Celebrating SOLSTICE (CELEBRITY SOLSTICE Christening and Inaugural Cruise)

Please click on image to open a larger version. All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2008 unless otherwise noted.


I have been a fan of the innovative, aesthetically daring and often provocative ships in the Celebrity Cruises fleet since the debut of the CENTURY (now CELEBRITY CENTURY) in 1995. Celebrity’s vessels are instilled with an ocean liner ambiance and a modern, almost European flair that sets them apart from the ordinary.

In anticipation of attending the inaugural of Celebrity’s first newbuild in six years, the Meyer Werft-built CELEBRITY SOLSTICE, I have tried to avoid advance reviews and hyperbolic press releases in the hopes of having an untainted first impression. That said, it was hard not to fixate a bit as the ship loomed at her Ft. Lauderdale berth last week prior to her November 14 sailing.

Seen from the outside, the “angel” is in SOLSTICE’s architectural details, such as the manner in which the multifaceted superstructure slopes back, the exquisite sculpting of her twin funnels and mast, the sleekness of the glass-encased Solarium and Atrium buttresses, the arrangement of windscreens over the pool, the wing-like canvasses sheltering the Lawn Club and the yacht-like dynamics of her stern sponson. She is really quite a fascinating ship to study, even if her overall proportions are not necessarily a departure from the prevailing Post Panamax norm of squared off hull and towering superstructure.

It did not take me long at all to surmise that, internally, the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE is the most exciting, original and dynamic major passenger ship since the “as built” QE2. Her MidCentury Modern stylings are often reminiscent of the first ORIANA, CANBERRA, RAFFAELLO, MICHELANGELO, SHALOM and even the nuclear-powered SAVANNAH, although her look is entirely her own. Even those who do not care for her decor would most likely concede she is certainly not boring or “just another new cruise ship”.

An upcoming Decked! will feature a full top to bottom tour and many details not included here.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Inaugural welcome desk.

Thanks to Michael Bennett, who delivered me from the Miami Dodge Island cruise terminal to Ft. Lauderdale, I would have the greater part of the day to explore and document the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE prior to her christening ceremony that afternoon. Once past security, I joined a growing group of travel agents and media people who were queueing up to board the ship at 11:00 AM. Interestingly, behind the closed doors to the main hall, a ground-breaking ceremony was being held to commemorate Ft. Lauderdale’s new cruise terminal.

Cabin 6246 facing starboard.

My traveling companion, Hamburg-based journalist Oliver Mueller of Seven Seas Society arrived just after the doors swung open.

Press kits in hand, luggage in tow, it was up an escalator past strands of festive blue and white balloons and across a long, steep gangway to the ship. We headed immediately to Cabin 6246, a deluxe verandah stateroom on starboard Continental Deck. There was not much time to ogle our abode as an entire 122,000 gt ship awaited documenting, but I was immediately impressed with the sophisticated medium wood tones, copper colored carpeting and the maroon, gold and beige soft fittings. No sickly coral, peach or turquoise pastels here!

Our steward popped in to say hello and let us know the room was not quite ready. He would separate the queen bed into two twins and finish up while we roamed the ship.

Cabin 6246 w/c.

The bathroom was very spacious and had plenty of shelves, nicely detailed tile work, and a large shower with sliding glass doors that featured a small bar for ladies to rest their foot upon for leg shaving. Well done!

Cabin 6246 balcony, facing starboard.

Even the tall, metal-framed verandah furniture was a step above the ordinary.

Totally random carpet shot.

Celebrity ships are often compared to boutique hotels. Passageways feature interesting original artworks, subdued lighting and rich colors as well as some of the best carpet choices afloat.

Aft stairtower, facing port/aft.

Oliver and I parted ways in the main stairtower, where each landing sports an impressive series of original artworks, to begin our systematic documenting process.

Grand Foyer ceiling.

I went immediately to the lowest of the ship’s thirteen passenger levels, the Plaza Deck. I would start at the bottom and work my way up as the various venues filled with guests attending the day’s events.

