Cruise Details

7-Night Alaska

Seattle Round-Trip

Ship: Celebrity Solstice

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Inside Oceanview Balcony Suite

$899

$128 per night

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$157 per night

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$357 per night

Celebrity Solstice - Ship Review provided by Cruise Critic


Ship Review | Cruise Line Review

Overview

Solstice is the first of a new class of five vessels to be launched through 2012, and on the first swing Celebrity has hit it out of the park. 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.

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.

Dining

Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch and seven for dinner.

The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.

Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.

Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.

We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.

We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.

Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. The layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.

Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.

Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops. Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.

Other casual options include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.

Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens at 8 a.m., we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar. Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per person service charge.

Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.

Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.

The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $25.

Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.

The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $30 per person, with an additional $110 to pair wines with all the tasting menu courses, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.

We found Silk Road (reservations required, $20 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.

Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.

Public Rooms

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.

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.

Cabins

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-ft. 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 ft., 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. Bathroom products all come from the Elemis line, in keeping with modern "product placement" marketing. (Elemis is the spa operator for the ship.)

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 stateroom 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 ft., 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 ft. with 389-square-ft. balconies featuring. 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 ft. with 79-square-ft. 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 ft./53-square-ft. 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.

Though there is no onboard concierge (other than the spa concierge), passengers in Concierge Class staterooms may avail themselves of concierge-type services (such as restaurant and private car reservations ashore) from the Passenger Relations department. This category has other perks as well: a full breakfast room service menu, nightly canapés, and complimentary welcome aboard Champagne. Other Concierge Class 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.

Families can take advantage of 121 connecting staterooms and four Family Ocean View Staterooms with verandahs. These rooms measure a massive 575 square ft. 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.

Entertainment

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, game shows and the ever-popular Celebrity chestnut, "Battle of the Sexes."

Passengers who would like to disembark with a bit more brain power than they came aboard with can attend educational programming ranging from computing lessons in the Internet cafe to lectures on a range of subjects. On our sailing, the two lecturers were a self-improvement specialist and a real-life crime scene investigator discussing forensic science.

Celebrity Tastings, an annex to the art auction's main gallery, hosted samplings of wine and other libations, such as single malt and Irish whiskies, Port wine and rums. A dedicated wine tasting venue on Deck 4 called Cellar Masters offers a daily wine tasting in the afternoon or evening, featuring a different wine region each day and including in-depth discussions with knowledgeable sommeliers. Also, passengers can conduct do-it-yourself wine tastings 24 hours a day in Cellar Masters by purchasing a "wine card," inserting it in an automatic dispenser for a particular type of wine, and dispensing a measured one, two or four ounces into their glass. In the evenings, vodka and caviar tastings take place in Crush, adjacent to the Martini Bar. Crush's centerpiece is a table filled with shaved ice in the center.

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: art auctions, 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.

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 future 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 circular spa pool, a swim pool and two whirlpools in the Solarium.

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.

Family

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.

Fellow Passengers

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.

Dress Code

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.

Gratuity

A gratuity of $11.50 per passenger per night is automatically charged to shipboard accounts.

--by Steve Faber. San Francisco-based Faber is a longtime contributor to Cruise Critic whose work has also appeared in Cruise Travel and the Miami Herald.

Overview

Like Celebrity Solstice?


Solstice is the first of a new class of five vessels to be launched through 2012, and on the first swing Celebrity has hit it out of the park. 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.

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.

Dining

Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch and seven for dinner.

The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.

Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.

Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. Beginning January 10, 2010, the Celebrity Select dining option will also be available on this ship. Passengers can choose this option instead of the traditional, assigned-time, assigned-table dinner plan. With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to dine any time between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.

We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.

We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.

Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. The layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.

Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.

Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops. Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.

Other casual options include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.

Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens at 8 a.m., we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar. Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per person service charge.

Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.

Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.

The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $25.

Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.

The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $30 per person, with an additional $110 to pair wines with all the tasting menu courses, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.

We found Silk Harvest (reservations required, $20 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.

Editor's note: For all bookings made after November 1, 2009, for sailings departing on or after January 1, 2010, the surcharge for Murano will increase to $35 per person, the surcharge for Tuscan Grille will increase to $30 and the surcharge for Silk Harvest to $25.

Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day to the onboard account. It's $12 per person, per day for passengers in Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms and $15 per person, per day for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

--by Steve Faber. San Francisco-based Faber is a longtime contributor to Cruise Critic whose work has also appeared in Cruise Travel and the Miami Herald.

Overview

Solstice is the first of a new class of five vessels to be launched through 2012, and on the first swing Celebrity has hit it out of the park. 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.

