Decided to go on the Christmas cruise for a change with my husband and our two teenage boys. Even though we are New Zealanders we thought it would be cool to see NZ coastline from the sea. We have travelled a lot but never on a cruise. On the whole really loved Celebrity Solstice, the room, food and also the entertainment.
The itinerary was just great with a mixture of port stops and days at sea. We hired rental cars to tour and took one excursion on the train in Dunedin. You will see some of the most spectacular scenery that NZ has to offer. Of course my views might not be the views of others on the cruise as we are all different, especially in respect to food quality and enterainment value.
Was a bit concerned about two things, 1. was level 7 too low on the ship and 2. would there be too many kids??
Level 7 is the best value, central location on the ship
Fortunately neither eventuated and I feel that the two level 7 balcony cabins 7278 and 7282 we had on the central hump are some of the best value cabins for their central location to the lower common areas. If the lifts were slow then it was an easy walk down to the dining rooms or else to disembark from the ship. Also there is minimal motion in rocky seas.
I would recommend the 2A cabins on the central hump which look straight down to the water from the balcony and the starboard side for doing the akl-sydney trip. The forward part of the ship seems to be the 'adult' part of the ship with the adults only solarium and spa and gym areas.
A well run, clean ship
I thought the ship was well run, very clean and the cabins very well designed from an organisational and space point of view. I used cruise critic extensively to check out which are the best cabins. However I would warn against taking too much notice of all the minutiae/one off rants of the various reviewers of this ship. On the whole it's a great product.
The ship was full but there are lots of areas to go to. There was a majority of aussies, and americans, then some english, Canadians, 150 other fellow New Zealanders and the balance made up of predominantly asian passengers.
There were about 200 kids on board, many family groups and also many elder (65+ couples)passengers, whom on talking to them, seemed to have been on multiple cruises. Didn't notice the kids,too much. All fellow cruisers seemed to have made the conscious decision to vary from their usual Christmas routine and go on the cruise. The ship was decked out beautifully with Christmas decorations.
Anyway here is a summary of my pros and cons (you might call it a rant!).
• Well designed cabin, comfy bed
• Extremely clean - thank you room attendants Raquel and Larry for your impeccable service
• Staff all very polite and eager to help
• Well maintained ship
• Consistent level of food in the Ocean view buffet where we ate most with the kids. Not fine dining, but an acceptable buffet. Excellent sweet melon fruit especially
• Main dining room was pleasant to eat in every night. Consistent standard of food, you can treat it like degustation and have seconds of dishes you like -no questions asked
• Efficient embarkation, lots of checkin staff. Even though we had no prioirty boarding it didn't take long.
• Queues not that long for dining
• Excellent meals at the Murano and Tuscan Grill speciality restaurants. Flambe lobster at your table and the soufflé dessert were exquisite.
• Loved the lobster served in the main dining room on Xmas day, we were even allowed seconds!!
• Loved the musical performers Hayden Smith and Jane Cho electrical violin, Bayne Bacon was hilarious and a great musician too
• Eddy, the cruise director bought a bit of an 'english' flavour to the cruise with his wit – He worked hard with Pete the activities manager in cajoling people, who have seen and done everything, to show some form of life!
• Enjoyed the onboard Apple certified trainer, Charles's, iPad, iCloud and ios workshops, although I feel he could run an advanced class as well as some particpants were extreme learners!
• Enjoyed naturalist Dirk’s commentary of the Milford Sounds and also his lectures.
• Loved the beautiful photos the photographers take round the ship but print price a bit expensive. Bought them anyway
• Mast grill burger bar level 14 has very nice burgers.
• Loved an excuse to dress up – lots of ladies with lovely clothes and sequins at night.
• Lots of areas to spend your money on board, all in USD. Not good if you come from NZ and converting back to NZD. Maybe they could offer an Australia/NZD price as well.
• Wouldn't buy the beverage package again, we were mobbed on embarkation to sign up for a beverage package by several staff and ended up spending $700usd on non alcoholic package alone for 4. We struggled to get our money's worth. You get tea, coffee and water with meals anyway and if you didn't buy the package but paid for a few drinks then you still probably wouldn’t reach the cost of the beverage package.
