DH and I are in our 40's and have cruised frequently (26 total) mostly on Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Cuisine and service are among our top priorities, and we think that Celebrity is tops in ... Read More
DH and I are in our 40's and have cruised frequently (26 total) mostly on Princess, Celebrity and Royal Caribbean. Cuisine and service are among our top priorities, and we think that Celebrity is tops in these areas among mainstream cruise lines. We have previously cruised on Horizon-, Century- and Millennium-class ships on Celebrity, but this was our first experience with the Solstice class.
We flew to FLL on Sunday morning and arrived at the pier around 11:30. The new facility (built for Oasis of the Seas) is gigantic and sparkling clean and new. There was a separate line for Aqua Class, and we were checked in quickly and directed upstairs to wait briefly while they boarded Suite guests. By 11:50, we were on the ship and on our way to Bistro on Five for lunch! Cabins were ready just after 1:00.
The Solstice is stunning! I can't possibly describe her in way that will do her justice. The public spaces are sleek, sophisticated and elegantly appointed. Even though she is a large ship, there was excellent traffic flow and few areas of over-crowding. We thought that the Atrium was beautiful and really appreciated there being 8 glass elevators offering great views.
Although we both agreed that the Solstice is a visually pleasing and well-designed ship, DH and I differ on whether it is our new favorite. He found it to be a bit too big and prefers the smaller M-class ships. I thought that the extra amenities afforded by the larger size outweighed the negatives. The only two areas that felt very crowded to me were the theater and the pool area, particularly on sea days. Perhaps when the M-class ships are "Solsticized," we will find the perfect ship for both of us!
Our room steward, Jose, was by far the best we have had on any cruise. He really acted more like a butler than a cabin steward. For instance, when DH told him that he needed to be off the boat early in Grand Cayman to meet up with his dive group, Jose said no worries and produced a VIP Priority Tender ticket. All of our requests were handled promptly and efficiently.
Service in Blu was also excellent, and our favorite waiters there were Igor and Andreja. In fact, service was great everywhere on the ship! The staff members were pleasant and greeted passengers warmly. I witnessed a couple of incidents of "passengers behaving badly" and was very impressed with the professionalism and composure of the staff getting the abuse. Port & Shore Excursions:
Ports were Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Costa Maya and Roatan. We tendered in Grand Cayman, and were docked in other ports. In Cozumel, we were docked at the pier that is about 3 miles from the downtown area.
We are scuba divers and dove in every port, so I can't comment much on other options for this trip.
The highlight for me was Maya Chan resort in Costa Maya. We would highly recommend Maya Chan as an excellent option for a beach day. It is a property owned and operated by an American family who wanted to create an ideal day trip for cruise passengers. The all-inclusive daily price ($49 pp for us, since we had created a large group from our Roll Call) includes transportation to the property, open bar and delicious lunch, and water activities like snorkeling and kayaking. They arranged for a local dive operator to pick us up at their beach for our dives. They require advance reservations and limit the number of people on the property each day.
This is another point where DH and I agree to disagree. I loved Aqua Class and Blu so much that I would be happy to sail on Solstice-class ships from now on. He still prefers the extra room in a Sky Suite.
I would highly recommend the Aqua Class cabins located on deck 11 aft. They are under other cabins, rather than the pool and spa areas. We had absolutely no noise issues. Our stateroom (1626) was very nicely decorated, with comfortable furniture on the balcony. The flat screen TV was great and swiveled for good viewing from the couch or the bed. Our cabin was configured with the bed near the bathroom, and this was preferable to us, as it afforded easy access to the balcony.
The amenities provided in the Aqua Class cabin were very nice. The Hydro-Minerale products are so good that I left my own shampoo and conditioner at home this time. The shower enclosure was the best we've had in a non-Suite stateroom, and the special Aqua-Class shower was nice, a handheld "rain"-type faucet above, with additional jets on the wall for the lower half of the body. There is no hairdryer in the bathroom, but there is a regular one in the cabinet next to the desk/dressing table. Storage was adequate, but the closet is a bit awkward. Bedding was very nice, but we missed our king-sized pillows from home. Having bottled water available was very convenient, but we didn't make use of the tea.
I used the Persian Garden and Relaxation Room a couple of times and enjoyed them, but would not book Aqua Class just for these amenities. Over the course of the cruise, I had a massage and a manicure. The massage therapist pushed products aggressively, but the nail tech backed off when I told her I was all stocked up at home.
This is such a subjective area ~ it is hard to know what is important to others. DH and I would probably consider ourselves "foodies," but also have no problem digging into a pizza or hamburger! My main aversion on cruises is chaos of the buffet area, so I did not eat in the Oceanview Cafe at all this cruise.
To me, dining in Blu was the very best part of Aqua Class. It is a lovely room (seating only 132) and is much quieter than the Grand Epernay dining room. There are mostly tables for 2, and after the first night, they told us to come anytime we liked each evening. It is definitely NOT spa cuisine, but did seem much lighter and more elegantly prepared than the offerings at Grand Epernay. The service was great ~ after a few days in such a small venue, we felt like we knew most of the waitstaff.
