My better half and I sailed on the Celebrity Solstice from Fort Lauderdale on January 3 and returned January 10, 2009, sailing the Eastern Caribbean. We booked a Veranda, Concierge Class cabin, Stateroom number 1184. My wife has mobility ... Read More
My better half and I sailed on the Celebrity Solstice from Fort Lauderdale on January 3 and returned January 10, 2009, sailing the Eastern Caribbean. We booked a Veranda, Concierge Class cabin, Stateroom number 1184. My wife has mobility issues and rides a Lynx D-4 electric scooter, and I will address some mobility issues during this discussion. Since last year we sailed on the Mariner of he Seas, and the two ships are somewhat comparable, I will be using it to discuss comparisons
Embarkation was easy. We drove from our home to Fort Lauderdale, about a 4 hour drive and arrived about 11AM and boarded around Noon. We went straight to the Oceanview Cafe, as the rooms were not ready.
We were immediately impressed by the ship. Its dEcor and arrangement was a wonder to the eye. We loved it. As to accessibility, we only found three issues. We were assigned to assembly area D2 for lifeboat drill, which was located in the Silk Harvest Restaurant. For our assembly we had to go out unto the outside deck on Deck 5 and reenter near the restaurant. The problem was that the ramps for both of these entries were not designed with the Lynx in mind and in both cases the cart became stuck on the lip of the door. We also encountered this issue coming unto Deck 15 forward while trying to come out of the video arcade unto the deck. The design of some of the ramping should be reconsidered. Internally, there were no issues, and we found the other guests to be generally accommodating with regards to the elevators, unlike the experiences we had the previous year on the Mariner, where we often had to go up to go down and vice versa.
The layout of the Oceanview Cafe, compared to Windjammer on the Mariner, was more user friendly, as the open food court concept made access to the different stations much easier. Also, seating in the cafe never seemed to be the issue that we found it to be on the Mariner. As to the food, we did find it, from the beginning, to be superior to that we had on the Mariner the previous year. During several trips to this venue, both for breakfast and lunch, we found the staff to be accommodating. During three different occasions, my wife had staff come forward as she rode her cart to act as her personal waiters, helping her select her food and seating her. This amount of caring was unexpected and welcome.
The Grand Epernay was understated. We actually found the main dining on the Mariner to be visually more exciting. The three tiers and the grand staircase on the Mariner were spectacular and had a classic charm. The Grand Epernay seemed to have a much more modern design feel. That aside, excepting the first night, we found the meals to be a step above those served on the Mariner and consistently chose items on the Chefs menu, which changed daily, as opposed to the standard menu that did not. As to the wait staff, our waiter Atyar and his assistant Tacky were wonderful, but, then, so were the servers we had on the Mariner last year. Note that the formal nights were the second and sixth night, with the parade on the last formal night.
We only tried one of the specialty restaurants, the Bistro on Five. We ate there three times, once for breakfast and twice for lunch. The breakfast crepes could have been lighter, but, then, again, we returned and loved it as an alternative. It was well worth the five dollar per person cover charge.
While addressing food, I guess I should talk about room service. Yes, we used it several times during our stay. We used it twice for breakfast and twice more for late night snacks. It was always delivered timely and warm.
Once the rooms were ready, we repaired to ours in order to start our day off. Previously we had traveled in interior cabins, so this was our first experience with an exterior room. We will not be going back. The room was spacious, and while the balcony was relatively small, it was more than large enough for the two of us to sit on and enjoy. Additionally, while ours was not a handicapped accessible room (they do have some in the forward section of the ship) we found that we had plenty of room to bring my wife's assembled cart into the room and park it so that it could be recharged at night. The only issue with regard to the room might be storage. That is, until I discovered that the luggage could go under the bed. Additionally, our two room attendants, Roger and Indra, were friendly, efficient and accommodating. Anything we needed or requested, they delivered speedily.
On board Activities
We enjoyed the shows and activities aboard ship, but four stood out.
The hot glass show should be seen by everyone at least once. One thing to remember is that everything they create is given away by the end of the tour, generally during the last couple of shows. We attended one of their shows during which the children from the kids programs were in attendance. The staff selected two pictures drawn by child in each group and recreated the picture in glass while the child who drew the picture watched on. At the end of the show, they announced that these pieces were to be given to the children who drew the picture. What a special prize for them.
