PASSENGER PROFILE: There was an older crowd than we expected - more like Holland America than Royal Caribbean or Princess. There were some children, but not a lot. Many different countries were represented.
EMBARKATION: It was pretty painless: we boarded at 12:20 p.m. There was a seating area inside so we had no standing in line. Check-in was pleasant. There was no covered parking in Ft. Lauderdale for the Solstice. I'm not sure if that is because the ship is new or what. The parking lot was very close, though, and easy to get to. It was just a bit of a disappointment that it wasn't covered.
As we boarded, we were served champagne, which was a great way to set the tone. The cabins were not available yet, so we went straight to the Oceanview Cafe, which is on Deck 14. This is a good segue to the food category below.
DINING: The Oceanview Cafe has different types of seating, including round leather sofa-bench type seats with round tables, regular tables, and high tables and chairs for large groups. Food was laid out in different stations: salad, a "carvery," pizza/pasta, grill - hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, etc., Asian, dessert, antipasto, ice cream with extensive topping choices, bakery, and sushi. The dishes are very cool: colorful, square plates and larger than normal coffee cups. The best part of the Oceanview Cafe for us was the drink station with its orange, passion, and guava drink - delicious. We just couldn't get enough of it! There was not enough seating in this area at any main meal time. The pizza was almost always available, even when the rest of the Cafe was closed, and the pizza was excellent. Afternoon tea was served from 4 - 5 p.m. The desserts were okay but nothing to rave about. The salad ingredients were extensive and very fresh, and they varied daily.
Room service: We ordered juice, fruit and coffee/tea every morning. It arrived right on time and was great the first two days. Days 3 & 4 they forgot most of the order. The fruit was old. One morning we tried oatmeal, and it was very bland and watery. We ordered V8 and got tomato juice the first 3 days. We think it was V8 on the 4th morning, although it seemed somewhat weak or watered down. Overall, the room service was excellent, but the quality of the food was just average.
Dining room: The dining room has two levels and is beautiful, large, and had a very "open" feel because of the white decor. It looked like there were more large tables than on other ships. The first night didn't go well. We had requested a table for 6 or 8, but we were placed at a table for 10. We sat for quite awhile and the waiter came by but wasn't overly friendly. We wanted to order coffee but we couldn't get the waiter or assistant waiter's attention. Twenty minutes later, a German family finally arrived. They were very nice but didn't speak English so we smiled at each other but couldn't communicate. They didn't get menus for several minutes; then they couldn't read them. In the meantime, we still couldn't get the waiter or assistant waiter's attention. Finally, we ordered our coffee, and got it, but could not get refills. By now our water glasses were empty, and asked for more when we finally ordered our food, but we did not get refills on the water or the coffee. The waiters were way overworked and stressed and the dining room was seemingly under staffed. After an awkward hour and ¼, we still did not have a coffee refill or water, had no communication at all from the waiter or assistant waiter, and still found the arrangement at the table uncomfortable, so we got up to leave. As we passed the waiter on the way out, he implored us to stay, telling us that our entrEe was on the way. By that time, though, we had given up and figured it would be much easier to go to the Oceanview Cafe. Went to maitre de, explained that we were at a large table and couldn't communicate. We wanted a better table, so we figured that we would not tell him about the poor service and irritate him because he, too, seemed extremely harried. He admitted that we should never have been put at a table full of people who do not speak our language, but he did not apologize and only offered to put us at a table for 4. This worried us - that could be REALLY awkward. We are usually not picky; we have always stayed at the table we were assigned to, and some cruises are better than others, but we just were not going to take a chance of being unhappy again and having to bother him, so we asked for a table for 2 or at a large table (increasing the odds of finding some table-mates with whom we could converse). He couldn't do it - or so he said. He was not overly friendly, and it was obvious that he was very stressed. Overnight, we thought about the table for 4, and decided that we weren't willing to do that, so we went to maitre de at lunch time and we were told to come back in 30 minutes. We went back, and we were told to come back in another 30 minutes. During lunch, the waiter in the Oceanview Cafe was hilarious and terrific, so we asked him what table he served at dinner and whether it was full. He told us that there were two openings at his table, so after lunch, we finally saw the maitre de. We asked for the funny waiter's table, and he accommodated our request but again, wasn't overly friendly.
