How do you improve a cruise ship that already broke the mold when it comes to design, onboard food and drink and cabins? That's the dilemma Celebrity Cruises faced for its third Edge Class ship, Celebrity Beyond.
The answer: Make the ship larger and redesign the most-popular areas. Put in more suites and improve the amenities for those guests. Add bars and install a state-of-the-art theater so shows can be more exciting. Tap into well-known designers such as Kelly Hoppen and Nate Berkus to make the ship feel even chicer. Throw in a restaurant by Michelin-starred chef, Daniel Boulud. Add a sprinkling of celebrity stardust with Gwyneth's Paltrow's Goop at Sea.
The result is a ship that Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is firmly hits line's five main attractions: destinations, accommodations, design, culinary and wellness. The line's fares include drinks, tips and WiFi, adding an ease of travel that elevates Celebrity from other lines considered premium.
"Our sweet spot is Generation X," she said. The company has researched "how they like to travel, what they care about and the relaxed luxury that they enjoy," she said. "Coming out of the time we just lived through, those things are even more important to people."
We were lucky enough to already get a sneak preview of Celebrity Beyond at the official handover ceremony in France (and we loved it then); and we are back onboard for four days during preview cruises in Southampton, England to see first-hand the improvements that Celebrity Beyond has over its siblings, Celebrity Edge and Celebrity Apex. Here are some of the main points that stood out.
With the ability to carry 3,260 passengers at double capacity, Celebrity Beyond has 350 more people onboard than the other Edge class ships; Celebrity Ascent, coming in 2023, will be the same. The ship has an additional 179 rooms, including 22 more suites.
The ship has an extra 20 meters, or 65 feet, of length, as well as an extra deck. What guests will appreciate is where the line decided to add room. The Oceanview Cafe, the ship's buffet, now has two additional food stations, an enlarged bakery and a bar. The Resort Deck -- the line's main pool area -- is longer, with more seating areas and cabanas that now face the poolside action, as opposed to looking outward.
The Rooftop Garden is not only larger, it's more usable, with more protection from sun, wind and rain. There are also two new plunge pools in the Rooftop Garden area, one on each side of the ship, with infinity views (and also views of the bathers for people walking by).
The star of the Celebrity Beyond renovation has to be the Sunset Bar, at the back of the ship. A perennial hit with cruisers, the Sunset Bar suffered a bit on the Edge Class ships; I've sailed every class of Celebrity ship and the space wasn't nearly as inviting on Celebrity Edge as it was on older ships in the Solstice and Millennium classes.
No longer. To transform the Sunset Bar, Celebrity brought in American designer Nate Berkus. Taking inspiration from his travels, Berkus redid the bar with Moroccan and Mediterranean influences. The area also gained a lot of space, with cantilevered seating spanning two decks.
The result is an area that you can easily linger for hours; there's both shade and sun. A small bites menu with $8 dips and flatbreads has been added (although it's just as easy to bring up food from the Oceanview Cafe a few decks below).
Americans might not have heard about the other main interior designer, Kelly Hoppen. The British designer worked with Celebrity already, but for Celebrity Beyond, the line gave her more spaces and areas to execute her vision.
Where Hoppen's style shines is on the revamped Resort Deck. New sunken seating areas are not only stylish, they are comfy -- they were the first places where people gravitated on sunny days. The Pool Bar is now perhaps one of the most stylish at sea. The Cabanas make more sense than they did before -- now that they actually face the pool as opposed to a corridor, we can see people being more apt to plunk down the $499 day rental fee.
(What we still don't like about the Resort Deck is that the Mast Grill, where the usual array of pool eats such as burgers, sandwiches and grill items, seems like an after thought. It's tucked away, with limited counter space, and not a very appealing place to dine).
As on many cruise ships, the suites are the first room type to sell out. Celebrity Beyond has several new classes of suites for the line, including the 1,892-square-foot Iconic Suite, with the same views as the bridge, and a two-story Edge Villa that comes with its own plunge pool.
The highlight for anyone booking a Sky Suite or higher is The Retreat, which has an extra deck of seating on Celebrity Beyond. The lounge, too, is larger. Suite guests will notice the change in Luminae, which now stretches across the front of the ship, adding better views. Luminae has its main entrance tucked inside The Retreat, which gives the restaurant a more private and exclusive feel.
If you're not in a suite, don't worry; there's plenty going on in the main part of the ship. The Grand Atrium is larger, and the Martini Bar has been moved more toward the center of the space, giving more people better views of the bartenders and their cocktail flair -- and the flashy chandelier.
Celebrity took feedback from passengers that there weren't enough bars on Edge and Apex, and added the World Class craft cocktail lounge off the Grand Atrium. While it's not an entirely new concept -- the bar is also on Solstice-class ships -- it's a lovely addition for evening nightcaps and pre-dinner drinks. If you're lucky, you can snag the seating area that directly overlooks the Martini Bar to watch all the action.
Another area where Celebrity took feedback into account is in Fine Cut, the steakhouse. Gone is the outdoor eating area, as passengers were not using it. There are 50 additional seats, many with expansive ocean views. For those who like the hubbub of the Grand Atrium, there are a row of new wine barrel-inspired tables overlooking it all.
By far the the most-touted new restaurant on Celebrity Beyond is Le Voyage, the first restaurant at sea from Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud. Boulud has been working with Celebrity Cruises for several years; some of his dishes were already available in Luminae. Rather than replicating his land restaurants, Boulud designed the Le Voyage menu with influences from his travels; you'll find Thai, Brazilian and other international touches on the French dishes.
