SOLSTICE MAIDEN VOYAGE - Nov. 23 - 30, 2008 Cabin 7317 - Aft Sunset Veranda
SOLSTICE DAY 1 - Embarkation & Sailaway We waited for more than 18 months to embark on the Solstice maiden voyager. To say we were excited that the day finally arrived was an understatement. We arrived in Ft. Lauderdale the day before sailing and spent the night at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66. We were up early the next morning and walked up the causeway across from the hotel...and sure enough - our ship had indeed arrived! We left the Hyatt around10:00 AM and headed to Port Everglades. The entrance we entered (north of the entrance you use if arriving from the airport) had a port security guard that didn't want to allow us to enter. She told us we couldn't enter until 11:30 AM. We were actually going to drop luggage and then head to the airport with Host Joe to drop off his rental car. We explained that and she didn't want to believe us but did let us through. When we arrived at the terminal there was lots of passengers already sitting there waiting for the boarding process to begin (at least 100 or more). When Andy and Joe got back from the airport around 10:45, the guard at that entrance waved them right through. We were then seated in the terminal building until 11:00 AM when they began the embarkation process. It was quick and easy and we were on board the ship before 11:30.
Lunch was available in the Oceanview Cafe on Deck 14 and they were asking that you wait to go to your cabin until 1:00 PM. We headed up to the buffet and enjoyed a very nice lunch on the aft deck of the Cafe. I found this area to be much larger than that of the M-class ships with a wide variety of furniture. Tables and chairs for two, four and six and rattan love seats with small tables. The buffet has a different way of providing silverware. It is now rolled in napkins and placed on tables throughout the cafe (inside and out). In theory, it's a great concept. You can easily see where there is an open spot to eat. However, they need to ensure that tables are quickly cleaned and new silverware is provided as there is nowhere in the buffet area to grab silverware any longer. There are teaspoons at the four coffee stations in the buffet but that's it.
At 4:30, we had our muster drill. This is the best way I've seen any ship do this drill. All passengers are assigned to one of the public areas on deck five (specialty restaurants, lounges, theater) and the safety instructions are provided on flat screen tvs or projectors. You sit and listen to the instructions and then you are released. It's fast and easy, comfortable too. We did not have to go outside to the lifeboats. A big thanks to Celebrity for this terrific improvement.
Cruise Critic Gathering Cruise Critic members gathered at the Sunset Bar for a wonderful Sailaway from Ft. Lauderdale. Many showed up to meet one another as the shoreline faded away to a spectacular sunset. A very special thanks to Joanne & Bob (Penney80) for their wonderful Cruise Critic member name tags (a wonderful memorabilia item) they prepared. They were AWESOME! And thanks to C 2 C (Arno) for maintaining the list of member names for the cruise. It was a big task and everyone appreciated the efforts of Arno, Joanne & Bob
After Sailaway, we spent some time at the Oceanview Bar (just below the Sunset Bar) listening to Jefferson Ang, a fantastic guitar player, while we chatted with Jocelyn, the bartender for this location. Jocelyn had previously been on Millennium and Century. Many of the crew on board has been on other Celebrity ships. Within the first several hours we had run into six or seven crew members we know from previous cruises. This is one of the nice things about sailing with Celebrity on a regular basis.
As we headed off for dinner following Sailaway, it was a little bit of a that there was nothing special today to celebrate this inaugural sailing. It was a little surprising and a little disappointing after waiting 18 months for the sailing to arrive. Other than a mention from the Captain during the muster drill, nothing was mentioned about this being a maiden voyage.
Now that we are on board for a full seven-night cruise (we were fortunate to have been on board for the Naming Ceremony and two-night sailing last weekend), we've had the chance to unpack and check out the storage in the cabins. I'm not wild about the location of the closets, but for us there is more than enough storage. We still had unused space after completely unpacking. I also need to say that now that we are in our aft sunset veranda, the cabin is very nice and the veranda doesn't seem as small as it did last weekend when it was an open cabin for viewing. I think because our veranda last weekend was a bit bigger, when we saw the sunset veranda, it felt "smaller." But walking into the cabin today, the veranda seems fine. It's still a shame that they didn't elect to extend these verandas somewhat since they certainly could have, but it's nice. I do think that the blue extension with the solar panels that are on top of Tuscan Grille is an eyesore (already dirty, catching items that blow off the upper decks) for the verandas just above it (decks 6, 7 & 8).
We chose to meet in the Martini bar for pre-dinner drinks. Some semi-private alcoves surround the bar itself and we ordered drinks from one of these. But the piped in music was far too loud and had the "hip, techno" beat that after about 20 minutes started to get on your nerves. We moved to the Ensemble Lounge for a soften atmosphere where a jazz trio provided the perfect background to drinks and conversation.
After Sailaway and before dinner, we headed to the internet cafe to set up a wireless account. It was a bit chaotic as they were trying to start a computer class and help people trying to just use the internet. The ship is wireless throughout. So if you are using your laptop in your cabin you must set up a wireless account (User ID and password) and then purchase a package when you log on to the internet. You can do this from your stateroom but since I had a Capt Club coupon that gave me 20% more minutes when I bought a package, I had to go to the internet cafe to turn that in. The internet was not working properly the first day so everyone received free wireless until the morning of Day 2. Internet time on a per minute basis is kind of expensive for internet time ($.65/min) so we purchased a package.
