This was our 14th cruise, second on Celebrity (previous was 9 years ago on Summit), with other cruises on Princess, RCCL, HAL and Carnival. The comments are based on my experiences and also on what others related to me. I apologize if it goes long, as I want to be thorough. This cruise was the first Western Caribbean for the Solstice.
Embarkation: We arrived at the terminal at about 1:30PM, checked in, and were on board in about 10 minutes. One of the easiest check-ins. Check-in lines were arranged by the deck your cabin was on. When boarding the ship, we were greeted by staff handing out glasses of champagne and juice. Nice touch. (Note - 9 years ago we were greeted and a staff member took our carryons and escorted us to our cabin. Things change.)
Cabin: We had a Category 1A balcony, deck 7 cabin, #7288, on the starboard aft diagonal to the hump. The cabin was smaller than we have had on other balcony cabins. The balcony was, indeed, huge - maybe 1 ½ times the normal balcony (cabins on the diagonals to the "hump" have larger balconies because of the arrangement of the cabins and diagonal rail). However, unless you plan on having a large party or have lounge chairs put there, the space is really not useful. The view forward was obstructed somewhat by the hump. Looking aft, the view was good, but overlooked the lifeboats. Similar cabins on deck 6 would have a problem as the lifeboats are stored right below them. Storage was barely adequate. Nightstands had no drawers, only three small shelves. Closet was perhaps five feet wide; the hanging section for longer garments only half that with the remaining half sufficient for shirts with the safe and some shelves underneath and a short shelf, perhaps six inches high, above. Two large storage bins with doors above the bed and some drawers in the tv stand/dresser unit complete the storage. Life jackets were under the bed (you don't bring them to the muster drill), but there is sufficient room for suitcases. The bed was the width of a king-size, but shorter (I'm tall and had to sleep somewhat diagonally) and was comfortable with the eggcrate mattress topper. The bath has a nice shower with hard-plastic clamshell doors; nice design. Many small drawers and cubbyholes for storing things. One very nice feature never before seen on a cruise ship - a nightlight in the bath that remains on when you turn off the light. While the room is near the elevators, it remained quiet.
The Ship: I'm sure that many will disagree with me on this, but this is based on my experiences and observations. Your mileage may vary. While the ship has a simple elegance, it is, perhaps, too simple. There seemed to be a lack of character to it. Most of the lounges and bars were merely wider areas of the passages. The exceptions were the Sky Lounge, Michael's, and Quasar disco. Warning to ballroom dancers: there isn't a single good dance floor on the ship. Deck 15 has the lawn (real grass) that has been made much of. Initially, I was impressed. However, after a while I realized that it was mostly wasted space. A few people were playing bocce, croquet, and a couple other games, but mostly it was ignored. The walking/jogging track on Deck 14 is short - 8 times around for a mile. The Promenade Deck is also badly designed. It doesn't even go the full length of the ship, never mind around the ship, and the view is almost completely blocked by the lifeboats. We rarely saw anybody out there. The ship was quite stable when under way. Most of the time we couldn't even feel it moving. Only late on the next to last day and into the last sea day did it roll at all. However, it was enough to cause the tightrope walker to cancel that act in the show that night. I heard a few comments that the equipment in the gym was not in the best condition.
Entertainment: We had The Case of the Troubled Theater. On the first day while leaving port, the motorized video screen, 850 lbs, crashed to the stage when the motor connection failed. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but it brought into question all the stage rigging. As a result, the welcome aboard show that night was moved to the Foyer. Several people at the CruiseCritic meet and greet questioned why the Foyer was used, where people had to stand around, instead of the Sky Lounge, which has a stage and chairs. No real answer given. The shows were switched around and the second night was a performance of Broadway songs by the ship's singers and the a capella group Metro Park in the Foyer since the stage couldn't be used. Following inspection of the stage by specialists flown in to Grand Cayman, the rigging was pronounced safe. The third night was the ventriloquist in front of the curtain. The fourth night was supposed to be the production show Pulse. However, the curtain refused to open. The show was postponed until 10:30 PM. It had opened just fine for rehearsals earlier that day, but at showtime it wouldn't open. The trouble, unrelated to the first incident, was finally traced to a failed computer server. It seems the curtain is computer-controlled (Toyota?) and, when the server failed, it generated an emergency signal that automatically closes the curtain. Once the server was replaced, the curtain worked fine.
The two productions shows were quite good. Solstice - The Show is a Cirque du Soleil type show (but not associated with Cirque du Soleil). Spectacular! If you like Cirque du Soleil (we do), you'll like this show. Pulse was a song & dance production show similar to others, but was arranged in a running theme of music. Nicely done.
For those who like the typical games around the pool, there were none. We also heard complaints about bingo (didn't go).
No Caribbean band around the pool.
Dancers: as I mentioned above, there are no good dance floors. Dancing was from 5 - 6PM on the marble floor in the Foyer to music played by a DJ. Sometimes the party band Sipra played pop music there (think Hustle). The only time the jazz group (Will Foraker Trio - quite good) played there, the photographers had taken over the Foyer for those all-important portraits. It seems Princess has better dance floors and bands than Celebrity.
Movies: the movie theater is across the Solstice Central (a second foyer on Deck 4 near the theater entrance) from the Quasar disco. While watching a movie, the music from the disco is distracting.
