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Photo Review: Solstice 12 Night Great Barrier Reef Jan 2 2018

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[B][SIZE=2][URL="https://www.portdouglastravel.com/region-guide/things-to-do/great-barrier-reef/agincourt-reef-ribbon-reef.92.html"]Agincourt Reef[/URL] from the air located 40 miles northeast of Port Douglas. Jan 9 2018[/SIZE][/B]

I have been very busy with a new job and so it took me some time to get this review started. For the same reason, going forward there could be a couple of days between posts. However I wanted to get this out before the next Great Barrier Reef (GBR) cruise starts on Mar 30.

My family of 4 (2 parents + 2 adult kids) took this round trip cruise out of Sydney last month. We spent 3 nights in Sydney before the cruise (ringing in 2018) and then did the 12 night GBR itinerary. After the cruise was over we flew back to our home in Chicago.

In doing research for this cruise, it was very difficult to find much information on it because Celebrity only does this itinerary 1-3 times a year (in 10, 11, and 12 night varieties). Therefore I wanted to provide as much information to those people who are booking this wonderful cruise.

So I started by sharing information while on board by posting a [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2580747"]"Live GBR" thread[/URL]. It was mainly geared towards answering questions from this board and providing cruise highlights. This thread will be picture heavy since each one is worth a thousand words as they say. I will be emphasizing our time in Sydney, our shore excursions (in particular our scuba/snorkeling time), our FV cabin, and information that I just couldn't figure out like the tendering process, how much time things took, what day certain events occurred, etc. You will find little information about the entertainment, the bars, the pool, and the specialty restaurants.

Here is my family's cruising profile:

[LIST=1]
[*]This was our 12th Celebrity cruise as a family starting back in 1996 (when our youngest was only 7 months old). My wife and I promised our kids a college education and Elite status on Celebrity by the time they became adults.
[*]For the last few years we have been taking extended cruises around January and we have gone scuba diving on every one of them. Our last cruise was a 15 night South American trip aboard Infinity over the holidays in Dec 2016.
[*]This was our 1st time on Solstice, but not on S-class.
[*]We have been in an S-class FV cabins 3 times prior (all on Eclipse)
[*]This our first time to Australia except for my wife who has been to Melbourne many years ago on business.
[/LIST]

David, Marcia, Katie, and Chris Edited by mahdnc

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[SIZE=2][B]The Grand Epernay is the main dining room aboard Solstice. The two story glass wine tower is visible in the back. Jan 14 2018 [/B][/SIZE]

[B]First Things First: MDR Menus and Celebrity Today[/B]
But before I go on my rambling discourse, here is [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1qfs3NDeJ8ne4y-m4LOhsS-W8WDQ5f2wO"]every issue of Celebrity Today[/URL] and the [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1aVmjQFl0Ykzj-3Nv7MC2-DRvmZtGiPY7"]breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert menus in the Main Dining Room[/URL] (MDR). As far as the menus go, it is not a complete set but most of the dinner menus are there. There is a [URL="https://drive.google.com/file/d/13qmIwRzDlLGcnxy5meyt6MruY0OObokt/view?usp=sharing"]special information bulletin[/URL] in the Celebrity Today link that is worth looking at. Edited by mahdnc

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Oh yay David this is great so far. Look forward to seeing more.

Hope you’re all well and happy.

See you on the high seas again soon.

Debbi ⚓️[emoji925]⚓️[emoji568]


Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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thank you very much for this - that is very helpful as we are also on the 30 March GBR cruise

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[I][B][SIZE=4]"THEY SAY THAT GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN"[/SIZE][/B][/I]

Our flights from Chicago to Sydney were on United with a connection through LAX. We flew in 3 nights in advance of the cruise to give us ample time to adjust from the jet lag and time change. Sydney was (and still is!) 17 hours ahead of Chicago.

To allow for unforeseen delays during the winter, I selected flights where we had a 4 hour layover built into our schedule at LAX:

[B]Flight 592[/B] (757) Departs ORD 4:05pm and Arrives LAX 6:31pm (4.5 hr flight time)
[B]Flight 839[/B] (787) Departs LAX 10:45pm and Arrives SYD 8:50am (15.1 hr flight time)

So this meant that it would take about 24 hours of flight + layover time to get to Sydney. The entire round trip was done in Economy Class although they were award tickets that we got from our frequent flyer miles (thanks to the 100,000 point promotion for opening a Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card x2).

On the day we flew out of Chicago O'Hare, the weather was very cold with snow on the ground from a couple of days prior. When we showed up to the airport, our flight was already showing that it would be 1.5 hrs late.

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[SIZE=2][B]Waiting at the gate for our plane's wings to be de-iced.....[/B][/SIZE]

After boarding the 757 aircraft, we sat at the gate for another 2 hours because we had to wait for our wings to be de-iced. The captain apologetically said that he had no control over when the de-icing truck would take care of our plane. And it's not like any of us passengers were going to vote for skipping it.

Once we were in the air, I quickly determined that we had less than an hour to catch our flight to Sydney. I was a little nervous because I knew that if we missed our connecting flight, we would be forced to fly out the following day. Once we landed, our plane sat on the tarmac for another 45 minutes waiting for our gate. By then, we had been on the plane for over 7 hours.

At this point, I was texting with [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showpost.php?p=50644700&postcount=14"]travelling8[/URL] (Kim) who--along with her family and son's girl friend--was on the same flight to Sydney with us. Their group of 4 had flown in from Montreal. Kim was already seated on the plane and texted me as to my whereabouts. Here is the exchange:

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Thank you, Kim!!!! It is very very nice feeling to know that other CC-ers have your back. By the time our 757 got to the gate, the flight attendants asked that the aisle way be cleared to allow the Sydney bound passengers off first. They also mentioned that those passengers heading to Melbourne were to board our flight to Sydney. As we were waiting for the doors of our plane to open, I was talking to the passengers seated one row ahead of us. Their flight to Singapore had left LAX an hour ago...

