Fear not, intrepid travelers! The Solstice is a wonderful ship, with a terrific crew, great food, excellent ports. Just all-around excellent. This will be a long review, but that's the kind I like to read!
We (Dad, 51, Mom, 51, Daughter, 14, Son, 11) have been on many many cruises on lots of different lines (RCCL, Disney, Princess, Crystal, Regent); our first Celebrity cruise was last summer in the Med on the Summit, which was great, so Celebrity is our new favorite for family cruises. We left Indianapolis the day before our cruise, got into FLL at about 9pm. Took a cab (with possibly the least friendly driver ever, not rude, just completely unfriendly) to the Embassy Suites. This is a great place to stay for us, since we can fit everyone into one suite easily, and the kids do not have to share a bed. This particular Embassy Suites is very nice, except the elevators, which are supposedly being upgraded. The hotel restaurant was quite good, even though it was about 10pm by the time we sat down to eat. We were glad we did not have to leave the hotel to find a place. Breakfast is always good at ES, but don't wait until 9:30 to get it! There is a Publix right behind the hotel so you can pick up anything you need that you forgot. The hotel has recently enlarged and upgraded their fitness center, and it was very nice.
We were going to walk to the port (we could see our ship from our window) but when we went outside, there was a van there and the driver said he could take us to the ship. It was about $10. per person, I think. We were glad we did not walk, because it is actually quite far to where the ship docks.
We did not have luggage tags (recommendation: order them from Celebrity ahead of time), so I had to fill them out standing on the curb, then tip the porter to move our bags from the sidewalk to the cart which was right there. Oh, well!
We got to the ship at about 11:45am. Check-in was a breeze; they have really improved it over the years. 5 minutes, one awful embarkation photo, a stop at the kids check-in, and we were on the ship. They give the adults a glass of champagne or a mimosa as you board, which is a very nice touch. We headed to our cabins to drop off our hand luggage, and put some things in the safes. We had two cabins with verandas on 6 forward, port side. We met our (harried and exhausted, but very polite) cabin steward, Mahmoud. Then we went to passenger services, or whatever they call it, to change our keys so the adults would be in one room and the kids in the other. This was no problem. We ended up back there at least 6 other times during the cruise with keycards not working or misplaced, but it was never a problem to get a new one. Hardly ever a line. This is much better than most ships.
Then we headed up to the buffet. This is the best thought out one I have yet seen! Excellent flow, multiple stations to get the popular items, very attractive room, plenty of seating in lots of configurations for parties of all sizes. Very high quality food. The adults in our family are vegetarians, and there was more than enough choice at every meal. Loved the curries and the dals.
When we returned to our cabins, I read through the paperwork we had received about excursion tickets, Captains Club events, etc. Then I noticed that our two cabins had been assigned two completely different tables for dinner (we had fixed seating, late) on two different floors! So off to talk to the maitre d'. I had to wait about 20 minutes (apparently lots of issues with dining) but he got it fixed up. We ended up at a table of 8, with two *very* nice couples who made great dinner companions. So, if you have more than one cabin, check those table assignments carefully first thing when you board. You can also change from early to late seating, or vice versa, or change to Select dining. And you can make reservations if you are Select dining. Just go to the main dining room that first afternoon.
The ship is beautiful, new, sparkling clean. Rooms are smallish, but well laid-out, plenty of storage, especially in the bathrooms. The bathrooms are the best of any ship I have been on, including Crystal. The sliding doors on the shower are my favorite. And the accent tile is the exact tile I used in my bathroom remodel at home (I like my grout color better, but...)! You do get a hair dryer, but ours was in the desk drawer, so we did not find it for a few days. As with most ships and hotel rooms, there are never enough outlets for recharging everything, so you end up swapping things all the time. Maybe next time I’ll remember a power strip. The only other things I ended up not liking about the room were the toilet paper (thin and easily shredded) and the closet doors, which WOULD NOT slide. We had this discussion with several people on the pool deck one day, so this was a very common problem. At least they did not rattle at night. Also, they never did towel animals for the kids, which I heard later might be a conservation measure, but I really missed it. And we never did get a breakfast order form in our rooms.
The muster drill was in the theatre for us; you don’t even have to take your life jacket any more. Pretty painless.
The food in the main dining room was always very good to truly excellent. My kids had a lamb shank one night they said was absolutely wonderful, and nothing was poor or even mediocre. The wine selection is big, if not vast, and fairly priced, and our sommelier did an excellent job. Our waiter and assistant waiter gave us excellent, prompt, efficient service every night, but there was no personality. In the past we have had some waiters that almost become part of our family, but these guys just did their jobs. Did them perfectly, but no warmth. Not that they weren’t nice, or unfriendly, just they never talked about anything other than what they were doing.
I got to have strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries for dessert every night, so I was happy. I got the other women at my table hooked on them too.
Two nights we ate in the specialty restaurants. The first was Silk Road. This was our only bad experience on the whole trip. The specialty restaurants are not supposed to be open to children under 13. At the next table to ours was a family of very loud women, with two badly-behaved young children (about 4 and 6), literally running around the restaurant, in and out the doors. It was awful! This was the only time on the ship that children were a problem. The food was just OK. My daughter loved the ribs and the orange chicken; the sushi was mediocre, the sauces were too thick. Service was great, though. I’ve heard that on the newest Solstice-class ships, they are not going to have this restaurant.
