The following is a review of the Celebrity Solstice, which I took on its Western Caribbean voyage from January 22-29 from Ft Lauderdale. I don't post much on CC but I'd been reading it religiously for so many months and remember how much I looked forward to these detailed reviews, so I wanted to take the opportunity to give back. In particular I think a few parts of my experience will be different than most so thought I'd take a chance to post about it!
Prior to the cruise:
We had originally booked into Concierge Class, stateroom 2109, on a hump with an oversized balcony. However, a few weeks before sailing, I noticed a significant price drop on a Royal Suite. For some reason paying a lot extra for a Sky Suite or a Celebrity Suite didn't seem worth it to us, as we figured the main thing we'd want to use the butler for is to have dinner in our stateroom and you only get a dining table in a RS or a PH. I decided to splurge for the RS and see if I could make this more of a trip-of-a-lifetime type experience. Boy was it ever!
I've seen reviews in the past broken down into category and some by day; I was going to do day by day but I don't remember exactly what we did each day so I'm going with a mix of both.
My BF and I are 28 and 33, so not necessarily your typical demographic for Celebrity. I had taken only 2 cruises prior, once with RCCL in S. Carib. and once with Celebrity in Alaska. This was my BF's first cruise ever. We live in Chicago.
We chose to stay 2 days prior to embarkation at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66, which we got cheap online for about a $100/day. It's an OK hotel in a really great location. The rooms are dated and worn but the grounds and lobby are gorgeous, and since we knew we had the RS to look forward to we didn't mind the room being a bit off and didn't spend that much time there anyway. We hopped in a cab at 11am and were to the ship about 10 minutes later.
The switching of staterooms had caused some confusion with the boarding passes but it was quickly cleared up at the suite checkin. They were letting people on the ship already (by this point it was about 11:20) so it was time for security. We had brought 2 bottles of wine per person, knowing the policy is 2 per stateroom but reading on here that you can sometimes get away with 2 per person, especially if you go through security separately. Well, being unfamiliar with the process we were quickly flustered and went through together (since we had only one printout of the cruise docs) and they caught us. We played dumb and said we didn't know it was 2 per person, but we'd already determined which bottles we were going to send away for post-cruise pickup in case they were confiscated and they were.
We then proceeded up the escalators to board, but right as we were about to scan in the security guard from downstairs came running after us and said that they had decided to let us keep all four bottles! She said they're "changing the rules all the time" and she can't keep track, but we wondered if maybe someone decided that maybe withholding 2 bottles of wine was a petty thing to do for those staying in a Royal Suite? Honestly we didn't care either way, and you'll have to remember that we were almost feeling out of place being treated so well since we've never done anything like this before, so we certainly weren't pulling any DYKWIA-business on this trip.
In our Embarkation package, they had placed a card inviting us to hang out in Michael's Club until our Stateroom was to be ready. It said this was a benefit for suite guests (RS and PH only). In fact a couple of elites tried to get in there and the Captain's Club hostess stated it was a private function - turned out we were the only suite guests who showed up that entire time! But it was really nice for us to be able to drop our bags where they would be watched by the CC hostess, and they had some extra champagne in there for us as well as some small sandwiches and cookies.
After dropping our bags we decided to explore the ship. I had never done Solstice class so this was all new for me too. We went straight to Oceanview Cafe with the intent of going to Bistro on Five if it was too busy; it was extremely packed already but we found a small table on the back deck so we plopped down there and grabbed a plate. This would be our last trip to the buffet the entire trip, other than to go to the bar and to grab some ice cream once.
After exploring the ship for awhile we headed back to Michael's club around 1:00 to see if we could get into our stateroom (they had told us 1:30pm). Our butler, Rikki, actually came down to Michael's club to get us!
I know this is going to sound like a really strange sentiment, but the RS was actually smaller than we thought it would be. I had looked at lots of pictures and youtube video tours and for some reason it just always looked bigger in those pictures. I'm sure you're feeling bad for me at this point, and really it turned out to be PLENTY of space for us, but this was just our observation. Anyway, aside from that, the room is absolutely gorgeous. Other than doors being somewhat awkward to open and close, it's well appointed and exactly our style. We also really liked having two bathrooms!
The balcony is also very big but we asked for a footstool so that both of us could put our feet up; Rikki brought us one of the white tables from the pool to use as a footstool (it looks like an hourglass shape and was perfectly fine).
