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   Cruise Travel - Cruise Ships


Royal Olympic Cruises, Ltd.

TSS Stella Solaris

Rating:Two and a Half Stars
Submit your review hereSubmit your review
Operator: Royal Olympic Cruises, Ltd.
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1953 / 1995
Length / Tonnage: 544 / 17,800
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 329 / 660
Officers / Crew: Greek / Greek
Operating Area: Worldwide
Telephone / Fax: Tel 113 0226 / Fax 113 0227

Review by Mark H. Goldberg, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor

I’ve just heard that one of two honorary co-chairpeople of the board of Royal Olympic says I have "bad-mouthed" the SOLARIS…how untrue that was, and how mean spirited and weasly of someone to whisper that lie into her ear..for no one has spoken and written more fondly and glowingly of this ship than I have…however, if sharing the news with my readers of the severe budgetary cuts to passenger services that I’ve seen in the last eighteen months, ruining what had been a delightful ship is "bad mouthing" the ship, Royal Olympic has its own management style (or lack thereof) to blame…for OH! how the mighty has fallen!!!…Look at their brochures, all shiny and pretty…too bad they spend so much money to print them, for over the past few seasons there have been so many changes to deployment of ships, that you just never know what ship will be on what itinerary…if she goes at all.

The three"PIPS" were the summer ’98 brochure…the ODYSSEUS, scheduled for a season in the Baltic, was chartered to others; her place up north was taken by the little STELLA OCEANIS, not quite the ship most people want to spend two weeks in…the TRITON, scheduled for 7 night cruises to Greek Islands and Turkey was replaced by new acquisition OLYMPIC COUNTESS; the Israel/Egypt cruises of the STELLA OCEANIS were given to the tiny but really lovely STELLA MARIS…and not all scheduled operated and the season curtailed and so on and so on…for WINTER 1998/1999, the Orinoco River/Caribbean cruises planned for the OLYMPIC COUNTESS were cancelled and passengers informed about two months before the ship was supposed to start her crossing from Greece…many were rebooked on the SOLARIS creating a social mix that never quite worked…as well as resentment by people who had paid higher rates for the SOLARIS when they learned that the cheaper tickets of the COUNTESS got those people a longer SOLARIS cruise…and don’t forget the SUMMER 1999 brochure…after three weeks in the Aegean, the SOLARIS was laid up, the Kosovo situation given as the reason for the move…it was A reason, but with so few passengers and so little money, the SOLARIS was forced to sit out the season except for six weeks from late July as brighter, newer ships full of passengers American and European went cruising in the Eastern Mediterranean…and the SOLARIS’ fall cruises are scratched, too, her intending passengers shifted to the TRITON…Once a beloved favorite of savvy cruise travelers, and still icon of a convinced hard core group of repeat passengers among whom I was until recently one her loudest fans, I am crestfallen to say that Royal Olympic Cruises’ flagship STELLA SOLARIS no longer wins my vote of confidence.

Nor, for that matter, does Royal Olympic…whose credibility with me and many in the travel business is at new lows..Maybe it’s the inability or unwillingness of the line to come across with its promised sailings…this year alone saw FOURTEEN different sailing schedules drawn up for the summer season…and people expecting to sail in the SOLARIS on Greek Island itineraries were informed very late, if even before setting off for Athens that they were sailing in another ship and NOT the SOLARIS…bookings were so bad that she spent most of the summer laid up, resuming service on July 23rd for six weeks and is back in lay up…until December when she is supposed to sail for the Americas…Maybe she will, maybe she won’t…Royal Olympic is trying to sell her…have been trying all season, and almost had her sold…but the deal fell through…Anyway, maybe it’s the extremely tough financial conditions under which the company now operates… I used to sing her praises loudly, I can’t and won’t do that anymore…She may well be the last of her kind in service today but I have noticed an alarming trend for first timers aboard her to come away completely puzzled by the affection we old timers have for her... but people who love her love her for many reasons... and I did, too.

No matter what obstacles have come her way, she's the perfect size for me and she does feel mighty spacious. Even with hard times at Royal Olympic, everyone who writes about cruise ships seems to agree that this ship is not your typical chrome glass and neon cruise ship. And don’t get me wrong, she still has quite a few good things going for her…her atmosphere, charm and personality now unique to the seas keep this old girl something out of the ordinary. Say what you will about or, or what I will, the ship's cleanliness and maintenance (I can't TELL you how important those two items are) are still outstanding and all reporters praise the ship's crew...and so do I...You'd be surprised to read the same words written by several different hands...) "Excellent service...the crew is friendly and attentive..." WARM is the adjective most people use to describe a STELLA SOLARIS crew. An army of repeat passengers sail again and again with the STELLA SOLARIS, drawn back to the ship by her fantastic crew and service. Over the past couple of years I have watched her once devoted core group of multi repeaters dwindle, some drawn to newer ships with more amenities, others to new or further ranging itineraries. There are still many people who sail with their "SOLARIS" but I won’t be one of them any more…