We also went to Tuscan Grille on the second formal night. This was well worth it. The food was excellent, the service was superb, and the other patrons were well-behaved. Highly recommended.
We tried the creperie one afternoon. We weren’t thrilled with it. My kids were disappointed that they had no chocolate crepes, which did seem odd.
On the last sea day, we tried the gelateria. It really is worth the $3. for a cone with two large scoops of different flavors, plus you get sprinkles or candy. My daughter was disappointed that we were not going to be home for Easter, as she likes to get a bunch of jellybeans—well, she got her jellybeans here. There is no-charge ice cream and soft-serve available in the buffet area all day long (but no self-serve soft-serve).
We tried several of the bars during the week. The Molecular Bar is very cool; they have a dozen or so very complicated, interesting drinks that are just fascinating to watch being made. The Wine bar is nice, we never used the automatic dispensers, but they have a lot of very nice wines by the glass. The martini bar was good; don’t sit out in the hallway, sit either at the bar or at the couches (the service is much better). The techno music may get on your nerves after awhile.
The kids had soda cards. We had purchased them ahead of time, so Soda was printed on their cards (rather than a sticker). You can buy stickers on board. It was a good value to get the Soda package. I can’t imagine that buying the various (alcoholic) drinks packages would be worthwhile. The Premium package is about $550. At $12. per drink, you would have to drink more than 46 mixed drinks in the week to make it cost-effective, or about 7 per day. Every day.
The entertainment all week was SO much better than I had hoped. Last summer on Summit it was just embarrassing, especially the production shows. This time, every show was very good. Most of the late-seating shows were before dinner, so we had to miss some of them as we weren’t back on board yet. You’ve read this before, but the Captain on this ship is absolutely hilarious. My daughter said that he should do a whole show himself. The Solstice cirque-type show was…interesting. Almost every show involved someone flying around the theater in a wild costume, which got comical after awhile. Will the piano player is great, there was an excellent acapella group, a magician, a guitar player, and three production shows. All very entertaining. Oh, and Adam, a member of the production show team—brilliant!
The service that we received all week was of the very highest caliber, but no one really stood out. Usually we find a bartender that we go back to every day, or an assistant head waiter that we hit it off with, or a cabin steward who hides things for the kids, but nothing like that this time.
Neither of my kids participated in the kids’ club activities, so I can’t rate them.
There were always lots of activities going on around the ship, lectures, trivia contests, demonstrations. The Hot Glass show is a don’t-miss activity. If you have any prior interest in or knowledge about glass-blowing, you’ll be amazed by the equipment they have. They have beautiful examples of their work on display around the ship (that really need to be dusted!), along with lots of excellent modern and contemporary art.
Getting chairs on the decks on sea days is the usual hassle. The second sea day I did get up early and reserve chairs. They do go around and remove stuff if it is left alone for long periods of time, so you have to frequently check your chairs. If people would just remove all the stuff from the chairs when they are done, including towels, it would be much better. You can lie out on the lawn on the top deck; this is actually nice because it is cooler up there. This ship has a very smart innovation: a shop that sells sunscreen right next to the pool! There are lots of different chair types, and they all have pads: metal chaise lounges by the outdoor pools, wooden chaises at the adult pool, upright chairs, hammocks, cabanas with double size lounges, large round rotating things.
The fitness center is great. Lots of treadmills and ellipticals, some bikes, free weights and machines, fitness balls, mats, etc. Well-equipped. We took quite a few classes, which were not cruisey at all. Just as difficult as at your gym at home. We did spinning several times, something called Gravity Group (kicked my butt!), and Boot Camp twice. There is an extra charge for these classes; they also have some easier classes that are free.
Our ports were San Juan, St. Maarten, and Tortola. More about those below. We also went to Labadee, Celebrity/RCCL's private island. This is a lovely day. Be sure to carry some cash ($1. per chair) to have the guys on the beach move and set up your chairs. We got roller coaster passes for the kids; the adults got to ride too. It's motorized taking you up the hill, then you coast down. It really is great fun. Go either early in the morning or late in the afternoon; midday there was almost an altercation over people cutting in line. We also got the kids passes for the water park. They said it was fun, but a little cold, and very tiring getting up on the floating things. Dad and daughter also did parasailing, which they loved. The only thing we did not do was the zip line, it was kinda expensive for one zip, but people were having a blast doing it. All in all a very pleasant, tiring day.
Disembarkation was very easy, we did the “take your luggage off yourself” option at 7am. It was Easter, so they did not have as many customs agents as they usually would have had, there was a bit of a line for that. Once we exited the hall, there were tons of cabs waiting; they have a very efficient set-up for that. It’s only about 7 minutes to the airport, so we had plenty of time before our 9:30am flight; they even have a Delta Sky Club at FLL.
In summary, this was our best Caribbean cruise ever, on any line. My son is usually more than ready to go home at the end of a vacation, but even he wished we could stay at least another week. We’ll be on the Equinox in July to the Greek Isles. Can’t wait.