A trip onboard the revamped Celebrity Silhouette leaves Sara Macefield with a newfound appreciation for UK breaks
I’d never given much thought to discovering my own country and the wealth of attractions on our doorstep, and certainly never expected a voyage around Britain’s coastline to be such a journey of discovery.
But this six-night sailing on Celebrity Silhouette, visiting a trio of historic ports while marking Celebrity Cruises’ return to the UK market after a gap of 19 months, is revelatory.
Just a few days after setting sail from Southampton, I’m standing in the bowels of a ship amid a clanking chorus of pumping pistons, before rising up through passenger decks where all I hear is the gentle tinkling of a piano and sweet serenade of a string quartet.
The lavish surroundings scream 20th-century opulence rather than the chic modish sophistication I’ve become accustomed to onboard Celebrity Silhouette, which benefited from a $75 million refit as part of Celebrity’s “revolution” to modernise its older ships.
But we have arrived in Belfast, the second stop on this cruise, and I’m now discovering life onboard history’s most infamous ship – the Titanic.
The museum devoted to the legendary ocean liner, constructed on this very spot, is outstanding and it’s easy to spend hours absorbing the history of the province and its links to Titanic through interactive displays, including a surround-screen film that transports us on a captivating tour through the ship’s decks.
But Belfast’s Titanic Quarter is far from the only point of interest; our whistle-stop coach tour of the city’s historic centre and neighbourhoods previously ripped apart by the Troubles (and still separated by the “Peace Wall”) leaves me hankering to return.
It’s a similar scenario in Liverpool, where I join a walking tour to explore the maritime past of this colourful port city. I’m expecting the Cavern Club and steady flow of Beatles tales about the Fab Four. What surprises me is the sense of history that resonates along the gracious streets of Liverpool’s commercial district lined with grand majestic buildings, each with a story to tell.
The revitalised Royal Albert Dock is another area I relish, especially upon hearing how it almost became a car park after falling derelict, with the main dock basin silting up.
Jo Rzymowska, Celebrity Cruises’ EMEA vice-president and managing director, who was on the first of the line’s summer UK staycations, admits she was blown away by the entire experience.
“It has exceeded my expectations in every way; the joy of experiencing the wonderful British Isles, exploring Dover, Belfast and Liverpool and then coming home to the ship, which is another destination in itself,” she says.
“To experience it through the eyes of new-to-cruise guests has been brilliant to see. Their faces are in awe of everything the ship has to deliver; the different events, variety of cuisine and quality of entertainment, which has been outstanding.”
A highlight of the new-look Celebrity Silhouette is swanky suite-only area The Retreat, with its lounge (formerly Michael’s Club) and private deck area styled by British designer Kelly Hoppen.
Dining choices have been enhanced with Japanese restaurant Sushi on Five (which costs extra), and entertaining Le Petit Chef experience, housed in the former Qsine restaurant, with a $55pp set menu.
I love the unique concept of this venue, where animated miniature chefs come to life on the tabletop to prepare each course in humorous cartoon sequences, appearing to toss ingredients onto your plate before waiters appear with the genuine article.
Another winning spot on our voyage, which coincides with the UEFA Euro 2020 England matches, is the Lawn Club Grill and its perfect views of a newly installed giant screen overlooking the grass lawn, where we dance in celebration at our team’s victories.
Such a diverse dining choice means evening meals can become the main event, but on this sailing energetic theatre, comedy acts and a magician bring variety, with theatrical vocal group the Barricade Boys a hit with the audience who give them a standing ovation.
Despite new health and safety protocols, life onboard soon slots into a regular cruising routine, albeit with social distancing, face masks in public areas (unless eating or drinking) and hand sanitisers placed around the ship.
I was worried the stringent protocols, which require passengers to be double-vaccinated and obtain a negative PCR test (provided free of charge by Celebrity) within 72 hours of embarking, would turn check-in into a tortuous process, but I breeze through in minutes.
It was a fitting start to a voyage that wasn’t just an easy way to explore my own backyard, but ensured I arrived in style too.
BOOK IT: A one-week voyage on Celebrity Silhouette to Liverpool and Belfast departs on 28 August and costs from £1,149pp for a balcony stateroom, including drinks, Wi-Fi and gratuities
On cruises to Belfast, recommend that clients visit Titanic Belfast for its gripping insight not just into Titanic, but early life in Ulster.
The Celebrity Central hub, containing marketing and collateral materials, now features a Ready to Work toolkit with updated product information.
Having cut 60% of single-use plastic onboard Celebrity Silhouette – replacing straws, water bottles and coffee stirrers – Celebrity continues to explore other ways to reduce plastic consumption.
Claire Moore, managing director of Peakes Travel Elite in Shrewsbury, gives her views on Celebrity Silhouette
What were your expectations of embarkation with the health protocols?
The whole testing thing makes people nervous, but it was hugely reassuring to go through the process and it didn’t take too long – from check-in to being onboard was 15 minutes.
What is your impression of Celebrity Silhouette post-refit?
I think Silhouette looks really fresh and sleek and I like the different areas such as the Ensemble Lounge and the new Craft Social bar, which is a lovely casual space. The Retreat is absolutely stunning and completely works.
And the itinerary?
UK cruises are a fabulous option when it comes to value. In Liverpool, I learnt so much on the tour, it really opened my eyes. As I’d been to Belfast before, I didn’t go ashore, but it was really great to relax on the ship.
Any selling tips?
We are suggesting these cruises to new-to-cruise guests whenever we get enquiries for UK holidays. Some people will not be persuaded, but others are open to the idea and it will be better now I’ve been onboard as I can speak from experience.