Friday, January 29, 2010


Cruise – Day 1, November 30, 2009

The drive down to Civitavecchia from Umbria wasn’t nearly as stressful as the drive to FCO, mainly because we didn’t have to get on the A1 or fight city traffic. Once we left the E45 at Orte, it was just a two lane road. Altho the scenery wasn’t breathtaking, it wasn’t ugly, and we did pass sections of an ancient aqueduct, which was amazing. The wind was blowing hard, and we drove through patches of rain here and there. Once we reached Civitavecchia we immediately saw the ship – hard to miss! – but how to get there wasn’t very clear. In the end we just headed in the general direction of the ship and eventually found the entrance.

Because we were in a private car, not a taxi or shuttle bus, we weren’t allowed to drive up to the check-in point. Of course this was news to us, and worse yet, there was no place to pull over and unload our luggage. On top of that, I had to walk into the restricted area to retrieve a luggage cart and roll it back to the car. Art had to back the car up and try to turn around – there really wasn’t room for that either. I guess people who arrive by private car are in the minority, but still, it would be nice to have a few luggage carts available at the gate.

Once we waved goodbye to Belinda we rolled our luggage to the large tent that was serving as the check-in point. We had to get tags made due to our late booking, and the fact that we were in Italy; personalized tags hadn’t been sent to us in advance. We walked to the next area with our carry-ons and began the check-in process, which was very simple and quick. And then we boarded the ship!

Champagne was handed to us as we boarded, then we headed upstairs to the Oceanview Café for a buffet lunch. The selections were overwhelming, and everything we had was really good, not dried out or tasteless, which is so often the case at buffets. There were many, many different stations, each offering something different – one just for breads, one for cheese (cheddar!!!), salads, meats, veggies, Mexican, oriental, pizza and pasta, fruits and desserts.

We chatted with the other people around us, and met several couples who were back-to-backers – people who had taken the previous cruise on this ship and were now continuing home on this new itinerary. We later found out that originally the ship only had about 70 BTBers, but now there were over 300! I should have asked one of the people what kind of deal they were offered – must have been a good one!

Around one o’clock the announcement came that our cabins were ready and we made our way to deck 10 to search for our cabin. After wandering what seemed like the entire length of the ship, we discovered that we were on the side of the ship with the ODD numbered cabins, and of course ours was an even number. Celebrity Solstice inside cabin 1092Eventually we did find our cabin, and were very pleased. Yes, we would have liked a cabin with a large window, or better yet, a balcony, but we went into this knowing that we could only afford an inside cabin. Although I think the lighting could be better in these inside cabins, generally it didn’t feel cramped, and we actually had enough shelf and hanger space for all our stuff.

The bathroom only had a shower stall, but it was spacious. There was plenty of storage in the bathroom as well, which was a very pleasant surprise, but then, I guess cruise lines have learned some lessons that hotels just don’t seem to get.

We decided to wander around since our luggage hadn’t arrived, and I went to guest services to ask about the extra wine we had packed. The official policy is that you’re only allowed 2 bottles of wine, and any extra is stored for you until the end of the cruise. We were taking wine back to the states both for ourselves and for gifts, but we hadn’t thought to mention that fact when we checked the luggage in. I was told that our luggage, or at least those pieces with wine, would be held, and that we would be contacted. We would then have to remove the excess wine for storage.

As it turned out, when we arrived back at our cabin an hour or so later, there was all our luggage, complete with all the wine! I guess these things are just hit and miss!

We took an introductory tour of both the ship itself and the specialty restaurants. I don’t know when cruise lines added this feature, but now, for an additional $25 (per person!) you can make a reservation in one of several ‘specialty’ restaurants. Each one has a specific theme – Asian, Tuscan steakhouse, etc. and all are relatively small. The service is supposed to be impeccable and I’m sure it is, and of course the food is supposed to be over the top, but really, I can’t imagine paying EXTRA for something I’ve already paid for – and although I’m no food expert, I think the meals in the ‘regular’ dining room are pretty good, as is the service.

Although our plan was to really explore the ship on day two, we still had plenty of time to wander around and check out some of the bars, lounges and public spaces. There was a 2 story library, a computer room, card room complete with board games, an art gallery, casino, and of course plenty of high end shops. The spa and gym area offered every possible way to physically better yourself – the standard exercise machines like treadmills and free weights, a variety of classes, massages, acupuncture, teeth whitening and beauty services like facials and manicures. Oh – and their very own café, serving, I assume, only very healthy foods.

We had the late seating for dinner, so after unpacking and relaxing, we headed to the main dining room for the 8:30 p.m. seating. We’d requested a table for eight, hoping to meet some of the other guests. Although our table was in a nice quiet location, and we had a window (a moot point since it was dark by 5 p.m.!), our table was a series of 4 small tables arranged in a line, making conversation much more difficult than a round table. On our first night we were only six. One ‘couple’ was a woman with her adult nephew. There were both from Mexico, and both fluent in English, but we really didn’t have much to talk about after exchanging basic information. The other couple chose to sit at the far end of the table, leaving an empty place between us and them, making conversation a little difficult, and making us think that’s probably how they wanted it!

The food was excellent, as was the service. I started off with a caprese salad, then salmon with roasted veggies. Art had mushroom soup, a salad, and an entrée I don’t remember, which he thoroughly enjoyed. He couldn’t resist ordering a slice of cheesecake with raspberries, and I couldn’t resist having a bite or two myself!

On the way out we met the sommelier and signed up for a few of the wine tasting classes that will be held on the days when we’re at sea. We took another stroll around the ship, just wandering and enjoying before heading back to the cabin for a relaxing shower and a good night’s sleep.

The weather in Rome had turned nasty not long after we boarded, and it rained pretty hard, and for quite a while. We were really glad we had arrived early in the day and didn’t have to schlep our luggage across the parking lot in the pouring rain! The wind that had blown all day continued into the night, and once we left Rome at 6 p.m. we were surprised at how much movement there was. Because the ship is so tall the wind really does affect it, even though it’s so large. I was hoping that the movement would rock us to sleep, but Art said he woke up several times due to the movement of the ship. I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to reach Livorno, but knew it wouldn’t be all night. At some point things calmed down and when I woke up the next morning I could tell that the ship had stopped.

There are more photos from the cruise and all the ports we visited on our FLICKR PAGE.

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