My husband and I wanted to travel someplace new and go all out since we were celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary. When on a Royal Caribbean cruise in July 2016, we booked this 7 night Alaskan cruise on the Celebrity Solstice. We originally chose this ship because we knew that it was a more contemporary ship and we were drawn to the spa amenities and the wine bar (among other things).
The night before the cruise, we stayed at the Hyatt House on 5th Avenue N in downtown Seattle. It was the PERFECT choice as the hotel itself was in a great location with a complimentary hot breakfast, and it was only a $12 cab ride to the pier for 3 people with a ton of luggage. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone staying one, or several, nights in Seattle before or after a cruise!
We arrived at Pier 91 at 10:30 AM. The pier was quite crowded as there were two ships in port (Celebrity and Royal Caribbean) and many previous cruise guests were still waiting for transportation while new guests were arriving. We were a little confused as to where we should drop off luggage as the area was not clearly labeled. We asked one pier employee for help and he took us straight to the man who was loading luggage for the Solstice. We double checked that the luggage was indeed going to the Solstice and not the Royal Caribbean ship and when he eased our fears, we left our luggage with him and walked right into the main building. Everything was clearly labeled from here on out and it took us less than 10 minutes to travel through very short lines to receive our Sea Pass card (we took advantage of online check-in a few weeks prior) and walk onto the ship. We were on the ship by 10:45 AM.
The ship itself is BEAUTIFUL; very contemporary furnishings and everything was well maintained and kept very clean. We were welcomed onto the ship with a glass of Champagne and proceeded to explore every bit. The layout of each floor was great as all restaurants were located at the aft of the ship; most shopping, the casino, and some bars were located in the middle of the ship; the theater, fitness center and spa, and most bars were located at the front of the ship. There were elevators at numerous points throughout the ship that helped to decrease wait time. We had some drinks and walked all around the ship before going to the Oceanview Café for lunch and it was still quite crowded at 1 PM. Soon after lunch, our stateroom was ready, so we were able to check that out as well!
We chose to book an Aqua Class room on the starboard side of the ship, room 1558. Our room was very large for a cruise ship cabin with PLENTY of storage in both the room itself and the bathroom so that we were easily able to store the contents of 2 large suitcases and a suit bag (including toiletries and shoes). All of our suitcases fit neatly under the bed so we had no clutter in the room, allowing us to maneuver with ease. Our bathroom had 1 sink and a large vanity area, as well as a shower with one large shower head and about 4 or 5 small, massaging shower heads that were at different points below the main showerhead. We figured out that we could have all showerheads turned on at once or we could have only the main showerhead turned on (which was most helpful for shaving in the shower!). Our bed was SO comfortable and there was not one night that we had a bad night's sleep! Our balcony was rather large with enough room for a small table with 2 chairs and 2 footrests, while still leaving some room to easily enter and leave the balcony. Our room attendant was Wiji and he was OUTSTANDING!! The service that he provided was second to none and he always met our requests quickly and with a smile! We purposely chose the starboard side of the ship because the itinerary has this side facing land for the first 4 days of the cruise and the views were spectacular! The location of our Aqua Class room allowed for a private staircase to enter the spa and fitness center areas (which we used daily) so that was a perk for us. The only disappointment about the Aqua Class room was that there was no pillow menu as advertised (although Wiji did bring cotton pillows upon request) and the daily snack left a lot to be desired. We are not tea drinkers so we did not drink the tea on a daily basis, but we did enjoy the fresh fruit provided every day. However, there was also a second snack provided mid-day which always consisted of olives (YUCK!) and usually some dip or cheese snack that was not quite appetizing. If this is your only motivation for an Aqua Class room, you may want to choose another room instead.
Overall, we felt that dining and service were fantastic! We ate at Blu (another Aqua Class perk that was WELL worth it!) almost daily for breakfast and 4 times for dinner. The food portions were small, which was good in my opinion as I always had room for dessert, but I was never disappointed in a meal. Like the main dining room, the menu changes daily, but there are three "classic" items on the menu each day that can be ordered. The service in Blu was wonderful and we got to know and love the same server and assistant server (Paul and Vikktoriia) as if we were in the main dining room, as well as the hostess (Maria) and the manager (Ante). Every day, the sommelier would approach our table and ask if we would like wine. We learned on the first day that if we said no to wine, we had to order another drink immediately; otherwise, he would collect the wine glasses, walk away, and never return. Even if he provided the first drink, the only time that he would return is if we requested his presence through our server. But that was the only semi-issue that we had in Blu, which wasn't really a big deal in the end. We never made reservations for breakfast or lunch and walked right in on most days, with the exception of the evening that we were in Victoria, which we had to wait a whopping 5 to 7 minutes.
