Posted on Monday, August 1, 2011 by Peter Knego
Peter Knego reports from Celebrity Cruises’ latest SOLSTICE Class ship, the 122,000 gt, 2,886 guest MV CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE as she is named in Hamburg, prior to sailing off for two nights on an inaugural cruise into the North Sea.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2011 unless otherwise noted. Please click on image to view a larger version.
Thursday, July 21, 2011, ctd.
Although the SOLSTICE Class ships are, in my opinion, the most exciting and eventful megaships of the new millennium, their christening ceremonies have been almost humble in comparison with those of other major lines. In the past three years, many of my colleagues and I have stood in specially-built pavilions and witnessed christenings by Dutch and British monarchs, listened to pitch-perfect choirs and watched dazzling fireworks. Helicopters have hoisted massive champagne bottles to drench shiny new bows, orchestras and stage companies have performed and laudatory speeches have rolled off tripping tongues.
By comparison, today’s ceremony would be far more serene, if not altogether subdued. The CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE was the star and her induction was less a spectacle of superlatives than an opportunity to welcome her into the realm of cruising and to celebrate her Godmother’s (and the three prior SOLSTICE Class Godmothers’) perseverance in battling breast cancer.
Cruise Director Nick Weir was Master of Ceremonies, helming the ceremony after a video about the ship was broadcast in sync with a dulcet performance of the Bryan Adams song “On A Day Like Today” by Celebrity’s own Eric Bohus (Director of Entertainment), Simon Weir (Director of Hotel Ops) and Scott Steenrod (AVP Food and Beverage). A VIP Procession that included Richard Fain (President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International), Dan Hanrahan (President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises), Godmother Michelle Morgan (CEO of Signature Travel) and the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE’s captain, Dimitrios Kafetzis was led to the stage by the Royal Airforce Alton Pipes and Drums. Once everyone was seated, a bouquet of flowers was delivered to the visibly touched Godmother.
The SILHOUETTE was blessed by both Rabbi Dr. Walter Rothschild (Schlesweig-Holstein) and Pastor Frank Engelbrecht (St. Catherine’s Church, Hamburg) in refreshingly light and at times humorous oratories. The German National Anthem (celebrating the ship’s builders and the port of Hamburg) was sung by featured vocalist Lindsay Hamilton and then, led by Captain Kafetzis, the ship’s officers assembled on stage to perform the Greek National Anthem (celebrating Celebrity’s Chandris Line roots). Celebrity CEO Dan Hanrahan followed with a short speech.
He, in turn, was followed by Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain, who introduced Godmother Michelle Morgan.
A video montage saluting Michelle Morgan was screened while the song “The Power Of The Dream” was performed by Lindsay Hamilton. A misty-eyed Morgan took the podium and thanked the crowd.
The VIPs welcomed the three past SOLSTICE Class Godmothers to join them onstage: Dr. Sharon Smith (CELEBRITY SOLSTICE), Nina Barough (CELEBRITY EQUINOX) and Emma Pontin (CELEBRITY ECLIPSE). All proceeded stage left for the ribbon cutting…
Via video monitors, a pink ribbon (symbol for the fight against breast cancer) made its descent down from the forward funnel (where a magnum of champagne was hoisted), through the ship’s upper decks and passageways. From the rafters of the Silhouette Theater, it was delivered by an acrobat to the stage, where Fain assisted the Godmother in making the ceremonial cut.
Meanwhile, Ulrich Graumann, who was kind enough to share his photos with MaritimeMatters, was watching from the dockside, “using a ride on the giant Ferris wheel to make some pictures of the ship from the height of 60 meters.”
In the Theater, cheers rang out at the moment of impact.
Outside, the spent bottle dangled from its harness.
Confetti rang down from the rafters. The CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE was now officially christened.
The Silhouette Theater gradually emptied of its attendees, who left a few crumpled programs, countless empty champagne flutes and piles of confetti in their wake.
I skipped a beer-tasting in the stylish Michael’s Club in favor of watching the sail-away from atop the ship. Although the ship’s whistle was mute during the christening, it was vociferous in its salutes to the City of Hamburg. An attending tug gushed forth a plume of water off the starboard bow as the SILHOUETTE’s lines were unleashed. The banks of the Elbe were lined with onlookers in a town where ships, especially sparkling new, German-built ones, are celebrated.
