Sailing with a Group on the Solstice
I am a travel agent that escorted a group of 44 people on the brand new Celebrity Solstice in March of 2009. Here is my graded review of the ship.
Embarkation: A+. We arrived via bus at the Port Everglades terminal at 12:15. By 12:45, all 44 passengers were checked in and on the ship. Embarkation is very well run with so many open windows that there were virtually no lines. Upon entrance to the ship, we were given a glass of champagne or a mimosa.
Ship: B+. This ship is a beauty. It is elegant with subdued tones and warm, rich colors. The public areas were for the most part laid out very well. We liked the fact that the Entertainment and Promenade Decks held of most of the entertainment and alternate dining venues. It was convenient having all on two decks.
The theater was lovely but there are quite a few seats that are obstructed by pillars. In addition, there were not enough seats to accommodate all of the passengers who wanted to see the early show. During the lifeboat drill we asked the Celebrity employees how many passengers the theater held and were told 1600 with the entire rear of the theater filled with people who were standing. While that would seem to be more than half of the passengers, the reality of several hundred people standing to watch a show is not viable.
The only complaint our group had with the ship layout was the fact that there are no aft elevators. It was a very long walk for passengers who had rooms toward the back of the ship.
The new Lawn Club showed signs of wear. While this is a new feature on a ship it is really wasted space. While there were a few bocce, golf and croquet tournaments on the ship, when these activities were not taking place, we didn’t note anyone partaking in these sports on their own. The space could better be utilized for additional seating for the Hot Glass Show or for lounge chairs, as the pool area loungers were always packed during sea days.
Cabins: A We had an inside cabin on deck 8 – 8188. The cabin was very spacious, on a par with some balcony cabins we’ve experienced on other lines. The bed was in the center of the room with plenty of room to walk around. Our luggage fit under the bed easily. There were two chairs in the cabin, a small table and a desk with two small nightstands. Our only issue was that there were not enough drawers – only 5 small drawers next to the desk. The closet was also small, but we surprisingly had enough room for our hanging clothes. But the lack of drawers required we put much of our clothing in the cabinet over the bed, which was a bit difficult to reach.
The bathroom was also spacious with glass doors in the shower and plenty of storage space. The sink was a bit inconvenient as water splashed on the vanity and floor when you washed. The bar in the shower for leg shaving was a great addition, but was a bit high for the older ladies to get their foot on. We did miss a clothes line in the shower for hanging wet bathing suits – it took two days for our suits to dry hanging on hooks.
We loved the flat screen tv. But there is a distinct lack of channels. Besides two CNN channels and two ESPN channels, there was little else to watch besides the many ship channels. Thank goodness there were Free Movies on Demand, as that was a life saver. The interactive features were a little tricky to use. We tried accessing the internet with the keyboard in the room but the mouse was impossible to work and we ended up using the Internet Café when we needed to check e-mail.
Food: B. We ate breakfast and lunch most days in the Oceanview Café. The buffet is set up very well, with stations holding various related items. The set up eliminated long lines at the entrance to the café. There were the usual lines for cooked to order eggs in the morning and hamburgers, steaks and hot dogs in the afternoon. The waffles were excellent, as was the veggie pizza. The ice cream selections change daily and were very good. There were Asian selections daily for lunch and standard pasta and many different salads.
What I found to be missing were sandwiches. There was a station that had cold cuts and tuna, etc. with bread where you can make your own sandwiches, but I have enjoyed having paninni’s and small pre-made sandwiches on other ships.
We did eat here one night and I was very disappointed. Most of the stations were closed and what was available was again pizza, pasta, pre-cooked steaks, salads. On other cruise lines, the buffet at night mirrored what was being served in the dining rooms.
Grand Epernay Dining Room: We ate four nights in the main dining room. We were at table 135. Our group of 44 dined together at six tables and Celebrity did a great job of assigning the tables together.
