Fort Lauderdale International Airport is ideally located for cruise connections. Clip-board bearing cruise line representatives holding paddles with the names of the ships in port meet passengers at baggage claim, herding them to motorcoaches that carry them and their luggage to the ships.
Port Everglades is just beyond the airport and the huge floating hotels can be seen even before you're off the airport property. In less than 10 minutes passengers are boarding their ships. Half of the twelve terminals have been rehabbed in the past year and the one serving for check in and security by Celebrity is like a huge hotel lobby. The writers and travel agents on my bus craned our necks when we spotted the ship marked by the large X. That's Celebrity's trademark. We were headed toward the Solstice, a whole new class of ship for the line and the first of what will be three new ships in coming years
My stateroom on Deck 8 is large and well appointed with a veranda beyond a wall of windows draped in two layers of fabric... one transparent and traced with a design of swirls that cast the prettiest tracery of shadows in the room when the sun shines through.
As often happens when I am away from home, one of the first people I meet in a new place is a Clevelander. In this case, it was Dave Molyneaux, former PD travel editor and one of the writers to accept that paper's first offer of a buyout as it reduced its staff. There are about 100 journalists aboard.
At the ship's naming ceremony, shortly after we boarded, we were treated to a display of the special effects possible in the Solstice Theater. CEO Richard Fain and Godmother Sharon Smith were piped to the stage by a dozen bagpipers after which a quartet of French horn players emerged from below on a large round platform that raised to stage level.
An animated violinist clad in sparkling black played as an aerialist performed from a hoop high above the audience. We were seated on several levels, including a wraparound balcony, that put us almost at eye level with the aerialist, drawing us personally into the show. Several other breathtaking aerial displays gave me the impression that the talented performers at the popular Cirque du Soleil shows are going to sea.
Professor Sharon Smith, a noted marine biologist, is the first-ever scientist to serve as godmother by christening a ship. Fain introduced her as a perfect match for the Solstice since she's "beautiful, tough and smart." She's also ideal because she's devoted her life to understanding the seas and its creatures and the Solstice has in place cutting edge technology to reduce its carbon footprint on the earth.
Smith, twice a cancer survivor, was moved to tears when she spoke about the cruise line's partnership with United Way to raise money so that women without the means to afford it will be able to have life-saving mammograms.
Over dinner is one of the ship's four specialty restaurants, Silk Harvest, I met a pair of Tampa TV guys from the Fox 8 affiliate in Tampa. They were with a representative from that city's stunning Florida Aquarium and had been on this coast to do a piece about the Neptune Memorial Reef, an underwater cemetery three miles off Key Biscayne.
I am fascinated and can't wait to learn more.