Before cruising, we ordered the 3 dinner specialty package and we were SO happy that we did! Our first meal was in Tuscan Grill, where we fell in love with the marinara sauce, but not necessarily the service. It was our least favorite of the specialty restaurants. However, Murano and Silk Harvest did not disappoint and both restaurants were surprising to us for different reasons. We couldn't understand the menu at Murano and most of the items were not foods that we would regularly choose to eat. However, our waiter was super helpful in explaining the food items and helping us to make our choices, and his service surpassed outstanding. The food was delicious and we had a very romantic meal. There were several items that were cooked tableside, which added a nice touch! Silk Harvest was surprising to us because it was restaurant that most reviewers complained about so we weren't expecting much. However, the food is served family style so we had a TON of food and it was all delicious! The family style serving allowed us to try several dishes on the menu and our server would consistently ask if we wanted to try more. The drink service was great as well! It was the only restaurant that we did not have room for dessert and we walked away very pleasantly surprised and pleased!
We tried to avoid the Oceanview Café at all costs as it was ALWAYS crowded and tough to find a table. We tried to go when we thought it would not be a "peak" time, and the only time that it was not crowded was at midnight when we went for a late night snack. However, we did like that there was a bar located inside of the buffet, as well as outside seating. We also ate at Mast Grill one afternoon for lunch and had a very tasty burger and fries, as well as the Aqua Spa Café for afternoon snacks; both were a MUCH better alternative to the Oceanview Café. We LOVED Café al Bacio and frequented it in the afternoons for a caramel macchiato and hot chocolate, as well as whatever delectable treats were being offered that day (it changed daily). The service was always amazing as everyone was so happy to help you at all times. The treats are complimentary to all, and since we had the Premium drink package, our coffee and hot chocolate were included. We did not eat at Sushi on 5 since I am pregnant and cannot have raw fish. Otherwise, we probably would have tried it out, even though we only saw a handful of people in there daily; perhaps because it is a la carte.
We tried most of the bars onsite and found that the Passport Bar, the Sky Observation Lounge, and the Sunset Bar were hardly ever crowded. Service at all 3 bars was great and the Passport Bar always had a server walking around taking drink orders. There was a server in the Sky Observation Lounge as well, but we must have never sat in a popular area, because my husband would always have to get up to get a drink and then was intercepted by a server on his way to the bar, who would then get his drink. The Sunset Bar was hardly ever crowded because it was so cold for outside for most of the cruise, so we would grab blankets while my husband smoked a cigar and I would chat with Vlad and Barretta at the bar (who were always sure to keep my pina coladas non-alcoholic!). They were our favorite bartenders on the ship as they would go out of their way for both my husband and I, getting us blankets if there were none available or searching for my husband's favorite Alaskan beer if they did not have any at the bar. And finally, in the evenings, we would sometimes go to the Martini Bar, which was typically crowded because the bartenders were so entertaining. We always had fun watching them put on a show and interacting with one another and the guests.
There were a lot of activities going on for adults, but it seemed like there wasn't a lot for children. They had a children's club and a teen's club on the ship, but we hardly ever saw or heard of any children's activities. We have no interest in jewelry or art so we did not attend the NUMEROUS activities centered on shopping sales and art presentations, nor did we attend any presentations by Bret Nixon or Miss Amanda. We listened to both of them on the TV one evening and they weren't as interesting to us as other reviewers have made them out to be. We would attend the evening shows quite regularly and were pleased with the comedians, but not so much with the shows. Rock was an incredible disappointment. While the dancing was decent and most of the performers had decent voices, to be incredibly blunt and honest, I have seen better high school musicals before. The apparent talent of the performers was masked by a terrible show. There were SO MANY excellent, well-known songs that could have been performed and instead there were too many songs that were unknown. There was one singer who performed a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as if it were a ballad (which is a huge no-no for my generation). I almost walked out at that point because why anyone, producers or talent, would find that even remotely entertaining is beyond me. Same thing with Euphoria. The acrobats were incredible, but the music mixed in with the acrobatics was not. Moonlighting to Adele, one of the greatest voices of this time, should not be done by anyone and while the girl who sang her song put forth a good effort, it was almost as though I was sitting through karaoke. The song "A Thousand Years" should have been solely instrumental as the performers playing the cello and violin were OUTSTANDING; they brought tears to my ears. Then, the singing began, and it was a duet no less with my favorite Red Hot Chili Peppers cover singer who absolutely butchered the song. I hate to be so incredibly harsh, but this was a HUGE disappointment and those who create and produce these shows should really put thought into what will bring out the best in their performers.
