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December 17, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Celebrity Solstice Cruise

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Ahoy there, mates! Iíve never really been much of a cruise guy Ö which is why I guess my name isnít Johnny Ship. Prior to this trip, Iíd been on two (count íem, two) cruises in my whole life. They were both long weekend bachelor party cruises on Carnival (to Mexico out of Los Angeles). I was even apprehensive about those and they were with 30 of my closest friends who were up to nothing but mischief. Those days are long gone (sure, they are Johnny; keep telling yourself that!) and almost 10 years have passed since I stepped aboard a cruise ship. FYI: I did take an 18-hour Irish passenger ferry to France, but I donít think that counts. Do you?

My cruise fears are probably similar to yours (if you have them). The vision of being trapped on a rocking ship in small quarters for days on end with people you donít know or want to, sitting at the same table and eating a never-ending amount of buffet food similar to Sizzler is bad enough. On top of that, potentially being seasick out of your mind and not being able to feed your Internet addiction and stay connected unless you pay an unseemly amount of money, is enough to keep my feet on the ground. Well, after this Celebrity Solstice cruise, Iím happy to report that the two nights I spent on a special preview cruise was way too short and I didnít want to get off the plush ship. Seriously.

In case you havenít heard, Celebrity is upping the bar on luxury cruises and Solstice is their newest ship. It can hold up to 2,850 passengers and 1,255 crew, who are from all over the world. I arrived at Port Everglades, which is near Fort Lauderdale Airport (FLL) with my friend Natalie, my dad and his wife. Passengers were invited to board after 11am and we got on around noon, even though the ship didnít depart until early evening. TIP: If youíre traveling from out of town, itís always a good idea to fly in a day before your cruise departs, just in case there are flight delays, cancellations or anything else that might hold you up. Last week, I wrote about how weíd spent the night at the swanky Il Lugano Hotel and from there, it was a 25-minute, $29 taxi ride to the port. But there are plenty of other hotels that are much cheaper and are just around the corner from both the port and FLL. NOTE: When entering the port, be sure to have your ID ready to make the line move faster; everyone in the car needs to show theirs.

Since this was a special two-day cruise, there werenít any porters around curbside. Most of the passengers were industry folks and seasoned travelers who flew in only for the weekend so when they saw us pull up like the Beverly Hillbillies, we turned a lot of heads. We each had two bags Ė but we had good excuses! This was the first stop of my around-the-world trip and my dad was moving to Florida for the winter and didnít ship all his bags ahead of him, as Iíd suggested. Checking in was still easy since we had rollers. To get into the massive check-in hall, we had to show our IDs and cruise documents before going through the airport-like security. Then we walked a good distance to the actual check-in by one of the army of agents to get our room keys, which acted as our ID and charge card.

There was one more document check; it was similar to getting on a plane but instead of walking down a dark ramp it was the complete opposite. To get on the ship required a long walk up a beautiful, enclosed glass ramp. The whole time, my eyes were fixed on this $750 million, 122,000-ton mammoth ship, which made my heart begin to beat faster with excitement. The moment I stepped on one of the 13 guest decks, I realized whatever amount of time anyone books on this cruise, it wouldnít be enough. Itís the same feeling as when you get a new car.

Upon arrival, guests are greeted with a welcome drink (Champagne or O.J.) and porter assistance if needed. The entrance is near the center of the ship, which is jaw-droppingly impressive. It has a glorious atrium with eight glass elevators facing each other (four on each side), taking passengers quietly up and down the 15 stories. There are other elevators as well as two separate sets of stairs. Near the main lobby there always seemed to be live entertainment. Whenever I passed by, I admired the performers, especially the beautiful eastern European violinists, who filled the air not only with their music but with their elegance as well. Throughout the ship, there was tasteful live musical entertainment.

As the elevator whisked me to my floor, I looked out through the glass elevator walls at each floor that went by in amazement. I couldnít believe they had a library, a card room (with a slew of Scrabble boards) and a media center (with computers and high-speed Internet). Ding! Iíd reached my home on the seventh floor, which was deemed Team Earth and was dedicated to the planet. In addition to the gigantic illuminated globe, which I just wanted to jump on, there were digital touch-screen displays that showed brilliant nature photography, museum-quality exhibits and educated guests on how they can help to save the planet. Of course, it also showed off Solsticeís own eco-friendly efforts.

