Celebrity Silhouette Debuts

I am writing from Hamburg, Germany, site of the inaugural celebration for the newly- launched Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth ship in the Solstice class of ships from Celebrity Cruises.

The ship was built not far from here, at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany.

When Celebrity introduced its first Solstice-class ship, Celebrity Solstice, in November 2008, the ship was widely acclaimed for its comfortable, yet utile staterooms and its spacious and majestic public areas.

The second ship in the series was Equinox, delivered in November 2009, followed by Eclipse in June 2010. The fifth and final ship, Celebrity Reflection, is scheduled to debut in November 2012.

Celebrity Silhouettes "godmother" at the inaugural ceremony was Michelle Morgan, the president and CEO of Signature Travel Network and breast cancer survivor. Hamburg was chosen as the inaugural city as a reflection of its growing importance as a European cruise hub.

Silhouette is a beautiful ship, but as the sister of Celebrity Solstice, that is to be expected. Lets just say that visual appeal runs in the family. Celebrity Silhouette has the same exquisite features as Solstice plus a few new ones--most of them bordering the expansive lawn of real grass on the top deck.

Silhouette's new Lawn Club Grill, which overlooks the lawn, features culinary demonstrations. For a $30 cover charge, guests can interact with the cooks making pizza and hamburgers for lunch and can select and grill their own cuts of meat with the able assistance of the ships expert chefs for dinner. Libations include buckets of beer or pitchers of sangria. Its interactive menu was first introduced in the Qsine restaurant on Celebrity Eclipse.

Nearby the grill is a new feature called The Alcoves, which is made up of eight cabanas lining the edge of the lawn--each large enough for two to four people. The cabanas rent for $99 during days in port and $149 for days at sea from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. They can also be booked for an entire voyage. Each alcove comes with an iPad loaded with movies, games and music. Guests also receive fresh fruit plates, hand-held fans, chilled towels and four bottles of water.

At night, each alcove can be set with mood lighting. Wi-Fi is also available at an extra charge. A dedicated alcove attendant is always standing by to deliver these included amenities. Additionally, you can order themed picnic baskets with selections from the specialty restaurants onboard, as well as beverages for an additional charge. Special spa services can also be arranged, as can wine and cheese tastings under the stars.

Another innovation distinguishing Celebrity Silhouette from the rest of the Solstice class is The Porch, a casual, 48-seat alfresco dining spot offering sandwiches, coffees and a spectacular view of the sea. earby is The Art Studio where guests can explore their own artistic flair during lessons in a classroom setting with paints and other provided materials.

The ship also has two entirely-new venues: The Hideaway and  Michaels Club.

The Hideaway features peculiar, but oddly- inviting nooks made of formed wooden planks said to resemble tree houses. They might look strange, but these small rooms are high tech, with Wi-Fi for iPads and other products from the onboard Apple Computer center (known as the iLounge), first introduced on Celebrity Eclipse.

The Hideaway is inside the grand atrium where a live tree grows suspended in midair--as is the case on all Solstice class ships.

The space for Michaels Club, known as a hangout for men on the other ships, has been repurposed as more of a social club for everyone -- but still features 50 international brands of beer and cool, homemade snacks like gourmet potato chips and caramel popcorn.

The Silhouette Journey

Celebrity Silhouette will sail from Hamburg July 23 on a seven-night cruise to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. From there it will sail a roundtrip, 12-night cruises to the Mediterranean and Holy Land until November. Following an Atlantic crossing, Silhouette will become the first Solstice- class ship to offer cruises for the New York/New Jersey market.

To get from the Papenburg shipyard to Hamburg, the ship had to sail through the famously-narrow channel of the Ems River, which is often referred to as the conveyance. The nautical definition of channel means the transition from a river to the sea, but in the case of Papenburg, the mouth of the Ems River is notoriously small and shallow for modern cruise vessels, so the conveyance must always be done with the utmost of care. In the case of Silhouette, the yard decided it was best for Silhouette to approach the narrow channel backward.

The entire Ems river journey is only about 50 miles, the trip up the Elbe to Hamburg is twice as long, but the Elbe River is as much as a mile wide or more in many parts, which is why Hamburg has become such an important and successful port. It is easily accessible to the sea but also deep inland.This beautiful and historic seaport is a fitting start for this grand vessel - Celebrity Silhouette.

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I started writing about stock market investing for Motley Fool in 1995, but previously I worked aboard cruise ships. I co-founded the CruiseMates.com cruise travel guide on the Internet in New York City in 1999. CruiseMates was acquired by Internet Brands in 2006. Once CEO, I am now the editor of CruiseMates