(7:10 p.m. EDT) -- Celebrity Cruises has announced a new series of 12-night wine-themed cruises from the United Kingdom in autumn 2012. The 91,000-ton, 2,034-passenger Celebrity Constellation, which underwent a £25 million overhaul in May last year, will be based in Southampton for a short season, from September 7 to November 18, during which time it will operate seven cruises to coincide with the European wine harvest.
Interestingly, these cruises are a late addition to the 2012 programme, and replace a series of Holy Land and Greece and Turkey sailings. They are, according to a statement from Celebrity Cruises, "inspired by guest interest." This isn't to say the line is pulling out of Israel and the Eastern Mediterranean; it has a bigger presence there than most other lines, with Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Equinox and the new Celebrity Reflection all sailing in the region in autumn 2012.
The seven Constellation voyages will visit France, Spain and Portugal. Shore excursions on offer will include visits to wine growers and, in Portugal, port houses, as well as a chance to pick grapes. There will be overnight stays in Le Havre (for Paris/Normandy) and Le Verdon (for Bordeaux), France, as well as Bilbao, Spain.
Onboard, the wine theme will continue with tastings, Champagne brunches and wine-pairing dinners, while the wine packages offered will include selections to reflect the regions in which the ship is sailing. All of these will incur a charge.
Celebrity will have six ships in Europe next summer, one of which, Celebrity Eclipse, will sail from the U.K. all season for the third year running. Constellation's refit last year introduced several features that have been a hit on Eclipse and the line's other Solstice-class ships, including Tuscan Grille steakhouse, a creperie, a Martini Bar and a gelateria.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor