by Jeff Winkel
December 7, 2008
The Celebrity "Solstice" Raises the Bar for Cruisers.
The first of the planned five "Solstice" class liners from Celebrity sets a new standard in cruise ship competition. They traded rock-climbing walls for a six-star ship with five-star prices.
Even though we were on the second actual voyage, we did not experience any of the serious glitches that we expected for a brand-new $800M cruise ship. Instead we were treated to a gorgeous travel and destination experience.
Embarkation was fast and smooth. Our veranda stateroom (the majority of the ship accomodations) was very comfortable with all the storage needed for the 14-day cruises planned for the future. Rooms are 15% larger than the typical stateroom and you could feel the difference. Curved walls and great lighting made the stateroom welcoming for more than just sleeping. Little touches like a foot rest in the shower and a veranda door that totally shuts out noise are just a few of the amenities. Flat-screen TVís saved space and had an easy-to-navigate program for everything from room service to booking shore excursions to In Demand and Pay-Per-View.
The dining room food was better than other five-star cruise lines. We ate at three of the four specialty restaurants and experienced the level of service and cuisine that makes the added charges ($20-$30 per person, including gratuities) a good value. The Murano was the star, but the Silk Harvest and The Tuscan were not far behind. The Bistro on Five was a real bargain, offering unlimited delicious crepes and paninis for just $5.00 per person.
The staff was not only friendly as you would expect but they are very proud of their ship. It shows in their efforts to make your experience so great that you are compelled to stay on board as some cruisers did rather than try to return home to blizzards.
The ship is beautiful. Art work is wonderful and varied from mozaics to sculpture. Each venue has its own theme that is reflected in carpets, walls, lighting, chairs, tablecloths and even the plates. Every corner and minor detail has been scrutinized to maximize the experience. We saw teams of people from the shipyard and cruise line and design group constantly roaming the Solstice looking for anything that could be made better. When I suggested an outlet near the bed, they jumped on including the idea in their report.
Entertainment is world class. The main theater was designed to bring the show into your lap. The stage juts out into the audience. There are wires that let the performers go up and even around the entire lower level. The performers are talented and energetic. Even the rear of the stage is no longer a curtain but a backdrop for dazzling light effects and constantly changing backdrops.
Shows ranged from "Blast" type percussion skits to Broadway hits where the dancing, singing and set and costume changes were accomplished so fast and seamlessly you have to wonder how they do it.
Throughout the ship you can experience entertainment ranging from a string ensemble to an a capella quartet, to comedians, lecturers and others, all showcased in various, beautiful surroundings. We didn't miss the absence of other typical cruise activities like masquerade parties and Midnight Buffets every night. The ship was decorated for the holidays in stunning, but not over-done, wreathes, garlands and flower displays.
The totally unique Corning Museum of Glass "Hot Glass Show" was such a big hit they are already tearing up some of the top deck (which is real grass!) to add more bleacher type seats. The glass artisans go from start to finish creating beautiful, museum-grade bowls, vases and glass sculptures. And, they do it with electric furnaces that don't get as hot as the gas-fired furnaces they typically use and coping with tricky cross-winds. There are usually two 2-hour shows a day. While their work is not for sale (yet), some pieces are raffled to the guests for free.
Stops in Puerto Rico, St. Maarten and St. Kitts went well. But, shopping in St, Maarten was not only down 75-90%, according to the merchants, but the bargains aren't what they used to be. There were five large cruise ships in town the day we were there but the stores were absolutely empty, even of lookie-loos.
We found the train ride around St. Kits (actually St. Christopherís and Nevis) to be a great way to see the island. The upper level is open, with free drinks and guides and singers. The lower level is enclosed with a bathroom. Locals wave at the passengers and seem glad to have visitors. Tourism is all they have since they closed the last sugar refinery on the island.
The biggest faux paux was when I used word association to remember our cabin attendant's name, Alfredo, by calling him "Fetuccine". Oh, well.
If you are looking for a great experience and value, consider the Solstice class from Celebrity.