My wife and I are first time cruisers and although unfamiliar with the terrain (or seascape as the case may be) I will venture several opinions in this review that I hope will be helpful to any cruisers - newbie and seasoned alike. ... Read More
My wife and I are first time cruisers and although unfamiliar with the terrain (or seascape as the case may be) I will venture several opinions in this review that I hope will be helpful to any cruisers - newbie and seasoned alike. Firstly the Celebrity Solstice is a remarkably sophisticated ship with an adult flavor (no rockwalls - no water slides) and a staff that caters to your every need and want. It makes you think of what elegant cruising may have been like back in the days of regular transatlantic crossings.
To begin, we arrived at Rome FCO airport on the 16th of July ex NYC JFK via Alitalia airlines. Those who may have followed my luggage concerns on CruiseCritic over Alitalia's 11 lb carry-on restrictions need not worry to much as passengers on our ½ full evening flight going and full early afternoon flight returning to NYC ex Rome FCO were not scrutinized much and I could have walked on with a steamer trunk going to Rome and no one would have noticed. Just kidding of course but with that said I would not take the chance as one lady was stopped at boarding in Rome with a piece over 11 lbs. But everybody seemed to have large bulky luggage boarding that I am sure weighed well over 11 lbs. I still would follow our plan and check 3 pieces thru and have 2 carry-ons pp placing one smaller piece, with critical essentials you need to board with, inside the larger piece (also filled around with personal items around the edges) plus the second smaller second carry-on you are allowed. If stopped at boarding than just pull out the smaller piece from the larger carry-on and redistribute your belongings giving the larger piece now to the attendant to check thru as your 4th allowable piece of checked luggage. Now you both walk on with your 2 allowable and legal pieces of carry-on luggage. The weight and size restrictions have penalties that are high, starting at 50 Euros and going up as high as 150 Euros for a third piece of checked luggage pp with weight and size penalties applying on top of that! I fretted many a night over this I don't see an alternative plan with Alitalia accept for booking with another Airline whose weight carry-on restrictions can be as high as 30 lbs! I am not so much a seasoned air passenger but I see I may have to go back to school for another degree - this one on the science of airline luggage requirements or how to beat the system at their own game. Both flights were smooth, fast and my luggage arrived with me so I am not going to complain...for now.
My wife and I, along with a friend we met on CC and arranged to meet at FCO, transferred to the port city of Civitavecchia and stayed at the Hotel Bramante. Please remember that the 45 minute transfer will run 110-140 Euros depending on the transfer company you may use so get on the CC boards early to arrange to share your ride if you are so inclined. The Hotel Bramante is a wonderful boutique style hotel - modern and clean - with a full breakfast and within walking distance of several beaches and the port promenade which caters to a lively night time crowd mingling between many nicely decorated restaurants. The hotel staff was kind and attentive and the owner even gave us a lift to our restaurant engagement at the port. We dined with several of our new cruise mates and then we strolled the promenade, stopped for some gelato, people watched all those that came out at 10 pm to be seen, strolled out on a walkway jetty to catch the cool summer nighttime breeze off the Mediterranean Sea and on the way back to the promenade eyed a Salsa dance party/instruction on a make shift dance floor on the beach! Very cool.
We boarded the Solstice the next day about 1 pm. The Hotel Bramante offers a free transfer (about 10 minutes away) to dockside. Checking in was a breeze. We got to our room and our luggage followed about an hour later. BTW, I did not take any notes or keep a journal here so I am doing all of this by memory. Keeping a vacation journal is not a bad idea. My good friends, SandG, whom we met on the CC boards and later teamed up with on several private tours, just wrote me to say how from the journals that S keeps, they visited the same pensions in Switzerland a few years ago that they had stayed at on their honeymoon some years earlier! Now that is record keeping. As this cruise overall was wonderful and very memorable it should not be difficult to recall the highlights and I will try my best to be informative.