The good news for us was that the gate for our plane to Sydney was adjacent to the gate used to get off our plane from Chicago. The door to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner had to be re-opened to let us on board. Once inside we took our seats--a bit frazzled and hungry (we had planned on eating dinner during our 4 hour layover). The 787 has a lot of overhead storage space and we were able to easily find room there to place our carry-on luggage despite being among the last to board. The flight was nearly full but I was lucky to have the seat next to me unoccupied.

This was my very first time on a 787. Despite being in Economy Class, it was a very comfortable, if long, flight. We had plenty of legroom, power receptacles at our seat, personal TVs on the head rest of the seat in front of us, and we received excellent service from the flight crew.

I found it difficult to sleep and only slept for maybe 3 hours during the 15 hour flight. So I ended up watching a ton of movies.

When our plane descended toward Sydney, I had my first view of the city. It was very overcast and not nearly as sunny as I had it in my dreams. But more importantly (and amazingly) all of our checked luggage made it to Sydney despite the fact that we almost missed the plane altogether!

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[SIZE=2][B]Our 787 Dreamliner at Sydney (SYD)[/B][/SIZE]

I did not know it then, but like my air travel plans, some of the other plans I had for our cruise would also be stress tested in the days ahead.

But, we were in Sydney and our vacation had finally begun!

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[SIZE=2][B]My Apple Watch tells me we're in Australia![/B][/SIZE] Edited by mahdnc

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Wow, quite a story! We're flying from MSP to LAX and we've allowed SIX hours before our LAX-SYD flight departs. You never know with our wintry & cold, de-icing-weather in the midwest! Our daughter was just on UA 839 on Tuesday night, as she flew to Sydney to begin her study abroad semester in Australia. She's now moved into her dorm at the University of Newcastle, and we'll meet up with her in Sydney on March 29 to go on the March 30th Solstice cruise together while she's on her 2-week holiday from university. I look forward to the rest of your photos and travel stories, thanks for taking the time to do this!

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Thanks for doing this. Your earlier live review was awesome so really looking forward to this

Sent from my SM-G920I using [URL=http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=76452]Forums mobile app[/URL]

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Thanks so much for posting your story/review - we are considering the GBR cruise and your info will be much appreciated!

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[quote name='jayde43']Oh yay David this is great so far. Look forward to seeing more.

Hope you’re all well and happy.

See you on the high seas again soon.

Debbi ⚓️[emoji925]⚓️[emoji568]


Sent from my iPhone using Forums[/QUOTE]



Hi Debbi,

we hope you guys are doing well also. I meant to ask you whether you did the airplane or helicopter ride at Airlie Beach. If so, how was it?

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I wish we were back at the Martini Bar! What was that martini again?

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[quote name='WeBcruisingMN']Wow, quite a story! We're flying from MSP to LAX and we've allowed SIX hours before our LAX-SYD flight departs. You never know with our wintry & cold, de-icing-weather in the midwest! Our daughter was just on UA 839 on Tuesday night, as she flew to Sydney to begin her study abroad semester in Australia. She's now moved into her dorm at the University of Newcastle, and we'll meet up with her in Sydney on March 29 to go on the March 30th Solstice cruise together while she's on her 2-week holiday from university. I look forward to the rest of your photos and travel stories, thanks for taking the time to do this![/QUOTE]



Your family will have such a nice cruise. I wonder what you're gonna do when Solstice calls on Newcastle ("let's checkout your dorm room!")?

A six hour layover seemed like overkill at the time of booking our flights. It sure looked like a smart move on the day we actually traveled! Here were my choices at the time of booking (we took the itinerary that started at 4:05pm):

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The people in the seats in front of us on our flight to LAX thought that a 3 hr layover was sufficient, but they missed their connections. I felt bad for them despite being distracted with our own problems. I was also amazed at how calm they were (I could learn from them!).

I wonder how many people on our plane were using LAX to catch a trans-Pacific flight. If there were many of them, it was difficult to tell. There was only one person on our flight that obviously had a flight connection issue because he was constantly talking to the flight attendants. And that could have easily been a domestic flight. Edited by mahdnc

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[SIZE=2][B]A view of George Street with its holiday decorations[/B][/SIZE]

[SIZE=4][I][B]"RETAIL THERAPY, THE AUSTRALIAN WAY"[/B][/I][/SIZE]

We spent 3 nights in Sydney before the cruise. Our time there was very unstructured by design to allow my family and I to adjust to the new time zone. My idea of adjustment is to force things with a packed schedule planned way ahead of time. The rest of the family does not feel that way! So the only event in Sydney that was pre-planned before the cruise was watching the New Year's Eve fireworks from the harbor. The rest of it would depend on how my family was feeling.

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[SIZE=2][B]The Sydney Apple Store on George Street. The store had 3 floors.[/B][/SIZE]

After eating a breakfast/lunch at our hotel, the [URL="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g255060-d256659-Reviews-The_Westin_Sydney-Sydney_New_South_Wales.html"]Westin Sydney[/URL], we went to visit the shopping areas. First we walked over to the Sydney Apple Store which is just like the ones in the USA. However our son was going to fly to Cupertino, CA immediately after our cruise to work for Apple as an engineer. And although he is assigned to the iPad team, he took a renewed interest in all their products because of the special employee discounts on laptops, etc. And so, we made our pilgrimage to the Apple Store.

We then used uber to get to a flea market, [URL="https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g255060-d258583-r360471898-Paddy_s_Market-Sydney_New_South_Wales.html"]Paddy's Market[/URL]. For me, it was just ok. I was starting to get really tired from the flight, lack of sleep, jet lag, time zone change, and all the walking around. The lack of air conditioning in the flea market also drained my energy rather quickly.

