Celebrity Solstice Postcard #6 – Ko Samui, Thailand

 

We needed an early start this morning and get one of the earliest tenders ashore to meet a driver who would take us to the start of part one of our tour today. Our excursion was a Private Speedboat Island Hopper followed by a quick tour of some of the islands tourist spots.

Cellar Masters – The Meeting Point for Elite priority tendering

Elite priority boarding came into its own and we were actually on the first boat across. On arrival we were greeted by hoards of local taxi drivers all pleading that you take a tour in their cab.



On arrival at Nathon Pier, we located our driver and after a 30 minute journey we arrived at the boat and were soon on our way to stop one which was a remote beach on a small island.

We spent 30 minutes there before moving on to another area where we could do some snorkeling. We spent another 30 minutes or so here too carrying on to Koh MatSum Island (Pig Island) to see some of its famous pigs and then have a picnic on the beach.

That pretty much summed up the morning which perhaps doesn’t sound amazing but we certainly had a great time.

Our boat then headed back to our start point so we could meet the driver and a quick change of transport to begin our tour around some of the Islands tourist spots. We visited Namuang Waterfall, Mummified Monk of Koh Samui, Red Temple (Wat Sila Ngu Temple) & Chaweng Viewpoint

Namuang Waterfall
Mummified Monk of Koh Samui
Mummified Monk of Koh Samui
Red Temple (Wat Sila Ngu Temple)



On arrival at Nathon Pier we were greeted by the mother of all queues to catch the tender back.

What’s more there was also Diamond Princess tendering with just the smallest of amount of people queuing. Princess had a really funny guy directing all his passengers to the right place and he was loving it. Strutting up and down, totally hamming it up. It was good fun and it helped us pass the 35 minutes wait to get to the front of the line.

The tender journey was another half hour or so more before we made it back to the ship.
It was a fun filled day and a couple of cold beers didn’t touch the sides once onboard.

Another no show for the no shows.

Celebrity Solstice Postcard #5 – Sea Day 1

My adjustment to the new timezone has been reached, I slept right through until 5:30 this morning and felt so much better for it.
This cruise has a lot of senior passengers onboard and it’s very noticeable. We were a bit rocky this morning and the buffet was a bit like bumper cars.
The real positive thing this morning for Nicole was that there was a vegan breakfast selection in the buffet, okay it might have been only four items but they were all something that she liked. The Maitre D had suggested trying there first and if didn’t work out then go to the MDR and they would put something together for her. Obviously the first day embargo on vegan food in the MDR has ended.
The weather was very windy this morning and most of the beds were tied down but we managed to find a couple of the big wicker beds with padded cushions on the Solstice Deck where we stayed until lunchtime. Nicole wasn’t keen to go to the MDR so we braved it in the Oceanview Cafe which is somewhere that she was confident of getting something to eat.
Afterwards we headed back to the cabin for a short while and found time to make contact with the people we are sharing a tour with tomorrow.


While in the cabin I checked the navigation channel to how far we had travelled and noted the temperature which was 26°C with 82% humidity.
Today has been a bit of a nothing day but it has given us the chance to unwind and relax a bit.
There is not much in the way of photos either so apologies for that, all I have is a few that were taken around the ship early evening.


The No Shows made another appearance tonight

We have an early start tomorrow so it won’t be a later night, we need to get off the ship ASAP with the complication of it being a tender port so hopefully things will fall into place.

Celebrity Solstice Postcard #4 – Singapore & Embarking

Last night, I had the best night’s sleep since leaving the UK, I still woke up early but this time managed to get back off again very quickly.

Our morning started with a notification from Celebrity via the app recommending we should check our email for a message. The text below is the message they wanted to pass on.

Due to port congestion, our embarkation this morning has been delayed. Please arrive to the terminal an hour later than your selected arrival time. Embarkation will begin at 12:00 PM (noon). To ensure all guests are checked-in and onboard by 5:00 PM, please arrive no later than 4:00 PM.


Both drivers from the transfer company that our TA uses here have both introduced themselves via WhatsApp so I was able to relay the message and organise our pickup to be 30 minutes later than scheduled. I am very impressed with their efficiency.
When we arrived at the terminal, we discovered the reason for the congestion, not only was Celebrity Solstice in port, Spectrum of the Seas was there too.

