We booked the Fairfield Inn & Suites Fort Lauderdale Airport & Cruise Port well in advance booking their stay and park package and were thrilled with our decision. The main lobby is bright and the staff welcoming. Room 341 was beautifully designed and decorated. A small pool and pool deck provided us a welcome hour in the sun. Complimentary internet, a very nice breakfast, shuttle to the pier and parking were all included in the rate. They offer a pre-book return shuttle for $10 per person but we opted to take a taxi ($19.30 plus tip) and found it fast and convenient; no waiting around for other passengers. The only negatives; the towels should be fluffier and more than one computer would be nice. We will definitely book this hotel for our next pre-cruise stay.
The embarkation was disorganized. The people directing us to the check-in counter said no more passengers were allowed until the backlog had cleared but the people waiting to check you in were waving their paddles in the air trying to get your attention. Very confusing. I did hear that the main escalators were closed due to a passenger fall and we had to go around the back so that may account for the problems.
Spectacular was our first impression when we entered the Grand Foyer, especially with Halloween decorations in place. Our cabin, SV #7364, was bright and beautifully decorated. Further investigation revealed the flaws; lack of closet/drawer space and what there was had been poorly designed with poor quality furnishings. The aft balcony had lots of room, lovely comfortable reclining chairs and beautiful views but there was no cover from the rain and we had lots of rain on this cruise which made the balcony unusable for the most part. The bathroom was beautiful but again, the flaws; no hand held showerhead, no clothesline, a very uncomfortable foot rest for shaving in the shower and tiny useless vanity drawers but the spacious glass enclosed cabinet more than made up for that and shower doors instead of a curtain was a nice improvement. The in-cabin interactive TV was great, especially the ability to view your photos on screen. The photographers on this cruise were the best we have ever encountered. The towels were smaller and not the quality we had on previous Celebrity cruises but I guess that's one of the "perks" of booking a higher class like AQ or CC since we got beautiful towels the last night which I suspect came from there. There are also no umbrellas provided in the regular cabins. Our cabin was tidied twice daily rather than cleaned.
We loved the cool elegance of the Grand Epernay dining room and found the food quality, temperature and selection to be far superior to our last few Celebrity cruises. Our wait staff, however, were the worst in 30 cruises. Not once did I have a meal placed in front of me, it was always passed across the table, over my husband. One night we had no napkins, the next no salt and pepper, the next no sugar. We were never given a steak or fish knife and we had a few incorrect orders. Once requested, everything was provided and, although it didn't ruin our enjoyment, the service was not up to our expectations. My belief is that automatic gratuities are at least partially responsible for this decline in service. The majority of tables for 2 were no more than 12 inches apart so, unless you wanted to whisper or appear rude, you got to know your neighbours. Fortunately our neighbours were delightful dining companions and we thanked them at the end of the cruise for sharing our "table for two". The Brunch was lovely, a replacement for Le Grand Buffet of old.
We loved the food stations in the Oceanview Cafe but I must admit we were always forgetting where we were seated and couldn't remember where we'd seen a certain item when we were browsing the stations. The seating seemed more limited than what is available on M-class ships. They had great food selections, the food was hot and there was an expanded variety of no sugar added desserts for my diabetic husband. We went to Afternoon Tea mid-week and discovered just what we had been missing: honey scones with whipped cream and jam. These are a worthy replacement to the once delicious and famous Cova Cafe chocolate croissants. We have always enjoyed the breakfast in the Aqua Spa on the M-class ships but didn't care for the menu in the S-class Aqua Spa. We only ate at the Grill once but found there was very limited seating, condiments were awkwardly set up and there was no cover in inclement weather. No comparison to the Grill on M-class ships. We ate at Bistro on Five and thought it was well worth the nominal $5. p/p. The dEcor was lovely, the food was delicious and it provided a quiet alternative when the Oceanview Cafe was crowded on rainy sea days.
The public rooms were beautiful, as were the public washrooms with the gorgeous etched glass sinks with invisible drains. There was lots of comfortable seating available throughout the ship with our favourites being on Deck 3, the Sky Lounge and the Lawn Club. We enjoyed the iPod self guided art tour and our favourite "art" was the Night Solstice at the entrance to the Ensemble Lounge with lighted bugs on the floor. Very cool. I would have enjoyed the sprinkler deck at the pool but the only time we saw it turned on was when it was raining or at night. The Solarium was beautiful but the Persian Gardens didn't compare to the M-class ships.
We enjoyed the excellent production shows which featured the finest singers we've seen on a cruise. Solstice was our least favourite as we didn't care for the techno music and found it distracting with too much going on. We loved the late night comedy with Louis Johnson, acapella group iTones, Jason Howlett who made my night by NOT doing Elvis because "he was the greatest ever", guitarist Mickey Ilardi and I would be remiss if I didn't include Captain Dimitris Kafetzis as the resident stand-up comedian! They made good use of the Grand Foyer for entertainment and the activities were visible from all decks. The Corning Hot Glass shows were excellent, better than what we saw in Murano, Italy and the three young people were very personable. Great ambassadors for Corning Glass.
There were some very nice Elite perks including dry cleaning, wash & fold laundry, casino match plays and $49.95 internet package. The staff in the internet cafe were exceptionally patient. We went to the Elite Lounge for a complimentary Diet Coke once just to see what it was like but we never made it to Michael's Club for the morning event. The big Captains Club event was very well done; self serve food stations set up throughout the Sky Lounge which ensured that no one was overlooked. I would love to see more non-alcoholic beverages offered and readily available. We attended the Senior Officers Cocktail Party but, as usual, those who don't drink alcohol were ignored. The Elegant Tea in the Tuscan Grille was so seriously understaffed we left without being served and went to Afternoon Tea in the Oceanview Cafe.
Since we had limited wheeled luggage, we opted for Express departure which, for the most part, we found very convenient. The biggest downfall of the Solstice, especially having an aft cabin, was having only 2 banks of elevators; not the forward, mid and aft of the M-class. There were very few elevators available for passengers going for breakfast or departing and, although we were to line up at 7:15 am and told the window for departure would only be available for 15 minutes, the process took much longer.
I had a problem with an item purchased at a ship recommended shop, turned the item over to the Shopping Guide on November 6th and, as of early December, the item has not even been returned to the shop and the issue is still outstanding. I had a call from Onboard Media Inc. and they are now investigating and trying to resolve the dispute.
We loved the Solstice and are looking forward to our next S-class cruise on Equinox in April 2011. My pictures are posted at: