This is a review of the Celebrity cruise line ship Solstice. I had the opportunity to travel on this new ship during a European trip in September/October of 2009. (Note that I wrote most of the review right after the trip but only got around to publishing the final edit now). The ship itself was launched in late 2008 and you could tell that it was very modern.
Who Needs This Review?
If you intend to go on a Celebrity cruise you need this review. Note that since the ship’s current destinations are in the Caribbean, not in Europe (Greece, Italy, Turkey, etc) as when I was aboard. Nonetheless, I will give you detailed info about vacation life aboard this vessel.
Decor & Atmosphere
The contemporary and sophisticated decor of this cruise ship will amaze you. It’s modern and very classy. This lends to the ship’s atmosphere. Even though the ship is designed for approximately 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew, you never feel like you’re in a major crowd. The ship is large enough to diffuse the crowds all over the ship so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Also, it’s very easy to get around which is a really big deal. You can learn about the layout of the ship very easily and it’s very well designed in that respect.
Most meals come from the Oceanview Cafe & Grill. From that bright dining room there is easy access to a large terrasse on the back of the ship and eating on it is very pleasant. There are several specialty restaurants which cost more. You can make reservations once you’re on board for any one of them except Blu which is only for “Aqua class” guests. Rather than listing a bunch of restaurants that will mean nothing to you, I’ll tell you about my experience at Silk Harvest, the Asian restaurant. The staff were a little disorganized and the food was very hit or miss. Some of it was delicious and some was simply sub-par. I’ve heard from cruisers in general that specialty restaurants on board cruises tend to not be worth it. Based on my experience here, I would agree. The main dining room has so many options that there’s really no need to go elsewhere.
Each night there is a standard selection of menu items, which were excellent (like the French Onion Soup – yum!) as well as the nightly specialty meals. Overall, the food was very good to excellent. Two of the nights are dress up occassions where the men wore a suit or tuxedo and the women wore dresses and lots of bling. This seemed a bit artificial to me but it was ok. At least you could rent tuxedos from the ship (book it in advance).
There are 22 bars on board, each with its own distinctive feel. There’s even a bar made of ice – it’s really hip and something you have to see. What could top that? Enjoying happy hour at Molecular Mixology where you get drinks made with liquid nitrogen. You barely taste the alcohol as you down these incredible tasting drinks. The secret of Celebrity’s alcohol success is that during the summer of 2009, they brought Junior Merino (aka the Liquid Chef) on board for a few days to teach the bartenders how to mix and promote his unique drinks. The result is a fantastic addition to the ship, where you can get free, yes free drinks daily at 5pm, where the bartenders dazzle you with these amazing drinks that require the freshest ingredients. The introduction of Junior Merino style drinks was worth the trip on its own!
At dinner, you can purchase a bottle of wine and the somelier will actually save your bottle night after night until it’s gone. The Grand Epernay restaurant has a two-storey wine cellar which doubles as a decorative piece in the dining room. There’s also a wine bar.
The Celebrity Solstice “stateroom” was very modern, spacious, and comfortable, and has become the measure by which I will judge all future cruises. Read that last sentence twice. When I opened the door to the room, I couldn’t believe it. It was like a small hotel room, not the typical closet that you find on so many ships. The added bonus was the fair sized balcony, with its table and chairs. The modern bathroom had a lot of room to move and store cosmetic items. (Also note that the “public” bathrooms around the ship were ultra modern and very cool in design and features – urinals had famous quotes to read – the details on this ship are amazing!).
The room was clearly designed with people in mind. Even the lifejackets weren’t placed in some bulky box, but in an easy-to-access basket that slides under the bed (along with your suitcases which easily fit under there). Celebrity also provides you with a hair dryer, a small fridge (which comes stocked), a safe, and items that you can use on a complimentary basis which you can purchase (such as an umbrella, bath robe, etc).
You can get involved and star in ship shows. To help the staff discover you, there are several dance competitions (including a Michael Jackson Thriller video dance-off), an American Idol style singing competition (they’ll find you at karaoke), a photography competition, and others. The staff really want you to get involved and the more you do, the more fun you’ll have while on board. If you have a little talent, you should try getting into it. They even had a red carpet interview with singing competition finalists which was aired live in the theatre and played on the ship’s TV all day the following day. You really can become a celebrity while on board – especially after singing in front of over a thousand people (1/3 of the ship).
The TV selection in the room included a list of countless musicians and groups from which you could select and album and listen.
