Once again the "Mac-o-meter" is on, and everything will be rated on a 10 point scale, with 10 being superior. Anything that needs improvement will be in a red font. Notice that this complete lack of an introduction indicates this will be one guy's review, sans flowery descriptions.
Pre-cruise Hotel Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood. This is a five star place got it cheap on Priceline. What can I say one of the best places to stay in the Ft Lauderdale area. We also stayed here post-cruise for two additional nights. We got great rooms. The pool complex is outstanding, and the service is top notch. We didn't have a rental car this time. Lauren and I love to walk, and we found everything we need in less than a 25 minute walk. In addition, we used the local bus system (Yikes, middle class people on the bus!!) and traveled all over the area from the Aventura Mall to the Galleria and Las Olas in Ft Lauderdale. The bus day pass is $3 , but the show is free! Hotel and local area = 9.1
Embarkation Headed over to Pier #18 around noon. Cab fare w/tip $36. Unloaded the luggage and whipped out the markers and filled in the Baggage Tags using the online tag as a guide. Tipped the bag guys and headed into the Terminal Building. We passed through security and were seated in a holding area for about 10 minutes. (Extra points for the attractive young lady who organized this holding zone; she was articulate, professional and fun!) Off to the Captain's Club Elite line for check in. From the time we exited the cab to the time we stepped on the ship = maybe 30 minutes. Over-all experience = 9.3
Cabin Lauren and I cruise three or four times a year, so we usually go for an inside cabin to keep this addiction affordable. We don't spend much time in our cabin, so this is a pretty low priority for us. Our Solstice cabin was outstanding. Largest cabin we have had. Great bed and beddings, with additional storage above the head board. We didn't find the clothing closet to be a problem plenty of room for everything we had. The inside cabin didn't have the couch everyone talks about, just two chairs near the entrance. The back of cabin was so large we had several feet of extra space around the bed area. The bathroom was amazing! Great shower and the solid sliding door is perfect. The storage areas are well thought out, and the sink is very cool (not very practical, but a nice design feature). Huge bonus points for the large, flat screen interactive TV!! Great selection of free movies and all the interactive features were very helpful. Major improvement for Celebrity. Alrick and Tek were our Cabin stewards. They were the best fast, stealthy and always there when we needed something. One of the best crews we've had in 31 cruises. I'm a science guy, and in seven days I never really figured out how to work the cross selection switches that control all the cabin's lights. Not really a problem you just need a short class in their operation maybe a 90 minute class after the lifeboat drill. Cabin = 9.6
Ship Design Let me first just state "The Solstice is our new favorite ship." Wow, I can't think of any other design out there that even comes close to this grand ship. We loved just about every inch of this ship! Sure, a nice wrap around promenade deck would have been a huge improvement, but there was enough teakwood deck space to provide some nice flying fish spotting. The 14 story open atrium with the glass elevators is a nice touch, similar to what people rave about on Royal Caribbean ships. Deck five on this ship is the best deck at sea, and it includes many of the dining options on the ship. The half acre of grass on the upper deck is visually stunning and does give this area a peaceful uncrowned feel. The size is a bit over the top, and I'm sure with time we will see them reduce this area by at least 50%. In the Caribbean all of the deck space is being used as people jockey for a space to catch some rays. We always found a nice spot, but it did require some looking. Shame on the chair hogs, as they were out in force early every morning. The deck guys didn't really curb this selfish action, however, many of the passengers (way to go Kirk!!) did a nice job of collecting and stacking items left on chairs more than 30 minutes. Would you like to join the underground hog patrol? While I'm on the pet peeve thing it would be nice if people would collect their towels and deposit them so others know their chairs are now available. The Hot Glass show is a big hit, and I was surprised at how mesmerizing the whole process can be. Make sure you make it up there during the evening hours! Bars, bars, bars they are everywhere and people seemed to flock to them. The martini bar was a real hit. The three tier theatre is on par with other Celebrity ships and provides a great venue for a variety of activities. Solstice's art collection is true to their modern eclectic roots, and we spent a great deal of time wandering around the ship and talking about individual pieces. There are only twelve elevators on the ship four forward and eight in the atrium bank. If you are the least bit mobile this is not a problem. A ship this large requires some walking, so for some this could be an issue. Anything that gets our sedentary population moving is a good thing in my book. Nice gym area (a bit crowded) and I hope the spa is a money maker for Celebrity, as it takes up a whole lot of space. Ship Design = 9.2
