Firstly, apologies for not showing up at the "M&M" - if it happened. We assumed it was to be in addition to sail-away function that was discussed in the forum, but we never got the promised notice in our cabin of the time/place for the event and never saw mention of it on the 'community noticeboard' (after we eventually discovered the noticeboard mid-journey).
There are many pluses for the Solstice: great food variety and quality, generous sized comfortable balcony cabins, lots of welcoming crew, interesting venues, some top quality entertainers, good library, etc. My partner had a birthday during the cruise and, even though we didn't purchase a 'Celebration Package', the dining room manager had a scrumptious cake sent to our room and our sweet cabin steward gave us a large bottle of Champagne.... fantastic!
But there were several areas where we felt let down when comparing it with the Princess ships.
There are no self-serve laundries on board, no self-ironing, and the prices to have some articles done are nearly the price of cheap new ones.... looked like the majority of the passengers felt the same way and didn't bother sending things to be pressed or laundered.
The venues around the atrium are interesting, and the floating, huge tree between the lift wells is fascinating, but the black walls in the area of the lifts gave it bit of a sombre atmosphere, especially in the evenings.
We were mostly unimpressed with the main dining room upper level (anytime dining) - for decor, structure and organization. The ceiling seemed too low; the square tables for 2 & 4 were so closely packed that it was more like a school cafeteria, and the windows were curved so the view out was greatly distorted - quite claustrophobic. The first couple of nights were chaotic and annoying, with confusing signs for where to queue, but the remainder of the trip went fairly seamlessly, with the same table/waiters. We gave up on having breakfast or lunch there after one go, as the menu was rather ordinary, service was slow, and our preferred selection of food seemed to only be available in the buffet.
The buffet at breakfast and lunch is fantastic with great variety and quality. I only tried the evening buffet once - the night after a formal night. We had Beef Wellington on the formal night. I don't know what was wrapped around the fillet, but it wasn't the expected pâté. It was hard and fibrous. I took a small bite and dismissed it. My partner ate it all. The following day, he was quite sick, couldn't leave the cabin, and couldn't get rid of the taste of that fibre. I went up to the buffet that evening to collect some food and was rather shocked to see a few Beef Wellingtons on offer up there, which I would assume were left-over from the previous night. The remainder of what was on offer wasn't nearly as impressive as breakfast & lunch times - made me glad we ate in the dining room all the other evenings.
WARNING: Don't comment on anything if you don't want to draw attention and be interrogated about it. The first night we asked for a glass of wine (didn't buy the drinks package as we don't drink enough to warrant the hefty price). The sommelier recommended a wine, which wasn't on the list.The following night we ordered the same wine from a different sommelier and the price was a couple of dollars more. When we queried the discrepancy, she chided and interrogated us: "THIS is the correct price! Which sommelier served you?" When we couldn't remember his name, she bombarded us with questions about what he looked like... the closeness of the tables meant there was no chance of NOT feeling like everyone was watching and listening to the dialogue. Didn't appreciate it at all. Another night the dining room manager notice I had only taken one bite of my "Angel Food Cake", and asked me if there was anything wrong with it. I, foolishly, told him that it wasn't what I had expected - Angel Food, a high, egg-whites only cake was my favourite cake when I was young, back in Iowa, which I never see in Australia, unless I make it myself. What was served was a whole-egg layer cake with a strawberry cream filling. I'm sure many people would have found it delicious, but I try not to eat "Big Tummy" foods that aren't "Big Yummy". It wasn't a big deal to me - I had already had sufficient, excellent food and could easily go up to the buffet if I wanted something else - but he immediately fetched the Pastry Chef to our table and the interrogation began again - offering alternatives. Some people thrive on such attention and efforts to please - I don't.
When we were entering the port at Auckland, I was out on the balcony photographing the clear, sunny arrival, Suddenly, I was showered with the dirty run-off from the cleaning of the balconies above! I went inside, changed shirt and dried off my camera. I went out again, when the run-off ceased, only to be doused again! When I complained, the response was, "Sorry, but it's scheduled balcony cleaning. You should have been informed." We weren't - but why would they schedule balcony cleaning while entering a port, when it's natural that passengers would want to be out photographing?
Overall it was a nice cruise - beautiful ports-of-call, very relaxing, interesting lectures, but still prefer Princess.