Let me start with a little background. My dad (71) and me (29) go on a holiday every single year. The last couple of years we have been on various cruises and I hope we can keep doing that for the next 30 years although my dad doubts if that will happen. ? We are experienced travellers. We live near Amsterdam in the Netherlands. We have also cruised with Royal Clipper (beautiful ship, luxurious suites but unfortunately inedible food on our voyage), Oceania (nice ships, smallish but well appointed suites, friendly service and fabulous food). I have also sailed on Carnival with my girlfriend (just good value for money). This was our first time on Celebrity. Although there is no real comparison between Oceania and Celebrity size wise, they do both seem to offer a high end cruise experience for somewhat more affordable prices that the 'real' premium liners. The price for our Celebrity Suite on Celebrity Solstice was roughly the same as for a Penthouse Suite on Oceania sailing during the same period. I did find that Oceania offers a more personal and much more luxurious experience, but our Celebrity Suite on the Solstice was more beautiful, spacious, had a great lay out with a separate bedroom and had better amenities. Since the Solstice is so much bigger than the ships of Oceania, Celebrity does offer far more options, entertainment, bars and restaurants. The food in the speciality restaurants on Celebrity was as good as the ones on Oceania and the quality of the food in the main dining room was even better on Celebrity. The dEcor, atmosphere and especially the food quality of the Ocean View Cafe on the Solstice was unfortunately not comparable to that of Oceania. We were greatly disappointed with this venue on board. For now I will stop the comparison and just tell you about our trip.
Pre cruise documents
I was a little surprised that our cruise documents just were emailed. No booklet, nothing personal, no luggage tags just a conformation email telling me to print everything and fill in all necessary information online. That wasn't personal nor did make us feel very special. We did like the options to book the speciality restaurants on-line.
Since we live in the Netherlands we flew in to Miami via London 2 days before the cruise. We were in the middle of yet again a BA strike, which forced us to spend 2 days in Fort Lauderdale instead of 1. I got a great deal on a hotel and we stayed at the Ritz Carlton Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale. This is a beautiful hotel and the fantastic rooms pleasantly surprised us. This hotel has the WOW factor. I can highly recommend staying here.
On embarkation day we took a cab to the pier and were amazed by the quick check-in. We were cleared and on the ship within 40 minutes. We came in through the forward entrance and not in the main lobby. Although it went really fast it doesn't give you a nice impression like walking in the main lobby. We went up to the Ocean View Cafe and that gave us quite a shock. It was overcrowded with dirty plates everywhere, it was slippery, people were forced to eat while standing and it was extremely hot. Although the food variety was fantastic the quality was that of a cheap NYC or Vegas all you can eat buffet where they keep the food warm for hours. I feared for the worst about our all-new Celebrity experience but quickly found out that there were also many positive things.
When we were aloud to go to our cabins we went out to see our suite. We stayed in CS 1615 and it has an even larger balcony do to its location just behind the 'hump'. The cabin itself was very nice indeed. We were impressed by the quality and use of materials. The room attendants had forgotten to separate the beds and the entertainment system wasn't working properly but after our butler introduced himself he quickly made sure that everything was taken care off. The beds were reasonably comfortable, the bathroom nice although smaller than expected with two doors, one from the seating area and one from the bedroom there was also a nice size walk-in closet.
The seating area had a couch; there was fresh fruit, a bottle of sparkling wine (no real champagne) and some cruise information. On the balcony we had a table with to chairs and one very comfortable padded chaise. There was more than enough room for two of those but unfortunately they provided only one. The afternoon canapEs aren't very tasty. Our butler was friendly but nothing special. He brought our breakfast every day and that was good. The room was kept clean and the fruit replaced every day.
This was the most disorganised drill I have ever experienced. Our designated location was the Murano restaurant. It was overcrowded. People where directed to corners where there was just not enough room. People got irritated because they couldn't sit or stand. There was only one screen that showed a presentation. Do to the lay-out of the restaurant most people couldn't see the screen from their location. Some passengers were sitting on the floor playing with their Ipad or listing to music during the entire process. It doesn't seem to be an improvement over the 'old school' method. It goes faster, it's clear for everybody and is much more efficient.
