My wife and I returned from the 7 day Celebrity cruise with Solstice on 10th April. We have probably taken around thirty cruises and have previously sailed on Millennium, Constellation, Zenith and Century twice. We also like HAL and were on Noordam last October and Eurodam at Christmas.
I think I am in a position to compare both lines which have strengths and weaknesses and will comment on the recent Solstice cruise but rate against HAL. Not sure if it helps anyone but it makes me reflect on what we choose next.
Solstice Embarkation / Disembarkation. Worst I have done in many years, they gave a story about a fault with the travellator but had the same crowds and lines on our return so not sure what the problem was. I would advise anyone to maybe delay their arrival slightly! I parked opposite the ship in covered parking and it cost $105 for the week a lot less than Miami charge. What I did not like with HAL is being forced to line up for photographs.
Celebrity 2/10 HAL 7/10.
Safety Drill. I was disturbed that Celebrity used the MDR for this as all the tables had been set for the evening meal. I saw many instances of children and adults playing with cutlery and glassware and considering the recent noro virus events was surprised Celebrity allowed this. The screens that displayed the video were also difficult to view although the audio was clear. I do prefer being inside for this drill but think another location could be found.
Celebrity 9/10 HAL 5/10
State Room. We took a balcony on deck 8 on the bump out close to the elevators and atrium. No noise heard at any time. Cabin was very clean and modern with a great interactive TV that you could view the ships photographs on, if you had them taken and presented your card. My only very slight negatives were that the balcony had no footstool and the faucet above the vessel sink was fixed and I nearly took my eye out once or twice when face washing. Probably enough storage for a two week cruise.
Celebrity 8/10 HAL 6/10.
Main Dining Room. Booked online for the Select Dining as we wanted a 7pm sitting. Never had to wait in line. The tables were very cramped and sometimes waiters had to lean over with food. After the first visit I thought it was bit 'fast food ish' but that may have been us, later we slowed the pace down and it worked out ok with timing for shows etc. The food was always hot and of a good standard. Service was good considering the different nationalities of the staff. It is probably a good time to say that HAL staff were better, not because Solstice staff were not good but HAL seemed to be so much friendlier and worked as a real team. This may be due to HAL having their own training school and recruiting office in the Far East. The formal night surprised me in that very few of the men wore a tux and one lady walked into the MDR in trainers. Guess times are changing.
Celebrity 8/10 HAL 9/10
Specialty Restaurants. On this cruise we only visited the Murano, which was a big disappointment. Some years ago when the specialty dining was a new concept we visited the Murano on another Celebrity ship and that experience was far superior. The Solstice Murano dining room felt cramped with tables being small and close together. The food was not really different from the MDR and the chef's surprise is not really a surprise when you have heard it on the four tables around you. I think Murano has suffered from the corporate interference of RCCL. Would never do the Murano again. On HAL we tried the Italian and Asian and they were very good.
Celebrity 6/10 HAL 8/10
Deck Space. I was shocked that Solstice gives up so much space to the grass or Lawn Club. We always found a sun bed at 9am but later in the day on the 3.5 sea days not a chance. There were plenty of pool butlers but they did nothing about clearing towels and books from beds where people have walked away for 2-3 hours. It was nice to see that they have not taken on the RCCL way of booking out pool towels with room cards and there were always plenty of clean towels on the pool deck. Solarium was ok although it got very humid and they made no attempt to open the roof vents. I just think they need more available deck space with 7 day cruises having 3.5 sea days. HAL in particular Eurodam always had space and was better planned out. I did like the fact that on Celebrity you are not constantly harassed by waiters selling drinks. I did complain about a Jamaican bar man who turned my two Mojitos into three. I watched but was talking to a guy ordering bottles of wine and it only registered fully as I walked away. I later complained and the drinks cost was refunded.
Celebrity 7/10 HAL 9/10
Smoking. I should mention smoking as this as it is one of my pet hates. Celebrity has it just about right. There is no smoking in the casino and there are designated smoking areas about the ship. Not once did I feel uncomfortable by people around me smoking. Not a hint of smoke in the cabin or on the balcony at any time.
Celebrity 9/10 HAL 5/10
Entertainment. Celebrity put on some quality entertainment not least the Captain playing the guitar and singing one number. They had a great mix and during the back stage tour I heard another guest compliment the staff on the quality of the productions remarking that on other ships shows were the equivalent of a high school production. The entertainment was never too loud and I think was enjoyed by children and adults alike.
Library and IT Area. Very poor is my description. No recent novels, shelves empty even on the day of disembarkation. Seating area cramped and on such a big ship very poor. HAL does a much better job with magazines games etc.
Celebrity 3/10 HAL 8/10.
Fitness Center. Again small for the number of passengers, a couple of times when we arrived there was a wait for treadmills. The layout seemed a bit strange and two or three machines were out of service the entire cruise. I never once saw a staff member in that area although they may have been involved with 'sales presentations' in an adjoining room. HAL again employed some real helpful friendly instructors.
Celebrity 5/10 HAL 8/10.
Ports of Call. San Juan we arrived an hour late at 3pm so just did some shopping. St Thomas went to Sapphire Beach; it was ok just a bit of a frightening drive in the safari buses. St Martin went to Dawn Beach which was very nice and they only charged $15 for two good quality beds and a brolly right at the water's edge. Snorkeling ok saw plenty of colorful fish. On tip at St Martin if you go the French side walk into the Marina and you can arrange a boat ride back to the ship avoiding all the traffic. On our HAL cruise we came back in a 35' Boston Whaler for $50 and we toured the super yachts and had great photo opportunities approaching the ship from the sea.
To summarize would I sail with Celebrity again? Absolutely and the same goes for HAL in particular on the Euro dam. Which line to I prefer? There is no answer it would depend on the itinerary and the deal.