My wife and I (58 years old) sailed on Celebrity Solstice January 11, 2009 as part of a family group of 15 people. Ages ran from 90 to 23; grandmother, children, husbands, wives and children. We all flew in from across the country on January 10th and stayed at the Embassy Suites on 17th Street. All arrived safely and reasonably on time. After checking into the hotel we decided to meet in one of the lobby bars to nibble on bar food and get drinks from the complimentary bar that started at 5:30 PM. Prior to hitting the bar, we set up transportation to the ship using the hotel concierge. The cost was $7.00 per person and we set it up for a 10:45 AM departure time. As jet lag, general fatigue, and age kicked in we drifted off to our rooms agreeing to meet at 10:30 the next morning to catch our shuttle. During the morning we all got something to eat at the complimentary cooked to order breakfast area. After that, we all met and boarded our shuttles to the embarkation area, making certain everybody had their passports and Celebrity documentation with them. Once arriving, we dropped off our bags and were ushered into a waiting area. There were many people already waiting. My guess is people start showing up around 10:00 or so but arriving at 11:00 is certainly time enough. After standing in a short line to process your documents, credit card, and identification, you are escorted to a sitting area where you wait until the ship is ready to board. Expect no special treatment unless you are an elite level Captain's Club member or have booked a suite. While we were sitting, an announcement came over the P.A. system saying something about boarding around 1:00 PM. You couldn't quite hear it as nobody has yet figured out how to install an adequate P.A. system in a concrete building, but having been through this drill before, I figured we were just about ready to board. Sure enough, about 20 minutes later we were headed up an escalator and our way to the ship. The ramp leading up to the ship is steep for somebody grandma's age. I think we could have found her an elevator but she wanted no part of that and walked with us. On arrival to the ship greeting area we were served a glass of sparkling wine and asked to stay away from our cabins until an announcement was made allowing us to enter them. We found a spot in the Ensemble Lounge and took some family pictures and then broke away in small groups to explore the ship. I believe we were on the ship by noon.
At approximately 1:00 we were allowed to go to our rooms. Our group had a block of rooms on the Panorama deck ranging from 9244 to 9266. Upon entering ours (9262) my wife and I remarked how small we thought it was. Over time, this idea went out the window as we found this first impression to be wrong. There are subtle little things in the room, like the curve of the bed and storage space, that allow you to move around quite easily. There are plenty of drawers, overhead storage, under bed storage and closet space to allow for up to about a 10 night cruise, unless you plan on changing clothes 3 times a day. With the new dress rules - smart casual each night except for the formal nights - men do not have to bring a suit or two and woman can leave a dress or two home. This frees up enough closet space for a cruise of this length unless you pack too many clothes.
The bathroom was very nice. The curved shower stall door was great. It really made the space work. I read other boards regarding the height of the shower head but did not find it to be a problem. One of the children is over 6 feet tall and he had no problem with the height. The shower head is not detachable in these rooms but neither my wife nor I thought this was a problem. There was plenty of space in the bathroom unless you weigh north of 225. Counter space may be a bit short but it's not a big deal. The chair, table, and mirror combination in the bedroom area was perfectly adequate for my wife's hair drying and make-up routine.
Sleeping was not a problem. The mattress was not bad and the pillows were of a good quality. The bed was long enough for me (5' 10"). Again, the tall people in our group had no complaints about the size or shape of the bedding.
The veranda/balcony was large enough for two chairs and a small table. We used it often and thought it was as nice as any others we have been on.
If you are mid-ship and within 4 cabins of where the ship "pooches" out, you will have an obstructed view either to the bow or stern of the ship. It's not a big deal but may upset some who are not aware of the ship layout.
I'm not going to spend too much time discussing the ship dEcor. I suspect most people will use words and phrases such as beautiful, nicely appointed, easy to get around, well thought out, filled with art, and other things that tell you that it's a special ship. Read other reviews and I'm sure you're going to read the same stuff over and over. What I will write about are some impressions of certain spaces and what I observed in others.
