Celebrity Solstice Review
We sailed on a pre-inaugural cruise in November on Celebrity Solstice out of Ft. Lauderdale. Solstice is the first in a series of 4 ships coming out over the next 4 years. Equinox will be the second in the series and Eclipse the third. The fourth has not been named yet.
The Solstice class is the first new class of ships from Celebrity since the Millennium class debuted in 2000, and she is the first new ship from Celebrity since 2002 (Constellation). The Solstice Class at 122,000 tons is about one third larger than the Millennium class at 90,000 tons, but she needed to be larger but to hold all the new features like four new specialty restaurants; 15% larger cabins (85% of which are balcony cabins); a huge 12 story central atrium; a half-acre of grass for picnics, lawn bowling, and putting; a new entertainment court; two floors of shops; new Relaxation Lounge; larger Spa; and more bars. The Solstice class is too large to make it through the current Panama Canal like the Millennium class, which are the largest ships that can fit through (called "Panamax" for that reason). Solstice class will have to wait for the new wider Panama Canal project that started in 2007 and is scheduled to be completed by 2014.
Solstice is stunning and we think guests will like her very much because she is still classy and elegant yet adds many new nice features. The Solstice is an mix of Old-World elegance and Contemporary. The Spa feel is evident on this ship, especially in areas such as the clean, elegant lines of the Art Deco main dining room, or the light colors in cabins - a contrast to the dark woods and glass decor in some other parts of the ship. The layout is different than the Millennium-class, starting with the 12-story atrium with its glass elevators which look onto public rooms like the library, internet cafe and wine cellar. You'll love the big tree suspended several stories up in the 12 story atrium that Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of RCCL, had added after the ship first arrived in Ft. Lauderdale. The 25 foot tall tree was firmly in place with decorated container, lighting and automated water system within 4 days. The tree gets plenty of light since the central atrium has a big sky light for its ceiling and the tree is now know as "Fain's Tree".
We particularly liked the many new specialty restaurants in a new dining area that fills the area aft of the elevators on deck 5. The waiting area, the Ensemble Lounge, is beautifully decorated in woods and brass just outside the three specialty restaurants & Michael's Club. It's a great area for relaxing with a drink prior to or after a meal at one of the new specialty restaurants like Murano (even nicer decor than the Olympic Restaurant on Millennium if that is possible) & Tuscan Grille (beautifully decorated in woods and faces aft with floor to ceiling windows across the back wall - the view is stunning & the Italian wine list is wonderful) or Silk Harvest (outstanding Asian options in a clearly oriental setting). Cover charges for these restaurants range from $20-30 per person for these beautiful dining venues, and it's well worth dining here. Also in this area is Blu, which is the restaurant exclusively for Aqua Class Balcony guests, with it's healthy Mediterranean menu.
The Grand Epernay (main) Dining Room has two stories as on all Celebrity ships and is an Art Deco design in elegant shades of cream and off-white - very subtle. It has a large 2-story glass and steel column for wine storage in the aft part of the restaurant. Sorry there are no wine maidens on trapezes soaring up and down inside the column to fetch the wines like in Las Vegas. Grand Epernay does not extend to the back of the ship with a wall of glass across the back of the restaurant like on the Millennium Class. Instead, Grand Epernay's kitchen is actually on the two decks aft of the restaurant so it would be difficult to see out thorough all the refrigerators, stoves and chefs. Although it sure might be interesting to watch the symphony of movements that results in those superb meals.
The Oceanview Cafe & Grill (the causal, buffet style dining area) has been greatly improved. There are no longer 2 to 4 buffet lines that snake past all the food choices. Instead, there are separate stations for the various foods. For example at lunch there will be multiple stations for salads, sandwiches, entrees, deserts, ethnic options, pizza, pasta, etc. There are no trays anymore. There are square plates (and bowls) at each individual station, and the silverware/napkin is already placed on the table. This speeds up the process significantly and makes it easy to dash back for just a little more of that wonderful Brazilian Churrascaria Steak (an option on our cruise). We never saw any discernable lines and it is a big improvement that we really liked. With the new system there is more room and more choices - some may only be at one station while the more popular dishes may be at 2 stations. You will see things like the English Breakfast station, or a sushi station, or a Chef's Specialty station. They still have the ice cream and frozen yogurt bar on each side of the entrance and they still have the pizza, pasta bars. In the evenings, there is also one area that has table cloths and table service for an always-casual dress option. We were very impressed with the changes here. As on Millennium class ships there is an outdoor dining area and bar in the aft part of this restaurant. As with other areas this too has been improved as it is larger and more of it is covered to offer protections from sun, sea gulls and the elements. There is still a pool snack bar with hamburgers, hot dogs and other casual food. There is also still the Aqua Spa Cafe for healthier cuisine.