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.

Dining

Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch and seven for dinner.

The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.

Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.

Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.

We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.

We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.

Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. The layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.

Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.

Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops. Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.

Other casual options include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.

Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens at 8 a.m., we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar. Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per person service charge.

Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.

Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.

The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $25.

Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.

The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $30 per person, with an additional $110 to pair wines with all the tasting menu courses, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.

We found Silk Road (reservations required, $20 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.

Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts.

Gratuity

A gratuity of $11.50 per passenger per night is automatically charged to shipboard accounts.

--by Steve Faber. San Francisco-based Faber is a longtime contributor to Cruise Critic whose work has also appeared in Cruise Travel and the Miami Herald.

Overview

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.

Dining

Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch (though its main restaurant is only open at midday on sea days) and seven for dinner.

The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.

Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.

Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. The Celebrity Select flex-dining option is available from 6 – 9:30 p.m. (you can choose this option after booking or while onboard). With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

It's important to note that dining room times may vary slightly, depending on itinerary.

Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.

We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.

We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.

Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. One of the most appealing buffet venues at sea, the Oceanview's layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.

Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.

Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops (these vary by day). Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. The salad bar offers a tremendous array of choices.

There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.

Other casual options during the day include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads (though interestingly, the salad bar at the Oceanview offered far more choice) and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.

At dinner, Oceanview was a lovely, laidback spot for those in the mood for simpler foods. It's buffet all the way – you fill your own plate and there's a bar for drinks service. Evenings, one speciality is the sushi bar.

Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens early in the morning we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar.

Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per person service charge.

Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.

Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.

The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $30.

Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.

The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $40 per person, or $89 per person to pair wines with a five-course tasting menu, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.

We found Silk Harvest (reservations required, $25 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.

Editor's note: Keep an eye out for discounts -- on a sailing when the restaurants were not fully booked (formal nights in particular), we were able to enjoy deals like a 20 percent off your bill (which includes the service charge and wine purchases).

Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts. There is no charge but it's considered sporting to tip for delivery.

Public Rooms

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.

Cabins

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 featuring. 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 Concierge Class 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 Concierge Class 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.

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.

Entertainment

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.

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.

Family

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.

Fellow Passengers

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.

Dress Code

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.

Gratuity

For passengers occupying standard accommodations, Celebrity automatically adds $11.50 per person, per day to the onboard account. It's $12 per person, per day for passengers in Concierge Class and AquaClass staterooms and $15 per person, per day for those in Suites. Gratuities can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. 15 percent is automatically added to all bar bills.

Cabins

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.

Dining

Dining choices abound aboard Solstice. Besides the main dining room, passengers can dine in three specialty dinner restaurants, a restaurant reserved exclusively for passengers in Aqua Class staterooms, a crepe and panini bistro, a lido buffet with specialty stations, a poolside grill, a spa cuisine buffet and grill, and a coffee bar and gelateria. Of the 10 restaurants, six are open for breakfast, five for lunch (though its main restaurant is only open at midday on sea days) and seven for dinner.

The towering, airy Grand Epernay is the ship's main dining room, spanning two decks at the aft end of the ship. The room is bright, and light in tones with ample use of the ship's signature design element, glass. In fact, instead of a wine cellar, one end of the dining room is accented with a two-story glass wine tower, replete with tall ladders to reach bottles at the highest levels.

Surprisingly for a ship with 2,800-plus passengers, this single restaurant feels spacious and uncrowded. There is ample room to navigate between tables, and the room's openness, combined with extensive carpeting on the floors, results in a tolerable noise level.

Dinner is served in two conventional sittings (typically 6 and 8:30 p.m.) with assigned tables and tablemates. Lunch and breakfast are open seating. The Celebrity Select flex-dining option is available from 6 – 9:30 p.m. (you can choose this option after booking or while onboard). With Celebrity Select, passengers have the option to decide whether they want to eat with their own party or on a mixed table with other guests. They can also make specific dinner reservations for each day of their cruise online in advance, make reservations onboard or simply show up when ready to eat.

It's important to note that dining room times may vary slightly, depending on itinerary.

Service is prompt, attentive, helpful and friendly. The dinner menu is not overloaded with choices, offering a total of seven entrees including a salad entree. Although no separate spa, vegetarian, heart-healthy or tasting menus are added on, at least one choice per course qualifies for each category (spa, vegetarian, etc.). In addition, the chef suggests his favorite from the available options, and several "classic favorite" options are available nightly, including Caesar salad, salmon, New York strip steak and creme brulee.