If you want to get away from it all during the day, go to Cellar Masters or Michael's Club. The bars there do not open early so if you want a quiet conversation they are nice places to sit.
The Solarium pool area is very nice for people that do not want to sit in the sun and wind. It is a covered area and is kept a bit cooler than the outside pool area. The water sculptures emit a background noise that is pleasing. The only problem with this area is the canopied chairs. They are very popular and comfortable and that is the problem. Around the outdoor pool area you can toss a book on a chair and go to breakfast or lunch and return with an expectation that you'll be able to sit there. You're not supposed to do it but people do and you see very few confrontations about it. Not so with the canopied chairs. The "reservation" system most people seem to feel they are entitled to is not going to cut it with these puppies. Be forewarned, if you drop a book into one of these and go off to exercise or a meal, your book will be moved and somebody will be sitting in the chair when you return. I suppose Celebrity could add a few more of these by taking out some of the regular loungers but I'll bet the problem will persist. That's how nice and popular these chairs are. If you find one empty and you want to read in it you may as well sit down because it's not going to be available when you get back.
It's nice not having to walk through the casino if you happen to be on deck 4. There is a walkway between the shops and casino so you do not have to do a snake dance around card tables and slot machines when going from one end of the ship to the other.
The Martini bar on deck 4 is a great spot to meet and have a cocktail before dinner. There is a lively group that meets there; the space is light and the bartenders personable.
Cellar Masters has some serious wines and ports. You can sample many of them by buying a card from the bartender and then using that card to go to a machine and get a 1 ounce to 5 ounce pour of about a dozen different wines. They also have an extensive list of others.
The library has a weird selection of books but it is a nice quiet area to sit and read. The card room was always busy and there was a sign-up sheet for people looking for any number of different card games.
The fitness center is large, comfortable, and well attended. It was busy during the rush hours but I never had a problem getting on a machine. There are elliptical, treadmill, and weight machines as well as free weights, mats, and balancing balls. Once again, the only time problems arise is when people figure they can stay on a machine as long as they want even when there are people waiting. This only happens during the morning rush so you should try and adjust the time you go, get an attendant, or start a confrontation.
The hot glass show is informative and you get to watch the artists work as they create a piece. There are a limited number of chairs but I found that you could watch from anywhere around the area.
The lawn area looks nice but I'm wondering how long it's going to last due to the wear and the cost of maintenance. I know it's young and maybe the root system hasn't taken yet. It'll be interesting to see if it makes it.
All of the dining areas are well designed and decorated with good taste. I'll get into the food stuff later.
Activities span the range of a typical cruise ship. If you want to be occupied by something other than sunning or eating and drinking there is always something going on. On this particular cruise there was a guest lecturer that spoke about our solar system, there was bingo, card tournaments, computer classes (extra charge), trivia contests of all sorts, flower arranging, bocce ball, croquet, digital camera techniques, line dancing, cooking techniques, Texas Hold'Em and slot tournaments, and a number of other things to fill up your day.
On the two nights they had it, our family attended Karaoke night. It was a hoot. There were large crowds both nights and most of the crowd wanted to participate. Unfortunately, I guess they had to cut it shorter than the crowd wanted because they would bring a band in to start playing. I think I noticed that as soon as the band started playing the lounge emptied out. Not sure this was, liquor sales wise, the best thing to do.
Before I start, if you are expecting top level performers, fly to Las Vegas or New York, pay $125.00 for a ticket and watch them there. You're not going to get that level of performance on a cruise ship. What you will get is a good, competent performance by people trying to make a living at what they do. Not all of it will be liked by all who attend. Generally, our group liked the entertainment. The Cirque Soleil type show was enjoyed by everyone, the xylophone synthesizer show was not enjoyed as much, and the singers and dancers were OK to good. All-in-all the shows were a pleasant diversion for an after dinner rest. Entertainment is too subjective so if you get the chance, check it out.
