Notes from Onboard the Celebrity Solstice

Travel Agent got a sneak peek at the new 122,000-ton Celebrity Solstice in Papenburg, Germany, on Saturday. We were part of a small media group comprising the first guests to ever stay onboard.

Our impressions? We would describe the 2,850-passenger ship— not yet finished and not yet delivered to the line— as incredibly elegant and classy, much more so than other new ships we've seen of late. Simply put, the design "shines" and the public areas are extremely spacious. Among the highlights is a 23,000-square-foot, top-deck Lawn Club, consisting of a specialized type of live grass and several soaring white canvas coverings; the area will be used for golf putting, picnics in the park and bocce ball.

Multiple alternative restaurants range from Asian to a steakhouse with an Italian flair. We dined in the casual Oceanview Cafe & Bar, featuring food islands separated by plenty of space for good guest flow during peak periods.

An elegant stunner is the Grand Epernay Dining Room, a dramatic two-story space with a massive glass wine tower as well as dramatic and elegant ceiling art. We also particularly liked everything to do with the spa— with its cool and pleasing blue-and-white color scheme including glass touches.

The ship also features new AquaClass staterooms; guests in those specialty accommodations have their own dedicated, intimate dining venue aptly called Blu. Our standard balcony stateroom was larger than the typical Celebrity staterooms on the line's other ships; the bathroom really was a star— with a large shower (by cruise ship standards) and an attractive vanity with several  small drawers and glass-enclosed shelving.

Interview with Dan Hanrahan 

In talking one-on-one with Dan Hanrahan, Celebrity Cruises' president and CEO, we gleaned some intel regarding the ship's pending launch; the line's marketing and sales plans; and Hanrahan's view of what the ship will do for the brand.

Hanrahan said advance bookings "are very, very good" for the ship's launch through the third quarter of 2009. In addition, he said the new Solstice class may change the brand's guest dynamics a bit.

"The Celebrity guest has never been a first timer [new curiser]," noted Hanrahan, but he believes "this ship has the ability to bring more first timers into the brand." While touring Travel Agent and other media guests around the new ship, he indicated it's possible that the ship may be delivered a bit early and, if so, the line might add yet another short trade/VIP preview cruise prior to the November 12 preview cruise already planned.

Hanrahan's view of the ship's pluses? He cites an “incredibly elegant design,” larger, more efficiently designed staterooms, diverse dining choices and "entertainment that sets us apart from the crowd."

Looking ahead to 2009, media-wise, Hanrahan said the line's marketing program will feature less television and more direct mail and email components. The line will add the ability to book spa treatments online by next spring. In discussing Celebrity Solstice's extensive use of solar energy, Hanrahan also said the line is also looking at other potential energy technologies including wind power testing, which will conducted on Celebrity Century later this year.

And finally, Hanrahan said the recent decision to opt out of upcoming Australian-New Zealand voyages with Celebrity Millennium was a decision based on many factors including high fuel costs, high airfare costs and the line's own guests having visited the South Pacific region in recent years; Hanrahan said past cruises in the region were successful but "maybe we're better off going every other year."

Interview with Richard Fain

Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.'s chairman and CEO, addressed the nation's economic woes while talking to reporters onboard Celebrity Solstice.

"I hope they fix it," he said about the Congress' efforts to develop an economic response to the worsening economy.  "Obviously, everyone suffers [in an economic downturn]," he continued. "These are troubling times."

But while acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, Fain also said the real strength of cruising is that the product throughout its history always has had "exceptional value."

He says that when times are tough, "the more they [consumers] look at a cruise, the better we stand out," particularly when compared to the cost of a land-based vacation.

For more on our impressions of the new Celebrity Solstice, stay tuned for the October 13 issue of the magazine.

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