Vacation Travel Tips & Advisories

Carnival vs. Celebrity

CARNIVAL VALOR vs. CELEBRITY SOLSTICE CRUISE SHIPS

Introduction

As a travel agent, I have to tell you that to me, cruising is a lot of fun regardless of which cruise line you are traveling on.  It’s pretty much all what you make it.  If you look for all the positives or negatives, you can find pro and con on any cruise line.  The main thing that you should get out of a cruise is the fun and the education of new places to visit.   There is something to do for everyone on any cruise line, older, younger, family, anniversary, vacation, wedding, honeymoon – you name it, there is something for you on any cruise line.  There are lots of activities on each cruise ship all designed to either educate you, offer new or familiar activities, provide relaxation in the sun, have dancing and night life, and the list goes on.

For me, the best part is the travel to places that you might have not been to, or to gather ideas for your next vacation.  For example, a few years ago, we visited St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and fell in love with it; we liked it so much that the following year we went back and stayed on St. Thomas for one week, also visiting St. John’s Island nearby.  The beaches are just gorgeous and there were so many to choose from on each island, we visited a different one every day while there.

If you are into cultural history, as we are, we love to visit Mexico and Central America to see all the Mayan Pyramids and Mayan Ruins.  In May, we went aboard the Carnival Valor to see the pyramids Altun Ha in Belize – very beautiful sight.  This month, we left on July 4th aboard the Celebrity Solstice and will get a chance to see some new pyramids in Costa Maya.  Do we have fun on the cruise ships?  You bet, each offers something different and I’m going to do my personal comparative analysis of the Carnival Valor and the Celebrity Solstice.

CHECK-IN & BOARDING

CARNIVAL – Miami, Florida

We arrived a little early, at 11:30 AM since we stayed at a hotel that provided a shuttle service to the port.  We were able to check-in pretty quick, but then we sat in a VERY crowded waiting room until 1:15PM waiting to be able to board the ship so I don’t recommend arriving real early.  It makes no difference other than getting checked in before the crowd arrives.  However, their waiting area was very congested and we were among the first groups to be able to board the ship.  While upstairs on the boat eating our lunch, we looked down and noticed that it was still very crowded in their small waiting area with not too many places to sit while awaiting your time to board.  Check-in and boarding was a little cumbersome but not nearly as bad as the cumbersome method at Norwegian cruise lines.  Despite the fact we were allowed to board, we could not go to our cabins until after 2:30 PM to drop off our personal carry on items, so we had to drag those with us while getting our lunch.

CELEBRITY – Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Really great!  We arrived at 1PM, walked right in with our carry-on luggage, went thru the initial screening within minutes and was met with a guide who had us get in line and within a few minutes was checking in at the desk.  As soon as we finished our check-in process and got our room keys, we were able to board the ship and go straight to our room to drop off our carry-on luggage.  What a plus!  We were able to drop our things in our room and go right to the dining area to eat.  The really great reception area had lots of seats upstairs to accommodate four or five hundred guests with no problem, so even if you had to wait to board the ship, you had a comfortable sitting area while waiting.  The check-in process and boarding the ship was much better on Celebrity.

