Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Celebrity Solstice, March 16 - 28, 2013 (Pt I)



Imagine walking into the lobby of a five-star hotel with sumptuous furnishings, fine dining and stylish bars. Now transport this onto the high seas and you have Celebrity Solstice.

We'd heard nothing but good things about Celebrity Solstice and we weren't let down. Admittedly, we've been bitten hard by the cruising bug and love every cruise ship we've been on (cruise ships are adventure playgrounds for adults) but Celebrity Solstice took our cruising experience to a whole other level. Everything about Solstice is elegant and sophisticated, yet in an understated 'anything done well looks easy' way.

The design of Solstice means there are lots of different areas - spaces - so that you always feel the ship is changing as you walk through it. We don't know if this caused everyone to spread out but, despite having a capacity of nearly 3,000 passengers, there were many times when we looked around and asked ourselves, "where is everyone?" Once again, anything done well looks easy.

This was Celebrity Solstice's first season Down Under and, as a result, some great deals were on offer. We embarked on a 12-night cruise in a Concierge Class stateroom (with balcony), departing from Auckland, New Zealand, and stopping at Tauranga, Wellington, Akaroa, and Dunedin, before spending our final day in NZ cruising through Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds (amazing photos!). We then headed to Melbourne for one day before ending in Sydney, including one night docked at Circular Quay, situated between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House (our million-dollar view was of the Opera House). Our package also included flights from Brisbane to Auckland, Sydney to Brisbane, all transfers plus $200 onboard credit, and we paid around $2,000 each. It was a fabulous deal, to say the least.


****This post has been split in two and our Ports of Call can be linked to at the end of this post****


(Above photo - Celebrity Solstice moored at Akaroa, New Zealand)

We have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).
Our million-dollar view for a day.


CONTENTS OF THIS BLOG

- Nautical Terms
- Things to do before you cruise
- Celebrity Solstice stats
- Our YouTube clip of Celebrity Solstice
- Concierge Class Stateroom
- Sea Pass & Gratuities
- Food and Dining (what's included in your fare/what's not)
- Drinks, Bars and Lounges (including drinks packages and the Molecular Bar)
- The Lawn Club (and Hot Glass Show)
- The Pool Deck & Solarium
- Entertainment, Relaxation & R'n'R
- Exercise Options
- The AquaSpa
- Shopping
- Child/Youth Facilities (Fun Factory)
- Internet
- Photo/Art Gallery
- Clothes (what to take) & Laundry
- Celebrity TODAY (onboard newsletter) & Information
- Ship Tours
- Other Images from Around the Ship
- Disembarkation Day
- Celebrity Solstice in Sydney
- Ports of Call



NAUTICAL TERMS

Here's a few that may appear in the blog:

Fore - Near or toward the front of the ship
Aft - Near or toward the rear of the ship
Bow - The very front of the ship
Stern - The very back of the ship
Port - The left of the ship, facing towards the front
Starboard - The right of the ship, facing towards the front
Draft - Depth of water measured from the waterline to the bottom of the ship's hull
Bridge - The 'command centre' in the forward part of the ship
Gangway - The stairway or ramp connecting the ship to the shore
Tender - A small vessel, usually a lifeboat, used to transport passengers from the ship to the shore when the ship is at anchor

All prices and information are as of March, 2013, prices in US dollars (except where otherwise noted).
Celebrity Solstice docked at Melbourne, Australia.


THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU CRUISE

1) If you intend using your credit card while you are away, tell your credit card provider that you are going overseas, so they don't think your credit card has been compromised and someone in a foreign land has suddenly started making purchases. The last thing you want to deal with when you get home is a cancelled credit card and having to sort out all your direct debits etc when your bank sends you a new one. While it's good that credit card security works this way, it's a hassle you don't need.

2) Similarly to your credit card, contact your mobile phone provider and have your phone switched to international call roaming. The costs are very high if you do make (and receive) calls but it's a security blanket should you need to use your phone in an emergency. IMPORTANT - turn off data roaming on your phone (or get your provider to do it for you). While you may not make calls while you are away, any data that is uploaded or downloaded (emails or app updates, for instance) will be charged at a far, far more expensive rate.

3) 'Dose up'. Being confined to a ship with several thousand people can be a breeding ground for germs and result in colds/flus (how many of us seem to always get a cold when we fly?). We'd suggest a course of vitamins and/or echinacea in the lead up to your cruise. While these might not completely stop you from getting a cold/flu, they may help reduce the duration of anything you might get and, thus, give you more time to enjoy your cruise. And, for those of you who have heard of norovirus, there is nothing you can do ahead of time other than get into the habit of practising safe hygiene.
Part of the Lawn Club, a half-acre of grass on the top deck at the aft of the ship (more about this later).



STATS

Class & type: Solstice-class cruise ship
Tonnage: 122,000
Length: 314.86 m (1,033 ft)
Beam: 36.88 m (121 ft)
Draft: 8.23 m (27 ft)
Decks: 19
Installed power: 4x Wärtsilä 16V46 diesel engines
Propulsion: 2x 20.5MW Azipod
Speed: 24 knots (44 km/h, 28 mph)
Capacity: 2,850 passengers
Crew: 1,500 crew

Builder: Meyer Werft, Papenburg, Germany
Cost: $750 million
Laid down: March 17, 2007
Launched: August 10, 2008
Completed: October, 2008
Christened: November 14, 2008
Maiden voyage: November 23, 2008
Port of registry: Valletta,  Malta
IMO number: 9362530



YOUTUBE VIDEO

Our video is the No. 1 Celebrity Solstice video on YouTube!

To see what this spectacular ship has to offer, and why our video is No. 1, please click HERE.

***If the video appears to be slightly blurry, click on the 'Setting' icon (looks like a cog) just below the YouTube window in which the video appears and change the 'Quality' to 360p.



CONCIERGE CLASS STATEROOM

When we opened the door to our room we were greeted by the sight of a welcome bottle of champagne, plate of fruit and canapes (canapes could be requested daily). A nice start!

The room was a good size. The bed was very comfortable but the top sheet seemed to be too small for the bed and several times we pulled the sheet 'up', only to find our feet sticking out from under the end of the sheet (this was also noted by others we spoke with). The sofa was large, as was the TV but, best of all, was the size of the balcony, which was about 30-40cm (12-16in) deeper than anything we've had. This extra depth might not seem like much but it made a huge difference. The room also came with a hair dryer, (golf) umbrella, binoculars and complimentary tote bag.

The bathroom was large enough and had a night light so you didn't stumble about in the wee hours (especially after a few 'shandies'). The shower cubicle was an enclosed unit, so spillage didn't occur, and it had a great shower head. We couldn't find a clothes line.

Storage space was more than ample - there were 12 hangers with clips for pants etc and 12 non-clip hangers for shirts etc, storage space above the bed and, once unpacked, we slid our suitcases under the bed quite easily. There was also a easy-to-use safe, dual voltage 110/220AC outlets (we brought a multi-port power board) and a mini-bar with prices that reflected those of the bars throughout the ship. Unlike other rooms we've had, there was no dividing curtain that enables you to split the room in two if someone wants to sleep while the other watches TV.

Celebrity and Royal Caribbean International, who we have cruised with twice (Radiance of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas), are both owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises. As a result, the points we had accrued with RCI were able to be carried over to Celebrity. Thus we attained Captain's Club Select status with Celebrity and this afforded us benefits/discounts for such things as laundry, wine (bottle), internet, digital printing, AquaSpa and the casino.
Concierge Class Stateroom with champagne and fruit to greet us (canapes are on the bench).

The ice might have melted but the water was freezing and the champagne icy cold.
Tote bag on the bed.
Balcony - comfy furniture and the extra depth made all the difference.
Wardrobe and safe next to the bed, with storage space above the bed.
Good-sized bathroom.
Great shower cubicle and shower head.
A rose to compliment the bathroom 'goodies'.
The complimentary afternoon canapes, right, and bottle of Evian that also greeted us when we arrived...

We thought the bottle of Evian (above) was complimentary but turned out not to be. We later found a note in the mini-bar that should have been with the Evian -

"To quench your thirst, Celebrity Cruises is pleased to provide this bottle of water. Please note that, for your convenience, we will automatically bill $4.00 plus 15% gratuity to your Celebrity SeaPass if you choose to open and/or consume this item".

A few days into the cruise we also received a charge-slip for two mini-bottles of vodka from the mini-bar, which we didn't use. We reported this to one of the room attendants and were told that it had been taken care of but found out after we'd left the ship that it had still been charged to our room.
Flowers and fruit.
One of the towel creations left on our bed one night by our stateroom attendant.

While we're still in the whereabouts of our stateroom, here's a quick rundown of the TV channels and few other bits of info about the 'tele'.

