Celebrity Solstice Cruise Review by HeatherInFlorida
- Sail Date: January 2012
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Cabin Type: Concierge Class
Early in our cruise we received extremely sad family news so of course a pall came over the cruise for us and made it difficult to have a good time. Still, all in all this was another wonderful experience about which I have few complaints. I'll get those out of the way first.
I booked the 2010 cruise through a travel agent and this cruise directly with Celebrity. I thought booking directly and having hands on control over my booking might provide even better attention to my requests if that's possible. It made no difference and by booking with Celebrity we gave up the OBC we would have enjoyed.
We sailed in Concierge Class cabin 2105 each time. This is a terrific cabin location on the hump on Deck 12. We enjoyed the deep balcony which is great in every respect ... in the sun if you like, away from bad weather if it rains and harbored from the winds on a bad day. It's a quick one flight up to the Ocean View and easy access to all venues except the Solstice Theatre. I highly recommend this cabin because the ship never feels too large or too difficult to navigate.
TRADITIONAL DINING: In 2010, with the diagram in front of me, I requested a specific table and was thrilled when my request was honored. This time I requested a table in the same area, noting about 5 tables that would be perfect. So I was extremely disappointed to board ship and find us assigned to a table tucked away in a corner, under the stairs by a service entrance.
I spoke with the Maitre D' who saw no problem moving us since so many in 2nd sitting wanted 1st sitting. We were assigned the next day to an 8-top round table I was very happy about.
In 30 years of cruising we've been fortunate to meet the most incredible people at dinner and some have become friends for life. So we choose a large table and we've never been disappointed. We have never changed our table. But with the introduction of specialty restaurants,there is never a guarantee that anyone will show up even after they have requested a table for 8 or 10. Why anyone who intends to spend 3 or 4 nights at alternative restaurants would request a large table unless traveling as a group I just don't understand. It spoils the fun for those who like to socialize at dinner.
We arrived at our table the 2nd night only to find we were dining alone. The others had gone to Murano Restaurant that night. For reasons explained to me by one of the Asst. Maitre D's, we were moved again because a large group sailing together wanted each table to be exclusively for their group. The 3rd night we arrived at our new table for 10 and there was just one person. He was a wonderful gentleman who we really enjoyed, but there's something about 3 people at a table for 10 that feels lonely. On the 4th night we were joined by another couple and we all had a great time the rest of the cruise. We were still only 5, but we had a good time together.
And so ends the negative part of the cruise until disembarkation which was the absolute worst we have ever encountered so I'll get it out of the way now. It was night and day between this year's cruise and last year's cruise. We smoothly took our leave from the Solstice about 9:20. But instead of descending the gangway, we exited from Deck 2 out into a frigid Ft. Lauderdale morning, wind whipping off the water. We were funneled through the equivalent of at least 2 football fields to another building where we were corralled like cattle toward our exit through Customs. I'm not sure why we were unable to exit the building through which we had embarked (as we did last year), but after going through this endless line and finally being freed into the sunlight, it only added insult to injury to be directed to "follow the green line" if being met by private car. Pulling 3 suitcases on my own, with my best years for such an activity well behind me, it turned out we had to walk all the way back to where our cruise began the week before (another 2 football fields).
The fault rests with the government cutbacks of U.S. Customs Officials; there can't have been more than 4 or 5 agents for 3000 people. I applaud them for their work (not to mention their cool calm in the storm of people) in trying to filter through thousands of people for the one person who may pose a threat to the security of our country or who decide to deviously sneak in something undeclared. It's an extremely difficult job and to leave it to 4 or 5 agents is just not realistic.
So it took everyone down a peg or two after being treated like royalty all week to be herded together like so much chattel with no explanation as to why we were thrown off the ship only to have to wait endlessly in line and for many of us another walk all the way back to where we should have been in the first place ... A sad and exhausting end to an otherwise wonderful cruise. We questionned one security guard who passed our line and his response was "This is nothing; you should have seen it yesterday with 6000 coming through". Somehow it was small solace that someone else had suffered more. If that tactic worked we'd all be thanking our lucky stars we weren't on Costa in the Mediterranean last week ... but knowing someone had it much worse than you did doesn't help when you're going through it ... later, definitely, but not at the time. If this is the new normal for disembarkation maybe the cruise lines have to have a later time for embarkation so that people can disembark more slowly.