We didn't exactly know how we were going to utilize Rikki, but to increase the chances of getting attention when we wanted it we handed over an envelope with a tip. I'm not going to disclose exactly how much but let's just say throughout the cruise we treated Rikki extremely well and he did the same for us.
We had chosen select dining but quickly determined making 8:30pm reservations every night was going to be too late, as we were getting hungry every day that early, so we decided to have dinner in our stateroom on the first night. Rikki brought us the menu, we wrote out our orders, and he delivered it course by course just like we had read about on these boards. It was great! We had one of our bottles of wine with dinner.
Also, a tip for those wanting to play music in any rooms that are equipped with a Bose Speaker system (RS and PH?). There is a standard headphone-type connector that the speakers plug into, on the left side of the TV. We were able to disconnect this cord and plug it into our iPod so we could play our own music. There is a lot of music in the VOD system, but the songs seem strange and not always fitting with the category and also not so modern.
One of the reasons for wanting to eat earlier was that each night there was a Friends of Dorothy event held in the Martini Bar at 8pm. As we are FOD, we wanted to stop by and see if we could meet some new friends. On my past cruise I had stopped at an FOD event and couldn't find anybody, so I didn't have high hopes. As it turns out there was a great group of people there, and by the end of the cruise I think the group had grown to about 12. They were even somewhat around our age, and some of them had relatives and friends in the crew, a few of which were able to join us on some of the nights when they had off. We had some drinks with them for awhile and then met up with them later at Quasar for a rockin' dance party. We had heard that the ship goes to sleep pretty early but this party was going strong well past midnight! Unfortunately this was the only night it did so, and Quasar was pretty empty the rest of the nights.
Day 2: At Sea
We had not gotten an alcoholic drink package, but did get the premium non-alcoholic one (with the 10% discount). Our logic was that we would have at least 3 bottles of wine (including our welcome sparkling wine), the Captain's Club event every night from 5-7, and we didn't want to feel like we had to force ourselves to drink when we didn't want to to get our value out of it. We like Red Bull a lot and figured we'd only need a coffee from bacio each day, a couple red bulls, and a bottle of water or two to reach the $16, and we could always upgrade if we were drinking more. Well as it turns out, we drank almost $110 on just the first day between the two of us, which was well more than the difference in price between the alcoholic and non-alcoholic one. The late night Quasar partying probably put us over, and I was still hemming and hawing over it (what if I get sick and don't want to drink? Will we really keep up this level of drinking?), but I decided to take the plunge.
I went to guest relations to upgrade and was very disappointed to find out that they were NOT honoring the 10% discount we had seen before the trip. I tried arguing with them to no avail, and this means I didn't even get credit for the 10% off I got on the non-alcoholic package. I said I wasn't able to upgrade online within the 4 day window so why even say that they offer it on our sailing when it would have been impossible, etc etc. Regardless I still decided to go ahead with it and we definitely got our value out of it.
We got to the pool pretty early (around 8:30) knowing it would be a busy day at sea, and boy were the pool hogs out in full force. I never saw ANY items being removed from the chairs, and all sorts of interesting things were used to hog the chairs for hours without use. I wanted to say something at several points but just couldn't bring myself to raise a stink. This has been debated ad nauseum here but I really wish Celebrity would do more about it. I have to imagine the staff simply doesn't do it unless someone complains because they know every pool hog is going to get angry when they come back.
What's worse, there's really not any signs up that are very noticeable about not doing this. They should have signs EVERYWHERE for this, and I think they should hand out special cards that fall out of the Celebrity Today to remind people that their stuff will be removed. I saw one note printed there on I think day 5 but you wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking hard.
As part of the elite benefits extended to our stateroom we were invited to a free wine tasting seminar in the Tuscan Grill. After a couple hours at the pool (didn't want to stay too long even with a prime spot as we didn't want to come away with a terrible burn on the first day!) we decided to head there (after changing to smart casual, something others decided to ignore, and it wasn't enforced despite warnings in the elite welcome letter that they would). It was fine, nothing special but the sommelier was informative and we got a couple glasses each.
Bistro on Five
After the tasting and to avoid the buffet crowds we headed to Bistro on Five. We were surprised at how empty this place remains the entire cruise, as it's delicious food and the $5 is almost nothing in comparison to everything else. Unfortunately we didn't make it back here.
