Everything you need to know about Celebrity Cruises’ post-Covid UK sailings

Celebrity Cruises unveil The Retreat Suite range on ship

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Passengers on Celebrity Cruises Silhouette’s first post-lockdown cruise from Southampton on July 3 were moved to tears as they were applauded onto the ship by a welcoming party of crew and executives. These first 970 passengers – less than half the maximum capacity – walked up the gangplank wearing masks that hid faces full of hope for a return to normal.

And although this new normal involved constant hand cleaning, social distancing in the lifts and the end of the help-yourself buffet, before the ship sailed away many had were happily sipping drinks out on deck without their masks.

The July 3 departure was the first of this summer’s seven, eight, nine and 10-night UK cruises and the atmosphere was never anything less than relaxed and happy with passengers simply grateful to be at sea again – even if they did sometimes need fleecy blankets around the pool.

Who can travel on Celebrity Silhouette?

At the moment all guests must be resident in the UK, with proof of double vaccinations and a negative PCR test within 72 hours of sailing.

Celebrity Cruises will pay for the tests if you go to a designated centre, where it’s automatically charged to them, but they will refund up to £100 per guest if you choose another centre.

You’ll need a smart phone to show the result and also your vaccination status on the NHS app, although those without smart phones can arrange for a doctor’s note to prove you’re fully vaxed while Eurofins, the PCR test company, will email you a test certificate and send one to Celebrity Cruises, too.

Under-18s are allowed to sail without vaccinations as long as they have a negative lateral flow antigen test, which they must do at the port before boarding.

What’s it like onboard?

A staggered arrival system and digital boarding pass made check-in surprisingly easy, with superb Southampton docks staff sorting out problems without any fuss. Passengers who had not received their PCR test results in time were simply invited to take another and the result was with staff within 30 minutes.

As Celebrity Silhouette was sailing at less than half full for its first cruise, there was an immense sense of spaciousness – although when restrictions are lifted it is hoped to get 1,500 passengers onboard this summer.

Even when they’re at maximum capacity cruise ships are designed to have enough choice of cafes, bars and lounges, restaurants and entertainment, so there’s always somewhere to go – but this sailing was even more queue-free.

There were 925 crew instead of the usual 1,250, which is nearly one crew member for each passenger, so it’s easy to get help when required. The crew were just as delighted to be back in their jobs as passengers were to be onboard, so the mood was constantly upbeat: a moan-free zone.

Do you have to wear masks all the time?

Crew wear masks at all times and passengers have to wear them when walking anywhere indoors, except in their own cabins, so there were lots of people sitting in the Café al Bacio for a barista-made coffee because they could take off their mask when sitting down to eat or drink.

In all cafes, restaurants, bars and lounges you had sit with your group – family or friends – but a strategy of putting discreet “I Need Some Space” signs on every other table meant you were never too close to anybody else.

Out on deck you didn’t have to wear a mask when walking around, although some people chose to, and you didn’t have to wear a mask on loungers around the outdoor pool.

What are the dining arrangements?

As always the main dining room, Grand Cuvee, has complimentary dining for all and it’s open for breakfast and dinner every day, with lunch available on sea days.

When you book you can choose early dining at 6pm, late dining at 8.30pm or Anytime dining from 5.30-9.30pm – although you may be given a pager so you can wait in a bar instead of queueing during the 7-8pm peak. You had to wear your mask until you were seated and you could only sit with people you booked to travel with, to a maximum of six people at any one table. That was true of the complimentary Oceanview Café near the top of the ship, too, although you could choose where you wanted to sit and some of the tables inside were not in use, to help social distancing.

The really big difference in Oceanview, though, was that you couldn’t serve yourself from the buffet or drinks stations – staff filled your plate for you and prepared your tea and coffee. Strangely, this didn’t lead to long queues, possibly because more people than usual were using the free room service, especially for breakfast, although sailing half full makes a big difference.

There are several speciality restaurants and despite their cover charges of $45 or $50 a head, they were often fully booked – again because not all the tables could be used. The most popular with Brits, according to the ship’s hotel director Arjan Seheepers, is Murano, a French restaurant with an intimate ambiance, although the Italian-themed Tuscan Grille is equally well finessed.