Fortunately, the new table was great. The waiter with excellent personality didn't let us down, we had great table-mates, and the service was very good, except - again - for the coffee. Decaf coffee is our wine, and we asked for it as soon as we sat down every night. It took 10 - 20 minutes to get the coffee, and we couldn't get refills until about half way through the meal. Finally, we asked the waiter and the assistant waiter if we could just get a pot of decaf at our table, but never got it. This did put a damper on things for us. The wine stewards were hovering all over, so the people ordering wine had good service, but we just gave up and brought a hot cup of coffee with us each night. By the third night, our coffee cups were waiting for us, and we did get refills more often, but we still didn't get extremely good coffee service.
Unfortunately, the food was very average or below average. The soups were always piping hot, but nearly every meal was just mediocre. My husband tried the salmon, the grouper, the shrimp, and the turkey; all of which were "not kind" to his taste buds. The strip steak on the very last night was his best meal. I am a vegetarian, and the vegetarian choices were limited and "odd" at best. The pasta sauce was tasteless. I had a baked potato one night and asked for A-1 sauce. About 10 minutes later, the assistant waiter arrived with an empty bottle of HP sauce. The salads were good, as were the desserts, but that's about the highlight of the dining room. Finally, I decided to go to the Oceanview Cafe before dinner, load up a salad platter, and carry it to the dining room. I will say that they don't rush you in the dining room - they gave us a full 2 hours for dinner. Since the food wasn't that good, we did not eat any other meal except dinner in the dining room, but our table-mates informed us that the other meals were not much better. In fact, our table-mates had all been on other Celebrity cruises. They told us that the other ships were much, much better in terms of service and food, and they had the same impression of the food and service on the Solstice that we had.
Specialty dining had a wide variety: Murano - French; Tuscan Grille - Italian Steakhouse; Silk Harvest - Asian. The menus looked good, but unless you made a reservation the first night, you were pretty much out of luck unless you wanted to eat after 9:00 p.m. Hence, we did not eat in any of them. When we first arrived on the Solstice, our cabin steward presented us with a card and a reservation for the Tuscan Grille. The card informed us that our dinner was complimentary. We called the restaurant and told the waiter that we hadn't made a reservation, but he said we indeed had a reservation and we should show up. We also called Guest Relations, and they told us the same thing. We couldn't figure out who would have done this, so we went to the restaurant to verify that we did have a reservation. The hostess said we did have a reservation in or name, and we asked who made it, and were then told that it was probably a mistake. That was fine; we figured it was a mistake, but we thought perhaps they would thank us for our honesty and apologize for the time we took to clear this up, but they didn't say a word. We were not impressed, and between this and the dining room table and service screw-up we were not getting a good feeling about the service on the Solstice. We vowed, along with our table-mates, to keep an open mind, but the whole dining thing just never clicked.
OUR CABIN: Our cabin, a deluxe ocean view cabin with a balcony, was very, very nice. It had beautiful dEcor, plenty of storage, a 32" flat-screen TV, a large, comfy bed, a nice verandah, and a thermostat that actually worked, which we have found is rare on ships. The closet was a bit awkward to get into, and the lotions, etc. were not appealing, but the bathroom was large with plenty of counter space and storage. The shower was fantastic - it was round with doors instead of those old curtains that stick to you when you try to turn around. The water pressure was excellent and there was plenty of immediate hot water. Our female cabin steward was terrific. She delivered extra towels every day as we had requested.
THE SHIP: The Solstice is a stunningly beautiful ship. It has so many different areas where you can sit and relax, and all of them have gorgeous dEcor and ultra-comfortable chairs. All of them have a different ambiance. The shopping area is nice, but not extensive. The casino is beautiful, but we don't gamble, so we can't comment on that. We did notice that the casino did not wreak of smoke as we passed through. Everything about the dEcor of the ship is gorgeous - the glass, the art, the colors, the furniture - it is truly a beauty. The solarium - an adult indoor pool area, is climate controlled and has relaxing music playing, along with a waterfall always flowing, so you could spend any day there and totally relax. The gym and spa area are very nice - much like other ships. The specialty restaurants each have their own unique look - all beautiful. The Tuscan Grille sits on the back of the ship and sitting at a table by the window gives you a fabulous view. The various bars and lounges were all attractive and had very good service. Cafe Bacio - the specialty coffee bar, has a wonderful seating area and live music every day, so we would just go and sit in the afternoon. The specialty coffees were excellent, but I could never get any of the teas offered on their menu because every day they said they were out of tea, which I found odd. This is also a great place to people-watch, though.