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[B][SIZE=2]My daughter is checking out the array of water bottles in the Camelback store at the Westfield Sydney.[/SIZE][/B]

We also visited the [URL="https://www.westfield.com.au/sydney"]Westfield Sydney mall[/URL] which is a very short walk from our hotel There is a tremendous food court at the bottom level that included a wide range of food choices (the kids loved the paninis) and free wi-fi. We ended up eating there a total of 3 times for our late breakfast/early lunches as it was much more economical than the restaurants at our hotel.

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[SIZE=2][B]View of Sydney from The Ternary restaurant.[/B][/SIZE]

We ate dinner at [URL="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g255060-d7198800-Reviews-The_Ternary-Sydney_New_South_Wales.html"]The Ternary Restaurant[/URL] which is in the [URL="https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1181-novotel-sydney-on-darling-harbour/index.shtml"]Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour[/URL]. I selected it after doing an internet search from my hotel room for good restaurants with a view of the city. Predictably, most of the ones I found were already booked for the evening, but The Ternary was available. So I made a reservation for our dinner there. The restaurant has outdoor seating but it was closed off because it was pretty cold and windy that evening. The view was fine, food was good, but service was very slow. We ended up having to chase down our waiter several times to get our drink glasses re-filled, etc.

One of the things that I really liked about our visit to Australia was that Apple Pay and other forms of mobile payment was accepted everywhere--restaurants, stores, taxis, food stands, and even vending machines. Being able to pay by tapping my iPhone on a payment terminal was very convenient as I did not have to worry about having enough Australian cash or risk losing my credit card by leaving it at the cash register right before a cruise. So if you haven't already, be sure to put load a credit card in your Apple Pay Wallet and practice using it at the few retailers that use it here in the USA (e.g. Best Buy, McDonalds, etc) because it will come in handy in Australia. And its kind of fun to use. Edited by mahdnc

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[SIZE=4][B][I]"ALTHOUGH WE HAD 4 DAYS OF SCUBA DIVING PLANNED, WE STILL HAD TO SEE THE AQUARIUM"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

For our family, an aquarium is an irresistible draw. Plus on this New Years Eve day, we were looking for something easy to do since we were going to be up late that evening. The aquarium is called [URL="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g255060-d256853-Reviews-Sea_Life_Sydney_Aquarium-Sydney_New_South_Wales.html#photos;geo=255060&detail=256853&ff=301313030&albumViewMode=hero&aggregationId=101&albumid=101&baseMediaId=301313030&thumbnailMinWidth=50&cnt=30&offset=-1&filter=7&autoplay="]Sea Life Sydney Aquarium[/URL]. It is located right on Darling Harbour. It is located next to the Wildlife Sydney Zoo and Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It's almost like a 3 ring circus and their admission tickets tend to be bundled together for sale. We bought tickets for only the aquarium which cost around $42 AUD. We bought them on-line which eliminated the long line we saw at the aquarium to buy tickets.

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[SIZE=2][B]Our kids taking a photo of the dugong swimming by them in the aquarium tunnel.[/B][/SIZE]


The aquarium was ok, it is not very large. If you have kids, they will enjoy it. However I think a few adults will be underwhelmed. The actual building used to house the aquarium is not impressive from a construction standpoint. The air conditioning is very weak and so it was very humid and warm inside. It appeared to be provided by small satellite air conditioners spread out throughout the facility (if so, they needed more).

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[SIZE=2][B]A tour and short boat ride through the penguin exhibit is included in the general admission price. A year earlier, we were sailing around South America aboard Infinity and got to see some penguins in the wild.[/B][/SIZE]


But they had a good collection of fish, sharks, rays, as well as penguins. And they had some animals that I never saw before like sawfish and dugong. There were impressive sections of the aquarium where you were walking through a glass tunnel with fish and sharks swimming around you. And so of course our family enjoyed looking at many of the creatures that we hoped to see during the 4 days we would dive the Great Barrier Reef.

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[SIZE=2][B]The aquarium had sharks and sawfish on display.[/B][/SIZE] Edited by mahdnc

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Nice pictures of Sydney so far! We planned a week in New Zealand before our cruise, so hopefully we'll be close to acclimated to the time zone when we arrive in Sydney for the cruise.
Ha ha....about our plans for the Newcastle port- that is actually what we were thinking (going to view her dorm and the campus @ University of Newcastle) or maybe we can go to some of her favorite places in Newcastle. It may be our only opportunity to see where she is staying for 4 1/2 months.
By the way, I thought it was interesting about the lack of A/C that you mentioned. Our daughter in Newcastle has NO A/C in her dorm, and it's been mid-80's so far, so she just bought a fan for herself at a store. Since we're from a cold climate (especially right now), she is probably more sensitive to the heat than an Aussie student would be.
Congrats to your son on his awesome-sounding job at Apple! I look forward to more photos and touring stories, Thank you! ��

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[SIZE=4][B][I]"WE OPENED 2017 AT CAPE HORN AND WE'RE CLOSING IT IN SYDNEY!"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

We have been lucky, [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=0Bwsk-dPJV5LqVzAxRzFhM3A5Ym8"]We started 2017 aboard Infinity as she was near Cape Horn[/URL]--near the bottom of the world. It was part of her [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2450417"]15 Night South American holiday itinerary[/URL]. And now we were in Sydney to close out the year and ring in 2018.

When I booked this Jan 2 2018 cruise, a huge bonus was that we were going to be in [URL="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_New_Year%27s_Eve"]Sydney to celebrate the new year[/URL]. Sydney was always in the Chicago morning news on New Year's Eve as having celebrated the new year already. We would see news video of the fireworks bursting above the famous Opera House. And now we were going to be there.

