CELEBRITY SOLSTICE Western Caribbean Cruise August 1-8, 2010 By Mary & Vincent Finelli
Last January we cruised on the Solstice with Capt. Dimitrios Kafetzis and had a memorable cruise. We booked the Solstice again in order to experience the new Aqua Class cruising. Since we published a review on the Solstice in January, we will refer readers to that review on this web site for a deck-by-deck description of this gorgeous ship and focus this review on the delights of cruising in Aqua Class. We had a warm welcome aboard and the week proved to be equally enjoyable.
EMBARKATION On Sunday morning, with light traffic on I-95, it took us less than half an hour to travel from our home in Boca Raton to the ship in Ft. Lauderdale, where the embarkation process was so smooth that we were on board in 15 minutes. Alas, the staterooms were not yet ready, so we proceeded to the Ocean View Cafe` for lunch. At 1:00 pm, while we were eating, the announcement was made that our cabins were ready.
SHIP OVERVIEW Under the supervision of Hotel Director Sue Richardson, the ship is kept in excellent condition: Solstice is less than two years old and looks just as new and sparkling as the day she left the Meyer Werft shipyard - just celestial as she was on our first cruise.
The Solstice (2008) is the first of a class, the ship's dimension are 122,000 gross tons; 1,033 ft. long; beam is 121 ft. and a draft of only 27 ft. Celebrity's next two ships in this class are the Equinox (2009) and the Eclipse (2010), in cookie cutter fashion, and the Silhouette (2011) is in the works. Guest capacity is 2,850 and her crew numbers 1,200.
There are 130 staterooms in the Aqua Class which are identical to the deluxe ocean view cabins with veranda (194 sq. ft. with an 54 sq. ft. veranda and 299 sq. ft. with 80 sq. ft. veranda for the wheelchair accessible cabins). Some of the features in the Aqua Class cabin are queen size beds, 32"LCD TV, wireless internet access and a table with two reclining chairs on the balcony. Special amenities in these rooms include the following: Complimentary dining in the Blu Restaurant (clean cuisine, spa style food); upgraded bathroom amenities; plush robes and slippers; oversized towels and contour pillows; sound and aromatics for relaxing: complimentary Italian Spring Water; Carafes of infused teas daily; daily canapes; available full breakfast in room service; daily breakfast in the Blu restaurant from 7 to 9 am and finally Concierge Services! Waiting in our stateroom were a bottle of French Brut Champagne, chilling in an ice bucket, and fresh flowers.
SERVICE & FOOD Service on board any vessel takes its cue from the Captain and Dimitrios is a friendly and outgoing Greek! All week we had marvelous service and were aware that he made passenger and crew safety a priority on the ship.
Aqua Class is aimed toward a healthy life style and dining in Blu was always interesting. For years we have been grumbling that ship portions were always too large --- Blu has achieved perfection in portion sizes. We always felt satisfied after dining, but not bloated. The dEcor of Blu is lovely: windows to the sea provide a terrific backdrop, overhead a gorgeous chandelier, in crystal and cobalt blue, evokes thoughts of Santorini and the Greek Isles. The chargers and plates were uniquely shaped and in whites glass and cobalt blue as were the water tumblers. The whole effect is understated beauty.
We asked the Maitre d' Dariusz Chowaniec if we could have the same waiters each evening -- Wilmer Castillo and Santos Ramirez because they were so wonderful. They were prompt and remembered all our likes (i.e., lemon wedges for Mary). We had an excellent sommelier, appropriately named Napa, and every evening assistant Maitre d' Marjan welcomed us. Dinner at Blu Restaurant was always a pleasant and relaxing event.
Appetizers: Seafood ceviche, empanadas, baked goat's cheese, soft shelled crabs, beef carpaccio, lump crab martini, etc.
Soups: Chilled sweet pea with crab and toasted almonds, tortilla soup, spicy roasted plantain and corn soup, etc. Salads: Endive, Blu Caesar salad, Boston bibb and arugula, Shaved fennel and blood orange emulsion, etc.
Entrees: Broiled Atlantic salmon, roasted chicken breast, NY strip, braised lamb shank with couscous and glazed carrots, etc.
Desserts were tiny and light and included crème brulee, a variety of fresh sorbets like mangoes and ginger, etc. Many desserts were mysterious and surprising.
