My FH and I were looking for a relaxing getaway before our upcoming wedding. We are in our late 20's, no kids. This was FH our 2nd cruise together - the first being Royal Caribbean's Enchantment. I had also sailed RCI's Liberty of the Seas with my sister.
We were able to find cheap flights on a WestJet sale from Toronto to Miami. The total for both of us was $570 for direct flights (watch for those Wednesday sales). Upon arrival, we picked up our vehicle at Alamo. I highly recommend using Priceline for car reservations - approximately 1 week before departure; I successfully won our pre and post car rentals for $30 each.
After a shopping day at Sawgrass Mills, we decided to stay in Fort Lauderdale, at the Hyatt North. The hotel is in a good location, with a pharmacy, restaurants (we had Moe's) and wine store within walking distance. It also offers free shuttles from the airport to the Port Everglades, as well as breakfast the next morning. A note about the Hyatt shuttle: make sure you sign-up ASAP, as spots fill up quickly.
We arrived at the port at around 11:00am. Check-in process was extremely smooth. The Celebrity gates were very well organized, with greeters directing the flow of people. The porters were not overly aggressive and we received our Seapasses within minutes. After a wait in the lounge area, we were allowed onboard by 11:30.
FH and I were greeted with welcome aboard champagne! The first thing we did was explore the ship and then had lunch at the Oceanview Cafe, the main buffet on Deck 14. The buffet selection was impressive (included Mexican cuisine, Pizzeria, Asian cuisine) and the space is very well organized with lots of room to move from station to station. As we were finishing our lunch, we received an announcement that our staterooms were ready (~ 1:30pm).
Our room was 6263, a category 2C (obstructed balcony right above the lifeboats). The lifeboats really did not bother us, as it only hindered your view if you looked down directly. The Celebrity stateroom was very spacious and modern, especially the bathroom, which had lots of cabinets and an oversized shower with glass doors. The non-smoking policy on Celebrity is another bonus. We quickly made friends with our neighbours, Danni and Steve. The room also had an umbrella, bath robes, and flat screen TV which allowed you to view all cabin charges, pictures with ship photographers, and ordering room service.
Upon arrival, our cruise critic roll call party, shipboard credit, and restaurant reservations were all in the room.
Luggage on embarkation day arrived shortly after the Muster drill.
Our cabin steward was Haliasas, who did a great job! He quickly followed up with any of our requests (new wine glasses for us every night). Chocolates and the 'Celebrity Today' were provided nightly, following dinner. No towel animals but we really didn't miss them.
Dining Room (Grand Epernay) - Breakfast
The menu in the dining room was the same throughout the week. My favourite was the Greek Frittata Omelette. I found the portion sizes just perfect. FH and I loved the bacon, it was done perfectly!
The service again was phenomenol. After being seated, waiters would immediately ask if we wanted coffee, juice, or a pastry. There was never a wait and our requests were taken care of immediately (i.e., ketchup).
Dining Room (Grand Epernay) - Lunch
As expected, the service was fantastic. FH ordered the tuna melt with fries and I had an arugula/beet salad with southern chicken. We were too stuffed for dessert but there was a delicious assortment.
Dining Room (Grand Epernay) - Dinner
We chose the late dinner seating at 8:30pm and were assigned to the upper level. We were seated at a table for eight, with dinner mates all in their 20's and 30's. We looked forward to dinner because we had great conversations and laughs with the 3 other couples.
Our waiter was Jesus from Indonesia. The dinner service was again, excellent. We really enjoyed the menus at dinner. Standouts included the chilean sea bass, lamb, and all of the steak dishes. Desserts were all impressive and usually came in large portions. Lobsters were big on formal night, and came along with delicious shrimp and scallops.
We ate at Silk Harvest on Wednesday evening and thought the dinner was great. The restaurant focuses on sharing small plates so we ordered an assortment of dishes to share. For appetizers, we got spring rolls, crab rangoon and thai lettuce wraps. For the main course, we shared the red duck curry, general tsao chicken, and shrimp pad thai. All of the dishes were extremely flavourful and fresh. There were a lot of choices for dessert, but since we were stuffed we ordered the 4 flavours of ice cream: Green Tea, Mocha, Strawberry, and Vanilla. No complaints with this meal - we thought it was worth $25pp.
