This was our 34th and 35th cruise, as we did two seven day back to back journeys. These were Eastern and Western Caribbean respectively. Embarkation was extremely easy and quick, especially as the Solstice is such a large vessel; we would not have been surprised to encounter a few delays. There were none, and we were onboard in less than twenty minutes after entering the embarkation area. We were offered the now obligatory welcome of champagne or fruit punch. With two carryons, having checked two large bags, we proceeded to our cabin to see if we could drop them off before having lunch. Our cabin, an eighth floor veranda, was in the process of being made up and so, the door being open, we were able to rid ourselves of our shoulder bags and find lunch in the ships buffet, the OceanView Cafe on Deck 14. Let's right now comment on our number one find on why the Solstice is truly truly a cut above all other ships we have been on and shows extraordinary attention to detail and creature comfort. All elevators are exceptionally well marked and signed, with large, easy to find, and colorful controls. A flashing arrow denotes if you are going up or down (not that you shouldn't know, but someone always seems not to), large emblems visible before the door opens giving you the floor location, and even show where the next stops are that have been called for. Other reviews denoted occasional lack of satisfaction with elevator bank placement but we did not find this a problem, although felt more than once that the programming seemed to not fit the timing of passengers waiting.
We found the OceanView cafe to be perhaps the best laid out with the best food, in general, of any ship we have sailed on. The layout of various islands for different needs is well thought out and eliminates long lines where passengers may be stuck behind other passengers where they have no need to be for the food they want, but have no reasonable recourse. How well thought out is it? At lunch there is one entire section devoted to Asian themed offerings, as well as Barbeque. Especially helpful for the male side of the family, having a dairy allergy, which is seldom if ever a problem with Asian cooking, though this took several days to get straightened out in the main Dining Room, the Grand Epernay. At breakfast, more well thought out touches were more than obvious. An entire station is devoted to, and marked: "English Breakfast". This comprises what is just that, English "Banger" sausages, British style fish dishes, baked beans, etc. Now here is real class and forethought, especially judicious on a large ship: at the omelette station, there is not one, perhaps two, chefs with a pan or two each to attend to, coming to the counter to take your individual request, but multiple chefs with multiple pans at work. A staff member takes your order for ingredients from a posted display, writes it down on a post it note, and it is put in front of a chef who can work directly and quickly from that. When ready, the chef simply calls your name from the note, and places your order with you. Well done, Solstice. As stated early on, and worth repeating, the quality of food is at least as good, and in most cases, better than any other ship we have sailed on.
After lunch we returned to find our cabin ready for us, and a quick look around found it (veranda) to be not huge, but more than adequate for a couple. Storage seemed a bit quirky at first, with two pull down cupboard type areas over the comfortable bed, which at first seemed rather odd, but then were realized to be a well thought out touch. Thought not the easiest thing to get to, they were perfect for storing items that needed no hanging or concern re wrinkling, such as socks, underwear, etc. Our very comfortable bed is thoughtfully planned with space beneath to slide large bags in without a problem, and was very convenient for our carryons. A sliding closet beside the bed contained a reasonable amount of space for hanging clothes, as well as perhaps the most convenient and largest safe we have seen. When there was a set up problem, a courteous and knowledgeable staff member quickly appeared and helped, as well as later when a minor difficulty with the TV remote surfaced. TV? Flat screen, with a retinue of available options for ship service etc., and a goodly number of channels thanks to a generally reliable Satellite connection. BW thought the design of the drapes leading to the balcony to be well thought out and attractive. We were also impressed with the excellent soundproofing.
Shower? Best and best thought out in 30+ voyages. Clear hard-surfaced sliding doors, no bothersome drippy or clinging curtains. Need we tell other frequent voyagers of the oft complexity of shipboard showers? Not here..again, a touch worthy of mention. No need to consult notes from our Engineering degree (we don't have one, but there have been occasions we have either had to call the Purser's office or the room steward) or deal with a bothersome portable "wand" type shower head. The Solstice's shower head is affixed and is easily moved to swivel exactly where wanted and needed. Score another point for Solstice. Wife especially liked the clear glass doors on upper storage shelves.
Now, THIS is where the Solstice planners really shine...how many times have you said, and we have written, "WHY can't ship architects give you a decent reading light in your bed? Why can they not seem to grasp this need, this concept?" Solstice has, and it's perfect. How nice, how nice indeed!
