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| Century |
She is a vessel of nice and balanced appearance and with her two sisters form the most impressive premium category fleet
by Arturo Paniagua Mazorra (May 9, 2000)
The Greek Chandris Family
Celebrity Cruises is now the up scale branch of Royal Caribbean Cruises. But in her early days she was the dream of the Greek Chandris family, who begun to own and manage large passenger ships in 1959, when they bought the Bloemfontein Castle and renamed her Patris.
Soon, other big passenger ships (Brittany, Ellinis, etc) were purchased and heavily reffited as migrant ships in Greek yards.
Chandris uses all the ships in the Australian migrant trade, but at the same time they began to develop cruise services using second hand cruise ships, both from USA and Europe as well.
In the early seventies the liner services ended.
Chandris turned to Greek hotels and they also developed a budget minted cruise operation, Chandris Cruises. They strengthened their American operations with lovely old ships like Britanis, Amerikanis, Galileo, etc.
But in the mid eighties, the third generation Chandris Chairman John Chandris foresaw the growth of the cruise trade world-wide especially concerning the upper class of the USA's mass market.
This segment was the most competitive on the market, with well established operators such as Royal Caribbean, Princess, HAL, etc.
For Chandris Cruises, as budget cruise operator, it was quite difficult to follow the marketing strategy of its Chairman.
A new image had to be created and so the name Celebrity was born.
Celebrity Cruises, the Concept
Their first operational step was in 1987, when plans to refit the Galileo, to become the luxurious Meridian were announced, and in December that year with the signing of the contract for the first ever Chandris passenger ship newbuilding, the 47,000 GRT Horizon, with the German yard Jos L. Meyer.
At the same time, a deal was signed with the Bermudan Government for the vessel to operate on seven day cruises from New York to Bermuda in the spring and summer after which she would be redeployed in the Caribbean for the autumn and winter.
A Rapid Growth
Both the Meridian an the Horizon were delivered in 1990. The Horizon soon developed a fame as one of the most elegant, spacious and best designed third generation cruiseship.
A sister ship, the Zenith, followed suit in 1992.
But they were rather small in the era of 70,000 GRT fourth generation cruiseship.
The early nineties were years of strong growth in the cruise industry as well, specially in the American market, and the need for more and bigger cruiseship for the Celebrity fleet soon become evident.
The Century Series
To secure a financial base and to raise money for the newbuilding program.a joint venture with OSG was signed on October 1992, which contributed $220m to secure a 49% stake in Celebrity.
And in Winter 1993, Celebrity announced the $1 billion order to Jos L. Meyer for the construction of three latest generation cruiseships, the Century series.
This was the big step of the Celebrity expansion, after which they became the fifth cruise operators in 1997.
But in mid 90s, Celebrity began to loose money in the face of a slowing down of the American market and heavy discounts, and so its future became uncertain.
Celebrity was too small to compete with the three big cruise players: Carnival, RCI and P&O-Princess.
Royal Caribbean International
So, her purchase by Royal Caribbean International in June 1997 (some months before the delivery of the third Century's series cruiseship, the Mercury) was not a surprise.
This $1,3 billion operation formed the second largest cruise operator, with a combined fleet of 20 ships, in total over 38,000 berths by the year 2000.
RCI maintained Celebrity as a separate branch, and soon began to design the next generation of Celebrity's cruiseship, the Millennium series.
The European Market
The Paneuropean cruise business is very different from the American one.
Europeans, unlike American passengers, have multi-cultural requirements, they are difficult to cater for and require close monitoring and finely tuned services.
Their tastes are also different and the entertainment programs on board must appeal to their broad passenger clientele, as well as daily programs, menus, signposts, etc.
The staff must be multilingual too.
With this requirements, a ship designed for the North American market can fall through in the European business unless the necessary changes have been made.
I think that the Celebrity service and its fleet is best to be adapted to European tastes.
