Few cruise lines have managed to achieve the elusive combination of personalised, attentive service with sheer scale as well as Celebrity Cruises. Since its inception, Celebrity has become a byword for elegance and luxury, offering a rich variety of innovative cruise experiences.
And yet, Celebrity has managed to avoid compromising size in order to preserve its unique identity. The arrival of its Solstice Class is just the latest twist in a tale that has seen the line become one of the most recognised and celebrated names in the industry. Whether it is once-in-a-lifetime experiences, fine dining or relaxing spa breaks holidaymakers are looking for, Celebrity can provide it - and at a sensible price.
Blast from the past
It was 1989 when Greek company Chandris Group first took advantage of an apparent gap in the market for a cruise line that offered a genuinely high-end experience for passengers.
Celebrity Cruises was launched, bringing with it a more personalised approach to cruising. Accommodation became more spacious, service more personal and - significantly - gourmet dining took to the seas.
The vision to provide only the freshest ingredients and finest dishes has stayed constant, with Las Vegas-based consultancy Blau & Associates invited onboard in 2007 to shape the line's menus.
If the arrival of this classy upstart had not already shaken up the industry, then the next major chapter in the Celebrity story would certainly make the other major players take notice.
In 1995, the company set a precedent when it introduced health and beauty facilities to its Century Class fleet. For the first time, cruise guests were able to enjoy pampering at the hands of professionals, in association with Elemis AquaSpa.
Two years later, Celebrity merged with Royal Caribbean International to form Royal Caribbean Cruises - consolidating the position of two of the best-known brands in the sector.
Attention was then turned to expansion, with the new Millennium Class ships launching at the turn of the century. Celebrity Millennium and her sister ships Infinity, Summit and Constellation almost doubled the size of the fleet while preserving the company's reputation for exceptional cuisine.
The Celebrity Millennium was the first liner to use fuel-efficient gas turbine engines, while the new class retained a sense of tradition with each containing artefacts from famed transatlantic vessels of yesteryear.
In the years that followed, Celebrity diversified its brand further with the launch of Royal Celebrity Tours - offering 'cruisetours' that combined cruises with stays in some of the world's most beautiful locations.
The concept was developed in 2004 with the arrival of the premium Celebrity Xpeditions excursions. Passengers aboard the Xpedition megayacht were now able to enjoy the Celebrity experience in a range of exotic settings such as the Galapagos Islands.
Around the same time, a host of new specialist dining and health options were introduced across the fleet, while the operator's renowned standards of accommodation were bolstered by the new ConciergeClass premium rooms.
Celebrity's recent history has seen the liner continue to build on its unique market position with the purchase of Azamara Cruises and the launch of its Solstice Class.
The first ship in the category, the Solstice, launched in the US in November 2008, complete with a state of the art theatre, a real-grass Lawn Club and a new accommodation standard, AquaClass.
Cruising into the future
With a clutch of new awards under its belt from Conde Nast and Travel Weekly, it would appear that the wind remains very much in the sails of this unique cruise company.
In November 2008, Professor Sharon Smith became the first ocean scientist to become the godmother of a cruise ship, when she launched the Celebrity Solstice, the first ship in the Solstice Class.
The liner will be followed by the Equinox in 2009, the Eclipse in 2010 - which will be based at Southampton - and two more in the subsequent two years.