Soul-less Solstice review
We spent the night before the cruise in Barcelona at the Hesperia Tower Hotel -â€" very beautiful and modern but a bit of a way from the port. We had dinner at a very good tapas place in the old Gothic Quarter -â€" Barrio Gotico. It was called Taller Tapas and offered a wide range of tapas choices.
The next morning we made our way to the port and we were there just after 11am. The Penthouse & Suites check-in was absolutely effortless and I don't reckon that even 10 minutes passed between first approaching the check-in desk and being on the ship. The ship is very beautiful and quite well thought out. We spent a while exploring the ship and after a short time felt that we were quite familiar with the layout. We found a spot at the Oceanview Bar for the sail out of Barcelona.
We have seen from the forums many people asking about the beverage packages. We went with the premium beverage package for $55 per person per day. This gave us absolute peace of mind as we were able to order any drink, beer, wine, cocktail, whiskey, bottled water, Red Bull, specialty coffee etc up to the maximum of $12 per person. This is a great benefit and a real reason why we would cruise Celebrity again! We calculated that we benefited from over $2000 worth of drinks. So it would definitely be an option for us on our next Celebrity cruise.
We had two sea days after Barcelona and of course probably made great gains on our beverage card. Possibly got all our money worth in those two days!
Our first specialty dining was at Tuscan Grille. The welcome from the staff and the amazing meal was very impressive and we decided to book there a few more times.
We did not do any of the shore excursions as we have travelled extensively in Europe and did all port explorations ourselves. If you do some research and find out about train time-tables and other tips to get around the various ports, you can get a more authentic feel for the port at a fraction of the cost. The only ships tour we did was to Pompeii from Naples. This was really interesting as I studied Latin at school and it was amazing to see this town so well preserved and better than I imagined it.
The food and service in the Grand Epernay main dining room is really disgusting. Food is very middle of the road and in some cases very forgettable. The service on Celebrity Select Dining is non-existent. Once again, after the initial meet & seat, the waiters were nowhere to be seen. After each course, sitting with an empty plate and empty glass we had to wave our wine glass above the plate to get the attention of both the sommelier and the waiter. We observed our whole row of tables sitting with empty plates all looking around and at each other wondering why it was that we had all been entirely forgotten. Once lunch time in the MDR, after 25 minutes wait I got up to find the waiter who was most apologetic -â€" but did not improve the service. The mains are not the glossy and appealing items mentioned on their website -â€" rather more standard housewife-feeding-the-family kind of food.
The desserts in the MDR are truly awful. Each one is just a slightly different coloured and different flavours quivering mass of gelatine on a stingy biscuit base served with a thin and unappetizing sauce. Garnish was minimal and we were motivated by the terrible MDR experience to rather go for specialty dining. Even that is not as good as Holland America and the Celebrity specialty dining is double the price with half the experience.
Murano was a complete disappointment. After an initial burst of good service, we were left alone for too long. The food is really very pedestrian and definitely not worth it. The Pinnacle Grill on Holland America is much better -â€" from the service, quality and style. Based on the very poor dinner at Murano we cancelled the rest of our dinners there and changed them to Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest. The desserts were really basic and not the fancy confections that the menu promises -â€" a real let down!
Silk Harvest is really brilliant and again the staff and food are a real asset to the Solstice. We went a few times to this specialty restaurant and enjoyed the great dishes and ambience. The only drawback is after the first two times there, they had run out of Sake -â€" which is a real annoyance.
We went once to the Oceanview Cafe -â€" although it has many items and is a large buffet -â€" we did not like the mass market crass consumer type feeding trough that it is and left for Bistro on Five. For an extra $5 per person you get the honour of waiting 35 minutes for a basic crepe while the ships officers all in uniform at the back of the restaurant get priority service and attention -â€" no wonder it is always empty.
Our room, 8345, was great and had all the space we needed being a corner suite at the back of the ship. There is one support pole near the bed and is far enough away from the bed for you to put on a pole-dancing show for your partner! The veranda is really big and we often used this space for champagne, breakfast and other meals swiftly served by our butler. There is a full bath and enough storage space in the cabinets for all your potions and lotions. The bathroom amenities are really tacky, plasticky and basic. There are no perks in having a suite apart only form the extra space. Our priority luggage delivery was a joke as being at the end of the passage we got ours last. On disembarkation make sure that you have at least an hour spare to wait for your luggage -â€" so make sure your flight is a bit later as you will not be off the boat and with luggage for a long time!
Celebrity does have a very pushy pushy and aggressive sales policy in almost all areas of the ship. On boarding we were pestered to buy a special cocktail -â€" Bahama Mama. The more we told the waiter we had a beverage pack and would NOT buy it, the more he seemed to be intent on forcing the sale. We could see that they had made too many cocktails and obviously were hell-bent on selling them. As you get off in the various ports, the ship's photographers assault you with the sales pitch for photographs. They are very pushy and annoying -â€" much more so than the hawkish street vendors in Italy...
We heard that there was an "illness" outbreak on the boat and even got a letter from the captain urging better hygiene practices. Fortunately we never got ill, but at some stages the boat was like the Marie Celeste as there was hardly anyone on board. It seems that the Solstice has a recurring problem with this and should really thoroughly check the ship for a possible source of re-infection?
On the whole Celebrity seems to have the bling and packages to attract people. On the whole we found it bland, soul-less and like being at a condo sales party with older buffet hogging types who have no intention of buying. We much preferred Holland America and are planning a cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam for next year.