The green green grass of top deck on an Equinox cruise
Aug 21 2009 By Edward Stephens
Creating a home-from-home luxury on board ship was far from plain sailing, as Edward Stephens discovers.
Walking on a new-mown lawn by the sea might not seem all that unusual. But on this occasion the lawn in question was totally surrounded by water – and was moving. And no I hadn’t been drinking.
The grassed area, known as the Lawn Club – which at the time was being used by people sun bathing, others playing croquet, and some practising their putting skills – is one of the many features onboard the new Celebrity cruise ship Equinox, built at a cost of $800 million.
Constructed in Germany and operating this year out of Rome, I caught up with it when it stopped off at Southampton for its spectacular naming ceremony by its “godmother”, Nina Barough, founder of the UK-based charity Walk the Walk, which has raised £52 million for breast cancer research and care.
Doing things differently has always been the forte of Celebrity and on this occasion the emotional naming ceremony was unusually conducted indoors, in the ship’s theatre.
As Nina cut the ribbon on stage on deck five, it released the tension on yard upon yard of ribbon to finally bring crashing down the traditional bottle of champagne some 11 decks above to “bless her and all who sail in her”. The Equinox is the only cruise ship being launched in the UK this year.
The new ship can carry 2,800 passengers, has 15 decks, 10 restaurants and a priceless collection of nearly 500 original works of art from some of the world’s most iconic artists, including provocative British artist Damien Hirst.
And among the many unusual features is an enormous, suspended vase – dotted with more than 500,000 Swarovski crystals – holding a living 18ft tree in the upper portion of the ship’s sweeping grand foyer. There’s also a glass-blowing museum and – uniquely – an area high on deck 15 where passengers can watch glass being made by hand using ovens heated to 2,300 degrees.
Traditionally these would be fuelled by propane but understandably the authorities were non too keen on letting Equinox store vast quantities of propane on board so a way had to be found to power the ovens to such super temperatures using electricity.
The aforementioned lawn too provided a problem. Growing a lawn on the top deck of a ship might be easy, but when that lawn has to endure temperatures ranging from the heat of the Caribbean to the cold of destinations like Norway and even further north, not to mention the salty sea air, it’s not that simple.
“After a lot of hard work and investigation we finally found a variety of grass used on golf courses in Bermuda that is hardy enough to stand up to virtually anything,” Scott Butler of Boston architects Wilson Butler told me.
“It’s so tough you could almost irrigate it with sea water,” he said jokingly.
Celebrity Equinox is one of the first cruise ships to embrace renewable energy resources and the power generated by 61 solar panels is enough to operate all the on-board lifts.
Celebrity discovered that it’s the women in the family who make most of the decisions where holidays are concerned, so cleverly they set up a five-woman panel to tell them what they would like to see in cabins and suites – and then they incorporated those ideas on the Equinox.
The one feature that kept coming up time and time again was more storage facilities, so now passengers on the new ship will find they are catered for like never before. The women did come up with one suggestion for men – a 32in flat-screen TV, and that too has been adopted in every cabin.
The new ship has a stunning sense – and smell – of newness about it, but it’s all backed up by experienced, friendly staff who have been with the company for years.
There are far too many features on board to mention but my favourites included a delightfully elegant two-tier dining room, a vast shopping mall on two different deck levels and the Martini bar – where the bar surface is chilled to make sure your drinks stay cold. A nice touch that would certainly win the approval of James Bond for his “shaken but not stirred” favourite tipple.
* Prices for a 13-night Ancient Empires fly/cruise start from £1,531 per person (based on two sharing an inside cabin). Price includes return flights from London Heathrow to Rome, transfers and a 13-night cruise with meals and entertainment on board and all relevant cruise taxes and fees.
See the Celebrity Equinox website>