After lunch we went to the Solarium. I don't have much to add here but it was nice and relaxing. We had planned to try out Blu that night, but we had a message from the Captain's Club hostess asking if we wanted to dine that night with the Hotel Director at the Captain's Table. We certainly didn't want to turn that down, so we scrapped plans for Blu.
I actually managed to work out here 4 times during the cruise. It was often busy but we went at times it wasn't TOO busy. I can only imagine how much weight I'd have gained if I hadn't gone, because what I did gain was bad enough!! The BF took a spin class and I decided to lift weights. They have signs up telling everyone to limit usage of cardio equipment to 20 minutes if there are others waiting. The problem is even if people AREN'T waiting, the equipment times out after 20 minutes so if you want to keep working out (and I never did this if there wasn't at least one other piece of equipment free, meaning no wait) you have to punch everything in again. I get why they do it, it's just annoying. If only they had similar timers on the chairs at the pool - if no weight is detected for 30 minutes and it catapults the stuff off the chair perhaps? One can dream.
After dressing up for formal night, we were told to meet in Cellar Master's at 8:15. We met the other guests (I think all 4 couples were in Royal Suites) and the CC hostess, and then the Hotel Director (Jan Willem Kuipers) met us as well. They said we could order any drink we wanted and it was on Mr. Kuipers. We were about halfway through our drinks when they came to escort us to our table (I found it strange that we showed up late for the seating, but I think it was to ensure the rest of the guests were seated already) and they had several people to carry our drinks to the table. They had preprinted name cards set out. Mr. Kuipers was very engaging and took his time to engage each of the couples at the table. He also ordered bottles of red and a white wine and this was free flowing throughout the
All of the guests were very nice and helped us feel a bit LESS out of place. I don't want to name names for their privacy sake but one of them is a partner for a major accounting firm and another when googling him you may find the word "mogul" attached to him. As I said before this was a "splurge" vacation for us whereas I got the sense these folks travel this way often, but it's nice every once in awhile to see how the other half lives.
I should note that if you book the Royal Suite you might not necessarily be invited to Captain's Table, but I could be wrong. It was a bit hard to understand the explanation given by Rikki, but he said something about sometimes people who are invited to the Captain's Table decide to take it as an opportunity to get some face time for complaints direct to the top, when this is really not the time or the place for that, and so they try to invite people who they get a sense for will appreciate this generous invitation for what it is. I don't know how they do that and don't quote me on that at all, I just wanted to include it as a disclaimer as I had not read anything about this before.
They took our picture at the captain's table, and gave us two printed copies delivered to our stateroom the next day. I don't remember exactly what we did after this but it was a very full day and we had to be up early for our first excursion so we weren't out late.
Day 3: Grand Cayman
Grand Cayman was a tender port and I'm glad it was the only one as it was very bumpy that day and took a long time and I liked the other ports for the ability to come and go as we pleased with no waits.
We had booked two shore excursions for Grand Cayman. The first was the Dolphin Kiss Encounter. After about a 15 minute bus ride we were led through a little bird sanctuary thing and then had to sign waivers and told not to put on any sunscreen (to protect the Dolphins). The Dolphin Kiss encounter involved lots of swimming by while we petted her, then having her splashing us, then kissing her, and finally each person dancing with her. I had actually read before going that you really shouldn't swim with dolphins in the caribbean because they withhold food from the animals so that they'll do their tricks and that it simply isn't very humane. Each of us must have touched the dolphin like 20 times, and even though they warn you to take off jewelry and to keep your fingernails away I imagined all dozens of people all day every day doing this to the poor animals and also it looked like their backs had been scratched. And to top it all off one of the dolphins kept nudging the food container.
I really don't want to judge them unfairly because I don't see what goes on behind the scenes but it had the appearances of not being very pleasant for the animals and so I won't be doing something like that again. We were then given way too much time to ponder whether to buy their overpriced pictures (we didn't) and then driven back to the port. This would turn out to probably be my least favorite excursion.
