I am not as experienced a cruiser as some on here, but I do have 5 cruises under my belt (so far). My experience has been confined to NCL, Royal Caribbean and now Celebrity. We booked the inaugural 2 night 'cruise to nowhere' on Celebrity Solstice out of Ft. Lauderdale. My travel partner lives in the area, so we had no hotel.
As a little background, this 2-night cruise, while it was the maiden voyage, was a charter. The Solstice is, of course, brand new and the first of the Solstice-class ships from Celebrity. Knowing Celebrity's reputation for excellence, we were looking forward to this cruise very much. To summarize the more detailed review below, the ship is absolutely gorgeous. The service, unfortunately, did not live up to our expectations.
First, the good/great: The ship is beautiful. I don't have all that much to add to the cruise-critic review or the previous member's reviews, but as far as the ship itself goes, everything that they said is true and more. My travel partner works as an interior designer and she could not stop talking about the creativity, quality and beauty of the interior spaces. Myself, with the exception of a couple of spaces that did not appeal to me, I found the interior of the ship to be visually stunning. In particular, the main dining room was light and airy. Missing was the often gaudy and over-busy decoration that is found in ship's dining rooms. Solstice's was a relaxing and engaging place to be.
Other highlights for me were the Sky Lounge, Michael's Club and the Tuscan Restaurant. The decorative beam work on the ceiling of the Sky Lounge tied in beautifully with the structural form of the window frames, Michael's Club, although apparently not unique to this ship, is an elegantly comfortable space. The Tuscan Restaurant, with its 'tunnel' entrance is visually stunning. The only spaces I didn't like were the Quasar club, which seemed kitschy and not very inviting or functional, and the Care Baccio, which was just a matter of particular taste; the yellow/green theme was not appealing to me (however, the coffee and gelato were superb). These are, admittedly, just a matter of personal taste, and not really a criticism of the ship's design. You can't please everyone all of the time.
The only other small criticism I have of the ship's design concerns the large Celebrity "X" on the outside of the ship. This "X" is rendered on the side of the ship by dark tinting of the glass on stateroom verandas. The "X" is very striking in the exterior view of the ship, but if you happen to be one of the unfortunate ones occupying one of the staterooms with the tinted veranda glass, your view of the ocean is impaired (the tinting is transparent, but very dark, so it's difficult to see through the glass when sitting on the veranda). This is a small thing, but just seemed to me to be one of the few places where design has compromised function. Apart from that, the staterooms were very nice. There was plenty of storage, the large flat-screen TV was a nice touch, and the bed was very comfortable. The room seemed a little bit larger than average, as was the bathroom. Entertainment of the ship was limited, but this was likely a result of the short nature of the cruise. There was a variety show that we did not attend, and a comedian that we did not get to see because there was no room left in the performance room.
My main disappointments with this cruise were with the service, the food and activities. With regard to the service, we found the stateroom service to be just a little below the standards of attentiveness that we have experienced on other cruises. While the service was adequate, missing were the little touches that make a cruise special (mints on turndown, towel animals, etc.) The mini bar was empty when we arrived. It was filled the day after we arrived, but we were not allowed access to it. Our attendant told us the reason for this was that the mini-bar order/inventory forms had not yet been printed, but it seemed to us that the real reason was that they were stocking the mini-bar for the 7 night cruise that immediately followed ours, and they didn't want to have to restock it again before that cruise. We were invited by our attendant to go to the bar and get our own drinks.
Room service was an unmitigated disaster. The first night, I waited on hold for 20 minutes. Eventually I hung up. We did manage to get through to them later for a late-night snack, but the order we received was not correct (the cheeseburger had no cheese, and instead of the bottle of cabernet sauvignon we ordered, we received chardonnay instead. We probably wouldn't have minded a swap of one red wine for another, but to swap a red for a white is not generally done. When we called back to return the wine, room service told us that we needed to get our stateroom attendant to correct their error. They wouldn't do it. The next day, we ordered a late-afternoon snack. It was promised in 30 minutes. When it had not arrived after 90 minutes, I called room service to inquire; again, they would not pick up the phone. After another 15 minutes on hold, I gave up. It required a call to the guest services to get through to room service. As I was speaking to them, the food arrived. We sent it back as we no longer wanted it, but did notice that the order was, again, not correct. The food was delivered by our stateroom attendant who told us that she had received the pick-up call from the kitchen only 10 minutes before. Clearly they have some bugs to work out with room service.
The main dining room experience was also a disappointment, both the food and the service. The service was extremely slow. We ate there on both nights. The first one we were seated for over half an hour before the appetizer was delivered. The courses for me and my partner were delivered at widely different times, forcing one of us to let their food grow cold while waiting for the other to be served. The second night, we sat for an hour before the appetizer arrived. The main course was similarly delayed. The problem appeared to be not with the wait staff, who delivered the food from their stations as soon as it arrived. The problem seemed to be with the kitchen that was extremely slow delivering the plates to the waiters.
