(7:10 p.m. EDT) -- As Celebrity Cruises prepares for the launch this weekend of its brand-new Celebrity Eclipse, the line is also stepping in to help stranded travelers make their way back home.
The cruise line has announced that the first leg of Eclipse's launch celebrations -- a two-night cruise scheduled to depart April 22 -- has been canceled so the ship can instead repatriate British and Irish vacationers affected by airport closures and subsequent flight cancellations after Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano erupted a cloud of ash into the atmosphere.
Celebrity is working in tandem with major U.K. tour operators to collect holidaymakers in Bilbao, Spain, and bring them to Southampton; a spokeswoman for the line couldn't release the names of the tour operators because the details are still being worked out -- but we do know that more than 2,000 travelers who were on package holidays with these operators, some of which have been stranded for several days, are currently expected to join Celebrity Eclipse in Bilbao.
Celebrity Eclipse will arrive in Southampton as scheduled at 9 a.m. tomorrow, and will depart in the evening for Bilbao, where the ship is scheduled to arrive in the early hours of Thursday, April 22. Stranded travelers will board throughout the morning on Thursday, after which the ship will set sail for Southampton, returning late Friday evening.
Celebrity Cruises is contacting those guests who were invited by the cruise line on the two-night, round-trip celebration cruise that was supposed to sail on April 22 (this was not a revenue cruise); they'll instead be invited to attend the two-night naming celebration cruise on April 24.
At this time, plans for the naming celebration on April 24 remain unchanged, though a statement from the cruise line says "plans for Celebrity Eclipse remain fluid as the situation regarding re-opening air space continues to change." We'll keep you posted.
Similarly, Thomson Cruises announced today that Island Escape -- which usually operates fly-cruises in the Mediterranean -- will be stopping in Falmouth, Cornwall, to drop off current passengers who won't be able to return to the U.K. via the original flights included in the air-portion of their booking. The ship, which is currently in Funchal, will also be bringing more than 300 non-cruise Thomson customers holidaying in Madeira back to the U.K. The ship will arrive in Falmouth on Thursday.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor
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New Celebrity Ship to Repatriate Ash-Stranded Travelers
April 19, 2010