Last week, Travel Agent’s cruise editor, Susan J. Young, provided initial opinions on the design, spaces and features of Celebrity Cruises’ new Celebrity Edge.
This week, we provide first-hand feedback from several front-line agents or consortia/host/franchise executives who also sailed on a preview cruise.
What did they think of the accommodations? What did they like or didn’t like? What features will help agents sell a cruise vacation? And will the new ship elevate the brand and give agents new opportunities to sell cruises?
Edging Into Premium Plus
Andrew Fowler, a franchise partner of Expedia CruiseShipCenters in North Vancouver, B.C., describes Celebrity Edge as “a premium plus” product for its decor, including use of wood, shiny metals and fabrics; staff attention to details such as use of first names; and range of shops, food experiences and artwork, which he says all point to premium.
“However, it’s the attention to the small details that add the plus,” he stresses, sharing a personal story that shows that the casual Ocean View Cafe is a cut above – both in design and service.
He found himself at the curry station, enjoyed “the best curry I’ve had” and encountered the chef there, asking him, "where is the lamb rogan josh," a reference to an aromatic dish of Kasmiri or Persian origin. It's not the most typical dish for an Asian buffet.
The chef responded, “You like that?” Fowler said “yes.” So, the chef told him to return later that evening. He did and said that “to my delight, the lamb rogan josh was there.”
From another perspective, “the hardware and architecture have certainly set a new high bar in the premium market,” says Alex Sharpe, president and CEO, Signature Travel Network.
Drawing New Cruisers
Describing Celebrity Edge as “a game changer," Drew Daly, general manager of network engagement and performance, CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., believes “it's going to help every agent grow their business.”
Daly, shown at right trying out an unusual seat in the ship's Iconic Suite during an onboard tour, says the innovative vessel will appeal to a broad audience including families, multigenerational travelers and first-time cruisers.
“Typically we think of the big contemporary ships being the entry point for new cruisers,” stresses Sharpe, but "if advisors have sophisticated travelers looking for a first-time cruise, this product could be a new enticement.”
Sharpe cites “thoughtful dining concepts” as among the ship's pluses. For example, the line created four complimentary dining rooms -- Cyprus, Cosmopolitan, Normandie and Tuscan. That’s in contrast to the typically huge main dining room on most ships, providing a bit more intimate experience without an added charge.
The ship also has several specialty dining venues, including Fine Cut Steakhouse and Le Grand Bistro. Most notable, though, is Le Petit Chef and Friends, which offers custom 3D table animation art, where the plates seem to come alive with theater. It's a very unusual experience.
From the perspective of Van Anderson, co-president, Avoya Travel Network, many elements of Celebrity Edge are highly innovative. He asks: “Who would have ever thought they would have included a tender tour at a yard" or on a preview cruise?
Those tenders, rebranded by Celebrity as “Edge Launches,” feature bucket seats, air conditioning, large windows for stunning sea-level views and more space. They bring touches of comfort to what traditionally has been a cattle car transport approach within the industry.
It’s just one example of the new ship's innovative features. “We need continued innovation to bring more of the millions of non-cruisers onboard," says Anderson.
Sharpe also likes that new tender approach because it “upgrades one of the lone poor experiences on ships…Not only is the waiting room spectacular, but the air conditioned, beautifully appointed launches make you look forward to tendering ashore."
Simply put, "it's exciting to see people solve these long-time pain points," he stresses.
Open, “UnShip-Like” Design
Several agents or executives also talked at length about the importance of Celebrity Edge's open spaces and design flow.
"Cabins and suites continue to push the bar up, but really I love the innovation and the flow,” said Sharpe.
From Daly's perspective, “there were many times that I did not even feel I was on a ship."
The design soars in many spots, including open curved staircases from deck to deck at some spots; the three-deck high Eden; a casual buffet restaurant with a two-deck-high ceiling; wider-than-normal spaces leading into several restaurants; and the Grand Plaza (see photo above).
Fowler believes the ship's relaxed, inviting feel and its design move guests to explore and see what's beyond -- perhaps a shop, restaurant or gathering place.
“The ship doesn’t feel large or empty, and there is a lot of great artwork lining the public spaces," notes Fowler.
