We just returned from the Celebrity Solstice May 30 sailing from Seattle to Alaska (inside passage). We had an awesome experience overall. The ship was the nicest we've been on (we've sailed on Princess and several other Celebrity ships, including Millennium, Constellation, etc.) The ship was superbly designed to avoid crowding in any area and was decorated in light (white, off white) tones and leather and silver so that there was an airy, light feeling we had not experienced before. We were amazed that with so many people aboard, we never felt crowded.
AQUA CLASS. We had an Aqua Class stateroom. I would recommend it to others. It means you are in a quieter part of the ship, right under the swimming pool midship (easy access to everything), you get access to the Persian Garden (so relaxing) and best of all, to a smaller dining room, Blu, where the food is heart healthy and made to order. And there are no kids in there.
BLU. Blu Restaurant is more sedate and the service is very attentive. The room is gorgeous and there is lots of ocean window seating available. All the servers are good but I think they put the best ones in the specialty restaurants, which Aqua Class is. I am not sure the food will be appealing to everyone. They try hard and mainly succeed, but it isn't exactly like the other dining rooms where you can try this and that if you don't like something. You feel sort of restrained. Not by anything Celebrity does, more from your own "eat healthy" consciousness. We found most dinners pretty good; some were king of bland. But the point is you are eating veg-based sauces, not sugar or flour-based sauces, so the food is bound to be different. One recommendation I had for the chef was to offer whole grain breads. It's weird to me that in a health conscious restaurant, the bread basket is white flour French bread and bread sticks. The dessert options are good - a few no sugar added desserts as well as traditional desserts prepared in a lighter cooking style.
Blu tries very hard to offer a good dinner. We ate all our dinners there and had breakfast there once. We ate in the other dining room 3 times and the Ocean View Cafe 3 times for breakfast.
EXCURSIONS. We went on the FIsh House tour in Ketchikan. Interesting talk by Mike, who has lived there since 1957. He owns the restaurant Fish House and some property and is very knowledgeable about the city, the fishing, and cooking. This year he had a new chef, a new grad from the Culinary Institute of America in NY who I am predicting will be an acclaimed chef before he's 30 His name is Taylor and he has an amazing amount of experience and passion for food and cooking for someone his age (I'm guessing 25).
He prepared us an incredible tasting menu and told us all about the food and preparation. Clearly one of the highlights of our trip. I think it's well worth the money, but just so you know - a little expensive.
In Juneau, we chose the food demonstration/Mendenhall Glacier/Alaska Brewery tour. We had a terrific bus driver, a kid from Idaho who was entertaining and informative and very sweet. The food demo was "okay." What I got out of it was a feeling for a local character (the owner of the cooking center), a relaxing glass of wine, some interesting chatter. I wasn't blown away by the food prep - it's not exactly rocket science what she did. But I did get a sense about Alaska's approach to food and cooking. The Mendenhall Glacier was ok. We were dropped off there for an hour and mostly, we didn't know what do except look at it and walk around a little. I don't think anyone was too impressed, but we all felt that it may not be there after a while, so might as well see it now. I get it . . . The Alaska Brewery was the best! The fellow who led the tour was funny and informative and the beer tasting was excellent The beer can be bought in 17 states now. Sadly, we aren't likely to see it in the east coast It's delicious and they have built a sustainable model that is worth knowing about and supporting. And they seem like they are a family; I love to see that in businesses.
In Skagway, we took the train up the White Pass. It was fun and relaxing. The weather was a little cold and rainy, but we were indoors so it didn't matter much The narrator was good. I sort of wish she didn't come down to "introduce" herself (in other words, ask for a tip; I think the ship should just build in $5 pp or something - it's expensive enough that another $5 isn't going to matter, and would be much more palatable folded in). That's my suggestion; I'm sure others will feel differently I just hate the obviousness of it. I understand some people took the train one way and biked down the other way That might've been fun but I'm not sure I would've liked that in the rain.
