by Parrot Mom
April 25, 2010
CELEBRITY SOLTICE EQUALS CLASS, SERVICE, EXCELLENCE AND A WHOOPS OR TWO
April 25, 2010 to May 2, 2010
Aqua Class 1524-Handicapped Access
Mid February while looking for a vacation between our New England winter and our Celebrity cruise of the Equinox in October 2010 and to gather enough information and prices to take to a travel show here in Boston as informed traveler I searched the web looking for "something" to a warmer climate. Celebrity Soltice for 4/25 was having an incredible sale for their first Western Caribbean and in the Concierge level that we needed to be upgraded from Select to Elite for our upcoming October cruise. Rather than wait for the travel show (big mistake), I called Celebrity directly and not only was I able to upgrade to Aqua class for $29.00 more (yes, you read that right) I was able to book a mid-ship and handicapped cabin to boot. Parrot Pop when I told him said to "book it" and I did. If I had waited for the travel show, I would have the same price I found out later plus an OBC. Go figure!!
We were picked up by the van from the Comfort Inn in Hollywood,, Florida where we found a motel full of cruisers, all various cruise lines and two other couples for the Soltice.
ARRIVAL AT THE PORT
From the second we set foot at approx 11:30 a.m. at Terminal 18, a wheelchair was made available for Parrot Pop and the porter stayed with us throughout the signing in taking us upstairs where a steward took over. We were offered punch or water before we had our pictures taken and a given big welcome. The steward brought us to the Oceanview Cafe to await our cabin being readied and to have lunch with the welcoming champagne and mimosa in hand.
A thoughtful touch was the abbreviated Welcome "Celebrity Today" as you boarded the ship (a full issue was in the cabin).
Upon embarking the Soltice I was taken delighted by the magnificent modern use of the wood, glass and art throughout the ship, especially the glass. It would take guests more than a week to check out all the artwork. A catalog in our cabin showed the location of all of the artwork. We even found a famous photograph by Bert Stern of Marilyn Monroe hidden away in the casino. My favorite was an area by Nancy Friedman called Night Soltice that you walked through.
LIFE BOAT DRILL
The "mandatory lifeboat drill" was a first for us on Celebrity. We proceeded to our Assembly Area in the Soltice Theatre without our jackets as instructed.
DINING AREAS –we experienced
In the "adults only solarium" we discovered the AquaSpa Café for lunch and breakfast. It helped me several days to get over the guilty feeling of overeating in the Oceanview Café. I loved the idea of the containers of flavored waters, healthy desserts and for those with dietary problems gluten free bread, a cook willing to prepare fresh chicken breasts and fresh salmon. Overheard one of the guests with a special dietary request which the cook would solve. The only problem was there weren't enough tables in the area.
As Aqua class we spent several evenings in the beautifully designed restaurant with a blue and white theme and roses in mind. Special attention is paid to presentation of the food with the most gorgeous glass dishes for appetizers and desserts. The food was a mixture of healthy options and regular food I thought.
GRAND EPERNAY RESTAURANT
We decided to try the restaurant for breakfast one morning and I ordered Belgium waffles and they arrived with little containers of whipped cream, blueberry and cherry sauces were on the side of the plate, presentation, presentation.
For a few evening we went to the restaurant for supper and I must tell you that the choices on the menu have been cut down from previous Celebrity cruises and quite limited. One evening after looking at the menu and nothing was appealing we raced across the ship to Blu must to the consternation of the Maitre D wondering why.
There is no doubt in my mind that they are very short of staff and service whether it was breakfast or supper and service was very slow. Tables are set very close together. We found that the food although presented beautifully lacked taste. Yes, I said "taste"! Somebody in the kitchen doesn't seem to know how to make the food "sparkle" or maybe there are too many people to cook for. Presentation does not make up for "the "wow" factor that used to accompany arrival in any the MDR of Celebrity.
The Grand Epernay Restaurant is on one end of the ship and the specialty restaurants on the other end. The room is spectacular no doubt. We were assigned Table #100 and at each supper we dined there the table next to the window remained empty, we sat in the middle next to the serving station and weren't allowed to change our table.
