Celebrity Soltice

Traveling is as much, if not more, about the journey as it is about the destination. 

As travel purists, we are gluttons for punishment.  Instead of spending a relaxing day at the spa, we’re at the Porto train station lost & found office trying to track down the camera bag we had inadvertently left on the train (yes, we did get it back thanks to the honest Portuguese who found it).  Opting out of 5-star hotels, we spend the night in a hostel akin to a jailhouse in Salta, waking up every hour on the hour due to the unbearable heat and humidity, just so that we can experience a hostel stay.  Instead of flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in under an hour and a half, we take the 13-hour overnight sleeper train sleeping on bunks.  Numerous trips involving running with our packs on our backs trying to catch the next train, bus, plane, boat, tuk-tuk etc.  However uncomfortable the experiences, these are ironically the ones we remember the most.  I can give you vague impressions about what we actually saw at our destinations, but I can give you specific details about the journey.

Very rarely do we settle for a relaxing trip – all-inclusive hotel or that rare cruise.  There’s not much in the way of a journey for these types of trips – it involves arriving at a resort/ship, unpacking for the week and zoning out.  On cruises, the destinations become the focus by default because the journey itself is not indelible.  On my first cruise 8 years ago, I remember things I saw in Ephesus, Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes.  However, the time spent on the ship comes up as a complete blank.  I cannot for the life of me tell you what I did/saw while on the ship.

So this time, I made sure I took tons of pictures of the ship in order to jar my memory years from now.

Solstice has 15 floors (there is no 13th floor).  Joe and I stayed in the deck 3 inside stateroom 3172 (i.e., no window or balcony).  The room is much better than the one we had stayed in on the Aquamarine years ago.  Spacious enough and most importantly, clean.

I was initially concerned about the noise, since it was located right next to the Passport bar in the grand foyer where everything seems to happen there, and that it was right underneath the casino.  However, my fears were unfounded, because there is a set of heavy doors separating the corridor and the grand foyer, and as long as they close the set of doors at night you can hear absolutely nothing even though there’s a 80’s sing along going on at 11PM.  As for the overhead noise, there was none at all since the casino floor is carpeted.

Here are some shots of the grand foyer and its surroundings…

Here’s the casino…

Above the odd number cabins on deck 3 is the shopping alley.  Can’t say for sure if there were any issues with noise in those cabins.

Bars and lounges…

Quasar disco…

Specialty dining…

Blu for Aqua guests…

Luminae for suite guests…

Grand Epernay – main dining room for everyone else…

Ocean View Café – if you’re in a rush and just want to grab a quick bite, or if you just want to stuff yourself with buffet food.

The following are my favorite places on the ship – Café Al Bacio, Library, and the gym.

Café Al Bacio had the best cheesecakes, and all desserts (not drinks) were free.

The library was a cozy place to be.  In case you forgot to bring a book you could probably find something here to help pass time on the ship.

The gym was pretty well equipped – bosu balls, exercise balls, medicine balls, free weights up to 75lbs, weight machines, treadmills, elliptical, rowing machines.

 

The suspended tree, in between the banks of elevators, over the grand foyer was pretty amazing as well.

Here’s a view of the atrium at night…

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On the upper decks are the outdoor pool,

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solarium…

Lawn Club…

Stairs on the ship…

Some miscellaneous shots around the ship…

My impression of Celebrity Solstice is that it’s a very elegant ship.  There was nothing there to assault the senses, and I enjoyed walking around the ship and discovering all the little nooks and crannies.

 

Embarkation Day

We flew into Seattle the night before embarkation, just to make sure that we wouldn’t miss the ship in case of any flight delays.  Checked into the Paramount Hotel, which I would consider a boutique hotel, close to midnight.  This is a very basic accommodation, and good enough for an overnight stay.  It’s a couple blocks away from the Link Station and the monorail making it a convenient location.

Since we had a few hours to kill the next morning before embarkation, we decided to take the monorail to the Chihuly Glass & Garden located right next to the Seattle Space Needle.

Entry fee into the exhibit is normally $29 per person, but it’s $10 off per ticket before 10AM, so we made sure we got there early.  The exhibit is pretty amazing, and the man is talented.

