The lowdown on Celebrity Cruises’ brand new ship

Looking out over the sea and Costa Maya from the Magic Carpet. - Photo: Victoria Wheaton

I am happy to admit that I have been a cruiser for a number of years now. My friend Lynne Firth and I took our first cruise on Cunard’s QEII in 2000 when we had a porthole cabin the size of a large sandwich.

Back then, there were no security cameras in a lot of areas and we were actually able to go to the hidden crew bar called “The Pig & Whistle.” White Zinfandel (yes, classy) was US$4 a bottle – a much nicer price than up where the passengers roamed – and the DJ would play Top 40 until the wee hours. It was about 110 degrees in that bar and I was often crawling back to my cabin at 4 a.m., thanking my lucky stars that there was 24-hour room service.

The QEII cruise was transatlantic from Southampton to Miami with two stops along the way. We had a marvelous time and the food was absolutely fantastic.

In 2009, we booked a 14-day Mediterranean cruise round-trip from Civitavecchia (Rome) which had stops in everywhere from Greece and the Greek Isles to Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Italy. It was on Celebrity Equinox, the second of the company’s Solstice-class ships. From that trip on, a loyalty to Celebrity Cruises was born.

I book a cruise at least once a year. We have strayed from the formula a couple of times, sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas (not recommended if you despise crowds) and Serenade of the Seas, but apart from those ships, it has been Celebrity all the way.

I was therefore intrigued to read all the hoopla about the brand-new Celebrity EDGE, which launched earlier this month.

For the past 10 years, all new ships built by Celebrity have been Solstice-class, following the same design with small tweaks here and there. EDGE is the first ship of its kind joining the company’s fleet, so unsurprisingly, it arrived on the scene with many high expectations surrounding it.

Lynne and I booked an entry-level Sky Suite for the ship’s official Maiden Voyage on Dec. 9; a seven-day cruise that took the EDGE from its brand-new terminal in Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale to Key West, Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico, and Grand Cayman as the final stop before it returned to Florida. The cabin was an eye-watering price, but we wanted to check out the new Retreat area reserved for suite guests, so one of us sold a kidney and we got our tickets.

There had been two back-to-back three-day itineraries before ours, featuring a large percentage of industry people, journalists, social media influencers and the like, so I decided to search for any early reviews before we flew out on Dec. 8. To my shock and surprise, it was getting 1.5 stars out of 5 on cruisecritic.com. Sure, there were only seven reviews on there at the time, but considering how highly Celebrity was regarded among cruisers, this was obviously a mistake.

Our Sky Suite, which was lovely but a little cramped, thanks to the presence of a really big rocking chair. – Photo: Victoria Wheaton

Well, no. Apparently a number of passengers were not at all jazzed about EDGE. As I read the excoriating reviews, I wondered what I had gotten us into. I decided not to tell Lynne in advance. I would let it all unfold as it should (is not that a line from “Desiderata?”)

Embarkation day

From the moment we were approaching the port, things were a bit different. As I mentioned earlier, Celebrity has had a brand-new terminal built specifically for this ship at Port Everglades. The check-in process was smooth and the technology that we would further encounter on EDGE was already in play here.

Apparently our suite was ready, so we headed straight there, eager to see the new layout. Instead of inserting a key card into a slot, you now simply tap it against the reader on your door to open it. Oo – very “Star Trek.”

The first thing we noticed when we walked in was that the bed was not facing the direction described and depicted on the Celebrity website. Nor was there a “sliding panel in the bathroom [providing] views to the room and the ocean beyond. There was also an oversized rocking chair that dominated the space. Maybe these had been ordered before the final configuration of the cabins had been decided upon, because something that big just didn’t fit. It was comfortable, but awkward.

We met our butler (you get one with the suites) and room attendant, then made our way to our muster station for the mandatory safety drill that all cruise ships must conduct before leaving port. Once that was done, we started our cruise and began our exploration of EDGE.