Most cruise ships have done away with trays in hopes that it cuts down waste and the Soltice is no exception. There is a modern attractive set of dishes and if you use the largest plate (they are square), it can work as a tray, but don't tell them. At first view the various stations are overwhelming and one Maitre D offered to give me a tour. Except for hamburgers and hot dogs I can't imagine your not finding something for your every desire...a sandwich station, salad station, fruits, pizza, carving stations, stir fry, grilling station as well as all sorts of ethic food. Even two separate stations with ice cream, sorbets, desserts and at one soft serve ice cream, they were very popular. With all these stations it didn't take much to loose your direction back to your table.
The same area was popular for breakfast with the design your own omelets, waffles, yogurts, hot cereals, pancakes, french toast, carving stations, danish, croissants, breads, and eggs poached, boiled, scambled, cereal stations with a zillion toppings and dried fruit. For the European guests there was a station with many of their favorites. What we enjoyed were the waiters walking around with carts pitchers of coffee which we have not found on other cruise lines.
The café tables were always cleaned, although busy and dirty dishes taken away immediately. The staff was very friendly and helpful.
What a beautiful and romantic atmosphere and our very favorite meal on the ship. From the most fabulous bread basket, to the mushroom soup with dollop of cappuccino ice cream, to the rack of lamb and the little sorbets to cleanse your palette in-between courses. I can't stop raving about our experience. Special attention was even paid to the presentation of the veggies. I'd love to have a course in how they do it or at least be a fly on the wall as they do. It was an evening to remember and well worth the extra charge.
Here was the most disappointing and overated meal in the specialty restaurants. Ordered my favorite Cioppiono and it tasted like a weak tomato flavored broth. The few chunks of seafood were presented around a bowl and the waiter arrived with a kettle of broth. It was extremely tasteless and a major disappointment not the rich broth we have had other times and should have been. After two tries at the Black Angus steak the Maitre D showed me with a tiny flashlight that the meat was indeed pink, but because of the lighting didn't show, it was soft as butter. My husband ordered a veal chop and I'm not sure if it's supposed to be fatty but returned it and ordered the steak.
Something new has been added to your dining experience. The Chef, whether in the Grand Epernay or anywhere else introduced around to each table. Better he should be tasting the food and overseeing the chefs.
Special attention seems to be the order of the day in which every single dish, whether appetizer or dessert is to be presented and it shows. It almost appears that for each dining room especially designed dishes are utilized whether for a sorbet or relish. Sadly, I would rather have them pay attention to the "taste" factor and the lack of seasoning.
Where the main dishes lacked "taste", the bread basket has a wonderful assortment of breads, all I assumed baked in the same area. Sorry, if I keep repeating "taste" but we were underwhelmed by the food in the main areas, especially the MDR.
OUTDOOR POOL AREA
Lots of padded chaises, areas in the shade and the usual early morning chair hogs. One a.m. a coveted covered double chair near a Jacuzzi was adorned for more than three hours with snorkeling equipment the entire time we were there. A "gentleman" came over and checked it out and then re-arranged the two regular lounge chairs across from that with a sneaker and towel on each and then had the audacity to go back to the pool bar to sit and smoke a cigar (he was not in bathing attire. As a matter of fact many of the hammock or covered chairs/slings remained unused for several hours. Since I'm an early a.m. sunning person I had no problem finding a lounge.
Away from the pool and Jacuzzis was an area of lounges for sitting "away" from the area and reading, napping or playing cards. Noticed children playing in an area where the waters coming up reminded me of "dancing waters".
Pool Butlers--give me a break! just call them "towel boys". They did nothing, zilch. Never saw them cleaning off the wet and used towels from the chaises at all, not even once during the entire morning.
One of the nicer touches I remember from I think the Galaxy is that at 2:00 p.m. one day around the pool waiters came around with little cups of sorbet.
A lovely spot to unstress, no childen under 16 allowed and each lounge in the a.m. had a rolled towel on it. Chaises were chaise to chaise without space inbetween. Again, covered lounges "toweled" from early a.m.
AQUA CLASS CABIN 1524--ACCESSIBLE
We do not travel lightly and I can understand why people complain of lack of drawer space. Because we were Aqua Class we found a white net bag for the spa with two sets of slippers and various creams, two umbrellas in the closet and the biggest surprise instead of cold water we had herbal tea, wish they had left non-sugar sweeteners.
