Regions:Caribbean Western, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Inland Waterways, Mediterranean Western
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Southern, Mediterranean Western, Transatlantic
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Caribbean, Panama Canal, Europe
Good for: Seniors. Families. Luxury Travelers.
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Families.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii, Inland Waterways
Good for: Seniors. Singles. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Mediterranean Eastern, Transatlantic
Good for: Seniors. Group. Families.
Regions:Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Western, Mediterranean Eastern
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Luxury Travelers.
Regions:Alaska, Australia, Hawaii
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Regions:Bermuda, Caribbean Eastern, Caribbean Southern
Good for: Foodies. Seniors. Group.
Good for: Group. Singles. First-time Cruisers.
"Here Comes the Sun was the theme song for the inaugural festivities introducing Celebrity Equinox to the cruising world in Southampton, UK, July 29, 2009.
Celebrity Equinox is the second in the Solstice class of cruise ships from Celebrity, and while it is practically impossible to tell Equinox apart from Solstice there is nothing wrong that. After all, why toy with perfection?
Is "perfection" too strong a word? Not according to the accolades given to Celebrity Solstice by the press and the cruising public when she was introduced less than a year ago. Now with the addition of Celebrity Equinox there are two of these identical sister ships, two masterpieces of design and décor.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the naming ceremony for Celebrity Equinox on July 29 in Southampton, U.K. The ceremony was followed by a two-night cruise for the media and cruise industry. While a two-night familiarization cruise is hardly enough time to gain a full perspective of the entire Equinox experience, it was enough for me to get a good look at the ship – mostly trying to divine which of the best assets of Solstice weremaintained and which were unique to Equinox.
What did I find? When Celebrity Cruises set out to design the Solstice class it was their first new class in ten years. They knew they needed something different yet enduring, and contemporary yet classic at the same time. The ship needed to appeal not only to today's cruiser, but also for years, possibly decades to come.
In the end very little about Equinox is different from Solstice, which only means that very little needed to be changed. For the most part this ship is a near perfect duplicate of the truly classic Solstice design.
The Equinox Differences
As with most Celebrity cruise ship classes, once they create a new design they then recreate the original design two or more times with little or no changes at all to the basic superstructure. The ships of any given class largely pin their identity on just a few unique décor variations usually in a few nightspots or restaurants. This is mostly true for the Equinox too. Equinox has only a few very subtle differences.
The first Equinox difference is on the pool deck called "Solstice Deck." It holds 100 or more lounge chairs than the same deck on Celebrity Solstice. This addition of deck chairs will be added to all subsequent Solstice-class ships, and chances are that it will be retrofitted to the Celebrity Solstice sometime in the future.
Why more deck chairs? The first sister ship has the world's first large patch of real grass growing on a deck, known as "The Lawn." Because "The Lawn" takes up a lot of outdoor deck space there was less room for deck chairs. It has actually been the subject of some complaints on Solstice, and to Celebrity's credit they chose to make the change on Equinox. It was not previously announced however, and may continue to be a point of knowledge for cruise ship trivia buffs.
Speaking of the lawn – how controversial can a patch of grass be? Since it is a rather large lawn growing high atop a steel cruise ship it is quite unique. But is it an attraction? Maybe not in the sense that it does anything any other patch of grass can't do, but they play bocce ball, croquet and are hold real picnics with baskets and blankets and all the trimmings except ants. You can have your fried chicken and iced tea while sitting on real grass watching the Isle of Wight pass by your starboard side. I think that is pretty cool.
Generally, the pool deck on Equinox is more like a spa than a typical cruise ship pool area. As with Solstice there are two main pools, one deeper than the other. There is no loud music, pool games or waiters pushing buckets of beer. The pool bar is so understated it can almost be missed. The Solarium area is a fully glass-enclosed pool with a distinctly modern decor. There is ivy growing up the steel bars at the deep end, another minor difference from what is seen on Solstice.
The Equinox Art Collection
In our quest to discover assets unique to Equinox, much was made of the extensive art collection onboard. When Celebrity Cruises was originally formed by the Chandris family of Greece over twenty years ago– John Chandris placed high importance on having ships filled with unique pieces of art – allowing his wife Christina to assemble the collection for each ship until Celebrity Cruises was acquired by Royal Caribbean International in 1997.
The Equinox collection features many interesting paintings, photos, sculptures, and other objets d'art from the former Celebrity Galaxy, which has now been transferred to TUI cruises (also in the Royal Caribbean family). Celebrity removed the art from Galaxy prior to the ship leaving the fleet and had the collection in storage.
Personally, I thought the entire art collection on Equinox was perfectly understated and "just right" in terms of selection and placement. Each piece seemed to enhance the ambience of the surrounding space without overwhelming it, serene and elegant at every turn.
I heard several people remark on how peaceful and comfortable every room felt aboard the ship. One guest, who had never been on a cruise ship at all before, complimented the design team on the sense of well-being Equinox invokes.
"Nothing abuses my senses," he said, and I have to agree, noting that the same has also been said about Solstice. These are classy and tasteful ships, which some prospective cruisers may find just a little sedate; although I have to say I didn't hear anyone actually expressing this thought.
Celebrity Solstice-class – What You Need to Know
Celebrity has always embraced a European feel in their cruises and this is perhaps kicked up a notch on the Equinox and the Solstice class in general. Expect to see more than a few men wearing sports coats on smart casual nights. Expect to see more, men in tuxes and ladies in gowns, on formal nights. Wandering around Equinox in the evening wearing shorts and flip-flops will definitely be frowned upon.
I was able to try a new class of staterooms for Celebrity first available on the Solstice class, an AquaClass balcony cabin. These 192 square foot cabins are meant to offer a more sensual experience with special herb-infused teas and aromatherapy misters available in every room. There is an iPod player and a special shower with the standard showerhead several adjustable jets. There is plenty of storage space and a larger than usual safe, stored in a drawer by the refrigerator.
Celebrity has extolled the accomplishments of "Celebrity's Leading Ladies" –five ladies with various cruise and travel backgrounds who advised the company on stateroom design for the Solstice class. Celebrity backed their research into various hotel and cruise ship designs to define the perfect cruise ship cabin. For the most part I see the attraction of their influence.
I can't say I love everything they decided, however. Half of the cabins have the bed right next to the closet rendering it inaccessible when anyone is trying to sleep. The other cabins have the layout reversed, with the bed by the balcony door and the sofa by the closet. This works better.
The Equinox Debut
Since Equinox is a brand new ship the line had their "A Team" onboard, many of the staff and crew coming from Solstice. This is standard procedure for new ships providing a crew already familiar with the ship's onboard procedures and facilities.
The staff was uniformly excellent, as I expected before I arrived. In my experience, it is a Celebrity hallmark for the staff to be more reserved in their interactions with the passengers, yet efficient in their duties. They are friendly but not to the point of inserting their own personalities into the guest's cruise experience. This will appeal to some people, while others may prefer more outgoing crewmembers. It is a matter of personal taste.
The food during our short cruise was also consistent with Celebrity standards. The first night we sampled the main dining room. My lamb chops were so succulent and tender I found myself chewing the bones to get the last morsels of goodness. But the sampler plates of dessert met with mixed reviews.
The Oceanview Café buffet area is a cut above previous Celebrity classes. While the nighttime pizza was excellent as expected an ersatz Eggs Benedict for breakfast had corned beef hash instead of ham, a vexing substitution.
