Sailed 22 February-1 March 2009
With much anticipation and excitement, my husband Tony and I met our friends for a 7-night cruise on the new Celebrity Solstice-class ship, the Solstice. Inaugurated in November 2008, she is a large ship with a maximum capacity of 2,850 passengers. 85% of the cabins have verandas.
We drove to the pier in Ft. Lauderdale. Parking for the Solstice is Pier 18, and there is a complimentary shuttle that will drop you off at the entrance. Parking is $15/day, and you can pay with a credit card on exit. For those of you flying into Ft. Lauderdale, it is a very easy transfer from the airport to the port. You can actually see the airport from the pier. This makes for a very easy transfer to and from the ship.
Boarding the ship was a breeze. We had all our paperwork done beforehand; so once they checked you in and gave you your boarding card, you were able to easily walk onto the ship.
The cabins were roomy for a cruise ship. Five women helped design the cabins. There were some nice touches such as a small bar in the shower to put your leg on to shave your legs. We were in a category 2C cabin which is 192 sq ft with a 53 sq ft balcony. They recently recategorized these 2Cs because some of them had lifeboats under the balcony. We were on Deck 7, and yes there were lifeboats out in front of us, directly below us. However, this did not ruin our ocean view. I think if you were on Deck 6, specific cabins would be blocking your view. Fully unobstructed cabins are now category 2B and higher.
The ship is the new flagship Solstice class under the Celebrity brand. All I can say is WOW! It is very beautiful, and it is very lively. Very mixed crowd. I would say average age early 50s.
The Lawn Club was larger than I had pictured. They use this area for all sorts of games and activities. They do have staff that keep the lawn manicured. Sprinkler system is underneath the grass turf. This is also the area for the Hot Glass Show. We saw it during the day, and it was nice. People that saw it at night said that it was really “cool”. Many different athletic facilities onboard including a half-court basketball court.
The art onboard is spectacular. Every time you turn a corner, there is beautiful piece of art. Speaking of art, their art show is done very discreetly. The pieces are on display in a specific area on Deck 9. The art show times are listed in the daily news, and there is no “hawking” and auctioning.
The dining onboard was a wonderful experience. Celebrity is known for their food and service. They have outdone themselves on this ship. The feel of the Grand Epernay Dining Room is very eclectic. Soft, muted colors in mauves and gray. The lighting, drapes, carpets etc all lent themselves to the “bubbling” theme. The centerpiece of the room is a huge wine tower housing over hundreds of bottles of wine. We were at a large oval table for eight. There were many tables for two and four guests. This makes it nice for honeymooners and passengers wanting more of an intimate experience. The wait staff was excellent, always making sure everything was to our liking. The assistant waiter forgot my dressing on the first night. I didn’t say anything and when he discovered it, he was mortified. I reassured him it was not a problem. I also reassured the head waiter. The next evening, our assistant waiter wasn’t there. I became very concerned. Finally, he appeared. He continued to apologize all week.
Tuesday, February 24, we pulled into San Juan, Puerto Rico around 2 pm. Since we had been to San Juan before, we just got off and walked around Old Town. It hasn’t changed. We were docked next to the Royal Caribbean ship, the Freedom of the Seas and two Holland America ships. We were docked at Pier 4, which enabled us to walk into town.
Wednesday, February 25, we docked at St. Kitts. Our friends opted for the train trip, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. Another couple went to the beach at Frigate Bay. We walked around since we had been to St. Kitts a couple of years ago. We did have a charming encounter at a small shop I searched out because it was advertised to sell only items made in St. Kitts. As we entered the shop, a young woman was bringing in a “pot” of food. They had a small kitchen in the shop that brings in food for lunch to feed the locals. It smelled delicious. On entering the shop, I told the proprietor Liz, “I am following the pot”. She got the biggest charge out of that. We laughed and talked for some time. Surprisingly, she knew quite a bit about our political situation, probably as much, if not more, than the average person in the US. She went and got us a sample of what was in the “pot”, and we purchased a couple of other items as well. All were delicious!!! Country-type foods—chicken, potatoes, vegetables with island spices. She spoke about how they used to cook with charcoal in a clay pot when she was small. I left this island with a smile and hopefully made someone else smile as well. It’s always the people that make my travel experiences worthwhile. This island is one you come to for the water and sand. They do have a couple of large casinos, and the pier area is being developed with a large shopping area that will have condos and such.
Thursday, February 26 St. Martin. It was very crowded with cruise ships. Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, Carnival’s Valor and ours made the crowd swell to over 8,000. They do have a water ferry over to the town for a beach and shopping. More jewelry stores…not a lot of passengers buying. Great time for deals! We didn’t do any tours here as we’ve done them on previous visits. I did buy some great European facial creams in a local pharmacy that you can’t get here. Very reasonably priced and no tax.
Back to the ship. At the evening show, the cruise director Dru informed us that the Captain was taking a different course back. The weather was going to be rough on the regular route, so he replotted the course to ensure us of calm waters on the return trip. We woke up the next morning to very calm seas. I was impressed!!! This is no easy task. Lots of things have to be changed in order to take a different direction.
Friday February 27 at sea, we took advantage of the activities around the ship. That night, we had dinner at the specialty restaurant, the Tuscan Grille. Oh my, what a beautiful experience that was! First of all, the restaurant is at the back of the ship. We watched the sunset as the entire back of this restaurant is all glass. The Tuscan Grille is one of four specialty restaurants onboard. This is the one that seems to get the most rave reviews. Our waiter and his assistant were exceptional. This restaurant has the largest wine collection onboard. Robert was the manager, and he was very accommodating. We had several changes to our reservations, and he was always helpful. I had the Sea Bass, and it was melt-in-your-mouth. As an appetizer, I had the Calamari which was very good. My Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese was exceptional. We shared desserts…fresh Gelato, Tiramisu (best I have ever had) and Crème Brulee.
The entertainment was spectacular every night. Each night there was a major production show. There were a couple of entertainers brought onboard. The cruise director, Dru was very outgoing and pleasant, and his staff was very engaging.