Timing of some of the entertainment was not good. While there were two lecturers on board, the times were random. Example - the lecture on the Mayans by Dr. Tom Ryan was given at 1:45PM while we were in port. Anyone on a tour missed it if they had wanted to go (we did). Also, more than once, Metro Park was performing in the Solstice Central when the theater let out. This caused a traffic problem as the only route out of the theater on Deck 4 led through the Solstice Central, which was packed with people.
The best "performance" on board is the Hot Glass Show. We went to see it 3 times, as they made different things each time. Kudos to Celebrity for putting this on their ships. Note - at the end of the performances, some of the glass pieces from previous performances are raffled off. They are not allowed to sell them, so they give them away.
In summary, comments elsewhere about the scarcity of entertainment on the Solstice seem to be true, especially in the evening.
Food: What else do we go on a cruise for? First, let me say that the ice cream, real ice cream, in the Oceanview Cafe is truly excellent! They always had several flavors (favorites of mine were the mango-ginger, mango-passion fruit and pina colada). Usually they had a couple of flavors no-sugar-added. They also had soft-serve. Toppings of various types were available.
The Oceanview Cafe, the buffet restaurant on the Solstice, had the usual selections for breakfast and a very good variety for lunches. Didn't try it for dinner. The arrangement is good, avoiding the lines found on other ships. There seemed to be plenty of seating, with seats outside at the stern, if desired. Available drinks were coffee, tea, iced tea, lemonade (very good, especially if mixed with the iced tea), fruit punch, and a guava and passion fruit punch. The coffee seemed to be better than most cruises. Tables were cleaned very quickly.
The Grand Epernay dining room had a simple, elegant dEcor to match the ship. Service, while good, did not measure up to our first Celebrity experience. Not a single pepper mill in sight. The food was good, but limited in selection. Typical selections included perhaps four appetizers, two soups, a couple of salads, and maybe five entrEes. The "everyday" side of the menu included escargots, which were excellent. Lobster night is now down to a half lobster tail in a seafood medley. No seconds on lobster offered. No Baked Alaska parade. Note - don't wait for the last sea day to have breakfast in the Grand Epernay dining room. On that day, they don't open until 10:30AM for brunch.
We did not partake of the specialty restaurants. However, we did peek in a couple of times and noted that there were vacant tables around 8PM. I didn't hear anything bad about them.
Ports & Tours: Grand Cayman - this was the only port where we tendered in. Generally, ships contract with local tenders with larger boats in Grand Cayman. We did the Hell and Turtle Farm tour booked through the ship. There's more to the Turtle Farm than we thought. While the description isn't entirely clear, there is swimming and snorkeling available in a lagoon. We had about an hour and a half on our own to explore the Farm. Don't miss the shark feeding. They do something different - each shark is fed while being held by the trainer. This is done to get the shark used to humans so they can safely administer needed medications or take blood samples. While waiting for the tender back, we were treated to ice-cold washcloths and ice water or lemonade drinks. Cozumel - the jeep tour to Punta Sur was very interesting, even if it rained. There is a salt lagoon there where you can go kayaking...if you don't mind the 14 and 15 foot salt water crocodiles! Beautiful view from the lighthouse (lots of steps up). Costa Maya - the Native Choice tour of Chacchoben Ruins is a must. Our guide, Veronica, was very knowledgeable in the Mayan history, culture and religion. The group was small, and we got there before the large bus tours. Beautiful area. Excellent mahi-mahi burrito at the restaurant under the large palapa. The shops outside the port area are easily walked to and have better prices. Better yet, get your souvenirs at the shops at Chacchoben where all the money goes to the people there. Roatan - we booked the Gumbalimba Preservation Park tour through the ship. The description given for the tour is misleading. There are things NOT mentioned in the description: while listed as "moderate" activity level, it should specifically mention the cave you have to go through (could be a problem for some people), the numerous steep steps, and the narrow cable-suspended bridge you have to cross (actually, a lot of fun, but some may have a problem with the height). Also, you are NOT allowed to take any bags, backpacks, fanny packs, camera bags, pocketbooks, hats, sunglasses, water bottles and other loose objects. This is because the monkeys you may encounter will try to open and/or steal them. You don't find this out until you get to the park. Then, your choices are to leave your stuff in the open on a table under a palapa or rent a locker. Warning: the lockers have sharp edges. After your tour, you have as much free time as you want until the park closes or the ship leaves. To get back, you take any of the shuttle buses that runs every 20 - 30 minutes or so. There is swimming available at the beach or pool. Lunch is extra. When you return to the port, I would suggest doing your shopping in the area just outside the port. There are some interesting and beautiful hand-made things in the little booths along the street, and the prices are much better than in the shops in the port (example - lovely wooden bowl with lid: outside port $8, inside port $21). The people are friendly and not pushy.
Disembarkation: Passengers were assigned colors and numbers and a waiting area. The process was relatively painless and quick, although the numbers called were running about 10 minutes behind schedule. The line for customs & immigration was relatively short.
Summary: This was a good, but not great, cruise. Somewhat disappointing, considering our first cruise was on Celebrity and that was our "gold" standard. Then again, there have been many changes in the cruise industry over the last nine years. The RCCL influence over Celebrity is evident. All-in-all, I would place Celebrity after Princess and HAL, before RCCL, and well before Carnival. We would travel with Celebrity again, and are presently booked on the Equinox for November.