Wow. Just Wow.
My wife and I (mid thirties) decided that life stresses were running a little high. I have a high pressure job, and we have a 4 year old that is very demanding. We set out to find a vacation that would suit us while our son can stay with his grandparents.
We started by looking into all inclusive resorts. We must have priced and researched 5-6 of them. However once the research was done none of them stood up to the cost / relaxation / fun ratio we were looking for. All of them had good points, but most of them also had some really bad points that were serious for us and potential vacation ruiners.
Then we noticed a cruise sale. We did not go with that cruise, but it began the research. We scoured the Internet and did some questioning of past cruisers that we know. All fingers pointed to Celebrity... specifically the Solstice class of ships.
Not Too big, Not too small, Not to loud, Not too quiet, Not "in your face", Not neglectful, Not too much going on, Not boring, Relaxing, yet fun.
So we looked at itineraries and decided on the Solstice ship. Eastern Caribbean.
We opted for select dining, premium beverage packages and to not do the Aqua class... All were wise choices.
Day 1 - arrive at the port, get in line to pick up your sea pass... 15 minutes and you are on the boat drinking a complimentary glass of champagne.
They make it seem like if you do not choose the Aqua class you will be waiting forever. NOT TRUE! in fact the Aqua class rooms are below the fitness facility and I overheard people complain of noise... and they are also on a high deck, meaning more "back and forth" on the Boat. The express check in for Aqua class has no value. The only advantage would be the Blu restaurant... but the Main dining hall was more than good enough.
Ship: We go to our room, drop off our carry on luggage and head out to explore the ship. Wow. beautiful, clean, hand sanitizers everywhere... public washrooms are a class on their own!! I know that sounds funny, but the others that have sailed on this ship know what I mean. The lawn is awesome, the pool deck is clean and has a good mix of sun chairs and shade chairs.. Just an awesome looking ship. We did not even find the solstice deck until the second last day (deck 16 only reachable from deck 14 by outside stairs).. all kinds of little nooks and crannies. We never felt crowded. In fact most of the time we felt that the ship had lost half the people. I woke up one morning at 7:00am and walked the ship... I only saw one other passenger, and a bunch of the crew cleaning.
Room: Comfy bed, lots of storage room, good bathroom layout. Sofa is not comfy and really pointless. Should have at least opened for storage or something. The TV is great and you can watch shows done on the ship (informing you on the day ahead or shopping stuff), or the view from the bridge, or check your account, watch some TV channels, or even watch a bunch of free movies. There is a bar fridge, but ours was not cold. The best part was the balcony.... at night, the combination of the comfy bed and the open balcony door allowing the breeze and the sound of the wind and ocean in... made for the best sleep I have had in years!
Food: Buffet, very good. above average. with 160 chefs on board... the food is bound to be good right? Main Dining - we only went in the evenings. the select dining was perfect for us... we show up any time between 5:45 and 9:15pm and we got a table right away... often faster than the people with reservations! The other people at the buffet at lunch were a little annoying, with no rules on where to go or how to grab the food you want, passengers just wander aimlessly and often butt in front of your without even realizing it.
Excursions/ports: I was anxious on how to get to the right place at the right time... but on the days of the excursions it was very fast and efficient. Very easy to be "cattle" those days. We went zip lining in San Juan (awesome), Snorkeling off the Catamaran/champagne in St Thomas (by far our favorite) and then the butterfly museum in St Martens (interesting).
Bars: We had the premium drink package (each). We do not usually drink, but we were taking a break from stressful lives and decided to go for it. I am
SOOOO glad we did. We were able to get any drink we wanted at any time with no guilt or penny pinching, or thinking, maybe we shouldn't. This includes bottled water, specialty coffees (I am addicted to caramel macchiatos) and martinis / beers / screwdrivers / Molecular drinks.. anything (except maybe wine, but we do not drink wine). At the last day of your cruise you get a print out for all of the times you use your card.... ours was 4 pages of drinks. All $0.00. we would have 3 coffees throughout the day, and a couple of bottles of water a day, and maybe a Perrier or spelegreeno, then have 3-4 martinis a night each trying different ones, and then top off with a drink from the molecular bar (YOU NEED TO TRY THE TANNED RUSSIAN)... and then grab a vitamin water to take back to the room for hydrating through the night. By the end of the first night, the guys at the martini bar knew us by name (and no longer needed our cards). It was nice. And no one was stupid drunk. You can also get a bottled drink unopened to take back to your room and "stockpile" if you want for times you do not wish to go out.
We ould grab a bottle of water and some sweets/junk food from the buffet and have a snack on our balcony in the afternoon.... yes it is as awesome as it sounds. Slight breeze, open ocean, drinks and junk food... perfection.
Cafe and specialty restaurants : We went to the Cafe quite a bit. However the staff were hit and miss. One person would make the best drinks I have ever had in my life, the next made them ok, the next one would have no idea how to make what you asked for and give you something totally different and the other person would make what you want, but it would taste horrible... very inconsistent. They needed training. If one particular guy was there we just kept walking and would decide to forget getting a drink.
We had reservations for the specialty restaurants, but decided to cancel them as the main dining was so good every night, there was no need to "splurge". They look very nice and I have heard great things about the Murano.. but we were MORE than happy with the "included" meals.
Entertainment: Cheesy. Just like cruise entertainment should be. The dancers are machines. I have no idea how they do two of these shows a night and not die of heart attacks.
They do lie to make you feel special.... but in a good humoured way so you have fun... and it will not seem like a lie at the time. When the Captain sang at the last show I thought it was only for our cruise due to an illness in the quartet, but apparently he does this every cruise.
Disembarkment: We chose express. you are told to be at the dining hall at 7:30am. We decided to go early at 7:00am and were actually the first ones there. The lineup by 7:30 was all the way around the ship. I was always amazed at how everyone on the ship was a "last minute" type person. even for the shows in the theater... it would be empty 15 minutes before the show, but then everyone would flood in at the last minute and ruin the beginning of the show by asking people to push over so they can fit 4 people together... here is an idea - get there earlier!
All things said and done... Best vacation of our lives. I can not say enough about Celebrity and this Solstice class ship. Lisa and Zach were awesome as cruise director and entertainment planner and Freddie the shopping expert is also a good person to have on your side (if you are wondering about her accent, she is french Canadian), Rae and iguday (not sure on that spelling) are awesome guys at the Martini bar.
Amazing cruise, amazing people.
Sorry this is so long.