Having just come iff the Eclipse, our second week aboard the Celebrity fleet was spontaneous, unexpected and unplanned thanks to a fortunate turn of events. this time aboard the Eclipse's older sister the Solstice. Very much her twin, the only significant differences were in minor details such as the color of the chair pads by the pool, however, her layout and feel is identical and every bit as elegant and refined. We hopped off the Eclipse in Miami and grabbed a car for the short trek up to Lauderdale. Because we had not planned on being gone two weeks, we found ourselves out of clean clothes, so we found a little coin operated laundry and did a load of underwear... images of the guy in the commercial standing in front of a washer in just his boxers flashed in my head, although in reality I don't have six pack abs, and the lady at the end of the row of driers was a short round cuban grandma, rather than a coed. It's a good thing no one uses my life as a basis for marketing as it would not sell much.
Once aboard, exploring was not necessary, however we did keep trying to get off the elevator where our old room was - and it took a solid day to settle into the orientation of our new spot on the ship and not zig when we should have zagged. Again, as with the Eclipse, our favorite part of the ship without a doubt is the lawn club up on deck 15. The perfect place to relax in either sun or shade, with your barefoot toes curled up in some real grass, and just a stone's throw from the bar. Our drink of choice, the Summer Solstice, a refreshing blend of fresh basil and blueberries, mortared mojito style with some simple syrup, lemon infused rum and white cranberry juice. The only real problem is that it is very easy to down three before you know it.
The lauderdale port was busy, with five ships, including the massive Allure of the seas. Only slightly taller than the Solstice, it is easily twice as wide, and gives the impression that someone welded two ships side by side resulting in a cruise ship guppy with a catamaran top side. We'll have to give her a try sometime. Budget has a car rental place directly outside the port entrance, with a free shuttle so logistics were smooth and easy, and embarkation was without issue. The one notable observation was a veritable army of staff with disinfectant spray and rags. We had learned that the Princess ship in port had an outbreak of intestinal virus and was delayed in sailing. Celebrity was taking no chances and had staff wiping down counters, cue line ropes, turnstile handles, and even pens between each patron.
Our itinerary this week was Western Caribbean, to include Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and two new ports for us, Roatan, Honduras and Costa Maya, Mexico. Although we had been to Cayman several times previously and initially planed on some new exploration, we found ourselves doing the quintessential tour to stingray city. This sandbar sits approximately a mile from shore where fisherman of old used to clean their catches and you can stand in waist deep water along with a couple hundred stingray and feed them squid. Followed by a trip to seven mile beach, and a comfy umbrella chair with a bucket of ice cold local beer. After all, some days you just need to let the Caribbean blow you where the trade winds may.
Cozumel was an experience this trip. We chose to take a culinary class at a mexican resort. Most cultures express themselves best through their food, and who am I to argue with a three course lunch and open bar! We donned chefs hats, aprons and stood at our own cooking stations where we made fools of ourselves as we prepared and fabulous meal of chili shrimp on a hand sculpted tortilla cake, some of the freshest grouper I have ever had with sauted vegetables in a tamerin fruit reduction and cinnamon caramelized plantains with a chocolate tequila sauce. Luis or chef instructor was exceptional as he managed to maintain composure while he attempted to herd thirty somewhat inebriated stray cats, across the finish line. As he stated, however, when we sat to eat at the end, if your lunch sucks, feel free to blame the chef that cooked it!
We had never been to Roatan previously and were not sure what we were going to do when we got there. The port is small, and not at all touristy like many. There is no Diamonds Intl every block. Directly outside the port gates is the Honduras you would expect with dirt floor single story buildings, stray dogs playing in the street, corner stores with an gold guy standing in the doorway and a peeling Coca Cola logo emblazoned on their wall by some sales rep back in the 60's. We ended up spontaneously renting a vespa scooter and took off through the village for parts unknown. The rental guy said it had a full tank of gas, although the gauges did not work, and gave us his cell number in case we got stuck somewhere it would not start... Off we went, first through the village to the east side of the island, traveling through several little village townships, and past a few nice gated resorts. Then, much to our surprise, on the left a shopping center, with an Applebee's, Wendy's and Grocery store. It was very out of place but a welcome stop with a clean restroom!
