Our first time in Alaska! We had a wonderful time with a wonderful itinerary on Celebrity Solstice. Embarkation in the port of Seattle went very smoothly. We were checked in by 10:30am and actually on board by 11:10am. We were first in line at the Shore Excursion Desk on Deck 3 which opens at 11:30am to book a few final shore excursions using our onboard credit. We stopped by the buffet, sat in the sun on the Sunset Bar and in our cabins at 1pm. Our luggage arrived in our cabins before 2:30pm. We unpacked, went to the boat drill and since we had an aft sunset veranda, we stayed in our cabin drinking the bottle of wine we brought on board with us, enjoying in private the incredibly gorgeous sailaway from Seattle, taking in the stunning views of Mt. Rainier, downtown Seattle, the islands of the Juan de Fuca Strait - picture perfect!! Then, we headed down to dinner.
Typically, we sail Aqua Class as we very much enjoy the dining experience of Blu, but, there are no Aqua Class cabins on Solstice Class ships, that are sunset verandas - meaning there are no cabins off the back of the ship that are in the Aqua Class category on the Solstice Class ships. We have come to find that we love the sunset verandas - the cabins off the back of the ship - due to the sweeping views, you have your own private 180 degree vista-view! (we sailed away from Venice in a sunset veranda, WOW!!!). So what we have done twice now, is book a sunset veranda in order to have the stunning views, and book Select Dining (same menu as the Main Dining Room, but you have flexibility as to seating and timing). We have come to love Select Dining (ok, no, not as much as Blu in Aqua Class, but we are compromising to get the views from the aft sunset veranda cabins!). We have found that the Select Dining maitre d' works very hard to ensure that you are seated in the same station every night so that you establish a relationship with the server in that station - if you want to, that is, as you can request to sit anywhere in the Select area, which is very big. Saara, the maitre d' on Solstice for this cruise, was outstanding, very patient, accommodating, adept. When you think about what she has to manage, the huge number of guests, it is mind boggling - I am sure that the Select Dining area is the largest fine dining "restaurant" anywhere, with people making so many demands - she really did an amazing job, so much juggling. And the menus - well, I sailed Aqua Class on Eclipse only a month ago for two full weeks in the Baltic.
And, truly, there are many many menu item crossovers between Blu and the main dining room. I don't think people realize that. Flavor is of course tantamount in all of the dining venues on board. But the menus in Blu and the Main Dining Room are very similar, many menu items are the same. The main dining room menu has gotten very "healthy" - but just like in Blu, you can order "unhealthy" items that are richer, but in general, the menu items are prepared with good health, great flavor in mind. Our server, Sanyo, was exceptional - he would always bring us the vegetarian menu along with the regular menu. He also realized quickly that we love authentic Indian food, not the "dumbed down" American mild version of it. Who knew (not us) that one of the specialty menus that Celebrity makes every night, is an Indian menu! An Indian menu, separate from the regular menu, with several options under every category. Authentic Indian food, filled with flavor and heat! Sanyo would usually bring my husband a side dish of veg that was featured on the Indian menu, every night, as an accompaniment to his entree. Excellent service, excellent food.
Entertainment on this cruise was up to Celebrity snuff. As always seems to be the case, the production cast excels. We particularly enjoyed the shows "Ghostlight" and "Pulse". We were not so enamored with the show, "Music through the Decades", only because the cruise director took part in this show and gave a (TOO LENGTHY) history lesson of each decade - in short, she talked too much, WAY too much - but the musical performances were excellent. We gravitate toward the comedians, and there were several excellent guest comedy performers on board, including a comedy juggler, Adam Kario, for whom I had the pleasure of getting pulled up on stage to "assist" him - it was a very good time! Celebrity is continuing the late night comedy tradition of having a comedy show at 10:30 in a smaller theater, usually Celebrity Central on Deck 4, always excellent. We are not so excited, generally speaking, about the guest performers who simply sing - not that singing is simple, rather, we are not keen on the idea of spending an hour listening to someone who isn't say, Barbra Streisand, sing her songs. There was some of that on this cruise, but most people enjoy this. The takeaway is that there really is something for everyone.
We very much enjoyed several of the musicians who performed around the ship in the Grand Foyer, the Passport Bar, etc - the house band this cruise, Top Notch, we thought was especially talented. And we sought out Rob Ondras, who played the guitar and sang - he did a Neil Diamond Tribute one night in the Grand Foyer which was fantastic! The Celebrity Orchestra is always amazing, I don't know where all of this talent comes from! They perform live in almost every show that is in the theater nightly (no pre-recorded music on Celebrity, ever!!, always live!!) - they perform with the guest performers and the production staff, as well as around the ship in various permutations, such as in full, for ballroom dancing or as a breakout jazz combo in the Ensemble Lounge. There were many other live performers throughout the ship - DJs, quartets, trios. There was karaoke nightly in Quasar. Never a shortage of entertainment.
