Trip Report: Our Review of the Celebrity Solstice, 7-Day Cruise to Alaska

Ed. Note: This is part two in our six-part series of “Trip Reports” from our recent trip to Seattle, British Columbia and Alaska aboard the Celebrity Solstice. You may also enjoy parts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

After a great day exploring Seattle, it was time to get cruising! We had booked a Concierge Class cabin on the Celebrity Solstice, cabin number 1040 on the Port side, for a 7-day Tracy Arm/Inside Passage Alaska cruise, sailing round trip out of Seattle.

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Our itinerary

We had specifically picked this cruise for a few reasons:

  1. Because we have the Southwest Companion Pass, we were able to fly for free into Seattle, as discussed in my last post.
  2. We had heard that Celebrity was a slight upgrade experience-wise over Norwegian, with whom we had previously cruised.
  3. The itinerary, a 7-day departing on the Friday before Memorial day, let us maximize actual days on vacation while minimizing the number of vacation days we had to claim from work. Including travel days, this was an 11-day trip, but we only had to take 6 days off.
  4. Booking through CruCon (which I’ll talk about more in a future post), we got a pretty good rate, with gratuities included (a $188 value), a “Classic” beverage package for both of us (a $770 value), and $600 in onboard credit ($300 from Celebrity and an additional $300 from CruCon).
  5. Because Celebrity has a relationship with MLife, and I have platinum status with MLife, I was able to get a few additional free perks, including a free speciality dinner (a $100 value), 30 minutes free internet (an $24 value), and no-fee cash advances in the casino (a 5% value on however much cash you withdraw – for us, a $10 value).
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Concierge Class comes with free sparkling wine, daily fruit, and afternoon h’ors douvres.

So, booked and ready to get our trip started, we headed to the port via Uber around 10:30a on the Friday of our embarkation.  This turned out to be a slight mistake on our parts – cabs get preferential lines at the Cruise Terminal 91, while Ubers/Lyfts go through the regular “passenger drop-off” line.  We could have shaved about 15 minutes off our cruise terminal traffic time if we’d been in a cab instead.

However, once we finally arrived at the terminal, we handed off our luggage to a porter and went straight in.  There was no line/wait at security, and once through security, we went straight to the Concierge Class check-in area, which also had no line. The whole process from Uber drop off to Seapass card in hand took maybe 10 minutes. By then, it was about 10:55am, and we waited just a few minutes until they began boarding passengers, right around 11am.

We were the second group to board the ship and proceeded to take care of our few ship “errands” as soon as we got onboard – we booked a massage for our second sea day, booked specialty dinners for each of our sea days, and upgraded our drink packages from “Classic” to “Premium”.  By doing this first thing, we were able to get the days/times we wanted for each activity, and didn’t have to worry about it the rest of the trip.

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The Solstice Theater, where they performed standard cheesy cruise-ship fare nightly

A quick note about the drink packages, though.  It cost us $11 per person, per day, to upgrade to the Premium package, which meant we could order any beverage up to $13 a glass, compared to an $8 a glass limit for Classic drinks. That came out to a $165 upcharge for the two of us, which was fine, as we had plenty of OBC to spend. We tended to drink mainly the premium wines and scotch, at least probably 2-3 glasses a day, plus premium coffees, so for us the “upgrade” was worth it as it would have paid for itself as long as we drank at least 2 beverages per day at the $13 limit (as opposed to the $8 limit on the Classic package.)

BUT – if we had not already received the Classic package as part of our booking, we would have had to pay a whopping $910 total for the Ultimate package.  That breaks down to needing to drink 5 – 11 drinks everyday (even when in port), per person, to be a value.  So if you’re considering whether to go with the package or not, consider how much you’re actually likely to imbibe.

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The chandelier and upper level of Grand Eparnay, the main dining room on the Solstice.

With our cruise chores out of the way, we settled into Cafe Al Bacio (an upcharge restaurant, with a $10 cover charge per person) for lunch, in order to avoid the craziness undoubtedly taking place in the buffet. The food here pretty much set the tone for what we’d experience on the ship throughout the trip: muted flavors, not-quite-ripe veggies, and overcooked meats. Cruise food is almost never very good, and while there were a few bright spots of exception, Celebrity continued the industry trend of “meh” meals onboard.

Around 1:00p, we were just wrapping up lunch when we heard the announcement that cabins were ready. We headed off to our cabin to see what was what and unpack for the week.

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Our cabin on the Solstice, #1040.

