I love my early morning walks along the foreshore at St Kilda. They are a great start to my day, allowing me to think, plan, revitalise whilst absorbing the beauty of the bay. No matter what the weather it is always lovely, and on very still mornings you can see up to 5 or 6 hot air balloons floating across Melbourne’s city skyline.
Between November and April it is the cruise ship season, and so, as I take my early morning walk, there is frequently, almost every day, a very large cruise ship arriving into Melbourne.
I have never taken a cruise, and so I was delighted to be invited aboard the Celebrity Solstice on its maiden visit to Melbourne, by International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association to join their small group. The security on these ships is paramount and so a few weeks before our visit, we had to send passport and identification details to be approved, before the invitation was issued formally.
Celebrity Cruises sent their representative, Tony, down from Sydney to be our host for the day. After presenting our identification documents at Station Pier and again as we boarded, we went through the usual airport style security system, and had our hands sprayed with some kind of disinfectant!
All clean, and frisked, we were ready for Tony to take us on his very informative guided tour, which was to finish with a delicious luncheon, on this renowned, culinary ship. IFWTWA members spent a lovely few hours on this 122,000 tonne ship, its central, light filled, multi-storey atrium, plus many luxury features and sensational restaurants and bars.
The Celebrity Solstice, at 122,000 tonnes of her, and with 2850 passengers, is one of the Celebrity group of ships and prides itself on their many ‘firsts’ at sea, including and first green, grass lawn, sewn with the lawn of the local port and country in which it is visiting; so it is regularly changed to suit the location and climate. For the Australian, Melbourne, visit they planted Sir Walter, Couch Grass! Up on this top deck with its local green lawn, you can relax, play a game of boule, feel cool in sea breeze and enjoy looking at some refreshing ‘grass’ at sea. Nearby, there is the hot glass blowing show and exhibition from the Corning Museum of Glass. There is a Cellar Masters Lounge, where our visit began, six fabulous and varied restaurants, including French, Italian, Japanese, thirteen drinks, including a Martini Bar, and coffee bars, an 1400 seat theatre, a cinema, three pools, a library, a gymnasium, a nightclub, plus all the usual features of such a large ship.
In pride of place inside Michael’s Club, a quiet, club for those in first class and the staterooms, near the grand piano, on either side of the entrance doorway, hangs a Picasso and a Matisse drawing. Very special indeed.
Anyone for a ‘Screaming Eagle’? – it is not one of the wines I know! It is one of the wines available on board, hailing from California…. and found at our first stop in the ‘Cellar Masters’, the ships wine lounge. The sommelier gave us a run down on the wines and various wine packages available on board, something for every taste!
In the Cellar masters there is an Enomatic, wine-by-the-glass, state of the art wine dispensing machine, quite a novel machine. There you can enjoy a glass of wine at any time of the day or night. There is a choice between 8 reds and 8 whites, either a 30mls, 75ml and 150ml glass. There are wines from all around the world, including France, Austria, US, Canada, South America, Spain, Portugal and Italy, Australia and New Zealand. I noticed a Chevrey-Chambertin from Burgundy. All the wines in the Enomatic are available on the wine list and so you can have wine your own private wine tasting before you purchase a bottle! Prices of the wine varies with the top of the range being a Krug champagne at $3450 a bottle….there is one only on board; if more are required they helicopter more in for you!
During school holidays you will find young families on board, at other times the ages of guests vary with the most popular group being 40s – 50s….much younger than I thought. Perhaps this was a marketing pitch? Yes there are honeymooners, even in their 70s and of course there are ship romances…and with 2,850 people on board there is a lot from which to choose.
We admire the gym, the Sky Observation Lounge, Aqua-Spa and there we see this wonderful, expansive view of Melbourne; there are many large deck areas with all those lovely royal blue sun lounges, lined up, just waiting for you and your book. No need to get up early and reserve a lounge with your towel as we saw on Kath and Kim.
From the central atrium, you overlook the glass lift and look down into the library, there is plenty of natural light and hanging in the middle, there is a hanging tree suspended in an enormous triangular shaped cone pot.
We pop into all the six restaurants. As we enter the Tuscan Grille, we see the fabulous central feature of the beautiful Murano glass behind which, today, there is the blue backdrop with Port Phillip Bay with ships and yachts just sailing by waiting for our photos.
The Celebrity Solstice prides itself on its restaurants and dining experiences and so we were looking forward to our lunch. After a very pleasurable hour or so, we find our way to the Main Dining Room, the Grande Epernay Dining Room, with its spectacular wine tower, the sparkling crystal light fittings and sumptuous table settings. We are told, all Celebrity ships have such a wine tower in their main restaurant. The staff is ‘global’, coming from all around the world, most attentive and charming. As soon as we were settled at the table, we were offered the choice of a Penfolds’ Shiraz and – yes – you guessed it – a Sauvignon Blanc!
The luncheon menu
- appetizer of cheese ravioli with gorgonzola sauce and mushrooms, we are told always a favourite and looked delicious
- creamed sweet corn bisque, with coriander and crab flakes, my choice and very tasty
- green garden salad, presented in a unique cone shape, wrapped in place with a zucchini ribbon, see the photo below, a great novel idea, I thought.
- roasted Atlantic salmon with Puy lentils, curried vegetables and frisée
- braised beef spare ribs, tempura green beans and creamy mash, melt in the mouth, rich and luscious
- warm chocolate, hazelnut mocha pudding, oozy, hot dark chocolate, great for the chocolate lovers
We are informed the menus change regularly, as one would expect, to encourage return visits.
All quite delicious and ensuring that the Celestial Solstice maintains is reputation for culinary excellence. A quick coffee, thank yous and good byes ended our special visit.
To complete my day, at home that evening we dined on our balcony, as we usually do on warm and balmy evenings, and were just in time to see the Celestial Solstice leaving Station Pier, off to its next port.
A very pretty sight, but completely outdone by another sensational Melbourne sunset! The guests on board would have been delighted by this fabulous vibrant end to their sunny Melbourne autumn day.