A throwback to pre Covid embarkation

It was very busy and we were unaware that Elite priority boarding no longer exists so had to queue up with the masses. This process took far longer than I expected. It felt like every single passenger had turned up an hour earlier instead of an hour later. We were all herded into pens, yes pens which had seats either side of it then and just to test whether we really wanted to go on cruise or not, made to wait 45 minutes for a visa check (which as UK citizens we didn’t need). In fairness, as soon as we approached the lady doing the checks, she took one look at our passports and said “Ah UK passport carry on through”. Check in was slick and we were eventually kerb to ship in 1 hour and 15 minutes. One thing that had changed was the collection of our seapass cards from the cabin which was ready when we got there.
We had the same cabin for 36 nights in 2017 and Celebrity made a big song and dance about ‘Revolutionising’ the Solstice Class. Well, the cabin looks exactly the same as it did when we last saw it 7 years ago. ???? It’s probably even the same mattress!!!


After registration at the muster station we made our way to the buffet for lunch which is something we always like to do on Celebrity. Our favourite spot to sit being the open air area at the aft of ship where today we had a great view of Singapore and the approaching rain which made our seat selection easy, outside but undercover.


So, afterwards it was off to tour the ship and see what differences there were from our last cruise on her. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised to find our favourite open deck (Solstice Deck) is still available and all that is different are the beds.


It was at this point I started to drop out of Jim Bellomo mode. He writes a great live blog which I subscribe to and I find his warts all rants very amusing, he is a keen photographer and takes some amazing pictures accompanied with some great narrative.

So, I had anticipated that all the Solstice Class ships had been transformed but it appears not. ???? Celebrity Solstice seems to have slipped through the net.

Working our way down from the upper decks, the only noticeable difference is the artwork. Nothing else seems to have changed which is good thing for us.

We are going the traditional route with regards to the MDR and have opted for second sitting which is at 8:30. As much as I like the idea of flexible dining times, we enjoy getting to know a table of strangers plus it’s good for Nicole to have the same service team.
Also, we have already spotted a separate vegan counter in the buffet so that is a real positive.



We had a slightly disappointing first visit to the MDR, we are on table 278 which is a table for 8 ????. But for the first night we had 6 no shows.☹️ There is a vegan menu but not on the first night, really? How does that work?

Nicole has viewed the menu choosing for tomorrow night and for this evening they had to send someone up to the buffet and get her a selection from the vegan area there. It wasn’t volunteered and we had to suggest it so we called the Maitre D over and it was only then they showed us the vegan menu for tomorrow night. Look, we have this large vegan menu with all those nice things to eat but you have to have something from the buffet tonight. ????

Great first impression if you are new to cruising

Tomorrow is a sea day so hopefully it will stay dry and we can get outside.

Celebrity Solstice Postcard #3 – Singapore & Pre Cruise

It’s a much shorter post today because there really isn’t a massive amount of things to report.
We had several options planned but in the end did something completely different instead. As predicted yesterday evening, we had overdone it and were both feeling the effects of the day’s activities. So after a leisurely breakfast we decided a gentle walk along the river on the opposite side to the one had used exclusively up until now would be a good idea.

Once again the weather was kind to us and although still very warm and humid there was a welcome gentle breeze every now and then.

We passed a few things of interest along the way including a few bronze statues. They do like their bronze statues here in Singapore because there are so many of them scattered all over the place.

Considering the forecasts before leaving the UK, the weather has been very kind to us for our two days in Singapore, better than we could have hoped for.
We didn’t break any records this morning and it was nice to see a different aspect of the river than the one we were familiar with. 

We walked as far as the Fullerton Hotel and then took a quick peak inside to see the large atrium of this grand old building.

 

We then went around to the opposite side to get a close up of the Merlion which being a Sunday was extremely busy with tourists and many locals having picnics. I managed to take a few photos without the selfie hunters spoiling the view.

 

This was as far as we walked today opting to return to the hotel on our normal side of the river.
We stopped en route for some liquid refreshment and a couple of plates of bar food so as not to ruin our appetite for our dinner date in the evening.
On reaching the hotel I ended up talking a nap for a couple of hours which was absolutely the right thing to do.
At 5:30 ish, our cruise buddies from Norwegian Jade picked us up and took us to a vegan restaurant called Whole Earth which is the first and only Peranakan-Thai vegetarian restaurant in Singapore.

We let our hosts make some selections for us and they chose several dishes that they thought we should try and hopefully enjoy which we did. We spent almost 3 ½ hours chatting and catching up and it was a really enjoyable evening. After dropping us back off at the hotel and saying our goodbyes the rest they say is history as we retired early for the evening to try and catch up with some more sleep.

Thank you Brian and Jason for a fantastic evening. ????

