Med Cruise

I had the opportunity to go on a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice departing from Barcelona on April 29, 2012 for 12 nights. It was amazing, a truly an incredible trip. Slightly exhausting, but amazing.  There were only 3 days at sea for the 12 days, and one over-night in Venice. The other days offered visiting a new city each day.

The Pantheon

Any questions that you have about Celebrity’s Europe program? Or cruising Europe in general? Post your questions in the comments below. I would be happy to answer them for you. Cruises to Europe are selling for great prices if you are interested in a quote, let me know! See the about section for my contact info.

Happy Travels!

Solstice Day 3

This continues my review/recap of my 7 day Eastern Caribbean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice. If you missed the first one, click to read it from the beginning.

Our cruise was scheduled to arrive in San Juan Puerto Rico at 3 p.m. So for most of the day it was similar to a sea day on the ship. We started our day as always with breakfast on the balcony. After breakfast we decided to take a walk on the jogging track on the 14th deck. The jogging track on this ship would be nearly impossible to jog on. First it is terribly windy while the ship is moving. But the bigger problem is that anyone moving around on this deck has to walk through the jogging track- there is no other way to get around. It is also very narrow. And then there is the issue of inconsiderate passengers putting their lounge chair on a portion of the track. So, it was fine for walking, but a bit irritating at the same time. After our walk, we stopped in the Ocean View Cafe for a snack of fresh belgium waffles- they are the best I have ever had on a cruise.

The afternoon involved reading for a bit, having lunch and then sitting out on the balcony as we approached San Juan. Once we saw land, we turned on our cell phones to check for service. We had a text from our realtor asking to call. From this call we learned that my husband’s condo was finally set to close- WHILE WE WERE ON THIS CRUISE. Apparently it could not be extended and it needed to close on that Friday. We learned that we could close by Power of Attorney (POA) which is just another reason that people should have their estate plan up to date before leaving for a week-long vacation out of the country- you never know when you will need it. Our POA’s were at my law office, and my assistant was able to get them over to the realtor.

Finally after doing a little work dealing with the sale, we debarked the ship in San Juan. The Solstice was docked at Pier 3. We headed out to the Coach store to see if there was anything worth buying (there wasn’t.)  Then stumbled into the Linen Shop that is so well-known. Finally, I was craving guacamole and chips (because apparently when I am on a cruise I want to eat every 2 hours.) We asked someone where to go and was lead to Lupis. It was not that impressive. One beer, 1 virgin daiquiri, and an order of guacamole and chips was $19 without a tip. In terms of the ports, it was the least annoying in terms of pushy island people trying to get you to buy things from them.

After walking around San Juan, and up 9 flights of stairs (our attempt to keep moving and help with the weight gain was to take the stairs) we relaxed a bit in our cabin until cleaning up for dinner.

Dinner tonight was at the Tuscan Grille around 6:45 p.m. In hindsight, I would not have ordered a guacamole snack prior to going here for dinner. There was so much amazing food and there was great service. The Tuscan Grille is one of the specialty dining restaurants on the Solstice. It is located on deck 5 (with all of the specialty dining locations) at the back of the ship. We asked for a table by the window, and were lucky to be seated at the last table. Since we were in port, we had a view nice San Juan.

Our meal started with a bread basket and some spreads, one of which was roasted carmelized garlic cloves. They had a roasted red pepper bread that was great. They then brought us an antipasta plate with prosciutto, melon, roasted veggies, mozzarella and olives. It was so good and we still hadn’t ordered yet.  Finally on to the ordering, I did not have room for an appetizer after the antipasta plate, but I was offered a choice of one. For the salad course, I ordered an arugula salad with pine nuts and fried goat cheese. It was definitely the best salad I have ever had. It was so flavorful. My husband ordered the caesar salad made table side which he really enjoyed. We each ordered the filet mignon for our main course. One of the meals offered baked mac and cheese which I asked for. This SHOULD NOT BE MISSED if you like this dish typically. It was so good, a little salty, but GET it!! We were already full, but were not about to miss dessert. We ordered gelato which was excellent of course. We also ordered the fondue, which was also good. We were just so full by the end of this meal.

