When fantasy meets reality: another side of cruise ships

Caroline, Celebrity Solstice Hotel Manager Sue Richardson, and me on Deck 15.  Yes, that's actual lawn!
If you haven't been on a cruise ship, your perception may be tainted by watching that hit television show from the 1970s and 80s, "The Love Boat." That show taught us that you'll always be able to sit at the captain's table, there is no wind on the top deck in the evenings so your hair won't get mussed, and there is only 1 bartender.

The reality is that I never ran into a person who ate at the captain's table (is there one?), any conversation on the top deck with the ship traveling at 20 knots will have your hair whipping over your face and you'll be yelling at your partner to be heard, and bartenders are a dime a dozen (but still appreciated).

A cruise ship is a small city, and 3/4 of the people are all living in the same hotel (the other 1/4 are crew, and live on the lower decks).  Depending on what you've reserved (a room versus a suite, a window versus a balcony), it's a hotel life. Attendants make your bed and change your towels, space is at a premium, there's a small safe in your closet, and the mini-bar has a few drinks and snacks for you to buy.  Oh, and there are way too many older men wearing Speedos around the pools.

Our last cruise on the Celebrity Solstice had us move to a new room just down the hall.  We had just finished 3 consecutive cruises in the same room, but we weren't able to keep that room for this 4th trip.  No worries... it was just down the hall, and the room attendants would move our suitcases and clothes for us.  As with all cruises, we were required to disembark (in Sydney, Australia), and we wandered around the Royal Botanic Gardens, had a cappuccino, and discovered a very friendly white ibis who was sure there were insects and snails in my shoe.

We said goodbye to Sydney (we love this city!) and returned to the Solstice.  Caroline was going to work on this cruise, so she had to embark in the crew area, while I went through the guest embarkation process.  As I stood in line to get my SeaPass card (your room key and charge card for the cruise), I was given a card that was a lighter blue in color than my old one.  But what stood out was the word "AquaClass." "Whoa, it's an upgrade!," I thought. There are perks in AquaClass like speciality restaurants, access to the Persian Garden and Relaxation Room, and a "fog-free mirror" (remember your hotel experiences?).  They took my photo to pair with my card, and sent me over to the elevator to board the ship.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself, but as I was waiting for the elevator, I noticed that the name on the card was "Robert Schmitt."  I'm "Schmidt."  Danger, Will Robinson!  So, I walked back, explained that there may have been an error and, yes, I did have the key (and charge card) to the wrong room.  The not-so-funny end of this story was that for 3-4 days afterwards, we would receive many voice messages for "Schmitt" on OUR phone, mostly enquiring about his very private medical conditions.  After Caroline called both Customer Relations and the person leaving the calls, the messages eventually stopped. 

If only the saga stopped with the wrong SeaPass card!

We walked into our stateroom, and immediately noticed mold in the shower, and broken or stained furniture.  We called Customer Relations at once.  Should we unpack our stuff, or should we keep it in the suitcase so it is out of the way for repairs?  "We will respond to it tonight", we were told.  Great!  We went out to dinner and evening activities.  When we returned, nothing.  The next day, we called again... "Sorry, we have no record that you called about your room."  What the... ?  By evening, no change.  We happened to see the incredibly friendly hotel director, Sue Richardson,  just before dinner, who asked us very sincerely how things were going.  We paused in our response... after all, she was the hotel director, responsible for big picture things.  But she noticed our hesitation and asked for more details.  So we showed her the photos of the room.  "Unacceptable," she said.  She was on the phone instantly.  We didn't hear the conversation, but she turned to us and said, "We will make this right."

Broken runners on drawers, which couldn't close.

Mold in shower.

Although this shower vent was groady, what I noticed immediately was that it was very loose.  A similar vent in another room actually fell off and hit me in the face.

The closet doors "shrieked" when opened, because they were slipping off their runners.  These are the wear patterns on the bottom of the closet.

Tears on leather couch.

I'm not sure what this stain was on the couch, but it had a definite "butt shape."