Our second night featured dinner in the restaurant Blu - normally reserved for Aquaclass guests but open to any guest for a $5 surcharge. I went with the waiter's suggestion of pan-fried salmon which was good but not equal to the food or service of the previous night. The ambient noise at our table was a bit distracting. Still, overall the food we sampled on Equinox is sublime, and with reports of excellent repast in the specialty restaurants coming from Solstice there is no doubt Equinox will live up to the promise.
Production Shows – Another Equinox Difference
The entertainment on Equinox is another area where one will find a completely different experience than what is offered on Solstice. The show called "Equinox – The Show" had the entire audience spellbound. It featured strapping yet surprisingly nimble acrobatics within a surreal atmosphere. I've never seen anything like it on a cruise ship - definitely different and marvelous. The accompanying orchestra, as well as the other musical groups onboard, were all excellent performers.
In the end I have to say I was quite impressed by the Celebrity Equinox. If I were a ship designer I feel it is what I would aspire to build. The ship is easy to navigate, with a flow and dimension to the public rooms that promotes a sense of intimacy despite what is actually a very large ship. Reading about the length, beam, and tonnage of Equinox, it is hard to correlate the actual experience of being onboard.
Equinox actually feels more like a small ship experience. The design team was not only accomplished their mission, they exceeded it. What was that old Celebrity slogan… "exceeding expectations"? They don't use that slogan anymore, but they are still fulfilling it.
Equinox will sail a series of Mediterranean cruises this summer and fall, and then move to Fort Lauderdale for alternating eastern and western Caribbean runs. I hope to be aboard one of them with my family.
We arrived at the City Terminal and the sight of the Equinox was very impressive, this was my first time on a Celebrity ship, and how exciting to be trying a brand new ship, pre-maiden and a Solstice class ship at that!
This ship is the 2nd Solstice ship to be rolled out, the 3rd will be very interesting as 'Eclipse' will be based in Southampton next year after her launch, and should be very similar to this ship and will, no doubt, be major competition for P&O. Celebrity have been recently voted best UK Cruise line by the Telegraph, The Guardian, Observer Travel Awards 2008.
This ship is 122,000 tonnes and has a occupancy of 2,850, on this mini-cruise she was sailing at 80% occupancy with around 2,300 onboard, so while looking around the ship I was looking at how the public rooms coped with that many onboard, and I must say, it felt roomy and comfortable, and strangely didn't feel like a 'big' ship, infact after being onboard Ventura and Independence, this ship felt smaller, but in a nice way.
We were greeted on boarding to a glass of champagne,and went direct to our cabins and unpacked. We were in a 'Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom with veranda' on the starboard side, and on entering I was very impressed with the décor, especially the full size cream leather sofa and large 32 inch flat screen tv, showing a limited range of channels, but this included a BBC Tv Prime channel and sky news, plus a tour excursions channel.
The bathroom was lovely with a corner shower, and the light wood furnishings, and raised wash bowl and single tap and looked very modern. I liked the additions of cotton wool and buds and a tissue box, but on the minus side the bath towels were too small, a bath sheet would have been nice, and I was under whelmed with the 1 ply toilet tissue (why? You only use twice as much and its just annoying!) A design minus also was the shelf for your toiletries was very narrow, and you ended up putting things on the toilet seat when getting ready to go out. Also where was the soap dish? A small thing, but it meant the wet soap was left on this narrow shelf and kept sliding around and making everything wet and messy.
The furnishings were lovely, and balcony furniture very modern with a large round wooden slat table. Don't forget to take a US plug adaptor for you electrical items though as of course this is a US ship.
I went on a tour of the cabins after lunch and was surprised to learn there are very few inside cabins, infact 90% of the cabins have a ocean view and nearly all of these have a private balcony on this ship.
The inside cabin I did view was a wheelchair accessible one and was very roomy and these cabins also have a massive 32inch flat screen tv on the wall opposite the bed!
I have described the balcony cabins, and after that I saw 'Aqua class cabin' which is the same size as the balcony (194 sq ft with a 54 sq ft balcony) for those who love 'spa life' there are 130 of these cabins located near the Aqua spa which give priority seating in Blu specialty restaurant, a spa concierge to arrange treatments, and priority to the Aqua spa of course!
Smoking on Equinox is not allowed in staterooms, corridors or on balconies.
The suites were all lovely, with butler service, the chance to have breakfast, lunch or dinner in your cabin., and of course a bath, some with separate walk in shower or Jacuzzi. And some with a 52inch tv with a 40inch tv in the bedroom!
At the top of this ship, is the 'Sky Observation Lounge' Celebrity's own Crows Nest, with amazing décor again including sweeping cream settees with purple cushions, and a large stage and dance floor. Also look out for the Lawn Club, where half a acre of real lawn adorns the deck so you can play croquet and lawn bowls. Nearby is a Hot Glass show where you can see glass blowing demonstrations which were very interesting, I was given a single rose made of glass which I will treasure.
The self service buffet restaurant called The Oceanview Café, was spacious and served everything from pasta, pizzas, tacos, hot food and salads. There was a ice cream bar with plentiful flavours and toppings, and the sweets were delicious to look at and eat. I couldn't find a decent breakfast UK tea, but there were all the other types of speciality teas in a large selection box so perhaps there was a decent one suitable for a 'builders brew' but I couldn't find it. Also I'm afraid it seems to be streaky bacon and not our UK favourite back bacon on here, but I was told the chef was seen carving a massive boiled gammon joint at breakfast so you could try that if you were hungry! The Oceanview deck was lovely and had again, wonderful modern furniture and even settees.
Keeping on the theme of food and dining areas, I must say the Silhouette Dining room was jaw-dropping WOW , I could not think how a dining room could be any better in a modern contemporary design, I have taken a lot of photos in the link at the bottom of this review to show you. We ate here on the first evening, and the food was lovely too. I had a appetizer of 'Crispy Sautéed Pork potstickers with Oyster sauce and water chestnuts, followed by a creamy Cannellini bean soup, and then grilled tournedos of beef and veal with gratin potatoes and a bordelaise sauce, The steaks were plump and melted in the mouth, I followed this with a poached pear on a ginger sponge with Vanilla mousse, and hot ! Coffee (unlike P&O's )
On the 2nd night, formal, we were lucky to be invited by a Celebrity UK representative to join him at the French Specialty restaurant - Murano, along with four other guests, The service was attentive, and included my cooked whole dover sole being filleted in front of me at the table, and my husbands crepes with a wonderful strawberry sauce being flambéed at the table to much aplomb by the head waiter.
I have taken photos of Blu, Silk Harvest(Asian cuisine) and the Tuscan Grille (Italian Steakhouse) and some food samples which can be found in the photo album.
During my cruise we were invited to sampler tastings, in the afternoon, and of course it would have been rude not to go!
The pools were lovely, with 4 Jacuzzis surrounding the outside deck one, and double bed sun-loungers. I am pleased to say there are 'Pool Butlers' on Solstice ships, who have been instructed to remove towels from empty sunbeds immediately they are left and personal possessions after a 30minute wait. I spoke to the lady in charge of poolside house-keeping and she said this was very successful, although there were occasionally arguments, but the pool butlers were big lads and stood there ground.
Photo above of pool butler in action at pool side.
There is a inside pool in the 'adults only' Solarium adjacent to the Aqua Spa.
The shops were amazing, as so were the shop window displays (see photos) really unusual. I bought a Equinox teddy for my collection $14.99, and 2 different mugs for $14.99 a pair on a special offer (usually $7.99 each). I bought one photo which was quite expensive, taken at dinner $19.95 8x10. There was also a duty free shop selling Cigarettes, alcohol etc, something not seen on P&O,
Cigarettes $60 for two cartons.
