With 13 guest decks, it has everything you could possibly ask for in a holiday cruiser. A sneak preview aboard Celebrity Solstice, the luxury liner that made its maiden voyage last week. GUSTASP and JEROO IRANI
It is the first ship in the world to have a Lawn Club with real grass on the top deck, just over half-acre in size!
It was the sheer audacity of the vision that socked us between the eyes — a $900 million cruise ship, Celebrity Solstice, is on the brink of its debut against a backdrop of Wall Street woes and global economic turmoil.
The white contours of the steel-and-glass ship were etched against the skyline of the Meyer Werft dockyard, near Papenburg, Germany, even as Lilliputian men swung up and down its girth in giant cranes. They were putting the finishing touches, as it were, to the bride, readying her for her big day... She would sail to the Caribbean come late November.
And this epitome of the good life is just the first of the Celebrity’s Solstice class of ships. There’s a jaw-dropping projection into the future by this, the world’s premium cruise line, with one of the youngest and most innovative fleets — Celebrity Equinox will be launched in 2009, Celebrity Eclipse in 2010, yet another in 2011 and a fifth in 2012. Indeed, the sight of the soaring leviathan of 13 guest decks lifted our spirits — if Royal Caribbean International (the parent company) was fashioning bigger and better ships in an era of economic belt-tightening, all was certainly right with the world!
Takes your breath away
And all that we could muster at that point was a collective intake of breath and a heartfelt “wow”. The next day, she would float out of the dry dock, down the river Ems and into the North Sea for her sea trials. And lining the banks of the river were local Germans who were dossing down in camper vans and in tents to see the shiny vessel take her first tentative steps into the aqua world. It was a virtual carnival out there, an excuse to party, what with gut-thumping music and beer being swilled late into the night.
And then we clambered into what seemed like the belly of a whale for a sneak preview — a night on a ship that’s about 90 per cent ready and yet had to be buffed to a brilliant sheen. We were greeted on board in the elegant three-deck high Grand Foyer by white-gloved attendants who proffered perfectly chilled flutes of champagne. We checked into our elegant stateroom done up in hushed pastels and warm hues with a verandah where one could drink in the romance and enchantment of the seas and feel the soft breeze trace light fingers across our skin. A unique feature is that 85 per cent of the 1,426 staterooms are outside cabins and all have been designed after incorporating the feedback of five celebrity women with different cruising backgrounds who suggested that the staterooms have a sense of space, luxury and riveting views. The top of the line Celebrity Suite and Royal Suite have a living room area and bedroom, butler service, bathrooms with bathtubs and shower, surround sound entertainment system with 52 inch and 40 inch LCD TVs. The Royal Suite even has a whirlpool on the verandah and a whirlpool tub in the bathroom!
As we moved around the ship, it soon became clear that this is a designer ship. Celebrity partnered with seven different designers, some of the world’s best in the hospitality business, to push the boundaries of cruise ship decor to create interiors that are so muted yet contemporary and vibrant that every detail seems to have been grafted into the ship’s DNA. Yes, the Solstice did not have the glitz of a Hollywood star yet but she was almost there — like a lovely teenager on the threshold of glorious womanhood.
The Solstice also breaks new ground and is oceans apart from its predecessors. It is the first ship in the world to have a feel of terra firma! Yes, it has a Lawn Club with real grass on the top deck, just over half-acre in size! This patch of green was created with the help of leading grass experts and has an in-built irrigation and drainage system. The lawn will have a Patio and a Sunset Bar and will host open-air evening concerts which guests can enjoy swaddled in blankets and in the day, there will be picnics with wine and cheese. Guests can practise their golf putting as well as lawn bowling, bocce, and croquet.
This area will also see some dramatic activity when glass blowers from the Corning Museum of Glass will put up their fiery Hot Glass Show in a dedicated studio and will also interact with guests who wish to try their hand at glass blowing.
However, with wellness becoming a buzz word, the Solstice has even created a special class for the chakra cognoscenti, stressed out celebs and burnt-out “rockocracy” or rock stars. Called the Aqua Class, dedicated to a new style of cruising, a balance between indulgence and wellness at sea, a total of 120 (double occupancy) contemporary verandah staterooms have been set aside for those in search of outer beauty and inner peace. The frills would include priority access to the Spa and Persian Garden done in a soothing colour palette evocative of the sea and sand; a specialty restaurant, Blu, just for this class of cruisers; the services of a spa concierge who will assist in booking treatments, learning about products, help with browsing through wellness material in the library and other related wellness experiences.
Designed to relax
In the Aqua Class rooms, there will be a welcome kit filled with exotica such as teeth-whitening samples, slippers, spa-amenities kit and shower gel. A more spacious bathroom with a five-head Hansgrohe shower tower, designed to invigorate and relax; healthy menu options for in-room service as well as salads with organic grains and well-balanced diet recommendations; daily canapés, music recommended by music therapists for optimal learning, concentration, inspiration, relaxation and motivation; and even a Conscious Dream Enhancer to help foster lucid dreaming or a state of consciousness that can occur during sleep. This helps to increase mental awareness during waking hours.
The members of Aqua Class may want to leave their worldly cares and appetites at the door of the spa but the Solstice cannot ignore the culinary demands of its regular seasoned upmarket clientele. Hence it has a spectrum of 10 stunningly vivacious, classy restaurants, bars, cafes, bistros with expanses of glass separating the diner from the moving seascape outside, created by some of the world’s most acclaimed designers. Fine dining will be the order of the day rather than mass, over-indulgent buffets. The glamorous main restaurant features a wine tower with 2,000 bottles of wine!
Throw in swimming pools, a classy casino, a Solarium with dancing musical fountains, 18 exclusive boutiques and Broadway style entertainment by Poet Theatricals including a circus, and you have a voyage that not only takes in sun-kissed beaches and lonely bays and coves but one that lingers in memory like a happy dream.