We're not huge buffet people but we did have a breakfast and a few lunches here. Overall, there was a good selection. FH really liked the pizza and one day during breakfast, I thought the Omelette station did a great job. Drink stations were easily accessible for water, lemonade, ice tea and coffee.
After 3:30pm, only half the buffet remained open, so the options for food included the salad bar, pizza, pasta bar, and desserts.
The best part about the buffet was the Ice Cream Bar. At all hours, you could get soft serve or hard ice cream in an assortment of flavours. Toppings included M&M's (with peanuts), reese's pieces, and gummi bears. The two staff behind the ice cream bar were fast, especially with long line-ups at Sea Days. Past cruises have always allowed passengers to get their own ice cream but this can get pretty messy so I'm glad they had staff to serve everyone.
Food Around the Ship
AquaSpa Cafe - We discovered this small restaurant in the Solarium on the 2nd last sea day. FH and I were quite impressed with the selection, as the theme was 'health alternatives.' There was an assortment of ahi tuna and smoked salmon sandwiches, along with a salad bar and fruits soaked in various herbs. This was a great spot for people who wanted to stay on Deck 14 and to grab a quick bite to eat.
Gelataria - It was an extra $3 for the gelato but well worth it. We highly recommend the almond and mocha flavours!
We ordered room service only once. It was nice that we could get hot items for breakfast, so we had eggs, bacon, pastries and fruit. The process was really easy - orders had to be placed on the TV screen before midnight and they call once the breakfast is on its way. Watching the waves go by on the balcony while having a morning coffee was super relaxing!
Ports of Call
San Juan, Puerto Rico
We booked the Segway tour in San Juan. Apparently, when Celebrity is in port, you have to reserve a spot through the ship excursions, as they won't accept private bookings. So, we met in the Solstice Theatre and they called our group within 20 minutes. FH and I were glad that the size of the group was only 10.
We walked to the Segway office and met our tour guides. After, watching the safety video, each person was given a 10 minute tutorial on how to use the segways. The group was then divided even further into 6 and 4. Our tour guide was excellent!! Lori took pictures for us and was very knowledgeable We stopped at several historical locations while making our way to the Del Morro fort. Since we booked the 2:30pm tour, it included entrance into the fort.
We highly recommend this tour because riding the segways was so much fun!!! It's 2 hours in length on the segway, not including the training time. Afterwards, we walked around old San Juan and had some beers at the Old Harbour Brewery. The Marshall's and Coach Outlet weren't that different from our stores.
For our 2nd port of call, we booked a semi-private sailing trip with Rumbaba tours. Captain Bobby provided us the other party's information and we were happy to meet Greg, his wife, Kathy and their 2 sons. The six of us got a cab to the American Yacht Club at Red Hook Ferry terminal. We met Bobby and his assistant, Lori, who shared her homemade banana bread with us, and we were sailing at 9:15am.
The waves were very high (almost 5 feet tall) so the sail was quite rough. Captain Bobby gave us a tour and pointed out several hot spots to us (like Johnny' Depp's Island). About an hour late we arrived at Christmas Cove, where the water was extremely calm. The water was gorgeous and we saw a mini stingray, puffer fish, angle fish, and the best part, a barracuda, who's name was Barry and visits Captain Bobby's sailboat frequently. After an hour and a half of snorkeling, we were back on the boat enjoying appetizers and drinks.
Captain Bobby asks his guests to request their lunch ahead of time, so we ordered Mahi Mahi and Ahi Tuna. The lunch was amazing!! Very fresh and delicious. While eating, we sailed to a 2nd location. Again, the snorkeling here was gorgeous. The sail on the way home was only 30 minutes and were back at the ferry terminal by 4:00pm. We walked around the St.Thomas shops for a bit before boarding the ship. The cost of the day was $125 per person and well worth it.
