Our photos are http://globaltraveller.smugmug.com/Ships/CelebritySOLSTICE
They say that the "innovators" and "early adopters" are the first customers to try out a given product, keen to have the latest technological advances and to be at the leading edge of the trends. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the "skeptics" and "laggards", generally resistant to change and more content to stick with conventional means.
I'd like to be a member of the first group - but hereditary thriftiness and a bit of a curmudgeonly streak often prevent this from happening. Instead we'll often end up among the "majority" - statistically, anyhow, though maybe not in spirit LOL - when it comes to trying out a new ship.
And thus we found ourselves sailing on Celebrity Solstice, two years after her launch, with two sister ships having been built since. The reviews were all in, the jury had long since left the building (and written their tell-alls)... Solstice class was a hit. Now it was our time to try it out - we were due, Mrs YOW said, considering the three previous cruises we'd taken were all on ships with a decade or more in service.
Our most recent cruise, however, was on Disney Magic, one of the best we'd ever experienced. In this regard, the standard for comparison would be higher.
The short of it, for those of you whose coffee is losing its effect or attention spans are otherwise measurable in seconds: Solstice delivered for us, both aesthetically and in product. This was yet another great cruise on Celebrity.
Walking into the Grand Foyer upon embarkation, you know you're someplace special.
They've done a fantastic job with this next-generation class of vessel. The interiors are elegant without being overstated; the exterior decks, particularly the Lawn, are pleasing to the eye; and the ship in general, as has been said by many others, rarely feels as if 3000 passengers are aboard. I could go on and on about Solstice... but so much has been said and written by now, suffice it to say we're in the "raving fans" category.
We were lucky to grab a Family Veranda cabin about a month prior to sailing - diligence paid off, checking the Celebrity site constantly, as we upgraded to FV 8108 on a resident special. Nearly triple the size of a standard cabin, ours had a living room, bedroom, second room with bunk beds, and an extended balcony. The furnishings were a bit sparse for a room of this size - but we knew this going in (actually I knew this; DW thought we were in a 2C, and was in for a treat when we walked into the cabin on embarkation day). Still, with a living room set, dining table and two chairs, and standard bedroom furniture, this was sufficient - the second room served to store luggage and doubled as a dressing room. The balcony had a table and four chairs altogether - our stateroom attendant had offered to bring a lounger, but mentioned that previous occupants had said it was quite shady. We had two days of sun going to San Juan, and two days of shade on the return... worked out nicely. Our stateroom team were great; the ice bucket and water pitcher were filled twice a day, the room was always spotless, and we had a nice time chatting. Biggest complaint about the cabin: going back to lesser accommodations, heaven forbid back to an inside cabin, is going to require a readjustment. ;)
What everyone wants to know about - DINING - we found to be better than on three previous cruises on Celebrity (nothing has topped our first cruise on Constellation, and it's very possible nothing will, and we're okay with that). The buffet was more varied in choice, although some of the ethnic selections did not change much from day to day. The traffic pattern of the new station setup was fine (it was a welcome change to get away from that 'cafeteria' feel), but I would prefer that staff were serving food rather than guests serving themselves (see more later on norovirus); also the tables were not cleaned as quickly as had been done in the past. AquaSpa Cafe is still a nice alternative for lunch. The offerings in the Grand Epernay Dining Room (MDR) did not disappoint, at least not on the five nights we ate there. Celebrity Select Dining had its tradeoffs. We enjoyed being able to eat when we wanted, not having fixed times (only on the first formal night was the line backed up, perhaps 15 minutes). And the tables for two usually worked well, being seated four out of five nights at the balcony rail. Yet we missed having an established team of servers, both for the conversation and for the service. Waiters in open dining seemed busier, the meal seemed a bit more rushed, and service ranged from enthusiastic to perfunctory with a few faux pas. The food product was very good: escargots every night, entrees from rack of lamb to braised short ribs to tournedos standing out, with pleasant surprises in the braised beef cheeks and the pork belly. Portions were larger than needed be; entrees were generally served at a good temperature; and the soups and apps performed solidly. We also dined twice in Murano. The first night we were seated in a louder and more crowded section, not the exclusive experience we remembered from other ships, but the second time we chose a table that was quainter. Between the two meals we managed to cover much of the menu; in particular the lobster thermidor was outstanding, along with the foie gras, escargots tortellini, and sweetbreads; tableside preparations of Dover sole and filet mignon were good as always. The soufflEs seemed lighter than in the past, airier, which was welcome after a rich meal... cheese course with port both times. The chairs in Murano were a bit uncomfortable, with the arms pinching in at my thighs.
I admit to having been skeptical about a few things when the first details of Solstice class were released. "Grass and glass" topped my list, along with a stark-looking dining room and a lack of a decent promenade deck. All but the last proved me wrong. We very much enjoyed The Lawn, especially the concerts at night while sitting on a blanket under the stars. The Hot Glass Show was interesting to the point where we returned a few times, enjoying it most at night. And the dining room works quite well, day and night; those chairs are much more comfortable than the ones in Murano. I still missed having a real promenade deck - coming off Disney Magic, which has a wraparound teak deck, Solstice was lacking in this area.
When did the ship feel crowded? Sea days by the pool... chair hogs were out in full force. I opted to go early and use the Solarium (very relaxing area) pool and hot tubs, and even got a cabana by the main pool a couple of mornings. Returning later in the day, however, both decks around the pool were too packed for our pleasure. Port days, on the other hand, were a great opportunity to experience the ship in peace and quiet.
We always managed to get a decent seat in the theatre. Shows were fine, never a strong point for Celebrity; the Cirque show had a prolonged intro but then seemed to be building to something that never came - not a major disappointment, but not a 'wow' either.
We did the self-disembarkation, showing up to the MDR at 7:15 and waiting until about 8am before the line started to move... once it did, we were off the ship, into a rental car and out and about by 9am. The security officer at disembarkation gave back my SeaPass card and said "have a nice day" - I jokingly answered back, "how can I, you just swiped me off the ship!"
The seven days went by far too quickly, and we did not want to leave Solstice. Got a call from Celebrity a few days later, following up on our comment card suggestions... we always put down as much as can be squeezed in, as no matter how good a ship and its crew are, there's always room for improvement. Celebrity remains our preferred cruise line. We still plan to alternate between cruise and land vacations, and between X and other lines when cruising.
As I write this, there are reports that the sailing after ours experienced a spread of the dreaded noro virus. It was mentioned in the midday announcement on our last full day that several cases of stomach upset had been reported, and that measures were being increased to ward off the spread. Unfortunately it continued and got worse for the next cruise; we feel badly for that group, and are thankful that our cruise went so well.