TV Channels (when we boarded in New Zealand):
Cruise Director Channel
Shore Excursions
Port Shopping
TV Guide
Bridge View (webcam)
Navigation Map
Celebrity Life (Celebrity Cruises channel)
Movie channel
Engage (light entertainment/documentaries)
Fox News
MSNBC
BBC World News
CNBC
SKY News
ESPN
CNN
CBS Eye on Celebrity (CBS programming)
Australia Network
Sea TV

As we neared Australia, we lost the last 7 channels and gained these:

Celebrity International (onboard international language channel)
Fox Sports News
Fox 8
Fox Footy (Australian Rules Football)
Comedy Channel
Arena
Biography Channel, which seemed to revolve around the shows Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Judge Judy (the show, not her biography!), I Survived and some 'autopsy' show...no biographies!

The downside to gaining these channels is they all came with (Australian) TV ads! Also, soon after getting the new channels we reverted to the 'old' channels, then got the new channels again, then the old channels before finally settling on the new channels.

You could watch movies 'on demand', which comprised a good selection of free (recent) movies or pay-per-view movies ($9.98). The TV was also multi-purpose and offered short videos on things such as the construction of Celebrity Solstice, spa treatments, and bios of some of the artists whose work is being sold onboard. There was also music on demand that could be played through the TV (not film clips - just music).

Some of the free movies via On Demand.



SEAPASS AND GRATUITIES

You are given your sea pass when you check in at the port before boarding. Once on board, your SeaPass acts as your room key and wallet. Initially it feels odd leaving your room without your wallet and keys but this is something you get used to and begin to wish it was like this 'at home'. When you get home after your cruise you will wish the 'real world' operated like a SeaPass.

Bring a lanyard if you have one, or buy one when you get on board, then get the Guest Services desk to punch a hole your SeaPass, attach it to the lanyard and wear it around your neck. Don't worry about feeling self-conscious, as everyone does this - you'll fit right in. Wearing your SeaPass around your neck works well as things have a habit of falling out of pockets and wallets, especially if you've spent the night in of one of the dozen or so bars, clubs and lounges!

Whatever you accumulate on your Sea Pass can either be charged to your credit card (card details given when you check in) or paid off with cash (US dollars) or traveller's cheque. If you choose to have your SeaPass linked to a credit card, you can still pay it off with cash (if you want to put that casino win to good use!). Your itemised account is left at your cabin the night before disembarkation and SeaPasses linked to credit cards can still be used (very little is open the day you disembark) and charged after you leave the ship.

When it comes to gratuities, you can either pre-pay with your fare or you can pay a sum at the end of the cruise calculated on guidelines recommended by Celebrity Cruises. You can also pay 'additional' gratuities as you go if you think the service warrants it. We always pre-pay and like the fact it is taken care of and we didn't have to worry about it. Some nationalities e.g. Australians, aren't used to tipping/gratuities but many of the ship's staff rely greatly on them. Plus, they work extremely hard.

To read more about your SeaPass and gratuities, see HERE.
SeaPass with a clip-off end segment, which means you don't have to take your whole lanyard off.



THE GRAND FOYER

If Celebrity Solstice has a 'town centre', then the Grand Foyer is it. The Grand Foyer acts as an atrium that covers Deck 3-5 and off it is the main lift (elevator) well, an atrium in its own right that stretches up through the ship, leading all the way from Deck 3 to Deck 15.

Many of the bars, cafes and lounges call the Grand Foyer home, as does the Guest Relations and Shore Excursions desks. Live musical acts perform on Deck 3, so their sound of music can often be heard echo-ing through the ship.
The Grand Foyer.
People listen to a musical act perform during the early evening.
A couple dance up a storm the afternoon we boarded.
One of those moments when we thought, "Where is everyone?"
A group of people enjoy the quiet in some of the many comfy chairs surrounding the Grand Foyer. 
I had to stand where I was for around 10 minutes waiting for people to
wander across the walkway (top) at the same time someone walked
down the stairs. I got a few curious looks but also I got the photo I wanted.
The centrepiece of the main lift well/atrium is the giant (living) tree suspended in the middle.
The tree from another angle.
You can admire it from close up each time you pass it in one of the lifts. 



FOOD/DINING (what's included and what's not)

One of the most common questions asked by friends who have never cruised is "Do you have to pay for food?" In short, yes and no.

Most cruise ships offer dining options included in the fare and some that are not. These always include the main dining room and the buffet and, often times, a few other options. Let's deal with the 'included in the fare' options first...


Grand Epernay Dining Room
The main dining room on Celebrity Solstice is the spectacular Grand Epernay Dining Room, located on Decks 3 & 4, which is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We ate there several times and each time the food was fabulous. Also, being 'free', if you're a growing boy like me (Giulio) and you really enjoyed your starter, entree (main course), or dessert, then you can order one or all of them again!

One thing we liked about dining in the Grand Epernay Dining Room was the number of tables for two. Many cruise line dining rooms have a few tables for two here and there but prefer to seat guests at a larger table. This is a good way for guests to get to know one another and we've always had a great time dining with others, but we were quite surprised to be asked if we'd like a table for two each time we arrived for dinner. The tables for two are separated by only a few centimetres, so you end up talking to your neighbours anyway, but you still feel like you have your own space.
Rushing for dinner!
Grand Epernay Dining Room in full flight.
Chandelier and Grand Epernay Dining Room.
Part of the 'see through' wine cellar (left) in the Grand Epernay Dining Room.
Appetiser
Spinach Turnover - Ricotta and spinach stuffed puff pastry with creamy emmental cheese sauce
black olives and minced Italian parsley.
Entree
Homemade Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi Ai Quattro Formaggi with Creamy Four Cheese Sauce and Italian Parsley.
*Entree means main course.
Dessert
New York Cheese Cake with Chocolate Sauce.


Oceanview Café
By any other name, this is the buffet. While we haven't tried every buffet going around on the high seas, this is a damn fine one. Unlike some buffets, Oceanview Café isn't open 24 hours - you'll have to settle for 19 hours (6am - 1am). Also, like the Grand Epernay Dining Room, there were lots of tables for two. This means couples spend less time looking for their own table, so there are less people wandering around, thus making it seem less busy.

There was always a wide selection of good, fresh food on offer, including various nationalities such as Chinese, Indian and Mexican (a favourite of ours). The pizza was sensational and, seeing as it was available until 1am, a few midnight snacks took place. As always the desserts got a major look-in, as did the ice cream stand. When we arrived in Australia, an area of the buffet was dedicated to 'Australian cuisine' - fish'n'chips, meat pies, sausage rolls and dagwood dogs (pluto pup/corn dog). Vegemite sachets appeared at breakfast and lamingtons showed up in the dessert pastry section. An Australian flag sponge cake also made an appearance.

The thing we liked about the Oceanview Café was the fact the food was situated on 'islands' you could approach, instead of having to queue like at a cafeteria (a pet hate for both of us).

Some of what was on offer:

Breakfast
Bacon
Sausages
English sausages
Scrambled eggs (eggs and omelettes made to order)
Black (blood) pudding
Hash browns
Cold meats
Cheeses
Fresh fruit, whole and cut up
Yoghurt selection
Cereals/muesli
Breads
Croissants/dessert pastries

Lunch/dinner
Cold meats
Cheeses
Make your own salad bar, including rolls/sandwiches
Pasta and sauces (mix and match)
Pizza selection
Soups
Breads
Mexican selection
Chinese selection
Carvery
Indian curries (meat and vege)
Fresh fruit, whole and cut up
Dessert pastries
Ice cream stand
Oceanview Cafe.
One of the many 'islands' in the Oceanview Cafe.
Help yourself...
Seating, left...food, right.
Some of the giant subs/sandwiches on offer one night. I think they cut off a portion if you wanted some. 
On either side of the Oceanview Cafe is a beverage stand, with a selection of hot drinks and juices.

At the very back of the Oceanview Cafe is the outdoor dining area.
The view of the ocean from the outdoor dining area of the Oceanview Cafe.
Fresh fruit on offer.
At the other end of the spectrum...a small selection of the desserts.
Fish'n'chips anyone? Delicious!
Guess where we just arrived?


The photo below isn't my best effort but it's an important one and could mean the difference between a good and a bad cruise.

Cleanliness really is next to Godliness on a cruise ship - the last thing anyone wants is an outbreak of any sort - and these Purell hand sanitisers are everywhere, especially outside the ship's restaurants. When you place your hand under the hands symbol, a small amount of ethyl alcohol is squirted onto your hands. This kills any germs and helps keep the ship 'shipshape', health-wise.

If anyone reading this has been on a cruise ship that has experienced an norovirus outbreak, you'll know what we're talking about. So, if you see one of these, please use it. You'll be doing everyone a favour.
 



Blu

Blu is an exclusive restaurant (breakfast and dinner) for AquaClass guests. As a result, we didn't eat there and can't offer any advice/reviews. However, the cuisine at Blu is more light than heavy - steak is served with a truffle vinaigrette instead of a béarnaise sauce - and it is more in keeping with the concept of a 'spa' restaurant.

Blu menus can be seen HERE.
Blu - 'less is more' when it comes to dining?



Room Service
The room service menu doesn't mirror what's on offer in the restaurants throughout the ship but there is enough there to keep you interested. Cruise ships bank on you spending more time out and about, so room service is really only there to cover a couple of bases. The only times we've stayed in and ordered room service is when we've been feeling a bit under the weather or when we've overindulged the night before. Either way, we're usually wanting comfort food (we're usually in our jim jams) and not a la carte dining.

Breakfast, on the other hand, is a slightly different matter, and there is a separate breakfast menu - resembling what you'd find in a hotel/motel - which you can fill out and hang on your stateroom door the night before.

Some of what is on offer from the All Day (11am - 5am) menu:

Starters/Soups
Asian Teaser of Spring Rolls, Satay and Wontons
Home-Style Chicken Noodle Soup

Main course
Sirloin Burger with choice of cheese, sautéed onions or mushrooms.
Grilled Salmon with Tomato Caper Vinaigrette
Fettuccini Alfredo
Pepperoni/Margarita/Vegetable Pizza

Dessert
Dark Chocolate Ganache Cake with Caramel Sauce
Apple Pie with Cinnamon Chantily

The 'hang on your stateroom door' breakfast menu includes:

Continental Breakfast selection
Juices
Smoothies
Hot Beverages
Fresh Fruits
Dairy
Bakery Items
Preserves and Spreads
Hot Cereals
Eggs Cooked to Your Preference
From the Griddle
Sides (Grilled Ham/Sausage/Bacon/Hash Brown)

We ordered from both menus and everything was cooked beautifully. When we ordered from the All Day menu the food arrived in 20-25 minutes.
From the 'hang on your stateroom door' menu. 

The above photo was taken at 8.30am as we cruised through Dusky Sound on the southern end of New Zealand. It was quite chilly out, so I (Giulio) grabbed a few of the breakfast items that could stand being out in the cold for a photo shoot (we also ordered omelettes) and put them on the balcony table with a far more interesting backdrop than a less-than-tidy stateroom! Everything you see here, as well as the omelettes, was delicious!

In a funny aside, we kept the omelettes inside so they wouldn't go cold. However, the scenery was so amazing that I kept grabbing mouthfuls of omelette between racing outside to take photos of the sun rising over Dusky Sound. So, when you see the beautiful photos of Dusky Sound later in the post, keep in mind I was running between the scenery outside and my omelette inside!



AquaSpa Café
The AquaSpa Café is located in the Solarium, a quiet, soothing adults only (covered) pool area next to the pool deck. We didn't try anything during our visits to the Solarium but the menu looks light and healthy to counter any hunger pangs you might get between meals.

AquaSpa breakfast menu

AquaSpa menu
The Solarium, where the AquaSpa Cafe can be found.


Mast Grill
The smallest menu on the ship - "I'll have a burger and fries, thanks!" Easy. Done. If you're looking for something more 'in depth', then you'd better go elsewhere.

Mast Grill overlooks the pool deck and the Pool Bar. It's well and truly al fresco dining, so can be a miserable place if it's raining but once the sun comes out, get ready to join the queue!
The sun is out and that means there is invariably a queue at the Mast Grill (top left).
I didn't bother photographing the burger and fries on offer - we all know what that looks like! 


Café al Bacio
Café al Bacio is a little bit from Column A and a little bit from Column B. The sweet taste treats on offer are complimentary but you have to pay for coffee and gelati. Below is a photo of a selection of the sweet taste treats you can choose from, if you so desire, as you wander past...
What shall I have?
Nat was kind enough to think of me on one of her trips to get coffee.



Specialty Dining

This is another way of saying 'this is what you pay for'. Some people object to paying more for additional dining options. We can see their point but, then again, the specialty dining options are more like being in a proper restaurant and not in a dining room alongside 1,000+ others, with a seating at 6.30pm and another at 8.30pm. Also, while you may pay e.g. $30pp in a specialty restaurant on a cruise ship, what you would pay in an equivalent restaurant on land would be 3, 4 or 5 times as much.

Celebrity Solstice has three main specialty dining alternatives -

Murano (French)
Silk Harvest (Asian)
Tuscan Grille (Italian)

We booked a '3 dinner specialty restaurant' package before the cruise and paid $80-$85 (apologies, we can't remember if it was one or the other). This package gave us one dinner in each of the three specialty restaurants.

This is the order of the restaurants we dined at and what you would pay if you dined at them individually:

Murano - $45pp
Silk Harvest - $30pp
Tuscan Grille - $35pp

All three dining experiences were exceptional. The Epernay Dining Room is fantastic and the best cruise ship dining room cuisine we've had. We were constantly amazed that such high quality meals were produced for so many people over two sittings. The specialty dining restaurants, however, are fine dining in a proper restaurant setting.
Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille are all in the same area at the stern of the ship, just past this enormous sculpture.
Perhaps the heart is a there to tell you how much you will love the food.


Murano
Our first of the three specialty restaurants. They say Murano offers a near Michelin-star dining experience (but Michelin does not distribute stars to cruise ship restaurants). Having never eaten at a Michelin-starred restaurant before, we can't compare it to anything, but Murano was a lovely way to start our culinary 'threesome'. Nat, especially, was impressed they served their wine in Riedel glasses.

Murano...fine dining in a distinctive setting - MENU.
Murano - a 'contemporary take on French cuisine'.
Diver Scallop Wellington Style, Baked in Puff Pastry, Black Truffle Emulsion, Spinach Fondue.
Valhrona Cocoa Croquant, Salted Caramel, White Coffee Ice Cream.



Silk Harvest
We dined at Silk Harvest as Milford Sound disappeared into the distance and it was a memorable way to end a magical day (more on the 'sounds' later). The food was light and delicious and we had no problems making our way through starter, main and dessert.

Silk Harvest...subtle tastes of the Far East - MENU.
Silk Harvest.
A couple of their 'Large Plates' (and some sushi), LtoR:
California Roll (sushi) - crab meat, avocado, cucumber and masago
Lemongrass Chili Shrimp - with bean sprouts, cilantro and toasted sesame seeds
Roasted Half Asian Duck - with ginger honey and soy glaze
And desserts, LtoR:
Lemongrass Creme Brulee - with candied orange
Mochi coconut ice cream


Tuscan Grille
This was our last specialty restaurant and we dined on there on our 2nd last night (after a sea day). It was a great was to wind up our cruise. The food was beautiful and the Filetto Mignon Rustico sensational! There are several courses but the serves aren't ridiculously big and, if you pace yourself, you can manage quite comfortably. All the same, a big lunch that day might not work in your favour!

Tuscan Grille...Italian steakhouse with a twist - MENU.
Tuscan Grille.
One of the wine 'cellars' as you enter Tuscan Grille.
Best seat in the house!
Oil and vinegar.
Polpette di Granchio - Crab Cake with Citrus & Tarragon Emulsion.
Lobster Linguine Alfredo - Lobster, Pancetta, White Wine, Garlic Cream Sauce & Italian Parsley.
Creme Brulee.


Once your cruise starts you will probably forget what day of the week it is (cruising is good like that!), which can cause havoc if you have made a booking in one of the specialty restaurants. Celebrity know this and a reminder from your restaurant will be left in your room 'letter box' (located outside your door) the day before your booking...




Bistro on Five
Bistro on Five has a 'cover charge' of $5pp and is a little more relaxed...think French café. They serve crêpes, salads and paninis. The highlight for us was the Italian Crepe (photo below) and the two crêpes we had for lunch -

Hot and Spicy (Shredded Steak, Peppers, Jalapeño, Cheddar Cheese and Cumin Dressing)
Mediterranean (Roasted Chicken and Garlic, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Mozzarella and Basil Pesto).

Both were fantastic and the only reason I didn't take a photo was because we were hungry and they looked so good!

Bistro on Five - MENU.
Bistro on Five.
Italian Crepe - Nutella, Banana & Pistachio



Café al Bacio
If coffee is what you want, then this is for you. But you will have to pay for it, so reach for your SeaPass - MENU.

Coffee: $3.50 - $5.25
'Exotic' e.g. affogato, $5.75
Teas: $4.75

Gelato: 
1-2 flavours, $3.50
3-4 flavours, $5.75
(I think the website prices are a little out-of-date. These prices were on the board at the Gelateria).
Cafe al Bacio. Bring your book and grab a coffee.
If the taste treats just aren't enough!



BARS & LOUNGES (including beverage packages)

Like all cruise ships, which make a vast amount of revenue from selling the odd 'tipple' or two, there are bars and lounges scattered everywhere on Celebrity Solstice. That's not to say it's a 24/7 party ship. In fact, one night when I (Giulio) couldn't sleep, I got up at 2.30am and went for a walk. On other cruise ships I've been on, there was always a late night reveller wandering about. Not on Solstice. In fact, even the casino was closed and looked like it had been for sometime. There was just me and the cleaners, and they appeared not quite sure what to make of some bloke wandering about in the middle of the night. They took the safe option of 'if I can't see him, he can't see me' and went about their work.


