Getting lost at sea is not the idea of a good vacation. Yet anyone who has listened to Desert Island Discs has probably pondered the peace it might offer or the luxury product it would bring.
ow, imagine if the ‘island’ itself is luxury. It features endless bars, live entertainment, upscale shopping, a spa, and a pool. Well, that world, known as Celebrity Beyond, was imagined long before Covid sent the cruise industry into choppy waters – but her maiden voyage this spring was perhaps symbolic of a rising tide. .
With a construction cost of almost a billion euros, the size of the ship is difficult to grasp. Simply massive, it is 17 stories tall and 327 meters long. Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo says it “shatters any preconceptions about the cruise experience.”
And I had a lot of preconceived ideas before embarking on a short two-night stay in the Channel.
In my mind, a cruise vacation was for someone a bit older looking for a slow break, to begin with. I like to hit the road, explore a city and experience the nightlife. My bias was further fueled by Lutoff-Perlo’s suggestion that his newfound pride and joy was aimed at Generation X (born in the 1960s or 1970s). As a kid in the 1980s, cruise ship vacations weren’t yet on my to-do list.
But with the possibility of traveling after two years, it was easier to find openness than my passport. And that’s where I get lost again – both figuratively and literally. Because stepping into Celebrity Beyond is like stepping out of reality and into a maze of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops that one would expect from a five-star resort. It’s an immersive experience. A party boat or a place to relax, depending on what you are looking for.
Standard rooms are what you’d expect from a high-end hotel, and of course, if money’s no object, you can live like royalty.
Let’s try to keep it on the good side of aspirational for now. An ocean-view cabin costs around €1,900 per person for a nine-night cruise around European destinations. This price includes all the food you can eat, Wi-Fi, drinks and the staff does not expect any tips from passengers.
At the other end of the scale, there is the AquaClass cabin at around €2,580. For that extra expense, you can walk to the water’s edge on a veranda plus access to the Sea Thermal Suite and a spa concierge.
There’s also an Iconic Suite, which is off-scale. If you have to ask the price, then you can’t afford its multiple bedrooms, kitchen and sun terrace, which is made for accommodation, and naturally includes a private spa pool. I would see little reason to leave the Iconic Suite. But that would mean missing out on the ship’s wider offering, including its unexpected entertainment programme.
Again, my biases (and an episode of a program I once saw featuring Francis Brennan on a cruise) led me to assume that what passed for nightlife on ships was more Ballroom of romance than copper-faced jacks.
Yes, there is karaoke, but there are also nightly shows in the ship’s theater that you would gladly pay to see in the West End. The performances are all sung and all danced, but what sets them apart is the artistry that surrounds them. A giant screen wraps around the stage, showing 3D appearances by a 35-piece orchestra which were recorded and filmed at the Palladium in London.
Stage Door brings together a series of hit musicals in such a way that no real script is necessary. Another show, artcombines dramatic dance, high-flying acrobatics and visual effects with a certain wow effect.
The shows will leave you wanting more, which is good if you have the energy to move to the Eden bar at the back of the ship. The three-story space with floor-to-ceiling windows has a cool vibe during the day, but at night it comes alive. It was a strong moment.
The trick is to try to get there quickly after the theater to get a seat. The challenge is that you have to pass through the Grand Plaza on the way – the ship’s three-deck atrium, which is the social heart of the ship. It’s also a good place to get your bearings, although the allure of the Martini Bar may still lead you astray. The central bar is surrounded by restaurants, a café and a craft beer bar, where you can watch major sporting events.
Celebrity is making a big pitch for its restaurants. This new ship has star chef Daniel Boulud on his books and a selection of specialty venues that serve any kind of food you could want. Rarely have I had a steak as good as the one produced by the Fine Cut restaurant.
But for all the fancy venues, don’t rule out the Oceanview Café, which has the feel of a big food store but the quality of an upscale restaurant. Everything served there is included in your package, and the options were such that I could easily have eaten every meal at Oceanview.
There are over 1,400 crew members from 60 countries (the Irish contingent includes a solo musician who performs on board and an art gallery manager). At the helm is Captain Kate McCue, who has become something of a celebrity in her own right – or at least her hairless cat has. McCue has over 335,000 followers on Instagram, where she takes fans behind the scenes of her travels.
The number of leadership positions held by women on this ship is notable. About 70% of the bridge is occupied by women. Overall there is almost one crew member for every two guests on board – although during my trip the ship was only half full so my comfort might have been better than I expected can normally be expected.
It would be hard to find fault with this latest offering from Celebrity Cruises. It’s really a question of money. If you can afford it, your money will be well spent.
Passengers are encouraged to download an app as a guide to life on the ship. It can be used to book restaurants and activities, provides a handy ship map and calendar to keep you on track.
Celebrity Beyond offers a variety of trips in the Mediterranean, including nine-night itineraries in the Italian Riviera and France and 10-night itineraries in the Greek islands up to
beginning of October. After that, he will head to the Caribbean.
Prices vary, but the Italian Riviera and France tour departing July 30 costs €1,635 per person. It will depart from Barcelona and visit Provence, Nice, Santa Margherita, Florence/Pisa, Sicily and Naples before ending in Rome (Civitavecchia).
Kevin was a guest on Celebrity Cruises. See celebritycruises.com for more.