We were fortunate enough to secure a cabin in Aqua Class and although the difference in Aqua Class and most of the other veranda cabins are negligible there does exist several difference that are noticeable. Room size, veranda and bathrooms are the same size. The main differences are that in Aqua Class you get a fresh fruit plate each day, a plate of several tiny finger food selections that we canceled, the towels which are very fluffy and luxurious, the bathrobes which are waffled and thick and the shower has a large diameter rainfall shower head with 5 water jets along a vertical unit that runs parallel to your body and pulsates water at your body from knee to chest. I didn't think those jets would make much of an impact but I have to admit I became attached to my showering regiment after the first time. The fruit was nice and you can take them out with you on port excursions but you can easily go up to the Ocean View Cafe and accomplish the same result. Two bottles of water are supplied each day but I understand that also occurs at the other cabin classes. Other than that there is not much difference. If you are as lucky as we were and found the cabin price drop to $100 difference between Concierge Class and Aqua Class then why not go for it. Do check on line with CelebrityCruise.com every day for price fluctuations. Our good friends, JSpirit and SandG, whom we met on-line with CruiseCritic, looked out for us and got us considerable savings several times by just checking and being aware. I learned a good lesson on that front. If I told you I saved $2000 would you believe me? Believe it. There are other amenities advertised with Aqua Class such as priority tender boarding and disembarking but that never was an issue for us.
Some how the cabin staff knew exactly when you would be stepping out of you cabin for a spell and when you returned your bed was made and your personal things put in a neat and orderly arrangement for your convenience. I will say that the mini bar was nicely stocked and reasonably priced...2,50 E for a coke if I am not mistaken. If you are like me and do not drink alcohol you may do as I did not and ask for the alcohol in the mini bar to be removed to make more room in the mini bar for other items. Sometimes I just end up doing things the hard way and it drives my wife crazy.
Your bed is also turned down each night while you are out of the cabin with chocolates left out on the bed for most class cabins.
If there are just two of you and you have global capabilities on your cell phones you may want to consider purchasing an extra wide spaced 4 outlet 3 prong power strip to accommodate chargers and the like. Monster makes one that I found to work well so that you can charge 2 cell phones, a digital camera and camcorder at the same time easily. You can pick it up at Radio Shack for less than $10!
A few of us in our on-line "cruise crew" group got the power strip and it worked well.
There is plenty of storage space in the cabins. Besides closet and drawer space, there is an above the bed cabinet storage area and under the bed storage. In the bathroom there are 5-6 storage shelves to accommodate most of your sundries. I have heard some people complain about the closet space. I can't quite understand that. No one should do what I did, as a newbie, anyway, and over pack. I had to have one suitcase open as storage due to my own over indulgence. It was ok but no need to over do it like that again Normally speaking the closet is more than adequate to accommodate anyone's average 10 day stay at sea. After all, you are not relocating to Las Vegas like I was pretending to do, as my DW insisted.
The tv has a good selection of movies, news and comedy. My only complaint is I wish the remote control and tv were more responsive. Channel changing and volume are slow but I think that is inherent either in the signal or the electronics of an LCD tv. I find the same thing on my big screen at home. Sometimes I miss my big box JVC TV set as I could fly around the channels with my remote.
Now let's look at the dining. For breakfast you have several choices. Room service is fantastic. You can call at 7 AM and have you breakfast delivered to your room, with everything you requested, by 7:30 AM and dining on your veranda by 7:35 AM with the Mediterranean Sea racing by under your feet or inside the caldera at Santorini facing the cliff town of Fira or viewing the walled Old City at Rhodes harbor. Either way it is a wonderful way to start the day.
Or you can breakfast at the Ocean View cafe with a huge selection of items to choose from. Or if you are In Aqua Class you can breakfast off a complete menu in the Blu Restaurant with waiter service from 7:30 AM to 9 AM. There are also smaller venue cafes around the ship from which to choose a light breakfast.
