Another Friday. Another ship visit.

Resized_20190719_111832Yesterday I (along with my friends above) did my last ship visitation of the summer. Kathleen was supposed to come along with me but after a week of having the grandkids here, I think she was just plain worn out (or we hope not…catching something). Besides the fact that the ship I was touring was one we know VERY well—Celebrity Solstice. We had just finished our recent Ireland/Iceland cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection which is pretty close to a carbon copy of Solstice. My guess is that we have probably spent 3 weeks total on Solstice since we sailed on one of her first voyages back in early 2009 and at least twice since then.

I would have skipped this visit myself (those grandkids wore me out too) but I had both travel agent friends I was driving and more importantly, I had clients that were coming for the visit as well. Celebrity allows us to invite people who might want to try their ships in the future along with us, which is a great idea and something I wish all the cruise lines would do.

We were at the pier and waiting to board by 9:15 (not sure why so early, but we were there). We have a brand new BDM (Business Development Manager) for Celebrity in Washington, who is just starting, so two sales managers (including the person who is in charge of all sales and marketing for the entire western USA) were doing the tour. They split us into two groups and our group was lucky enough to wind up with Elena, one of the Future Cruise salespeople on board. She was great and very receptive to having me show the group some of my favorite parts of the ship as well. I apologized later for “taking over her tour.” and she said it was great to get the viewpoint of a guest and see what was important to someone who had sailed as a passenger.

Since so many of my readers have already been on Solstice or one of her sister ships I am not going to say much more and just add some pics but I do want to add one thing. There was/is a little drama for Solstice as after we left the ship at 3:00, she sailed at 4:00, got halfway up the Puget Sound and lost all power. Got it back within the hour but had to turn around and come back to Seattle to be inspected by the Coast Guard. She was still here last night when we went to bed around 9:00 pm and I just checked on the Marine Traffic Global Ship Finder and she is just now clearing the Straits of Juan de Fuca which puts her about 10 hours behind. That means she left Seattle about 4:00 am.

One thing I forgot to mention, this was the best food of the entire summer for lunch. Got one of my favorite Celebrity dishes for lunch—Moroccan braised short ribs with couscous and apple pie. Just delish. And we got an excellent Malbec to go along with it.

More about this in a future post—the ways the media covers the cruise industry. Something that really ticks me off.

Our experiences of the Solstice depends entirely upon where we are when it occurs. Neither Solstice encompasses everyone. Neither can. The Solstices stand forever opposed, literally at the two poles of our Earth and experiences. —Gary Zukav


This ship is and deserves an Ovation!

Yesterday we got a chance to see a new ship and it was really special for us because two weeks from yesterday, we will be sailing on her…with our grandkids and…their parents. Because of that we were totally into this tour. So far in our travel agent lifetime we have only toured two ships that we hadn’t been on before…or been on their sister ships. But we had never toured or sailed on this class of ship and we were worried that we might not like it. But all is AOK as we were totally impressed with Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.

We boarded around 10:30 and I had an entire list of questions from the folks on our Cruise Critic roll call that needed to be answered. To start with, I want to state that Ovation is in awesome shape. The ship (which is only three years old) looked super, lunch was great and the food was excellent. 

Some general observations:

  • People were boarding at 10:30. That’s pretty early and it also means they got everyone off fairly quickly.
  • The buffet was SLAMMED every time we went by from 11:30 (when it opened) on. If you are cruising on this ship, try and find someplace else to eat when you first get on board. Pizza at Sorrento on Deck 4, Hot dogs at the Seaplex Doghouse on Deck 15, lunch at the Solarium Bistro on Deck 14 (if it isn’t reserved for a private party as it was when we were touring), sandwiches and salads at Cafe 270 on deck 5. One place that was completely empty was the Fish and Ships, a very cool Fish and Chips place on Deck 14. It doesn’t show on the deck plans they were passing out so that may be why it was empty.
  • We were really impressed that all the pools were open, with lifeguards at 11:00 am. Also, we were impressed that for those that have kids, they have life jackets/water wings for kids at both family pools.
  • The staterooms were really, really nice (so nice that I actually used “really, really.”) Lots of storage…much more than on any ship we have sailed on before including our favorite S-Class.
  • The ship was recently converted from serving the Asian market. The changes were fairly minor. They removed a high roller’s casino and turned it into a very nice music venue, they flipped a ramen restaurant and turned it into the aforementioned fish and chips restaurant. There were a few other changes we heard about but you certainly could not tell that they had been made.

If you would like to find out more, I have added captions to the pics below. And I will have a full report on Ovation after we finish our Alaska cruise on August 2.

Photos are below and are best viewed as a slide show. Just click on the first photo and then hit your right or left arrows.

I’ve had all that you could ask for. The fat lady has sung, and there’s a standing Ovation. —Flip Wilson

Joy is a Joy

My last post was all about Cunard and I mentioned we were going to be doing our next visitation on  NCL’s (Norwegian Cruise Line) Joy. So last Saturday we joined three of our fellow agency buddies (Deborah, Ruth and Christa) and headed down to Seattle’s Pier 66 (where we met Candy, another of our team) for a tour of Norwegian’s Joy. We were met by NCL’s Business Development Manager (BDM) Angie West, who runs a great tour plus she’s a bunch of fun. I need to mention for comparisons sake, that Joy can hold up to 4,600+ cruisers and is by far (along with NCL’s Bliss) the largest ship we have ever been aboard. Yet at no time did I feel crowded. There were crowds but it was livable. In the next few months (between now and mid-October) we will visit and sail on two larger ships. That should be interesting.

