Wonderful Solstice Cruise March 2011: Celebrity Solstice Cruise Review by Tiki_Man

Celebrity Solstice 5
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Wonderful Solstice Cruise March 2011

Sail Date: March 2011
Destination: Eastern Caribbean
Embarkation: Fort Lauderdale (Port Everglades)
Review of the Solstice March 6 to 13, 2011.

The lovely Mrs. Tiki will be writing a more in-depth review, but I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions on some different aspects, some good and some "not so good".

Background, myself (50), wife (44) and daughter (17) from Atlanta, shared 2 cabins on Deck 8 (8232 and 8234). The ability to have the outside hall divider in place and then leave the 2 doors to the cabins open was fantastic. DD had her own room but still felt like she was part of our cabin, it was great.

This was our 27th cruise (9th on Celebrity and 2nd on Solstice) {DD's 15th cruise}. We were familiar with the ship but felt like we missed some things last August and were looking forward to experiencing more of the ship this time. Our flight from Atlanta was uneventful, very easy to get from FLL to the terminal (25), and basically never stopped in the process of checking in and getting on board. Arrived about 12:30 and went straight to Bistro on 5 More for lunch (and started meeting folks from our Roll Call immediately). Announcement made about 1:30 for cabins available to passengers. Off and on rain so we did not do anything around the pool, just explored a little, found our MDR table (1st seating table 109) and our luggage was outside our door by 3:00.

Muster Drill was a breeze. We were MDR 4th Floor (E2). Found a table, listened to the speech over the intercom, had our Muster Captain do a demo and then the best part - we did NOT have to go outside and line up as we had in August. Drill was over by 4:00 and we headed up to SunSet Bar for our CC Sailaway gathering. Rain showers were off and on and kept some folks away. We ended up with about 30 or folks, all wearing Beads and putting faces with "names". It was very fun and very nice that throughout the rest of week you would see a face you recognized. Met some wonderful folks and would love to sail with this group again sometime.

Quick Highlights: we worked out in the gym every morning except for Wed (morning excursion) and Saturday. Gym was packed the first day but never had to wait for a machine after day 1. We went to the show every night (first time for us doing that). We went on a couple of the Captain Club invites (behind the show tour, helipad tour). We dined in Tuscan on Tuesday and Silk Harvest on Wednesday. San Juan was just a walk around on our own in Old San Juan, St Thomas was the PowerCat snorkel trip to St John and St Martin was the afternoon Golden Eagle Catamaran. The at-sea days were generally by the pool in the sun. DW and I both had the premium alcohol package and DD had the non-alcohol package. We had breakfast every morning in AquaSpa cafe after working out. Never ate in the Oceanview Buffet. Lunch was either AquaSpa or Mast Grill or Room Service.

Now the "good and not so good" parts.

Epernay Dining Room. Our DD really wanted to have a set table and wait-staff as opposed to select dining. I was opposed because I thought 6 pm would be too early. As much as this pains me - she was right and I was wrong. We were assigned table 109 early dining. This is the port side, just inside the main door is a small alcove area of maybe 20 tables, nowhere near the main part of the dining room. However, we were next to a large picture window and 2 tables of 2 pushed together. It was wonderful. We had a fantastic waiter, Harvey from Croatia (who is returning home on March 20th) and a great assistant waiter Joseph who is about to be promoted to waiter. They were excellent all week. Harvey took care to understand what we enjoyed and disliked, made great recommendations and was very professional. I made sure to tip extra at the end to make up for us having only 3 at a table that would have been 4 tips. They deserved every penny. The sommelier was also very good. He realized that DW enjoyed Chardonnay and I preferred a Cabernet and he kept our glasses full the entire dinner (thanks to the beverage package). DD thought she would enjoy Tea after dinner the first night and asked for Earl Grey. Poor Joseph did not have any to offer that first night, but every night after (even though DD did not really want any) he was prompt with Earl Grey Tea. It was very thoughtful.

