CELEBRITY SOLSTICE December 7-14, 2008 7-day Caribbean Round trip Ft. Lauderdale
Cabin: 1112 Category: CS (Celebrity Suite)
Dining Reservation: Grand Epernay, Deck 4, Table 553, Late Sitting
Preface - I'd like to point out that all cruise reviews are subjective. This review is based on my experiences and opinions only. Yours may differ. Please take it for what it is and don't read too much into it. I can't tell you how often I've read a negative review on a message board, and then someone replies afterward that they are thinking of canceling their cruise. No one should be making those kinds of decisions based on opinions and experiences of people you don't even know. We all have different backgrounds and expectations, which is why no two people on the same sailing will ever come away with the exact same impression. If you are booked on SOLSTICE or are thinking of booking, I say go for it! Personally I could not imagine having anything but a fantastic time on this incredible vessel.
Background - My partner and I are both right around 40 years old and experienced cruisers. We have been together for 12 years and live in Atlanta. This sailing on SOLSTICE marked my 71st cruise if I am counting correctly. We have sailed on everything from Carnival to Silversea and most lines in between. We are not loyal to one brand but I must admit Celebrity is a favorite. We have sailed on all the current Celebrity classes of ships and enjoyed each one. I am Elite level status with Celebrity, not that it means a whole lot compared to the same status on some other lines. We booked SOLSTICE over a year ago when reservations first opened, and have been anxiously awaiting her debut.
Pre Cruise - We drove down to Florida from Atlanta. We stopped to see a friend in Bradenton then headed to the Naples area for a quick visit with my mother. Eventually we ended up in Ft. Lauderdale where we spent two wonderful nights at the Fairmont Turnberry Isle Resort. I highly recommend this resort to anyone that wants a first class experience prior to his or her cruise. It's adjacent to Aventura Mall and only minutes from the beach (the hotel has a private beach club for guests) so the location can't be beat. It's pretty much right between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. http://www.fairmont.com/turnberryisle
Embarkation - After a lovely breakfast overlooking the golf course at Turnberry and a quick workout in the fantastic gym, we headed to the pier. It's only a short 15-minute drive North on Biscayne Blvd. from the hotel directly to Port Everglades. Parking at the pier is $15 per day, or $105 for the week. Parking for SOLSTICE is literally right under her bow and it's an easy walk to the terminal although a shuttle is offered. We dropped off our luggage and decided we wanted covered parking so we headed to the garage. We then took a shuttle from the garage back to SOLSTICE.
Embarkation was a breeze. Suite guests had a special check-in desk that was up the escalator and we were on the ship in no time. I ordered a soda-package for my partner in advance ($40) and it was nice to see the sticker was already placed on his SeaPass card. The souvenir drink container that comes with the package was waiting in the cabin. FYI there are four types of SeaPass cards on SOLSTICE and they are defined by color. Silver - Suite Guest Aqua - Aqua Spa Guest Gold - Concierge Class White - Standard In addition your Captain's Club membership level will be printed on the card. Your dining reservation is not printed on the card, but there will be a separate card waiting in your cabin with this information. A nice touch is the welcome glass of champagne upon entering the ship.
Our Cabin - We booked cabin 1112, a Celebrity Suite located right on the "hump" on the Starboard side of the ship. The location could not have been more perfect. The main elevators and entrance to the library were right outside our door, although we never heard noise from either. We absolutely loved this suite and there are very few things I would change. One annoyance is the bedroom door did not have a stopper so we had to stuff a sock under it to keep it open. There was an opaque glass window between the bedroom and living room and this should have been clear glass with a blind for privacy. This way you would have been able to see the ocean from bed. You really had to pull the main door shut when you left or it would not close all the way, and yes, the cabin did creak a lot even when there was very little movement. I think the creaking will subside when the ship has been broken in. It's not something that was horrible, but it was noticeable. I might add there were no unusual smells in the area of my cabin, but aft on Deck 10 I could smell a fish odor. Nothing too offensive but it was there.
Shortly after arriving our Cabin Stewardess Ana Maria introduced herself. She did a wonderful job and had a great personality. Afterward our Butler John introduced himself and took the time to showcase the features of the suite and offer his various services. John did a great job and was very attentive and punctual if you ever needed him. Flowers, fresh fruit, a bottle of champagne, and a pre-ordered bottle of wine were all waiting.
