Celebrity Solstice: Simply elegant aboard line's next big star
The biggest ever build cruiser in Germany, Celebrity Solstice, leaves the Meyer Papenburg shipyard en-route to Hamburg via Emden on September 28, 2008 in Papenburg, Germany. Having a length overall of 315 meters, the Celebrity Solstice will be three times longer than a soccer field. The large diesel engines will provide sufficient propulsive power to reach a speed of 24 knots, approximately 45 km/h. (MARKUS HANSEN/GETTY IMAGES)
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One of the hallmarks of the first in Celebrity's new series of ships is a broad carpet of genuine grass, developed over a half-dozen years to withstand the salt and wind that go with sea voyages. And while it may seem like a gimmick -- will vacationers able to pay premium prices this year really hang out in the grass? -- the Lawn Club, as it's been dubbed, is a tangible symbol of the kind of getaway time-pressed urbanites yearn for: A respite into a simple moment when the demands of daily life simply cease to matter.
Hey, it worked for Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman."
Add the frosty -- literally, the bar gets a snowy frost -- martini bar; chic specialty restaurants; a whimsical lofted library; airy central atrium opening onto lounges and casual restaurants; cabins with cream-colored leather sofas; a disco that's completely shagadelic, baby; a deck-top hot glass-blowing studio; $6 million art collection and a Cirque-du-Soleil-style acrobatic show, and upscale travelers are likely to feel right at home on this stylish 2,800-passenger ship.
After all, it looks like the homes they live in -- or hope to live in soon, when the economy settles.
"I think it is the finest ship I have been on," says Tom Baker, president of CruiseCenter.com, recognized by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the nation's top cruise agencies. "It is incredibly well laid out, extremely spacious given her large passenger compliment of 2,800 guests, and is excellently decorated with a feeling of high quality residential/resort furnishings," he wrote in an e-mail after a recent introductory cruise.
From overall flow to the real cream-colored roses set into the entry wall outside the Blu restaurant, Celebrity Solstice is all about design. Unlike many ships that seem to have gotten a memo from your doctor ("Note: Place bars and nightclubs as far apart as possible for maximum walking distance"), Solstice groups similar spaces together. All four specialty restaurants are in one district. Bars and clubs are grouped together, and the one atop the ship -- yes, there's always one -- actually sits just above the theater/bar area, so you can simply go vertical instead of traversing a pool deck first.
That's the function part of design. As for the form part -- well, there's lots to love, and little to crab about.
Celebrity Solstice presents a seagoing universe of contrasts that could be jarring -- but isn't. Instead, the ship seamlessly blends the contemporary with the comfortable, intimate with spacious, elegant with inviting. Ceilings are coffered and detailed so they feel taller than they often are. The airy atrium has a glass ceiling and is circled by coffee shop, creperie, bars and other public spaces -- including the Internet cafe and rave-worthy lofted library -- that, on other ships, are often closed, cloying spaces. Lounges and even cabins feature creamy leather sofas that feel sumptuous (and will be a pain to keep clean. Be glad it's someone else's job.)
Even the public bathrooms have a sense of upscale style, thanks to Adam D. Tihany, one of several land-side designers who helped create Solstice's flair. Best known for restaurants created for superchefs Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Charlie Palmer, Tihany has designed a Tuscan grill entered through a contemporary barrel-shaped vault and an elegant, Old Hollywood 1,500-seat two-story dining room that looks both oval and cream colored -- but isn't. (Don't miss the two-level wine tower, an engineering feat in a space that wobbles and sways nonstop.) Staterooms have a residential feel, with doors that open out into the hallway (so you don't clobber your partner trying to edge out of the bathroom), those creamy leather daybeds, larger-than-average bathrooms with closed cabinet storage, rounded bed foot (easier to slither around) and balconies wide enough for a breakfast table.
Nothing is perfect, and if there's one significant quibble, it's with in-cabin closets and drawers, which would have posed a crunch if you and your partner were sailing with a week's worth of clothes. (Hey, guys, you try stuffing a gown into one of those.)
On my recent two-day solo preview, no problem. But that's the short-coming of such brief preview cruises: You can't test cabins, service or food the way you would on a regular cruise.
It was impossible to know, for instance, if a full ship's worth of passengers would move smoothly around the food stations in the casual Lido buffet, or if the not-quite-perfectly seared foie gras in the tony Murano French/Mediterranean specialty restaurant was an aberration.
And whether a ship this big will be able to provide premium service is a question yet to be answered. But if Celebrity maintains its usual high standards for cuisine and service, and creates an experience that matches the ship's style, Solstice will be a standout.
Here's the rundown on some notable features:
Celebrity Solstice features multiple dining venues. Included with the regular cruise fare are meals in the spectacularly designed Grand Epernay main dining room and the casual Lido-deck Oceanview Cafe and Grill. For an extra fee, guests can dine in specialty restaurants: Bistro on Five ($5), featuring crepes and light fare; Tuscan Grill ($25), with steaks, chops and Italian fare; Silk Harvest ($20), with Asian dishes; and Blu, offering healthy cuisine for spa-class and suite guests.
Miami art consultant Joan Blackman has amassed more than 4,700 works by 98 artists valued at $6 million. They include a Jim Dine sculptured heart; Nancy Friedmann installation "Night Solstice" of a foyer featuring painted walls, inlaid floors and audio; John Baldessari's "Stonehenge (With Two Persons)" and Carlos Betancourt's sculptural installation featuring a live tree suspended inside the atrium.