The Concierge class cabins are balcony cabins, and the size of the room seemed pretty standard to us, having previously sailed in balconies on Norwegian. We found we had plenty of storage, and the bathroom was a good size as well.  We liked the circular configuration of the shower, with sliding doors instead of a curtain. And we definitely enjoyed our favorite “Concierge Class” perk: the pillow menu, which allowed the hubby to order a foam pillow and me to order a body pillow.

Once unpacked, we explored the ship a little and went up above for sail away.  The features on the Solstice include one outdoor pool area and one indoor pool area (the “Solarium”), which was great for the colder temperatures on an Alaska itinerary. They also have the Solstice-class trademark “great lawn”, where you could theoretically have a picnic, I guess, but as it was chilly and windy most of our trip, the lawn was nearly almost deserted.

As for bars, there were 5 (the Ensemble Lounge, Passport Bar, Oceanview Cafe Bar, Casino Bar, and Sky Observation Lounge) that were indoor and just standard, run-of-the-mill bars. There were also two outdoor bars (the Pool Bar and the Sunset Bar) which were also standard bars, but were largely empty, again because of the colder temps on this itinerary.  Finally, there was the martini bar (serving about 20 types of fruity martinis, with an ice-bartop), the molecular bar (serving about 10 specialty drinks, using things like liquid nitrogen), and our favorite, Cellar Masters, which had the ship’s widest selection of wines, beers, and ports. These last three got the bulk of the traffic.

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One of the many bars on the Solstice; most of them carry all the same liquor.

Unfortunately, except for the bars, which were ok, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do onboard. The big “highlight” of the programming for the Solstice is naturalist Brent Nixon’s lectures on orcas, moose, etc., and his wife, cultural historian “Miss Amanda”, who talks about the history of the ports we’d be visiting (and also, we thought somewhat morbidly given the setting, a lecture on the Titanic…) We caught a few of these lectures, and while they were entertaining, we found them a little overly dramatic; they were the types of presentation you’d give to an elementary school class so as not to lose little ones’ short attention spans.

There was very little in the way of dance parties, pub crawls, interest-group based meet and greets; even cruise-favorite karaoke was only offered one night. As such, we ended up spending a fair bit of time in the casino.  The casino had about 7 tables, featuring all the classic games like Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Poker, etc. The rest of the casino was filled with slot and video poker machines, primarily penny slots of the mid-80s variety. There were a few fun, more current games (for example, the Bridesmaids and Sex and the City themed machines) but most were fairly generic. (Not that that stopped us from making a sizable “donation”.)

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The hubby was pumped up for the slot tournament, but ultimately he came in 12th place.

In between ports, lectures, and casino time, we also visited most of the ship’s restaurants.  By far the best was the Tuscan Grill, which charges a supplementary $45 per person.  We found Murano, the most expensive specialty restaurant at $50 per person, kind of lackluster, focusing more on show (tableside preparations) than actual food quality. We’d give the main dining room a solid B- in terms of food quality, and the buffet a step down from that, probably a C-. You don’t go on this cruise for the food or the entertainment.

So, what do you go on this cruise for? The ports and the scenery. The views were simply amazing, and we spent much of the cruise simply admiring the landscapes around us. I’ll talk more about each of our ports in future posts, but they were great as well.  And we were so lucky to get really fabulous weather – it only rained on us during our first sea day, and we even got clear skies and warm temperatures in most of our ports.

We also had the chance to stop by the spa, which is towards the front of the ship and is a surprisingly large facility.  Our couples massage, the Canyon Ranch massage, was nice and relaxing. Only downside was that unlike most spas, booking a treatment did not give you access to the general spa facilities like the steam room, locker rooms, heated loungers, etc. These features were reserved for “Aqua Class” passengers and those who purchased a day pass for $25. Still, it was nice to unwind with a massage after some very physical shore excursions, and I’d generally recommend the spa.

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Another great shot of the Ship, from our tender boat in Juneau.

When we returned to Seattle after a week on the ship, we both felt that the time had simply flown by. Overall, we’d definitely recommend this itinerary, though it probably would have been equally as good on just about any line – we didn’t feel that being on Celebrity really affected things one way or another. We saw lots of other ships in our ports – NCL, RC, Princess, and Holland all sail to Alaska as well, so if you’re planning a trip you have a lot to choose from.

So, that was the ship! In my next installment, I’ll detail what we saw, did, and ate in each of our ports of call. Stay tuned….

Whitney