Celebrity Solstice 5/14-5/26/11
We just returned from the 5/14/11 Celebrity Solstice 12-night Mediterranean cruise, from Barcelona-Barcelona.
First - overall we had a wonderful time!
Ship Transfer - we chose to use Celebrity's transfer service from BCN to the port. Very easy, when you exit customs, go right and the Celebrity staff are there to check you in. They'll take your luggage and when they have enough people, you board the bus for the port, drive-time is about 20 minutes. Luggage was delivered to our staterooms by 3pm.
Embarkation - Once we got to the port, check-in was about 5 minutes. No lines to speak of, and very well organized. We had already done our express pass & entered our credit card information online. She handed us our Seapass cards and we went on.
We got to the ship about 11:15, and boarding did not begin until 11:30. However, in the terminal they had tables set up for specialty dining, drink packages, and shore excursions. We signed up for the 3 restaurant plan and booked our times for formal nights. They give you you a card with the dates/times, but you also get a reminder at your stateroom the morning of your reservation. We had pre-paid the drink packages, so that was printed on our card (it says PALL). The woman we were traveling with bought hers at the terminal, and they put a sticker on hers.
Once the ship was open, we boarded (maybe 10 minutes), and they were offering champagne or mimosas as you entered. There were boarding photo opportunities if you wanted, but very easy to walk past if you did not. We headed immediately to Bistro on 5 and had some lunch. I would HIGHLY recommend this, as the folks I spoke with who went to the buffet advised it was crowded and hard to find a seat. The food at Bistro was wonderful, we were the first people there, and the service was superb.
Staterooms were open at 1:15pm. We were in room 1601 (Aquaclass, port side, hump cabin with large balcony) and the room was also very nice. Plenty of storage if you are
organized, and lots of room under the bed for luggage. Our stateroom attendant was Cyril, and he was always pleasant and helpful - he also got us priority tender tickets for our tender ports, we just had to ask. The balcony was fantastic and we loved hanging out there for sailaways and docking. LOVED the shower with body sprays, and access to the Persian Gardens was a huge bonus. Because our cruise was so port-intensive, and tours involved a LOT of walking, being able to lay on the stone beds and relax muscles was welcome.
Muster drill was easy - we went to the dining room and watched a video, no lugging vests, no standing outside.
The Celebrity/Cruise Critic party was at 8:30pm on the first day - no way we were going to make that, we were at dinner. We did have a group get-together at the Sunset Bar that was set up through our meet & greet, and that was fun.
Blu - Everyone says Blu is 'love it or hate it'. For us? We loved it. The food was wonderful, presentation was beautiful, and they were extremely accommodating. My husband has some severe food allergies, and is a bit picky, but we never heard the word 'no'. There was little he could eat or liked on the appetizer menu, but every night they got him a Caeser salad. Same for desserts - too many things with nuts. But after the first night they always had chocolate chip cookies for him. Unfortunately, I did not get
menu copies, and I'm sorry for that. Standouts for me were a summer roll appetizer we had one night and the filet mignon. I can't remember our waiter's name, but the assistant was Jorielee from the Phillipines, and the team was wonderful. The bottle of sparkling wine left in our room at embarkation was worth $28 against another bottle in Blu.
Bistro on 5 - We ate here several times, and enjoyed it every time. Breakfast crepes were delicious!
Buffet - Hit or miss. Some things were good, some were ok. Some vegetable dishes were bland and under-seasoned, which was a shame. But it's the buffet, and for what it was, it served. Lots of choices for ice creams and desserts. Seating, especially at breakfast and on sea days, was horrible. The big complaint here was the plates. They were always burning hot when you picked them up - no trays to help carry them.
Gelato/Cafe Al Bacio - We were here pretty much every day. Traveling buddy loved the coffees, and I loved the teas (Vienna Cinnamon was my favorite). Great spot to hang out. The Gelato stand there has an upcharge, but the girl running it (Roberta) was without a doubt one of the highlights of our cruise. Always pleasant, very happy to help. She does push the Rum Raisin gelato pretty hard, though. It's her favorite.
Mast Grill - Excellent burgers & hot dogs, good fries, and fantastic onion rings. You have to push for onion rings, though - every time we went, they wanted to limit you to a very small portion (like 5 or 6) unless you asked for more. Someone on a review I read complained of unmelted cheese, but asking them to melt it was absolutely no problem.
Murano - This was our least favorite of the spcialties. The service was just ok, but the atmosphere was stuffy, which isn't us. Saving grace for me was the venison, which was perfect, and perfectly cooked. We wouldn't go again.