We found the cuisine to be a mix of French, Italian and "New American" styles, with contemporary popular ingredients -- phyllo, Yukon Gold potatoes, feta cheese, fresh fennel, etc. -- conspicuously present. To our taste buds the ship did a particularly noteworthy job with poultry. My trio of Cornish hen, duck and pheasant wrapped in bacon was a real standout, while my wife -- who is usually the family poultry-eater -- was fond of the beef choices.

We'd also like to give kudos to the entree salads. I'm generally not a fan of main course salads at dinner, but these are really hearty concoctions, such as an arugula salad with sliced grilled "Gaucho" steak, fresh marjoram and bacon ranch dressing. Lunch salads in Grand Epernay also shined, and were one of the only midday menu items that could lure us away from Oceanview or Bistro on Five. The other temptation was a hamburger served in the dining room because the Lido Deck grill was absolutely insistent on serving all burgers very well done. The chefs were more flexible in Grand Epernay, even if medium rare to rare was a Quixotic quest.

Nine decks directly above Grand Epernay is the Oceanview Cafe, a multi-station buffet for breakfast and lunch and an open-seating casual alternative venue for dinner. Other offerings include ice cream, pizza and pasta, sushi, afternoon tea and late night snacks (from 9:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.), all without additional charge. One of the most appealing buffet venues at sea, the Oceanview's layout is excellent, with many serving and prep stations situated as islands in the middle of the room rather than stretched along the walls. The result is a dependably uncrowded, spacious operation offering an extensive number of choices.

Besides the conventional choices, British (bangers, English bacon, baked beans) and Asian (miso soup with mix-ins, tofu, rice, etc.) stations, as well as vegetarian and carved meat stations round out the mix. The standard breakfast selections don't change (omelet station, Canadian and American bacon, turkey and pork sausage, potatoes, fruit, pastries and breads). As on past Celebrity ships, we found the breads superb, especially the house-made English muffins.

Lunch features one changing "Chef's Choice" station (primarily a carving station for ham, leg of lamb, beef, etc.) in addition to taco, pasta, stir-fry, sandwich, soup, salad and other specialty stops (these vary by day). Sandwich choices include hot (corned beef) or cold (turkey, chicken salad). Diners can customize their pasta choices with sauce selection (marinara, alfredo, garlic/butter) or select meats, spices and veggie mix-ins for their stir fries. The salad bar offers a tremendous array of choices.

There is plenty of elbow room between tables and attentive waiters available for assistance for those who require it.

Other casual options during the day include the Mast Grill, on the same level as Oceanview, but forward of the main swimming pool. It serves burgers, hot dogs, fries and the like. One deck down, the AquaSpa Cafe serves healthy, spa cuisine breakfast and lunch by the spa pool. We found it a great choice for lunch, especially for the salads (though interestingly, the salad bar at the Oceanview offered far more choice) and simple grilled or poached seafood choices.

At dinner, Oceanview was a lovely, laidback spot for those in the mood for simpler foods. It's buffet all the way – you fill your own plate and there's a bar for drinks service. Evenings, one speciality is the sushi bar.

Deck 5 is the epicenter for specialty dining. We were particularly fond of "Bistro on Five," a cheery little casual eatery hugging one side of the atrium. Bistro's main fare is crepes, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert crepes. Don't miss the dulce de leche or banana, nutella and pistachio crepes, and ask for either of these with a scoop of vanilla gelato from the gelateria next door. Bistro on Five also features panini sandwiches (steak, chicken or vegetable), soups and salads. Since Bistro on Five opens early in the morning we found it a delightful choice for a quiet, almost private, breakfast, especially in the early days of the cruise, before many passengers had discovered it. We liked the "Build Your Own" crepe option, which consisted of a palate-pleasing palette of scrambled eggs and omelet-type ingredients. Our favorite sandwich was the marinated flank steak with lettuce, mushrooms, bacon, caramelized onions and cheddar.

Bistro on Five is open 'til a half hour past midnight, and requires no reservations, though there is a $5 per person service charge.

Aft from the atrium on Deck 5, the Ensemble Vestibule -- an edgy, black, box-like room reminiscent of the offbeat art and decor of Celebrity's early days -- is the entryway into the Ensemble Lounge, an energetic, convivial watering hole ideal for pre-dinner drinks. In one of the best pieces of interior architecture we've seen on any ship, Ensemble forms a nexus from which Celebrity's signature Michael's Club and four specialty restaurants -- Blu, Murano, Silk Harvest and Tuscan Grille -- fan out like spokes of a wheel. Because of this architecture, not only does this section of the ship have the feeling of a sophisticated city's "Restaurant Row," but it also places the four specialty restaurants such that they all have beautiful picture window views of the sea.