Grand Foyer stairs facing aft from Plaza Deck.

Grand Foyer, facing forward from Promenade Deck level.

Hurriedly, I covered the lowest level of the Grand Foyer, the Passport Bar and Guest Relations areas. The soaring atrium is a neck-craner and really quite breathtaking, as one would expect on a Celebrity (or any RCI, for that matter) ship. Its three bottom levels are a study in marble and brushed steel with a restrained palette of brilliant blue and gold. I couldn’t resist a peek at the Grand Epernay dining room but would have to come back to it later as guests were being seated for lunch.

Shops On The Boulevard, facing forward.

On Promenade Deck, I found the Martini Bar in the midst of much hubbub as a crew set up lights for a photo shoot. I continued forward via the Shops On The Boulevard with their backlit pilasters, recalling somewhat the curtained alabaster stairtowers in the MILLENNIUM class lobbies. Emitting natural light, the slatted blinds looking out to the port Entertainment promenade on the upper level were an especially nice touch.

Entertainment Court, facing forward.

The Entertainment Court is the smaller of the SOLSTICE’s two atria and is located just forward of the shops. String quartets, acapella singers and other civilized amusement can be enjoyed here. On the port side, the space age Quasar disco was being readied for a private party (so South Beach!) and on the starboard side, musicians gathered in the Celebrity Central auditorium to prepare for the inaugural rehearsal in the Solstice Theater, which was closed off. I worked my way aft via the Casino on the starboard side to the Grand Lobby.

DGA Studios designer, Francesca Puschi, supervises as a painting is hung in Cellar Masters.

Inspired by California’s Napa Valley vineyards, Cellar Masters overlooks the starboard side of the Grand Lobby. It is at once rustic and chic, with Spanish arches, charcoal wood tones, posh maroon high back chairs, emerald highlights and amber glass ceiling fixtures.

Ensemble Lounge entry hall detail.

On Entertainment Deck, the Bistro on Five and Cafe il Bacio were already packed with visitors, so I continued forward of the Grand Lobby to the Galleria Tastings and Boutique area with its impressive art displays before heading aft to the Ensemble Lounge. The entryway, a “multi media installation”, is rather extraordinary, with hand painted flora on its black enameled walls and crawling ants painted into the decking, all by Columbian American artist, Nancy Friedeman.

Michael’s Club facing aft from port.

The Ensemble Lounge contains a large bar in its epicenter and is both lounge and starboard side passage. It adjoins Michael’s Club and the extra tariff Murano Restaurant on the port side.

Silk Harvest detail.

Beyond the aft vestibule, there is a trio of specialty restaurants, beginning with the Asian fusion Silk Harvest on the starboard side. Natural light from the full length windows, dark wood tones, hot salmon pink upholstered chairs and a honeycomb of suspended amber lanterns share the space with walls of cherry blossom photo etched glass panels.

Blu, facing aft.

On the port side, Blu could have taken its decorative cues from Nino Zoncada and J.A. van Tienhoven, with chandeliers reminiscent of those in the MICHELANGELO’s double deck first class lounge and stark white rose
-embossed bulkheads that would have been right at home in RAFFAELLO’s first class restaurant. It is divided by a screen with brass framed “portholes” that is not entirely unlike those in the 1959 ROTTERDAM’s Ambassador Lounge. And yet the starkness and restraint is also reminiscent of the verandah bar on NS SAVANNAH. It is one of my two favorite spaces on CELEBRITY SOLSTICE and possibly one of the nicest dining rooms afloat. The catch: one must be booked in an Aquaclass stateroom in order to dine here. Consider it a health-conscious Queen’s Grill.

Tuscan Grille, facing port.

The Tuscan Grill occupies the very aft portion of this deck with its panorama of full length windows stretching across the stern. Another sophisticated eatery featuring some wonderful metal and tinted glass chandeliers (also a bit MICHELANGELO) and bold, warm colors.

Library, facing forward.

The upper decks beckoned with the double deck Team Earth, the Card Room and the double deck Library in their vertiginous perches along the forward portion of the soaring atrium.