A funny thing happened there. The parking lot was virtually empty, with only two or three cars in the Wendy's lot. We Vespa'ed in and took a space in the front row next to the building. As we dismounted our sturdy steed, an security guard in body armor and holding an intimidating looking rifle approached us and indicated that these spaces were for cars only. We needed to move the scooter over to the official 'scooter' parking on the other side of the lot. Several skinny painted spaces with a half dozen other small motorcycles in them. Far be it of me to argue with a man holding a gun - but the lot was empty - sheesh! Good thing I didn't have a hummer and try to take two spaces!
Our travels took us to a spot on the less developed East side where you could see both the North and South shores from one overlook. Trinket salespeople had set up little stands in front of what was obviously once a overlook bar and cantina, but was now abandoned. Down the hill was a closed down empty beach resort in disrepair. We then traveled all the way back to the West side beaches, where we had a nice lunch at a little hotel and open air cafe owned by an american couple that relocated to the island about five years ago and had built the hotel, one cabana at a time.
Our outing was uneventful save one unexpected pothole that was almost problematic for us, however we heard another older couple had dumped their scooter on the horrible roads and ended up in the hospital. We did see them the next day re-joining the ship in Mexico, both with arms in a sling.... Out adventure was a blast. We got rained on, blow dried, and puttered over hills where one moment we had the scooter floored just to make it up the hill then had the brakes mashed so hard your hands hurt to slow down the other side, but In hindsight, the next time we are there, we will probably rent a jeep -
The last stop of our trip was Costa Maya, Mexico. This port is relatively new, built in 2001 specifically to bring some cruise ships to that part of the coast. It was then wiped out in 2004 by a hurricane, and re-opened again in 2006. It consists of just a small shopping village, and the obligatory Senior Frogs and Carlos & Charlie's. along with a pool, and dolphin swim area. Here we took a bus tour to the Chacchoben ruins, since we had never done ruins before, and it was very interesting. This particular set of Mayan ruins was built from 300 to 600 AD were also partially restored and opened as a park in just in 2001 to coincide with the port. Other than that, there is really nothing here for an hour in any direction other than swamp land and mangrove. As a result the stop is not really worth it. We saw the ruins in about an hour, and spent the rest of the day at the little port. Because it is so remote, there are really no local vendors, only the officially sanctioned ones within the port area walls, and the only beers available are $4.50 for a Dos XX at Senior Frogs... As a result, this stop was my least favorite of the whole trip.
The ship itself has some very nice features and good policies. for example, at the pools, there is no towel nazi dispensing only 1 towel per person, just a huge bin where you can grab two or three good sized towels and make yourself comfortable in padded chairs or one of several climb shell love seats that have pull over canopies. There are also good pool attendants that place a card on empty chairs saying you have 30 minutes to return, otherwise they remove your stuff and release the chair. - That way you don't have the problem of the 0800 ladies that put a book on a prime chair and never returns until 1pm, The other really interesting thing on board is that the technology for the TV's and photo studio is all driven by Apple. When you first get on board, they swipe your sea pass card and take your photo. Then all the rest of the photo's you take the rest of the cruise are processed through face recognition and appear on your stateroom TV automatically. No searching for your stuff in little photo studio with 1000 other people. Very cool, but also kind of creepy in a big brother way. The internet lounge is actually an iLounge set up very much like an Apple store with the same look and feel.
Once again the food was exemplary, with great menu choices, specialty restaurants, Good sushi at 5:30 every evening to tide us over until dinner at 830 and an ice bar martini lounge that featured a showy six-drink martini sampler for just $15. (see video below) Although we have never sailed Celebrity before, their solstice class ships now have two new fans, and we have already booked a 14 day Southern Caribbean for January next year. Kudos to the staff and crew of both the Eclipse and Solstice. We were impressed and will most definitely be back.
A photo tour can bee seen here