I was pleased to learn that Celebrity Solstice is the first cruise ship to use solar power. They have 216 solar panels throughout the ship and the energy it collects is enough to operate 7,000 of the vesselís 25,000 energy efficient LED lights. Additionally, Solstice has a unique hull design and coating to make the ship more fluid dynamic (this means less fuel consumption and carbon emissions). They have recycling bins throughout the ship and each room has high-glazed glass windows, which reduces heat transfer and filters out 99.9 percent of UV rays. The most impressive feature is that it has an advanced wastewater purification (AWP) system; this means that they can treat all wastewater to almost drinking-water quality before discharging it into the ocean. They say it costs $100 million to install on all of their 10 ships (something theyíre still in the process of doing) and that it has no real financial return, but they do it to minimize their environmental footprint.

FYI: You donít get lost since there are large lighted map displays all around the ship, especially by the elevators, to point out exactly where you are.

I warned my gang well in advance to be prepared for how small the rooms would be. I told them not to be shocked when they found just one little porthole to peek out of, since that was what Iíd experienced in the past. Well, you should have seen their joyful expressions (and mine, too!) when we opened our room doors to find a generously sized room with, not only a floor-to-ceiling window but also a sliding glass door onto a private balcony. Thatís right Ė a balcony! And we werenít in a special room, either. In fact, there are 1,426 staterooms; 85% of them have verandas and 90% of all rooms have an ocean view! The decks have two chairs and a table and the room was absolutely perfect. Queen-sized bed, pullout sofa, a small working desk, mini-fridge, 32-inch flat screen TV with all kinds of channels (CNN, ESPN, Cartoon Network, Travel Destination Network, Gulliverís Travel) and live GPS tracking -- like on a plane and it gives speed and wind. The TV is powered by Nanonation CommandPoint software and it also allows guests to check email, book services, excursions, preview menus, order room service or even checkout and purchase photos. It even offers a variety of free on-demand movies, music and several pay-per-view options, too. But who had time to play around with the TV when there were all kinds of things to do on the ship? Pas moi!

Before running out to the pool, I have to finish telling you about the room. Thereís only one closet and itís not that big so donít bring a lot of clothes. There are hangers and two waffle cotton robes. I didnít realize until later that the other main storage area is under the bed; Iím not sure why I didnít think of it while I was on the ship because I use the space under my bed at home for my suitcases, too. Duh! I did notice the life preservers are kept down there, which passengers need to put on for the mandatory muster drill; every cruise has one.

TIP: In the event of a real emergency, you should have your medications and warm clothes ready to go.

Of course, I canít forget about the bathroom. That too was much larger and nicer than Iíd anticipated. It featured a beautiful mosaic-like tile above the sink, the water pressure was solid and the shower was large enough it could probably fit two people. I was told that a panel of five women, all from different travel backgrounds, helped design the room Ė hence the footrests in the showers for women to shave their legs. Why donít they put me on a panel? I have tons of ideas! I just canít think of them right now.

Since the ship winters in the Americas and summers in Europe, there are outlets for both types of electrical adapters. However, the room does lack multiple outlets so be sure to bring a power strip; I use Belkinís Mini Surge Protector.

My first complaint was that I couldnít get the wireless Internet to work in the room. Turns out, I wasnít the only one; itís one of the problems they were facing and we were sort of guinea pigs, going out on one of the first sailings. This sailing, in fact, was for the shipís naming, a ceremony attended by all the big wigs like the CEO and the shipís Godmother, Professor Sharon Smith. Sheís the first-ever scientist to serve as Godmother of a cruise ship and sheís traveled the world on research expeditions investigating ecosystems. Sheís also a cancer survivor. Hereís some more information about her.

