published August 2009
Celebrity Solstice debuted in November 2008 to virtually unanimous raves for its architecture, décor and design. Its nearly-identical-in-every-way sister, Celebrity Equinox, was launched this summer
With the introduction of these new ships, I wondered: Could Celebrity deliver its premium level of cruising on a 122,000 ton, 2,850 guest ship (space ratio: 43)? Would the cruise experience match the quality of the ship itself? I found the answers on my summer 2009 Mediterranean cruise on Solstice.
On that cruise, Solstice was sailing at more than 100 percent capacity. With nearly 500 kids under 18 on board, Solstice was carrying 3,047 guests.
About 80 percent were from the United States, with the next two largest groups coming from Canada and Britain. There was a nice mix of other Europeans as well. The guests were served by a crew complement of 1352 (2.3 guest/crew ratio; about average for the category). In all areas that I could tell, it seemed as though there was more than enough staff to take care of all guest needs.
In the casual restaurant, the Oceanview Café, I sat and watched as guests left their tables. Within seconds, plates and silverware were removed, and the table made ready for the next users. A couple of times, there were spills on the floor which were promptly taken care of.
Wherever I went to eat and drink, there was staff ready to make the experience delightful. And they weren’t just prompt, they were friendly and efficient. In many cases, they got to know me and what my personal requests would be. And, that’s no mean feat on a ship this size with so many guests as well as ten restaurants and over a dozen bars.
On the two pool days, with the pool area crowded, there were plenty of servers walking around, and the pool bar service was quite quick. Another nice touch took place the night I had dinner in Tuscan Grille (the Italian Steakhouse). After the first two courses, the headwaiter suggested I relax and take a a break before the main course in order to allow some digestion time. He knew the main course was a big one and the suggestion was perfect.
As were the dinners I had in all three alternative restaurants. Between Tuscan Grille, Murano for contemporary French cuisine and Silk Harvest for Asian food, I do not know if there is a finer triplet of alternative restaurants at sea. The décor and mood in each is perfect. The menu offerings (especially the escargot in Murano and the steak tartare in Tuscan) were sensational. And the service was of an exceptional high quality. At $30 for Murano, $25 for Tuscan and $20 for Silk Harvest, the surcharges are not cheap but they are a good value.
For a couple on a ten-night cruise such as the one I was on, eating in each of the three one time would cost $150, not unreasonable for the experience and the quality and quantity of food. And eating in the alternative restaurants is a nice change from the main restaurant. No matter how pretty the room and extensive the offerings, ten nights in the same restaurant at the same table can get a bit old. So, the alternative restaurants, or the casual nighttime buffet offered in Oceanview Café (maybe the most gorgeous and well laid-out casual restaurant outside of the luxury category) or even room service is a nice change.
Beyond these five places to eat, there are five more: Blu is the restaurant set up for AquaClass guests is gorgeous, and if the service at lunch in dinner is as good as what I experienced when I snuck in for breakfast one day, the folks that get to eat there are sure to enjoy it.
I pooh-poohed the idea of Bistro on Five, the creperie with fresh made food and a variety of salads. With a small surcharge ($5 for unlimited eats), I figured it was superfluous. Wrong! It was the perfect place for lunch on a sea day when the buffet area was crowded. I had the “Cowboy” crepe and Caesar salad – a delicious combo.
The Mast Grill is the small outside venue for hot dogs, burgers and salads. Joseph even made my hot dogs very well done and toasted the bun as well, just the way I like it.
For healthier food than dogs and burgers, there is also the AquaSpa Café for “healthy alternative” breakfasts and lunches. It’s a hidden gem with lovely-to-look-at food. I spent more time eating at the tenth spot, the Gelateria with yummy Italian ice cream (the small surcharge was worth it).
Also helping to make this a true premium experience was the ability to walk around the ship in the late afternoon, early evening before dinner or a show and late night as well and listen to live music. On any given night there were nine or so spots for listening to jazz, or piano, or classical guitar, or an accordionist, a dance band, a string quartet and even an a capella group. Of course there were activities and entertainment options galore, especially on sea days. There were lecturers whose topics included the areas in which we were cruising.
Celebrity has done a very good job of extending their audience. Even on this cruise in Europe, there were many multi-generational groups enjoying the experience. My one gripe would be that many among the nearly 500 under 18 could get a bit rambunctious, and often the parents were overly permissive, putting the cruise line in a tough spot when it came to behavior and appearance. One change I would make in favor of adults would be to limit the solarium pool area to 18 and older rather than the loosely followed 16 and older rule.
Beyond that, this was an exceptional cruise and proved that premium cruising can indeed come in a big package. — Art Sbarsky
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