My sister and I decided to take a cruise to escape the WI winter. We sailed on 1/17/10. I've only been on 2 cruises before--Celebrity and Norwegian and I knew I wanted to go on Celebrity again. My sister went along with this and I'm so glad we picked this cruise---it was great!!
Embarkation was a breeze. We took the free shuttle from our hotel (Rodeway Inn in Ft. Lauderdale---free shuttle to/from airport and/or cruise port---nice hotel with a "free" hot breakfast in the morning)and arrived around 11:30. We got rid of our bags and went through check in very quickly---no problems.
We headed up to the buffet and it was crowded, but people were willing to share tables and the food was really good! We didn't have a problem with no trays as the stations are set up in such a way that it's easy to go get your drink, then your food. Wait staff came around with coffee refills. Lots of choices of food---something for everyone.
They said our rooms would be ready at 2, but we were done eating at 1 and decided to go check out our room. It was ready and right after we went in, they made the announcement that everyone could go to their cabins. The room was really nice----leather couch and small coffee table, with a big, flat screen TV; small desk area; 2 twin beds with a small table between; bathroom was pretty large--all tiled, nice exposed bowl sink, large shower, etc. We were very happy with the room. Balcony was fine, large enough for two, with 2 reclining chairs and a table. No obstructions except when you looked down, there was a blue walkway type of thing (no passengers were ever on it, so must be for crew? I never saw anyone on it).
We then took a ship tour which was v. interesting and helpful. We saw Blu--the restaurant for aqua spa class passengers and the room itself was really pretty which a white wall sized rose art piece on the wall, etc. Specialty restaurants looked OK, but we decided to wait and see how the food in the MDR was before we booked (glad we waited because we never saw the need to eat anywhere else!). The french restaurant, The Murano, costs $35/per person extra, but our guide (Stewart) said you'd pay $300, 400, maybe even $500 to eat in a comparable restaurant on land! Not sure how true this is, but we didn't eat there so who knows. Beverages, alcohol, etc. is not included in the $35 cover charge. The other specialty restaurants were $20 and $25/ per person cover charge, but again we didn't eat at them, so can't say how good they were.
Like I said, we ate in the MDR for every dinner and some lunches, plus 2 breakfasts and 1 brunch, oh and high tea. The food was wonderful! I didn't have a bad meal---the soups and salads were so good! The steaks were awesome---very tender and flavorful. For lunch, the pork knuckle sandwich/coleslaw was very good! All lunches and dinners in the MDR were 5 course meals (if you wanted them to be---I always took advantage of this, but sometimes my sister would skip a course or 2, so appetizer, soup, salad, main entree and dessert. The Cherries Jubilee was really good, I also loved the low fat banana frozen yogurt. At High Tea, the tea sandwiches were really good---I loved the smoked salmon sandwich and brie on french bread sandwich. My only problem was that i would get so full that I didn't' probably fully appreciate the food in the later courses! The servings were generous!! Especially the entrees. I did order room service twice----once just coffee, tea and danish--it came pretty quick and the other time was after I came back from St. Martin and I ordered several appetizers and beverages and they came pretty quick and were hot and very good----especially the Asian Sampler!
We ate breakfast in the buffet several times and I loved the Eggs Benedict and the roasted potatoes! There was carved roast beef and ham too which was nice. On Labadee we had a buffet lunch and the hamburgers were excellent!
All the public spaces were very nice---very understated and elegant looking---nothing gaudy or over the top. Lots of art all over the ship that was nice. Everything looked very clean (I'm kind of a germaphobe so that was important to me). Lots of live music all over the ship----the A Capella group was really good and entertaining and the string quartet was nice.
The entertainment was entertaining : ) I wouldn't call it 5 star, except for Karen Grainger, the musical impressionist (she did Cher, Celine, Barbra Streisand, etc.) she was FANTASTIC and could be performing in Vegas IMHO! The magician, Adam Trent, was very sincere and young! He was fun to watch and quite endearing. The Solstice cast was OK, but I guess once you've seen shows in Vegas, you always compare stuff to that and they were no where near that caliber, but again, they were fine and entertaining---just not standout. If you haven't seen Circe du Soleil in Vegas, you probably will be really impressed.
