Review of Celebrity Solstice 08 February to 15 February 2009 Fort Lauderdale, San Juan, St. Kitts, St Maarten, Fort Lauderdale
This started out as a different cruise experience for us, flying to Florida for a seven night cruise. The economics just did not make sense to us. Since we are both retired, time was not an issue. So, we decided maybe to add a bit of time at either end of the cruise. That "little bit of time" morphed into almost a week pre-cruise and almost two weeks post-cruise, as we followed a serpentine route around the flat state of Florida visiting friends and relatives. We won't bore you with the details of our visits (though we did not find them boring - but you had to be there), or the various ports, and will concentrate only on the cruise aspect.
Embarkation: We left Naples, FL at about 10:00 AM and drove to Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL) to drop off the rental car. After turning in the car we were on the complimentary shuttle from the Rental Car center at FLL at 12:30 PM. We made a stop at Princess' terminal and then on to Celebrity's. After making sure the porter had all our luggage, we entered the terminal, did a quick walk-through the security screening and on to the Check-In Area. Absolutely no lines; by the time we walked around a few of the 'barriers' we were sent directly to a check-in agent. We were on board in our cabin by 1:15 PM, including our stop for the Welcome Aboard glass of Champagne (also the choice of OJ, or Mimosas). One of the crew asked our stateroom number and directed us to the correct bank of elevators. Unfortunately, he directed us to the wrong side of the ship - We assumed many of the crew were still on the learning curve. We gave the cabin a quick once-over, and decided to grab some lunch. On our way out, we met our charming Cabin Attendant, Aida. She provided us with a warm welcome and gave us a quick run-through of the different aspects of the cabin.
After lunch, we met some friends that we were cruising with and chatted before exploring our "new home" (for the next seven nights). We did that until it was time for the mandatory Emergency Drill. On the Solstice, passengers report to various public areas for the drill - our station was the Dining Room. In the event of a real emergency we would meet there and be escorted to our lifeboat. We prefer this method.
We had an informal "Meet and Greet" and then headed back to our cabin to unpack, before dinner. We passed on the Welcome Aboard Show.
Cabin 8257: Our cabin was a Category 1A (mid-ship 'hump' Port Side), described in the literature as 192 square feet, but, to me, it felt tighter. The balcony is listed as 53 square feet, but ours was larger than that due to its location; there were two reclining chairs and a normal height round table (about 28 inch diameter). There are two basic designs for the balcony cabins; one has the bed closer to the balcony and the other has the bed closer to the hallway. At the foot of the bed area, there is a slight "bump out" to allow room to walk past the bed. Of course, that means your next door neighbor has a corresponding "bump-in", but it all evens out. Where you neighbors have a "bump-out" at the foot of their bed you have a "bump-in". The "bump-in is across from the seating area, behind the TV, refrigerator, drawer storage space and desk. In the version of the cabin we had (bed closer to the balcony), it is somewhat awkward to access half of the closet space, due to placement of the sofa.
Speaking of closet space, there is not a lot of it, especially for long garments. Also, the depths of the closets are too shallow to hang a sport coat with out hanging it on a slight diagonal. One half of the closet area has only a short space for hanging clothes above a couple of shelves and the safe. The location of the safe is in this shelf area of the closet, about knee-cap height (I thought this placement as strange and awkward). The amount of drawer storage was less than we are accustomed to (we do not pack light). There is a large cupboard like space above the headboard of the bed; it measures about 18-20 inches from the ceiling and is the width of the queen size bed. There are two doors, hinged at the top. There are no shelves in these cupboards, and anyone under about six feet in height would have trouble accessing the full contents without climbing onto the bed. The cabin attendant used about half this space for storing the bed throw and the decorative pillows when they were not on the bed.
The presence of an oval shaped coffee table in front of the sofa made walking about in the cabin a bit of a challenge. One other difference was that the cabin doors open out into the hallway alcove, instead of into the cabin. That took some getting used to - day four, I was still trying to pull the door open to exit the cabin and/or push it open when entering the cabin.
The bathroom was well designed, with a larger than average sized shower - Ray appreciated that. Another nice feature about the shower was the placement of a bar diagonally across one corner about 12-14 inches above floor level. This was convenient for washing, or shaving, legs. Overall, both floor space and storage space in the bathroom seemed above average. One downer was the placement of the toilet tissue dispenser - it was tucked away somewhat out of sight, but awkward to reach. One very nice feature of the bathroom was the night light. Even with the light switch for the bathroom tuned off, there remains a low level light constantly on, located in the bank of lights above the sink.
We found the bedding very comfortable, and thought the pillows were a bit too soft, but that is a personal preference. We were informed that other pillow options were available, but chose not to pursue that, since they were not uncomfortable. The clearance beneath the beds should be ample for all but the largest of suitcases.
There is a large (32 inch) Samsung LCD TV in each room, with the standard cruise ship line-up of programming, and Interactive functions for checking on-board account, ordering shore excursions, wine, and room service. The TV is mounted on the wall, with an articulating arm that allows viewing from various areas of the cabin; sofa, bed, or balcony. The sofa, which can be used for a single bed, we found somewhat uncomfortable for sitting, could not imagine sleeping on it. One last item on the cabin, we discerned a somewhat considerable wind noise from the balcony, when the ship was underway at cruising speed. This may be due to the location of the balcony, at further most point out from the side of the ship on the hump, facing forward. It was not unbearable, more of a nuisance factor. A very light sleeper might find this problematic, but it did not keep us awake, but it was noticeable.