Sharpe also says that the new Magic Carpet, a cantilevered platform that can be a tender launch at water level, a private group’s cocktail space on another and an al fresco fining venue on another, “will lure in folks with its uniqueness.”
New Staterooms & Suites
According to Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative, “the suites on Celebrity Edge feel as though you’re at your own luxury apartment, with decor that any interior designer would fawn over.”
She stayed in a Royal Suite and loved that suite's sweeping views. "The bed also faces the ocean, which is a bonus, and there is even a window in the bathroom, so you can see the ocean," Fee adds.
Those suites also come with many perks, including the suite-guest-only Retreat, which Fee equates to a guest experience at a upscale resort. Its sun deck is pictured in the photo below.
More than 500 Cruise Planners agents sailed on Celebrity Edge after the group’s annual convention at the Diplomat Beach Resort, Hollywood Beach, FL, in late November.
During their time onboard the agents were able to tour some of the top suites, such as the Iconic Suite, and “wow, they are amazing with full bathrooms and wrap-around balconies," Fee emphasizes.
Fowler, too, likes the suites, describing them as inviting, bright and welcoming with a modern feel: "Celebrity Edge’s suites make you feel you are in a boutique hotel similar to a W.
He says the floor-to-ceiling windows allow guests to feel they're truly at the edge of the ship and says the two-level villa suites make great use of space.
Staying in a Royal Suite on Deck 12 was Jackie Friedman, president, Nexion, and she believes the ship's suites do deliver modern luxury. She says that extends well beyond the accommodations themselves, although she thought they were beautifully appointed and spacious.
How so? "To me, Celebrity hit a home run by creating an exclusive experience in the Retreat, with indoor and outdoor spaces that truly delivered the wow," emphasizes Friedman.
What she most liked is that "the Retreat lounges, private pool and the Luminae restaurant are offered to suite guests at all levels, and not just the top categories like other cruise lines."
Above is a photo of Friedman with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity's president and CEO, in Celebrity Edge's Retreat lounge.
For clients who need more affordability, Celebrity Edge also introduces the new Edge Stateroom with Infinite Veranda, which Travel Agent stayed in and covered in a recent story.
“So many different cabin categories are truly unique,” says Sharpe. He tells advisors to simply “dig in” and become educated about all the new options and what’s available.
Staying in an accessible Edge Stateroom with Infinite Veranda, #8236, was Debra Kerper, Cruise Planners. She likes this new category of accessible stateroom in which the balcony is essentially tucked into the stateroom, the ship’s superstructure was moved farther back inside the ship and the guest has more expansive sea views and feels closer to the water.
A drop-down glass panel creates an open-air balcony in good weather. But when it’s raining or cool, guests still have all-weather use of the space, which has two chairs and a small table. They simply press a button to raise the glass.
Overall, the stateroom living/sleeping area was “magnificent,” Kerper says. She also liked the extra plugs and USB ports (as shown above).
Could be improved? “Much to my disappointment, the attached shower seat in the accessible cabins was way too small for persons with disabilities to use safely,” said Kerper, a bilateral amputee, travel consultant catering to special needs clients and member of Celebrity’s Disability Advisory Board.
Kerper didn’t even attempt to sit on it and asked herself why this type of seat was chosen when the line's other ships have what she describes as “proper shower chairs.” Travel Agent has reached out to Celebrity for a response.
Technology On a New Level
Technology shines on Celebrity Edge. Daly mentioned the embarkation process with facial recognition; guests check in online via the new app at home, load their own photo and then head for the Xpress boarding lane.
That makes boarding a smooth and quick process at the terminal. In addition, those not using the technological approach to check-in will arrive to find few -- if any -- lines to stand in, as fewer people are checking in the old-fashioned way at a counter.
In addition, "with the app you are fully connected with your suite, TV, lights, windows, blinds, and door lock," Fowler says. "It’s all done wirelessly via the app and your mobile device.”
Anderson believes Celebrity Edge -- along with other new and innovative ships and new cruise line entrants like Virgin Voyages and Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection – “are surely helping” draw in new guests and pushing those standing on the sidelines to book a cruise as a vacation choice.
As for our sources on this story, Friedman summed it up best after a short, preview cruise: "I can’t wait to go back for more."