Next week I will be flying to Hamburg, Germany to witness the inauguration of the newest Celebrity cruise ship, Celebrity Silhouette. This is the fourth ship in Celebrity's Solstice class, which I consider some of the most beautiful vessels afloat.
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Construction of the ship was just completed at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, the same yard that built the new Disney Dream and will be producing Norwegian Cruise Line's new ships as well.
For those who are new to cruising, a "class" of ships is a series of vessels with the same basic floor plan. But unlike cars or planes, its rare for any class of ships to have more than two or three iterations. Probably the most prolific class of ships is the so-called "R Class," with eight ships all built for Renaissance Cruises in the 1990s. All are still in service and are doing very well for their new owners (Renaissance went belly up in 2001). The R-ships currently sail for Azamara Club Cruises, Oceania Cruises and Princess.
Some cruise lines tend to make sister ships nearly identical--even with the d�cor. This was especially true with Celebrity Cruises' four Millennium-class ships, which are virtually indistinguishable. However, the line has learned that too much of a good thing can be, well, too much. As the Solstice-class has grown, Celebrity has given each new ship-- Equinox, Eclipse and now Silhouette-- some unique attributes to make each more unique. While Celebrity Silhouette will be very similar to its sister ships, it will have a few distinct features.
Solstice was the first cruise ship to have live, growing grass; this feature was unique, but it didnt do much. It is a lawn like any other, even if it is growing on the top deck of a cruise ship. Yes, you can play croquet and bocce ball on it, but that is about all. Solstice also introduced the first glass-blowing exhibition at sea sponsored by Corning Glass.
Equinox introduced two significant changes: a new restaurant and a relationship with Apple.
The Qsine Restaurant has a unique style of serving best described as family-style tapas and diners view the menu on an Apple iPad full of mouth-watering pictures and demonstrations. Each course is a single menu item, such as spring rolls, but there are single servings for everyone at each table. The presentation of each course is creative and imaginative, with the spring rolls coming inside actual metal springs and sushi presented as lollipops already prepared on a stick with pickled ginger and wasabi.
Equinox's new affiliation between Celebrity Cruises and Apple computers (hence the iPad menu) brought about the ship's Apple-based computer learning center called the iLounge. There are also Apple computers in the Internet caf� and an Apple store onboard with a classroom for lessons in Apple hardware and software.
The unique attributes of Silhouette remain to be seen, but there is already talk of the Lawn Club Grill, billed as the cruise industrys first outdoor interactive grill. This suggests it will also have an iPad menu that diners can use to order directly from the kitchen.
The ship will also have a new area called The Hideaway, said to be something like a high-tech treehouse where guests can relax. For more relaxation, The Alcoves will offer private cabanas around the lawn with a nearby studio for hands-on art lessons from professional instructors. Most of the improvements to each Solstice ship have been cumulative, so Silhouette will also have Qsine and the iLounge.
Music Cruise Update
Sixthman Productions just announced the The Weezer Cruise, featuring the band Weezer. Their version of the hit song You May Think Im Crazy (but all I want is you), is featured in the new Pixar movie, Cars 2. (Originally done by the Cars, ironically enough). The cruise sails Jan. 19, 2012 from Miami to Cozumel (four nights) and starts at $799 per person.
Personally, I will stick with the music I know best like the Beatles Tribute Cruise sailing on Oasis of the Seas Feb.4, 2012. Granted, this one does not have the Beatles, but it has a very reasonable facsimile in the tribute band Revolution, along with real Beatles friends Tony Bramwell and Mark Hudson.
But I am really looking forward to my Rock Legends Cruises featuring the real ZZ Top, John Kay and Steppenwolf, Marshall Tucker, Dickey Betts, Foghat, Molly Hatchet, Johnny Winter and George Thorogood and the Destroyers. These are bands I know. This cruise sails Dec.1, 2011.
Real Russia River Cruising
It is too bad that every time a tour boat of any kind sinks, the media calls it a cruise ship. The Bulgaria, a tiny 56-year-old Russian cargo vessel rebuilt as a tour boat, sank on the Volga River last week. But it was not what I would ever call a cruise ship, or even an acceptable riverboat.
It is important to draw a distinction between Russian tour boats like the Bulgaria and professional river cruise operators like Viking River Cruises, Uniworld, Avalon and AMA Waterways, which also offer cruises in Russia, but in different parts of the country. These lines all have beautiful, state-of-the art riverboats and exemplary safety records.
Please do not confuse the recent Russian tragedy with the Russian river cruises offered by these companies. As a baby boomer who grew up in awe of the Soviet empire, I can tell you that my Russian river cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg on Viking River Cruises was one of the most memorable cruises ever.
As always if you need to know more about cruising we urge you to consult our Cruising101 FAQ.
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