Celebrity Solstice Back-to-Back 1/8/12 (Western Caribbean) and 1/15/12 (Eastern)
Married couple, 35/47, with a 2.5 year old son. Week 1 we cruised with 8 adult relatives; week 2 was just the two of us.
I have to admit I was nervous about this cruise, even though I've been on so many great Celebrity cruises in the past. The ship had several recent outbreaks of noro virus, and there were a number of negative reviews posted in the weeks before our sailing. The good news is that I had nothing to worry about -- it was one of the best cruises ever, and 14 days was just right.
Best ever! Since the ship was in dry dock the week before our cruise, the ship was ready for boarding very early and there were no lines at all. Plus, we were able to get right to our cabins.
We were in a S1 Sky Suite on the 7th deck. Previously we had sailed in a Celebrity Suite, which is considerably larger and has a separate bedroom area. So I was afraid that the SS might be a letdown. Wrong! I actually preferred the SS, because it is so much more open and airy than the CS. I loved having 2 exposures and the panoramic views from the balcony. Storage space, while lacking a walk-in closet, was more than adequate for the 3 of us.
The only downside to the suite didn't become apparent until about day 10. That's when they seemed to have turned on the engine below our suite, and the vibration and humming were pretty bad. I believe that they have 4 engines, 2 aft and 2 fore, but they only need to run 1 at a time. So we were lucky the first 10 days, not so much the last 4 days.
We all thought that the food in the buffet was much better and more varied than our recent RCL cruise. In fact, I thought it seemed better than our cruise on Equinox last year.
The first week, we had dinner in the main dining room on 5 nights. We were given a great table, right in the middle of the main floor of the dining room. The service was as good as or better than ever. The food was mostly great, always the right temperature, and generally quite enjoyable. There was only 1 dish I regretted ordering, a pasta dish, and to be fair the waiter warned me not to get it.
On one night we ate as a group in Silk Harvest, which was a lot of fun. The food is pretty average Asian fare, but we enjoyed the non-stop family style service (we just asked them to bring us a little of everything) and the cold sake was nice and intoxicating.
We also ate as a group in the Tuscan Grille. For some reason I remember the food being a little better in the Grille on Equinox, but the service was terrific and everyone enjoyed their meals. I thought my steak was a little too salty, and the appetizers were not too inspiring.
The second week, we didn't eat in the main dining room at all. We bought the 3 specialty restaurant package, plus we had 1 free dinner for being in a suite, we ate twice at Blu, and had one dinner on shore in San Juan. Murano was hands down our favorite; as good as anything I've had on land or sea. We also loved Blu, and would consider booking Aqua Class in the future to eat all my meals there.
We had breakfast in Bistro on 5 one morning. They served crepes stuffed with eggs, cheese, etc., and we also indulged in a Nutella and banana crepe. Yum! It was a nice alternative to the hustle and bustle of the buffet.
We had the drink package on the first week, and liked it so much we got it on the 2nd week. I won't go into all the details, but I'm pretty sure we got our money's worth! We particularly enjoyed being able to pair different glasses of wine with each course at dinner, and we must have tried each brand of premium vodka that they had on the ship! We also enjoyed the coffee at Cafe Biaco. I don't usually have espresso drinks at home, but these were irresistible.
Our cabin service was just great. No complaints at all. The butler really came through for me when he was able to press my tuxedo shirt one hour after the laundry officially closed, on formal night. He delivered breakfast on time in the morning, and always asked throughout the day if we needed anything.
Okay, here's one complaint: The breakfast served in the room was always cold. Always. I think it just takes too long for the food to get from the kitchen all the way up and back to our room. It was always right on time, so it's not as though it was being picked up late.
Another complaint: I found the bar tenders to be a pretty unfriendly bunch of guys. We frequented the martini and pool bars, and none of them seemed to be happy to be there. In the martini bar, we noticed some conflict among the bartenders. They seemed to be more focused on their juggling and pouring skills (which were amazing) than their people skills. The pool bartenders just seemed grumpy most of the time. Could this be due to the drink packages we had?
Meanwhile, most of the cocktail servers that roamed the floor were pretty friendly. But in the past we used to LOVE our bartenders, really got to know them, and thought they were the nicest people on the ship. Not anymore.
On the other hand, the Guest Relations staff was the friendliest and most helpful I have ever experienced on a Celebrity cruise. I got to know them well over 14 days, and they were always cheerful and willing to help solve problems.
Only saw part of one show, so I won't comment on the productions. However, I will say that I really enjoyed the addition of a live DJ on the pool deck and the generally more contemporary music that was played. It was much more fitting with the W Hotel style that the ship is known for than the music I remember that was played on prior cruises.
We visited 4 ports the first week, and 3 the second.
GRAND CAYMAN. We booked a private snorkeling and stingray city tour with Native Way water sports. The tour was a lot of fun, even though our captain wasn't terribly personable.
