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Oct 27, 2019- Nov 10, 2019
Celebrity Solstice - Sydney- Auckland, 12 night cruise
ANNUAL LINE DANCERS CRUISE!
I have always loved Celebrity, that being said, this time around, I was a little disappointed. The Hard Sell was in high force! Upgrade your drink package, buy a dining package, I have a deal if you buy this photo package, wine tasting, whiskey tasting, etc. It never really ended, there was always someone trying to sell you something and that's really unfortunate. I smile and walk away with a polite "no, thank you" & they do let it go. But it gets old and you start to get the feeling that these employees rely upon commission for selling these "extras". Will this make me stop sailing Celebrity- no. It's still a Premium line. I tend to book myself with their best perks promotions, so it does end up being pretty much all paid for in advance. For this cruise, we had the Premium drink package, free wi-fi, prepaid gratuities and a $300 ship board credit included when we booked. This is a great deal.
We did buy the dining package on board because we wanted to experience the specialty dining restaurants and they are well worth the small upcharge to experience for sure. We dined at Tuscan Grille twice, Murano and Le Petit Chef. All fabulous dining experiences. They are optional, but on a 12 night cruise, it was very welcomed to change up the dining experience a few nights from the Main Dining Room.
The ship is in very good condition which I was surprised to see. Knowing that she is still a good 18 months out from her revitalization dry dock, I was expecting to see wear and tear. Overall, I did not see that. We did have a snag in our cabin carpet, there was only one elevator not working the entire cruise- small things that did not change our overall opinion of the cruise. In 2021, Solstice will be going through her revitalization and becoming more Edge-like.
Service- this was hit and miss. There were several employees who went above and beyond, but there were also many who seemed to struggle and I'm not sure if they were just new, not happy or just having a bad day. The bartenders at the Passport Bar were basically "order takers", never any interaction or personal interaction/conversation. The Martini Bar on the other hand - all servers and bartenders were super friendly and entertaining, they were conversationalists. Our main dining room team was hit or miss except for our sommelier. The waiter seemed "off" many nights, but I think he was working through not feeling well. The Assistant waitress was new to the main dining room and she tried very hard, but you could tell that she was struggling. We’re pretty easy going & we’re all new at some point in time at something!
Entertainment overall was very good and they offered a good variety. We attended a few shows, but also enjoyed the various options for live music. Towards the beginning of the cruise we were a little apprehensive about the DJ. She seemed to play what she wanted to play and also sang a little too much to the music when she's supposed to be playing the music, not singing. Towards the end of the cruise she got better and we had a few conversations with her, she always did play our requests right away. This cruise in general was pretty "sleepy" at night. Because of the intensive port itinerary, entertainment and music ended early each night, so we ended up retiring early to our room and watching movies/shows on our laptop. All of that being said, we still managed to get a decent amount of dancing in, which is a "win" for us.
We did visit the spa for massages one day and they were very good- just too short! We were only able to book a 50 minute massage and we're used to having 90 minute massages at home. I also visited the salon one night to have my hair washed & blown dried. The hair tech did a wonderful job with my hair. Of course, the prices were high but that's to be expected on a cruise ship.
Overall, it was a good Celebrity experience but I am hoping that the few disappointments mentioned above are a "one off" and not going to be a regular occurance with Celebrity. That being said, we met a couple at our hotel who were on the same cruise, they have been regular Oceania guests and decided to give Celebrity a chance after having an issue with Oceania and they loved it. So everyone's experience is different.
Now for the Itinerary, which in this case I feel is most important.
We flew out of SFO on Air New Zealand to Sydney via Auckland. In our group, we had people confirmed in Business, Premium Economy and regular Economy. I think the only complaints were from those in Business who felt the lay flat beds were too hard. They were. But then we had two people who said they slept like a baby, so it's really all so very subjective. Service and food were wonderful. The Lounge in Auckland was also very nice (open to those in Business and Premium Economy), many food & beverage options and service with a smile. It's a large lounge and very busy.
Immigration in Sydney was relatively easy, our luggage came out right away & our ride was waiting for us! We just took a bit of time assembling 20 people outside of baggage!. I had arranged private mini-bus service for our group and they were wonderful. The two mini-busses were a tight fit for all the people and luggage, but we made it!
