Celebrity Solstice 9/5/11 Mediterranean Cruise
We arrived in Barcelona on Sept. 2nd so we could get over jet lag and relax and see the city. Took "No Jet Lag" pills and they worked really well. Still tired a bit but if you take them as directed, you won't be so exhausted and your body clock seems to more easily adapt. We were picked up at airport by Autosvilar and they were really good. We used them for all our transfers from hotel to ship and back again. Always on time and very helpful drivers. We traveled with 4 couples in same van at times and they dealt well with all our luggage etc. I got their name from Cruise Critic.
We stayed at Hotell Barcelona Catedral. This hotel is right across from the Cathedral and near, but not on, Las Ramblas. Lots of things to see in this area. Great location. Desk personnel was very helpful and they were also very nice. Rooms were nice, beds a bit hard but I'm told that is how it is in Europe. Very nice, and we would stay there again. They have a deal with the City Tour Hop On, Hop Off bus and it saves you a few Euros. Bank with an inside ATM is right around the corner. We were able to use our Capital One ATM card there. I opened a Money Market savings account before leaving home and funded it. Capital One does not charge additional foreign exchange rate. Therefore, only get charged the market currency rate between USD and Euros. I also only used my Capital One credit card while in Europe for the same reason. I had found out about all of this on Cruise Critic too. Thank goodness for roll calls!
One thing about Hop On bus. There are two companies. Watch which bus line you get on. The green and white bus left us off in the middle of town at exactly 8 PM. The red one will take you the route and leave you off where you got on. Thanks to English speaking stores, we found our way back on foot. Don't miss Segrada Familia. A highlight for sure. Watch your belongings. We saw someone take two shopping bags quick as a flash and police couldn't catch him! They are expert pickpockets! Luckily, we didn't have any problems but we wore money belts and only carried small amounts. Left everything in hotel safe, or on ship in safe. You do not need to carry passports, leave them in the safe.
Monday, Sept. 5
Autosvilar picked us up at 11 AM and it was a short drive to port. Embarkation was a breeze and we were on the ship at the buffet before 12:15. Champagne and Mimosas served as you enter ship. Celebrity Solstice is a beautiful ship. No denying that. And when she sails it is very quiet and stable. We had a balcony room on deck 6. Lifeboats below us but it didn't block our view. Cabin stewards took the partitions on balconies off since we all had 4 rooms in a row, so we had a nice expansive view and ate breakfast together on balconies before many of our early morning port days.
The cabins are fabulous! Lots of storage...and don't forget the large storage over the bed. The bathroom was wonderful. Lots of storage here and the shower door is circular and plexiglass so it doesn't blow in on you. Water pressure great and there is a bar in shower for having legs or washing feet. I now want one at home. Cabin stewards were great! Bed was so very comfortable.
Overall Review of Ship
While cabins were wonderful, and traffic pattern of ship good (you never felt the ship was overcrowded) we found some negatives. In comparing things to Princess Cruiseline, our whole group couldn't help but say that Princess has them beat! The food on Solstice was good, but not consistently great. Steaks sometimes tough. Dining room service on Select Dining was not consistent either. Our waiter was so nice, but did not have enough help. He ran himself ragged. We complained as we had to leave the table before dessert to make the shows at night. After that, for a night or two, he had more help, and then it was non-existent again. We ate at Tuscan Grille one night and it was excellent! Again, it's that kind of service and food we have become used to on Princess. And on Princess we didn't need to pay extra to get it!
Other complaint: Their entertainment concept in the main atrium just is not conducive to a more mature crowd. After touring all day, we'd like to sit down and not have to stand at the railing and strain to see. Also not enough room to dance there. Lots of good music there but never room to enjoy it. We finally found the Ensemble Lounge by Michael's Club on Deck 5. The Sky Lounge was great for dancing and we had a couple of nights up there that were a lot of fun. We wished they would have had more music up there instead of in the atrium. Only one thing, a whole side of the room was smoking and one night we had to leave since we couldn't breathe. Oh, and Bistro On Five is great for crepes and paninis and salads. $5 cover charge, but worth it! Seemed a well-kept secret since it was never busy. Not a whole lot going on the few sea days we had. Pool was sometimes really full. People left towels on chairs and never returned. Staff rarely asked if you wanted a drink at pool and in the buffet we frequently had to find staff to bus the table so we could sit there. I loved sitting out on back deck and eating. That was so beautiful. Hot Glass Show is nice. Wasted room on the lawn up there otherwise. Smoking sections on ship were very strange. The jogging track passes the smoking section. Go figure!
