Having sailed on the Solstice for a 7 day getaway cruise back in January 2011, I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the same ship later in the year on a different route and compare the voyage. I could sum it up by saying 7 nights in the Caribbean was superb, 12 nights in Europe was spectacular.
We started out at an excellent hotel in Barcelona I read about on cruise critic. The Hotel Jazz was centrally located; medium in the price scheme, and attention to detail was excellent. Smallish in size (8 floors), but with a sharp rooftop pool, super helpful staff, and because of its central location, easily could navigate Barcelona.
Embarkation was one of the easiest I've been through. I had forgotten my luggage tags, guys outside the terminal gladly took care of that in an instant and a smile. Lines moved quickly outside, with less than 10 minutes before was inside the terminal, and less than 45 minutes before I was checked in and boarding the ship.
The logistics of moving 2800 passengers and their luggage in a relatively short period always amazes me. One thing I really admire is Celebrity doesn't shortchange its staff for embarkation. Probably 8-10 people outside the terminal ready to take your bags. Another 30-40 inside the terminal available to check you in scan your credit card details/passport and get you your sea pass to board the Solstice.
Having been a fan of the Millennium class, and especially the Constellation, still surprised how much I enjoy the Solstice class. It's about a third bigger passenger wise, but still has a way of feeling intimate. You still get the feeling of being a guest rather than a passenger, just by the extra courtesies the staff always provides.
Two suggestions I strongly recommend is trying some of the specialty restaurants onboard. My two favorite are Murano and Tuscan Grill. Both excel but for different reasons. Tuscan Grill resonates with the sounds and smells of Italy. We had a group of about 10 dining together and the staff was more than accommodating to let us savor each other dishes as well as allowing us to get a few extra dishes so all could try.
In Murano, we reserved the wine room, for the 7 of us, and so it was our own private dining room inside the Murano restaurant itself. Service was terrific although I think our waiter must have been new, as he tried his best to describe the way things were cooked kind of generically rather than knowing the specifics on how they were prepared. Luckily the Maitre D kind of helped in this regard, and kept it up to the quality of a Michelin type service.
The main dining room was excellent, can't think of a bad meal I had there. The buffet was good any time of day breakfast, lunch or just a snack (they make the greatest ice cream in the world on Celebrity). I never eat ice cream at home but ate it every day of the cruise.
One thing I absolutely adore is the warmth you get from the staff after you travel a few cruises with Celebrity. Last time I had been on Solstice, we had the same Hotel Director onboard as this voyage, and saw her the first day and she greeted me warmly remembering all my details.
The second day of the cruise I found a 12 pack of bottled Pepsi in my cabin compliments of the Hotel Director, as she had remembered that I had mentioned last cruise that I didn't drink alcohol, and preferred Pepsi and the ship only carried Coke. When I saw her the next day I thanked her for the gesture (and the Pepsi), and she said she just felt bad she couldn't of had it onboard the first day instead of the second, but they had trouble finding it in Barcelona. Now how's that for attention to detail?
Over the past few years I think they have done a very good job with the excursions in regard to quality/value. I think I did 6 excursions off the ship and only found one (Florence/Pisa) to be choppy and kind of lacking structure or a theme. Florence was essentially wasted time where you really didn't have time to do more than walk by things rather than visit them, while the Pisa portion was quite a nice afternoon.
Rooms on the Solstice are a nice step up from most lines. A good amount of storage, bathrooms like an upscale hotel. I picked a cabin immediately next to the bridge. It was cool to be able to see the bridge from my balcony, but noise can be a problem at that location during the day as you hear quite a bit of door slamming. At night though it was peaceful, so no complaints. Downside to being next to the bridge is you are not near an elevator, but you take the good with the minor things like that.
Two small complaints I had that seemed to be a common theme with other passengers in the room were the television and the telephone. The telephone is backlit so even when its not in use it has a tendency to be rather bright (like a bright night light), that can't be turned off. My remedy was to lay my sea pass card across the face of the illuminated panel to dim it down to negligible.
The other small complaint was the remotes for the televisions aren't very food. Last cruise had the same problem and found it rather common complaint at our dinner table, that no ones seemed to work really well. Maybe batteries need to be changed out more? Its funny I had a suite last voyage on Solstice and that remote was also taped up and not working real well. Funny thing is those two minor annoyances were the only complaints I could think of, so gives you an idea on how great the ship and staff really are.