Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a major fan of the Solstice class ships by Celebrity. In 2008, I was given the opportunity to experience the then newly built Solstice for 2 nights for an inaugural sailing. And last year was her inaugural sailing season in Alaska and you bet being in Vancouver that I made my way down to Seattle to have another cruise experience with her, this time for 7 nights.
What is it about the Solstice that brought me back onboard? I trust this review I wrote about my first impressions of her will explain why!
“The perfect ship” … or so my Celebrity greeter stated, with glass of champagne in hand in welcoming me onboard the brand-new Celebrity Solstice at embarkation.
To this bold statement I prompted further, as he took my luggage and personally showed me the way to my stateroom, only to discover that this young Filipino gentleman had previously worked onboard Celebrity’s Constellation and Mercury. It seemed he knew exactly what he was talking about by boldly claiming that this new vessel had indeed gotten it right. Although a previous fan of Celebrity ships and their value in the cruise industry, I cautiously took him at his word, at least until I quickly discovered for myself the merits and unique style of this state-of-the-art and sumptuous new cruise ship.
Indeed, Celebrity Solstice is indeed impressive – both to look at and to experience. As the first in a whole new class of Celebrity cruise ships, a huge commitment was made and no expense was spared, as the more than $800 million price tag shows! This unique ship is like no other before her with respect to amenities, art, and overall design.
Even by Celebrity’s high standards, Solstice is a treat. With high ceilings and expansive lines, she is more like a floating palace than just a cruise ship or a resort. Here, bigger is definitely better.
Ten different dining venues and specialty restaurants, an array of daytime and nighttime entertainment choices, one of the largest spas at sea (covering two decks, and with an exclusive AquaSpa class stateroom category which give unlimited access to the expansive spa facilities), and an incredible decor made intimate by the design elements of art, furniture, and clever use of lighting and colours throughout the ship.
Two notable and exciting cruise ship firsts onboard are the Lawn Club of real grass on Deck 15, aft, and the glass-blowing studio adjacent. At first glance, one might argue that these are mere gimmicks used to show off the new Solstice, not unlike other new cruise ships and their own novel publicized features. However, while true that these items have indeed succeeded in creating a lot of press and anticipation, the expert knowledge required to create and maintain both facilities (a former golf course groundskeeper is employed full-time to maintain the grass, for instance), as well as their usability and sheer entertainment value, make them even more enjoyable and legitimate.
If these novel attempts to entice new cruisers don’t personally appeal, then not to worry, as there will definitely be somewhere of interest onboard. Note that this is Celebrity’s largest vessel (and one of the largest cruise ships on earth) at 122,000 tons, and she absolutely aims to please, and yet not in a typical catering-to-the-masses fashion.
All of the furnishings, decor, colour-schemes, and public rooms are first-rate. And the Solstice has maintained Celebrity’s usual deluxe yet eclectic style throughout. Particular highlights include intimate Michael’s Club (repeated on Solstice), Cellar Masters wine bar, and the hip Crush Martini Bar (ask for one of the original bartender creations!) The soaring library is another wonderful area: located part-way up the bright, open atrium of the Grand Foyer, it is made to feel like a tropical, floating canopy. And there are many more spaces onboard for both solace and exciting entertainment.
Production shows in the spacious Solstice Theater are sophisticated and exclusive to this venue and ship. Late night partying is housed in the retro disco called Quasar, with a large dance floor and surrounding ball-shaped loungers that hang from the ceiling. High up at the top-forward part of the ship is the Observation Lounge for evening jazz and big band dancing, and which is fantastic for quiet daytime cruising too with its huge floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to sea. And don’t forget the huge area that is the casino and the many fine boutiques onboard, tastefully arranged adjacent to an interior boulevard setting.
Staterooms and suites onboard Solstice are both larger than on other ships as well as being better laid-out. Perhaps not enough compliments have been forwarded the way of the five specific boomer-aged women employed at the design stage of building this new Solstice-class of cruise ships, and their brilliant observations and recommendations are best felt in the accommodations.