Prices
Drink prices were standard throughout the ship but could increase once inside the dining room and specialty restaurants -

Wine: $6 - $10 (more for sparkling/champagne)
Bottled beer: started at $5.25 (Budweiser) and went up to $8 (Corona). 
Cocktails: $7.50 - $9.75
Molecular Bar (cocktails only): $13.75
Spirits: Whisky/ey and Bourbon, for example, range from around $7 to anywhere up to $20 or more for 'top shelf'. For a good one, think around the $12-$16 mark. Cognac and brandy are the same but some of the top shelf in, for example, Michael's Club, go astronomically high.

Beverage Packages
There are several beverage packages available, ranging from the Bottled Water Package through to the Premium Package. Below are the prices (per day). If you want to read about what's included in each package, see HERE.

Soda: $8.05
Bottled Water: $13.80
Classic Non-Alcoholic: $16.10 
Premium Non-Alcoholic: $20.70
Classic: $50.60 (includes 20% discount on all wines by the bottle purchased on board)
Premium: $62.10 (includes 30% discount on all wines by the bottle purchased on board)

Wine Package: 
Choice of 3,5 or 7 bottles from the Classic or Premium packages above - starts at $114.
Three bottles or more valued at $86.25 or more from any wine list (Build Your Own) - starts at $219.94.
  
*When you purchase a package you get a sticker placed on your SeaPass identifying the package.
We think she was being all cutesy in the hope she might be able to get an upgrade to a Premium Non-Alcoholic Package.

We did a test of sorts and Nat bought a Premium Package ($62.10) and I didn't buy a package. I thought about buying a Classic Package ($50.60) but didn't like the idea of having to drink that much of alcohol every day. I can't drink during daylight hours - makes me tired and gives me a headache - and I could only buy beers that were $5.25 or less (three brands). I like a good beer when I have one, which meant I would have to pay extra.

Nat, on the other hand, drinks coffee and doesn't mind a wine with lunch. Her party legs are also a bit longer than mine, so she was happy to pay for a Premium Package. On a more serious note, she saw it as 'research' for this blog post, so please forward your 'thank yous' via the email address at the end of this post :)

The Premium Package wasn't the 'be all and end all' of packages. For example, wines by the glass are capped at $13.75 and some of the wines in the specialty restaurants exceeded this, which means you had to pay for them on top of your $62.10. This also applied to some champagne by the glass (anywhere in the ship). We didn't see what some of the e.g. single malt whisky prices were but it's a fair guess some of them would have exceeded the Package limit.
The Premium Package really paid for itself outside the specialty restaurants and Nat never had to worry about exceeding her 'per glass' limit. During our 12-nights (and days) of research, we spent a few nights in the Molecular Bar, where cocktails are $13.75, and this really helps if you have a Premium Package. Nat overheard someone order a 'double' on their package and they were charged the difference i.e. one drink, so don't order a double on the package!

If you'd like to read even more about the bars/lounges, see HERE.
Let's start off with a bang! 

One of the barmen (above) in the Martini Bar performs for the crowd by filling up several glasses at once using a stack of shakers, from which he poured a mixture of drinks, so that it ended up looking like this...
Voila!
The Martini Bar when the barmen aren't performing for the crowd. Note the area at the back right of the photo...
This is that area close up, with bottles (mainly vodka) sitting in an ice-bucket of sorts in the
middle of the table (that is ice surrounding the bottles).
Michael's Club.

I don't know why but I took photos here but we never had a drink in Michael's Club. Their selection of beer (64 international craft beer), whisky/ey, cognacs and bourbon makes it sound exceptional and right up our alley. Oh well, next time...and there will be a 'next time'!
Further into Michael's Club.
The bar inside Quasar nightclub.
Right outside Michael's Club is the Ensemble Lounge. Maybe this is why we never made it as far as Michael's Club!
Behind the bar - Ensemble lounge.
Cellar Masters. 

Ditto Michael's Club - photographed Cellar Masters but never frequented it as a patron. Cellar Masters offers a selection of wines from around the world. At the back of the photo you can see bottles behind glass. These are 'hooked up' to a wine-by-the-glass dispensing system that offer serves of:

30ml (1 fl oz) - red wine starts at $3 and go up to $7 and white wine starts at $2 and go up to $7
75ml (2.5 fl oz) - red wine starts at $7 and go up to $17.50 and white wine starts at $5 and go up to $17.50
150ml (5 fl oz) - red wine starts at $14 and go up to $35 and white wine starts at $10 and go up to $35

*Wines from the dispensing system are not included in beverage packages.
The red wine pay-by-the-glass dispensing system.
Cellar Masters looking back to the bar.
The Sky Lounge.
Located at the very top of the ship, there's plenty of space, including a large dance floor, and live music every night.
(don't let the word 'Lounge' fool you - there's a bar here also!)
The Sky Lounge entrance.
The Passport Bar.
Time to put the sunglasses on and head outside!
The Pool Bar (bottom) and Mast Bar (top right). 


The Pool Bar caters for those lazing by the pool and the Mast Bar caters for those catching some rays on the lounges overlooking the pool area and saves them the walk down to the Pool Bar. Out of shot at top left is the Mast Grill, where you can get complimentary burgers and fries. Drinks, food and sunshine all in one...some days there's no reason to go inside!
The Sunset Bar.
Located at the stern (rear) of the ship, the Sunset Bar is handily located next to the Lawn Club.



Molecular Bar
We stumbled across the Molecular Bar one night and it became our post-dinner home for much of the cruise.

The Molecular Bar only serves cocktails - their cocktails - and they are $13.75 each. The cocktails, with names such as Tanned Russian, Black Samba and Scorpion Kiss, are the creations of The Liquid Chef, Junior Merino. While he is the mastermind behind the cocktails he wasn't onboard to serve them. That fell to the somewhat madcap duo of Adrian and Sladjana.

We're not sure where Russia and Serbia stand when it comes to international relations but it was never a dull moment when Adrian (Russian) and Sladjana (Serbian) were together...in fact, even when they were alone it was never dull. They both speak superb, if somewhat accented, English, and it seemed everything they did was done at a furious pace, even the good-natured teasing between them.
Dragonfly - Russian Standard Vodka, Cointreau, Aloe Vera Juice, Pink Grapefruit Juice, Raspberries, Lime, Hibiscus Essence
and...Liquid Nitrogen (you have to wait for it to stop bubbling before drinking it).
Molecular Bar.
Adrian pours a LtoR Tanned Russian (Giulio's favourite) and Black Samba (Nat's favourite).
Some of the 16 cocktails on offer in the Molecular Bar menu.
If you conquer all the cocktails on the menu (which we did), Adrian and Sladjana would make you something 'off the menu'.  

The first night we sat ourselves down at the Molecular Bar we met Barby and Paul, from Montana (US of A). Over the course of the cruise we became great friends and we're sure we'll stay that way. We even played tour guide for them when we got to Sydney and had a blast (we hope they're not sitting at home in Montana thinking: "Thank goodness we're half a world away from those idiot Aussies we met at the Molecular Bar!").
LtoR Barby, Paul, Sladjana, Nat and me at Molecular Bar.



THE LAWN CLUB

The Solstice Class ships are the only cruise ships in the world to have half an acre of manicured lawn - real lawn! The Lawn Club is located aft on the top deck of the ship, directly above the Oceanview Café and right next to the Sunset Bar. 
Boules sets are available for games 'on the lawn'...
As seen during this game of boules between the crew and the passengers.
The Lawn Club overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The grass was a bit long for putting practise but this passenger has a putt all the same
as we make our way around the bottom of New Zealand.
Afternoon drinks overlooking the lawn as we leave Akaroa, New Zealand.
Same angle, different location. Not a bad view!
(Photo by Nat)
Evening drinks beside the lawn.
Paul and Nat enjoy wine and cheese on the lawn as we are docked at Circular Quay, Sydney.
(That's Barby - in red - taking photos in the distance)

The Lawn Club is a great idea but it's extremely windy on top of a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean. Even if there is no actual wind but the ship is moving at 18 knots, that generates a healthy breeze of 33 km/h (20 mph). Add this to the inevitable wind that will be present and it can get a bit 'blowy' out in the open, which you are on the lawn. As a result, other than when in port, the Lawn Club was largely unused. And, lawn being lawn, it needs to rejuvenate and much of the lawn was roped off for the duration of the cruise because it was 'resting'. 



Hot Glass Show
Dance lessons by the pool, a game of shuffleboard, sipping cocktails in a bar - these are things you usually associate with cruising. Something you don't automatically think of is glass-blowing but this is where Celebrity is different, and right in the midst of the Lawn Club is the Hot Glass Show, presented by the Corning Museum of Glass, who hail from New York State in the USA.








POOL DECK & SOLARIUM


When you think 'cruise ship', you invariably think 'lazing by the pool'. The two really do go hand-in-hand. Celebrity Solstice is no different to any other cruise ship and its Pool Deck, for many, is the focal point of the ship and their cruise. Weather-permitting, the Pool Deck is open from 7am - 9pm. There are plenty of lounges out in the open if you want to top up your tan, otherwise there are many under cover, so you still get the sea breeze and atmosphere of the pool deck.