There was also, in our cabin class, a sofa that accommodates three, and serves as convenient storage when moving about on port days.
Attending the requisite safety drill, we were more than happy to find that as with our last experience, the lifeboat drill/safety talk does not require you to carry and don a lifejacket. Only to attend the talk, learn your safety routes and find where the assigned lifeboats are.
After this, we hied ourselves to the gym on Deck 12, connected as usual to the Spa system. As expected, we found a plethora of various exercise machines; on days when we used said machines, despite the fact the ship, we were told, was completely booked (2850 passengers, 3000 with 3rd berth cabins in use) there was never a wait for machines. The gym (would you expect less?) is well positioned toward the bow with plenty of glass for sea viewing and therefore, well lit and bright. A comfortable and well thought out area and experience. Wait..not quite. We have never understood why anyone who has overview over such matters thinks, that anyone would want to hear "music" (I dignify the term) that consists of screaming, shrieking and pounding? Perhaps, and only perhaps, in the gym when a class is being given when a certain cadence or rhythm may be appropriate. To our dismay, this same "music" was piped into the Cafe, into other ship areas as well, and was more than disappointing. When BW (for the uninitiated, Beautiful Wife, was in the movie theater one day, the couples on either side, she told me, were also complaining about it.
As we continued our exploration of the ship before dinner, I was surprised (and I freely admit, personally disappointed) to find that, although the Celebrity Solstice class is built, to my understanding, on the same "platform" as the parent RCCL "Adventure" class, on which we have sailed (actually, the "Freedom of the Seas") there was no central Promenade, which was something we enormously enjoyed and was something we had no idea would not be carried forward into the Solstice. Instead, this enjoyable spot, with its numerous shops, cafes and people watching venues, is now simply shops and a central walkway adjacent to the Casino. Drat. A big big Drat.
Dinner time! The Grand Epernay, the main dining venue, is another absolute triumph for the Solstice planners. Continuing the outstanding architectural styling as throughout the ship per se, it features numerous modernistic columns, artistic colored lighting, and the like. It is also the site of an exceptional brunch buffet served the second or third night out, which replaces, or augments, depending on your dining pleasure and choice. breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe. Brunch runs from late morning to early afternoon and includes food appropriate to both meals. First hitch? In all honesty, we first felt this was the ship's error, but after discussion with staff, it may have been at the travel agent level, our request for a table for six was not to be found. This was rectified and personally followed up on the second night. We then found ourselves with another couple and two empty chairs for the rest of the voyage. We never found out why, but were more than happy with our tablemates, a delightful couple, Mike and Maya from Las Vegas, a mature couple who had been married for a grand total of nine days. He: "I finally found her," She: "I'm glad he did." (Or, words to that effect)
Summary of the Epernay cuisine? Good to very good. A few times, exceptional. Personal views, as opposed to tablemates, a bit clouded, as, having a dairy allergy, food sometimes is difficult to compare what it could be if the chefs did not have to work around it. Oddly, BW ordered a pasta dish one night, pronouncing it so outstanding that she ordered it again at a later time, and found it more than disappointing. How can this happen? Only the kitchen knows; we surely do not. Epernay staff? Outstanding; several people commented in general, as well as for the rest of the ship, the best service they had ever had. Ex: the first night we asked for sliced lemon; every night after that it automatically appeared. Well done. Very much so. Dress code? On a typical seven day voyage there are two Formal nights. Other nights, no jeans or shorts, etc. This was usually reasonably adhered to, though as usual there are a select few who think rules are for others. One enterprising fellow, at an adjacent table, apparently thought that formal night translated to, "Dark T-shirt with my Jeans..."
Now, here is an oddity. Having booked back to back seven day voyages, we were informed by staff that it would be necessary, on our initial return to Ft.Lauderdale,, due to U.S. regulations, to present ourselves, our passports and customs forms, to immigration and then re-board our ship...hm. All back to back passengers were asked to meet in a named central location where we would be presented with a form showing us to be "In Transit" passengers, and escorted to the appropriate area of U.S.Customs to be cleared and escorted back onto the ship that we had just come from...We are still trying to determine the logical value of this, as we had been cleared by the ship's security, staff, and manifest on departure. We were the same people who were then deemed safe, but now we had to prove it again...hm.
