How Celebrity Cruises is standing apart from other big-ship lines when it comes to the onboard experience
Late last year, Celebrity Cruises made a change that is shaking up the world of mainstream cruising.
The Miami-based line, which operates voyages in almost every corner of the planet, announced that its base fares would cover more than just a room on a ship and meals. It said they would cover a trio of normally extra-charge items, too: drinks, Wi-Fi access and tips.
Dubbed Always Included, the new pricing format wasn’t a limited-time offer. It didn’t come with strings. It was for all passengers on all sailings.
Celebrity wasn’t the first cruise line to switch to a more all-inclusive format, of course. There are a number of luxury cruise brands such as Celebrity’s sister line, Silversea Cruises, that operate with an all-inclusive format. Many small, adventure-focused “expedition” cruise brands like Lindblad Expeditions also include a lot of extras in their base fares.
But these are brands that operate relatively small, specialized luxury vessels at very high price points. The typical Silversea ship, for instance, carries just a few hundred passengers and is priced starting from as much as $1,000 per person, per day.
They are, in a nutshell, lines with ships designed for a limited audience.
Celebrity, by contrast, is a major mainstream brand with relatively large, amenity-filled — and, perhaps most notably, affordable — vessels of the sort that appeal to a wide audience.
For such a line, what Celebrity is doing is unique — at least among major brands catering to North Americans. It is offering an onboard cruise experience with all the amenities and allures that you only can get on a bigger, mainstream vessel coupled with much of the all-inclusiveness that has traditionally only been available on a small luxury vessel.
That Celebrity is doing this perhaps should come as no surprise. Celebrity always has offered something unique among the bigger-ship lines. For starters, the brand has long been known for having some of the most beautiful ships at sea, offering a level of style and elegance that you normally only find on luxury vessels.
Celebrity ships also have been known for a sophistication level in their onboard offerings that often rises above what you’ll find on the vessels of its competitors.
With the addition of more all-inclusiveness, this uniqueness has gone to a new level.
Celebrity’s luxury experience
The typical Celebrity vessel offers a broad array of stylish restaurants, bars, lounges and entertainment venues — far more than you’ll find on the typical luxury vessel.
On the line’s Edge Series ships — Celebrity Apex, Celebrity Edge and the soon-to-debut Celebrity Beyond — three decks of such offerings spread out from dazzling, three-story-high spaces that, on each of the ships, are called The Grand Plaza. Created by Paris-based Jouin Manku Studio, the spaces have as their focal points stunning light features that soar above centrally located martini bars.
The wide range of restaurants you’ll find fanning out from The Grand Plaza on multiple decks of these ships include such innovative venues as Le Grand Bistro, a French eatery that is home to one of the most unusual dinner experiences at sea. Called Le Petit Chef, it’s an artists collective-designed, high-tech experience where a miniature chef projected onto the table whimsically “creates” each course of the meal before your eyes.
On Celebrity Beyond, the restaurant lineup will include Le Voyage, the first restaurant at sea for famed New York chef Daniel Boulud.
Also located just off The Grand Plaza on these ships is Raw on 5, an airy, casual seafood restaurant and raw bar that at times is expanded by the presence of what may be the most unique feature of any cruise ship: the Magic Carpet.
Cantilevered over the side of each of the vessels, the tennis court-size platform can move up and down to serve different purposes. When placed next to Raw on 5, the Magic Carpet becomes an extension of the eatery, offering outdoor seating. When moved to the very top of the vessel, the platform transforms into a venue for a thrilling nighttime dining experience called Dinner on the Edge. It also can serve as what just may be the coolest bar at sea.
The Grand Plaza and the Magic Carpet on Celebrity’s Edge Class vessels are the sorts of features that you just won’t find on the typical luxury ship. The same holds true for another hallmark of Celebrity’s newest vessels: Three-deck-high terraced lounge-and-dining areas called Eden. Created in collaboration with world renowned designer Patricia Urquiola, they are soaring, plant-filled, fairy tale-like spaces with glass walls overlooking the back of the ships that come alive with creative culinary and drinking experiences.
Other features on Celebrity’s newest vessels — ones that you won’t typically find on a luxury ship — include plant-filled Rooftop Gardens; expansive, Miami Beach-style pool decks (complete with Champagne glass-shaped hot tubs); and some of the most elegant spas found at sea.