We also highly recommend the upscale Tuscan Grill restaurant, where we ate and were very happy with the gorgeous veal chop and the delightful ginger snap tulip cup filled with wild berries and mascarpone cream for dessert. Vincent noted that wherever he ordered meat entrees (fillet Mignon, New York strip, veal chop or prime rib) from the Grand Epernay to the Tuscan Grill and the Ocean View Cafe`, they were the best at sea.
Perhaps our loveliest meal was with Captain Dimitrios on the first formal night in the Grand Epernay dining room. He is a wonderful story teller and he regaled the table with parenthood tales. The very democratic captain used the dining room menu as his table menu. Excellent! Yet, we did notice a difference between this cuisine under Executive Chef Mischa Graafman and that of Executive Chef Mikael Tochetto on our last Solstice cruise. Chef Tochetto used a superb mix of French and Italian cuisine, while Chef Graafman's cuisine has overtones of Holland America and Indonesian spices. As the Latin maxim says: "De gustibus non est disputandum (no disputing about taste)". We met many officers who were always courteous and friendly, especially the Food and Beverage Manager Michael Bramlett, who was everywhere and his work was evident.
CABIN Wheelchair accessible cabin #1538 is spacious and just like the one we described in the January Solstice review. The nicest thing about it is the automatic door opener and the huge bathroom. Mary had a fall in the bathroom and four stewards including John our steward and Roman and two others plus Medical Assistant Alistair all rushed to help and still the bathroom was not crowded. Alistair took us to the Hospital Facility on Deck 2 where Dr. Cosmopoulos(?) was wonderful and caring; he took x-rays and wrapped the knee. All gratis! The facility and the Doctor were terrific.
ENTERTAINMENT Cruise Director Paul Baya has an excellent voice. He did a rousing rendition of "Stand by Me" at the Elite Cocktail Party. We especially enjoyed the Sipra Band and the two girl singers: Janisa and Maricel, and the male vocalist Bryan Allan. The Tony Viviano Quartet in the Ensemble Lounge did a lovely job on our favorite "Green Sleeves". The Solstice singers and dancers produced peppy shows and the Solstice Band provided excellent entertainment.
There is plenty to do on board and even educational courses, one can play Bocce on the lawn on Deck 15. Get out there!
PORTS OF CALL Day 1: Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale FL Depart: 4:30pm. Day 2: At Sea. Day 3: Georgetown, Grand Cayman Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 4:00pm Day 4: Cozumel, Mexico Arrive: 9:00am Depart: 6:00pm Day 5: Costa Maya, Mexico Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 6:00pm Day 6: Roatan, Honduras Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 5:00pm Day 7: At Sea. Day 8: Port Everglades, Ft. Lauderdale, FL Arrive 7:00am.
DEBARKATION The debarkation process went very smoothly. After our breakfast in the restaurant Blu, we returned to our cabin and waited for a crew member that the Associate Hotel Director Sheldon Thompson had arranged to help us. We are both disabled and need assistance, even though Mary has a motorized wheelchair and Vincent has a scooter, we also use a walker for short distances. This time Vincent's scooter broke down on one of the ramps exiting the ship and, fortunately, the attendant that was accompanying us helped to bring the scooter down. Thanks again to the crew for being always helpful and courteous. By 10 am we were back home in Boca Raton.
CONCLUSION Even though we have done many Caribbean cruises, this was our first done in August. We usually prefer to cruise the Caribbean during the fall and winter months, when the chances for tropical storms and tempestuous seas are low, but to our surprise the weather this time was great. Vincent enjoyed the view from our starboard balcony, especially the colorful sunsets and the sighting of Venus, as bright as ever, during the evening in the western skies. The only evidence of storms during this trip were the lightning seen from our balcony in the distant cloudy horizon, so distant that no thundering sound followed the flash of lightning. Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis must have kept us away from the storms. We had the pleasure of seeing again this friendly captain who remembered us from the previous cruise and invited us for dinner at the Captain's table. Thank you, Captain!
We are getting ready for another cruise on Emerald Princess, Aug. 15th, only a week away, then on Liberty of the Seas, Sept. 6th, on Norwegian Epic, Oct. 2nd and on Crown Princess, Nov. 6th. We have not booked one for December yet. Happy Cruising!