Lunch is self serve at the Ocean View Cafe or at the other smaller venues like the Bistro at 5 with waiter service or the pool side cafes. Crepes to steak are available with much to choose from in between.
Dinner is a very special experience as you can imagine. Formal days are normally the 2 sea days on a 10 day cruise...day 3 and day 9. But that is always at the discretion of the Ships Captain/Master. Formal wear is tux/suit for men and cocktail dress, gown or dressy pant suit for ladies. I will try and make this brief by only saying that each of the 5 major restaurants: the MDR - open to all; Tuscan (Italian), Morano (French) and Silk Harvest (Asian)- each from $20 -30 pp; and Blu - similar to MDR with a varied cuisine but only available to Aqua Class passengers, are all wonderful dining experiences in their own right. All restaurants are all you can eat. The dining service in each is impeccable. Your courses are delivered promptly, the waiter staff is very friendly and remembers your particular likes and requirements readily, the maitre d' and ass't maitre d' make a point of coming to your table to chat with you each evening and seconds are always available for every course. If you want try the fish and pasta main courses at the same time, than you may. And this all holds true for each of the 5 restaurants I mentioned above. I will have to leave the wine review for someone else as I don't drink alcohol but if my 6th sense is as sharp as I would hope I would venture to guess that whatever your grape requirement may be I am pretty sure that your tastes can be accommodated. The MDR has a 3 story high wine silo rising off the main floor in the middle of the MDR! Also each of the 5 main restaurants has their own dedicated kitchen. You can read about the other smaller dining venues in on-line reviews thru google. Bistro At 5, that has a $5 cover charge for all you can eat, is also a fine dining facility for light fare including delicious crepes. I have said before here on CC that I do not run in fine dining circles very often in NYC where I live. I have dined with clients (before I started teaching mathematics I worked in the marketing departments of several Steamship lines including Italian Lines) over the years at such wonderful eateries as Peter Luger Steakhouse in my adopted borough of Brooklyn (I was born and raised in Manhattan), Windows On The World at the late 1WTC, the old Quilted Giraffe, 21 Club, and One If By Land, arguably the most romantic restaurant in NYC. I would feel comfortable with going out on a limb by saying any of the main restaurants on the Solstice, even the huge MDR, could rival the best NYC restaurants in cuisine and service. Anybody that thinks differently reminds me of the girls my mother would warn me about...the clothes label "blanks". To such people only popularity, such as to see and be seen, becomes the most meaningful reason to dine, regardless of the service or cuisine. Don't let that fool you. These restaurants on the Solstice are top notch. But which food critic in their right mind would dare rate a cruise ship restaurant highly. They would be laughed off the planet. Oh well...let it be our secret then. I guess I did have a lot to say about dining.
Unfortunately I cannot comment about much of the entertainment. I had a late dining seating (8:45PM) and coming off land tours at 5PM often had my wife and I missing the early show due to the exhaustion of 110 degree weather at Ephesus for example (don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. It just is what it is) and then dining through the late show. I did catch 2 shows in the Solstice theatre. One was a series of well choreographed and adeptly sung past and present Broadway show tunes (I am sorry, I do not remember the show title) in a montage format that would rival any Off Broadway production. Being from Manhattan I have some exposure to that level of entertainment. And the other is a show called Pulse that is a Cirque du Soleil type show. I have seen CDS in Montreal and Las Vegas several times and they are the standard. I also have seen the CDS show that comes to NYC's Randalls Island each spring and I would say that the Solstice Pulse show is better than the NYC CDS show. Those performers, on the Solstice multi million dollar techno stage, are truly marvelous athletes and entertainers and could easily step into any real CDS performance, I am sure.
I have heard that people did miss the old tried and true hypnotist on many cruise ships. A fun thing to experience I am sure. And also some had commented that they would have liked to see a more risquE adult type comedian at a late show. No matter what your moral bent some of those jokes can be downright side splitting.