For the first time ever, we were invited to dine at the Captain's Table this cruise. We were hosted by the Hotel Director and her Assistant. It was a very special evening, and we enjoyed our dinner companions very much. Although it was a wonderful experience, I must admit wondering what they were serving in Blu that evening!
Since we had to be up and off the ship early in port, we ate breakfast in the Aqua Spa Cafe most days. Their yogurt and fruit parfaits were great, and there was also a nice selection of fruit, cereal and yogurt. It was a perfect choice for a light breakfast. We did have breakfast in Blu a couple of mornings and loved their parfaits even more!
Nothing tastes better to us after diving than a cheeseburger, fries and cold beer, so we enjoyed the Mast Grill on our days in port. In addition to burgers and hot dogs, they offered tortilla chips with nacho fixings ~ cheese, guacamole, salsa, chili, etc.
We ate in Bistro on Five twice. Although we enjoyed their paninis, we thought the crepes were outstanding! As others have said, the dessert crepe with Nutella and bananas is not to be missed.
By far, the best activity was our Sailaway Party with our Cruise Critic Roll Call friends! In the months preceding the cruise, the Roll Call grew to 110+. Although we didn't get to meet everyone, it was great to meet so many of those with whom we had been eagerly anticipating our cruise. It is always fun to feel like you "know" people onboard, and we enjoyed spending time with several of the couples throughout the cruise.
This is our second cruise in a row that there have been problems with people getting their invites to the Cruise Critic Connections party sponsored by Celebrity. Although there were over 80 people registered, only about 30 showed up at the party, which was held on the first Sea Day (Monday) at 10:45 am. The Cruise Director, Paul Baya, expressed disappointment that so few had shown up. We learned later that this was because many had not received an invitation! Other ship staff in attendance were the Hotel Director, the Assistant Hotel Director, the Food and Beverage Manager and the Chief Housekeeper.
We are not big show people, but had heard great things about the Cirque-style show, which was the first formal night (Monday). Unfortunately, we lingered too long over martinis and dinner and didn't make it to the theater until about 10 minutes before the show was to begin. There wasn't a seat anywhere, even in the balcony. We tried to stand and watch for a few minutes, but that wasn't so comfortable in high heels! We realize that it was our own fault for not getting there earlier, just keep this in mind if it is important to you to see the shows.
Other activities that we enjoyed were the trivia contests, Chef Challenge show, Captain's Club Select/Elite wine tasting, theme dance parties, and putting on the lawn. Miscellaneous:
Children: There were over 500+ children on this cruise. While they were generally well-behaved, there were some instances of bad behavior. There were Security officers stationed around the pool, who were generally effective in keeping the kids out of the adult areas. (One of the two outdoor pools and the indoor Solarium area were designated for adults only.) I witnessed one mother defying the Security officer's request for her daughter to vacate the Solarium area, because she didn't think it was fair to limit 500 children onboard to only one of the pools.
I have to admit having mixed feelings on this topic ~ just as I should have known there would be lots of kids on a summer sailing, I would think that a parent would have done their research, too. While Celebrity welcomes families, it certainly does not cater to them as RCL and Disney do. I am NOT anti-kid by any means. DD is now 17 and has been cruising with us since she was 5. However, when she was younger, we made sure to choose ships that would offer activities and facilities appropriate for her age and interests.
Cellar Masters was our favorite spot for a pre-dinner glass of wine. They offered a nice cheese selection each evening, which patrons of the Martini Bar across the way also enjoyed. Although we never made it there ourselves, many of our CC friends raved about the Molecular Bar (Dragonfly and Lucky Cat were their most frequent recommendations.)
It was interesting that different bars had different stock. For instance, the pool bar did not have Mount Gay Rum, but the Mast Bar one deck above did. It didn't take long to figure out who had what we were in the mood for.
Both of us purchased the Premium Alcohol package prior to the cruise. It was printed on our SeaPass card, and there was only one occasion when the server failed to notice it and charged us for the drink. (When we pointed out the package, he quickly reversed the transaction.) We never experienced any hesitation on the part of the servers to serve us. In fact, bartenders were very receptive and made recommendations of choices within our $12 limit. My favorite sailaway order was for a "Margarita on the rocks with the best Tequila you have that this card will buy me." (In most cases, that was Silver Patron.)
Although we haven't done the math to see if we "broke even," it was a really great way to turn a cruise into a truly all-inclusive vacation. We loved not having to even think about ordering a drink (or specialty coffee, Coke or bottled water), since we had already paid for it. We enjoyed a nice selection of wines by the glass with dinner.
We had an 11:15 am flight from FLL, so we were placed in one of the early groups, Green #2, with a projected disembarkation time of 7:45. Our group met in the upper level of Grand Epernay and was called to proceed to the gangway at 7:43. Our luggage was easily located, we sailed through Customs to a taxi, and were checking in at the airport at 8:06. We could not have asked for a more painless disembarkation!
DH and I do agree that this was one of our favorite cruises ever ~ great new friends, beautiful ship, delicious food, and wonderful service.
If you have any specific questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Sorry, I don't have copies of the dailies or menus, but these have been posted on the Celebrity board.) Read Less