Grand Epernay Restaurant: This is the main dining venue and is located on Decks 3 and 4. Breakfast and Lunch are open seating: Breakfast on Deck 3 only and Lunch on Deck 4 only. We tried both Breakfast and Lunch here on two different occasions. We were impressed with the service and did not feel 'deserted' once the initial serving was delivered as often seems to happen in dining rooms when in "open seating" mode. Our service at dinner time was very professional and capable, not outstanding but certainly nothing to complain about. We found the menu choices varied and appealing, and tasty. We had no complaints about the food, or the service. Celebrity still uses wine stewards in the Dining Room. Due to the small number of these stewards, service can be spotty at times (economics always seems to rear its head). We are not fans of the wait-staff trying to put on musical extravaganzas during dinner - there are other venues for that. We did have the "customary" O Solo Mio, and a special rendition on the last night of That's Amore. However, the serenade on the last night was due to the fact that it was Valentines Day and each woman received a red rose from their waiter.
The room itself is basically white, but on different evenings there are fiber optic color ribbons that create different lighting patterns. Opposite the Grand Staircase of the dining room there is a large two deck high steel and glass tower which is actually a temperature controlled wine storage area, holding over 2,500 bottles of wine.
Specialty Dining: There are three specialty restaurants aboard the Solstice, each with their own cover charge: Murano ($30.00) Contemporary French Cuisine; Silk Harvest ($20.00) Asian Cuisine; Tuscan Grille ($25.00) Italian Steakhouse. We did not try any of these venues but friends of ours who had tried them all were very pleased, especially if one stayed within the restaurant's specialty. There is also another specialty restaurant, Blu (No Cover Charge), which is reserved for passengers booked in the Aqua Class staterooms, and for guests in Suites, if there is available space. We did visit each of these venues and thought they were all very well designed our and appointed; all are located on Deck 5, Aft.
Other Food Venues: Bistro on Five ($5.00 cover) a Creperie; open 8:00 AM to 12:30 AM. Gelateria (Deck 5), serving Italian Gelato (expensive) open 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM Mast Grill (Deck 14 midship), serving grilled specialties (ribs, wings, hot dogs, hamburgers) plus salads; open 11:30 AM to 6:00 PM GREAT STOP
Oceanview Cafe: Located on Deck 14 aft, this is the primary buffet area for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is Coffee, tea and juice available 24 hours a day. This also the venue for the Ice Cream Bar (no charge) usually serving about 10 varieties of fresh made hard ice cream, 3-4 sorbets, low-fat soft serve, with/without toppings; all served on cones or in dishes. There are also pasta and pizza stations which like the ice cream bar are open Noon to 9:30 PM. This is also where Afternoon Tea is served from 4:00 to 5:00 PM; Late snacks are available here form 9:30 PM to 1:00 AM. Like most venues of this sort, seating can be problematic at certain times. Ray found the layout somewhat difficult to comprehend, especially with the various food placements at breakfast; lunch item placement was a bit easier to follow.
Bars & Lounges: There is no shortage of venues (thirteen, at various times) where one can find a drink, many of quite striking design. No, we did not try them all, but did visit each one, at least once. Lounge service was adequate to very good; drink quality was very good, and little snack bites were frequently available.
Our favorite haunt was Cellar Masters (Deck 4 midship) which not surprisingly is a wine bar. They offer wine flights (4 samples) differentiated by wine regions. As each sample is poured the waiter will explain the wine's characteristics and sometimes its history. They also have over forty wines by the glass, or bottle. They also offer a self-service wine bar. You purchase a card for, whatever amount you wish, when you wish a glass of wine you merely insert the card into one of the two the dispensers (one with eight whites, one with eight reds) place your glass (trays of clean glasses by each dispenser) under the pour spout for your choice of the wine you wish and select the amount of the pour (three sizes) push a button to dispense. These dispensers are available 24 hours a day.
Thanks to the capable ministrations of Ruben and Hassan, this quickly became our place to go for pre-dinner drinks and people watching, as attested to by the balance on our Sea Pass card.
Entertainment: It was not difficult to find something going on about the ship, at almost anytime. The performers, which moved to different venues at different times, included: The Modern Jazz Ensemble; Inspiration Strings (quartet); Piano Performer; The Solstice Quartet (modern); A Cappella Group (Ocean's Four); Steel Pan Virtuoso; Top Secret (dance band); Guitarist. These were in addition to the Solstice Orchestra.
There were three production shows, a singer, two variety shows, and no ship's entertainment due to our late sailing from Puerto Rico. There were movies most afternoons, and a series of enrichment lectures. Of course, there were Bingo opportunities and Art Auctions (if they can be considered Entertainment).
Miscellaneous: Solstice brags about two exclusive venues aboard this ship. One is the Hot Glass Show (in conjunction with Corning Glass), which was offered twice a day and one Special Late Night show (when we were in Puerto Rico).
The other unique venue is The Lawn Club (Deck 15) the first live grass lawn at sea. We think the jury is still out on whether or not this will be successful. We noted many areas that were worn down to dirt, and some that have already been re-sodded. The area did not seem to get that much use.
Overall Perceptions: The ship is beautiful; everything is still new and seems to work as designed (except maybe the real grass). There were crew members constantly cleaning, keeping things looking pristine. There is an interesting tree growing in the main elevator area. What makes it interesting is that it is suspended three decks above the main lobby and reaches up to Deck 10. All the crew that we met seemed happy and friendly. Embarkation and Disembarkation was well organized and went very well.
We enjoyed this cruise very much, but are not ready to book again, just yet. While the cabin was not unbearable, for this seven night cruise, we are not sure how we would feel about it for a longer cruise, which we tend to book more often.
If you have further questions, send them along and we will attempt to answer them.