The Pool Deck.
The fountain on the Pool Deck.
Pool volleyball for the more energetic among you.
Or why not relax in the pools or one of the whirlpools.
There are even cubana-style lounges - first in, best dressed!
(Photo by Nat)
If you need to get to the other side of the Pool Deck in a hurry, take the short cut. 
No need to bring a towel.
If you don't need to top up the tan, there's plenty of space under cover.
If you're lucky enough to get one, spending time in one of the several 'bed hammocks' is a nice way to spend your day.
If the Pool Deck is too busy, there are plenty of lounges overlooking the Pool Deck.
That red strip is the jogging track, so look left and right if you get up and wander about.


The Solarium
The Solarium is an adults only, completely under-cover pool area (with whirlpools) where U-18s aren't allowed. On other cruises we've been on, getting a lounge in their equivalent of the solarium has been akin to getting a car-parking space in the middle of Sydney or Manhattan. The Solarium on Solstice, however, was always a refreshingly calm and placid place, where lounges were easy to come by (maybe we were lucky on our cruise, even though there were only 30 'junior cruisers' aboard).

On a good day, you might not find a reason to leave the Solarium. There is the AquaSpa Café, a bar and the actual AquaSpa, in case you need to get a soothing massage or treatment.

The Solarium is open from 7am - 11pm (whirlpools 7am - 5pm).


In the photo below, the small squares on the roof of the Solarium are solar panels. There are more solar panels all over the ship, including on top of the Bridge. Combined, they generate 230 kilowatts/day (one day equals one week of power for a house) and save nearly 17 tonnes (37,000lbs) of fuel and over 54 tonnes (119,000lbs) of CO2 emissions.

The Solarium - a calm place indeed.
There were always plenty of lounges to go around.
You can even hide away in one of the covered lounges and admire the ocean view.
Ocean view aside, you can watch the dancing water fountain (or is it a water feature?).
The Solarium at night.


ENTERTAINMENT, RELAXATION & R'N'R

Like all cruise ships, Celebrity Solstice provides lots of entertainment, relaxation and r'n'r, and on some days you can choose from around 80 events, starting at 6am and going through until after midnight. After all, there are nearly 3,000 passengers onboard and they are all going to want to do something different.

The choice is mixed and varied, including table tennis tournaments, morning trivia, cooking shows, art auction previews, blackjack tournaments, Cuban Salsa dance lessons, cognac and brandy tasting, bingo, pilates, vegetable carving demonstration and Catholic mass. Alternatively, you can take a book and find a quiet corner somewhere or enjoy a game of cards in the games room. If none of that appeals, then put the 'Do Not Disturb' sign on your stateroom door and laze about in your cabin watching movies and ordering room service.

Once the sun goes down you can catch a show in the 1,400 seat theatre, get into the groove at the 1960s-theme night, enjoy a drink in your favourite bar, or dance the night away in a variety of places. The aim of the game when it comes to cruising is to do what you want and enjoy yourself doing it.
The ship's dancers get the 1960s theme night off to a flying start.
A spot of chess overlooking the library.
A more expansive shot of the library.
Warming up the dance floor in the Sky Lounge.
Solstice Theatre - home of the nightly production show (1,400 seat capacity). 
Solstice - The Show. Think Cirque du Soleil and you're getting close.
Celebrity Chef cooking competition in the Solstice Theatre.
Dancing in the Grand Foyer.
Celebrity Central - home to such things as movies, lectures and bingo.
The amusement arcade - for kids and adults alike!
Table tennis in the Entertainment Court. Surprisingly table tennis was an indoor sport on Solstice and was a regular event here.
Quasar nightclub.
Team Earth, where you can learn about conservation efforts around the world and onboard the ship.
This is done through news, films, audio clips and stories. 
Grab a book and find a quiet corner.
That 'quiet corner' could be on the Solstice Deck, right at the very top of the ship - Deck 16.
Watch out if the captain decides to 'honk the horn' - your beer/wine/cocktail could go flying!
I'm sure many of these people will say there's nothing more relaxing than lazing under the sun.



Fortunes Casino
If you want to pay off your bar bill or your cruise (or whichever is the greater!), then Fortunes Casino could be for you. While there, you can choose from:

Six Blackjack tables
One Single Deck Blackjack table
Two Roulette tables
Two Three Card Poker tables
One Ultimate Texas Hold 'Em tables
One Craps table
Two Electronic Pokermates (Texas Hold 'Em)
277 Ticket In/Ticket Out slot machines (pokies) with Oasis player tracking technology
Baccarat (by request)
Let It Ride (by request)

The above information has been taken from the Celebrity website.

Fortunes is closed when the ship is in port (as are all ship casinos) and reopens once the ship is beyond the port. During sea days, the slots (pokies) open at 9am and the tables at 11am. The casino is open until 'late' (around 1-2am).
The casino is somewhat tastefully presented (we thought) opposite some of the shops, so you can wander past or join in.
Shopping...casino...shopping...casino...hmmmmm...
Tables or pokies (slots)...you choose.
Nat found her 'home away from home' on the Hangover machine and paid off her drinks package...and then some!




EXERCISE

There is a bit of a grey area between exercise and some of the entertainment, relaxation and r'n'r but I'm sure you'll figure it out.
There were plenty of chances to burn some energy at the Zumba classes on the pool deck
(here going past the southern tip of New Zealand).
If it got a bit blowy up top, then the Zumba team headed indoors (here in the Grand Foyer).
Wind or no wind, there were always people pounding it out on the walking track (unless
it got too windy and the top deck was closed). One lap equalled 200 metres (220 yards).
You could actually do an entire lap of the ship, using the stairs you can see in the distance
and the stairs I (Giulio) am standing on. One entire lap would have totalled around 600m (660yds).
Usually Deck 4 or 5 is the Promenade Deck, where you can walk a lap of the ship. However, Solstice didn't have a Promenade Deck in the true sense of the word and Deck 5 was as close as it got. You could only walk maybe 150-200 metres on either side and much of either end of the ship was inaccessible.
The basketball court was at the very front of the ship and a little bit out of the way. 
We didn't venture up that way too often and every time we did, it looked very quiet. It was close to the Fun Factory, where 
the 'junior cruisers' hung out, so they might have used it a bit.
Taking the stairs instead of the lifts is a subtle way of getting fit/maintaining fitness.
Admittedly I (Giulio) was running all over the ship taking photos but there were 
some days where I racked up close to 1,000 steps, both up and down. 
Even if you're not running around taking photos, you can easily still rack up a few hundred steps a day.




AQUASPA & FITNESS CENTRE

One of the nice thing about any cruise is the extra pampering you receive if you make a booking in the onboard Spa. On Celebrity Solstice it was the AquaSpa. The price list can be seen at the end of this series of photos.
Rest, relax and be pampered.
Somewhere nice to wait.
The beauty salon.
One of the massage treatment rooms.
The Persian Garden.

The Persian Garden is available to Aqua Class passengers, otherwise you can pay:

Day Pass - $20
Cruise Pass - $119
Couples Cruise Pass - $199 

The relaxation room, below, is the waiting room when you book a spa treatment. Aqua Class passengers are allowed to use the relaxation room, which has has fruit-infused water and tea, even if they aren't having a spa treatment.
The Relaxation Room looks out to sea over the bow of the ship.
The Elemis shop located in the Aquaspa but looking out into the Solarium.

We both had treatments at the AquaSpa.

Giulio
I took advantage of their Sail Away massage (port day special) - a full body massage incorporating hot lava stones, scalp/head massage, European collagen facial, mini foot reflexology: $149 ($171.35 including 15% gratuity). My treatment was great but the special was advertised as a 75-minute massage and mine, as I later worked out, lasted only 60 minutes. My appointment was late starting (10-15 minutes) - the crew had to take part in a regulation emergency drill beforehand, so this might have been why. 

Nat
I also took advantage of a port day special and had an Oxydermy facial for $185 (including 15% gratuity). My therapist was professional and interesting to chat to but, unfortunately, the bells and whistles to justify the $185 price tag was completely missing. Spa services are run by an outside company and I can't help but wonder if this is why spa staff on cruise ships tend to push 'product' too much. Spa staff are required to work a roster that wouldn't be acceptable on land and I have to wonder if the 'over-worked-staff-pushing-for-sales-target' concept needs to be re-addressed. Or at the very least, if a spa package is going to set you back a small fortune, then make it memorable. Everything I love about going to a spa on land just didn't occur during this visit and it may be some time before I book a treatment again.

Price list (a 15% gratuity is added at the end of your treatment)






The Fitness Centre
The Fitness Centre has a good selection of modern workout equipment, weights and a fitness room for pilates, yoga and the like. There is a towel station as you walk in so you don't sweat on any of the equipment and the view from anywhere in the fitness centre is spectacular. The day I was taking photos, the ship was hugging the west coast of New Zealand, so the cliffs and rugged landscape came right down to the ocean.
The fitness centre, aka the gym.
The view is spectacular.





SHOPPING

At the start of this post I wrote - "Imagine walking into the lobby of a five-star hotel with sumptuous furnishings, fine dining and stylish bars". I didn't include 'shopping'. 