I honestly enjoyed every bite of food from this meal. It was all so good. I am not sure, however, if I feel it was worth the surcharge. Would I come again? I am not sure… An extra $60 ($30 each person) above what the cruise cost… But I loved the meal, so maybe it is worth it… I don’t know. We received this meal complimentary because we were in a suite. If dining without paying the surcharge, make sure you tip the staff because otherwise they are not compensated for serving you. $10 (for 2 people) appears to be customary.

The evening show was Jason Bishop. According to the Celebrity Today he performs “stunning, state of the art magic and illusions.” I wouldn’t know as I did not attend. But both my spouse and our dinner companions thought that the show was good. My lack of going is one of the things that I enjoy best about cruises- I can decide that I do not want to do something, and my travel companion can attend the event, without any ill-will on either of our parts. Instead of going to the show I returned to the cabin to relax and watch a little tv.

We made it an early night since we would have a full day in St. Maarten the next day.

Until the next post – Happy Travels.

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Solstice Cruise Day 2

This is a continued post on my late January cruise honeymoon with my husband, to see the first post, click here.  The 2nd day of our Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Solstice was a sea day.

I was up early (woke up naturally at about 6:30) and went out to the balcony to relax and to enjoy the quiet time. It was cool (the sun was just starting to rise) so I used one of the in-room robes.

My husband started the day with room service breakfast on our balcony. I had read on Cruise Critic that ordering breakfast on the interactive tv was not the way to go- you do not have as many options for comments and requests, i.e. crispy bacon please. Instead we used the menu card provided in the room and left it on our door the night before.  The selection was the best I have ever seen on a cruise ship. I will not go into too much detail, since I discussed the choices in my previous review of the suite. One comment that I did not make on the other post was the coffee was served in a nice stainless steel carafe. It was an amazing carafe. The coffee stayed warm for hours. It was even freakishly warm for a long time after being poured into the coffee mug. It was a magic combination.

We went up after breakfast to the pool for some lounging in the sun… It was windy and warm at about 9:45 in the morning. The one advantage to it being windy is that you do not feel too hot in the sun. Sadly, they had water aerobics for a half hour around 10:30. This was unfortunate because they put the instructor on the loud-speaker to give instruction to those at the pool. I would have probably picked a different location (further from the pool) had I known about this in advance. My husband, being a light-skinned boy, sat in the shade with his book. By noon, maybe a little before, the pool area was PACKED. It was the perfect time to get out of there!

We enjoyed lunch in the main dining room (MDR). I had a visor from my sunning and was asked to take it off upon entering the MDR.  There was at least one person wearing a cap at lunch that I noticed. But I do like that they try and enforce their dress code. We were seated in a 2-top off to the side. [Breakfast and lunch for most cruise lines in the MDR have open seating.] Lunch was enjoyable. It is similar to dinner in that there is a menu that you choose your courses from. Obviously the portions are smaller and there are fewer, but still ample, choices. For dessert my husband was a big fan of the banana creme brulee! He is still talking about it.

After lunch I retreated to the cabin to sit on the balcony. My husband went to the “Beyond the Podium Enrichment Series” on Pirates.His opinion of it was that it was interesting, but the speaker confused some of the pirates. His impression was that if she was unsure about a fact, she just made it up.  After, he came up to the room to find me napping on the balcony. We spent the rest of the afternoon lazily lounging and reading on the balcony.

Dinner again was at the MDR. Tonight was formal night. I cannot recall what the dinner choices were, but I recall that I really enjoyed the dinner.  After dinner we asked to see the dinner menus for the next two nights so that we could decide which night to go to the Tuscan Grille. We decided that we would go to the specialty restaurant on the night with our least favorite dinner choices. A note regarding the dress code- people take it seriously on this line. And the dress code is requested to be followed all night long.

That night the evening entertainment in the Celebrity Theatre was Solstice – The Show. It was a Cirque du Soleil style show. Prior to the show they had the Captain’s Welcome with a champagne toast. The dress code was carried through to the show. The Celebrity Today advised that they would not allow jeans, shorts or flip-flops. I did not see anyone breaking this rule, but I didn’t look that carefully either. The show was great, the stars were so talented! We had a great evening.