Package pricing is: 75 minute package - $40.00 125 minute package - $60.00 185 minute package - $80.00 263 minute package - $100.00
The BEST thing about tonight, however, was dinner in the Grand Epernay restaurant (main dining room). Our table was on the lower level and our servers were very good. The menu was interesting and varied. Appetizers received rave reviews - two of us had the pork potstickers while everyone else had the eggplant parmesan. Everyone love both of them. The spinach salad that followed was equally as good. But the highlight of the evening was the entrees. Andy had the lamb chops with a mixture of other lamb items such as lamb sausage. He raved about it. The rest of us had the beef tenderloin and veal filet with scalloped potatoes and creamed carrots. I'm not kidding....it was terrific. It was followed by crème brulee, a chocolate parfait (really a mousse) and sugar free crepes for dessert. If the food in the main dining room is as good the rest of the cruise as it was tonight, Celebrity has found a way to return to its outstanding food. Our waiter explained the entrees may take a bit longer than normal because they are being prepared as the orders are placed instead of mass plated ahead of time. It seemed to make a difference. Additionally, the varied plates (mine was oblong while my husband's was a wide bowl-like dish) and presentations made for a perfect dinner experience. Boy, was it good!
Sadly, while there are still lots of things happening the first night, we were too tired to do anything else. A good night's sleep will get us ready for a full day at sea tomorrow.
SOLSTICE DAY 2 - AT SEA It was a bit of a "rocky" night. Pretty high seas to start this cruise. While we are experiencing some good movement, I think Solstice is handling the waves pretty well. We had some brief showers early this morning but the sun came out and the skies turned blue although the waves were still significant and it was very windy. There is plenty to do inside so people had a good chance to get to know Solstice pretty well this morning.
We ate breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe. We lost an hour the first night so we were in the cafe pretty early (7:30 eastern time; 8:30 ship time). Consequently, there weren't many people around. The variety of food is good but the quality is hit and miss. The waffles, when hot off the waffle maker, are great (I waited for some) as those in the warming tray aren't the same. Carved ham and bacon were very good but the sausage links were not. The omelet I had last weekend was great. I'll be anxious to see how the waffle station works once it is very busy in this area. They still have things backwards here. The butter/syrup, etc. are before you get the waffles/pancakes so you have to go "back" to the beginning of the line to get these things. So you pick up your plate, walk past the syrup and toppings, then get to the waffles, pancakes and French toast and then have to return to the beginning of the line next to the dishes for toppings. Unfortunately, they won't be able to remedy this situation on Solstice as the area where the trays full of waffles, etc are located are on a built in warming station while the toppings are just placed on the counter. Poor design in this area that they will hopefully switch for Equinox.
Cruise Critic Party We had a great turnout for our Cruise Critic Connections party. In addition to our Cruise Critic members we were joined by Cruise Director Nick Weir and his brother, Simon who is the Hotel Director; Ken Ismail who is the Guest Relations Manager; Robert Flack, Food & Beverage Manager; and Kim Heroux, the Events Coordinator who worked to set up the party. Coffee, juice and pastries were served and there was plenty of time to meet members and take photos. A large group photo was taken by the ships photographer and later sent free of charge to all Cruise Critic members cabins who signed up for the Connections Party. It was a terrific photo and a lovely gesture on Celebrity's part to send each of us a photo.
We headed to the dining room for lunch following the party and found the service and food to be very good. Andy had the potato leek soup and a cobb salad while I had fried mozzarella (it IS vacation after all) and shrimp scampi. Both my items were delicious (although two mozzarella pieces would have been plenty instead of three). The scampi sauce and the shrimp were very, very good and served over pasta. So far, they are doing pretty darn good in the food department.
Shortly after lunch, we reassembled about 35 Cruise Critic members for a cabin crawl. We visited eight different cabins in a variety of categories. For the most part, cabin size and configurations for all cabins below a Sky Suite (that means inside, Oceanview, standard balcony, sunset veranda, concierge class and aqua class) are the same. Concierge class and Aqua Class have upgraded amenities but the cabin layouts themselves do not differ. Some of the standard balconies (1A's for example) do have oversized verandas. These are the cabins when you look at the deck plan that have angled balconies leading to the hump section of the ship. One cabin you want to avoid is 1549 (an Aqua Class cabin). It has a permanent obstruction from window washing equipment. It does have an oversized veranda but the view is definitely affected by large pieces of equipment. Celebrity should probably consider downgrading this cabin. We also toured a Celebrity suite. Lovely living room and a wonderful veranda (1615) but the bedroom is completely enclosed making it feel somewhat like an inside cabin where the bedroom is concerned. A frosted window could be removed or made of clear glass so you could have a view of the ocean from the bedroom as well. Thanks to all the Cruise Critic members who opened their cabins for viewing!