So now the high points. First, in my opinion Celebrity's Guest Relations still soars above the others. I have never had a bad experience no matter how small the request. And when our personal crisis arose back home, they were quick to offer assistance in every possible way they could. I applaud them.
If you're a Captain's Club Member do not overlook the "premium offers" in your stateroom. Most were completely useless to me, but there is a coupon for 25% off your first booked internet package. There are a few other offers that might be nice for you so be sure to check it out first thing.
OFFICERS & CREW: Everyone who served us from Silk Harvest (our first night), to our waiters in the Epernay Dining Room, to the Ocean View Cafe, was always there with a smile. No matter where we went, within moments of sitting, we would be offered something from the bar and if we declined we felt no discomfort in staying right where we were. In fact throughout the ship I cannot think of any member of the crew who didn't greet me warmly wherever I went. The same can't really be said of the Officers who I felt were a disappointment this time, but that's not ever a big issue for me as long as the ship stays on top of the water I'm good.
An added bonus came during the show on our last night. Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde proved to be skilled in more than one department. I won't spoil the surprise if you're going soon, but don't miss it if he's mastering the ship when you sail.
Our CD was Stewart Turnbull. I have little to say about him; he could have been on board or not and it would have made no difference to me. I was happy with the few activities we took part in but beyond that, for me, his personality left a lot to be desired. On a positive note, he was in pretty good humor about his mistake in giving us the wrong showtimes one night, but that was the only hint I saw of a real person inside the mask. We had a fantastic CD on our cruise last year so this was a sharp contrast to that experience.
Despite reports of declining entertainment, we disagree. Antonio Salci at the piano is an amazing talent. Neal Austin's "magic" (or lack thereof) and comedy was a delight and uproariously funny (although I did hear the usual whiners saying if this was the best Celebrity could do they were in trouble ... some people have no child in them and need to find it). David Burleigh's comedy had me almost weeping with laughter at times plus he was adorable which never hurts. We thought the Celebrity Entertainers, without exception, were particularly good this time. I was sorry to see such a poor showing at the shows for the 8:30 diners; it was very sparse which makes it hard for the entertainers.
We did not go to all the shows because they were the same as our last Solstice cruise and with the 8:30 dinner seating this time, some nights the show wasn't until 10:30 or 11:00 and we just weren't in the mood. We're not getting any younger and we've noticed we fizzle out a little earlier than we used to . We're going back to 6:00 dinner seating.
TOURS: We booked two tours through Celebrity and both were outstanding. If we did the Western itinerary again, I would rebook both tours. On Cozumel we did the Dolphin Encounter and Sea Lion Show at Chankanaab. Both my husband and I fell in love with "our" dolphin, Rachel, who was 24 years old and recently had a baby who wasn't ready to interact yet, but swam near her mother and brought many smiles. Actually I don't think any of us stopped smiling the entire time we were in the water with Rachel. They rip you off terribly with the pictures, but I'll never regret the $110 we spent for 80 photos of our time with Rachel. I went in saying I wouldn't purchase them, but how many dolphins will I kiss in this lifetime? This was without question the high point of our cruise.
The 2nd tour was a day at Maya Key Private Island Retreat in Roatan, Honduras, just a stone's throw across the water from the dock. I should mention that I love the port of Roatan. Sure I know it's manufactured just for us cruise passengers, but I don't care. I loved the music playing below our balcony all day long and the quaint looking buildings with bougainvillea cascading over the 2nd floor walkway.
Maya Key is a wonderful private island which has been beautifully designed. It has wonderful walkways, a perfect quiet beach, wonderful snorkeling (we were told) off the long pier, a very nice pool, a delicious buffet luncheon and clean rest rooms. There are rescued and endangered animals, I saw a Jaguar, a Margay, and I was most drawn to the Black Howler Monkeys who enthralled me for so long that my husband was ready to send out a posse from the beach. It was a relaxing, wonderful day at a time we really needed it. The ferry ran back to the ship every 30 minutes so you could return to the ship at leisure. Back on board, I fell asleep on our balcony to the sounds of the island's music.
We had to cancel our plans for Friday in Costa Maya which was a big disappointment because we had looked forward to our private tour to Maya Chan Beach Resort. If you have read or heard about this private tour, I was very impressed with Mark when I emailed the day before our tour explaining our situation. He was quick to respond and refund our payment for the tour. For that reason alone I would choose this tour again and I'm only sorry we didn't get to meet Mark and enjoy their small piece of paradise at Costa Maya. In the end, it rained a lot that day so we didn't even go ashore. To be honest the port didn't look very inviting and had the longest pier I've ever seen. There was, however, a tram you could take a good part of the way.
