Can This New Ship Actually Convince Anti-Cruisers to Cruise?
On Dec. 9, following a flurry of short pre-inaugural sailings, Celebrity’s debut Edge-class ship, the namesake Celebrity Edge, will make its first official, seven-night maiden voyage. Easily one of the most anticipated debuts in the cruise industry, this ship recently journeyed from France's STX shipyard to Port Everglades, Florida, and I’ve been personally following it since construction began in 2016.
I was eager to experience the 2,918-passenger vessel — Celebrity's first new ship in six years — on a two-night preview cruise. Though I knew from renderings the ship's interiors were impressive, I was skeptical about whether or not it could really lure staunch anti-cruisers. After all, this ship is still a ship.
But let’s back up for a second. It’s been a busy year for the cruise industry: The biggest passenger ship on the planet debuted with a massive splash, Uniworld launched a river cruise line exclusively for millennials, reservations opened for the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and new details emerged about Richard Branson’s adults-only Virgin Voyages.
Basically, cruise lines both existing and forthcoming are working overtime to make their ships look nothing like whatever image your mind conjures when you think “cruise.”
As someone who has sailed with Royal Caribbean, Princess and Carnival, I can say the Edge is a beautiful departure from the standard cruise vessel. Celebrity’s efforts to convert new-to-cruise travelers began by tapping new-to-cruise talent. Designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku, of Paris-based Jouin Manku Studios (responsible for the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower) and interior designer Kelly Hoppen brought their signature styles to the ship, as did Spanish designer and architect Patricia Urquiola, among others.
As a result, the typical neon color schemes and casino-inspired carpet patterns have been replaced by sophisticated, neutral hues and clean, contemporary lines. In fact, while many cruise lines seem to be busy courting first-time cruisers — and the children of cruisers — with a dizzying number of diversions (waterslides, ziplines, skating rinks, climbing walls, laser tag, basketball courts), the Edge has the stripped-down appeal of an exclusive, intimate resort.
One of the first things I saw upon boarding, for example, was the three-deck grand plaza — basically the lobby of the ship — with its gleaming LED chandelier crowning the Martini Bar. It is dazzling and expressive, and a fitting introduction to a ship that has tried to elevate every element of the ship travelers interact with.
Sure, there are the obligatory cruise-ship features: pools, buffets, a casino. But they’ve all been refined in a way that even frequent cruisers should find unfamiliar. The casino is small and somehow tucked away — usually, you can’t avoid walking through a casino on a cruise vessel. And the complimentary, buffet-style Oceanview Café has a more polished design and a global take on dining (a dedicated Indian station, for example).
For me, the ship’s most impressive feature is its array of 29 bars and restaurants, including Eden, a dining venue that spans three decks and is as much an immersive theater experience as it is a bar and restaurant.
Here, so-called “Edenists” interact with guests and perform something I can only describe as Cirque de Soleil meets "Sleep No More." It’s entertaining, weird and unlike anything I’ve ever seen at sea.
And the Celebrity Edge can lay claim to a number of industry firsts. In my stateroom, for example, I experienced the Infinite Veranda, which brings the balcony inside and makes the space more flexible. A button lowers the top window, delivering a traditional balcony experience. Otherwise, the veranda feels like a floor-to-ceiling window and adds more usable space to the room.
There’s also the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered platform that slides up and down the side of the ship, doubling as a dining venue and a chic lounge for cruisers waiting to tender to shore.
For travelers who have cruised in the past, these are not insignificant improvements, and they’re inventive solutions to common pain points (think: cramped cabins and a tedious, unglamorous tendering process). But are they enough to persuade first-time cruisers?
On Instagram, I asked TPG followers to weigh in on whether or not the stylish ship and flashy firsts could tempt anti-cruisers. Because, to be frank, though the ship is stunning, there's not a lot you can do to alter the fundamental elements of a cruise.
I was surprised that, though the responses were mixed, about half agreed that the Edge could convince first-time cruisers to book a sailing.
“If this can’t,” one reader said, “nothing can.”
And according to Celebrity, the Edge's enhancements are delivering promising results. The company said this is the fastest-selling ship in the fleet, and it's already near 100% capacity for its December sailings. There are also three additional Edge-class ships already in development.
But the Edge still finds itself tangled in the same problems that plague any cruise ship. Its breadth of restaurants and bars is impressive for a ship of its size, but all the food comes from the same kitchen, and there’s extensive overlap on the menus. I tried to eat (or grab a drink) at as many venues as possible during my sailing, and was wowed more by presentation than flavor every time. It's also the first time I can ever recall having a bad mojito.
Another qualm? Some of the ship’s most impressive spaces — the outdoor pool and lounge called The Retreat, for example — are accessible only to suite-class guests.
And during an onboard interview with Brian Abel, Celebrity’s vice president of hotel operations (basically, everything you’d consider the guest experience), we chatted briefly about one of the cruise industry’s most notorious shortcomings: loyalty programs, whose points are infamously less valuable than those of hotel and airline programs. Abel confirmed that it’s something on Celebrity’s radar. A year ago, he explained, they recruited a new director of loyalty from American Express.
“She’s worked with Starwood and some of the airlines,” Abel said, but added that one of the difficulties is the frequency of repeat business, even with devoted cruisers. “I can fly 50 times a year. Or I might stay [in a hotel] 50 times a year. But the average cruiser is cruising once every year and a half. It’s a different model we’re trying to work with.”
But still, he said: “We’re on it.”
Whether you’re a frequent cruiser or one of Celebrity’s coveted new-to-cruise clients, you can book a Celebrity Edge sailing in the Caribbean this month, with seven-night sailings from $1,049. In the spring of 2019, the Edge will reposition to the Mediterranean, where voyages will begin at $1,899 per person.
All photos by the author, unless otherwise noted.