We have recently returned from an 18 day cruise on the Celebrity Solstice from Auckland to Perth.
I have recently read several reviews of the previous cruise to ours and cannot believe that our experience can have been so different.
We had a great time!
We have cruised over 10 times with Cunard, Celebrity, Princess, P&O, Ocean Village, Royal Caribbean and Thomson so have a lot of experience of cruising.
As we live in the UK and don’t particularly like long flights we decided to break up the journey by visiting our son in Dubai, stopping in Singapore before flying to Melbourne to see my sister. We used Emirates for all of our flights and found them to be exceptional for food, entertainment and seat pitch even though we were in Economy. The other huge benefit of Emirates is their luggage allowance of 30Kgs each which is essential when spending nearly 5 weeks away from home.
We spent 3 days in Frankston, near Melbourne, where we saw kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, an echidna and various birds with the highlight being the penguin parade at Philip Island. We saw over 600 penguins coming on to the beach at sunset – Amazing! We also took a ride on Puffing Billy through the Dandanong Ranges.
We arrived in Auckland on the day before embarkation and stayed at the Sky City Hotel. We found this to be an excellent choice both because of the room but also the location of the hotel in central Auckland. We booked a shuttle from the airport to the hotel which left soon after we got out of customs etc. which was a nightmare because 3 A380s landed within 20 minutes. It took 2 hours from landing to getting to the shuttle bus. However the shuttle bus only took 20 minutes to get to the hotel.
That evening we walked down to the quay and had dinner in Danny Doolans which I would recommend. 2 meals, 3 pints and 2 glasses of wine were only 48 New Zealand Dollars.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast in the hotel we strolled around the quay and saw the Celebrity Solstice for the first time. Most Impressive!
We arrived at the Ocean Terminal at about 12.30pm. Chaos ensued – there were no directions of what to do – queue jumping all over the place. The building is not well designed in comparison to all three at Southampton and there was little help from the staff. We eventually got on board after an hour and went to look around the ship.
Although I had researched thoroughly and had seen the photographs and reviews posted by the Priesmans – (what a website – Thank you Mike and Carol), we were still surprised at the amount of space on the ship. http://www.thepreismans.com/preinaug_solstice.htm
Another source which was also very useful was that posted by Giulio Saggin and Nathalia Rayfield on their blog and on you tube. cometravellingwithus.blogspot.com/2011/11/visitin-our-shores.html www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvIaHReopic
We went for lunch to the Ocean View café where we liked the arrangement of the islands and found that as usual provided you found a seat before getting food that there were no problems in this area. As on all cruise ships there are going to be times when the buffet is very busy and we found that we were able to go for a drink and come back later if this was the case.
After lunch we found the sunset bar which became a favourite haunt for the 18 days. My wife is a smoker and we found that this ship has several smoking areas which appeared to be enough for people with this habit.
Shortly after this there was an announcement that the staterooms were ready. We had booked an inside stateroom 8159 on deck 8. This proved to be an excellent choice. There was a king sized bed with rounded corners, plenty of storage space, a super shower with doors, a comfortable sofa opposite a new flat screen TV. The best stateroom we have ever had in 12 cruises. Our stateroom attendant was Lorna who gave us very good service. We also met her manager Stavros who was also very pleasant. In fact between the two of them we received 6 bottles of bubbly to drink over the course of the cruise.
We booked the premium drinks package and took full advantage of it especially at dinner in the Grand Epernay where sommeliers Rudi and Alexandre both recommended wine pairings every evening. I believe that we had some bin ends as well as from the wine list. We thoroughly enjoyed this. I was even able to have a glass or two of Tokay which I had never tasted and had learnt about 40 years ago. Interestingly this was not available until we reached Sydney as a container had been late in Auckland that was due to restock the ship. Incidentally there were also no chocolates on the pillow until Sydney – probably for the same reason.
