Great Ship, Incredible Vacation: Silhouette 10 August Holy Land
My wife and I just returned from an incredible cruise on the Silhouette. Another reviewer couldn't have been on the same ship...although I know she was! As far as her complaint about the food in Rome, she must have chosen the wrong restaurants and the wrong areas. We also came to Rome a few days early after several days in Prague and never had a problem finding decent Italian food for very reasonable prices. There were many outside cafes near our hotel with price fixed menus for 13-20 Euros (US$20-US$30). We even went to Trastevere and found price fixed menus.
CHECK-IN AND OUT; Check-in was a breeze, easier than any other we've experienced. It took us at most 15 minutes from the time we left our taxi until we were on the ship. Leaving the ship on the last morning was even easier. We simply walked off when we were ready!
THE SHIP: Although we've been on other Celebrity, Azamara, Royal Caribbean and Holland America cruises, this was our first time on a Solstice class ship. We were impressed.
The ship was sparkling new with no smell of smoke (except in the smoking sections, which we avoided) and the interior design was exceptional. The attention to minute details was exceptional.
The staff was always smiling and saying "hello", "good morning", etc. The captain spoke at the opening night's show and was very humorous. One of the few complaints that we had was that we were not able to hear him when he made his daily noon announcements...the volume was too low.
CABIN: The cabin was beautiful with plenty of storage. We were told that there were no shelves in the closets on Solstice ships, so we picked up hanging "shoe" bags at Walmart which gave us plenty of extra space for t-shirts, underwear, bathing suits, shorts, etc. The bathroom was larger than other ships and had lots of storage space. The shower was also large and had a great adjustable head (a Concierge Class extra).
The steward and assistant steward (Dany and Omar) were always ready to please. We opted to get tea, fruit and cheese as our afternoon snack (Concierge Class) and they made the change and delivered on time daily. They even were able to switch the champagne for red wine, which we preferred. They both always wore a smile.
FOOD: The breakfast and lunch buffets were adequate and we could always find something that we liked to eat (the eggplant dishes and the shrimp salad were wonderful!). We don't expect gourmet meals in the buffet, so we weren't disappointed. On the four sea days, we had excellent lunches in the Main Dining Room. The breakfast breads were not the best but their desserts made up for that. There was almost always ice cream available any time day or night.
The meals in the Main Dining Room were excellent and the service was exceptional. We had anytime dining and had different wait staffs and they were all friendly and very willing to help in any way. I'm on a low-salt diet and the Maitre D came over nightly with the following night's menu to help me select something that they could prepare accordingly. The Maitre D, Prederick, was always willing to do anything to make our dining experience an excellent one.
We ate in Tuscan Grill one night and had an exceptional 3 ½ hour dinner with friends we made on Cruise Critic.
INTERNET: Anyone who has cruised before knows that the internet connection on a ship is "iffy", at best, certainly not like at home. On the first day, we purchased a $199 internet package (then discounted by $50) which made our cost $.36 per minute. We were not always able to get on-line (and off-line). The ilounge staff was very understanding and kept giving us more credits. We ended up with $67 left. I called Celebrity customer service today and explained that we were not able to use all of our minutes and they refunded the balance we had left. They were very kind to do that as the policy does say that unused minutes couldn't be refunded.
ENTERTAINMENT: There was ALWAYS something going on. Some of the highlights were the A Cappella quartet (four guys from Michigan), the piano player and the String quartet (four women from Russia (?). Most of the shows were excellent but some were a repeat for cruisers that have been on other recent Solstice cruises.
POOL: Yes, the pool was very crowded, but living in Southern California, we didn't go on vacation to sit in the hot sun, so that didn't matter. Since this was the end of summer break, there were many more children on board, than at other times of the year. From what we heard from a very reliable source (6 year old Austin), the Fun Zone was terrific.
OTHER CRUISERS: Most of the other cruisers were not English speaking. The majority were from France and Italy. I think this was due to the airfares from the US being so high this year and Celebrity probably discounting the cruise for Europeans to fill the ship. Yes, there were cultural differences, but we travel a lot and are used to being with people from all over the world. We did hear a lot of complaints about the Europeans pushing to get on a shuttle bus and not letting people get off elevators before they could get on. That's all part of the travel experience.
PORTS: We chose this cruise due to the ports. Each one was different and all were great. We had been to all of the countries we visited on prior trips abroad, but there were a few new ports for us. We try not to take ship excursions (overpriced and crowded) so we planned private tours with other Cruise Critic members who we had met on-line prior to the cruise.
In Santorini, we had to use a tender and the seas were rough, causing many delays. Being "Select" Captain's Club members, we were able to get off the ship early. The delays were weather related and certainly not Celebrity's fault. We shared a driver with another couple and toured the beautiful island.
In Ephesus, we had prearranged a private tour with Ephesus Shuttle which had been recommended to us by a friend who was there in June. Ask for Deniz and do tour #8. (www.ephesusshuttle.com). This tour included lunch in a small mountain village which was excellent.
Israel: We've been to Israel twice before and didn't need to repeat Masada and the Dead Sea in the heat of summer. Instead, we went to Tel Aviv/Jaffa on Monday. The tour guide took us to a great restaurant in Jaffa. As it was a custom tour, we asked to see the border with Gaza which was about ½ hour south of the port. On Tuesday, we had an excellent guide (Shalom) who took us to Jerusalem. We first went to Yad Vashem. Even though we had been there twice before, it has been redone and was just terrific (although depressing). We then went to the Old City, visited Mount of Olives for the view and then The Western Wall. It was a long 12 hour day and Shalom was excellent. Each of these tours cost us $95 each for six people in the van. The following day, we were docked in Haifa. We shared a cab with another couple and went to Safed where we had also been before. Our driver had to leave as he had a family emergency so we became "stranded". We were offered a ride back from a private tour guide who was sympathetic, but the cruisers in that group (all Cruise Critic members from our ship) were upset with her offer to help us, got out of shape and told their guide not to take us. One of the shop owners was extremely helpful and found another taxi for us to get back to Haifa, but we were disappointed in the attitude of our fellow cruisers on the private tour.
Athens: we've been to Athens before but there were many people on the roll call saying how terrible it would be and they'd rather stay on the ship than experience the "horrors" of Athens. We had booked entrance to the New Acropolis Museum on-line, in advance and had no problem with the taxi going from the port to the museum (15E) and returning from the Plaka (20E). We had lunch in the Plaka, (actually two lunches, the food was great!). Both taxi drivers were friendly and honest and there was very little traffic. We found the first taxi a few blocks from the port as the drivers in the port wanted a minimum of four hours.
Naples: we had not been to Naples before. We booked a private driver (50E each, he was not a guide) with six other Cruise Critic members and had a long day seeing the Amalfi Coast and visiting Pompeii. It was probably the hottest day of the cruise, but still, we had an interesting and great adventure. At Pompeii, we picked up a local guide to show us the ruins.
SUMMARY: We had a wonderful vacation. The ship was beautiful, the service excellent and the food met our needs. What could possibly be bad about that?