Image: Celebrity Solstice
Celebrity
The new $750 million Celebrity Solstice has onboard features that will wow its passengers — but, the real story is the ship’s design.
By Anita Dunham-Potter Travel columnist
updated 11/24/2008 2:22:02 PM ET 2008-11-24T19:22:02

The dictionary description of solstice is the precise moment that the sun is the farthest North or South of the equator. The aptly named Celebrity Solstice is one ship that is so innovative it is truly light years ahead of the cruise ship pack.

Celebrity Cruises has not launched a new ship since 2002 — and with the new Solstice, they appear to have gotten it right. This ship takes the best of the line’s popular Millennium-class vessels and has incorporated some unique interior design.

Carrying 2,850-passengers, the 122,000-ton Solstice is the first in a series of five “Solstice-class” ships. The vessel offers a number of seagoing firsts: a half-acre Lawn Club with real grass and full-time groundskeeper and the Hot Glass Show presented in collaboration with The Corning Museum of Glass.

Still, it wasn’t the aforementioned amenities that caused the most praise during this week’s launch — it was the ship’s style and design – it is unique and unlike anything out there.

Chic ship
At a price tag of $750 million no small detail was overlooked or spared in creating Solstice. Celebrity wanted to keep the atmosphere on board “Zen-like” and centered on a theme incorporating the four elements of nature — earth, air, light and water.

Throughout the ship, colors are subdued whereas furniture is big, bold, and most importantly comfortable. Strong architectural lines are played up by lighting and dramatically draped textiles. If you like the style of the Delano Hotel on Miami’s South Beach you’ll love the Solstice.

Despite Solstice’s size, it is surprisingly intimate and offers abundant nooks and crannies for passengers to escape the masses. Still, there are plenty of spots where the good times roll like the Sky observation lounge framed by huge floor-to-ceiling windows and featuring a dance floor with live band. There’s also a large casino and the Quasar disco that incorporates a ’70s theme with retro furniture and hanging ball chairs.

The Lawn Club is a great place to gather with friends for a round of lawn bowling, bocce ball and putting. Right next to the lawn, there is glass blowing where artisans will show off their work. And if that’s not enough take a few steps over to the Sunset Bar for a drink with a view.

Image: Celebrity Solstice pool
Anita Dunham-Potter
While Solstice is essentially an adult-focused ship, it does offer some entertainment for kids and teens including: arcade with video games, splash pool, a teen disco and juice bar all staffed by trained youth counselors.
Great touches abound on Solstice like large lighted map displays of the ship so you’ll never get lost and elevators that change light from blue to pink to let you know the elevator is ready to lift off. Artwork adds to the atmosphere and focuses on light and textures.

Entertainment is also cutting edge. Anyone who likes Cirque du Soleil will appreciate “Solstice — The Show”. The entire Solstice Theater was designed around this show. It includes vocalists, physical comedy, breathtaking group acrobatics, aerial performances and other specialty acts. Costumes are pretty bizarre: the bar scene from “Star Wars” comes to mind. Still it works perfectly into the whole Solstice concept.

While Solstice is essentially an adult-focused ship, it does offer some entertainment for kids and teens including: arcade with video games, splash pool, a teen disco and juice bar all staffed by trained youth counselors.

Dine in style
The ship has 10 dining venues, including four specialty restaurants in the same area of the ship: Blu offers light cuisine and is reserved exclusively for guests in special AquaSpa cabins and suites; Tuscan Grill serving Italian cuisine ($25 per person); Murano serving continental cuisine ($30 per person); and Silk Harvest showcases a variety of different Asian dishes ($20 per person).

Image: Celebrity Solstice's grass deck
Anita Dunham-Potter
Take a barefoot stroll along the deck of real grass.
The Grand Epernay main dining room is a dramatic white space designed by Adam Tihany the designer of Le Cirque in New York. The centerpiece is the two-story glass wine tower where waiters climb for select vintages. Passengers can dine here for breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner.

