The most important thing to remember as you read this review is that Solstice had a norovirus outbreak some two cruises before ours and was therefore at Code Red before the ship even arrived in Barcelona to pick us up. We were apprised of the situation by a Cruise Critic member doing a back-to-back. He posted on the roll call that we would be delayed boarding and why. I am grateful for the heads up. We were able to get a late checkout from our hotel and then make our way leisurely to the pier.
Embarkation . . . we arrived to board at about 2:30 pm and dropped our bags with the porters straight away. We were in Concierge Class and went directly to check-in. We were handed a boarding card and went into Duty Free for some meandering. About the time we were finished wandering, our boarding card was called and we boarded the ship. Easy, easy, easy. One thing that got missed at the check-in was that our dining table (late seating) number was written on the little folder that they put your seapasses in. That was the only notification of our table number. More on that later. So, this was the first we noted a reduction in the use of paper, no card in the stateroom advising the dining table number. The second thing I noticed regarding paper reduction was the lack of serviettes under the glasses for wine and beer in the Ocean View Cafe and most bars. Sloppy.
Service . . . Because of the threat of norovirus, there was no self-service of ANYTHING allowed in the Ocean View Cafe. The staff poured all drinks, there were no salt and pepper shakers (they would hand you individually wrapped salt and pepper only), the staff had to squirt your ketchup or Tabasco or whatever condiment you wanted. We were chastised for reaching for utensils all nicely wrapped in linen napkins just waiting to be used. We had to wait for them to be handed to us. The lines for drinks were the worst. The serving staff didn't really have a good plan for how they would handle the orders. Was there a queue? Where was the queue? What drinks could you get from which queue? Regarding the coffee . . . It really does matter if you order regular coffee and watch the staff member draw from the decaf pot because they're out of regular. It really does matter. A simple, "We're out, come back later or go over there" would suffice, but alas, they attempted to decaffeinate us. Speaking of coffee, I don't know why there was a shortage of coffee cups, but they used disposable cups A LOT (which really made no sense when you consider the other attempts at paper use reduction) until they ran out three days before the cruise was over. They started serving hot coffee in plastic water glasses. Euw. I went to the Baccio and paid for a coffee because I couldn't stand it anymore.
Every entry into every common area required an anti-bacterial squirt. They blocked most entrances into the shops in order to funnel people toward the anti-bacterial staff. It was funny that our hands were just drying off from our walk through the casino when we had to be squirted again to get into a shop. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they were so diligent about it. We did not get sick and no one we knew got sick. We heard near the end of the cruise that crew members kept coming down with it.
Service at the Ocean View Cafe, where we ate most breakfasts and lunches, was uneven. It's hard not to complain when you arrive in front of a station with three servers and they are so busy looking past you or chatting that it's as though you're invisible. This happened repeatedly. My guess is that English language skills among the staff may be the problem. I think they fear offering help because it has the potential to lead into miscommunication which results in trouble from their boss, so they stand there hoping each other will be the first to offer help. All our lives would be simplified if the guests wouldn't make special requests and just go with the flow. Take what you get.
Celebrity's experiment in eliminating the use of trays in the Ocean View Cafe is a dismal failure in my opinion. One hand for a drink and one hand for a plate or bowl and that's all you get unless you care to make a second or third trip and then you lose your table (And where do you put your utensils? Your pocket? Your mouth?). Horrible. I feel sorry for those with palsy or other balance problems. I think a tray really does make a difference. At least one person might be able to manage food for two. I'd hazard a guess on this one and say that they probably sell more drinks because ordering a drink assures the staff will deliver it right to your table. I want the trays back!