Other fun stuff we did was attend the art auctions---those were fun, plus they raffle off a piece of art at each auction. The hot glass show was neat and again, they raffle off several pieces of original glass at each show and those pieces aren't cheap! We attended the Cook Off between 2 of the ship's chef's and that was really fun. We took the Galley Tour which was interesting. We met SO MANY interesting people---staff and passengers alike!
The staff is WONDERFUL!!!!!! They work SOOOO hard and really long hours. They are so nice and sincere and it was fun to hear about their countries of origin, their life on ship and at home, etc. We did not have one rude encounter the whole trip and not one problem or disappointment. I can't say enough about the crew, but again, I knew this would be the case as I had previously sailed on Celebrity (the Galaxy in 2000, so quite some time ago). The service was fantastic from everyone and they were eager to make sure that everything was to our liking.
The ports were all fun. We had been to San Juan previously, so just got off the ship and roamed around Old San Juan and went to El Moro fort and saw the cemetery that is right by the sea.
In St. Martin we went to Orient Beach which was very nice, but the weather wasn't the warmest so we mainly read and sunned on the beach, plus people-watched, which can be VERY entertaining!
The 2 ports I liked the best were Tortola and Labadee. We really didn't spend much time at all on Tortola as we had booked a ship's excursion to The baths on Virgin Gorda. It took about 45-50 minutes to boat over to The Baths and then we had to swim quite a ways to the beach from the boat, so it was pretty strenuous, but that was written in the excursion description, so shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone. Once on the beach, we entered The baths which was very cool-----a narrow, windy, cramped (at times) path through huge boulders right along the ocean. It was something I'd never experienced before, so quite worth it. Once you got out of the The Baths, you came to another beach and we were able to snorkel through the boulders, etc. back to the ship (again, quite far away and pretty strenuous, but good snorkeling). I did see a few jellyfish in the water but i steered clear and all was fine. We only had a short time on this stop, so once we got back to Tortola we went to the market set up close to the ship and got a few souvenirs. I really liked this experience a lot!
Now on to Haiti....as you can imagine, we all had mixed feelings about stopping at Labadee, especially after we heard they had another major aftershock. A few days before we were to go there, we got a letter saying all net proceeds from our stop were being given to the Haitians, plus we could give a personal donation. My sister and I didn't make a personal donation, but just said we would take a lot of money onto Labadee and buy stuff from the native Haitians at the port. The peninsula that is Labadee (It's attached to Haiti proper) is very nice and tropical and the beaches were nice. We snorkeled both at one of the beaches and on an excursion and there was a nice reef with lots of living coral and sea life---it seemed pretty untouched still, at least in comparison to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, where I've snorkeled several times in the past. The Haitians seemed friendly and happy that we were there. In fact we asked one of them what their thoughts were on us coming still, and they said they wanted us to come! The ship unloaded many pallets of supplies (food, water, plus clothing---a lot donated by Solstice staff members we found out later). The Haitians were eager for us to buy their wares and we spent all the money we brought : ) I got a beautiful painting on canvas---really large and unique, so I was happy and the money my sister and I spent was very appreciated by the sellers. One said there was no ship coming the next day so he planned to go to Port Au Prince---it takes them all day to get there even though it's only like 100 miles away from Labadee, apparently because of the mountains. Anyway, I really liked labadee and think that the Haitians should try to focus more on tourism because their country and ocean really is unspoiled and there's not a lot of places like that left in the world---anyway, just my 2 pesos!
So, all in all, it was a wonderful trip and I hope to sail on Celebrity again, next time, either to Alaska, Central America, or the Galapagos (yes, I can dream! :) If you take this cruise, you will not be sorry!!!!!!