First of all this was our 8th cruise with 3 cruise lines and we had anticipated it would be the best experience so far. Before we left we had a few alarm bells ringing in regard to noise in the cabin after we read a cruise critic review that said the forward cabins on deck 11 were directly under the gym and the noise started at 7 am and was loud and constant. Well, I am delighted to say we had cabin 1501 on deck 11 - which was as far forward as they go and it was perfectly quiet with only the odd short burst of subdued thuds from above when a running machine was worked particularly hard in the afternoon now and again. So whether they have reinforced the floor or the report was exaggerated I can assure anyone in a forward cabin on 11 not to worry about the noise and due to the ships amazing stabilizers, there is minimal rocking even that far forward.
The boarding process in Sydney's International Terminal is incredible. As we had an Aqua class suite booked our check in time was from 11.30 am. We arrived around 11.25 and were on board drinking an orange juice or champagne by 11.40!!!!. We had even suffered a delay when we were told we were not permitted to take on board a multi pin adapter for our various electrical appliances and had to dig it out and hand it over for collection after the trip. This delayed us almost 5 minutes. So my first piece of advice if sailing on Celebrity is to take a US plug adapter and NO multi point adapters!
Once on board we were handed our drinks and were then "jumped on" to buy a drinks package! When we explained we had a Classic package, the staff then tried to upgrade us to Premium. We told them we were fine as we were and were THEN jumped on to buy a specialty restaurant package and about two other various packages. It was annoying to say the least and when it continued over the next couple of days it became offensive. At one point we even tried to find out what cocktails were included in the Classic drinks package and actually couldn't. Guest services didn't know and referred us to a nearby bar which made it clear they didn't serve Classic Cocktails only Premium! This was actually untrue but when we tried to check another bars cocktail menu price list, it contained ONLY Premium cocktails and we started to wonder what the Classic package actually got us for our money! We needn't have worried as once the first few days were past, we had no trouble with the Classic range and assume the difficultly on the first two days was to assist the cruise line to sell more Premium packages. Not the most impressive start to the cruise!
The pestering to sell or up sell packages was SO consistent it became a joke among passengers. On entering a lift it was not uncommon to hear a passenger ask if you had the Premium lift package or the Classic as this was a Premium lift!!! On one occasion when asked to buy a package I didn’t want (YET again) I responded by saying I had bought the special ‘staff won’t offer me a package’ package and on another occasion when entering the spa area the manageress approached us to sell us one of her many services and introduced herself by saying she was a qualified plastic surgeon. I put on a shocked look and interrupted her to ask if she was suggesting my wife needed plastic surgery. She looked genuinely shocked and said “No”, to which I said “good because I think she looks perfect”, which of course the manageress agreed and we walked off as I said “well thank goodness we agree on that!” Oddly enough she never tried to sell us anything after that!!!!
Once we had access to the cabin we walked in to what appeared to be the smallest cabin we have ever had on any ship. This MAY have been an illusion, but to be honest if my wife or I casually dropped a shoe on the floor of the cabin without carefully putting it away, it became a hazard and we would have found it hard to avoid tripping over it. The balcony was also narrow but may have been deeper than others, though I didn't get that feeling to be honest.
On the plus side, our stateroom attendant was the best we have ever had and earned his extra gratuity over and above those paid when we booked. In fact, almost every staff member was first class except for one rather rude indolent female in the cosmetic shop, who apparently took an instant dislike to my wife and I and went out of her way to obstruct our efforts to spend money in the store!! She also ran a training session for a few passengers supposedly explaining the benefits of certain products and as I stood waiting for my wife, it became clear she knew next to nothing about her subject OR about how to deal with people who have a legitimate question on the subject. Having been IN the cosmetics industry myself, TRUST me, she was completely useless.
Now a few more pluses. The captain was brilliant. He was funny and very human and made himself VERY available to passengers. Every night his officers walked the decks chatting to any passenger wanting to approach them. A clever and delightful way to run a ship.
The shows in the theatre involving the singers and dancers were all top notch and the company has also modified its approach to formal nights instead calling them evening chic, and this appears to have had the positive outcome of far more men getting dressed up for the evening, though not necessarily in suits or dinner jackets. The relaxation of the dress code is a definite improvement - and that is coming from someone who wore a suit and bow tie on the formal nights!