Finally, I will briefly (that is plan at least) comment on the ports visited on this 10 day Eastern Mediterranean cruise. Most of the ports have been reviewed extensively on CC and other internet sites. I will only attempt to be informative and helpful in my commentary here.
In Sicily, Taormina is a must see unless you have family there to visit with. Syracusa and Catania are a bit out of reach for a short day tour and Palermo is not really a worthwhile touristy spot. I give myself permission to say that as I am part Sicilian. Mt. Etna, near Taormina, is a point of interest if volcanoes are your thing. So opposite of what Horace Greely wrote, "Go east young man".
Athens - The Athenians are wonderful friendly and generous people. The Acropolis is MUST. It is the cradle of western civilization and awe inspiring. The Plaka shopping and dining district is a pleasant diversion. If time permits the Nat'l Archeological Museum is wonderful and just as important is the brand new Archeological Museum open last month just outside the Acropolis/Plaka area. The downside is that Athens needs a face lift. Everybody comments on that and you will see it for yourself. It is worn and graffiti ridden and the housing is box like gray units reminding you of a failed attempt at socialism. It is a shame. Such a wonderfully historic venue filed with lovely, vibrant and fun loving people living in such a drab surroundings. Now let us go to Rhodes and compare the differences.
Rhodes - As soon as you step off the ship into Old Town and travel 20-30 km inland you noticed several things immediately starting at Old Town and continuing out to the outskirts of town. Everywhere the greenery and flora (EVERYWHERE!) is freshly cut and manicured. The trees and bushes are all trimmed nicely. The streets are immaculately clean. They must have little gremlins that come out at night to landscape the island! This is an inviting island that wants you visiting it again and again. Everywhere that you look invites you to come back again. The houses and apartment buildings are colorful, clean and modern looking - all with an inviting character. It is probably the most pleasant place to roam freely on this cruise....taking nothing away from Santorini and Mykonos. But when you think about Rhodes and the turmoil it has gone through over the ages and being conquered over and over again by all of the cultures surrounding it on the Mediterranean perimeter, you have to admire the resiliency of these people who continue to want to live well and with pride. It is wonderful to appreciate. I think it is a remarkable culture there that I really cannot begin to understand. I will leave it to all the historians out there that can maybe explain it better to me here on CC.
Kusadasi - My friend recently came back from a single masted ship cruise along the Turkish coast and when I mentioned we would be docking in Kusadasi he made a face and said that it was a rundown, dirty port city in turkey. I disagree and he was never in Kusadasi. I think he was reading a 20 yr old travel book. If you YouTube search Kusadasi you will see for yourself it is an area that has made itself over to be inviting to foreign tourists. We drove through it and found Kusadasi to be clean, surprisingly modern with well manicured greenery and a comfortable sandy beach front with new restaurants and the obligatory Turkish bazaar. You want a bargain...it could be found here. But be prepared to haggle. Hang in there. The Turks are good salesmen, aggressive salesmen and hard bargainers. But once you crack the veneer you open the door to some fantastic bargains. Don't be afraid to walk away. You may or may not get your price but around the corner is the same item you wanted originally and you start the bidding all over again. Make it a game, don't be pressured and you can't go wrong....even if you have to walk away. Sometimes you win by doing just that.
Ephesus - An amazing ancient site with well preserved ruins including the 3 rd largest library in the ancient world outside of Alexandria and Constantinople. There is plenty to see here. Before September bring plenty of water with you. It was 110 degrees when I was there last week and the heat was tough on some people. My wife and I are both 50+ and we both made it through so I am sure most of you can also. Just be prepared with water, light clothing, good walking shoes and a towel to wipe your face of perspiration. Search YouTube for Ephesus and see for yourself the wonders of these ruins. And don't forget to catch YT's Elton John 2001 concert at the Great Amphitheatre ruins at Ephesus - especially "Honky Cat" with a great 5 minute piano solo.