The biggest decision was [URL="https://sydneyexpert.com/nye-in-sydney-for-beginners/"]where to watch the Sydney Harbor fireworks show[/URL]. Approximately 1.6 million people descended around the harbor to see the spectacle which traditionally has [URL="https://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/fireworks/"]two fireworks shows--one at 9pm (Family Fireworks) and then one at the start of the new year (Midnight Fireworks)[/URL].

There were many [URL="https://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/vantage-points/"]public gathering areas[/URL] that were free, but you had to get there early to stake out your spot. Other choices included going to a restaurant/bar with a view (and admission charge). Then of course there's the famous Sydney Opera House itself which hosts multiple dining/drinking venues and shows. Finally, there is the option of booking a harbor cruise to watch the pyrotechnics display on a boat from the harbor. The amount of research you could do on this is incredible and even then it is difficult to judge from the internet advertisements how good your view will really be and how crowded the venue will be.

My initial thought was to observe the event for free from one of the public areas that would be within walking distance of our hotel. After all, it's hard to be disappointed when you spend nothing money-wise. But it would mean getting there early to find a good spot which meant that one of our two precious full days in Sydney would be entirely spent on preparing/watching the fireworks. It also meant that we would have to endure the weather during the day (getting wet from the rain or melting under the sun). Then there's dealing with the crowds, restrooms, etc. It wore me out just thinking about it.

Cruise Critic member, travelling8 (Kim), who was on our roll call, [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showpost.php?p=52517785&postcount=146"]looked into various options[/URL] and settled on doing a harbor cruise on the 60 foot Galene. The Galene also participates in a parade of boats (decked out with white rope lights) circling the harbor in between the fireworks. Kim was able to secure a group rate of $ 500 AUD per person including food and drinks and [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showpost.php?p=52742673&postcount=211"]invited people on our roll call[/URL]. Wow, $2000 AUD for my family of 4 and with no Captains Club privileges to go with it! Aww, what the heck I thought to myself--you can't take it (money) with you. So I took a look at the USD to AUD exchange rate ("hey, I'm gettin' a 22% discount"), and I booked our [URL="https://www.sydneyharbourescapes.com.au/boat/nye-cruise-tickets/galene/hire/39064295"]NYE tickets on the Galene[/URL]. NYE planning was done! NYE tickets for the boat rose to $600 AUD per person before selling out which made me feel better....

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[SIZE=2][B][I]A view from Sydney Harbour. The harbour bridge was rigged with special lights and pyrotechnics. Don't worry the bridge deck is not really crooked, it's an imaging artifact from the iPhone's panorama mode. Or as my kids call it, "Dad's shaky hands".[/I][/B][/SIZE]


We boarded the Galene at the Kings Street Wharf at about 7:00 pm. Of course we anxiously waited for night fall. Before the first set of fireworks began, we started meeting the other people on the boat (well, my wife did. I am a bit introverted). It was a mixture of young and older people. They were all very interesting to talk to. The dress code was smart casual. Surprisingly, there was little in the way of NYE jewelry, hats, noise makers, etc.

One thing that I miscalculated after spending time earlier in the day under the hot sun (or hot clouds, I don't remember now) was that it got cold in the evening at the harbor when you were out on deck. Because of that my daughter had to seek refuge on the 1st deck where it was enclosed. We should have brought jackets with us. Next time.

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[SIZE=2][B][I]Our boat cruised by the Sydney Opera House many times during the evening. From our vantage point, you could see that a lot was going on. The Opera Bar was filled and people were at all levels of the Opera House itself. Outside there was a rock concert going on. Inside there were performances in the concert halls.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


But before going down to the 1st deck, my daughter was the first in our family to notice that the occasional bird that was spotted flying over our heads against the darkened sky were actually bats--the flying mammal variety. And they were large bats--not the kind that could grab small children and fly off with them--but they were bigger than what I was used to seeing once in a while back in the USA. It was pretty cool to see. Sorry, I have no pictures of those guys.


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Our boat settled at a position in the harbor east of the Sydney Harbor Bridge next to Fort Denison. At 9pm the first of the two fireworks displays began to the cheer of the crowd. This fireworks is called the Family Fireworks to allow the kids who don't stay up for the whole thing (it is televised) so they can see something before they go to bed. Here is a video of the f[URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=110CA-OdB22aykvOLZKQ2EXL_vVK3waIF"]inal 13 seconds of the Family Fireworks[/URL].

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[SIZE=2][B][I]Although it was beautiful, the 9PM Family Fireworks lasted for less than 10 minutes.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


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[SIZE=2][B][I]A view of Luna Park as the Galene sailed by her during the Harbour of Light Parade portion of the evening.[/I][/B][/SIZE] Edited by mahdnc

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[SIZE=4][B][I]"IF THE 9 PM FIREWORKS IS CALLED THE FAMILY FIREWORKS, IS THE MIDNIGHT ONE CALLED THE ADULT FIREWORKS?"[/I][/B][/SIZE]


Although brief, the Family Fireworks gave us an idea of things to come with the highly anticipated Midnight Fireworks. The time between the two shows was occupied by the [URL="https://www.sydneynewyearseve.com/harbour-of-light-parade/"]Harbour of Light Parade[/URL]. It is a large flotilla of boats illuminated with rope lighting that sail in a large circle in the harbour. Boats have to apply to join the parade. The Galene was one of them. Boats that participate in the parade are allowed to watch both fireworks shows from inside an [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1QZO4-D-De085DHmGCxQdY9I_QaltPC2W"]exclusion zone[/URL] meant to keep all other boats out (there were lots of police boats out in the harbor to enforce it). The exclusion zone is very large and I guess is intended to prevent an overcrowding of boats in the harbor on an alcohol laden evening. Also there are seven barges loaded with fireworks floating out in the harbor. We were given a nice viewing vantage point inside the exclusion zone right next to Fort Denison. And being one of the smallest boats in the parade, I think we were afforded a front row spot. It is possible that all parade boats were given a front row spot, I just know that our position gave us an unobstructed view.


