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Celebrity Solstice independent cruise ship review

Independent cruise ship reviews for the professional at Leisure

December 2009

The solstice is the newest in the Celebrity fleet, a sparkling new ship that offers a host of amenities that are unique and special.  After the acquisition of Celebrity cruise lines of Royal Caribbean, there has been concern that Celebrities niche as a step-above Holland America Princess, (while staying below the luxury lines like Crystal Cruises and Cunard) may be changing, especially in light of the spectacular deals with some cabins offered at less than $70 per day.

The Celebrity Solstice is a sparking new ship that is kept immaculately clean.  They are also offering come new amenities, found on no other ships:

 

Automated wine cellar

One major revenue generation for cruise ships is alcohol, and Celebrity has introduced an automated wine dispenser that allows anyone with a ship card, regardless of age, to get loaded on cheap wines.  It’s only a matter of time until they get sued after a kid uses a pinched card and gets hurt.

Fresh Grass on Deck

 The Celerity Solstice latest gimmick is the “lawn club” a quarter acre of real grass on the top deck. 


You can play Bocce ball, whatever that is.


Don't forget your "Lawn Club merchandise!

The putting green

 They advertise it as a putting area, and they even have a “pro shop” but the grass is nothing like a real golf green.  However, putting is still challenging, since you must almost chip the ball from the thick grass, all while allowing for the natural motion of the ship.  It’s not like real putting, but it’s fun in its own right.

 
   
 
I would use a wedge on this thick grass
 

If you really smack the ball, it is kinda, sorta is like a putting green
 

Glass blowing

One popular new attraction is offered by the Corning Glass Museum, where they have three professional glass blowers create art glass vases and bowls in front of an audience.  It’s fun to watch them blow the glass, and some pieces are offered as “art” for sale, in the realm of $350 up to $1,500.


British American Auctions:
A new auction in town!

With the cruise lines reeling from allegations of massive fraud, it's no surprise to see new players enter this market.    British American is a new cruise ship art auction that claims to only be operating on the Solstice and on Azamara Cruises.  I read their terms and conditions and spoke with their auctioneer, and here is what I learned about British American Auctions.  

 

Gay Friendly staff

While naval service has attracted homosexuals for centuries, the Solstice has more effeminate staff than any cruise ship I’ve been on, with dozens of openly gay men, some in positions that require daily interaction with the passengers. 

The Solstice had quite a few gay male passengers aboard as passengers, and we dined with some gays who were very pleased to see that the cruise director staff was so open about their sexual orientation., and they saw this as a advancement in the general acceptance of gayness in the workplace.

Conversely, we also heard complaints about the effeminate gay men who work aboard the Solstice.   These complaints were from old people and intolerant conservatives (probably far right Christians), who complained loudly about the “light in the loafers” swishy behavior of the staff.  I don’t agree with this, but I can understand how conservative passengers might be uncomfortable interactive with flamboyantly effeminate men.

It’s a tradeoff.  Gay couples find the cruise ship staff delightful and refreshing, but religious people, conservatives, homophobes, and those who are uncomfortable with effeminate gay mannerisms might do well to avoid the Solstice.

 

 Dining on the Celebrity Solstice

You get what you pay for, and the higher class passengers (Aqua and Concierge class) eat in the “Blu” dining room, while steerage passengers dine in the Grand Epernay dining area.  We found the food to be quite good in the Epernay dining area, but the wait staff is routinely overwhelmed, and we got tired of sitting for 90 minutes to eat a meal that could have been served in less than an hour.

Dealing with food borne illness

It’s rare to get food borne illness aboard a cruise ship, but the Celebrity Solstice has some of the worst food I’ve ever encountered, worse than an Army mess hall. (But in all fairness, at less than $70 per day for the food and balcony room, the food is cheaper than eating at Waffle house) 

Janet because ill from eating contaminated food aboard the Celebrity Solstice, and after the second bad food attack, we needed to take action and start carefully screening our food for bacterial contamination.  We were at sea for six days without any port stops, so we were in a real jam.  If you get sick from food aboard the Celebrity Solstice and you cannot buy food at port stops, you must be very careful:

If you get nausea or diarrhea or any symptoms that might be confused with a viral illness, be careful not to get quarantined.  With all of the concern about viruses, the medical staff are quick to quarantine anyone with flu-like symptoms to their cabin for the duration of the cruise (Note that many cruise ships doctors are grossly unqualified to practice medicine in America <add link>). 