My cruise was different from a normal cruise, we sailed to Guernsey and around the Channel Islands (211 miles in all) but I can imagine the experience would be very special indeed and would agree it is one * more than P&O , little things, like at dinner, on P&O - one small roll is offered , on Celebrity Solstice class, you have your own bread selection basket with all sorts of breads and breadsticks, plus flavoured butters including lobster butter.
The ship is very modern and contemporary and appealed to us, like Arcadia, she is not a classic old fashioned ship, she doesn't pretend to be one. The shows in the theatre were of similar quality and we found them enjoyable. There was a lot of live entertainment around the ship, a jazz quartet played in the Grand Foyer before dinner, then we saw a young female pretty foursome called Inspiration strings playing , also an acoustic guitarist playing poolside while you were sunbathing, and a great dance band playing pop classics.
I hope to book a cruise on Eclipse one day soon, and I am sure these Solstice ships will have P&O quaking in their boots. But competition is healthy and perhaps all the UK based cruise lines will be upping their product and us, the passengers can only benefit from that!
120 Photos here:
A word of advice not only regarding this ship, but perhaps others as well.
Avoid an inside stateroom located by a pantry! You will hear very loud noises throughout the day and night with only an intermission between 11:00pm and 5:00am.
We booked cabin number 9187 on the Constellation and it was a nightmare. After repeated complaints to Guest Relations, they finally moved us to a cabin with a balcony at no extra charge.
These rooms really shouldn't be sold to paying passengers in the first place. Had we not been moved, it would have ruined our trip.
Celebrity is also aware of the noise in that room and they continue to sell it.
On a lighter note, the ship overall is beautiful. The food is about above average, but certainly nothing special except for the Ocean Liner Restaurant.
I am writing to share a problem my husband and I experienced on our 6/15/09 sailing aboard the Celebrity Summit from Venice to Barcelona. We invested $11,998 on the cruise fare alone, opting to upgrade to one of the finest cabins on the ship for a very special occasion: our honeymoon. We never expected what was to follow.
6/15 - We immediately noticed a sewage odor coming from our balcony and felt ill before we even set sail (i.e., nausea, headache, dizziness). We blamed the dock and avoided the balcony.
6/16 - We wanted to enjoy sailing from Venice on our balcony, but the smell was unbearable. We hoped the air quality would improve as we sailed to Croatia.
6/17 - We went to the medical facility and were told there was at least an hour wait. We opted to visit a pharmacy in Croatia so as not to miss out on the port and compromise our trip any further. However, once we were off the ship, the air was fresh, and we started to feel better.
6/17 - Sailing from Croatia at over 20 knots, the foul odor onboard intensified, despite thestrong breeze. At our expense, we e-mailed our agent at Prestige Travel for guidance, and called Guest Services. Guest Services did not respond, and the Hotel Manager was not available. We then stood at the Guest Services desk until the Hotel Manager, the Chief Engineer, the Chief Housekeeper and their assistants came to our cabin to assess the problem. They only acknowledged a "food odor," though it clearly smelled like a dirty toilet. The Chief Engineer suggested they "flush" the black water sewage system. In the interim, we were offered no reparations. Our room could not even be changed as the cruise was reportedly sold out.
6/18 - The sewage odor persisted, less so on our balcony, and more so in our cabin as well as the entire Deck 6 hallway. The cruise staff did not follow up with us, so we called the Hotel Manager again. It was maddening to have to spend any more of our honeymoon dealing with this. The Hotel Manager stated that while compensation would be in order, the nature and extent of that compensation would depend on how quickly the problem was resolved.
6/21 - The Hotel Manager offered us in writing 25% of the value of the cruise base price (i.e.., to compensate for 3 of the 12 days) to be issued as either a cruise credit towards a Celebrity Cruise with restrictions, or the same dollar value to be put towards our charges on our current cruise, with any balance being returned to the credit card provided upon embarkation. This would have been acceptable, except that the foul odor was worse than ever. We asked to reassess the situation towards the end of the cruise since the problem was clearly unresolved. However, as we disembarked, the problem remained unresolved.
A Celebrity Cruises representative in Miami who would only identify himself as "Victor" contacted me days later to extend the same offer. I felt the offer was unfair, so "Victor" agreed to contact me after the July 4th holiday to reach a mutually agreeable decision.
7/10 - "Victor" had not called back, so we called him. We were informed that he was not available and no other associate or supervisor could assist us. We left messages all week for his return call with associates who would only identify themselves as "Audrey" and "Pamela."
7/15 - "Victor" finally returned our call, and we informed him that we felt our cruise fare should be refunded, not just because we were deprived of the cabin experience we paid for, but because we spent our honeymoon inhaling sewage fumes and wasting time trying to solve a problem we did not create with cruise staff and representatives who have resisted every effort to right this wrong. "Victor" stated that refunds are never issued, so I immediately faxed him the original offer that was made in writing by the Hotel Manager. "Victor" stated he would call me back after discussing the matter with his superiors.
7/20 – "Victor" called to state that Celebrity Cruises could only offer 25% of the cruise fare as a cruise credit to be used by us alone over the next calendar year, excluding holidays. He further stated that the original offer from the hotel manager in writing only applied while were on the ship, despite the fact that this was never mentioned, in writing or otherwise, by any member of the cruise staff at any time.
We have shared this information with our travel agency and the following cruise ship executives, without any response to date: Mr. Daniel Hanrahan - President & CEO Mr. Richard Fain - Chairman & CEO Mr. Brian Rice - Executive Vice President & CFO I truly hope that by sharing this information with you, we can help ensure safe and fair travel practices in the future.
Last spring we booked a transatlantic cruise on the Solstice, but due to health problems we did not make it. The Solstice is now 14 months old, her naming ceremony was Nov. 14, 2008; her Godmother is Prof. Sharon L. Smith a renown marine and atmospheric scientist from the University of Miami: very a propos! The Solstice's name conjures up thoughts of our sun star and heavenly worlds beyond Earth. Her Godmother grounds those ideas and brings to our life on Earth more meaning.
The softness of the many delicate draperies on board evokes feelings of clouds. The highly polished aluminum columns in the Grand Epernay Dining Rooms and the Champagne bubble like lights on the ceiling, combined with the beauty of the décor presents an ethereal aura. Even the night club on Deck 4 is named Quasar and calls up space images. Suffice it to say, the Solstice is unique --- and so is her Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis. He is a fine Master with a welcoming sense of humor: ”He is Greek!” with all the connotations and beautiful manners of a Greek ship's host.
EMBARKATION On a Sunday morning I-95 traffic islight and from Boca Raton to Ft. Lauderdale takes only 25 minutes. We had curbside assistance with our baggage, wheelchair, and scooter. A crew member helped us through check-in and we were in our stateroom in twenty minutes. Excellent! Guests were greeted with Mimosa drinks, very refreshing.
SHIP OVERVIEW The Solstice weighs 122,000 gross tons; she is 1,033 feet long and has a beam of 121 feet. Her draft is 27 feet and she has a cruising speed of 24 knots. She carries 2,850 guests and has 16 passenger decks. What follows is a deck by deck description of her layout.
Deck 1 is for crew only.
Deck 2 holds the Medical Facility (which we did not visit)!
