All content was accurate when this story was published in March 2010.
Soon-to-debut Celebrity Eclipse, the third Solstice-class ship introduced by Celebrity Cruises, is en route to its future home in Southampton after two years of interior and exterior construction. Like fledglings leaving the nest, most cruise ships simply sail away from their shipyard, never to look back -- though we use the term "simply" rather loosely, of course. Releasing a new-build into the world of cruising is always a prodigious undertaking. But for Meyer Werft Shipyards of Papenburg, Germany, the birthplace of Celebrity Eclipse, the process is far from ordinary.
Why? While most shipyards are located right on (or near) the ocean, Meyer Werft is located inland, 26 miles from the North Sea, on a narrow, shallow, winding river, as traced on the map pictured. In order to get from the yard to the sea, the ship must be towed by tugboat down the Ems River. And it must be done backward, to maximize maneuverability.
If that weren't bizarre and complicated enough, the whole process, known as a conveyance, requires damming the river to add a few feet of depth and maneuvering through passages so tight there are literally mere inches of clearance. At the town of Weener, the railroad bridge actually needs to be dismantled and a section lifted out of the way by a floating crane to allow ships like Celebrity Eclipse to pass!
So, yes: a conveyance is a big deal. Hundreds of people line the banks of the river to catch a glimpse of the brand-new, sparkling white vessel as it passes by, stern first. Television news crews armed with cameras record the journey aboard the ship, from helicopters and on the ground. Experience a conveyance first hand: Join us -- via photos -- as we transit the Ems, backward, on Celebrity Eclipse.
--by Steve Faber. San Francisco Bay Area-based Faber is a longtime contributor to Cruise Critic and also columnist for Cruise Critic's Cruise News & Reviews. Beyond our publications, Faber's work has appeared in a myriad of outlets, including Cruise Travel Magazine, "The Miami Herald" and "The Total Traveler Guide to Worldwide Cruising."
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Slideshow: Celebrity Eclipse's Backward Cruise ("Conveyance")