Here are some of his indoor pieces…

This one is my personal favorite…

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Before the Alaska trip I opted to purchase a wide angle lens thinking that I would need one for the expansive Alaskan scenery.  However, several cruise critic members stated that it wasn’t necessary, and that a zoom lens was what was needed.  I still brought my wide angle lens, because it is the perfect lens for indoor close up shots (like the one above) to get everything into the frame.  I later found out that a wide angle lens is still needed while in Alaska, as all my tour guides told me that so many people have difficulty fitting everything into their shots.

Here are the glass pieces in the garden…

We saw a few pieces in the gift shop we were tempted to purchase, but alas we didn’t…

We got back to the hotel to check out, and hailed a cab to Pier 91.  I had wanted to get to the pier at 1PM to avoid the crowd, but ended up getting there an hour earlier.  It took us about 45 minutes from curbside to topside, and we soon settled in in the Ocean View Café for lunch.

 

Packing for Alaska Cruise

Joe and I are light packers.  After years of traveling, we’ve long ditched hard shell and large, wheeled luggage.  We’ve learned that soft-shell packs are the best way to travel.

  1. You’ll always have your packs with you, and never risk losing them through airline mishandling.
  2. It’s lighter.
  3. It’s expandable, so you can shove more if needed – although you always want to pack as little as possible.
  4. You can throw it on your back, free up your hands, and run for that train.
  5. Cobble stone roads are never an issue.
  6. You can bring it to Venice, as opposed to your wheeled luggage.

When it comes to packing, less is more.  Pack the essentials.  Let clothing do double duty.  The last thing you want is to be bogged down by ‘things’ when you’re traveling.  We’re often met by surprise when porters or drivers see us, “That’s all you have?” or “Where are your luggage?”

Alaska cruise requires packing for temps ranging from 30-80 degrees (making layering important), rain gear, and dresses for formal nights on the ship.  It’s a little more than what we’re used to, but it’s doable.

Important things to know are to let clothing do double duty and to get clothing that is compact.  Compact gear tends to be a little pricier, but it’s worth the luggage space.

Sometimes it’s easier for women because we’re smaller and our clothes are smaller, lighter, and take up less space.

Clothes

From top left: skirt, sleepwear, light sweater, down jacket, rain jacket

From middle left: gyms clothes for the 2 sea days, hiking pants that zip off to convert into shorts if needed, tights (to be worn under the hiking pants if it gets cold), 8 days of short sleeves, sandals for dinner on the ship.

From bottom left: 9 days of underwear and socks (I will usually pack an extra for these as you never know), gloves, hat, clutch for dinner, and hiking boots with wool socks

On the bottom: 4 dresses for dinner.

A few items are doing double duty: one of the white Ts will be paired up with the skirt for one of the dinners and will be worn again the next day.  The blue Ts may be worn as gym shirts if I choose to exercise additional days.  Since the gyms shorts are made of quick dry material, I can always wash them the night before use.

My favorite item (other than my SW sandals) is the down jacket.

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Down jacket

Because it can be packed into this…

 

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Compact down jacket

Roll up all the shirts and dresses – placing the easily wrinkled dresses on the outside before rolling everything up.

Throw in the toiletries, and I’m ready to run for that ship…

Pack
This pack has served me well for the last 7 years traveling across 5 continents.
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and of course the camera pack.

There are 2 other people I know who pack even lighter than we do – sister and BIL.  They travel with their regular sized back packs for a weeklong to 2-week vacation.  Now that’s what I call extreme packing.

Alaska Pre-Cruise

I am not a cruise person.  Joe enjoys cruising, but in the 16 years we’ve been together, we’ve only gone on one cruise – the Greek isles with mom, dad, sister & BIL.  At the time when we booked the cruise, it was mostly out of concern for mom.  Mom being sedentary in nature – and even more so after her stroke 20 years ago, we decided to take an easy family vacation.

Vicky always took mom and dad on vacations that were jammed packed with walking tours, museums, and sight seeing.  By the end of the trip, mom was always complaining about how tiring it was.  I, on the other hand, was always a  bit more accommodating with her wishes – all-inclusive beach resort vacations, which is not always appreciated by the more ‘cultured’ in the group.  So a Greek cruise was a compromise – see Athens, and then relax on a cruise to go island hopping.