She debuted in 1953 so that makes the STELLA SOLARIS pretty old now. She has quite a background, built for France's Messageries Maritimes' premier route between Marseilles and the Far East. Her first name was CAMBODGE and after her withdrawal from passenger and cargo service, she was bought on February 18, 1970 by Sun Line founder Charalambos Keusseoglou and in 1971 work started on her conversion to plans he himself drew. Totally rebuilt, she emerged as STELLA SOLARIS in 1973. Retaining her 544 foot length and 72 foot beam, Keusseoglou gave her an entirely new superstructure above the main deck. Combining of some of the most successful of cruise ships of the day like the ROYAL VIKING STAR, workmen built an extraordinary floating hotel. She remains little changed since the inaugural cruises she made that spring. At 18,000 gross tons she was a fairly large cruise ship. Fully air conditioned and stabilizer equipped, she has a very deep draft for a ship of her size so she gives you a very good ride. She has fin stabilizers but the Captain hardly ever needs to put them out.

Public Areas
The ship is well arranged with most public rooms located on Solaris Deck so if you take her, you won't have any trouble finding your way around. You won't get lost nor is it a long hike from dinner to entertainment. From the main lobby on Solaris Deck all roads lead to the principal public rooms. On port on the way into the Dining Room is the clubby Grill Room bar the place that so distinctly conveys the atmosphere of the STELLA SOLARIS. It’s not universally admired, one former Captain told anyone who would listen that the room reminded him of a stateside "Denny’s"…but that doesn’t stop almost half of the passengers from coming in here for a drink before dinner. Lavish in its use of space is the 550 seat Solaris Lounge, a main lounge in the traditional fashion of such a seagoing room. In here, dark wine velvet and elongated murals of bronze would set a warm tone by themselves but it's the cinnamon, olive and beige highlighting red and blue fabrics that give this big room that real warm, homey feeling everyone seems to like. Large windows on both sides offer excellent views and if you just feel like sitting down for a good read, you'll like the light coming over your shoulder if you sit against the wall. Come evening, you'll want to be here for the show or a whirl or two around the floor. As many as four dance boys used to patrol the room on every cruise just to provide dance partners for the many single women travelling, but over the past couple of years the company has decided to cut their costs and now only two Gentleman Hosts are here to squire to sign dance cards.

I’ll always like to take a seat at the bar behind the SOLARIS LOUNGE and watch the sunset. OK I admit it...I don't drink but those homemade potato chips are what REALLY draws me and I love the view aft. The STELLA SOLARIS is known for her potato chips - probably because they make them fresh every day. Actually, the bar is in a cozy semi-detached room called the Piano Bar and it just might be my favorite spot aboard the ship...except I have quite a few favorite spots aboard this ship. Another is the spot on deck just behind the bar. Sitting out here is kind of like sitting in a backyard surrounded by water on three sides - and when the STELLA SOLARIS is near land, it's a dandy place to watch the passing scene.

Rounding out the STELLA SOLARIS' many public rooms are a combined card room/library aft on Boat Deck, a gym/spa and sauna aft on Golden Deck while deep down in the hull are a comfy theatre and even lower, away from cabin areas so you may be as noisy as you like is the Taverna for late night revels. Too bad the gym equipment isn’t nearly enough to provide any but the most rudimentary workout and if more than three people show at one time, it’s crowded…a word I won’t use for the late night Taverna, which on cruises in the winter season sees officers and staff outnumber passengers by about 10 to 1.

On Lido Deck is the Lido Cafe where passengers are offered breakfast and lunch buffets. I used to like the waffles at breakfast but in the past couple of years the breakfast buffet set out in the Lido Café has degraded into a festival of animal and vegetable fats , some congealed, and hot foods served cold and some cold foods served hot that I haven’t eaten from it since the Christmas 97 cruise. During my last two cruises in this ship, two weeks from Europe to Florida in December 1998 (it should have been three but when the company pulled the plug on the advertised cruises of the OLYMPIC COUNTESS and packed the SOLARIS with intending COUNTESS passengers, we got bumped for the first week and had to get to Palma to get on…let me say only that had I not been in the SOLARIS before that truncated cruise of mine, I would never have come back…)and for eight weeks aboard in the winter of 1999, the lunch buffets were laughable…cold burgers a mainstay…with increasing money troubles, this is one place where the company obviously cut back…and it shows…

Coming back to Solaris Deck, but this time via the forward stairs, we get to see everyone's favorite, the Dining Room, located just behind the galley which is forwardmost on this Deck. With 450 seats it can't offer a single seating unless the ship isn't full and that happened on a couple of sailings I have made with this ship…like the Christmas Cruise in 97 when we were 280 passengers and on a couple of the transAtlantics when numbers of passengers brought a single sitting…The food on the SOLARIS used to be wonderful…but it isn’t anymore…or at least WASN’T for the cruise from Florida to Manaus to Rio to Manaus to Florida…or shall I say…four cruises, for it was operated as four two week cruises and menus repeated at least four times and sometimes more often than that…The food was so spectacularly disappointing that I overheard one senior officer scream at the company’s supervising chef, traveling as a passenger on a two week segment, that if he didn’t improve the food PRONTO, the chef should start looking for work elsewhere…Where fresh food of the highest quality was the norm with a wide variety of American, Continental and Greek dinners, the quality of food is nowhere close to what it had been…It’s sad to have watched the quality of this ship’s food sink over the past four years…but that’s what’s happened... Things on the long winter cruise got to the point that most lunches we had were special orders…cheeseburgers and fries…as in any number of Greek American eateries…the "specialite de la maison"! But at least the service is wonderful!