The Cova Cafe on the Millennium Class has been replaced with a larger area and it has three options, Cafe Bacio, a Gelateria, and "Bistro on Five", another specialty restaurant. Cafe Bacio is like the Cova coffee bar and the pastry bar combined. The Gelateria is new and we learned that Italian Gelato has much less fat than American ice cream - so go ahead and enjoy. The gelato is not free here but you can still get Celebrity's delicious freshly-made ice cream at no cost in the casual dining area on deck 15. The "Bistro on Five" is another nice new dining option with a $5 per person fee for wonderful crepes, paninis and salads in a small dining area.
The main theater is a bit larger but very similar to the Millennium Class theater. There is a new area just outside the main theater called the Entertainment Court. It has a dance club, as well as an area for live entertainment like a cappella groups, quartets, jazz ensembles,etc., and a separate area called Celebrity Central with a small stage and tiered seating for late night comedy, cooking demonstrations, lectures, feature films and meetings. The Michael's Club is another entertainment option (located in the specialty restaurant area) and is gorgeous on this ship just as it is on Millennium class.
One of the more subtle upgrades they made is to introduce a two story tall Boulevard of Shops on deck 4. The very wide and tall boulevard connects the main central area with the entertainment area forward on deck 4. The casino is off to one side and the shops are on the other side with a wall between. One does not have to walk through the casino anymore to get from one area of the ship to the other on this deck. For those like Rosemary who don't like the smoke often found in the casino this is a very nice improvement. The tall ceilings and wide hallway makes for a grand stroll by the most expensive shops. Too bad we haven't found a way to keep the ladies out of the expensive shops yet. Deck 6 has more shops, a specially-designed art gallery, and the photo gallery. Deck 6 also has the traditional Martini Bar and an elegant new bar called Cellar Masters for wine tasting.
Outside on deck 15 you will find the half acre lawn which is used for all sorts of activities. You can picnic, play croquet, practice your putting, or enjoy lawn bowling or bocce ball. Adding the lawn - a first on a cruise ship - was quite an undertaking. The sod and irrigation system weigh 150 tons. The Hot Glass Show is in the lawn area and there are 3 shows daily by experts from Corning Glass. They put on a very interesting demonstration from hot glass blob to a finished work of art like a seashell-like vase they made when we watched. One master glass-blower does the main work, another explains what they are doing and two others assist and try to help prevent anyone from getting burned from the 2300 degree glass. They had to develop electric ovens just for this as the cruise ship did not want to have anything to do with huge propane tanks for fueling the ovens, especially close to the lawn where an errant croquet ball or golf ball could come wandering in! Won't happen now - all electric.
The outside and indoor (Solarium) pools also have new features. The outdoor pool area has several sail-like structures as wells as cabanas to provide shade and wind protection. Also new are the dancing water areas both outside and inside the Solarium. The gorgeous Solarium has several semi-private enclosed seating areas next to the jacuzzis, and a huge comfortable-looking hammock in one corner. Again, the spa feeling shows very well here.
Cabins have been enlarged about 15% and 85% have private balconies. The size increase is mostly in the bathrooms which are larger and most have curved showers with curved sliding plastic doors - no more sticking shower curtains and no more comedian jokes about the tiny bathrooms. There are more storage areas in the cabins and the beds are higher so even large pieces of luggage fit under the beds. There are many more categories of balconies on Solstice even though they are all the same size at 192 sq. ft. inside plus 53 sq. ft. on the balcony. The main difference is the new Aqua Class Balcony which had many nice upgraded cabin features like relaxing music and scents plus its own restaurant, Blu, exclusively for Aqua Class guests. Also exclusive to Aqua Spa cabin guests is unlimited access to the Relaxation Lounge, all the way forward on the same deck as the Aqua Class cabins. The Relaxation Lounge is like having your own private observation lounge with hot coffee/tea service/soft music and the same great forward facing view the captain has in the bridge (it is right on top of the bridge in case you see an iceberg and want to stomp on the floor loudly to alert them). Aqua Class guests also get use of the Persian Gardens, an area with two steam rooms and a waiting area with heated ceramic tile lounges.
There are also changes in the Suites. The Celebrity Suites on the Millennium-class are smaller than Royal Suites and larger than Sky Suites but they have no balconies. That changes with Solstice-class and they now have a 105 sq. ft. balcony. Royal Suites and Penthouse Suites have gotten their share of subtle upgrades and are still outstanding options for those who want the best.
Overall the Solstice-class is a collection of outstanding improvements over the already top-ranked ships in the premium class. The contrasting decors may take some getting used to, but the large increase in dining, entertainment and stateroom options will result in a big hit in our opinion.
John & Rosemary Roberts
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