Of all the mainstream lines, Celebrity Cruises have done most to advance the cause of large-scale premium cruising. From Century in 1995 to Millennium in 2000 and then Celebrity Solstice in 2008, they have pushed the envelope of size-versus-style to the maximum.
With the exception of a handful minor glitches – a few drops in cuisine standard here, the occasional service lapse there – they have pulled it off with immense aplomb. And the advent of the three-ship Solstice-class vessels (four this July with Celebrity Silhouette) was widely hailed as the biggest increase in pure style since the debut of the Century.
Fittingly, both that 1995 series and the latest trio all hail from the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, which has been the source of much cruise sophistication in the past 20 years.
So I thought it was time to run an editorial eye over Celebrity’s latest offering, which will see all four Solstice vessels in European waters this summer, once Silhouette enjoys her inauguration in Hamburg on July 21.
I caught up with Celebrity Eclipse in Miami for her standard 7-night eastern Caribbean route this spring, when the object wasn’t so much to enjoy some Caribbean sunshine as give this 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger ship a serious once-over.
The first thing to note is she is as out of place in the hectic, outdated port of Miami as Concorde at Biggin Hill. It’s like taking a Bentley to Tesco’s; you simply don’t want your premium passengers fighting their way through the mass-market jostle of a harbour-side operation that is designed to take as much money off everyone as possible (how else do you justify $20-a-day car parking when it costs only $8-$15 at the nearby airport?).
But, once inside the capacious interior of Eclipse, it is a whole different world. Yes, this is a big ship – it feels every inch of 1,033ft long if your cabin is at one end and the dining room is at the other! – but it never feels crowded and the huge array of public rooms provides a magnificent array of choice, from dining to entertainment and all points in between. The bar options alone are dizzying, with fully 13 locations, yet that only begins to describe the ‘Solstice-class difference.’