As a matter of fact Century was fully booked on all of her European voyages.
The European market was always a "high priority" for Celebrity.
At the delivery ceremony of the Century, Al Wallack, head of marketing at that time, said "The prospect to operate a ship in Europe is just over the horizon".
The new ship means that Celebrity could open new markets, in fact a year later Celebrity moved the Horizon to Alaska and planned to move her to Europe for the 1998 season.
A well planned schedule with more than 60 European ports of call was designed, but the sale of the Meridian to Singaporean owners in 1997 and the renewal of the Bermuda contract implied the cancellation of these cruises.
But the commitment that Celebrity had with Europe was firm and on 1, July 1998, after the purchase by RCI, they announced the deployment of the Century in Europe for the summer of 1999. In May 1999 it was announced that the Horizon must be rebuilt to cater for a broad European clientele in order to make week long cruises from Santo Domingo in winter and from European ports in summer.
Expansion in Europe
The year 2000 will mark the definite step for the Celebrity expansion in Europe, with the deployment of two cruise ships, the Horizon and the new Millennium, in her maiden voyage after her delivery from the French yard Chantiers de l'Atlantique in June 2000.
On 30th November 1995, the Century was delivered by Jos L. Meyer to Celebrity Cruises.
The ship had already been named in Papenburg on 26th October by her godmother Tina Chandris, wife of Celebrity Cruises' Chairman John Chandris, who launched the ubiquitous bottle of champagne towards the bow of the vessel.
The Century is a vessel of nice and balanced appearance, perhaps rather masculine, but with her own identity.
She features a clipper bow, a compact stern (probably the less feminine part of her exterior shape), a blue stripe is painted on her hull, she has a straight big funnel, and she presented some very interesting features:
a. She accommodates 25% more passengers in 50% more space than her earlier fleet sisters Horizon and Zenith. The spacious public room is a trade mark of Celebrity.
b. Her 1.9 passenger to crew ratio was the lowest in her category (well beyond other operators like Princess or HAL), combined with the latest technologies for operations on board, such as galleys equipment, means a superb service on board.
c. On the technical side, the co-operation between Celebrity and Sony meant that the Century was one of the first cruise ships fitted with interactive systems in the cabins. This fact, and the state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment in public areas, creates an image of high-tech on board.
A Description of her Decks
The Century has ten passenger decks for passenger use all public spaces are located on decks 6 and 7 while the outside installation are on decks 11 and 12.
The main architect, of the project of the Century, was (as in the former Celebrity cruise ships) the yacht designer John Bannenberg with John McNeece as co-ordinating interior designer.
The Greek firm AMK Architects & Designers were also involved in the project.
The generalised use of wood or wood treated decoration and carpeting in all public spaces is one element that unifies the ship, as well as the use of art works and the use of soft blue hues in all public spaces.
The result is a traditional ship with some high tech touches with a sophisticated formal atmosphere, well suited to European tastes.
All the decoration elements, as well as the rest of the ship, are in pristine condition and the Century looks new.
It's a pride for the crew to maintain the high level of finishing done by the builders, more than what would be expected for a premium-priced cruise ship.
The up and down movement is carried out by means of three stair towers each fitted with three elevators.
These have a display that, among other things, tell you where you are going to stop next and for what reason.
The escalator between the two public space decks also works well.
The horizontal movement is well planned too with wide corridors and a lot of space for passengers, and there is no crowding anywhere.
The Century lacks a full-circuit promenade deck, nevertheless she has a nice teak deck.
But, the Century has some small disadvantages:
a. The ship has the central staircase and elevators coming down the other side of the information deck.
b. The shops, which are on three decks, don't work as well as a one deck shopping gallery.
c. She lacks a real alternative restaurant.
d. She hasn't a lot of cabins with balcony.
The Grand Restaurant
Moving on the embarkation deck, the Plaza deck, we find aft the impressive two level two sitting Grand Restaurant, aft the main galley which is positioned amidships.