Back to the Internet Ö When the Internet is working, Celebrity charges anywhere between 38 and 65 cents a minute for Wi-Fi depending on if you buy an Internet package deal or not. Each room has a keyboard so you can access the Internet from your TV, or use your laptop all around the ship or use a dedicated computer in the media center. Itís not that cheap but at least they offer it. And, Iíve been convinced itíll be up and fully running by the time you read this.

Since Iím on a rant I may as well throw all my complaints out there. There are no speakers in the cabin showers so when the cruise director makes an announcement and youíre washing up, you come out clueless. It might be best not to shower two at a time just for that reason! The last night, I called down to the front desk to get some information and the phone just kept ringing and ringing. At least the airlines placate you by having an automated operator answer even though they keep you on hold with false hope, listening to bad music. But Iíll bet theyíve fixed that problem, too. I did hear my neighborís high-powered toilet flush once in a while and heard some hallway traffic but it wasnít that bad.

There was about a 10-minute period when I felt like we were out on the ocean as it got bumpy. But it was nothing crazy and I didnít see or hear of anyone getting sick. Nor did I see anyone wearing sea-bands, motion sickness patches or taking pills. But if you are prone to motion sickness, it might not be a bad idea to stock up on whatever remedy works for you. TIP: Some people swear by green apples as a remedy for motion- or sea-sickness. If you'd rather avoid drugs like Dramamine, give this natural alternative a try! Natalie wanted me to mention that the rooms donít have irons. Umm, thatís because they are a fire hazard. So if you need to get something pressed, allow ample time when you call the laundry service and remember, itís not free. FYI: Thereís no smoking in-room or on your balcony. I think thatís great but wait until the Europeans find out about it this summer. Theyíre going to go ape!

As I mentioned, thereís so much to do on this ship; from laying out in the sun on one of the comfy lawn chairs, wicker ottomans or hammocks (oh, yeah!) or running around the track (yeah, right!) to working out in the monster gym (I donít think so) or admiring all the original artwork on board. Of course, the pool area is fabulous and a focal point. Thereís an outdoor pool with a several hot tubs and another one in the indoor solarium. Both pools are surrounded by a cool waterfall or fountain, with water that dances and is lit up.

Up top on Deck 15 is the Lawn Club. Get this: it has over a half-acre of real grass with a full-time groundskeeper. People play bocce (lawn bowling), croquet or practice their putting. Itís situated next to the hot glass show, which features live, narrated glassblowing demonstrations provided by glassmakers from The Corning Museum of Glass (thereís also a shop so you can take home a souvenir). Both the glass show and lawn club are cruise industry firsts. Lucky for the Dolphins I didnít see the basketball court until the last day but I did check out the Fun Factory, which is designed for kids ages three to 12. It has arcade games, Wii and most importantly, adult supervision. For those looking for retail therapy, there are 19 shops but since Iím not into shopping, I didnít check them out. Instead, I made B-line for the casino. My dad, who loves casinos, said it was one of the nicest ones heís ever seen. Iím not sure about that but it is definitely tasteful and it has all the major games to lose your money on, just like Vega$!

The Solstice Theatre is impressive. I was in there first for their naming ceremony, which was unique to say the least. The token champagne bottle (created by the Corning Museum) was tied to a red ribbon and dangled high above the Celebrity Solstice. The other end of the ribbon was brought in by an aerial acrobat (showing off the theatreís capabilities since they have a show similar to Cirque Du Soleil). Once it was cut, we watched on the big screen as the ribbon flew through the ship and the bottle smashed against the shipís funnel.

Later, I watched Ghost Light one of the three shows that were running (the others were Solstice and Pulse). The shows are held in the same theatre as the naming ceremony was. I think this was the first time Iíd seen seatbacks with air conditioning vents. The shows arenít long, the armrests have drink holders and thereís plenty of legroom. Ghost Light was about 45 minutes and it was a celebration of Broadway favorites, past and present. The cast did renditions of smash hits from Hairspray, My Fair Lady, Wicked, Miss Saigon, Rent, West Side Story and a few others I didnít recognize. The cast is talented; they do all three shows and sing, dance and do acrobatics. I missed the comedy show but itís supposedly very funny.

