Do you know what I found out about most cruisers? Most of them have very little knowledge or interest in the kind of ship detail minutiae that I do. First of all, when I said I was going to give a talk about the ship itself, with detail about how they went through three different testing stages with different size scale models in ocean simulators, to find the maximum efficiency for the engines & pods, well I thought I would have people on the edge of their seats.
Guess what? Hardly anyone showed up. We had twice as many people for the Christmas ornament exchange. It makes me think I have to rethink my articles and what I write about! People assumed I would ask questions like how many restaurants there are and how much they cost. OK, those would be good questions, too. But I liked my questions. Basically, I wondered how much people were reading the press releases and articles put out by the cruise lines.
This begs the question – how much do people really want to know about cruise ships? One of our guests was enthralled with what I had to say, but the rest were pretty much uninformed, although they had gone to a lot of trouble to book this brand new ship.
In my mind, there are many reasons why this ship is important to the guests and the greater cruise community as a whole.
First: it is the first completely new from the hull up design by Celebrity is six years.
Second: it represents the paradigm that will define Celebrity for the next 10 years or so.
Third: it is the first of the next generation of cruise ships, the first true all 21st-century ships. It focuses on fuel efficiency, alternative dining, beautiful public rooms, spacious balcony cabins, wonderful new bathroom amenities that will be hard not to duplicate in future ships.
An interesting aspect is the AquaClass cabins. I have never stayed in one of these cabins, which are now common on new Princess, NCL, Holland America and even Carnival ships. Basically, these are cabins with quick access to the Spa area, and also come with aromatherapy options, soothing music, iPod players and in many cases some kind of special dining arrangement with health-conscious food.
In the case of Solstice, I found it disappointing that only AquaClass guests were given access to the Persian Garden – a place of solace in the Spa area with mist showers infused with Eucalyptus or other spices, hot ceramic beds, hot and dry saunas, etc. On most ships you can buy a pass to these facilities by the day, but not on Solstice – only AquaClass guests could use them – or people who had paid for a massage were allowed in for one hour immediately before or after the treatment.
Most odd about the AquaClass cabins is their unique restaurant, Blu, is not situated close to the cabins as we expected it would be. It is down by Tuscan Grille, Murano and the other alternative dining spots. Guests we talked to said it was a good restaurant, as they all are on Solstice, but they noted it was not very crowded and they said it seemed obvious anyone could eat there if they wanted to – and no charge or a minimum charge of $5 per person.
Meanwhile – Solstice does NOT have a thelassotherapy pool, which has become a staple on other Celebrity ships. This is a large heated pool with underwater jets to sooth aching muscles, usually in the Solarium and available free of charge. The Solarium on Solstice is beautiful, but it was air-conditioned cold, which somewhat defeated the purpose of the green house effect, and the “adults-only” rule was not being enforced.
Some things are better than ever, however. The desserts, especially chocolate, are twice as tantalizing as they ever were under Michel Roux, and Celebrity is especially generous with them. Each time we ate in a special restaurant, Tuscan Grill or Murano, we were given each dessert on the menu! This was 10 different desserts last night, 8 of them in sample sizes but two full portions. It was chocolate lover’s heaven, to say the least.
The grilled meats on Solstice are wonderful – steaks and lamb chops especially. Do not order them too well done, they are perfect at medium (on the pink side) or medium rare.
The buffet is a wonder as well, with fresh omelets, salad bar, pasta cooked to order (pick you ingredients and you noodle shapes and they heat them altogether and allow you to pick the sauce you want; red, oil & garlic, Alfredo, etc.
The carvery gives you fresh baguettes or other roles from which you can create custom sandwiches. Tuna, turkey, cheeses, ham – just like the best delis. The Crapery downstairs is on my list of places to try tomorrow. For $5 you get a fresh breakfast or lunch crepe which I heard is to-die-for. The free ice cream is very good, but the gelato for $3 for two scoops is heavenly.
That’s all for now, one more day at sea. This is a wonderful cruise with late nights in unusual ports of call. The ship is active with shows, demonstrations, a lecturer, outside activities, great dining, a wonderful interactive television system, spacious and comfy staterooms, wireless internet access shipwide, including in your cabin (where I sit now as my wife is snoring, er, sleeping soundly...).
I am the editor, but I also speculate, ask questions and play devil's advocate. I reserve the right to change my mind.
For $5 you get a fresh breakfast or lunch crepe which I heard is to-die-for.
Ah yes.. I remember those from the RCI Ships, available at the Solarium Cafe, for free! Guess it costs extra to build a ship like Solstice. They do keep finding ways to charge for things apparently.