Spanning two decks with a seating capacity of 1,080, this dining room was designed by Birch Coffey, with her tall free-standing columns, is one of the most elegant afloat.
The Grand Restaurant access is very beautiful and it is through two forward entrances with a marble floor located on deck 6, the Promenade deck.
On this deck, which has a "U" shaped balcony with winding bronze railing, we found forward amidships a small stage for live music during meals and a marvellous staircase, in Normandy or France manner, and floor-to-ceiling windows at the stern to enjoy the ship's wake (this pattern was later repeated on the Superstar Virgo class cruise ships also built by Meyer Werft).
Walls and furniture are of fine veneered cherrywood, whereas carpeting is mainly blue and the ceiling is lined with platinum leaf, and has an alabaster chandelier.
It is a full width dining room, with big windows in three outer bulkheads, which are decorated with different roller blinds creating an ambience that reflects the time of the day, providing a spaciousness that is seldom found on cruise vessels.
There are tables for 2, 4, 6, 8 and 12 people, fitted only with chairs with armrests (there aren't any sofas). In this magnificent room, the waiters are also impeccably dressed, the food is very good and well presented and the service is superb.
Forward the galley is the three deck McNeece designed high atrium.
The moderate size and the lack of panorama elevators in the atrium is a common feature of all upper level new cruise ships, like the Rotterdam, Oriana, etc. As opposed to the standard market designed ones with big multideck atriums.
Forward is located the enormous marble floored reception area known as the Grand Foyer, with a curved reception desk and leather seating areas on both sides.
This intimate atrium rises up through an impressive shopping area to culminate in a dome, with curved staircases that seem to float due to the use of glass structural blocks as supporting elements.
This dome contains a sophisticated lighting, which changes the illumination as the day progresses, and projects stars and other atmospheric effects in the evening.
A waterfall aft flows along a wall with large video screens, which create a novelty effect.
Forward of the upper level of the Grand Restaurant, the Rendez-Vous Square is a Celebrity feature where passengers can meet before meals to relax and enjoy a leisurely beverage.
This wooden decorated intimate lounge is furnished with a piano platform and a small dance floor in the middle of the room. I found the illumination of this space very interesting, with halogen and fiber optic devices that gives a very intimate dark appearance.
The furniture upholstery, which is in pleasant blue tones, and the layout makes the design of this room very interesting.
The use of artworks and glass has created small intimate areas.
In the port side forward, where there is a lot of movement, there is located a photo gallery, with wooden photo display stands that can be folded away during off time and they show art collection photos.
The indirect lighting and reflecting ceiling of this space work also nicely.
The second level of the Atrium we have starboard Tastings, where many types of coffee can be tried.
The intimate tables and seats are positioned both alongside the atrium glass railings and near the ship side picture windows facing the promenade deck. The floor has the same star themed blue carpeting as in the other atrium levels, to give it some personality.
Forward of the atrium is located amidships the Cinema, seating 142, which is fitted with the latest technical equipment, and doubles as Conference Center.
The ship is well equipped for incentive and meeting uses, and has been chartered several times in her European season. The Library, located on starboard side, is fitted with cosy sofas and five beautiful showcases.
But I think the mirrored ceiling isn't a good choice for this room. Opposite the Library there are two Card Rooms, with excellent woodeen floors, and a Meeting Room, with direct access from the Conference Center, and the possibility to work as a conference complex.
Due to this, the main deck movement is on the starboard side, in a beautifully decorated corridor.
The two deck huge Celebrity Theatre seats 940 passengers and has excellent view (only four tiny pillars that don't block the view), with slopping floor, balconies at the side and half circular seating arrangement, with small glass tables every two meters in which the Saturn silhouette has been incrusted.
The blue carpet also has a planetary inspiration, with stars and sun, whereas the panelling are in blue with brass stripes. It is designed with a revolving stage, which houses a 54-screen Sony video display panel, and others systems of advances technology.
