The Solstice is such a beautiful ship, we've taken two trips on her! We have also been on the Celebrity Reflection and are planning a trip on the Silhouette this summer. I guess you could say we are fans. The good news is that the overall experience on the Solstice, including the food and the cabin maintenance, is every bit as good now as it was two years ago. In fact, I think that both the food and the service have improved a smidgen.
Flights: We flew from NY to Auckland via Hong Kong, which isn't one of the most obvious routes but my husband and I both thought it would be fun to see Hong Kong, and it was. We arrived in Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific flight at 2 in the afternoon and left on an Air New Zealand flight at 7 the next evening, giving us plenty of time to tour Hong Kong (the peak train, the ferries) and eat dumplings. Both Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand were excellent: on time, comfortable seats, nice amenities, etc.
Auckland: We took the city bus directly to the port. Cheap and easy. Interestingly, we saw a driver with a Celebrity sign and went to him first to arrange transportation. But he seemed disorganized and didn't know exactly when he would be leaving or how much the shuttle would cost. So we happily settled for the city bus. We didn't see much of Auckland, but it might be worth noting that there is a nice wine store right in the port area, with good local selections.
Bay of Islands: Kayaking, arranged through the Ship. It seems like there may be several different groups that kayak the same waters, so shop around and look for the best rate. This was a relatively easy trip to the falls. Extremely placid kayaking conditions. One longish stop for cookies and coffee/tea. Not too exhausting, which is important since it was our first day.
Tauranga: A tour with Jim Archer of Archer tours. We went all over the area in a van with about 8 people in it. He is superb! Prompt, thoughtful, a great communicator, and a very nice guy. My one caveat is that the Maori lunch (I think it may be called 'hangi' or something like that) is kind of bland. I'm sure if it's cooked over a steaming geyser or something atmospheric like that, it would taste a little better. Bottom line: book Jim Archer if you have the chance to do so.
Wellington: On our own, spent the entire day at the Te Papa museum. Here's a hint: there's free internet throughout the entire downtown port area. We sat in a depressing pub when we first arrived to 'soak up' all the internet there, without realizing that the whole port area is internet accessible.
Akaroa: Ship-Shearing and Wine-Tasting, arranged through Celebrity. Not my favorite, the sheep was nicked a couple of times and the place seemed overbooked. The wine-tasting was done at a vintner's home, so it was cozy. There's a village that the bus stops at near the sheep farm, which has a wonderful cafe/bakery. (If you see it, try the cake with orange slices!). The scenery is gorgeous in this area.
Dunedin: We did the Wild Wonders tour on the Otago peninsula, arranged through Celebrity. A fun excursion! In December, there were baby seals on the rocks and they were just adorable. Only got a couple of brief glimpses of penguins, though.
Hobart: Independent tour with Judy of Eye See tours in Hobart. Another great tour guide! We enjoyed Mt. Field and the waterfalls, the animal sanctuary, and Richmond. She also prepared a delicious picnic lunch. Highly recommend.
Cruising the fjords: We had great weather that day and observed the scenery from the balcony in the room and the Sky Lounge. There was a naturalist on board, Milos, who did a fantastic job providing narration during the tour. His talks on board were also terrific!
Sydney: We stayed 3 extra nights at the Meriton Campbell Street, which can be accessed from the port area by free bus (as well as not-free bus, cab, and even by foot). The Meriton is a gorgeous facility, and is centrally located near Chinatown, Darling Harbor, Thai Town, and some very charming low-key neighborhoods such as Surrey Hills and Paddington.
Cabin: We were in cabin 8252 (1A), and, interestingly, we had better service than when we previously had been in concierge class. Our steward was perfect! Clean, unobstrusive, and -- wait for it -- he made 4 or 5 towel animals! Gotta love that.
Restaurants: Even though we had the speciality meal package -- for fun and variety -- I (still) maintain that the meals in the MDR are just as good for the most part. We had a table for two in a central location (not far from the captain's table, actually), and the service was, as always, top notch. I continue to have some favorites: the French Onion soup and the creme brulee (I know, nice and light). On this particular trip, the entrees in the Silk Harvest restaurant were particularly tasty (the duck breast was outstanding). We enjoy breakfast in the buffet (poached eggs for me, English breakfast for my husband). Oh, and we happened upon the fish and chips lunch one day at the buffet: excellent. Although I enjoy the coffees and pastries (great carrot cake) at Cafe Al Baccio, the service was NOT great (a rare blip on this ship).
Beverages: We received the classic package as a perk when booking. I think we use it more for coffee and bottled water than anything else. We did go to the martini bar a couple of times after we realized we could order standard non-martini cocktails there. We also would have a glass or two of wine with dinner, always finding one or two suitable options on the menu.
Entertainment: Went twice to Liar's Club. Very funny. I actually enjoyed this CD more than I had others in the past. (Ian Cresswell). He has an edge and isn't as schmaltzy/corny as some Cruise Directors. There were some good shows -- the violinist, the pianist, the Aussie Boys -- and some not-so-good ones -- the magicians, and the (cringe) juggler. Seriously, the most entertaining person on board was Milos, the naturalist.
Both embarkation and disembarkation were smooth and easy. The overall atmosphere on the ship was great, and the gingerbread house decorations were lovely. Thanks to everyone for a wonderful holiday! (And any future cruisers with questions can feel free to be in touch by mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)