Too bad about the attendance at your talk. You're now traveling with cruisemates who have been cruising for 5 days. I think that's the "mind is musssh stage of a cruise, and they probably just want to enjoy the shiplife, knowing they are going to have to pack tomorrow.
Great commentary Paul-I feel like I was on the cruise with you! One question-is the Solstice changing its itinerary in Feb? Friends of ours are sailing on Feb.15 and told us they would be in Tortola on the 19th. We are on "another" cruise and will be there the same day. We's planned on hooking up but you never mentioned Tortola and I'm wondering if our friends have it wrong. Hope the debark goes as well as the rest of the cruise!
Splendor of the Seas 1997
Regal Empress 1998
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Princess Sun 2006
Princess Sea 2007
They will be having two different eastern Caribbean itineraries on the Solstice. One will be the one that Paul is one (San Juan, St. Marteen, and St. Kitts) the other will be (San Juan, St. Marteen, Tortola, and Labadee). So they are probably sailing on the cruise that visits Tortola.
And if disembarkation was as easy as it was last week there should be no problem. It was the first ship I have been on where they were done ahead of schedule. We were the last group to disembark (10:45 AM) and we were off the ship by 9:30 AM.
Here are some of my final thoughts on Celebrity Solstice - based upon having spent a week sailing on her rather than the short press outing I am usually limited to…
Cabins: The one thing you notice first about the Solstice cabins is how alike they are. There is literally almost no selection in terms of layout - they are nearly identical across the board. Take almost any verandah cabin and you will see that whether they are AquaClass, Sunset Class, Concierge Class or Deluxe Ocean View with Verandah they all look identical and offer pretty much the same features.
The one way in which they vary - and it has nothing to do with category, is that every other one has the bed by the verandah instead of the sitting area. The best layout is to walk into the room and have the sitting area, not the bed. The beds are big and hard to walk around and you will find yourself NOT using the sitting area nearly as much, especially when changing clothes.
The Concierge class comes with welcome aboard sparkling wine, fresh flowers, hor d'oeuvres daily and a nice pillow-top mattress. The web site says we were to get VIP invitations to events and express luggage delivery, but we didn't get either. Our luggage came just before dinner.
Even the oceanview and inside staterooms are almost identical to the verandah cabins - minus the balcony of course. But these less expensive cabins do not save you that much money - maybe $200 per person.
One of the nicest things about a brand new ship like Solstice, that you will not see on most ships, are the beautiful 32-inch LCD TVs. They come with a variety of channels including CNN-USA or international, TNT, ESPN, etc.
They are also highly interactive - you can access dining room menus, your onboard account, shore excursions and even order room service through them. However, some of our guests said that they had trouble with the pre-recorded programs not being fully encoded onto their mini-Mac computers - so several shows they tried to watch didn't end.
Storage space - for cabins designed by women, is surprisingly low, especially closets and drawers. Now, it is easy to stuff a closet, which we did, but half of it is hidden behind the couch and hard to access. The five drawers are not long or deep. All that is left is two shelves over the bed which we had most of our clothes piled into - impossible to organize.
As far as room service, there seemed to be a number of problems, and this was probably the worst aspect of the whole trip. We ascertained that the system on Solstice is to take and prepare room service orders as usual, but then to summon a room steward to deliver the order. The problems we encountered included wait times of up to two hours for some meals, largely because of mix-ups in the "hand-off" process. My wife waited two hours for a dinner when she was sick in bed because they were trying to deliver it to the wrong room. Other times we had to call back after 45 minutes when all we were waiting for was a pot of coffee.
Some of the most disappointed people were those who had popped for the AquaSpa cabins. Still identical in layout, the difference is the amenities. You get a special shower, a yoga-TV channel, iPod players, daily iced tea, and an aromatherapy system and special soothing music system built into the room. Otherwise, the Concierge class offers the same thing.
One special bonus for the AquaSpa class is that you dine in a special restaurant called "Blu." However, the restaurant is not located in proximity of the special cabins or the spa, as one might expect. It is down by the other alternative restaurants. The feedback we got was that the food was the same as in the dining room, perhaps a smidgen lighter. One plus was that it was cooked a la minute, so it was delivered hot to your table.
The other main "bonus" is free access to the "Persian Garden," a special area within the Spa that offers aromatherapy infused misted showers, wet and dry saunas and heated ceramic beds. The unfortunate aspect is that only the AquaClass gets access to these facilities, which on other cruise lines are available to every passenger for a minimal daily charge. The feedback we got from the AquaClass passengers we met was that the Persian Garden was not as nice as on other cruise lines, and it was hardly worth a visit. Most tried it just once.
Moving on to the rest of the ship - one thing that stands out is the cost of drinks. A glass of wine could set you back as much as $11.60, for the cheapest house wines, after the 15% service charge. A bottle of beer comes to $7.20! These are pretty outrageous costs.
