With the introduction of its Solstice Class of ships, Celebrity Cruises entered a new era of larger ships and higher capacity -- competing even with the likes of Carnival Cruise Lines
-- but don't mourn just yet for the little cruise line that offers personalized service. After all, no one believed Celebrity could maintain its standards with its birth of Millennium-class ships. But it managed quite nicely, adding a series of enhancements that pleased even the most stalwart fans of smaller ships.
Celebrity Solstice (2008), Celebrity Equinox (2009), Celebrity Eclipse (2010), Celebrity Silhouette (2011) and Celebrity Reflection (2012) measure 122,000 tons (Silhouette and Reflection are slightly larger). All are about 30 percent larger than the Celebrity's newest Millennium-class ships.
With these 2,850-passenger ships (2,886 in in the case of Silhouette and 3,046 for Reflection), Celebrity rocked the notion that a cruise line that positions itself in the "premium" market must keep its ships small and cozy. The plan has worked. The interior architecture of the Solstice Class ships is the best we've seen in some time, and even on a full sailing, the ships feel half empty. Passenger flow is excellent, with no lines and no crowding, and onboard evolutions -- including a top-of-ship Lawn Club featuring real grass -- have been welcomed and successful. The Solstice Class features were so popular that Celebrity added some of the restaurant, lounge and decor concepts to its Millennium-class ships (see our slideshow of Constellation's refurb
Aside from these "new ship" developments, Celebrity Cruises has spent the past few years -- pretty much since the launch of its last Millennium-class ship, Constellation, in 2002 -- upgrading onboard services and amenities. The goal in turning its attention inward was to introduce enhancements that would position the cruise line as a competitor to luxury line Crystal Cruises
, albeit with a younger passenger demographic.
Celebrity also has been focusing on land-based options bundled with cruises, giving passengers the chance to spend time in destinations, such as Alaska and Ecuador.
Celebrity was founded in 1989 by the Greece-based Chandris Group, which established the line's reputation as an upscale big-ship operator. Celebrity was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1997 and now operates as its sister cruise line. With the 2004 launch of its wildly successful Celebrity Xpedition program, the line has been able to offer its upscale, active passenger base a new option: a once-in-a-lifetime, up-close-and-personal Galapagos Islands experience. Celebrity has become the only big-ship cruise line to offer year-round sailings there.
But you won't find Celebrity Millennium or Celebrity Summit trawling these small-ship waters. Instead, the company acquired the former Sun Bay I, a 2,329-ton, 98-passenger vessel, and transformed it into the 92-passenger Celebrity Xpedition. The aim? To combine the line's stylishness with more adventurous destinations.