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Celebrity Cruises - Cruise Line Review provided by Cruise Critic

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As Celebrity Cruises enters a new era of larger ships and higher capacity, don't mourn just yet for the little cruise line that offers personalized service. After all, no one believed that Celebrity could maintain its standards with the birth of Millennium-class ships, and it managed quite nicely, adding a series of enhancements that pleased even the most stalwart Celebrity smaller-ship fans.

It's true, though, that both Celebrity Solstice's and Celebrity's Equinox will come in at 118,000 tons, bigger than even largest ships in Carnival's fleet. Debuting in 2008 and 2009 respectively, these two ships aim to rock the notion that a cruise line that positions itself in the "premium" market must keep its ships small and cozy -- both are about 30 percent larger than the line's Millennium-class ships. What's even more surprising about this aggressive new-build program is that both ships are post-Panamax, meaning that they will be unable to transit the Panama Canal, and thus also unable to transition between the Caribbean and Alaska, of Celebrity's itinerary staples.

Starting with the launch of Constellation in 2002, the last of its Millennium-class ships, the company turned its attentions inward. The goal was ambitious: Celebrity introduced a series of enhancements that it hopes will position the cruise line as a legitimate Crystal competitor, albeit with a younger passenger demographic.

The program debuted on Millennium in 2002 and includes, among other features, poolside massages and elegant afternoon tea in RMS Olympic, the ship's sophisticated alternative restaurant. (Afternoon tea is now a staple on the other Millennium-class ships and their alternative restaurants as well.) Elaborate midnight buffets now give way to fabulous lunchtime spreads. Cova Cafe di Milano provides a new continental breakfast alternative. And Michael's Pub, the line's cigar lounge, has been transformed into an intimate piano bar now known as Michael's Club.

Other features and services include enhanced adult enrichment programs, more interesting and tempting shops in the Emporium complex, "welcome aboard" sparkling wine and mimosas on embarkation, a spa cafe dinner option, poolside fashion shows and wine tasting, a revamped sports deck, extensive golf programs, and the innovative Acupuncture at Sea program (taking over the space once occupied by Notes on the Millennium-class ships).

With the launch in 2004 of its wildly successful Celebrity Xpedition, the line has been able to offer its upscale, active passenger base a new option: More unusual cruise experiences.

Focusing on the Galapagos Islands, Celebrity has become the only big-ship cruise line to offer year-round sailings. But wait: you won't find Millennium or Galaxy (or even Zenith) trawling these small-ship waters. Instead, the company has acquired the former Sun Bay I, a 2,329-ton 98-passenger vessel, and transformed it into Celebrity Xpedition. The aim? To combine the line's big stylishness with more adventure-oriented destinations. Plans to expand with more small ships and forays into Antarctica have been scuttled for the moment, while the line concentrates on its larger-ship programs and on the two new builds.

Celebrity was founded in 1989 by the Greece-based Chandris Group, which established the line's reputation as an upscale big-ship operator. Celebrity was acquired by Royal Caribbean in 1997 and now operates as its sister cruise line. The Fleet

Celebrity Cruises' fleet of nine ships falls into three unique categories. First is the "vintage" category; Zenith joined the company in its earliest incarnation. The later addition of Century, Galaxy and Mercury reflected the first real evolution -- vessels that were sleeker and larger, and possessing intriguing design elements and impressive collections of contemporary art. And the last, of course, is the Millennium class -- Millennium, Infinity, Summit and Constellation, all weighing in at 91,000 tons and carrying up to 2,500 passengers. This newest group of ships carry through the company's art and culinary visions while also achieving firsts in their own right, from all-glass elevator banks to spa cafes to new alternative restaurants that pay homage to history's great ocean liners.

