EatSleepCruise

EatSleepCruise
Second Mate

Hometown: Boston, MA
Joined: 08/10/2014
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About EatSleepCruise

With 10 years of cruise experience and vacation planning, I love to share tips and advice to plan the perfect getaway. Vacations are important time spent with family and loved ones seeing the world and explore new and exciting places. I live for learning new vacation hacks or getting insider tips on saving money or preparing the ultimate vacation.


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EatSleepCruise's Past Cruises

Adventure of the Seas

August 2015 - Adventure of the Seas to Caribbean - Southern

Enchantment of the Seas

February 2015 - Enchantment of the Seas to Caribbean - Bahamas

Celebrity Solstice

September 2014 - Celebrity Solstice to Alaska - Inside Passage

Unbelievable End of the Season Alaskan Cruise on Celebrity Solstice

Welcome Aboard

Thanks for stopping in and checking out our review of this roundtrip Alaskan cruise on the Celebrity Solstice, the largest ship in Alaska. The ship was beautiful and Alaska was amazing.

 

You can find more photos and details from this cruise on our blog (http://eatsleepcruise.com. Enjoy and feel free to ask us questions about the ship, Alaska, or anything cruise related. You know, we do Eat. Sleep. Cruise!  

A Cruise of Firsts

While we have cruised frequently, this Alaskan cruise was our first time cruising outside of the Caribbean. It was also our first cruise with Celebrity, and by default, our first time cruising on a Solstice class ship. Also, prior to this sailing, we had exclusively traveled in inside rooms. With a great Celebrity promotion, bundled with a TA travel perk, this cruise was the first time we had a Veranda stateroom with a balcony. After this experience, it might be difficult for us to back to those viewless, tiny cabins.

 

End of the Season Sailing

September is the end of the season for Alaska. We booked the cruise as a celebration for our fifth wedding anniversary. According to my wife, we HAD to be on the ship the actual night of our anniversary. Thus we booked this cruise, which was the second to last week the Solstice would be in Alaska.

That being said, the ship did not seem to be sailing at full capacity, and we had no problem getting seats at shows or getting service at the bars and lounges.  The only time it felt a bit crowded was during peak hours at the Oceanview Cafe.

End of the season cruises to Alaska can be difficult weather-wise. On this trip however, the weather was beautiful, and according to crew and staff, one of the best weeks all season. Reportedly, the weather for the previous month had been awful, basically rainy and foggy every day. Whether true or not, we heard many people saying that this cruise was the closest they were able to get to Sawyer Glacier all season!

We got lucky with only 1 day of rain while in port-- though it basically rains EVERYDAY in Ketchikan—and some light showers on 1 sea day. While the wildlife was not as abundant  as the peak season of July, we did get to see a few seals, eagles, one black bear (off in the distance), and a few whales spottings; although, getting pictures of these creatures proved more difficult than expected.  

There were also sales galore, with 50% signs for most merchandise everywhere. This of course meant that the Princess and I came home with more souvenirs than usual.

Overall – the Ship

We love traveling on larger ships like Allure of the Seas and Independence of the Seas, so we chose the Celebrity Solstice as it is the largest cruise ship currently in Alaska.  With her size, it did limit the itinerary and route the ship takes through the Inside Passage, but the amazing public spaces and accommodations where well worth the tradeoff.

A lot of interactive activities, as well as singing and dancing take place in the Grand Foyer, in the aft of the ship on decks 3, 4, and 5. It can get a little busy and congested at times, but you will find this is the heartbeat of the ship most nights.

 

We found the outdoor features such as the Lawn and Sunset Bar to be great places to spend some time admiring the Northwest landscape, while also enjoying a drink or entertainment like the Hot Glass show. With the unseasonably nice weather, some folks did use the outdoor whirlpools--and I did see one person in one of the 2 outdoor pools. These areas were clean, but did show some signs of wear.

 

We really liked the décor in the main dining room and specialty restaurants-- though we did not dine at any of the specialty restaurants. We loved the location and setup of the Sky Lounge on Deck 14, but the venue was under-utilized and the bar there was hardly open. Quasar, the night club, also seemed to be under-utilized and was often empty even during karaoke nights. The ship has plenty of shops and a casino, which never felt too crowded.

Overall, the ship was well-appointed but some of the furniture and décor in the venues did show signs of aging.

Our favorite hangouts were the Crush Martini Bar and the Molecular Bar. Both venues offer great drinks with excellent service. With the Premium Drink Package, we tried a variety of different cocktails and never felt the service waivered. All bar staff were courtesy, responsive, and entertaining all at the same time.

