This cruise was our 25th Wedding Anniversary celebration, we spent 3 days pre-cruise in Rome and were amazed at the beauty of the city and at how friendly the people were. While in Rome, I highly recommend a private tour with "Through Eternity", our guide Marley, made our 2 days of touring an amazing and unique experience. I would also recommend the Starhotel Metropole, the location was great, the rooms clean and service outstanding. We had a piece of luggage lost and they went out of their way to ensure that it was found at the airport and delivered to our room for us.
Embarkation - We arrived at the port at 11:45 AM for embarkation and even though there was already a lengthy line, we boarded the ship within 30 minutes of our arrival. We were not able to get into our rooms until after 3:00 PM, but after asking around we got the "okay" to drop carry on's in our room.
Aqua Class Rooms - We had a room at the center of the ship and yes, you could hear the shuffle of chairs from the deck above throughout the day. It really didn't bother us though, when we were tired we slept right through it (who wants to sleep when your on a cruise anyway). Our veranda was shaded, but it also was blocked from the weather and wind and I liked it, alot. The bed was comfortable and we had more pillows than we knew what to do with. The bathroom was great, I loved the shower. I packed alot of stuff and was able to put it all away and store my luggage under the bed. The only thing about the room that was somewhat distracting for me was the little coffee table. We seemed to always be tripping over and around it. But..after a while I just moved it to a corner of the room close to the bed so that we had more space. The interactive TV's were great and to our surprise, my husband's especially, there were options to watch NFL football games (I think Celebrity is reading these boards!).
Sea Days - After 3 days in Rome, the first sea day was a great opportunity to catch up on some R&R and get to know our Cruise Critic friends better. Celebrity goofed up on our Connections party and didn't get the invites out to everyone. This was a disappointment because many of our friends missed the gathering. Since this was the first day on the cruise, there was alot going on and we were busy exploring and we found many of our CC friends elsewhere on the ship. The other 2 sea days were pleasant, we slept in, and then wandered up to the Solarium for a light lunch and visiting. It was amazing how quickly the days seemed to pass, with shopping, manicures, working out (exercise room is great), visiting, drinks in the Martini bar and more.
The Blu - Aqua Class is worth every penny! We try very hard to eat healthy at home and eating alot of heavy, fancy meals was concerning to me. The meals in the Blu were perfectly proportioned and the variety was good. I never walked out of there feeling hungry or too full and I was always happy with my meal choices. We eat out alot, at all kinds of venues, and I considered the food prepared equal to or better than some of the best restaurants in our state. The service was great too. Surprisingly, the wine selections included several good wines at fair prices. (DISCOVERY: YOU CANNOT BRING WINE ABOARD AT THE DIFFERENT PORTS, YOU CAN BRING TWO BOTTLES ONBOARD AT EMBARKATION, BUT THAT IS IT. We found this out when we brought two bottles on-board in Santorini and the attendant wanted to take them from us.)
Speciality Restaurants - The Murano and Tuscan Grill are very nice, too much food for us and we walked out feeling ill on both occasions (and we didn't even eat all of our food). While it was alot to consume, it was all very good. The service at both locations was again exceptional. I do think that the Solstice really wants to please it's patrons and is listening to us! If you have a big appetite, these two venues are for you.
The Pool Areas - Hmmm....crowded on sea days, but manageable. We didn't spend alot of time lounging in these areas of the ship, but when we did go through them it seemed like there were plenty of open seats next to the windows, closer to the pool was a different story. The hot tubs closed really early, which was disappointing, we would of liked to have used them in the evening hours before bed...One improvement area.
Entertainment - I do not go to alot of shows, so it is hard for me to evaluate the ones offered on the Solstice. I can say that I enjoyed most of the evening shows and that the Soul'd out (quartet) was one of my husbands favorites and I thought they were good too. There was always various kinds of music playing in the evenings at the different lounges, fashion shows and other entertainment throughout the ship. We were never bored and always able to find something to keep us up late.
1596 - Great view and almost always facing port when docked. Did hear shuffling of chairs from the pool deck above during the day, but it was not extremely loud.
This was our second trip to Athens and I am sorry to say I am not planning on returning. Athens had changed alot since our last visit, you can no longer walk, run, or jog through the Olympic Stadium and can only take pictures through a gate. Unfortunately, vandals have ruined it for all (why would anyone take bits of the stadium home as souvenir?). The Acropolis is "under renovation" and was when we were last there, but there seems to be alot more fences and structures blocking the site and making it difficult to take really good pictures. We hired a driver to take us around Athens, which was great and we saw and did alot more than others taking public transportation could see and do in the time we had there. Another downfall was all the graffiti, evidently football fans like to promote their teams on the buildings? The Plaka was great. If you haven't been to Athens before, than you should go and decide for yourself.
Istanbul is a really interesting port, we hired EKOL Travel and I am sorry to say was very dissappointed. Our guide was not the right choice for our group and offended several of us with his comments and gestures. Istanbul can easily be done on your own or with a group. All the sites are within walking distance of each other. The Grand Bazaar was ",wow", what a maze of shops and if you are shopper, heaven on earth, you could get lost in there for days. Great bargains (within reason) can be found there and the experience is something to remember. Wear sunglasses, if the merchants see you looking at their stores they will be right there to bargain with you. If you are looking for a carpet, you are in the right place. Don't be afraid to go to a carpet or leather show, again it is quite an experience and if you are in the market...a great opportunity to get a beautiful turkish carpet that comes with a story to tell.
You can easily get lost in the port village, its an adventure and the food at the small cafe's not something to be missed (per our CC friends). Some of our friends rented transportation and went to Paradise beach and had a great time. Wish we had done this too..maybe next time.
We hired Amalfi Drive and a guide to take us from the port through the Amalfi Coast (Sorrento, Positini, Amalfi) and Pompeii. It was an amazing day! Great driver and fabulous guide. Purchased some Limoncello (sorry about spelling) in Amalfi and had a very nice lunch in a pizzeria that our guide recommended.
Another Wow! Tendering for us was a breeze, we got up early the day before and got our tender tickets and were riding the donkeys up to Fira within 30 minutes. The donkeys are an experience, a smelly one, but a fun one all the same. We rode up with some CC friends and our pictures tell the whole story. Would I do it again, maybe, this was my second time up the hill. We wandered around Fira instead of going to Oia and had a good time. We found a cafe and watched the sunset, which was beautiful. Our friends rented a car to Oia and also had a great time and came back with some fabulous stories.
We booked another tour with EKOL, this one was better than Istanbul and the guide did a much better job. We visited Mary's House, the Terrace Houses, and the Sirince Village. Some of our CC friends took the ships tour here and had a great time, If I knew then what I do now, I might of booked the ship tour here.