Celebrity's Century, which entered service in December 1995 as the first of its class, is getting a stem-to-stern refit and the addition of 314 verandahs. When it emerges from its refurbishment, it will have 14 new suites and 10 new staterooms, plus the addition of many of the "tastes of luxury" that define the Millennium-class ships. It will also debut a new specialty restaurant, designed to showcase the cuisine of Master Chef Michel Roux, who oversees menu selection and preparation on all of Celebrity's ships.

Onboard Atmosphere

The company has, from the beginning, shown enthusiasm for blending the innovative with the classic -- for instance, decorating with both contemporary and traditional art. Celebrity has also adopted the culinary creations of an internationally renowned celebrity chef -- Michel Roux, the Michelin-starred owner of Waterside in London -- while still retaining "ye olde" traditional dining scenarios in main dining rooms across the fleet.

Beyond its general increase in enhancements, Celebrity has introduced Concierge Class. The gist of the program is that some premium oceanview staterooms have been transformed via a variety of extras, from service-related additions (priority luggage service) to plusher furnishings (luxurious bed coverings, some balconies with dining tables). Originally available only on Millennium-class ships, the innovation has proved so popular that it is now available on most of the ships in the fleet and is being extended to ever more staterooms.

Key features on Millennium-class vessels include the largest spas at sea, the industry's first (and now oft-copied) outside glass elevators and an innovative gas turbine propulsion system that is more environmentally efficient. Alas, one of the Millennium-class innovations has been less than a rousing success: The four vessels have had recurring problems with their "mermaid pod" propulsion systems, resulting in breakdowns that have caused cruise cancellations and/or disruptions. Celebrity Cruises has taken the relatively unusual step of filing a $300 million lawsuit against the mermaid pod creators. In the meantime, the company has assured travelers that the breakdowns represent no safety hazard. Celebrity will also continue to offer generous compensation to passengers whose cruises are canceled or interrupted as a result of the balky system.

All Celebrity ships have cabins/suites that are standard in size and amenities. (A minimum category stateroom at 172 square ft. is a plus for bargain seekers.) Celebrity has also upgraded amenities in all cabin categories to include terry cloth robes and in-room service from the dining room menu. Celebrity's Millennium-class ships possess all the contemporary accoutrements, such as cybercafes-at-sea; double-deck libraries; martini bars; themed spas; and on Infinity, Constellation and Summit, Connect@Sea, 24-hour Internet access in all cabins for passengers who bring their laptops.

All standard cabins have a TV with CNN/ESPN, closed circuit movies and Sony's interactive features; direct dial telephone; minibars; safes; hair dryers and convertible twin/queen beds. A large number of cabins have private balconies (56 percent of all accommodations on Millennium-class ships). Suites have verandahs and an outstanding private butler service. Additional in-suite amenities include VCR, personalized stationary, whirlpool bath, afternoon tea and pre-dinner canapes. In addition to alternative restaurants on Millennium-class ships (all levy either a $30 per person service or a la carte charges), Celebrity has launched an evening casual dining program fleetwide. These are in addition to the traditional main dining room.

Itineraries

Though Celebrity does not offer world cruises, it is a worldwide cruise line that visits unique and exotic destinations. Throughout the year, there are voyages to Europe, Canada/New England, Alaska, the Panama Canal, South America (including Antarctica drive-bys), Hawaii, Australia/New Zealand, Bermuda, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean and, beginning with the launch of Equinox, the Holy Land. The Celebrity Xpeditions product adds the Galapagos to that list. One notable exception: Asia. The cruise line says that, at this point, there are no plans to enter that market.

Fellow Passengers

Celebrity attracts an extremely diverse passenger base, targeting in particular baby boomers and their families, but also seniors and honeymooners. In addition to U.S. travelers, the cruise line also draws guests from Canada, the U.K. and other European countries, and South America. Longer voyages in more distant locales, from Europe to South America, tend to draw an older crowd while weeklong treks to places like the Caribbean, Bermuda and Alaska are magnets for families. In an effort to attract more multi-generational groups, Celebrity's family programs have expanded to include teen centers, and more enrichment and educational programs for children.

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