First ship in its name-sake "Solstice-class" - an opulent, spacious and commodious vessel with fine cuisine
Best For People Who Want
A spacious premium ship with plenty of dining options and an active nightlife; a relaxing but elegant onboard ambience; onboard shopping; large bathrooms in all staterooms
Should Be Avoided By People Who Prefer
Small-ship cruising, whimsical decor, singing and dancing waiters, an active onboard sports program
If you already like Celebrity you will love Solstice. Is it too big? Is the Hearst Castle too big? Size is relative and in many ways Solstice is like a roomier version of the Celebrity Millennium-class. The designers more than compensated for the larger capacity, making her the perfect size - alive with activities but never too crowded.
Solstice is also beautiful with many of the same features that make the Millennium class appealing. There are long drapes cascading down from three decks above to frame the Grand Foyer staircase. There is a beautiful chandelier in the dining room while the alternative dining spots are generously apportioned with plenty of space between the tables.
The vast majority of staterooms have balconies, and they average 15% larger than other Celebrity ships, Most of the extra room is given over to the bathroom where there is enough room for two people to get ready for dinner. The large showers feature sliding doors rather than plastic curtains that hug against you and there is more storage than most cruise ships.
One major extravagance is shopping with 18 outlets for "retail therapy" onboard. There are gift shops exclusively for women and for men, jewelry shops, dress shops, souvenir shops and kiosks. One does not generally cruise to shop, but these stores are certainly tempting and you can always go in just to chat. The art gallery is low-key and not hard-sell. Look for the 86-facet diamond-pattern round cut Solstice Diamonds - available in all sizes.
Ten dining options will satisfy any craving, especially for fine coffees with pastry or gelato. Wine tastings by the glass are offered. There is an extensive library and game room. Drinks are not cheap and each carries a 15% service charge. Even a simple bottle of beer will set you back $7.20 including service charge. Bottles of wine in the dining rooms start at about $70/bottle.
The relaxed yet vivacious atmosphere of this vessel will surely please everyone. Every piece of furniture has been people-tested for comfort as well as eye-appeal. The beds are sublime, as are the chairs in the restaurants and the loungers on the sun-soaked outside pool decks.
There is nothing sparse or boring about the interior décor. Most interesting are the views of rooms like the library and the unique "Team Earth" from across the twelve-deck sun-soaked atrium. When you can see around the living "flying tree" you get a diorama-like view of these special rooms that makes them look like they were placed there solely for visual appeal. Not so, of course, the library has over 8,000 books, and Team Earth is a user-interactive display of various worldwide topics of interest.
At the bottom of the atrium is this Grand Foyer with a majestic unbroken three-deck staircase and billowing drapes hanging from three decks above to create a memorable setting for the string quartet and solo guitarist who set up and play, amplified organically by the marble and glass surroundings. Looking down on the foyer are several seating areas for cafes and bars. The ship is full of glass partitions giving long views into several rooms at once from several spots on the ship. There is always something of interest to catch your eye no matter where you are.
There is more shopping onboard than almost any ship I can remember; 18 different boutiques and shops, including the "Boutique C" jewelry shop. This one, open by appointment only, features the "Solstice Diamond," the unique 86- faceted star shaped diamond that comes as a single stone, in rings, necklaces or earrings. You can order a Solstice diamond to be custom cut for you. I saw a 1.1-carat sample, color-F and clarity VS-1, carrying a price tag of "only" $25,000.
There are two different shopping areas; the "Galleria Boutiques" offers more indulgent ideas such as jewelry and a shop just for men with exclusive watches. "Shops on the Boulevard" features impulse buys such as Celebrity logo-wear, kitchen accessories, snack items and spirits.
