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The Holy Land Cruise

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Eastern Mediterranean, Cruise on Celebrity Silhouette - October 2014

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An unforgettable cruise with many breathtaking cultural highlights...
 

We had found and booked this beautiful cruise aboard the Celebrity Constellation Christmas 2013. It simply was too tempting to explore the Solstice Class and at the same time be able to discover the fascinating town of Jerusalem. The decision was also sweetened by the nice perks of an on-board booking, e. g. classic beverage package and gratuities included as well as a handsome $ 350 OBC (on-board credit) for Aqua Class.

 

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For some quite some time, however, our anticipation should be clouded. We were far more worried about the state of war in the Gaza Strip than we had been about the latest Lufthansa strikes. Actually, we had already written off Jerusalem completely and expected an alternative route. But fortune smiled on us. The rocket fire and the bombings stopped, and the day of our trip was free of strikes. So we were finally able to board our plane from Frankfurt to Rome with the good feeling that our “Holy Land Cruise” would actually take us to the Holy Land.

At 5.30 p.m. we arrived on time in Rome Fiumicino and not much later we picked up our suitcases from the luggage belt. As it was too late for the less expensive shuttle bus, and since we weren’t in the mood to take the train into Rome first and then on to Civitavecchia - with our luggage at the peak time of Roman commute - we had booked a transfer to Civitavecchia with Bobslimos.com for EUR 120. At the exit we found our driver with our name on a sign, and just a few minutes later we were comfortably seated in a spacious Mercedes S class, driving into the sunset towards Civitavecchia. Sweet! A beautiful beginning of a beautiful vacation.

For that one night in Civitavecchia we had booked hotel „La Ville“ directly on the promenade and in close vicinity to the train station. A Hertz station is right next door, too, so the location is ideal for whichever way you choose to arrive.
 

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The room was spacious and clean and left nothing to be desired for that one night.

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After our arrival we took a little walk along the promenade and looked for a nice place to eat. Pizza and Pasta successfully tempted us and we picked a restaurant directly on the promenade which had already been recommended to us by the concierge at our hotel. We enjoyed the bonus that it was still warm enough to sit outside.

An Amercian couple sat at the table next to us. We seemed to have puzzled them a little with Birgit ordering her food in Italian, me talking to the waiter in English and among us we were speaking German. It didn’t take long until they asked us where we were from. For a few moments they were even more puzzled because of Birgit’s British accent and my Southern touch, and this is how a nice conversation began. That couple had also just flown in and had actually planned to go to bed early. We soon found out that they were going on a cruise, too, and that he topped up his pension as a photographer mainly focussing on dogs at animal shows. So we found so much to talk about that it was 11.00 pm, when all other tables had long been cleared, when we finally returned to our hotels and wished each other safe travels. It was the ideal beginning of a vacation – a great evening with nice conversation.
 

 

 

Day 1 – Embarkation in Civitavecchia


As always, I was up quite early. A look outside the window not only offered a beautiful sunrise but also the view of a few cruise ships already berthed in port. I think all of you know the feeling when after a long time of anticipation you cast the first glance at the object of your desire: “Yesss, the time has come!”

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I quickly got up, took a shower, left Birgit sleeping and taking her time to get up and used the time for a walk towards the port and through the slowly awakening Civitavecchia which was kissed by the early sun´s light.

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From near the old citadel I had an unobstructed view of the beautiful ships in port. Besides our Silhouette, the Sea Dream II, the Oceania Marina, the Celebrity Equinox and the Azamara Journey were moored at the piers waiting for adventurous passengers to embark for beautiful journeys.

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Gradually, my breakfast appetite took me back to the hotel, so I walked past nice monuments and piazzas at the shore and enjoyed the warm and golden light of the morning on the way back.

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The hotel´s breakfast room was cozy and the selection sufficient. We didn’t have any particular expectations anyway as we knew we’d be spoilt for the next 2 weeks to come.

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Since it was still quite early after breakfast, we took another stroll around town, which was already familiar to us from previous cruises. However, around 11.00 am nothing could hold me back anymore. We grabbed our suitcases and started walking the short distance towards the port. After only a few minutes we reached the pedestrian entrance near the old citadel.

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A little undecided about where to go exactly, we went towards the shuttle bus stop. We hadn’t quite started when a bus stopped beside us. The door opened, and the driver asked whether we were heading for the Silhouette. Perfect, how easy was that!