We spent our 2 nights pre-cruise at the Marriott Sydney Harbor and the hotel worked very well. Good location, comfortable rooms and hospitable staff. Of course, arriving early in the day meant that our rooms were not available. The bell staff took good care of our bags and once our rooms were available, they delivered our bags to our rooms. We did have access to a day room where we could have gone to freshen up if we wanted to do so. Everyone went their own way. Bill & I had already pre-booked our two day hop on/off ferry ticket to explore around Sydney Harbor, so we headed to the ferry. We had some time to kill, so we walked around the area until our departure time. We decided to get off at Watsons Bay and walk around, have dinner and enjoy the cute little beach town with great views of Sydney.
Once we were done with dinner, we headed back on the ferry to Sydney. We walked to the Sydney Eye which is their tower that provides wonderful views of the city, 360 degrees. By the time we were done with our views, we were "done" & had been in the same clothes for close to 40 hours since leaving SFO. We headed back to our hotel, grabbed a nightcap and went to bed.
Day two, we were up bright and early and headed to the Sydney Harbor Bridge for our Bridge Climb. My husband is deathly afraid of heights, but he agreed to do this with me because he knew I really wanted to do it and it was AMAZING!! Such a great experience by a top notch organization. They really did a great job in preparing you for the climb and giving you the confidence that you would succeed on the climb. We had a great group of 14 people from all around. We met 3 people who would be on the same cruise as us and we saw them every day on the cruise (Kristen, Suzy & Eric from Boston), we even ran into them on a ferry in Auckland after the cruise. We also met a wonderful man from Australia who was climbing the bridge for the first time and he knew Bill was afraid of heights and I was a little apprehensive that the climb might be too fast paced, we chose to "pull up the rear" of the group so we would not hold anyone up and he was always looking back at us to make sure we were OK. It really was not as bad or as physically challenging as I had made it out to be in my head & I was so happy that we got to experience this.
We finished and went for lunch at a local eatery and then decided to grab a nap at our hotel before the evening plans. We were tired! After our nap, we headed to the Opera House for our 5pm tour, fascinating to see & learn about the Opera House and her operations. We then grabbed a quick dinner before heading to our play at the Opera House. I don't recall what we saw, but we should have left at intermission because we were having a tough time staying awake. Jet Lag is real! We couldn't wait to get back to our hotel and go to sleep!
Day three- Cruise day! We had a ride arranged to pick us up at the hotel and take us to the ship. Honestly, if you could wheel your luggage, it's a very easy walk from the Marriott to the cruise terminal-but not many of us could manage that with having more bags than hands! We had 3 minibuses and one trailer which accommodated all of us to the pier. Check-in went smoothly and we were on board by 1230pm.
Day four- day at sea! We had our group dance lessons in the afternoon and the group event staff could not have done any better! We were lucky to have the Sky Lounge for our dance lessons, perfect dance floor with just enough room for our large group of dancers!
Day five- our first port of call- Hobart Tasmania. We did an excursion that took us to a wildlife sanctuary- Bonorong. We were able to see Tasmanian Devils, Koalas, Wombats & Kangaroos. I even got to feed a Kangaroo! Our excursion then took us to Puddleduck Winery for a tasting & that was very nice. We then went to Mount Wellington, the highest peak of Tasmania and had some beautiful vistas.
Days six and seven were both sea days & we had great dance lessons during the afternoon. Day seven was also Halloween and we all dressed up for the Halloween festivities. We didn't stay up too late though because we had an early morning call the next day.
Day eight was our overnight excursion from Milford Sound to Dunedin with an overnight in Queenstown. This was not a cheap excursion, when we booked it was over $1300 per person and we were apprehensive, but also figured we were traveling so far and who knows when we'd get back to New Zealand, We also had friends doing the excursion and we had major fear of missing out. That being said, when we got on board we noticed that the ship was selling the excursion for $850 per person. Fortunately, they honored the current pricing and refunded us the difference, but I wonder how many people didn't notice that the price had gone down. This was an amazing experience. We were ferried off the ship in Milford Sound and then boarded busses that took us through rain forests. We saw waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, beautiful green hills- all of it absolutely breath-taking. We made several stops for photos and bathroom breaks and ended our bus day in Queenstown where we checked into our hotel for the evening. We stayed at the brand new central Ramada and the room was very comfortable & an easy walk to the harbor area. We had about 90 minutes on our own before meeting up with our group to board the TSS Earnslaw Steamship taking us across Lake Wakatipu to Walters Peak for a wonderful BBQ dinner. After dinner, we had a sheep-shearing show along with a demonstration of how dogs herd the sheep. All in all, a great evening!