Celebrity EDGE

It did not take long for us to realize where these negative reviews were coming from, and why. Celebrity’s long-time cruisers who have gained Elite, Elite Plus and Zenith status in its Captain’s Club tend to be older passengers that expect a high quality of service, excellent food, dark lounges of wood and leather, string quartets in the afternoon and someone singing Frank Sinatra somewhere at any given time of the day. They also like karaoke and trivia competitions.

The service and food was certainly comparable (with a few hiccups here and there) but the rest of it must have been a culture shock for some dyed-in-the-wool Celebrity loyalists. We chatted with a man in the elevator on the second day. “There’s no bingo,” he said, a mix of sorrow and incredulity. No, there wasn’t. Gone also was the string quartet – not a violin to be seen – oxblood leather seats and jazz groups.

There did not seem to be as many trivia activities offered either, and when we did attend one, there were no pencils and paper. Everything was electronic, run through smart phones and tablets. You had to connect to the WiFi (free, for this) and try to pick the correct answer from multiple choice options. The host would throw everyone’s answers up on the big screen after each question so you could see the percentage of the audience that chose each option.

Once again, some passengers seemed lost without the familiar writing implements, and connecting to the system confounded them. Imagine trying to explain it to 30 great-grandparents at the same time, and you have an idea of what the host was up against.

Halfway through the cruise, Celebrity’s plan became obvious. The company would have done its market research and known that EDGE would alienate a number of its loyal customers, yet it has clearly taken that chance in order to attract a younger crowd with disposable income.

There are more modern games included in the activities’ schedule. There is an app you can download that can turn your phone into a key for your door, give you real-time updates on menus and shows, and even change the lights in your cabin. The panel on the wall in each cabin adjusts the temperature but also controls the lights (when you are not using the app) and blinds/curtains. I had visions of people not terribly au fait with technology trying to sleep with the lights on alien abduction-bright until they figured it out.

The public spaces on EDGE are stunning and unique. Eden, spread over multiple decks, brings to mind a forest at twilight and features performers wandering in and out at random times. Sometimes there will be a wood nymph on the center stage, or a beautiful fairy swinging high above the floor, her garments swaying beneath her. If you have seen the Cirque du Soleil show “Mystere” in Las Vegas, this has a similar atmosphere.

You can get food in Eden and there is an interesting cocktail list, with some libations coming in at prices well over what is covered by even the Premium drinks package. I got a “Forbidden” drink, made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka and apple butter, among other ingredients. That was $18, which seemed over-the-top, but then it was served in a glass apple that looked like the most difficult receptacle in the world to clean, so perhaps that was the justification.

The Rooftop Garden is definitely somewhere to visit, where guests can lounge in the day and watch films on the huge screen at night, and the two-tiered Club on decks 4 and 5 resembles a landlubber nightclub more than any other I have seen on previous Celebrity ships. The silent disco we attended one night was a big hit with all ages. Hard to say if it was more fun for those listening to the music on their headphones and dancing, or those watching them in a silence peppered only with lyrics yelled out at random moments.

Each evening, the central meeting place is the Martini Bar on deck 3. It does not have the iced surface that is usually found on the other Celebrity vessels. Instead, it is a circular bar that runs through about 270 degrees, dwarfed by the gigantic chandelier above it. About three times a night, a sound system kicks in and the chandelier comes to life – a show of light and movement that would not be out of place in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The bartenders perform flair tricks, egged on by their customers who either sit around the bar or take seats nearby for table service. We heard people moaning that you couldn’t walk all the way around the bar like before, and where was the icy top, but we thought it was a terrific addition to the fleet.

The main dining restaurant is now split into four differently designed venues: Cosmopolitan, Tuscan, Normandie and Cyprus. Each has its own unique dishes and then the remainder of the menu is the same for all. It is nice for main dining guests to have these choices and mixes up the experience for those who do not dine at the specialty restaurants.

The Retreat Lounge and Retreat Deck for suite passengers are certainly nice perks. Are they worth paying double for the suite over the Aqua Class cabin? Hard to say, but we enjoyed them when we went there.

