The Solstice was sleek and contemporary in design. Dodging past the vendors trying to sell beverage packages, spa packages and specialty restaurant reservations was an unpleasant but expected ritual for experienced cruisers. We proceeded to the upstairs buffet restaurant where there were great options for a lunch while we awaited an announcement that our staterooms were ready.
We had Aqua class accommodations which offered upgraded amenities in terms of dining, spa and in-room services. Our stateroom was spacious, bright and included a a large jet-spray shower. Daily Aqua class amenities included fresh fruit, flavored water and an afternoon delivery of canapes. We also received a welcome bottle of champagne. The best part of Aqua class, however, was Blu, a separate restaurant reserved solely for Aqua class cruisers. For the most part, the Blu experience was a positive one. The setting was beautiful and more intimate that the large main dining room. Menu choices were creative although portions were small ( a plus in terms of not overeating!)
Nonetheless, service was erratic and one evening our food was cold and the meal took more than two hours thanks to an indifferent waiter. After complaining to the maitre d' and the chef, we received extra-special treatment on subsequent nights. (of course, it helped that we gave extra gratuities to the waiter and maitre d'!) A negative aspect to Blu was that seating was basically in tables of two. If you are someone, like my wife and I, who enjoy meeting new people, that can be challenging in the Blu setting. All in all, I do not think that Aqua class is a good value for the additional cost.
One of the great things about the Solstice experience was the outstanding service. Everyone on board from cabin stewards to ship officers to wait staff around the ship were friendly and attentive to our every need.
In terms of excursions, we took four excursions: an all-day Rome tour, an all-day tour to the Amalfi coast and Pompeii, a half-day tour in Kusadasi in Turkey and a half-day tour in Malta. During our cruise the captain opted not to go to Athens due to unrest in that city but instead we visited Crete, an interesting alternative. I was so impressed by the guides on each excursion. Although pricey, the ship-sponsored excursions, were, in my opinion, real highlights of the cruise.
Now for the negatives:
The outdoor pool situation is a problem. It is almost impossible to get a chair in the pool area. When you finally locate a chair, you are literally sitting on top of the person sitting next to you. My wife and I are not necessarily sun worshipers but since many of the ship's activities were centered in the pool area, we would have spent more time there than we did had we been able to secure seats. There are "pool butlers" who keep track of the time that seats are reserved. Sometimes the "butlers" remove personal items after 30 minutes. This "policing" is commendable in the sense that Celebrity realizes that there is a seating problem; however, verbal arguments are frequent as disgruntled cruisers find that their belongings have been sent to the "Lost and Found" and other people are in their seats. This is an area that requires immediate improvement.
The entertainment on board was amateurish to say the least. The ship's theater company did their best but the shows were hardly professional. Most nights there was a single act- magician, singer,pianist, etc.- most of the shows were sparsely attended because they they just weren't any good! In addition, the cruise director on this sailing appeared bored and did little to get the passengers excited about or engaged in the various entertainment activities.
The ship was sold out and it felt crowded- in the public ares, in the atrium , around the pool and especially in the buffet area, I felt like we were herded together. Many of the night-time activities including the 60's revue and the dessert buffet are held in the central atrium but it's impossible to see them from a good vantage point or to get to the buffet because of the crowds. - not good!
Would we choose the Solstice again? - probably- we had a great time but Celebrity needs to address the issues I have raised to be considered a truly optimal cruise line.
Of course, the highlight of Kusadasi is a visit to Ephesus, an ancient city whose ruins resemble Pompeii and whose story is just as remarkable. Since Ephesus is about a half-hour from Kusadasi, a ship excursion might be the best way to go.
Just wander around Santorini browsing shops, marvelling at the vistas and eating, as we did, at a small, out-of-the way, restaurant. You needn't spend more than three-four hours to enjoy the Santorini experience.