I got the idea that many smokers on the cruise were surprised by the smoking policy on this ship. In case you have not heard, there is no smoking in any stateroom or veranda. There are about 4 areas around the ship were you can smoke and only one area where cigars and pipes are allowed. I don't care one way or the other as I smoke cigars and if I have to make an accommodation to fire one up I will. I'm not sure others felt the same way. I overheard a number of complaints and acknowledgments of surprise at the restrictions. Maybe Celebrity needs to publicize this more.
As I said before, I'm OK with the new dress code. With airlines charging for baggage, limited space in the staterooms and today's more casual dress attitude it's OK that the semi-formal nights are gone. On every cruise previous to this one I would bring my tuxedo, a couple of suits and then casual wear. My wife would bring all of her stuff. That's a lot of baggage. We still enjoy dressing to the nines on formal nights but dropping the suits and extra dresses doesn't bother us.
For men on Smart Casual nights, sedate Hawaiian, Polo, or long sleeve shirts with Docker type or dress slacks were the norm. Women wore nice slacks, a skirt, or dress with a nice top. On formal nights some men were in tuxedos but most had on a suit with tie. Not all, but most.
For the most part, people did a good job of adhering to proper dress. I saw a couple of guys walking through the interior of the ship without shirts and their baseball caps turned backwards but this was at a minimum. It was an older crowd so that probably had something to do with it.
We had good people providing service all over the ship. Whether in our staterooms, restaurants, pool area, or wherever, we ran into good service. There were smiles all around. I heard no complaints and have none as far as the service providers are concerned.
The ship was constantly being cleaned, wiped, and scrubbed. There were many nationalities represented so the diversity was interesting.
This was handled very well; quick and easy. I didn't feel like we did the hurry up and wait bit at all. This seemed to go better than what I remember from past cruises. The instructions given to you are written well and guide you through the alternatives for disembarkation. As long as you fill out your disembarkation form correctly and hand it in on time, you will not have any problems.
When the ship is at sea, the buffet does not have nearly enough seats during busy times. Before getting your food, make sure you have a place to sit. We would normally go to the main dining room (more on this later) but a couple of times we would go upstairs and try the buffet. If we hit it at the wrong time, we would just leave and walk around the ship for awhile and let things clear out.
If you have to use your cell phone, please find a spot away from others. You can then scream into it all you want. There are very few things ruder than sitting amongst total strangers and screaming into a cell phone to somebody back home about what a great time you are having. There are plenty of areas on the ship you can go and use your phone without disturbing others.
Cruise prices may be similar to a few years ago, but boy does everything else cost a bunch. The prices for a cocktail, glass of wine, or beer are crazy. I know these guys have to make some money somewhere and I guess they've decided that liquor prices are where it's at. Most everything else has a cost to it. The "nickel and dime you to death" phenomena has taken hold. The spa prices are ridiculous, computer classes were much more than they needed to be for what you were being taught, and the list goes on. I am well aware that cash flow needs to be maintained, they are in the business for a profit, it's a low margin business, etc. but some of the costs were nuts.
The buffet is in food stations, which is a great idea, but the layout in some individual stations made no sense to me. For example, at the taco/burrito station you would pick up a plate, the next thing you came upon where the tomatoes, lettuce, onions and such, next were the torts, and then the meats and sauces. If you wanted to build a burrito you would have to climb over somebody in the condiment area then back track to the meats and sauces and then go back to the lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. It was the same thing in the pancake/waffle area. You would pick up a plate, next you would come across the butter, whipped cream, fruit sauces and syrups, and then you would come across the pancakes, waffles and French toast. I would think there could be a more logical layout but maybe I missed something.
The main dining room was closed for lunch on port days. I think I understand why this is done. It's a disappointment, but in no way a "deal breaker."
The industry (not just Celebrity) seems to be creating 3 classes of eating and maybe service. You've got the buffet, the main dining room, and then the extra charge restaurants. You would expect the buffet to be a step or two below the extra charge restaurants but the main dining room, where most people dine, should not be much different than the extra charge places. At least that's what I remember. In my conversations with people on this cruise and from past experience I cannot say this is close to the case anymore. This leads to the final part of the review: The dining experience.