The service in the Grand Epernay where we chose Select Dining was for the most part good but occasional slower when we arrived at 6.30 instead of our normal 7pm. However as dining is a most important factor in our holiday, this was of little consequence. We had several waiter pairings but particularly enjoyed the company of Charlie and Yasser. The menus served were roughly as posted on the Priesmans website Baltic cruise with 4 repeated as it was an 18 day cruise. http://www.thepreismans.com/baltic_2013_menus.htm#main_dining
There was plenty of choice as can be seen and all meals were well cooked and hot. We ate one evening in the Ocean view café due to the fact that we were late from a shore excursion and found enough choice there. We also ate breakfast and lunch every day in this café. The breakfast choices were brilliant especially with the egg stations for omelettes, poached eggs and fried eggs any way you wanted them. Canadian, English and American bacon were all available as well. The drinks package that we purchased enabled us to have fresh fruit juice every morning although it was disappointing that there was no fresh grapefruit for the last 4 days. The coffee and tea stations were crowded but temporary areas were also set up.
Lunches also had plenty of choices with Mexican, Thai, Indian, Pasta and Pizza stations all cooking fresh food. Other choices daily were a carvery, two different soups and a salad bar. Desserts included a hot sweet daily and there was a station serving cheese as well as an ice cream area.
Bar service around the ship was good after the first couple of days when draught beer wasn’t available on the sunset bar. The crew was very good, well trained and friendly bar one man in the ocean view café bar who did not know how to smile. Particularly noticeable were the guest relations team who were the friendliest and most helpful in my experience of cruises. I had to go to this desk on several occasions during the cruise. The first was on embarkation day. Only two of our cases out of three had arrived at the stateroom. After searching through the ship it was still not found. However I found it in the next alcove along our passage. (The alcoves to the doors were not able to be seen in the passage). I also visited on 6 occasions due to my sea pass which opens the stateroom door was not working. However the most helpful action was when I realised that I had lost my mobile in Esperance. They phoned the number and it was answered by one of the guest entertainers who brought it back to the ship with him.
Another point that stood out compared to the other cruises that we had taken was the officer availability. Nightly all the officers were around the ship talking to guests.
Entertainment was average in our opinion. There were several guest artists including a pianist, guitarist, a rod stewart tribute, an illusionist, an elvis impersonator, a female vocalist, a hypnotist, a trio of tenors, a comedian, an electric violinist and a male vocalist as well as three shows from the Solstice team. Apart from the main theatre other venues were used such as the atrium for these acts. Of these we particularly liked the Celtic Tenors.
Also on board were some resident musicians:- The Sea Harmony Trio – Classical Strings, The Dynamic Les DeMerle Jazz Quartet, The Sonic Groove Duo, a party band called Top Notch, a singer/guitarist called Johnny Mantra and a DJ called Jaz. These all played in various venues from the atrium, the Ensemble Lounge, the Sky lounge and on deck during the day. We liked the duo that played a selection of mainly 60s and 70s music. The guy in the duo also did a show in the theatre one afternoon of Neil Diamond songs that was very good.
There was a series of lectures in the Beyond the Podium series. These were from Milos the naturalist, Professor Lisa Didier who talked about New Zealand and Australia history and culture and Professor Hadyn Green who talked about Forensic Investigation. They were all very knowledgeable but we especially enjoyed the forensic science talks.
Another useful activity was a series of I pad/ I phone seminars given by the manager of IT lounge. These were well attended by the silver surfers and informative. The manager was also amusing and helpful.
Other activities on board included Zumba, Trivia, Art auctions, Corning glass show, bocce, croquet, golf putting, officers v guests, table tennis, Sudoku, crossword puzzles, daily news sheets, destination talks, poker tournaments, executive chef demonstrations, table sales, health and wellness seminars, wine tastings, galley tour, future cruise presentations, pool volleyball, bingo, comedy game shows, films in celebrity central, fun games by the pool, karaoke, dance classes, learn Australian and Kiwi slang, the life story of crocodile hunter Steve Irwin and an egg drop challenge.
Apart from the films in public areas there was also a large selection of both free to view and pay movies on the TV in the stateroom. In fact we watched Captain Philips which was a free to view.
As we were away from home for over 30 days we took advantage of the laundry on board and were very happy with the service of which we received 10% off the bill as we are Classic members of the Captains Club. We also received 10% off the cost of an internet package. We were warned that the Wi-Fi would be slow but it proved to be adequate for our needs.
Another interesting fact was that over 800 of our fellow cruisers were going to stay on board at the end of the cruise with a back to back cruise for a further 17 days. They were travelling on to Bali and around the top end of Australia and finishing in Sydney.