Mykonos/Santorini - I want to lump these two beautiful islands together even though they have 2 very different landscapes. I am sure you know a great deal about both places already but if you want to reinvigorate your knowledge of both places please do a search on YT again and you will see all you need to know about these two magnificent stops on this cruise. I will say that there is an internet site, www.Cruisett.com/index.php, that will give you a listing of all the ships that will be in any given port when the Solstice is anchored there and the times of each ship's arrival and departure at that port. This can be very valuable info for you especially in Santorini which is the only tendered port on this itinerary. The number of ships in any port will affect all the transportation networks of that port and will affect you debarkation times and return plans to the ship. But a tendered port you need to pay special attention to. Let me share my experience in Santorini with you.
The Solstice was the only ship in Santorini harbor that day. NP, right? Wrong. We left the ship about 9:30 AM, a leisurely time to disembark, and took a public bus to Kamari beach (bring your beach water shoes there - it is very pebbly and the stone are very hot. The water, although beautiful, is rocky along the bottom by the shore. At 2 PM we headed to Oia by bus for lunch and arrived at King Neptune's Restaurant overlooking the caldera...a gorgeous view, very good service and fine food. We lingered knowing there was a 4:05 and 4.35 bus to return us to Fira for the cable car ride back down to the last tender, if need be, at 5:30PM. Hey...if I miss the 4:05 and get nervous I have the 4:35 bus or just call a taxi, right? Just like midtown Manhattan! Well, we miss the 4:05 and I start to worry. I am 20 minutes away from Fira and a 15 minute walk from the bus station to the cable cars at Fira. At Oia's bus stop there are no taxi's to be found or radioed for. One taxi comes at 4:25 and a family grabs it. We wait. I know there are only about 30 taxis on Mykonos so Santorini is probably nearly as bad. The bus comes promptly at 4:35 but wait a minute...the driver has to make an unscheduled stop and will be back in 10 minutes. 15 minutes later he arrives and we are on our way at 4:50PM. The bus is making stops along the way and I am frantic so I place a call to Celebrity Cruises in Florida! I know some of you are laughing now but what does one do when you are on the bus and your ship is ready to leave! I want Celebrity to call the ship and tell them of my plight so they can hold the ship (even I am laughing now). They can't do that. As far as I know the only person that can do that is the port Captain whose phone number is listed on Celebrity's daily scheduling brochure...EXCEPT FOR SANTORINI! Are you reading this Celebrity? As I plead with them on the phone the bus pulls into the Fira bus station at 5:15PM. Gotta go. I hang up and jump off the bus with the Mrs. I have 15 minutes to make the 15 minute walk to the cable car and my wife is reeling from the heat. She can't walk anymore. A TAXI!! happens by and we jump in - as if an angel was at the dispatcher's desk. He leaves us a block from the cable car station as automobiles can't fit down that street. We jump out and my wife hobbles with my help to the cable car and we fall into it. Another couple is in the gondola ahead of us are also trying to get back to the ship and they are yelling at the cable operator to start the cable cars down! It is now 5:25 PM and the cars start to lumber down the side of the caldera. We all jump out at the bottom and there no tender to be seen! But there is a small obscure boat with two Solstice crew members waiting for us and 4 other people whom, promptly show up a minute later...it is now 5:35 PM and by walkie talkie it is verified that all 2800 passenger are now accounted for...we being the last 6 to leave on the under size tender used to deliver the dry goods to the ship. We made it. If there was one more ship in that harbor and another 2000 people roaming the island I would be writing you this review from a chaotic and sweaty Athens airport trying to arrange an overpriced flight to Naples to catch the ship and me cussing a blue streak! So please, do NOT make my mistake and give yourself plenty of time...especially if there are other ships in port...tender or not.