WINNER FOR CHECK-IN AND BOARDING – CELEBRITY CRUISE LINES

Scoreboard:    Carnival – 0  Celebrity – 1

DINING FACILITIES & MENU

CARNIVAL VALOR

Carnival Valor had two main evening dining rooms, both very nicely decorated and the service was fantastic.  As soon as you arrive at your table, your personal wait staff was there to greet you and immediately took care of you.  Every evening there is a different menu with a few choices for your appetizer, soup/salad, and main entrée.  The food was excellent with many good choices to also include a vegetarian choice as well.  Each night was a different venue and overall, there were a myriad of choices over the course of a week.  The buffet style dining areas offered a variety of choices daily also for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you didn’t want to eat in the fine dining areas.  There are also a hamburger & fries grill, deli, bistro, pizza, ice cream station and a variety of eating choices all day long, a little more limited after midnight, but there are choices for you if you are hungry late night.  The food for late night aboard the Valor is good and the 24/7 ice cream station is a plus for kids.  Of course, there is room service.  Being a frequent coffee drinker, I have to say; the coffee aboard the Valor was not that good unless you went to the specialty coffee areas where it costs you out -of-pocket.  Some say they didn’t care for the food on Carnival, however, I have heard the same on Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, so I guess it depends on what you are used to or what your expectations are.  For us, the food was good and we had a lot of choices, so we never went hungry.  While the coffee on the Carnival Valor is not very tasty and actually the Celebrity Solstice has much better coffee, I have to say that food taste overall goes to Carnival Valor, they have definitely got a better tasting assortment of foods.  I spoke with a couple guests on the Solstice and asked them if they have cruised on Carnival before, and they both agreed that Carnival has the better tasting food than the Solstice does, thus Carnival Valor wins the main dining category.

CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Celebrity Solstice has one main evening dining room that is also very attractive, but the feature that this is really prominent about their dining is they have two main menus.  To the left side is the Classic Menu that is available every single day, so if you have a favorite you can find it on another evening if you so like, or if nothing appeals to you on the menu to the right.  To the right side is the day’s specialty menu which changes every single day with different appetizers, soups/salads, main entrees.  Same as Carnival, there are a variety of choices and everyday a rotating menu so that you almost never eat the same thing twice.  However, there is something about the taste of the Solstice food that leaves you lingering, overall their dishes are somewhat bland.  There are dishes that come from around the world so you get an opportunity to experience something that perhaps you have not had before.  Same as on Carnival, there are vegetarian choices and both Cruise Lines are attentive to special needs or special dietary requirements.  However,

For the buffet style dining, I particularly enjoyed the Celebrity layout because they broke out a variety of different food layouts so that you could choose something that interested your palate.  For instance, this morning they had Mexican Eggs Benedict, and German Eggs Benedict – being a German, I naturally went for that.  They had hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelet station, bacon, sausage, potatoes, and corned beef hash – pretty much same as Carnival, although I never found Eggs Benedict or Hard boiled eggs on the Carnival Valor.  Therefore, as for buffet style dining, it’s a tough call – I would say each has their own themes for the “look and feel” of the dining ambiance, and therefore both are very accommodating and somewhat comfortable for dining.  Regardless, with the buffet style of eating on Carnival and Celebrity, you still feel like you are eating in a cafeteria on both ships.  The great note about the Celebrity buffet style dining is that there are signs on the ceiling that told you what each dining island had to offer so you did not have to roam around to discover like you did on the Carnival Valor.   I think the only ship I have been on where I really enjoyed the eating in the buffet style dining areas was the Carnival Imagination as it still felt like a dining room to me and not a cafeteria.

Of particular interest on the Celebrity Solstice was their crepes and pastry Shoppe of which I immediately fell in love with.  Both Carnival and Celebrity offer a Sushi restaurant bar, but unless I missed it, I never saw a pastry and crepe shop on the Carnival Valor.

For menu choices in the evening dining room, Celebrity wins hands down with more choices and selections over Carnival, yet the food tastes so much better on Carnival, so Carnival wins the Evening Dining Experience.  However, for the general buffet style dining, I can’t say either cruise line wins as they both offer the same variety for breakfast and lunch, so in this case for buffet style dining, it is a definite tie!  There is one noteworthy additional comment, the late night dining on the Carnival Valor has more to offer than Celebrity Solstice; I was very disappointed on the choices for late night which included leftover desserts from dinner, lunch meats and cheese that looked like it sat out there a long time, and burnt crust-bottom pizza.  Solstice needs some help on their late night menu and food care.