My Fitbit still recorded just short of 14,000 steps today so we didn’t completely take our foot off the pedal and tomorrow we leave the hotel and embark on the Celebrity Solstice for our 4th cruise on her.

Celebrity Solstice Postcard #2 – Singapore & Pre Cruise

Adjusting to new timezones is always a issue for me regardless of which direction I travel. Singapore is no exception and with an 8 hour time difference saw me awake very early this morning. I did manage to doze off again after what seemed like an eternity.
After breakfast we set off to explore and headed along the Singapore River towards Marina Bay. It was a 45 minute walk in very humid conditions and I felt totally drained when we got to our destination area. Prior to leaving from the UK, we were pointed in the direction of a self guided walking tour called The Colonial District Walking Tour.
We enjoy these self guided tours and this one was no exception. Everything was easy to find and below are a few photos of some of the places we found.

Statue of Sir Stamford Raffles
Victoria Concert Hall
Anderson Bridge
National Gallery Singapore
St Andrew’s Cathedral
War Memorial
Old Hill Street Police Station
Merlion Fountain



One of the places to visit on the walk was Raffles Hotel where I had the intention of getting a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar where the cocktail was invented. Apart from having an extortionate price tag, the bar didn’t open until midday and we didn’t want to hang around so moved on. We did have time to explore the hotel a bit and it looked amazing.

Raffles Hotel
Outside the Long Bar


So, with it still morning we kept going and decided to make our way to Gardens by the Bay. This involved walking around the bay and crossing the Helix Bridge. Along the route there there were plenty of photo opportunities looking back from where we had come from.
Gardens by the Bay is now probably the most iconic landmark in Singapore along with Marina Bay Sands Hotel and both were very impressive. Gardens by the Bay is free to enter but there are several venues which have an entrance fee. Two of these are in the Super Tree Grove, one is to go up the tallest one which is called the Supertree Observatory, up there are some amazing views looking over the park and potentially the best view of Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The other pay for item in the grove was the OCBC Skyway which is a walkway from one of the shorter Super trees to another and again the views are amazing. It wasn’t busy and the queues were very short so I think we got lucky with our timing.

 

There are other things in the Gardens which we never got around to so may come back tomorrow to see.

Before leaving the park we stopped for a quick bite to eat in the Jurassic Nest FoodHall. It’s a self service food venue with a dinosaur theme selling Michelin Rated Food from several different vendors. Not expensive and really tasty. We opted for something from Hawker Chan who was the world’s first hawker to be awarded One Michelin Star. Half way through eating a large T-Rex came to life which not only the kids enjoyed but adults alike. Great experience and out of the ordinary.

 

 


It was late afternoon once we had seen the above so walked back to the hotel to shower and freshen up.


Our plan for the evening was to walk back to the Super Tree Grove to see them all lit up in the dark, there was a light show between 7:00 and 8:00 which we just missed although we could see some of it from Helix Bridge as we were approaching. I’ve taken a lot of photos today and it’s very difficult to pick which ones to post but hopefully the ones I have selected will give you an idea of what we experienced. Singapore in the evening looks pretty spectacular as you will see.


My Fitbit recorded over 41,000 steps today and both of us are feeling knackered but fulfilled from our days activities. It’s been an amazing day and I totally get why people love Singapore. No real plans for the daytime tomorrow and it will depend on whether we can both still walk. If we don’t venture out, we both think you need something to come back for which may be the case.

In the evening we are out for a meal with a couple who we met on Norwegian Jade last year that live here. We are looking forward to seeing them again and catching up.
Time is of the essence today so I will just let the photos tell the story.

 

Celebrity Solstice Postcard #1 – The Journey to Singapore & Pre Cruise

I suppose the best place to start this post is our journey to the airport, not our usual airport because for this trip we flew from Birmingham. This meant it was straight up the M5 then along the M42 to get there with a journey time 2¼ hours, considering we left around 7:00am it was not busy at all.
The flights were part of our package and they were selected for us by our travel agent so we were very surprised to be flying Emirates from Birmingham via Dubai to Singapore on A380’s, (the same route in reverse on the way back). Who knew the A380’s can fly in and out of Birmingham? I didn’t so that was a welcome surprise as we are big fans of both plane and airline.


We ended up watching the forward camera during take off and the runway didn’t seem nearly long enough but we were up with plenty of room to spare. The flight wasn’t busy so we were able to lie back without worrying as the seats behind were empty, the seats in front were also empty which all helped make for a really comfortable flight.