The ports that we visited were as follows:
Bay of Islands – Overcast weather – High 68F
We took a Celebrity excursion to the Glow-worm caves and Kauri Forest. This was a very interesting excursion and the driver was very informative and friendly. We also visited some very decorative Hundertwasser toilets in Kawakawa. We mainly organised our own excursions but in this port we were tendered and we did not want to risk missing the ship. We were right in this particular case because the water was choppy and all the excursions were late starting off. We actually tendered by the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the treaty which was an agreement between the British Crown and Maori was signed in 1840. The anniversary of this event was due the next day and because the Prime Minister of New Zealand was attending there was a high police presence.
Tauranga – Partly Cloudy – High 69F
We organised an excursion through Cruise Tauranga which proved to be a good choice. We visited a Kiwi fruit plantation, Okere Falls, Te Puia, Government Gardens and Lake Rotorua. At the Kiwi fruit plantation we learnt about the husbandry of the fruit, saw a working orchard, touched the vines and tasted the fruit and some juices.
At Okere Falls we took a 30 minute walk through sub-tropical rain forest where we saw the Silver Fern tree. This is New Zealand’s sporting emblem. The walk was to the Kaituna River where we saw a series of spectacular waterfalls where white-water rafting takes place.
We then visited Te Puia where we saw a Maori ceremony which was colourful and musical. This was followed by a trip around the geysers at this site. These were spectacular. There were two craft areas where Maoris were carving wood and also weaving.
Later we saw the Government gardens with mud pools and smaller geysers. This was followed by beautiful views across Lake Rotorua. This trip was well organised and led by Simon, the owner of the business, who had been a teacher previously.
Akaroa - Partly Cloudy – High 68F
Although this was also a tender port we organised a tour for 12 noon. Thank goodness. More choppy water and even though we went for the tender at 10am expecting to look around the town, we only got on shore at 11.45pm. Our tour was organised through pohatu penguins for a visit to a sheep farm and penguin colony. We chose another super tour on line. We were escorted with 3 others by Joey, the farmer’s daughter. She drove us over spectacular scenery to Flea Bay where the farm was situated. On the way we stopped at a bay where we saw dolphins. We then had a bush walk before travelling to the farm where we fed sheep, then saw a baby penguin fed. Afterwards we looked in several burrows where the penguins were moulting. After seeing the penguins in Philip Island this was another amazing experience.
Dunedin- Cloudy at first – clear later – High 67F
In Dunedin we booked a tour through Viator of the Otago peninsula.
We drove above the harbour for views over the peninsula. We then drove to Baldwin Street and saw the steepest street in the world. We saw a 61 year old man running up the street. Apparently he does this 30 times a day and has done for over 15 years.
After this we stopped at the historic Dunedin Railway Station in the city centre. This was next to Cadbury World which was shut because it was a Saturday. We then drove to the Otago Peninsula, and saw signs of the volcanic activity that shaped this region over the millennia..
We went on a short walk a beautiful beach, where the New Zealand sea lion can often be seen basking in the sunshine. However there was one too far away for us to see. We then drove through the peninsula and returned to the ship by all the bays in the harbour.
Milford Sound – Clear – High 79F
When we sailed through the sounds Milo, the naturalist, gave a commentary. The weather was beautiful and Milo said that this was the best weather that he had seen in 10 years. This was great for the views but there were only two waterfalls noticeable due to the lack of rain. As we had sailed the Inside passage in Alaska and through the Norwegian fjords we were able to compare. They all are beautiful but we thought that the waterfalls in Norway were dramatic and the wildlife in the Inside passage was more numerous.
We sat on the deck with the lawn during the day watching the scenery and were annoyed by many “gnats”. Later we both had over 30 bites each and after research realised that they were sand flies that we knew nothing about. We have had discomfort since and still 26 days later are itching. My wife visited the medical centre about her bites and was given 7 days of anti-histamines without charge.
As we knew this was the second roughest sea in the world and as the previous cruise had a torrid time, we were concerned. No need the Tasman Sea was like a mill pond
Sydney – Overcast and then sunny – High 77F
The Celebrity Solstice docks in the harbour in between the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. This is not only great for views and pictures but also means that it is in the centre of the city. In Sydney we caught the hop on hop off bus which has two circuits. We saw all the main sights including Bondi Beach. This was much smaller than I thought. However I am proud to say that I, as a 68 year old, surfed on Bondi Beach!!!
