Ship-The Solstice class to me came with some anguish as a log time "sailor" with Celebrity. Maybe it was fear of the unknown. I personally didn't think the concept of bigger is better when it came to cruise ship design was a good one. I rather enjoyed the Century class and then especially the grandeur of the Millenium class. I hate to admit it, but I think I was wrong. I love the Millenium class but the Solstice moves the bar up a few notches.
I've heard a lot of folks say it has the feel of a W hotel inside. I think a true statement in many ways. It is innovative, architecturally the lines of the ship and its public spaces are clean and elegant. It's also manages to keep it personal. You can more than one ship in the same class, and they have distinct personalities, and I really like that.
We were fortunate enough to experience the Equinox last year on a Holy Land tour, but with many ports , daily excursions and off ship tours never really got to experience the essence of the Solstice class. This time I think I did.
My goal this trip was not to leave the ship in the 7 days. No running around, just try enjoy the ship and shipboard activities more, and just totally relax My secondary goal was to try every restaurant on board. I did pretty well in my goals, although I did go ashore in St Thomas for a few hours to make a few calls. So two hours in seven days isn't bad.
Although I had sworn to myself I was going to shy away from any and all work related items this trip I did check email. Was kind of glad I did as a reporter from Forbes had contacted me regarding an interview for an article she was writing. I was happy to oblige EXCEPT she wanted to do the interview on Tuesday while the ship was enroute to San Juan. Murphy 's Law, my cell phone didn't want to work, and Google voice didn't like the shipboard PC connection. What a seaborn passenger to do?
I contacted the ships concierge, and she offered up a great solution, she told me to come down 15 minutes before the appointed time and she would let me use the ships satellite phone connection for the interview. Phew. The time arrived, I scurried down and just happen to meet the Hotel Director while down there. After a nice talk with her, I asked her to point me towards the concierge and explained my predicament. She suggested instead that I use her office for making the call, and escorted me directly to it, and left me to have the interview. In my opinion you can't ask for better more accommodating service than what Celebrity provides even when the unexpected pops up.
This time onboard I selected a sky suite. I had shopped around for a few months on the Celebrity website and was able to to grab a great deal on one. It appealed to me as it had ~100ft2 more than a normal cabin and floor to ceiling windows. I also liked that it was up on deck 12. There was a concern on my part that noise might be a problem since one of the entertainment deck are right above, but rarely heard anything from above.
The cabin was very nice, but some design elements could use some a tweak or two I think (Always easy to Monday morning quarterback isn't it?). It had a lot more storage than a normal cabin (enough to pack for a 60 day trip), a lot more floor space, but really no difference other than that. Almost the same furnishings as we experienced on Equinox, just in a bigger room to place them in. So lots of empty floor space, with nothing on it. I think it would have been nice to have a table and a couple of chairs which would form a seating area around the small sofa.
Bathroom had a tub, with shower and a rain shower head. It's a nice luxurious touch, but with the extra height of the tub/ shower unit, and the extra few inches of the shower head, my 6' frame was too tall to clear it. It seemed the bath was the same size of our veranda cabin last year on the Equinox, but with the tub in the room, it seemed more confining.
I would have rather seen a nice large shower and no tub, or take some of the floor space from the room and give it to the bathroom as there is more than enough free space in room, this would help to give it a better sense of openness and a better suite feel.
When the Celebrity brand was sold by the Chandris family back in 1997, didn't really know what to expect from its new owners RCCL. I think I took my first cruise back around the early 90's and first Celebrity around 94-95. I've enjoyed watching all the changes both internally and externally. It has blossomed from a fine family run business to much more of an international one. Just guessing but probably on an average cruise you might meet people from 70 nationalities working onboard. Seeing familiar faces onboard is a nice sign, I've seen bartenders work and become restaurant and hotel managers, young bridge officers grow to get ready to become begin their final leg to qualify as masters of the vessels. Many say a similar theme "I still have a lot to learn, but I enjoy learning from the people I work with" One interesting thing I heard this trip, from several staff people "even when the corporate people come onboard, they don't talk down to us, they just talk to us", so I do believe they do well with the team concept and keeping the staff engaged and interested.
One other thing I would consider a big positive. I've owned a jewelry business for over a dozen years, and read in a the daily bulletin some real honest and smart tips about buying and getting jewelry appraised and certified in the Caribbean . Instead of just puffing local stores. It had real good advice on appraisals and certifications of jewelry , things like get an appraisal from an accredited appraiser, not from a guy trying to sell you stones or jewelry, and other smart consumer tips.
Will I sail Celebrity again? Yes, given any opportunity I wouldn't hesitate to enjoy the spirit, the style and finesse of a Celebrity voyage I feel they have mastered the touch, the can invigorate you, make you smile, and help you leave the stress of the world behind. When you talk to Celebrity staff member, you just get the feeling that you alone are their total focus, and anything they can do to make it better, they will. I felt so positive about the Solstice and the crew, that I booked another cruise on "her" for August 12th.