The bathroom design definetely was a plus (thank you ladies), much storage area on either side of the mirror closed off by glass doors. Below a large drawer and several other smaller ones.. On the vanity all sorts of spa products from shampoos, conditioners, body wash, nail file and shower cap and they were replenished freely during the cruise. The towels were the softest and most plush we have ever encountered. The closet had enough space to hang clothes and for the handicapped a way to pull down the closet rod. Women will love the little folded up makeup mirror in the desk drawer.
Our Stateroom Attendant, Wilfred, was always available and kept our cabin straightened which was not an easy job. Interesting note. I wonder if the cabins are vacuumed every day.
Grand Caymen-same old, same old
It was hot and brutally humid and since I did not want to shop or go to the beach we opted for the Trolley Ride that Celebrity offered for $19.00-It was an open trolley tour of Grand Caymens and the homes and well worth the $19.00 each.. There were five cruise ships in port that day so you can just imagine the chaos in the terminal or to a getting to a tour.
COZUMEL-just isn't the same old sleepy spot from years ago.
Spent a week here many years ago and only wanted to go to one shop and discovered Cinco Soles now had a small shop in the terminal. Shopped around for a while until it rained and went back to the ship.
As many of the guests did we stayed on the ship for the day.
Now, this was a place we had never been and we decided to do a Victor Rotan tour of the island and at the end visit his home with monkeys and parrots.
To others Rotan is "nothing", but it is now with cruise ships starting to berth there on the verge of a huge tourist explosion. It is lush, clean and tourism is their only industry. Hidden away are a few resorts and the beaches we noticed were just gorgeous and gleaming. Along the roadside we stopped and bought two handbags made with wood from Honduras from some pleasant women. They had many wooden products with some lovely wooden salad bowls for sale.
In a brochure on line it was suggested that you wanted to bring school supplies it would be greatly appreciated. It's a long story, but Old Navy in Kittery, Maine, gave me several dozen childrens books about cats and dogs, which I distributed to many children and then gave a mother walking her children to school the rest to be taken to the school and shared.
At the end of many of the Victor Rotan tours you were offered a chance to visit him at his home and his collection of monkeys, parrots and deer for an additional $5.00. Now you just know for Parrot Mom this was going to be a highlight and it was. Not only that I am very aware of "roadside zoos" and am very critical the way the animals are kept (btw I made a $$ donation in Cozumel to protect the dolphins who are cruely used for entertainment for tourists).
This zoo is part of his home. There are little children playing on the porch. Guides take y ou through and introduce you to the monkeys and the birds and the facility is clean, the monkeys and parrots I saw were housed humanely and the guides seem to genuinely love these animals. I just wish they had other items for enrichment.
I fell in love with the monkeys and since I have almost no fear and a have a healthy respect I absolutely loved hanging out with them in their cages and talking to the parrots that I knew would be friendly. The poor young man acting as our guide didn't know exactly what to make of Parrot Mom who talked and handled the birds and monkeys and had brought from the ship grapes.
There is a little gift shop and they had some unique beaded items that I bought to give as gifts, very affordable.
The Victor Rotan tour covered the entire island and the only negative note and this I have discussed personally with him. I asked the driver to take us to a local restaurant for lunch. He took us to a restaurant called Half Moon Resort overlooking a gorgeous bay and here I was taken aback when the menu was presented to us in English at what I assume are "tourist prices", especially after our guide told us that shrimp and fish were plentiful, but the coconut shrimp and fried conch balls were delicious. Oh yes. another guide showed up with a couple on a Victor Rotan tour.
Although I am not a "spa" person I booked two procedures one afternoon and was quite disappointed that they did not have the coloring for the second procedure which seemed odd. The spa appeared to be very active.
From Michaels Club where Lloyd Baskin played wonderful listenng music to the Will Foraker Trio, to Martin Andales a guitarist there was always a reason to want to sit and listen.
This was the week NOT to be on the Celebrity Soltice..E.D. John Grantham announced that there was a serious problem in the theatre and a crew was being flown in to Grand Caymens to remedy the problem. When that problem was solved there was another minor problem and no show that night either. This probably went on for at least three to four nights.