Well, we returned to our room in the evening to find the mold (mostly) cleaned off, the drawer repaired, and the closet door repaired.  The stain and tears on the couch were still there, as well as the mismatched sofa cushions (didn't notice the first day... was one changed?). 

Later, someone from Customer Relations asked us how things were.  Remember, this was day 2.  We had the stress of having to deal with an unsatisfactory room and being totally ignored on the first day.  So we said, "The best we can say is that the room is now just below average."  Well, that's not the ideal situation for a 19 day cruise.  We asked if there was an alternative room.  Later, we were asked if we would look at another room in the same class.  We did (with Customer Relations junior officer Denis), and found the room better, but seeing how this was now day 3, we said we had put all the energy we wanted to into the room issue, and the new room wasn't worth packing and moving for.  We said "thanks, but no thanks."  I think Denis noticed how emotionally draining it was for us... day 3!  He asked if he could keep looking into our case.  Less than 30 minutes later, he contacted us and let us know there was a room with a balcony available, and could we go with him and look at it?  Well, it was a very nice room (later we learned about its proximity to the noise from the smoking section in the deck below, and that it was the room that was utilized for parts when needed), and it would be appreciated.  We moved the next morning.  Thanks Denis!

But for 3 days, we were feeling embarrassed, ignored, and... trivialized?  How could we get put in a room in that condition in the first place?  Why was our call to Customer Relations on day 1 ignored?  Then no repairs or response on day 2, until only by chance we spoke to the Hotel Director?  Then to think that our room was full of cleaners and mechanics fixing things, followed by being asked if it now meets our satisfaction, with the sofa in the condition noted.  Below average at best. 

The Solstice made us feel ignored and unwelcome.  That hung over us for 3 days.  That was the memorable part of this cruise, and it was not the memory we wanted. 

There were a few other things.  The "hairball" in the stewed mushrooms during breakfast, with no follow-through when I brought it to the attention of 2 shift supervisors.

For obvious reasons, this turned my stomach!  Found in the stewed mushrooms in the Oceanside Cafe.  You have to wonder... 

I met a man without legs whose luggage didn't arrive (the airline's fault, not the cruise company).  This was on day 2, and he was still wearing the clothes he arrived in, and was hoping his luggage would arrive when we docked in New Zealand.  He was an XL, otherwise I would given him a couple of my shirts.  It was really a terrible situation for a legless man to not have a change of clothes.  It's not like it was easy for him to roam the clothing shops on the ship (which may not have been open that first day).  I stopped by Customer Relations and shared the legless man’s predicament.  Could the Solstice perhaps donate a tee shirt?  Blank look with smile.  "Thank you for the information."  Nothing written down as I'm talking.  Christ, can you at least pretend that you have some compassion?

Later, we had another interaction with Customer Relations that gave us the wrong information.  And in another interesting situation, servers, supervisors, and even the executive chef in the Oceanside Cafe promised to get us some information about the ingredients of refried beans (do they contain lard or not?), and it never happened.  Finally, we went to play table tennis twice to find that the tables were being put away for a special, private event to occur.  I expected ship activities to be predictable... shows, dining times, the spa and gym, the pool hours, and more.  When I make a date with my spouse to play table tennis at a certain time between 10 and 3 when it is usually available, I expect it to be available.

Well, that's my rant.  There were a ton of things I liked about this cruise but, as I mentioned above, the negatives became the narrative.  Who wants to brag about negatives?  Celebrity Solstice, I was wincing way too much on this cruise.

A view of the central atrium of the Celebrity Solstice.  In the evening, there was music and dancing on Deck 3 (bottom of photo).  The glass elevators looked down on this area and, yes, that is a living ficus tree in the middle of the ship.  When the waves are rough, you noticed the tree swaying back and forth, back and forth...


  1. Oh this is too bad. We did the Honolulu to Sydney cruise a few years ago and LOVED the beautiful Solstice. Such a shame they let it get run down. And that hair ball......uggh !!


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