This was our favourite port of call. Our CC Roll Call had reserved 15 spots with Bernard's Tour.
We met Bernard and his other guides at the Tourist Information office. Our van had 11 people and we were happy to have Bernard as our guide. He was funny and informative! FH enjoyed sitting in the front, being the "bar tender" and passing out beer, pop, and home-made rum punch to the group. We stopped at a rocky beach to see the sea urchins and shells. Afterwards, we went to Orient Beach - one of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever seen. We had about 2 hours there and you could rent beach chairs for 2 people for $15, which included drinks.
Our next stop was Marigold, the French open markets (30 minutes there) and then onto Maho beach, where we got to see a small plane land and a big one take off.
Finally, Bernard dropped us off downtown Phillipsburg since our group wanted to shop. From there, it was a 10 minute walk back to the ship. The cost of the tour was $35 pp and worth every penny.
Solstice Theatre - We saw the Welcome Aboard show, Ghostlight, and Solstice - the Show. I thought the shows were OK. The best one was Solstice - the Show, because it was similar to Cirque du Soleil. I also really enjoyed the Illusionist and the Xylo-Synth musician.
For the late seat dining, all of our shows were schedule for 7:00pm. We thought this was odd but Paul, the Cruise Director, explained that they wanted to offer more options. We found this to be true - after dinner, there was always a theme night party (60's, 70's, 80's).
Celebrity Central - There was only one Comedian onboard, Rich Ceisler, who performed 4 nights on the Solstice with the same act. It started at 12:00pm and since Celebrity Central only holds 200 people, seats fill up quite quickly.
Quasar - This was considered the dance club. We popped in only once and there were several people on the dance floor. We heard that the music offered was a good variety.
We used the gym 3 times during the week. The first day it was packed but the fitness personnel did a good job of monitoring people for their 30 minute time limit. After the first day, there was never a wait for any machines.
All of the equipment was brand new and the machines were plentiful. Towels and water were provided.
Pools, Hot Tubs, Water Slides, Deck Spaces
There was one main pool on Deck 14 with a splash pad area and 2 hot tubs. This was where the main band, Sypra, played. We enjoyed lounging in the Solarium.
What's nice about the Solstice is the lack of check-in process for towels, as such on Royal Caribbean. Your sea pass card is not required to obtain a towel. There are just towel racks where you can help yourself. Also, all of the loungers in the main pool and Solarium had were padded for extra comfort.
FH tried his luck on the Blackjack tables and I played the slots. It was a nice casino and a good size. Some people commented that the casino was too small; however, I enjoyed that there was no smoking.
CC Roll Call
Our roll call party was scheduled for the first sea day, where Paul, cruise director and the Food & Beverage Manager arrived. Host Andy also facilitated the discussion. There was about 30 people and coffee/desserts were provided. It was odd that it was scheduled at 10:45am. A lot of questions were asked and we were impressed when Paul recognized us alter in the week.
End of the Cruise
Debarkation was extremely smooth and quick. We were scheduled to leave at 8:20am and they were right on time.
We exited the ship and saw our luggage immediately. There was about a 5 minute wait in the customs line. We waited 15 minutes for the car shuttle service to the airport. After arriving, there was an extremely long wait to pick up our Alamo car rental.
We drove back to Fort Lauderdale for our 2:30pm flight back to Toronto.
We really enjoyed our cruise on the Celebrity Solstice and would sail with Celebrity again. The layout of the ship was great, lots of elevators and stairs everywhere. Some people found the jogging track to be too narrow on the top deck. I think with any cruise it would be difficult to jog on the track, due to the volume so this did not bother us.
We met great people, enjoyed all of the Ports, and I think we're hooked on the balcony rooms.
Will we be back? Definitely! Celebrity is really one notch above. From the service to the ship's layout/decor, it's all very impressive. I would also go back to Royal Caribbean though, as I think you can't go wrong with either cruise line.