We had this cruise booked almost two years in advance, in order to secure an accessible room. We picked this cruise as we had previously cruised NZ but had a lot of ports cancelled, so we decided to try again as we had heard good things ... Read More
We had this cruise booked almost two years in advance, in order to secure an accessible room. We picked this cruise as we had previously cruised NZ but had a lot of ports cancelled, so we decided to try again as we had heard good things about Solstice.
We had a fantastic time. It is the best cruise we have ever done.
Embarkation - we stayed at the Quest on Queen in Auckland (very nice hotel, very handy to the port if you are just wanting to wheel your luggage down to the wharf). We had to book a taxi to take us to the ship and when the taxi arrived at the pier, he spoke to one of the baggage handlers who called for some assistance, and our bags were taken directly from the taxi to be loaded onto the ship. We were then directed inside to the wheelchair assistance area, and we then had a man push the wheelchair all the way past the lines of people right to the front of the queue. From there it was only a few minutes until we were on the ship.
Our cabin was Aqua class stateroom 1526 on deck 11 and it was the best accessible cabin we have had on a ship to date. There is an automatic door so once you insert your card it swings open to allow the wheelchair to enter. There is a large entryway and enough room in the cabin for a wheelchair to pass between the desk and the beds to the balcony. There is a ramp from the cabin onto the balcony. The bathroom is huge with a shower chair and bars around the toilet. The only things we might criticise is that the toilet is not raised and the bed is almost a little too high to transfer in and out of the chair, but other than those two minor things which we worked around, the cabin was excellent.
As to the state of the cabin itself, I thought it was in good condition. The beds were very comfortable (they have a squishy topper on the mattress). The wooden railing on the balcony was a bit rattly but you couldn't hear it with the door closed inside the cabin. The bathroom was in good condition as well but because there is nothing to stop the water, when the ship is rolling I did have to put down a towel around the shower so I didn't flood the bathroom with water.
Our room steward was excellent, although we did keep surprising him by turning up when he was trying to clean, but he was very nice about it.
As we were Aqua class we dined in Blu. The food was very good but the service was excellent. I was a little concerned that Blu might be too fancy for us but we found something to our tastes every night, and if we didn't, they had a back-up or two in the kitchen that they could bring out. Our waiters were hilarious and they greeted us like friends every night which made the whole restaurant experience that much more enjoyable.
We had breakfast in the buffet only a few times because it was so hard to find somewhere to sit and it was just so crowded. On port days we had breakfast in our cabin so we could get an early start (there is no charge for room service on Celebrity). We had breakfast in Blu and it was very good as well.
We had lunch in the buffet most days. If you arrived at the wrong time (i.e. between 12 and 1.30pm) it was almost impossible to find somewhere to sit. Thankfully they have helpers in the buffet who were able to take control of the wheelchair and find a seat for us. I thought the food in the buffet was the best I have had at a buffet at sea - every day there was something different to try. I especially loved the ice cream and the pasta station. We would often go in the afternoon and get ice cream or sorbet to take back to the room, it was delicious.
We tried all three specialty restaurants (except the sushi place). Of the three Tuscan Grille was our favourite. The lobster rigatoni alfredo was to die for. We had dinner there the night we left Milford Sound and it was a very special experience to watch New Zealand grow smaller and smaller behind us. We tried the seafood fiesta at Silk Harvest which was good (but costs extra, and you can only book once on board). We tried the lobster at Murano and it was delicious. I don't have any complaints about the specialty restaurants. I had read bad reviews about them but we thought they were excellent.
Next time I would wait until I was on board before booking, as you could get the restaurants cheaper on board, and they were always trying to offer us deals.
Re the drinks packages - we had onboard credit (about $350AUD worth) so we didn't bother buying drinks packages, as neither of us drink alcohol. The non-alcoholic package is $22 a day per person. It averaged out that we would not have spent enough on board to warrant buying the drinks package (we averaged about $15 per day each, on port days we might've only spent about $8 each, some days we spent nothing). In saying that, we are booked again on Solstice in 2021 and we received two perks with our booking, so we are both getting a drinks package. Why? Because the amount of times I was asked why I didn't have a drinks package, how it will work out better for me if I have one, and the amount of huffing and puffing from the bartenders was so unbelievably frustrating that it is just easier to have a damn drinks package. I don't know how many times, and to how many different people, I explained that we are not spending enough per day to warrant it - they just don't understand. I know they are meant to push it on you but it was really annoying.
Honestly, my biggest overall complaint is that I found the bar service at every single bar I went to absolutely terrible. Maybe they care if you're buying cocktails and you've got a drinks package, but other than that, they just want you gone. And just trying to get noticed to place an order was an ordeal in itself, especially at the pool bar. I didn't have any problems with the table service at the Sky Lounge - that was excellent. Other people may have had an easier time but by the end I was dreading having to order anything at a bar.
