Although this is the second instalment of my cruise holiday reminiscences, it is actually the start of the cruise proper as Part 1 was all about our pre-cruise stay in Barcelona.
Strictly speaking, it is the third instalment as I wrote an initial blog not long after we returned. If you read that blog you will know that I had mixed feelings about going on a cruise, but we were going for it as our friend Jan had secured extremely good ‘friends and family’ rates. The down-side of this is that you cannot book ahead; you just turn up at the ferry port and hope that there is space. Living on the edge, huh?
So, at around 1130 on Sunday 23 October we took a taxi to the port. Yesterday’s bright sunny day had deserted us, leaving a nasty grey drizzle, which Andy and I stood about in guarding our cases as our women folk bowled up at the desk to flutter their eyelashes and secure us accommodation. Yes they had a room. Note my use of the singular here: there are four of us and only one room. Never mind, they re-assured us, we have a disabled room we can give you which is bigger and, chances are, a second room will become available once we set sail. What the hell, we’ve come this far
And so we embark. As soon as we were on-board, still ladened down with suitcases, we were given our first cocktail. Maybe this would work out okay after all.
We headed to our cabin, or stateroom as they are rather grandly referred to on ship. Yes, it was quite a good size to allow for wheel chair manoeuvring, but it was still going to be cosy for four of us for twelve days. This could certainly test a friendship!
The ship set sail at 5:00 pm with a pool party. Unfortunately, by now the drizzle had turned to proper rain and it was soon called off. Never mind, there were more cocktails. However, now reality was kicking in: we had to pay $10 for them.
So, what about the ship, the Celebrity Solstice? Well, it is huge! It is 1041 feet long, carries 2,850 people and has 15 decks. According to the web site, is hailed as a ‘new benchmark in cruise ship design’ and is the top-of-the-range class of the Celebrity Cruises ships. It is extremely posh and surprisingly proud of the fact that it has half an acre of lawn on one of the upper decks. Up the centre of the ship is an impressive inner-atrium with glass elevators rising from the Grand Foyer up eight floors overlooking balcony type rooms including a library and card room.
We wandered around the ship for a while; attended the mandatory drill information in the theatre so we knew what to do in an emergency – this was before the whole Costa Concordia incident, so none of us took it particularly seriously; and called in at ‘guest services’ several times to check on room availability with no success. We finally returned to our stateroom to find a light flashing on the phone: a message to say we had a room – hurrah!
There are two main options for eating on board: the Oceanview Café, a self service buffet on Deck 14 which is open all day, and the posh restaurant called the Grand Epernay Dining Room taking up the rear of Decks 3 and 4. There are also a number of speciality restaurants available at an extra cost. We discovered that there was sushi in the buffet at 3 pm every day, something that we frequently felt obliged to take advantage of despite plans to eat in the dining room later.
One of the things I was less enthusiastic about was an on-board dress code, which stipulates at least smart casual attire in the dining room. I therefore dressed up for dinner and was less than impressed on the first evening at having to join a scrummage to get into the restaurant. However, this was a one-off as people were allocated tables: things were less frantic on future days and people didn’t seem to take the dress-code too seriously. The food was undoubtedly superb, as was the service, including having your own sommelier to assist with your wine selection.
The cruise began with two days at sea, allowing us to get our bearings on board ship and settle into the routine. Basically you are confined to a very large, very posh hotel. The day begins with an impressive breakfast buffet and throughout the day there is a feeling of a posh holiday camp with events laid on should you wish to partake.
The first day was mainly spent trying to work out which excursions to take: quite a stressful experience given the cost of them and the fact you didn’t really know when they were essential to get you to where you wanted to be and when they were just unnecessary extras. Eventually though we made our decisions and could relax.
The first full day at sea was capped off by the first formal night in the dining room. I don’t own a tuxedo, so I wore a suit and felt somewhat under-dressed. Before dinner we paid a visit to the Martini Bar, which was to become a regular venue for us during the cruise and the cause of most of our expense for the trip!
There were a number of bars on board and I think we managed to frequent most of them at some time, although the Martini Bar was our favourite, mainly because it was the most entertaining with the cocktail acrobatics behind the bar. There was also entertainment every evening either in the Theatre, which we only bothered with a couple of times, or a group in the bar – the most regular of which was a covers band called Top Notch, who we were somewhat sceptical about initially, but came to almost enjoy by the end of the trip.
Of course life on board was punctuated by on-shore excursions – about which I will give more detail in future blogs – but pretty much every evening was spent on-board as well as the full days at sea. The surroundings were opulent and enjoyable, but I must admit that 12 days was enough.