Like most everything on Celebrity Solstice, the shops are tastefully included in the whole cruising experience. When we stayed in Singapore before our October, 2012, Voyager of the Seas cruise, the foyer of the hotel we stayed in, The Fairmont Singapore, lead into a shopping mall, and part of the shopping 'mall' on Solstice reminded us of that five-star experience.

We tend to spend our money on the cruise itself and don't have wads left over for the ship's shops, so we aren't huge experts on the 'onboard retail experience'. But, as always, there looked to be some high end shopping and watches, jewellery, clothes, duty free and much more were available, as well as the Celebrity Solstice store where you could buy touristy stuff - fridge magnets, glasses, T-shirts etc - that sold the Celebrity/Solstice brand.

When Solstice (any ship) is in port, the shops are closed. As soon as the ship is clear of the port, the shops then open. During days at sea, the shops are open from 9am to as late as midnight.

Shops next to the casino might be an obvious place to have them but both were elegantly presented.
This row of shops were on the level above the casino in the above photo.
You don't need the Black American Express Card in all the shops - the Celebrity store
had lots of stuff for you, the family and friends back home.
If you can't take Mohammed to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohammed.
And if you didn't dress for the Lawn Club, there's the Lawn Club shop conveniently close by.




CHILD/YOUTH FACILITIES

So many friends who don't cruise ask us: "What do you do if you have kids?"

"Send them off to the kids area," we say. "You'll be lucky to see them for the entire cruise."

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Cruise ships have kids areas - and by kids, we mean youth as well. While the over 18s are classified as adults (in Australia, anyway), those 'not quite 18 yet' need something to do also, so kids areas cater for youths up to 17. There were only 30 'junior cruisers' onboard Solstice - not many when the passenger capacity is 2,850 - so we hardly saw them, even when they weren't in the kids area, the Fun Factory.

Despite their being so few junior cruisers on our cruise, the Fun Factory caters for many more. It covers quite a large area. I know if I was a kid/youth, I'd have been impressed with what was on offer!

To read more about what is on offer for kids/teens, including parties and babysitting services, see HERE.


The Fun Factory has separate areas for differing age groups:

Shipmates: 3-5
Cadets: 6-8
Ensigns: 9-11
Teens: 12-17

There are books, games, TVs and computers in these areas, as well as other activities such as (across the age groups):

Hula hoop competitions
Ice cream parties
Creating your own snowflakes and subsequent snowfight
Designing your own guitar followed by Guitar Hero contest
Air hockey tournaments
Late night dodge ball
Dress up parties
Family scavenger hunts

The Fun Factory is open from 9am - 10pm and often later. Children aged 3-8 must always be signed in/signed out someone over 18 and there is a sign out policy for Ensigns if they are involved in any activity after 10pm. Shipmates are based in the Fun Factory for their activities throughout the cruise. Cadets, Ensigns and Teens also use various rooms/areas throughout the ship.

If your child has special needs, such as allergies, food sensitivities, behavioural histories or medications they are taking, you can inform the Fun Factory so they have a better understanding should an emergency arise. 
Shipmates, aged 3-5.
Shipmates, aged 3-5.
Cadets, aged 6-8.
Cadets, aged 6-8.
Cadets, aged 6-8.
Ensigns, aged 9-11.
Ensigns, aged 9-11.
Teens, aged 12-17.
Teens, aged 12-17.
Teens, aged 12-17.

Teens, aged 12-17.




INTERNET

There is an 'internet cafe' onboard in the form of the iLounge (yes, it is affiliated with Apple and Macs are used). You're on the high seas in the middle of the ocean, so please don't get too worked up because the internet connection isn't operating at broadband speed. Reminisce a little and take yourself back to the good old days of dial-up...aaaaah, that's better...

Also, and please don't gasp, but it's not super-cheap, either (you should be up sitting by the pool anyway!):

Casual rate - 75c/minute

Prepaid (cannot be refunded)
$24.95 - 38 mins, 65c/min
$49.95 - 90 mins, 55c/min
$99.95 - 208 mins, 48c/min
$199.95 - 555 mins, 36c/min
$399.95 - 1666 mins, 24c/min

WiFi is available throughout the ship.

The iLounge is open 24 hours and also offers classes where you can learn to, among other things, use iMovie, iPhoto, iCloud and are shown iPad tips and tricks.

You can also purchase a limited range of Apple products and accessories, including MacBook laptops, iPads, iPods, earphones, memory sticks and universal device chargers.
The iLounge, where you can surf the internet and the Apple magic happens :)



ART & PHOTO GALLERY

What would a cruise be without photos, especially those taken by the ship's team of photographers. We think there was a cloning programme happening onboard because they were everywhere!

You get photographed when you first get on board, then every subsequent time you get off and back on the ship, at dinner, by the pool, sitting at the bar at night, on formal nights, every other night, when you meet the captain - you get the idea.

To showcase all the photos taken (and they are all printed and put out on display), there is a photo gallery where you can look at your photos and laugh at everyone else's. The photos aren't placed in any particular order, so you have to search through everyone else's, hence the opportunity to have a few chuckles.
The photo gallery overlooks the Entertainment Court.

Of course, the photos are for sale. You can buy them individually, sign up to packages, or get them reproduced digitally. Some of the prices include:

$19.95 - Individual photos (20x25cm, 8x10in)
$79.80 - Any four photos (20x25cm, 8x10in) and receive one folio and ship's photo free

Digital packages (high resolution JPEG files)
$149.95 - 10 images
$199.95 - 15 images
$399.95 - Unlimited

We turned on the TV in our stateroom one day to find photos that had been taken of us moving across the screen. No details are taken from you when photos are taken so we think they must have facial recognition software.
One of our photos on the TV in our stateroom.
That's us with Adrian from the Molecular Bar. When the photographer lined us up
for a photo, we asked if Adrian could stand behind us giving a cheesy thumbs-up.





Deep Blue Studios
There is also a professional photography studio onboard, Deep Blue Studios, who will take professional portraits of you all over the ship. Packages vary from $575 right through to $16,500.

Depending on what you want, packages include prints, DVD & iPod slideshows, digital prints, album, frame, photo canvas (es) and photo book.

For more information on packages and pricing, see HERE.


Art Gallery
Park West runs the art gallery and art auctions onboard Celebrity Solstice. They have pieces available for all tastes and budgets, right up to a $104,000 Picasso on sale during our cruise (it didn't sell). Among other things, Park West run art lectures and are really pro-active when it comes to selling their art.


Art auctions aren't the only place where you can see artwork. It is scattered throughout the ship.
 A passenger admires the art on display in the gallery space.
Artwork is placed on display.
People peruse artwork in the Sky Lounge prior to an art auction.
One of the Park West staff conducts a lecture on art history.
Some of the artwork in the stairwell.
Walking from the Grand Foyer into the Ensemble Bar you pass through the large-scale, painted installation, 
Night Solstice (enamel paint on formica), by Colombian artist, Nancy Friedemann
The installation is painted directly onto the walls, ceiling and floor of the space.
We're not sure if this is artwork but these coloured bottles behind what looked
to be perspex, outside the Oceanview Cafe, looked very groovy.




CLOTHES & LAUNDRY

We packed like this was our first cruise. In short, we were rubbish.

All our previous cruises has been in warmer climates, so we were used to packing 'shorts/skirts' instead of 'pants/gowns'. This time we knew we were going to be cruising around the southern tip on New Zealand and we packed 'long' instead of 'short' but we still under-estimated ourselves. It might seem an obvious thing to say but check the temperature in the places you will be going and pack accordingly.

Giulio
10 pr undies
2pr good jeans
2pr long shorts
1pr tracksuit pants
1pr casual pants (cords)
3 pr white socks
2 pr black dress socks
1 pr swimmers
5 T-shirts (including 2 white under shirts)
3 collared/dress shirts
1 (warm) long sleeve top
1 light jumper (sweater)
1 heavy jumper
1pr dress pants
2 ties
1 belt

1pr deck shoes
1pr flip flops
1pr dress shoes
1pr boots (for shore visits/excursions)

While my list looks like there was a lot of warm clothes, much of it was formal i.e. collared shirts. I should have packed more warm casual clothes e.g. long sleeve tops and at least another pair of casual pants. This list is a little longer than usual because we knew Sydney would be warm (it was hot!) and shorts and T-shirts were also needed.

This time around, too, I didn't take a full suit for formal nights and, instead, took a pair of formal pants and collared shirts/ties. I'd noticed on previous cruises that a lot of the men only wore dress pants and a collared shirt and tie on formal nights, and not having a suit jacket reduced my baggage load and made life easier because I wasn't lugging around a big suit bag additional to my other baggage.

*The Grand Epernay dining room stated that a jacket was required for formal nights but this didn't appear to be enforced.

