Soltice Caribbean Cruise February 5-12: Celebrity Solstice Cruise Review by JEBSON
Overall Member Rating
Soltice Caribbean Cruise February 5-12
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
We are all seasoned cruisers; each couple having cruised at least 8 times primarily on Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. We are all in our mid to late 50's.
We began our trip by departing ORD on Saturday, February 4. No flight problems and we arrived on time at FLL. We took a cab to our hotel, the Marriott's Beach Place Towers in Fort Lauderdale. The hotel location was excellent with great (walking) access to restaurants, bars, shops, liquor stores, etc. The hotel itself was satisfactory in most respects. However, on Sunday morning we attempted to leave our 11th floor room at 10 am and waited over 35 minutes for an elevator. Obviously, cruisers and vacationers all had the same intent- get an early start. One of 4 elevators was out of service which exacerbated a bad situation. However, the most complicating factor of all was the use of the elevators by hotel housekeeping staff during the More peak check-out/departure time. We witnessed one housekeeping employee with a large laundry cart occupy 95% of an elevator cab- totally absurd. Other hotel staff also displaced guests from elevator use during this time. If you stay at this hotel be advised of this issue.
We finally reached the parking garage and met our GO Shuttle driver, Dorina. She was very patient while waiting for us tardy travelers and loaded 9 large suitcases into her full size van. We left the hotel and Dorina had us dockside in less than 15 minutes. Dorina gave our bags to the porters and we entered the line that was quickly forming at the terminal doors.
We entered the terminal building just after 11 am. Upon entering the terminal building we were given a printed sheet that advised guests of norovirus potential and asked guests to consider possible travel risks. We never hesitated to proceed to the ship. Security screening was very efficient and we entered the registration line serpentine. We had all of our documents properly executed and were on Solstice 45 minutes after Dorina dropped us off.
We boarded Solstice and were greeted with champagne and mimosa cocktails and we each grabbed one. We were also greeted by Solstice employees who held what I would describe as bota bags filled with hand sanitizer. These employees were also deployed at all times at the entrances of the Epernay dining room as well as at the entrances to the Oceanview Cafe. They would give you a squeeze of sanitizer gel from their bags as you entered these dining venues. Most dining patrons availed themselves of this service. There were also Purell disinfectant stations deployed throughout the public areas of the ship. Periodically, during the cruise,there were public service announcements made about the importance of hand washing and the importance of practicing good hygiene. There was also a constant cadre of workers wiping, mopping, spraying, and/or disinfecting virtually every surface on the ship. My personal opinion is that Celebrity is very dedicated to the health and safety of the guests and crew.
We headed to the Oceanview Cafe on Deck 14 and had a great lunch. Another example of the illness preventation measures taken on Celebrity Solstice was the temperature of the plateware in the buffet area. Most of the time they were too hot to hold with your bare hand.
We finished lunch and toured the ship while waiting for access to our cabins. Cabin access was granted at approximately 1:30 pm.
Three couples in our group had adjacent balcony cabins on the starboard hump. Our cabin size was satisfactory and was typical of the class. The balcony was perfect for reading, eating, napping, etc. The bathrooms were spacious and had real shower doors and plenty of vertical storage and some drawer storage. Vanity surface room was minimal but the vertical shelves made up for the deficiency. The complimentary toiletries were disappointing and consisted of shampoo and lotion. Eventhough I bring my own toiletries, it is always nice to obtain samples of new and different products. No big deal.
Our cabin had adequate drawer and closet space. There were also large storage cabinets above the bed. These cabinets provided somewhat inconvenient storage due to their location but all storage space is valuable. We had plenty of hangers in the closet. A safe was located in the closet on top of the shoe rack. The drawers in the cabin were adequate for our needs. Be advised that my wife and I always overpack so the previous statement is noteworthy.
Our cabin steward, Elder, was super. Most of the time he was invisible. By that I mean he serviced our cabin 2 or 3 times per day and we rarely saw him. If our schedule conflicted with his duties he always acquiesced. He always had a spray bottle of disinfectant in-hand or nearby. He met special requests with speed and cheerfulness.
The only negative comment about our cabin is that the balcony dividers do not project far enough to prevent adjacent cabin guests from peering into your balcony and cabin. It was no big deal for us since we had close acquaintenances on each side of our cabin but I can envision privacy issues with strangers. Balcony Club members beware!
The bed was very comfortable as were the pillows. We used the in-cabin couch mostly for storage.
The flat screen television is wall mounted opposite the couch and not opposite the bed. The television pivots to facilitate viewing while you are in bed. Solstice has a good selection of television stations: MSNBC,CNN, ESPN, BBC,SEATV,TBS, CNBC, and a few others. There is an impressive free on-demand collection featuring movies, programs and a great set of documentaries related to the operation of Solstice. Our television viewing was minimal but it was nice to have options.