We were escorted onboard almost immediately upon our arrival and started with a look at the high-end section of the ship, The Haven. After the Haven, where we saw suites and spa staterooms, we went on to visit typical verandah staterooms, outsides and insides. We even saw an unusual stateroom you can only find onboard Joy, a “Concierge Interior” which is almost a suite, but an inside. (See my pics for more about that.) Unlike Cunard where we never saw any accommodations, on Joy we got to see them all before getting about a half an hour by ourselves to take pics of public areas before lunch.

Then it was off to the Taste dining room for some lunch. (Joy has three main dining rooms, Taste, Savor and Manhattan) It was not quite as good as the meal we had on the NCL Bliss last year when we mistakenly were given the entire lunch menu to choose from, but we did have a choice of some pretty decent food. I found it far superior to the Cunard lunch from 10 days before. One highlight (and proof that NCL is pretty darn cool) was that at the end of lunch, our lovely server brought Christa a birthday cake. It turns out that Ruth had just mentioned it to them when we came in and they took it from there. That’s my kind of service. Travel agents on board for lunch get a birthday cake to share—well done NCL Joy.

After lunch we were given total freedom to tour the ship and take pics of everything we wanted…so I did. If you are at all interested, please watch these three sets of photos as a slide show and read the captions. We enjoyed our day a whole bunch and we have two more visitations coming up—one on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas in a week or so and then on Celebrity’s Solstice (a ship we know well) about a week after.

First set of slides are from The Haven, NCL’s ship within a ship. Very high end, very spendy.

The next set of staterooms are a typical verandah, a special Concierge Family Inside stateroom and a handicapped accessible outside. All pretty cool.

The last set is everything I took of the public areas. If you are a ship junkie like we are, you will enjoy them. We have never sailed on NCL but this ship and Bliss have made us want to try them out eventually. They are priced well but if you are going to sail NCL, you need to know up front that much of what they tell you is “free” actually comes with a charge. They are the cruise industry champions of add-on charges. With that said, they do a great job and our many clients who have sailed with them, have had a great time and many have gone back for more cruises.

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it. —Chuck Palahniuk

We found Joy!

Visiting a Queen

This is a little belated but I had to get all the posts from our European trip out before I could cover this. Last Thursday (June 20) we were lucky enough to be able to go north to Vancouver, BC to tour Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. We have never sailed on a Cunard ship and this would be our first chance to go aboard what I consider to be the last outpost of traditional cruising (which I miss). We expected a very beautiful and classy ship and that is exactly what we got (check out my photos to see what I am talking about).

Our journey started on Wednesday when we headed north to Chilliwack to see our best buddies, Bob and Judy. If we are going to B.C., we go to the Wack first. We hadn’t seen Bob and Judy since before our European trip so we had a lot to talk about. Plus, they had found an outstanding new restaurant we wanted to try out. After a great time and a super breakfast, we were off to Surrey, where, to avoid the traffic, we parked our car and jumped on a very crowded Skytrain into Downtown Vancouver.

We arrived before 10:00 (when we needed to board) and the balance of the travel agents who were touring with the Cunard BDM (Business Development Manager) did too. Many of them had come up on a bus from Seattle early that morning. We had the option to do that as well but we would rather have seen Bob and Judy.

When we do ship visitations we usually have to go through the same security that we do when boarding a ship for a cruise. Pretty much what you have to go through to get on an airplane and clear the TSA. Once we were onboard we split into two groups and one went with the BDM and the other (ours) were escorted by the ship’s Future Cruise Salesperson who was a very nice German woman.

Some overall observations.

The Queen Elizabeth is one of three Cunard Ships. She was built in 2010 and her capacity is 2077 with two people in every stateroom and completely full, 2503. I am still not sure where they put them as the ship just does not look that big, either inside or out.

Unlike any other ship visitation we have ever done, we were not allowed to see a single stateroom. No suites, no verandahs, no outsides, no insides. That is just wrong. That’s a huge part of why we want to go onboard—to check out all aspects of the ship to advise clients. Sadly, Cunard chose not to let us see any of the staterooms.

The ship is gorgeous and VERY classically decorated in an Art Deco style. The wood everywhere is gorgeous. Lots of places to sit, relax and enjoy your friends and family. The classic beauty carries on in the crews’ uniforms, the chandeliers, the sconces and so much more. Everything is truly beautiful.

Not only is the ship a classic beauty but it is a much more traditional kind of cruising. Kind of like cruising in the past. There are still real formal nights (you don’t HAVE to dress up except in the dining rooms and the entertainment venues on those nights), a gorgeous ballroom with a full dance band, individual boxes in the theater that you can rent for $50 per show (comes with Champagne and snacks) and just an all around class those who like that kind of cruising will appreciate. They even still have dance hosts on board. If you aren’t familiar with dance hosts, those are single men who are employed by the cruise line to ballroom dance with the single ladies on board. They used to be rather common on many cruise lines (we had a dance host at our table on Celebrity Galaxy in 2005) but most other lines have discontinued them.

I should also add that they do have kind of a class system on board even though they don’t call it that. There are regular guests and then those in the Princess Grille and if you really spend some money, the Queen’s Grille. You eat in a better restaurant, have a different area to relax in and a few other perks.

The one thing we were a little surprised with was lunch. Having just come off Celebrity’s Reflection less than a week before, the lunch we were served was not in the same caliber as any meal we had eaten aboard Reflection. Yes, it was in the dining room and yes, it was fancy and the service as impeccable but the food was beyond bland. It was edible but totally boring. I expected better.

I am going to let you look at the pics to see more and if you have questions, please ask them in the comments and I promise to get back to you.

Summing up

If you love traditional, classical cruising then Cunard is for you! We would sail on the Queen Elizabeth or either of her two sister ships as we like that kind of cruising.

You’re dressed in a tuxedo, you wear a bow tie. A bow tie with a tuxedo is more formal than a straight tie with a tuxedo. —Bill Nye