Food reviews are very subjective. Having traveled on Celebrity when the Executive Chef was Michel Roux and having found the food at that time to be superb, we were disappointed in the food quality on this ship. That said, we didn’t starve, but were simply not as pleased as we expected to be. The first night I had the lamb shank which was very good. I am also a great fan of the cold fruit soups and they were very good. But the rest of the nights, I found myself ordering the always available steak, as nothing struck me as particularly interesting. Now trust me – we didn’t starve, but we didn’t think that there was anything that stood out enough for me on the menus that sounded interesting. Even the desserts were so-so.
We ate one night at Silk Harvest. The food and service were very good. The sushi was excellent with some interesting choices. They brought plenty of dishes out and all were very good.
We also ate in the Bistro on Five and thought the food was very good here as well and again, great service. One of us had a crepe and one had a paninni and the server told us we could order several items if we wanted, but we just couldn’t eat that much. We had a dessert crepe that was also very good.
We ate some of the free pastries at Cafe Bacio and they were good as was the gelato at the Gelateria. However, once we found the free ice cream in the buffet every day, we didn’t feel the need to pay for gelato anymore.
Pools and Spa: A – Mid-ship found two pools, the Family pool and Sports pool as well as a wet zone that was never turned on along with four hot tubs. At the front was the Solstice pool with two hot tubs. On sea days as usual the chairs around the pool were always filled by chair hogs that leave their items and never sit on the chair. Just once I’d like to see a cruise line with the guts to tell Pool Attendants to remove items after an hour of no one sitting on the chair. We found we enjoyed the Solstice pool – it was slightly quieter since no one under 16 was permitted and it was enclosed. They do keep the room a little too cold – many were bundled under towels because the air conditioning was too cold.
My wife made an appointment for a manicure at the salon on Thursday. Even though no one was having a manicure when she arrived she still had to sit and wait 10 minutes before being taken. The girl who did the manicure was very nice; she had a pleasant conversation and a decent manicure.
Entertainment: C+ This is one area that I, as well as many of the others in our group, felt Celebrity has really cut back on. Celebrity doesn’t have Headline Acts anymore. The majority of nightly shows in the Main Theater were done by the production singers and dancers. Perhaps because we live near New York City and frequent Broadway shows, I am a bit jaded about these production shows at sea. They were okay,nothing more. The singers were adequate but not terrific. I got tired of seeing the same faces each night. On the night in St. Martin, there was no show at all, just a movie ( Iron Man which I had already seen in theaters last summer). I wholeheartedly recommend Solstice, the Show. It was very well done – not as good as an actual Cirque show, but considering that these are the same kids that do the production show, they did a fantastic job.
The first nights show featured Oceans Four, an acapella group that sang during the week at night in various areas on the ship. Their first song was barbershop quarter and I cringed, but then they did some Frank Valli and the 4 Seasons and others and were better. The Broadway style show on the second night was okay, but again – because I go to Broadway shows all the time, I compare to that and probably shouldn’t.
The night they had a featured xylophonist, we couldn’t stay more than 10 minutes. The guy was good, but not good enough for a 45 minute show – it was interminable. If Celebrity is looking to satisfy the over 70 crowd – well, this is great entertainment. If they are looking for a younger passenger – this isn’t going to cut it.
The Cruise Director himself was also a bit subdued. He had a joke each night at the theater. But he was not one of those bouncy, overly enthusiastic guys who continually tells you to applaud, applaud, applaud. His staff was pretty good – the girls that were at the golf and bocce tournaments were good as was his assistants at the Newlywed show.
I will say that the Celebrity Orchestra was great. They played in the foyer a couple of times and were terrific. I could have listened to a whole show of them only – why didn’t Celebrity think of that?
In room entertainment – I liked the music channels on the interactive TV, the free On Demand Movies (which I wish had a larger selection) but the regular TV channels were awful. CNN didn’t even show the weather temperatures from back home or any of the islands we went to. Cruise lines need a little more mainstream TV. Two of the passengers in our group caught norovirus and were stuck in their room for 24 and 48 hours and almost went insane from the awful TV. choices.
Service: I will break out service in three areas – room stewards, food service and Customer Service Desk.
