Simply Breathtaking

Celebrity Solstice redefines the premium-class cruise ship

By: By Marilyn Green

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Celebrity’s new 2,850-passenger Solstice is one of those rare occurrences: a ship that exceeds expectations raised by advance publicity. Celebrity told us about Solstice’s half-acre Lawn Club with its real grass and greenskeeper, Corning’s Hot Glass Show, the 10 restaurants, the cabanas and the new AquaSpa staterooms. But what they didn’t tell us about was how virtually every object onboard is a lovingly crafted work of art, right down to the water glasses in the staterooms.

Blu caters exclusively to AquaClass guests onboard Celebrity Solstice. // (c) Celebrity Cruise Lines
Blu caters exclusively to AquaClass guests onboard Celebrity Solstice.

Solstice evoked unprecedented enthusiasm as it was introduced to 8,000 agents and the press in a series of inaugurals. Some of the most critical agents in the business even said they would sell the ship to luxury clients without hesitation.

Several agents commented that the ship redefined the premium level, and most agreed with cruise line executives that Celebrity could not have delivered this experience without the ship’s large size. Agents also commented on how Solstice’s spacious, light-filled design set up an easy flow; there wasn’t a line to be seen, from the buffet to the fitness center.

Atop the ship, the Corning Museum of Glass displayed its tremendous artistry in glass-making. Bocce and croquet balls clicked on the green lawn, which was surrounded by seats as beautiful as they were comfortable — executives personally tested them all and sent a large number back. There were even foot-washing stations for the barefoot.

The $5 million artwork collection was exceptionally well chosen and public rooms drew raves, down to the elevator controls on their beautifully designed columns — space-age but never cold. Quasar Disco was one of the favorites, with its clear, suspended chairs and its soft, cream-colored leather seats. The Solstice Theater has a stage that extends out into the audience and a structure that allows for acrobatics and special effects galore. Three shows — a theatrical circus, a celebration of Broadway and a "Stomp-style" rhythmic show — have been created for the ship.

During the inaugural, agents poured into the adults-only solarium and pool area, staking out space along the dancing fountains, the Thalassotherapy pool and hooded cabanas.

The Grand Foyer presents the essence of the ship’s quality: drama without melodrama. While standing at any level, passengers can glimpse into bars and foyer spaces, catching snippets of live music. At night, pools of golden light spotlight each level. The same effect illuminates the tables of the Grand Epernay Restaurant, with the whole space accented by a two-story, glass wine tower.

The other nine restaurants, from the continental Murano’s to Asian-fusion Silk Harvest, are very distinctive. The Tuscan Grille puts an Italian spin on steaks and the Oceanview Cafe and Bar is a real triumph for good use of open space and more cuisines than anyone could possibly absorb. Passengers were continually asking one another, "Where did you find that? I’m too full to try it now." Between meals, specialty coffees and teas, pastries and gelato kept the Cafe al Bacio lively. Guests who chose alternative evening dining were assessed fees from $2 (Cafe) to $30 (Murano).

Solstice’s lounges were exceptionally comfortable, with textures from cut velvet to natural wood. And, in the retail areas, Madison Avenue meets Venice with shop windows that drew crowds. Amethyst, jade, diamonds and amber glittered on the shelves; designer handbags were displayed like the art they are; and the stools in the cosmetics boutique were blue-tinted glass.

Solstice’s staterooms were a continuation of its sumptuous theme, with warm-colored woods and rich textures, and they have quite a few new features, many of which were the result of a five-woman panel who suggested larger bathrooms with wider showers, more connecting staterooms (totaling 265 pairs), adjustable furniture on the balconies and fog-free mirrors.

The new AquaClass rooms, which are tied to the breathtaking design of the spa, provided all sorts of in-cabin amenities, a dedicated restaurant, Blu, healthy room service options, a special television channel with health-conscious programming and a spacious bathroom featuring a five-head Hansgrohe shower tower.

The other four Solstice-class ships, debuting each year through 2012, will essentially have the same structure, but the design elements of each one will be different. There is a discussion taking place now regarding the placement of different restaurants on the Solstice’s sister ships.

Meanwhile, Solstice will sail alternating Eastern Caribbean itineraries before crossing to the Eastern Mediterranean out of Rome next year.