After a short nap, we ventured up to the Oceanview Cafe bar at the rear of the ship where Jefferson, the AWESOME guitar player (I swear he sounds just like Jim Croce and James Taylor when he sings their songs) serenaded us to a beautiful sunset.
FIRST FORMAL NIGHT What a lovely evening. We started off with drinks in Ensemble Lounge. Live music from a jazz trio entertains pre-dinner, although the hours were a bit odd. They play from 6:45 - 7:45. Early dinner is at 6:00 and late is 8:30. So they don't really play much while there are actually guests in the lounge.
I would say 98% of the guests dressed formally. We didn't notice anyone in the dining room that didn't comply with the dress code. We did see one gentleman walk through the lounge towards the specialty restaurants with a bright orange "Hawaiian-type" shirt on (the Ensemble Lounge is at the entrance to the Specialty Dining area). He walked back through the lounge past us a few minutes later (we noticed because his shirt was bright orange and he stood out quite a bit) and then five minutes later returned with a jacket on. Our guess was he was asked to put a jacked on by the restaurant. Most guests remained in formal attire throughout the evening.
We then went to Sky Lounge for a very nice "Officers Party" for Capt. Club Elite members. It was very crowded, Top Secret played dance music and the captain spoke to as many people as he could. This is a very, very nice lounge and the nicest of any of these types of lounges (Observation-type) on any of Celebrity's ships.
Dinner in the dining room was again outstanding. Our table had one of two appetizers - I had the seafood medley - a shrimp on top of four quarter-sized lobster medallions with a crab claw (all was delicious; the crab claw was exceptional); others had the crab stuffed mushroom caps (five or six of them) with a Boursin cheese sauce. They said it, too, was delicious. Salads were reported as very good as was the mushroom bisque with truffles. For my entrEe I enjoyed Chateaubriand. It was served with broccoli, another wonderful potato dish and a tomato and onion relish. My meat was perfectly cooked medium-rare and served with two sauces - bordelaise and bEarnaise. The apple tart with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream was a wonderful "closer" that everyone at our table had. It was served warm and it was delicious.
From there it was onto the show. This was the first "production" show but it was far more than that. There isn't any other ship that has this type of "production" show on board. It was called SOLSTICE - The Show. It is a Las Vegas Cirque du Soliel-type show. Even if you do not enjoy this type of entertainment, I highly recommend seeing it. It was phenomenal. When you see the things these entertainers do on a moving ship (we had some good motion at the time), it is just amazing. I keep trying to determine which "act" I enjoyed most and I can't pinpoint one. They were all fantastic.
Following the show, Oceans Four, the ship's a capella group performed and were another hit. But sadly after that (around 12:15) even though there was supposed to be other venues with entertainment, the only place we found that had any entertainment still going on was the disco. The rest of the ship was pretty quiet.
Upon returning to our room, we found a comment card on the bed that asked if there is anything they can do to help make our cruise more enjoyable. I can't ever recall getting this type of comment card (different from what you get on the final night) during the cruise. I mentioned a couple of items. This was a nice way to share thought during the cruise instead of just after its over.
SOLSTICE DAY 3 - San Juan It was a leisurely day for us as we decided to remain mostly on the ship for the day. We started with coffee and Danish on our veranda followed by taking in a lecture from Ian Wright, a photographer who covered many of the up and coming bands of the 60s in England. He was very interesting as he shared how he got into the business and how entertainment in northern England in the 60s had so much impact on music.
We had to leave the lecture a little early to catch a 10:30 bridge tour for elite Capt. Club members. The bridge was interesting as always, especially the new security room that is now located to the rear of the bridge. It was nice to have the opportunity to visit the bridge.
After the bridge tour, we took in "Brunch" in the dining room. There was no separate breakfast or lunch in the main dining room on this day; instead it was a combine "brunch." I thought it was very nice. A large selection of breakfast items (my husband said that while the eggs benedict weren't very warm, they tasted very good), salads, carving stations and hot food. I selected an individual chicken pot pie. As I was picking it up another passenger told me not to bother; he said it wasn't worth the effort. I took it anyway and really liked it. I mean, it was a chicken pot pie. It had plenty of chunks of white meat chicken, carrots, peas and onions in a chicken cream sauce. It was flavorful enough and fine as a part of a brunch menu. I was expecting it to be awful considering the comment from the passenger. Oh well, different people enjoy different things.
From brunch, it was back to the theater for another lecture (wow....two in one day - I don't think we've ever heard a lecture on board a ship prior to this). William Miller presented a talk on Floating Palaces: The Great Atlantic Liners that took us back to the 1800's and through the ensuing decades to discuss great Oceanliners. He was fantastic. The photos took you back to a different place and time. He will be offering several additional lectures throughout the cruise.
Then we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the pool deck. There are plenty of deck chairs (which are very nice - all have padded cushions) and there was no problem finding an open chair. The pool band (Top Secret), members of the Celebrity Orchestra, the activities staff and the Celebrity Singers and Dancers were also on the pool deck rehearsing for a Latin Dance Party to be held on deck that evening. It was fun to watch them run through their routines and see how it all comes together.