COZUMEL. We went to one of the all-inclusive day resorts (Nochi Cocom). The food and drinks were good and the beach was nice and clean. Our group tried Mr. Soncho's on our last cruise, and the verdict was that Soncho's was better for food (all you can eat) and the drinks better ant Nochi (not watered down).
ROATAN. We booked a private island tour through Bodden tours. The driver took us to the iguana and monkey zoos, and to a small seaside restaurant for lunch. The tour was okay, but next time I'd probably I'd probably just head to the beach.
COSTA MAYA. This ended up being our favorite excursion. We booked a private tour to the nearby Mayan ruins with Native Way. The guide was excellent, and the tour included an authentic Mayan lunch in a small village. The food was great, and overall we found the tour to be very educational.
SAN JUAN. The ship arrives in San Juan at 2:00 PM ship time, 3:00 PM SJ time, so it can get a little confusing since you stay on ship time. We did a Segway tour through Celebrity. First time on a Segway, and I would definitely do it again. At first it feels so awkward, but in a few minutes it is like something you were born doing. It's that intuitive. And really fun.
ST MARTIN. We booked a mountain hike through Celebrity. Unfortunately due to rain it was cancelled, and they suggested the Tree Top Zip-line adventure at Loterie Farm. We agreed to give it a try -- big mistake! Unless you are a real dare devil with excellent balance and coordination, I would not recommend this excursion. Very little time is spent on zips; most of the time is spent maneuvering across a series of cables and slippery bridges from tree to tree. Instructions are minimal, and it really didn't feel safe at all. Many in our group loved it, but I found it pretty scary (I don't have great balance, although I'm in decent shape). Did I mention it was pouring rain, and that everything was very slippery when wet?
ST THOMAS. We had booked a private sailing tour with Captain Pat, but cancelled since we had both come down with colds so we decided to take it easy. The sun came out around noon, so we made our way to Megan's Bay and had a nice afternoon at the beach.
INSIDE ACCESS TOUR
On the next to the last sea day, I took the Inside Access tour. It's a 3-hour behind the scenes tour of the ship, and it ends with a lovely lunch at Blu. We toured the bridge, the theater, the crew quarters, the storage facility, and (of course) the galley. I highly recommend it. They charge $150, most likely to keep the group small (just 5 of us participated). I justified the expense by not doing any spa treatments this cruise. And it was much more enjoyable than any of the spa treatments I've gotten, and they didn't try to sell me $100 worth of creams at the end.
At the end of the first week, we were given the option of staying on the ship or spending some time in Fort Lauderdale. The information packet recommended the latter. They had no way of knowing that there would be a 1-hour wait to clear customs on that particular Sunday, but there we were stuck in the worst line I've ever been in. When we finally made it out, we jumped in a cab, did some shopping, and came back. Later we spoke with other B2B passengers who stayed on board, and they had a much better experience.
Prior to leaving the ship, I went up to the buffet for a bite to eat, and it was really chaotic. By about 7:30 they started running out of plates and silverware. The orange just dispenser was empty. It's pretty obvious that they use a skeleton back-up crew in the cafÃ© on debark/embark day. It's too bad, since it is the last impression many people will have. I remember they used to serve in-stateroom continental breakfast on debarkation day. That was much more civilized.
Here's where it gets interesting. We participated in the luggage valet program, paying $20 per person to have up to 4 bags picked up from us at night and delivered directly to our airline. You don't see your bags again until you arrive in your destination airport. They also check you in, so you get your boarding pass the night before. It can't be any more convenient.
I went up to the cafÃ© extra early. This time there was orange juice and utensils, but they ran out of coffee! At 7 AM! Oh well, at least I was prepared for it this time.
We were told to meet in Cellar Masters at 8:00 AM. At about 8:40, they announced that passengers participating in the luggage valet program could depart. So we made our way down to the gangway, excited to be on our way home to see our son. But when we dipped our sea passes into the machine, we didn't get the standard "thung!" sound. Instead, it went "ding ding ding!" like you would hear if you make it all the way to the top of the $20,000 Pyramid. We thought, did we win something?
The guard asked us to step aside and told us we'd have to wait to be escorted off of the ship. He couldn't, or wouldn't, tell us why. Five minutes later another guard steps up, they whisper to each other, and the second guard says, "follow me, you need to have a discussion."
He leads us through the line, allowing us to cut in front of everyone. When we got to the terminal, we were led to a customs agent seated at a table. We look over to the side, and there are our bags along with a few other suit cases. What about the whole you-won't-see-your-bags-again thing?
The agent asked us to pick out our bags and move them aside.
He takes out some form, checks a box or something, and says, "Okay, you can go."
Me: "Do you want our blue customs form?"
Him: "Oh, yeah, thanks."
Then we walked out of the building, having skipped all of the lines.
We hopped in a cab, and I kid you not, we were at our terminal at 9:00 AM. Twenty minutes door-to-door.
How's that for a great way to end a fantastic 14- day cruise?