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Celebrity Eclipse Brings Stranded Britons Home

Stranded British tourists rescued by the luxury cruise liner Celebrity Eclipse

Apr 23, 2010

As she sipped champagne at breakfast time in the lavish Moonlight Sonata banqueting suite, Caroline Birtill reflected on how her luck had changed.

Twenty-four hours earlier she had been stuck in Benalmadena on the Costa del Sol with no route home and four days late for work.

Now she was the first of 2,000 British passengers given a free trip home from Spain on the luxury cruise liner Celebrity Eclipse, in one of the biggest peace-time evacuations in recent years.

“The teachers at my school have been very sympathetic,” said Ms Birtill, 57, head of languages at a school in Nunthorpe, near Middlesbrough.

“They might not feel so sympathetic if they saw me now.”

Ms Birtill had paid £480 for a week on the Costa del Sol but was about to spend 28 hours sailing from Bilbao to Southampton on a 15-deck cruise ship, which normally costs around £1,000 per person for a week’s cruise.

With tens of thousands of Britons struggling to get home to Britain amid the travel chaos caused by the no-flight ban, the cruise liner’s US owners, Celebrity Cruises, stepped in to offer their five-star ship to take home.

The ship, which boasts its own lawn with real grass, three swimming pools, 13 bars, two penthouse suites, and a resident glass-blowing team, was about to embark on its maiden voyage with travel industry representatives earlier this week.

However, a last-minute rethink by bosses with an eye for a PR coup led to the mercy mission. The £500 million Celebrity Eclipse set sail from Southampton on Thursday and docked in Bilbao early today.

After all the passengers had boarded it set sail from Bilbao for Southampton just after 1pm GMT.

Most of the tired Britons boarding the ship had been bussed from southern Spain to the Basque port overnight for journey home. Some had been flown by tour operators to resorts in Spain from Mexico and Egypt.

A few burst into tears when they boarded the ship and took in the lavish luxury. The penthouse suites both have pianos that can play themselves if the occupants’ repertoires do not extend beyond “Chopsticks”.

The brand-new ship has a crew of 1,325 to pamper its unexpected guests who can choose between variety shows, films, or the non-stop array of culinary delights served almost 24 hours in the restaurants.

However, for this small army of Britons housed for free in the lap of luxury the only thing that is not free is the alcohol; drinks are not on the house.

Martin and Jane Greenford and their two children, Sarah, 13, and Luke, 11, looked a little stunned as they boarded the ship after undergoing a 15-hour overnight bus trip from Fuengirola, in southern Spain.

Mrs Greenford, 44, a nurse, from Huddersfield, West Yorks, said: “We have been stuck in Fuengirola since Sunday. The bus ride was a nightmare.

“Thomas Cook said going home on a liner might be an option but we never expected anything like this. It’s like a palace.”

For Felicity and David Gardiner this was an unlikely end to their honeymoon.

The couple, from Staffordshire, were married in Mexico. When the no-flight ban was imposed last week they were transferred from a luxury hotel in Mexico to Benidorm in Spain.

After a nine-hour overnight bus journey, they arrived on the Celebrity Eclipse.

“This is a bit of a contrast with Benidorm,” said Mrs Gardiner, 25, a teacher.

Richard Fain, chairman of Celebrity Cruises, said that after a 45-minute meeting the company decided to contact travel operators and offer the ship to rescue stranded Britons.

“The only thing they are paying for is the fuel. The rest is on us. But I don’t even know how much this is costing,” he said.

Stranded British tourists rescued by the luxury cruise liner Celebrity Eclipse
Celebrity Eclipse / Image via


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