I am more concerned with CABINS than the next guy and I still have kind words for the execution of cabins in this ship! Every ship has lots of 'em and this one is no exception. The STELLA SOLARIS has 250 outside and 60 inside cabins and suites, and though there are beds for about 700 people, capacity is limited to a maximum of 620 passengers in summer and only 570 in winter. Sixty six rooms are graded "suites" and are fitted with sitting area (in many of them a sofa bed sleeps a third passenger if need be) as well as two lower beds.

This ship's private quarters are very well laid-out to take maximum advantage of space and as a result, they feel quite roomy. All have plenty of closet space and every cabin has private bathroom with shower (suites also have bathtubs), air conditioning, lock drawer for valuables and multi- channel radio. Being a "Suite" guy...I'll let you in on a secret...the ship's biggest suites are forward on Boat Deck, the suites with double bed are the aftermost and smaller...but it's the Golden Deck suites that the SOLARIS' multi-repeaters seem to favor, my favorite suite is on Golden Deck..it's G35 and since I won’t be back, there’s no need to keep mum…There ARE suites to avoid…we spent four weeks living in noisebox B-20, right under the piano in the Lido Café so besides hearing the footsteps of the high heeled above our heads we heard every note of music…Another very noisy suite is B3 – we had that one once after trapped rainwater leaked onto the outboard bed in B 17…and we were treated to B 3 where we heard the couple in B1 play Yahtzee most afternoons when I wanted a nap, and all night long heard the wheezes and coughs of a rheumatic elderly couple in B 5…and don’t let me forget the clinking of all that silverware marshalled at the counter in the pantry below…If you don’t like extraneous noise, forget about booking the suites underneath the Lido Café pantry, in particular B25 and B 27…you’ll hear the noise of buffet set ups thrice daily…and some friends of mine complained bitterly about that one…as did others in the big forward suites on Boat Deck complain about the temperature in their rooms…warm! warm! too warm! a comment I made on both cruises when assigned a Ruby Deck suite…but at least the Ruby Deck suites are quiet…which is something a number of Golden Deck suites aren’t…especially those under the Grill Bar. They hear the piano until quite late into the night…while B 26 (my favorite of all on this ship) and B 28 can hear the shows and rehearsals below them…Something for everyone, no?

Most of the standard cabins in this ship are comfortable and well laid out...Among the TA grades, I like some of the aftermost...like G-84...Also acceptable and lower down the price scale are the B category rooms on Emerald Deck...but watch out for E31 and 33, you can sometimes hear some engine noises...which is actually something of a soporific to me...old sailor that I am...I find it soothing and easy to sleep to...The STELLA SOLARIS has some very good inside rooms, too...any of the 39 DA grade rooms could satisfy you if you don't need a window or porthole...

This year Stella Solaris will spend the remainder of the year sailing from Athens on a 7 day itinerary with stops at Dardanelles, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Patmos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini.

Who Goes
This ship was always a real people pleaser, attracting a generally more affluent and well educated passenger list. She was never a ship for anyone looking for "hard rock" action and activity twenty four hours a day. I used to say that the STELLA SOLARIS was ideal for anyone who appreciates a gracious home at sea en route to interesting places, a ship replete with attentive, warm, caring service, a good range of shipboard activities and good companionship. She isn’t that anymore…cutbacks everywhere and new management styles have taken their toll…I used to love the house party at sea atmosphere that so often developed during her North America season cruises but so many multi-repeaters have dropped out or dropped dead that it just isn’t that way anymore..The old lady who used to run this place doesn’t want me back because she believed a lie told to her that I had "bad mouthed" the SOLARIS…I hadn’t … but with these new truths, I won’t be back.

As anyone with even a fair knowledge of travel can tell you, the STELLA SOLARIS can still be a good value but with so many other ships out there, I think Royal Olympic really better consider how they treat their friends…their enemies already don’t like ‘em…and they have few enough friends in the travel business as it is…The New York office used to be filled with personnel who really liked their work and cared so much about their company, their ships and most of all, their guests but since early December 1998 things took a drastic turn…and since that time there have been dizzying cast changes…resulting in a lot of confusion and quite a lot of bad will…The old SOLARIS still has a lot going for her though…besides all the usual cruise ship activities, (and let's face it, some of the stuff is truly hokey, but many like it that way), the STELLA SOLARIS offers a great enrichment programs. For the present, at least, I no longer recommend my old friend to any but her own seasoned, experienced passengers.

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