Behind the Scenes: Celebrity Cruise Ship Brings Ash-Stranded Brits Home

April 23, 2010
Celebrity Eclipse

(1:15 p.m. EDT) -- Most rescue missions don't involve a brand-new cruise ship, kitted out with rock bands and free-flowing Champagne. But 2,000 British holidaymakers -- who were stranded in Spain when their flights home were cancelled due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland that shut down Europe's airports -- got the ride of a lifetime when they were picked up by Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Cruises' newest cruise ship.

Cruise Critic spoke on the phone today with the cruise line's president Dan Hanrahan to find out just what happens during a cruise ship rescue mission.

Hanrahan, who stood on the dock bidding folks farewell during our call, says that the first few hours onboard were quiet. But after getting settled in and having a proper meal -- buffets were set up in the Oceanview Cafe as well as in the main dining room, so everyone could eat without having to queue up -- folks got into the traditional cruise atmosphere.

The rest of the voyage operated as a "normal cruise," with all restaurants operating as usual and a full night of entertainment -- the new Eclipse show was debuted in the theater, and musicians, including a string quartet, a cappella group, and rock and roll band, performed throughout the ship to "very enthusiastic" crowds.

Bars were also open for business on a pay-per-drink basis -- though complimentary Champagne was poured during embarkation, and an hour-and-a-half open bar was offered toward the end of the voyage as a special "welcome home."

Celebrity Eclipse"I don't think we could have done this without [the tour operators]," Hanrahan says, pointing out that Thomson, First Choice, Thomas Cook and The Co-operative Travel Group (CTTG) handled most of the on-the-ground logistics. "The tour operators covered port fees but we didn't really ask them for money. They made a nominal payment but we'll bear a lot of the cost. This was not about cost."

Hanrahan says immigration officers sailed onboard as well and cleared the travellers in Spain so they could simply walk off the ship today: "It was nice to see everybody come together to make this work."

Passengers debarking the ship in Southampton headed for one last method of transport, coaches, en route to their final destination -- home.

Stay tuned this weekend for our coverage of Celebrity Eclipse's christening -- Cruise Critic will be on the scene!

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

Images appear courtesy of Steve Dunlop.

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