A-tree-um, facing down from the Library.

In lieu of a sculpture, the Atrium features a live ficus tree in a vivid red planter.

Midships Resort Deck, facing forward through Wet Zone fountain.

On Resort Deck, a water fountain similar to that of the very chic Los Angeles Music Center springs directly from the deck. Instead of drenching beehived actresses on their way to the Oscars, it reputedly erupts in synch with music performed on the platform just aft. Two outdoor pools, sheltered and open sunning decks are featured here.

Forward funnel from starboard Lawn Club Deck.

From afar, the SOLSTICE’s funnels seem a bit too small for the ship’s vast proportions but from the vantage of the Lawn Club level, they are truly sublime. Grated in a fashion similar to that of the first Celebrity ship, MERIDIAN (ex GALILEO GALILEI), they are quite substantial up close. The fins have a lovely curl that combines elements of AUSONIA and ACHILLE LAURO and yet the spacing of the funnels hearkens back to the magical old BRITANIS of 1931.

Lawn Club, facing aft.

The idea of a real grass lawn at sea hadn’t much swayed me until I experienced it in person. It is actually quite lovely, although I suspect there will be some maintenance issues to be sorted out. The canvas awnings are also marvelous, stretching overhead like a giant pteradactyl’s wings.

Funnels from starboard bowling green.

From aft, the two gorgeous funnels seen together were giving me REGENT SEA (ex GRIPSHOLM) flashbacks.

Midships Resort Deck facing aft from Lido Deck.

The heat and hunger were taking their toll, but much more still lay ahead. I hurried up to Solstice Deck and wandered around its varied and inviting sun terraces and their imposing view over Resort Deck, then back down to forward Lawn Club level and the child and teen centers and down one more to the soothingly stark Sky Lounge on forward Lido Deck.

Solarium, facing aft.

The Solarium is a spectacular space with its soaring glass panels, another wonderful fountain, huge pool and sheltered lido area. There is even a handy sundry shop on the port side for those needing sunglasses, tanning lotion and swimming gear.

Jennifer Dabu models acupuncture technique.

While racing through the dazzling AquaSpa, I encountered licensed acupuncturist, Jennifer Dabu, whose right ear was impaled by no less than four needles, which she assured me were for relaxation and general well-being. CELEBRITY SOL
STICE features four treatment rooms in its Acupuncture At Sea.

Oceanview buffet.

Well-designed lunch in the Oceanview Cafe.

With only a few moments to grab a bite to eat, I was off to the OceanView Cafe for refueling. I ordered some spaghetti with eggplant, sundried tomatoes and extra garlic laced pomodoro sauce at the pasta station, made a quick spinach salad at the salad bar and grabbed a chicken breast with some sauteed eggplant, all of which systematically disappeared in just a few short moments. I love the designer dishes but why are there no serving trays?

Solstice Theater christening screen.

We joined the media group on the port Entertainment Deck level of the Solstice Theater for the christening ceremony. The theme song, U2’s “Beautiful Day”, was performed by the Vitamin String Quartet, violinist Lucia Micarelli and vocalist Antonio Sol.

The St. Andrews Pipe Band of Miami led a procession from the Lawn Club down to the Solstice Theater, passing down the starboard side of the auditorium and up onto the proscenium before exiting stage left. The Godmother Procession followed, with RCI chairman Richard Fain, Captain Panagiotis Skylogiannis and Godmother Sharon L. Smith proceeding to the stage to the French Horns Fanfare.

The Greek National Anthem is performed.

American anthem in the Solstice Theater.

Rabbi Terry A. Bookman and Seaman’s Pastor Sverre Tofte performed the blessings before the Greek Anthem and American Anthem were sung by Beklys Riveron-Raimundez and Antonio Sol, respectively.

Godmother Sharon Smith and RCCL CEO, Richard Fain.