Entertainment by the Soltice singers was provided in the Atrium where most people were hanging over the balconies to hear and they are a talented group with beautiful voices.
One night finally the show went on and I vividly remember a ventriloquist, Ken Grove, and in order to fill the bill the E.D. added Adam..a mime, a very bad mime. The second night the ventriloquist came back with his back up show, awful, awful, people were walking out of the theatre.
At that point a phone call was made to the E.D. expressing our disappointment the quality of the shows and that we felt rather than put on a second rate performance the main theatre show should have been cancelled..in the end he agreed.
Once the theatre was up and running an impressionist from Las Vegas, Greg London, performed, same old, same old, until he sang in his own voice which was delightful.
The Soltice dance troupe did Pulse, some great dancing and we enjoyed the Cirque de Soleil- passing over head gracefully.. now that was a fun show.
All in all the entertainment, except for the little venues was a major disappointment and not live up to the Celebrity standards we have experienced on their other ships. If this is the type of entertainment offered on their seven day cruises compared to their trans-atlantic they must be trying to appeal to a different type cruiser and that is an insult to Celebrity cruisers.
Luckily for Parrot Pop I saw little that I wanted to buy. In the "logo" shop we did make the acquaintance of Kate and Michelle, two delightful young women who helped us out when buying a glass wind chime.
THE FAMOUS GRASS LAWN
When I first heard about grass lawns on the top deck of the Soltice Class ships I was dubious. WHY!! Well, I am here to say it is a very active area with lawn games of croquet, bocci, people lying and sunning on the grass and for some a place to chill. The "lawn" furniture is welcoming and very attractive.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE SHIP-Corning Hot Glass Workshop
As a glass afficianado from way, way back.. I was anxious to attend the Corning Glass Show and watch it I did. I missed only one performance. There was always standing room only to watch these talented artists, Eric Meek, who works for Corning and both of the independent and talented artists (whose names I have forgotten, sadly). After watching them for just about every performance I noticed their personalities and artistries/talent coming out in their individual work. Each took turns explaining the art of glass blowing and what the other blower was doing. In one week more people I'm sure were able to watch and understand the intricisies, artistries and dangers (one piece broke while we were there) of glass blowing. Pieces were not for sale and towards the end of the week an occasional piece was raffled off. Considering two to three pieces were made during a session it really would have been nicer that more than a few raffles be held and most of the pieces given away.
WHAT MADE THE CELEBRITY SOLTICE STAND OUT AMONG ALL OUR 24 PLUS CRUISES WE HAVE TAKEN, INCLUDING OUR 4 TRANSATLANTICS WITH CELEBRITY, PLUS THIS WESTERN CARIBBEAN CRUISE
In no other cruise did the word "service" or "excellence" stand out more than this cruise.. There was no such word in the vocabulary of this staff that includes "no" or "not possible" Never, never, never-.
Two days before disembarking we discovered our paper plane tickets which we purchased independently were missing, panic set in.. A call to the Concierge where we explained the situation, gave her certain information and within 24 hours a copy of our e-mail ticket and confirmation were at our cabin.
The night before departure as Parrot Pop was trying to pass a service cart with his rollator at approx. 11:00 p.m. at night a bolt sheared off. A call was made to our Room Steward and within a few minutes an engineer came up with a tool box and fixed the rollator.. Now that is what I call service above and beyond.
One evening I asked for whipped cream for my dessert and the waiter said (Blu Dining Room) he wasn't sure it was available but he would check downstairs.. Moments later he came up with a large bowl that was shared at the table, but it just wasn't dumped in, it was piped in the bowl-nice touch.
Celebrity continues with the a daily newspaper in several languages that the other lines have dropped quietly.
Very few advertising inserts for sales and instead seem to use private messages on your phone to remind you of the special events your invited to. Yes, there still is a chocolate on the pillow at night something other lines have stopped. Best of all few loud public announcements during the day.
Whatever faults we found on the ship with the food or entertainment it was more than made up by the attitude of the Soltice staff throughout the ship. My only regret is that this was a seven day cruise and in retrospect should have done a back to back. Next time. Oh yes, our Celebrity Equinox Holyland cruise in October..and I so look forward to it now.
Celebrity continues to stand for Excellence and Class-