When John Chandris, scion of one of Greece's mightiest shipping family, launched Celebrity Cruises in 1989, it was with the promise that the line would exceed expectations. Celebrity kept that promise for the duration of Chandris' reign.
Starting out with two ships, Horizon and Zenith, immediately identifiable by the big blue italic X alongside the smokestacks, the focus of Celebrity was on modern European elegance such as cigar and martini bars and hand-picked modern art by John Chandris' wife. The line gained a small but loyal following with experienced cruisers, but remained the brand X of the cruise industry to people not in the know about the company.
Then, with three gorgeous new ships added in the mid-'90s, Celebrity became the first mid-price cruise line to lean towards luxury at a reasonable price point. Then, Celebrity offered Michelin three-star cuisine by renowned London Chef Michel Roux, suites with butlers, the biggest spas at sea, a remarkable private art collection, large staterooms in all categories, and (favourites of more sophisticated voyagers) piano lounges, champagne and martini bars, and magnificent alternative dining restaurants.
In 1997, Celebrity Cruises was acquired by Royal Caribbean International, parent company to Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, and it now operates as a sister company under the RCI umbrella. While the acquisition was something of a disappointment for the Celebrity employees and their fans, it did keep Celebrity ships on their keels and has kept the line going strongly.
In mid- 2000, Celebrity launched the first of its four 91,000-ton Project Millennium ships ( four sister ships; Millennium, Infinity, Summit and Constellation), intended to establish Celebrity as a credible competitor to Crystal, but for a rather younger clientele. These ships signaled the beginning of a new era of technologically sophisticated cruise ships, including innovative, more environmentally friendly, gas turbine propulsion systems and pod propulsion systems that make a ship far more manueverable.
Unfortunately, time moves on and things like gas-turbine engines have become too expensive to run in today's high fuel pricing environment. And the propulsion pods on these ships have been known to require maintenance on several occasions spawning a lawsuit between the cruise line and the maker. When a pod goes bad a ship must usually be dry-docked for a repair requiring canceling a cruise.
Internally, the most striking features about the Millennium class of ships are three-deck atriums and gigantic 25,000 sq.ft. spas, including a solarium and health club. There are full-service floral conservatories created by the noted Parisian floral designer, Emilio Robba, on board -- the first living flower gardens at sea. Exterior glass elevators provide panoramic ocean views.
Innovative alternative restaurants on each of the ships pays homage to celebrated ocean liners of the past. Originally, these hugely popular restaurants offered custom designed menus by noted chef Michel Roux featuring authentic recipes from the grand era of shipboard oceanic transversal. It should be noted, however, that as of January, 2007, Celebrity has ended it 15-year relationship with Michel Roux as executive chef, with no replacement announced. The line still boasts a superior culinary claim, however, and with its galleys designed for optimum freshness in preparation and serving, and the cost per passenger for food services remaining roughly the same as before, so far it does not appear that much has been lost.
Newly boarded passengers are greeted with a welcome aboard mimosa or a glass of sparkling wine. During their cruises they'll find an array of tempting shops in the Emporium complex, a spa café dining option with the focus on healthier, low-fat ingredients, poolside fashion shows and wine tasting, a revamped sports deck, extensive golf programs, and the innovative Acupuncture at Sea program. They'll enjoy the singing of roving a cappella groups, and will be offered a seminar or two on such topics as astronomy, photography, personal investing, or history.
Millennium-class ships feature some of the the largest suites at sea; over half the staterooms have private verandas, including six disabled-access suites with balconies. Celebrity's signature features include the piano bar/martini bar known as Michael's Club, the elegant Cova Cafe of Milan for coffee, and the AquaSpa, which, be assured, richly merits attention. Art-lovers will revel in the line's remarkable collection.
In January 2004, Celebrity unveiled Celebrity Xpeditions, offering small-ship adventure cruising in the Galapagos Islands aboard the program's 2,842-ton, 98-passenger namesake. These casual, 10-night Galapagos sailings include unique and active shore excursions such as snorkeling and hiking, as well as a pre and post-cruise stay in Quito, Ecuador.
In 2006 Celebrity put the Celebrity Century in dry-dock for $55 million refurbishment including the addition of new suites and many features found on the Millennium-class vessels. Details are in the individual review for Century. Mercury is slated to receive the same treatment in the first half of 2007.
A new class of vessels known as the Solstice Class will be emerging beginning in the Fall of 2008. Three vessels are already on order to be delivered approximately one year apart. The sister ships; number one to be named Celebrity Solstice, number two; Celebrity Equinox, and number three; Celebrity Eclipse, will be 118,000 gross tons and will carry 2850 guests. They will be 1033 feet long and 121 feet wide. Their added size will allow Celebrity to offer larger standard staterooms, a higher percentage of balconies and an exceptional range of guest-inspired services and amenities.
In furtherance to the concept of the 2004 Celebrity Xpeditions line, the company is also bringing online two 710-passenger vessels designed to cater to the market for unusual destinations and experiences. These two vessels were acquired from Spanish Cruise Line Pulmantur, and are named Celebrity Quest and Celebrity Journey. Celebrity Journey begins its journeys in May of 2007 with seven-night Bermuda cruises from May through October 2007, then will present a series of 12- to 18-night cruises in remote areas of Antarctica, Brazil, the Chilean Fjords and other faraway regions of South America, from October 2007 through April 2008. Celebrity Quest begins its quests on April 12, 2008 with a series of itineraries in Europe.
