We sailed on the Solstice Oct. 11 out of Barcelona. She is a lovely ship. Having sailed on the Millenium this past January, we were looking forward to the same high quality Celebrity is known for. In most ways, the Solstice stood up to our consequently high expectations.
Boarding was smooth and efficient in spite of the fact that half the passengers seemed to be boarding at this time. From the moment we handed over our luggage until we were on the ship, it only took about 20 minutes.
We boarded around 12:30 and took the advice of another Cruise Critic member, and we proceeded to the 'Bistro on Five' for lunch. This way we avoided the craziness at the buffet upstairs, where everyone was trying to gather food from the various stations with their wheeled carryons, etc. (Note: when packing, put a smaller bag inside your carry-on bag so you can take your breakables like cameras on board in it and check your carry-on with your regular bag at the embarkation point.) The Bistro On Five is great and only $5 per person. This includes a salad, sandwich or crepe, and dessert. Our rooms were available at 1:30 so we were able to finish lunch and go immediately to our stateroom.
We had a balcony stateroom and it was great. Narrow, of course, but very spacious and lots of places to stow stuff. The bathroom was terrific; large and a great shower. We didn't even use all the drawers in the bathroom. The only thing that was strange was the closet; it runs parallel to the bed and it's a tight fit if two of you are trying to get clothes out of there at once. However it allows more space for the bathroom, I believe, so it's worth the inconvenience. We brought a bunch of thin wire hangers in our suitcase, and there was plenty of room for our clothes for a 12-night cruise. The bed was plenty large and my husband and I both found it really comfortable. It was quiet except when the doors to the staterooms on either side of us slammed shut, and you could hear someone below when they coughed really loudly, but luckily that didn't happen too much! On deck 8 the staterooms are all on one side of the hallway, so you don't have to deal with other passengers across the hall from you.
There are two big shelves over the bed, but it's hard to reach the parts of them furthest from the edge of the bed without standing on the bed (I am 5'5" tall). The covers for these compartments are hinged from the top so you have to hold it up with one hand and fish out your clothing item with the other. The balcony was more spacious than I thought it would be and you can recline the chairs to make them into 'chaise lounges'. We really enjoyed several sunsets as we sailed out of port, from our balcony. (We were on the port side, deck 8).
We ate breakfast in the main dining room twice. Both times we were led to a table with several people already there. The service was extremely slow. The second time, the others at our table ordered 'courses' of fruit etc. and then the main meal, so even though we just ordered the eggs & sausage, we had to wait and wait until others at the table were served the 'preliminaries'.
On days in port, the Ocean Cafe upstairs is very crowded for breakfast and lunch. Fortunately everyone was very social and friendly on this cruise (you must be to join 2800 others on your vacation!) and no one minded sharing their breakfast and lunch tables. We had a wonderful conversation with a couple from Columbia one morning. The number of items available at breakfast is truly staggering. I am glad we were on a 12-night cruise because it takes at least 7 days/nights to figure out all the offerings in the Ocean Cafe. The coffee stations are very congested, and they definitely need a few more of them.
I thought the various offerings of things to do on board were good and varied. We never got time to do the 'ipad' tour of the art. You get an ipad at the desk and use it to take a tour of all the art works on the ship. Speaker Linda Seidel was very good. She lectured about Caravaggio and Gaudi/Picasso on two separate lectures. Glenn Olsen, a professor, also lectured. His style is very 'old school' with old art slides and a slow delivery of information. If you attend his lectures sit in front. After a few minutes a lot of people rudely left, causing others to have to stand up so they could pass down the aisle.
I did a Reidel glass activity ($15) that was really fun. The idea is, you taste wines in the glasses designed to complement the type of wine, then taste it out of a 'regular' wine glass. There really was a difference. I also did the tour of the kitchen and that was fun too.
The other entertainment was o.k. The magician was good; Claire Maiden was a piano player/country western-style singer from England (!) with a beautiful voice. The violinist was probably good too, but the sound system was SO LOUD I had to keep my fingers in my ears the entire performance. I loved the next-to-last night 'Circ de'Soliel' style performance and thought it was excellent.
The internet on Solstice is faster than on the Millenium. However the Solstice uses Apple laptops which, if you are a P.C. user, causes some challenges because the format is somewhat different. It's very expensive.
Everyone should have one martini at the martini bar. Go when Sheldon and Petar are there. They put on quite a show for us; if four people order martinis they will do a fancy juggling/pouring act that was as fun and entertaining as anything we saw on the main stage in the theater onboard.
The itinerary was great. We loved all the ports of call except Athens. When we were in Athens, the workers were on strike so we couldn't visit the Acropolis or the National Museum. (Also it was raining pretty hard). However, we did walk all the way around the bottom of the Acropolis, and spent two hours fascinated by the new Acropolis museum. I highly recommend it. We did a couple ship tours, did Rome, Athens, and Santorini on our own, and Turkey with an independent tour company. They are pretty efficient getting everyone off the ship and onto their tour busses, but it is a much larger crowd to manage than aboard the Millenium. If you take a ship shore excursion, get to the theater a few minutes early so you can get on a bus sooner. We were amazed at how crowded the Mediterranean is in October. In Santorini to take the funicular back to the tender we had to wait in line 45 minutes. Others waited over an hour.
Overall it is a good cruise product but we didn't feel it was quite as great as the Millenium. I think the cabin attendants have too many cabins to clean. On other cruise ships, the room would be clean by the time you got back from breakfast. Sometimes ours wasn't cleaned until early afternoon. Also on the Millenium the cabin attendants were often in the hallways and would stop and talk to you if they saw you coming down the hall.
The specialty restaurant aboard the Millenium, the Olympic Restaurant, was fabulous. We ate in the Tuscan Grill aboard the Solstice, and it was good, but not $80-for-two better than the regular menu.The Tuscan Grill lacks the atmosphere and ambiance of the Olympic aboard the Millenium, and I felt the service in the Tuscan Grill was rushed. If I had it to do over I'd eat all dinners in the main dining room but eat several times at Bistro on Five for lunch. The food in the main dining rooms was terrific. My husband had one piece of very dry fish, and over 400 people complained about the lobster on the last night, (I bet they change vendors or the way they cook it in the future) but other than that, everything tasted terrific. The dining room service was fast if you were at a table for two, and much slower at a large table, but still very good.
The Solstice is the smoothest-sailing and quietest ship I have ever been on, though. You had to look outside to see that you were moving. We had one night with some bouncy waves (I don't get seasick so I thought it was fun). Overall I think Celebrity has an excellent product and it is a good value.