There are a number of eating choices on the ship - the pool area offers a grill; the solarium has healthy mini-meals and snacks, Bistro on 5 offers crepes (it has a $5 charge, however) - just to name a few. The pool area had good live music, and the chairs all had very comfortable cushions. It also had grouped seating with sofas, hammocks, and little "cabanas" where you could curl up and sleep or read. As is the case on most ships, you could not find a seat in the pool area on days at sea. When will somebody get this right? One day, we were napping in a lounge chair by the pool (while the ship was in port, of course), and the cleaning staff came along and power-washed the deck. They did not stop when they got to us - they sprayed dirty water all over our shoes and clothes. We had to throw our things together and scamper away. A little notice would have been appropriate!
The elevators on the ship are very, very small - seemingly smaller than any we have seen, and the ship seemed extremely crowded. We had just sailed on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas less than two months before, and has expected that to be horribly crowded. The Solstice carried nearly 1,000 less passengers than the Liberty and was about 36,000 tons smaller, but seemed more crowded and we still can't figure out why.
The lawn on the top deck is very cool - you can walk barefoot on it, but most people seem afraid to walk on it.
Temperature-wise, the Solstice was extremely cold in every public space throughout the ship. I had to bring a heavy sweater everywhere I went. The Solstice's "worker" level staff was very, very friendly. Wherever we went on the ship, everyone who passed us greeted us with a friendly smile, but the senior staff seemed extremely harried and stressed. The "worker bees" really do work hard and are super friendly, but the higher-level staff (maitre de's, chefs, etc.) need to smile and at least pretend they like people. The Guest Relations staff was good, but many other staff members throughout the ship did not seem happy and in fact seemed very stressed.
The Internet area always had someone there to assist and offered Adobe photo shop classes for $24.95 and other workshops for a fee. The Library had very few books but nice seating areas.
The photography staff didn't constantly bother us, which was nice, however, one night we stood in a very long line for lifestyle photos and when we got up to the front, the photographer informed us that she needed to close. She could have told us much earlier that the people in front of us would be the last. She asked us to come back in an hour, and when we happened to pass the area 30 minutes later, people were in line again and she was taking pictures. "Huh?" We never did get an answer as to why she was open again, so we got into the line, and once again were told that she needed to close. This was quite irritating and unprofessional.
ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment was spotty. The Cirque du Soleil type show was excellent, as was the "xylosynth" show, but the production shows were downright boring. A former NASA employee gave talks and had slide programs and they were all great. The Spanish class was good. The A Cappella group was excellent, and the Strings were as well.
CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES: We did not travel with children.
ITINERARY: Cruisers on this route (Eastern Caribbean) should check the itinerary closely before booking. We had an extremely short time in San Juan. We were in St. Maarten from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., but the next day we were only in Tortola from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. This is, of course, due to distances between stops, but it is something passengers should review carefully when planning port activities.
DISEMBARKATION: This was by far the most pleasant surprise and was the easiest disembarkation we have ever had. We chose the earliest time possible after the group who takes their own luggage off the ship. We went to the Oceanview Cafe for breakfast, and then decided to check out the area where we would disembark. We were only there a minute or two and they called our color luggage tag - much earlier than our assigned time. When we got to the luggage area, our bags were already waiting. We immediately got a porter, and he took everything to our car. It was a breeze. Kudos to Celebrity for that disembarkation process!
OVERALL: The Solstice is a gorgeous ship but Celebrity just doesn't have its act together on this ship yet. This was our first Celebrity cruise, and everyone had told us that it would be a notch above Royal Caribbean, which we've sailed on 8 times, and Princess, which we've sailed on 5 times. It was definitely not even equal to Princess or Royal Caribbean, so that was very disappointing. It was also surprising given the fact that Royal Caribbean owns Celebrity. We are not sure if it is just because this is Celebrity's first attempt at such a huge ship, whereas Princess and Royal Caribbean do it all the time, but we had much better cruises on Princess and Royal Caribbean. We would not sail on the Solstice again but would not give up all hope for Celebrity. So many previous Celebrity cruisers have raved about the service on other ships that we would be willing to try another Celebrity cruise if the itinerary worked for us. Frequent recommendations from people on this cruise were for the Millennium or the Constellation. We'll see. . .