If it's luxury without pomposity at a reasonable price you're after, Celebrity may well be your cruise line.
The Celebrity Experience:
While the line's adherence to a traditional dress code (two formal and two informal nights on a seven-night cruise), music library, dedicated chess area, floral conservatory, and subdued décor might suggest otherwise, these are actually quite upbeat ships, with eagerly frequented casinos, floor shows, cabaret lounges, and piano bars. Honestly, with so many Greek staff members, especially officers, how could the line be pompous? This, after all, is a cruise line, that offers delivery of pizza right to your cabin.
These ships' technologically advanced interactive television systems enable you to order wine for dinner, book shore excursion, or play games of chance without even leaving your cabin. Cabins are spacious, and include such goodies as hair dryers, in-cabin massages, and in-cabin dining from the restaurant menus, including full breakfast service. Suite amenities are conspicuously superior to most mid-market lines', with butlers serving meals in-suite and assisting with unpacking and packing.
Celebrity's new Concierge Class offers premium oceanview staterooms with plusher furnishings and service-related perks like priority check-in. Originally available only on Millennium-class ships, the program has proved so popular that it is now available fleetwide, and continues to be expanded.
Celebrity's entertainment isn't up to the level of Royal Caribbean's or Carnival's. But the most glorious spas afloat take some of the sting out of that.
On one-week Caribbean and Alaska cruises most passengers will be well into their 40's and 50's. During vacation and holiday periods, of course, a lot more families are evident. On longer cruises, including Europe and South America itineraries, retired seniors predominate. While children do cruise during vacations, some Alaska cruises and aboard Century's Caribbean cruises, these ships are unapologetically primarily for adults.
The Xpedition series offers unique, and sometimes even extreme, experiences in Celebrity's ports of call, such as the Galapagos Islands or the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Options in other parts of the world include a visit to the Kremlin in Moscow, exploration of Easter Island, marlin fishing in Mexico, zodiac and helicopter tours in British Columbia, bear-watching in Alaska, and a private tour of the NASA space center in Houston. Celebrity Journey will go to remote areas of Antarctica, Brazil, the Chilean Fjords and other faraway regions of South America. Celebrity Quest's itineraries in Europe include the Black Sea.
Described in detail on the line's Web site, www.celebrity.com, these excursions can be booked online up to ten days before sailing. Obviously, some of these adventures go beyond the usual four-hour bus tour, but well-planned and efficiency optimized, you find them to be on par with the luxury cruise lines in terms of quality and price.
Taking The Kids:
While Celebrity is frankly adult-oriented, their Club X program offers excellent activities for children year-round. Youth activities are arranged by age groups, which vary between high and low seasons: Shipmates, 3-6, Celebrity Cadets, 7-9, Ensigns, 10-12 and Admiral T's, 13-15 and 16-17. 18 year olds are welcome to use the teen facilities. The youth program maintains the same hours whether in port or at sea: 9 a.m. to noon; 2 to 5:30 p.m.; and 7:30 to 10:00 p.m. Group babysitting is available in the youth room for children ages three to 12, from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., at a fee of $6 per hour per child. Private babysitting is available in your stateroom for $8 per hour per child, with a maximum of two. When Mother and Pop are scheduled to dine formally, Parents' Nights Out, are declared, and youth counselors take children to a pizza party, at no extra charge.
Caribbean and New York/Bermuda seem to be family favourites, with more and more families heading for Alaska too. Century, Galaxy, and Mercury have separate teen discos and more extensive facilities than the line's newer Millennium, Infinity, Summit and Constellation.
Theme Cruises and Special Programs: Celebrity offers unique Acupuncture at Sea and holistic healing wellness at sea programs. Special cruises to focus on photography and culinary gourmands are offered semi-regularly. Some ships have special designed and set entertainment by Cirque du Soleil.
Past Passenger Program:
Celebrity's Captain's Club, a triple-tiered program offering a range of benefits based on how many of their cruises you've been on, sponsors four Captain's Club reunion cruises each year. Other loyalty rewards include complimentary one-category upgrades on selected cruises; a cruise video; priority embarkation and debarkation; a newsletter; complimentary wine tasting, and a cocktail party. For further information call 1-800-760-0654 or 1-316-554-5961.
Celebrity suggests a per person per day gratuity of $3.50 for the waiter, butler (suites only) and stateroom attendant; $4.00 for stateroom attendant in Concierge Class; $2.00 for the Assistant Waiter; .75 for the Assistant Maitre d' and the Assistant Chief Housekeeper. Children under 12 who are the third or fourth person in their stateroom need cough up only half those amounts. Tips may be added to the passenger's shipboard account upon request.
As on so many lines, a 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to beverage tabs, and you're on your own when it comes to room service, spa, casino and other staff. Gratuities to shipboard personnel are included in the fare for Celebrity Xpedition.