Is Le Voyage worth the $75 cover, the highest on the ship? (Coming soon: a six-course tasting menu for $125, and wine pairings for an extra $100.) For this foodie, absolutely. The ingredients and presentation shined, and the intimate atmosphere makes the evening feel special. The ship is restricting covers in the 50-seat restaurant to about that many per night, with staggered seating; the venue will never feel full and noisy. Our advice: Book well ahead to have this experience.
When Eden first debuted on Celebrity Edge, it presented a bit of a conundrum. Everyone loved the garden-inspired space, with its multi-layered seating, aft views and two restaurants, one casual and one more upscale. But the vibe that Celebrity tried to achieve with its entertainment and the interactive Edenist performers felt intrusive and odd, as opposed to quirky.
That's all changed. The Eden restaurant menu has been redesigned by Cornelius Gallagher, the line's vice president of food and beverage operations and the holder of a Michelin star himself from his time at the New York restaurant Oceana. The result is a lovely specialty restaurant with a menu that's innovative and focused on excellent ingredients -- try the Nova Scotia lobster casserole.
The entertainment in Eden has also evolved to a perfect spot where it's fun and lively -- think Berlin cabaret and saucy naughtiness, as opposed to anything explicit. The House of Decadence troupe does double duty in the Club's jazz-inspired show, btw, so if you like the singing, dancing and gymnastic stunts you see in Eden, seek out the other venue another night. Eden is also a perfect venue for the Silent Disco, usually held once per cruise.
Speaking of the Club, the area has been given an upgrade that while small, makes a huge difference, especially during the day. Windows have been added on the second story, making the space seem lighter and more welcoming for daily events, game shows and trivia.
The real splash on Celebrity Beyond, entertainment-wise, is the theater. It now has full screens behind it that are used for shows, to nice effect. Celebrity Beyond is by no means the first cruise line to have this kind of technology; Holland America's Pinnacle-class ships have a similar theater. We're a fan of both.
Three new shows have premiered on Celebrity Beyond and we saw them all. The first, Elements, is what you'd expect from Celebrity, with acrobatics, dancing and music. The second show, Arte, is a surprise, though, with paintings that come to life accompanying the musical numbers. There's a lot going on with the screens, so you won't get bored.
Don't miss Stage Door either. At first glance, the name would suggest the same old Broadway/West End inspired show that you see on almost every other cruise ship. It's not. There's commentary on the musicals before some of the numbers and for many others, you are treated to clips of the London Philharmonic Orchestra as they perform the music. I was almost as engrossed in them as I was with the live performers.
One of the highlights in Stage Door comes when a singer on stage does a duet with a taped performance of an actual Broadway star. It's not quite a hologram, but it's still wildly entertaining. The crowd was on its feet.
If there's one area that we thought we'd see more changes, it's within AquaClass and the wellness sphere. Celebrity Beyond does have new AquaClass Sky Suites, which combine the spa amenities of AquaClass with the perks of the Retreat and personal concierge service. The fitness center, already comprehensive with classes, machines and Pelotons, now has a dedicated room for F45 HITT classes.
Yet we thought we'd see more; actress and goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow is the line's much-hyped wellness ambassador now. Blu, the specialty restaurant dedicated to AquaClass, remains unchanged on Celebrity Beyond, save for a few new menu items. It's still darker and more closed off as a restaurant than it is on Celebrity's other ship classes. When so many other eating options onboard, including the four main dining rooms, boast windows and light, we'd feel depressed having this as our main dining area.
And the thermal suite, once an innovator in cruising, now pales to what we've seen developed on ships such as Virgin's Scarlet Lady or MSC Seashore. While the area has special steam rooms, a large sauna and a salt room, there's no thalassotherapy pool. The forward deck outside the spa seems like wasted space, with nothing there except some pieces from Celebrity Beyond's expansive art collection. We missed the cute hanging baskets where you could sit and relax.
That's not to say that you won't love the spa on Celebrity Beyond. The spa menu has four new treatments developed by One SpaWorld, including a zero gravity bed and an Iyashi dome. We tried out the new Ocean Spa Wave massage, which incorporates special light therapy into what feels like a waterbed. The 75-minute treatment blended a seaweed wrap with a massage, along with a sound component with headphones that made it easy to drift off in your own wavy cocoon. We're only sorry that we didn't upgrade to 100 minutes.
The amenities and additions to Celebrity Beyond are the noticeable part of the cruise line's growth. An intangible is the company's commitment to equality and inclusivity, most recently demonstrated with a photo shoot led by Annie Leibowitz showing under-represented groups enjoying the new ship.
"We want everyone to feel welcome on Celebrity," Lutoff-Perlo said.
Captain Kate McCue, who moved from Edge to Beyond for the latter's inaugural season, is line's most prominent face, with large followings on TikTok and Instagram. Gender equality is more than lip service on her bridge; in an industry where women historically hold a single-digit percentage of the jobs, 70% of the officers on McCue's Bridge are female. (It's an impressive 32% throughout Celebrity.)
When you add it all up -- the inclusions, the style, the venues, the entertainment, even the extensive artwork all around the ship -- Celebrity Beyond resembles more of a luxury resort that you'd find a land than a typical cruise ship. And that's the point, Lutoff-Perlo said.
"I want my legacy to be that people will stop saying 'cruising is not for me,'" she said.