The most beautiful megaships at sea today, Celebrity's four (and soon five) Solstice-class sisters manage to simultaneously encapsulate all that was great about Celebrity's older vessels while also moving logically and stylistically into the future.
Typical Per Diems: $85-$110
Eclipse sails the Caribbean from Miami (winter).
Equinox sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter).
Silhouette sails the Caribbean from Cape Liberty, NJ (winter).
Solstice sails the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale (winter).
Since introducing its very first newbuild in 1990, Celebrity has consistently had the most stylish megaships in the cruise biz, so it's gratifying to be able to say that the line's new Solstice-class ships are an absolute knockout. On the outside, their form is both massive and sleek, while inside a unifying aesthetic ties the many moods and experiences of their public rooms into a satisfying whole. The ships' overall look is an extension of that employed on Celebrity's older Century- and Millennium-class ships, with their neo-deco lines, minimalist art, and rich, quality textures and surfaces. In the atrium, translucent backlit onyx panels and white drapes recall similar materials used in the Millennium atriums, while the dreamy white interiors of each ship's main restaurant and observation lounge evoke both the past and the future -- hinting at elements of the Century class while taking a stylistic swipe at both 2001: A Space Odyssey and 1930s Hollywood movies. Balancing the "wow" is a wealth of subtle details, evident in everything from the ship's art collection -- a world-class assemblage that amplifies the ship's mood with textural, minimalist, and nature-evoking pieces from big names and emerging talents -- to its cabins, which could win awards for innovation all by themselves.
Because Silhouette hadn't yet debuted at press time, all details in this review refer to Solstice, Equinox, and Eclipse, all of which are essentially identical, with only a few minor differences. A fifth, as yet unnamed sister will debut in 2012.
When was the last time you got to your cabin, looked around, and thought, "Huh, why haven't other ships done that before?" It's the same-old same-old syndrome, created by one essential fact: There are only so many different ways to arrange things in rectangular boxes, and that's exactly what most cruise ship cabins are -- premade modular units assembled in one place, trucked to the shipyard, and slotted into the new vessel like drawers in a dresser.
To break the mold, Celebrity broke the mold, changing the basic shape of its cabins so that one wall of each bulges slightly, interlocking with the cabin next door in a sort of squared-off yin-yang format. That simple change gives passengers more maneuvering room around the foot of the bed, but was accomplished without also having to increase the width of the cabin's open area -- sizable enough as is due to Celebrity's decision to make Solstice's and Equinox's cabins about 15% larger than those on its older ships.
Standard inside (183-200 sq. ft.) and outside (176-192 sq. ft.) cabins have an open and airy feeling, an ergonomic design, and a modern, modular look. Beds have rounded corners, allowing for better flow, and are higher than normal to give more storage space underneath. At the wall, the beds are surrounded by a tall headboard topped with a narrow, completely unobtrusive storage unit perfect for handbags, shopping bags, and other small items. Some couches offer trundle beds for kids and other additional guests, while closet doors slide shut automatically -- which isn't so unusual on land, but is a hard thing to accomplish on a moving ship. Cabin bathrooms and showers are substantially larger and roomier than aboard most other megaships; showers are equipped with a foot rail that makes it easier for women to shave their legs; and there's an ingenious collection of small drawers, nooks, and cabinets for storing toiletries and other necessities. All cabins have flatscreen TVs, sitting areas with sofas, minifridges, and hair dryers. Outside, cabin balconies are large and deep, with plenty of room for two reclining deck chairs and a table.
In addition to the usual range of inside, outside, balcony cabins, and suites (300-1,291 sq. ft.), Solstice and Equinox both have 130 adults-only AquaClass staterooms, where the cabin experience is tied to an overall wellness aesthetic. Grouped together on the Penthouse Deck, each AquaClass cabin has niceties such as large balconies, pillow menus, jetted body-wash showers, and special music/sound and aromatherapy options tied to specific vacation goals (relaxation, invigoration, and so on). AquaClass guests also get special perks around the ship, including unlimited access to the spa's Persian Garden aromatherapy steam room and relaxation room, special wellness classes and invitations to VIP events, and the option of dining at a 130-seat specialty restaurant called Blu .
Each ship has 30 wheelchair-accessible staterooms, spread among the different types of accommodations onboard, from inside cabins to sky suites.
The Solstice-class ships are the first in which Celebrity has really diversified its dining program, offering a grand main restaurant, a buffet, four specialty restaurants, and three light and casual eateries on each vessel. Four specialty restaurants are clustered aft on the Entertainment Deck, opening off the Ensemble Lounge. The Tuscan Grille is a high-style spot in the ship's stern, with a menu heavy on steaks and pastas. Murano blends classic and modern Continental cuisine in an elegant, romantic setting inspired by Venice's famous Murano glassmakers. Blu is reserved exclusively for passengers booked into the AquaClass staterooms (plus suite guests based on availability). It serves a healthy menu of savory appetizers (along the lines of roasted beet salad with goat cheese or Mediterranean chopped salad with pita chips and pomegranate vinaigrette) and entrees like blackened ahi tuna, pan-seared filet mignon, and herb-crusted rack of lamb. Aboard Solstice and Equinox, Silk Harvest offers a mix of Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese selections, complemented by a variety of sakes, Asian-influenced martinis, and cocktails created with ginger root and acai berries. In its place, Eclipse has the high-style Qsine, serving eclectic international cuisine with a theatrical twist. (Also of note: Menus in general aboard Eclipse include an unusual number of British favorites and Indian dishes -- a nod to the fact that Eclipse is homeporting in the U.K. in the summer.)
