This is a review of the 7 Day Eastern Caribbean cruise that my partner and I just returned from. This is our 1st trip on a Solstice S-Class Ship. This is also our 18th cruise and 11th on Celebrity. Solstice is a lovely ship and is a work of art from an aesthetic viewpoint though as you read my review, you will see that it is not the most practical ship for passengers. Also, I would have thought after being in service for almost two years many of the organizational bugs would have been worked out, but several remain in comparison to the Millennium M-Class ships.
We drove to Port Everglades and parked at Park N Fly. They are just outside the port and charge less than the garage inside the port and give AAA discount. I suggest booking ahead of time and rates are different for FLL airport passengers vs. cruise ship passengers.
We arrived at the ship 12:30PM, checked our luggage, and were on the ship within 30 minutes. We went through the embarkation process quite swiftly. We were met with Champagne and Mimosas upon entering the ship and found our way to the cabin. The ship is sleek and elegant. We had a 1A balcony cabin (mid-ship) which was spacious and had the extended hump balcony. Suggestion: get a room close to the elevators as we did, since there are only two banks of elevators instead of three and it is a distance if you are at the far ends of the ship.
Unfortunately, the space was not used effectively in the stateroom. Though the bathroom was a nice size and the shower was wonderful with clear glass doors that magnetically close together, storage space was limited as was counter space in the bathroom. They created custom drawers that are approximately 2-3 inches deep so they were worthless; cabinets on the side are nice with plenty of storage for toiletries. We tend to pack a bit on the heavy side and have never had a problem on the M-Class or Century Class ships before. There are only 5 drawers in the room with some nook and cranny storage. The closet is about 1/3 of the size of the M-Class ship closet and are in a bad location next to the enormous sofa which makes it difficult to get in the closet. Ladies: little space available for long dresses or gowns. Additional storage is located over the bed so I had to stand on the bed to get my shirts. Thank goodness my partner is tall. If you are handicapped or have a cane better start practicing to stand on your bed at home before your cruise. Also, you will need to crawl on the floor to get your valuables in or out of the safe. Our two cabin stewards were nice, but problems popped up toward the end of the cruise. On the last night, we first noticed that our ice pitcher was not filled, but this was just the start of problems. We had not received the disembarkation customs documents, a preliminary final bill, ship review form and a hand towel was missing from the bathroom. When we went to inquire what was going on we found out that our primary cabin steward Joseph was ill and Ronnie (Assistant) was already off duty. I checked outside the cabin and found a nice steward taking luggage. He told me what happened and he was just there to remove luggage. I saw all of the preliminary bills laying on a cart in the middle of the hallway and he found my bill in the stack. The rest of the bills remained there. This is part of the organization process I referred to earlier -- that they had little or no back-up procedure if someone gets ill. I ultimately went down to guest services that had a line of 15 people with issues to get the documentation needed to exit the ship (which anyone new to cruising would be unaware of). The food was very good to excellent and service was very good though we were not impressed by the layout of Grand Epernay Restaurant. The restaurant is set up in modern fashion and is visually pretty though I still personally like a more elegant traditional main dining room. The problem is that Celebrity kept the same amount of space for the dining room as they did for the smaller M-Class ships. It was extremely crowded and many tables were set up rectangular in a cafeteria type style. We changed our table to a round table on the lower level the next night. We spoke to some of the officers who said changes were in the works for future ships to allot more space in the MDR. We had a wonderful waiter (can't remember) and Ass't. Waiter Carlos at Table 267, They were an excellent team and were happy to bring you what you want and as much as you want. There is an everyday menu on the left that includes many old favorites that you can have daily and the menu of the day on the right. Ask for the Crème Brule to be heated, as it comes out cold. We had Escargot or Shrimp Cocktail daily; Rack of Lamb, Prime Rib, etc.. was on the menu too. Don't miss out on the French Onion soup. There was something on the menu for everybody -- and best of all, you do not have to pay extra, as you do on some other cruise lines for quality food - kudos goes to Chef Mischa Graafmans. We prefer late seating, as we do not like to rush on vacation though early and anytime dining is available.
We did spend a special evening in the Murano Restaurant and the food was excellent; service was a bit off. Expect to spend 2-3 hours for dinner -- it was wonderful -- that is the type of experience you should pay extra for -- not to just have a regular meal. As appetizers, I had the Escargot Tortellini and my partner had the Goat Cheese SoufflE. For the main course, we both had Surf and Turf. For dessert, we both had the Chocolate soufflE. Our former waiter from the Century (Srdjan) is now the Maitre'D of Murano, but his staff was a bit thin and because it was crowded that night, service was somewhat lacking as we had to flag down servers several times.