Stay tuned for day 3. Check out my facebook page for pictures from the cruise. Happy Travels!

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Solstice Cruise Day 1

In late January 2012 my husband and I set off for a 7 night cruise on the Celebrity Solstice for our belated honeymoon. We were married in June, but, coming from Michigan, we did not really want to go anywhere tropical in June. (Our summers are very nice.) We take a winter trip every year and thought we would make this one a bigger trip since it was our honeymoon. The Solstice was the perfect way to spend the week.  We splurged and booked an aft cabin S2 Sky Suite. It was the perfect decision. For information about our room and to see pictures, click the link.  Our Eastern Caribbean 7 night cruise had 3 sea days and stops in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Phillipsburg, St. Maarten, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

We picked this itinerary, travel dates and ship based purely on price. I knew I wanted a Suite on a Celebrity Solstice class ship in late January early-ish February and let price dictate which ship, what date and which ports. I have been on many cruises and was familiar with the ports on both the Eastern and the Western Itinerary cruises.

Our honeymoon started the day before the cruise with our continued splurge and use of frequent flier miles to upgrade ourselves to first class. Travel Tip- when picking your seat, pick a seat in the middle of the first class cabin. With this cabin, closest to the front is NOT better. The first row is out because there is no personal storage space, you have to use the overhead bin, and then have to move every time you want to access your personal items. The second row (our row) was a bad choice because they place the travelers with small children in the first 2 rows. Either the first or second row on many planes have the extra air masks if there was a loss in cabin pressure for a lap child. (Children under 2 sitting on their parent’s lap and not in a seat.) We had a 2 year old in front of us. Parenting Tip: parents please bring something to entertain your child that is not electronic. This way you have something to do with them during the taxiing, etc. The child in front of us opened and slammed the window shade and banged his chair back as his entertainment until electronics could be used. [Edited to point out, that I now have a 2 year old, and my child, which still a kid, and can be a little loud at times, never slams the window shades, nor slams back in his seat. Finally, we have never had to use the phrase, “he’s two” to explain his unacceptable behavior in a plane, unlike the lazy parent in front of us.]  Also, the sound is much more muddled in the rows not immediately in front of or behind noisy rows. Unfortunately there were no other seats that we could move to, so that is where we stayed. The other disadvantage of being too far back or too far forward is you may not get a choice of which meal you are served. On Delta they offer 2 choices, and there are only as many meals as there are seats- so, if they have run out of one choice by the time they ask your row, you are left with what’s left. (On the way to Ft. Lauderdale the flight attendants asked the last row what they wanted to eat first, on the return flight, the front row was asked their choice first.) For those travelers in the middle of the cabin, they received a choice for their meal preference, and were far enough back not to have to hear bored 2 year olds.

Quite a few cocktails and an inflight movie later, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale, obtained our luggage, and were off to stand with the crowds of people waiting for their hotel-provided airport shuttle. There are no shortage of hotels that provide airport shuttles at FLL. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, Davie Rd. For information on that stay, click to see my review.

The next morning we took our privately hired transportation to the cruise pier. We arrived around 11:10 a.m. The pier is CLOSE to the airport, if you are flying in on the same day just take a taxi to the pier. Same is true if you fly into Miami and cruise out of Miami. The porters took our luggage and we entered the terminal. We quickly made it through security, and check-in. Our picture was taken, and then we waited for it to be time for boarding. Cruise Tip: Arrive nicely dressed for your cruise. They take your picture in front a back-drop and the photos turn out nice some of the time. There is no charge for ‘sitting’ for the picture.  You only pay if you like it. Most pictures throughout your cruise are printed 8 x 10. Another tip that I learned (too late on our trip to utilize it on our trip) – you can have the picture “re-printed” in a smaller size for the same 8 x 10 price, which is $19.99.  Back to the pre-cruise photo- these pictures are typically $10 -$15 with the date on them. It’s a great souvenir.

