Ocean Cruise Curiosity: Part 2

To cruise or not to cruise?

"Celebrity Solstice at Pier 35, San Francisco"

Celebrity Solstice at Pier 35, San Francisco

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post that posed this age-old question after a tour of the Celebrity Millennium cruise ship while it was in port in San Francisco. We never left port, but I got a good perspective of the facilities, a gourmet lunch and some awesome views of San Francisco. As a cruise skeptic, I went on board with an open mind, but not expecting that I’d be any closer to taking a cruise.

During the tour, I found myself warming up to the idea with the realization that with so many different ships and itineraries available, there might be one that would be right for me — possibly an Alaska cruise.

Two years later, I’m still cruiseless. But recently, I did have an opportunity to tour another luxury ship, the Celebrity Solstice — this time with Mr. TWS. It was his first time ever on a cruise ship, asea or at port. So I’m going to turn the post over to him. Is a cruise in Traveling with Sweeney’s future?

The Celebrity Solstice — Mr. TWS’s perspective

It was interesting to read about Sweeney’s experience on the Celebrity cruise ship tour. I’d never really thought that a cruise matched our travel interests, so I had not analyzed it as an option. Like anything one hasn’t tried, this impression was based on snippets of information picked up here and there, such as the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary, and others from the entertainment industry, such as the Love Boat (though I never watched the show). Of course, on the other end of the spectrum there was also the Titanic! But I digress.

"Inside the Celebrity Solstice looking out at pool deck"

San Francisco skyline from inside the Celebrity Solstice

For me, I have also always felt romance about sea voyages; the thought of being way out to sea, reminiscent of times when sea travel was the only way to get to many places. It is the same romanticism I’ve held for long, luxury train rides such as the Orient Express. Much of this feeling comes from seeing this type of travel in movies that captured the excitement of embarking to remote and exotic places.

There are so many places we want to see and there is always so little time. When we travel, we plan a general itinerary but like to leave daily agendas open (when possible) to leave room for serendipity and exploration, choosing each day’s activities from among a list of potential choices. My perception of cruises has mostly been that they don’t match up with that kind of travel style.

But when an opportunity arose to tour the Celebrity Solstice during a media event, I was intrigued by the opportunity for a first-hand look.

I had seen pictures of cruise ships but had never seen one in person. As we drove along the Embarcadero on a beautiful sunny morning (early morning fog had lifted), Sweeney pointed out the Celebrity ahead on the right at Pier 35. My first impression was that it was immense, somewhat matching my intellectual image, but its size was still stunning.

"Inside the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship"

A lobby inside the Celebrity Solstice

I thought it was hard to believe that a boat this large at a height of 16 stories could float. I hadn’t thought about security to get aboard, but with more than 2800 passengers and over 1500 crew, it made sense. (My assumption that this had changed dramatically after 9-11 was confirmed later by our tour guide.)

"Looking up on the Celebrity Solstice elevator"

Looking up! On the Celebrity Solstice elevator

After first coming on board the ship and in all the common areas we toured, I was surprised by how elaborate the ship was; it was like a luxury hotel with beautiful lobbies, restaurants and other facilities, except it was more like a large city — an upscale resort and mini Las Vegas all in one.

"Inside the Celebrity Solstice"

Inside the Celebrity Solstice

We had lunch in the main dining room of the ship, the Grand Epernay Restaurant, where the ornate elegance included a multiple story wine room encased in class (as shown in the photo below). The food was first-rate — salmon in lentils for me, braised short ribs for Sweeney and a chocolate dessert.

"Grand Epernay Restaurant, main dining room on the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship"

Grand Epernay Restaurant

"Salmon and lentils in the main dining room on the Celebrity Solstice""Braised short ribs in main dining room aboard the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship"

We also got a look at a few of the specialty restaurants and were offered samples of the fare such as Asian dishes in Silk Harvest, classic French cuisine in Murano and light, healthy options in Blu, shown below. All food on the ship is prepared fresh on board.

"While floral mural in Blu Restaurant aboard the Celebrity Solstice"

Blu

With upscale shops, bars, dance lounges, a casino and theaters, there are plenty of entertainment options. The venue shown below seats over 1,000 people and provides diverse performances such as Cirque du Soleil types of acts. There was also impressive art on display throughout the ship — a collection valued at over $6 million.