The dining rooms are spectacular, each in their own way; with perfect light and color coordinated table settings. The main dining venue, the Grand Epernay, is particularly attractive with white tables, walls and pillars accented by a silver chandelier and railings over glass panels. Alternatative dining rooms Muranos, Tuscan Grille and Silk Road as well as other themed rooms include the wine bar Tastings, each have their own decorative flair. The martini bar, Crush, features an ice covered bartop to keep your drink cool to the last sip. There is nothing stark or minimalist on this ship, nor is it overly garish or baroque. The decor fits each room just right.
Above the eatery and pool decks is the Lawn Club, the first patch of live grass at sea. While grass on its own is not an attraction, what happens there certainly is. On the lawn you will find bocce ball, a putting green and croquet. Next to the lawn is the Corning Museum "Hot Glass Show" with live glass-blowing demonstrations held a few times each day. Corning Glass is already well known in America for Corningware, but many people do not realize the Corning Museum is one of the finest glass museums in the world. Corning Glass is also the home of Steuben Crystal, a company that features original works of art in crystal by different artists. The gift shop is also an excellent place to buy original pieces of glass artwork.
Celebrity Cruises was long associated with the culinary guidance of 3-star Michelin chef Michel Roux of London. That association began when Celebrity was under the auspices of John Chandris and lasted almost two decades before the line sought the guidance of dining expert Elizabeth Blau.
Now, Celebrity Cruises' reveals that within Blau's portfolio of culinary experts was one that the line grew so fond of they have tapped him as the "go-to guy." New Vice President of Food & Beverage, Jacques Van Staden is now in charge of creating the menus for each of the ten different dining destinations onboard Solstice and all other Celebrity ships as well.
The Grand Epernay: this two-level dining room features a stunning décor of mostly white walls and angular pillars, chairs and tablecloths. There is a grand staircase with silver railings and an immense chandelier of hanging silver bubbles. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu features continental European cuisine and champagne from the rooms' namesake region.
Tuscan Grille: Italian steakhouse and specialty restaurant offering fine Italian wines and panoramic views along with your Caesar salad, made tableside. Surcharge $25 pp. This is our favorite eatery with grand views through full windows over the stern. The appetizers and desserts are heavenly.
Silk Harvest: Cuisine of Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and India, served family-style, with built-in lazy-Susans and small plates perfect for sharing. Surcharge $20 pp.
Blu Restaurant: The specialty restaurant set aside as the exclusive dining venue for the AquaClass suite guests, serving healthier (but not true spa cuisine) fare in a sophisticated and soothing atmosphere. In fact, anyone can dine here for a small fee ($5.00) but the food is nearly the same as the main dining room - except that it is cooked a la minute so it arrives hot.
Murano Restaurant: Savory multi-course meals featuring a blend of classic and modern continental cuisine with an extensive and superb wine list. Surcharge $30 pp. The foie gras with a ginger hard roll base is heavenly. The desserts, which come in a rack of six two-ounce portions.
Bistro on Five: This small, bistro-like room hidden behind glass walls in the public areas of deck five, this room features crepes of all kinds from breakfast to luncheons with beef or chicken and, of course, desserts. There are also soups, salads and quiche. The surcharge is a simple $5.00 per person.
Café al Bacio and Gelateria: across from the Bistro on Five, this upscale coffeehouse features mostly pastries and gelato or Italian ices by the scoop. There is a small charge for the gelato. Coffee and gelato cost from $3.00 to $5.00 per serving.
AquaSpa Café: not for the exclusive use of the AquaSpa suite guests (that is "Blu.") This restaurant is inside the Solarium and features lighter, healthier fare such as salads, fresh raw vegetables and small sandwiches.
Mast Grill and Bar: the poolside grill serving up the usual poolside fare; hamburgers, fries, tacos, chicken wings, bratwurst, gyros, ruebens and onion rings. The menu changes daily and will offer Mexican or German fare on different days. This is the best place to get a hotdog onboard.