That was 8 years ago.  In the last 8 years, I have never contemplated booking another cruise, as I prefer land touring and spending more than a few hours in one location – usually a week in one city, town, or locale to really get a feel of the place.  Plus, that Greek cruise ship we were on was “70’s” old, small, and claustrophobic that I couldn’t wait to get off.

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Mom in the foreground of the Aquamarine @ Mykonos.

With that said, cruises are a good way to visit several different cities/towns in different countries in a short span of time.  It gives you a taste of everything – kind of like ordering tapas as opposed to sitting down for a 5-course meal.

Cruising also means crowds. I don’t like crowds.

After returning from my CME in Maui last year, Joe wondered if we could go on an Alaskan cruise for CME meetings since he wanted to check out Alaska.  I wasn’t too keen on either Alaska or cruising so I gave him a non-committal answer, “sure if you can find one” thinking those surely don’t exist as CME meetings are usually on land.  Oh, how wrong I was.  There are tons of CME conferences held on cruise ships, and they go anywhere in the world – Caribbean, Mediterranean, Baltic, Japan, Australia, Cuba, and of course Alaska.

I wouldn’t necessarily consider cruising for a regular vacation, but a CME cruise would be acceptable, as I would be in conference for 8 hours a day during sea days- this will guarantee that I’ll never get bored while on the ship, and I can explore on port days.

To hold up my end of the promise, I started looking for Alaska CME cruises.  Most important criteria are the CME topic and timing.  The earliest we can go is late August/early September as we had just returned from Africa in May, and Joe had just started his new job the beginning of the year – it would be poor form to go on 2 vacations within 6 months of starting work.  There was one great topic on dermatology, but that set sail in June.  I found 2 for late summer – WH which sails later, and ID earlier.  At first I opted for the later sail date, but when Joe got the OK for ‘any time’ I decided to go with the ID sail date since it’s a better topic.  The WH conference is on Royal Caribbean (RCI), and the ID on Celebrity Solstice (X).  Not knowing anything about alphabet cruises I realized that we lucked out with Celebrity Solstice as it was actually a better ship for us.  After some researching, I found out that RCI is geared more toward family with children, whereas X has a more mature demographic.  I don’t have anything against children, I just place a higher premium on tranquility.

After more research into shore excursions I am finally getting excited about Alaska (notice how I said ‘getting excited about Alaska’, not the cruise).

Botswana – Day Six

Today was our last day in Africa.  We were set to leave Stanley’s Camp at noon to catch a light weight craft to Maun.  One couple in our group had to leave earlier, and another couple decided that they wanted to take the morning off, so it was just Joe, myself, and Ice getting up at 6AM for one last morning game drive.

Ice asked if there were any special requests, and I insinuated that it would be nice to see some lions – preferably non sleeping lions.

He swung by the leopard den for good measure, but there was nothing to see.

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A lion track!

Ice saw the print and started tracking.  It was exciting, but I knew to temper my hopes and just enjoy the setting.

We were lucky enough to spot 2 owls, which are usually hard to see during day light.

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African Barred owlet
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Verreaux’s Eagle-owl with its light pink upper eyelids.

And of course the usual suspects.

We ended upon a herd of about 200 cape buffalos…

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The rare buffalo with the white markings.

We were hoping to see the lion hunt down one of the buffalos as the lion tracks were in the vicinity, but all we saw was this little fella scaring the buffalos away.

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The buffalo must have mistaken him for a mini lion.
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I can see how it can be mistaken for a lion.

Ice must have been pretty sure that there were no lions around, because he stopped to setup our mid morning tea with the buffalos in the background.

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Even though we didn’t get to see any lions, we were very satisfied.

It was hard to finally leave camp and say my goodbyes.  This was one of the two trips in my life I wished would never end – the other being Moorea.  However, this trip is a thousand times better than the Moorea trip, and I know for sure that there will be no other trip that will ever top this one.  It’s all downhill from here on out…

We said our final goodbyes to Ice before boarding an even tinier plane for our 10-minute flight to Maun.

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A sign at the Maun airport – they mean business.

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Can’t wait to go back to this beautiful country and wonderful people…