The most fun for families is Le Petit Chef at Qsine, where clever technology means an animated story can be screened on your plate between courses. The Lawn Club Grill, which overlooks Celebrity Silhouette’s real grass picnic area, is also lively, with a charge per item for steaks, kebabs or fish. A new giant screen on the grass next to the Grill meant it was particularly popular during Euros football matches.

Has Covid affected evening entertainment?

The theatre was still open every night with singing, dancing, comedy and magic shows but some of the seats were marked out of use and you had to wear your mask unless you had a drink with you.

There was live music in other bars, and the Grand Foyer, and as long as you had a drink or you were eating you didn’t need your mask on – but you had to put it on when you wandered around the ship.

Is the gym and spa open as normal?

In the large gym, which has running and cross-trainer machines at floor-to-ceiling windows along the front and two sides of the ship, wearing a mask was a personal choice – after all it’s difficult to run in one – but the gym staff all wore masks. To ensure social distancing some of the machines were out of action and everybody was encouraged to clean them after use, although staff were also constantly cleaning.

Normally passengers can nip into the gym any time they like, 24 hours a day, but a maximum of 30 were allowed in at one time and hour-long slots had to be booked for the opening hours, which were from 6am to 10pm because they had to be staffed.

The gym had been refreshed during Celebrity Silhouette’s major “Revolution” refurbishment last year and, apart from the new flooring, has six Peloton bikes for those who either have membership already or want to subscribe while onboard. There were also new yoga classes designed by US yoga guru Katie Brauer, which are among the paid-for fitness classes available.

The spa had a few Covid restrictions that will be lifted when possible, including a limit to the number of passes sold for the Perfume Garden, which has heated ceramic loungers plus steam room and sauna. Aqua class passengers get free access to this facility, for which others have to pay $49 a day or $169 for seven nights, but only 10 passengers were allowed in at one time and they had to book hour-long slots.

Also, during treatments you had to wear a mask unless you were having a facial and, of course, all staff wore masks.

Has the Revolution upgrade made any difference?

Boarding Celebrity Silhouette was like getting on a brand new ship. It was immaculate, with no tired-looking décor remaining.

Much of this is down to British interior designer Kelly Hoppen’s work in reinventing the public spaces. Hoppen also designed the new Resort Lounge for suite passengers, which serves a lovely afternoon tea and has free snacks and drinks all day for its guests.

The very sophisticated Retreat Sundeck was even nicer, with cabanas, loungers and outdoor sofas plus a free bar.

Celebrity Cruises’ new Always Included policy means there are free drinks and wifi for all guests and no daily gratuities. For premium brands, though, you can upgrade to an ELEVATE package and for unlimited streaming wifi you can upgrade to an INDULGE package.

Other new venues created by the Revolution include Craft Social, a sports bar with 40 craft beers, where you can buy tasting experiences for beer or wine.

There’s also a new Entertainment Court Bar outside the theatre, for pre-show or after-show drinks, and updates to the Lawn Club, Sunset Bar, Solarium and Fitness Centre.

The spa has a new Quartz Bed – the first at sea was on Celebrity Edge – for Hot Mineral Body Boost or Power Pulse massages. And all staterooms and suites have been redesigned with new carpet, furnishings and mattresses.

Where is the ship going?

The 2021 summer season is focused on the UK, with confirmed ports of call including Dover, Portland and Liverpool.

The July 3 cruise included a call at Belfast and this should be in other itineraries if the Northern Ireland government stays in line with England to allow ships with 1,500 passengers to dock.

The Scottish ports of Greenock for Glasgow and Invergordon for Inverness should also be on some itineraries when the Scottish government changes its policy on cruise ships sailing from England.

In late September Celebrity Silhouette should be sailing to the Canary Islands, Spain and Portugal then in November it will cross the Atlantic from Southampton to Florida for a winter season of Caribbean cruises.

Fact box

Celebrity Silhouette has an 8-night return cruise from Southampton to Dover, Belfast, Liverpool and Portland for £1,299pp (two sharing) departing July 23, and a 7-night return from Southampton to Inverness, Kirkwall and Glasgow for £1249pp (two sharing) departing August 21 (0344 493 2043; celebritycruises.com). Dates in September are also available.

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