Celebrity Launches New and Improved Cirque

December 2, 2005

The motto "If at first you don't succeed..." has served Celebrity, and its partnership with the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil, pretty well.

That's because after a start that can only be described, tepidly, as "not as well received as we'd hoped," Celebrity and the nouvelle (and world-renowned) circus troupe retooled their programs. The partnership's entertainment-themed events had been available on just Celebrity's Constellation and Summit. The challenge in a nutshell: Celebrity passengers anticipated a more traditional Cirque du Soleil type of event while the companies had created an entirely different show.

The backstory: The first effort took place in the ships' top-deck Reflections lounges, which were entirely redecorated with shrouded soft shapes to create a surreal ambience. Cruise Critic's Steve Faber, who covered one "performance," wrote that the show featured "servers wearing draped Star Wars-like outfits and offering unusual hors d'oeuvres such as veggie sushi rolls and libations with exotic names like 'Exaltation,' which blend traditional spirits with rich and creamy mixers such as coffees, chocolates and caramels."

Alas, it all proved a bit too otherworldly for Celebrity's passengers.

In Aruba yesterday, Cruise Critic's Melissa Baldwin was on hand for a unique unveiling of the show -- on both Summit and Constellation -- which, coincidentally, just happened to be docked there on the same day. Reports Baldwin, "'A Taste of Cirque' takes place in Summit and Constellation's theaters instead of the Bar at the Edge of the Earth, and better reflects what Cirque du Soleil is doing on dry land. The show is presented on one night of each cruise, regardless of itinerary length; there are two performances -- one for early diners and one for those in the later seating.

"The shows on each ship are similar," she adds, "but with slight variations in characters and acts (juggling pins instead of balls, for example) -- at least at this point. Because the artists work on contracts as short as six weeks, the acts will be constantly changing -- which means somebody could sail on the same ship a few months from now and have an entirely different Cirque experience."

Though the "official" debut took place yesterday, the new and improved concept was presented on Constellation a few weeks ago to standing ovations. The first performance on Summit this week was so well received, according to hotel director Daniel Elias, that at least 50 passengers skipped dinner to see it a second time.

Baldwin reports that there's still an element of audience participation; on both ships, two
characters kick off the festivities by walking through the Celebrity Theater from the back and sitting with (and in some cases, on the laps of) the audience. But it's the stage acts that wow the crowd. Flexibility and strength take center stage for svelte women hanging by one leg from aerial hoops or gymnasts rolling and spinning about impressively inside what's called the German Wheel (picture a super-sized hamster wheel).

The Bar at the Edge of the Earth, while no longer the main venue, still exists as an additional component of the Cirque experience with specialty hors d'oeuvres and drinks. (The space was created exclusively for Celebrity by Cirque.) However, you won't see "characters" mingling (though you may run into a cast member or two -- they're rumored to hang out there after hours). On the night Cirque performs, a "white masquerade" is held in the Bar. Cruisers are encouraged to wear masks (which they can make, or purchase in the Cirque gift shop onboard) and all-white clothing (which becomes the backdrop for funky images and colors being splashed from a projector overhead).

Tidbit: Celebrity's marketing folks are working out a way to notify guests in advance to pack a white outfit for the event. In the meantime, Summit's cruise director John Howard has been urging passengers to wear their bathrobes or even fashion togas from their bed sheets ... much to the chagrin of the housekeeping staff.

From Aruba, Baldwin says that "the challenges of performing on a cruise ship have actually brought back a more retro Cirque," according to Cirque sources there. "The onboard troupe is going back to its company's roots, spotlighting what the human body is capable of instead of concentrating on creating flashy sets with high-tech accouterments, which are not an option in an at-sea theater as they are in, say, Las Vegas." The movement of the ship is also taken into account when acts are selected, and the show can be tweaked if performing in extremely rough seas poses a danger to artists or audience members.

Our only caveat? Baldwin notes that the show, lasting only a half an hour, feels awfully short and really is just "a taste," though the Cirque team explains that a shorter length was chosen so they could offer a full evening of Cirque -- pre-dinner entertainment, dinner and an after-dinner masquerade party.