Our last day at sea was very windy and quite cold as we made our way across the Gulf of Mexico so most people kept to the inside rooms. It was the only time it felt crowded. If we were people who enjoyed lying on the pool deck, it would not be something we could have done on sea days ... way too many people. I couldn't understand why the spa room was kept so unbelievable cold; people were huddled under towels which seemed to detract from the relaxation of the room, but what do I know?
I was extremely grateful to the Spa when my nails chipped the first day after my manicure and they completely redid the chipped nails and applied a new coat of polish on all of them. They refused to take anything for this and I was grateful and impressed ... she even threw in an eye treatment for my puffy eyes.
FOOD: This is always a major topic on all cruises. Who can really say if the food is good or bad? It's very subjective and we all have our own tastes. I read all kinds of stories about how the food had declined on Celebrity, but you could fool me. With rare exception, the food was delicious in all the venues we ate (we did not dine in Murano or Tuscan Grille).
One caveat, and this provided many laughs at our table, was Day 5 when Pea Soup with Mint appeared on the menu. A few of us at the table love chilled soups and after 2 nights of delicious blackberry and strawberry soup, we took a chance with the pea. It was the the most abhorrent, disgusting soup I have ever tasted. I took one sip and quietly pushed the bowl away. If I post any picture here it may be that. I thought it might only be me but as each person at our table sampled their soup the reactions were priceless. Order this soup at your own peril.
But I enjoyed rack of lamb which was out of this world and on lobster night our waiter recommended the beef tenderloin. I learned early on to always listen to him; he never led me down the wrong path. Even on pea soup night he had suggested something else. Those ordering the lobster were disappointed; people forget this isn't Maine lobster ... it's Caribbean lobster which is a whole different story. It was Â½ lobster with crabmeat stuffing. It didn't come out of the shell well at all and it was very messy to eat. I don't remember everything I ate over the week, but I know it was way too much. Everything was delicious ... poached eggs and smoked salmon on a muffin, cheesecake, shrimp cocktail, escargot, all the Danish, the donuts that appeared far too rarely, the spaghetti tossed with your choice of a gazillion ingredients, the afore mentioned lamb chops all come quickly to mind. And everyday a new and wonderful ice cream; the blueberry was one of my favorites.
One more word about food: I keep remembering the words "If we build it they will come". That's also true when creating buffet style dining. If you put food out, people will help themselves to more than they should ever eat. Breakfast is the most amazing meal on a cruise ship. People walk from station to station helping themselves to every imaginable morsel of food and then have the nerve to come home and complain about the decline in food ... just a little pet peeve of mine. The waffles were so popular (and yummy) there was a line.
True story: One plucky woman stood waiting for the waffles while a line of about 8 people formed. Only 4 waffles come off the griddle at a time. Yet this woman grabbed 2, added a couple slices of stuffed French toast and a few banana pancakes. She then pushed in front of me and helped herself to toppings and, of course, whipped cream. I was dying to follow her to see if she actually ate it all. None of my business if people want to devour every morsel in sight ... just don't complain that the food just isn't up to par on cruise ships anymore.
And finally ... to the young man who'd enjoyed a few too many at the Pool Bar on our last day at sea who wouldn't believe my age because his mother was a few years younger, I salute you. Tipsy or not, you made my day. Maybe Celebrity placed you there just to make me feel good as I make my way into the next decade, maybe there was money involved but who cares.
The cruise really was a nice way to 'celebrate' a banner year and having just a few things go wrong didn't even cast a shadow. Celebrity still shines brightly and wears the crown for me.
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The bathroom storage is more than ample and we didn't even use it all. I hate the tiny sink above the counter. If you wash your face over the sink you're hit in the head by the faucet; awful. But the shower is larger than most in this category, plenty of room to turn and move around. Love the shower except I wish there were a hand held shower-head.
The end tables are way too tiny especially on the side with the phone. Storage elsewhere in the cabin is sufficient because of the bins over the bed.
The balcony in this cabin is deeper and because it's on the backside of the hump you are protected from winds (and of course rain because of the depth).
The lighting is terrible in the cabin; either too bright or too low ... nothing in between. But I never like the lighting in ship cabins.
The cabin location could not be any better; we booked it twice because we were so happy the first time.