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Something to Celebrate: Celebrity Solstice
By Hideaways Member Services Manager June Ahmed

My husband Ahmed has a new mantra since coming home from a seven-night cruise aboard the Celebrity Solstice: “Something to celebrate? Think Celebrity Solstice.” That pretty well sums it up for me, too. We celebrated our wedding vow renewal on board, and it was eXciting, eXceptional, and eXtravagant, all rolled into one truly unforgettable cruising experience. (Get it? The X is part of the Celebrity Cruises logo.)

It didn’t take much to convince Ahmed to join me on this cruising adventure. After all, who wouldn’t want to escape a long, harsh New Hampshire winter for a week in the Caribbean? Plus, while I was perusing their website for on-board activities and shore excursions, I discovered they not only perform weddings on the ship, they also do vow-renewal ceremonies. “Hmmm,” I thought, “what better way to make this cruise exceptionally special than to renew our wedding vows on the Solstice? Perfect for a couple of true romantics like us!”

We boarded the ship in Ft. Lauderdale on a Sunday afternoon, and immediately the stress and tension of our everyday lives seemed to melt away. And it only got better! A “Welcome Aboard” party started on the pool deck soon after we left port, complete with a live band playing music that had us all tapping our feet. Several of the ship’s entertainment staff were there to get the party rolling—and that they did!

The next 36 hours were spent at sea as we made our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico.  It was exciting to wander around the ship and marvel at the size of it and how it had everything you could possibly want or need. We loved the enclosed Solarium, for adults only, with its own lap pool and “clamshell” lounge chairs. The atmosphere at night was totally serene, and the colorfully lit and gently splashing water cascade gave it an almost mystical feel.  There’s also a family pool and four hot tubs.

Our spacious stateroom was a pleasant surprise. It had plenty of room for us and all our belongings—and believe me, we do not travel light! Our bathroom was roomy as well, and we had a nice veranda where we enjoyed eating breakfast several mornings. We also enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets we have ever seen from this veranda on the last night of our cruise.

The ship’s boutiques made for some great shopping. Our first stop was to check out their cigar selection. Ahmed found several he liked and added them to the collection he had already brought. We then strolled in and out of many other shops, looking at jewelry (Ahmed is in the jewelry business) and seeing what else is out there. On this sailing, the Solstice had a grand opening for their new perfume boutique, Jasmine. They had drawings for free cologne and other goodies, which was fun.

Our first night at sea, we joined in the Captain’s Welcome Toast. Champagne was handed out as we entered the theater, there was a short performance, and then Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde was introduced. He spoke a little, mentioning that there were 42 countries represented on our sailing by the passengers and 65 by the crew. The toast was just long enough without it dragging on--and a nice way to start our cruise.

Dinner our first night was in the main restaurant, Grand Epernay. We were a little apprehensive about sitting at a table with eight strangers, but imagine our surprise when no one else joined us! The waiter said the table should have been full, but that perhaps everyone else had chosen to eat at one of the four specialty restaurants.

Grand Epernay presented us with enough classic and trendsetting options that often it was hard to decide what to have. By the end of our trip, we concluded that our best meals there had been the seafood risotto and the very flavorful lamb chops. The wait staff was attentive, professional, and friendly, and at the end of the meal they always offered suggestions for what to do the next day if we were going to be in port. Several evenings, I saw waiters performing tricks at tables with young children, and the kids loved the attention.

Of course, no one should leave the Solstice without dining at one of its specialty restaurants. We paid the $35 each for an amazing meal at Murano, which was elegantly laid out with fine china and crystal. Reservations are strongly recommended for all four specialty restaurants; it’s best to make them prior to sailing or shortly after you set sail.

Our first port stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ahmed and I, along with a couple dozen other passengers, had been invited to go to the helicopter pad, at the very front of the ship, to enjoy the views of San Juan as we approached and docked. It was a great vantage point from which to take in the coastal sites and get some great photos.

While in port, we went off by ourselves and wandered around the hilly streets of Old San Juan. The streets are made of brick in this historic section, and horse-drawn carriages are waiting if you want to take a ride. We browsed among the many street vendors selling their handmade wares and stumbled on the street of designer stores--Harry Winston, Burberry, Coach, and Guess, to name a few—located within storefronts kept in the historic fashion, so they blended in with all the other blocks.

After a little shopping, we found a tourist office and looked into doing a zip-line canopy tour. The worker was very helpful and had a driver sent over to pick us up. The driver turned out to be the owner, and we had a great conversation with him on the way to and from the rain forest. We loved our adventure! It was run very professionally, and is one of the many shore excursions you could book right on the cruise ship, which most people do.

On one of our days at sea, Ahmed and I enjoyed a couple’s massage in the AquaSpa—as if being on a cruise wasn’t relaxing enough! We both agreed it was one of the best messages we have had. The masseuses were experienced and did a meticulous job. The room was open yet tranquil, with expansive views of the ocean. We both thought the products they used were wonderful, but be warned—there’s a hard sales push afterward to get you to buy the products, but as good as they were, I thought they were a little pricey. Also note that spa treatments and salon services fill up quickly when the ship is at sea, so be sure to make reservations early.

As we soon found out, the Solstice has something for everyone, from art gallery auctions to global wine tasting tours, so you could only become bored by choice. And their Broadway shows were so well done that we totally forgot we were on a cruise!

Following our second port stop in St. Martin, Ahmed and I prepared for our vow-renewal ceremony. The ship’s event coordinator, Cherry, was exceptionally gracious and seemed excited to be working with us. She even gave us complimentary dry cleaning and pressing for Ahmed’s tuxedo and my dress.

Our wedding-vow renewal was held in Michael’s Club, a warm and inviting lounge with deep, comfortable chairs—the kind of place you would visit at evening’s end to enjoy an after-dinner cordial. It was the quintessential private location for our romantic ceremony, and beautifully decorated just for us. We couldn’t have felt more special if we’d been the royal couple! Captain Gerry Larsson-Fedde joined us, and soon Ahmed and I were saying “I do” once again.

And then the fun began! Brian the bartender didn’t just pop the cork on our bottle of alcohol-free champagne, he slashed the bottle open with an impressive-looking knife. It added a distinctive flair to our momentous occasion. Everyone joined us in a toast, and Brian handed us the cork with the wire and a piece of bottle still attached, as a souvenir. The delicious cake we shared was just like our wedding cake from 14 years ago—vanilla with raspberry filling, butter-cream frosting, and large fondant roses on top. Cherry magically had pieces appear for dessert later that night, and the rest was put in our stateroom to be enjoyed when we liked.        

After the ceremonial events, Valerie, our photographer, took us around the ship for more pictures and made us feel as if we were the only people on board. She knew just which places on the Solstice would translate into truly amazing pictures. We now have an incredible keepsake photo album to cherish as the next 14-plus years go by—and an excuse to sail again on our next anniversary!

May/June 2011

 
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