Deck 3 aft has the Grand Epernay Restaurant, a glorious combination of spaciousness and modern design with crystal and chrome fitting in beautifully, with the three deck tall white draperies. There is an old saying that drinking Champagne in Epernay (the heart of French Champagne country) is like listening to Mozart in Salzburg...” (Eperzine Web magazine). So also are diners in this stunning dining room treated to bubbles in the ceiling lighting. On Deck 3 are the Guest Relations Desk, the Shore Excursions Desk and the Passport Bar.
Deck 4 has Celebrity Central entertainment locale, Cellars Masters (wine, whiskey, or bourbon tastings, etc.). Then, there is the Fortunes Casino (the Slots are loose, and the give out is published daily.) Next is the Quasar Nightclub with its polished metal dance floor, suspended capsule chairs and twinkling lights, there is lots of atmosphere. Midship are the shops on board and forward the Solstice Theatre with excellent acoustics, but there are a few poles obstructing the view of the stage, so choose seats carefully. The red velvet stage curtain is flanked by two 3 deck tall draperies composed of tucked white and off white fabrics making a collage of billows. Very unique.
Deck 5 has the “Bistro on Five” which specializes in crepes, both sweet and savory. This is a great place for brunch or late night dessert ($5) the “Cafe` al Bacio” serves exquisite coffee and desserts. There is also a Gelato ice cream shop, and the Captain's Club for repeat cruisers. Since Celebrity is part of RCI and we are Diamond Plus members in the Crown & Anchor Society, we have been given elite status with great perks. There are the boutique shops and Michael's Club where cocktail parties and high teas are held. Aft on Deck 5 are the specialty restaurants: Murano (excellent French cuisine) Silk Harvest (Asian) and the Tuscan Grille (Italian), cover charges apply.
Deck 6 through 11 are all staterooms in addition to the Online@Celebrity (the internet room) on Deck 6, the Library on Deck 10 (open stacks and reading areas, no need to sign in or out --- the honor policy is in operation) and the Relaxation Lounge on Deck 11.
Deck 12 has the Health & Fitness center, the Aqua Spa, the Beauty Salon, the Solarium, Swimming Pools and Whirlpools. Vincent uses the sauna and the whirlpool daily and he had wonderful advice and help from Natasha.
Deck 14 has the jogging track, the Mast Bar & Grill (hot dogs, hamburgers and fries), the Ocean Bar & Cafe` and the Sky Observation Lounge. There are sky lectures with an on board astronomer at night.
Deck 15 has basket ball courts, a hot blown glass show (Corning) and the Lawn Club with extensive grass lawn where Bocce Tournaments between passengers and crew are played.
Deck 16 is the Sun Deck.
Throughout the ship is a huge eclectic art collection, some of it commissioned for the Solstice and others works are from both famous cubists like Picasso and Matisse or from photographers like Martin Liebscher where repeated photographs of himself in different poses make up a crowd. Very Interesting. The “Full Moon Briars” by Susan Derges is certainly in keeping with the Solstice theme. Different staircases have been given themes like “Stair of Light” and “Stair of Water.”
CABIN Stateroom #6141 is a wheelchair accessible cabin with a large automatic door. When entering on the left there is a full length mirror and a double armoire in maple wood; a vanity/desk with lighted mirror, seven drawers, a private safe, and refrigerator. There is a marble counter top and one chair.
When entering, on the right is a huge tiled bathroom with a tilt mirror flanked by two large medicine cabinets with glass doors. There are safety rails all around and a huge shower with a fold away seat. There is a king size bed with very nice linens of gold white and maroon. The two reading lamps are close enough to turn on and off from the bed. The final pieces of furniture are a love seat and a small coffee table.
The balcony is large and deep: it contains two recliners and a teak table and chair. The carpet is in Burberry colors: gold, beige and maroon and the draperies are beige with bands of rose patterns. The stateroom attendant, Mahmodi is excellent. The cabin is large and comfortable.
SERVICE & FOOD Hotel Director Damien O'Connor displays the perfect temperament to control the Solstice. He is kind, affable and likes to hear just how the passengers are getting along. He doesn't just ask questions for conversation's sake, rather he is truly interested in the passengers' satisfaction. He has a well trained crew, who make the passengers comfortable and provide for their every need. We always say that the mood on board filters down from above--- with such friendly leaders as Captain Dimitrios, H.D. Damien and Restaurant Manager FabioScaglione, it's only natural that the crew are also friendly and sincere.
Food & Beverage Manager Robert Flack has the daunting task of overseeing 600 crew members who produce and serve more than 12,000 meals daily, yet everything goes off beautifully. Exec. Chef Mickael Tochetto combines the best of culinary traditions: born of Italian parents, raised in France! The food on board is excellent, based on menus by world renown Chef Jacques Van Staden and implemented perfectly by Chef Mickael. The menu is one of the most diverse at sea and most ample. No one could possibly go away unsatisfied.
We enjoyed every meal on board, especially the one at Captain Dimitrios' table on formal night. The Escargot was perfect, Vincent's Caesar salad and filet Mignon were just the way he liked them. The Captain was jovial and complimentary; at the end of the meal he gave each lady at the table a beautiful long stem American Beauty rose. Our waiter at table #110 in Epernay was Jose` Altamirano, both he and his assistant Yvonne Williams were very pleasant and served at a nice pace. Celebrity is probably the only line still providing a finely trained Sommelier: Ferhat Ebret was cordial and Vincent was appreciative of his service and knowledge. Bravo.
Some samples from the appetizer menu are as follows: Tropical Fruit Medley with Lychee nuts; San Francisco Crab Louis; Goat cheese tart served with red roasted peppers and Balsamic syrup. Soups included Wild Mushroom Cappuccino with Porcini mushroom dust, and chilled Gazpacho. Salads were fresh and varied: Belgium Endive and arugala with red delicious apple and candied pecans. Some of their homemade dressings included Roquefort, Citrus, Pinot Noir Vinaigrette, Champagne and lite raspberry.
Entrees include pastas like Spaghetti Carbonara, fish such as Herb crusted Merluzzo (white fish) and fowl like Grandmother's Coq Au Vin and Veal Cordon Bleu. Chef Mickael's Ossobuco (excellent) Mary felt it was a triumph! The aged Prime Rib of Beef was mouth watering. Vegetarians had a large assortment of dishes including grilled Kebabs. For dessert there was always a selection of imported cheeses, fruits and traditional desserts like Crème Brulee`, NY cheesecake, Profiteroles, apple pie, fresh sorbets and homemade ice creams.
There are several Speciality Restaurants. We highly recommend Murano, and its contemporary French Cuisine: try the sweet breads and the fois gras and the wonderful Cheese Cart. We are happy to report the food on board is excellent.
ENTERTAINMENT The Solstice has three very nice shows: Adam Trent a young magician, singer Karen Grainger, and Celebrity Show time presented Solstice: the Show, which was very nice with aerial acrobatics. A very interesting offering was Astronomer Vic Stryker, who lead nightly sky watching. This ship has many things for cruisers including Casino games, Bingo, Fitness, Bocce, etc.
