EMBARKATION: The check-in process was smooth and speedy. We arrived at the terminal about noon and were aboard the ship within 30 minutes.
CABIN: Our balcony cabin on the hump of the 7th deck was spacious, clean and comfortable. Storage space in the bathroom was generous, and two empty suitcases easily fit under the bed. The balcony was a slightly irregular shape, but larger than most and completely out of view of other cabins.
STATEROOM ATTENDANT: Efficient and unobtrusive. We didn't have any special requests, but he kept the cabin clean and ice bucket filled throughout the cruise.
MAIN DINING ROOM: SERVICE: We chose traditional dining and early seating at a table for 6. Our tablemates were well-mannered and fun-loving, and we enjoyed lively conversations every night. Our round table was in an ideal location, between the wine tower and the Captain's Table. Our waiter was efficient, but not very personable and made little attempt to interact with us. However, the Assistant Waiter couldn't have been more charming; and her service and smile greatly enhanced the dining experience.
FOOD: After reading several reviews about limited choices of mediocre entrees, we were pleasantly surprised by the menu. We looked forward to dinner every evening; and although we preferred some entrees over others, everything was tasty and beautifully presented. By the end of the meal, we were usually too full for heavy desserts so we appreciated the selections of ice cream and low-fat sorbets. The cherry brandy ice cream was my favorite, with the pina colada sherbet coming in a close second.
CASUAL DINING: OCEANVIEW CAFE: Although the same dishes showed up in the buffet nearly everyday, there were enough choices that we didn't get bored. Light snacks were served until 1:30 am, but we were disappointed that the ice cream counter was usually closed in the late evening. Just one more scoop would have been the perfect ending to a perfect day! AQUASPA CAFE: I don't think many people are aware that this cafe, right outside the spa on the 12th deck, is open for lunch on embarkation day. It's a quiet location, and the food is light and delicious.
CAFE AL BACIO: I had the same frozen white mocha latte everyday, so I can't speak for any of the other specialty coffees, but that one was perfectly made. And any day is off to a good start with a couple of those yummy chocolate croissants.
SPECIALTY RESTAURANT: We celebrated our anniversary with dinner in the Tuscan Grille, and the meal was excellent; but I must say service was actually more polished in the MDR. Our salads were served promptly, but we waited at least 10 minutes for someone to bring the dressing. We had to ask repeatedly for our water glasses to be refilled, and our dessert order was wrong. It was early in the evening and the restaurant wasn't full; and considering the $60 service fee, I expected perfection.
CRUISE CRITIC CONNECTIONS: The party was held the morning of the first sea day and was very well attended; in fact, the CD said it was the largest group they've ever had aboard the Solstice. CAPTAIN'S CLUB AMENITIES: ELITE LOUNGE: Elite members were invited to a private cocktail party in the Sky Lounge from 4:00 until 6:00 nearly every evening. I had heard the reason the party is scheduled so early is because it's usually held in Michael's and there's another event in that venue starting at 7:00. However, it seems there are enough elite members on nearly every cruise to warrant using the Sky Lounge, so I don't understand why the party couldn't be held a little later. Even 5:00-7:00 would be more convenient, especially for 2nd sitting diners. Nonetheless the drinks were generous, the passed canapEs were very good, and we appreciated Celebrity's acknowledgement of our loyalty. Captain's Club Hostess Jonette was always eager to assist, and she left phone messages in our cabin everyday reminding us of special events for elite members.
OTHER CAPTAIN'S CLUB ACTIVITIES: We attended the wine-tasting but didn't make it to the tea or afternoon party on Friday. We appreciated the coupons for 90 minutes free internet service, but didn't have occasion to use any of the other discounts.
FELLOW PASSENGERS: The overall atmosphere on the ship was upbeat and positive, and we witnessed few violations of rules and heard very few complaints from other passengers. Generally it was a good-natured and well-behaved crowd. The vast majority of passengers were from the U.S.; but there was also a significant number of Canadians aboard, along with a smattering of Europeans and South Americans. While the average age was 50+, we saw quite a few 20-somethings around the pool.
CRUISE DIRECTOR & ACTIVITIES: We enjoyed seeing the Cruise Director around the ship talking to passengers and participating in activities. It was also interesting to meet some of the other officers at the Captain's Club parties, and we enjoyed hearing about their roles aboard the ship. I found the pace to be perfect—always something going on if you wanted to be involved, but not so much that you felt you were missing something if you preferred to relax.
CASINO: It was a winning decision to make the casino non-smoking, and we would have been even happier if we'd left as winners, too!
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed each of the production shows, but the cirque du soleil-style performance was one of the best we've ever seen. The aerial acts would have been amazing on land, and on sea they were incredible. On the other nights headliner shows featured the predictable comic juggler and impressionist that seem to be a requisite part of every cruise. A talented vocal quartet made brief appearances around the ship, and we particularly enjoyed the variety of live music in bars and lounges. And the bartenders at the Martini Ice Bar are as entertaining as some of the actual shows.
ENRICHMENT PROGRAMS: I can just imagine the looks around the conference table when someone first suggested adding a hot glass show to a ship...and using nearly half a deck for the museum and equipment! Over the laughter someone probably added, "Oh yeah, and then let's make the rest of the deck into a lawn..." As silly as it sounds, those two novel ideas were what made the Solstice our favorite ship out of 30 cruises. Every show and every piece the artists created was as unique as it was entertaining. And how many times can you honestly say one of the best parts of your vacation was "sitting around watching grass grow!"
ITINERARY: On the days leading up to the cruise, our roll call thread was filled with worried comments about how hurricanes might impact our itinerary and weather. We've visited each of the ports—San Juan, St. Thomas and St. Maarten—multiple times, so whether we got to them or not didn't really matter to us, but some had their hearts set on visiting specific islands. Incredibly the skies cleared just hours before we got underway and, except for brief thunderstorms in San Juan, the sun was out and the seas were calm the entire voyage.
SHORE EXCURION: We've come to think of ship-sponsored shore excursions as "hit or miss," but the St. John Island Tour was a definite hit. Although nearly everyone on the ports of call board recommends taking a cab to Red Hook and the ferry to St. John on your own, we were intrigued by a shore excursion that includes transportation on a private boat directly from the pier to Cruz Bay. A large double-deck air conditioned boat meets passengers right at the pier where the ship is docked and takes them on a pleasant 40-minute narrated cruise directly to St. John. When we arrived on the island, a charming man who is a lifelong native of St. John, was waiting to show us around the island on a safari bus. We stopped at several scenic overlooks for breathtaking views of Trunk Bay and Honeymoon Cove, a visit to an original sugar mill, and a local convenience store/snack bar. The driver's knowledge of the culture and history of the island enhanced the tour and made for a trip we won't soon forget.
DEBARKATION: Couldn't have been easier. Because we were on a 10:00 flight, we decided to carry our own bags off the ship. This was our first experience with "express debarkation," and we'll never do it any other way. We were off the ship, through customs, and in a cab on the way to the airport at 7:35. We normally don't book a return flight before noon, and the 10:00 departure made DH quite nervous. As we pulled up to the terminal at 7:45, I said that was such a breeze that next time I think I'll book the 8:50 flight! Not really...neither of us needs any more grey hair.
NEXT TIME: On the last day, DH and I were both sad to say goodbye to that beautiful ship. So can you keep a secret? While he was packing, I snuck down to the Future Sales office and booked his Christmas gift...an 11-night cruise on the Equinox!