Richard Fain addressed the crowd and introduced Godmother Sharon L. Smith, a world-renowned biological oceanographer whose work has been invaluable in determining the future of the ocean’s food supplies and the effects of nuclear energy as well as global warming on the environment. The first scientist to ever christen a cruise ship, Dr. Smith gave an eloquent speech and was momentarily overcome with emotion when discussing her two bouts with cancer.

Red ribbon readied.

Mr. Fain led Dr. Smith to the opposite side of the stage for the ribbon cutting, which would send a bottle of champagne suspended high over the Lawn Club crashing into the forward funnel.

Christening on the Solstice Theater screen.

The bottle break was telecast in the auditorium, concluding the christening ceremony.

Night view from forward Solstice Deck.

We joined friends on the upper decks for a celebratory glass of wine as the SOLSTICE prepared to sail. The myriad glasswork, dark by day, glowed with light from within the ship.

Resort Deck fountain nocturne from port Lido Deck.

The Wet Zone fountain area on Resort Deck was particularly lovely, bathed in a purple fiber optic glow.

Nightboat salutations.

As the SOLSTICE backed from her berth a few minutes past 7:00 PM, two fire boats accompanied her with their plumes.

CELEBRITY SOLSTICE departs Ft. Lauderdale on her official naming pr
eview cruise. Photo by and copyright W.A. Hoey 2008.

We positioned ourselves on port side of the ship under the aft funnel, waving to our friends Bill and Katy Hoey in their eighth floor condominium as the SOLSTICE headed through the channel and into the open sea. The ship’s whistle had a nice deep tone but was barely audible from the upper decks.

Christening night gala dinner in the Grand Epernay.

We had dinner on the port side balcony level of the magnificent Grand Epernay dining room, which had basically been in use throughout the day with various functions. The Naming Celebration menu was a fixed affair with the following courses, accompanied by Celebrity Cellarmasters Proprietary Blend chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon:

Chilled Snow Crab, Salmon Gravlax and Avocado Lime Timbale with Dill-Caviar Vnaigrette

Wild Mushroom and Foie Gras Ragout with Puff Pastry Triangles, Fried Sage and Balsamic Syrup

Maine Lobster Bisque, Pistachio Foam

Melange of Mache, Frisee and Radicchio and Warm Crusted Goat Cheese with Raspberry Vinaigrette

Pink Champagne Granite

and a main course choice of:

Grilled Mediterranean Sea Bass, Roasted Artichokes, Sundried Tomatoes, Celery Root Fondant and Black Truffle Vinaigrette


Roasted Colorado Rack of Lamb on Morel Risotto and Zinfandel Braised Belgian Endive

Christening night gala dessert.

The Solstice Decadent Collection of Miniature Desserts did its best to keep me awake for the next few hours.
Many of us rounded out the evening in the Solstice Theater to watch “Solstice, The Show”, a Cirque de Soleil-style extravaganza with performers dangling from high wires and along balconies as others contorted on stage with various hoops and acrobatics.

The following day’s agenda was intense and began early, so it had to be a relatively early night.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cappuccino in Cafe il Bacio.

By 8:00 AM, the crowds had begun to descend upon Cafe il Bacio. A cappuccino helped lift the morning fog and ready me for what promised to be an exciting press conference in the Sky Lounge at 9:00 AM.

Sky Lounge facing port from forward.

As CELEBRITY SOLSTICE meandered in the seas off South Florida, brilliant sunlight filtered in through the angled glass panels of the Sky Lounge. A wave-like ceiling fixture emanated from the room’s vortex and the palette of deep blue, stark white, and silver was both refreshing and restrained. Had I a week to enjoy aboard this spectacular new ship, this would undoubtedly be one of my favorite spots to cozy up in and savor.

Designer’s forum in Sky Club.

On this particular morning, a line up of nine white leather Arne Jacobsen egg chairs (hello, SS SHALOM!) was gathered in the room’s epicenter. In the seats were the principal designers of the CELEBRITY SOLSTICE.

Harri Kulovaara, Celebrity’s Executive VP of Newbuilding/Design (Maritime) for RCCL moderated the panel, beginning by asking each designer to introduce themselves and discuss their contributions to the SOLSTICE.