We liked the modern and contemporary feel of the public areas. Some were very nice like the boutiques; Michael's club, the lawn club and the art galleries. Some lacked just a good atmosphere like the Martini Bar (to white), Observation Lounge (to clean looking and empty most of the time) and did I mention the Ocean View Cafe. ?
The entrance to the ensemble lounge which you have to pass to get to the speciality restaurants is so dark that people were using flashlights to make sure they didn't fall or bumped in to somebody else. I understand that everything looks nicer when the lights are a little dimmed but this was just way to dark. The bartenders did a great job making delicious cocktails and the crew throughout the vessel were friendly.
We choose select dining and liked the quality of the food in the main restaurant although service was rushed. The fist night we were in and out of the restaurant in less than 40 minutes. That's just to fast for a 4 or 5-course meal.
We really liked all the speciality restaurants.
Murano, although the name is Italian, serves French cuisine in a beautiful atmosphere. They prepare dishes tableside and the quality is excellent. Service is also very good and personal without going over the top.
Tuscan Grill serves a variety of nicely prepared dishes. Quality of the meat was excellent. Try the fish soup it very tasty. Service and atmosphere were also really good.
Silk Harvest offers great sushi and other very tasty Asian inspired cuisine. The have nice sake and special beers. All in all a very good dining experience.
Ocean view cafe like I said we didn't like this venue at all. Great variety of food stations but it lacked quality, it didn't look tempting and the restaurant itself just gives a cheap feel even with the great views.
The pools were to crowded on sea days. We enjoyed the Adults Only solarium and the food there is really good.
Music and the theatre shows all were pretty good. Don't miss the glass blowing show. The guys are really good at their jobs and do a great job entertaining everybody.
Ports of Call
Just very busy with 4 other ships tendering people. Nice for shopping or a quick visit to the beach but nothing spectacular.
We drove around the island in a rented jeep. It's fun and nice for the sea views and white beaches.
This didn't impress us at all. It felt like a big mall just designed for cruise passengers. It probably is.
Beautiful island that is still very natural and pure. We took a taxi that drove us around the island. The views are fantastic and the people all were very friendly. I hope this doesn't get to be the new cruise ship hangout and that they can keep it as picturesque as it is now.
Now for the really ugly part of this review. My father had wheelchair assistance to get off the ship. We were in the Ensemble lounge at the requested time. An announcement was made there was a power failure in the terminal building and that we could not disembark. We than waited for more than 1,5 hours until the announcement was made that the first group of people could get off the ship. People who needed assistance were also moved out. My father was with the second group and then it all went wrong. A superior called Valetta came along shouting to our assistant and told him, no ordered him to stop. He could not bring us down and he had to wait for her approval before preceding any further. She didn't give any explanation and disappeared. We stood there in the middle of the art gallery for over 20 minutes. Other people in wheelchairs came along and they could pass since the supervisor wasn't there anymore. I tried talking to several people and finally somebody higher in rank told us there was no need for us to wait. So the guy who assisted my dad was happy to bring us down. After a few meters Valetta came running towards us. She started shouting again and we were stopped just a few steps from our previous position. I tried to talk to her but she was now busy shouting to other people in the same line and other assistants helping people in wheelchairs. She got in to several heated arguments with various passengers including me. After a few minutes the higher-ranking crewmember passed by telling all of us we had to get off the ship now. They had to clean the ship and new passengers were already waiting. We proceeded to the exit. Once inside the terminal building the situation deteriorated. There was almost no lighting in the terminal building, the a/c wasn't working and there were hundreds of people waiting in lines. There were only 6 immigration officers handling the 2800 passengers getting off the ship. From these 6 officers 5 were directed to US Citizens and only one for Non US Citizens. The lines were roughly the same length and it was extremely hot. I saw a girl who fainted and a woman who had to throw up. The process took hours and hours causing most people to miss their flights. Celebrity representatives were present in the terminal but were not helpful or friendly. They did not provide us with water, even when requested by people who got sick. Passengers who tried to talk with them or ask them for water or a towel were just ignored or told they could not do anything for us. I tried it myself but without any luck. Instead of getting of the ship and in a cab at around 08:30 it was almost 14:00 before we finally left the building. I do understand that a power failure can happen and that immigration officials aren't working for Celebrity so that we had bad luck. I don't understand that there was no generator or back-up system. The fact that Celebrity employees ignoring basic needs like water for people who were forced to stand in lines for hours is just unacceptable.