Down Under Delights on Celebrity Solstice
After a few days in Sydney, a city we found very pleasant, we embarked on the Solstice for back-to-back cruises; the first up the Eastern seaboard to the Great Barrier Reef and the second from Sydney to New Zealand and back.
Having cruised on her sister ship, Celebrity Eclipse, we knew what to expect in layout and staterooms on the Solstice. The former is straightforward – entertainment at the front, food at the back. The latter gives you plenty of space, decent storage, a comfortable bed and very good shower room. We had a balcony that was partially obstructed, although the 'obstruction' was a 12 foot area beyond the balcony that was part of Blu restaurant roof, so the views were good. The ship was in pretty good condition in both public areas and staterooms, only the balcony furniture was looking a little tired. Hand sanitising at the buffet and returning on board was mandatory, which was good to see.
Staff: Uniformly pleasant and helpful. Our steward was exceptional and the wait staff were excellent. With so many passengers having drinks packages, the sommeliers were a little overworked, not helped by them having to disappear to a bar to collect any drink other than wine but the waiters pitched in to ensure glasses were topped up. The captain's morning briefing was entertaining; he must have been a comedian in a former life. It's a shame some passengers treat the staff as if they are invisible – it must be tough being away from your loved ones for six months at a time.
Food: We'd had some disappointments on the Eclipse but this was very good. We had virtually no issues with the food in the MDR for breakfast and dinner and the range in the buffet for lunch was impressive. We also dined in Murano, Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest – the last was no longer Asian but a quirky show called Le Petit Chef where the meal prep is animated on the table. All were excellent, especially the lobster in Murano and the filet mignon in Silk Harvest. We never paid full price; there's a first night discount and others were offered – up to 30% - during the cruises. Not as generous as on the Eclipse and tended to be the less popular slots – very early or quite late.
We had open dining but booked all our sittings in advance at a time to fit in with the shows. Although we were on a table for two, the close proximity of your neighbours meant you invariably struck up a conversation. We met some lovely people this way without the disadvantages that sharing a big table brings.
Entertainment: The production shows were predictably high standard and most of the guest entertainers were equally good. There was a surprisingly large number of British singers, both solo and in the groups. The low points were both Australian comedians – I thought I'd passed through a wormhole to the 1970s. The port talks could arguably been better, most being given by an enthusiastic amateur. Recent films were shown daily in Celebrity Central or the Lawn Club with older ones available on the stateroom TV.
Excursions: We only took two ship's excursions which we couldn't easily do independently and both were well organised. As always, it's generally better value to book independently; one that we took from Cairns was less than half of the ship's price for exactly the same itinerary.
Drinks: The Classic Drinks package was included as it usually is for Oceanview and above. It was fine in terms of selection of cocktails, beers and wine. Some oddities – e.g. a Long Island Iced Tea with five shots of spirits is included but a Baileys will cost $1 extra!
Wi-Fi: Again included but is very expensive - $55 a day – if you purchase separatey. It clocked at 3.5mbps/1.5mbps. Not great, but proved fine for emails, general browsing and social media uploads.,The connection was generally reliable.
Only one minor criticism: tendering. This is a pain at the best of times but the communication, or lack of it, was an issue. We sat waiting for over an hour on one occasion before we were informed that the swell was causing an issue. On a second occasion the daily newsletter said ticketing would be in place as normal. Having got up extra early to collect these, I was told that there were sufficient tenders to make this unnecessary.
It was a wonderful 25 days; so many memories of some lovely places and such interesting flora and fauna. We especially loved the New Zealand South Island, it seemed gently paced and had so many areas of outstanding natural beauty. We'll have to go back one day to see more.
We aren't brand loyal, more destination and price driven, but we will almost certainly cruise with Celebrity again as they tick all the important boxes for us.
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