There are windows in her upper level, but her day illumination doesn't do her justice, however it gives a feeling that the room has more ceiling than it actually has.
There is a bar in her lower level. I think her decoration is plain, mainly the ceiling (except the central glass device) and contrasts strongly with the other public rooms.
The secondary lounge Crystal Room, which is located above the Grand Restaurant on Entertainment deck (deck 7) derives its name from 14 crystal chandeliers that are fitted above the seats in front of the stage.
The largest of the chandeliers has a diameter of 1.8 metres.
The Crystal Room seats 300 passengers, and has two bars: the bigger one is located on a raised circular area close to the starboard entrance, with a huge glass mural lining the wall behind it; and the more intimate Martine Bar in the aft starboard corner, with only seating for eight. Opposite it, the main bandstand features a circular wooden dance floor that can work also as a stage.
The sightlines are very good because the seats are at different levels.
Walls are covered with mohogany, with red fabrics details and yellow toned curtains once again. In daylight, it houses certain special programs, and the evening late show is also performed here.
The Casino on board, called Fortunes is adequate to American standard, but too big for European tastes (there are more than 100 machines).
I think it is unlikely to find it crowded ! Its glitzy deco contrasts with other public rooms: the ceiling is finished in bent glass and fine brass, with art-deco columns, chandeliers, a mirrored bar, drapes and red and yellow carpeting. But the Century style is reflected in the wood panelled bulkheads.
The location of the casino is very interesting: when the passengers go from the Crystal Room to the Celebrity theatre, they have to pass only through the Fortunes Casino. There isn't an alternative way around it.
So, it's always open...
The Sport Bar
Images is the sport bar on the Century. Here, the interior designer wished to produce a high tech vibrant atmosphere, and so appropriately used red and blue upholstery, with a lot of metallic surfaces with gold and silver details.
Also, a lot of TV screens of different sizes and tables with video games help to create a contemporary ambience.
The Michael's Club
The Michael's Club (named after Michael Chandris) is the most opulently decorated room in the Century.
The designers obtained a charming ambience found only in British gentleman's club and classic liner's Smoking Room, with a library-type sitting room with traditional leather upholstered chairs and wood sofas, plants, antiques, and cherry wood and walnut wood covered walls.
A Picasso presides this triangular shaped room above the fireplace, and a full time cigar-roller is used here.
To maintain a quieter atmosphere, the glass to the adjacent noisy area (Images bar) are partly made of double glass and the extra heavy duty air conditioning system carry the smoke well away from the smokers.
This room is near an escalator, that takes passengers to the upper level of the Celebrity Theatre from the Promenade deck.
Outside facilities are located on decks 11 and 12. Aft Resort deck (11) is located the huge Island Cafe buffet, the casual indoor/outdoor dining area created by Keith Hob, ideally suited for breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks.
This impressive space can seat 560 passenger inside and 100 outside, but the clever use of mosaics and etched-glass partitions gives it a more intimate atmosphere, with seating arrangements for two to eight with orange, green and blue furniture.
There are two spacious half circular buffet fore and aft.
The latter is close to a circular small atrium with a glass dome that connects with the upper deck, where the Sky Bar is located.
The fully glazed back wall provides good views of the ample teak decked outside section, fitted with a plastic canopy (a Costa's fleet detail) to shelter the passenger from the sun.
Amidship on this deck are the outdoor lido facilities, which offer over 5,750 square metres and encludes two salt water pools, separated by a walkway, four jacuzzis, a band stand covered by a 150 square metres canopy, as well as two grill counters and two bars.
Teak has been used only around the pools, and all the furniture is metal made, with cushions and cloth covers that are removed and washed periodically.
This area is ample and well planned, but looks crowded when the ship is at sea. Mercury's two sisters have a second pool area aft to riduce this problem.