Silk Harvest - Better atmosphere, food was very good - the ribs were great, I enjoyed the Pad Thai after I put lots of chili paste in it, it needed heat. I don't eat sushi, but the person we were with said it was very good (she had eel, spicy tuna, and something else I don't remember.) I didn't care for the wok beef, which tasted like it had been curried. Chicken fried rice was ok, but nothing special.
Tuscan Grill - By far the best of the restaurants, and we would go again without question. The steaks were very good, as was everything else on the menu. The atmosphere was fun and the staff was very accommodating. Not a bad thing on the menu!
Breads throughout the ship were uniformly delicious. Desserts were almost as uniformly disappointing and forgettable. We had a few good ones in Blu (I liked the Grand Marnier and chocolate dessert they had one night) but it was the exception.
Shore Excursions/Leaving the ship
We did one Celebrity excursion, in Cannes. We went to Grasse (a perfume factory) and St-Paul-De-Vence, a medieval village. I had wanted to get away from Cannes due to it being the opening weekend of the film festival, and things were very crowded. The excursion staff was very nice, the Grasse factory was a big sales pitch. St-Paul-de-Vence was beautiful, and we spent a lot of time walking around the city.
In Italy, we did all our tours with Rome In Limo, and I would HIGHLY recommend them.
Getting on & off the ship, whether tendering or walk-off, was a breeze. Announcements of where to go and when to meet were clear, staff was on hand to make things go smoothly, and we never had any issues. Reboarding after being ashore was quick, there was always water, fruit punch, and cold towels available as you were waiting to get back in, as well as a small sitting area if needed, and a canopy if someone had to get out of the sun. I was very impressed with Celebrity in this area (and in almost all service areas).
Celler Masters was wonderful, and the sommolier we saw most often (Stevan) was spot on for recommendations. We stopped there just about every night before dinner to pick up a glass to take with us.
Martini Bar - We liked this area, and the Almond Joy martinis were often substituted for dessert. The waiters here got to know us, and knew what we wanted as soon as we sat down.
Molecular Bar - Pretentious bartender made this area a dud, in our opinion. He was so full of himself (no idea what his name was - I believe he was from Australia or New Zealand), but he clearly thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. I overheard him at one point explaining to a group of passengers that HIS bar was like Bobby Flay's burgers - unique and wonderful - while every other bar on the ship was McDonald's. We were unimpressed with him and the drinks he was making.
The biggest complaint I have about the cruise was trying to get a drink. Unless you walked up to the bar, finding a waiter circulating anywhere was a challenge - whether it was the buffet area, the pool area, or in a lounge area. They just didn't seem interested or motivated - and it didn't matter whether you were on a package or buying individually. I never once saw a waiter in the Solarium.
We did not do any shows, but we did watch the Hot Glass show one night. Very interesting and impressive to watch! We did a wine tasting on the lawn that was supposed to be at Sailaway in Venice, but we got held up and so just had to drink wine with no sailaway. It was horrible. The bands on deck were ok, but VERY loud. The captain's daily announcement was ALSO very loud, almost painfully so. We would be playing a game in the card room or trying to read in the library, and the band 9 decks down in the Atrium was so loud it was sometimes impossible to hear yourself think.
Someone on our sailing decided to 'borrow' the 2 Scrabble sets for the entirety of the cruise, which I found incredibly rude. Someone else left a note in the card room one day asking them to please call so it could be shared, but my guess is that never happened. People, do NOT remove games from the game room - if you feel you need a certain game all to yourself for the length of your vacation, buy a travel version and bring it with you.
Debarkation - Almost as easy as embarkation. Luggage tags & instructions were left in your room the 2nd to the last day, and on the last night, luggage had to be out in the hallway by 11pm. They were collecting constantly, and I know that our luggage was gone within 10 minutes of our putting it out. Before debarkation, we met in the dining room at 7:10am, and waited for them to call our number. We were in Group 11, and we were off the ship by 7:20.
Again, no lines, no cattle call, very organized and calm. Our luggage was on the carousel in the terminal, and we were on a taxi to our hotel by 7:35am.
There were 3 formal nights on our sailing. The first was on Night 2 - Cannes, the 2nd was on the first at-sea day, Night 6, and the 3rd was on the 2nd at-sea day, Night 11. There were plenty of dark suits & sport jackets, some tuxes, and cocktail dresses to gowns for the ladies.
We did decide that 12 days is too long for us on a cruise, we were well ready to come home by the end. We also decided that if we ever want to cruise again, Celebrity is going to be the line of choice.