At about 11:35 a.m. we were allowed to board. Upon entry we received a glass of champagne or a mimosa. For the non-drinkers, they did not have orange juice for some reason. It was way to early for the rooms to be ready so we went up for some lunch. I wanted a burger and fries (and onion rings, but they did not have any) so our first stop was to the Mast Grill.  They offered hot dogs, burgers and fries. Other lines have chicken sandwiches, but not Celebrity.  After, we headed over to the buffet (Oceanview Cafe) so my non-burger eating husband could get something. They have a HUGE selection in little stations. The food was very good. It was so early in the boarding process that it was not at all crowded. For the first day, if you arrive when loading starts, I would avoid the Burgers- they had been pre-prepared, which helps the quickness, but not the freshness of the food.

While waiting for the rooms to be available we just relaxed in a chaise lounge chair on the pool deck. We had our carry-on bags still so we read, listened to music, and just relaxed. Around 1:30 we went down to our floor and the doors were opened- the cabins were ready!

I’ve covered the cabin in the previous post so I will skip re-hashing that topic. Our luggage was outside our door by 4 p.m. We quickly stowed our belongings before continuing to enjoy our cabin, balcony and the welcome bottle of champagne (included for concierge class cabins and above.)

My dining preference was early seating with a 6 top table- both requests were honored. Something to note, the main dining room has a lot of 2-top tables, but most are located within 2 feet of another table, so you get served with the other table anyway. There are a few tables off on their own, but they are not the norm for a 2-top. Part of the fun is getting a table with other cruisers. It gives you more to talk about during the meal. The beginning nights include where everyone is from, what they do, etc. Then from there you can share and hear about what everyone did during the day. We arrived a little late to the dining room on the first night so as to not wait as long to be shown our table (we are big fans of waiting in fewer lines). You are shown to your seat since you need to learn your table’s location.  Since this is true for everyone the first night, that line can get long.

Dinner was terrific. I happened to keep track of the entree choices for the evening – lamb shank, salmon and spaghetti carbonara – one of my favorite dishes in Italian restaurants. The main meat dish of the night was Prime Rib, which was excellent. My spaghetti was good, but probably not as good as the prime rib. As do most lines, Celebrity offers an ‘everyday’ menu of choices you will see all week, which was listed on the left side of the menu.  On the right side were that night’s selection of the evening. One of the best items on the ‘everday’ menu were the caprese salad, and my husband was a big fan of the caesar salad- which he ate EVERY night. You get to choose between an appetizer, soup or salad option, and the main dish.  If there is more than one thing on the menu that you prefer, the waiter will bring you more than one of the course. The dessert menu comes after dinner. The everyday dessert menu has apple pie a la mode which I chose. It was fine. For my tastes, I enjoyed the desserts better on Carnival Cruise Line. But the entrees and appetizers were better on this cruise than any I had had before.

After dinner there is a short break worked into the schedule to tour the ship, spend money in the shops, gamble, etc. The show the first evening was properly titled, “Opening Night”  – a variety show sampling each of the shows for the week. It is great way to get an idea of what you want to see for the week. It was enjoyable.

After the show, we called it a night and returned to our cabin. The room was ‘turned down’ during our time out at dinner. I was completely impressed with our room stewards- I had made a short list of things that I wanted to request- extra towels, extra sheet, little things like that. They were all in the room taken care of and the portion for the butler (provided for guests in a suite) was torn off the list and had been given to our butler. It was VERY impressive. They also leave you the next day’s copy of Celebrity Today – the little schedule of the events for that day. I always read it to see if there is anything that interests me in terms of activities for the next day. It is also where you learn the dining options and hours of availability during the day. After my review it was time for one of the best parts of cruising – the nice captain gently rocking you to sleep each night. We had a great night of sleep the first night on the ship!

Stay tuned for the next installment of my cruise vacation!

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Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite

We had the recent opportunity to spend a week in aft cabin 1665, S2 Sky Suite on the Celebrity Solstice from January 29th- February 5th for our belated honeymoon. It was fabulous.

The room was fantastic. For pictures of the S2 Sky Suite on the Solstice, click the link. It feels about the size of a regular hotel room. The storage was great. We had many areas that we did not use. The storage in the bathroom was equally impressive. We had drawers and shelves that went unused.