The Entertainment Shows. The dancers and aerialists were fantastic. The Cirque show on Monday was very dramatic and even though the ship was rocking a bit, they were outstanding. On Saturday morning we did a "behind the stage" tour. 3 of the dancers were the guides and they were very professional and informative. Nice to see where they work, change, prepare and then also answer questions. This was a true highlight. The guest entertainer was Karen Grainger, a female impressionist singer. DD and DW loved her show, I was not impressed (she did her own voice too many times for someone billed as an "impressionist"). Now the "not so good", the magician juggler was pitiful. He performed a couple of very basic magic tricks and some very lame juggle tricks. Honestly, we have seen better performers at little kids birthday parties. Total waste of time. Can't even remember his name, and don't really want to remember.

Specialty Restaurants. Silk Harvest was Wonderful. We had reservations at 7:30 on Wednesday. We realized the show would start at 9:00 and the seats were all filled by 8:30 most nights. We arrived at 7:10, asked if we could possibly be seated and if we would be able to make the show. Ben, the matre'd, was great. He seated us immediately and informed the waiters to be prompt but not rush. It was fantastic. Each of us ordered something different for each course and then Ben would stop by and bring out an additional item for us to try. The wine selection is slightly different and when I asked for a Chardonnay not on the list, the Sommelier was quick to grab a bottle from the other restaurant. This was a very nice touch. The waiters were quick to describe each dish and never laughed (at least not in front of me) over the way I attempted to use chop sticks. They were also very professional to the other tables and seemed to go out of their way to make each table very comfortable. When it was time to leave, the girls went to get seats and I thanked Ben, and also left a nice tip for the staff. The next afternoon there is note from the staff at Silk and an invitation to try the restaurant again. Now the "Not so Good" - Tuscan Grill. We had reservations at 7:00 pm on Tuesday. We arrive on time, but of course a table of 3 is not available by the window (no problem, we understood). However, we walked in just before 2 other couples arrived (a little loud) and the Matre'd basically shoves us in our chairs and then is back to the 2 couples who get a table next to the window. Ok, maybe they had been there before and left a big tip but it seemed like our waiter or asst waiter would come by our table, start to say or do something and then would leave immediately if this other table "loudly" asked for something. It was annoying to the other tables around us also. The asst waiter must have been really trying hard to move up to full waiter because he was interrupting the head waiter and barging in with suggestions without even being asked. The body language between the 2 waiters was terrible and made all of us uncomfortable. It was like they were fighting with each other. We should have been prepared for LOTS of red meat since it is Tuscan Grill, but the choices were just too large, over the top, heavy servings (like a heart attack on a plate). The overall experience was disappointing especially since this may be the most beautiful part of the entire ship. Oh well, we have tried and will just prefer not to go back.

Staterooms: As I mentioned we had adjoining staterooms, not sure what category, maybe A1. We were on the hump, starboard side, directly across from the entrance to the elevators. Overall the cabins were very good. We had been in AQ on the previous cruise and while I MUCH prefer AQ these cabins were sufficient and basically the same. Our room had the bed by the window which was nice in the morning to open the curtain and be close to see the ocean, however the makeup vanity is then in the middle of the room. It seemed I was always fighting my way around the chair and mirror area to go from the balcony or bed area to the bathroom and closet area. It just did not flow very well compared to having the bed near the closet. We had the first cabin that is flat along the hump which also means that our balcony was the wind break. Lots, and I mean Lots of rattles and noise at night inside the wall area at the head of the bed. We did not complain as we just thought it was part of having that location. On the last sea day they actually changed the wind screen panel on our balcony and "surprise", no more noise. Wish they had done that on the previous cruise but still just a minor thing. The bed was very comfortable and the shower was nice. We did have a unique experience with our room steward. First day Bernardo introduces himself, as they always do. He seems very nice, gets the doors adjusted for the adjoining rooms, brings extra towels, everything seems great. First day in port on Tuesday we notice Bernardo is nowhere to be found and we have a new steward. Seems Bernardo had some visa problems and the asst Room Steward was instantly promoted. He tried very hard but you could tell he was not experienced. We could never arrange a good time to be "out" of the cabin for him to clean. He would either knock even with the Do not Disturb hanging or it would be almost lunch before he got to our room. Not a big deal but it just threw us off any type of normal routine. I am sure they will have a new steward for the next sailing. Again, time for the "not so good", the Pillows. What a disappointment. The bed was so comfortable but the pillows were not. Tiny and no stuffing at all. I guess we were use to the ones in AQ but these things were almost useless. No help asking for new or different, the poor assistant did not know what to do so we just gave up. DW actually joked that next time we pack an extra suitcase with our own pillows.