PORTS OF CALL
Sunday: Ft. Lauderdale, FL Depart: 4:30pm
Monday: At Sea
Tuesday: San Juan, Puerto Rico Arrive: 2:00pm Depart: 8:00pm
Wednesday: Philipsburg, St. Maarten Arrive: 8:00am Depart: 7:00pm
Thursday: Tortola, B.V.I. Arrive:7:00am Depart: 1:00pm
Friday: Labadee, Haiti Arrive: 10:00am Depart: 6:30pm
Saturday: At Sea
Sunday: Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Arrive: 7:00am
CONCLUSION This was another great cruise! We have not had a bad cruise in a long time, since we have learned what to expect from the various cruise lines and direct our attention to the things they do best. We are addicted to cruising, because we know how to get the best out of every cruise in regard to food, service, itinerary, ship's environment, repeater's benefits and personal attention. Some readers of our reviews have accused us of being too soft with our criticism. We disagree with them since we always include in the reviews any points which are not perfect and may need improvement. It is hard to write a negative review when we have enjoyed the overall aspect of a cruise, which up to now we have always done. We'll be cruising in search of the perfect cruise or an unpleasant one; neither of which we have yet experienced.
Our next cruise is in February on the Liberty of the Seas together with our son Marcello, his wife Paige and their eight year old son Marcellino. We have also booked a relocation cruise on the Star Princess, on March 16th, from Rio De Janeiro to Ft. Lauderdale. Happy Cruising!
We are firm fans of Celebrity but this was our first cruise aboard their newest ship Celebrity Solstice. We had chosen their ten day Eastern Mediterranean cruise which left from Civitevecchia and journeyed to Messina, Athens, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos, Santaroni and Naples.
Embarkation We had made our own way to the ship by meandering through Italy and had taken advice on these pages on how best to get to Civitevecchia from Rome. Views had been divided between getting a taxi for 120 euros or getting the local train from Rome Termini at a cost of 5 euros and then a taxi to the ship. We opted for the latter and certainly on the way to the ship it was a cakewalk (less so coming back) and we left on the 12:40 pm train and were actually in our cabin enjoying the complimentary fizz by 2:15 pm. However three things to note -- the train departs from platform 29, which is a 500 metre walk down another platform with cases, so if you have mobility problems bear this in mind. Secondly, the local train has no facilities for luggage storage -- ok whenthe train is not full, as when we were going out, but not so when packed -- and thirdly there are apparently only 12 taxis in the whole of Civatevecchia so it is a sellers market and they charge 15-20 euros for the three mile trip. You can dispense with the taxi and walk the three quarters of a mile to the dock gates and then get the free dock shuttle bus to the ship, but on the way there we happily paid the taxi demands, especially as it was very hot!! Once at the ship the boarding procedures were super efficient and we were immediately on board and our luggage was with us within about half an hour.
Cabin Our balcony cabin was at the aft of the ship, as we like to see the wake and also both sides of the ship when cruising. We had opted for the highest accommodation deck which was deck 12, as their balconies were more shaded and there was less risk of any soot from the funnels -- one disadvantage of a cabin at the back of any ship. On Celebrity Constellation such balconies are much bigger than the standard but not so on Solstice -- but both the balcony and the cabin was everything we had hoped for and one massive improvement from the Constellation was the bathroom. It was much bigger, with double sinks and a large walk in shower with sliding doors. In the cabins all the furnishings were new and of a high level and we had chosen concierge class as this gives little touches like Frette linen and towels, champagne, fruit and flowers which make one instantly at home and expectant of a good holiday. Our steward was instantly on hand to introduce himself and although we hardly saw him or needed him during the cruise he did a superb job in keeping everything in tip top shape.
The Ship We were soon walking around the ship and I have to say that we were bowled over by it's quality and grandeur. It was soon quite clear that a lot of money and a lot of know how had been expended in the ship's design and facilities. Its elegance is quite different to that of the QM2, which is 'grand county house elegance', as the Solstice is far more 'modern chic boutique style elegance'. It is however quite stunning and the quality of such things as the chairs and fittings in many of the bars and public rooms is a real indication of this. Equally on some of the sun decks there are huge sun beds, whilst there are cabanas near the open pool, sun tents in the indoor pool and comfortable couches on the aft deck and the piece de resistance is the Lawn Club on deck 15. This is a huge piece of real lawn around which there are a limited number of tables and chairs, a bar and a feeling of great calm and peace. We were to use this a great deal to play boule or just to relax with a book and amazingly it never seemed to get crowded, unlike the outdoor pool and to a lesser extent the indoor pool areas. Unfortunately the thalossophery pool facility has disappeared -- apparently a victim of Health and Safety legislation -- the nanny state obviously exists on both sides of the Atlantic! Another design feature, similar in many ships is that of a large central atrium served by 8 glass lifts and including a real tree and from the lift atrium (not from the tree) one could view many of the bars and facilities such as the coffee shop, library and card room. Spreading out from the central atrium on decks four and five were the shops on the boulevard, the casino and the numerous restaurants and bars. All in all a stunningly designed and executed ship which oozed modern quality and freshness ..... we were instant converts.
Interestingly we talked with many of the staff, some of whom we knew from the Constellation and they were equally positive about the ship and its facilities and one really sensed that they had a genuine pride about it ..... a thing I had only sensed before at Grill Level on QM2.
Restaurants The main restaurant is the Grand Epernay and again the design is stunning with the ceiling lighting arranged to look like champagne bubbles and the organisation of the upper tier into discretely sized units a clever feature.
This is the standard restaurant and I have to say that both the quality and variety of the food were outstanding and it almost beggers believe how such a level can be achieved for so many people. There is a very American flavour to the menu, which is no bad thing unless one is hoping for meat and two veg, which this restaurant will not deliver. However the seafood was excellent, as were the various hot and cold soups and the variety of salads. My only minor criticism was that the menu was a little weak on fish dishes but that was a minor blip. The service was also superb being both friendly and efficient, and the sommelier was knowledgable and equally efficient. Like most ships the free coffee served at the end of the meal was mass produced but this could be rectified by going to the Cafe al Bacio which served outstanding coffee for a couple of dollars and proved the ideal way to finish ones meal. However ones eating choices only started with the Epernay for if one wanted, one could eat in about six or seven other eating venues provided one was prepared to pay the supplement which varied from 5 dollars to 30 dollars per head. Three of these restaurants were almost immediately booked up by the largely American clientele, which was not a reflection on the standard of the Epernay but more of the American mind set when on holiday, which is very different from that of their GB counterpart. These restaurants were the Murano (elegant French at 30$); Tuscan Grill (Italian American high quality steak house at 30$); Silk Harvest (sophisticated Asian and fusion at 20$) and Bistro on Five (crepes, salads and light food at 5$).
We only ate at these restaurants twice -- firstly one night at the Bistro as we just wanted something very light and it was excellent, although it was the one pay restaurant that one did not need to book in advance and was not much used. Secondly we went to the Murano and found it to be an outstanding 5 star restaurant with impecable service -- some of the signature dishes included a superb snail tortellini, crab tien, a wonderful dover sole veronique and for dessert (and one of the best I have ever tasted) a superb crepe suzette ballon rouge, which the head waiter cooked at one's table. The whole meal was an absolute steal for 30$ per head, as in London one would easily pay £100 per head, but this is where the American and US attitudes may diverge and where the Celebrity cruise philosophy comes into play (see later).
Breakfasts and Lunch For breakfast one has the choice of cabin service or of going to the buffet ot restaurant. The free cabin service has been extended and is now very extensive and includes a whole variety of hot options, although inevitably they are not piping hot by the time they reach your cabin. We tried this a couple of times and then opted for the buffet where the choice is vast and caters for the health conscious to the cholesterol crammer in equal measure. Lunch was a choice between the buffet, the grill or on some days a set meal -- we usually opted for the buffet which was well organised and had a vast array of salads, as well as a wide choice of hot dishes, but was something that was not overly noteworthy, although to be fair I can't get excited about most buffets ..... you are eating rather than dining! One other thing to note is that there is also an extensive free 24 hour room service menu, which we did have the need to try but was another excellent service that was offered in the standard cruise price. Finally we met some people who had gone Aqua class where they have their own restaurant called Blu and they were singing the praises of this .... so one takes one's choice.