The suite consisted of a separate bedroom with an extremely comfortable king size bed, two large nightstands with drawers, a phone, a walk-in closet that contained a large safe, binoculars, a Celebrity tote bag, and two umbrellas. There was another small closet that contained about 10 shelves as well. The 40" flat panel TV rounded out the bedroom amenities.
The bathroom was small for a suite, but very functional and well laid out. We loved the designer tile and deluge type showerhead. There was also plenty of storage under the sink and in a large medicine cabinet over the toilette. Towels were huge bath sheets and very soft, and of course there was the usual soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Cotton balls and q-tips were also provided. A phone was also featured in the bathroom.
In the main part of the suite, there was a very comfortable sectional sofa that converted to a full size bed. A large coffee table, a oversized lounging chair, a vanity desk with phone and chair, a full size closet with mirrored doors, and a large credenza with a huge 52" flat panel TV with surround sound. In the credenza were cabinets with storage for glassware and the mini-bar.
The glass sliding door to the balcony slides instead of opening and closing like a regular door, and this was a plus in my book. On the balcony we had a beautiful teak table with cushioned chairs and a very comfortable cushioned lounger. The balcony was completely covered and private. We enjoyed having breakfast on the balcony (served by John) on a few occasions.
Overall this was one of the best cabins I've experienced. I loved having a separate bedroom and all the furnishings and dEcor were top notch, like something you would find at a 5-star hotel. All the lights were on a dimmer, which was a nice touch. The service we received was fantastic and to the level of Silversea. For instance when John would bring room service, he didn't just drop off a tray but lays down linen and silverware and sets everything up just as if you were in the dining room. Something else that impressed me was the "Attention to Detail" card we received early in the cruise. This is something else that Silversea does but is not often found on a premium or mass-market cruise line. Rather than wait until the end of the cruise and the comment card, this card gives Celebrity the opportunity for service recovery before it's too late. We did not have anything for Celebrity to address so we did not use it.
Special mention must be made of the TV system on SOLSTICE. Being somewhat of a "techy" I was in heaven. I'm a huge Apple fan, and every TV on SOLSTICE is powered by an Apple mini-Mac. This is very impressive to me. Without question it's the best interactive TV system I've seen on land or sea. From your wireless keyboard which is also a remote, you can view your account; check the ships location (not quite working yet); see a view from the bridge; surf the internet; order room service; order a bottle of wine for dinner; book shore excursions; listen a variety of music; order free and pay per view movies and documentaries; look at the daily activities for the day; view the dining room menu; and yes, even watch TV! The only thing missing for me was you could not create your own playlist of music selections. This is something that can be easily added.
The Ship - So much has already been written about the physical aspects of SOLSTICE that I'm not going to get into too much detail. I will mention if there was ever a ship that was designed to my personal taste in dEcor it would have to be SOLSTICE. I was simply blown away by the design, the attention to detail, the art, the layout, etc. etc. At every turn there was visual stimulation and it was easy to appreciate that no expense was spared with the creation of this spectacular vessel. I can honestly say there was not a single area on the ship that I did not find appealing. Normally I would point out my favorite areas, but every area was a favorite on SOLSTICE. Cunard's QM2 up to now has been my favorite modern passenger ship. She is simply stunning. SOLSTICE is now tied with QM2. The two ships are very different, but both are standouts in terms of design and detail. SOLSTICE truly sets a new standard, and nothing in the premium and mass-market can come close. To be honest I feel her level of design and detail is suitable to a much more luxury end product. She is almost too cutting edge for the market she serves.
Over the past year I have followed the progress of SOLSTICE and studied her deck plans. My three main concerns were: 1. Not enough deck space 2. No proper promenade deck 3. Not enough elevators and only two stairtowers I can say that all three of my concerns proved unfounded. On my sailing there was plenty of deck space and you could find a prime chair even if you arrived late in the day like I did. Let me also mention that every deck chair on SOLSTICE is padded (another luxury touch). It's true the promenade deck on SOLSTICE is almost non-existent, but I found it didn't hamper my experience in the least. There were plenty of other great spots to walk and sit outdoors (especially the aft end) and of course I had a private balcony. My last concern was the elevators. Again, not a problem and if fact the elevators were among the best I've seen on any ship. There were very fast and efficient, and you never had to wait long. I might mention the glass elevators are probably the most beautiful afloat.