Francesca Puschi/DGA Studios: Murano (“inspired by a fine restaurant one would find in a piazza in Venice, featuring crystals and deep colors”), Michael’s Club (“an urban retreat”), Ensemble Lounge (“bold patterns, vibrant, a jazz lounge experience”, CellarMasters (“it’s all about wine as a social experience, sensory, full of color”), Passport/Lobby Bar (“the first space one sees on board, a confluence of arrivals and departures, reflective and vibrant”)

Greg Walton/RTKL Associates: SOLSTICE staterooms (with the input of the five “leading ladies”, a team consisting of a frequent cruiser, a land-based hospitality executive, a person who has never cruised before, a travel agent and a travel writer — “ergonomically comfortable for women and a 32 inch flat screen television for the men”), Sky Lounge (“dual function observation lounge and nightclub”), Quasar (“inspired by James Bond, the front facade is reminiscent of an Aston Martin”), Cafe Il Bacio (“a Viennese Cafe”), Silk Harvest (“not meant to be authentic but rather a contemporary interpretation of Asia”)

Adam Tihany/Tihany Design (self-described “enfant terrible”, his directive was to “forget everything done earlier and start from scratch” and biggest challenge was “vibration”): Grand Epernay (“a dining event, not a room, designed to create a ‘wow’ effect, a contemporary Busby Berkeley movie set”), Oceanview Cafe (“live food stations”), Tuscan Grill (“the kind of restaurant that will never fail, one that serves pasta and steak”)

Kelly Gonzales/RCCL VP of Design (coordinated 30 international designers and 100 member newbuilding team — overall goal of “cohesiveness” with a design motif that incorporates
“earth, air, light and water”): Blu, Martini Bar, SOLSTICE Suites, Child and Teen Centers, Library, Card Room, Computer Lab

Scott Butler/Wilson Butler Architects (“Four years ago, I began work on the SOLSTICE with the goal of making the ship a breakthrough by seaming various spaces together in a natural fashion, like a well-laid out city with dining in the aft portion of the ship, casino and shopping areas adjacent to each other, etc. My goal was to work with land-based firms and coordinate the work with Richard Fain in Miami.”): SOLSTICE’s open deck areas, including the Lawn Club; Grand Foyer and Atrium (“We only had four to five days to install the centerpiece tree, build the scaffolding, make the vase and get Coast Guard approval — it is the only ship where a tree grows under the grass.”); Solstice Theater (“a practical theater in the round with performers flying overhead”)

Joan Blackman/ICArt (“Celebrity has a tradition of acquiring and displaying very high-end artworks and switching the vast collection between its various ships.”): “The SOLSTICE has $6 million worth of art featuring 4,500 pieces, 3,500 of which are in the staterooms, alone. There are even 450 pieces in the crew areas. 75% of the art is by well known name artists.”

Tim McGill/5 Design (new to ship design, prior firm did the Bellagio in Las Vegas. “Quality and Choice are the main directives — people know more than they used to. In the old days, someone would ask for a red wine. Today, they want a specific California varietal, for example.”): Shopping Areas, Casino

Mr. Bernard Meyer of Meyer Werft.

With the enthusiasm of a wide-eyed school boy, Bernard Meyer, whose last prior RCCL project was the BRILLIANCE OF THE SEAS class of ships, said the goal with SOLSTICE was to create something completely new to Post Panamax specifications that would still be relevant in ten or fifteen years. There were over 100 different GA plans submitted by 2004 when the final design was chosen.

Crepe making in the Bistro on Five.

Banana crepe in the Bistro on Five.

With gurgling stomach, I joined Oliver for a late breakfast in the Bistro on Five. We beat the mad rush but still had a twenty minute wait, all with a view and the aroma of crepes on the burner. Once seated, I thoroughly enjoyed a Mediterranean roasted chicken and garlic crepe, followed by a blood sugar-crashingly good Italian Banana Crepe laced with nutella and pistachio.