The Bars There are a whole range of bar options and I have to say that many of them were outstanding, depending on ones choice of tipple. My three favourites were -- the Martini Bar which is a fun area with a counter made of ice and a number of 'performing' barmen with outstanding juggling tricks whilst making your drink. A great place for a pre dinner drink but immensely popular with the American clientele so a little crowded and hectic. On the other hand Celler Masters was a most elegant setting for a glass of wine served by very able bar staff, who I later learned had had to pass strict tests on wine knowledge set by the overall Cellermaster, Laszlo who we had first met as a senior sommelier on the QM2 and is a definite class act. Another wonderful setting for a quiet drink is the sumptuously decorated Michaels Club which is in marked contrast to the one on Constellation, where the resident entertainer Perry Grant holds court. Here the mood is soft with a tinkling piano, only a few people and a brilliant Ukranian barman called Max who makes wonderful martinis and cocktails. How about this for professionalism -- we met Max last May on Constellation and when we walked into his bar he immediately remembered our names, the brand of gin I liked and the brand of champagne my wife preferred and he greeted us like long lost friends .... I was amazed at his memory but he wan't and saw it as all part of his job.
The Entertainment We do not bother much with the organised entertainment and in fact only took in one show and no other organised activity apart from one wine tasting. However if I had wanted an emphasis on this aspect I think that I would have been disappointed as the shows were mainly the Celebrity troupe supplemented by an English violinst, an American comedian and an American impressionist. The one show we did go to we enjoyed very much which was Bobby Arvon, the guy who sang Happy Days and who was a real old style crooner and consumate entertainer.
The Itinerary The itinerary was the standard Eastern Med one which we have done many times before but always enjoy visiting the majority of ports and particularly Athens, Rhodes and Mykonos. We went on organised trips at Messina for Taormina and at Athens for the ancient sights and the Plaka and these were fine and one simply recognises one is paying for the convenience of ship to ship transport and for a guide. Other than that we did our own thing at Rhodes, Mykonos and Naples but stayed on the ship at both Kusadasi and Santorini to enjoy the full benefits of the Solstice without many people about ..... quite wonderful and so relaxing. It is a quite beautiful part of the world and in particular the Greek people are so wonderfully friendly and superb ambassadors for their country. We usually try and have lunch in a non touristy restaurant (found by asking a few of the locals where they eat) in order to get a better feel of the local culture and this way one meets some delightful people who just want to please you with their food and their culture. Incidentally the food is twice as good and half as dear.
The Celebrity Formula Here I am going to be a little contentious and no doubt will be misconstrued by those who are over sensitive to what they perceive as snobbery. Celebrity is an excellent cruise line but it is not for everybody -- this is said not on the lines of class distinction but on the lines of what people want from a cruise line. Celebrity offers a high quality package at a very reasonable price for what is included but on top of this it offers a variety of extras that one has to pay to enjoy. This formula is fine with the Americans who are literally queing up to spend the extra, provided it is of a high quality and enhances the enjoyment of their holiday. However I have noted on these pages that many Brits want an all-in package and do not expect to pay a lot more for extras ..... if this is your requirement then Celebrity is probably not for you.
The reality with tips at 12$ pp per day, pay restaurants (if you choose them), drinks with service charge, treatments, trips, etc. that one has to budget probably about an extra 500$ a person for a two week cruise. I personally have no problem with this formula, as it is in fact a cheaper one than say Grill class in Cunard where one pays far more up front but less for added extras -- in fact the basic price of say Princess Grill to Concierge is probably double. However if you are the type of cruiser that wants a lot of organised entertainment, wants fairly standard British meals, wants a launderette, wants to make tea in your cabin, doesn't like at least two or three formal nights, doesn't like a heavy emphasis on US requirements and objects to paying standard tips and 15% on all waiter servce functions then Celebrity is NOT for you whereas perhaps P&0 or Thomson are. Again I emphasise this is not a snobby comment (although I will be amazed if I don't get some abuse from the chip on the shoulder brigade) just a matching of needs to the type of offering that is given.
Incidentally, I was very pleased to see the way that standards are upheld on the Solstice, as on the first day security guards visited an adjacent cabin, where a passenger had been smoking on his balcony and made it very clear to him that if it happened again he would be off the ship at the next port. No I wasn't the snitch, I assume they had sensors.
Disembarkation In marked contrast to embarkation it was a bit of a nightmare for travellers making their own arrangements. One had the choice of using a Celerity transfer bus to Rome at £60 per person and off loading you at a non helpful set down point or of pre booking a taxi at say £110 or of taking the free shuttle to the port gates and then walking the 3/4 mile to the station, as there are no local taxis available as they are only interested in taking you to Rome. We chose the latter option and almost inevitably were met by huge crowds at the station and an uncomfortable journey into Rome on a train where there was no provision for luggage. Although the cheap option I am not sure the return local train journey was the best and in retrospect would use this for the outward journey and order a taxi for the return.
Summary A great cruise on a stunning ship which was rather like a floating, high quality Pleasure Palace that is organised on US lines and which is based on the Celebrity formula of providing a high quality basic package with add on extras at the choice of the individual passenger. Will I be using Celebrity again? ........ You bet ya ..... you see, I am already influenced by the US style which in a nutshell wants high quality facilities and service but doesn't mind paying for it .... and as they say, there's the rub.
Both my wife and I are in our 50s and have cruised the Eastern Carribean many times. We found Solstice to be extraordinarily pleasant for a number of reasons.
Embarkation was relatively easy, and we were processed and on the ship within 45 minutes of arrival to the port. Our stateroom was located on deck 8 with a balcony. We found the room spotless and quite comfortable. The same can be said for the bathroom.
The couple we travelled with had a stateroom right next to us.
Please be careful with balcony rooms. The wind generated when you open your stateroom door while your balcony door is open can be dangerous. The other couple discovered this when her bathroom door, not properly shut, flew open with such force as to break her nose! Outside of that, the cruise was fantastic.
The dining room food, in my experience, was absolutely delicious. Steaks were cooked properly, side dishes were excellent, and the service was friendly and efficient.
While the pool area experiences the same problems as other cruise lines with chair saving, it really wasn't much of a hassle. There were plenty of chairs available evenif they were not poolside. If you were hungry at poolside, there was the outside grill that served fabulous sausage, hot dogs, guacomole and chips, chicken, kbobs, etc. Or, you could simply walk into the Oceanview Cafe and feast on an enormous array of food, including sushi, pizza (which was pretty darn good), ice cream, Asian food, beef, and on and on.
The ship is quiet and I never got the sense that I was constantly being sold something. We never chose to eat in one of the alternative restaurants because the food in the Main dining room was superb.
The shows were very good and the comedian was quite funny. The casino was probably my biggest disappointment because you simply could not win. The blackjack tables use 8 decks and I swear, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't beat those dealers. It seemed they showed tens and aces on nearly every hand and I played a lot of hands! My advice to any seasoned BJ player is to forget it.
Overall my cruise experience was very nice. The average age on the ship seemed a little bit over my age range (which isn't young either!) The ship, by the way, is gorgeous, clean and well maintained. Our room attendant (room 8110) was awesome. I highly recommend trying this cruise line.
Having been on every major cruise line (31 cruises to date), I felt that the food on this cruise was average to poor.