The swimming pools are important to me because I spend a lot of time swimming and sitting by the pools during the day. All the pools on SOLSTICE are heated and fresh water. They are almost too warm for my liking. I know there had been reports about very cold pools on past cruises, but I can assure you this is no longer the case. Also, all pools are closed at night on SOLSTICE and netted over. This is a typical policy for Celebrity although I'm not sure why. The parent company Royal Caribbean keeps one pool open 24 hours and many other lines keep a pool open 24 hours. This is a Celebrity policy I would like to see changed.
There has been much discussion of "The Lawn". Personally I thought it was nifty but it really had no bearing on my enjoyment of the cruise. I thought that perhaps I would resent it since it takes up so much primary deck space, but as it turns out this is not the case at all. It does take up a lot of space but there is plenty of other deck space to go around. It was nice to walk on The Lawn at sunset or sit by it and watch the ocean but that was about it. To be honest if Celebrity decided to replace The Lawn with something else on subsequent ships it wouldn't matter in the least to me.
I loved the twin funnels and I'm glad the "X" has been applied to one. Looking up at those funnels at night, lit up with the exhaust steaming out, reminded me of the old days of Chandris Lines. They are a piece of nostalgia for me on this state of the art ship.
One facility I would like to make mention of is the gym and Aqua Spa. Both are excellent facilities. The gym had the most modern equipment and every piece of cardio had a flat panel TV attached to it. There is also a small outdoor veranda in front of the gym which is great for some fresh air, and often times spinning classes were set up out there. Very nice touch. The Aqua Spa is a first rate facility although not quite as nice as the Canyon Ranch Spa on QM2. As a suite guest I had unlimited free access to the Persian Garden and Relaxation Room. These areas are primarily for the use of Aqua Spa guests. The Persian Garden was quite enjoyable with heated relaxation tiled loungers, themed showers, a large steam room, and an aromatherapy room. All these areas have large windows overlooking the ocean. The Persian Garden is coed and it was empty or lightly occupied most of the time. Inside the men's changing room are lockers, showers, and a decent sized sauna holding about 6-8 people. Unfortunately there is no view from the sauna like on some other ships.
Dining and Service - Dining is really subjective area; so again please note that everyone will have a difference of opinion when it comes to food.
In a nutshell I was quite pleased with the food and service on SOLSTICE. There is some room for improvement but considering this was only the third revenue cruise I was quite impressed.
As a suite guest you are entitled to two free specialty-dining experiences and you may also dine in Blu on a space available basis. We only dined in the Grand Epernay three times and took full advantage of all the dining options SOLSTICE has to offer.
Grand Epernay - absolutely gorgeous space with very comfortable chairs and plenty of room between tables. Food was hit or miss depending on what you ordered. Service was decent, not great. We had a table of 10 on the second level, ok location. I would have preferred to be on the lower level in the center section.
Murano - We absolutely love this experience. The food and service were 5-star, as good as anything I have experienced at sea or on land. This is truly upscale gourmet dining in a beautiful setting. Service was flawless.
Blu - Again I loved this experience. It's "clean cuisine" but that doesn't mean it's not delicious or filling. Many of the items on the menu can be found in the Grand Epernay as well, but they are prepared differently in Blu. No heavy sauces for instance. I felt the food and service were excellent, and in fact when I return to SOLSTICE I will book Aqua Class so I have a table reserved in Blu. In addition the atmosphere in this space is excellent. It's really a beautiful space.
Tuscan Grill - Probably the best location on the ship, all the way aft with windows all around. Again we experienced first-rate food and service at Tuscan Grill. Menu choices were excellent and we loved the dark chocolate/fresh fruit fondue for desert.
Silk Harvest - Once again an excellent experience. We started with soup and sushi, which were wonderful. They have a tempura shrimp and avocado roll which is to die for! Service was also excellent.