WINNER FOR DINING FACILITIES & MENU – EVENING DINING – CARNIVAL WINS

BUFFET STYLE DINING & LATE NIGHT – CARNIVAL WINS

Scoreboard:          Carnival – 2   Celebrity – 1

GIFT SHOPS & DUTY-FREE SHOPPING

This is a personal call, however, I think Carnival has more of a “general variety” of shopping for passengers whereas the selection ranges for different tastes and spending abilities.  Carnival has a larger selection of alcohol and general goods to purchase.  Each has their own jewelry shops with various price ranges depending upon what you are looking for, however, Carnival seems to make shopping more fun with many prize drawings and offerings.  Celebrity seems to be geared toward the more upscale passengers with all their fancy brands, and while Celebrity offers more high-end shopping with brand name clothing and designer clothing, unless you are in the upper income bracket, you will find that Celebrity is higher priced than Carnival.  Therefore, if you have more disposable income, and you are looking for the upscale brands, then Celebrity shopping is definitely for you.  If you are more of a family style and budget conscious spender, than Carnival is the winner.  Considering I am writing this more for the family shopper with average incomes, I have to declare Carnival the winner.

WINNER FOR BEST OVERALL SHOPPING VENUE FOR AVERAGE FAMILY SPENDING – CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES

Scoreboard:      Carnival – 3   Celebrity – 1

CRUISE DIRECTORS

Here is where I get a little critical, I don’t know how other folks feel about cruising, but I have to tell you that the cruise directors on ships can either be wonderful and informative, or corny and almost obnoxious.  I find that the cruise director on the Celebrity Solstice, Paul, is a delightful personality who does his best to inform and be a guide to your cruise experience.  His presence is not over-bearing, his demeanor is polite, social and informative.  However, I have been on several Carnival cruises and I find that these people think they tend to be the star of the show.  For example, Big Tex on Carnival Valor is a ham who likes to be in the limelight a little too much, so in my opinion, Big Tex is over-bearing and looking for the spotlight as much as possible.  There are lots of activities on each cruise ship all aimed at young, old, and for mixed content.

On the Celebrity Solstice we went to a show the second night out performed by the crew of the ship and it was amazing!  It was like Cirque du Soleil with circus acts that were nothing but superb and closely paralleled the Cirque shows, thus, I called this Cirque du Solstice.  It was extremely fascinating to watch the talent from the crew members who had skills that you didn’t think possible.  I have never seen any show like this on any other ship that was not a professional venue.  Carnival had some fairly good shows with magic acts, comedy shows and so forth; thus, both cruise lines are very entertaining with night life, but I had to comment on the Cirque show from Solstice.  In all the cruises that we have taken, I have never witnessed one as fabulous as this show was, it is a MUST SEE!

WINNER FOR BEST CRUISE DIRECTORS AND EVENING SHOWS – CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Scoreboard:      Carnival – 3   Celebrity – 2

BEVERAGE PACK OFFERINGS

Carnival Cruise Line does NOT offer any beverage packages – you have to pay for each and every soft drink, beer, wine, cocktail or anything out of the ordinary juice, regular coffee and water.

Celebrity Cruise Line, on the other hand, offers soft drink packages to include a thermal insulated souvenir cup to keep your beverages cold/hot as you like.  You can get the soft drink package, the specialty juice/water/coffee package, the wine package, the cocktail package or even have a bar set-up in your room.  This is priced a bit more economical so that you can feel like you have an all-inclusive package aboard ship.

WINNER FOR GUEST CONVENIENCE BEVERAGE PACKAGES – CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Scoreboard:       Carnival – 3   Celebrity – 3

EXITING FOR SHORE EXCURSIONS

Carnival seems to have an overall air of confusion when it comes to disembarkation for port calls.  If you have a shore excursion, they do give you priority, but you have to listen carefully as even their staff seems to be confused as to who leaves first and when.  When we are on the Carnival Valor, we were all herded into a huge room and given numbers, but the staff seemed a bit confused as to who leaves when and first.  On the Celebrity Solstice you come down and obtain a tender number that defines when you get off the boat and they call those numbers over the loud speaker so that everyone is not uncomfortably herded (like cattle) into a big room and then you have the shoving and people trying to get off ahead of you.  With the Celebrity crew, it was much more organized and effective, thus the winner of this category again goes to the Celebrity Solstice.  Their disembarkation for port calls is so much more organized.