We skipped dinner the first night. We went to the Tuscan Grill on the second night and ordered the filet mignon. Excellent food, excellent service, excellent everything. We ate dinner during late seating in the main dining room on all the other nights. I went to the mdr during first seating on the third night to find out our table number (remember I didn't know it was written on the little blue folder the seapass cards came in) and had to wait for a very long time while the head waiter dealt with people who wanted to change tables. One of them was very unpleasant, making loud threats. The other was quite humorous -- two single women wanting a table with single men who were not gay (I have a new appreciation for the job of a head waiter). Once it was my turn, the head waiter told me our table number, but then said no one was left at our table of 8 except us and gave me several options. We could remain there alone or move to the next table which had room for two or move somewhere else. We opted to join the table near ours and it was the right decision. The people we dined with were interesting and fun.
I have to say a word about Flavio here. He was the head waiter (I'm not exactly sure of his title) for our section of the main dining room. A rumpled Eastern European, he looks like a wise guy that could break your legs with a word. He was the ultimate in efficiency and kindness, however, so good at his job, a pleasure to watch because of the incongruity between the way he looked and the way he worked. Props to Flavio.
Food . . . it just gets worse and worse every cruise we take. The buffet food is nearly always cold by the time it is served, much less to your table. So much gelatin-based dessert, there's not much satisfying there. I had a veal chop one night at dinner in the mdr that was not edible. On the good side, the sushi bar was great. The pineapple was ripe and wonderful. I had an Asian Udon noodle dish for lunch in the mdr one day that was the best meal of the cruise. Fabulous. It does seem that cruise lines are realizing they can cash in on little things just like the airlines do. So now, for a small fee you can order specialty coffee, crepes, gelato, etc. At one time they would have included all of that in the price of the cruise.
We went to Bistro on Five on the second to last day of the cruise. It was quite full and the service was ridiculously slow. We each ordered a different kind of crepe, but they weren't worth writing home about. Bistro on Five was not a good experience and I wish I had saved my money. Thumbs down! The concept seems to use a lot of ship space that could be better utilized. Why not turn the specialty restaurants into lunchtime venues in order to maximize the space?
Activities . . . we enjoyed the lectures, the gym, the outdoor track, some of the performers (Doug Cameron and Siobhan Phillips). There seems to be a dearth of live music around the ship and that's a shame.
Stateroom . . . we got upgraded! We had booked a verandah room on deck 9 and ended up in the stern on deck 10 in concierge class. It was bliss. This was our first trip on a Solstice class ship, having been on a Millennium three times and Century once. The room on Solstice was larger than any we've ever been in. It had a large bathroom. There was lots of storage. The TV was a flat screen. It was the best stateroom we've ever had or are likely to have in the future. Absolutely wonderful. The verandah did get a lot of soot, but they cleaned it every few days and it wasn't a big deal.
Room Service . . . excellent. Cheese plates aren't on the room service menu, but we started ordering them and they were great. We did eat breakfast in our room the first few days and the food always appeared when we asked for it and it was what we had ordered. No complaints at all.
Disembarkation . . . I worked for an airline at an airport for ten years and they always said that baggage claim was the last chance to make a good impression. Celebrity failed miserably at this. We were scheduled to depart the ship at 9:40am, but had to be out of the room by 8am. We found comfortable seating in the library to wait. It was the best ship exit I've ever experienced, we walked right off at 9:40am. As soon as we hit the ground it became a nightmare. The queue was like one found at Disneyland where they snake you around and around. It was raining. We were covered with an awning, but it dripped in some places and the wind was blowing the rain onto us at times, but we couldn't go anywhere for shelter. Once through the queue, we found our luggage and got into the queue again for customs/immigration. It seems to me that Celebrity could do a better job coordinating with the US Government over this. We were in no hurry to go anywhere, we had no flight to catch. I understand that Celebrity needed to clean the ship due to norovirus again after our disembarkation. They offered the back-to-backs a free shore excursion to get them off the ship. That's really all Celebrity cared about, was getting everyone off the ship. It was awful. We were in a queue on the ground for over an hour.
Let me end by saying that a bad day cruising beats a good day working anytime, and though this review may sound like a whinathon the cruise was wonderful and there's very little I would change.