Well, it was bound to happen. With over 10,000 new berths to fill, Celebrity will have doubled the capacity of their fleet by this summer with the launch of the Silhouette. Currently, the Eclipse is the newest vessel in their fleet of ten ships. Many improvements have been made since the first Solstice-Class ship was launched over two years ago. The color schemes are bolder and more visually pleasing. The cabins are more user friendly with the move of the safe from the closet to over the refrigerator. This frees up some much needed space in the closets for hanging clothes. From a hardware standpoint, the Solstice class is truly impressive and the ships are things of beauty.
As always, food and service are Celebrity’s strong points, along with the hardware. The crew seems happy, engaging and friendly, if somewhat anonymous. It is impossible to offer personalized service as found on smaller luxury ships on a vessel carrying close to 3,000 passengers. The cuisine in the main dining room, the Moonlight Sonata, is excellent, with quality ingredients artfully prepared and presented. I am happy to report that after several years of decline, the dining is back up to the glory days of the past. The cuts of meat are once again prime quality, and the seafood, while frozen, is perfectly prepared. And their dining venues are some of the most beautiful at sea.
Another plus is that it is now more affordable than ever to book a passage on Celebrity. Today, it is actually less expensive to sail on Celebrity than a Royal Caribbean ship. In order to keep their ships full, aggressive pricing and marketing have had to be employed. So, where is the profit coming from? While they may actually be losing money on the cabins, the profit centers today come from food and beverage, spa treatments and shore excursions. Cocktails and wine are pricey with a martini from their popular frozen-topped bar costing over ten dollars. A glass of good wine will set you back close to the same amount. A one liter bottle of Evian sells for $4. And their spa treatments are outrageously priced; well over double what you would pay ashore.
As an RCCL shareholder, I am glad that Celebrity has remained profitable. What I am not happy about in what this has done to their customer demographics. While they still like to call themselves a ‘Premium’ cruise line, this is hardly the case. I would reserve that nomenclature for the likes of Azamara, Oceania or Cunard. The guests are decidedly mass-market in their tastes. The onboard activities, what they dub ‘Celebrity Life’, seem closer to Carnival than the Celebrity of the past. So, while the ships are upscale and sophisticated, the onboard experience is definitely not. On any cruise, the fellow passengers can make or break the experience. In this regard, the more upscale, sophisticated guest may no longer be satisfied by a Celebrity cruise.
Granted, after my sixty-plus cruises and over 1,000 days at sea, the luster of a Caribbean cruise has dulled for me. My twenty sailings with Crystal have forever spoiled me with true gourmet dining, polished service and upscale accommodations. Celebrity may have the edge in the hardware, however the software is what distinguishes a line today. Celebrity has brought forth their own more upscale solution with their Azamara line, but those ships are sadly outdated leftovers from the Renaissance days. The Solstice class ships, properly presented, could represent a new class of true ‘Premium’ cruising, however current market conditions have made that impossible.
Let us hope that when our economic conditions improve that the style and service that Celebrity is capable of can once again be realized. Meanwhile, I must be content to bite the bullet and pay the price for the luxury cruise experience that I have become accustomed to. These can be found on lines like Crystal, Regent, Silverseas and Seabourn. Oceania has launched a fabulous new ship, the Marina, that hold great promise to set a new standard in premium, affordable luxury cruising. An unrealized opportunity is on hold here; Celebrity could rule the mid-priced market if market conditions would allow it. I look forward to that day.