[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180219/b17cb433a8524ccadfd4d3513be8ae25.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]One of the more beautifully decorated boats participating in the parade. During the event, we got to see all of the other boats in a game of boat envy. There were some very impressive ships; I can only imagine the cost of a ticket to be on them. Cruise Critic member, prudence passenger, and her husband were aboard the Magistic which was also in the parade.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


After sailing a few laps around the harbor as part of this parade, I was starting to get bored. You can only take so many night time photos of the beautiful Sydney Opera House. Hopefully the circling light parade looked great from the shoreline.

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[SIZE=2][B][I]A view of the front of the Sydney Opera House. You can see some of the boats participating in the Harbour of Light Parade. Most of it was spent sailing in a large circle. We got to change direction occasionally.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


When midnight approached, the final 10 seconds were counted down with fireworks numerals on the arch of the harbour bridge. And then at the stroke of midnight, the name "[B]S Y D N E Y[/B]" was displayed in large pyrotechnic letters across the bridge's entire span. How cool is that? And then the fireworks show began. And what a show it was. After a brief pause following the SYDNEY words, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which was the centerpiece of the entire show, immediately exploded with fireworks. Fireworks shooting up from the entire arch and coming off the sides of the bridge deck. You needed sunglasses.

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[SIZE=2][B][I]Not all of the special effects were fireworks. The Sydney Harbour Bridge was rigged with a fantastic array of lights. The concrete piers on either side of the bridge were adorned with images projected onto it.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


The engineering and design of the fireworks display was very impressive and definitely world class. The bridge was rigged with fireworks which included a fireworks waterfall that at different times was continuously flowing out from both sides of the bridge deck. There were fireworks launched from seven barges spread out in a line across the harbor and the Opera House was rigged with fireworks, too. All of it was done in synchronization with each other and it was choreographed to music. The show lasted about 12 minutes long. I wonder if the fireworks director gets to enjoy the show as it unfolds or whether she or he has to settle for the [URL="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIEB9vdpgpQ"]YouTube video[/URL] afterward!

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180219/64ee890c5bccda1fba97290a477659da.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Sensory overload. There was just a lot to take in![/I][/B][/SIZE]


The fireworks is done on such a massive scale that I don't think there truly is a single best seat in the house. It was a sight to behold from our boat in the harbor. I imagine that a view of it from the Sydney Opera House was amazingly immersive. Even an aerial view from a helicopter would have been gorgeous. Here is a [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1bpEOm6N2oNB3s6hDxb8gAytxJTgvfti7"]30 second video clip that I took towards the end of the Midnight Fireworks[/URL].

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[SIZE=2][B][I]Within 10 minutes of the new year, I had my new Lock Screen photo for my iPhone X (which by virtue of its name must make it the official smart phone for Celebrity Cruises?).[/I][/B][/SIZE] Edited by mahdnc

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[quote name='mahdnc']Hi Debbi,

we hope you guys are doing well also. I meant to ask you whether you did the airplane or helicopter ride at Airlie Beach. If so, how was it?

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180217/93b0f8e3e9621837f95ea89917c438f3.jpg[/IMG]
I wish we were back at the Martini Bar! What was that martini again?[/quote]
Hey David, yes wish I was back at the Martini bar tooo!!

No unfortunately we didn't get to do anything exciting at Airlie Beach. Did shopping at the market but that's about all.
I'm really enjoying your post and I stole the above photo hehehe.
Hugs to all.
Debbi

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Do you know what marina you were tendered into at Airlie Beach? - I believe there are 2 marinas there... one is closer to town than the other

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[quote name='Muffinz']Do you know what marina you were tendered into at Airlie Beach? - I believe there are 2 marinas there... one is closer to town than the other[/quote]
The past Solstice visits the tenders have gone to the Port of Airlie.

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Muffinz, yes, they used the Port of Airlie! Here is the track for the entire day of one of the tenders used to shuttle passengers back and forth to shore:

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180219/debe6c460ca605a4bdf9a57433999893.jpg[/IMG]

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/b604feb694e167e3ce3c7c36f0a5a1ec.jpg[/IMG]


[SIZE=4][B][I]"WE NEED TO COME BACK NEXT YEAR!"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

After the fireworks were over at about 12:15am, the Galene headed back to the Kings Street Wharf in Darling Harbour where we were dropped off at around 1am. We then walked back to the hotel. Because of the close proximity of the hotel to the fireworks crowd, the walkway approaches were had security there to verify that the people heading into the hotel were guests--similar to what the cruise ship does (without the metal detectors and bag x-ray machines.

Here is an informative [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1gHzhYwbkGsCUvxtmuvNmP_bcZXNuUIQe"]harbor fireworks map[/URL]:
[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/3cdb9978884fb7d3da0411446271d297.jpg[/IMG]

I have marked the Galene's position with a bright green circle next to Fort Denison. The map shows that two of the seven fireworks barges were "behind" us as we faced the bridge to watch the show. Note the large size of the exclusion zone where boats were not allowed except for those, like ours, were participating in the Harbour of Light Parade.

