“StarringYou!” is more than a slogan for Celebrity Cruises; it’s an entire philosophy of guest-centred service

Celebrity Solstice is the first of a new family of ships for the company that is part of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. Celebrity Cruises has a solid reputation for elegant ships and service that is above industry standards; and the Solstice ships will strengthen and enhance the company’s leadership position for providing affordable luxury. The Solstice is a lovely ship, designed to maximize the number of ever-popular balcony staterooms and provide public areas that have a European sophistication and urbane elegance.

We were impressed with the large number of repeat Celebrity customers onboard the Solstice. A family from Windsor, Ontario were enjoying their 27th Celebrity cruise – sailing exclusively with Celebrity every November and March Break. On their first cruise, a waiter walked the floor with the couple’s then 3 month-old daughter so that the young couple could enjoy their main course in relative peace.

That kind of caring service is what has brought them back twice yearly for the past 13 years.

Montrealers Brian and Eileen Perron have sailed on 60 cruises; and in their opinion, Celebrity Solstice is ranked at the top of their extensive list of ships and cruise lines. “In addition to the superior décor of the ship, we find the level of service to be ‘just that much better’ than the other lines we’ve sailed with,” noted Eileen. It is a fair statement to note that the staff and officers are all very proud of the fleet’s new flagship, and are anxious to show her off to their guests.

The décor of The Solstice is similar to the contemporary elegance of a luxurious European hotel. The central atrium, soaring from deck three all the way to a huge skylight on deck fourteen is the ship’s focal point. Glass walled elevators afford a spectacular view of the atrium, dominated by a huge decorative Ficus tree that seems to float in space in its Japanese ornamental planter. The well-stocked library, popular card room and Internet Café all open out dramatically into the atrium’s open space.

While Solstice is the largest ship in the Celebrity fleet, the architects have been careful to create a number of smaller spaces to provide a feeling of comfortable intimacy. The result is the availability of a wide variety of lounges, cafes and bars.

The décor of Cellar Masters wine bar (where guests can sample premium wines) features dark mahogany panelling, comfortable wing chairs and intimate seating nooks. The Ensemble Lounge has a similar traditional flair of private club old-world opulence. By contrast, The Martini Bar has an urban chic décor and is action central with a vast menu of Martinis; mixed and served by bartenders who must have graduated from juggling school!

The Boulevard is home to onboard shopping and is conveniently located adjacent to Fortunes Casino, with its traditional Monte Carlo furnishings. After you’ve won, you can step across and purchase everything from a souvenir golf shirt, to duty free liquor, one-of-a-kind jewellery and objects created by on-board artisans, original diamond designs for Celebrity guests at Boutique C; and everything else from suntan lotion to women’s and men’s fashions.

Celebrity is famous for the high quality and variety of the entertainment offered, and Solstice has been designed to make the performers accessible, in part by bringing the performers to the guests. For example, the Entertainment Court is located just outside the Solstice Theatre, and guests are encouraged to linger and appreciate the performers at close range. One night it’s the Oceans Four, an A Capella vocal group; another evening a string quartet or a magician. Adjacent is Celebrity Central, an intimate theatre – ideal for late-night comedy, enrichment classes and lectures, films and other special events.

The Solstice Theatre is home to the big production shows, and they are varied and fantastic. You’ll enjoy Ghost Light a Broadway-style show with the all the favourite songs, costumes and dance choreography, but with a fresh interpretation. However, the performance that really had the audience jumping out of their seats is the Cirque du Soleil inspired Solstice Show.

This extravaganza pulls out all the stops in every aspect of theatrics; fantastic costumes, stirring music, and magnificent “flying” performances of aerial ballet and acrobatics.

The multimillion dollar theatre is equipped with aerial apparatus so the performers literally are flying around the theatre directly over the audience, turning summersaults and other gymnastic feats. A dance couple using brightly coloured silks flies out over the audience, relying solely on his strength for their support. The grand finale has half the cast up in the air, including four dancers-turned-gymnasts working simultaneously on a giant trapeze. At the show’s conclusion the audience quite literally jumped to their feet to give an extended ovation for the remarkable performance.

One of the most important parts of a ship is your stateroom – your onboard home.

Solstice accommodations are decorated in a soothing mixture of earth tones, with crisp white bed linens. They’re 15% larger than other ships, with larger bathrooms, an abundance of storage space and spacious balconies – ideal for watching the sunrise, sunset, or a quiet moment listening to sound of the ship gliding through the ocean.

Room stewards make up your stateroom twice a day, ensuring that it’s always fresh.

Celebrity designers enlisted the advice of 5 women with extensive travel and cruising experience to assist in the layout of the staterooms. Advice from the “Leading Ladies” resulted in curved walls to allow more space between the foot of the bed and the wall; and rounded bed corners to make it easier to move around. Toronto-based world traveler Shelly Black suggested natural colours instead of traditional cruise-ship floral patterns. Just in case you’re thinking it’s all about the ladies – each stateroom has a 32” flat panel TV Screen – ideal for those important sporting events! The result is an environment, reminiscent of a luxury boutique hotel.