One comment about the pool deck. While there are plenty of deck chairs, they are tightly packed together. There are no small tables available for drinks like on previous ships so the chairs are side by side. There is very little room available to separate the chairs and the go up to about 18" of the pool. In order to get to the pool steps (which are tucked next to the hot tubs, you have to walk past all the deck chairs lined along the pools. As deck chairs are moved (even slightly), access to the steps can be difficult. It didn't take long before passengers would moving chairs to gain a little space. I can see hands being pinched between the chairs packed so close together.
You've probably figured out by now that our favorite afternoon thing to do was to enjoy a drink at the Oceanview Bar and listen to Jefferson as the sunset. He's usually here for Sailaway although we aren't sailing away from San Juan and St. Maarten until later in the evening. Jefferson is the best guitarist we've heard on a cruise ship.
We had an 8:30 PM dinner reservation in Murano's on this evening. This Murano's is smaller than the one on Century and the other gourmet specialty restaurant's on the M-class ships. But it gives it a more intimate feel. We had a lovely table to the left of the entrance. Our service and food was outstanding. The first "little" item we received was a "bite" of goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto. Delicious! Everyone (except me) loved the mushroom soup appetizer with mushroom gelato. I don't care for mushrooms so I'm not sure what prompted me to try the gelato...it wasn't for me. But everyone else raved about it. My dinner filet mignon was very good and everyone else enjoyed their entrees as well (my husband had the rack of lamb which he asked permission to pick up the chop to get every last bite of meat). Desserts were wonderful. Kirk had the dessert samplers. It was beautifully presented and he said each of them were delicious. All in all, it was a lovely night that everyone enjoyed. There was a table just beyond us that were very unhappy and were loudly discussing their displeasure with the head waiter. Then the Maitre 'd and other managers arrived to speak with them. The discussion went on for quite some time so that the entire restaurant could hear what was happening. It would have been much more appropriate for the passengers to approach the Maitre 'd away from the dining room to discuss their concerns. As they left the dining room, to my surprise, the entire dining room clapped.
After dinner we headed to hear the comedian in Celebrity Central. This is a perfect "Comedy Club" type venue that is small and close to the stage. The comedian, Steve Caouette, was outstanding. He engaged the audience and everyone had a good time. We'll have to see him again as he'll be performing a couple additional times.
SOLSTICE DAY 4 - St. Maarten We opted to stay on board Solstice all day. We enjoyed a nice breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe on the aft deck. It really does give a totally different feel to this area than on the M-class ships where the tables are tightly packed in.
I visited the spa for a 50 minute Swedish massage today. The women's locker room does indeed have a complimentary steam room attached to it. The relaxation room where you wait for your treatment is at the front of the ship and very large. It's extremely comfortable with drinks available (flavored water, tea) and blankets on every relaxation bed. Very nice. My massage (Laslo was the therapist) was terrific. Very relaxing and much too fast ;-) The cost of a 50-minute Swedish massage on a port day was $107 plus gratuity.
The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the pool. Plenty of open chairs since we were in port and not sailing until 11:00 PM. The ships in port with us were Crown Princess, the Oceana and Carnival Glory. We were the last to leave.
Dinner in the dining room tonight was good. This was the first evening we weren't "wowed" for choices when we looked at the menu. For our main course, all of us but one got the beef short ribs (my husband had the duck). The short ribs were actually very good. It just didn't seem like there were many great options tonight. As it turned out, we were all pretty happy with the meal. By the way, they do have an "always available" alternative that includes: shrimp cocktail, strip steak, salmon, chicken and a couple of additional items.
By the end of dinner, we were all so tired, we called it an early night as we have an early tour in St. Kitts the next day.
SOLSTICE DAY 5 - St. Kitts We met for breakfast at 8:00 AM as we had to be off the ship at 9:00 to head to Red Sail Sports to check in for our catamaran snorkel trip. It was a two-block walk to their shop. It's in an area that has been built right at the port to service cruise customers. It's very nice with lots of construction still occurring. They were a little slow checking in all the customers and we ended heading out about ten minutes late. It was a short walk to the catamaran and once on board, we had a fantastic time. The crew of four was wonderful. We sailed to a cove not too far from the ship as the original location we were supposed to head to on the other side of the island had very rough seas.
The catamaran held 50+ passengers but there were only about 35 on this sailing. Just perfect as there was plenty of room for everyone. After about an hour snorkel a very nice lunch of curried chicken, tuna salad, green salad, cole slaw and carrot bread was served. Soft drinks, beer and rum punch were also included. Shortly after making it back to the dock, it began to rain. We stopped in the local grocery store (Ram) across from the port shops to pick up a couple of different hot sauces then headed back to Solstice in a light rain.
We headed up to the Oceanview Bar for Sailaway and guitar music. What a spectacular sailaway. As the rain showers pelted St. Kitts, a beautiful double rainbow appeared. At the same time, the sun was setting. It was hard to decide which was the prettier scene - the rainbows or the setting sun. It was one of the magical, rare sights that I hadn't seen in the 15+ years we've been cruising. What a wonderful way to remind us we had so much to be thankful for on Thanksgiving day.