The food is good and there are all kinds of options. There are 10 dining venues, 14 bars and two discos. Each space has its own style and atmosphere. The main dining room is the two-level Grand Epernay, which was designed by Adam Tihany (who designed Le Cirque in New York). I ate there once and it felt like it belonged inside a modern version of the Titanic with its dramatic, two-story glass wine tower. Itís open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the only thing it lacked was a grand staircase.

Most of my meals were in the much more casual Oceanview Cafť and Grill. They had every kind of food station you can imagine: Create your own pasta, salad bars and the usual buffet fare. The desserts were as incredible as the view and part of this cafť stays open all night long for those late night snacks Ė pizza! (Salads and some desserts are also still available.) I tried a specialty crepe from Bistro on Five, which comes with a $5 per person surcharge. Three more restaurants also have surcharges; the highest is $30. Next door to Bistro on Five is Cafť al Bacio & Gelateria, which is an upscale coffeehouse with tasty gelato. Thereís a $3 surcharge here but the ice cream shop upstairs at the Oceanview Cafť is free. Other restaurants include Murano (modern continental cuisine), Blu (for AquaClass guests), Silk Harvest Restaurant (exotic Asian fusion) and Tuscan Grille (Italian flair with steaks)

As you can see, the ship is huge and so magnificent, that you donít even feel like you are on cruise. That is, until you stare out the window and see the amazing view. You should videotape your own expression when you open up those black-out curtains in your room on your very first morning. Itís then that you will be treated to one of the most incredible ocean views ever. Solstice feels more like a five-star Vegas hotel than a boat. Thereís so much to see and do, I didnít have time to do all of it. Next time, Iíll be sure to check out the two-story spa and the fitness center.

One thing I learned is that cruising is an incredible bargain, especially since your room, food and entertainment are included in the price. Check out these Solstice deals and keep in mind: Itís a premium cruise and they charge about 20% more than a regular cruise line. From now until May, she cruises the eastern Caribbean out of Fort Lauderdale and will hit these alternating ports: St. Maarten, San Juan, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, Tortola and Labadee. Prices for a seven-night cruise begin at just $749 per person! Beginning in May, she will transit to Europe to cruise the Eastern Mediterranean and the fares for a 10-night cruise begins at $1,349 per person. Happy sailing!

Here's a four-minute Johnny Jet video of my trip on Celebrity Solstice. We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube.

The trip around the world continues. You wonít want to miss it.

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Celebrity Cruises

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Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Celebrity Solstice


Pulling Into The Port


Solstice Up Close




Going To Check-In




My Dad and Nancy


On Board!


Welcome Drink




Live Music Fills The Air


The Culprits


Never Get Lost


Glass Elevators




Lots of Art


Team Earth Floor


My Room


TV Channels


Order Room Service From The T.V.


Ship's Location








Outdoor Pool


Wicker Ottoman


Indoor Pool


Bocce (Lawn Bowling)






Solstice Theatre


Broadway Show




Grand Epernay








Not A Bad Looking Crew, eh?




  • I am glad you enjoyed your visit and would be interested in knowing if you wrote down the taxi driver's # or cab #. If you have that information along with date, time and pickup area I may be able to identify the driver and submit this incident to the City of Houston Regulatory Affairs. Fares for HOU & IAH are on our website. On another note, one the husband of one of my staff members was staying at the Taj during the attack, but was rescued by special police. Great website and hope you come back to Houston soon. Cathy N. - Houston Airport System

  • Johnny, Glad your back home safe and sound!!! I'm still enjoying your web site! Your pics of the Qantas A380 at LAX were awesome! I emailed them to some friends and they loved them! Happy holidays to you and your family and a happy and healthy 2009! Ken J -

  • First off, I must say that I am looking forward to seeing all your new pictures and stories on from your recent trip! Lindsay B Ė Los Angeles, CA

  • I have been listening to Steve's Podcast for sometime now and getting your newsletter for years. It was great o hear you on his Podcast. You did a great job. Rick seems to be a bit behind the 8 ball when it comes to tech but he is a good guy. Glad you were safe in India. Big Vin - Staten Island, NY

  • Very informative!! Thanks. Carol S - Santa Rosa, CA

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