We had time to grab a brief lunch (there were really not many options for dining near the tender port, and since we couldn't get back on the ship easily we just had a sandwich at the bar). Then it was time for our first ever helicopter ride! Now, mostly I would say I was glad to book excursions through the ship, but in the case of Grand Cayman I think doing the helicopter ride, which is advertising right near the port, on your own, would be just fine and you'd save like $40-50 per person. It's all the same company. Regardless, the helicopter ride was amazing! It's a six person helicopter plus the pilot, and we did things I didn't think you could even do in a helicopter. We flew over stingray city and even circled our ship a few times and got some great pictures. We said after we felt like Superman, with all the dives and spins and hovering. It was very cool and the island is beautiful. I'm became a private pilot last year but in Cessnas, and I almost regret getting that type of license! (though helicopters I assume are far more expensive).
We headed immediately back to the ship after the ride and I think hung out at the pool or solarium or lawn club, can't remember.
Though I think by this time we'd already tried the molecular bar, I really must agree with other reviewers when I say this was by far our favorite bar on the ship and really a MUST if you get the premium liquor package. At $12 a pop you really get your value out of the premium liquor package quickly. Between the two of us we easily had every drink on the menu, and we must have gotten the Avocado Mezcal about 4-5 times each. We also got the recipe so we could try making it at home, and kept pushing the drink on other people. It was like a margarita but much smoother, tastier, less sweet, and absolutely delicious! We met a woman at the bar who we looked forward to seeing every day at around 5-5:30, and I don't understand why the bar is not more popular. Major Kudos to Celebrity for keeping this bar around - the drinks take longer but they're worth it, and this bar could be a deciding factor on whether I would choose Celebrity again over another cruise line. Goksel, the bartender, was one of only two staff members that we gave extra tips to (the other being Rikki) and also wrote special comment cards out for.
Since we were celebrating a special occasion this day, we used our complimentary specialty reservation to eat at Murano this night. To be honest we didn't really care for it. While the food was tasty, the service seemed unnecessarily slow, and by that I mean the delivery of the food. It seemed like they were pacing it out for the sake of pacing it out, because I can't imagine the food was taking that long to make. The dinner must have taken 2-2 1/2 hours, and we have eaten in restaurants with 9-course meals in shorter time. There may have been other stuff we'd have liked to try but we didn't want to spend that much time at dinner even if it was a special occasion.
I know that some on here have speculated that the declining quality in the MDR is a ploy to get people to eat more in the specialty restaurants. I really don't understand this thought as the specialty restaurants are actually quite small and I can't imagine they would sacrifice quality in the MDR to fill a few more seats in the specialties. Yes, the food was not ALL good (we only ate in MDR at the captain's table, but had it delivered to our stateroom 3X so effectively we had this food 4 times) but generally we really liked it and appreciate the difficulty in keeping things at a high quality for thousands of people every day of the year.
I will say one thing that I found disappointing was the supposed elimination of any sort of grand buffet. We asked Rikki about it and as best we were able to discern, they have now replaced this with a "showcase" where they put out some samples of dishes from the specialty restaurants I think on deck 3 or 4 on one of the days. This seemed kinda lame and I hope we didn't just misunderstand Rikki due to a language barrier.
I haven't mentioned any specific shows, but I think this was the night we went to the Broadway-style show. I thought the entertainment in general was just average (with the Cirque-style show being the best), but we didn't feel like we needed to make a point to go see the show every night. We only saw opening night, cirque, and broadway. I do want to say that the entertainment crew works extremely hard (a couple of them were part of the FOD group that we hung out with most nights) and one must also remember that many of the crew do multiple duties on the ship - one of our new friends, a dancer in the shows, was working disembarkation on the last day! It's not the staff but rather the lack of investment Celebrity has decided to make, and honestly I don't care too much because the best shows on the ship are in the bars anyway :)
Day 4: Cozumel
It was pretty cool to see the sister ship to the Solstice, Equinox, in port the same day. We got plenty of pictures of the two ships side by side and it was amusing to us that we could look out and see essentially a mirror image of our stateroom right across.
Excursion: Mexican Cooking Class
This was the excursion we were most looking forward to, and judging by the responses from our fellow cruisers afterwards we were in resounding agreement that this is one of the best excursions offered anywhere!! It was absolutely fantastic. I guess I didn't pay too close attention when we booked it, and I didn't realize until the day before that it's held at an all-inclusive resort type place called Playa Mia. I highly recommend Playa Mia even if you AREN'T doing the class. I think it's something like $50 and includes a buffet, unlimited drinks, full use of the beach, chairs, and umbrellas, as well as a ton of different water toys like paddle boats, kayaks, etc. All included. Our excursion with the class included access to all of this except the buffet, but the food we made ourselves was better and sufficient. The excursion was a bit more than the $50 but totally worth it.