Dining Service: B. The service in the Grand Epernay Dining room on the first two nights was chaotic. It got a bit better after night 4, when we spoke to the Maitre ‘D. We were with a group of 44 people spread out over 6 tables with four different servers. Celebrity did a fantastic job of keeping the group together. We were in tables 123- 135 on deck three near a window.
Celebrity waiters tend to like to wait for their entire group of tables to be seated before taking orders. The first night, we sat for 15 minutes before our Head Waiter came over to take our orders. The other tables had already ordered. We ordered drinks from someone else, and then a woman came over to take another drink order. Why two people for drink orders? It took over 20 minutes to get our drinks (this went on every night), until the Maitre ‘D happened to be talking to us at our table and asked how the service was and we told him that we had already been waiting 15 minutes for our drink and still they hadn’t come. Even HE couldn’t find the guy who took our drink order. After that, we ordered from another server and our drinks were delivered in less than 10 minutes. If you wanted iced tea, even ANOTHER person had to take that order and we waited 15 minutes for that as well. The service was so nondescript in the dining room that I don’t even remember the name of our Head Waiter. Throughout the cruise, the dining room service was slow, but did get better that last two nights of the cruise. It was not the quality of service we experienced previously on Celebrity.
I will say that the Maitre ‘D was very good. We had some issues with birthdays and anniversaries that were supposed to have been delivered that didn’t happen. I spoke to the Maitre ‘D and he took care of making sure that these were celebrated.
We ate in Silk Harvest and Bistro on Five and the service in both of these restaurants were excellent. The quality of the service here is what brought my overall rating to a B.
Room Steward : B. Our room steward was good, not exceptional. I noticed on the first day that the bathroom floor was dirty – there was hair in the corners of the floor. The rest of the bathroom was fine, but the dirty floor was a turnoff. We had a bottle of champagne in our room, and he brought ice for the first two days, but we didn’t open it and the ice never reappeared after the first two days.
What we did like was that the room steward was very unobtrusive – we rarely saw him and he did a decent job with the rest of the cleaning. I did have to ask him to bring us a dry cleaning bag – there was none in our room and we usually do use this service at least once on a cruise.
Customer Service Desk: D . Because we were leading a group, we did have to use the Customer Service Desk a few times for requests. The people at the desk were very unfriendly and condescending. I have never seen a group of people who seemed to not like the jobs they were doing. Every one of them tried to brush off my requests and it seemed that I was bothering them.
Two of our group went to the ship Dr. and were quarantined to their room for 24 and 48 hours. The ship Dr. told them they could have free room service, free pay per view movies, and free soda during the time they were quarantined. They were told differently by room service – only one free soda, they could not order what was being served in the dining rooms, etc. They called the Customer Service desk and were told that was the way it was. We tried to get answers for them and were brushed off as well.
Once they got out of their quarantined status, they went to the CS desk too and were brusquely dismissed by the Customer Service person when they asked to have the auto tip removed so they could tip accordingly, since their room steward was the only one permitted in their room during the time they were quarantined. The desk rep. wouldn’t allow them to speak to anyone but him and they became outraged. Only then were they finally permitted to speak to the head of Customer Service, who, when he sat down with them, told them that they WERE given incorrect information from room service and that they should have been allowed to receive what was served in the dining rooms and they should have had soft drinks at no cost. They suffered unduly for 48 hours because of misinformation and the lack of assistance by Customer Service.
I will say service in other areas of the ship – the buffet, ice cream counters, etc. service was very good.
We also had an event coordinator for our group who was outstanding; from the cocktail party we had to getting our group disembarked at the same time when they received varying disembarkation numbers. She was the one who did what Customer Service should have done.
Disembarkation: A+. We got up and ate breakfast in the dining room, then went back to out room and retrieved our carryon and headed to the Theater to our waiting area at 8:20. We were there merely 20 minutes when our number was called. We found our luggage immediately and headed to our bus for the transfer to the airport.
Overall rating: B++ We enjoyed the cruise very much and so did our group. We did like the ship and would recommend it. Their Customer Service Desk needs some improvement and they need to get their act together in the dining room and perhaps do a little better with Entertainment. But none of these were deal breakers or would prevent us from sailing on the Solstice again.