The buffets were fairly good and offered quite a nice selection. There were separate areas for Asian Cuisine, Indian, Mexican, Pasta and Deli. Hot Dogs and Burgers are available in the pool area. Pizza has a separate section and is quite good. This was in addition to the regular buffet items. Note: the Asian cuisine and curry dishes were excellent.
The pool and spa areas were well maintained but the pools are smaller than on other M-ships and one pool was totally dedicated to children. They also created a spouting water area for children which could have been put to better use in having larger outdoor pools. Also, the indoor pool (adults only) is small and does not have the Thallostherapy jets and beds as the Millennium class ships which was disappointing. The spa area was nice, but the free sauna in the changing areas was very small. One area with large spaces was the public restrooms. The pool band or at least one gentleman played daily which was nice, but a full band by the pool was not seen daily as in the past (budget cut). We were very happy to again see John, our favorite waiter, in the Martini Bar. The Bar was very nice but placed in an open and noisy area where you could not hear yourself talk. It was not at all intimate. We did not take the drink packages. We felt it was not worth the expense and not in the consumer's best interest unless you are an extremely heavy drinker. There are no specially-priced daily drinks on this ship as on the M-Class ships.
Ports - San Juan - been there; done that - we just took a walk around Old San Juan and hit the casino at the Sheraton. Best Shopping is in St. Maarten - no better prices on liquor, cigarettes, jewelry, perfumes, colognes, etc.. And you can bargain too. St. Thomas - great for snorkeling and shopping as we came in the Havensight dock. We took a catamaran sailboat to Honeymoon Beach in St. John for a half-day of snorkeling and swimming. Highly recommend this excursion.
The Sky Observation lounge is attractive and spacious. Florin did a great job as waiter in the Sky lounge. This venue is being underutilized, however, as they have created a small smoky and warm disco called Quasar downstairs. They need to move the disco up to the Sky in the late evenings. The Management may want to put the Martini Bar where Quasar is now and make it more intimate and a place where you can converse. The theater was very nice and the Cirque de Soliel-type show was excellent. Making many of the shows at 7:00PM before dinner did not suit us, as we prefer shows after dinner rather than to rush. Don't miss the Hot Glass Blowing Show as it was excellent. The Lawn was nice to look at, but again not very practical.
Casino was nice to play, but very tough to win. Most table games have been raised to $10 from $5 which deterred some players including me. The slots were tight except for one night toward the end of the week.
Paul Baya, the Cruise Director, did a nice job but was more of a repressed singer than cruise director. Jonette the Captain's Club hostess was always very visible and helpful. She assisted us in many different ways. Captain Yannis Berdos, was very personable and friendly. We had 92 wonderful people in our Cruise Critic group. No one from the Entertainment staff contacted us even though we had such a large group in contrast to Millennium in which the Entertainment staff set up several ship tours for cruise critic members. My partner and I coordinated a pub and cabin crawl with trophies and a slot pull (which was a big hit) even though participants lost their $3 investment. Everyone we met (too many people to mention - but you know who you are -including Boo Boo Kitty) in the group was so nice and made the cruise. We hope to see everyone again on a future cruise.
We are now Elite members of Captain's Club and the benefits were great. We loved the 4-6 PM cocktail hour. Though we did have late dinner, we entered the Sky lounge with nice clean dress shorts and polo or Tommy Bahama shirts and that was fine. The free 90 minutes of internet was great, as was the laundry service. Some of our Cruise Critic friends were also part of this Captain's Club group and had a wonderful time together.
Though things were a bit bumpy on this cruise, we are always sad to leave -- when we are on Celebrity it is like being at home with food, service (most of the time) and all of the little extras the staff do to make your vacation a success. Disembarkation and customs was a bit harried. It took about half hour to forty five minutes to get out of the luggage and customs area. We felt bad for the porter as he stuck with us the whole time, but we took care of him. You cannot compare the quality and service received on Celebrity to the other mass market cruise lines. This ship is clearly more for adults 40-70; though many children/teens were aboard and all appeared to be happy. We are ready for our next cruise -- on Celebrity whenever possible, but I think we will stick to the M-Class or Century Class Celebrity ships in the future.