Brits sailing out of Southampton on the new Celebrity Eclipse this April will be delighted to find a few home comforts onboard -- if you consider mushy peas and steak and kidney pie to be home comforts, that is.
Celebrity has unveiled a host of Brit-friendly aspects to the new vessel, sister to Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox. Menus have been tweaked, entertainment tailored to British tastes and onboard lecturers and "enrichment" made more appropriate to a U.K. audience.
"We're not going to take anything away," explained Celebrity's CEO Dan Hanrahan at a press conference and slap up lunch in London yesterday in the Lanesborough Hotel's Apsleys restaurant (designed, coincidentally, by Adam Tihany, the man behind the Solstice-class ships' two-level main dining room decor). "We're just adding menu items that will be available all the time and making sure we have U.K.-inspired entertainment and experiences."
In the ship's dazzlingly white, airy main dining room, dishes like Beef Wellington, cod in parsley sauce, Yorkshire Pudding and mushy peas are being added to the "always available" items on the menu and there will be more vegetarian choices and Indian dishes (Celebrity employs a lot of Indian chefs, so expect these to be good).
Indian food will be a feature in Bistro on Five, too, with dosa crepes, dal and a lamb panini with vindaloo sauce added to the collection of light snacks. Curry lovers will be equally happy in the Oceanview Cafe, with a daily Indian selection alongside pub-style dishes like pasties, pies and "banger rolls," though neither the assembled press and travel agents nor cruise line execs could work out whether this meant sausage rolls or hot dogs with English bangers. (Despite all the effort made, it appears something got lost in translation!)
Slightly more off-the-wall is the curry and raisin gelato in Gelateria, the ice-cream bar.
The British influence continues in the entertainment. A new show, Ovations, will include songs from shows such as "Les Miserables," "We Will Rock You" and "Jersey Boys," all West End hits. The Sky Lounge, an elegant observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows, will have regular pub nights, with English beer on tap (which beers exactly still to be decided) and pub games, including darts. U.K.-based chefs are being recruited for cooking demos and BBC Prime and Sky News will be on the in-cabin TV system.
Perhaps the most welcome feature of all for the tea-loving British passengers will be electric kettles and tea bags in the cabins, which appeared to much acclaim when Royal Caribbean first brought Independence of the Seas to Britain.
But do mushy peas and steak and kidney sit well alongside the boutique elegance of a Solstice-class ship, which lists a frozen Martini bar and the lavish AquaSpa among its attractions? "We had lots of discussions about this," U.K. and Ireland general manager Jo Rzymowska told Cruise Critic. "It's amazing how many people say they don't want these things, but then get onboard and find they do after all."
One thing U.K. passengers don't want, it turns out, is Sterling pricing onboard. "When we had Legend of the Seas sailing out of Southampton for Royal Caribbean we transferred the pricing to pounds at great operational expense," Rzymowska explained. "The feedback was that it wasn't what people wanted. They weren't going on a national brand – they were on an international ship. Of course, the exchange rate was favourable at the time, which helped." So, U.S. dollars it is on Eclipse, despite the fact that the US dollar is stronger against the pound than it was when Legend -- and Independence -- were introduced to Southampton.
In any case, a surprising statistic has arisen from the new ship's advance booking patterns. Some 90 percent of passengers were expected to be British and 10 percent international for the ex-Southampton season but the reality has turned out to be 75 percent British and 25 percent international, including many Americans. If these international guests are hoping to sample real British food, though, they could be disappointed. One thing absent from the menus revealed yesterday? Good old fish and chips.
What British comfort foods would you like to see on your ex-U.K. cruise on a non-U.K. ship? Vote in our poll.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor