good looking Aussie males, a young man from New Zealand, and a jazz duo among others. All were pretty decent. Show times varied, but we liked the 7 and 9 times which allowed us to go to the early show and then head to dinner. The love and marriage was ridiculously funny! I actually fell asleep at liars club.
We only did one out of Noumea, and we loved it. It was the lighthouse tour that included boat trips, lunch with wine, and snorkeling. Everything was wonderful, and we highly recommend. The snorkeling was amazing. There were no excursions out of Lifou, but we took a 45 min tour offered locally that was good for an overview of the area. We then walked 10 minutes to Jinek Bay bay to do some snorkeling. This was where there was a bit of an issue. It seems they recently started charging $15 to swim or snorkel (even with your own gear) in the bay. Now we have always had issues with Celebrity’s lack of information about port stops. Even on Celebrity sponsored excursions there have been alterations that Celebrity should have made us aware of, but if they don’t offer shore excursions they offer little to no information about the area. So in the case of Lifou many visitors were not happy about being asked for $15 from a local young man sitting at the edge of the water. Many young travelers did not have money because they came ashore expecting to just jump in the water because Celebrity boasted all the beaches for swimming with no mention of fees. We were happy we brought money because the snorkeling was outstanding! Not much else to do on the island so we headed back to the ship. At Isle of Pines the beaches were just like you would imagine on any postcard. The swimming was great, but the snorkeling was poor compared to our two previous stops. Our two Fiji stops were really poor for us. This is very subjective, but it was our experience. One reason was mentioned earlier in that Celebrity had the most useless maps with little to no information. We opted not to do the boat tours because they closely resembled the one we took in Noumea, and at around $160 per person we figured we already enjoyed the event. We also opted against paying a couple hundred dollars to get to a resort when the ship had so much to offer. Both Suva and Lautoka were industrial ports, and walking around the city centers was just not that great. I am sure there were beautiful countryside tours, but we decided we would see Fiji another time and just enjoy this trip with an emphasis on the cruising.
Odd and Ends
This was our second cruise as Select, and we took advantage of less '"perks” than before. We only used one discount coupon for internet service, and nothing else. We opted not to attend the designated events both because of timing and lack of interest in mingling with Senior Officers and getting drinks that were covered in our package.
As I said, we always get it and feel it is value for money for us. What I was interested in based on reading cruise critic was the impact the "free” drinks package would have on the cruise. One thing that was unpleasant was the queue for fresh orange juice and specialty coffees in the buffet every morning. On our previous cruises we seemed to be the only ones getting fresh OJ, but here they often couldn’t keep up with the demand and there was always an additional wait for coffees. The Martini bar was also crazy full and seats were very hard to come by. This eased up around the last third of the cruise for no obvious reason. I have no idea if this is typical on Solstice, but on Century there were always seats at the bar even though it was a fraction of the size. The bartenders were incredible on Solstice as they were on Century, and there was never a long wait for drinks and they were as entertaining as always. What we missed was the intimacy of Century where people at the bar and the bartenders could engage in conversation. We were able to discuss how the drinks were made and get the bartenders to make their favorites and just have a laugh. Here the bartenders were making so many drinks they had no time to linger. There were also a lot of beer drinkers at the bar just enjoying the "show”. This may be typical of Solstice and not be related to the free drinks package, but my personal opinion is that I enjoyed the Century experience a lot more. One final note is that we believe the glasses were smaller as to conform to a classic drinks package price. We can’t confirm this because we never bothered to ask and did not see a larger glass to compare, but we immediately felt the glasses were smaller and we noticed that very few people signed for drinks and just can’t believe that a significant majority of people upgraded to premium. I could be way off on this, but I’m pretty confident they were smaller. We never bothered to ask because we were happy with smaller pours so we could try more drinks, but I think it is poor service for people who are on the premium package and just want one and are not aware the pores are smaller.
The Molecular Bar offered an experience similar to that at the Martini Bar on Century. We loved trying the drinks, getting to know the bartender and her humble assistant, and wonderful conversation with fellow cruisers. The sad part is that we didn’t enjoy the drinks as much as the drinks at Martini. The selection was wonderful, but they were just not to our taste.
Cellermasters was a huge disappointment. We are wine lovers so we were really looking forward to this bar. We first experienced it on what we consider one of the best Celebrity Life activities which is the wines around the world. They set up several stations with wines from several countries. The wines are middle of the road price, but in our opinion well represent each country. The event allowed us the opportunity to get to know the head sommelier and other sommeliers that we would run into during the course of the cruise. Cheese was served as well because it was on day two (see health section). The Cellarmasters bar is beautiful and inviting, however, the sommelier made the experience less enjoyable. When we visited, which was both at lunch on sea days as well as before dinner, the place was nearly deserted. We did not try to enomatic dispensers, but just wanted wine by the glass. The wine list offered several options within the premium package, but the sommelier kept pushing wines that were in the $30 - $40 per glass range. He was passive aggressive when we opted for lower priced wines, and it just put a damper on the experience.