We made three dishes; some caramelized plantains for dessert which we made first so it could be chilled for later, a piece of grouper with some grilled vegetables, and a shrimp sopa. It was all REALLY good, and very easy to make. The head chef (don't remember his name unfortunately) was really funny and charming and made the class. Everyone had so much fun.
After the class we had about an hour to enjoy some swimming and the beach before heading back to the ship. We didn't do much else here.
Something I hadn't noticed in the reviews I'd read was a really nice touch by Celebrity which is a cold towel offered every time you re-board the ship, along with water and fruit punch. They also have cold towels in the gym. I also was impressed that the Solstice had real towels in most of the bathrooms, as opposed to paper ones. There are definitely touches like these that show they are still a bit more upscale than some of the other lines.
Daily canapÃ©s and shrimp cocktail, and other butler services
I figure now is as good a time as any to mention that we had canapÃ©s, daily tea service with cookies/desserts, and shrimp cocktail delivered by Rikki every day to our room. Everyone had ripped the canapÃ©s for being terrible and I really didn't understand this. Maybe we're easily impressed but I thought they were for the most part delicious and I don't understand why everyone knocked them. It was something nice to look forward to every day, and Rikki brought the shrimp cocktail every day at 5pm. (I should note that the shrimp cocktail was 4-5 shrimps each; my impression was a full plate of shrimp but I guess it would have been greedy as 4 each was enough anyway). Along with the desserts was also afternoon tea which we definitely took advantage of, as I had lost my voice in Ft Lauderdale and was trying tea with honey to get it back (it didn't help).
I think it was day 3 or 4 that Rikki, without asking, had our shoes shined for us. He also was sort of a concierge of sorts as he would each day inform us about various goings on on the ship. He also of course delivered breakfast every day (well, 5 of them) and was always concerned that we drank our cappuccino quickly every day before it got cold. He took care of the complimentary laundry and dry cleaning we had, and he also brought us chocolate covered strawberries a couple times. He was great and he got 2 more envelopes from us during the trip and was extremely appreciative.
Dinner with guests in our room
We had a really good time in the cooking class with two girls who were part of a 200+ singles group on the ship. Apparently the singles group wasn't really what they expected (it skewed much older) and we asked if they wanted to join us in our room for dinner that night. We figured we had this big table and were planning on doing that anyway, so why not share it with someone else. Rikki really stepped up the service for this dinner and impressed our guests. It was a great time.
Day 5: Roatan
It was a pretty windy day and we weren't able to have breakfast on our balcony. Strangely, we saw two ships sailing AWAY from the port as we approached, and we started to wonder if we'd even be able to dock as the seas were quite rough and it seems these ships might have decided to cancel. We noticed that the ship had stopped and we didn't see anything off our side (we were starboard) or on the bridge cam and they hadn't made any announcements yet. We started wondering if we too were going to be canceling. In case that is what happened we grabbed our stuff to run up to the pool figuring it would quickly become crowded, only to find out that we had ALREADY docked, it's just that the whole side of the ship faces the dock so we couldn't see it!
The captain then came on to tell us that indeed two other ships had canceled due to the winds, but because RCCL owns the dock in Roatan and the others had to tender, we were the only ship that could make it. These ports and the locals really depend on the cruise ships so we felt really bad for all involved that the situation was as such. Our excursion guide told us that there had already been 6 cancellations that week! Also, he had worked on a cruise ship for 7 years, and said he felt really bad for what he knew the crew of those ships would be going through right now. Rikki confirmed this: he said that 99% of the passengers on the ship will get angry when they cancel a port, and 90% of them will be lined up at guest relations. People get extremely upset and take it out on the staff when this happens, and Celebrity ends up giving 20% OBC or future cruise credit when this happens automatically. It really disheartens us to know that people act this way for something that is clearly out of their control, and I guess we can expect this more often as a result of the Costa Concordia tragedy.