The bus took us to the terminal, where we dropped off our luggage at the entrance. I wanted to know exactly how long it would take us to get on board, so I checked the time. We quickly completed the medical declaration forms, were taken to the Aqua Class line, completed the check-in, booked a table at the Tuscan Grille Restraurant for our anniversary at the exit of the terminal, and not even fifteen (!) minutes later we were on board, where we were greeted with a glass of champagne. A new record!

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First we spent a little time on the sun deck and looked down on the pool, sipping on the glass of champagne, truly enjoying to be back on a ship. We noticed the large amount of comfortable lounge chairs. Places in the sun and the shadows were available in great number and a neatly rolled up towel on each chair invited passers by to lie down and relax.

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Then, curiosity drove us a few steps up towards the Lawn Club, a real lawn on the upper deck and one of the signature features of the Solstice Class ships. It is also home to “The Alcoves”, which are for rent.

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Next to them we found some funny lawn chairs for really tiny guests.

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The „Lawn Club Grill“ next to the lawn area can only be found on the Silhouette and the Reflection. It’s a specialty restaurant where you can dine al fresco for an additional charge ($ 45). You can choose whether you want to cook the finest meat and seafood yourself (assisted by one of the chefs) or rather lean back and let the experts to the work.

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For a look at the Persian Garden, i. e. the spa area, we went towards the front of the ship through the covered Solarium Pool area, which we emmediately liked for its water features and modern art work.

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This area also offered inviting seats to relax which would be very fequented during sea days.

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The Persian Garden is located in front of the gym area and is free for Aqua Class guests. It includes heated mosaic lounge chairs as well as aroma and steam saunas.

On this class of ship, this area is by fare more attractive than on the Millenium Class, where it doesn’t have any windows and therefore appears dark and not very inviting to us.
 

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After we had a look at the gym next door, we felt we already needed some food – even without a workout - so we went to the Ocean View Cafe, the ship’s buffet restaurant.

The food stations were arranged in the typical layout of individual islands, which I preferred in comparison to the Millennium Class.
 

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Like on the Millennium Class ships and Royal Caribbean´s Radiance Class we liked the possibility to sit outside at the back - an opportunity we enjoyed every single day of the cruise.

From the very first bite the food was great. Especially some dishes from the permanent Thai and Indian sections were excellent. I love those cuisines, and here they were extremely delicious - compliments!

The musical background to our lunch was provided by Preston Edmonds, one of the musicians on board. With his guitar he performed familiar tunes by Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver and other classics. Somehow, the stress of the previous months fell off, or maybe it was just the beautiful songs and the mood, but suddenly both of us had tears in our eyes with happiness about another beautiful journey which we were about to begin.
 

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During lunch we were approached by a waiter asking whether we wanted to book a specialty restaurant – with a 50% discount, i. e. “two for one”. Any day, free choice of restaurant and time.

Thanks to our onboard booking we had quite a good OBC, and I felt like trying the Lawn Club Grill. With the pleasant temperatures we had, we booked a table for the same evening for $ 45 for both of us.

Soon the announcement was made that all staterooms were ready. Our stateroom 1529 (Cat. A2) was located forward on the port side. When we booked the cruise we thankfully declined the offer of a free upgrade for Captains Club Members to an A1 cabin. They are mid-ships underneith the overhang of the Solarium Pool, which I didn’t like at all on the Constellation.

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The stateroom was calm and conveniently located with regards to the front elevator and stairwell. This meant that after a visit to the sauna or the gym we didn’t have to cross the whole ship all sweaty.

Our stateroom welcomed us with a bottle of champagne which we left unopened for the time being. Since I don’t drink, it was safe with me anyway, and with our beverage package, Birgit could have as much champagne as she wanted.

So we just put the bottle in the fridge… „for bad times“.
 

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Besides the access to Persian Garden and the BLU restaurant, the Aqua Class staterooms come with other small differences, such as fresh cold teas every day, daily hors d’oeuvres and bottled water in the room as well as a shower panel with massage function and an apparently particularly broad selection of soaps, shampoos and lotions in the bathroom.

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We liked the room a lot. Just the closet arrangement was a bit awkward. In the closet itself there were no shelves, and the cabinets above the bed weren’t very deep. But this was surely a neglectable flaw.

I wanted to return to explore more of this beautiful ship with my camera straight away, so I set off for my discovery tour. First I walked down the stairwell midship and came past the Library, which I found extremely inviting.

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Next, I discovered the „Hideaway“ area and found it very unique and welcoming. Indeed, it lives up to its name and offers many opportunities to hide and read a book.

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In front of the Hideaway, a tree floats above the atrium, a feature for which the Solstice class already has a reputation.

