This was our 24th cruise, but our 1st cruise on Celebrity. (Certainly won't be our last!!) We have also sailed on Royal Caribbean, Holland, Princess, Viking (European river boat) and Carnival (once). Our 1st cruise was in 1991, a gift from my parents for my 50th birthday, on the retired Crown Princess. That 1st cruise hooked us onto cruising as a wonderful, relaxing vacation value. Solstice is an extremely BEAUTIFUL ship, both dEcor and layout of public areas.
We live in Tennessee and being retired, we prefer to drive to Florida ports, in order to avoid frustration with security and baggage weight issues. Plus driving allows us to visit relatives in FL and to go at our own pace. Due to a weather forecast of snow and cold weather early January, we headed farther south 5 days prior to the cruise, spending a night enroute in Macon GA in a Fairfield by Marriott, a favorite chain of ours. We used our Wyndham timeshare points to stay at Wyndham Palm-Aire in Ft. Lauderdale for 3 nights prior to cruise. (The 4 Wyndhams in Ft. Lauderdale are all very comfortable, and we have been spoiled with staying in spacious well-appointed apartments with all the facilities of home. Non-timeshare people can rent timeshare units from Wyndham through several websites.) Thurs Jan 7 and Fri Jan 8 were warm, sunny & definitely Florida-weather, but that changed abruptly overnight. We enjoyed the Carrie B boat tour of Intercoastal and a great meal outside at Bubba Gumps on A1A. Saturday was cold and rainy - a perfect day for Sawgrass Mills shopping center, which was packed with half of south FL, followed by a wonderful early dinner at Sea Watch restaurant on A1A, a favorite of ours. Also on Saturday we drove down to a residential area across from Port Everglades to get a glimpse of the Oasis of the Seas, and I was able to get some good photos of the amazing aft end of Oasis despite the rain. Although Sunday was once-again sunny but extremely windy and cold, we had to wear our winter coats and gloves to the ship - colder than boarding the cruise ship in Alaska!!
We parked at the "Park N Go" facility and can highly recommend this new company, which offers 1 free day coupon after you make a reservation. Although there were 5 or 6 ships in port that Sunday, Park N Go had plenty of drivers and buses to take us to the Solstice. We found the same very convenient service back to the parking lot after disembarking.
Embarkation was at the new Pier 18 which was specially built for Oasis of Seas. The new terminal is so well laid out and so efficient that we were checked in and on ship in record time around noon, among the best in our 24 cruises. Although cabins were "not ready", we went to ours and left our carry-ons and coats in the closet, but we let our room stewards know that it was our things, and not something left behind by last occupants!! Disembarkation was also extremely quick, convenient and not stressful - probably the best process in our 24 cruises.
Our cabin was #8343 -- the last cabin on portside before aft cabins and it has a much larger than normal balcony. We experienced very little wind although being at far end of ship. The balcony was large enough for a chaise but only had 2 chairs. This cabin had the bed by balcony door and the sofa by closet, which made for easy access to small closet (that contains the safe). The dEcor was beautiful and the flat screen TV was wonderful. The bathroom and shower stall were very spacious and comfortable, with a low level "nightlight" that is "always on" - such a unique and welcome feature!! Our biggest complaint with the cabin was the inadequate storage, manageable for 2 people but definitely would be a major problem if there were 3 or 4 in a cabin. There are too few drawers in the cabinet that contained the mini-frig and has the TV above it. Also totally inadequate are the bedside tables which have no drawer for storage and the 2 shelves have no sides to hold papers, books, flashlight, pencils etc. in place. The above bed storage is too high to be used for much of anything, although we put our lifejackets there as well as our winter coats and my empty purse. The latter items could easily have gone into our empty suitcases under the bed, but it was nice to get the life jackets out of the closet. The closet has 2 shelves below the safe but it would have been nice for those shelves to be equipped with wire baskets for miscellaneous clothing items. Another notable storage issue was that the top drawer in the cabinet gets extremely warm, so much so that when we put some of the nightly pillow-top candy into that drawer, it melted!! It was unclear why that drawer gets so hot.
The Dining Room to be gorgeous, quiet with plenty of space around our table of 10. We enjoyed all the menus and did not go to any optional dining venues. The buffet area is very well laid out with a huge selection of foods all day! The sea day "Brunch" was an excellent buffet held in the main dining room.
Entertainment was superb, with a wonderful vocal impersonator, an amazing magician, a fantastic vocal quartet singing accapella, and 3 superb "production" shows by the singers, dancers, and aerobatics. Solstice has a charming and vibrant Cruise Director, and a humorous, personable and visible young Captain!
This cruise had 3 sea days and 3 ports - San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. At San Juan we took the free trolley and then walked to the El Convento Hotel across the street from the Cathedral. The hotel is very old and was originally a convent; millions have been spent to renovate it and it is beautiful. We enjoyed a local beer in the relaxing charming landscaped courtyard. Old San Juan slopes down to the port from the historic fort El Morro, so it was a pleasant "downhill" walk back to the ship from the hotel. At St. Kitts we took a ship's excursion on a catamaran and on the historic train. On previous stops at St. Kitts we have taken catamaran snorkel trips, so it was nice to see some of the island from the train. However this catamaran ride was disappointing because the sails were not used and we had to smell diesel fumes the whole way. At St. Maarten we got a taxi ride to Orient Beach early in the morning and spent all day at our favorite beach and eating lunch at a favorite beachside restaurant, Andy & Cheryl's Baywatch. (We stay on St. Maarten once or twice a year, so we especially enjoyed that port stop!) We didn't participate in many "sea day" activities -- we enjoyed the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet although the allotted time was too short and the awkward layout of the meeting place (Michael's) was not conductive for meeting everyone. We did participate in all the Captain's Club activities and were so pleased to be included. It is great that Royal Caribbean and Celebrity past-passenger programs are linked together, so with us being Platinum Crown & Anchor, we were considered Select in Captain's Club on our 1st cruise on Celebrity! That is a good "selling" point for us for future RC or Celebrity cruises!! (Don't know why Princess, Holland and Carnival don't link their past-passenger programs together like Royal Caribbean does.) Watching the glass blowers was so amazing and inspiring, but I was so very disappointed that I could not purchase one of their creations for my cruise souvenir. It is such a terrible shame passengers cannot purchase any of the gorgeous glass items; Corning Glass and Celebrity need to set up a charitable donation method for passengers to purchase these works of art!!!