When it sails into revenue service on July 31, the 122,000-ton Celebrity Equinox will become the second Solstice-class ship sailing for Celebrity Cruises. The first in the class, Celebrity Solstice, launched last year to superb trade reviews. Agents and clients alike have returned singing that premium ship’s praises.
Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO, Azamara Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, told media including Travel Agent magazine onboard the ship late last week that any changes between the first and second ship in the new class are minimal.
He characterized updates to the Celebrity Equinox as more of a “refinement” than substantive steel changes in the ship’s design, which can be expensive. So you can expect primarily décor changes and three new shows. Essentially, Celebrity Solstice has proven such a commercial success that Hanrahan clearly stated the line’s thinking: “Why mess with this [a highly successful design look and onboard products]?”
In addition, he noted that the relatively short time between the launch of the first two ships made it more conducive to keeping the design and most elements of both ships consistent.
Hanrahan and Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity’s senior vice president, hotel operations, pointed out two changes agents will immediately notice. First, the personal safes were removed from closets. Customers had complained about a lack of hanging space.
Hanrahan took responsibility for his personal decision to insist the safes be added to the closets, a location common in hotels. But, he also said candid customer comments about the lack of closet hanging space led to his ultimate decision to remove them and reposition them.
Now, the safes are atop the refrigerator in the armoire-type unit in the living room area of the cabin. That's opened up much more space in the closets.
Second, Galleria Tastings as a concept has been reworked by Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity’s vice president of food and beverage operations, in a new partnership with The Liquid Chef. Your clients will discover a hipper bar with so-called muddled drinks. These will be wild concoctions of color, fruit, liquor and liquid nitrogen. The goal is to create a more enticing area to draw in guests.
Celebrity has also enlarged Celebrity Equinox's deck area with more seating around the glass-blowing area to help keep crowds from tearing up the grass. The line is also looking for ways to POSSIBLY introduce hammocks for the Lawn Club area of both Solstice-class ships. Equinox's Sky Room decor is softer and richer than on Celebrity Solstice. Colors are gold and cream. Two more heated, tiled lounge chairs were added to the spa's Persian Garden (for nine rather than seven loungers).
The separate wine room alcove at the entrance to Murano has been moved further inside the restaurant for greater intimacy of the dining experience in that room. The big pillars and separations have been removed in Bistro on Five, and an expanded cooking area added to that restaurant. The main Sillhouette Restaurant features a bolder look than on Solstice with red, black and white carpeting and patterned chairs of similar coloring.
Silk Harvest, the Asian-fusion eatery, boasts a new teal and red mural. The theater has new colors and three new shows. And the funnel boasts a new stylized Celebrity X logo.
Coming up this year, Celebrity will introduce pre-reservations online for restaurant seating. A new Captain's Club for past guests will be launched in July; it will feature enhancements suggested by both customers and a travel agent advisory board.
Original artwork is displayed throughout Equinox including a bejeweled, sequin-like tree holder for a large ficus tree that hangs within the atrium. Also, the original artwork was recently removed from Galaxy when that ship recently left the Celebrity fleet; half that artwork is now at home on Celebrity Equinox, the other half will go on Celebrity Eclipse when it launches.
Your clients will be served by experienced staff on Celebrity Equinox. More than 90 percent of the management including Simon Weir, the hotel manager, served on Solstice or other Celebrity ships. Similarly, nearly 70 percent of the service staff -- waiters, bartenders and cabin stewards -- served on Solstice or other Celebrity vessels.
In terms of how the other ships in the fleet are doing, Hanrahan said the Solstice is a clear winner with the line’s guests. Moving forward, the next Solstice-class ship, Celebrity Eclipse, debuting in 2010 will have more significant changes including a new restaurant concept.
But even older vessels get high marks, Hanrahan says. All four Millennium-class ships are consistent in their high ratings within the annual Conde Nast surveys.
Plus, the Mercury, one of the line’s older vessels launched in 1997, received the highest guest satisfaction ratings across the fleet last week. Hardware is clearly important but "the crew is what makes the difference for the Celebrity brand, Hanrahan stressed.
Look for the Celebrity Equinox to debut on an eight-night Norwegian Fjords itinerary followed by a 10-night "Best of Europe" itinerary as it repositions to the Mediterranean. It will then sail 13- and 14-night "Ancient Empires" cruises from Rome. In late fall, the ship will transit to Port Everglades, FL, to operate 10- and 11-night "Ultimate Caribbean" voyages.