I can't possibly mention all of the Celebrity Life Activities - the trivias, the bocce tournaments on the lawn, etc etc and on and on. We especially loved the Top Chef at Sea event - my husband in fact was one of the people chosen to participate, he had a great time and he loves the apron he got to keep! A special mention needs to go to Brent Nixon, the onboard naturalist. He would give presentations throughout the cruise, "Beyond the Podium Presentations" which were informative but also extremely entertaining. We learned so much about Alaska, it's wildlife, etc, from his presentations. Also, during the full day when we cruised through the Tracy Arm Fjord and hung out in front of the Sawyer Glacier, Brent gave a non-stop narration over the public address system in the public areas, and on Ch 5 on the TVs in the staterooms. This was fantastic. We stayed in our cabin that day as we had our aft sunset veranda with the full 180 degree vista-vision, and so we had Ch 5 on so we could listen to Brent describe the history, the geology, the meteorology, the wildlife - you get my point - of the waters and the glacial area that we were in. Thus, the time in the Fjord wasn't, "oh, look, it's so pretty", rather, we were able to get a deeper understanding of what we were seeing and more fully understand it.
One event that is one of our absolute favorites when cruising with Celebrity, on Solstice this cruise, did not go so well as on past cruises. The Wine and Cheese on the Lawn event is one we anticipate, one with the weather in Alaska, could have been in jeopardy - but we were blessed with amazing weather nearly every single day, even in Ketchikan! Only in Juneau did we have any rain, and it was not a big deal. The Wine and Cheese on the Lawn event was held on our sailaway from Victoria, British Columbia. We were really excited, because Rob Ondras was the musical performer - love him. How idyllic to lay on a blanket on the LAWN - truly, if you don't know, the Solstice class ships have ACTUAL GRASS that they have to MOW, on deck 14, it's fab! - so yes, to take your shoes off, bury your feet in the cool grass, lay on a blanket, listen to the strains of a wonderful musician, Rob Ondras in this case, have a server bring wine (for a fee) to your blanket, along with a plate of (gratis) cheese and fruit. Heavenly, right? Which is what it has been on other cruises - so, I don't know what happened, but there was only one server coming to the blankets to sell wine and he didn't start until over 15 min into the event! People began to que at the wine station, 20 people deep, to buy a glass of wine - not exactly relaxing!! - and the cheese?? From my blanket vantage point, I don't think they had more than 10 plates!! They ran out nearly immediately leaving only a pile of breadsticks for us sojourners. It was very odd and completely not the way we have experienced the Wine and Cheese on the Lawn events in the past. Perhaps the high turnout was not anticipated, as there were well over 100 people in attendance. There simply was not enough staff, or cheese!!, to serve the number of people that were there. We ended up not buying any wine. There was no way we were going to que for it as the point is to relax on the grass, enjoy the sailaway, the gentle ocean breeze, the sunshine, the music of Rob Ondras, the wine, the cheese, ahhhhhhh, breathe deeply! Queing is not a part of that idyl, nor was it ever before on any other Solstice class ship.
The gym on Solstice has gotten lots of new machines since I was last on board. And we were very impressed with what seems to be a corporate wide policy to now offer many free classes in the gym. Some classes remain fee based, but free classes include Stretch & Relax, Tone with Tubes, Abs Express, and Muscle Max.
We are Elite level in the Captain's Club, and on this cruise, the Sky Lounge was closed from 5-7pm for the nightly Elite and above cocktail and canape event. No coupons this cruise, so Sky Lounge was not ever too crowded, as only Elite and above CClub members were admitted. I am still going through withdrawals, not being able to head up to the Sky Lounge on Deck 14 at 5pm, sit in our favorite window seats, watch the stunning ocean/shore scenery, have friendly servers come to us with canapes and cocktails, ahhhhhh, a life one gets used to quickly! Boom, back to reality now!
It doesn't need to be said that the ports of call were all fabulous, including Icy Strait Point, who's existence is based upon a collaboration between the town of Hoonah and the major cruise companies. Some people say it is the "Disney version" of Alaska, but we say it as an economic win:win, a revitalization of the local economy and a fun port for the cruise passengers - an old unused fish cannery was refurbed and made into a museum with lovely shops for local artisans. There are several restaurants, nature trails, many outdoor activities such as kayaking, whale watching, local dance theater, the famous zipline - lots to do, all good fun, beautifully maintained.
Solstice itself, as are all of the Solstice class ships in particular, beautiful, with the lawn club (remember, REAL GRASS) being a huge highlight. Solstice is showing her age on the outside decks but maintenance efforts are ongoing and visible. Indoor spaces, including our cabin, are perfectly manicured. We do hope that the specialty restaurant Silk Harvest is soon replaced with what we feel to be the far superior, QSine.
In conclusion, Celebrity does such a very good job of having employees make a connection with their guests, of taking what is a mid size ship, pretty big really, and making it feel more small and homey by ensuring that guests connect personally with their servers, their room attendants, their favorite mixologist in the Molecular Bar - whoever it may be - it is clear that the entire ship's staff has been trained well in the art of personal relations. I can't wait to be on board again!
Lovely cabin, great views. Funny thing though is that the roof of the Tuscan Grille is in effect, a continuation of your balcony (though of course there is a railing at the end of the balcony). But while in port, workers will often walk on the roof of Tuscan Grille, performing maintenance duties, thus, walking immediately just beyond your veranda, at your eye level, same height at you! This was pretty strange the first time this happened, LOL, to see a man walking just outside your balcony, something you don't usually see! So, when in port and in your room, be careful what you wear if you step onto your balcony - in other words, make sure you are wearing ANYTHING, too funny!