The tour of the kitchens was probably one of our most memorable. We had Executive Sous-Chef #3 Michiek from Poland as our tour guide. During the tour he mentioned in answer to one question that he makes pierogies (Polish dumplings). At the end of the tour, we managed to talk to him and as my wife is of Polish ancestry, they had something in common. Imagine our surprise when he agreed to make pierogies for us, and they were delivered for breakfast on Wednesday morning, our anniversary. Thank you, again, chef!
The other two had a degree of similarity; the first was a cooking demonstration conducted by the executive chef and his assistant and the second was a cooking competition ala iron chef. Both were enjoyable and the second was funny, as well, as the guest critics, chosen from the audience, made the show.
A note about the shows in the Solstice Theatre, generally, disabled individuals are found relegated to the back of each of the two floors. Getting to the front rows can be difficult. But, thanks to Jay, "the Foodie", we learned that there is a lift available on at the extreme left that can take you to the lower level. It is good to know and the staff will assist you if you ask.
The Solstice Players were awesome! The A Capella group-MetroPark were exceptional. My wife really enjoyed Karen Grainger, a female singer who did impersonations. We really enjoyed Solstice-The Show. It was fashioned after Cirque-du-soleil. All of the players were talented and upbeat.
Not a scheduled event, but, do to my wife's background, we also took a tour of the sick bay. We talked to the head nurse, a nice gentleman from South Africa with a Doctorate in Nursing who had been a University professor there. He showed us the facilities and told us that the staff consisted of two doctors, and three nurses. He showed us their emergency room, and their ward, as well as their fully stocked pharmacy. We also met, and my wife talked to, the junior doctor from the Cameroons. We met him outside of the facility, riding with him on the elevators one trip. He told us he had been with the company for two years. Excursions:
Normally we have had no difficulties with regards to excursions and my wife's cart. Both on last years cruise and this, the tour operators have evinced an Island attitude, i.e. "No problem, man," and have managed to get the cart on the bus. This year Tortola was the exception.
Finding our tour, after getting off the ship, was somewhat of an adventure in itself, but, we found our operator and she checked us in for the Historical and Cultural Tour. We waited right next to her for about 20 minutes until they were ready to load the bus. At that point she turned and told us that we would have to leave the cart. She stated that they had made no provisions for handicapped individuals. We told her about our previous experiences and the ability to disassemble the cart and stow it, but her response was that she was not going to make any accommodation that might cost her seats on the bus and that we could go get a refund.
Well, we talked to Erroll from the ship, the Shore Excursions representative, and he took our tickets and arranged a refund. We then went to Guest Relations and told them our story. The young lady at the desk took notes and that was about all we really expected. But, Guest Relations followed up with two telephone calls, and chocolate covered strawberries delivered to the room, and Shore Excursions called, as well, to ask if they could do anything further. This was really an impressive show of concern.
As to the two excursions we did take, the Old and New San Juan tour in Puerto Rico, and the Butterfly Farm and Marigot tour in St. Maarten, both were enjoyable, though we liked the second one the best. The Butterfly Farm was amazing and our tour guide was wonderful. They and he made the entire trip accessible for my wife.
Labadee has changed so much in the last year that we were amazed. Last year my wife could only take her cart to the jetty where the tender docked and then had to transfer to a beach wheelchair. This year, the entire venue has been revamped with paved walking areas throughout the venue and new buildings and event sites. They even had a private beach set aside for Concierge Class, so that there was no need to rush to claim beach chairs, like last year.
Additionally, the straw market has been moved. It has been moved further back, and two sites created, one with fixed prices and the other with the typical straw market feel, and price negotiation. We tried both, and while, if you worked at it you could get a slightly better price at the straw market, the fixed price market was selling the same items at what seemed to be a fair market price. We brought a couple of items at each place, and the price difference was not enough to matter, really.
Just to let you know, the crew works an average of 15 hours a day, 6 ½ days a week, if they are lucky. They work for six straight months and then get two months off. They do not get paid during their down time, but the company does, generally, pay their airfare both ways. The crew members we talked to seemed to be happy and loyal to the company. They all strive to please.
For us, the Master, Captain Dimitrius (who was Greek-just ask him) was by far, the most likable and entertaining Master we have encountered on our cruises. He was light hearted, approachable, and really funny. He was a show all on his own. Putting that aside, he kept us well informed and we arrived at most ports early. The seas were rough; but you did not feel it like on other vessels we have been on.
We enjoyed the cruise and would go again in a heartbeat. Next year we might try for the southern Caribbean, as we did the Western Caribbean on last years cruise. Read Less