I will start out with a little background. I am 25 and have never been on a cruise before. I traveled with my girlfriend (22) and her parents (50). My girlfriend has been on 25+ cruises and her parents on 40+, so needless to day they know their way around a boat. I on the other hand had really no idea what to expect other than what I had heard and of course what I had read on this wonderful site.
Now, on to the cruise. We sailed on 3/20 out of Fort Lauderdale on the 7-Day Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Solstice. We had Sky Suites on the 12th Deck (Resort Deck - Rooms 2119 and 2121). Our ports were San Juan, St. Thomas, and St. Martin. Overall the cruise was amazing. There were a few poor experiences and I will start out talking about those, but as you will see, the good times far outnumbered the bad.
First of all, we were unfortunately the victims of the problems created by the return of the norovirus infection from the previous cruise. As a result boarding was delayed so they should scrub and sanitize the ship. We arrived at the port a little before 11am and saw a sign that boarding was delayed until 2:30. So we dropped off our bags and drove up the beach for a while. We got back around 12:30, got through security, and check-in and promptly got ushered into a line, we stayed in that line until right around 2:30 when we were ushered into another room and sat there for another 15 minutes or so until we finally got to board. Overall this wasn't a terrible experience and it could have been much worse. The building we were in reached capacity, causing those that arrived later we forced to wait outside.
The next problem that occurred was on day 2, our first sea day. As I said this was my first cruise, but not my first time on a boat, I have been on boats for several days before, just never a cruise ship. I have never had a problem with sea sickness, and after wonderful weather on our first night, I didn't think anything of it. That is until the next day. The seas were angry that day my friends, like an old man sending back his soup (Seinfeld reference :). I was out of commission for most of that day. I finally got my sea legs by late afternoon and was able to enjoy our first meal at Murano, which I will talk about later.
As you can see, for the most part these problems were out of the hands of Celebrity. Perhaps they could have done a better job with the boarding, but I would rather have a virus free ship and have to wait then risk sickness. However we experienced one thing that precluded me from rating this cruise a 5+ and it occurred at our last port city, St. Martin. We decided against shore excursions in San Juan and St. Thomas as we had other things to do, but booked on for St. Martin. It was called the Tiki Hut Snorkel Park Adventure. STAY AWAY!!!! The description says you will see fish, octopus, rays, turtles, etc. and one of the descriptions we read made it sound like drinks were provided. At a cost of $70 we figured it must be pretty decent and since we hadn't done any snorkeling at the other ports, this was our chance.
It was a disaster from the beginning. When we got to the boat that would take us to the snorkeling spot we thought it was a joke. The thing looked like a bar of soap and was nearly unseaworthy. The poor motors were maxed out as we made our 15 minute "scenic" trip. As we got closer we realized our tiki hut was a floating tenement. We listened to one of the workers tell us about all the dangers of the water (fire coral on the ropes, sea urchins, etc.) and were shown the most fish we would see all day when the lady threw some bread in the water. When we finally got our snorkeling equipment it didn't take long to realize this was a complete joke. There was a sunken submarine that was kind of cool but the rest was a waste of time. We saw the aforementioned sea urchins and that was about it, no turtles, no rays, no octopus. In fact they weren't even mentioned by the workers, they did say you might see a lobster, maybe (we didn't). We were on the first boat back to shore. At a cost of around $300 for the four of us it was an absolutely terrible experience. Celebrity should be ashamed to be associated with such a rinky dink operation.
We went to the shore excursion desk to complain (the first time in over 40 cruises that my girlfriend's parents have ever done this). They had her dad fill out a form and said they would get back to us. A couple of days later they responded and gave a 15% refund FOR ONE PERSON. It was almost a slap in the face. What a joke. We decided that it would be worthless to do anymore complaining there and it was more about the principle than the money anyway. If anyone gets anything out of this review please stay away from this awful excursion.
The only other "bad" thing I would note of the cruise was the overall attitude of some of our fellow cruisers. I couldn't believe how many seemingly miserable people were on this amazing ship. We were having the time of our lives yet there were so many others that were constantly complaining and just plain rude. If this is how they act on vacation, I can only imagine what they are like in the "real world."