Food Here is one area where I really disagree with many vintage cruisers of Celebrity (our first Celebrity cruise was back in 1993). The food is wonderful all over the ship! The main dining room cuisine was outstanding, and we enjoyed every meal. We are foodies only from the stand point of enjoying small amounts of quality ingredients, well prepared, and presented by professionals. Celebrity is very good at this and is improving all the time. Raul and Jose were our serving team, and they really made our dining experience special. The tables for two in the Grand Epernay are abundant; however, many are jammed together so close that you can't escape the activities of the adjoining tables. Our first night we had a lady next to us who was loud, whiney and couldn't let go of her mono-issue of the evening. Not a problem, as the Assistant Maitre'd helped us make a table change for the next evening. The Tuscan Grill is not to be missed! Superior cuisine with a bit less pretentious feel compared to Muranos and the alternative restaurants of the Millennium class ships. The portions were huge, so be prepared to eat. Speaking of Muranos, we loved our experience and would recommend that everyone to spend at least one evening in this fine dining venue. We missed Silk Harvest this time, but we wanted to save something for our next cruise. In addition, the cuisine was so good in the main dining room it was hard to give up an evening. We would also like to try Blu some time as the menu looked like something we would enjoy. We made two visits to the Bistro of Five what a great idea! Great service, and wonderful crepes worth every penny of the $5 up charge. Check out the Cafe al Bacio, across from the Gelateria and of course the Aqua Spa Cafe offered up some really healthy mid-day treats. The OceanView area is the best designed buffet at sea. The large area of food stations creates a crowd flow that is hard to explain, but it works. All the standards are there, pasta station, waffle station (YUM), Asian station, dessert station, sandwich station, etc. I'm not a fan of allowing passengers to serve themselves, but it does work on this ship because there are no trays so you don't see the feeding frenzy that can occur on other lines (Royal Caribbean). Many people see the lack of trays as a negative, but I think it is a must with this design. Speaking of design not enough seating in this area. We always found a place to sit, but you had to be willing to walk around a bit and ask to join others at their table. There is an outside area, and we spent some great time out there enjoying our breakfast. Food = 9.6
Entertainment Our production show "tank" is kind of full after 31 cruises, but I must say they were a little different and fresh on the Solstice. You get the Cirque influence with people flying over the crowd and aerials on stage, but it's still a production show. We did enjoy the a cappella group, Ocean's Four and the Steel drum guy was great. There was a four piece string group that was excellent and appeared all over the ship. The pool band was fine. Major lack of alternative acts and comedians on this ship. The only comedian seemed to only do very late night shows, so we never saw him. Didn't spend any time in the casino, although it looked very nice. We did make it to some of the Trivia events and had a great time. The cruise staff was pleasant and professional. Entertainment = 8.2
Itinerary This three port Caribbean itinerary is lame, but there is not much you can do with seven days. This has always been a weak part of Celebrity's game plan. We usually do 10+ day cruises, and the Equinox will address this issue. The alternate four port cruise seems better. Can't wait until Cuba becomes available! We've been to all these ports multiple times, and we usually find some different to do every visit. We did make the best of our short stop in San Juan Lauren brought a couple of inexpensive kites from home, and we walked over to the grassy area at the entrance to El Moro and spent an hour or so flying. The conditions are usually perfect for kite flying, and we noticed people doing this during our last visit to Puerto Rico. After an hour or so of this activity we looked for some kids leaving El Moro and gave our kites to them. St Kitts was also a return visit for us, and we had planned a beach day at Cockelshell. The weather in the morning was a bit iffy, so we decided to walk around town a while and wait out the weather. Things improved by mid-day, but we decided to just return to the ship and spend the day on deck. The forward area had these great wicker loungers, so we spent a wonderful afternoon sunning on deck. In St Martin, we headed over to the taxi stand and spent a day at Orient Beach. The weather was perfect, and we had great company with some fellow Cruise Critic folks from the ship. Overall Itinerary = 7.6
Auto Tip System With so many dining options and workers with multiple roles, it makes total sense for Celebrity to go to this type of system. We only saw our dining room staff three nights during the cruise, but of course they were in the Ocean View breakfast and lunch. The staff in the Tuscan Grill works the Bistro on Five and Murano people were set up in the Aqua Spa Cafe. The auto tip system worked well, and we always bring personal thank you cards from home in which we can add additional cash for the outstanding service we received (which, as usual, was from just about everyone on board). Hurrah for Celebrity for getting this right! Auto Tips = 10
Disembarkation Since we are Elite members of the Captain's Club we headed up to the Sky Lounge after a casual breakfast. We were just headed back to the Westin Diplomat, so we were not in a New York hurry to disembark. At 8:45 we were given the okay to leave by the Captain's Club hostess ,so off we went. For a ship of 2,850 people we couldn't believe the lack of crowds and how easy the whole process turned out to be. No line at deck five, and we found our luggage a couple of minutes after leaving the ship. There was only one couple in front of us at customs. They didn't even look at our passports. From the Sky Lounge to the Taxi stand was about ten minutes total. By far, the easiest process of disembarkation we have experienced. Disembarkation = 10
This was the second part of a back to back Cruise Critic Cruise, and we met some wonderful people from these boards. The group was so large we didn't really get to meet everyone, which felt strange. Special thanks to Host Joe, Lisa and Ed, George and Joyce, Ken and Carol, and everyone else who organized so many events for the Cruise Critic gang! We are looking forward to many cruises on Celebrity's new Solstice class of ships! If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.
As Always, Enjoy! Kel