Shipyard Snapshots: Celebrity Solstice

Celebrity Solstice departed from its Papenburg, Germany shipyard today as nearly 100,000 onlookers looked on. The ship, as is custom for all vessels built at Papenburg's Meyer Werft, traveled down the Ems River backwards. People were stationed at various points (as close as a parking lot adjacent to the ship and at a range of spots along the river), many turning up for the weekend in caravans. There was definitely a festive feel.

The 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Celebrity Solstice is the largest ship ever to be built at Meyer Werft and, as such, its transit through the River Ems required delicate handling (without much room to move from side to side, the ship was delayed a day because of wind); it had to be towed rather than cruising under its own power.

The ship continued on to the Netherlands' Eemshaven, where it dropped off most passengers early Monday morning, including Celebrity chief Dan Hanrahan. Then the ship, with key crew only, will embark on a few days of sea trials, where it will be tested to make sure its technical and electronic components work properly. After that, Celebrity Solstice will head back to Eemshaven, where it will undergo its outfitting (final furniture loading and decor-oriented tasks, primarily).

What's Solstice like? Stay tuned for our photo essay, which will launch Monday, but here are a few quick impressions from my 24 hours onboard this weekend.

It's beautiful, elegant and spacious -- and definitely takes the line's Millennium-class ships to a whole new level. But it's still Celebrity, and it still retains the character of its existing ships.

The Lawn Club is fantastic! The grass has been laid, and it's a cozy area that comprises both the Bocce course and just a nice expanse of yard (perfect for picnics). It adds a lovely, genuinely natural touch onboard.

Cabins, reflecting a new design for Celebrity, are larger, as promised. What stands out in my standard balcony stateroom is the creative and ingenuous use of space -- lots of subtle storage areas, such as high beds so you can stick big suitcases underneath -- and lots of shelves, drawers and even an above-the-bed unit. The bathroom -- it's fantastic. Mine, shower-only, was large (the shower has a curving plastic door that's roomy enough for most people) and elegant (loved the brown tiles).

Restaurants are an outstanding feature onboard; in addition to a two-level main venue (that's something out of a 1940's Gloria Swanson flick), there are so many options, from an Italian steakhouse to a 24-hour bistro for casual fare. And yes, the line's best-in-cruising formal alternative restaurant will be found onboard. Here it's called Murano (same as on Celebrity Century).

One comment I kept hearing from shipbuilders, cruise line executives and other guests on the overnight stay was how far ahead of schedule the ship is; it's about 97 percent complete. When you figure Celebrity Solstice has another 3.5 weeks to finish up the last bits and pieces -- that's amazing.

The ship will debut in mid-November.

Check back tomorrow for our Solstice photo essay, where we'll showcase a range of areas onboard, from cabins to the spa and from restaurants to the disco.

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief