This was my 25th cruise and I was happy to share it with my husband and several friends. Most of my cruises have been on Celebrity and Royal Caribbean, but I have also sailed on NCL, Princess, MSC, and several cruise lines that no longer exist.
Embarkation was perfect. We arrived at the pier at noon and were on board Solstice a few minutes later with no wait. The buffet was crowded with diners since it had been open from 11.30. Fortunate for us, since we were a group of six, one of our friends managed to snag an empty table and we each went off to check out the offerings in the buffet. Just after 1:00 they announced that the cabins were ready and about an hour later our bags arrived.
Our Aqua Class cabin was very attractive and filled with many nice touches. On the bed were our Captains Club coupons and a bag with little aromatic spa goodies such as facial mist and lip balm and a pair of spa slippers. I loved the look of the new cabins, and especially liked the bathroom with the sliding shower doors. After unpacking, though, I agreed with those who don't like the storage design. The closet door was too close to my side of the bed, the safe takes up room inside the closet, the shelves next to the bed were small and open (on the other ships these were regular drawers you could use to store some clothes) and the storage shelves are all the way over by the desk near the balcony doors - not convenient for dressing at all. The drawers are also too shallow and there aren't enough of them. There is more storage space above the bed, but for short people like me, that isn't very convenient. By angling the bathroom there is a greater sense of space in the entryway, but I would rather have had a narrow entrance and the closet in the usual spot. (Note: After the initial whining on my part, we enjoyed our lovely cabin for our 11 day cruise and managed to get dressed several times each day without incident!)
I thought the balcony chairs with ottomans were a nice addition and were quite comfortable. The towels in the bathroom were beautiful and very soft and the bedding was also luxurious in feel and very attractive. I also liked the leather (or leather look) of the couch and the desk chair - very sleek and modern.
Our cabin attendant, Sanjay, came by to introduce himself on the first afternoon while we were unpacking. We asked for an extra towel and a few extra hangers. He quickly brought the towel and many more hangers than we needed. On this and every other occasion, cabin service was excellent. In Aqua Class we had a pitcher of flavored ice tea and bottles of water which are complimentary and were re-supplied each day. We also had a fruit basket, flowers, and champagne in an ice bucket, all of which came with the cabin, and all of which (with the exception of the champagne) were replenished regularly.
In addition, I should mention a few other terrific features of the new cabin bathrooms. The shelves are now recessed and have glass doors so there is plenty of excellent storage in the bathroom. The new showers are wonderful... powerful spray from the overhead nozzle and extra water jets to squirt you from several directions... a really nice addition.
I thought the ship was gorgeous. All of the design elements so many cruisers have mentioned turned out to be stunning in person. We spent much of the time admiring the look of the Solstice and the many new ideas incorporated into it. I especially loved the look of the two-story library and the tree that is suspended in the atrium space outside of it.... spectacular!
The Solarium was my favorite public area on the ship - lovely blue, cushioned lounges and a lap-style indoor pool. At one end there's huge trellis with a wall of fuchsia flowers... stunning! I also thought the Spa area with gorgeous tiles in the Ladies Dressing Room and the Persian Gardens were very attractive.
Each bar and lounge has its own look and ambience. Again, how many superlatives can I use to describe this ship? Another favorite area for me was the coffee lounge area with the stunning and unusual green chairs and sofas.
Finally, a word needs to be said about the public bathrooms. One day I actually took a photograph of one of the Ladies Rooms, because they are so attractive... really amazing! I am told the Men's Rooms have the same design, which includes dark wood and unusual deep basins with what looks like etched glass, but is probably some sort of synthetic. Celebrity is still providing real linen towels with which to wipe your hands and has matrons monitoring the high traffic bathrooms. Someone told me about a men's room with gorgeous picture windows looking out to sea, but I can't personally vouch for that. Since my husband never notices a thing, it's possible he was in there, but if so, he didn't provide any confirmation.
New and Improved Captain's Club
Just before we sailed, Celebrity rolled out its new Captain's Club Program, and I was very happy to see that there are now significant "perks" for Elite cruisers. I love the new CC coupon for the discount on the computer package - finally a significant perk for CC along with the new laundry coupons (one free bag) and one free item dry cleaned. There is now a CC Club card for use in the Captain's Club Lounge in Michael's Club for CC Elite and (on our sailing also Suite guests, but apparently it varies) from 4-6 (with Continental Breakfast in the morning, too). We loved the Concierge Lounge on RCCL, and had high hopes that this would be as nice. On the first day we had to show our special white cards to the barman. There was a list of cocktails (not sure if they made cocktails other than those on the list), but they did have beer for DH. They had two little trays of hors d'oeuvres on the bar... a far cry from the really terrific spread on RCCL, but it was nice that they put out something. What I especially liked is that there were some lovely people there and we enjoyed chatting with them.
The CC hostess, Daniella, was excellent and I enjoyed interacting with her all week. She was very good at keeping us informed and handled the situation very well when someone passed out in the CC lounge (and he was up and around by the next day so that was good news, too).
