by Ernie Roller
December 7, 2008
Dining Reservation: Grand Epernay, Deck 4, Table 553, Late Sitting
Embarkation was a breeze. Suite guests had a special check-in desk that was up the escalator and we were on the ship in no time. I ordered a soda-package for my partner in advance ($40) and it was nice to see the sticker was already placed on his SeaPass card. The souvenir drink container that comes with the package was waiting in the cabin. FYI there are four types of SeaPass cards on SOLSTICE and they are defined by color.
Silver -- Suite Guest
In addition your Captain's Club membership level will be printed on the card.
Your dining reservation is not printed on the card, but there will be a separate card waiting in your cabin with this information.
A nice touch is the welcome glass of champagne upon entering the ship.
Shortly after arriving our Cabin Stewardess Ana Maria introduced herself. She did a wonderful job and had a great personality. Afterward our Butler John introduced himself and took the time to showcase the features of the suite and offer his various services. John did a great job and was very attentive and punctual if you ever needed him. Flowers, fresh fruit, a bottle of champagne, and a pre-ordered bottle of wine were all waiting.
The suite consisted of a separate bedroom with an extremely comfortable king size bed, two large nightstands with drawers, a phone, a walk-in closet that contained a large safe, binoculars, a Celebrity tote bag, and two umbrellas. There was another small closet that contained about 10 shelves as well. The 40" flat panel TV rounded out the bedroom amenities.
The bathroom was small for a suite, but very functional and well laid out. We loved the designer tile and deluge type showerhead. There was also plenty of storage under the sink and in a large medicine cabinet over the toilette. Towels were huge bath sheets and very soft, and of course there was the usual soap, shampoo, conditioner, and lotion. Cotton balls and q-tips were also provided. A phone was also featured in the bathroom.
In the main part of the suite, there was a very comfortable sectional sofa that converted to a full size bed. A large coffee table, an oversized lounging chair, a vanity desk with phone and chair, a full size closet with mirrored doors, and a large credenza with a huge 52" flat panel TV with surround sound. In the credenza were cabinets with storage for glassware and the mini-bar.
The glass sliding door to the balcony slides instead of opening and closing like a regular door, and this was a plus in my book. On the balcony we had a beautiful teak table with cushioned chairs and a very comfortable cushioned lounger. The balcony was completely covered and private. We enjoyed having breakfast on the balcony (served by John) on a few occasions.
Overall this was one of the best cabins I've experienced. I loved having a separate bedroom and all the furnishings and décor were top notch, like something you would find at a 5-star hotel. All the lights were on a dimmer, which was a nice touch. The service we received was fantastic and to the level of Silversea. For instance when John would bring room service, he didn't just drop off a tray but lays down linen and silverware and sets everything up just as if you were in the dining room. Something else that impressed me was the "Attention to Detail" card we received early in the cruise. This is something else that Silversea does but is not often found on a premium or mass-market cruise line. Rather than wait until the end of the cruise and the comment card, this card gives Celebrity the opportunity for service recovery before it's too late. We did not have anything for Celebrity to address so we did not use it.
Special mention must be made of the TV system on SOLSTICE. Being somewhat of a "techy" I was in heaven. I'm a huge Apple fan, and every TV on SOLSTICE is powered by an Apple mini-Mac. This is very impressive to me. Without question it's the best interactive TV system I've seen on land or sea. From your wireless keyboard which is also a remote, you can view your account; check the ship's location (not quite working yet); see a view from the bridge; surf the internet; order room service; order a bottle of wine for dinner; book shore excursions; listen to a variety of music; order free and pay per view movies and documentaries; look at the daily activities for the day; view the dining room menu; and yes, even watch TV! The only thing missing for me was you could not create your own playlist of music selections. This is something that can be easily added.
Over the past year I have followed the progress of SOLSTICE and studied her deck plans. My three main concerns were:
I can say that all three of my concerns proved unfounded. On my sailing there was plenty of deck space and you could find a prime chair even if you arrived late in the day like I did. Let me also mention that every deck chair on SOLSTICE is padded (another luxury touch). It's true the promenade deck on SOLSTICE is almost non-existent, but I found it didn't hamper my experience in the least. There were plenty of other great spots to walk and sit outdoors (especially the aft end) and of course I had a private balcony. My last concern was the elevators. Again, not a problem and in fact the elevators were among the best I've seen on any ship. They were very fast and efficient, and you never had to wait long. I might mention the glass elevators are probably the most beautiful afloat.
The swimming pools are important to me because I spend a lot of time swimming and sitting by the pools during the day. All the pools on SOLSTICE are heated and fresh water. They are almost too warm for my liking. I know there had been reports about very cold pools on past cruises, but I can assure you this is no longer the case. Also, all pools are closed at night on SOLSTICE and netted over. This is a typical policy for Celebrity although I'm not sure why. The parent company Royal Caribbean keeps one pool open 24 hours and many other lines keep a pool open 24 hours. This is a Celebrity policy I would like to see changed.
There has been much discussion of "The Lawn". Personally I thought it was nifty but it really had no bearing on my enjoyment of the cruise. I thought that perhaps I would resent it since it takes up so much primary deck space, but as it turns out this is not the case at all. It does take up a lot of space but there is plenty of other deck space to go around. It was nice to walk on The Lawn at sunset or sit by it and watch the ocean but that was about it. To be honest if Celebrity decided to replace The Lawn with something else on subsequent ships it wouldn't matter in the least to me.