Food-7 Restaurant's in 7 Days
Grand Épernay Restaurant
Dining in Grand Épernay brings you back to the magnificent dining experiences of the luxury liners. White linen tablecloths, fine china, sommeliers', waiters and waitresses scurry about in their black and white formal wear trying to foretell your every need. It matches elegance and epicurean delights into the same encounter. Everyone seems centered on making the time both pleasing and personal. The waiters, assistant waiters, maitre D, and support staff go out of their way to make sure every course is enjoyed. For an appetizer I had my old favorite shrimp cocktail, 4 plump prawn with a tangy cocktail sauce. Followed that with a nice crisp mixed Boston lettuce salad,. My main course was a classic s prime rib, the piece I had looked like a picture from Morton's steakhouse menu, tender, juicy, and full of flavor. This was accompanied with carrots and potatoes that also waded in those succulent beef juices.
You certainly get spoiled by the attention. If a waiter notices you didn't finish a course, he always tries to find out why and offer an alternative, if for some reason; the original wasn't to your perfection.
Chilled Potato Soup -had just enough flavor to make it interesting, so although cold potato soup might sound a bit bland, this wasn't, it was actually very tasty
Filet of Beef finished tableside with brandy, shallots, green peppercorns, beef reduction and olive oil. It was everything you wanted a steak to be, flavor, freshness and marbled perfectly to give it the perfect texture . Steak was full of flavor on its own. The sauce though was the jewel in the crown, complemented the filet without overpowering or covering it.
Spinach salad-Best I've ever had. In addition to the spinach it had pork rillettes and brioche croutons which added some great texture and flavor. It was then topped with a sunnyside egg, and a shallot truffle vinaigrette that made this course just melt in my mouth. I could have eaten a few pounds of it.
Service-Top notch from soup to nuts, wait staff relatively young but very good at what they do. Two small things I noticed that impressed me. They were setting up table next to us during our dinner service, and noticed the fork slipped from waiter's hand. He caught it mid fork well before it was an inch away from the table, instead of just placing it back on the table he replaced it with a new one. Good training. Second thing I noticed was that they seem trained in the more traditional Michelin serving style, but with a friendlier edge to it.
Only negative I could see was while the restaurant was full and busy, the waiter had a tendency to ask about your thoughts on a course, but had left midsentence in your answer, but all in all the experience was near flawless.
After having experienced Murano a day earlier, the pre-conceived notion in my head was that Tuscan Grill would disappoint. I come from an area in New York that has some great Italian restaurants, and a personal friend is one of the best Italian chefs I know. That aside, you always try and go in with a fresh perspective.
First thing I noticed about the Tuscan Grill is dEcor and design. Rich earthy tones and dark woods, a mix of reds, browns and oranges. Second thing you notice is every plate, fork, chandelier and candle compliment the color scheme and design. Visually it's a warm inviting space.
The menu looked pretty interesting but nothing really stood out, so figured it best to trust my instincts. The bread brought out was a mixture of different types of focaccia, I chose the tomato variety. It was like biting down on a cloud from heaven. A rich puffy texture of tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil in every bite.
Second brought to the table was a complimentary tray of assorted antipasto's. Something for everyone including Parma prosciutto, artichokes, fresh mozzarella, squash, Kalamata olives. peppers. This tray of goodies I think I could have continued eating till the end of the trip if I was given the chance, so was glad when the next course arrived.
Third was a steak tartare, that was presented alongside with some toasted crostini 's. The classic steak, dijon, & capers dish was enveloped in a toasted potato basket. The pairing of the crostinis and potato basket made the perfect tools for picking up every morsel of the steak tartare, which was flavored to perfection.
For the main course I decided on the Vitello Parmiggiana, but I mentioned to the waiter that I was undecided between it and the kobe style meatball dish so he suggested I try both. The veal was very good, it was served on top of perfectly cooked al dente pasta. The sauce that topped the veal and pasta was superb. It was richly infused with lots of fresh sweet basil which gave it extra nice character. That sauce turned a good dish into an excellent one.
The meatballs are hard to describe, but in a word, outstanding. They were literally almost as large as a tennis ball, as they entered you mouth, they literally melted, and you tasted every bit of veal, pork, beef, garlic, basil, etc in their making. The sauce served with them was a perfect complement, full body with a depth and richness I hadn't tasted in a very long time.
Surprisingly to me Celebrity hit a home run out of the ball park with Tuscan Grill. How do you capture the essence of Tuscany on a cruise ship thousands of miles away? I'm not sure, but Celebrity nailed it 100% on this voyage. My thanks to my waiter Ljupco, he made me feel like an honored guest the whole time, and before I left even gave me the recipe for those Kobe meatballs.