On segment number two, Western Caribbean, our six person table request went off without a hitch, having been confirmed on board the night before. This time the table for six had...six. During this time, we dined one night at an alternative restaurant, the Asian "Silk Harvest". One word: Exceptional. Outstanding and creative menu and service and attention to detail far beyond the norm or any prior experience.
Ports: Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya, Roatan. Second Segment: Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St.Maarten. We debarked only at Costa Maya, where we did the Mexican Pyramid tour, which entailed a one hour bus ride each way and an approximate two hour stop, replete with history and grateful mosquitoes. The bus was comfortable with an excellent guide. We had done all other ports before and weather was exceptionally hot and in Puerto Rico, where we might have gotten off, raining.
One example of exceptional service, above and beyond, involved OceanView Cafe Maitre d': Vlaho Butriko from Croatia. The Grand Epernay Maitre 'd, whose name I have unfortunately misplaced but also deserves mention, as do our excellent table staff. It was our custom each night to receive the next night's menu from the Grand Epernay so that my allergen free meal might be pre-ordered. As we had dined in the "Silk Harvest" one night I had not had the opportunity to do this. On inquiring of Mr. Butriko how I might rectify this, he took it upon himself to find the menu from another location, wait while I marked it, and then take it to the appropriate area. This took him quite a bit of time and bother and I am sure in many instances would or could have been met with simply a word of sympathy, or much less help. This is, and was far beyond what was expected,and is appreciated and worthy of mention.
Quick word re entertainment: Production shows (Three per segment) very good, but one, deemed by the C.D. the most exceptional, we did not personally care for as found the music not up to the performers. Ship orchestra? Probably the best ever, very professional. Solo performers: Very good, except for one (you know who you are) who performed an act that did not seem up to the standard that we would have expected. The roving Acapella quartet deemed excellent and personable.
Final "Class Act" remark; when you dial into another cabin from a hall phone, it shows the cabin number dialed and the listed name of the cabin occupant on a lit display above the receiver.
Now, as always, what might be improved, as we see it? And to staff's credit, part way through the voyage, a comment card (other than final evaluation) which is a "How are we doing?" query is left in your room. This is to be filled out and left at Customer Relations. One principal suggestion? Recognize who your clients are! Most of the voyagers are from the U.S. with a smattering, perhaps 10%, of Canadian citizens, some German, Latin, Australian, and others. As this voyage was during school vacation, at least for some, there were a few younger couples on board with children or young people of varying ages. In our opinion, such a group deserves better, far far better, than the previously noted absolutely dreadful piped in music that is nothing (opinion) that people want to listen to, concentrate on a workout by, or certainly eat with. After I had commented on this it seemed to get a bit better at the last, though not always or necessarily so.
The Library, in my wife's words, "...needs a lot of help." I agree. I found little that interested me or was by authors that I had the remotest recall of. Current books that I thought would be available were nowhere to be found. This, in marked contrast to other ships. Poorly laid out, never an attendant visible. I am sure the honor system is appreciated, but on other ships someone has been available to find if a book of interest is in stock. Oddly, we did not find a single travel guide nor rack of periodicals, just a few magazines on a side table which seemed to strangely appear and disappear at will. One mother was overheard to say she found only one childrens' book in the entire stock.
On Sailaways, deck 12, music was turned up to a level far in excess of what was remotely comfortable. When I walked through, I literally had to cover my ears. There is NO reason for this. On the final night, on a trip to Customer Relations, a ship's group also had their amps turned up so loud in this area, that I had to lean directly forward into the face of the young lady I was speaking to to be heard and to hear her. Again, NO reason for this. NONE.
Grand Epernay chairs would be more comfortable with rollers. Very heavy to move to sit in.
In the OceanView Cafe, food labels are often misspelled or even non existent. Desserts are often not marked as to what is sugar free. On multiple occasions, late night desserts were barely marked at all and staff not nearby.
Finally, embarkation, another touch of class by staff: Offloaded luggage was not haphazardly dumped in lettered areas, but was neatly placed in rows. More crowded and slower to get off, but again, this is something the line may not have full or even reasonable control over, as often Customs may be understaffed. Note: Do not miss the glassblowing show, it is a real winner and very interesting. Would we do the Solstice or sister ship again? In the proverbial heartbeat, but we definitely miss the Promenade area of the RCCL Adventure Class. --- Read Less