The Aqua Spa
Just forward of the pool area is located the extensive Oriental themed Aqua Spa health and fitness facilities, designed by the Syntax Group, with the use of opaque screens, aged copper, brass, marble, granite and teak.
It's operated by Steiner, and is divided into three general areas, all reached from a central lobby.
The starboard and forward area, with floor to ceiling windows, contains the gymnasium and aerobics room, fully equipped with the latest machines.
The central inside houses a salt water hydropool, with two separate air bubble depths.
The port side houses the hair salon, where up to 6 passengers can be served at the same time, the beauty and massage rooms, and the fully-tiled sauna and steam bath rooms.
Today it is one of the most extensive and beautiful spa at sea.
Teen and Children
The teen and children facilities are located on a lower deck, far from other public areas, managed by professional nannies.
Celebrity is trying to attract the family market and this ship is ideally fitted for this important segment.
Sports Deck (Deck12)
The upper deck houses forward Hemisphere, a McNeece designed space which seats 462 passengers and works as a dual purpose room.
By day, the outward section of Hemisphere, lined by huge picture windows on three sides, works as observation area with very comfortable leather seats and sofas, with beige and blue upholstery.
The telescopes and compasses create a nautical atmosphere. The inner space is a disco, decored in dark tones, with black leather sofas and blue chairs, in the same tone as the tapestry.
The main feature of this area is a bar, located on its starboard side, which encapsulates a geodesic dome which covers the dance floor when not in use. Each evening, the dome is ceremonially raised by a specially selected guest.
Aft this room there is a lot of sunbathing area overlooking the pool area (...but the chairs don't have the cushions and covers) and sport facilities such as the Golf simulator.
The Century is equipped with 569 outside cabins, 52 of which are suites with balcony, and 320 inside cabins. Almost all the suites are located on deck 10. The most impressive are two 100 square metres Penthouse suites, designed by Birch Coffee.
Each is fitted with a living area, a dining area, a bedroom, a dressing area, etc. as well as two bathrooms (one with a jacuzzi).
The balcony has a whirlpool too and the walls feature a collection of art and sculpture.
In addition there are also eight 50 square metres Royal suites, which feature a full length balcony, separate living area and bedroom with dressing room. The marble bathroom also has a jacuzzi.
The 42 mini suites of 23.5 square metres are located on decks 10 and 12. Two of them can be combined with the Penthouse suites to form the two largest "apartment" afloat, with 142 square metres. All suite accommodation offers butler service.
The standard cabins (designed by AKM) are well planned, bright and cheerful, with very good sound insulation and plenty of storage space.
All have the same surface (16 m2) and feature a large bathroom. All cabins have two lower beds, which can be transformed into a king size bed and there is a safe.
On board there are also one inside and seven outside wheelchair accesible cabins.
The Century was the first ship that featured a Sony designed interactive television system, which offers passengers a wide choice of functions: to purchase tickets, order room service, book a spa session, shopping, review their shipboard account, etc.
This system eliminates lineups and facilitates services, and set an exaple to other cruise ships which followed suit.
The Century is a big ship, but not as huge as later standards.
The Century looks good, with excellent passenger flow (I appreciate particularly her spaciousness) and adequate cabins.
I was amazed at how clean Celebrity keeps the ship and also about her conspicuous continuous maintenance, with minimal fade and wear of upholstery.
I enjoy mainly her Grand Restaurant, which is appropriately named; it's the most beautiful and impressive dining room I can imagine on any ship.
The passengers really enjoy having lunch near the large aft windows and looking at the blue ocean behind the ship. The service and food is excellent.
The Century is the best luxurious large cruise ship (with the exception of the Crystal pair) and offer great value for money.
She was also the best contender in the 1999 European market and, with her two sisters, form the most impressive premium category fleet, to conquer the niche market that her former owner identified thirteen years ago.
For further information: Celebrity Cruises