We got the chance to dine at Raw on 5 and Le Grand Bistro. The latter needs to dial back the garlic a lot, but its French martini was divine. Also nice that it is $20 a head flat rate for the food. Raw on 5 was, in our opinion, the best restaurant on board.

Luminae, the restaurant exclusive for suites, had excellent service but the menus did not always appeal to us and the food could be unreliable. Another thing – the only toilet on the floor, in that restaurant, was out of order for our entire cruise. Apparently guests unable to figure out the unlocking system (it is a handicapped facility) had got stuck in it a few times, and one lady started to panic so they had to break the door in. I’m assuming that once it is fixed, they will make the locks simpler to figure out. Going to the toilet should not require solving the Riddle of the Sphinx.

We saw a couple of great guest comedians in the theater, including “SNL” alum Finesse Mitchell. He was a huge get for this maiden voyage and we were thrilled to see him.

The main show promoted by the ship is its “A Hot Summer Night’s Dream,” which is based on the story of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The performers were very good and the live music was excellent, but the story wasn’t terribly cohesive. A number of Celebrity’s ships have these Cirque-esque shows on them. Honestly, if you’ve seen some Cirque du Soleil productions, they’ll be hard-pressed to offer anything of quite the same level, which is understandable when you’re on the high seas. It would be nice to see them come up with something completely different.

The spa is very impressive and I highly recommend the Ocean Spa Wave Massage. The only thing they were a bit cheeky about was handing out the menu of services. They keep the full menu to themselves unless you specifically ask, otherwise they tend to offer the one focusing on more expensive specialty treatments.

Magic Carpet

One cannot talk about the Celebrity EDGE without highlighting its most recognizable feature – the orange platform residing on its starboard side. Dubbed the Magic Carpet, due to its ability to move vertically through 15 decks, it has lounge areas, high-top tables and a bar. It sits on the 16th deck a couple of times each cruise for a special dinner; on the 14th deck for sailaway events; the 5th deck as an extension of Raw on 5 (although it has some of its own menu items); and the 2nd deck for tenders.

When we were on board, people were quite happy to wait 30-45 minutes to get seated on the Magic Carpet. Luckily, the wait was an easy one, as the host distributes pagers to guests so they can go and do some shopping or check emails until their pager buzzes and lights up.

Sitting out there was certainly an experience and the glass balcony means you have great views of all there is to see. We gave it a try in port in Costa Maya, but you can also sit on it when the ship is moving. We found the food and drink good, apart from the lobster roll which needs to be changed, stat! No lobster should die for that kind of burial in a sea of mayonnaise, capers and other nonsense that masks its flavor.

Disembarkation

We made the decision to walk our bags off the ship in the morning we arrived back at Port Everglades. It meant getting up earlier than usual, and it was a pain having to roll our cases down the carpeted hallways, but with a flight leaving Miami at 12:30 p.m. and no sense of what border control would be like in the new terminal, we did not want to risk being late.

It took a while for the ship to be cleared and the line of people snaked through the corridors, creating the usual bottlenecks you find on disembarkation day. However, once we were free to go, it was a very simple process.

As we got into the bowels of the terminal building, we braced ourselves for immigration. I had Global Entry, so I would use that, and Lynne was Canadian, so she could use the U.S. Citizens line, and hopefully we would both be out soon.

Turns out, we worried for nothing. We just had to stand in front of a camera and screen in the last leg of the walk, facial recognition gave us the thumbs-up, and we were out! No passports, no paperwork; 10 seconds in front of the camera and straight to the taxi line.

Final thoughts

We really enjoyed cruising on the Celebrity EDGE and would absolutely go again. Celebrity is obviously banking on it being a hit, because it has already got APEX in the works, ready to launch in 2020.

If what you crave is classic Celebrity, then you might be better served sticking with its Solstice-class ships. If, however, you are looking for a new adventure or you’ve not been interested in cruising before, this could possibly be the ship to change your mind. You might say it is designed for people who like living on the edge.