Several other eateries are scattered around each ship. Forward of the Ensemble Lounge, the centrally located Bistro on Five is a casual, chic restaurant with a menu of specialty crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads, and entrees including quiche, fish and chips, baked ziti, and chicken pot pie. Right across the corridor, Café al Bacio & Gelateria is an upscale coffeehouse serving specialty coffees, teas, fresh-baked pastries, traditional gelatos and Italian ices, and other desserts. In the Solarium, the AquaSpa Café serves spa cuisine, including salads, lean meats, seafood, and fresh fruit smoothies.
The Solstice-class ships have one of the most logical arrangements of public rooms we've seen in a decade and a half of reviewing ships. Most are clustered on the Entertainment and Promenade decks, and rooms were consciously grouped by the designers so that different types are in different areas of the ship. Evening entertainment outlets, for instance (the Equinox Theatre and the several venues of the Entertainment Court), are all located forward and linked directly to the Sky Observation Lounge by elevator. Pre- and post-dinner entertainment (the Ensemble Lounge for predinner cocktails and after-dinner jazz; Michael's Club for more intimate piano music and libations) is located immediately adjacent to the ships' specialty restaurants.
The 1,115-guest main theater is particularly innovative, its rounded stage and a complex ceiling rigging allowing aerialist entertainers to fly right over audience members' heads. Down the corridor, Celebrity Central is a 200-seat, multifunction venue that presents late-night comedy shows, films, and other shows and events. Across the hall, the Quasar nightclub has a streamlined, space-age look, with clear plastic "bubble chairs" suspended from the ceiling and huge LED screens curving from the walls into the ceiling, their lights synched with the music's beat. Between these two venues, an Entertainment Court is the venue for vocal quartets and other small-scale entertainment designed to keep passengers' interest as they move between other nightlife options. Other diversions on these decks include Cellar Masters, a Napa-inspired space for formal wine tastings and informal sipping; the Martini Bar with its cool color palate and a perpetually frosted bar; and Crush, a tasting room where guests sit around an ice-filled table to sample pairings of vodka and caviar.
But the Solstice-class ships' most distinctive and innovative features are out on deck -- most visibly way up on the top deck, where the Lawn Club has a half-acre of real grass growing 15 decks above the sea. A first for cruise ships, the area provides a country-club ambience: quiet, refined, and calming. In the central lawn, passengers can play croquet or putt some golf balls around, either in individual play or during scheduled tournaments, while two courts along the sides of the ship have space for bocce and other lawn games. Passengers can also picnic on the main lawn, relax at the shaded patio at its aft end (dotted with potted greenery and comfortable lounge chairs and couches), or grab a drink at the aft-facing Sunset Bar, with its views of the ship's wake.
At the forward end of the club is another of the Solstice-class signature features: the Hot Glass Show. Developed by the world-famous Corning Museum of Glass, it provides daily (and surprisingly high-energy) programs in which master artisans explain and demonstrate the art of glass-blowing. Presented in an open-air studio designed specifically for these ships, the shows give the audience a sort of "glassmaking 101" experience, taking them through the process of creating a piece from start to finish -- from an undifferentiated blob of glass to bowls, vases, and more complex forms like glass conch shells.
For kids, there's a large, light-filled, multiroom children's center near the very top of the ship, on the same deck as the Lawn Club. A teen center is adjacent, along with a video arcade. One unusual activity for kids is the chance to draw items they'd like to see artisans at the ship's Hot Glass Studio create in glass. Once per cruise, one of the show's gaffers selects a design and creates it, and the kid gets to take the piece home.
Pool, Fitness & Spa Facilities
The Solstice-class Pool Deck is one of the most serene in the cruise biz, owing to the decision to place the ship's buffet restaurant and grill on a separate deck, one level up. That decision automatically changed the pool deck from a busy, multipurpose space into one whose sole purpose is serene, resortlike relaxation. Surrounding two pools (one for "sports," one for families) and four hot tubs are 12 white, 25-foot, A-frame canopies supporting cantilevered awnings and providing shade for chaise longues on both the Resort Deck (the ships' pool deck) and the Lido Deck above. A dancing fountain occupies a central position at the aft of the pool area, ringed with deck chairs. Forward of the pools, the glass-ceilinged Solarium is a peaceful enclave for adults only, with a lap pool, cushioned teak lounge chairs, views all around, and the AquaSpa Café.
The AquaSpa itself is done up in a soothing sea of white and Aegean blue, its colonnade and domed rotunda reception area designed as a contemporary interpretation of the architecture found on Greek Islands such as Santorini and Mykonos. Besides massages, facials, and other favorites, the treatment menu includes acupuncture, Botox wrinkle treatments, teeth whitening, and cosmetic dermal fillers to smooth smile lines. The Persian Garden is a steam room in the old style (think Ottoman Empire), glossed with a contemporary, New Agey vibe. It's complimentary for guests booked into AquaSpa staterooms and suites; everybody else has to pay. The ships' gyms are large and extremely well equipped.