What it’s like aboard a huge cruise ship

I gawk at Celebrity Silhouette at its dock in Amsterdam as if I’m from the land of Lilliputians. It’s as if one of the small ships I’m more used to has been inflated with a bicycle pump by some avant-garde prankster. It’s my regular cruise experience upsized. I find myself as unnerved as a peasant among skyscrapers as I check in amid a happy hum of passengers. Can a ship really hold this many people?
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Certainly it can; some cruise ships carry twice as many. With well-practised efficiency, Celebrity Silhouette absorbs 2886 passengers. True, a bit of a scrum forms around the lifts and a party seems to have erupted in the atrium, yet when I arrive on deck 10 the live music fades to a carpeted hush. Along the corridor, over the next two weeks, I encounter surprisingly few fellow passengers. Once in my cabin, I might as well be cocooned in a spaceship pod to Mars, so deep is the silence.

This is only the start of the many ways in which Celebrity Silhouette disconcerts me during my two-week Baltic cruise. My first revelation is that here is a large ship that has many attributes of much smaller luxury vessels. The Solstice-class ship (Celebrity Eclipse, Equinox and Reflection share many of its features) is well-arranged and has an upmarket, sophisticated and stylish decor that never strays into the bling, lurid patterns and motel-like ambiance of many big ships. Occasionally the design has playful whimsy: video birds cheep in cages near the speciality restaurants; passengers can clamber into giant raised ”nests” in The Hideaway Lounge; and a living tree is suspended halfway up the vast atrium.

I’ve been on luxury small ships whose artworks look as if they were purchased in a two-dollar shop. Silhouette’s offerings, however, prompt me to stop for a closer look as I wander corridors and stairwells. A portrait on deck seven is half supermodel photo, half Renaissance painting. Outside the lifts on deck 10, big art photos of junk-filled, back-room Versailles are curiously arresting. A striking corridor-long painting of birds and flowers is reflected in a huge metallic dish, where it morphs like a homage to Salvador Dali.

Distinctive bars and lounges are another feature of small ships that on Silhouette seem achieved with just as much flair – and far more choice. In the Cafe al Bacio yellow armchairs face sexy black padded banquettes as if I’ve strayed into a designer hotel lobby in Milan. The Ensemble Lounge is swathed in purple velvety material and abstract art and looks like a Venetian boudoir. Its curtains are pulled over early, giving it a sultry, shadowy appeal for kisses over cocktails. In contrast, the Sky Observation Lounge is like a pale ice palace of white armchairs, floating white curtains and enormous sea views. Waiters in white at a white bar pour lurid green and pink drinks.

Yet while Celebrity Silhouette has many small-ship assets, I quickly appreciate that a larger ship brings its own extra pleasures. On small luxury vessels bar-lounges can sometimes be dull places where the odd mummified passengers lurk in corners over nightcaps. With nearly 3000 people on board Silhouette, however, a lively evening out beckons if that’s what you’re after. The Martini Bar is fairly hopping with a rather youthful crowd. Bartenders juggle bottles and shakers to the approval of onlookers as ice glistens on the frozen bar counter. I could be in Stockholm’s trendy Sodermalm district.

Evening entertainment in the theatre is impressive, too, ranging from a Beatles tribute band to virtuoso saxophonist and a hilarious comedy juggler who gets a standing ovation from a crowd that just doesn’t seem to want to go to bed.

A bigger ships means more amusements, of course. As we sail around the Baltic I discover a lively, friendly ship with a comprehensive range of on-board activities. I could start the day at 7am – or so I’m told – with fitness and stretching at the Spa Club and not finish up until after midnight at Quasar nightclub, with its funky retro vibe and DJ pod in the centre of a silvery dance floor.

In between, passengers only have themselves to blame for dull moments. My day at sea is a pleasant bustle from trivia competition to movie screening, lecture on the Vikings to live music in the atrium. Many passengers opt for paid additions, too, such as wine tasting classes, boot camps and lessons in iPad use.

On the downside, a big ship has its passing moments of overcrowding. Ascending to my cabin on deck 10 can mean a stop at almost every floor to release fellow passengers. The Oceanview Cafe just before shore-excursion departure times is as raucous as a school canteen, and security queues to re-board the ship are sometimes lengthy.

My fears of cruising in a never-ending hubbub are quite unfounded, however. I have no problem finding quiet spaces on this thoughtfully laid-out ship. The rather hidden deck 16 has seldom-busy sun loungers while The Hideaway lounge, buried in the middle of the ship, is an always tranquil space where passengers wanting downtime can tuck themselves into white pods or padded wall niches. You can look out over the multistorey atrium and its mesmerising march of lifts passing up and down: it makes you feel as if you’re in a giant ant colony whose busyness never intrudes into the lounge space.

My favourite is the double-storey Library, where the glass ceiling allows views to scudding clouds, and where high-backed, white leather armchairs invite me to linger over a thriller. There are other places to kick back, too, including the expansive Canyon Ranch Spa Club with its relaxation room, solarium and relaxation chairs, and the cabanas on the open-deck Lawn Club – though it’s a shame these cabanas, on one of the ship’s most attractive areas, require an extra fee.

Also tranquil is the indoor pool area known as the Solarium. It’s one of the best pool areas on any ship, with humid warmth beneath a triple-height, glassed-in atrium that makes me feel as if I’m in a glasshouse. A soothing water feature rumbles and gurgles, and the slow sloshing of water in the pool sends some guests to sleep on the jaunty orange deckchairs. Between here and the adjacent outdoor pool are a couple of giant suspended hammocks slung between four posts and draped in white gauze curtains. It’s another favourite spot of mine to while away an hour, and be tricked into believing I’m the only person on board. I’m feeling a bit guilty about my small mindedness, and find myself converted to the diverse pleasures of this large and impressive ship.

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CRUISE

Celebrity Silhouette cruises Europe between April and November and winters in the Caribbean. Example itineraries include a 14-night Scandinavia and Russia cruise departing July 21, 2018, from $5009, and a 14-night Western Mediterranean cruise departing September 9, 2018, from $4889 a person, twin share in an Oceanview stateroom, including Classic beverage package. Phone 1800 754 500. See celebritycruises老域名购买.au

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Celebrity Cruises.

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