In the specialty dining areas a bottle will cost at least $70, compared to $32 on a less expensive cruise line. Wine by the glass is about $12. Either way - it certainly adds up.
Daily Activities: Solstice has a very active day, and will keep ship enthusiasts busy. There are several trivia games all day long. There was an onboard lecturer whose area of expertise was the Russian Space program - OK, he was good for an hour but not for the three lectures he gave.
Even the comedian, Louis Johnson, gave a daytime seminar on the importance of laughter in your life. I give him a great deal of credit for going along with the program. This is a comedian who obviously honed his skills in big city comedy clubs - not a cruise ship hack. But everything he did showed the right spirit from the "blue" show to the "seminar."
One room that was largely overlooked on the short press junket is Celebrity Central, which becomes a lecture hall by day and a stand-up comedy club by night. It also doubles as a movie theater throughout the cruise.
On a final note - the main thing is the ship itself. I found very few people who did not love it. Two people I met who did not were Carnival habitues. One sported a mullet and Harley Davidson tattoos. He referred to it as the "no-fun ship," and said he especially found the pool area to be boring with muzak instead of live music and no pool games like hairy chest or sexy legs contests. He also rightfully noted the price of drinks as being surprisingly high. On the other end was an elderly lady staying in one of the top suites who liked nothing about the ship. This lady was obviously an attention freak who sent back every entrée she was served no matter what it was. She went on about the lack of lights on her balcony and the fact that the towels were too far away from her bathtub. Whatever.
In the long run I found a cruise on Solstice to more than live up to the promise the short taste of her on the 2-night press junket gave us. The staterooms are extremely utile and comfortable. The ship is easy to navigate and has plenty of things to keep you busy day and night. I am sure that Celebrity has a hit on its hands with these ships.
I am the editor, but I also speculate, ask questions and play devil's advocate. I reserve the right to change my mind.
My husband and I are Elite on Celebrity and booked a veranda room w/concierge service becasue of our Elite status. We did not get the sparkling wine or hor'devours but did get two roses. We also did not get VIP luggage arrival and ours showed up right before dinner time.
WE had room 9155, the side the jaunts out and had a much deeper balcony than the other side rooms. More like an aft balcony. Our room had the bed first then the sofa and we had no complaints about the bed being large and hard to maneuver around for us. WE thought it was just fine. Yes the closet and the drawers could have been designed a little better, but you learn to make due. The interactive menu on the tv wasn't working properly. It showed us in Ft. Lauderdale the entire trip and the movie Pay-per-view did not work at all either. One call to customer relations and they took care of it no problem. Celebrity still does pride itself on taking care of problems and making the customer happy.
We found the drink prices compared to Royal, NCL much better. We do not go for the pricey bottles of wine or glasses, but your normal day to day like you would drink at home and found it very reasonable. Their $5 daily special drinks were great. A glass of great Spanish REd Temparillo wine was $5.50 per glass in all the bars or a bottle was $25 (yes much more than you buy here, but reasonable).
We ate at Murano and the menus we saw prjior to sailing were not the same as sailing time. The lobster quiche (3 pieces) was runny and not very good. The filet mignon was excellent for me, however, Murano for us was not worth the money. Tuscan Grill was excellent on the other hand and would go there again no prjoblem.
All in all it was good, a little tweaks here and there but okay
I am going to have to agree with mbeardslee on the cabin layout. We had two cabins and each one had the opposite layout. The layout with the sofa near the veranda was much better. You had a large open space near the veranda where you could get ready and look at the ocean and if you wanted to have a drink or something it was a nice space to have. Whereas with the sofa near the restroom and closet you used it more to put clothes on or sit when getting ready. Being able to sit on the sofa and look out is a huge plus.
Pheelgood and I thoroughly enjoyed our first Cruisemates cruise aboard the sophisticated and dazzling beauty of the Celebrity Solstice. We have made some wonderful new friendships. Traveling with the Cruisemates is such fun!
Due to the "Heart 'n' Sol" cruise being only her second voyage, we anticipated snags and speed bumps. Therefore, we found nothing to complain about with our Solstice experience. In fact our waiter and assistant waiter (Valeriano and Quintino -- second seating, table 238) are probably the best we've ever had. The entertainment and activities were top-notch.
We feel that Paul's posted thoughts about the Solstice are fair and balanced. He (and Lou Ann) experienced different things onboard than we did (room service, speciality restaurants, etc.) and has more cruises under his belt than we do -- we have cruised twelve times.
I plan to post a review of our cruise experience shortly.
This is the ornament we provided for the ornament exchange.