The food itself was also a disappointment. The appetizers were good but not in any way exceptional. The soups were excellent, but the main courses were of low quality and poorly prepared. As an example, on the first night, we both ordered the same thing: tornados of beef and pork. I ordered my beef medium rare, my partner medium. Both of our dishes arrived the same: very well-done; dry and tough as shoe leather. They were also of only luke-warm temperature, apparently having sat in the kitchen for a while before arriving at the waiter's station. The aspect of the dining room experience that I disliked the most was one of policy not quality. The seating system that was used on this cruise was a hybrid between the traditional assigned seating and sister line Royal Caribbean's 'free-style' program. Unfortunately, Celebrity seems to have taken the disadvantages of each program and combined them. When we booked the cruise, we were asked what kind of table we would like to reserve (small table), but when we arrived at dinner the first night at the upper level entrance to the dining room, we were sent away because the upper level was only for those with a reserved table. When we explained that we thought we did have a reserved table, the host would not check and simply sent us downstairs where there was open seating. Besides one of the times on the cruise that we were made to feel like second-class citizens (more on that later), there were no small tables available downstairs. The advantages of assigned table / assigned time dining are that you have to opportunity to get to know your table-mates and you have the same waiters each night. The waiters get to know your particular likes and dislikes, and I have found that to be one of the pleasures of cruising. The disadvantage is the lack of flexibility: you have to eat at your assigned time. The advantage of free-style type cruising is that you have choices as to what and where you want to eat. Under Celebrity's system, you have no flexibility - you eat in the dining room at your assigned time, but you also eat with different people and have different waiters every night. It is true that Solstice does have specialty restaurants, but these were completely booked before we ever got on the ship, and we were given no opportunity to pre-book (this may not be Celebrity's fault, but rather the agency, as they were unable to deliver our cruise documents to us until the day before the cruise).
Another issue that we found distasteful was that we were made on more than one occasion to feel like second-class passengers on the ship. The first time was, as I mentioned, being dismissed by the host who would not check on wither we had a reserved table as we believed, instead sending us downstairs to open dining room seating. The second time was in the restaurant Blu. This restaurant is, apparently, reserved for only Aqua class passengers. We walked into Blu late at night, just to see it. At the time we walked in, it was near closing, and in fact was empty of diners (so, you know, there was no risk of the hoity-toity being offended by our plebian presence). We just wanted to have a look because it is a visually stunning restaurant. We were informed by the host that this restaurant was not for us. In principle, I guess I don't have a problem with a line offering premium services to higher paying customers, but I also don't think this should be done in such a way as to alienate your other customers. The restaurant is physically freely accessible and inviting. I would suggest that they could adopt a model more like they do with the private Persian Lounge. Put it out of sight, were the mainstream cruisers are not subjected to being told that they are second-class and not welcome. It made me wary of walking into other places on the ship for fear of being similarly rebuffed.
As a final comment there are two reasons that I will not be anxious to take another Celebrity cruise. The first is that it did not live up to my expectations as a premium product. I think that the food and service was actually better on all of the four previous cruises I've taken. Because of this, I felt that there was no reason to bear the premium cost of a Celebrity cruise. Now, in defense of the line, I heard it said that ours was not a 'real' Celebrity cruise, being a special charter. But I paid as much for it as I would have a 'real' cruise, the ship and the crew were from Celebrity and therefore representing the line, and they certainly were not shy about trying to sell future cruises on board.
Secondly, the atmosphere on the ship was lacking in (for lack of a better term) fun. The musicians stopped playing early, most of the venues were deserted by 11:00-ish. We were the only ones in the Sky Lounge (the last bar open) after 11:30. There was little in the way of dancing or any other activity going on in the evenings. Perhaps it was was the demographic of the passengers, or the fact that the ship was only about ¾ booked. Perhaps it was the lack of any of the organized evening activities one often finds on cruises (e.g. karaoke, piano bar, games). A cruise-director was not seen or heard from at any time on this cruise. Honestly, I don't think I can blame this on Celebrity, they can't force the passengers to have fun, but it is nonetheless a factor in my feelings about taking a future cruise with them So in summary, we found the Solstice to be an absolutely gorgeous ship, but lacking in the quality of food and service, and perhaps also lacking a little soul. I hope that these negatives might just reflect start-up pains and will be overcome. I'll keep an eye on future reviews to see if I should consider giving them another chance in the future, but for now, I'm sticking with their sister line RCCL where my experiences have been much more positive.