As nice as they are – you’re not on board Celebrity Solstice to stay in your room. Each day brings a varied list of activities that will take you throughout the ship. Something completely different is the Corning Glass Museum, which includes a fully functional glass blowing workshop located on the top deck. Demonstrations are several times a day, including during the evenings. Large screen TV screens afford a detailed view of the procedures, including a camera located inside the 2,500 degree oven!

Another cruise ship first is located adjacent to the glass-blowing atelier – The Lawn Club. Guests have a hard time believing that they’re walking on a half-acre of real grass. It’s a combination of engineering and horticultural design magic that enables the maintenance of the first real grass putting green at sea.

There’s enough room for croquet, bocce ball and other lawn games. On our first day at sea, some guests were simply enjoying walking on the grass with bare feet – with somewhat silly smiles.

Moving down a deck, you’ll find a vast pool area amidships and sheltered from the wind. Lounge chairs are available on two decks, in large groups, small seating clusters, and in quiet areas away from the two outdoor pools. Solstice also has a large Solarium and indoor pool, ideal for folks who are careful about the sun.

The Sky Observation Lounge is located forward, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows that actually continue to form part of the ceiling as well. White furniture enhances the sensation of space. This is a favourite “quiet spot” for some guests during the day, although by night it’s a popular gathering spot to enjoy the entertainment and dancing with a vast ocean panorama opening up before you; as the four 25,000 horsepower Solstice engines propel the giant ship through The Caribbean Sea. It’s another world…

We quickly discovered another reason why so many Celebrity passengers keep coming back – the food. It is sooooo good! The Grand Epernay Dining Room is a fine example of combining a contemporary design while maintaining elegance. Epernay is the capital city of the province of Champagne in France, and champagne is the operative colour in the room’s décor. The two storey dining room with surrounding balcony is where the evening festivities begin. The chefs offer a varied menu, with several choices for a variety of preferences.

Solstice has alternative dining options, and we asked veteran cruisers Brian and Eileen Peron for their opinion. “Our favourite is probably the Tuscan Grill” explains Brian. “They offer Italian or steaks, and I’d say their Filet Mignon is as good as I’ve ever had.” Eileen adds; “The floor-to-ceiling windows really create a dramatic view of the ocean and the night sky.

The night we sailed Brian and I saw the space shuttle take off!” While even Celebrity can’t arrange for a weekly space craft launch, the views are still inspiring.

Brian continues; “Murano is a French restaurant style, complete with French service at your table. It’s an intimate restaurant with a classical European décor.” Eileen comments; “I tried mushroom bisque with cappuccino froth – it was delicious. And the phylo dough pear pie for dessert was – well, you have to try it –it’s that good.”

Silk Harvest features Asian cuisine. “We’re not too familiar with Asian food, but our waiter was very knowledgeable about the dishes and portions; and he gave us very good advice.” Continuing, Brian states; “It’s like having an explosion of tastes.”

We tried lunch at the Bistro on Five, a restaurant specializing in crepes. We noticed that several officers and senior ship executives were also dining here, and that is a good sign. If anybody knows what’s interesting onboard it’s the ship’s officers. We thoroughly enjoyed our meals. Across the way, you’ll find the very Italian Café Al Bacio coffee house; with pressed-tin ceiling, comfortable wing chairs and banquettes. What Italian café doesn’t serve gelato or ice cream? You won’t be disappointed – the adjacent Gelateria has a huge selection of Italian ice creams.

Celebrity offers onboard enrichment classes, whether it be a lecture from an expert in a particular field, an author, or a course in glass blowing or Photoshop on your computer, you’ll find something to pique your interest. Whether it’s Bingo or an indulgent spa treatment, it’s available on Solstice.

Solstice sets a whole new standard for environmental standards for the cruise industry. From recycling the water used to irrigate The Lawn Club, to the energy efficient diesel engines that use considerably less fuel, to the hull design and coating that reduce fuel consumption by a further 8 per cent. The folks at Celebrity understand that green business is also good business, because it saves money and increases profitability. The onboard Environmental Officer occupies a senior position as a ship’s officer, and he is continually developing and improving on “best practices”. For example, the water that Celebrity Solstice puts back into the ocean is cleaner than the sea water taken into the ship’s desalination plants to produce fresh water.

We now understand why the travel professionals we deal with are so enthusiastic about the Solstice, which has established a new ship class for Celebrity. Simply put: “It’s just that much better.” Bon Voyage!

Travel Planner

Celebrity Solstice will be moving to The Mediterranean for the spring and summer season, returning to the Caribbean for the fall and winter season of 2009/2010. Solstice will have a sister ship – The Equinox – the next of the five Solstice-class ships will be launched this summer. For information about itineraries, contact your travel agent (the folks at CruiseShipCenters sell more Celebrity cruises than anyone in Canada!); or visit: www.celebritycruises.com

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