Dinner tonight was scheduled for Tuscan Grille. When I made the reservation on-line, I forgot that it was Thanksgiving. We all talked about it and decided to stick with Tuscan Grille. First, we stopped for pre-dinner drinks in Michael's Club (did I mention they need to move the piano in here - PLEASE move the piano so everyone can see and hear the piano player) and enjoyed the tunes of Jeremy Oren at the piano. There would be lots more folks in here enjoying pre-dinner drinks if people realized that there was entertainment in here and if there was a place for folks to dance as there is in Michael's on the M-class ships. Hopefully, there will be some re-arranging of furniture here before we are back on Solstice in March. One of our favorite bartenders, Zeljko from Croatia, is the the bar server in Michael's. He was also in Michael's on Constellation last year. He is an absolute delight and reminds us how many great crew members there are on Celebrity ships. It's so good to sail with them again and again.
Onto Tuscan Grille. Everyone at the two-day pre-inaugural who dined here loved it. And rightfully so. To start, it's a beautiful room. The colored glass chandeliers are very unique and pretty. The menu has far too many things to try. Let's start with the bread basket. It had four or five different types of bread. My favorite was the foccacia with tomatoes baked on top. On the table were a trio "toppings" - roasted garlic; a crushed tomato tampenade and olives. I spread the roasted garlic on the foccacia and could have eaten the entire bread basket this way! Between the six of us, we tried three of the appetizers: the crab dip, the calamari and bruschetta. The crab dip is served in individual small cast iron pots. One of these would have been enough for two or three people. It was very, very good and delicious spread on a piece of bread. Andy had the calamari and said it was some of the best calamari he's ever had. Bev had a trio of bruschetta and enjoyed that as well. Next, some of us had the onion soup while others had the San Francisco fisherman's soup. The onion soup was terrific. Prepared differently from a French Onion soup, this is a cream based soup that is pureed (no pieces of onion in it) with a piece of bread and cheese baked in the oven. WOW....all of this and we had even gotten to the entrees yet.
Entrees for our group included veal parmesan; filet mignon; rib eye; and papardelle pasta with Kobe beef meatballs. With the exception of the pasta with Kobe meatballs, we all loved our meals. The piece of veal parmesan with linguini was large enough for two people to share (it measured about 8 inches by 3 inches. I could barely eat half of it and it was delicious. I also had a bite of the filet (it melted in your mouth) and the ribeye (which had good flavor but of course isn't nearly as tender as a filet).
Already stuffed, we had to try desserts as they all sounded great. I had the crème brulee (very good), which was served with a beautiful small bowl of raspberries, blackberries and strawberries; Andy had the chocolate fondue, which was served with banana, marshmallows, a chocolate brownie and pineapple.
Truly a fantastic meal. Service was great and the food outstanding. If I had any suggestion here it would be to make the portions just a bit smaller as none of us could finish everything.
SOLSTICE DAY 6 - At Sea It's a beautiful sunny and warm day. We found a second waffle station that had two waffle irons (the station in the middle of the ship only has one iron - not nearly enough). However, one of the irons wasn't working and in their rush to try and get the line down, they were taking the waffles out of the working iron before they were done....so they were undercooked. I went back to the original station to wait for waffles. It was worth the wait. Hot off the iron they are terrific.
We stopped and watched the Hot Glass show after breakfast. These folks are true artist creating beautiful works of art. The pieces they are making are raffled off to guests - one or two per show. As it takes some time for the pieces to cool, they raffle off the pieces made yesterday, today. Be sure to stop at some point in your cruise to watch these artisans work.
The lawn itself is going to be an "interesting" thing to watch. There is a lot of it. And it's not in great shape. Don't expect the putting lawn to be like a putting green - it's not. It's more like your back yard. But still a fun spot with lots of people using it. A bocce class was held in the center lawn this morning just behind the Hot Glass Show area. People seemed to be having fun there as well. I'll be anxious to see what condition the lawn is in by March. There are no lawn chairs, towels or shoes with high heals allowed on the lawn. They also "close" it at times to "rest?!"
The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool. The pools on Solstice are plenty big and the deck space is more than sufficient. Pretty blue pool towels are provided on chairs and at towel stations. Pool butlers picked up used towels regularly. There was never a time that you couldn't find a lounge chair, maybe not right at the pool but on the upper deck for sure. The Solstice deck at the very top of the ship is a lovely area with larger rattan loungers with cushions. It was often very windy up here, however.
There is entertainment on the pool deck continuously today. I think all the entertainment on board has been very, very good. The entertainers are friendly and talented. It's nice to see them being showcased in so many venues.
