We're onboard Celebrity Silhouette ahead of its debut in the U.K. in April to find out how the ship differs from its slightly older sister, Eclipse, which has been consistently voted one of the U.K.'s best mid-sized ships, and which it will replace for the summer season.
Here are the main differences (and a few firm favourites):
The Lawn Club
The biggest and most obvious change on Silhouette can be found on the top deck. Fear not, the half acre of real grass lawn which proves so popular on Solstice Class ships has not been paved over, but it has been modified.
Where once was entirely open lawn free for all to wander at will, there are now eight "alcoves" or cabanas – four either side – which you can hire by the day (9 a.m to 9 p.m.). On port days they will set you back $99, which includes a fruit and cheese platter and four bottles of Evian water; on sea days, they will cost you $250. This may seem like a huge amount of money, but all eight were sold out on our sea day. Worth noting, too, that as well as the aforementioned platters and water, you also get six beers and you can choose from a bottle of Champagne or litre of Grey Goose vodka to help while away your day. The cabanas seat up to six people comfortably, have a private rear entrance and look out across the lawn area.
Our view: The Alcoves are a nice addition -- if you can afford it. The drawback is where there was an open lawn open to all is now severely restricted, space-wise. Note, however, that the two strips of lawn either side aft of the ship are still completely free.
The Lawn Club Grill
We've never been huge fans of the Corning Glass Show, so we welcome this additional restaurant which replaces the space it occupies on Eclipse. Its location is hard to beat, looking out across the expanse of the lawn, with heaters and blankets for inclement weather. The twist: You can, if you choose, make your own meal, which we opted to do. The selection is as follows: six different types of flat bread, various cuts of steak, lamb chops, chicken skewers and two types of fish: snapper and salmon. You choose as much or as little as you like. There is also a salad bar and sides such as baked potatoes. Under the guidance of Chef Michael Coote, you knead, flour and throw the flatbread (basically a pizza) in the air before choosing your topping -- all this in front of the other diners. For the mains, Chef Michael runs you through seasoning tips and then helps you grill your chosen chop steak or fish to your liking. One thing is guaranteed here: You can't complain about the quality of cooking at this restaurant. While it's a short menu, what they do, they do exceptionally well.
Our view: It's not cheap ($45 pp), but it's good value and a lot of fun. A hit.
To say that this for-fee ($30 pp) restaurant at the side of the Lawn Club Grill, where a small shop is on Eclipse, is "modeled on the Hamptons", is wishful thinking. Yes, there are lovely views to the sea and across the lawn, though these are partially blocked by the alcoves. But the space and the food just does not live up to the hype. Food-wise, it's hit and miss, as well: gambas al pil pil (prawns in garlic), came in an almost sweet tomato sauce, rather than just oil and chilli; the hibachi cevice was uninspiring and the branzino (sea bass), was literally just that: one tiny fillet, no sides. The lobster bisque was delicious, however and the seafood platter is a showstopper. The meal was redeemed by the desserts: a vanilla cheesecake served in a glass, which was utterly delicious.
Our view: Stick to the Lawn Club Grill for a truly memorable meal.
Gastro Pub in the Passport Bar
The Gastro Pub on Eclipse was Celebrity's nod to the inexorable rise of the craft beer trend, with two coolers showcasing a variety of unusual labels. Silhouette does not have this, however Hotel Manager John-Paul Lamb acknowledges that there is likely to be a demand for it when the ship repositions, so watch this space.
Out goes Team Earth on Eclipse, which was not a huge hit; and in comes the Hideaway. It's really a fancy name for a large relaxation area, with lots of different types of chairs and alcoves, as well as free coffee and tea. The only drawback is that if you are looking for quiet, you won't always find it as this looks down directly on the main atrium, with its live music and art auctions.
Our view: A pleasant enough space to while away an afternoon.
Food and Wine
Celebrity Cruises has always placed a premium on its food and wine offering, and Eclipse was no exception to that. Silhouette takes it up a notch, however, as we've found out. We were fortunate enough to take a galley tour with executive chef Victor Mancilla, twice -- both between meals and during a service -- and received an extraordinary insight into how the ship maintains such astonishingly high scores for dining.
It's all down to timing. No food is prepared hours before; none hangs around, and a large amount is freshly prepared daily -- pastries, all bread, pasta and ice cream, to name but a few food items. Chef Mancilla is evangelical about this. There are 16 galleys serving the various restaurant outlets, some operating 24/7; 80 cooks; eight bakers; 279 waiters, serving 1,600 meals in an hour -- twice an evening. And all of this is cooked "a la minute" or cooked to order in every single one of the restaurants. In fact, the Evening Chic (equivalent of Gala) dinner we had in the main dining room was our best meal onboard.
The ever popular Martini Bar and the Sunset Bar at the aft of the ship remain unchanged.
Celebrity Silhouette is a newer (by a year), and a better thought-out ship than Eclipse. It takes what's best with the Solstice Class blueprint and refines it, improving aspects that were already popular onboard Eclipse. We confidently predict U.K. passengers will welcome Silhouette to our shores with open arms.
--By Adam Coulter, Managing Editor, U.K.