Our cruise on Celebrity Solstice in January 2011 was a Christmas gift from my parents. As a first-time cruiser practically delirious with anticipation I found cruisecritic.com a great source of information to help us prepare.
There's a five-minute commercial for Solstice you can find on YouTube that starts out with "The devil is in the details..." -this commercial truly does describe our experience. We were, in fact, delighted, renewed, pampered, engaged, entertained, and amazed.
There was a shuttle available from the hotel but because the load-in seemed a little slow for our excitement level we took a cab, which turned out to be a good decision. As we sailed through the check-point our driver told us that in 15 minutes the line-up of vehicles would be 8 blocks long.
Embarkation: Having arrived ahead of the crowd, registration was quick and easy. Walking up the gangway along that long wall of windows, looking at the neighbouring ship, and at the foyer ahead was a thrill. Staff were lined up where we entered with a warm welcome, a glass of champagne, very nice.
DEcor: Beautiful. Calm, opulent, impressive. Many areas to explore, relax, drink, eat, play, and socialize. Very clean and well-maintained. Not only is there hand-sanitizer everywhere, but the pool attendant setting out towels on the loungers early in the morning wore gloves. That's how attentive to cleanliness they are on this ship.
Stateroom: We had a forward cabin with veranda that was well-designed and maintained. Plenty of storage, comfortable bed, pretty fixtures, nice amenities and yes I did appreciate the footrest in the shower for leg-shaving! Did not hear a whisper of outside noise.
Dining: The Ocean View Buffet has plenty of variety and several make-to-order stations. It can get busy at peak times but even then it was pleasant to share a table. We ended up in the Grand Epernay for dinner every night because the menu is posted during the day and there was always something we wanted to try. Two items that really stand out are the soups and the ice creams. Special, imaginative, different. The lychee-ginger sorbet was to die for, and there was a warm pear dessert that was just a little bit better than the best dessert I ever had.
We purchased the Classic Alcohol package and at around $40 per person per day we got more than our money's worth. Not because we got hammered every night, but if you consider morning lattes, iced tea after workout, a pina colada or a few beers poolside, a cocktail, a couple glasses of wine with dinner and a nightcap after the show, it was good value for us.
We enjoyed the Formal Nights. It was fun to see my husband in his rarely-worn tuxedo, to dress up and walk among all the sparkly ladies.
The Aquaspa Cafe offers a wonderful alternative to the heavier fare of the buffet. Beautiful salads, organic breads, amazing cold soups, fish and chicken grilled to order. Really, really delicious. There aren't enough tables in this area.
The staff at Cafe al Bacio provided us with several of our most memorable moments in terms of Solstice quality service.
Pool: Many imaginative, comfortable places to sit, sunbathe, and relax. We enjoyed the adults-only pool the most. I noticed that this rule was gently but firmly enforced. The pool was not, as I have read elsewhere, "senior soup;" it was lovely. Never had a problem finding a spot.
Spa and Fitness: this fell a little short. There weren't enough attendants in the fitness centre and some people struggled to figure out the equipment without assistance. I had a massage and facial, a $300 treatment package that did not include access to the Persian Gardens. Most spas allow the use of all their facilities when you buy a service. However, the waiting room is beautiful, located right at the front of the ship with big comfy loungers giving an expansive ocean view.
Celebrity Life: We attended a wine tasting in the art gallery, which at $40 plus grat per person was a little pricey for the content. We did the kitchen tour and watched the cooking demo. The Cruise director Lisa is an incredible singer. The jazz quartet and the salsa band were better, we thought, than the a capella group.
Tipping: The staff work really hard. We were only too happy to leave the automatic per day grat plus pass out envelopes to those who looked after us so well. It was disappointing to see that our table-mates skipped the last night. Maybe they made it up but our waiter looked like he could have wept when he realized they weren't coming.
Disembarkation: Very organized, quick and easy.
Overall: We loved, loved, loved our experience. Solstice seems to have a reputation for being a little upscale in terms of setting and clientele and I would say this is true. We didn't see any girls gone wild or rowdy drunks or unruly children. One of the most enjoyable aspects of our cruise was the social. We spent a lot of time just chatting with the most pleasant people you could hope to meet. We were completely won over to the Celebrity brand and are already planning for next time.