How do shipyard workers complete seemingly impossible tasks, such as painting the ship's bottom or making adjustments to propellers? Every two or three years, a ship goes "off the grid," so to speak, making a pilgrimage to a shipyard for maintenance. In industry parlance this process is called "dry-docking" -- which, as the term suggests, means that a ship is actually taken out of the water and hoisted onto blocks in a big, waterless basin.
Most ships visit dry dock (well-known sites include Hamburg's Blohm + Voss and Freeport's Grand Bahamas Shipyard) for regular, mechanical upgrades or maintenance. However, every once in a while a cruise line will commit to a major refurbishment that includes significant alterations to passenger areas, too. Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Constellation underwent just such a revitalization in the spring of 2010.
All this -- plus the regular maintenance -- was done in merely two weeks. Cruise Critic Editor in Chief Carolyn Spencer Brown was invited to spend the final few days at the shipyard (as well as a couple of days transiting from Hamburg to Constellation's first embarkation port in Amsterdam) for an exclusive look at the ship's final stages of transformation.
Phase 1: Clearing out the Old to Make Way for the NewBefore climbing aboard on a cold, clammy spring day in Hamburg, we knew that Celebrity Constellation's dry-dock session here would be unusually intense. When originally planned, the period at the shipyard was meant to simply make repairs and perhaps make minor changes to decor. Two weeks is generally plenty of time -- but remaking an eight-year-old ship to look more like the hipper, more contemporary Celebrity Solstice isn't easy.
In an interview onboard, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity Cruises' hotel operations chief, told us the biggest challenge is finding space to add the upgrades -- multiple dining venues, cabins with trendy decor, cutting edge coffee bars, lounges and performance venues -- to a ship that's only two-thirds the size of Solstice and it siblings. And it's hard to imagine that building out new rooms, recovering chairs, laying carpet, making beds and filling mini-bars, and giving the ship a really thorough cleaning can be accomplished in the two days that is left before Constellation picks up passengers in Amsterdam.
But since Lutoff-Perlo seemed relaxed -- and crew and contractors, while working intently, didn't seem to be panicking -- we figured it would probably get done.