After a less than wow first night in Blu, I became a Blu aficionado and loved the food, the service, and the dining experience we had there at night for dinner and in the morning for breakfast. Whether it was a dinner of Corn Fritters, Waldorf Salad, Roast Beef served rare, and Crepes Suzette, or another dinner that started with an appetizer of Escargot and Spaetzle, followed by a Greek Salad and then Osso Bucco wrapped in Prosciutto capped off by Chocolate Cake with Grand Marnier, I loved eating in Blu. Stand-out dishes included Halibut, which was wrapped in Brik pastry accompanied by a Lobster and Corn Chowder base, the Pureed Cauliflower, special-order Profiteroles, Rack of Lamb served with Lamb Shank in a potato crust, and the Short Ribs. Our waiter, Krassimir, was wonderful and we were so well taken care of by the entire Blu staff (including Lorita, Dejan, Emilia, and even Kirk and Mildred - who were not our waiters, but became our friends), that it was difficult to leave Solstice and return to real life!
The brunch in the Main Dining Room was nicely done and our lunch in the MDR was also fine, but because the buffet was so terrific, we ate most of our lunches there. This buffet is the best I've ever seen at sea. Everything I ate was delicious and I especially enjoyed the Asian selections. Most days I ate several Curries, Noodles, Roti, Dal, Raita, and whatever items were on offer such as Samosas, Dumplings, Mee Krob, and Spring Rolls. The Buffet choices included: Hot dishes, Barbecue selections, and stations for Mexican food, Indian curries, Carving, Asian Stir Fry, Pastas with sauces, Salad Bar, Sandwiches, Pizza, Burgers and Hot Dogs (the latter two served outside), and, of course desserts and ice cream. As is usual for Celebrity, service in the buffet was excellent.
We used room service a few times for breakfast. The call and the food were on time on both occasions and the orders were correct.
There was some sort of entertainment in the theater every night, sometimes before our late-seating dinner (7:00 p.m. show) and sometimes after. Of the three production shows, the best by far was the last - a "Cirque-light" show called "Solstice," with gymnastics, juggling and aerial acrobatics. We also enjoyed a trumpeter named Gary Guthman, and a comedian and song impressionist named James Stephens III. The various musical groups around the ship were excellent. Since we are a cappella fans, we especially appreciated the group on board (despite their hokey name) "Soul'd Out."
I did manage to catch the Hot Glass Show on the last day and enjoyed the opportunity to watch real artisans at work and to listen to the running commentary on what they were doing... quite interesting. My husband would have liked some scholarly enrichment. On offer was some sort of film director, but this was a cruise to the Ancient World and an art historian, archeologist, or historian would have been a much better choice.
We took this cruise for two reasons - Solstice and the itinerary. A great itinerary combined with mild and mostly sunny mid-November weather combined to deliver a wonderful vacation. Athens, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Mykonos, and Naples are great cruise ports. The one issue I had with this cruise regarding itinerary was the choice by Celebrity to arrive in the Santorini caldera at 2 p.m. on a November afternoon. Given that this was a day on which the sun was scheduled to set at 4:47, getting there at this hour was most unfortunate. Because we had priority tendering (and yes, that was a mess!), we were able to get off the ship quickly and over to Oia while it was still daylight. Most fellow passengers missed Santorini (and its terrific views) in daylight and got drenched when a rainstorm moved in just as the sun set. While the rain couldn't be helped, the schedule should have gotten us there earlier in the day or Celebrity should have substituted another port. The ports themselves, are, of course, all wonderful and we thoroughly enjoyed each of them (separate reports are posted in the Ports section).
There was a great mix of people on this ship. In addition to Americans from many different states, there were quite a few Asians and Europeans along with Canadians. I don't think I've ever sailed on a ship filled with nicer people. Fellow cruisers were extremely polite (with the exception of priority tendering where it was more or less "every man for himself") and very friendly.
I really like the way Celebrity does debarkation. We got up in a leisurely way, went to breakfast, and then grabbed our carry-on bags and left the ship in a totally relaxed way. The one problem was that two of our traveling companions found no suitcases in the luggage area. Although our experience was excellent, theirs was horrible so I need to describe what happened. Two pieces of their luggage vanished into thin air - put out the night before and missing in the cruise shed. Were they stolen on the ship... lost somewhere... or stolen from the pier? We'll never know, but they had to do a huge amount of paperwork for both Celebrity and the insurance company. Fortunately, they had bought an excellent insurance policy, so they will receive reimbursement soon (we hope!)
Areas In Need of Improvement
In addition to the problem with the stop at Santorini, getting onto the ships' servers was often a problem. Although I loved the WIFI in the room and all over the ship, I didn't love getting a "try again in a few minutes" message over and over and over.
I usually enjoy eating in the Spa Cafe, but on this ship the offerings were disappointing. I don't know if it's because the space seemed to be smaller or because not all the items available were out (and if so maybe more signage would help?), but we only ate there once and then skipped it for every other meal... much better choices were available elsewhere.
The Persian Gardens Spa area didn't seem to be functioning as well as it should. The first time I visited (in the late afternoon)the entire system had shut down and needed to be re-started (cold couches and no steam in the steam room!). On other occasions the couches didn't feel very warm.
This was our first cruise in Aqua Class and our first on Solstice. On both counts, this was a winner. We loved Aqua Class, loved Blu, and loved Solstice. I'm looking forward to sailing on this ship again in June and to getting to know Equinox and Eclipse. With a few minor glitches, this was a terrific cruise.
Limited drawer and closet space, quiet location, lovely looking cabin with excellent bathroom