Now I must air a few negatives of the ship and the cruise. This was a Christmas/New Year cruise so it was my own fault that I was on a full cruise with over 3300 passengers aboard. The result was a fair bit of queuing and crowding. When the sun came out the external decks were filled with sunbathers with barely a foot to spare between them all. Restaurants had queues for diners waiting to be seated and of course the Bistro area was at times almost impossible to find a seat in. I hate crowds and so for me the numbers WERE a problem. If they don't bother you, then this isn't a problem.
Also because it was a cruise during a school holiday - there were a LOT of children of varying ages and they occasionally became a bit boisterous and seemed to have little concern for their fellow passengers - as kids are wont to do. Again I blame myself for booking a cruise at this time of the year which resulted in a lessening of the experience for us.
Another problem we experienced on this ship which I hadn't experienced before was that soon after getting access to our cabin, my card failed to open the cabin door, so I went to Guest Services reception and queued for over 30 minutes. I was NOT alone with the problem, but there was NO dedicated staff member to sort this out for all those with faulty cards. I found this frustrating. For your own information, some of the faulty cards had become faulty because they had been placed against a mobile phone, or iPad of other electronic or magnetic device. For your own sake keep your card well clear of these devices and reduce the chances of being forced to queue up for a new card!
Two final criticisms of the ship. On EVERY other ship we have sailed on there has been an outside deck where you can sit and look out over the water or walk the length of the deck for exercise without crowds of people all around. The Solstice lacks this deck and that may well partially explain why so many other areas are crowded. Yes, you can get outside on deck 5, BUT there are lifeboats and tenders all along both sides of the ship, so there are limited views of the water when on this deck. There is also limited access, so a walk around the ship on this deck is not possible. The deck also suffers one other problem and it is one that affects virtually every area of the ship. On deck 5 the ONLY seating is wooden deck chairs which are VERY low and for anyone who has any sort of knee problems, getting out of a low seat is very difficult if not impossible. With two shonky knees and a very tall and large body, there was NO way I was ever going to be able to sit on deck 5 outside. The trouble is, that elsewhere on the ship, the design of the chairs has obviously been done with an eye to art and very little attention to comfort or practicality. A mix of low seats with no arms, or seats with ultra high backs and no arms, meant my options of where I could sit were reduced to about 4 or 5 areas only and even THEN there were only limited seats I could use in those areas. I heard several other guests making similar comments, so it really should be something the shipping line needs to look at. There are PLENTY of people less mobile than I who would have their cruise spoiled by this badly thought out mistake.
Overall, I have to say I have had two cruises better than this one - a mini suite on Diamond Princess and a cruise on Celebrity Century just before it was sold off. From the moment the hard sell started on arrival I got the feeling Celebrity were copying P & O and THAT is perhaps the worst shipping line to copy!
The ship is in pretty good nick and offers the most stable ride out of Australia, but lacks some finishing touches. The curtains in our cabin were fraying and had a couple of holes, the carpet was looking a little tired, but these are minor negatives which on their own would have had no impact on the holiday. More serious was the Spa steam room area where the sauna worked just one day of the 12, one of the two showers was not working on ANY day and the steam room often had no oil in the container so half the benefit of the steam room was lost. When people are asked to pay almost $200 to use these areas, there is NO excuse for it being unserviced and unservicable. Despite reporting the problems several times, NOTHING changed.
As a consequence of this trip, I could NOT recommend the ship to anyone I know - the minuses outweighed the positives which is sad. There are a few steps that could be taken to change this - new seats throughout, cutting back on the pushy sales approach on board and maintaining the areas in the spa section to ensure value for money when people pay for specialised services. Those would have been enough to encourage me to give them a second chance on a NON school holiday period, but unfortunately it is unlikely Celebrity will change them and this will be my last cruise with Celebrity - in fact we have already booked our next cruise, which will be on the Cunard Queen Victoria in September around the Mediterranean. Here’s hoping our next experience will be better than this one.
Smaller than we anticipated with shabby frayed curtains and a slightly worn carpet. Despite being cleaned thoroughly each day, there were almost ingrained dust marks on wardrobe doors, but overall the steward kept the room clean and tidy and it was acceptable. Delighted to say, NO noise from the gym above which we had read was a problem.