We are in our late forties and recently empty nesters. This was our ninth cruise and first experience on Celebrity. We chose Celebrity as friends and family have spoken very highly about them, especially for great food and service.
Disembarkation: This was very smooth and simple. We flew a red eye from Seattle, took a cab to Port Everglades and were on board within about 15 minutes. For a ship this size, one could not expect anything better.
Cabin: Our cabin was ready as promised by 1:00pm and we had ample time to eat lunch and explore the ship prior to finding our aft Sunset Verandah cabin (7317). The cabin was excellent, especially the bathroom that was the nicest we have ever had on a cruise. There was plenty of storage and we never felt cramped. The bed was very comfortable and we slept extremely well. We love aft cabins especially for the balconies. We ate breakfast from room service almost every morning. The room service was quick and we only ordered fruit, pastries and coffee and all were fine. We enjoyed wine on the balcony every evening and made friends with some of the neighbors as the privacy is not as good as other aft balconies. This was not a problem for us but might be for others. There is only about one foot of overhang so the aft balconies are very exposed. While seated close to the door, you will have privacy. We did not have any rain on our voyage so we really did not mind having the exposure as we like the sun. If you want a more shaded balcony, these aft locations are not for you. We did experience a little bit of soot on the balcony floor but it was not a big deal.
Service: The overall service onboard was excellent. Our cabin attendant was very thoughtful and went out of his way to greet us and cater to any need we requested. The overall staff was very friendly and helpful. Our waiter in the Grand Epernay was not the best but he was ok but very difficult to understand with his sharp accent. The assistant waiter was outstanding and should have been the head waiter. The sommelier was good and helpful too.
Food: One word describes this, "Disappointed". After hearing how great Celebrity is with their fine dining, our expectations were set pretty high. We were prepared to have one of our best dining experiences ever on a cruise. Instead, this was by FAR the worst food we have ever had on a cruise. We've cruised 5 times on RCCL and once each with Carnival, Windstar and Princess. While we did not expect the cuisine to match Windstar, we thought it would be better than the other three ... not even close. I believe there are some major problems in the kitchen on this ship. Friends who have sailed Celebrity have only sailed their smaller ships and perhaps the larger ship has caught them into a transition they are not prepared for. Our entire table of eight was extremely disappointed with the food in the main dining room and the other three couples were Celebrity regulars. They are all seriously considering never returning to Celebrity after this experience. While we consider ourselves, "Foodies", we also realize its difficult to feed 1000 people per shift and maintain high QC standards. Our last cruise on a similar size ship was FAR SUPERIOR in taste, presentation and cooked properly to order. The food served at Grand Epernay was bland, not cooked to order and in some cases, not really desirable to eat. We did go to The Tuscan Grille twice and it was EXCELLENT!! This was the type of food we expected from Celebrity in the main dining room. We had one breakfast at the Bistro on 5 at that was also very good. The Mast Grill by the pool served decent quality burgers, fries and onion rings. The Oceanview Cafe buffet was sub standard in my opinion. The traffic flowed well and they offered several choices but again, the quality was marginal. I did not try the sushi but was warned by others to stay away if you like real sushi. Sorry for the negative stuff but I'm telling it like it is. We appreciate good cooking and expected much better. I hope Celebrity can figure this out soon because they are going to lose loyal customers if they keep this up. As a business owner, if I knew my company was delivering poor quality or service, it would get fixed pronto or heads roll. Celebrity has worked hard to earn their reputation and this needs to be addressed right away.
Entertainment: Average. The Solstice singers and dancers were sub par compared to previous cruises. Karen Grainger was the lone highlight and her act is of Vegas headliner quality. She is a singer/impressionist and she really puts on a great show. We decided to try the comedy show Friday night at midnight. We got there 5 minutes early to get seats, only to find the comedian (forgot his name already) did not show up till 12:15am. Then the show started and he was not funny AT ALL. I think the entire audience felt sorry for him. We would have left but I felt embarrassed for him so we endured this painful and not funny show. The Sizzle party dance by the pool one evening was fun and entertaining. Most of the entertainment was by fellow passengers who all had a great time.
San Juan - We waited over an hour to get off the ship. This worked perfectly as we were able to explore the entire ship and take many pictures with no other people around. Once we left the ship, we just walked around and shopped. Been to this port several times so not much more to see or do.
St Maarten - We booked a snorkel tour though an independent company, Captain Alan's charters. Alan and Collen are fantastic and they arranged easy transportation for the pier over to the Oyster Bay Marina. There were about 24 people and they split us into tow groups on two comfortable boats. We snorkeled at two reefs and the water was crystal clear, teeming with many tropical fish and lots of coral. Alan also took us to a remote beach for a mudbath. This was a lot of fun and really exhilarated the skin. Finally, we stopped for a short visit to Pinal Island on our way back. For $69 plus cab, this was a great 4 hour tour that is an excellent value. For those who don't like excursions with hordes of people, this is perfect.
Tortola - We really wanted to go the The Baths at Virgin Gorda but I got concerned that this would be the excursion most people would opt for. I was right, they had several busloads of people going to the Baths and I heard from some that they did enjoy but it was too many people. We decide to go to Jost Van Dyk through Celebrity as we did not want to chance missing the boat on a very short stay. We made a GREAT decision. We took a 5 minute cab then a 30 minute boat ride to White Bay. They dropped us off with chaise chairs, a BBQ lunch and a drink. This beach is postcard perfect and famous for visits by Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney. We sauntered down the beach to the Soggy Dollar Bar and started drinking "Painkillers" at 9am, and they went down easy. Mic the bartender is a hoot and the other customers were fun to chat with. Too bad we could not spend all day here. We were tempted to stay here and fly back to FLL as we were very apprehensive going to Haiti.
Labadee - We had mixed emotions visiting Labadee with the terrible tragedy just 10 days old with maybe 200,000 dead and many others suffering. We agree with RCCL/Celebrity wanting to stop here to help the Haitians with supplies as well as donating all proceeds from Labadee to charities. We felt a little guilty for going on shore to enjoy ourselves. I inquired with guest relations and the shore excursion desk to see if we could volunteer our time to do anything to help. There were no options other than to donate money and purchase items while on shore. So we did go to the beach and made the most of the day. They have made some nice improvements since our last visit. This is truly a beautiful place, you would never know the devastating destruction is less than 100 miles away ... very sad. It would be great to see a shore excursion developed for passengers to volunteer their time to do anything like packing boxes or something to feel like you are helping out in the humanitarian efforts. I'm not suggesting going to Port au Prince as the security and liability and timing would not make this possible. But anything else that would be constructive and make people feel better about the entire tragedy would be a nice option for some.
Disembarkation: This went very smoothly and we were off the ship in no time and breezed through customs. We were in a cab within 15 minutes and headed to the Doubletree Hotel for one night. We had the best dinner of the week (even better than Tuscan Grill)at Casablanca in Ft Lauderdale. If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and try this place, you will not be disappointed.
Overall, we had a great vacation. The ship is the nicest we have sailed and the service was excellent. If not for the bad food experiences in the main dining room, the trip would have been perfect. I truly hope Celebrity can get to the root of the problem in their kitchen. I doubt I would sail on Solstice again due to the poor food quality. We might try one of Celebrity's smaller ships if I can be reassured the food is better than what we just experienced. While we did not expect 5 star dining, we were dismayed to get food probably worse than Applebees, Red Lobster, Olive Garden ,et al.