The quiet end of the terminal at 2:00 am


7 ½ hours later we arrived at Dubai and found a much busier airport. Even at 2:00 am the terminals were packed. After navigating our way to the next departure gate, a 45 minute wait ensued before we boarded our second flight to Singapore followed by another 45 minutes waiting for a slot to take off. This second flight was a lot busier than the first one and we both managed a couple of hours of sleep. I don’t know if I would have preferred the two flights or direct one more. It was nice to get off and do a bit of walking in Dubai but getting the trip over quickly does have a certain appeal. After what seemed like a longer trip than it actually was, we landed in Singapore at 2:36 pm local time.

Saying goodbye to the plane in Singapore

We were swiftly through the self service immigration machines and both of our cases were on the luggage belt as we arrived. The driver for our transfer to the hotel had messaged us with rendezvous instructions prior to leaving the plane so once we had located each other it was off to the hotel. The journey took about 30 minutes and as we were leaving the airport, there was a torrential downpour but as we neared the hotel it had eased considerably.
Our hotel is called Grand Copthorne and again the choice of our TA, looking at the map it seems to be nicely located for exploring if it ever stops raining.
The hotel room is lovely with lots of modern touches, I think we are going to enjoy our 3 nights here.



After a quick shower we decided to go grab a drink and a bite to eat. This we did in one of the hotel bars and it was very nice too. Feeling full we found an extra resource of energy and decided to go for a walk along the Singapore River which runs right behind the hotel. We discovered loads of bars and restaurants all within a short walk from the hotel. Plenty of options for tomorrow evening.
Well that will do from me this evening, I’m off for some quality sleep in a really comfortable bed.

Here are a few photos from this evening’s walk.

Front of the hotel
Rear of the hotel from the other side of the river

Celebrity Solstice Thailand & Vietnam Preamble

Before lockdown, we had booked a Japan circumnavigation on Celebrity Solstice for 2020, but as with most trips during that time it was cancelled and rebooked for the following year. In 2021 the cruise was cancelled once again and over time our desire to see Japan waned so we decided not to rebook it a third time. Around that period, we came across a bargain cruise in the newspaper for 2024 on the same ship but with a different itinerary so after a few emails with our TA we booked reusing our already paid deposit and this cruise is the result.
It is a fresh itinerary for us with a new departure port along with a new disembarkation port as well. We booked this cruise as a package because at the time I just wasn’t confident to go it alone, previous cancellations and the uncertainty of Covid have made me a little more conscious about doing things ourselves. So, we start this trip with a 3-night hotel stay in Singapore before joining the ship and sailing to Hong Kong. There are four stops in Vietnam, two in Thailand and we have things planned in a few of them. I won’t go into it too much detail so will just let things unfold as we make our way.

Date Location Arrival Departure
Monday, January 15, 2024 Singapore 6:00 PM
Tuesday, January 16, 2024 At Sea
Wednesday, January 17, 2024 Ko Samui, Thailand 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Thursday, January 18, 2024 Bangkok / Laemchabang, Thailand 9:00 AM
Friday, January 19, 2024 Bangkok / Laemchabang, Thailand 5:00 PM
Saturday, January 20, 2024 At Sea
Sunday, January 21, 2024 Ho Chi Minh (Phu My), Vietnam 7:00 AM 5:00 PM
Monday, January 22, 2024 Nha Trang, Vietnam 8:00 AM 4:00 PM
Tuesday, January 23, 2024 Hue/Danang (Chan May), Vietnam 10:00 AM 7:00 PM
Wednesday, January 24, 2024 Hanoi, (Halong Bay), Vietnam 11:30 AM
Thursday, January 25, 2024 Hanoi, (Halong Bay), Vietnam 7:00 PM
Friday, January 26, 2024 At Sea
Saurday, January 27, 2024 Hong Kong, China 6:00 AM

Cabin selection gave us the chance to revisit an old cabin of ours, it is 7276 and was the same cabin we had on our B2B2B cruise around New Zealand & Australia in 2017, the only difference being that it has since been refurbished during a dry dock so it won’t be exactly as we remember it but the location hasn’t which is what drew us to it the first time.

So, if you are reading this, it means we are on our way.

