As a bit of background, My wife and I are in our mid 40's. We have a soon to be 6 year old. My mother joined us, along with my sister/brother in-law and their two sons (7 and 11). My 11 year old nephew is significantly disabled (brain tumor survivor). My mother and father have done 5 round the world cruises with Holland, along with many other cruises all over the globe. My sister has also cruised many times. In short, we are a cruise lovin' family. All of us thought this ship was simply wonderful.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale on the 16th and had $80 rooms (through Priceline) at the Westin Ft. Lauderdale Beach Resort. Great hotel at a great price. It was right on the beach. The pool was heated perfectly and the kids had a great time.
My wife, son and I took a cab over to the Solstice at about 11:00 a.m. on Sunday and flew through embarkation. We were early and there were no lines. We had a Concierge Class cabin (1042) and we hung out for about 15 minutes waiting for boarding to begin. My son played in the play ground area they have at the Oasis/Allure pier and loved it. It will be a shame when the Solstice has to give up this pier in December when the Allure comes out as it makes for easy embarkation. On a side note, my mother, sister and her family, did not get to the ship until about noon, and their embarkation was quite slow (long lines, poorly trained individual at check-in), but they made it safely on board.
We had a Concierge 3 class cabin (1042 - Sky Deck). Loved the location (right before the indent towards the front of the ship). The cabin was fine in size for the three of us. Enjoyed the decor, the flat screen tv with swivel wall mount, on-demand, satellite and pay per view tv choices, along with the access to photos, account balance, menus (including room service). Loved the shower stall in the bathroom. Shower has sliding doors that are much better than a shower curtain. Best cruise ship shower ever. I have noticed others complain about the toilet paper roll holder and it is as poorly designed as they state. Based on its position and design, the toilet paper slides off all the time. Very funny actually. In our cabin the bed was next to the closet, which is smaller than others we have had on other ships/cruise lines. It is also a little awkward because of how close it is to the bed, but we had more than enough room in our cabin for clothes for all three of us (there is storage above the bed that came in very handy, drawers by vanity and storage in the bathroom). If you are doing B2B cruises it could be a bit of a challenge for storage, but I would recommend bringing less and sending out some laundry. The balcony is pretty standard, but we did book for next year on the Eclipse and booked Cabin 1075, which has a huge balcony.
The ship is in lovely condition. It is well manicured and spotless. The Epernay Dining room is very modern, but still classy and elegant. The Solstice Theater is big, but well designed. There are a couple of spots where poles could obscure the view, but generally not a bad seat in the house. The OceanView cafe has nice selections. I will say that it was crazy busy on embarkation day and also the last day at sea (we had some bad weather). We had to hunt for seats on more than one occassion during breakfast, but overall the food was quite good.
We were amazed that for a ship its size that it was very easy to get around. It feels like the vast majority of the activities are based in the middle of the ship, so there are no long walks down hallways to get from one place to another.
Our son loved the kid's club (Fun Factory). The counselors were great. He made friends with many kids on board. Great activities. There were 88 kids (under 18) on board. I know this is much less than during summer vacation time period. We felt like the kids were always kept busy and had great activities. The proof is in the pudding. When asked what his favorite part of the cruise was he answers "Kid's Club".
The pool was really nice. They have a 3' - 4' pool for families that was wonderful for all the kids to play in. It was deep enough that they could actually swim, but nice for parents not to have to hover as it was not too deep. The second 1/2 of the outdoor pool was 5 1/2' - 6 1/2'. Our son was welcome in that pool too, which is something that I think may change in summers. I think if there are 500 kids on board during the summer that it would be cruel and unusual punishment to limit them to the family pool as this would not be big enough to accomodate even 50 kids at a time. During fall break, however, the family pool was perfect. There is nice piped in music at the pool, along with cool steel drums, acapella perfomers, bands, during the day. The music at the pool and all over the ship for that matter, was wonderful.
The casino (a favorite spot) is very nice; however, the minimum bet is $10 on most tables, which is unusual for a cruise ship. I spoke with a few of the casino staff and they confirmed that the higher minimum keeps people away. In addition, I will state that the only crew members who we found to be a little cold were in the casino. The poker manager was wonderful, but generally the dealers at the table games were not engaging at all. I promise this had nothing to do with my winning/losing.
They have two electronic poker tables, which I don't mind at all, but the rake is outrageous (10% of each pot up to $50 max). This is the highest rake I have ever seen on an electronic table on board ship. With that said, the poker manager always gave out a free drink every night and could not have been nicer.
We like to play Let it Ride with the Three Card Poker bonus, but they didn't have this combo on the ship. Not a big deal, but it was the first time this table was not on a cruise ship we have sailed on in a few years.
As I said above we found the buffet to be quite good (considering it is a buffet). There were many choices, most of which were quite tasty.
