Our cruise on Celebrity Solstice sailing 27th July 2009 Eastern Mediterranean was truly a wonderful experience! So far we have travelled Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Carnival, this was the first time on Celebrity, and it will definitely not be the last. This is quite a lengthy review but you can skip the sections you don't need - it's meant for people like me who like to know a lot about what they will be getting out of their cruise. Embarkation was super easy after the online check-in. We had swim suits in our hand-luggage so we immediately had something to eat in the buffet restaurant and then went for a swim in the pool. The ship is extremely well thought-out and comfortable. The space available is planned intelligently so that it is very easy to find everything and have the maximum space possible. We never experienced crowding anywhere; in fact we were always wondering where all the people go! Not even on the busiest of sea days was it difficult to find a table in the buffet restaurant. There are many nooks and crannies where one can sit and relax - the sofas and armchairs in lounges and public areas are all soooo comfortable! I think this ship has the greatest number and greatest variety of comfortable seating so far. It's amazing. And it is extremely clean. Spotless bed linen, spotless staterooms, public rest-rooms, everywhere! In the restrooms I especially liked the sensor taps so you don't have to touch anything and also the automatic door openers which are really meant for the physically challenged but which actually are more hygienic than grabbing handles. And always hand sanitisation available, all over the ship. And HEARTFELT CONGRATULATIONS for the non-smoking policy - it is of the utmost importance as many people are non-smokers, extending also to the Casino on Celebrity Solstice. I hope that in the near future ALL the ship will be non-smoking. Having half the pool deck where smoking is permitted is too much.
I'll start with the stateroom. It was marvellous, the best use of space we ever had. The shower was spacious thanks to the rounded sliding doors. A stroke of genius is the way the double bed has a round bottom edge, again providing more free space. The suitcases all fit under the bed - we were four persons in this Deluxe Ocean View with veranda quad (and believe me our suitcases are large!). There is a lot of storage space, including good-sized cupboards over the double bed besides the wardrobe and drawers, a floor to ceiling cabinet in the bathroom - very useful as three of us are females! Also, the staterooms have a sort of slanting hallway so that one stateroom fits against the wider area of the one next to it, resulting in a wider than usual space next to the bed - one has to see it I expect to understand what I mean; anyway the staterooms are more spacious than usual. A big plus were the veranda doors - both were floor to ceiling (on other ships we had one of them half way) and this gives so much light and space to the stateroom and makes it such a lovely personal space which is pleasant to be in! Towels, pillows and bed sheets were very clean and neat - this is very important to us and it would spoil my holiday to have smelly pillows. And here I would like to mention our stateroom attendants, Annalisa and her assistant Suzzet. They were both always very nice and attentive, always smiling and with some pleasant remark or other; above all they catered for all our needs and very quickly too. The stateroom was kept spic and span and orderly at all times. Thank-you both.
Dining. This for us is a highlight, on any cruise, and although we were always very satisfied, I do have to say that on Solstice it was the best we ever had! In the Oceanview Cafe,which is the buffet restaurant, there is always an excellent variety of fresh and very tasty food, cooked appropriately and at the right temperature. The stations are set up with sense and they repeat themselves so there is no queuing. The carvery (we love meat) always had something juicy available and the Mexican, Asian and grill were a treat. And pizza and pasta on the go at virtually all times! The ice-cream is not only the usual soft ice-cream produced by a machine as on other ships, which is very good as well, but also a selection of scoop ice-cream that changes every day. The rocky road ice-cream topped with caramel sauce is to die for! With as many MnM's as you like in a separate bowl...Desserts are wonderfully presented so they tempt you whether you like it or not and they are as delicious as they look indeed! They are not overly sweet as desserts go. (On one ship in the past we had different looking cream cakes and things but they all tasted the same - not here!) And the cookies...can't forget the cookies...lovely cookies! Breakfast here offers delightful pancakes and waffles as well as personalised omelettes - and I do mean personalised as the waiter takes your name down and calls you when it's cooked, the way you like it of course! Plus cereals and fruit etc. Tea, coffee, hot chocolate, milk, water and a variety of juices are always available here which is another desirable thing this ship offers. All the crew were always helpful and pleasant, as anywhere on this ship for that matter. Now for the dining room, the Grand Epernay. It is very elegant and classy and the wine tower is the focal point. We had all our dinners here, late seating, as well as some lunches and breakfasts. For lunch and breakfast it was open seating and, as usual, all waiters were efficient and polite and always ready to make conversation after having seen to our needs. For dinner we had our own table and our own waiters, who must surely be the best as I cannot imagine better ones! They were Michael Alcantara from Manila and his assistant Peter. They worked top speed and were always on hand for all we needed - they refilled glasses and bread containers before we ourselves realised they were empty or nearly so! Michael got to know us very well by name and it was a pleasure when we had lunch from the buffet and he was on duty there. He always remembered we wanted fries on the side! He was always very smart and neat too. Michael also let us know of any special events that same evening after dinner or on the following day so that we didn't miss anything - very efficient. Peter was always working unobtrusively making sure we lacked nothing. Both men worked very well together too, and they do their utmost, it's not just a job to be done to get paid for. I must also mention our sommelier, Ioana - she was so very nice and attentive, always smiling, and kept topping up just at the right moment. The drinks waiter was very efficient too and kept bringing drinks (we had the soda package for one of my daughters) without her