Food and Dining

Celebrity is known for their cuisine. Being new to Celebrity, we wanted to give the main dining room, Epernay Restaurant, a thorough test drive. We ate there 6 of the 7 nights onboard.  Compared to experiences on other lines like Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, we found the food in the MDR to be about the same, though portions and cohesiveness of nightly menu did see to fluctuate more than our previous cruise experiences.  My favorite dishes included the crab cake, veal chop, and seared duck, while the wife enjoyed the stuffed chicken saltimbocca and the turkey dinner.

 

We did not dine at any of the fine dining specialty restaurants, but we did try the casual restaurant Bistro on Five. It was well worth the $7 pp plate charge.  We both really enjoyed the crepes, the Mediterranean and the Cowboy for dinner and the French and the Italian for dessert---definitely try the Italian!

 

The Oceanview Café and Mast Grill were also both very good casual eating/buffet style venues. Hands down, the best buffet food we have had on a cruise. Neither of us are big fans of buffets so when sailing on other ships we often frequent cafes or other casual places to avoid the buffet.  But since casual eateries were limited, we found ourselves at the Oceanview Café for many breakfast and lunch meals and were highly satisfied with selection and quality of food.

Entertainment and Activities

The entertainment on Celebrity Solstice was hit or miss. The Solstice Show, a cirque-style show, was by far the best entertainment put on by the Celebrity production singers and dancers. The other two shows were a bit dated and dull.  Illusionist Jason Bishop did two shows, one as the nightly entertainment and a matinee show, both of which were highly entertaining and exciting to watch. Another guest entertainer, David Meyer, played a unique instrument, the xylosynth. While he was obviously talented and creative, and he had a lot of energy; but, personally, we thought the show dragged a bit.  

 

We also caught a viewing of the late night Sin City Comedy show in Celebrity Central. The comedy was adult oriented, but not really funny. I am a fan of comedy so maybe I set high expectations but definitely found it to be disappointing compared to other comedians we have seen as headliners or in onboard comedy clubs.  The show was disjointed with an odd mix of comedy and burlesque and had some production issues with lighting and timing. The performers on the ship do change often, so we will definitely check out the show again when on Solstice in hopes for a more entertaining experience.

 

The highlights of the Celebrity Life Activities were the husband and wife team of Brent Nixon and Miss Amanda, the ship’s naturalist and cultural historian. We went to many of their shows and found them highly entertaining and informative. They are passionate about what they do and it shows during their presentations. I would go to Alaska on the Solstice again if I knew these two would be on the ship. Go to their shows! And do go early, as prime seats fill up fast.

 

The ship has plenty of other activities, like trivia, and interactive “parties”, though most of this is geared toward an older crowd, with songs from the 1940s to 1960s being used heavily during these productions.  These shows were mildly entertaining and often a bit repetitive.

Alaska/Shore  Excursions

While the Solstice ship was truly beautiful, the main attraction is Alaska. This is where having a balcony pays off. You walk outside your cabin and can grab some great pictures of the landscape, and even spot some wild life. At each port of call, we pre-arranged our shore excursions through Celebrity.

Ketchikan – Lumberjack Show and Potlatch Park

                The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is a quick walk from the cruise dock and is approximately one hour in length. There are two teams of lumberjacks that “compete” in various events, while the crowd is split down the middle to cheer on the opposing teams. The show is very entertaining and definitely a great family outing. Our excursion then took us on a bus ride about 20 minutes outside of the city to the Potlatch Park, one of the largest Totem Pole parks in Alaska.  The park houses authentic carved totem poles, a replica of a Tribal House, and a carving center in which you can view totem poles in various stages of creation. If you are looking for a bit more history, visit the Totem Heritage Center to view totems from hundreds of years ago that have been preserved.

Juneau – Helicopter Ride and Mendenhall Glacier Walkabout

Our original excursion was supposed include a dog sled ride on top of the Mendenhall Glacier, but we were informed about three weeks before sailing that the dog camp was closed, so our excursion was cancelled. While it was a bit of a struggle, we were finally able to get on this excursion, which was a Helicopter Ride and Glacier Walk, which landed on the glacier and included a “tour”.  Only thing we can say is, unbelievable!

We got some great aerial photos during our helicopter ride, were able to walk around a bit on the glacier with special glacier boots, and the guides provided us with interesting facts about this 2,000 ft. deep piece of ice. We are so glad we decided to do this tour as it is probably one of the best excursions we have ever been done!  While it is pricey, it is well worth the investment.

Skagway – White Pass Railway and Historic City Highlights Tour

The White Pass and Yukon Rail is the most popular excursion in Alaska, and getting to experience the White Pass from the train, as well as the Klondike highway, gives you different perspectives of this famous trail.