This is by far the hardest part of the cruise to write about. I have never encountered such a diverse opinion about the food on a cruise ship. Normally, almost everybody talks about how good the food is. That did not occur on this ship. The "wow" factor was missing from every meal.
One of the main reasons we selected the Solstice was because 4 of the 15 people in our group did not care about the excursions or ports. We were looking forward to dining as we had on past Celebrity sailings (Mercury and Summit). 3 of the 4 staying on the ship are "foodies." We cook well and love to dine and try new things. We had been to all of the ports before and were not interested in the tours or shopping. We wanted to stay on board and dine as well as we could. Personally, the three of us were very disappointed in the quality. Because of this, I started to poll others on the ship to make sure we were not being picky, snobbish, or any other negative you want to ascribe.
In my conversations with others, I could not believe the difference of opinion. Please remember this is all unscientific, it's just people talking casually about their experience. There is a bunch of subjectivity when you start talking about food so take the following with a grain of salt (no pun intended).
Almost everybody agreed that the buffet was a good buffet. It was, for the most part, well laid out and met the wants and needs for people eating there. I had no problems with the quality, diversity of selections, or preparation of the items.
I talked with nobody that did not like the specialty restaurants. There was unanimous agreement that each was worth the extra money to dine in them, especially the Tuscan Grille. That received the highest marks. The difference in opinion was all related to the main dining room.
The range in the main dining room menus was good, offering many selections in each course at each meal. Everybody agreed that you could always find something to order so there were no problems with the menus. Taste and the quality of ingredients was where opinions diverged.
I found the food lacking flavor. The presentation was generally well done but the preparation was spotty. There were too many times when the fish or chicken were overcooked and dry and without any of the flavors specified on the menu. For example, a fish dish that was supposed to be rolled in a Kalamata olive coating appeared with a normal breading with no discernable olive taste. On the last night, a red snapper dish ordered by two people at our table was so poorly prepared that the plates were left untouched. Forget the beef. It's Select quality and cannot be cooked in any manner to make it worthwhile. Anything that was braised was generally good but the sautEs and roasted items were inconsistent. We did have some good plates on some nights but the overall dining experience was definitely a step down from our previous cruises on Celebrity and Princess.
As I talked with others, I heard many of the same comments. But to indicate how tough this is to write, I talked with two separate couples that normally sail on Royal Caribbean. One couple said they chose Celebrity for this cruise because they heard the food was so good and they were not disappointed. They felt everything about the main dining room was good to great; better than RCL. Another couple, who had just got off a Royal Caribbean ship and were now on Solstice, said the food on Solstice was a definite downgrade. I kept running into this difference of opinion. As an aside, it does not appear to be a Celebrity thing. It appears all cruise lines are reducing their food quality. At least based on the conversations I had.
So, where does that leave me? Personally, I cannot give a "thumbs up" to main room dining. But based on other opinions, I could be wrong. I guess the best I can do is report what I encountered and let you make up your own mind. If the industry trend is to minimize the quality of ingredients in the main dining rooms I believe they are making a big mistake. I would rather see them cut back in other areas and leave the food as I remember it.
This is a great ship with all you expect in design and function. If you are in your 20's and 30's the crowd will be too old for you. Service, activities, boarding on and off, entertainment and staterooms are all you could ask for. The food was not good.
We love cruising and will continue to do so every couple of years, but we may have to start lowering expectations. For my wife and me, it's a special way to travel. We could not be happier with everything about this cruise except for the main room dining. I'm not a part of the industry so I'm not sure what's causing the food to be reduced in quality. I hope it's not a ploy to get more people into the extra charge restaurants. As I said, I don't believe it's just this ship. I heard too many comments from others talking about other cruise lines and saying the same thing. Maybe it's because of the larger ships and their inherent inefficiencies, cash flow problems with all the new building, fuel prices, or any other excuse you want to list. Whatever it is, it's not a good trend.