Just add water
by Selling Travel Editorial | 03 September 2021
The crew are laughing and clapping as I board Celebrity Silhouette. It’s her first sailing in 15 months and we are all super excited and just a little emotional. Me because I can finally get back to having the holiday I love; the crew because they are finally back after the long Covid-enforced hiatus.
I’m sailing from Southampton to ports in England and Ireland on an itinerary that Celebrity introduced after the Government gave the nod for domestic cruises to restart (a port in Scotland had to be dropped after the Scottish government banned cruise ships– a diktat since rescinded).
Specifically, we’re sailing to Dover, Belfast and Liverpool, with two sea days to enjoy onboard Celebrity Silhouette, which is back in the UK for her third season but her first since a major makeover.
In the good old pre-Covid days, to cruise with Celebrity you just needed to check-in (preferably on the app), have an (optional) picture taken with a cheesy backdrop and bingo, you were on. Not any more.
I need to be fully vaccinated, with the last jab at least 14 days before the cruise. Tick. Then I need a PCR test (paid for by Celebrity) – and negative result – within 72 hours of departure. Tick. Finally, within 24 hours of embarkation, I complete a health questionnaire on the app to confirm I am hale and hearty. Tick. Only then do I get my online boarding pass.
I print out my health certificates to show at the port rather than relying on having them on my phone – a good move as it makes check-in very speedy. Within 30 minutes of entering the terminal, I am onboard.
Life onboard is different too. Passengers must wear masks when moving around indoors (crew have to wear them all the time), food in the buffet is served and various seats are off limits to allow for physical distancing. In ports, we can only go ashore on a Celebrity tour. It’s a pain but it’s to keep us in a ‘bubble’ and – in theory – ensure we mix only with guides and coach drivers who have been equally vigorously tested. Judging by the air of normality onboard, I am not the only passenger feeling totally Covid-safe.
Food, glorious food
Dinner tonight is in Tuscan Grille, an Italian-style diner that serves huge steaks cooked to order, as well as fish, pasta, salads and soups. It’s so good I head back there on the last evening. In between I’ve dined on everything from a delicious Muscovy duck creation in French Murano to Colorado lamb in the main dining room and steak in the Lawn Club Grill – a restaurant that’s part al-fresco on the ship’s real grass lawn.
I decide to skip the excursions in Dover and instead grab a perch in the solarium, one of my favourite places. It’s quiet, the sun is shining, there’s a view of the white cliffs, a pool if I need to cool off and a café serving healthy foods for lunch.
I know, I know, I should eat there but the Oceanview Café is calling. Indian dishes, pasta, pizza, Mexican fare, grilled meats; you name it, it’s here. Having the food served works surprisingly well and there’s less wastage, but it is slower as we’re not even allowed to pick up our own plates.
Next morning, I wake to a view of the Cornish coast. We’re about to sail around Land’s End – very clear on our starboard side. It’s our first day at sea and an ideal opportunity to see what’s new on Celebrity Silhouette.
The answer is a lot. Cellar Masters, once a gentleman’s club-style wine bar, has gone; now it is Craft Social, a lighter, brighter venue with cool beer pumps that fill glasses from the bottom. I love this room and pop back each evening for pre-dinner drinks (beverages are now included in the price on all Celebrity cruises – a great move – along with tips and Wi-Fi).
In the new Le Petit Chef restaurant, the fun antics of said chef are projected onto dinner plates before the dish is served. It’s as much theatre as dining, with the bonus that the food is tasty too.
But the piece de resistance has to be the new Retreat sundeck exclusively for suite passengers, of which more later.
Whiskey and giants
I wake on day three in Belfast, where I’m going whiskey tasting on the Giant’s Causeway, a path into the North Sea built by Irish giant Finn MacCool so he could go and beat up Scottish big man Benandonner. At least that’s what our guide Keith tells us and after a couple of glasses of whiskey on the rocks (something to do with volcanoes and basalt) I’m going with that.
The next day in Liverpool I join a walking tour of the city that starts with the Liver building by the port, which shows off the city’s fine architecture and dips into the history of the Fab Four at The Beatles Story museum. Guide Debbie is so enthusiastic that by the time we’re back at the ship I am already planning a return visit to see more. On a cruise, naturally.
It’s the last day, we are cruising back to Southampton and I have hit the jackpot. The sun is shining, the sea is calm and I’ve got a pass for the aforementioned Retreat, a chic spot created by British designer Kelly Hoppen where suite passengers can lounge in the sun on cushioned sofas, beds and beach huts - all very millennial.
The pass also gets me into the Retreat Lounge, a stylish hangout, also just for suite passengers, and also designed by Hoppen in her signature black, white, grey and cream hues. Making the most of my pass, I pop down for afternoon tea and return later for pre-dinner drinks, wishing I had been in a suite the rest of the trip!
Celebrity was forced by circumstances to offer domestic cruises, but it’s been a fabulous way to see the UK without compromising on food or service or paying sky-high prices. If this is the Celebrity lifestyle, bring it on!
Book it with... Celebrity Cruises
Celebrity will be cruising the UK until mid-September before heading to international waters. A 10-night Spain and Portugal cruise including meals, drinks, tips and Wi-Fi is priced from £1,419pp.
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