Other Activities on board. A majority of the "at sea" days was spent in lounge chairs either near the pool or up on Solstice deck in the sun. We did get a little stir crazy at times and did some of the activities on board. We watched 2 of the Hot Glass shows, we played Baggio, Bocce' and Croquet on the lawn. It is so nice to take off your flipflops and wiggle your toes in real grass. I tried Trivia with some of the Roll Call group but alas we did not win. DD spent some time each day in the Internet area to stay in touch with friends. The Elite coupon of 90 minutes free internet was very handy as well as the coupon for free dry cleaning of my Tux shirt. We enjoyed the Cooking Show with Misha and then dancing at night in the Sky Lounge or Grand Foyer. The girls even participated quickly in one of the poolside line-dances. We tried very hard to enjoy the offered activities and we were not disappointed.

Shore Excursions. I have written a review of our St Thomas PowerCat Snorkle excursion (VERY GOOD) and the St Martin Golden Eagle (DISAPPOINTING) under the Ports of Call portion, so no need to ramble about that here.

CC Roll Call. This might have been one of the best parts of the trip. There was a lot of interaction on our roll call prior to sailing. We planned a sailaway gathering and then a gift exchange at the CC meeting on Monday morning. As stated, the sailaway was rainy but still a fun time. The CC meeting was also very fun. Mary from Chicago did an excellent job of coordinating and managing the exchange and some very neat gifts changed hands. During the week it was nice to say hello or stop and chat and even go on excursions with fellow CC members. The only "not so good" part was that at the CC meeting there were no refreshments or Senior Staff officers except for Lisa Richards the Cruise Director for about 2 minutes. In the past this was nice chance to ask questions and interact with the staff. Not expecting the Captain to make an appearance but it would have been nice for Celebrity to show a "little" bit interest.

Disembarkation Timeline: We were given Green 5 luggage tags for an 11:30 am flight to Atlanta. Instructions were to meet at the MDR Level 4 port side. We had breakfast in AquaSpa Cafe, out of our room at 7:50, down to MDR and in a line that was moving through the Dining Room (turns out it was the express line). When we got to the main doors we stopped and asked what color had been called and she stated that this was only express and for us to just have a seat - no problem. Sat down at 8:01 (I started looking at my watch to keep track for this report). At 8:20 we are walking off the ship in a line that is moving at a nice pace. Find our luggage, through Customs and sitting in a cab at 8:38 (again, constantly moving at a nice even pace). At the airport and through security and sitting at gate E6 at 9:06 am. Very smooth the whole way.

A few final thoughts. Molecular Bar was entertaining and informative. Very unusual to see the use of liquid Nitrogen, just don't be in a hurry to get a drink, the prep time takes quite a while. Cellar Masters was very nice. Wonderful selections and informative staff plus the little cheese and cracker snacks were an added plus (although too bad that Nickel and Nickel Pinot Noir is now too expensive to be on the beverage package). The weather was a little rough the first day and night, then fantastic for the middle of the week. The last day sailing was cloudy windy and downright chilly. Did not notice anyone ill and did notice that the housekeeping staff was constantly cleaning and offering hand sanitizers at every venue. We were next to the Allure of the Seas 4 times and while I am sure there are some different things to do on that ship I would not trade it for the S Class ships. This was the ideal cruise for our family and our tastes.

General Overall. Loved the cruise. Celebrity did an excellent job of presenting a clean, safe, professional product to its passengers. No notice or indication of anything such as Norovirus. The passengers were for the most part very polite and courteous. Smoking was only in designated areas. The Food and Beverage quality was very nice and we enjoyed the experience. We took advantage of the pre-booking offer and will be sailing on Celebrity again soon.

Tiki Less

Published 03/22/11

Cabin review: 1A8232 Deluxe Veranda

Cabin 8232 and 8234. Loved how we could combine the 2 cabins with the outside hall divider - GREAT idea. Overall layout and cabin is wonderful. Only downside was the Pillows - VERY disappointed in the small pillows and hardly any stuffing/filler.

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