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Just two weeks after Voyager of the Seas took a full shipload of passengers (or should that be a shipload of full passengers?) out of Sydney Harbour for a one-night cruise, Celebrity Solstice arrived on December 9 and repeated the exercise.

Like Voyager, Solstice is home-porting in Australia for the 2012-13 season but although both ships belong to the Royal Caribbean family they are quite different beasts. Solstice is now the highest-rated (4-plus stars, according to the Berlitz guide) ship based in our region and Celebrity Cruises’ favourite phrase to describe their vessels is ‘modern luxury’.

While Voyager offers a bustling, resort-at-sea experience, Celebrity Solstice is aimed at sophisticated travellers who don’t mind spending a fair bit on their holidays. Fresh air fans will appreciate that 85 per cent of the ship’s staterooms have balconies, and will no doubt make the most of the Lawn Club on Deck 15 – yes, there is a real grass lawn, made out of ‘agrostis stolonifera’ or ‘creeping bent’ grass. Features of the Lawn Club include the Patio on the Lawn and Sunset Bar, lawn bowling, a three-hole putting course and the Hot Glass Show.

The ship’s décor is contemporary, light and bright and there are 10 restaurants and cafes to choose from. Four attract a surcharge: Murano ($40 per person, Silk Harvest ($35 per person), Tuscan Grille ($35 per person), while Blu is free for AquaClass guests. If there’s space available at Blu, which is rare, suite guests can dine there for a $5 surcharge. However, the meals at the venues included in your fare are very good quality. These are the Grand Epernay dining room that features a two-storey glass wine holding 2,800 bottles of wine; the Oceanview cafe and bar; Bistro on Five; and Cafe al Bacio & Gelateria. There are also numerous bars on board, including the famous ice-topped Martini Bar that you’ll find on all of Celebrity Cruises’ five Solstice-class ships.

According to Adam Armstrong, commercial director, Celebrity Cruises Australia, Celebrity Solstice will ‘raise the bar’ for cruising Down Under. “Celebrity Cruises consistently scores high marks in the industry – and upmarket travel magazines like Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure rate Celebrity Cruises as the best of its kind in the world.

“It’s a major milestone to introduce a ship of this size and calibre to our market, which you could only previously experience in European or Caribbean waters. Our pampering but relaxed ‘modern luxury’ style of cruising is particularly well-suited to Australian cruisers who appreciate the finer things in life.

Celebrity Solstice will be homeported in Sydney until April 2013. Her inaugural program features 17 Australian and New Zealand cruises from

Sydney, Perth and Auckland calling at 28 ports in seven countries. They include:

* Six 12- and 13-night New Zealand cruises sailing from Auckland or Sydney;

* An 11-night Tropical Queensland Easter cruise departing Sydney;

* A 35-night “Round Australia” cruise which can be taken separately as two sailings – an 18-night Australia and New Zealand cruise and a 17-night “Top End” cruise;

* An 18-night Trans-Pacific Hawaii andTahiti cruise from Sydney to Honolulu.

Although there were problems with the room cards and lack of bathroom products on the Sydney one-nighter we hope these will be quickly ironed out and the ship and her passengers enjoy a season of smooth sailing.

For more details, call 1800 754 500 or visit www.celebritycruises.com.au.