We opted for burgers from the Mast Grille for lunch. This is located on the upper pool deck, port side. They served burgers, hot dogs, tacos, and wings. On the opposite side of the deck (starboard), you'll find the Mast Bar. Both of these areas are nice and both have a fair amount of seating. The challenge, however, is that Celebrity has both of these venues smoking areas so while you are waiting in line for food at the grille, many people are smoking. And you can't go to the other side of the area (near the bar) as people are smoking there as well. The problem on the starboard side of the ship is that even though it is non-smoking, smoking from the Mast bar drifts all along the upper pool deck here. So essentially, the entire upper deck around the pool feels the effects of cigarettes. What they should have done was switch the Mast Grill and the Mast Bar so the grill was on the Starboard (non-smoking side) of the ship. I did see a gentleman ask a lady who sat down on a starboard upper deck lounge chair with a cigarette to kindly put it out as she was in a non-smoking area. He pointed out that the Mast Bar area was smoking but not the lounge chairs. She kindly complied.
As for the smoking situation, I thought it was pretty good (other than having the Mast Bar and the Mast Grill areas both smoking). The new policy is prominently displayed in each Celebrity Daily and in a letter given to us at embarkation. Smoking areas are:
· Port side of Sky Lounge · Mast Bar and Mast Grill (I hope they switch these areas for future ships and make the Grill non-smoking....I really prefer to get and eat food away from a smoking area). · Port side of Pool and Sun Deck (but not in the Solarium or Solstice decks) · Deck 5 Port Side Promenade
We did not smell any smoke on our balcony throughout the cruise. Some passengers said they had a problem with it on their balconies. My suggestion is to call the Guest Relations Manager (not your cabin attendant or Guest Relations desk) and discuss the matter with them directly when you smell the smoke to report it as these kinds of situations must be handled as they are happening. There were plenty of smokers on the ship but from what I saw, they were all abiding by the rules. I'm guessing there will always be some who don't.
SOLSTICE DAY 6 - Formal Night So you know I'm being totally balanced and honest, the second formal night was less than stellar for a Celebrity ship. We had and enjoyable time pre-dinner in Michael's Club. They have changed the music timing and there is now live music (Jeremy Oren on piano tonight) before dinner.
But the disappointment started with dinner. I can't recall a formal night when I read a menu and nothing sounded particularly interesting. Five of the six at our table started with the French Onion soup. We each took one bite and couldn't eat it. It tasted like lightly flavored water. There was barely any cheese on it, either. In fact, at first I didn't think there was any cheese. It was interesting that when our waiter picked up the bowls that he didn't ask how it was or if there was a problem. When we mentioned it to our head waiter later in the evening, he said he already knew there was a problem with it and he'd be discussing it with the chef. For my entrEe, the only item that was marginally appealing was the tournedos of beef. It was very good and again, the potatoes served with it were yummy....someone is doing potatoes very well. I actually also asked for the vegetarian dish (creamed leeks with vegetables in a puff pastry) for the table but when the food arrived, our waiter brought a pasta dish with seafood. Perhaps he misunderstood. There was also a mixed seafood plate that had half a rock lobster tail (it looked a large shrimp in size). Several at the table ordered the dish. It also had two scallops and shrimp. I haven't cared for lobster on a ship in a long time but if you were a lobster lover, I don't think you'll be happy with this dish. For dessert, they have done away with the baked Alaska parade and instead offered a smaller, similar version of the dessert with a name I can't recall nor could pronounce (it started with omelette). The wait staff sang after dessert was completely served.
From dinner, we wanted to get a group photo for formal night. The lines for photos on the way to dinner were very long. As we exited the dining room (about 10:20), the photographers were all tearing down. When we asked if we could get a group photo, we were somewhat rudely told, "Sorry, we're done for the evening." We weren't the only ones. There were about 7 or 8 additional couples/groups who came out of dinner after us who wanted photos. I ended up taking photos for several on the main staircase. In this day when there is a concern about profits, formal night photos are likely their best sellers. When finding a supervisor and discussing this with her she said the "three dinner seatings are confusing them." What???? The timing of early and late seating in the dining room hasn't changed. And those who are eating in the specialty restaurants are eating within the same time frame. It simply sounded like an excuse...and a missed opportunity.
Off to see the show, Ghost Light, which I saw on the pre-inaugural. This cast is very, very good as is the Celebrity Orchestra on this ship. It's a great show with lots of talent. The Captain gave a farewell toast to the audience just before the show started. He is very personable and friendly and was seen all over the ship all week long.
To close the evening, we were going back to see the comedian at midnight. Unfortunately, after listening for ten minutes we left, as all the material he was doing was a repeat of what he had done the first night we listened to him. While he was very funny the first night, it's not the same hearing it two nights later.
Don't get me wrong, it was still a very pleasant evening. Just a little disappointing after having such wonderful food the rest of the cruise.
SOLSTICE DAY 7 - Our Last Day What a spectacular weather day. Warm and sunny, less windy, smooth sailing. Following breakfast in our favorite spot (the Oceanview aft) we went down to check out the photo gallery. They are utilizing a new system that must use face recognition software. When we boarded on the first day, we all provided our sea pass when they took our embarkation photo. From then on, all photos of you are supposed to be available for screening on your TV. Something must have happened when they scanned our card as our photos never showed up on our TV account. But the four others we were sailing with had all of their photos from the week appear on their TVs. We found our photos, nonetheless, in the gallery (as they still print them...I hope they stop doing this at some point as it wastes a lot of paper and materials) and many of them were nice. We purchased one of us in front of the ship that was great.