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[B][I][SIZE=2]The Sydney Opera House made for a wonderful backdrop to the spectacular fireworks.
[/SIZE][/I][/B]

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[SIZE=2][B][I]The fireworks display made a wide use of color. There were several times where the synchronized fireworks were monochromatic.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


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[I][SIZE=2][B]A lot of different types of fireworks effects were used.[/B][/SIZE][/I] Edited by mahdnc

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/409cc126cca0d7340a23e5a51194ba69.jpg[/IMG]


[SIZE=4][I][B]"THE ONLY KANGAROOS WE SAW IN AUSTRALIA WERE AT THE ZOO!"[/B][/I][/SIZE]

Yes, that is quite true. I had hoped that we would see them in the wild during our trip. Even on the day we left Sydney there was a [URL="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/video/2018/jan/16/wallaby-hops-across-sydney-harbour-bridge-video"]wallaby that was hopping across the Sydney Harbour Bridge![/URL] Many years ago my wife went to Melbourne on a business trip and she said that she saw them in the wild.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/adb114a13030ef0171826147076a5725.jpg[/IMG]

And so on Jan 1--after ringing in the new year from the night before--we went to visit the [URL="https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g552107-d257406-Reviews-Taronga_Zoo-Mosman_Greater_Sydney_New_South_Wales.html"]Taronga Zoo[/URL]. There are two zoos in Sydney. There is the small Wild Life Zoo near Darling Harbour. The larger Taronga Zoo is located on the opposite side of the harbor from Sydney.

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We bought tickets on line for $42 AUD per person. There are two ways to get to the zoo. The most preferable way is to take one of the ferries to get wonderful views of the harbor and Sydney. But we had just spent 6 hours doing that from the night before, so we decided to skip it and took an uber instead. We also wanted to get there (and back) quickly because we intended to go to our cruise roll call pre-cruise gathering at the Opera Bar at 5:30pm.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/79908cf990dbea1bbb6a535144ea904a.jpg[/IMG]

The zoo is nice. It was our first opportunity to see the animals that Australia is known for: koalas, kangaroos, wallabys, wombats, Tasmanian Devils, emus, and platypus! It was not very crowded and although we got to bypass the lines for buying tickets, the lines weren't that long.

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[SIZE=2][B][I]My first look at a Tasmanian Devil![/I][/B][/SIZE]

It was pretty hot that day as the sun was in full shine mode. The zoo was hilly which meant that we got a good work out and there were nice views of Sydney. Here is a [URL="https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RaJfTturWK_MAYWPTos17k5W_SGskTGO"]zoo map[/URL].

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[SIZE=2][B][I]This hippo had the right idea today! I was jealous.[/I][/B][/SIZE]

We wanted to go back to the hotel quickly so that we could clean up before heading out to the roll call pre-cruise party at the Opera Bar. There were no taxis at the zoo. Getting an uber was a problem because there were almost no uber cars in the area. After getting an uber through the app, we had to wait 20 minutes before our car arrived. Edited by mahdnc

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180220/f4acd01bb845920dfcd46d7390eba699.jpg[/IMG]

[SIZE=4][B][I]"ROLL CALL PRE-CRUISE PARTY--5:30 PM AT THE OPERA BAR"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

We were running a bit late so we took a taxi from our hotel for the short ride to the Opera Bar. It was a very picturesque venue for having the pre-cruise get together. However the bar was very crowded because of the holiday. Furthermore the bar is very large and you cannot reserve a table in advance. So needless to say, it took a while to get everyone together because we had to find each other and then we had to find a table large enough for all of us. I estimate about 12-16 people showed up. Once we got settled in, we had a great time. Conversation centered around last night's fireworks show and the plans we each had for the cruise. Anticipation filled the air as we were going to board tomorrow! Edited by mahdnc

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/1977ed7e472f0973b5c89a2902a3f60e.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]This nice photo of our ship on embarkation day was taken by Cruise Critic member [URL="https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showpost.php?p=54875910&postcount=3"]Silver Spectre[/URL]![/I][/B][/SIZE]


[SIZE=4][B][I]"EMBARKATION DAY: ALL ABOARD!"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

Finally, Jan 2 arrived--some 748 days after I booked the cruise! During my last 4 cruises (Valparaiso, Miami x2, Ft Lauderdale), I have had the pleasure of being able to wake up in my hotel room and immediately see my cruise ship from the window or balcony. It really gets my blood flowing! But other considerations (mainly money) prevented me from booking a hotel that overlooked the harbor this time.

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[SIZE=2][B][I]This hotel was just awesome for my family of 4. We stayed one large room. It is well appointed inside and conveniently located near many retail stores. [/I][/B][/SIZE]


Checkout time at the [URL="http://www.westinsydney.com/martin-place"]Westin Sydney[/URL] was 11am. As usual, our family was running late. Although initially denied, I was able to get the front desk to extend our check out to noon time. I asked the doorman for a mini-van taxi for the 4 of us (and all of our luggage). He said that one just left the hotel and that he called for it 1.5 hr ahead of time. Wow. We thought about getting an uber, but decided against it. I told the doorman that we would wait for one that we had plenty of time. I'll be you we waited over 30 minutes without any luck. At that point, it wasn't worth occupying the doorman's time to look for a mini-van taxi. I told him that we could take two regular taxis to the pier. It wasn't going to be that expensive--I think it was $21 AUD for each taxi.

It took well under an hour between the time that we left our hotel and were in our cabin (2:15 pm). Check in was a breeze. The [URL="https://www.portauthoritynsw.com.au/cruise/cruising-faq/overseas-passenger-terminal/"]Overseas Passenger Terminal[/URL] is a very nice facility and it was not crowded. An x-ray of our bags that we had with us found a powercube extension cord which got seized (I love using the word "seized" in print). I was given a receipt and told that it could be picked it up after the cruise. Fair enough.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/1ebbebf0f43be603315b9d3dc3329832.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]"Bad extension cord! Very bad extension cord! No cruise for you!"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

One of the things that I detest is having to fill out the health questionnaire. I realize that it is important and has to be done on the spot. But with all the excitement of the check-in process and with 4 of us crowded around the check-in desk trying to fill out our forms, it's a bit time consuming and and I get very impatient about it! It's also where I keep thinking to myself, "kids, there's only one right answer to those questions if you want to get on the ship".