having to tell him. We did not use speciality restaurants because we think that we would have already paid enough for the food and why pay more when the dining room food and service is excellent?! The food was always excellent and presented beautifully and at the correct temperature, not cold or warm when it should be hot. We loved the surprises in the creative combination of ingredients to make innovative dishes. Steaks were lovely (we love meat as I said before) and cooked exactly as we like them. Soups very tasty, duck delicious...I could go on for ever. Sometimes it was difficult to choose because we wanted to try many of the dishes on the menu! A very good idea was the brunch. We were docking early afternoon so going down from the ship for excursions then. Having lunch before going down would have been too close to breakfast so breakfast and lunch were combined in a sumptuous and spectacular buffet in the dining room - we really enjoyed it! Another sumptuous buffet not to be missed was the chocolate night - again it was very well-organised, being held in the Sky lounge there was plenty of room for everyone as well as plenty of goodies! (On another ship we once had to queue to take photos and were told not to eat anything and then we were made to queue again to have a go at the goodies, so we gave up and left) We had a great deal of attention from the maitre d' in charge of our section, unlike on other ships. He spoke to us on many occasions. He even recognised us when we had breakfast or lunch by open seating, so on different tables, and came over to talk to us. He is Marcel from Croatia and he explained many interesting facts about the dining experience we so enjoyed. My daughter wanted me to mention the HP sauce on Solstice - she loves it but never found it on other ships! The Cafe al Bacio has pastries and desserts that you will not be charged for, even if you take away. The only difference is that for take-away you get them on a napkin while if you stay for coffee (you pay for coffee) you get them on a plate. The Martini bar is a must! We really enjoyed watching the barmen juggling bottles and pouring from a stack of shakers all at once into separate glasses of course!
One thing we really appreciated is that no announcements are made in the staterooms - that means you can rest peacefully knowing you won't be woken up all of a sudden. It also means you have to read the daily programme carefully and remember what you want to do.
As regards the pool deck, we always found deckchairs in the shade as we wanted. Once, our parents came later than we did, and couldn't find a pair of deckchairs. Four deckchairs in front of us had been unoccupied for the whole of the two hours we had been there, with a book placed on them to keep them free. I told the pool butler that it was unfair as after half an hour left unoccupied deckchairs should be free for someone else. In fact he told us to place the books beneath the deckchairs and make use of them, upholding the policy. Well done, good for him! In fact there are loads of deckchairs and so it should never be a problem. Pool butlers are there to help out and they always did so. Even in the Solarium, which is so relaxing, when a couple brought their small kids and they started splashing about and screaming the pool butler quietly asked them to use the other pools. And rightly so because while most of the time we preferred the noise and bubbly atmosphere of the outdoor pools, on occasion we wanted to doze quietly and relax - the Solarium is meant for that!
As regards the ports, everything was fine. We didn't take excursions for Mykonos and Santorini - there is no need. They are lovely holiday islands with cute, narrow, winding streets, all white buildings with bright blue woodwork. Quaint! The excursions we took were well-timed and interesting. We took the two day excursion for Istanbul and the ones for Ephesus and Athens. We liked Ephesus best but that is subjective. The Virgin Mary's house is significant to us as Catholics (the atmosphere of the place) while the Roman ruins are awesome when you think how clever they were so long ago. Take a sunshade with you. Istanbul was ok, the mosques were something new for us but it's a totally different sort of cultural wealth than what we are used to in European Palaces and Cathedrals. We had only one and a half hours in the Grand Bazaar but it was enough. What you must definitely keep in mind anywhere in Turkey is that if you're sure you don't want to buy anything don't show the least interest, don't even sneak a peek in a shop window! You won't get away unless you border on being rude - they have the knack for it. We had very efficient ear-phones in Istanbul and Ephesus but not so in Athens. In Athens there were four cruise ships in port and the tour leaders bungled it up because they all kept stopping to talk to their groups at the same spot, a bottleneck, and so there were hundreds and hundreds of us stuck for an hour in the remorseless heat of the early August sun, on the final steps leading to the Parthenon. That quite spoilt the magic of the site. And when we got back down, hot and utterly parched, we bought the first drinks we could find before boarding the coach and they charged us horribly for them. Naples we had been before so we just walked about the town and did some shopping - very good-priced but trendy clothing for my daughters, 18 and 16 and who can get into the smallest of sizes! As for Celebrity, as usual that special touch, ice cold towels and water on the pier before boarding, so welcome after the heat! It felt so much like getting home after trudging about.
Entertainment was fine - there were some very talented performers. We liked the violin player and Mario with his electric guitar. Also the late night comedian. Obviously the best show was the Solstice one, with the acrobats and gymnasts and so on. It was really fantastic! Well done indeed to the Solstice Band, the singers especially the four lead ones and the string quartet who played also elsewhere on the ship.
Another plus for us was having Mass said, especially the Saturday evening one; it means a lot for us to dedicate some time to thank the Lord amidst all the fun and merry-making.
One last thing; we had prepaid gratuities, like on other cruise lines. However the difference was that not once were tips or gratuities mentioned throughout the cruise, unlike on other cruise ships where they keep on harping about it. The staff all worked hard and willingly and a special mention seems to go a long way. They all deserve it. As the Captain told us (and the comedian quoted with a misplaced accent!) this was the best cruise ever.
the perfect stateroom - midship as we wanted it, great balcony, spacious and plenty of storage space