If you’ve never cruised before, the sight of a cruise ship’s main dining room can be just as impressive as it is daunting. On entering and being presented with literally hundreds of tables and thousands of seats, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ll be here for hours waiting for your turn to place an order and be served. Not true.
Celebrity Solstice monitors diner numbers to ensure wait service staff numbers are adequate for the entire nightly passenger contingent – after all, a main dining room has to be prepared to cater for the ship’s entire passenger load if necessary. However this almost never happens thanks to staggered dinner seatings, the Celebrity Select Dining concept which allows people to come and go as they please and a healthy selection of alternate dining venues, often all running their own promotions to ensure they are also full each evening.
Cruise Advice enjoyed an opportunity to dine at Grand Ipernay as part of an exclusive trade tour of the ship in between cruises at its summer home port in Sydney. As the restaurant is not open on embarkation day to newly arriving passengers, all diners were part of this group.
Even though Grand Ipernay is spread across two decks, there is a main entrance on Deck 3, however diners may exit on either Deck 3 or 4. In order to manage the flow of diners during the peak part of any given meal time, all guests need to enter the room via the main entrance as their stateroom number is recorded and ticked off the list. Our visit took place between cruise departures so the ship was offloading old passengers and welcoming new ones, and the venue is not open immediately for guests embarking.
The main dining room on Celebrity Solstice is included in the fare paid to sail on Celebrity Solstice, so you can enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner every day in the same place if you wish, without paying any extra. That said, on some occasions, there will be some speciality dishes such as lobster which may attract a further surcharge if you choose to order the item. Drinks are also at an additional expense however may be covered by your beverage package if you’ve purchased one.
Grand Epernay is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, with the former two adopting an Open Seating option, meaning you can sit where you like. For dinner, all guests must choose from either Traditional Dining (a choice of 6pm or 8:30pm to turn up and dine each evening, if they choose to eat there. On this system, guests will eat at the same table every night, often with the same wait staff and no advance reservations are needed).
Alternatively, the Celebrity Select Dining system means guests can reserve seats for a particular time or just turn up and be seated at any table with sufficient space. This system requires all guests to prepay their crew gratuities as they will likely be served by different staff each night. If no reservation is made and depending on what time they turn up, guests may have to wait for available space to open up, especially so with larger groups.
Grand Epernay is a visually stunning venue, with Celebrity Solstice‘s signature item – glass – making up a central part of the decor. It is a well lit room, bright but still comfortable with a generally white colour scheme with some blue fittings, in line with the overall feel of the ship. Immediately upon entering, attention is quickly drawn to the venue’s centrepiece – a two-storey glass wine tower which is more than just for show – that’s the actual wine cellar from which your selection for the evening will be drawn.
Due to the very small group dining at Grand Epernay on this occasion, we enjoyed extremely efficient service, however it still didn’t feel rushed. Ample time was given before we were approached for our selections, with a nice range available for each of the three courses. The same can be said for the wine selection, with options well suited for the primarily seafood-based menu before us.
To begin with, we opted for a seasoned plate of salmon topped with a boiled egg slice, diced onion and apple, a thin lemon slice and black baby caviar. As a personal preference, i love plenty of lemon juice with my seafood and this dish did not disappoint. Even with my used up lemon peel, the natural flavour of the salmon shone through.
For the mains, we chose a crumbed Haddock fillet, resting on potato and served with grilled onion and a tomato puree which absolutely had to be included with every bite. Dessert was available afterward however we opted for the healthier, wiser but ultimately remorseful move of going without and closing the meal after the main course. For guests travelling onboard, there is always the option of the coffee and gelato bar on another deck.
Grand Ipernay does well not to cram too many tables into a space too small to accommodate them. Even moving through the venue, tables are far enough away and all of these important elements come together in favour of passengers who do decide to take their meals in the main dining room, ensuring a comfortable experience all round for breakfast, lunch or dinner.