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[SIZE=2][B][I]Looking northward at the Overseas Passenger Terminal from our starboard side cabin balcony.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


We were given our SeaPass cards. The Celebrity rep behind the check-in counter handed out each card to us individually--they were not given to me as a set inside a little cardboard holder like we usually get them in (another quintessential Celebrity experience victimized by cost cutting? Or perhaps a Save the Waves initiative? ugh!).

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/98428db14c69cd194545f1b3fd41d302.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Looking southward at the Overseas Passenger Terminal from our starboard side cabin balcony.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


This was the first time that we did not see the embarkation photo station on the way into the ship.

We got to our cabin, 8108, which is right at the front of the ship on the starboard side. We dropped our things, I took a few shots of our empty cabin, met our room steward (Charles), and then headed off to the buffet. The photo below is the port side view we had from the buffet. Life is good!

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/6f8bc0ddfe9bbac3a771da8d7f9616f9.jpg[/IMG] Edited by mahdnc

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Got it backwards

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/2b9b6e8671e5c148dc19df04c2ddc2a2.jpg[/IMG]
Looking south towards Sydney


[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/39ba45e8460d96291363b609e91df9f4.jpg[/IMG]
Looking north


An extra picture while I'm at it:

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180221/3b994d6d160868b783864c25e5f7db54.jpg[/IMG]
Crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Excellent photos.... we have got 2 power adaptors so we can charge our phones / fit-bits in our stateroom. i hope they don't confiscate them otherwise we will be stuffed!

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Thank you!

Your power adapters should be fine.

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Your report is so much fun this read. Appreciate all the links and details you’ve included.


Sent from my iPhone using Forums

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Loving the pics. Brings back so many good memories. Can't wait to go back next year. We saw wild Kangaroos in the Hunter Valley wine area - live one's anyway. We say a couple on the side of the road in the tablelands outside of Kuranda.

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[quote name='Muffinz']Excellent photos.... we have got 2 power adaptors so we can charge our phones / fit-bits in our stateroom. i hope they don't confiscate them otherwise we will be stuffed![/quote]
The only adapters they’ll confiscate are those that are surge protected.

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/e97dee81d97ad9eb9848cf04c9e38b90.jpg[/IMG]

[SIZE=4][B][I]Day 1, Embarkation Day: "MUSTER DRILL: THE MOVIE!"[/I][/B][/SIZE]

[URL="https://drive.google.com/file/d/19HkDMZLTCF9haTGpIzWlVW2fx_AXDe7F/view?usp=sharing"]Celebrity Today[/URL]
[URL="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1lr32hXKjdBpmaUHW4FxMdhCeleRuZlEE/view?usp=sharing"]MDR Dinner Menu page 1[/URL]
[URL="https://drive.google.com/file/d/1gjDSbcuMQ3BBq-7FTU_xd7fh-mGU_Edr/view?usp=sharing"]MDR Dinner Menu page 2[/URL]

After we came back from eating our late lunch at the buffet, all of our luggage was there to greet us by our cabin door. This was our 4th time in a Solstice class FV cabin and we pretty much have it down to a science in terms of unpacking and doing our room setup.

Then it was time to do the Muster Drill. Ugh. It began around 4:30 pm. When we first started cruising with Celebrity in 1996 (aboard the brand new Century), the muster drill was a lot more involved. You had to wear your life jacket around your neck and have it fully strapped around your body. Then you to congregate at your Assembly Station staging area to hear a training lecture. THEN you had to walk out to the lifeboat area and stand underneath your assigned lifeboat. AND they had the women and children separated from the men (I think). It was all quite elaborate back then.

It's been years since they removed the requirement to walk out to the lifeboat area. And for the last few years you don't even have to bring your life jacket. BUT this was our first cruise that we received the training through a motion picture called: [URL="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlPxS415_6I"]Operation Little Bear[/URL] which is a 007 type movie set on Celebrity Eclipse. Our Assembly Station is A1 which is in the Celebrity Theater on Deck 5. So we got to comfortably watch the movie from there--I am not sure how it is handled in some of the other areas. I give Celebrity credit for trying something novel although I hope they don't try to make a series of them like the Rocky movies.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/9adb9fd9919ad3eab2c8949eb9c41d5e.jpg[/IMG]

During the drill, Captain Tasos Kafetzis addressed the passengers for the first time over the PA system. During his little speech he goes thru the part about who replaces him if he is incapacitated during an emergency (the Staff Captain). But he went further and described the succession order in more detail. At some point he stopped going thru the full succession lineup by remarking that the ship would be in big trouble if it got that far.

Has anyone ever looked at the back of their cabin door to review the route to their Assembly Station? One of the things I found interesting when I looked at the back of our FV door is that there are [U][B]two escape routes[/B][/U]--a primary one and a secondary one. The primary route to get to our Assembly Station in the Celebrity Theater involves taking a [B][U]shortcut using a special stairway that is concealed behind a door[/U][/B] in the corridor. We get to bypass the public forward staircase that the masses use! How cool is that?? It's like an Elite perk--Priority Lifeboating! All joking aside, its worth looking at the back of your door because these special evacuation primary/secondary routes are not something that you practice or are necessarily aware of during the muster drill.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/a061f41cc30ee10ff1bbf434bf2aeba8.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]This is a photo of the muster information on the back of our door for cabin 8107 aboard Eclipse. The cabin is located all the way forward on the port side. The primary escape route to our Assembly Station in the Celebrity Theater is thru a stairway hidden behind a door in the hallway just outside our cabin. Jan 2014[/I][/B][/SIZE] Edited by mahdnc

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My middle daughter calls the Muster "practice sinking":D

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I thought the 007 mustard drill was a nice change.

