We sailed on the Celebrity Solstice Eastern Caribbean itinerary March 11-18. We had a fabulous time and would recommend this cruise to others. Here is a summary of our impressions and experiences.
We flew from Fargo to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Ft. Lauderdale. Flights were expensive! We also paid a little more to only have one stopover rather than two; flight schedules also required that we stay two nights before our cruise and one night after in Ft. Lauderdale. We stayed for two nights at the Westin Beach Resort in Ft. Lauderdale, which I got for a steal by blind bidding on lastminutetravel. The location was excellent, as it was right across from the beach with a sky-walkway over the road. We also found this stretch of beach a little quieter than farther down the A1A, which was very valuable because we were there during Spring Break. The rooms at the Westin were nice, and I was very happy with this place for about a $100/night; I might not have thought it was such a great value at the rack rates of over $250/night. I would stay there again. Our cab driver from the airport to the hotel was so crazy that we decided to use the bus for the rest of our stay. It was easy to figure out and really inexpensive; it was clear that many residents and tourists use public transportation in the areas we visited. We had an amazing dinner at The Capital Grille to celebrate my birthday--the steaks were to die for and they made me a stellar gluten free dessert. We enjoyed spending some time in Ft. Lauderdale and I'd definitely considerate for a long weekend get-away in the future, but not during Spring Break!!
We got to the pier around 1 and there was a pretty long line to check in, but that didn't bother us. The whole process seemed to be slowed down by people not understanding what documents they needed to check in for the cruise--that frustrated me a little. Once we got to the checkin window, it went superfast and we were on the Solstice!!
The common areas on this ship are beautiful. There is interesting art everywhere you look, and many comfortable seating options to relax, meet up with others, or just read and people-watch. I am very particular about things being clean, and I would give this ship a 9/10 on cleanliness. The pool/lounge decks were often crowded and people definitely played the chair game. On the day we braved the crowds to soak up some sun, I think we literally found the last two lounge chairs available by the time we reached the very top corner. The only frustrating part of the cruise to me was that I sometimes felt crowded by all the people.
Our stateroom was 8240. I don't remember the category, but it was a balcony room--not concierge class or anything. We really liked it. It was larger than the hotel room we had coming back from our cruise, actually, and the storage is very innovative. By the time we unpacked, there was room for twice as much stuff as what we'd brought. The bed was really comfortable and the linens were pretty nice. The carpet, though, was dirty and that grossed me out. It looks like it's time to steam clean carpets in the staterooms, at least ours. The only other complaint I have about the staterooms are that the walls are very thin. On one side, we could always hear our neighbor's tv, which wasn't a big deal. But on the other side, we had loud, inconsiderate neighbors and we heard them talking loudly almost 24 hours a day at some points. It was very frustrating and put a damper on our relaxation time, not to mention sleep! Our stateroom attendant and his assistant were fabulous. They cleaned efficiently, left fun towel animals, and were very friendly whenever we saw them.
The food was very, very good at dinner with a lot of choices. Lunch was just ok, and so was breakfast. We ate in the dining room for all of our lunches and dinners. We ate room service breakfast most mornings with a couple of breakfasts in the dining room. We had some snacks at the buffet, but avoided it for the most part because I have Celiac Disease and am extremely sensitive to cross-contamination; the smallest amount of gluten will make me really sick. We love to eat new things on vacation and have really high standards for food. We rated the food a 7.5/10 overall on the ship. For comparison's sake, we thought it was better than the food we had at Sandals Whitehouse, and about the same as what we had the Jewel last year. It was not as good as what we had at The Capital Grille, but to be fair, you pay for one meal there what you are paying for a whole night in cruise fare. Anyway, I ate a lot of red meat on this trip, because I don't eat fish or seafood, and the chicken wasn't very good. But they did a great job with steaks. My husband ate a little bit of everything, and was very happy! The ingredients were fresh and the presentation was beautiful. Both lunch and dinner come with multiple courses, and the room service choices for breakfast are very good. I was absolutely panicked about the food on this trip before we left because it was my first big trip gluten free and I was very nervous I would end up sick for all of it. I have to say that Celebrity did a great job handling my food safely, and I would do it again. I did get sick from one specialty restaurant, and I think it was from a particular ingredient with processed meat. The staff seemed to know that I could not have bread or many sauces, but weren't trained in all the other areas gluten can be (which I know is very complicated). Therefore, I couldn't always get answers to my questions and sometimes had to just go without something or make a safer choice. But at dinner in the main dining room, I felt like they were very, very careful with my food. I had to preorder breakfast, lunch, and dinner a day ahead, which helped keep things safe, but caused some confusion in the beginning of the trip. That got better as the cruise went on. I always had ice cream, sorbet, or crÃ¨me brule as a dessert option, so I didn't go hungry, but I wished there was a chocolate option without gluten, like a flourless chocolate cake, given that they usually have a couple of hundred gluten free diners per sailing. I also thought they could have done better with sauces made from rice flour. Their answer to gluten free sauces was to pour butter over my whole plate, and that was not good. That being said, being able to go on a trip like this and only get sick once speaks highly of Celebrity's efforts to accommodate gluten free diners.
