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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Arthur Frommer: Cruise from NYC to the tropics in elegance


In the world of cruising, most of the recent attention has gone to the floating amusement parks — the mega-sized Oasis of the Seas, Allure of the Seas and Norwegian Epic. But the real breakthrough in ship design occurred nearly three years ago with the introduction of the 3,000-passenger Celebrity Solstice. It was the product of a graceful new design meant to carry a large number of passengers but in an unusually spacious and traditional cruise-ship setting. On the Solstice, there were no lines or crowds, no bowling alleys or giant water chutes, no carnival-like attractions. It was a dignified cruise ship, and it received unusually favorable reviews and considerable customer loyalty.

The Celebrity Solstice also gave birth to three other similar ships built to the same specifications and known as being in the Solstice Class. The last of those ships has just been launched — it's called the Celebrity Silhouette — and has begun operating various sailings in European waters. But beginning Nov. 6 and through a last departure on April 10, 2012, it will begin sailing from the New York area on a continuous series of 12-night cruises to and from the Caribbean.

The ship will leave the cruise port in Bayonne, N.J. (seven miles from the downtown tip of Manhattan), called Cape Liberty.

It will sail southward for three days simply at sea, then stop at five different Caribbean ports (St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Maarten) and then return to Bayonne by spending three more days simply at sea heading north back to the Big Apple (a last sailing on April 10 will stop at six ports and spend only five days solely at sea).

No tropical itinerary has ever emphasized so many days simply at sea, and it is clear that the ship's management believes that the experience of being aboard such an elegant ship will overcome any disappointment at the low number of cruise stops in a 12-day period.

It's an interesting experiment, to put it mildly, and one previously unknown in tropical cruises. For the first time, residents of the East Coast will have a tropical sailing available to them in a dignified ship (as compared with the unremarkable vessels that have hitherto been assigned to the New York metropolitan area).

Though the superb (and equally dignified) Queen Mary 2 also leaves from New York, its sailings are mainly trans-Atlantic.

Now, without having to board an airplane to get to Florida or Puerto Rico, residents of the Northeast can simply drive to an embarkation port and board a thoroughly impressive ship designed for adults in love with the sea and uninterested in carnival-like attractions. They will relax on a ship that actually has a sizable library!

The prices also will be decent ones. Currently, such cruise discounters as Vacations To Go (www.vacationstogo.com) are listing minimum prices for a number of the 12-night sailings of the Silhouette this coming fall and winter in the range of about $100 to $125 a day for inside cabins and about $135 to $145 a day for balcony cabins.

It will be interesting to see whether Celebrity attracts a sufficient number of passengers to make a success of the peaceful Silhouette, but I have a feeling it will.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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