The cabin is in an alcove on the corner of the 11th floor. PERFECT location. There was a door sectioning off that area and only 1 other cabin was in that section. Perfect. We NEVER heard our neighbors from outside the door.

We did hear loud talkers in the balcony next to ours while we were both on the balcony. Some people do not know how to use their quiet voice. But overall it was a quiet room.

We received the toiletries also given to the Celebrity Aqua Class cabins- separate bottles of Shampoo, Conditioner, Hand Lotion, Bath Wash, a face spray, and chapstick. The smell was lemongrass and very mild. They also included a great sewing kit and slippers for each of us. They think of everything- even q-tips and cottonballs. There were 2 hair dryers in the room- the individual plug in kind- not the crappy vacuum, attached to the wall kind. The room also included a pair of binoculars, and 2 different sized umbrellas.

Because we had a suite, we had a Butler. Ours was Allano. He did a great job. We received afternoon tea, cookies, pastries and sandwiches, as well as canapés, each day. He also brought us a pitcher of ice water daily, as well as a cappuccino for me. Cappuccino and Espresso are included in the suite complementary upon request. We requested the water on the first day, and he brought it on his own each day after the request. Allano also shined my husband’s shoes before formal night.

Each morning we had room service breakfast which was brought by the Butler. He would call about 5 minutes before bringing it. They had a card that you could fill out with what you wanted, for how many, and when you wanted it delivered (within half hour increments). This was the MOST extensive breakfast room service menu of any ship. They offered fresh squeezed orange juice. 2-3 types of smoothies- that were so good. A vegetarian plate of sautéed vegetables with a dollop of goat cheese- yum! Plus of course the normal omelets, french toast, waffles, and continental breakfast choices. We hand wrote requesting crispy bacon on our menu- and when we did that, the bacon was crispy. The first morning the breakfast was not that hot. But it did vary as the week went on.

In theory, because of the suite, we received priority embarkation. But not really. There was no really no line at any of the stations for check-in. In the area of suite check-in, was the check in for concierge and aqua class.  And it was only because of the Celebrity staff essentially saw us continuing to wait for a check-in, did she move us in front of an Aqua Class cabin, otherwise, their line was moving much quicker than our no-line line. Once we made it through check-in, we made it to the “waiting room” to board. [It was about 11:15 am at this point.] We showed our card, indicated that we were in a suite, and were told to wait in a certain area. We waited. Then they called for boarding. The first group that was able to board was Concierge class. The second group to board were Elite Captain Club Members.  We were seated in the group with them, so we just boarded with them.  But this was confusing, and did not feel very “priority” because technically our category was not called.

Being suite guests, we also received priority tendering.  We asked our butler for this, and were given tickets with directions to go to a certain room during the morning in port for tendering. ‘Priority Tendering’ only worked going to the port, not returning. You had to go out before they did open tendering for this to work. Which meant you got off early, but not whenever you wanted.

As to the aft balcony. The Suite balcony is twice the size of the standard balcony.  It had a full-sized table- perfect for eating, and two adjustable chairs with foot stools! There was a small overhang- like less than 2 feet.  We were on an Eastern Caribbean cruise, on the outbound, there was only direct sun in the afternoon- after lunch. On the return we had direct full sun first thing in the morning. There was soot on the balcony on occasion, but the room stewards always cleaned it well each day. It appeared to be worse when we were moving at quicker speeds. As to the location and privacy. If you were standing at the end of the balcony against the railing, you would be seen from above and below, and from above if you were sitting in the middle of the balcony. If you sat against the window, you would have privacy.  I thought I would be concerned about this location, but it was not a problem. I also did not have a problem with motion sickness on this cruise. I am generally very car/sea sick. But I had the least amount of problems on this cruise.

One quick note on the tv’s. They do have an HDMI hook-up, however it does not work.  We wanted to watch a movie from the ipad, but no such luck.

Overall we were VERY happy with the room. I definitely want to stay in a suite again. Check out the pictures for the Celebrity Solstice Sky Suite S2. Fun fun!

Happy Travels!

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