Guess if they keep it too long it’ll get boring

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[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/80bd5a4fa7d70677e634a80aba11b041.jpg[/IMG]



[B][I][SIZE=5]"SOMEONE CALL SECURITY! OUR CABIN FURNITURE HAS BEEN STOLEN!! (A tale of exceptional customer service) [/SIZE][/I][/B]

As I keep saying, this was the 4th time that we had been in a Solstice Class Family Veranda (FV) cabin. The prior 3 times were aboard Eclipse. We love it for the enormous amount of space that it gives my family of 4 (618 sq ft interior + 112 sq ft balcony for the ones on Deck 8). It has two separate bedrooms as well as a very large living area (just one standard bathroom though). Now that our kids are fully grown, being able to spend extended time together as a family in one cabin is something that my wife and I truly treasure. I like to joke to others that we have our kids trapped on board with us as we hardly see them any other way! As a result, our cruising profile is very different from most people on Cruise Critic (I think). We spend a great deal of our waking time in the cabin during a cruise when we are on board the ship. There is enough space that we each can do our own thing or we can do things together. We seem to only emerge from our lair for food. And Elite Happy Hour. Well, and maybe the casino.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/b3da9db4c97a62d93e3f2840186b4b57.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]A very spacious living area. The master bedroom is behind the closed door. Aboard Eclipse, there is a dining room table with chairs put in the area near the window. As each newer Solstice class ship was built, the FV cabins received more furniture. Silhouette and I believe Reflection have an additional full length desk against the wall with the window that is not in the Eclipse FV that we are so familiar with.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


Ok, having said all of the above, when we arrived in our FV aboard the Solstice, we were very disappointed to see that a lot of the furniture that we had in our prior FV cabins was missing. No dining room table and chairs to eat breakfast, etc. No chest of drawers by the balcony door. The closet was missing a side dresser in the master bedroom. My wife--who is very tolerant--was not happy with the lack of furniture. It impacted our ability to put away all our clothing and stuff like our scuba diving gear. We mentioned it to our room steward, Charles. By the time we came back from dinner he had put in a circular dining room table in our cabin. It wasn't the exact table we were expecting, but it would do just fine. It was obvious that he scrounged it up from somewhere. I was impressed with his effort.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/315e267891458ba028df20e56a5ffbc3.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]The master bedroom is ridiculously huge. The FV cabin comes with two windows that look out over the front of the ship. One window is in the bedroom while the other window is in the living area. In our Eclipse FV cabin, there is a shorter wooden dresser installed in the empty space between the tall closet and the wall. Besides providing a nice table top surface to put our things on, there were shelves below to store our folded clothes.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


But we were still missing a lot of furniture to store our things. So we went down to Guest Relations to acknowledge the great work that Charles did, but to tell them that we were still lacking other furniture. The Guest Relations Officer that we talked to was Fabio. A very nice man. If he was thinking "[I]oh geeze, missing furniture? Why do I have to deal with this?[/I]" he concealed it very well as he was very attentive and concerned for us. He asked to accompany us back to our cabin to see what we were talking about. We showed him our cabin. I then whipped out my trusty iPhone X and showed him the furniture that we had in our Eclipse FV that was missing.

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/00c6308b0686dd30fdb6a498e24a8a7a.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]In addition to having two windows looking out over the bow, this FV cabin has a large balcony on the side of the ship.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


He treated it as if this was the most important problem on the entire ship. He gave us his business card and promised to look into it and to keep us up to date. Soon the Assistant Housekeeper visited our cabin and we received follow up calls for the next couple of days. I told my wife that they must be making the furniture. Again, even though no furniture had arrived, the excellent communication that we received still made us feel that it was a high priority problem and that we were not being ignored (and we knew darn well that there are much more important problems than this on the ship).

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/2341e51a8945d36a758cfb1010ff5166.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Our son loved laying on that couch day and night mainly because of the television on the wall to the right of the photo. His favorite activity was ordering room service--spaghetti bolognese was his fave.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


And then it hit me. I pulled out my trusty iPhone X , did a google search and I looked at some photos for the FV cabins aboard Solstice/Equinox. It looks like most of the "missing" furniture that we had in our Eclipse FV was never on the Solstice FVs. Oops--we have the whole ship running around trying to solve a problem that technically didn't exist except for the fact that we complained. The next day two small cabinets with tiny drawers were brought up to our stateroom. There was a checkerboard on top of each piece of furniture. I got the distinct feeling that the crew was missing some furniture in their living quarters.


[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/137c67f228d5bcc947d0cf0d0f3818fd.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Our daughter slept in this room and since her younger brother like sleeping on the living room couch, she had it all to herself.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


We later talked to the Chief Housekeeper at one of the Elite Happy Hour functions. I thanked him for the great effort that his staff went through to take care of our concerns. And yes, this was mentioned (along with names) in our post-cruise customer survey that I filled out. And we at the end of the cruise, we thanked Charles and gave him some extra cash on top of the gratuity that he would later receive. Edited by mahdnc

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For comparison here is Eclipse FV 8108 taken on Jan 2105:

[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/8f4e40a9eb6fc22f1533a47d21cc0e29.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Eclipse FV 8108 taken in Jan 2015. Dining room table in chairs are seen in the back. In the master bedroom you can see the chest of drawers against the window.[/I][/B][/SIZE]


[IMG]https://uploads.tapatalk-cdn.com/20180222/c3841cf33d5874754e3368a623afd467.jpg[/IMG]
[SIZE=2][B][I]Eclipse FV 8108 taken on Jan 2015. The small dresser next to the tall closet was missing in our Solstice FV cabin. The low chest of drawers against the window was also not in our Solstice FV.[/I][/B][/SIZE]

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