When people learn that I am a travel writer specializing in cruise vacations, one question never fails to surface: “What’s your favorite cruise line?”
It’s a difficult question to answer, like asking which of your children do you love most. As with my children, when it comes to cruises, there is no clear winner. I have two favorite kids. My favorite cruise line? There are many. But ask me my favorite cruise ship, and I can answer that. Celebrity Solstice, at least for the moment. She is a truly remarkable ship.
Welcome To Solstice
Celebrity Solstice breaks the mold in every conceivable way. Measuring 122,000 gross tons (remember, ships measure, not weigh — a gross ton is a unit of interior space), Solstice is Celebrity’s largest ship by far.
Carrying 2,850 cruise vacationers when fully occupied, she’s a big hunk of hull for a cruise company whose ships have hovered right around the 2,000-passenger capacity.
Solstice wears her excess steel well, and what strikes you – or what struck me – was that while the renderings, photographs, press releases and press events had prepared me for what to expect, seeing Solstice in real life presented an even better ship than I had expected. Sometimes cruise lines go hoarse with hyperbole in promoting their products, but Solstice actually exceeded what I had expected.
The most ballyhooed feature, of course, was the Lawn Club, with real grass. I thought it was a joke when Celebrity first announced the half-acre grassy area on the top deck of the ship, but it simply works. The Lawn Club is a great place to relax, play croquet, putt, picnic, practice bocce or wiggle your toes in the cool blades of real grass.
This unique area, shaded by canvas sails, is a natural touch that’s somehow more impressive than some of the whiz-bang technologies that cruise lines add so often.
Next to the Lawn Club, artisans from Corning Glass provide a look at glass-blowing, with demonstrations and some opportunities to participate. You may be yawning at the prospect of an afternoon watching grown men blow glass, but the demonstrations truly are remarkable – especially at night, with the glass all aglow under Caribbean stars.
Sleek And Sophisticated
Designers abandoned the ornate and glitzy on this ship, instead going with clean, sleek lines that give the Solstice a modern, sophisticated look.
Celebrity promised a new cabin layout, which results in 15 percent more space and creative solutions, such as lots of storage areas for clothes and luggage, flat-panel televisions, and a “shaving bar” suggested by Celebrity’s “leading ladies,” a panel of five ordinary women who gave their input into what they wanted most in staterooms and bathrooms.
The shaving bar, contrary to what you may be thinking, isn’t a place to sip cocktails. Rather, it’s a metal bar, situated in the shower, designed to assist women shaving their legs in the shower.
Celebrity showed similar attention to detail throughout the bathroom design. No longer are the showers so small that you simply soap up and spin, as a friend of mine once said about another cruise ship’s showers. I found the showers roomy and spacious even for my 6’5″ frame.
Solstice’s menu of restaurants runs the mouth-watering gamut, led by a two-level main venue, three alternative restaurants — priced at $20 to $30 per person — and a 24-hour bistro for casual meals, including some creative twists on crepes. Altogether, there are ten dining venues on Solstice, more than on any other Celebrity ship.
One of the restaurants, Blu, is reserved for AquaClass stateroom guests. These 192-square-foot staterooms, with balconies, are aimed at passengers who want a spa-oriented cruise. Guests in these Penthouse Deck cabins get unlimited access to the AquaSpa relaxation room, the aforementioned Blu and other facilities.
Solstice sails seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale. In spring 2009, Solstice will introduce a series of romantic 10- and 11-night Mediterranean sailings roundtrip from Rome. A sister ship, Equinox, debuts in late summer 2009.