POOL AND SOLARIUM: On the at sea days, we enjoyed the pool. It was a little chilly but so sunny it didn't matter. When it was cooler, we enjoyed the Solarium, an adult-only area. The first day, someone who either didn't read the signs or didn't think they applied to her, took her 5 year old into the adult indoor pool in the Solarium. I politely said something to her and then the pool butler came over and politely told her that the area was adults only. YEAH FOR CELEBRITY!!! In the past, when I've said something about kids in the adults, only area or about people smoking where they shouldn't, Celebrity or Princess has said, "we can't tell the guests what to do." Really? No, this time they got it right - the rules are so that everyone can enjoy the ship! Glad to see Celebrity enforced the adults, only rule around the Solarium. Actually, they balanced it out by offering family hour 4-5 PM which gave the kids (there weren't that many) time in the indoor pool. I think they got it right this way!
FRIDAY NIGHT RELIGIOUS SERVICES. There wasn't. One thing I was disappointed about was no Fri night service. We had gotten used to having a Shabbat service on Fri night. On Solstice, the policy seems to be if there's no rabbi to lead it, there isn't a service. I guess they didn't think that laypeople could do it. I think it would be simple and a nice thing to do to offer a meeting place and post it to gather there at whatever time sundown is. No need to make a big deal about it; just post it, throw in a bottle of wine and a challah. What's the big deal? They could even say, "although there's no rabbi on board, we invite our Jewish guests to meet at 7 pm . . ." It wouldn't be hard to do!
ENTERTAINMENT. Pretty good. The theater is nice. There was a magician for a few shows. He was entertaining. Sort of what you see on AGT! Oh, I should mention, Brent Nixon, the naturalist, is an amazing presenter He has so much knowledge and passion to share. I know, you think, who needs to go hear someone talk about whales? But you do! He's fascinating He helps you understand what Alaska wildlife is all about. A real treat that he's on board.
DRINK PACKAGE. I had trouble figuring out what to do about the drink package so I'm going to take the time to give some information. We chose the Classic package as part of the 1-2-3 promotion. A good value, given the price of drinks. I upgraded to the Premium for myself because I like Grey Goose and enjoy wine more than my husband does. We drank specialty coffees and fresh squeezed OJ without having to pay $5 each time, too, also part of the package. I think you have to drink more than we do in order to feel it's a good value. I got a value of an $800 package for about $200 (I had to sacrifice my "early bird discount" of $200 to get the promotion). Was what I did worth $200? Sure. Was it worth $800? I don't think we spent nearly that, but somewhere in between. So I do think it worked out for us. But consider before you take the promotion whether you drink the better brands, in which case you need the premium package, and whether you'd spend $79 per day on drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) before you buy it. It is really nice to have it built in, I will say that. I manage my money all year long so it was nice to have an "all inclusive" feel to the trip - as they say on the Master Card commercial - "priceless." For us, we didn't drink nearly $800 worth. I can't remember what the other promo option was - maybe the $300 gratuities. Anyway, remember when you pick your option to consider whether you're going to have to upgrade anyway. (By the way, I met a lot of people who had taken the drink option, but also a lot who had taken the gratuities option.)
This and that: we were told to buy binoculars before we go. No need. At least if you are in concierge or aqua class, there are a pair in the room. We didn't need to waste our money on them. Shopping? Not so much - some Alaska quartz jewelry that is interesting. Beaded bracelets. ULU knives. The usual assortment of tee shirts. Definitely bring a swim suit. I bought 2, just wore one. We packed too much (as usual). Oh, if you are Aqua Class and eat in Blu, there is no need to bring dress clothes! You don't need to dress on formal night if you eat in a Specialty Restaurant like Blu. I wish the Celebrity person I spoke with about this had been more direct. When I called to ask, she said "a sports coat is fine" so my husband didn't have to lug a suit and extra shoes. But really, he didn't even need that so he carried 2 sports coats and dress pants for nothing.
Overall, we had a marvelous trip. The staff was accommodating, the guests were great - interesting people. It wasn't a party boat like you get in the Caribbean. Much more sophisticated, but still lots of fun. Some older people, a few multigenerational families traveling together. Not too many kids. (I recommend not bringing the 5 year olds) No teens (probably still in school in May). People say AK sailings are "more mature." We found that to be the case (we're on either side of 60).