Service at other bars was great even though there did seem to be more people, but there were no long waits. We also did not notice any people looking or acting significantly intoxicated. What we did notice however was that they ran out of a lot of stock. The last couple of days they ran out of Corona, Becks, Grolsch, and Chandon in the MDR. The Molecular Bar ran out of liquid nitrogen so I was happy I got to enjoy the experience early in the cruise.
I almost forgot the worst of the worst. Michael’s club did not have the craft beers. The website indicates they do, and just to prove that even Celebrity thinks they do it was a featured venue in our Celebrity Today. We went to the bar on day one, and we were saddened to be told that only Reflection has the craft beers. I have no idea if this is the case, but they are not on Solstice. When we read the Celebrity today article we returned to Michael’s thinking we must be crazy, and the bartender was not pleased because he was being overrun with people coming in and leaving very unhappy.
Loved it, but can see where it is significantly under used. Most of the days it was shut because it was resting. Two of the sail away days we had beautiful weather and they offered wine and cheese and blankets and pillows and a wonderful guitarist, and this is what it was meant to be!
This is a difficult issue because I would rather be safe than sorry, but some things were just odd. We noticed the second day (the first we did not go to the buffet) that everything in the buffet was served by the staff. We thought it was just how things were done on the Solstice. We later learned from the Chef that this was done because there had been concerns about illness. On day three or four (I forget) all the tongs were magically turned around and we could serve ourselves. A day or so later they turned around again. On the same day we noticed the menus disappeared from the Martini Bar and most other bars, and the cloth towels were gone from the toilets. In the MDR they stopped serving dips. They turned up later in the cruise and we were told they were given permission to reintroduce them. We never got any definitive information about the health situation, but the Captain started adding instructions to wash hands and head to sick call if ill to his daily announcement. We spoke to one of the staff at Bistro on Five, and he said they were at a heighted health level but there was no confirmation of noro but several reports of illness. Now I have no problems with the service in the buffet, but we did not have menus at bars for the last 7 - 8 days of a 12 day cruise. This took away from the fun of deciding what to try at the Martini bar, and as I said they were so busy there was little time for discussion. We ended up just telling them a flavor we liked or just sticking to one we knew. They even cancelled a wine and cheese event because they did not want to put the cheeses out. At another wine event they did not put out the usual cheese tray. They could have prepared plates like they do on the lawn. This is particularly applicable to the specialty wine and cheese event that was canceled. The biggest impact of the health concerns was that they did not have the grand buffet. No acknowledgement of the cancellation was made, it just did not happen. As I said, I would rather be safe than sorry but do feel they should have put something in Celebrity today or made an announcement about modifications being made due to health concerns.
We never went to the Spa, but we went to the gym daily. My husband used the elliptical and found that several machines were faulty. When he pointed this out to staff, he was told to try a different machine. Nice. I do yoga and pilates, and I had a hard time finding a spot to lay a mat because the "studio” was tied up with seminars most days until at least noon. She set up chairs over an hour before the seminar so the room was virtually useless. I also think she may be the only angry and mean Celebrity employee. We love Celebrity because the staff is fantastic. Sure some are grumpy sometimes and show they are having a bad day, but this woman was downright hostile. On day one I asked about spin and she just pointed to the sign up sheet. Again, nice. I opted to skip paying $15 for spin. When I went in at 9:45 to use the studio she started setting up chairs for her 11:00 seminar and told me to just find a spot. Real nice.
We had to get online briefly to check email, and used their kiosks instead of bothering to hook up wireless. The connection was pretty good, but the staff in the area was almost nonexistent. I also have no idea how to track usage on the package. We got the smallest and used it nominally but still ran over by a couple of dollars. The only complaint was that there wasn’t an obvious timer.
So this is my lengthy summary of my first experience on Solstice. There are more than a few negatives, but I just want to highlight areas of difference from previous cruises and note where improvements can be made or just to give reasonable expectations. We loved our cruise. The food, the drinks, and the staff will keep us running back to Celebrity. My lesson learned on this cruise was to make sure the ports are better suited to us. We also realized that Century is a very nice ship that we hope Celebrity retains. We are very active, and enjoy places where they have tours to take the worry and guesswork out of our way or hit spots where there are ample opportunities for walking and exploring right off the ship. We also know to not count on all the scheduled activities being interesting because we have done many of them. I’m referring mainly to the food and beverage events like food pairing or Riedel workshop that are awesome the first time. I hope you find this helpful or possibly interesting, and I know many things are subjective as these are my opinions based on my experience. Now my only problem is sorting my next cruise. I’ll think about it as I enjoy my G&T.