Jane Archer joins Celebrity Cruises on their first Seacation from Southampton on board Celebrity Silhouette, and finds that Covid protocols do not adversely affect the cruise experience
Celebrity Cruises joined the many cruise lines now sailing in UK waters when Celebrity Silhouette set off from Southampton earlier this month on its first revenue sailing since the pandemic struck.
It’s the ship’s third season sailing from Southampton and, not only is the ship looking different after a multi-million-dollar refit in January 2020 (see below), but life on board is different due to Covid protocols. For one thing, there are only 1,000 of us on board – a third of the ship’s normal capacity – to comply with the UK government rules on social distancing.
For another, everyone over 18 must be fully vaccinated, with the last jab at least 14 days before boarding, and also have a negative PCR test within 72 hours of sailing (under 18s can get away with a negative antigen test at the port). Celebrity pays for the tests, so financially it is no problem, but it is a worry. Luckily, Celebrity thought to provide PCR tests at the port as several passengers didn’t get their results in time.
We were instructed to download Celebrity’s app well ahead of the sailing, check in online and, on the day before departure, complete a health questionnaire. Only then was our boarding pass released.
Once on board, which was impressively fast and efficient despite all the extra documents to be checked, masks indoors are a must unless in your cabin or eating or drinking. There are one-way systems, all food in the buffet is served and tables are blocked off so people don’t sit too close together.
It’s not ideal, but didn’t much affect the cruise experience. Indeed, after more than 15 months of lockdowns, tiers and masks, everyone just seemed relieved to be sailing again. “Guests were in tears as they came on board,” said Celebrity UK managing director Jo Rzymowska.
“Talking to agents and consumers, people want surety. They want to know their holiday won’t be cancelled and a cruise, with cuisine and entertainment included, and great service, is such good value compared to staying in a hotel in the UK.”
On Celebrity, drinks, tips and wi-fi are now also included on all cruises and for all passengers.
What did ruffle a few guests’ feathers was discovering they couldn’t go ashore in Dover, Belfast and Liverpool – the three ports we visited – unless they were on a ship’s excursion. Those who did join an excursion were given a list of do’s and don’t by the guide. In a nutshell, do enjoy yourselves and don’t wander from the group or you won’t be allowed back on board.
This could all change when the UK’s Covid restrictions are lifted on July 19, but the final decision will be made by Celebrity’s health experts.
Celebrity Silhouette returned to its summer port of Southampton this month after a multi-million-dollar revamp that has spruced up carpets and furniture in several public areas and, more importantly, revamped bars, opened up more spaces and added luxurious hang-outs for top-paying passengers. Here are six of the main changes.
Beat a Retreat
British designer Kelly Hoppen has been working her magic to create a private two-storey deck space exclusive to suite passengers. The result is a stylish blend of chic greys, reds, blacks and whites, with cushioned sofas and loungers, and cool beach huts where couples can snuggle up. Staff are on hand to deliver drinks from the bar. If afternoon tea or a break from the sun calls, passengers can head to the new Retreat Lounge, a light bright Hoppen masterpiece that has replaced the country club-style Michael’s Club.
If the 40 craft beers don’t get passengers excited in Craft Social, a new bar that pays homage to the amber nectar, the way the barman fills the glasses will. None of that beer pump nonsense. Instead a clever use of magnets allows beers on tap to be whooshed up into the glass from the bottom, earning the new system the name ‘bottom up’. The room itself – formerly a wine emporium called Cellar Masters with dark, heavy furniture – has had a complete makeover, giving it a light, bright sports bar ambience. Light bites including spicy chicken legs and mac and cheese are available at extra cost.
The little chef is back
After making a splash with diners on Celebrity Edge, Le Petit Chef restaurant has replaced Qsine, the ‘playful’ food emporium on Celebrity Silhouette. The new-look diner combines great food and service with a fun touch of theatre thrown in – namely the animated antics of Le Petit Chef preparing each course (think: riding a lobster, battling an octopus and getting trapped inside a clam) projected onto each diner’s plate before the actual dish is served. There are two ‘shows’ and menus – one all new, the other that made its debut on Celebrity Edge – on each cruise, with a third to come. Cost is $50 per person.
It’s all very well
Katie Brauer, a leading light in the world of yoga, has designed new Slo Flo and Power Flo classes ($19 each for 45 minutes) for Celebrity Silhouette as part of the company’s focus on health and wellness. In the spa, passengers can enjoy a massage while cocooned in warm ‘sand’ on a new quartz crystal bed. In the gym, spinning fans can keep fit on new Peloton bikes using either their own subscription or by buying a one-week class pass for $119. There are six bikes and two are available for Penthouse passengers to have in their suite on request at no charge.
Large swathes of lawn have been removed from either side of the Sunset Bar, creating more seating for passengers to enjoy sunny days and sailaways. It’s one of several changes on Celebrity Silhouette’s lawn, which also now boasts a big new movie screen and all new furniture in eight cabanas on the lawn have all new furniture. These can be rented for $99 and $249 respectively for a port and sea day, including a plentiful supply of water, beers and wine.
Something more to drink, sir?
A new bar in Celebrity Central, an area just outside the theatre, means show-goers can stock up on their favourite tipple before taking their seat for the evening’s entertainment. The nearby casino bar has also been expanded, with a new seating area separated from the game machines that makes it more attractive to passers-by as well as gamers.