The Oceanview Café and Grill: this is one of the nicest Lido cafeteria-style buffet rooms this cruiser has ever seen. With a multitude of dedicated stations of different types of food, it is easy to see all of the possible selections and lines are always short. Dedicated stations include the carvery, salad bar, dessert bar, Asian stir-fry, grilled steaks and chops and more.
The service on our sailing was above average. A decade ago one would find Celebrity Cruises' staff very professional yet stoic in service. These days, they are encouraged to make the service friendly as well as professional. Beyond exceptional is the tuxedo-clad service in Murano, the specialty restaurant. One drawback we found was a number of waiters who should have a better command of English. Sometimes we had to strain to interpret what we were hearing when asking for descriptions of dishes.
Celebrity suggests a per-person per-day gratuity of $3.50 for the waiter, butler (Suites only) and stateroom attendant; $4.00 for Concierge Class stateroom attendant; $2.00 for the Assistant Waiter; and $.75 for the Assistant Maitre d' and the Assistant Chief Housekeeper.
All guests are given a form to sign if they wish to have these gratuities charged to their shipboard account. Make sure you do it before the last day of the cruise or you will be filling in envelopes. Children under 12 who are the third or fourth person in the stateroom pay only half these amounts. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to all beverage tabs. Gratuities for room service, spa, casino and other staff are at your discretion.
Solstice has something for everyone in terms of entertainment. While it isn't as sports-oriented as sister company Royal Caribbean, many of the outdoor elements are there. There is a basketball court, a jogging track, putting green and Bocce ball.
Indoors during the daytime the library is extensively informative and the card room has plenty of tables and games.
A new attraction called "Team Earth" features user-interactive computer generated showcases of various topics of human interest. It is overseen by Conservation Intl., a Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization that gently persuades large American corporations and other organizations to make their daily environmental practices "greener." Celebrity donated $10,000,000 to the fund as seed money for the Team Earth display. Naturally, it is there to underscore the point that Celebrity is environmentally aware and has many forward-looking practices to help planet Earth remain green.
The pool area is ample with plenty of plush loungers, two pools and two hot tubs. The cabana loungers are comfy and plentiful. The Solarium is an adults only greenhouse style swimming pool with great temperature-controlled sunning in any climate. The AquaSpa restaurant is inside.
Online at Celebrity is the Internet Café, but the entire ship has wireless access anyway. This room is great for people who do not travel with a laptop, but your surfing will be limited to web sites or a temporary Celebrity-assigned email address.
Although there is plenty of shopping, the Art Gallery on Solstice is notable in that Park West Galleries, the company that runs art auctions on most cruise ships, does NOT run it. Millenia Fine Art, an Orlando, Florida-based company, is taking a much lower-key approach. The purveyor of the gallery actually told me they only do onboard auctions only at the request of the cruise line. Otherwise, the gallery is open for viewing, like a museum, and there is no pressure to buy anything.
For fine art, it is hard to beat an original piece of art glass or crystal by the glass blowers of the Corning Museum. Corning Glass is already well known in America for Corningware, but many people do not realize the Corning Museum is one of the finest glass museums in the world. Corning Glass is also the home of Steuben Crystal, a company that features original works of art in crystal by different artists. The Corning Museum "Hot Glass Show" is held a few times each day on "The Lawn." The gift shop is also an excellent place to buy original pieces of glass artwork.
Nighttime entertainment begins in the Solstice Theater, which features three different shows with a full cast of singers and dancers on every seven-night cruise. The theater is a two-deck venue with a forward thrust proscenium stage and extensive balcony seating. The singers and dancers are very talented and the show has universal appeal. The shows on Solstice are very well received. They feature state-of-the-art stage techniques such as flying characters over the audience, lasers, pyrotechnics and more.
Other diversions include the casino with several table games including craps, roulette, 21, let it ride and more. There are hundreds of slots including nickel and 2-cent machines. There are poker tables with an electronic "dealer" that allow from five to eight players to challenge one another.
