Celebrity Cruises is increasing its suggested gratuity by 50 cents per passenger/per day beginning on all bookings made on or after April 29 for all cruises that begin on or after the same day. The new suggested gratuity will be $12.00 per person/per day, if you're in a standard cabin; $12.50 per person/per day, if you're in a Concierge Class or AquaClass; and $15.50 per person/per day, for passengers in suites.
On Celebrity Solstice, the first of a new class of five vessels to be launched through 2012, Celebrity has created a dynamic new cruise ship. In many cases, a cruise line's "new class" often means just a larger, or slightly tweaked, version of a previous design. At 122,000 tons, Solstice has the size credentials, being the largest Celebrity ship ever launched, but there's much more to this vessel, and to the sisters that have since followed, such as Equinox and Eclipse.
Solstice has one of the best interior architecture designs we've ever seen, and passenger flow is excellent. While the ship's passenger-to-space ratio is standard for the industry, we never felt crowded and never experienced a single long line. On our completely full sailing the ship felt half-empty. Solstice is also an extremely easy ship to navigate, even for first-time cruisers. Everything is clustered: all the entertainment is forward; the food is aft; and -- insiders are quick to point out -- the money (casino, reception, shops) is in the middle. Even the specialty restaurants are all clustered on a single deck (Deck 5).
Solstice's style blossoms from the root of its name, "sol," meaning "sun." Even the casino chips bear images of the sun, a different stylistic representation on each denomination. And the sun plays an important role for the ship, from powering the 216 solar panels that contribute -- although to a minor extent -- to the ship's electrical grid, to nurturing what is perhaps the most unique feature of this, or any other, ship: a full half-acre of lush living grass. Called the Lawn Club, this area features bocce courts, a putting course and the Hot Glass Show, where passengers can delight in seeing the creation of complex works of glass art from basic raw materials to the finished objects.
Other "green" innovations include improvements in hull design and coatings, which boost fuel efficiency, and the use of eco-friendly refrigerants and lighting.
The slogan for the ship is "food is at the aft end; entertainment is up front; and the money is in the middle." To that end, the restaurants are clustered aft of the atrium, and the Solstice Theatre (main show lounge) is fully forward. Between the main atrium and the Solstice Theatre is a mini-atrium, anchored at Deck 4's "Entertainment Court," the nexus for nighttime entertainment. Amidships, in between the dining and entertainment venues, are the casino, reception and a mind-boggling 19 boutiques and shops, covering every genre and price point. Show me the money!
In another cluster, various landings for the main atrium's elevators have been expanded to accommodate the card room, library, a museum-like interactive environmental awareness experience called "Team Earth," and the Internet cafe. The 24-hour library is spectacular, extending vertically for two decks, with towering bookshelves extending the full height of the room, and has a middling selection of books to borrow (we noticed that many passengers had brought along their own electronic readers, like Kindle and Nook).
The Internet cafe is a typical onboard facility with plenty of dedicated laptops (augmenting the stem-to-stern Wi-Fi) and enrichment classes in various popular applications from Word to Photoshop.
Solstice juxtaposes bright sunlit colors, windows and skylights above with warm browns, tans, golds and reds in the carpets, furniture and wood trim below to warm up what might have otherwise been a stark decor. This stylistic stamp is most evident in the ship's cabins. Our comfortable 194-square-foot Deluxe Veranda cabin was carpeted in red and gold, with blond teak and walnut paneling and furniture. The couch and chairs were upholstered in cream leather, and the desk-cum-makeup table was topped with beige speckled marble. The balcony was, at 54 square feet, too small for anything more elaborate than sunbathing on one of the two webbed chaises or scenery watching. Between the two lounges was a teak-topped pedestal table.
Our bathroom was a pleasant surprise. We liked the curved acrylic shower door (in lieu of the oft maligned shower curtain) in specific, and the spaciousness and contemporary styling of the room in general. The quality ceramic tiles in varying shades of light browns gave the impression that the bathroom was custom-decorated, rather than prefab, as it no doubt was. We also gave high marks for storage space. Our only real beefs: a wall-mounted shaving or makeup mirror would have been nice, and the quality of the bath tissue, which was single ply and rough to the touch, was poor. Bath products, such as shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion, are provided.
Storage space was very good, with many nooks, crannies and cubbies to store stuff, in addition to the normal closet shelves and hanger bars. Other amenities are typical: robes, safes and refrigerator/mini-bars. Even in a cabin studded with high-tech electronics, the mini-bar accounting is handled by ticking off items on a usage list (thankfully) rather than by one of those automatic refrigerator sensor thingies.