Excursion: West Bay Kayak and Snorkel
I had really low expectations for Roatan as people said it was a boring port. It turns out it was our favorite one! The island is beautiful and hilly and luscious and many others agreed with us that it was the best port of the journey. After a short bus ride to the West Bay, where I guess the geography was such that the winds were almost nonexistent, we did orientation and some snorkeling. I'd only snorkeled once or twice before and never in such a beautiful place. It made me want to become scuba certified. I had read reviews of this excursion that indicated it was way too strenuous, and I have to agree that the guide swam a bit fast. Even I struggled to keep up a couple times, and we lost about half our crew who had to be brought later with a few brought back by the safety kayak.
After a delicious lunch we then did some kayaking, which turned out to be quite lame as it was about a 15 minute trip over to another beach area, a 45 minute stop at the beach, and then a 15 minute kayak back. I'd have appreciated this more if I knew this is what we were going to do as I had left my wallet back in a locker and thus didn't have any money for beer or sunscreen to lay out. Regardless it was nice to have a more active excursion and we overall enjoyed it.
We finally had a chance to make it to Blu. We knew it was subject to availability for suite guests but it was only about half full so there was no issue. We didn't particularly care for it and I don't think I'd book Aqua Class just to get access to this.
Day 6: Costa Maya
This was a stark contrast to the beauty of Roatan. The area around the port is actually quite nice in terms of shopping and restaurants and a great pool, but the natural scenery isn't that great. Costa Maya was devastated by a hurricane a few years ago which might explain some of this.
Excursion: Mini Jeep Adventure
After wandering the port a bit, we met up with our guide for the 15 minute bus ride in this open-air vehicle that was extremely bumpy, we were given a brief orientation to a 2-person vehicle called an Club Cart XRT 550 4 Wheel ATV. There would be a stop halfway through for us to switch off and I was the first to drive. I actually had a lot of fun on this one, but the ride through a "jungle" was more like a ride through a bumpy trail among 7-foot tall trees. Again, not sure if this was hurricane devastation or not, but there wasn't much to see. The ride was so bumpy however and the driver behind us a bit too aggressive that my BF didn't feel comfortable driving back so I just drove the whole way. The BF ranked this as his least favorite excursion; I'd say second to last (ahead of the dolphins) but that's mainly because the other excursions were so great, as I still rather enjoyed the ride.
After that we were dropped off at the beach for about 45 minutes of relaxation (the beach here is actually quite nice), some free chips and salsa, and then back in the bumpy truck to get to the ship. We wanted to spend more time in the port since the weather was so amazing so we ate at an extremely overpriced restaurant next to the pool (I'm talking $16 for a quesadilla). Regardless it was a nice view of the ship and pool and afterwards we took the long walk back to get on the boat.
Dinner: Silk Harvest
I don't have much to say about this restaurant other than the service was much faster than Murano, we agree with those who say you should go in a group, we enjoyed the experience overall better than Murano, and for $25 it's definitely worth it. I think I can get better asian food back home but I still enjoyed something different.
After yet another trip to the Molecular Bar, we met up with some of the FOD group at Martini Bar. As tonight was the night before our last at sea day we figured we'd party a little harder, but everyone else I guess was tired on the ship and Quasar's was quickly emptied. One of the crew hanging with us said she was bored and the BF suggested that we take the party back to our room, cause, well, we had the space for it. Everyone had the beverage package so we all grabbed some mixers and drinks, and one of the crew had some alcohol, so we had an impromptu party in our room. We were careful not to make too much noise, it was more like hanging out with drinks and some music, but it was really fun and I think the party went till 3 or 4 am. We were glad to get to know the others a bit more and glad to be able to share our space again.
Day 7: At Sea
Despite being up till 4am we were determined to make it to the pool in time to secure some spots and indeed we were there by 8:30, and we were. Once again half the spots were taken by books and once again we didn't say anything as we were able to get spots ourselves. We sunned by the pool for about 4 hours and got a couple burgers at Mast Grill for lunch. After that we decided we needed a nap so did so for about an hour and a half before changing to get ready for a Molecular Bar Tasting.