We also stopped in the shops as they were having some sales on items. The shops have lots of nice items. I wasn't overly impressed with the Solstice logoware (I think they could have done a bit more) but there were lots of nice gift items (the glass heart and ball ornaments were beautiful). The staff in the shops were pleasant and friendly.
One last opportunity to enjoy some pool and reading time. You have no problem hearing the entertainment from the pool deck on the upper deck. Sometimes, like when Top Secret was playing, it was very loud. Pool sound system is fantastic. I'm sure it will just take a little time to fine tune these kinds of things.
At 3:00 PM, we made our way to Celebrity Central where Bill Miller and Len Weir (Nick and Simon's dad) was doing a little Cruise history and Q&A. Mr. Weir was Celebrity's first cruise director back in the 60s. It was very interesting.
Later in the afternoon we headed back to the Oceanview Bar when we played our final round of Mexican Train Dominos (which we started earlier in the cruise). One final sunset listening to Jefferson and drinking Comos made by Jocelyn. What a lovely late afternoon.
Then we had to do the dreaded "packing." It wasn't too bad. Your disembarkation tags are now all done by numbers (1 - 30 something) instead of colors. We had number 22 which was scheduled to disembark at 9:35 AM. Then it was off to our final dinner. Pre-dinner drinks in Michael's Club and then down to the dining room.
The menu again didn't do much for me but I selected the firecracker shrimp for an appetizer (which I enjoyed) and the turkey schnitzel for my entrEe. Both were very good. There was a crepe stuffed with veggies for another appetizer that many enjoyed. However, the eggplant parmesan was mis-titled and was actually an eggplant cut in half and stuffed with a vegetable medley. There wasn't anything parmesan about it. Andy sent it back and requested the turkey. Bev ordered the always available strip steak and she too sent it back as it was overcooked and tough. She went for the strip loin dinner off the main menu. She said it was much better.
It was off to sleep shortly after dinner.
DISEMBARKATION We docked in Port Everglades just before 5:00 AM. Breakfast in the dining room was from 6:30 - 8:00 and in the Oceanview from 7:00 - 8:30. Disembarkation was quick (they actually announced they were ahead of schedule) and we were off the ship about 9:40 - a few minutes ahead of what we anticipated.
Overall, we loved Solstice. It is a beautiful ship, with a wonderful crew. We could easily sail this ship over and over again. Sure, everything wasn't perfect, but for its first 7-day sailing, it definitely exceeded our expectations. I heard from several people that there were passengers who were unhappy and complained about many things. All I can say is that some will be unhappy no matter what. I choose not to be one of them. To all sailing Solstice and her future sister ships, enjoy every moment.
AWESOME ELEMENTS Crew All cruise experiences start and end with crew. We found the crew (especially for a first time sailing) to be overall exceptional.
Muster Drill - The best going. Having it in a lounge where people can be seated is terrific. The video instruction makes the entire drill go much quicker. Kudos.
Accessibility for the Disabled - I heard more than one person comment how accessible the ship is for those with disabilities. They even have someone signing for the hearing impaired in the Solstice Theater for nighttime shows. A very nice tough.
Public Restrooms - Almost every public restroom as a button outside and inside to automatically open and close the door to the restroom. That means you can wash your hands and then hit the button with your elbow, avoiding additional contact with door handles. Additionally, these are by FAR the prettiest public restrooms I've ever seen.
Cabin Bathrooms are large and functional. Great shower heads (they don't slide up and down but the show head can be rotated if needed). Pretty wall titles; largest shower I've ever seen in a standard cabin; nice bedding; great flat screen TV; wonderful sliding doors to the balcony; nice shower amenities in standard cabin; very nice veranda furniture.
Food - I know this is a subjective item, but for us, we felt the food was overall outstanding for the price we paid for the cruise. Certainly, some items could be improved upon but we felt when you look at the food package as a whole, we were very pleased.
Elevators - Fast, efficient and pretty (the one's that are glass in the center of the ship.
Public Spaces - The lounges, the specialty restaurants, the main restaurant, the casino, the shops, the theater - all are beautiful. While not every person may like every area, overall, this is the prettiest and classiest ship I've sailed on.
Kids Area - For a ship that doesn't have all the bells and whistles of ice rinks, climbing walls and surf riders, the kids/teen area on Solstice are wonderful. I was amazed. There were a fair amount of children on this sailing and we never (almost never) saw them. I'm thinking the fantastic areas for them kept them busy and having fun.
Comfortable Furniture - It was everywhere. With an exception here or there, the furniture throughout the ship (lounges, dining room, pool decks) was extremely comfortable. For the wide variety of different types of chairs, couches, etc. Celebrity did a great job selecting extremely comfortable furniture.
Entertainment - From the production shows to the pool band; from the jazz trio to my favorite guitar player and more, Solstice is filled with talented people to entertain the passengers. We enjoyed them all!
Specialty Restaurants - We ate in all three specialty restaurants (Murano and Tuscan Grille on this cruise and Silk Harvest during the pre-inaugural). All were winners in our book. Tuscan Grille was my overall favorite but all were great.