The Grand Epernay Dining room really had a nice menu with wonderful choices every night. We were amazed that they offered Lobster Bisque and Escargot on the every day menu. The meatball/pasta dish on the last night really is worth having. The only thing I was disappointed in was the lobster on the second formal night. It was a very small tail and is served with a scallop and shrimp risotto. The scallop was quite good, but the shrimp were a bit pathetic and the risotto was not good at all. Other than this once dish, the rest of my meals in the dining room really were exceptional and I give it very high marks.
The Asian Specialty Restaurant was a nice surprise. We went there the night we were in San Juan and it was great. It is family style, and in short, they bring out the entire menu to your table. There must be 8 appetizers (Asian Ribs are amazing ) followed by a round of sushi which was quite good (we love sushi so I wont tell you it was the best ever, but still enjoyed it), and then you have about 8 more entrees brought to you family style (orange chicken was delicious). I have never thought asian restaurants have good deserts and this one was no different, but after all the food we ate I had no room for dessert anyway.
Murano was the highlight of our trip from a food perspective. I started with the foie gras which was amazing. It had a great seer with sea salt over the top and literally melted in your mouth. It has a nice counterpoint with a phyllo dough stuffed with duck confit next to it that was equally delicious. I ordered the filet with peppercorn sauce for my entree and it was fantastic. In hindsight I would have had the surf and turf duo with lobster and filet, but held off as lobster night was the following night. For dessert my wife and I shared the bite sized dessert sampler (6 small cups). Some were great, some were interesting, but as a group it made for a good finish to the meal. The service in Murano was exceptional, as it was throughout the ship.
We only ordered room service one night and it was great. There were a lot of choices on the tv room service menu. I have found that other cruise lines are providing a very limited selection for delivery to your room, but this was not the case on the Solstice. Our food was delivered on time and very hot, which I found impressive.
We have been to all of the ports (San Juan/St. Thomas and St. Maarten) many times. we didn't get off the ship in San Juan as our son was simply loving the pool that day and we had a dinner reservation at the asian restaurant at 6:30 (in port from 2:00p.m. to 10:00 p.m.). Since we have walked the old town many times we simply elected to let him enjoy his time in the pool. The pool area was great on our port days as it was very quiet and we made a point of getting back to the ship early to let him/us enjoy some time relaxing/swimming (you figure out who did the relaxing and who did the swimming).
We did some shopping in St. Thomas and went to the beach in St. Maarten. We have previously done the America's Cup Regatta in St. Maarten and loved it, but chose a fun day on the beach this time.
Other than the mention above about the casino staff, the staff on board was really wonderful. Everyone was pleasant, caring and attentive. Our cabin attendant (Antonio) was rarely seen, but the room was made up beautifully every day. Our waiters (Brad and Dave) attended to our every need. It was a little harder getting a drink by the pool than on some other ships, but trust me when I say we never went thirsty.
The captain, as many others have noted, should be a stand up comedian. He truly missed his calling. He looks like John Turturro, and has a great dry sense of humor. His daily noon announcements were not to be missed. Heck he challenged the passengers to a game of pool volleyball with his staff and showed up to play in a downpore, after announcing that anyone who was interested in tasting defeat should show up.
In summary, there is great music on board the ship. We enjoyed the Solstice show (Cirque De Soleil style). The "broadway review" was a bit cheesy/amateurish for our taste, but to each his own. I heard the comic juggler was awful (a lot of drops), but can't tell you we saw the show. Throughout the ship there are performers everywhere and they were really good. The acappella group was funny and entertaining, the steel drums by the pool were awesome. Our son loved the Adagio String quartet (he danced to them in the foyer by himself). The strings have a concert on the grass (picnic blankets and tea lights laid out by the staff) that is beautiful.
The Hot Glass Show is as cool as others have described. It was informative, fun and entertaining.
AREAS TO IMPROVE
There is really no where around the pool to put your used plates/glasses.
I would like to see reduced minimum bets in casino as we are there for fun and this would make the casino more accessible to everyone.
Lobster night was a bit of a disappointment.
As you can tell we loved the ship. We loved it so much we signed up for the Eclipse next Thanksgiving. I promise I am not a shill for Celebrity, but I can tell you that the Solstice class is our favorite ship amongst all that we have sailed. I couldn't recommend it more. I know some feel that Celebrity is not for families, but having been on board with a 6 year old and having talked to many of the families of other young kids, all the kids all agreed this was their favorite ship. They enjoyed the counselors, the activities, the pool, and yes, even the fancy restaurants. My nephew has been on multiple RCL ships, including the Navigator and Independence and he told his parents he liked this ship better. I think sometimes having 500+ kids in a kids program can be a little too much for them.
Hope this was helpful. If you have any other questions let me know.