We ate all dinner meals in the Epernay dining room each evening. We had a table for 10 and had a great window view location. Our waiter was Petre and his assistant was Elisha. Both of them were excellent servers. Petre and Elisha always served the ladies first. Petre constantly asked if everything was satisfactory and encouraged us to try multiple menu items.
The ten of us agreed that the food was very good. Our group has very diverse palates and the Solstice menu never left anyone disappointed. There are recurrent items on the left side of the menu which give people basic options for each course in the event the evening specialities do not appeal to them. These recurrent items include escargot, shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, lettuce salad, French onion soup, steak, chicken, cheeses cake, apple pie and similar basic menu items. On a personal note, I was most pleased with the escargot, the rack of lamb, and the osso bucco. Desserts, while not overly impressive, were satisfying, especially when consumed in multiples.
We ate breakfast and most lunches in the Oceanview Cafe. Celebrity Solstice has reinvented the cruiseship buffet by employing food stations rather than forcing people into the typical long buffet line. Simply stated, there are numerous individual food stations which offer foods by type. There are bread stations, fruit stations, meat carving stations, cheese stations, salad stations, pizza stations and cooked- to-order stations. The result is that you only go to stations that appeal to you. You are not trapped behind hundreds of other people in a continuous line. The concept is simple yet brilliant and efficacious. I thought the food quality was very good in the Oceanview Cafe. As others have mentioned, the variety is somewhat limited on a daily basis but I always found good things to eat.
The hamburgers/cheeseburgers at the Mast Grill were great. We had them for main lunch courses and for afternoon snacks. They also served Pabst Blue Ribbon beer at the Mast Grill which is a favorite of the males in our group. The french fries were also very good.
I purchased the Classic Beverage Package and I can state without equivocation that I saved money. I obtained juices and bottled waters in the morning, beer and pop in the afternoon, pre-dinner cocktails, and wine with my dinner. There were also a few nightcaps consumed strictly for medicinal purposes(wink wink).
We found all staff members to be very accommodating, proficient, and courteous. I never experienced the bartender issues that previous posters have alluded to. In fact, I found all bar staff throughout the ship to be excellent servers. And believe me, I visited every bar on this beautiful ship. The employees were very engaging and would talk to guests at every opportunity. We enjoyed talking to the staff about their jobs and about their homelands. My wife and I have a proclivity for saying please and thank you so maybe staff attitude was reflective of our attitude.
The onboard evening entertainment was ok. I truly enjoyed the first night show which was a Solstice equivalent of a Cirque du Soleil show. The next evening was an illusionist who was entertaining. The third nght was a female impressionist who,IMHO, spent more time changing wigs and talking than she did performing. The next nights shows were music oriented and I did not attend.
Incidentally, we were on the ship during the Superbowl. The Solstice Theatre was outfitted with bars and food stations. There were 2 large screen televisions and a huge screen for television projection. Viewing the game in the theater was outstanding. It was exciting to watch the game with hundreds of other cruisers. The theatre was the perfect Superbowl party venue.
My wife and I had been to 3 of the 4 scheduled ports at least twice before so we decided to do self-guided excursions:
We went to Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman via taxi. We rented chairs and enjoyed the sun and surf, the water was heavenly.
In Cozumel, we did some shopping and then stopped for $1 Coronas at our favorite seaside cantina.
We foolishly walked around the Roatan shopping area. I won't leave the ship if I ever return to Roatan.
We had a great beach day at the Green Iguana in Costa Maya/Manahual. Cheap beers, free chairs and umbrellas and a 7 minute $5 roundtrip perfectly safe cab ride- can't be beat. The water temp was 82 degrees. Most of the restaurants and bars in the Costa Maya/Mahahual beach area have free wi-fi. Strangely, the big joints at the pier do not.
We returned to Fort Lauderdale at 6 am Sunday morning. The windchill was 38 degrees. Sad reality after our 6 days in 80+degrees. We followed the disembarkation rules and only had to spend 30 minutes in the theater after having had a nice leisurely breakfast. We were off the ship at approximately 9 am. We got a cab for 6 and went to FLL for our return flight to ORD at 3 pm.
FLL was a hassle. You can not check in with bags more than 4 hours prior to flight time. Once you check in and clear security at Terminal 3 it is obvious that FLL is processing more passengers than the airport terminal infrastructure can support. There are not enough seats for the cleared passengers. There are people laying and sitting on the floor everywhere. Bathroom facilities are grossly insufficient. Simply stated, FLL is a victim of their own popularity. We took off 20 minutes late but landed on time.
In closing, I want to state that my wife and I were thoroughly impressed with the Celebrity Solstice. Celebrity is now our preferred cruise line. We are looking forward to our next cruise on "x".
I know this review was lengthy and verbose but I could not help myself.
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