"Large theater on the Celebrity Solstice for Cirque du Soleil type performances"

Large theater on the Celebrity Solstice

The fully-appointed AquaSpa (which I would probably never use, but would be a treat for Sweeney) and pools (which I’m sure that I would frequent) offer opportunities to cool off, warm up and relax.

"Pool deck aboard the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship"

Adult Pool deck

There were open decks with the lines of deck chairs and I was very surprised to see one deck with a large expanse of beautiful green lawn, called The Lawn Club. It seemed like a nice touch to have a touch of green earth while cruising on the deep blue sea.

"Expanse of lawn on top deck of Celebrity Solstice cruise ship"

The Lawn Club on the Celebrity Solstice

There are also other “green” aspects in the eco-friendly design. According to our guide, Celebrity is committed to using eco-friendly technologies whenever possible — partly from the good sense of caring about our planet, partly that the measures are economical. For example,  the paint used on the hull reduces friction and enhances fuel usage. The ship was equipped with the ability to switch fuels to avoid diminishing the experience in Alaska when they enter somewhat enclosed glacier areas. Typically the exhaust on other ships can diminish the experience because of an accumulation of fumes.

One of the issues that had always led me away from cruises was that you might feel confined. The efficient tour brought us through many of the decks and we saw a lot of the ship, and I never had the feeling of confinement. With all of the potential activities, I could easily imagine spending a week, keeping amused and relaxing.

"Coit Tower and San Francisco skyline seen from the upper deck of the Celebrity Solstice at Pier 35"

Coit Tower and San Francisco skyline from the upper deck

But what really caught my attention was that everywhere we went on the ship was a view of the magnificence of San Francisco and its key landmarks — the piers, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, Coit Tower and the Transamerica Pyramid building. Whether on the decks with open views or within any of the restaurants and other facilities, all of which had walls of windows providing unobstructed, unique views of the city. We were right in the center of San Francisco with views that rivaled the best vantages for seeing the sights.

"Sailboats on San Francisco Bay"

Boats on San Francisco Bay

Our guide, answering a question about new developments in Celebrity’s cruise offerings, spoke of special destination cruises that leveraged the ship’s ability to provide unique access to special events. Among those mentioned was San Francisco during the America’s Cup race in August. This would provide the passengers a ringside seat for the finals as well as access to San Francisco including the other activities planned for this global attraction. Also mentioned was a cruise near Normandy that would take advantage of D-Day events. In fact, the cruise that was in progress on our tour day was a wine cruise giving passengers access to wine country tours as well as special wine-centric activities on board.

"Golden Gate Bridge from Celebrity Solstice in San Francisco Bay"

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay

This really hammered home one of the conversations I’d had that had begun to swing me to a positive mind about cruises. One of our friends talked about taking an Alaskan cruise and said it had been fabulous; when I commented that it sounded good but probably not for me, they said that what they really liked was that with the cruise ship they were able to reach locations and see sights they could not have accessed easily or in some cases at all. Now that makes sense to me. Alaska has been one of the places that has long been on our must-do travel list and a cruise might be an option.

But I think even without considering the special events, I could imagine spending some time experiencing the open sea and just enjoying the activities on the ship, fine dining, great views and the diversity of getting off the ship at stops to experience some highlights of various ports. Of course, we’d also be able stay connected to the internet and e-mail services in the Online@Celebrity internet cafe.

We were not able to see any of the rooms because they were at 104% occupancy. In case you’re thinking this means that some passengers had to sleep at the pool, the rate represents instances where there is an added guest in a stateroom. I was surprised to learn that 98% of their tours are at minimally full capacity. During our time on the ship, almost all of the passengers were ashore spending time in the city or on other land excursions. However, I could imagine the buzz of activity in busy social areas with all passengers aboard, but didn’t get the feeling that we’d be cramped in such an immense place.

"Lounge with a view aboard the Celebrity Solstice in San Francisco Bay"

Sky Observation Lounge

So, is a cruise in Traveling with Sweeney’s future? Will Sweeney and I be occupying seats in this lounge while our ship slowly leaves port? Stay tuned.