As mentioned earlier, we frequented the spa and fitness center area on a daily basis. Although we had complimentary access to the Persian Garden as Aqua Class guests, we did not visit it once since my pregnancy would not allow for me to take advantage of their (mostly) heat-based treatments. The fitness center was crowded during the first sea day, and then afterwards, we had no trouble getting a machine after 11 AM. I wanted to take a yoga class or two, but was actually surprised that there was very little education on prenatal exercises and treatments. I had asked a trainer if the yoga instructor offers guidance on alternate poses that may not be safe for pregnant women and he provided me with an answer that made it clear that he had absolutely no idea that certain poses were not for pregnant women. The same thing occurred with my massage therapist and esthetician. At first, I almost wasn't even able to have a massage because the therapists thought that 16 weeks was still in the first trimester of pregnancy, which it is not. Then, I was given a completely inaccurate reason why a massage MAY be dangerous for pregnant women in the first trimester (I did my research and discussed this with my doctor ahead of time). My esthetician was much more educated on products that can and cannot be used during pregnancy, but both my massage therapist and my esthetician had me lying flat on my back for an extended period of time, which is NOT good during the second trimester. Perhaps a little more prenatal education is needed, even if I was likely in the minority.
As for port excursions, we only had 1 planned through the ship. We decided to explore on our own in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Victoria. In Juneau, we purchased a $60 (for 2 people) round-trip bus ride to the Mendenhall Glacier and were able to hike and see both the glacier and Nugget Falls without any time constraints. My husband did the Klondike Bike Ride in Skagway, which was an excursion through the ship. He loved the excursion since there were only 4 people and they made numerous stops as they biked down the mountain. Luckily, we're ok with being independent explorers because we didn't want to pay the exaggerated prices offered through the cruise ship and the daily planner provided information about each port that was completely useless to us. I understand that this is a luxury cruise line and that it caters to those who are a little more well-to-do and likely have no qualms about spending money on material things. However, having that said, there are some of us average people who are looking for a great experience and some awesome advice on ports, and deals as well. PAGES of information on jewelry sales, where to buy jewelry in ports, etc. does not necessarily appeal to the masses. I had heard in Juneau that the cruise companies own the numerous jewelry stores that line the streets of each port, which is why they are advertised so heavily. Whether this is true or not, I'm unsure, but we found that the further we would travel from the port, the better shops, food stops, and deals we would find.
One last thing that surprised us about the ship were the photographers. They were much more pushy than any other ship that we have been on before and this was the biggest disappointment. I understand that they have a job to do, but I absolutely do not care to be TOLD to do something. For example, when I'm having a quiet dinner with my husband, I don't want a photographer approaching my table, interrupting our conversation, and TELLING me to pose a certain way without ever asking if I wanted a picture in the first place. We ended up turning down all photography on the ship because being posed is not our idea of a nice picture; it's rather cheesy in our humble opinion. Sessions and packages are offered for those who enjoy that type of thing.
Finally, when the cruise was (sadly) over, disembarkation was extremely simple. In fact, the most difficult part was catching an elevator because most guests did not listen to directions (or just didn't care) and started to head towards their debarkation areas well before it was their time. We chose self-assist so we walked off with our luggage and once we were actually able to get on an elevator, we walked right off the ship and right through customs with no issues. There was a short line for taxis and one that moved very quickly, so we were able to catch a taxi by 7:45 AM and were at the airport by 8:30 AM, in plenty of time for our flight. I would suggest planning wisely for debarkation because due to the massive number of people who were just standing around waiting, I can only imagine that it would become tougher to leave the ship as time went on (not to mention catching a cab, traffic at the port, etc.).
In the end, we're definitely happy that we chose the Celebrity Solstice to see Alaska. We had a great time and met a lot of wonderful, hard-working people who simply wanted to please on a daily basis. We would highly recommend this ship for singles, couples, groups of adults, or families with adults. We would not bring our child on this cruise as we did not feel that it was as family friendly as Royal Caribbean.
As mentioned in my review, Aqua Class is PERFECT for those who would like easy access to the spa and fitness centers and Blu itself is worth the extra money! I would recommend a room on the starboard side of the ship for the best views.