Nat
With all good intentions I thought I had this packing thing down pat...I failed. I try every time I travel to make sure that everything I pack will be A) appropriate and B) actually get worn. There's nothing worse than lugging clothes/shoes around the globe that you don't end up wearing. Remembering my backpacking years (pre-suitcases with wheels!) I am always haunted by having packed too much...when I perfect the art I will send out a press release because it will be a momentous day in the world of Nat (first world problems aside). So my list is a little less 'structured' than Giulio's. I focused on the old mix and match approach.

Formal wear - 1 black dress that can be changed with accessories
Smart casual pants and a few shirts to match (I over packed with shirts I didn't wear)
I forgot we were in New Zealand and didn't pack long pants/ jeans = Fail
The usual girly things i.e. underwear - I didn't count but all good in that department
Swimwear/ Sarong
2 summer dresses
Gym clothes (cough!) - doubled as casual wear - shorts/ yoga pants/ t-shirts and gym shoes
1 wool cardigan - not enough for NZ!

I blame packing the night before and not the usual 2 or 3 days early when I then get to re-think/re-pack. I didn't completely factor in the mixed weather of New Zealand, having just come from a sweltering Queensland summer. I didn't freeze but I'll know better next time!

*     *     *

Celebrity ships don't have a guest laundry onboard. They've obviously decided that you're there to have a holiday, even if you find doing laundry relaxing.

Below is the price list for the ship's laundry service/s. We put through two loads. For some reason the first load took nearly 48 hours to get back to us whereas the 2nd load took less than 24 hours to return.





CELEBRITY TODAY & INFORMATION

A cruise ship is like a town and, like any town, there are things happening that 'the locals' need to know about via the local newspaper. Celebrity TODAY is that newspaper (think 'newsletter') and it's left in your cabin every evening by your stateroom attendant.

Celebrity TODAY tells you everything that is happening in and around the ship, from a chronological rundown of the day's activities onboard, to specials that are happening in e.g. the AquaSpa, to opening times of all the ship's venues, to a potted history of whichever port we happen to be in, to shore excursion ideas, and a whole lot more.

The front page, with a brief rundown of the day's highlights (it even tells you how much the slots - pokies - have
paid out during the cruise up until then)
The chronological order of the day's events. Time to grab your pen and start circling!
What's open and when.


If your copy of Celebrity TODAY can't help you, then the Guest Relations desk is open 24 hours and they can guide you through any queries you have. There is also a Shore Excursions desk to help you with any queries of that nature.
The Guest Relations desk - we've seen hotel receptions look less elegant.

Some information can't be included in Celebrity TODAY and on every floor are 'little Celebrity Solstice' ships that show you where you are and where everything else is onboard. These are invaluable and it's almost guaranteed that the moment you work out where everything is and the best way to get there is the day you have to disembark!

Next to the Guest Relations desk you can also pick up newsletter-style newspapers from The US, Britain and Australia.
YOU ARE HERE...these are scattered everywhere and are invaluable for finding your way around.
At other times, the weather out-thinks Celebrity TODAY and a last minute notice needs to go up.
There are several news channels on the stateroom TV channels but, if you prefer to
read about your news over a cuppa or a coffee, then you might want one of these.




*We're just going to jump in here and ask/suggest a couple of things...

Firstly, if this post has inspired you to book a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, can you send us a quick email and let us know - cometravellingwithus@gmail.com - so we can tell Celebrity what a great job we do promoting their cruises.

Secondly, if you want to book a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, you can do so via 'Looking to book a cruise?' at the top right of this post. These posts take around 100 hours to produce and we don't get paid to do them, so making a booking through our blog ensures we get a little something back.




SHIP TOURS


Celebrity Solstice offers tours of various areas of the ship - the Bridge, galley, engine room, Solstice Theatre backstage, and selected crew areas - for a fee. That fee is $150pp but we're not sure if this is per tour or if this includes more than one of the tours mentioned (we have a feeling it's per tour).

We received a tour of the backstage area because of our Captain's Club status. During the course of the cruise we had a quiet word in the ear of the concierge about gaining access to e.g. the Fun Factory and the AquaSpa to take photos, and we were then offered a tour of the Bridge as well. Unfortunately the tours clashed and we opted for the Bridge tour (would have been rude to snub the captain!).
Captain Yannis Berdon welcomes us to the Bridge.
We're then left in the capable hands of the First Officer, who explains how everything works.
One of the interesting things about where he is standing is the 'window' below his feet, 
which enables whoever is in charge of docking to see where the ship is in relation to the dock. 
I forgot to run around and get a photo of the window when we moved, so...
Here it is from below.
Video isn't allowed on the Bridge but 'go for your life' when it comes to photos.
One minute the weather was fine...
The next minute the wipers were going ten to the dozen. A few minutes later and it was fine again.
A sailor keeps watch as Captain Berdos once again addresses us.
Then it's photo time with Captain Berdos.
Being a cruise ship captain is as much about PR as it is anything else (probably moreso) and Captain Berdos was great,
letting all and sundry get their photo taken with him...
Even some 'sheila' from Brisbane!
Captain Berdos always ended his daily update over the PA system with some words of wisdom.
We're not sure if he had these words of wisdom installed in the Bridge but we wouldn't have been surprised if he did.




OTHER IMAGES FROM AROUND THE SHIP

These images don't really have a home in the rest of the post, so I thought I'd give them their own gallery.
The cruise ship, Marina (Oceania Cruises), passes by as we cruise between Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound
on the south-west coast of New Zealand. Initially we didn't know what ship it was, so thanks
to @Kiwi_Cruiser for pointing it out when they saw the post/photo.
Another photo is taken of the view on offer - there must be millions taken every cruise.
The purpose of this photo is to show the set up for adjoining staterooms. 
All the stateroom doors (the cream coloured doors) were in alcoves off the corridor, no matter what. 
The golden coloured doors - there is one opposite this one you can see - can be closed,
so the stateroom doors can be left open and people can move between both cabins.
The bathrooms in the public spaces around the ship were the nicest we've come across, even down to the rolled up hand towels.
And in each of the bathrooms around the ship, there was a different quote above each urinal.
This one was from Josh Billing (1818 - 1883). When Nat saw this photo she wanted to know
where the quotes were in the women's cubicles! After all, women have to look at the back of toilet doors.
I (Giulio) couldn't sleep one night and went for a walk. This was taken in the Martini Bar.
I really would have liked someone sitting in one of the chairs but it was 2.30am and I was alone with the cleaners.
Where do lifts go to be cleaned? The top of the ship...Deck 16.
There are lots of photos of lounges in this post but I like the lines in this photo.
The lounges look like soldiers in a row (or something else that lines up in a row).
Should be obvious!
Celebrity Solstice is registered is Valetta, Malta. This is the flag ships fly if they are registered in Malta.
You've already seen a photo of people playing table tennis in the Entertainment Court but here's
a photo of it at night which I like.
A yacht gets a closer look at Celebrity Solstice while we are docked in Melbourne, Australia.
All aboard!
I don't know if I'm being parochial but, even though I'm from Brisbane, Sydney Harbour seagulls
are the ballsiest seagulls I've ever seen (I once saw one hover over a mother holding her toddler before
it swooped down and plucked a chip out of the child's hand!). This one sat on the railing watching
proceedings below, then swooped down and was about to enjoy a selection of leftovers from the
Oceanview Cafe, when the woman took a dirty big swipe at it with her napkin.
And it wasn't even having a go at her food!
I'd rather be on Celebrity Solstice.



Disembarkation day 
The disembarkation process begins the night before when you have to leave your bags in the hallway ready for collection.
The bags are collected during the night and taken from the ship early the next morning, 
whereupon you collect them when you disembark.
Another beautiful Sydney morning greets our pending departure.
A rude shock to see 'some bloke' outside our window. A simple explanation...
The ship needs a good clean before the next passengers board.
One last look at our million-dollar view...
Then it's farewell to Celebrity Solstice! You're a beautiful ship and we loved every minute we were aboard you.





CELEBRITY SOLSTICE IN SYDNEY HARBOUR

How could you not photograph such a beautiful ship in one of the world's most beautiful ports?!
LtoR Sydney Opera House and Celebrity Solstice - two stunners!
She looks spectacular up close.
Peeking through between two of the Opera House sails.
Looking at her across part of the Opera House forecourt.
The Opera House on one side, the Harbour Bridge on the other.
Could we ask for anything more?
You see her everywhere you look!




*     *     *     *     *     *



This post isn't over just yet. We had to split it in two because it was so big so, to see the photos of, and read about, our Ports of Call...

Tauranga (where we visited Hobbiton, the Hobbit village from the Lord of the Rings movies)
Wellington (wet and windy)
Akaroa (French influences and Harbour Wildlife Tour)
Dunedin (city photos)
Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds (stunning scenery!)
Melbourne (beautiful Port Melbourne)
Sydney (where we had a million-dollar view of the Sydney Opera House for 24 hours)

...then go HERE.

We hope our post has been of some help and we'd love to hear any feedback or questions you might have.

Until next time...Bon voyage!


See and read about more of our cruise experiences/reviews.

Love photos of cruise ships? Have a look at our 'Ship Spotting' photo gallery.

