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Written by Diane Webster.

The cruising experience is something everyone should try. The trick is to find the right destinations and cruise line for you. The professionals at Classic Travel can help you with that. They know what’ll work best with your lifestyle. And, when you’re matched with the right ship, on the right itinerary – it’s a match made in heaven.

In January, we wanted luxury, warm weather, and a good bargain. A Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Solstice gave us all of this, and so much more. Our ports included San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas.

Puerto Rico is a fun and lively place with many interesting shops and great outdoor restaurants. We were going to catch one of the free open air buses/trolleys, but decided instead to walk to the nearby Fort. As it turns out, we spent the rest of the day exploring the sprawling National Historical gem. The views alone are worth the visit, but this is so much more. Began in the 1600’s, this intriguing site has evolved and served through many generations and wars (including WWII). We felt almost alone in the miles of history. Well annotated and laid out – we were fascinated with the significance, as well as the lifestyles and accommodations, of the century’s of people that had lived, and died there.

Our next ports were St Maarten and St Thomas, both of which were stunning. St. Maarten is the smallest place in the world to have two countries, part is Dutch and part is French. Our ship port was on the Dutch side and we enjoyed shopping there. Later we took a taxi to the French side where we stopped for a great lobster dinner in a French cafe overlooking the beautiful yachts in the bay.

St Thomas was our favorite port for shopping. It had something for every taste – from Cartier and Tiffany’s to local crafts. The streets are literally lined with door to door shops and welcoming shop owners greeting the passersby and encouraging them to step inside. Our only misstep was that we thought the “French Mall” would be like going to the French side of St Maarten. Actually, it’s a misnomer. There is virtually no shopping and only a few places to eat. We couldn’t even find a cab to take us back. So unless you want a pleasant walk back along the ocean (which we did), skip the French Mall.

After some nice dining in downtown St Thomas, we hired a private taxi for the rest of the day. He took us up into the mountains where you can see the most amazing views. David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey own islands that can be viewed from the peaks. And we sat in the place where Sir. Walter Blake watched the incoming Spanish ships. For him, it was a military vantage point; for us, it was a photo op with breathtaking views. If it’s a clear day, you’ll have postcard quality pictures that seem almost too beautiful to be real.

The rest of our trip was spent being spoiled on the beautiful Celebrity Solstice. We loved the ship and her crew. Every night we would go to the show in the Solstice Theater. From musical productions with great dancing and music, to the featured performers, they were wonderful! One night Lindsay Hamilton, who starred in London’s West End productions of Evita and Les Miserables, did her cabaret show. Besides being entertaining and funny, her voice gave me goosebumps. It’s quite a treat to see this kind of talent – and it’s all included as part of your package!

Before or after the show (and sometimes both) we’d catch something to eat. Most nights we chose to eat in the dining room where we had “anytime dining”. We also ate in the specialty restaurant, Murano’s (for an additional change) whose ‘contemporary French Cuisine’, was just wonderful! And for fun, we liked the Bistro where they served an assortment of lovely Crepes (only $5.00 additional cover charge per person). The Solstice has an array of places to eat that will certainly appeal to every appetite at any hour. From the huge (really huge) plentiful and culinarily diverse buffet, to the healthy spa cafe, to the pool side burger-dog-nacho bar, there is always something good to eat somewhere. Overeating is a clear danger, but if you’re feeling guilty, the Solstice has a well equipped gym with plenty of exercise classes and equipment.

Another favorite on the Solstice was the hot glass shows which they usually do twice a day. They have glass furnaces were artist make beautiful works while explaining the complicated and intriguing process. It’s a fascinating two hour demonstration. If you get a chance, it’s definitely worth watching and if you’re lucky, they occasionally raffle off a few of the pieces they create to guest in attendance.

When you’re onboard, your sea pass card serves as your room key, your ID, and your credit card. It’s very convenient, and, on this cruise, it even retrieves all your ship photos. Instead of having to go to the photo gallery and look though hundreds of pictures to find yours, you just swipe your card and all of your photos appear on the kiosk. How do they do that? Facial reorganization. Yes, this ship has a lot of the latest technology, but it also has many traditional comforts, like a beautiful comfy library and game room.

We love the cruising lifestyle. We took (or tired to) dance classes, attended fitness presentations and cooking demonstrations. We played in the casino and entered the slot tournament. We went to great shows and ate wonderful food. Our cabins were carefully attended day and night by our stewards who were always pleasant and never failed to greet us. All this is included in the cost of the cruise! It really is an amazing value, and, it’s so much fun!

Diane Webster About the Author: Diane, Classic Travel’s President Joy Thrun’s sister, retired from the State of Michigan where she worked in the area of information technology and served on the original e-Michigan team that launched the Michigan.gov website. Travel is a family passion and, like her parents and siblings, Diane has delighted in traveling the world. She has enjoyed Hawaii, Alaska, and many destinations throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. She has also had the pleasure of traveling to China, Japan, France, Spain, Italy, England, Monaco, and Malta.