Like: Oceans, fresh sea air, boats. Don't like: buffets, cheesy décor, crowds. This equation kept me far from a cruise ship for a couple of decades.
But cruising has changed. The newest ships feature wine cellars, mixology bars, and world-class spas in addition to buffets and casinos. Cruise lines are hiring star chefs—think David Burke, Charlie Trotter, Elizabeth Falkner—to create their menus. You can take a poker cruise, a literary cruise, or sail the Caribbean with Weezer and Cat Power. So when I was invited to spend a few nights aboard the Celebrity Solstice—which Frommer's named Best Cruise Ship two years ago—with a host of other press and travel agents as it heads out on a new route from Seattle to Alaska starting this summer, I said sure, why not. Let's see what this cruise thing is all about.
That was a month ago. Nearly every day since my return, I've been online looking up ships, stateroom classes, and itineraries. I've got the Caribbean, Mediterranean and South Pacific on my short list. So I guess you could say I'm a convert.
The Solstice is 15 stories tall, the gigantic nature of which is hard to fathom when you first board. Visions of Kate Winslet will certainly dance through your head. There are literally thousands of rooms. I recommend one on the AquaClass level. It puts you close to the spacious AquaSpa as well as the heated indoor pool, where you can enjoy the view from walls of glass should the weather turn nippy (especially if you're headed to Alaska). It also gives you complimentary access to the Persian Garden, a steam room where you can lie on lounge chairs made of heated tiles, and the Relaxation Room, a serene blue lounging room. Both rooms face out the front of the ship, so it's as if you're in a private, quiet Turkish bath with the most incredible view imaginable. Aqua Class passengers also get exclusive dining privileges at Blu, the ship's “healthy restaurant," which only means the cuisine is similar to the fresh, organic vegetables, meat, and fish you're used to eating in SF.
Between the jogging track on the upper deck, the Zumba and yoga classes, the outdoor pools, and the quiet enclosure of the indoor pool level, you can basically make it a floating spa vacation during the day, and then switch to wining and dining mode at night. (For drinks, opt for the wine tasting at Cellar Masters or the cocktails at Molecular Bar.)
But in my book, this is all backdrop to the fact that you're sailing on the ocean, and unless you own a yacht, there's really no other way to experience life at sea for days and nights on end. If you like sunrises, sunsets, stars (listen to me, I'm already turning into Jimmy Buffet), note that the beauty of these phenomena is greatly multiplied from the top deck of a ship at sea. As one man on the Solstice put it, “I don't love cruise ships per se. I love the ocean. I could sit on my veranda day and night and be happy."
The Celebrity doesn't just sail from Seattle to Alaska. It also crosses the Pacific to Hawaii and Australia and scales the West Coast between Seattle and Mexico—during which you can often see it docked in San Francisco. Personally, I owe one to the Solstice for getting me over my hipster-induced cruise phobia. South Pacific, here I come.