21 July 2021 by Emma Sanger-Horwell
Wexas cruise specialist Emma Sanger-Horwell recently embarked on her first cruise since 2019 on the newly-refurbished Celebrity Silhouette to Liverpool and Belfast on a no-fly UK voyage. Read her trip report for a first-hand account of her experience of what to expect on your next cruise in a post-pandemic world.
Check-in process and health & safety
After two years without travel, I embarked the newly-revamped Celebrity Silhouette at Southampton a few weeks ago, on 1 July 2021, filled with anticipation – and a few nerves. They were, though, quickly dispelled as I reached the port ready to start check in, which consisted of a quick health questionnaire and a check of my double vaccination status, PCR certificate and passport. It was a very smooth and easy process and my room keys were left right outside my suite.
It was all made even easier by the fact that I didn’t need to go to the check in desk at all, as I would have normally done – guests simply needed to download the Celebrity Cruises app and complete credit card and photo details prior to check in. If you’d rather not use a phone though there is, of course, still the ability to go to the desk and ask for help from a staff member. I certainly felt confident and worry-free knowing that every adult had been double-jabbed and had a negative PCR test, something which is of the highest importance on all Celebrity cruises.
The mandatory Muster Station drill – a process on every cruise – is now virtual, which I found far easier and quicker – in fact, I preferred it to the normal procedure. It involved being invited by the app to watch a series of videos on what to do in the event of an emergency – again, those without the app are able to do this on board if they so wish. The app verified once I had completed this and I was then instructed to make my way to the Muster Station where a staff member checked it had all been completed correctly. I was then free to go and continue with my day and the rest of the trip.
As I settled in to life on board, it all felt rather normal – bar the wearing of face masks which were mandatory, but only when walking between the different areas – there was no need when sunbathing (something which was, with luck, possible due to a bout of good weather on my UK cruise!), at the bar or at any restaurant. The staff, though, wore face masks throughout, which was reassuring. Everything was extraordinarily clean, with hand sanitiser dotted around everywhere, with options for menus as well as QR codes in some bars. The use of table QR codes were not quite as pleasant as a real menu to peruse – but I suppose that is a fact of life in a COVID world!
Sky Lounge, Celebrity Silhouette
The usual breakfast buffets were no longer self-service – instead, staff members were informed of our choices and tea, coffees and juices were dispensed upon request. Again, this is hopefully something which will eventually return to normal. The revamped speciality restaurants were all of the usual high standard as expected on board a Celebrity ship; I particularly enjoyed the gorgeous Lawn Club Grill where I enjoyed one of the best pizzas I have ever had! The likes of red snapper and steak fillet also feature on the menu, while Murano and the Tuscan Grille also offered a wonderful variety of food, wine and excellent service.
Sunset Bar, Celebrity Silhouette
It was at Blu, though, where I experienced some of the best service I've ever had on a cruise ship. The maître d' found us one evening while we were dining in a speciality restaurant and introduced himself which I thought was a lovely touch. He even suggested some alternative menu ideas and I truly felt nothing was too much trouble.
I loved the new alcoves on The Lawn and the new suite-only Retreat really was sublime. A Zen-like area dedicated to suite passengers only, the Retreat offers beautiful loungers and cabanas complemented by excellent service and friendly bar staff, with the Jacuzzi area offering live music and games. Service was fantastic again, with staff regularly checking to see if I needed anything, from champagne to a refreshing sorbet – and even a blanket when things were getting chilly. I ended most days with a soak in the Jacuzzi – and if you opt for a larger Edge ship for your cruise you’ll also enjoy use of a pool. I'd certainly recommend upgrading to a suite to make use of The Retreat, it was one of my trip highlights!
Lawn Club, Celebrity Silhouette
There was plenty of space throughout the ship with some areas cornered off; this was particularly helpful in the theatre where there were lots of empty seats, meaning I had lots of space between myself and other people in the row. The quality of the shows and the entertainment was, as usual with Celebrity, second to none, and there were plenty of options depending on your preferences.
On my cruise this time I mainly explored and relaxed on board, but we did anchor in to Dover, Belfast and Liverpool where we had plenty of time to explore both. I was part of a small group for all shore excursions, which offered everything from city tours to distillery visits, and we were only allowed to disembark if on a booked trip with Celebrity. All trips were taken in small groups and all the usual restrictions applied. Once on a trip you were not allowed to leave the group at all – though this rule may be relaxed once restrictions ease in certain countries. For me, I felt this added even more reassurance and I felt very comfortable throughout.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland, taken by Emma
Finally – the staff and crew. I was blown away by the level of service, with staff always seeming genuinely happy, friendly and pleased to see guests. They even remembered what I had been drinking the previous night – quite a tall order on such a large ship! They were truly some of the best staff I have come across on a ship and really made the trip.
Sunset bar, Celebrity Silhouette
Overall, bar a few COVID-specific experiences, such as fewer guests and more restricted movement, my journey on board almost felt akin to all my pre-pandemic voyages. I’d highly encourage those considering a cruise to go for it – all the measures taken were extremely cautious and I felt more than safe throughout. I am now very excited for the arrival of Celebrity's Beyond ship in April and I hope to return to explore more of the UK and Europe in the near future.