First off, let me say that I have been a fan of Celebrity’s Millennium Class ships since my first cruise in 2006. My last Celebrity cruise was on The Constellation, so the Solstice had a lot to live up to. The Solstice, the first of this class, is a great ship, well designed – sort of like the Millennium Class on steroids!
Before I talk about the cruise let me throw a few barbs at US Airways, one of my favorite targets. As usual US Air managed to jam even a red eye flight to the brim. The Airbus 321 is not the most comfortable of aircraft, however, the flight crew was nice, but not overly so. Being packed into US Air’s incredible shrinking seats is never a good experience, but when one hopes to grab a few winks it is even worse. My route through Charlotte, N.C. was not my first choice as it adds about 1-1/2 hours to the trip. After this trip, if I never go through Charlotte it will be too soon. The distance between gates was quite extensive and the moving walkway was out of service. Had I known I would have asked for assistance as I have knee problems.
The cruise was a 7-night Eastern Caribbean, which is not exactly my favorite itinerary, even though I had only done a part of it before – but as they say “a bad day at sea is better than a good day at work.” Departure from Ft. Lauderdale was quick – I was on the ship within 20 minutes of arrival at the pier. The one fluke in boarding is that the cabins would not be ready until about 1:30 p.m., meaning that I had to slug my luggage around with me at the buffet area.
I have been spoiled by Princess, which will let you take your luggage to your cabin even if it isn’t ready.
Well anyway, there was an attendant in the buffet area that did help me by carrying my plate. Oh yes, did I mention that Celebrity no longer has trays in the buffet? As a replacement they have various size square plates, meaning that if you want more than a main entrée, such as a salad you need to make multiple trips. I did meet some very nice people in the buffet and we took turns watching luggage and holding the table as we each in turn went for additional items. I would hope that Celebrity might figure out how to accommodate passengers with carry-ons by either letting them drop them off at the room or having a secure area.
After lunch the cabins still were not available, so I went to my deck and hung out in the Internet cafe until the announcement was made that the cabins were ready.
The cabin was as nice as the Millennium Class ships, but with a bigger bathroom, however the extra bathroom space comes with a price. Celebrity has shrunken the closet space and moved it to the stateroom end of the bathroom with the closet doors facing the room. Since I was traveling alone this trip, I had plenty of space using the closet and the extra drawer space. I learned that there is also some additional storage space over the bed, but I did not use it and I really don’t think it was all that handy.
The layout of the bathroom has allowed for a much larger shower with sliding doors, very nice, its one fault is that it had a fixed showerhead; I like the hand showers much better. The commode was wedged in between the shower and the vanity area, which was not all that roomy. The sink is a raised design with a long faucet; I did hear a couple of people complaining that it got in the road. The bathroom has a decent amount of shelf space and a couple of drawers as well. My cabin on deck 6 was directly above the Solstice Theater, and there were times I could hear music, but it was not a major problem.
On to the cruise
The first two days out of Ft. Lauderdale were rough, not as bad as some days I have experienced, but with all the tropical storms and hurricanes around it made things a bit choppy.
The ports of call for this cruise were San Juan, Charlotte Amalie, St Thomas and Philipsburg, St Maarten. I can’t tell you anything about these ports as I stayed on the ship in all port days. For me it was just too hot and humid to consider a shore excursion. I went out on my balcony to take some pictures and had to wait several minutes for my camera lens to un-fog.
To me, the ship is the high point of the trip. The cabin stewards were exceptional and the food in both the dining room and the Oceanview Cafe was good. I did note that there are certain times when the Oceanview does completely close. All my evening meals - late dining - were eaten in the Grand Epernay Restaurant, where I had a fantastic waiter and assistant waiter and an assistant maître’d. They were friendly and very efficient. Celebrity’s menu is pretty diverse, but if the main menu doesn’t suit you, the left side of the menu has a good variety of items available at every meal.
On board there are three specialty restaurants available at an extra cost, the Tuscan Grille, Silk Harvest and Murano. I dined at Tuscan one night and had the veal Parmigiana – it was fabulous! It was a large portion served over linguine, which was actually more than I could eat, especially after consuming some of the fantastic breads before dinner.
Entertainment on board was good with the Solstice Orchestra, one of the best, and the Great Ideas Party band, the West Side Strings, Kelly Broadway Quartet, and individual artists, who were all very good. The activities staff, headed by Maria (who was finishing her contract), all seemed very capable and a good sense of humor.
One of the most fun times I have had on a cruise ship was the 60s Night held in the Grand Foyer. This venue, right next to the Passport Lounge, is a great place and Maria and crew had the ship rockin’ with lots of great music. I was tired and hoarse after the party. Celebrity is putting the Grand Foyer to good use with musicians appearing, especially during the cocktail hours and after dinner. The cruise line deserves a definite thumbs up for this.
The Solstice is easy to navigate, with good signage and an adequate number of elevators - most going to every deck, unlike some other ships. Other high points on the Solstice are the Adults Only Solarium with Pool Butlers, the Lawn Club, and, of course, the Hot Glass Show from Corning Glass. I also attended the Cooking Challenge hosted by Chef Panagiotis, who has a great sense of humor and was very accessible on the ship as I saw him most every day.
Other nice things on the Solstice were “On Demand” free movies on your stateroom TV, the Movie Theater at Celebrity Central on Deck 4, The Solstice Theater (beautiful with a great sound system) and Captain Dimitrios’ daily announcements with a great touch of humor.
In all this was a great cruise. Celebrity has done a good job with the Solstice class ships.
Departure was smooth and seamless. There was one glitch when I could not locate may bag, but I received instant help and was soon on my way. My return was on Southwest Airlines through Tampa. What a difference! The airline has great planes and exceptional crews and Tampa does not have killer walking distances between gates. Well done Southwest!