Music & Clubbing
Many musical options are available throughout the ship. There was a one-man band who played on the outside deck near the main dining area, a string quartet which moved around the ship, a barbershop quartet which did the same, and of course the amazing dance/nightclub, Quasar, which played great tunes each night. Unfortunately, since the crowd was older, it was almost empty by midnight each night.
One issue I had with this cruise that almost no one was under 50 years old. Some of the younger people such as myself found others to party with but it was somewhat limiting. The price, destinations, and time of year also affected the crowd.
One deck is made up of green grass where guests can play mini-put, lawn bowling and other similar activites. The grass is well taken care of and it’s impressive to see it on board a ship.
The Corning Museum of Glass offers a 30-minute glass blowing show several times per day. They show you how glass bowls and other items are made by hand and furnace. Since an open flame is too dangerous, they use a custom-made electric heater – it even has a camera built-in so you can watch the glass change. This was impressive but I found this to be very out of place on the ship. It was a bit too gimmicky for me but it was something to do while on the ship during an at-sea day.
All of the staff from the housekeeping department, to the wait and dining staff, to the entertainment staff were friendly, welcoming, and tried very hard to keep everyone happy. They said hi to you in the hallways and always answered my questions with respect and courtesy. Hats off to Norbert and Morales (room cleaners), Daniel (the Canadian entertainment staff member who made sure we were having fun), to Dru Pavlov (the Canadian cruise director who made it look easy when you know he works hard to keep everything going smoothly).
Cirque de Soleil Style Shows
In a technological achievement that is unrivalled, the Solstice provides circus-style shows that will blow you away. If you’ve never seen a Cirque de Soleil show, this is your chance to experience one and it comes free with your stay. Some of the other shows were ok but this was the one to see.
The Spa (“Aquaspa”)
The ship has a fully equipped spa. I would surmise that this is beyond what most people experienced before on cruise ships. You can even get Botox and Restylane which makes sense since the crowd on board were older and probably wealthier than the average cruise. (Although, these are serious treatments and doing them on a whim while on board may not be the best idea). We booked a couple’s massage and I’d have to say that this was the biggest disappointment of the entire stay on board. It was a Swedish massage and we both found it to be very painful and not at all enjoyable. About halfway through the session, the masseuse asked me if it was going okay and I asked her to ease off a bit. She did for about a minute and then went back to putting me in pain! I’d stay away from massages on the ship. It was seriously painful.
My companion took advantage of the gym equipment which she paid the common fee-per-use. She liked it. She also tried the some of the other offerings likes the Persian Garden and enjoyed them.
General Ship Exploration
As with any large cruise ship, even after days of being on board, there was still more to discover. The Solstice has a section devoted to the planet called Team Earth. Unfortunately, the computer system was broken when we tried to use it. There’s also an impressive library where people can borrow books for the duration of their time on board.
Internet & Cell Phone Use
I tried connecting to my WIFI plan with my iPhone so I could make some calls using Skype but I couldn’t get it to work. I didn’t speak to the technicians at the computer center so it’s possible they could have fixed that issue. I figured that since I was on vacation, it wasn’t a priority so I didn’t bother. Regarding the Internet plans, prices ranged from 42 to 65 cents per minute. On some days it worked well while on others it ran at a snail’s pace and continually cut me off. I was using my laptop in my stateroom and I’m sure it would have been better if I checked my email at that computer center. You could also access the Internet from your room by using the keyboard that comes with your flat screen TV.
This was the complete opposite to many other cruises such as the Carnival Elation which had photographers all over you all the time. The Celebrity Solstice has its own professional photography studio (Deep Blu Studios) and there was no constant sales push to get you to take photos. You could go for photo sessions such as family portraits and model shoots, and there was no push to do so.
I was told that the trip we went on was the last of the “Staring You” branding by Celebrity X Cruises. It is being replaced by the new motto “Celebrity Life” and I can tell you that this ship can make you feel like a celebrity!
If the Celebrity Solstice is heading to the destinations that you want to visit, you’re older (say, aged 50 and up) and you can afford it, book your cruise today. It’s very worth it.
One Final Note: A number of travel agents went on board the ship when it was first launched, on a promotional tour. Some of them then wrote “reviews” of their experience. Essentially, they were on board for less than a day and commented on what life would be like aboard the ship for two weeks. I have yet to read one intelligent review by these people. They criticize things that they shouldn’t be criticizing and after having been personally on board for almost two weeks, I see that they had no clue what they were talking about. If this review isn’t enough for you and you look for others, just make sure you don’t read one of the reviews written by these agents.