Bistro on Five - There is a $5 cover for Bistro on Five and you can order as much as you want. There are mainly salads, paninis and crepes. I had a breakfast style crepe that was pretty good, but not exceptional. We had spotty service and only dined here once. The setting is beautiful in the heart of the ship with views over the Promenade Deck.
Aqua Spa Cafe - Never made it here.
Mast Grill - Never made it here.
Oceanview Cafe - Typical buffet style food that is similar to the buffet food I've experienced on most ships. There is only so much you can do with a buffet. I loved the layout and the "food stations" made getting what you wanted very easy, once you figured out the layout. I really liked the fresh pasta and the ice cream bar, which was free and included premium toppings like Reeses Pieces. At the ice cream bar there was a selection of hard ice cream flavors and soft serve. We never had a problem finding at seat at the Oceanview Cafe and often enjoyed sitting on the aft open deck. Sometimes getting silverware was an issue as it's supposed to be on each table, but the staff had trouble keeping up. I'm sure this will get worked out in time.
Entertainment - My partner and I don't participate in organized entrainment during the day, so I can't comment on what was offered. We are pretty independent, sleep late, and do our own thing on our own schedule. At night we do like the shows and SOLSTICE had three production shows that we attended. Solstice - The Show: An excellent production with none of the typical singing and dancing. It was mostly acrobats in a Cirque du Soleil type production. Pulse - I did not care for this show in the least. I sat through it although I was close to walking out. One reason I always sit in an aisle! Ghost Light - Typical Broadway type cruise ship show. I enjoyed it because there featured more modern Broadway musicals instead of the usual classics. One nice thing about all the shows was a live band provided the music. This is unlike lines like Princess and Holland America that use only recorded music and a "click track" for their production shows.
What was the best entertainment on the ship? Peter in the Martini Bar! He put on a great show every night and made some kick-a— drinks!
I also enjoyed the band in the Ensemble Lounge, Top Secret in the stunning Sky Lounge, and Guitarist Jefferson Ang at the Oceanview Bar during sunset.
Ports and Weather - We had decent weather for the most part. There was some minor movement of the ship but nothing out of the ordinary. This was due more to the very windy conditions and not rough seas. I feel SOLSTICE is as stable as any other ship I have sailed.
The ports were St. Maarten, St. Kitts, and San Juan. We have been to each of these ports several times and we didn't take any tours. We ended up staying on the ship in St. Kitts. I really picked this cruise for the ship and not the itinerary.
Disembarkation - All good things must come to an end, and SOLSTICE was no exception. We received priority disembarkation and were invited to a special breakfast in Tuscan Grill the last morning at 8:45am. I'm not sure if this was because of Elite status or because we were in a suite? We showed up at 8:45am and were advised we could sit and have a bite to eat or disembark right away. We opted to disembark. The process was very easy and we were on our way in no time. Disembarkation on Celebrity has become very civilized, as there are zero announcements the last morning. This is in keeping with the Celebrity policy of keeping announcements to a minimum. For instance you don't hear those revenue-producing announcement four times a day like you do on only lines. There is one announcement at noon and that is it.
Post Cruise - Since we drove to Ft. Lauderdale, we decided to break up our drive home and spend one night at Disney World. It's about a three hour drive up to Disney and we stayed at the Walt Disney World Dolphin. After Turnberry and the SOLSTICE the hotel was a bit of a disappointment, but we still enjoyed ourselves. We like to shop at Downtown Disney and this was the primary focus of our visit. There were a lot of sales and discounts being offered on Disney merchandise, and this is something we have not seen in the past. A sign of our sad economic times for certain.
Conclusion - This was really an excellent trip all around. I enjoyed the drive, visiting my mother, Turnberry Isle, SOLSTICE, and Disney. It was also great to see some friends onboard that I don't get to see very often.
CELEBRITY SOLSTICE is truly a remarkable ship that did not disappoint. I think the attention to detail in her design is unsurpassed. Without question I will return to SOLSTICE or one of her new sisters in the future. I feel confident I can recommend SOLSTICE without question, but of course not everyone will see things through my same eyes.
Link to 290 pictures taken onboard SOLSTICE: http://gallery.mac.com/ekroller#100378