THE GOOD (aka Everything else)
Outside of these few problems the rest of the cruise was amazing. First off, the food was unbelievable. When we first got on the boat we knew the buffet (Oceanview Cafe) was going to be a mad house, so we opted for Bistro on 5. It was a great lunch, had the Cowboy Crepe and it was delicious, everyone else enjoyed theirs as well. For dinner we dined in the main dining room (where we would only eat one more time throughout the cruise). I had the prime rib and it was very good. Service was also excellent. We dined at the MDR on the last formal night (Friday) and the food was good, but not as good as the first night. I avoided the lobster, as I knew it would be disappointing, and opted for the Tournadoes. It was good and the baked Alaska was also good. Overall I would give the food in the MDR a 4+, but you can't beat the look of the place, it is really elegant and the wine tower is amazing.
We were also fortunate to dine at all three of the side restaurants, Murano (twice), Tuscan Grill, and Silk Harvest. I have eaten at a lot of very nice restaurants (Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Ocean Prime, Burn's in Tampa) and I would put Murano up there with any of them. The Lobster prepared table-side was absolutely amazing and the service was second to none. We ate here on Monday night and it was crowded but not packed and then again on Saturday and it was absolutely crammed. Service and food was not quite as good on Saturday, but it was still very, very good. The Dark Chocolate Souffle was out of this world. Tuscan Grill was also amazing. I had the mixed grill and it was fabulous. My girlfriend had the rib-eye and it was every bit as good as the one I had at Morton's in Fort Lauderdale. Silk Harvest was also a treat. I love Asian food and it didn't disappoint. We ordered so much food and all of it was great. The appetizers were probably my favorite, great ribs, spring rolls and sushi (Solstice Roll and Spicy Tuna Roll). I would not hesitate to recommend any of the side restaurants as they were all outstanding.
The entertainment on board was also a treat. We didn't go to the opening night show, but did catch the Comedy-Magic of Neal Austin. I will warn you, he is very low on the magic, but the show is a blast. He was all corn and it was great fun. David Copperfield he is not, but I loved the show. Definitely worth the time. We didn't make it to Karen Grainger, which I was diappointed about because I had heard such good things about her. We did see the Cirque-style show "Solstice: The Show" and it was fantastic, definitely a can't miss. Since we missed Karen the first night we decided to check out variety show on the last night, where she did a couple songs. She has an amazing voice, no doubt. Our cruise director, Lisa, also sang and was great, she spent four years on Broadway in the musical "Mama Mia." We also checked out the comedian on board, Michelle Balan. She was quite good, a little on the raunchy side, but it was a midnight show.
Additionally, the other on board entertainment was very good, most notably Metro Park, the acapella group was top notch. We also participated in team trivia and came in second for the week (go team Grand Floridians!). Another not to be missed attraction is the hot glass show up on the Lawn. It is amazing, we watched parts of three different shows. We also spent a good amount of time around the pool. Finding chairs was sometimes a chore, but we always found them eventually. We never used the spa, but did use the treadmills in the gym without any wait.
Perhaps more than anything, what made our cruise so special was the outstanding service. Our butler Rastif (told us to call him Rusty) was great although we didn't really use him that much. Outside of breakfast a couple mornings and some laundry we didn't have him do much, but he was always attentive and ready to help. Our cabin steward Arun was also very nice and always available. We also had great waiters at all the restaurants. I have to give a special shout out to several others. Our favorite bartender at the pool bar Jermaine, he treated us like VIP's and made the whole trip extra special. Angelina in the main dining room and martini bar was also awesome, as was Leslie, the head bartender who made sure we had Mount Gay rum at all the bars. We could not have asked for better service.
Overall the cruise was outstanding. While there were the few low points, they were more than made up for with the positives. I would love to sail on Celebrity again and I would definitely stay in a Sky Suite again. The room was a very good size and the shower was awesome. The whole ship was breathtaking, an unbelievable way to spend my first cruise.