However I must say that was because there was free Wi-Fi and I surfed the web!!!!
After the tours of the city we had a walk around an area called the Rocks which are by the docking area.
Melbourne – Mostly Cloudy – High 82F
As with Sydney we decided to do our own thing and shared a cab from Port Melbourne, with another couple to Federation Square in the centre of the city. Here we visited the Melbourne visitor centre where we purchased tickets for the shuttle at a cost of $5AD each. This was a circular tour of the city and again we saw the majority of the sights. We stopped off at the MCG (where unfortunately England had been thrashed at cricket just after Xmas). There was a corporate game being played and we looked through the gates and saw a couple of overs. As my wife does not like cricket we decided not to do the tour. We did see statues of greats like Sir Don Bradman, Keith Millar and Dennis Lillee as well as a board of Olympic champions from the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Aussie rules football is also played in this stadium.
After the shuttle we went to the Parliament Building where we witnessed a demonstration. This was to save the Dingo which is being culled by the government. Here we caught the Free Circular tram. A mistake!! There were more sights to see on this route but it was far too crowded for a large part of the journey.
Melbourne was invaded by flies during this visit. This made our visit uncomfortable. We were told that due to the bush fire that were taking place in Victoria that the flies had all drifted into the city although others said that this was normal for Melbourne in the summer.
Adelaide – Partly Cloudy – Sunny later – High 74F
We booked a tour here that was discussed on the Cruise Critic Celebrity Roll Call. It was with a company called Enjoy Adelaide. 20 of us were picked up at the port and taken around the beautiful city. The tour guide/driver Adrian was very good. After the city tour we were taken to Mount Lofty where there were superb views of the city right out to the sea.
Afterwards we were driven to Hahndorf, a town that had been founded by Germans in the Barossa Valley. This town is well worth seeing. We then visited two wineries and tasted several wines. These were McGuigan and Grant Burge. At McGuigan we were given a talk as well as tasting 6 wines. At Grant Burge we were able to taste several wines of our choice. During this tour we also saw the biggest Rocking Horse in the world.
After a great day we were driven back to the ship.
Esperance– Partly Cloudy – Sunny later – High 75F
Another tender port where there were delays. This was mainly due to the small jetty available for the tenders. Apparently Esperance only has 6 cruise ship visits a year. We booked the Celebrity Hop on Hop off bus which visited several beaches, a look-out point and the town of Esperance. The driver of the bus was a financial manager of a local company. He also owned a B&B and the local school bus business – talk about a Jack of All Trades!
The beaches were beautiful,
We spent some time in the town and were amused at the number of cruise passengers who were trying to surf the web with the free Wi-Fi available at two local cafes. It took me half an hour to see 1 e mail. The local library had a queue of people waiting to use their system which was only $1AD for half an hour. The librarian was concerned about the overload.
Perth – Sunny – High 35F
We booked a tour of Fremantle and Perth before being transferred to the airport for our 3.15pm flight. The reason we booked this was that Celebrity stated that they would only take people on their similar tour that had flights leaving after 3.30pm.
Westside Private Charter Stephen Rooney
Our driver was Sander
We visited the war memorial in Fremantle where there were great views before driving to Fremantle Prison We then visited Cottesloe beach, and saw lots of cockatoos flying in and out of the trees. The beach was relatively quiet as it was early but there were several school trips arriving. The next stop was Hilary’s boat harbour which is a pretty marina with restaurants and shops. There is also a kid’s water park as well as a beach with shallow water. Whilst there, we saw a dolphin swimming underneath and between the moored boats in the harbour.
Our final stop was Kings Park above Perth. This was interesting for us because Professor Haydn Green had talked about a body that had been found in this park and the forensics in this case. Sander knew all about this case. It was an impressive park with large areas of perfectly manicured grass. Considering the heat that day and the previous months all credit to the gardening team in this park.
Sander took us to two lookout points in this park that had great views across the Swan river and the Central Business District of Perth.
We arrived at the airport at 12.15 pm and found several of our fellow cruisers there who had taken the Celebrity tour and had only had a 2 hour tour. These people were catching a 10pm flight and there were very little facilities at Perth airport. We were so pleased that we had booked a private tour.
We then flew to Dubai, spent two days there before flying back to Gatwick having had a wonderful cruise, holiday and experiences.