This is our contribution to Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox

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48 thoughts on “Ocean Cruise Curiosity: Part 2

  1. Lane

    We’ve done river cruises (China), multiple Caribbean cruises and an Alaskan cruise. It’s a great introduction to beginning travelers as you don’t have to do anything for yourself. That’s also a bad thing — you get tired of the herd mentality and hand-holding. We’ll probably never cruise again — unless it’s the best/only way of visiting a place.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks for the comment. Good input to the discussion. Unique access to places/events was one of the things that caught my attention.

  2. Leigh

    I’ve done a 5 day boat “cruise” on the Queen Elizabeth II and felt like I was going to throw up most of the time. I think that and my sense of adventure still puts me off a big cruise ship – though maybe if I tried one again I’d change my mind. I guess if a cruise ship company could change my mind they could change anybody’s mind but I don’t think after a comment like this anyone will be contacting me.
    I’ll be curious to see if a cruise ends up in your travel plans in the near future.

    1. Mr. TWS

      That’s too bad. Hard to have fun when you’re feeling queasy. We were warned about the small ferry boat ride from Maui to Molokai because of the usually rough seas. Dramamine and a glass of wine has always worked wonders for us. Thanks for the comments.

  3. Kathryn

    My parents are big fans of celebrity cruises. They love them. My Dad is in his late 70s and lives to travel and cruises are perfect for him now. They love all the things to do on the ships.

  4. Jackie Smith

    We’ve been on the Solstice on a transatlantic crossing and will be joining it in Honolulu this fall and traveling to Sydney. There are great prices to be had on the re-positioning cruises – and you make stops in places that you might not otherwise get to in a single lifetime. As for the ‘group’ mentality of cruising – we’ve proven that wrong on each of our voyages. We research the ports of call (sometimes nearby cities that can be reached in a days time by train or public bus) just as we would for any trip. The minute the ship is docked we set off (more and more of our fellow passengers are doing the same thing). It is always fun to be sitting in some cafe and see one of the cruise tour buses go lumbering past with fellow passengers crammed inside getting their ‘taste’ of the city in a much different way than we are. I’ve listed some great deal-finder sites on our blog, so hope to see the TWS’s on board one day.

    1. Mr. TWS

      That’s exactly what I pictured us doing. Your comments also helps me better understand the herd comment above. The idea of reaching a number of places via the stops is a helpful comment and experiencing a bit of each in the way you describe (and the way we would normally in travel) is quite positive.

  5. Life Images by Jill

    There is something about the romance of sailing – although in the old days I doubt it was romantic. I have always thought a cruise would be amazing – but I think I would prefer a smaller boat “ship” – like an sail clipper for instance. Thankyou for taking us along through Travel Photo Thursday. Have a wonderful week.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks for the comments. Having a great spring week in Wisconsin. I feel the same way about the romance of being out at sea.

  6. Sophie

    We were on a cruise only a few moths ago, in the Caribbean. Must admit I’m not a great fan: what annoys me the most is the constant selling, whether it’s excursions, jewellery (or lectures about jewellery), or having to dodge the over-eager ship photographers (the poor dears are paid pr photo they take). It all felt a bit like being on a RyanAir flight. But then, with cruises being so inexpensive, I suppose they have to make money somehow. That said, my kids love cruises, so I probably haven’t taken my last one yet.

    1. Mr. TWS

      That’s too bad about your last cruise. The Celebrity guide emphasized this was one of the things they felt differentiated them from other cruises, that is, they don’t do the kind of selling you describe. I could imagine cruises would be real adventures for kids and lots to do and see. Thank you for the comments.

  7. Seana - Sydney, Kids, Food + Travel

    Hello, I did enjoy this tour around this ship with you. I haven’t ever been on a cruise but am sure I’d enjoy it. Much as I love real sailing on the high seas, that’s not much of a lying around holiday. I think your point about access to areas is very true. Shame my husband gets seasick, I’ll have to go just with the kids one day.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Glad you liked it. Nobody in the group asked the question about sea sickness. On such a gigantic ship, I felt it might not be an issue but I suppose it’s also a matter of how rough the sea gets. They had an acupuncturist on board who probably could help. Then there’s also the Dramamine/wine approach. Hope you get to try it soon. Sophie said (above) her kids love cruises. Thanks for the comments.