Naples / Amalfi Coast / Pompeii - Pick ur pleasure. Sorrento, Capri, Positano, Ravello, Amalfi, Pompeii or Naples. We did mostly private tours on this cruise with people we befriended on Cruise Critic early in our planning. Early February we started emailing each other...JSpirit, SandG, IHateClaims and Teechor...they were our core group at the beginning. I would advise any of you reading this to hook up as early as possible with a group to tour with privately and split the expenses if that is the way you want to tour. It gets hectic on the boards as time approaches for departure. In this port we chose to take the ships tour to Sorrento (we made it back to Sorrento as the song promises) and Pompeii, which we missed on our last trip to Italy. After our hair-raising experience on Santorini a few days before, you can imagine my relief just to lay back and relax knowing a ship's tour will not leave a bus full of passengers behind if it can help it. Again, Pompeii...very hot...bring water! Nearly all Naples tours are all day to get to these places of interest. If you have never been to the towns mentioned above on the Amalfi Coast then that should be a priority unless you prefer the sights of the ill plagued excavated city of Pompeii. It is quite remarkable to see it for yourself. I think there may be a ships tour that includes both the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. I had friends that did a private tour along the Amalfi Coast and came back by ferry from Sorrento to Naples. That sounds delightful and they said that they had a great time.
I don't know what else to relate so I just want to tell you that I have not met anybody yet that has had a bad experience on this itinerary for the Solstice. Everybody has had glowing comments on their experiences on the Solstice and its ports of call on this itinerary. It was a fabulous experience and for first time cruisers as are I and my wife, we are just stunned at the quality of service, wonderful dining experiences and fun activities on the Celebrity Solstice as well the wonderful ports of call and their historical significance. BTW, there is this little town called ROME that you will happen to leave from and return to. Be sure to give yourself some time at the front end or back end of your cruise itinerary to enjoy the sights and Italian cuisine of Rome.
One quick final anecdote. I am visiting Rome several years back and the control addict that I am, I have tickets for everywhere (rail, musuems and venues) and reservations for opera and restaurants, in my hand, and all made by myself on the interne for an 18 days backpacking journey with my wife from Lake Cuomo, thru Venice to The Amalfi Coast and much in between. I have my tickets for the Rome Coliseum one afternoon and as we approach the gates of the massive structure the guards start to close and lock the old venue up! I am waving my tickets screaming that this can't be. "Oh yes it be sir", they told me. "Big soccer game today and everybody is going home to watch it on tv, goodbye Sir". You have got to love the Italians for their passion for life. Well, it's like the world series of soccer in Italy that day...the national championship game, winner take all....Milan vs Rome. Rome wins...the city goes crazy and parties all night. The wife and I have a blast that night partying with the winning side but I missed my chance at visiting the Coliseum. Now I got to come back again to Rome and I didn't waste my chance this time to visit the Coliseum. We did a full guided tour. I thought maybe if I miss it again...no big deal. But entering and wandering through and around the interior of the Coliseum only affirms the grandeur that once was Rome and western Civilization. I think it is the single most impressive ancient structure on this entire cruise. If you can, don't miss visiting the Coliseum.
I am not the best proof reader so please excuse any words out of place.
Finally I would like to mention my cruise crew again. Fine cuisine, ancient ruins and ship amenities are fine but the lasting impression and the intangible that always makes the difference to a successful journey are the relationships that you forge along the way. There would be a definite hole in my entire experience on this cruise if it weren't for the friendships made before, during and after our cruise with our new friends of the "Cruise Crew" mentioned above, all wonderfully thoughtful and generous people, plus those that we came to call part of our "crew" later on....Kevin and Susan, Loretta, Lisa and Dale and their kids, along with SandG's daughter Caity, Joe and Maria and Pam and Sandy. What an awesome group. Thanx again to all of you for making this first time cruise experience so memorable for Susan and I. And for the rest of you waiting your time to depart remember the words of my main cruise man, Sam....plan hard then sit back and relax because it's gonna be a hoot! Enjoy. Ciao.
GeoBill99 and PMSusan99 Read Less