Room decor is contemporary and appealing; softer tones are in pleasant contrast to the much bolder public areas throughout the ship. A fully-interactive flat-screen TV comes standard. There is fantastic use of the larger room space with additional cubby-holes and drawers everywhere. Closet space has been expanded by often housing life jackets under beds. The newly deluxe beds have been raised ever so slightly to store not just lifejackets but also the largest suitcases underneath.
Bathrooms are genuinely spacious, and a small but useful footrest has been added to the large shower for women to shave their legs. Cleverly, a small faint light above the bathroom mirror turns on when the bathroom door is opened, which allows avoidance of being immediately blinded by the main bathroom light if waking up in the middle of the night or early morning. Yes, these women designers have not only contributed to the overall look and appeal of Solstice, they have added insightful, practical elements too, which every cruise ship should employ.
The cuisine served onboard is certainly up to Celebrity’s usual acclaimed quality; what differs on this ship are the vast variety of other dining options throughout one’s cruise. The main restaurant, called the Grand Epernay, is a marvelous affair and one of the finest looking dining rooms at sea. A gorgeous, cream-coloured room over 2 storeys, the centre adornment is a huge glass tower that acts as a showy wine cellar.
The main buffet is the Oceanview Cafe and this is a large spacious area up on Lido Deck with food stations and an elaborate selection of cuisine, all self-serve. But the highlights of this ship are the intimate specialty restaurants, even if they are for an additional reservation charge of between $20 – $30 per person per evening each.
There are four in all, instead of the previous Millennium class’ sole alternative. These include: Murano, a combination of French-inspired and continental cuisine; Tuscan Grill, which shows off Italian and Mediterranean fare; Silk Harvest is an asian-fusion place; and lastly Blu is a health-smart and nouveau cuisine restaurant exclusively for the AquaSpa guests, and may overflow to the suites passengers, when available. These four alternate restaurants are all situated in a unique area aft on the Entertainment Deck highlighted by gorgeous art and design elements, including the haunting Night Solstice work that envelops an anteroom leading into the Ensemble Lounge.
Still more cafes and eateries exist both on deck, like the Mast Grill, and in a cluster around the Grand Foyer inside, including the charming Bistro on FIVE, serving excellent breakfasts, lunches, and light dinners (for a nominal $5 cover charge), Cafe al Bacio for specialty coffees and pastries, and the unique Gelateria for gelato and ice cream galore.
Solstice impresses with getting the best cruise ship basics right along with some wonderful new amenities, but she is also state-of-the-art in operating efficiency as well. This ship is remarkably and determinedly environmentally friendly, like no other ship afloat, and this is perhaps her most impressive and novel attribute. The most impressive aspect is Solstice’s use of solar power, a wise and long-awaited idea for a ship that regularly cruises in tropical and sun-bathed areas of the world. Over 200 solar panels on the highest deck direct the sun’s energy directly into the ship’s power grid, enough to maintain the elevators and many of the energy-efficient LED lights onboard.
Additionally, the hull design as well as the hull’s coating make the ship more fluid in the water requiring less fuel to power her, thereby reducing emissions. Another enhancement is due to Celebrity’s partnership with 3M regarding the windows onboard; a special tint deflects heat from the sun and the weather outside to save power running the air conditioning on the inside. Topical innovations to be sure, and not inexpensive to produce and try for the first time on a large cruise ship. For Celebrity such thinking may enhance this ship’s popularity, which is invaluable.
When onboard, one can tell that no expense was spared, no corners cut in Solstice’s construction and design. The notable art collection onboard is worth over six million dollars alone. And there is a symmetry to all of these diverse features and themes. One of the focal points to Solstice is the huge and real tree planted – yet suspended over 5 decks – in the Grand Foyer and atrium. Artist Carlos Betancourt believes this tree as art shows the relationship between man, nature, and the environment, a complicated argument that this ship nevertheless proudly undertakes in her effort to appeal and impress.
The world’s most perfect ship? It’s subjective, but Solstice is by far the closest thing yet, in a big way!
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates on the Celebrity Solstice. She arrives in Vancouver for the first time on May 8, 2014 and we’re going to welcome her as she sails in. Later the same day, we’re touring her!