The Sky Observation Lounge features a live band and large dance floor. It is high atop deck 15 forward and has an eclectic décor of white and red couches and chairs. The Quasar Dance Club is the ship's "disco" with pod-like seating and a loud sound and lighting system. This is the late night hot spot. The Martini Bar is located in the main public area next to "Crush" and both feature mixed drinks with the stronger spirits.
Michael's Club is the "Gentlemen's Club" where one can smoke a cigar and sip a brandy. The décor is decidedly masculine with deep recliners and paintings of popular game targets. The entertainment is a piano soloist.
The Passport Bar is a casual nightclub perfect for conversation with mixed company. Cellar Masters is for oenophiles looking to taste the finest vintages by the glass. The Ensemble Lounge is the late night live music venue. Galleria Tastings is for sampling malt-based scotches, brandies and other spirits.
Throughout the day and night various musical artists can be heard throughout the ship. A singer/guitarist plays sets poolside, in the atrium and in the Ensemble Lounge. A string quartet plays in the Atrium during the day and in Michael's Club and the Solarium at night.
A Jazz Trio plays in the Ensemble Lounge nightly while during the day a very talented string quartet performs regularly. A pianist fills the atrium Grand Foyer daily, A steel drum player plays poolside and the pop/rock band "Top Secret" plays poolside during the day and in the Sky Lounge at night.
Solstice keeps up the tradition of Celebrity having an excellent A Capella vocal group onboard. There is a quartet group that performs at least twice a day in the Ensemble Lounge and in the Court.
All of the staterooms on Solstice share certain things in common. They average 15% larger than previous Celebrity cabins and most of that space is given over to the bathroom. The bathrooms are large enough for two people to get ready at the same time. There is ample storage space and the showers are approximately 25% larger than the average cruise ship.
All staterooms feature flat-screen televisions of at least 32-inches. Although the televisions are placed over the desk instead of directly in front of the bed, it is possible to adjust the angle of the screen so it is squarely visible to both people in bed. All beds can be separated into two twin beds or put together as a single queen-sized bed. All have a rounded corner to make it easier to walk around.
All staterooms offer wireless Internet access at an additional fee, with data throughput nearing broadband speeds - impressive for a satellite service. All cabins come with a generous sofa directly in front of the television. In cabins that can accommodate extra guests, these sofas are trundle beds. Solstice does not have pulldown beds with ladders.
The desk area has plenty of shelf space and both US 110-volt and European 220-volt outlets - perfect for a computer setup, or a vanity area with lighted mirror. There is an adjustable-height coffee table. The staterooms all have doors that open outward towards the hallway instead of inward. All of the doors are recessed from the hallways so they do not open into public traffic lanes.
Every stateroom features an Apple Computer-based interactive television. A Mac Mini running special software allows the user to interact with various cruise services like shore excursion bookings, onboard accounts, on-demand movies, restaurant menus, ordering room service and more.
The AquaSpa area has all of the usual fitness machines and classes. Some of the classes carry a service charge.
Persian Gardens, a sensory treatment area within the spa area, features aromatherapy rain and mist showers, wet and dry suanas and hot creamic lounge chairs to warm your body througout. This is now available on a day-pass basis for $18-day. The Solarium is beautiful but has no thelassotherapy pool like previous Celebrity ships. It has a "no one under 16 allowed" policy that was not being enforced on our cruise, although the kids in residence were well-behaved. The air conditioning was on too high - losing the attraction of a sun-baked glass room.The spa also offers extensive acupuncture treatments which are surprisingly popular. The most common requests are for sleeplessness, backache, stress and seasickness.
There are two formal nights on a seven-night cruise, three on longer ones. On two informal nights gentlemen need only jackets and no ties. On formal nights most men turn up in dark suits rather than tuxedos, while ladies choose dressy pantsuits or dresses. By day, don't even consider wearing anything other than shorts, sneakers, polo shirt and a baseball cap.