The other thing we didn't buy that I wished we had bought was an internet package, but it was just so expensive that I didn't really think I could justify having it. Thankfully it is our second perk for our 2021 cruise, so I won't have to worry about it next time.
We didn't see all of the shows. We saw the Buddy Holly show, Nikki Bennett (awful, just awful), the Motown tribute show and then a few of the Celebrity productions. I didn't really enjoy the shows but it seemed like I was in the minority there, as there were a lot of standing ovations. We went to Captain Tasos' talk about the building of Solstice and it was standing room only for good reason - it was absolutely fantastic and a highlight of the trip. I wondered what all the fuss about Captain Tasos was until I got on board - the hype is worth it. He is hilarious.
I participated almost exclusively in trivia and had a great time doing so. The entertainment staff were very friendly and it was a lot of fun. I spent a lot of time in the Sky Lounge; it was my favourite part of the ship.
We never did make it up to watch the glass blowing - it was too cold to be out on deck most of the time, but I will definitely go for a look when we're back on in 2021. We also didn't make it to any movies - they play the movies up on the grassed area but again it was too cold and I wasn't really interested.
For the most part (bar service aside), I found the service on the ship to be above and beyond what we were expecting. The staff were unbelievably helpful, attentive and friendly. We had assistance every single time we were getting on or off the ship - usually an army of men to help push the wheelchair up and down the ramp. If there was a long walk (for example in Tauranga and Dunedin), one would often walk the wheelchair about half of the distance for me. The wheelchair was a fast pass in itself - we bypassed the queues getting off the ship in Tasmania, were straight off and through customs before the rest of the passengers had even gotten off the ship. In Akaroa they have a stair-lift to carry the wheelchair down to the tender boat, and they helped us on and off the boat. The staff were really wonderful and they are a big reason why we decided to book again for 2021.
We booked this cruise for the itinerary and unlike the last time we cruised NZ, we were able to make it into every single port. I love Auckland and I think it's a beautiful city. In Tauranga we rented a car through Rite Price Rentals (highly recommend them) and drove ourselves to Rotorua and Waiotapou, and the next day up north to a small town on the coast called Bowentown. In Wellington we booked a private tour with a driver who took us all around the city; it was fantastic. In Akaroa we simply went ashore and did some shopping. In Dunedin we booked another private tour with Good Company Tours, did a city tour, a tour of Olveston House and then a train ride (some disappointment there for us as it turned out the train wasn't wheelchair accessible and we couldn't go, but other than that the tour was very good). In Hobart we met a friend and wandered around the city and in Melbourne I got off the ship for a few hours to do some shopping.
The highlight of the ports were the sounds - we had unbelievable weather, blue skies and sunshine. I was able to stand out on the helipad for our entrance into Dusky Sound in the early morning which was wonderful. We saw dolphins in Doubtful Sound and seals in Dusky Sound. In Milford Sound the captain took us right up to the big waterfall and did a 360 turn - it was spectacular.
Other thoughts on the ship:
It really does cater to an older crowd which suits me just fine, even though I'm only in my 30s. There were a lot more Americans than I was expecting. There were hardly any kids - I think I saw less than 20 the entire time, which again, suits me just fine. I was a lot more comfortable on this ship with an older crowd than I was on Explorer of the Seas with a much younger crowd.
As such the entertainment, activities and trivia are all geared towards an older crowd, which might bother some people but it didn't really worry me.
I think the ship itself is really nice - very clean. The bathrooms have attendants so they are kept really neat and tidy. I didn't get sick on board but my mother picked up a cough in the last couple of days. I didn't hear about anyone getting gastro or anything like that. I usually pick up a cold but thankfully I managed to avoid it this time. There are probably a few things that need doing up but honestly, it's the second best ship I've ever been on and I really don't have any complaints about the ship itself.
We got roped into "lunch with the captain" which was actually $90 to sit with a bunch of people we didn't know and make awkward conversation, and meet the Captain for two minutes at the start. So that was disappointing, but even though we didn't complain about it to anyone, we ended up getting a second free lunch at Tuscan Grille for the last day. And the hostess from Blu was really apologetic about it, but we definitely didn't complain so I have no idea why they thought we were upset. Anyway, the free lunch was really good.
I think the shops are a bit... ridiculous, but I guess it's a fancy ship so they sell fancy things. We went to a couple of the sales and bought some cheap jewellery, and I did get some cheap t-shirts for my friends back home. We didn't bother with the art auction as they are a waste of time. We also didn't bother with bingo as it seemed really expensive.
If I had known when we were on board that we were going to book again a few days after we got off I would've booked through Future Cruises, but I guess I will next time. This two week cruise with Celebrity has turned me into a convert - I think this may be my favourite cruise line now. Honestly, I may have some complaints about the bar service but overall this was the best cruise we have ever done, hands down, and I can't wait to sail on Solstice again in 2021. Read Less