“The Edge” is Celebrity Cruise Lines first of their newest class of ship, and it’s an exquisite implementation of an unfortunately deeply flawed design concept. It’s really hard to understand what happened here, and the responsibility should sit squarely with its designers. They totally missed the mark, in my opinion. If my tag line above sounds befuddling, read on, and I’ll attempt to clear up the contradictions.
A couple of introductory items first. In the interests of full transparency, I am a big fan of Celebrity, and frequently cruise with them. Writing a negative review of their latest offering in “Modern Luxury” is tough for me, especially after so many wonderful voyages aboard their absolute home run design of their Solstice class ships. One thing that still continues to be a tribute to the company, and that’s its hiring and training prowess. The crews of the Celebrity fleet are among the best in the business. This is particularly apparent in the hyper competitive, upper end segment of the five star cruise market. The line offers many opportunities for cross-training, career development, and plenty of upward mobility opportunities for crew. However, all is not well in this most essential area, and I’ll get to right to the reason for that after after addressing a few preliminaries.
I had a chance to meet with Master, Chief Engineer and Hotel Manager of Edge in “The Retreat Lounge” aboard the ship. They explained that there were four primary design goals for the “E” class: 1) reduce fuel consumption by 25%, by using a new hull design, new flexible power generation/management options (2x12MW, 2x9MW + aux on “E”, as opposed to the 4x16MW + aux on “S”); 2) improve hotel power use efficiency by incorporating really cool LED lighting technology, high efficiency climate control, application of new kitchen food preparation/storage techniques; employment of new power savings measures in the cabins; 3) building a safer, more modern class ship, that fully actualized the corporate objective to be eco-friendly, by incorporating the latest stack exhaust scrubbers technology to lower greenhouse gas emissions, improve recycling, provide better water treatment technology, revise stores sourcing to take advantage of recent innovations to reduce trash/waste (especially plastics); and 4) attract a younger demographic to Celebrity. With the very notable exception of the fourth objective, attracting a new demographic to the line, Celebrity appears to have been pretty successful by meeting those first three objectives.
There are two really important objectives that appear to have been completely omitted when the “E” class design was first presented. First is quality of crew life, hapiness, and workload right-sizing. This should have been a primary design objective. We all know the mantra, “Happy crew, happy ship. Happy ship, happy guests”. Second, the dramatic innovations in the area of accessibility, especially for the mobility impaired, that Celebrity brought to the industry when designing the “S” class, seem to have been completely lost on Edge. Very strange considering their likely future customer demographic.
After their first cruise, in my case it was my third, it’s very clear that very few of the Elite, Elite Plus & Zenith level cruisers I’ve spoken with, Celebrity’s bread and butter revenue source, enjoyed Edge. In fact, many were downright disappointed. My contacts in Royal Caribbean top management tell me that the feedback has been overwhelmingly negative on the cruise surveys for Edge. Already it’s not selling nearly as well during initial rollout as previous new class ships. Hence, the monster advertising, and the big push from Future Cruise Sales, to encourage repeat Celebrity guests to try Edge. Why?
Well, there are several reasons, but the primary answer I continue to hear from veteran cruisers is that Edge doesn’t feel like a ship providing “Modern Luxury”. Edge feels much more like a cold, sterile hotel. Hotels like those found in most major cities, pretty much anywhere in the developed world. Hotels built in a style that the big chains have towards the needs of their bread and butter revenue source, repeat business travelers. Edge is not an exciting new offering for cruisers looking for diverse, fun, unique vacations to exotic locales. Most of us cruise to enjoy the sea, meet and interact with other guests, experience exciting new types of events with an exotic international crew, experience quality food and entertainment onboard, have fun in ports on high quality itineraries, but definitely not to stay in a hotel that doesn’t highlight it’s nautical heritage, and really has very chilly and in some cases obnoxious ambiance.
“White is the new wood”, seems to pervade the appearance of the Edge. Sustainable, natural, fireproof materials like bamboo, or cork would have been much better choices, given Celebrity’s eco-friendly corporate focus. The synthetic laminates found everywhere aboard Edge, and the especially uncomfortable furniture makes no sense. By contrast, the original furniture on the “S” class ships appears to have held up very well over the last decade, and after the “Revolution”, replacement of wall, floor coverings, and some new upholstery, Equinox looks marvelous. This is where the new “E” class really falls down. It’s just not comfortable!
Many crew members have already made their concerns known to management, regarding the difficulties of working on Edge, and the primary reason is the lack of attention to detail for essential ship design requirements. An obvious example is storage for everyday use items. Every time I’ve cruised on Edge, I was really shocked to see incredible silly examples of design shortfalls. F&B staff having to stack dining linens, china, and flatware in the service corridors, because no closets were include for storage of these essential everyday items. Cabin stewards, and housekeeping staff, have to roam around the ship to obtain essentials like cleaning supplies, towels, bed linens, extra pillows, and other basics. So the crews’ ability to do their jobs, in a most efficient fashion has been severely compromised. So much so, that even many of the superb “E” class launch crews are asking to be assigned back to the older ships, where day-to-day operations are so much more efficient. Very few wish to be assigned to Apex, the next ship of the class.
There are more that a few secondary reasons, but I’ll list just a few, in no particular order, to give you a sense of where I’m going with this review. The Edge has a caste system, either you are a suite guest, and have the run of the ship, or you are in Aquaclass, both castes have special restaurants, as well as access to “some” of the spa amenities, private spaces. If you don’t pay the up-charge to get into these premium cabins, you’re in steerage and must pay extra for everything. That’s not going to make many cruisers, both North American, as well as International guests, happy in any way, shape or form. Bizarrely, Edge has no sensible flow to it’s deck plan. It’s easy to get stuck with several flights of stairs, difficult routing from one area of the ship to another, and in some cases you can’t get from the entry to the four main dining rooms to ant other venues without going up and over, or down and under. Annoying when you’re heading from the show to dinner or vice-versa.
There are so many six star offerings these days, including Royal’s own Azamara. Without not really any middle ground on the new “E” class ships, and this strange idea that Celebrity thinks that blocking off large areas of the ship for most guests is a good idea is patently absurd.
Edge looks beautiful! Let’s be clear about that. It’s just not fun to cruise on this ship. The Infinity Edge balconies are nothing more than ocean view rooms with a window that opens, sometimes. Pretty much universally hated by every who’s tried them. The over-reliance on technology (especially the app), can eat up large chunks of your vacation. Especially when shipboard communication are unreliable, which is all the time. Anyone who cruises regularly can tell you that’s true for all cruise ships. Not being able to connect to the ship’s intranet and use the app, removal of paper programs, no visible signage for deck plans, elimination of officers’s pictures, bios, and explanations of their roles frustrates most new cruisers. First time you’re disconnected from the app, and you can’t make or change dinner/entertainment, check your schedule, check in for your next cruise or access your boarding documents, or even find your way around the ship, you’ll turn off your phone, lock it in your safe, disconnect, call Guest Relations from your cabin, or a house phone. Then maybe, just maybe, you can finally begin to enjoy your vacation.
The design for Apex is frozen, no more changes. Hopefully Celebrity will get the message and make BIG changes for Beyond, the third of the “E” class ships. If not, well then half billion dollars the line is spending for refurbishment of the older ships will be a much better investment than we all expected, because we’ll all want to go back to cruising on the “S” and “M” ships, or move to another line.
I am writing this update to my review of Edge from the Sky Lounge on Equinox. The last week has re-affirmed the basis for my comments on Edge. Equinox is drop-dead gorgeous after her refit, crew is so friendly, so I cant understand why Edge turned out so badly. Makes me very sad!