MSC Virtuosa Postcard #4 – Southampton & Disembarking

Disembarkation day for us started when we awoke at around 5:30am. After our morning ablutions and then packing our hand luggage we all made our way to the buffet for our final visit for breakfast. It was extremely busy this morning but if you wandered to the aft area, the crowds thinned out and it was a lot more civilized. All the serveries are open and display exactly the same food, it’s just that most people tend to be lazy and don’t want to walk too far so as far as I am concerned, it’s their loss and our gain. Self Disembarking ran from 7:15 until 7:45 followed by Diamond members at 7:55. We got Diamond numbered tags the previous evening, we used one for ourselves and then gave the rest to the youngsters with the intention that they could self-disembark and we would follow up the rear collecting all the cases on the way. Even that was overthought as in the end we all walked off together picking up our cases en route to the car park.

 

 

 

We have had a fabulous few days of spending time with the family and will look back fondly at the experience. Whether you will ever see us on another MSC ship is another thing, they have beautiful ships but the onboard experience is not a good fit especially the dining side of things. I’ll never say never but as things stand they are not on our radar. We arrived home just before 10:30am which still left us a decent amount of the bank holiday to enjoy. Our next cruise is January 2024 so we have a bit gap until then.

MSC Virtuosa Postcard #3 – Cherbourg, France

I found myself at Guest Services again this morning to query a payment from my onboard account. It was for an internet package that I had already paid for prior to embarking so I was provided with a printout and told to take it to the photography desk when it opened to resolve the matter as they apparently deal with the WiFi and internet along with all the photos. I grabbed a quick coffee before heading up to join the others for breakfast in the buffet. As it was early and very quiet, we had the pick of the tables so selected one of the outside ones right at the back, it was a great spot and nice and warm with the rising sun shining on us. At 9:00, I managed to speak to someone about the account query and the matter was rectified without any explanation. I now have £40 OBC to spend again but there is nothing really that I want so not really sure what to do with it. The shops take up plenty of space but don’t sell anything that has any appeal to me.

We arrived at Cherbourg just after 11:00 but didn’t actually allow anyone off until 11:45. Having done a little research about Cherbourg and found very little to interest us it was a toss-up as to actually get off or not. In the end, we did if only for the walk into town.

Why do cruise lines schedule Sunday stops in France when just about everything is closed? It’s happened to us several times now. The cafés and bars that were open were doing a roaring trade.

So, the irony is, the best place of interest is right next to the cruise terminal. There are three venues included in one ticket which costs €19. It’s called La Cité de la Mer and houses an Aquarium & Ocean museum, Le Redoutable atomic submarine & an interactive Titanic exhibition. Well worth the €19 entrance fee and a good way to pass a couple of hours, La Redoubtable submarine walk through being the pick of the three.

Once back onboard we took some time out in the cabin to round off the afternoon before joining the others for an early dinner in the buffet. Quite likely another early-ish night tonight so we can be up in time for breakfast and leave the ship just before 8:00.

MSC Virtuosa Postcard #2 – Rotterdam, Netherlands

The clocks went forward an hour overnight so we lost an hour’s sleep. Even so, I was up early so went for a walk around the deserted ship. It’s a real treat when it’s totally empty.

Even Rob The Robotic Bartender was still asleep. While out, I visited Guest Services to try and remedy our lack of Voyager Club status which was great at that time of the morning because there wasn’t a queue. Apparently, our club status hadn’t been linked to our booking but the situation was quickly rectified and new cards were issued with Diamond Status attached. I then grabbed a quick coffee at the bar before taking one up for Nicole.

Breakfast in the MDR was okay but didn’t really live up to expectations, certainly not as good as what Costa is providing for special dietary needs. The best thing about it was the view from our table looking out over the wash.

So we have made the decision that it is going to be a better option to use the buffet from here on.

We enjoyed the sail into Rotterdam along the Nieuwe Maas with arrival at 11:00. Once the early excursions had departed we made our way off for a walk. We headed for Markthal and had a quick walk-through and then around a few of the adjacent shops eventually stopping off at a vegan café for a snack prior to heading back to the ship.

On arrival back at our cabin we discovered some chocolate-coated strawberries and a bottle of Prosecco which are a perk of our Diamond Status. Better late than never. ?

Judging by the number of people back on the ship and using the open decks, it would appear that Rotterdam didn’t hold much appeal, perhaps the weather and the drinks packages were a stronger draw.

I managed to find a quiet shady spot while the boys and their entourage went off to the Savannah Aquapark for some watery fun. The two of them had a fun time and were both feeling very tired and hungry come 5:30 so it was quickly back to the cabin for a wash and brush up before heading off to the buffet for something to eat. Everyone ate really well and we even managed to find a table outside at the back of the ship so were able to watch sailaway as we ate. Nicole was on babysitting duty this evening so I relaxed in our own cabin with some welcome beers in front of the TV. No doubt it will be another early morning tomorrow.