On the far less congested port side, I gazed down at the fetching former state yacht and river survey vessel SCHAARHORN. The “Swan of the Elbe” was built in 1908 and managed to survive two World Wars, vandals and pillagers for a complete restoration in 1995. She is still driven by her original coal-fired boilers and steam power plant.
But it was the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE’s time to bask in the glory and a rare chance for all at hand to celebrate that something so big and new could at the same time be so pleasing and dynamic. This was not just a ship for those who love ships and cruising, but anyone who appreciates forward-thinking architecture, design and art (that just happens to float).
By the time we were passing the CAP SAN DIEGO, it was nearing 7:30 PM. I headed down to aft Deck 5 to join friends and colleagues for dinner in Qsine, the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE’s trendy specialty restaurant.
From the vantage of Qsine’s full-length windows, the spectacle of the SILHOUETTE’s passage down the River Elbe continued.
Table settings in Qsine feature orange and black place mats with specially-commissioned crockery and accoutrements. Although my personal palate and sensibilities are more geared towards the Asian fusion cuisine of the Silk Harvest Restaurants on the SOLSTICE and EQUINOX, I respect the innovation and quirkiness of Qsine, which was introduced on the ECLIPSE and will also be featured on the REFLECTION.
Qsine menus are delivered in I-pad form and waiters are now termed “culinary guides” to help decipher a new realm of dining where nothing is what it seems to be. For instance, what looks like a lollipop is actually sushi and shrimp fritters tend to mimic popcorn. Our dinner would actually consist of a pre-set selection of some of Celebrity Executive Chef Jacques Van Staden’s most innovative favorites.
Our “guide” delivered and described each course with gusto. The first few courses were definitely in the “comfort food” category, having been fried or steeped in rich, creamy sauces.
The Lava Crab features Alaskan King Crab, sweet yellow corn and scallions in Old-Bay lobster sauce.
As I am not a big shellfish eater nor much of a carnivore, my moment came when a small shelf of Mediterranean specialties arrived. “M’s Favorites” ran the gamut from tzatziki, hummus, falafels and tabouli to marinated eggplant and feta cheese.
After dinner, I attended the first “official” show in the Silhouette Theater, an a capella performance by the four member Tilt and the energetic, bi-lingual (English and German) comedy of guest entertainer Steve Rawlings. Afterwards, it was great to air out the tux and take a stroll on the wind-swept open decks and take in a view of our brightly-lit ship as she meandered the North Sea.
Friday, July 22, 2011.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality and scope of breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe. From the fresh fruits, cereals and cold cuts to the excellent salmon (with all garni accounted for: capers, onions, lemon wedges, egg, etc.), muesli, waffles, sausages (turkey and pork), pancakes and breads to the egg station where one could order, continue selecting other courses, then return for the finished egg or omelet dish. I also love that cappuccinos and freshly-squeezed orange juice are never more than a quick request away.
From there it was off to muster in Michael’s Club for the 10:00 AM mandatory boat drill, then merge into the stampede to Cafe al Bacio for a cappuccino before heading up to the blustery Lawn Club.
In the Lawn Club Grill, we assembled for a mid-morning demonstration by Executive Chef Jacques Van Staden, who introduced the new dining venue. His randomly selected “test subject” was none other than Celebrity CEO, Dan Hanrahan.
Guests who so choose, can prepare their own courses with the help of their “guide”. After washing their hands and donning aprons, they knead and roll flatbreads and sprinkle them with cheeses, toppings and spices to be baked into a pizza of their own creation. Meanwhile, steak cuts, chicken skewers and/or fish are selectively seasoned and then grilled to taste.
We would be returning that evening to put this new culinary venue to test with a full dinner.
At 1:00 PM in the gorgeous Observation Lounge, there was a press conference with key Celebrity executives. Some potent quotables:
Richard Fain on Celebrity’s 94% guest satisfaction ratings: “Chocolate and toys don’t score that high.”