WINNER FOR BEST DISEMBARKATION AT PORT CALLS – CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Scoreboard:        Carnival – 3   Celebrity – 4

BEST CABIN ARRANGEMENT, DÉCOR & SPACING

By far, Celebrity Solstice has the best cabin décor, ambiance, furniture, storage and overall arrangement of cabins.  Carnival feels a little cluttered and closed in and the layouts are not that effective.  The Solstice gives you the feel of having more room because they make use of their cabin space more effectively, and the overall décor of the cabin is much better.

WINNER FOR BEST CABIN ARRANGEMENT & DÉCOR – CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Scoreboard:         Carnival – 3    Celebrity – 5

POOLS & SWIMMING AREAS:

Carnival pools are pretty much sea water (salty) whereas Celebrity Solstice uses fresh water in their pools with a little chlorine to keep it clean and germ free.  On the Celebrity Solstice there are two pools outdoors, one is strictly an adult pool and one is a family pool; the adult pool is deeper – around 6 feet.  Carnival on the other hand does have the sliders for the pool and has a couple pools also, one geared more to small children.  The Celebrity Solstice also has one big indoor pool and this is strictly an adult pool area.  There are several hot tubs inside with cabanas and lounge chairs and very nice and quiet for those who want to relax.  Unfortunately, Celebrity does not really enforce their policies as I have seen little children in the adult only area indoors, and worse yet, on the main deck, Celebrity kids club violated their own policy.  There were several older adults in the adult only pool when along came the kids club led by the director who immediately put about 15 children in the pool with us.  We mentioned that this was an adults only pool, and the pool butler stated, “well the kids pool is rather busy right now, so we had to put them in here.”  Well, folks, that sent a message to everyone else that if they can violate their own policies, so could everyone else.

As far as pool availability, Celebrity Solstice wins hands down, they offer more facilities on the main deck, and on the next lower deck down for folks to enjoy.  However, as far as monitoring their rules, Carnival has a little more enforcement.  On the Carnival Valor, kids are not allowed in the adult only pool, and their pool butlers inform families that the family swimming area is the next deck down.

WINNER FOR THE BEST POOLS AND SWIMMING AREAS – CELEBRITY SOLSTICE

Scoreboard:          Carnival – 3    Celebrity – 6

WINNER FOR ENFORCING SHIP POLICIES – CARNIVAL VALOR

Scoreboard:          Carnival – 4    Celebrity – 6

PUBLIC RESTROOMS:

This is a short note, but a valid point.  Carnival Valor had plenty of public restrooms that were easy to find and well marked throughout the ship, I have to say finding a public restroom aboard the Celebrity Solstice was a bit of a challenge, so on that note, Carnival Valor wins the award for the most and easiest to find public restrooms aboard the ship.

WINNER FOR MOST AVAILABLE & EASIEST TO FIND PUBLIC RESTROOMS – CARNIVAL VALOR

Scoreboard:          Carnival – 5    Celebrity – 6

OVERALL CONCLUSION

As you can see, Carnival Valor has better food, and in many ways is best suitable for family cruise vacations.  However, if you are a couple looking to enjoy a more upscale cruise line, then Celebrity is definitely for you.  From my perspective, Carnival is a more fun ship for family enjoyment; Celebrity is more for the honeymoon, anniversary and adult couples cruising.  They both have some strong points, and they both have some areas for improvement.  I hope you have enjoyed this comparison and I welcome your comments.

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