The ship’s buffet area is the Oceanview Café, here too, guests can dine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a quick burger or snack there’s the Mast Grill above the pool area and for the health-conscious, there is the AquaSpa Café adjacent to the spa for breakfast and lunch.

On Deck 5 a cluster of café food spots awaits. Café al Bacio offers specialty coffees, Gelataria scoops up Italy’s favorite cold treat, and Bistro on FIVE serves amazing breakfast, lunch and dessert crepes ($5 per person). Thirsty guests have 14 bars to choose from and if James Bond took a cruise it would be on the Celebrity their Martini Bars are the best at sea. Wine aficionados will appreciate Cellar Masters and Crush.

Spa and staterooms
The two-story spa and fitness center is an integral part of this ship and with adjacent spa staterooms the aim is to create a healthy spa-resort fitness feeling. The Solarium indoor pool and main pool are among the prettiest pools at sea with waterfalls and dancing water fountains. The pools are sectioned off with architecturally placed canvas, creating areas of privacy. Guests can lounge in comfy sun loungers, plush wicker ottomans, and hammocks.

Eighty-five percent of Solstice’s 1,425 smartly-laid-out staterooms have private balconies. These staterooms are 15-per-cent larger than other Celebrity vessels. AquaSpa staterooms have unlimited access to the spa facilities featuring an amazing shower, with a waterfall showerhead and jets. It’s the coolest shower I’ve seen on a ship.

Interestingly stateroom design was influenced by a panel of five women with unique travel and hospitality insights. While professional designers were responsible for the overall design, the five boomer-aged women made suggestions about what they would like to see on board. Among the design features they suggested: more storage space above and below the bed, double doors that opened up to the adjoining cabin, and footrests in the showers for shaving legs. While the staterooms are terrific, I was disappointed by the small closet space afforded — it will definitely be an issue for passengers on longer voyages.

Another great thing about every stateroom on Solstice is the Apple Mac minis with 32-inch flat-panel displays. I found it an amazing amenity that allows guests to book services, shore excursions, watch on-demand movies and other programs, peruse and purchase photos taken by ship photographers, and listen to a music library with thousands of songs.

“We did it!”
Upon seeing the finished ship for the first time Dan Hanrahan, Celebrity’s president and chief executive, boasted “We did it! Four years of planning and we accomplished what we set out to do.” Hanrahan is quick to point out that Solstice’s beauty is not just in the decor, but in operating efficiencies as well. “This ship is very environmentally friendly,” adds Hanrahan.

Image: Dining room
Anita Dunham-Potter
The ship has 10 dining venues, including four specialty restaurants in the same area of the ship.
Indeed, Solstice is the first cruise ship to use solar power. There are 216 solar panels throughout the ship and energy collected becomes part of the ship’s power grid — enough to operate 7,000 of the vessel’s 25,000 energy efficient LED lights. Additionally, Solstice’s hull design and coating make the ship more fluid dynamic, which means less fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

Hanrahan isn’t the only person highly-enthusiastic about Solstice, travel agents I spoke to were pumped up about the new product. Seattle-based travel agent Karen Wagner of Call Me 4 Travel said, “I cannot wait to get home and sell this ship to more of my clients.”

If you go
The Solstice begins its inaugural season in the eastern Caribbean on Nov. 23 out of Fort Lauderdale, where it will operate alternating itineraries: St. Maarten, San Juan, St. Kitts and St. Maarten, San Juan, Tortola and Labadee (Royal Caribbean’s private beach in Haiti). Prices begin at $599 per person. Solstice will transit to Europe to cruise the Mediterranean beginning in May. Fares for 10- and 11-night cruises begin at $1,349 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. Visit Celebrity Cruises Web site for more details.

Sound off! Do you have a comment, an idea, a complaint or a problem for Anita to solve? Send her an e-mail and you might find yourself in her next column. And check out her blog, ExpertCruiser.com.

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