BACKGROUND: My partner and I have sailed on most of the major cruise lines, including Carnival, NCL, Princess and Royal Caribbean. We have probably been on 18 cruises and are Diamond RCI members which gave us Elite status on Celebrity which offered nice benefits like free laundry. This was our first Celebrity cruise and it will not be the last. We previously avoided Celebrity because I wrongfully believed that they were too formal and stuffy. My job requires that I wear a suit and tie most days; therefore, on vacation I don't want to be required to wear formal attire. The experience was not as rigid as I had believed. A sport coat and tie are acceptable on formal nights and you can dine in the alternative restaurants in casual attire on formal nights if you prefer. I had read great things about Celebrity's new Solstice class of ships and decided to give them a try. I'm glad that we did.
EMBARCATION: Here I thought Celebrity could have done a better job. There were numerous lines and the whole process took almost an hour. They need to improve this in Miami. Once on board we were very impressed. A glass of champagne and a warm welcome greets everyone. The ship is beautiful, very elegant and comfortable at the same time. The lounges, bars and theatres are all stunning.
CABINS: We had an Aqua class cabin on deck 11. There was no noise from the pool deck above or the cabins to either side. The cabin was tastefully decorated and the bed very comfortable. The bathroom had the best layout I have ever seen in non-suite accommodations. The shower was amazing with, I think, 7 water jets, and it was large by cruise standards. There was lots of storage and something I have not seen mentioned before, the mirror is heated so that it doesn't fog up above the sink when you shower. Nice touch. The balcony was a nice size and the furnishings very comfortable with 2 reclining chairs, 2 foot stools and a fairly large table. Aqua class comes with nicer robes and towels. You also get fresh fruit, a bottle of champagne on embarkation day and canapEs each day (which you will want to skip).
DINING: I have to admit I was very skeptical about Celebrity's acclaimed cuisine. I'm glad to say that I was wrong. I expected the usual cruise fare. We dined in Blu, and the food was amazing. Frankly, we are both very particular about food. My partner works in a very upscale steakhouse and we dine out regularly. The steaks, seafood, and pasta dishes were all excellent. Don't miss the halibut in lobster sauce. Breakfast in Blu was as good as the dinners. The blueberry walnut pancakes were great. Best of all was the service. The maitre d' in Blu, Joval, was the best I have every encountered as were our server, O'Neil and his assistant, Anna. They are all transferring to Silhouette in July. We tried both Tuscan Grille and Murano. We did not particularly enjoy Tuscan Grille, but did not complain, as the food was alright. The next night when we returned to Blu and our maitre d', Joval, asked about our experience the previous night. We told him it was disappointing. The food in Blu was actually better and no $30 surcharge. Joval telephoned us later that evening and invited us to join him for coffee the next morning where he invited the executive chef and restaurant manger of Tuscan Grille so that they could understand the problem we experienced and fix the inadequacies. I was frankly shocked at this level of service. In addition, they comped our dinner that night in Murano as a goodwill gesture. We did not try Quisine, but everyone we spoke with who dined there was thoroughly impressed. We only tried the main dining room once and that was for lunch, which was fine. The buffet was adequate, nothing spectacular; but it was laid out very well. No lines and no problem finding a table. The Mast Grill had excellent burgers, hotdogs and sides, but the lines were quite long at times.
PORTS: Honestly, they could choose more interesting ports. San Juan? St. Marteen and St. Kitts at least have interesting excursions. We have been to all of them before, but at least they were all warm and sunny.
DISEMBARCATION: Again, this did not go smoothly. Maybe it's the facility in Miami, but it literally took almost an hour for our luggage to appear on the carousel after our number was called. Not good!
PROS: Just about everything. I especially liked the think cushions on all the lounge chairs on the pool decks and the lack of a "towel Nazi" policy like on RCI. You can have all the pool towels you like any time you like and they don't make you keep count. Does anyone really want to steal a cheap pool towel? The drink packages were also a nice option and you can vary your choices. I thought they were a good value. I thought the service was uniformly excellent from guest relations to the cabin attendant and everyone in between.
CONS: Embarkation and disembarkation. Celebrity needs to work on this at least in Miami.