My partner and I booked this cruise as part of the Pied Piper gay travel group. We had been on one cruise previously, a four day trip on the Carnival Imagination, which we enjoyed.
We arrived on Saturday and stayed at the Embassy Suites 17th Street. We had an East-facing room on the 9th floor, perfect for seeing the ships set sail that evening, and watch our ships come in the next morning!
The hotel was great, the room was spacious, it was close to a grocery store, liquor store, and restaurants. The only negatives I had about the hotel were that the booze at the managers reception was AWFUL (but hey it was free), and at least in our suite, the bathroom door opened into the bedroom part of the suite, not the middle wet-bar area, which is where the door usually is in other Embassy Suites I've been in.
We took the hotel shuttle out to bars that night and felt overcharged, which was confirmed when we had a cab take us back from the bars, and it was MUCH cheaper. Thus, we opted to take a cab to the port (I think it was 13 dollars with tip for the 2 of us).
Breakfast was decent and what you would expect from the Embassy Suites.
I was so excited I got up in the middle of the night to watch the ships come in! The Allure, Carnival Freedom, MSC Poesia, Nieuw Amsterdam, and a Princess ship were in town, among others.
To get into the port you have to show your photo ID to security at the port entrance, so keep it handy.
I think we arrived shortly before noon, handed our bags off to the porters, went right through security, got our Sea Pass cards, and immediately boarded with no waiting. It was great being greeted with a glass of champagne!
The ship is incredible! Very elegant and classy, with a modern design. I looked for signs of wear and tear on the ship, and found two. In our stateroom one of the drawers didn't close flush with the rest of them (it was a fraction of an inch off), and one day in the Solarium I was looking up at the glass ceiling and saw a small patch where the white paint was peeling off the metal girders. But that was pretty much it! Ship was in great shape.
Being after Thanksgiving, they gradually brought out the Christmas decorations during the week, and by the end of the week the ship was in full holiday mode. A menorah was also lit each night for Chanukah.
We were in Aqua Class room 1544 on Deck 11. We were right next to the forward elevators , and never once had any issue with noise from the elevators, or anyone else for that matter. You could hear the door next to us open, that was about it. I know a lot of AQ cabins either have the fitness center or the pool above them and have noise issues, but directly over our cabin was the Elemis Spa retail store that got very little foot traffic and was closed at night, so we never heard anything. I finally figured out what was above us by leaning out from my balcony, looking up and seeing a ladder attached to the sloped glass above me. Next time I went to the Solarium, I saw that ladder against the glass in the retail shop.
The shower in the AQ room was amazing, and the toiletries were nice. The jets along the shower panel wall were AWESOME, that alone may cause us to book AQ in the future!
The balcony had more than enough space (and more than we had on Carnival), and we ate breakfast out there several days of the cruise. Also, there was no extended overhang on our balcony, and the often-referenced window washing equipment was several staterooms down and did not affect our view.
The closets on carnival were definitely bigger than on the Solstice, but that being said, we had more than enough storage space. The storage above the bed helped!
I know that you can't guess which side of what pier in which port the ship will use, but we lucked out because the Solstice docked starboard side in every port we went to, so we got to watch the process from our balcony. It was fun seeing a couple of late pier runners in St. Thomas, but San Juan and St. Maarten everyone got back on time.
Once or twice, I could faintly smell a cigar while I was on my balcony, and also whoever was in the room directly below me was smoking pot on their balcony a couple of times. I never smelled cigarette smoke out there. I can live with one instance of a cigar and a couple of whiffs of pot, so I didn't complain to the staff.
Our Stateroom Attendant, Clifton Rodrigues from India, kept our cabin spotless. I hardly ever saw him, though, which wasn't a bad thing, I just felt like I didn't get to thank him enough. One day I happened to like the chocolate on my pillow (different flavor every day) and wrote a note asking if I could have one extra. I came back to my room and found an entire bowl of them for me! I also called him asking for a Band-Aid (wasn't an emergency, I had a blister), and I swear he sprinted to get it to me (BTW the band-aids were gray, never seen gray bandaids before!).
While the showers in the room might get us to book AQ again, eating in Blu definitely will. I must say that I am a meat and potatoes person and don't like trying new things, so at first I was a little apprehensive of the menu, but it really was amazing. In fact, I never once tried any of the standby "Classics" options, because everything I had was good. Our waiter Christopher was awesome, and his assistant Bosko was fabulous as well. By the third day, our table was already pre-set with the correct wine glasses for the types we drank (my partner loves Shiraz, I had Sauvignon Blanc). It was little touches like that that really blew me away.
The only hiccup in our week in Blu was during the first formal night. Having only cruised on Carnival, I know on "cruise elegant" night there, you can get away with almost anything. For formal night, we didn't have the room to pack our dinner jackets, so we just wore dress shirts, dress shoes, shirts and ties to dinner. Upon seeing this, the Maitre D quickly brought out jackets from the back and had us put them on as he walked us to our table, and then said it would be ok if we took them off and had them on the back of our chairs during dinner. I guess it was my fault for not knowing jackets were a requirement, and I appreciate they had jackets (though too small, I'm a big guy) for us to wear, but at the same time it felt kind of like a walk of shame having to put on the second hand jacket for the 10 second walk to our table.
