The big news? Think pink. Celebrity designers have unabashedly embraced the female spirit when creating cabin designs. In fact, their design team -- led by architectural firm RTKL's Greg Walton, who's, ahem, a guy -- went a step further, tapping five women to serve on a "what women want" advisory panel.
Women, noted Dan Hanrahan, Celebrity Cruises' president, are the prime decision makers when it comes to choosing a vacation venue. And in creating a panel of women to address female preferences, "we took the 'suggestion box' idea to a whole new level to create a new kind of stateroom."
The panel of five women was chosen by a consultant to Celebrity Cruises, and included a veteran cruise traveler, a travel agent, a cruise journalist, a hotel executive and a woman who'd never traveled by ship. They spent about two weeks learning about Celebrity -- the cruise line and the concept -- cruising for a night on Celebrity Constellation, touring a yacht, visiting chic South Beach hotels, prowling designer ateliers in Miami and even traveling to Finland's Turku, where Aker Yards operates a cabin-building factory. Ultimately the women spent about four months on the project.
Indeed, many of the details incorporated into the design of Solstice's standard verandah cabins are quite unique. For instance:
The color scheme. Walton said one message from the panelists came through particularly loud and clear: "No more teal." Color schemes will instead reflect muted colors and a softer ambience.
Connecting cabins. As a result of cruising's heightened popularity amongst families and groups of friends, connecting cabins have become so sought after that they're typically hard to book. Not so on Celebrity Solstice; there will be 265 pairs of staterooms that connect.
And wait ... there's more. For those cabins with interlocking doors new vestibules can be created by opening doors (or shutting them); how this will look is still a mystery since the rendering we saw did not include it. Also, balcony doors are being created to be unlatched easily....
Flexible balconies. This one seems obvious -- yet it's clearly not as few cruise lines have paid any heed: Verandah furnishings will be adjustable so you can choose between a straight back chair and a slouchy one.
The flat screen. All cabins will have a 32-inch flat-screen TV that's adjustable so you can watch from anywhere in the cabin. That improvement's another of those "you'd be surprised at how often cruise lines get this detail wrong" features and is by no means merely a female preference!
Bigger bathrooms, better showers. In the cruise industry, bathroom design -- at least in standard-size cabin scenarios -- is probably the area that most needs a makeover and here Celebrity is an innovator. On Solstice-class ships, bathrooms themselves will be 24 percent larger than those on Millennium-class vessels (which frankly offer a pretty similar layout to those in other fleets). Hanrahan noted that designers were able to make the bathrooms larger by looking for ways to make HVAC systems smaller. HVAC systems, responsible for plumbing and water functions, are typically built into a corner of the bathroom unit; while they're not visible to passengers, they do take up a lot of space.
Nifty bathroom features. Look for all-glass showers, fog-free mirrors and extra storage space. One of the most unusual touches is the addition of a foot rail/shower shelf.
Under the bed. Have you noticed lately that newer suitcases are often too high to fit under most beds on cruise ships? Mine are.... And so, among other storage innovations, beds on Celebrity Solstice will be raised slightly higher -- so the luggage can fit. As well, there are built-in storage units over the bed, modular closets to accommodate a variety of clothing types, and storage areas tucked away inside of functional furnishings.
Guest quarters. For those sleeping three or four to a cabin, many staterooms will still have Pullmans -- those drop-down beds that are stored by day in the ceiling. But cabins are also outfitted with couches that convert into trundle beds (you get two single beds and there's no need to climb up into a Pullman).
The marriage factor. Other small, homey touches that are being added to cabins include shelves on each side of the bed for personal items (books, glasses, medications) and, especially for couples, individual reading lights at each nightstand. If one wants to read, the other can sleep, notes Walton, the ship's designer, who half-jokingly notes that "Of course we want to keep marriages intact."
Some other issues that came up during the event:
Will the Solstice-class ships be more expensive than other Celebrity vessels? Hanrahan answered that one, saying that since Solstice opened for booking earlier this summer, fares have been about 10 to 20 percent higher. But there's an interesting rationale: Beyond the appeal of a new ship with new amenities, Celebrity Solstice has far more balcony cabins (and fewer cheaper inside ones) and that naturally would raise the price a bit.
Has a captain been chosen yet? Chuckling, Hanrahan said that yes, a captain has been picked -- but since the master himself hasn't yet been informed, the company will wait to reveal the name.
Who were the panelists, anyway? Read their bios here. As a perk for their efforts (the company wouldn't reveal whether or not they were paid for the estimated two weeks of time spent on the project), they'll be sailing on the ship's maiden voyage ... in standard balcony cabins, of course.
Beyond standard balcony cabins, what are other accommodation options? The folks from Celebrity declined to offer more details on this or any other aspect of Celebrity Solstice except for one other pretty intriguing concept. An idea pioneered by Costa, Celebrity Solstice will be the first ship in its fleet to offer spa cabins. The AquaClass staterooms, which come with verandahs, are identical to the standards in structure -- but there are differences. These cabins, located near the spa, will sport different color schemes. Passengers will be able to choose aromatherapy scents tied to their needs (relaxing, for instance, or re-energizing). Toiletries will feature the spa logo and passengers will be able to choose from menus of health-related drinks. Of the ship's 1,425 staterooms, 130 will qualify as AquaClass; folks who book them are also entitled to unlimited use of the Persian Garden steam room and access to Blu, a spa-oriented restaurant.
Celebrity Solstice will make its maiden voyage December 14, 2008. Throughout the winter, the ship will sail alternating seven-night Caribbean itineraries from Ft. Lauderdale.
No doubt, details about Celebrity Solstice will continue to trickle out; we'll keep you posted.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
The image of the verandah stateroom on Celebrity Solstice is an artistic rendering and reflects the proposed design and layout. Design and layout are subject to change without notice.