Starboard “face” from helipad.

We were granted permission to take a few structural photos from the helipad atop the bow, so made that our next destination, then proceeded through the ship to photograph the various cabins on display.

Team Earth, facing port/forward.

Team Earth, a space dedicated to consciousness versus revenue, was officially “opened” that afternoon. I missed the ribbon cutting but had a chance to ponder the displays, some of which have been provided with the cooperation and support of Conservation International.

Grand Epernay Dining Room, facing forward.

So, finally, we went to document the Grand Epernay, which was enjoying a rare moment of emptiness. “Wow!”, indeed! This is what it must have felt like in the Meridian Room of the CANBERRA in 1961 or the Chambord Restaurant in the FRANCE in 1962. Stark, pure and futuristic on a truly grand scale. The white skeletal supports are stupendous, as are the elliptical chandelier (a solar system of glass globes — a large version of the one in the Martini Bar), the glass wine cellar and the room’s stark, reserved color scheme. The carpeting even sports a geometric pattern that was evidently designed specifically for the venue.

Adam Tihany in the realm of his masterpiece, the Grand Epernay.

Adam Tihany, the room’s architect, was wrapping up a staff meeting on the lower level. I had a quick chance to ask him if he was inspired by any of the great ocean liners in designing the space. His succinct answer: “My inspiration was Calatrava, the great bridge builder.” Fantastic!

Glass Blowing demonstration.

From there it was off to the Hot Glass show on Lawn Deck for a demonstration by the Corning Museum of Glass gaffers.

Croqueters on the Bowling Green.

And while we were at it, we had a chance to see the Bowling Green in action.

Celebrity Cruises’ Dan Hanrahan.

A second press conference in the Sky Lounge followed. This one was headed by Celebrity CEO Dan Hanrahan and featured a Q & A session afterwards. I was able to ask why there is only an “X” on the forward funnel (answer: “There is a second one on the side of the ship.”) and whether there would be any significant structural or design modifications with the SOLSTICE’s under-construction sister, the EQUINOX (answer: “No. Not at this point, anyway.”). Hanrahan sounded resolute when asked if the current economic downturn might result in all five SOLSTICE class ships not being completed, “Taking all five ships makes much more economic sense than to not have them. They are even more advanced and efficient than our other ships.”

Questions were also directed to the five “Leading Ladies”; compliments from most of the press corp gushed forth and it was revealed that Celebrity’s target demographic is the Gen X’er with a median household income of $85K to 125K USD.

Chopper hovers over SOLSTICE off South Florida.

As Mr. Hanrahan and others spoke, a chopper hovered precariously close outside. It spent the next hour or so circling the ship, apparently getting some stunning images of her underway.

Finally, as the sun began setting behind the Miami to Ft. Lauderdale skyline and the SOLSTICE shared the sea lanes with an armada of departing cruise ships from both ports, I had a chance to unwind a bit in the magnificent gym, which is better than the one in my home town.

There was a cocktail party in the Solarium and my dinner was assigned in the Tuscan Grill, where I enjoyed the offerings (excellent bread, buffalo mozarella, roasted chicken and gelato) and the company of a nice group of fellow writers.

”Ghost Light” in the Solstice Theater.

Dinner ended just in time for us to catch the last number of “Ghost Light” in the Solstice Theater. After packing, I couldn’t resist joining friends in the lively Entertainment Court as a barber shop quartet performed and Quasar pulsated.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When we awoke, the view was once again the barren landscape of Ft. Lauderdale’s as-of-yet-unbuilt new terminal. It was off to the Garden Court for a fresh omelet, some fruit and muesli, then down to il Bacio for a pair of cappuccinos before we all headed off to catch our various airport transfer buses.

Two nights on the SOLSTICE was like a whirlwind affair and very much left me wanting much, much more. A full Decked! tour will follow in the weeks to come.


Special thanks: Michael Bennett, Martin Cox, Lisa Harrison, Elizabeth Jakeway, Harri Kulovaara, Oliver Mueller, Tavia Robb

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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