Blu, technically not a specialty restaurant as much as it is a private dining room reserved for passengers booked in Celebrity's new AquaSpa category, has a menu similar in course structure to that of Grand Epernay (appetizers, soups & salads, salad entree, main entrees, Everyday Classics and Sommelier Recommendations). It differs in both the number of offerings (one or two fewer per most categories) and the style of cuisine, relying less on rich sauces and sauteing and more on natural reductions, ragouts and herbs. AquaSpa passengers do not have to pay extra to dine here, but suite passengers may book tables on a space available basis, for which they are charged a $5 per person gratuity.

The ambiance of Tuscan Grille, Solstice's Italian steakhouse restaurant is described by Celebrity as "Napa-meets-Old-World-Italy," an impression that we concurred with as we entered through a "wine cave"-like archway into a genteel room with ornate furniture and place settings. Tuscan Grille also has the best view of any restaurant aboard the ship, being situated all the way aft. A meal in Tuscan Grille, in our estimation, is best enjoyed on the early side, while there are still seats right up against the wall of glass facing the trailing wake of the ship, and before the sun has gone down. The grilled meats and seafood can't be beat, although we were mildly disappointed in the pasta choices -- only four, and the sauces are conventional: Alfredo, Bolognese, Toscana (meatballs and tomato sauce), and Parmiggiana. Other signature touches are an antipasti bar and Caesar salad prepared tableside. I enjoyed a perfectly grilled veal chop, preceded by the excellent preparation and presentation of a Caesar salad for two. Per person charge is $35.

Our favorite was Murano, with a name carried forward from Celebrity Century and a menu with roots on the Millennium-Class ships. The theme is Continental with a tilt toward new French. The centerpiece is a six-course tasting menu, featuring appetizer, soup & salad, fish course, palate cleanser (sorbet), meat course and dessert; all of the dishes except the sorbet come from the a la carte menu. There are two choices for each course on the tasting menu, and the option of a wine paired with each. It may be heresy, but I chose to order a mere two-course meal, feeling I would be spending a month on the treadmill just to make up for six courses of caloric intake.

The a la carte menu choices are bold -- caviar, escargots, sweetbreads, foie gras, venison and the like -- but familiar faves abound: filet mignon, duck breast, lobster tail, surf and turf. I chose seared sweetbreads, which came out delicate, light and crispy, followed by Dover Sole Veronique, a favorite of mine, sauteed with white wine and grapes. My wife thoroughly enjoyed her duck breast served with duck leg confit. Cover charge for Murano is $45 per person, or $89 per person to pair wines with a five-course tasting menu, and a "Market Price" surcharge for a caviar option.

We found Silk Harvest (reservations required, $30 per person surcharge) the least satisfying of the group. The cuisine is pan-Asian, and like most menus built on a melange of related, but not necessarily complementary, styles, everything may be well executed, but nothing is a knockout. For example, sushi is offered, but the only options are commonplace tuna, salmon, shrimp and eel, as well as rolls easily tolerated even by non-sushi-eaters. Typically spicy dishes such as Pad Thai or Kung Pao Chicken were mild.

Editor's note: Keep an eye out for discounts -- on a sailing when the restaurants were not fully booked (formal nights in particular), we were able to enjoy deals like a 20 percent off your bill (which includes the service charge and wine purchases). Dining packages, which offer about a 20 percent savings, are also available.

Room service is available 24 hours a day from a limited menu of sandwiches, pizzas, salads and desserts. There is no charge but it's considered sporting to tip for delivery.

Gratuity

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.

Fitness and Recreation

Spa services 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. It 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.

Gratuity

Tips aren't included in the cruise fare, but suggested gratuities are automatically added to your onboard account at a rate of $12 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. If you would like to adjust the gratuities, you can make do so through the Guest Relations desk. A 15 percent charge is added automatically to all beverage and minibar purchases as well as spa and salon purchases. You can't remove these gratuities but can add to them.

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Cruise Details

Included: Shipboard Accommodations, Meals, Some Beverages, Onboard Entertainment and Daily Activities, Port Charges, 24-Hour Room Service

Not Included: Shore Excursions, Personal Expenses, Gratuities, Alcoholic Beverages, Specialty Restaurants, Spa Treatments, Some Taxes

Optional Add-Ons: Flights, Hotels, Transfers, Insurance


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Cruise ID:

76153