It’s no secret Australians like to imbibe. Celebrity Cruise Lines, though, recently discovered that our thirst for the grape can be quite staggering.
On the recent Celebrity Solstice re-positioning cruise from Barcelona to Sydney, where the ship was to take up a summer seasonal deployment in Australia, the ship ran out of sauvignon blanc. It would seem that Aussie passengers were the culprits and drank the bar dry of this crisp, dry, varietal white wine.
John-Paul Lamb, the ship’s onboard food and beverage manager, said he would ensure it wouldn’t happen again during the ship’s five-month season Down Under. He also is charged with the task of tweaking the onboard food and drink offerings to ensure they suit the Australian palate.
The 4-year-old, 122,000-ton ship arrived in Sydney to much fanfare December 8 to begin a season of Australian coastal, New Zealand and South Pacific itineraries.
Parent company Royal Caribbean International Australia announced the ship’s arrival more than 18 months ago, with the Australian-based CEO Gavin Smith declaring Solstice would be the “highest-rating” ship to be based in Australia.
This summer Sydney has witnessed the arrival of three new overseas ships offering a program of seasonal cruises (Oosterdam, Solstice and Voyager of the Seas), along with Carnival Spirit, which will be based here permanently.
RCI has highlighted the ship’s 4.5-star rating to distinguish it from a packed field, which also includes the local P&O and Princess vessels.
Celebrity Solstice is certainly the most stylish ship to call Australia home. I was dazzled by the décor in many of the public areas and in particular the main restaurant and the string of specialty restaurants. I was also “wowed” by the Lawn Club. At first I thought a real lawn on the top deck of a ship was plain silly, but on seeing it, I was captivated.
I’m not sure whether the thousand or so passengers taking the one-night sampler cruise December 9 felt the same way about the ship; many of them would have been far too exhausted after check-in to admire their surroundings in any great depth.
Unlike Carnival Cruise Lines, which offered its one-night “cruise to nowhere” exclusively to travel agents and media, Celebrity opened its one-nighter to paying passengers. I heard that many of these passengers (who paid from $225 per person) stood in queues at Sydney’s Circular Quay for more than two hours to board, which is a pretty big chunk of a cruise that lasted less than 20 hours. More than a few were disgruntled with the check-in, I’m told.
RCI did the same thing when Voyager of the Seas arrived November 23 in Sydney. It would seem that RCI is trying to make money where it can and also garner a band of travelers eager to take more than a one-nighter.
But while Carnival Cruises Lines has Aussified the Carnival Spirit, the Solstice has only made modifications to its food and beverage department.
Menus at the specialty restaurants have been altered slightly, and there are more supplies of Australian wines and beers, Lamb said.
Dishes at the Silk Harvest, an Asian fusion specialty restaurant, have been slightly spiced up to satisfy Australian palates; as an Australian I can testify that we like our spices! While Lamb didn’t say the dishes would be spicier, he said the dishes would be “authentic and pure”.
He also said slight changes had been made to menus at the Tuscan Grill, an Italian steak restaurant, and the beautifully designed Murano restaurant. “But it is not a 180-shift,” he said. He said a greater choice of steaks will be available at the Tuscan Grill.
Different cocktails would also be offered at the bars and more Aussie beers (particularly XXXX and VB) would be available.
The Down Under season included just one one-nighter, along with several cruises to the South Pacific and New Zealand, a voyage around Australia (which was broken into two sectors) and two cruises across the Pacific back to the U.S. (one is 18 nights; the other is 11.)
Celebrity executives said all 10 cruises would “sail out full” and the best sellers were the “Top End” cruises from Fremantle (Western Australia) to Sydney via Darwin, and the transpacific cruises between Sydney and Hawaii via Tahiti.
The ship is scheduled to return to Australia for the 2013-14 season for a similar program; it will add two extended 14-night New Zealand cruises, one three-night weekend cruise to nowhere in the January school holidays and two new eight- and 12-night cruises to the South Pacific.
The company is working to bring the ship Down Under again in the 2014-15 season, and while it hasn’t been confirmed, RCI is confident the ship will return.
Celebrity also brought the smaller Millennium to Australia for a few sailings this summer, and in summer 2011 it offered sailings aboard Century.
It is likely to take a good season before the Australian public becomes aware of the Celebrity name.
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