The centerpiece of this room -- as well as those in all other categories -- is the large, LCD flat-screen television interfaced with a Mac mini computer, through which passengers can book reservations, services, and excursions; examine their accounts; check menus; and watch on-demand entertainment. The channel lineup includes everything from cartoons to classic TV to free movies (offered in two languages), a CBS sampler ("Eye on Celebrity"), cable travel, sports and news channels, ship information channels and multi-genre music channels. For those who left their laptops at home and still wish to access the Internet in-suite, they can do so using their stateroom's combination full keyboard and remote control. However, we found the system to be slow, clumsy and difficult to use, so if surfing the Web in your stateroom is a priority, bringing your own laptop still makes sense. As one might expect, the larger the cabin, the larger the screen. The minimum is 32 inches, increasing to 52 inches for the largest suites.
At the minimum end, basic inside cabins measure from 183 to 200 square feet, and represent 10 percent of inventory. Of the 1,279 cabins with ocean views (including suites), 1,205 have balconies -- a whopping 85 percent of total inventory, oceanview and inside combined. At the opposite extreme are the two Penthouse Suites, measuring 1,291 square feet with 389-square-foot balconies. These cabins offer floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, separate living room/dining room, baby grand piano, full bar, sofa queen sleeper, two 52-inch LCD TV's (the one in the living room has surround sound), full passenger bath, and a master bath with a whirlpool tub, shower stall with dual shower heads, double washbasins and even a 26-inch LCD TV. The verandah has a second whirlpool and lounge seating. The 44 Sky Suites represent the bulk of the suite inventory. They measure 300 square feet with 79-square-foot verandahs accessed through floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, and have two beds convertible to queen-size and bathrooms with a shower/tub combination and washbasin. The living room has a sofa queen sleeper, vanity and 40-inch LCD TV.
One step down from the Sky Suites are the 130 Aqua Class staterooms. This is an entirely new class and concept of accommodations for Celebrity. The footprint of these cabins is identical to that of Concierge, Sunset Veranda and Deluxe Ocean View staterooms (192 square feet/53-square-foot verandah). The difference is in privileges and amenities. Located on Deck 11 near the AquaSpa, these rooms include an expanded assemblage of spa-oriented cosmetics, gels and bath amenities; upgraded linens, including a selection from the "pillow menu"; Frette robes and slippers; complimentary bottled water; a daily carafe of flavor-infused iced tea; canapes; and access to an exclusive room service menu of salads, whole grains and healthy dining choices.
The bathroom features a five-head Hansgrohe invigorating "shower tower." As mentioned earlier, AquaSpa passengers have their own specialty restaurant, Blu, and complimentary use of the AquaSpa Relaxation Room and Persian Garden (described later), a value of about $100 per passenger based on a seven-night cruise. Lastly, a "spa concierge" is available to assist in booking treatments, providing product information, and offering recommendations from the wellness library.
Those in ConciergeClass staterooms will notice that, oddly, there's no dedicated concierge service provided (they can use the same passenger relations staff that's available to all). Still there are perks, such as nightly canapes, and complimentary welcome aboard Champagne. Other ConciergeClass upgrades are similar to aspects of AquaSpa cabins: Egyptian cotton oversized bath towels, Hansgrohe massaging showerhead and Frette robes. Shoeshine service is complimentary, as is use of a golf umbrella and binoculars. Priority treatment takes the form of priority check-in, luggage delivery, embarkation and debarkation. In 2012, Celebrity expanded the ConciergeClass services to include an exclusive pre-departure lounge with free coffee and juices.
Families can take advantage of 121 connecting staterooms and four Family Ocean View Staterooms with verandahs. These rooms measure a massive 575 square feet with one master bedroom plus a second bedroom (with a single twin bed) and sitting area with a sofa (convertible to trundle bed).
Solstice has 30 state-of-the-art wheelchair-accessible staterooms, covering a wide range of categories from Inside to Sky Suite. Eighty percent (24) are outside, and 20 of the 30 accessible cabins have accessible balconies. All accessible staterooms have additional square footage over their non-accessible counterparts and have 32-inch-wide automatic doors with sitting-level key card slots. Most accessible staterooms feature five-foot turning radiuses. Bathrooms have roll-in showers, ramped thresholds, and lowered fixtures. A service animal relief box is available on request. Suites feature the services of a butler, who will, among other chores, assist in the moving of heavy luggage as well as packing and unpacking.
The two levels of dress on Solstice are smart casual and formal. Two formal nights take place on a seven-night cruise. A large percentage of men opt for the tuxedo route.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Spa services are conducted by Elemis, Ltd. (a division of Steiner), and include a dizzying array of spa treatments including a variety of massage offerings from sports to New Age and everything in between. A standard 50-minute massage is $110, excluding bells, whistles and hot stones. Elemis also offers teeth whitening and acupuncture.
The Persian Garden, a Millennium-Class idea expanded to Solstice and its siblings, is central physically and conceptually to Celebrity's AquaSpa concept. The area includes a coed sauna and steam room, tropical rain shower and heated ocean-view relaxation chairs. The facility is available for free to AquaClass passengers and for $99 to all other passengers (based on a one-week cruise.)