Our tour met at the pier and included a narrated trip up the highway first, dropping us off in Frasier, B.C where we boarded the train.  The ride was approximately two hours down the White Pass and Yukon rail, traveling 27 miles and descending over 2,800 ft.  This is great for history buffs or those who want to capture great photos of the area.

Victoria, British Columbia – Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens

The final port on this seven day roundtrip itinerary is an evening stop from 6:00pm to midnight in Victoria, British Columbia.

We opted for the highly recommended Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens excursion. It is about a 45 minute ride to the gardens. Our bus driver served as a great tour guide describing the history and modern day culture of Victoria and the province of British Columbia along the way.

The Butchart Gardens are spectacular, but the late arrival left us scrambling within our allotted time of 90 minutes to see everything before it got dark. It was a race against the sun that we did not win, so we saw about half of the gardens in the sunlight and the other half in the moonlight.

We could have done without the Butterfly Gardens, as butterflies are sleeping at this time so there was not much to see. Since our group was out of the Butterfly Garden in less than 30 minutes, this allowed our guide to give us a quick city tour stopping for a photo-op at the Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel.

Final Impressions

We are so happy we did an Alaskan cruise and think the Solstice was the perfect ship for us first timers who are used to larger cruise ships in the Caribbean.  It was really a great vacation and the best way to see Alaska. We would definitely try another Solstice class ship sailing in other parts of the world.

We are already making plans to go back to Alaska in the future, and we are considering a one-way trip to allow for more time in Alaska. We may also want to try a route that goes through Glacier Bay.  

We highly recommend Celebrity and the Solstice for an amazing Alaskan cruise experience! Check out our full reviews at http://www.eatsleepcruise.com.

A

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Independence of the Seas

January 2014 - Independence of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

Enjoy a Unique Itinerary on one of the Largest Cruise Ships in the World

Ship: The third and final Freedom Class ship (sisters: Freedom of the Seas and Liberty of the Seas), the Independence of the Seas (IOS) was the largest cruise ship when it debuted in 2008. Holding the title for only one year, the ship has many of the Royal Caribbean features that have now come to define the brand including: a rock climbing wall, a Flowrider surf simulator, Studio B ice skating rink, and On-Air Karaoke bar.

Itinerary: Our eight day itinerary was a nice departure from a typical seven day trip giving the Princess (AKA my lovely wife) and I the opportunity to visit two new ports of call: San Juan, Puerto Rico and Basseterre, St Kitts. Other ports included the traditional Caribbean destinations of St. Marteen and RCI’s Labadee, Haiti.

independence itinery

Highlight: The service in the dining room far surpassed the bar that had been set by our previous cruise experiences. Our waiter and assistant waiter (Ramir and Michael) provided the best service we have EVER received in the main dining room.

 

Biggest Disappointment: Even though IOS went through a recent refurbishment, the only major additions were the for-fee Cupcake Cupboard, the rebranding of the Italian specialty restaurant to Giovanni’s Table, and the addition of an outdoor movie screen on the pool deck. The ship still lacked newer RCI favorites like the Park Café.

 

Main Takeaways: Overall, the IOS itself lacked in character compared to our other recent cruises, but the service and ports of call made up for it.  The Cruise Director, Joff Eaton, was very entertaining with a dry sense of humor that kept me laughing though the Princess did not always find him to be that amusing.  The entertainment was basically on par with other ships on which we have traveled; although, this is the first time in our cruising history that we walked out of a show! The fellow passengers were typical for a January trip with few families and mostly other adult passengers traveling alone or in groups. This crowd suited us fine as the princess and I could easily find seats in the theater, bars, and lounges. While the IOS does lack some of the more modern shopping, entertainment, and dining venues of her sister ships, the experience on IOS can be very relaxing and enjoyable with the proper planning and execution.

 

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Allure of the Seas

February 2013 - Allure of the Seas to Caribbean - Western

Freedom of the Seas

May 2010 - Freedom of the Seas to Caribbean - Eastern

EatSleepCruise's Tips

San Juan, Puerto Rico - We did a nature walk in El YUnque rainforest. Great tour, but we were only their for a few hours.
Basseterre, St. Kitts - St. Kitts Tour including Brimhill Fortress and Romney Manor was great tour. Beautiful island and nice people
Independence of the Seas Independence of the Seas - $6 blackjack on the afternoon in you are in Labadee. Tables open at 3pm. The casino was dead. At Labadee lunch is from 11:30am to 1:30pm, go early. Food runs out, fellow passengers get a little irritated, and the workers deal with this everyday, so they are indifferent

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