If you are quarantined, then you are really screwed, since we suspected that it was bacteria laden room service food was what made her sick! 

Cooking in your stateroom

To stay healthy for a long voyage, we took to preparing cook cold food in our stateroom.  We were not able to bring foodstuffs aboard the ship during port stops, and we wished that we had the foresight to load up on canned foods (pork and beans, spaghettios, and potato chips) for safe in-room dining. 

WARNING:  DO NOT attempt to cook hot food in your stateroom.  Cans of Sterno can easily tip, causing a serious fire aboard ship.  The trick is to prepare safe cold food, using uncontaminated ingredients.

Janet is cleaver, and she discovered that you can make your own egg salad in your cabin, using hard boiled eggs, packets of mayonnaise and bread:


Make your own egg salad from hard boiled eggs and mayo packets

With a few delightful exceptions, the overall quality of the food aboard the Celebrity Solstice ranged from wonderful to absolutely horrid.  And the bad food was very bad, more than unappetizing; it’s just plain gross, and I’ve eaten better meals in Army mess halls.  We were served food that our dog would not eat, like this nasty club sandwich, served with cold, soggy french fries:

 
A club sandwich from the Celebrity Solstice room service

But to be fair, the food is an amazing value for the money, and the vast majority of passengers were not sickened by the food.

Almost every day I had to remove something gross from my mouth, like a giant hunk of gristle in some chopped barbeque meat, or the woody core of a pineapple.  After eating the spectacular New York pizza on the Crown Princess cruise ship, the pizza on the Solstice was just nasty.  Here is an actual photo of the pizza that the Celebrity Solstice will serve you:

 
Celebrity Solstice pizza tastes even worse than it looks

Fortunately, not all of the food is inedible, they have pockets of glory such as the desert crepes in the extra-cost Bistro on Five, but the food quality is not uniform, it varies from outstanding to disgusting.  The main dining room has decent food, but you can wait over an hour, watching the poor waiters scramble trying to keep up with their overloaded tables.

The food refrigeration also appeared to be spotty, and you could tell with the ice cream, which was obviously melted and then re-frozen.  Perhaps it’s the refrigeration that was the cause of the bacterial problems that Janet experienced, who knows?


Ice Cream, obviously melted and then re-frozen

The Solstice offers three extra-cost dining options, (Asian, French, and Italian).  When compared to some of the extra-cost offerings such as the SS United States Celebrity Infinity, these restaurants pale, but the extra service alone makes them worth the extra $20-$25 charge.

Tip:  If you want prompt service and better food, budget an extra $30 a day, and eat in the Tuscan grill and Silk Harvest.

Oceanview Café

As far as buffets go, this one is quite nice, on par with the mega buffets of Las Vegas, sans the filet Mignon and lobster tails. They always offer a “carving table” with fresh ham, turkey or pork loin, and a wide variety of foods.

Everyone love English food, and the Oceanview Cafe offers a full English breakfast on the buffet, replete with fried toast, black Pudding (a scab-like blood sausage), delightful sautéed mushrooms, fried tomatoes, beans and British bacon (a salty ham).  They even offer Chinese dumplings, real Chinese congee and an amazing variety of international offerings.


Wonderful black pud and fried toast complete a real British breakfast

Tuscan Grille

After eating real Tuscan food, we found the Tuscan Grill to be to anglicized, a watered-down version of the real thing.  Little details were sub-par (the prosciutto was too fatty), the dishes unauthentic.  For example, they push the rib-eye steak, a wafer thin steak served with macaroni and cheese.  The steak was not char-broiled, lacked flavor and it was nothing even remotely Tuscan.