Sheep Shearing Demo
Day nine, we had an early departure on our bus from Queenstown on our way to Dunedin. We had many stops: Arrowtown to get a taste of an old gold rush town with a visit to their museum which was very interesting with all of the antiques. We visited the Gibbston Valley winery for a wine cave tasting, then a quick stop at the original Bungee Jumping Bridge to watch crazy people jump off the bridge. After our lunch stop, we had a few hours before an ice cream stop and then once we arrived in Dunedin, a city tour before rejoining the ship.
Day ten, we visited the port of Akaroa, NZ. We did a harbor and wildlife cruise where we were taken to see sea caves, dolphins, fur seals, whales and penguins. It was an absolutely gorgeous day on the water and on land. After our harbor cruise, we met up with friends who came over from Christchurch for lunch.
Day eleven, we visited the port of Picton, where we did a wine tasting tour to the Marlborough region of NZ. We visited 3 wineries: Fromm, Forrest & Spy Valley. All three visits were very interesting and informative. The wines were pretty darn good too! It was also another beautiful, sunny day!
Day twelve, another day at sea with dance lessons (our last day of dance lessons) and a wonderful formal night on the ship!
Day thirteen, we visited Tauranga, NZ. Here we participated in an excursion that took us to a local Maori Village. We learned all about the customs and traditions, we participated in the Hongi greeting & were then treated to a fabulous show of Maori song and dance, including the Haka!
Maori Haka Dance
Day fourteen, we were in the Bay of Islands. What a beautiful place. We arrived on a very foggy day, but once the fog lifted we had an amazing day. Here we did an excursion "taste of the bay". We tasted honey, fudge, chocolate, wine, olive oil, avocado oil & stopped at a few vista points.
Day fifteen, the saddest day of any cruise- the day you disembark. However, we still had two days left in Auckland. We stayed at the Four Points by Sheraton Auckland. I had booked a Sky Tower view room, which was lovely- but for whatever reason the Sky Tower was not lit up at night like is normally would be, so much for that great nighttime view! I wish I could say we did something amazing today but breakfast at the hotel didn't agree with me, I was exhausted (think I was coming down with a cold), so I napped all afternoon. We finally got moving, visited our hotel's rooftop Martini Bar- The Churchill for drinks and light bites. They specialize in all sorts of Martinis, their tag line is "Gin with a view". You would pick your Gin, pick your mixer & pick your botanical. Of course, they would give suggestions if you described what tastes you prefer. It was unique & very intriguing! Afterwards we took a walk towards the Sky Tower and had a lovely dinner at Besos Latinos Mexican Restaurant and it was very good. A quick nightcap back at our hotel to check out the nighttime views & early to bed we went!
Day sixteen, we got up early for our 3 hour city tour and then ferry to Waiheke Island for a wine tasting tour. Both were very well done. On our city tour, we saw every corner of Auckland and the surrounding areas. The ferry ride to Waiheke Island was easy and what a cute island full of wineries. We visited Mudbrick, Cable Bay and Te Motu for tastings. We loved Mudbrick for the wine and the view. We then headed back to Auckland where we had dinner on top of the Sky Tower, great food and wonderful views for our last night of the trip.
Day seventeen- well, it was pouring rain, so we slept in, had lunch at the hotel. We then hired a taxi to take me to see the Les Mills headquarters. I've taught Les Mills Body Pump for almost 20 years, Les Mills Body Combat & Body Flow for almost 6 years. Though I would have loved to take a class, the schedules just didn't really work out for our vacation schedule. At least I saw the HQ building and took a selfie with it in the background! Our airport ride picked us up at 330pm, we breezed through security at the Auckland airport, spent some time in the lounge and then boarded our flight to SFO.
It was a wonderful trip, filled with so many great memories. I wish we could have seen more of Australia, but we’ll just have to go back another time for that! Both countries are huge and you could easily spend a month in each country and still not see every part of them! This was truly a bucket list type of trip. As we are getting older, we are putting more importance on seeing places that we've never been before, so we will be exploring more of this great world that we live in over the coming years! This was my lifetime 53rd cruise vacation. My goal was to at some point have my number of cruises be equal to my current age. Well, at the time of travel, it finally happened. From here on out my number of lifetime cruises should exceed my age, hopefully!