Solsticize It!

Celebrity announced yesterday via Face Book, that they will be adding many of the features and innovations of their latest Solstice Class of Ships to their older Millennium class ships. Over the next four years they will begin dry dock upgrades to the four existing ships in the M-class fleet. Having sailed on both the M-Class and most recently the Solstice flag ship, I thought I’d give my impressions of what these changes will mean to passengers.

Tuscan Grille

The M-Class ships already have the wonderful “Ocean Liners” specialty restaurants, which specialize in gourmet continental cuisine. However, the Tuscan Grille should offer another nice choice with this Italian steak house. It should offer a slightly more casual atmosphere than the Ocean Liners, but with the same great service that Celebrity is know for in their Specialty Restaurants. I’m not sure that I will take advantage of this venue. We thoroughly enjoyed the Main Dining Room experience on the Solstice which is included in the cruise fare, however, sometimes it is nice to take a break, especially on a long cruise and enjoy something different for dinner. For those interested in alternative dining, this should be a welcome addition.

Martini Bar Upgrades

The renovations will add Ice-topped Martini Bar venues, paired with Crush, whose ice-filled tables will present a selection of chilled, top-tier vodkas. The martini bars are very popular gathering places on the Celebrity ships, so I think for those who are martini drinkers, this will enhance the experience. They also offer vodka tasting flights on the Solstice class ships, so I’m guessing that this experience will also be offered in the Crush area on the M-Class ships.

Café al Bacio and Gelateria

Celebrity will replace the Cova Cafe with these two venues. In reality this is mostly a name change and an addition of a charge frozen dessert venue. That being said, this is one area of the ship where I have been willing in the past to spend a little bit extra and purchase an occasional gourmet coffee or treat my kids to a delicious gelato. Again, as long as Celebrity still continues to offer free coffee and ice cream in the Ocean View Cafe, I don’t mind the ships having another option for a higher quality splurge.

Bistro on Five

The popular creperie will offer diners another novel choice for a casual bite. This is another venue of which we did not take advantage on our most recent Solstice cruise, however I have heard a great suggestion from another cruiser for utilizing this venue. This is a great place to enjoy an unhurried uncrowded lunch on embarkation day. While most people will head to the free buffet area on embarkation day, this venue offers great service and a whole meal based on crepes to those who visit and pay the extra charge. This venue also offers an alternative dining experience to those who might simply be looking for a change of pace on a long voyage.

Enomatic Wine Bar

The state-of-the-art, Italian designed wine serving system allows guests to select and serve, at the touch of a button, the wines of their choice by the glass. Now we are getting to something I really liked on the Solstice. I had always found it frustrating that it was difficult to get a variety of good wines by the glass at reasonable prices on Celebrity ships. On previous cruises there were just a few choices, and the good wines were prices at $11 to $12 per glass. The automatic system was something that we really enjoyed. Wines were available in a 1 oz taste, a 2 oz taste and a 4 oz glass. Cruisers simply purchase a card pre-loaded with a certain dollar amount. When the card is inserted into the machine it then displays the price point for each wine at each amount. Once the customer makes his or her selection, the amount is automatically deducted from the card and the balance is automatically displayed. On the Solstice they had two machines, one featuring white and the other featuring red. The pricing ranged from about $2 for a 1 oz taste, or $6 glass, to $15 for a one oz taste of wines like Opus One. Another enjoyable wine experience that I hope will be offered on the M-Class ships is the many different themed wine flights that were offered in the Cellar Master bar on the Solstice. We very much enjoyed the opportunity to try 4 different wines from the same region in tasting format. The Cellar Master bar on the Solstice was also staffed full time by highly educated somolliers which added to the experience by giving the passengers the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the wines in which they are interested. I would hope that Celebrity will be assigning the same level of staff to the wine bar area on the revamped M-Class ships a long with the automated tasting machines.

Restyled Staterooms and Suites

One of the most common upgrades when a ship goes into dry dock is to refit the guest rooms. Celebrity will do just that by restyling state rooms and suites with entirely new carpeting, flat-screen TVs, upholstery and bedding. The Suites will also get new furniture. This is something that should be done every few years due to wear and tear on the fabrics and bedding in the rooms. I think this shows Celebrity is recommitting to their M-Class ships and wants to provide a high level in every aspect of guest experience including in room comfort and quality. The announcement doesn’t specifically mention and upgrade to the entertainment systems, but I hope that the addition of flat screens also means the addition of higher quality in room entertainment. While not a make or break item in particular for me when selecting a cruise, we really enjoyed the many free on demand movies and programming offered on the Solstice. They offered many recently released movies which we had not seen. On previous ships the in room entertainment has been very limited. On a this two week voyage, it was nice to relax in our state room and enjoy a good movie.

New Soft Goods Throughout the Ships

The renovations will include new color schemes, carpeting and upholstery reflective of Solstice Class in every public venue, from the Celebrity Theater to Seaside Grill, from the main dining room to Michael’s Club. We found the decor on the Solstice to be unique, beautiful and contemporary. Just as we all like to redecorate our houses every so often, it is refreshing when an older ship gets a new look, and these new furnishing should make the M-Class ships look as if they just sailed away from the ship-yard.

No Glass Show or Lawn Club

It looks like two of the areas that we enjoyed most on Solstice will not be practical to add to the M-Class ships. The Hot Glass shows require millions of dollars worth of specialized equipment and a dedicated venue. The Law Club, too, requires a large top side deck. I just can’t see where there would be a space to add either of these features to the M-Class ships, but who knows, maybe the engineers will come up with something. However, I’m not counting on it. It looks like die hard glass show lovers and lawn bowlers, will need to stick with the Solstice class ships to enjoy these features.

In summary, the overhauling of these ships should hep Celebrity utilize these ships for years to come with the same level of service and overall quality that they are offering on their new Solstice class ships. Some of these areas will obviously be revenue generating venues, but as long as Celebrity maintains quality in the dining and choices that are included in the cruise price, I don’t mind having other extra cost options. Certainly, the beverage venues are designed to bring in revenue, however those charges are nothing new to the cruise industry. Providing more and better choices with knowledgeable service is a great option on which we are always willing to spend. Updating the decor and staterooms demonstrates a commitment to excellence across the fleet that will provide more choices to Celebrity cruisers.

I can’t wait to sail again on one of these revamped ships.