  8. Tonya {The Traveling Praters}

    What a beautiful ship! My family has gone o two cruises and my teens are hoping my husband and I decide to go on another. Honestly, I don’t think my husband and I are cruise people though my husband would like to cruise one more time just to make sure.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks for your comments. It is an interesting travel question with people on all sides. Hope you get one more cruise (at least) soon. It really was a beautiful ship.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks so much for your comments and compliment on the photos. Glad you liked them. We had a lot more and the scenes of SF were really something from the ship. It’s a beautiful city and the ship provided awesome vantage points. The ship is exactly as you describe; however, I am still amazed it floats.

  9. Steve

    I absolutely love cruises, and although I’ve never cruised with Celebrity, the Solstice looks amazing. There’s something extra special about the feeling of pulling into port on the deck of a cruise ship. It’s way more exciting than arriving via air. The idea of being on a cruise ship to watch the Americas Cup is brilliant as well. Can’t think of a better way to spend a weeks vacation.

    1. Mr. TWS

      If you love cruises, I think you’d find Celebrity special. The Solstice was amazing; my first time on a cruise ship, I was not expecting what we saw. Pulling into port does seem way more exciting than flying into a city. That’s an interesting insight. Thanks for the comments.

  10. D.J. - The World of Deej

    I am a big fan of cruising, and just returned from the Oasis of the Seas, the largest ship in the world. I find that with cruising that I’m able to unplug easier than with other trips. Plus, the service is usually much more personal on cruises than it is at hotels etc. Finally, I think they are a great value for the price, which is one of the biggest reasons I enjoy them. I have not sailed on Celebrity, but we were docked next the Solstice on a cruise a few years ago. She’s a beautiful ship, and hopefully I’ll get to see her first hand one day…

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks for the comments. The spectrum of opinions is quite interesting. Your comment on unplugging was what I felt (from the short tour) might be our experience. Your insights on service and value were also informative. I hope you get to cruise on the Solstice also.

  11. budget jan

    I have not taken a cruise and have no desire to as yet. However, I never discount the possibility of anything – well I dp know that I would NEVER jump out of a plane – but apart from that, I may embrace cruising in the future. My Grandmother started travelling on cruise boats in her late 70’s. She spent all of her money travelling (now I know where the gene came from). She absolutely loved cruise ships and used to say grandly – I’ve been to the Orient on the ……

    1. Mr. TWS

      I really enjoyed your comments, particularly about your Grandmother. Hope you try a cruise some day and really enjoy it. Thanks.

  12. Marisol@TravelingSolemates

    Like you and Mr. TWS, my husband and I are non-cruisers for the same reason that it does not fit our travel interest. We love to explore and ocean cruises seem so confining for us. The closest thing we did to cruising was when we traveled to Galapagos where the only way to explore the islands was through a boat. But there maybe a cruise in our horizon A good friend of ours is getting married next year — on a cruise! I guess that gives us a good excuse to try it. I’m curious if you and Mr. TWS are sailing away with that cruise. If you do, I’ll definitely like to hear your experience as non-cruisers.

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks so much for your comments. Reaching places hard to get to in other ways and getting unique vantages for special events is intriguing. I hope you get to do the wedding cruise and enjoy it. I can imagine a cruise being good to share with a group of friends and family. There appears to be lots of things to do, there would be time to spend relaxing and enjoying people special to you, and space enough to avoid the others. If Sweeney and I take a cruise, we’ll definitely share the experience.

  13. Johanna

    Thanks for some wonderful inspiration and awesome photos. I must admit the idea of the grand restaurant did tempt me for a moment or two. We have avoided the idea of cruising up till now, but I think in the future we may well consider it when we want a little more organisation and hand holding perhaps. Great post, andn I do look forward to what happens with Sweeney!

    1. Mr. TWS

      Thanks so much for the comments and kind words. We’re really glad you enjoyed and were inspired. I hope you are able to try a cruise and have a great time. I mentioned movies formed a lot of what I expected about cruise ships. Any I’ve seen have always had dining room scenes. Eating lunch there brought those scenes to life and your comment reminded me that it also was an element that was part of the romance. The guide emphasized Celebrity Solstice’s goal to high quality for cuisine and wine (23 sommeliers aboard seems to characterize the importance to them). The other restaurants seemed impressive also, in the beauty of the décor, the emphasis on providing views and the diversity of the cuisine.

