I never considered myself a cruise enthusiast – at least until now. Most of my travels over the years have been independent travel. I tended to shun group trips either by land of sea. I didn't want to hop off daily to a destination for just 8 hours with hordes of tourists. However, having come back recently from a 7-day Celebrity Solstice cruise in the Caribbean, I am now a very big fan. In fact, I have already reserved a place for next year!
Upon embarkation, the first thing I noticed was the sheer size of the Celebrity Solstice. It boasts about 1,400 guest cabins (up to 2,800 passengers), over six restaurants, a theater, gym, spa, picnic green, pools, shops, art gallery, casino, and much more. The ship is elegant without being stuffy. While staterooms are far from spacious (unless you choose a suite), they are perfectly fine especially since not much time is spent there. I was told by one frequent cruiser that the cabins of the Solstice are actually larger (particularly the bathrooms) than other ships. All in all, I felt the room was comfortable and nicely appointed.
The Celebrity Solstice has 15 decks, and I was on deck 7 in a room with a balcony. The cabin was located towards the back part of the boat, conveniently near the elevators that run up to the restaurants, spa, and gym. Being on a middle deck is a good thing if waters are rough; those on higher decks will feel the sway of the boat more. I recommend a mid-level deck as long as there’s no obstruction from your balcony.
Arguably equal to your sleeping quarters in importance will be the quality of the ship's facilities. And on this point, the Celebrity Solstice gets a solid "A." I have always feared that upscale cruise ships could be overly stuffy and budget ships, well, tacky. Celebrity was neither. The Solstice has a luxe Art Deco style – neither formal nor budget. It struck a very appealing balance in its sophisticated, luxury design while being fun and approachable. This theme runs though the restaurants (all stunning), theater (worthy of a Broadway house), spa and gym (soothing ocean views), shops, and then of course the pools. The main outdoor pool is not as large as one might expect but really the limitation is due to practical ship constraints – in rough seas, a large pool would end up with water splashing all over. So, I can understand why Celebrity needed to build pools of more modest size. I liked that there is one indoor pool for those seeking a quieter setting and then a livelier outdoor pool deck.
The next critical criterion – and arguably the most important – is a ship's food. I cannot imagine a good cruise experience without great food, since nearly all meals are taken on-board. The Celebrity Solstice passed with flying colors. I was deeply impressed with their "cruisine." The Grand Epernay Restaurant (buffet at breakfast and lunch; table service at night) is a stunningly designed Art Deco room (two levels) with a quality "Continental" menu to match. We were seated with other people at the large tables as this seemed to be a good means of meeting other guests on board.
While the Grand Epernay is located on the main restaurant deck, the Oceanview Cafe is located near the pools (upper deck) and has, as the name suggest, great ocean views. The Oceanview is always buffet – good food and a casual setting. Be sure to check out the outdoor tables at the sunset deck and bring a tray outside. I tended to eat at the Oceanview for many breakfasts and most lunches.
The Oceanview and Grand Epernay are included in the cruise price (except for alcohol drinks). However, there are several additional restaurant options that are more intimate and require a supplemental fee (about $25 to $30 per person). The Tuscan Grille and Murano were my favorites by far and the supplement is worth it. The restaurants are stunning and the food was nearly flawless with my favorites including Caribbean lobster (sweet), filet mignon, and a whole wheat seafood pasta. At Tuscan Grille be sure to ask for a table by the large windows for a view of the ocean on the bow side. Also, arrive early and have a drink at the very clubby Michael's Club lounge next door. (Note: I do not recommend the Asian restaurant, Rain, unless you don't have good Asian food at home. I think they can improve this option).
All in all, you won't ever go hungry on this cruise, and will have to you use all your willpower to avoid overeating with so many fine options. Most mortals will gain a few pounds (hence, why I recommend bringing along your sneakers for some work-outs at the gym!).
For more trip-planning information, see our Caribbean Cruises 101 Guide.