I loved the twin funnels and I'm glad the "X" has been applied to one. Looking up at those funnels at night, lit up with the exhaust steaming out, reminded me of the old days of Chandris Lines. They are a piece of nostalgia for me on this state of the art ship.
One facility I would like to make mention of is the gym and Aqua Spa. Both are excellent facilities. The gym had the most modern equipment and every piece of cardio had a flat panel TV attached to it. There is also a small outdoor veranda in front of the gym which is great for some fresh air, and often times spinning classes were set up out there. Very nice touch. The Aqua Spa is a first rate facility although not quite as nice as the Canyon Ranch Spa on QM2. As a suite guest I had unlimited free access to the Persian Garden and Relaxation Room. These areas are primarily for the use of Aqua Spa guests. The Persian Garden was quite enjoyable with heated relaxation tiled loungers, themed showers, a large steam room, and an aromatherapy room. All these areas have large windows overlooking the ocean. The Persian Garden is coed and it was empty or lightly occupied most of the time. Inside the men's changing room are lockers, showers, and a decent sized sauna holding about 6-8 people. Unfortunately there is no view from the sauna like on some other ships.
Dining and Service
In a nutshell I was quite pleased with the food and service on SOLSTICE. There is some room for improvement but considering this was only the third revenue cruise I was quite impressed.
As a suite guest you are entitled to two free specialty-dining experiences and you may also dine in Blu on a space available basis. We only dined in the Grand Epernay three times and took full advantage of all the dining options SOLSTICE has to offer.
Grand Epernay: Absolutely gorgeous space with very comfortable chairs and plenty of room between tables. Food was hit or miss depending on what you ordered. Service was decent, not great. We had a table of 10 on the second level, ok location. I would have preferred to be on the lower level in the center section.
Murano: We absolutely love this experience. The food and service were 5-star, as good as anything I have experienced at sea or on land. This is truly upscale gourmet dining in a beautiful setting. Service was flawless.
Blu: Again I loved this experience. It's "clean cuisine" but that doesn't mean it's not delicious or filling. Many of the items on the menu can be found in the Grand Epernay as well, but they are prepared differently in Blu. No heavy sauces for instance. I felt the food and service were excellent, and in fact when I return to SOLSTICE I will book Aqua Class so I have a table reserved in Blu. In addition the atmosphere in this space is excellent. It's really a beautiful space.
Tuscan Grill: Probably the best location on the ship, all the way aft with windows all around. Again we experienced first-rate food and service at Tuscan Grill. Menu choices were excellent and we loved the dark chocolate/fresh fruit fondue for desert.
Silk Harvest: Once again an excellent experience. We started with soup and sushi, which were wonderful. They have a tempura shrimp and avocado roll which is to die for! Service was also excellent.
Bistro on Five: There is a $5 cover for Bisto on Five and you can order as much as you want. There are mainly salads, paninis and crepes. I had a breakfast style crepe that was pretty good, but not exceptional. We had spotty service and only dined here once. The setting is beautiful in the heart of the ship with views over the Promenade Deck.
Aqua Spa Café: Never made it here.
Mast Grill: Never made it here.
Oceanview Café: Typical buffet style food that is similar to the buffet food I've experienced on most ships. There is only so much you can do with a buffet. I loved the layout and the "food stations" made getting what you wanted very easy, once you figured out the layout. I really liked the fresh pasta and the ice cream bar, which was free and included premium toppings like Reeses Pieces. At the ice cream bar there was a selection of hard ice cream flavors and soft serve. We never had a problem finding at seat at the Oceanview Café and often enjoyed sitting on the aft open deck. Sometimes getting silverware was an issue as it's supposed to be on each table, but the staff had trouble keeping up. I'm sure this will get worked out in time.
Solstice -- The Show: An excellent production with none of the typical singing and dancing. It was mostly acrobats in a Cirque du Soleil type production.
Pulse: I did not care for this show in the least. I sat through it although I was close to walking out. One reason I always sit in an aisle!
Ghost Light: Typical Broadway type cruise ship show. I enjoyed it because there are featured more modern Broadway musicals instead of the usual classics.
One nice thing about all the shows was a live band provided the music. This is unlike lines like Princess and Holland America that use only recorded music and a "click track" for their production shows.
What was the best entertainment on the ship? Peter in the Martini Bar! He put on a great show every night and made some kick-a drinks!
I also enjoyed the band in the Ensemble Lounge, Top Secret in the stunning Sky Lounge, and Guitarist Jefferson Ang at the Oceanview Bar during sunset.
Ports and Weather
The ports were St. Maarten, St. Kitts, and San Juan. We have been to each of these ports several times and we didn't take any tours. We ended up staying on the ship in St. Kitts. I really picked this cruise for the ship and not the itinerary.
CELEBRITY SOLSTICE is truly a remarkable ship that did not disappoint. I think the attention to detail in her design is unsurpassed. Without question I will return to SOLSTICE or one of her new sisters in the future. I feel confident I can recommend SOLSTICE without question, but of course not everyone will see things through my same eyes.