The shows in the theater were very different, and we really enjoyed them. Cirque du Soleil experience they had was marvelous. Wonderful, very talented young people. We enjoyed all of the entertainment each night. Different from Princess, but very, very good. The Captain playing his guitar and singing was very special. He participated in many things around the ship. We did not particularly like the cruise director. She did not seem to be very present around ship, but was very talented on stage.
Formal nights: We noticed that a lot of men did not wear tuxes. We had decided it was too much to bring and apparently so did many others. Women were dressed in a variety of short or long dresses or palazzo pants etc. Do not bring expensive jewelry. Best not to wear it in ports and on the ship we had fun with costume jewelry at night.
The ship was very clean. They did do a phenomenal job at that. The idea of not making sales pitches and constant announcements was also very nice.
Smooth as silk. We had marked down to depart ship at 8:30 and had breakfast in the dining room before leaving. We left the ship pretty much on time and getting our luggage in the cruise terminal was very easy. Got a man to help us out to the curb and our transfer ride from Autosvilar was there in a few minutes. We had said 9 AM and we were there about 10 minutes earlier.
All in all, we had a wonderful time. I mean, no cruise is a bad cruise. There were 5 couples traveling together as we have before. We all agreed that for our next cruise we will go back to Princess. Celebrity tries but just doesn't quite measure up.
Villa Franche: Charming town. We walked up and down the streets. Took ship 3 and a half tour to Nice and Monaco, Eze. Lovely ride. Absolutely beautiful!
Pisa and Florence: We had private tour with DriverInRome. We used them for 3 tours and they were terrific!!! They were always there to meet us and very accommodating. Spoke good English and did lots of narrating as we drove. They really made our trip! Anyway, we went to Pisa first and that was beautiful! Then we went to Florence. Went to Accademia to see the David. DriverInRome had made us a reservation so we went to the front of the line and got in fast! He also took us to the most wonderful little Italian restaurant. To let you know, in some places in Europe they put bread on the table and automatically charge for it. Don't get too upset about these differences in culture. It's sometimes very different from being in the US. I had the very best Rose wine I've ever had in Florence. Our driver gave us choices and we got to see what we wanted.
ROME: Again, DriverInRome made our day. Daniele picked us up and we went all over Rome. He took us right to the front of the line at both the Colosseum and Vatican Museums. You can't believe the lines...we'd have waited all day without him. We had pizza in a little place in Rome. And before leaving Rome, he took us to get gelato. We had gelato each day they took us on a tour! Rome, so many places to see, and he took us to see it all! Yes, we threw coins in the Trevi Fountain, hoping to one day return. Daniele did a wonderful job pointing things out to us and I learned a lot. Sistine Chapel was gorgeous. We would not have been able to do so much without Daniele.
NAPLES: Again, DriverInRome picked us up. We had a guide this day too, for Pompeii. Santiago was wonderful and I suggest a guide here. Pompeii was very different than I thought it would be and you won't understand it if you don't have a guide. Again, we went to the front of the line to get in. The views along the Amalfi Coast were beautiful. They took us to a fabulous restaurant in Positano with a view you wouldn't believe and food we will never forget! Constantino's. Not cheap...but no one cared. It was extraordinary! Again, we had some choices as to what to see and do. And again, a wonderful day! Thank you DriverInRome!!!
Dubrovnik: Don't worry about getting Kuna here. Pay for the wall with your credit card and once you are in, most stores etc. take Euros. We took the ship shuttle and that worked great. We walked the port side of the wall. Lots of steps here. Wear good walking shoes on this trip. Gorgeous views.
VENICE: Oh, how I loved Venice! We took the ship shuttle. Very convenient. Oh, another plus for Celebrity....they get you on and off the ship in little or no time! Very efficient! We walked, took Valparettos, and had a wonderful gondola ride! Spend the money for the gondola ride, it's so much fun. Just get a gondolier (no trouble finding one, there are hundreds), settle on a price before. Don't haggle or they will cut the trip short. Most are about 45 minutes. Went in the back canals too. Did it just before sunset. Weather was still very hot throughout our cruise, so always drink water and dress lightly. Even though it was so warm, Venice refused to let us into the restaurant with men in short pants. Luckily, my guy had shorts with zip on pant legs, so he just zipped them on. This is also true for many churches, synagogues, etc. in Europe. We stopped at an outside cafe and had dinner in Venice. The next morning, we took a ship tour to the islands of Murano and Burano. Quite lovely and informative and a nice boat ride. We loved both places and wished we'd had more time to shop in Burano.
KOTOR: Another wall...but we didn't walk up. Went inside and walked the streets to see the shops and cafes. Lots of history everywhere we went and so much to take in. But we loved each and every port. I loved the bells here in Kotor!