Also about Blu, I had been having breakfast on my balcony (awesome) and in the buffet (also good) until one of the other diners in Blu strongly suggested I eat there for breakfast. The breakfast service is AMAZING, there are fewer diners, so the wait staff waits on you hand and foot, before you have even been seated, they are whisking over fresh squeezed juice, coffee, tea, croissants, etc., and it just sets the stage for the rest of the meal. Breakfast became my favorite meal in Blu!
I heard from friends the MDR was good, I didn't eat there myself. We ate in Tuscan Grille which was great. I am Italian and I'll tell you they got it right! We had a table by aft window and got to watch the waves the whole meal. Unforgettable experience. We ate in Tuscan Grille the second formal night because you don't need a jacket even during formal night in the pay restaurants, and didn't want to have to do the walk of shame again. We were going to eat there anyway, the dress code just cemented which day it was going to be.
I didn't eat in Murano, but went in there to take photos, and it looked really elegant. Next time we'll try it!
Oceanview cafe was good for lunch. I was first worried about not having trays, but I found I didn't need them. It gave it less of a cafeteria feel, and I also think not having a tray helped you not take too much food, and cut down on waste. Even on sea days at peak times we could find a table, and we never had a problem with dirty dishes. Usually I would get up to get something else and I'd come back to find they had cleared my dirty dish while I was gone.
I had the soda package, and had no problems with any of the staff filling my orders. Many people had the premium or classic packages and from what I could tell when I was with them, they were treated like everyone else at the bars.
We dined one night with a group who had the premium package, and sommelier loved it because it let her pair each course with a different wine and let the group try a bunch of different things, so I know it didn't bother her, she seemed excited by it.
Even with all the alcohol we drank, getting our bill at the end of the cruise showed we made the right choice, we wouldn't have saved any money with the all alcohol package, but for those who know they'll drink that much, I wouldn't worry about being treated any differently than those of us who paid for their booze.
Pools, Chair Hogs, etc:
While there were some chair hogs (not as many as I would have thought), even though I didn't try to find a chair until it was prime time on sea days, I always managed to find two together. Maybe not next to the pool, but they were always available. And I thought space in the solarium would be at a premium, but always found a lounger in there as well.
One minor annoyance I had, and I cant think of anyplace else to put it except under pools, is that when you're walking out from the Aqua Spa Cafe in the Solarium to the outside pool, you hit the smoking side (port side) of the pool area, so you're essentially walking from the healthy meal into a cloud of smoke. Yet one deck up, where the mast grill and mast bar are, the smoking area is on the other side (starboard). So if you're using the stairs to get from deck 14 to 12 on either side, you're either going to hit smoke going up or going down. Maybe they should move the deck 12 smoking to starboard to, so all the smoke stays on that side of the ship?
San Juan was our least favorite port. We just walked around, and were sad to see a lot of vacant storefronts. We toured the forts, and had some food and drinks, then got back on the ship.
St. Thomas was our favorite port, but that was because our friend lives there and gave us a local's tour of the island. We went to a beach that in my opinion was even nicer than Magens Bay, and there were maybe three other people there, all local. I can't even remember the name of the beach, not even sure it had a name, but it was incredible. Also, we had lunch in a hidden away restaurant right on the water. She works in her family business (goldsmiths who operate their own jewelry store), so even when we went shopping, all the merchants knew her so we were probably treated a little differently.
St. Maarten was good too. We did a bus tour then went to Orient Beach. I wish I could have gone to the beach at the end of the airport runway, though!
I only attended the broadway show and thought it was good for what it was. It's not broadway, it's a cruise ship. I had fun, but I wasn't leaping up with standing ovation either! The captains toast before the show was fun. We actually switched captains midway through the voyage, and both were good with their announcements etc.
I agree with others that disembarkation was a mess. I attribute it to far too many people choosing self-assist express disembark, which caused the express disembark people to take more than 45 minutes to snake their way through the dining room and off the ship. I was in the fifth group after self-assist to be called, and we weren't called until almost 9 when our original debark time was 8.
It's also not helpful that once off the ship, while it's easy to find your bags, you then have to wait in line as 2,500 passengers try to get processed by four or five customs agents. It was also frustrating that those who hire porters get to cut the line, but I guess you get what you pay for. I also cannot imagine how many customs agents are needed with all of the ships that come in on Sunday, including the Allure, Carnival Miracle, Nieuw Amsterdam, a Costa ship was there, a princess ship, and MSC boat, and I'm sure there were others I lost track of!
Once off the ship, taxis were plentiful, and we were at the airport in no time. I only wish the FLL airport would expand to fit the number of people using it!
We loved the Solstice and hope to be back on another S class ship soon. For me it was the little things that made a big difference. For example, whenever I'd look out my balcony and I'd see someone on the bridge, they would wave to me and I'd wave back. Every staff member I would pass in the hall would say hello to me with a smile on their face. The restaurant staff, like I said, knew what we wanted even before we did. I liked it when you were given a cold towel and drink upon returning from a day in port. I guess I liked a lot of things! They really pamper you, and you do feel like a celebrity for the week you're their guest.