September 2015 - Celebrity Solstice to Alaska - Inside Passage
The Solstice is a beautiful boat and the extra space in the cabin was great.
Alaska is a wonderful destination, although heavily dependent on weather in the sense that the scenery is breathtaking but sometimes obscured by mist and rain. We thoroughly enjoyed the ports of call and saw an abundance of wildlife.
That being said, this cruise is operated to meet a minimum standard of satisfaction, falling way short of their promotional statement of modern luxury. Not that a better experience isn’t available on board but you need to be prepared to buy the numerous upgrade packages which can easily add up to more than 50% of your initial cruise purchase price.
Even the upgrades may not deliver all that is expected, based on a conversation with a fellow passenger, who had selected an upgraded suite. Apparently they had received a free bottle of champagne and some hors d'oeuvres as part of their. When they got to their cabin they were thirsty and decided to let the champagne chill and opened a bottle of water instead. This was an expensive mistake for while the champagne was free the water certainly wasn’t. As for those appetizers, well apparently that was four cheese cubes with a grape placed on top of each.
Aboard the Solstice the class system is alive and well, so if you didn’t pay top dollar expect to be treated less graciously. As an example, while it didn’t happen directly to me, I noticed that there were many regular passengers searching for seats at one of the theatrical productions, while seats remained empty, throughout the production, in a section roped off and guarded by white gloved attendants for preferred passengers.
On a different occasion, I was asked to leave a public lounge as they wanted to have a reception for their so called elite passengers. Now I certainly do not mind Celebrity throwing special events for their preferred guests however I am somewhat at a loss as to why it cannot be held in one of the lounges already set aside for this group, leaving the regular lounges for the rest of us who do not enjoy that status.
When we have cruised with other lines, we have always enjoyed eating in the main dining room and it seemed that there were always a couple of menu items, each evening that we would have to tried. This was not the case in the Grand Epernay were the menu appears to be designed to keep the cost low and probably drive customers towards the premium restaurants. If this restaurant had to survive on land where any competition existed it would certainly close in a short period of time. Not only is the selection of food and its quality far short of what is expected, the overall dining experience is poor. While the area is really beautiful, with its soaring wine storage, when in operation it is cramped and very noisy.
We prefer not to share a table so that we can enjoy each other’s company. Unfortunately a request not to be seated at a community table with other couples merely means that you are given a table where there is typically only a scant 12 inches between you and the next table. This of course results in your, and everyone else’s conversation, being a shared. Also these smaller tables are in many cases close to the waiter stations and /or walkways so there is a constant flow of traffic and the noise of dishes being set up or cleared, resulting in my personal opinion that dinning in the galley itself could not have been any worse.
Could we have eaten elsewhere? Yes of course and as I stated earlier I think part of the Grand Epernay’s mission is to push passengers towards the premium restaurants. On a couple of occasions we went a different route and eat at the buffet in the Oceanview Café. The food was of an equivalent quality, there were plenty of “good” tables and the noise level relatively low, so it was easy to have a conversation. Unfortunately my wife prefers table cloths and service for her evening meal.
Overall the Oceanview Café did a good job and I particularly enjoyed the breakfast. However there were a few basic rules that had to be learned. Lesson 1: This café is running on a strict schedule so be sure to be there at the appointed times. As an example even if it is half full and there are more guests returning from shore excursions, at the end of the lunch period, do not expect them to continue to serve food. Trays of food will be pulled off the stations while guests are still trying to fill their plates. During other cruises we have made, when it was time for the transition, say from lunch to dinner, they would rotate through sections changing them over a few at a time, so that there was always an abundance of food available for guests. This is not the case at the Oceanview Café where 85% of the place is closed and roped off at the appointed time, leaving little to eat but pizza and pasta.
Lesson 2: If there is an item that you particularly like, make sure to get it there and then because it may not be available later. Again basing my opinions on other cruises, it appeared that items on the buffet where constantly replaced up to the time the section closed. That is not the case here, they do run out of items on a regular bases. As an example during one late breakfast, I wanted some English Bacon, which admitted I knew they sometimes ran out of, however instead of getting it right away I chose to enjoy a roll and coffee before going back up. By this time it was all gone, as there were other guests looking for this item also a member of the staff went to see if she could get some when she returned approximately 10 minutes later we were told it was going be another 15 minutes to get more, which given how quickly they close things down I assumed meant it wasn’t going to restocked. Another example occurred on one of the evenings that I had dinner there and they ran out of white rice about two thirds of the way through the time they were supposed to open for. No one in the section appeared to be overly concerned and continued with other tasks, however I was fortunate in that a Chief and I talked with earlier in the cruise came by and needed rice for his own meal. After talking with the guys behind the counter with apparently little result he went to the kitchens himself and brought some back.
Many things puzzled me about how things were operated such as why was the Mast Head Grill, which serves Hamburgers etc. closed a half hour before the Oceanview Café opens instead of half an hour after.
Enough said, we selected this cruise over a very similar one offered by a different line, based on stories we had heard that Celebrity offered and better experience unfortunately this is not we found, if anything their base offering was a little less than others.