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Yes, it’s real… and yes, it’s a ficus! This insidious and moodiest of all living room occupants, miffing at the slightest leer and shedding its leaves as soon as a passing dog causes a breeze, thinking it’s either too bright or too dark, too warm or too cold... here it simply grows, many levels high. Unbelievable…

Puzzled I continued on my way towards the foot of the atrium, above which a nicely designed stairwell winds its way to the deck above.
 

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Then it was time for me to make a pit stop. I am usually not one for photographing rest rooms, but these were so stylishly designed that I couldn’t resist.

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Naturally, I also wanted to have a look at the main dining room, which I had already liked from pictures.

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I also loved it in real life. Elegant and luxurious without appearing old fashioned or antiquated... for me a definite click on the “like” button.

By now I knew this ship had conquered me. Wherever I looked, it appealed to me and I liked it.

I like ships, and I had liked all that I had seen so far, but this one really touched me. Wherever I went I wanted to take photos and capture the impressions... dont’ worry, I’ll spare you the plethora of photos – at least here and now. There are just a few more, since my tour wasn’t quite over. I also wanted to have a look at the BLU restaurant, which we had already liked so much on the Constellation and which had been the main reason for us to book Aqua class again.

From the Ensemble Lounge I reached the area from where you access BLU, Tuscan Grille and Qsine. The foyer in front of it boasts the piece of art on the photo below, which is on the wall directly in front of you coming from the passage. With the mirroring effects it seems to change with every step when you pass by. It was one of the many pieces I really liked on this ship.

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BLU was bigger than on the Constellation but obviously decorated in the same style. In the evening, lit by the colorful lighths of the chandeliers, it was even more beautiful than during the day, where it was already a treat to look at.

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Before returning to our stateroom I passed through the larger of the two shopping areas. Ambiance lights slowly changing colors, white curtains shiny marble floors... everything looked stylish and modern and yet cozy. I loved the design.

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The deck above the shopping aisle is laid out like an overhanging gallery which features the Molecular Bar and the smaller shopping area with designer shops, watch and perfume store. This makes the lower shopping area appear multi-leveled and generous. Cleverly done...

I made another quick stop at the large Sky Lounge. Again, I thought the design was stunning. The entrance area had a living room character and only then opened into the large lounge with inviting corners, armchairs and lounge chairs. At that time, the whole area was enveloped in the soft light of the evening sun falling through the large panorama windows.

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I went back and was blissful. The first thing I said to Birgit back at the cabin was “What a beautiful, beautiful ship!!!!!!!”

While I was telling her about all the beautiful things I had seen, Jose, our stateroom attendant, knocked at our door and introduced himself. Let me say right here what a top job he and his assistant had done throughout the cruise. Sometimes it seemd as if they were waiting for us to leave. When we left the room in the morning or the afternoon, even briefly, we always returned to a done room. Even if the bathroom had already been cleaned and we only went to brush our teeth after breakfast, they went in again after us – unbelievable! Although we had already experienced the service with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity as very good, these two managed to top it off.

On a RollCall with Cruise Critic we had arranged a sailaway meeting at the sunset bar. So that’s where we experienced the departure – after the mandatory muster drill – with a cocktail in hand and in the company of some Canadians and a couple from Texas.

From the terrace of the Sunset Bar we could wave the Oceania Marina goodbye, which had to turn first in the harbour basin and then started its journey. Bon Voyage, Marina...

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When we returned to our cabin, Jose had just brought our luggage which we managed to unpack before dinner. And then it was time to try the Lawn Club Grill. I was seriously curious.

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A signature item of the Lawn Club grill is the „Flatbread“ they serve as a starter – a somewhat posh name for pizza. It was quite curious because this pizza starter already had the size of a cartwheel. It was freshly prepared at a counter in the middle of the room so that you could watch it being made. The cook swirled the dough in the air... It sure wasn’t the first time she was doing this.

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For the main course you could choose between different filets and steaks, skewers, fish and seafood. You could either prepare it yourself at the grill or, like us, just be lazy and be waited on.

I had a filet mignon which was marvellously marinated, and the knife just slid through it – simply delicious! Birgit had a skewer which she enjoyed just as much. After we finished our portions, which weren’t small, we were asked if we wanted anything else. Mea culpa, it was simply too good... Birgit tried the filet, too, and I ensured that the first wasn’t just a lucky coincidence. Afterwards, I obviously had to have a desert – a real New York Cheesecake at long last.

After this sumptuous meal we went – or rather rolled – across the deck and took a breath of fresh air in mild temperatures. We decided we would go straight to the gym the next morning...

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