In honor of the first day of summer -- also known as summer solstice -- Celebrity's revealing the most significant details to date about its new prototype Celebrity Solstice.
The 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger ship, intended to be the first in a class of four, is Celebrity's largest ever -- by a long shot. It officially debuts on December 14, 2008 (so it's still a year and a half away), with a series of seven-night Eastern Caribbean cruises out of its winter homeport in Ft. Lauderdale.
Most of the specifics Celebrity unveiled today relate to accommodations, which makes sense as it has been publicizing the fact that members of the Captain's Club (its past-passenger program) can start booking immediately. And so the cabin info was key -- it's rather difficult to book a stateroom category sight unseen.
But whether you're a Celebrity veteran or a first-timer (sales open to all on July 5), the ship's design is intriguing at least as far as we can tell from the cruise line's Web site. Some highlights?
Cabin decor gives a hint about overall design of all spaces, including public rooms and recreation areas, onboard. In this case staterooms are very sleek, contemporary, minimalist ... the very antithesis of fussy or busy.
On the main page (scroll all the way down) there's a tantalizing peak of a handful of the ship's public areas -- and they do mirror the style of the cabins. Check out the renderings of Blu, a boutique restaurant, and the ship's solarium.
Brand-new to Celebrity is a category of AquaClass cabins. These 192-square-ft. staterooms, with 53-square-ft. balconies, are aimed at passengers who want a spa-oriented cruise.
Folks who reside in these cabins located on the Penthouse Deck, which we can only presume is in the AquaSpa neighborhood, get unlimited access to the AquaSpa relaxation room, the Persian Garden and Blu.
Speaking of Blu, it's the only restaurant mentioned today and since it's paired with the ship's spa staterooms it's safe to say that it will feature healthful cuisine. Incidentally, timed with the departure of Michel Roux, the Michelin-starred chef who was a long time celebrity chef and consultant with Celebrity, the line has hired a new "Michel," so to speak. It's developed a relationship with Elizabeth Blau, who operates a Las Vegas-based restaurant consultancy.
Blau's known for creating upscale eateries for high-end hotels; she's been involved in projects including Vegas' Bellagio (which has restaurants operated by Le Cirque's Sirio Maccioni and Prime's Jean-Georges Vongerichten), Miami's Setai and Cabo San Lucas' One & Only Palmilla.
Suites onboard -- in this case in traditional Celebrity categories such as Penthouse, Royal, Celebrity and Sky -- naturally feature enhanced amenities and services. They'll all have a long list of butler-style extras, such as packing and unpacking; full menu meal service for breakfast, lunch and dinner; and free espresso and cappuccino.
The Family Veranda stateroom is another "new" twist that will debut on Celebrity Solstice, measuring a pretty generous 753 square ft. (balconies range in size, from 53 to 105 square ft.). The bedroom is separate from the living room, which will be equipped with fold-out couches; there's also an extra alcove, just big enough for twin bunks. Conceivably, six people could manage easily here. However, what's a puzzle to us considering the current industry trend in family accommodations is that they're designing bathrooms with showers only. Younger kids especially prefer bathtubs. As well (and as Disney has discovered), a half bath is a particularly good idea in a family scenario. There's no half bath here.
One of the boasts Celebrity had made when it originally announced the design of its Solstice-class ships was the fact that cabins would be larger than usual. Well, they definitely are a bit larger than those on Celebrity's Millennium class when comparing standard balcony staterooms (which at 170 square ft. are frankly pretty teeny-tiny for a cruise line at this level). But anyone expecting something bigger than industry standard will be disappointed; these standard staterooms are no bigger than those offered on new ships in fleets for Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean and Carnival.
Fare-wise, how will this ship stack up against others in the fleet? Despite its rather pedantic itineraries (there are two seven-nighters; the first calls at St. Kitts, St. Maarten and San Juan, the second at San Juan, St. Maarten, Tortola and Labadee, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity's private beach in Haiti), they're pretty similar at this point. .
Cruise Critic member Schplinky reports that he was quoted some fares for a February 1, 2009 sailing: an AquaSpa cabin was $1,600, ConciergeClass was $1,425 and a standard balcony was about $1,250. For a new ship, that's not too much of a premium; balcony cabins on Celebrity Millennium's Eastern Caribbean seven-nighters this winter are going for $1,149.
--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor
Renderings of the ship's exterior, AquaSpa cabin, Blu and the solarium appear courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.