If you like what you have seen here, then why not 'like' the Travel With Us FACEBOOK page
and follow Travel With Us on TWITTER

All photos, video and text by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
© Use of photos/video/text must be via written permission
cometravellingwithus@gmail.com









19 comments:

Marian Krueger said...

An amazingly detailed in-depth review of the Solstice like I have never seen before! I am so impressed at your review and of the pics. I am also so glad that Nat did her "research" with the drink package -- my kind of girl!

Thank you so much for sharing! What a great job and I hope you both had a great time!

Travel with us! said...

Thanks Marian! We loved every minute we were on the ship and this is probably translated in the post. Solstice is so photogenic, it was hard not to take anything but wonderful photos! And no worries re the sharing - we love doing the posts and being able to let people see and experience what we did. See you out there on Twitter Marian - @travelshopgirl

John Harlow said...

Thanks guys, very comprehensive and well compiled with great pics. This has only confirmed our wishes to travel on her in the near future. She certainly looks a lot better than the Voyager of the Seas which we cruised on last. Cheers John

Travel with us! said...

Thanks John and, like you, we cruised on Voyager of the Seas last year. We enjoyed it but we know it will be a much better ship when it undergoes the Royal Caribbean Experience (refurb) in 2014. Right now, Voyager and Celebrity Solstice are a bit like chalk and cheese - and as you probably surmised from the post, we can highly recommend Celebrity Solstice!

Rick and Charlotte said...

Hi Guys. Excellent review and some great shots. We were also on this cruise with our best mates (another couple from Adelaide) and had a great time. We also tried each of the specialty restaurants and got the most out of our premium drinks package. Tossing up whether to give RCI a go next time we cruise or stick with Celebrity. Will probably depend on itinerary but there will be another Solstice experience in our future based on our experience on this one.
Regards
Rick and Charlotte

vknanavati said...

Thank you so much for posting this! Your review was so detailed and informative! My family and I are boarding the Celebrity Solstice for the Alaska cruise this Friday so I was so happy to come across this blog! I was anxious about what the ship would be like in terms of the layout, activities offered, dining areas etc so I was definitely put at ease after reading this! Although our destinations are different I hope that I will enjoy the Solstice as much as both of you did. Thanks again for your detailed and very well written review!

Travel with us! said...

Hi Rick and Charlotte,
Apologies for taking so long to reply to your comment. We've cruised twice with RCI and enjoyed both immensely. In fact, our next cruise is on Rhapsody of the Seas in November (out of Sydney and heading up and down the Qld coast). However, Celebrity Solstice was/is special and, like you, we will definitely be cruising again with Celebrity. It's a rung or two up the ladder.
If you'd like to have a look around two RCI ships, the Radiance of the Seas and Voyager of the Seas posts are on our blog - http://cometravellingwithus.blogspot.com.au/
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and we're glad you liked the post - we love doing them!
Ciao,
Giulio & Nat

Travel with us! said...

Hi,
Thanks for your positive comments about the post. We love being able to share our experiences with others!
We are certain you will love Solstice. We knew she was going to be good but our expectations were far exceeded, so we hope she does the same for you too.
We deliberately kept the ship and the ports-of-call posts separate, so readers could experience the ship on her own.
Enjoy your time on Celebrity Solstice and we'd love to hear what you think when you get back, so please leave a comment here or email us at cometravellingwithus@gmail.com
Bon voyage!
Giulio & Nat

Natasha In Oz said...

What an incredible post-thank you! Our family is going on this cruise in January so I am quite excited about it after reading this!

We have never cruised before so I was wondering if you could tell me what beverages are 'included'? Do you get juices/soft drinks at meal times? We are buying a wine package but don't know if we would get our money's worth buying the juice/water/soda package. If you have any advice I'd love to know!

Thanks again for this great post!

Best wishes,
Natasha in Oz

Anonymous said...

Thank you Giulio and Nat; really enjoyed reading your blog and seeing the wonderful photos. We'll be sailing on this ship in April 2014 to Noumea etc with more days on board than not in order to enjoy the ship experience. We sailed with Celebrity before and this year with HAL. No comparison - we'll stick to Celebrity ships in the future and you seem to have confirmed that for us. Look fwd to reading the rest of your travel stories....Rose :)

Anonymous said...

Many many thanks Giulio and Nat on such an informative blog.
The pictures and video helped to give a real 'feel' for the ship and also answered many of our questions beforehand.

We are sailing around the top end of Australia on 21st Feb ending in Sydney and again on a 14 night New Zealand Quest in January 2015. I know we won't be disappointed.

Thank you once again and we look forward to reading your other blogs

Ian & Anne

Frances & Jeremy said...

Thank you for your amazing blog... Very informative and fantastic pic's... We are cruising for the 1st time in April this year... Now getting excited

Elaine Edwards said...

Thank you for such a great insight!! I erred on the cautious side last year and did not take advantage of a great deal with this trip...after a year of hitting myself in the head (and $700 dearer) I am still postulating!!! We have never cruised before but have nearly a year to save and this one seems to be a 'good'un Fly/cruise NZ. Would you say that the extra $200 each is worth it choosing Concierge??? Thanks again for your blog...so helpful for a couple of other unsure Aussies :)

Arejayen said...

Hi Guys. Thanks for this fantastic review. I reckon you have covered it all - it's the best FAQ on cruising I've seen. Great photos, great 'research'. We were looking for a relaxing holiday later this year, and you have absolutely sold us on this cruise. We are booked for November.

Travel with us! said...

Hi to Everyone who has written (lovely) comments about our Celebrity Solstice post and it's great to see that the post has influenced many of you to book a cruise on the fabulous ship - we're sure you won't be disappointed.

We'd love to hear what you though of your cruise, so please let us know when you get back.

Ciao, and happy cruising!

Giulio & Nat

Anonymous said...

Thankyou both for such a wonderful insight into the Celebrity Solstice. My husband and I are leaving Sydney on 3 April and now we are well informed, thankyou again so much.

I will post again on our return with updated information.

Rhonda

Steph said...

Thank you for your amazingly detailed review! It discussed everything that I was wondering about, from the treatments at the spa to whether it is worth purchasing the drinks package. You have definitely made me so much more excited about going on my honeymoon onboard Celebrity Solstice in December this year!

Mu chin Cheng said...

dear sir: I just love flowers , Did you brought those flowers Yourself ? I do not think they will provide. and how about the flower pots? I sometime brought flowers and put them in a water bottle.
Thanks for a very detail trip notes.

Jon said...

Thanks guys for a great insight to the Celebrity Solstice and its cruise offerings. We have booked this cruise from last year and we were very skeptical about doing so. We have done Carnival cruises and I must say they were great as family styles holiday cruising with kids, but as our kids a getting older we thought we would try something different.

This time we wanted to try something a little more for the parents but still have offerings for the kids, and it was suggested for us to try this cruise, I believe its call the "Tahitian Treasures"a, (I think it's the re-positioning cruise), its 18 nights and sails Friday 11th April 2014 from Sydney Australia to Honolulu USA, with New Zealand, Tahiti & its Islands, with final destination for us in Honolulu USA. (will fill you in on the cruise when we return)..!

As a parent, I was very concerned about the on-board costs as we Australians, whilst love to travel, are not very accustomed to tipping, as the Americans do.. and to know and understand that somethings advertised like, "Drinks Package, Internet and Mobile Connection" costs don't include these "tips/surcharges" is always handy, as it is always the last thing you find out about after you book and get on board. So getting to know what the general cost of these items is always a bonus, this way you can budget without the bill shock at the end of a great cruise, which then turns into a really bad experience.

So I must say that after reading your blog, I went off and did more research, but this time armed with the right questions, so I thank you guys heaps :-)

I am now really looking forward to the cruise. The count has begun and the kids are getting restless and sleepless, the excitement is building up, can't wait..

So for those interested, the current pricing its available on the Celebrity Australian website, but just remember all prices quoted are "Excluding Gratuities", (not quoted with the tip percentage), so as a word of caution make sure you read everything properly, and make sure you understand the amount of "Gratuity" required to pay, which can range from 12% to 15% US$, over the listed price, so don't forget to calculate this in the conversion to AU$.

For the Aussie's here are some links that might help, pay attention to the "asterisk *" next to items and read the notes associated with the item .

"During Your Cruise" --> http://www.celebritycruises.com/footer/faq.do?pagename=footer_pages_faq#2
(this includes an idea on Internet costs)

"Drink Packages" --> http://www.celebritycruises.com/planAndBook/tabLanding.do?pagename=onboard_beverage_packages

One last thing, if you are taking you mobile with you and you want to use it make sure you find out if they have a "Maritime Cell Roaming Agreement", and the costs of there roaming charges for this service. In Australia we are lucky as "Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, Virgin", and some of the other pre-payed services like "Boost Australia & Amaysim", have these agreements, so ask for the " Maritime Zone or Airtime Zone" roaming rates. Most call centers should be able to direct you to the correct link on there website.

Other than that, here's to happy sailing to all that will be joining us on this cruise... "Bon Voyage and Aloha"

I will report back after our cruise.

Regards Jon & The Gang ;-)