The entertainment was eccentric.
The ship itself was spotless and very handsome.
If you want a nice seven-day cruise at a reasonble price, the Celebrity Solstice will fit the bill.
My wife and I sailed on the Celebrity Solstice from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten. Our primary motivation for selecting the cruise was to experience the new Solstice class Celebrity ships. We were not disappointed!
The Ship The Solstice, a large 122,000 ton vessel, is hard to describe in a word. Tastefully elegant, beautiful, eye-catching, and superb are all appropriate. The décor throughout is excellent with great color mixes that range from white and light in the main dining room to dark and elegant in Michael's Club or the Murano restaurant. Celebrity has selected a new art company, the Millenia Fine Art company for its art auctions and displays all around the ship. The paintings, sculptures and photographs are everywhere and are excellent. Art is even displayed on the slot machine players' screens.
Unusual uses of outside light enhance the ship interiors. The guest relations desk and the shops have outside windows or light backgrounds. The shops are also along a boulevard-like walk.
The Lawn Club, on the top deck, with a large area of real grass was unusual, to say the least. Glass blowing was inthe same area.The public areas were nicely designed with plenty of comfortable seating in just about every available space. Bars, clubs, and food venues were readily available on decks four and five as well as the dining rooms and buffet. Elevators were conveniently placed and waits were reasonable even during peak use times.
Parking and Access There is a convenient parking lot next to the ship, about a five minute walk to the ship. It is easy to drop bags at the terminal, park the car and walk to the ship. The parking is outside so you can count on a filthy car when you return in a week. There is a lot of construction next to the ship and current terminal so we concluded that Port Everglades is working on a new parking garage, terminal or both. They need the garage.
Food and Dining The food was excellent in every dining venue that we tried. The Grand Epernay Restaurant, the main dining room, had nice selections for lunches and dinners. We noted that the meat/steak was above average on the Solstice. The Oceanview Café, their buffet, was one of the best, if not the best, buffet areas we have experienced. The food display/serving area was one large area where we could see which foods they were serving. The seating area was very large and easily accommodated guests without a lot of walking and looking for a table. The buffet had a large variety of foods for every meal.
We tried two of the specialty restaurants, the Murano French themed restaurant and the Silk Harvest oriental restaurant. Both were excellent with very nice menus. We thought the Silk Harvest was a special flavors delight.
Staff The staff was excellent. Stewards, waiters, hosts, desk personnel, officers and crew were all attentive and seemed pleased to be there. They kept the ship clean and neat, kept the food and drinks coming, and spoke and smiled when you met them.
Rooms The rooms were well designed. We did think they were a little narrower than similar rooms on other ships. This was emphasized by the fact that the location of the beds was alternated from close to the closets to close to the balconies in adjacent rooms with the widest areas being where the beds were located. Lighting in the rooms was unique with a lot of control. A nice feature was a low level bathroom light that was on all night, making a night time bathroom visit much less hazardous. Bedding was comfortable. Closet space seemed to be less than we have experienced on other ships.
Casino The Solstice casino had a large selection of games including "penny" slot machines. The slots were coinless ticket-in/ticket-out, which is nice as well as clean.
Entertainment The theatre, movie theater, lounges, entertainment court, and pool area all had entertainment available throughout the cruise. There was adequate seating in each area. The Ensemble Lounge, near the specialty restaurants, seemed to be an especially popular gathering place.
Smoking If you smoke, you need to be made well aware of the Celebrity smoking policy and the on-ship restrictions so that you won't be surprised or disappointed when you get on board. Smoking is not allowed in any cabin or on any balcony. There are designated smoking areas, outside on the port side of deck five (the outside walkway/promenade) on the back half of the ship, is one such area. If your cabin is convenient to this area it will help. There are also other areas designated, but not all are as convenient.
We believe Celebrity needs to revisit their policy and should include some smokers in the policy group.
Pricing Prices seemed to have taken a step up on the Solstice. My special gripe was the drink prices. Beer, for example, ranged in price from $4.50 for a bottle of domestic beer to $6.00 for a bottle of premium beer. Gratuities were $11.50 per person per day, higher than many other ships, but the staff earned every penny of every gratuity.
Conclusion The Celebrity Solstice is unique and has set new benchmarks in several areas, especially in décor and design.
The passage of time when I'm on a ship has always been different than when I'm home. It's slower on a ship. Maybe that's because there is so much to do, or perhaps it's because I try to slow things down and savor the moments and memories. A cruise has a rhythm and at 14 days this cruise is more like a 10K run than a 5 to 7 day cruise which is like a sprint. On a longer cruise I know I have to pace myself, especially when it comes to food and alcohol consumption. Such concessions I will gladly make to be at sea. This was my 22nd cruise (crossings not included) and my 3rd on the Mercury. In fact, I did the west to east Panama Canal crossing in 1999 on her.
Embarkation Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is a sprawling facility. Seven cruise ships were in port, yet there were no traffic jams to the actual ships themselves. Once inside the warehouse sized space it was a slightly different story. Yes, herding is involved as Celebrity separates the lines for the sign in by deck number. Somelines move faster than others, WAY faster. From drop off to boarding it took an hour. Grade B.
Bugs in the News It's never a good thing to see your ship on two news stations the day you embark informing you that a norovirus flare up had sickened 185 passengers on the previous cruise. The staff and crew of the Mercury conducted a "hard cleaning" of apparently every surface on the ship which was evidenced by a milky haze on everything from the floors, tables, chairs, even the walls within inches of the ceiling. I had to wonder, just how much touching of the walls above 6 feet really goes on, but I guess the important thing was breaking the cycle of infection. It appears to have worked for the most part because on our cruise the number of passengers infected with norovirus was "insignificant." Unfortunately, one of those who did get sick was me, which meant I got to spend a couple of days sequestered in my cabin. I certainly don't blame the staff, who dutifully squirted disinfectant on your hands anytime you entered the dining venues, and cleaned the ship like their lives depended on it. Viruses, be it colds, flu or norovirus are difficult to contain anywhere people are in close proximity.
The Ship -- Initial Impressions The Mercury is still a taut ship, and obviously well cared for. From the outside she is not the most beautiful ship afloat. With a stub-nosed bow and boxy lines she is rather homely. On the inside it's a different story. No nine story atriums here. You'll always know you're on a ship, not a Las Vegas hotel that happens to have propellers. What it lacks in the gild and glitz factor it makes up for with functionality and beautiful interiors of wood and brass. The cabins are clean, handsome and well designed, although some of the furniture and fixtures are showing their age. The gripes I have about her from two previous cruises haven't changed. There is no full promenade deck and with the exception of the Navigators Lounge and the Pavilion Nightclub, the other Lounges are essentially thoroughfares to and from the restaurant. The spaces lack intimacy, although you can find a quiet nook and cranny here and there. Other than that, I love the ship. Grade B+.
Fellow Passengers A bit of everything and everyone from a newborn baby to the elderly being put ashore on stretchers in the various ports to be flown home. The nationalities were equally diverse with many German, U.K., Italian, Asian and French in addition to the majority of U.S and Canadian passengers. This was not a party ship, although for the right event, such as the 1950's sock hop they could pack the lounges late into the night. While there were a number of first timers, there were also many passengers with extensive cruise experience. Several had done more than 60 cruises. Since one of my favorite things to do is chat with people who love ships and travel, I was in heaven.
The Food For many passengers food is the litmus test of whether a cruise is a success or failure. From the comments I heard they were not disappointed.