Bistro at 5
When I was on the Equinox last year, I heard quite a few people give high quality marks to this bistro, so was anxious to try it this time around. It's located in mid ships area which can be a rather busy spot, so really wasn't sure how relaxing and enjoying it might be.
It's set up rather smart with frosted glass facing inward towards the ships main areas, and oversized planters and dEcor that give you a nice quiet privacy bistro atmosphere. It's very much a bistro menu soups, a few sandwiches and some crepes.
They offered two soups the day I visited, I chose the New England clam chowder. It was bland and really lacked any signature. It rather reminded me of something I would find in a can. It had clams but they really didn't have any flavor. The chowder was thin, almost like a broth consistency, and remaining ingredients were pretty much pureed to the point you couldn't distinguish them.
Second item I chose was a crepe with scrambled eggs, applewood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese. I also asked that they add in some spinach and mushrooms. The crepe itself is what you would desire if you made crepes yourself. Just the right amount of subtle sweetness, light and airy. They were more the tradition thin French variety rather than the pancake-y version. It was light, stood on its own flavor, perfectly cooked to a golden color.
Inside they hit it right, all the ingredients uniformly mixed, but still could taste each and every one in each bite, with the crepe serving as their delivery vessel. I've had crepes quite a few times but never much as a main dish, this was certainly a fine light meal and really enjoyed it.
Talking to the staff onboard this restaurant seemed to be the crews favorite hands down. The concept is a good one. Three stages small plates(appetizers), large plates (main courses), and Sushi. You can have all or none in any order you like. It's a nice variety as well of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese with a few Celebrity enhancements as well.
For my first courses I heeded the waiters suggestions and tried the chicken spring rolls , my choice was the shrimp & scallops shumai. Rolls were crisp and not oily. Vegetables inside were flavorful, and dipping sauce was sweet and spicy. The shrimp and scallops shumai was good, although didn't see or taste much in the way of shrimp or scallops.
Second course was sushi, which I never have been a big fan of, but did want to try some so took my waiters suggestion of trying the Solstice roll (shrimp tempura, crab salad, avocado, and spicy dressing) which to my surprise I thought was excellent. One thing you notice at all the restaurants is how much detail the waiters have about the menu, and how they try and personalize your visit. So when he realized my hesitation towards sushi, he did a great job of steering me to something he thought I would enjoy.
Main course I tried the spicy pad thai, and at the waiters suggestion the red curry duck. Again the waiter was 100% on target on the way he felt out my likes and dislikes before suggesting. The duck was spicy but not hot, reminded me more of some good food I had in Chaing Mai in Thailand a few years ago.
The waiter (from Bali) was excellent, and the Maitre D also very personable. The kitchen did seem to be off a bit though, as the first two courses arrived almost simultaneously, and then about a 25-35 minute wait for the main course to arrive, and that occurred while restaurant only had a about 25 patrons.
Blue is a sharp restaurant primarily for Aquaclass passengers and suite guests. It makes a nice impression when you first walk in with its rich blue scheme and white leather chairs. It has a very crisp modern feel to it, and a very nice art wall that catches your eye. It's billed as a lighter fare, but dishes I had never would give you the impression you were missing anything.
I started with a platter of razor thin cut prosciutto served with fresh figs and mozzarella. The three together complement each other nicely. Second course was a Boston lettuce salad, served with what tasted like raspberry vinaigrette, it was tasty as well, but vinaigrette was a bit sweet for my taste.
The pecan crusted duck breast I had for my main course was full of flavor and delicious. One thing kind of surprised me. Walking in the door, I had my perception of health food rehabilitated. I expected boiled chicken breast and steamed carrots, but instead saw favorites like filet mignon, leg of lamb, and ahi tuna. What they seem to do is take very good classic recipes and reformat them to give a healthier edge, but still keeping the essence of what makes it delightful to your taste buds .
I think I ate the majority of my breakfasts and lunches up here, as I love the views (and it was literally a hop skip and jump from my cabin). It's more of what I consider most people consider buffet cruise fare. Breakfast it's set up with quite nice with hot food/cold food/fresh fruit/omelets stations in several spots, and similarly set up for lunch. I liked that for lunch they have a pasta station, Chinese & Mexican stations, and a large salad bar in addition to the standard carving stations, sandwiches, and hot buffet dishes. It really gave it a nice variety, and as picky as I can be, I always found something to enjoy.
One of my favorite perks to the meal is Celebrity's ice cream. Like most everything onboard, its made fresh from scratch, and it's fantastic. I might eat ice cream twice a year at home, but on a Celebrity cruise, it sometimes becomes a twice a day event.