AquaSpa pools include a lap pool and two whirlpools in the Solarium and are the most elegant indoor pools at sea (the dancing water fountain is a lovely, restoring touch).
Though the AquaSpa pools are closed to children, the main pool area does include a family pool (shallow for youngsters), separated narrowly from the "Sports Pool" on one side and the "Wet Zone" on the other. The Wet Zone is a flat area with vertical fountain jets that fire at random; it's great fun for kids to play in, or for anyone wishing for a quick cool down. Together these three form Solstice's main pool area, accompanied by four hot tubs.
A fully-stocked and staffed gym sports all the newest fitness machines, as well as a serpentine jogging track (eight laps to the mile). The nicest recreational area is the Lawn Club, and though Celebrity is careful to avoid excess wear and tear on the living grass, the ship's own backyard does feature a bocce court and a three-hole putting course. At the forward end of the ship, on Deck 15, is a basketball court.
The forward area including the basketball court on Deck 15 is ground zero for kids aboard Solstice. The court is sandwiched between the two dedicated kids' areas: X-Club (for kids ages 12 - 17) on the port side and Fun Factory (for 3- to 11-year-olds) on the starboard side. The rooms are of about equal dimensions and are stocked to the rafters with age-appropriate gear. The teen area also features a soft drink "bar" with a popcorn machine. Also clustered with the kids' clubs is the video arcade. In addition to that room's complement of the latest bleep, beep and zap machines, kids also have access to Wii consoles and foosball and air hockey tables.
The well-staffed youth program includes organized activities for five age groups, as follows:
Shipmates, ages 3 - 5, and Cadets, ages 6 - 8, offer dinosaur hunts, Sponge Bob trivia, face painting and water games. Ensigns (9 - 11) are engaged in scavenger hunts, pool games, bingo, basketball and game shows. Teens are split up into two groups. Those in the 12 - 14 sector participate in "tweens" activities like pool Olympics, game shows and karaoke, and those in the 15 - 17 group, which have less structured schedules, have a prom party and a "Dancing with the Stars" event.
In lieu of group babysitting, Solstice provides lunch, dinner and slumber parties for kids ages 3 to 11, so parents can lunch, sup and party at night sans kids. These "parties" go for $6 per child per hour. Individual in-cabin babysitting is available for one or two children 12 months or older for $8 per hour per child.
Family accommodations include four family cabins and 121 connecting cabins, as mentioned above.
The typical Celebrity passenger is mid-50's, traveling as a couple, sophisticated and appreciative of the better things in life. The majority are from the United States, but that balance, as well as the ratio of couples to families with kids may shift between the Caribbean and European seasons.
Celebrity's enrichment program, offered day and night, it is called Celebrity Life. Activities are divided into four categories: Culinary, enrichment, wellness and trivia & games.
During the day Celebrity offers a number of choices for enrichment and entertainment. Those who can't bear the thought of disembarking without winning just one more luggage tag can compete in multiple games of trivia and game shows.
Passengers who would like to disembark with a bit more brain power than they came aboard with can attend lectures in Celebrity's Beyond the Podium talk series, where topics have included a self-improvement specialist, an expert on Atlantis, and a real-life crime scene investigator discussing forensic science.
Culinary-oriented options include wine tastings and a Riedel glass tasting (a fascinating and experiential look at how the shape and feel of a wine glass impacts its taste), galley tours and cooking and cocktail-making demos in the atrium. Arguably, the most unique enrichment experience is the "Hot Glass Show," where passengers can sit surrounded by the grass of the Lawn Club and watch a master from the Corning Museum of Glass practicing his or her art, with a second artist providing commentary. This goes light years beyond the demonstrations we're all used to seeing at the Murano glass factories.
Then there are the standbys we all expect: bingo, dance lessons and the like.
One disappointment -- and this comes from someone who doesn't spend a lot of time in casinos -- is that the casino on Solstice is entirely too small for a 2,850-passenger ship and could use more gaming tables. At most, four blackjack tables would be open at any given time, and only one of those had a five-dollar minimum.
A decent variety of musical performances -- on deck, in lounges or in the main showroom -- cover a variety of musical styles. These included a solo steel pan player, a classical string quartet, solo pianists, a jazz combo and big band stylings from the main show band.
Solstice Theatre, the ship's main show lounge is an extremely well designed room with excellent sightlines and semicircular rows of comfortable theater seats, all with good views of the stage. There are no tables, but drink holders have been added to the armrests. Normally three production shows take place on a seven-night cruise; one of the shows is a Cirque du Soleil-inspired circus show, while the other two are standard revues with the star aerialists used like featured dancers. Other main show lounge performances included a singer, and welcome aboard and farewell shows.
Shore excursions were handled efficiently and smoothly. We didn't find anything new or unique on our sailing, but we were, after all, on an Eastern Caribbean itinerary. Our offerings may not reflect the choices available on Solstice's European cruises.
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