Dan Hanrahan on Celebrity’s new revenue-generating venues (Lawn Club Grill, Alcoves, etc.): “It’s a combination of adding a new experience and needing to charge in order to not disappoint guests by over demand. Of course, it’s nice to generate extra revenue but the cost covers additional labor, crew, more space for extra crew, etc. The overall cost of providing these features means it (does not create) a significant profit.”
Dan Hanrahan on whether Celebrity will order more ships: “Not for now. The MILLENNIUM Class are still among the best ships afloat. Much of their elements inspired SOLSTICE Class and we are keeping the Celebrity brand consistent by SOLSTICE-izing them.”
Richard Fain on new classes of ship for RCI: “We don’t believe that one size fits all. The progression of VOYAGER to RADIANCE to OASIS…was up and down (in terms of size). We aim to build the best — bigger per se is not better but better per se is better. OASIS had some features that required a large structure to contain. The new (much smaller) SUNSHINE class is a different concept and for a different market.”
When John Honeywell (aka Captain Greybeard) queried when he could use the headline, “Sale Of The CENTURY”, referring to the rumored transfer of Celebrity’s oldest, smallest ship (to TUI Cruises to join the former sisters MERCURY and GALAXY), he was assured by Dan Hanrahan that the CELEBRITY CENTURY will remain in the fleet at least through 2013.
Asked if the Lawn Club Grill and Alcoves would be retrofitted to the first three SOLSTICE ships, Dan Hanrahan replied: “We never overreact. We thought about SOLSTICE-izing the MILLENNIUM Class before SOLSTICE came out but pulled back. We will watch and see what happens but it wouldn’t be a surprise to find the new innovations on our first lawn clubs (someday).”
I spent the rest of the day eating, drinking cappuccino, racing to document the “open house” cabins between throngs of visiting travel agents, writing and breaking in a brand new elliptical machine in the vast expanse of the gym. Through its rain-streaked windows, there was an excellent view of the gray North Sea and passing cargo ships. On our port side, we passed what I presumed was the island of Heligoland.
At one point in the afternoon, our planned dinner in the Lawn Club Grill was scrubbed due to inclement weather but the captain later advised that the rain and winds were to subside and we were given the choice of dining in the stunning Grand Cuvée or up in the Lawn Club. Although the Grand Cuvée may well be my favorite modern room afloat and its cuisine probably more to my personal liking, I could not pass up the chance to be among the first people to dine in the Lawn Club.
For those like myself who prefer to relax and not “work” during dinner, the Lawn Club Grill’s “culinary guides” are more than happy to do all the cooking. However, two of our more adventurous tablemates, Fran and Kate, opted to take the grilling reins with a little assistance from our attentive guide. They selected two steaks, a fillet of salmon and (my) chicken skewers from the freezer.
Nearby, the flatbread preparation was underway. We decided on a pizza margherita for the table.
After ordering our side dishes, we helped ourselves to the salad bar, which also is the source for pizza toppings.
Earlier in the day, we were taught one of the keys to successful grilling is to not salt the cuts until just prior to cooking.
Before long, the final results were ready to be consumed. When the chilly winds began to whip back up as Cuxhaven came into view, our resourceful guides dug out some steamer blankets from the nearby Alcoves, heightening our sense of adventure. Bundled in warm, plaid blankets, we had a fantastic time and I predict the Lawn Club Grill will be a major success.
I stopped by the theater to see a bit of the show, a full fledged, circus-like extravaganza actually called “The Show”, then took some time to savor more of the ship. The bars and alcoves on Decks 4 and 5 were abuzz with revelers.
Utterly flawless, both in terms of aesthetics and function.
I took one last walk around the Lawn Club, then returned to my cabin. After completing her transit of the Elbe, CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE would berth at the Hamburg Cruise Terminal in the very early morning hours.
Saturday, July 23, 2011.
After breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe, I disembarked and caught one of the last coaches to Hamburg Airport. As I began my homeward trek, the CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE received her first fare-paying passengers. She would depart on her maiden voyage that evening, a seven night cruise to Civitavecchia.
A fully illustrated and comprehensive CELEBRITY SILHOUETTE Decked! feature will follow soon…
Very special thanks: Dayna Adelman, Martin Cox, Ulrich Graumann, Elizabeth Jakeway, Tavia Robb