Afternoon Ice Cream in Oceanview Cafe - Lots of great flavors (four or five each day) plus soft serve. AND toppings such as M&Ms, chocolate chips, jelly beans, etc.
Hot Glass Show - Not only is it interesting to watch, the glassblowers truly love what they are doing and it shows through to engage the audience. Raffling the pieces off is an added benefit!
Individual Wine Tastings - Great idea to have three different "levels" of tastings at Cellar Masters with a variety of red and white wine available. Need to make sure we get there more often on the next cruise.
NEEDS IMPROVEMENT Cabin · Better orientation of the closet. Tough to get in and out of. · Telephone system. It didn't work correctly our entire cruise. People would call us and I'd answer but I couldn't hear them. Also, people would call, it would ring once and go straight to voice mail. · Varnish the arms of the deck furniture on the veranda. Ours was rough making it very easy to get splinters. The future itself is very nice. · Replace all of the brass plates at the balcony door that make it "seem" like smoking is permitted. These signs should specifically state: Smoking is NOT permitted in your cabin or on the cabin veranda. · Give us our water pitcher back!
Solarium · Tile floor is far too slippery. Someone fell the first day and I slipped while carefully walking. Caution signs were up the rest of the cruise. My guess is these tiles will be eventually replaced as they are a real hazard. · Pool is not heated. It's very, very cold and few people ventured into the pool throughout the week. · The A/C seemed to be on "high" in the solarium. Too high. It often felt like a refrigerator. Combined with a non-heated pool, it was a combination to keep us away. Too bad...it is a beautiful area.
Oceanview Cafe Aft Furniture Some of the furniture out here (love seats and heavier tables) are fantastic. But the metal based tables and chairs are already suffering from rust as is the Oceanview Bar. This is going to be tough to maintain long term as they already look bad. Atrium Tree While novel, this tree is continuously losing leaves and making a mess of the elevators. An artificial tree (and no one would have known the difference) would have served the purpose here, been much less costly to maintain and caused much less mess. Avoid taking three elevators out of service for cleaning during busy hours.
Oceanview Cafe · Layout of some of the stations so you don't have to back track to get items. · Ensure that tables are cleaned in a timely manner and clean silverware is replaced so everyone knows seats that are open. Concept is great but needs better execution. · More waffle irons. One is not enough at the station in the middle of the cafe.
Photography Staff - When passengers want to have photos taken on formal night, ensure that the staff is on duty at least 30 minutes after late seating dinner is complete. And if a passenger walks up and wants a photo taken, never say "sorry, we're done for the night."
Evening Entertainment · Ensure there is pre-dinner entertainment before early and late seating. Passengers enjoy pre-dinner drinks with live music for the hour before they head to dinner. For most of the cruise, live music was scheduled from 6:45 - 7:45 when early dinner guests were already eating and late dinner guests were getting ready for dinner. It's not fun for entertainers to play to and empty lounge, either. · Consider some pre-dinner entertainment (guitar player; a capella group) in Cellar Masters. Great concept but we kept forgetting about it because nothing was scheduled here before dinner.
Passenger Attitudes - While there were certainly MANY wonderful and pleasant passengers on board, we witnessed far too many who were unhappy, complaining about everything passengers. I often wonder if we could possibly be on the same ship when I listed to some complaints. When challenges arise, as they often do, I recommend trying to approach the situation with a kinder attitude rather than starting off confrontational. It can work wonders.
MISSED THE BOAT Maiden Voyage Celebration - With the excitement of not only a new ship but a new class of ship, there was no fanfare or real tie-in that this was a maiden voyage. Since we had never sailed a maiden voyage before, we didn't have real expectations, but we did think that there would have been a certain level of excitement on board (even something like the first daily could have sail: Welcome to the Solstice Maiden Voyage). There really wasn't anything. A nice glass suncatcher with a ribbon that says "Inaugural Voyages" is pretty but there wasn't anything to make this a special, memorable first sailing of this ship. Many people mentioned this. Even a nice parchment certificate with the circle Solstice logo, Maiden Voyage with the dates, our names and signed by the captain would have been lovely. The fact that the ship is beautiful and we had a great time, helped, but we certainly wouldn't select a maiden voyage again for the excitement, because it wasn't there.
Promenade Deck - This is my least favorite element of the entire ship. I love promenade decks. For all intent and purposes, Solstice doesn't have one. There is a very limited area with a handful (10 - 15) of deck chairs. The majority of the promenade is completely blocked by the lifeboats. On of my favorite ship features has been lost on Solstice.
Mast Grill and Mast Bar - Making both of these smoking areas essentially makes the upper pool deck area smell of smoke. You can't help it when the wind blows. Switch these venues on future ships and make the Grill area non-smoking.
Captains Club Benefits This would have been a perfect time to roll out a new Captain's Club program instead of just stating it was "new" on the sheet of coupons provided. There was nothing new or innovative provided. In fact, I think the coupons have gotten worse instead of better.
Solarium - The pool should have been a T-pool. One of the best M-class features was sadly left out of Solstice.