Steady as she goes – a cruise ship conveyancing

March 11th, 2010 in Cruising by Sarah Lee 4
Celebrity Equinox at Meyer Werft shipyard

There’s a fair few cruising posts on this blog this week, but with Celebrity Eclipse winding its way down the River Ems right now I couldn’t resist mentioning it here. Last year I went on the same journey (known in the cruise world as a conveyance) on Eclipse’s sister ship Celebrity Equinox. It’s another one of those unusual experiences your press card gains you access to in the world of travel, but I’m going to give you the lowdown here.

The 122,000-tonne ship was built at Meyer Werft, in Papenburg, a small town in northern Germany. Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships are the largest to have been built at Meyer Werft (which incidentally also built Norwegian Jade which I sailed on last week) and so the journey out to sea is at once spectacular and slightly hair-raising. You see, Papenburg is actually 42 kilometres inland. Winding its way backwards along the River Ems was a huge operation for a massive cruise ship, at times floating just six inches above the riverbed and four metres from the riverbank and the sides of bridges. It makes for some fantastic pictures (as many floating around online and on twitter of Celebrity Eclipse will also attest to). Being on board you kind of miss out on that spectacle. But you do have other experiences.

At this stage the ship is still very much in a state of undress. It’s sea-worthy but it’s a bit like when you have the builders in at home – all the carpets are covered in plastic sheeting, there’s dust to clear up and lots of finishing touches to be applied. I loved seeing a cruise ship – usually all glitzy and glamourous – without its make-up on, and to know that I was among the first to try anything onboard (use the shower, sleep in the bed, eat at the restaurant, etc).

We were given a guided tour by Celebrity president and CEO Dan Hanrahan – this could have been a PR-spinning exercise, but instead we saw a man who seemed to genuinely love his company’s product talking candidly about why they took certain decisions in its design and joking about the fact that they were not officially taking delivery of the $800m ship from Meyer Werft before it had safely navigated its way down the river to Emshaven, a town by the sea in Holland (if it hit the riverbank before then, it wouldn’t matter!). But there was no chance of that – Meyer Werft have a terrifically expert captain that knows just how to navigate the tight bends of the river and negotiate its every ebb and flow. Though we were set to depart at 5pm we didn’t leave until 1am as we were told the tide had to be just right. Another extraordinary aspect was that during the day a crowd of people had huddled around the shipyard. Hundreds were there in camper vans and tents to see this amazing spectacle and cheer the ship off as she left Meyer Werft, showing just how important an event this was for the local community and those who had travelled from wider afield. As Celebrity Equinox, pulled gently by a tug, edged her way through the tight lock in front of the shipyard there were huge cheers from the assembled crowd and anthemic music (the likes of Chariots of Fire and Jean Michel Jarre) bellowed from the ship as all of us aboard hung over the side to see us make it through the gap and wave to the gathered crowd.

As we went to bed that night we could still hear the occasional cheer or toot of a car horn as the ship drew alongside people gathered to toast Equinox’s arrival and we knew two things: we were lucky to have had an incredibly unique experience, and in the morning we had to make sure we were fully dressed before opening the curtains – there was bound to be a crowd on the riverbank looking right back at us. To see more pictures of the ship and the conveyance take a look at my flickr set.

Crowds gathered to see the ship squeeze through another tight gap

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