Molecular Bar tasting
At 4pm they had an event where they were going to teach you how to make the drinks. Goksel had convinced us to sign up for this earlier in the week - they don't advertise it in Celebrity Today because the drinks are so handcrafted that they need to keep it small. There were about 8-10 of us who showed up. We didn't realize there was a fee for it ($24 each) which when you consider that we could get all the same exact drinks for free with the package is a bit pricey, but we didn't mind too much as the class was really interesting, learning just how much work goes into infusing all the drinks and such. I'd say I'd recommend it if you don't mind paying for what you can already get for free. You learn how to make I think 5 or 6 of the drinks, and we also asked for the recipe for the Avocado Mezcal. Also, there is an off-menu drink that they used to have on there called South of the Rio - it's a spicy drink made with jalapeo infused Cachaa, and I think it is delicious and different. They'll still make it for you if you ask, and I'm guessing this would be available on any of the Solstice Class ships.
Dinner in the room
We decided to enjoy a private dinner in our room one last night, although we found the food this time to be probably the most disappointing. Still acceptable though and nice to finish off our remaining bottle of wine and enjoy a private end to the cruise. Rikki asked if we had had a "red bull party" the night before due to all the empty cans :) We gave Rikki one last envelope and he said he was hopeful he'd see us before we left on Sunday.
Day 8: Disembarkation
We had chosen to do express disembarkation, not because we had to make our flight or anything (it wasn't until 12:30) but because we had read the horror stories about long waits for the customs agents and didn't want to deal with that. Unfortunately we didn't see Rikki before we left :( I can't believe how disorganized express departure is, and it's sad because they could tweak just a couple things to make it much easier. They have you line up in the MDR, but they only use one door for entering which means all the people entering have to weave their way past all the people lined up to leave. After awhile the line wraps around the back of the MDR, and they eventually opened up the other door for better flow, but they should really do that in the beginning. Yes it means more walking with luggage but they should have people entering in one door and lining up to leave from the other. They tell you to arrive at 7:20 but we arrived more like 7:05 and were glad we did as we were among the first 50 in line.
After that, the ship was cleared at about 7:40. We were off the ship by 7:50, through customs by about 8:00, in a cab and to the airport by about 8:20, and through security by 8:35 or so. We were from stateroom to airplane gate in an hour and a half, which is really quite amazing. All in all I can see where it could end up being a bottleneck eventually but I found none of the issues
- I mentioned we were not in the typical celebrity demographic and that is certainly true. The age skews very old but there were actually a surprising number of young couples (not too many families though; we saw very few kids). I think it is a complete fluke that we found a group of 12 similar age people to hang out with, and the crew confirmed this was highly unusual and partly a result of them bringing 6 or so that were already friends. I would say though if you are a young couple you should not at all be afraid to try Celebrity as long as you are looking for a more private vacation and not looking to party hard at Quasar every night.
- The leather-trimmed tote bag was very nice and Rikki arranged for us to get 2 of them
- Our welcome letter in the stateroom addressed us as "Mr and Ms" which I teased the BF about endlessly.
- We were extended elite benefits, but did not once make it to one of the evening cocktail hours. I think we might have had we not had the drink package, but it was nice to have more flexibility and not worry about making it there to get a lot of drinks.
- We inquired about a bridge tour via Rikki, who referred us to guest relations, who offered us the $75/pp tour. We declined, as I've done one before and found it boring
- We actually found the ship's internet to be plenty fast, and we used it exclusively via wireless on our iPhones or iPads. 90 minutes each isn't a lot, but it was actually plenty for us since we could usually find free wi-fi in a port (everywhere except Costa Maya) and it allowed us to be a bit more unplugged for the vacation
- When we got our bill midway, we discovered that we had been given a $200 OBC. This was completely unexpected and most welcome - I guess maybe I got this for booking online through some promotion I didn't know about, but it was cool.
- The VOD on the TV didn't seem to work at all for finding the ship's location or for viewing our bill. It did work for music and also worked for ordering room service, which we only did once at 2am to provide some snacks for our party. Note: If you order pizza's through Room Service, don't expect a whole pizza. They're personal sized.
- The only place we tried to get smoothies was at the Aqua Spa Cafe, and they don't even have the ability to make them there despite having it right on the menu. The crew member had to walk all the way back to some other room to make the smoothie and it took almost 15 minutes so I would recommend against doing this. They really need a smoothie machine at this location.
- I witnessed numerous occasions of people mistreating crew, including overhearing someone (I won't say where or who) mistreating Rikki. Having spent a week hanging and asking questions of the crew and hearing about the Roatan-type events, this really disappoints me because the crew clearly works very hard. One person said it's like groundhog day for those on the ship. Every week it's the same thing with different people, and they many of them work 12 hour days 7 days a week.