The ships also are home to The Retreat — an exclusive, all-suite zone with its own private restaurant with signature dishes designed by the aforementioned Boulud; a private lounge and sundeck; plus a dedicated team of butlers and concierge staff.
For the soon-to-debut Celebrity Beyond, several of these spaces — including the Rooftop Garden and The Retreat — are being enhanced or redesigned. The Rooftop Garden on Celebrity Beyond will feature “float pools” cantilevered over the open ocean, and The Retreat on the ship will offer an expanded sun deck that now stretches over two decks. The Sunset Bar at the back of Celebrity Beyond also has been expanded and will boast a chic, Morocco-inspired design created by world-famous designer Nate Berkus.
It isn’t just Celebrity’s Edge Series ships that have such standout features. The line’s five Solstice Series vessels are full of similarly modern and sophisticated offerings including The Lawn Club — a quarter-acre, top-deck retreat that features real grass. Passengers can stop by to try their hand at lawn games or enjoy a picnic or a “Jazz on the Lawn” performance.
Many of the up to 18 eateries on every Celebrity ship feature cuisine influenced by Michelin-starred chefs such as Boulud, who serves as the line’s Global Culinary Brand Ambassador. Michelin-starred chef Cornelius Gallagher serves as the line’s vice president for food and beverage. The line also staffs its vessels with certified sommeliers to pair dishes with wines from its award-winning wine selections.
In recent years, Celebrity has marketed what it offers on these ships as “luxury” — but a new type of more relaxed, experience-driven luxury in cruising that combines the style and elegance found on smaller luxury ships with the far broader array of amenities and activities found on bigger, mainstream vessels.
With the addition of a more inclusive pricing format, the line — in our opinion, at least — is finally living up to the moniker.
A new inclusiveness
Celebrity’s new inclusive pricing format is broad in what it offers.
To us, the included-drinks portion of the new format is the biggest piece. It brings unlimited drinks including classic cocktails, wines by the glass, beer, sodas, specialty coffees and teas, juices and even bottled water for passengers when on board Celebrity vessels (for all drinks priced at up to $9; passengers pay the difference for higher-priced drinks). All of these are things for which passengers on mainstream lines normally pay extra.
This is a huge deal, as it means that you now can enjoy a night out to all the venues mentioned above without worrying too much about a bar tab — unless you order the highest-priced drinks. That’s a level of freedom that until now only has been found on much higher-priced luxury ships.
While one new mainstream line, Virgin Voyages, also has been touting a new level of inclusiveness in its pricing (with included Wi-Fi and gratuities), even Virgin Voyages doesn’t include alcohol drinks in its fares. If you head out in the evening for a night of fun on a Virgin ship, you’ll pay extra for everything but sodas and a few other non-alcoholic beverages.
For the record, other mainstream brands sometimes throw in free drinks (and other perks) as part of booking packages. But this is done as a limited-time promotion, and not every passenger gets it.
The Wi-Fi-included piece of Celebrity’s new pricing structure also is significant. It brings unlimited, always-on Wi-Fi access at a speed that will let you surf the web, post on social media and send emails (you can pay extra for a high-speed service that allows for streaming shows from sites such as Netflix).
As anyone who has cruised a lot knows, Wi-Fi access on ships can be quite expensive. Even the priciest luxury lines until recently charged extra for Wi-Fi.
The included-tipping portion of the new pricing structure is notable, too. It covers not just the automatic daily gratuities that Celebrity traditionally has added to passenger bills but most gratuities for bar bills. A 20% gratuity will be added when a passenger orders a premium drink that’s not included in the line’s Always Included fare structure, as well as for minibar purchases, and spa and salon services.
Until recently, the automatic daily gratuity on Celebrity ships ranged from $15.50 to $19 per person, per day, depending on cabin category. That works out to as much as $266 per week for a couple. That extra charge that appeared on passenger bills at the end of a cruise now disappears.
For a modestly higher “elevate” fare, Celebrity will go even further in its inclusiveness, adding unlimited premium drinks and a credit for shore excursions up to $200 per person. A third “indulge” fare level adds streaming Wi-Fi and an extra onboard credit of up to $200 per person, too.
With some of the most stylish and elegant ships at sea, Celebrity already had something unique among mainstream cruise lines. With its recent switch to a more-inclusive fare structure, it now stands apart from other mainstream brands when it comes to the onboard experience.
Featured photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises
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