• It appeared that a lot of others had obtained a reasonably priced but high level floor with inclusions such as the beverage package and also internet and tips paid for in their fare. Not sure if they booked early or negotiated with their agents.
• Silk Harvest restaurant was the only disappointing paid for outlet. Sushi ok and asian fusion dishes very average.
My tips for this trip would be:
• Shop round for lowest fare via internet and agents, get drinks package and internet included if possible. I booked in April and monitored the fares and can let you know if went gradually higher with the good cabins selling out. The cruise seemed to be sold out about October.
• Take a Go Travel water jug, set to 110 v and you can make your own tea in the cabin without having to wait for room service, you would need cups and long life milk and teabags.
• If you are getting a prepaid NZ cell phone SIM card to use in port with your iphone the Spark coverage is better than the 2degrees coverage although you will lose signal 30-60 mins out from the coast.
• Use Pocket app or Apple reading list to load up some reading!
• If travelling together try and get interconnecting rooms on the hump and get them to open back the glass panel so you can backwards and forwards on the deck. Would have to get in quick as the central hump cabins go quickly.
• Book speciality restaurants before getting on the boat works out cheaper than buying on board.
• Take a variety of layered clothes from high summer to decent wind breaker jacket, from sandals to sneakers. There is all manner of temperatures on the boat and when you go outside to the front it is definitely cold but you want to be out there for the sail ins and sail outs.
All in all had a wonderful cruise, really enjoyed our first cruise. Celebrity Solstice is lovely and the company runs a well oiled ship. The well trained staff are the stars of this company. New Zealand scenery is spectacular. Even if I do say so myself coming from New Zealand.
I believe you could have several different experiences on this ship depending on what level of cabin you booked. For families it is a mid range product with buffet style food most of the time or if you booked the aqua spa or suite cabins it would be very different with the spa inclusions and exclusive speciality dining. There were definitely a few high net worths on the ship but you didn't encounter them in the ocean view buffet!! What I liked was the variety of being on a bigger ship. Although at times it felt a bit impersonal due to the size and really the only staff you encountered regularly were your cabin attendants.
There are a lot of inducements to spend more on board you just have to exercise restraint. I would travel with celebrity again if I could get a good fare and included Internet and beverages. I booked onboard to go on an Alaska trip with them in September. Will travel level 7 again on the Solstice. A memorable trip and we got to spend some quality time with our boys.
Level 7 is a great location on the central hump, looks straight down to the sea. Also handy if elevators are slow and you need to use the stairs. Short walk to common areas on levels 3-5. Minimal motion from sea swells. Very clean, well maintained. Fabulous bed.
Twice a day servicing of the room is lovely for the stay at home Mum, the ultimate luxury.
I believe these cabins would go very quickly when cruise is opened for bookings. If travelling in a family group try to get interconnecting cabins. They are indicated by the dashed line on the deck plans. I would rather book one of these and than pay for the speciality restaurants than get concierge or aqua cabins.
Tender port, was very orderly getting off. We hired a rental car. Would probably do a local sightseeing cruise if going again. Visited the Waitingi treaty grounds which are a significant site for New Zealanders. Great little market going at Paihia township.
Ship berths right next to local town of Mt Maunganui which has the sandy beach, walk up the mount and also some nice shopping only 5 minutes from the trip. We hired a car and drove down to Ohope Beach as I wanted to see what it was like as many people holiday there. It was really beautiful.
Home town so we went home and did the washing and caught up on the internet!
Tender port, it was orderly leaving the ship. Quaint little town but we struck a heat wave and too hot to walk around. The rose gardens looked lovely. We hired a car and drove round the Banks Peninsula which has spectacular coastal scenery.
Loved the train ride into Taieri Gorge. What a spectacular engineering feat from the late 1800s. Make sure you ask for a right hand side seat going into the gorge. The bus trip round Dunedin afterwards was also fab, Richard is a local and gives a very good overview of Dunedin. NB wouldn't recommend the train trip for kids or teenagers, it's too long at 4 hours there and back.View All 68 Taieri Gorge Railway Reviews
Unfortunately it hounded down with rain when we got off and stopped the moment we got back on. Took the hop on hop off bus which was the only option on a wet day. Looks like an interesting city but need to walk around. Went to the Salamander markets but too wet to enjoy sadly.