Dining Room: This is a traditional dining ship with assigned seating and dinner times of 6pm and 8:30pm. Having the same table companions for 14 days can be a bit of a risk. If you're lucky, as I was, you'll share experiences and your tablemates will become an integral part of your cruise experience. If you're not so fortunate, by all means ask to have your table changed. It's your cruise, why eat in awkward icy silence? From appetizers to dessert the food in the Dining Room was consistently excellent. Yes, there was an entrée that didn't quite measure up here and there, but that was the exception. The service at my table was nothing short of phenomenal the entire cruise. Food Grade A Service A+.
Buffets: The Palm Springs Café on the Lido level is the buffet venue. Unlike newer ships where everything is in specialty stations, the Mercury relies on four main stations that serve pretty much the same thing. In all honesty, I now prefer this arrangement so I don't have to trudge around trying to get a complete meal. For breakfast there is a good selection of the usual fare. Make sure to check out the pancake/waffle station in the rear pool area. Of special note, the coffee is fresh brewed and actually very good. The rotating theme selections for lunch (Italian, Mexican, etc.) could be a bit heavy handed, although they have a very respectable salad bar, individually prepared Caesar salads, made to order sandwiches, and wraps of the day. The pizza and pasta station in the rear pool area was very good as was the burger and hot dog bar in the main pool area.
The layout of the Palm Springs Café is open and inviting with plentiful seating along the floor to ceiling windows on both sides of the ship. The staff was always looking to assist passengers with mobility issues with their trays. This is a gesture I really like and another example of the Mercury's culture of superior service. They also use a section of this venue at night for casual dining which I did not participate in, but those that did enjoyed the food and the experience. Food B. Service A.
Activities A full schedule of activities was presented daily. From trivia to enrichment lectures plus featured entertainment in the evenings, you'd have to be exceptionally grumpy or antisocial not to find something you'd enjoy. Grade A.
Cruise Director and Staff The cruise staff performed their jobs of trivia, bingo, pool games and such and the like adequately, but when not engaged in their sponsored functions they spent a lot of time huddled amongst themselves, probably trashing the passengers. The dancers from the production shows really made an effort to socialize with the passengers in the lounges at night, which made the cruise staff's sullenness even more apparent. The cruise director spoke faster than an auctioneer on diet pills. By day 10 my jaw was clinching every time he launched into one of his "I'M SO EXCITED" monologues where everything from the gold-by-the-inch sale to the slot tournament was guaranteed to be a stupendously magnificent once-in-a-lifetime experience. While not completely incompetent, nor was he the slightest bit genuine or credible. Grade C-.
Entertainment Entertainment has never been Celebrity's forte nor were there any big surprises here. Let's be honest, you will never get a Broadway or Vegas entertainment experience on any cruise ship. They don't pay enough to get top tier talent nor are the facilities big enough for sprawling production numbers. The evening entertainment in the Showroom rotated between production shows, a comic, magician, and a "headline" singer. There were no knock-my-socks-off moments. It's not horrible, nor is it wonderful, it's just something to do other than drinking, gambling or going to bed early. With the exception of the Celebrity Orchestra, which was extremely talented yet strangely underutilized, the other bands and lounge musical acts had a "oh are you still playing?" quality. The pool band got on my nerves singing the same songs in the same order, in the same way, day after day. Finally, I fled to the upper decks in the stern for a little quiet time during lunch. Grade C.
The Panama Canal You'll get lots of information on the Canal from one or more of the enrichment lecturers and from a dated but still relevant documentary you can watch on your stateroom TV. To clarify some questions that were still being asked the night before we arrived at the Canal: (1) No, you can't get off the ship. (2) There are no shore excursions. (3) The transit does take all day, so pace yourself. What I find amazing is how well 1914 technology still works today. The Locks are what everyone goes for, but Gatun Lake and the Gaillard Cut are my favorites. As you enter or leave the Pacific side you will be greeted with the skyline of Panama City which invokes images of Hong Kong with its high density towering skyscrapers that will have you wondering "why didn't I know that?"
Ports This was a sea day intensive itinerary, which is exactly why I booked it. An observation is warranted. The more developed the tourist facilities are onshore the less you have to rely on the ship's excursions.
Cartagena, Columbia: Was under the weather (meaning locked in my cabin) and watched the inauguration, so I can't offer any insight.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: This is not the lush and green Costa Rica of the Caribbean side, but sort of the Detroit of the Pacific side. There is great local trinket shopping along the beach front park next to the pier, but if you want to see something other than a dusty rough looking town take one of the ship's excursions as you have few options onshore. I did the rafting trip on the Corobici River and absolutely loved it.
Huatulco, Mexico: This is pronounced "WA Tule Co." This port is a jewel. Not overdeveloped (yet), amazing bays, beaches and friendly locals. Take a taxi into the town of La Crucecita, it only costs a couple of bucks, or you can walk there in 20 minutes. You'll be greeted by a shady town square park, quaint church, sidewalk restaurants and local arts and crafts. When a better airport is built that will support flights directly from major American cities, this place may become an eco friendly version of Cabo. Is that a good thing?
Acapulco, Mexico: More mega city with mega city issues of traffic congestion than resort town. The stop is so short that unless you have never been there before, it's almost "why bother?"
Cabo: Tender port with a stop from 7am to 3pm, so there's not much time. More of a California experience than Mexican and any excursion you can purchase on the ship, you can do better at the pier. The reason to book a ship excursion here is for priority disembarkation.
Tipping Now Required As of January 15, 2009 Celebrity now adds the onboard gratuities to your account. Although they're a little late to the party, I'm glad they finally made it. The dining room waiters and room attendants rely on tips for their compensation. Not to cast aspersions on fellow travelers, but the temptation to stiff the staff does happen. In the old days when your tablemates didn't show up on the final night, you (and your waiter) knew what that meant. It's not their fault that your bar bill was double what you budgeted. At my table they didn't complain about mandatory tips, but discussed how much more was appropriate considering the exceptional level of service.
Cruise Pics and Pans Pick: The Mercury has a culture and commitment to passenger service that is nothing short of brilliant.
Pan: The deck party. They spent two days setting up the BBQ in the main pool area, dragging all the lounges out, replacing them with the wood furniture from the stern of the ship, and for what? That the space would be overwhelmed with people within minutes, staking claim to the tables and dining on second rate BBQ with all the "fixins" -- even if that meant the same stuff they served in the Lido at lunch? Unless you like the deck party scene, which is essentially wandering around asking if this or that seat is taken, go eat in the dining room which for that night had open seating. One of my tablemates said it best; we went from the best dinner (the night before) to the worst.
Pick: Guest lecture enrichment series. Interesting topics, interesting speakers and definitely worth your time, and because every cruise is different I won't name the names of the individual speakers.
Pan: Closing off, wrapping in plastic and resurfacing one half of the sunning/walking area above the mid ship pool on deck 11 during the aforementioned deck BBQ. It was out of commission for the rest of the cruise with the plastic snapping, ripping and generally annoying the passengers in the considerable breeze.
And, in the End ... At the beginning of the cruise I watched Mercury enter Fort Lauderdale, thinking someone's cruise is ending as mine was about to begin. The last day out I recalled that feeling. Even though by now I was ready to go home, I envied them their upcoming journey. Were there annoyances? Certainly. I have yet to have the perfect cruise, but the overall cruise experience was excellent. With the exception of a few individuals, the level of service on the Mercury was absolutely first rate; the food was great, my cabin clean and comfortable and the conversations with my fellow passengers interesting and informative. How do you beat that?