Bistro on Five

One amazing treat on the Celebrity Solstice is the creperie on Bistro at Five, which serves a full meal for a five dollar cover charge.  They serve soup, sandwiches and stiffed crepes, nothing to write home about, but the real spectacular treat was the French desert crepes, a masterpiece with dried orange and Grand Marnier.  For a great late night desert, try the creperie, as they are open until one AM.

 

Murano restaurant

Murano is the place to go if you want glitzy presentations of a two hour meal, and the staff at Murano is all about spectacular presentation, hovering and doing the final food preparation at the table.  Murano is all glamour and glitz, Murano is perfect for playing dress-up and spending the evening dining in an elegant setting with super-attentive service.  It dining experience reminded me of the SS Unites States on the Celebrity Infinity <add link>

Murano also offers a $95 menu with a different wine with each course.  The fare is faux french (deliberately anglicized for American tastes), but they offer filet mignon, fresh lobster, rack of lamb and Dover sole, prepared at your table.  They also offer soufflés for desert, but be prepared for spend at least two hours.  Murano is not the place to pop-in for a quick snack.

 

 Silk Harvest

The Silk Harvest is a real gem, a real delight for superb Asian cuisine, and we ate their several times.  This is an “Asian Fusion” restaurant, offering cuisine from Vietnam, China and Japan.  Their term “fusion” is a misnomer, because the food is not a true fusion, it simply means that they offer dishes from various countries.

Tip:  Book early! – Silk Harvest is head-and-shoulders above the Tuscan and Murano, and it’s a small restaurant and it books up quickly.

The service is amazing, and the wait staff descends on you like flies on warm poo, yet somehow their service is not smothering (like the Russian Tea Room).  While most dishes are quite authentic, at par with any Chinatown restaurant, it was refreshing to see that they did not water-down the bold dishes for the gringo’s.  Their spicy Vietnam Green Curry was amazing, hot enough to make me sweat, all bold flavors and quite authentic.

Tip:  If you want to eat quickly and not linger for hours, just say so, and they will start bringing out the food pronto. 

 

Annoyances on the Celebrity Infinity

There were several minor issues that we found to be bothersome:

·     Inattentive waiters – It was not uncommon for the wait staff to “forget” our drink orders, and on one occasion we were swerved a sandwich without the bread.  (However, they did a great job, given the huge number of people that they were forced to serve at once)  At the Bistro on Five, I got an orange crepe and they did not serve it with the oranges!  When I questioned them, they said that they were “out”, but they had no problem serving it without the oranges.  In fairness, they sent a tray of chocolate-covered strawberries to our cabin as an apology.

 

·    Inappropriate familiarity – It does not matter how you have distinguished yourself as a professional, the servants on the Solstice has been trained to annoy you by comment on what you are eating in the dining room, asking where you are from, and other inappropriate acts of unwarranted familiarity.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, sooner or later, some third world servant on the Solstice will assume that they are entitled to address you by your first name.  In all fairness, I’m an alpha male who does not tolerate uppity underlings, but some people love being chatted-up by the help.  My kids and my 80 year-old mother in-law love the attention when the wait staff get familiar with them.  This is a management issue, and the ship ID cards should have some unobtrusive marker to designate people who may not appreciate being called by their first name.

·    Foreign objects in the food – Have you ever had the experience where you find something really gross in your mouth and you are forced to discretely spit it out into your napkin?  Well, it happened to me three times aboard the Solstice.  Once, I caught a giant hunk of gristle when eating the barbeque meat in a sandwich (in which they forget the bread!).  It was so gross that I had to excuse myself and leave the dining area to flush it into the men’s room toilet.  On another occasion I caught the woody core of a pineapple and another time I was served an inedible twig from the bottom of an asparagus stalk.  This is not an issue with Celebrity as a whole, but they need to fire their food service manager.

In sum, Celebrity is an amazing value at under $70 per day for a balcony stateroom, and the staff was genuinely obsessed with providing good service. 

I believe that our food problems we experienced were transient, and even with the food problems I was satisfied and would cruise the Solstice again.

 

 




 

 

 

Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

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