Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch (though its main restaurant is only open at midday on sea days) and seven for dinner.
The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.
Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.
Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. The Celebrity Select flex-dining option is available from 6 – 9:30 p.m. (you can choose this option after booking or while onboard). With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.
It's important to note that dining room times may vary slightly, depending on itinerary.
Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.
We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.
We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.
Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. One of the most appealing buffet venues at sea, the Oceanview's layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.
Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.
Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops (these vary by day). Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. The salad bar offers a tremendous array of choices.
There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.
Other casual options during the day include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads (though interestingly, the salad bar at the Oceanview offered far more choice) and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.
At dinner, Oceanview was a lovely, laidback spot for those in the mood for simpler foods. It's buffet all the way – you fill your own plate and there's a bar for drinks service. Evenings, one speciality is the sushi bar.
Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens early in the morning we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar.
Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $10 per person service charge.
Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.
Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.
The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $45.
Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.
The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $45 per person, or $89 per person to pair wines with a five-course tasting menu, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.
We found Silk Harvest (reservations required, $30 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.
Editor's note: Keep an eye out for discounts -- on a sailing when the restaurants were not fully booked (formal nights in particular), we were able to enjoy deals like a 20 percent off your bill (which includes the service charge and wine purchases). Dining packages, which offer about a 20 percent savings, are also available.
Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts. Between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., there's a $3.95 charge for passengers in interior, oceanview and balcony staterooms.