  14. Susan Hallett

    Great photos … but I am a fan of very small ships, ships that actually sail, or feel like yachts. Or river cruises such as a Nile cruise.
    Susan Hallett

    1. Mr. TWS

      Glad you liked the photos. There were great vantages of SF and also the ship was beautiful. We haven’t done any cruises on smaller ships or on rivers though these are things we’ve discussed. Years ago a friend of mine who was a prolific traveler took a Nile River cruise and thought it was awesome. The ship had been fired on from the shore the previous week and he secured an awesome deal. Thanks for the comments.

    1. Mr. TWS

      I hope you get an opportunity for a cruise soon. Glad you liked the photos. Seeing the ship from just offshore, it seemed large, and especially it seemed tall. Onboard it seemed even bigger and I was struck with how amazing that such a structure could float and be very stable at sea. Thanks for commenting.

  15. Nancie

    This definitely looks like the lap of luxury! My first introduction to cruising was in highschool. We feel to England and boarded a cruise ship that took us around the Med for two weeks. We slept in dorms of 40…but oh what fun 🙂

    Your friends have a great point re. getting to things that you might not otherwise see!

    Have fun deciding which cruise might or might not be in your future 🙂

    1. Mr. TWS

      It certainly seemed like luxury. Your high school cruise does sound like a lot of fun. Our friends’ comment was hammered home with the mention of the special event tours the Celebrity guide mentioned. Thanks for the comments.

  16. Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans

    Wow – this ship is amazing! I’m going to check to see where it sails. I too have been a cruise skeptic despite hearing great things. I’m curious to see what the rooms look like. I agree that a cruise would be especially good to a place like Alaska where certain spots are only accessible by small planes which I’m absolutely not a fan of. Great info!

  17. Andrea

    I think cruises are great for certain destinations – they offer great value and allow you to see more than you would if you had to do destinations individually on the same trip.

  18. Jennifer

    I did a press cruise launch with Celebrity and loved it! It was a cruise to no where and was all about discovering their brand new ship. But when it came to actually going on a cruise as a way to travel, I was not a fan. I went with Norweigan last year to Greece and I did feel confined as well as feeling like my days at sea were time I could have been exploring Greece. In the end, I don’t think a cruise is for me.

  19. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    I like all the views both inside and outside that enormous ship. That lunch sounds delicious. I enjoyed my Mediterranean Cruise with my parents, aunt and uncle and their friends. It was a good way for people with varying travel desires (shopping vs. sightseeing) to take a tripi together.

  20. Marcia

    I’ve never been a fan of cruises but several years ago, my family held a reunion aboard Carnival and I decided to go. I didn’t like the time spent sailing but once we arrived in the Caribbean, each morning we’d wake up to a new island and whatever it offered. That part was pretty cool. And being with several generations of my family was the absolute best part of the trip.

    The ship was looked just as opulent as the one you’ve featured here. There were several casinos, lots of food, formal dining rooms where we ate each night as a family, spas, gyms, etc. We were occupied almost the entire time we were on board. And because there were activities for the little ones, their parents could relax and enjoy their vacation. The cruise didn’t change my mind about cruising.

    Now, when I see ships in port each week, my thoughts rarely turn to that fun week we had at sea. Instead, it turns to the environmental footprint these behemoths leave – the damage to delicate and irreplaceable coral reefs, the wastewater, the pollution, the garbage and that makes it difficult for me to even think of taking another cruise.

  21. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    We love cruising! We’ve also done two Alaska cruises and highly recommend it. We’ve never sailed on the Celebrity line but this sure looks like a beauty. I’m glad Mr. TWS got to experience a tour on the ship. There are certain places a cruise is wonderful to explore places like the Caribbean and Alaska. I don’t think I can ever do a Mediterranean one and only have a day in Rome to explore. There are also certain cruise lines I’d stay away from but Celebrity has been on our list for awhile now. I hope the both of you sail on one of the ships soon.

  22. Christy

    They are pretty elaborate, aren’t they? We are not big cruise people either, but I have been roped into a few cruises with family. It’s not my travel style, but I do think they work well for certain destinations. We are taking an un-cruise in Alaska this summer, which I’m extremely excited about!

  23. Andrew Graeme Gould

    I’ll be interested to read your report if you two do end up going on a cruise. I just stick to ferries, normally — and that’s included some very big ones, such as crossing from the North to South Islands of New Zealand, or from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. So much luxury on that ship, though, that it’s unbelievable!

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