There was lots of it, but we were out for rest and relaxation, so we didn't partake in much. We found the guest performers and smaller venue entertainment to be better than the 'Stars of Celebrity' shows hosted in the main theatre when we did go to things. There was live music all the time in various parts of the ship, as well as daily activities galore. What I liked about this cruise is that there was plenty to do if you wanted, but it didn't impede much on those who wanted quiet time. My husband and I both noted that Stewart Turnbull, the cruise director, could be better. This is only our second cruise, but we could feel a drain in the energy every time he came on stage or made an announcement; he really does not connect well with guests. Some people have commented they are worried there isn't anything to do on the ship; don't be--there's plenty of entertainment! It's true that many of the passengers were older than us (we are both 30), but they were actually more active in partaking in dancing and things than we were, so I wouldn't worry about that either.
Our ship stopped in Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and St. Thomas. We didn't book any excursions through the ship. In San Juan, we grabbed a walking map and toured on our own, which was fun and easy. The walking can be strenuous if it's hot; the hills are somewhat steep and the cobblestones make for some uneven footing. If someone in your party is worried about this, then a segway tour or van tour might be better. We also took a carriage ride around for $50 to get acquainted with the sites and layout of things. That was pretty fun. In St. Martin, we grabbed a cab over to the French side of the island and spent the day at Orient Beach. Part of this beach is nude, but there is a long stretch where people are not nude, but some are topless. Best of both worlds; you can do what suits you. There were a lot of fun beach 'shacks' with drinks and food all along the beach, but it is pricey. If you don't want to deal with a cab or have a problem with the nudity, there is a great beach on the Dutch side very close to where the ships dock. Our favorite day was in St. Thomas. We went on a sailing day with Kathleen Nelson of High Pockets. There was one other couple on the trip as well and it was so fun. We got to sail, snorkel, have some beach time, ate an amazing lunch on her boat, and learned all kinds of things about the area. I would highly recommend Kathleen and High Pockets!
Disembarkation and Final Thoughts
We requested a late disembarkation as we weren't in a hurry, and we were called off the boat around 9:30. It took us about half an hour between exiting the boat and getting to the taxi line. We were at our hotel by 10:30 or 11am. Some patience is required in waiting for the customs line and being jammed in with everyone else trying to leave, but it was fine.
We weren't sure how we would like a cruise because we have gotten used to taking all-inclusive beach vacations at this time of year. I did miss the flexibility of our all inclusive vacations, but having a fixed dinner seating on the cruise was really important for my dietary needs. Otherwise, we could have chosen flexible dining. I also missed getting more outdoor time in the sun, which we do in Jamaica. The pool deck on our ship was often crowded and it was VERY windy going from Ft. Lauderdale to Puerto Rico. I also missed having more time to spend on the beach, so those are things that would tempt me back to an AI vacation. However, the service and food on the cruise was top notch! Also, the price couldn't be beat. We priced out Sandals Whitehouse for this trip, and it would have cost us twice as much to go there, which makes the cruise a valuable option. We didn't buy a drinks package, and we ended up spending about $150 on drinks for the week, which wasn't a lot to us, but we don't order a lot of drinks. If we'd been at an AI, we would have drank more, I'm sure. At the end of the day, I like cruising and AI vacations for different reasons, but if the pricing for our favorite AI destinations stays so high, then I'd probably do another cruise. If so, I would definitely choose the Celebrity Solstice class of ships--this line and ship was a perfect fit for us!