After an overnight at sea, our first day was spent at Coco Cay, the Bahamas. Yes, it's a bit hokey as a man-made small island designed explicitly for Celebrity and Royal Caribbean ships. Still, I enjoyed the beach. The ships set up a simple yet tasty island buffet, and the water is warm and a gorgeous aqua color. What I loved most was the snorkeling option. If you like snorkeling, do it here. Sign up for snorkeling in advance or arrange it on island. There are several stations in the water where schools of yellowtail, grouper, and more can be found. As I swam about going from one station to the next, about 50 fish kept following me as I think they thought I had food. Apparently the staff feed the fish from these stations in the water. It was good fun.
The next day was spent at sea, a perfect time for relaxing by the pool or trying a spa treatment. Note that spa treatments are often discounted on days of port call since so many people are off the boat. By evening, I was ready for dinner and entertainment. The cruise theater performances were great. And while the shows are not Broadway quality, Celebrity had put together several really fun shows. They're only an hour long so it's possible to have a nice dinner, see a musical or comedy routine, and go on to a bar or cabaret later.
My favorite excursion of the week was to St. Barts. (Note: the Solstice doesn't always go to St. Barts, and it more commonly stops in St. Martin). In St. Barts, I took a taxi over to St. Jean beach (one of the best of the island) and later had dinner at the very lovely La Plage restaurant, located right on the beach (it's part of the Tom Beach Hotel). Another option is to go over to Nikki Beach for lunch/drinks. I have to admit, though, as much as I love St. Barts, and La Plage was a beautiful setting on the sand and water, the food on the Solstice was better (much better). Nevertheless, having a meal ashore once during the week seemed like a good change of pace. It's also worth spending time walking around Gustavia (the main town) in St. Barts. Unlike other cruise stops where the towns are not so appealing, St. Barts’ Gustavia is super charming with boutiques, cafes, and casual restaurants all surrounded by a bevy of yachts in the marina.
Thursday's stop was in St. Thomas, and the shore excursion highlight here was our yacht racing with 40-foot sail boats. This was a truly unique experience. With six guests per sailing boat, we had a four boat race and guests were required to help manage the sails, under the instructions of the two-member crew. The exercise was good, the race was very fun, and I learned quite a bit about sailing fundamentals. While the sailing excursion was appealing, the port town was developed and touristy. I wouldn't recommend coming ashore just to shop (unless you want to load up on duty-free items). The boating excursion option here is the best one.
Our last port of call was Samana in the Dominican Republic. In this case, I picked what turned out to be a not very interesting and rather far away excursion to Galleras beach. It was an alright beach but not quite worth the 40 minutes to get there. I'd recommend the horseback riding through the rainforest to waterfalls. Friends enjoyed this excursion very much. If you've been to Punta Cana in the DR, I'd say the beaches on that side of the island are better.
Our last day was spent at sea and, after an afternoon by the pool, I finally made time to go to the impressive gym to run. Now, running on a treadmill on a moving ship is not so easy!
Overall, I found a lot to like on the Solstice. The Celebrity ship facilities, food, excursions, entertainment, and staff were all excellent. My early fears melted away. Getting off the Celebrity Solstice was a bit sad. It had become home for a week after all. All of my friends and I had a really good time and many talked about signing up for another cruise next year. Now I understand why cruise enthusiasts are in fact loyal cruisers. A good cruise is like staying at a 5-star hotel yet you can still visit and get a taste of several interesting destinations, without the hassles of packing.
If you haven't cruised, I wholeheartedly recommend it, and the Celebrity Solstice is a smart luxury pick. It's not at all budget but it's also not the most expensive of cruise options. I liked the fact that an upscale, sophisticated traveler can be very comfortable and satisfied with Celebrity while still having the feeling that the vacation is a good value. The Celebrity ships are also the right size – neither too small (in such case one has fewer choices) nor too large (which, I think, might be impersonal and hard to ever really get to know). I can't speak for all the Celebrity ships but the Solstice, just a year old, was a great choice and I'm ready to return.
For more trip-planning information, see our Caribbean Cruises 101 Guide.