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Anytime a cruise line rolls out a new class of ship — a not-so-frequent occurrence — it’s a chance to introduce a host of new bells and whistles.
With its first new type of ship in 10 years, Celebrity Cruises turned the volume way up.
Boasting giant new features, reinventions of classic standbys, and quieter bits of whimsy, Celebrity Edge set sail for its first preview cruise on Sunday. The 2,913-passenger ship will cruise the Caribbean from Fort Lauderdale during the winter and head to the Mediterranean in the spring.
“We wanted this ship to excel in every area and really amplify Celebrity in a pretty powerful and meaningful way,” said Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. “And not only transform our brand … but also the industry in some very unique ways that have never been done in ship design before.”
That’s clear in the most obvious new features, like the platform attached to a giant orange frame on one side of the ship. But it’s also evident in the small touches, such as the smart-room tech that allows passengers to adjust their room lights and temperature from an app or a touchscreen in the room. There are also playful elements like the giant horse sculpture named Mr. Edge (a nod to the old TV character Mr. Ed) and a hallway-turned-dark mirrored room full of tree-like sculptures.
Not to mention the martini glass hot tubs, which are essentially what they sound like: whirlpools perched high atop spindly stems.
“It’s one of those things that’s really easy to draw the first time,” said architect Tom Wright, who designed the iconic Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel in Dubai and worked on several outdoor spaces on Celebrity Edge. “The initial reaction was, ‘Don’t be stupid, it’s impossible.'” (It was, in the end, possible.)
Harri Kulovaara, executive vice president for maritime and newbuilding at parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises — which has built the largest cruise ships in the world — said: “This is not the biggest ship we have built, but it’s probably the most complex.”
From design to infrastructure to new technology and hiring practices, here are six changes Celebrity Edge is ushering in:
Multi-Purpose Magic Carpet
The ship’s most distinctive feature is the bright orange centerpiece, a movable platform called the Magic Carpet. Its original use was purely functional: a way to make the process of “tendering,” or taking small boats to shore at times when the ship can’t pull right up to a port, easier. For that purpose, the platform is lowered right above the water, allowing passengers to walk onto the smaller boats. A bar serves drinks while people wait, and there are chairs and lounges all over.
But the platform couldn’t stay at the water level all the time, so after much consideration, executives decided to make it movable. And if it could move, they figured, it might as well serve more purposes.
“It’s hard to describe all the iterations that this went thru,” said Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. ” You kept dealing with issues that came up, and coming up with solutions for it.”
Depending on the time of day and weather, the Magic Carpet can be a bar, an extension of a seafood restaurant, or a special dining venue at the very top of the ship serving locally sourced food.
And the color, as it turns out, is tangerine.
“It has nothing to do with safety,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “It has everything to do with Richard’s desire to have this ship recognized as far away as possible. We really did want it to be a focal point.”
Boarding With Facial Recognition
One new innovation doesn’t even happen on the ship, but it takes some work ahead of time. For passengers who complete their check-in process in advance — which includes loading a photo and scanning a passport — the boarding process can be as smooth as walking into the terminal, past a few devices, and onto the ship.
Sunday’s two-night cruise was only the second to use the technology, so the process is still in its earliest stages. But Jay Schneider, senior vice president of digital at Royal Caribbean Cruises, said the goal is to go “from the car to the bar in less than 10 minutes.”
As the company started thinking about how to remove hassle from the boarding process, the digital team looked at facial recognition testing at airports. Schneider said one example tested by KLM required passengers to stop, position their face in a virtual box, and get their face scanned.
“That just felt gross,” Schneider said. “We want to remove friction, but we don’t want to then create digital friction.”
So Royal Caribbean scans passengers as they walk, shows them their face on a screen, and if it turns green, they are allowed to walk on by — “no counter, no passport, no pull out your phone,” Schneider said.
For a long time, most standard balconies were created if not equal, then at least pretty close. Celebrity Edge upends that model by making the balcony an extension of the stateroom, with a window that rolls down if passengers want the rush of air.
“You have a certain amount of real estate to work with in a veranda stateroom,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “The only way to really transform the amount of living space that the guest has is to transform the design of the stateroom.”
Some river cruise boats have used a similar design in the past, called a French balcony, and Celebrity wanted to try to adapt it for oceangoing vessels.
“It took different engineering, it took building a whole prototype because it’s very different on the ocean versus on the rivers,” she said.
Folding doors can still separate the balcony area from the rest of the room, and a blind can be mechanically lowered to block the light. The new design results in 23 percent more living space for passengers, Celebrity says.
Of the ship’s 1,467 rooms, 916 have what the line calls an “infinite veranda.”
“We really rolled the dice on the infinite veranda because we wanted guests to have the space in that room,” Lutoff-Perlo said.
At least one passenger — admittedly one with a clear affinity for the brand — was over the moon during the preview cruise.
“I’m madly in love with the verandas,” said Rob Zeiger, global chief communications officer for Royal Caribbean Cruises. “I knew I was going to like them. I like them even more.”
Augmented Reality Tour
Nothing says welcome to a cruise ship like a personal message from the CEO, right? That was what Joey Hasty, head of innovation for Royal Caribbean, thought. Using 106 cameras, he created the company’s first augmented reality tour of the ship featuring both Lutoff-Perlo and Fain.
“When I first was joining the company, I got tours of our ships with the architects, with the designers, with the ship’s captain, with Richard,” Hasty said. “And I realized that without that insight, you missed so much of what makes the ship amazing.”
The tour, the first one the company has put together, is available through the Celebrity Edge Access Tour app.
“We want to see how guests use it, which parts of it are more meaningful than others, and scale from there,” Hasty said.
Elevating Women on Board
Lutoff-Perlo has made it a mission to recruit more women from maritime academies to work on her company’s ships, and on Celebrity Edge, that has resulted in 30 percent of the crew being female. Historically in the cruise industry, she said, that number is closer to 17-20 percent.
Thirty-seven percent of the guest-facing crew are women, Lutoff-Perlo said.
“That’s a big deal,” she said.
Her goal is to get as close as possible to an equal gender split on Celebrity ships. Since she started in her role, the company has gone from having no women working as hotel directors to having five or six in that job.
“I believe that gender balance is really important for a healthy culture and a healthy environment, and I believe that women represent at least 50 percent of the population but yet we’re so underrepresented in so many other areas,” she said. “Given the role I have, I have a unique opportunity to help accelerate that.”
Virtual Reality Design
Edge is the first ship designed entirely with the use of 3D virtual reality technology. As a result, Fain said, the early expectations for the ship were “remarkably accurate.”
“Normally when you take delivery of a ship and you compare the rendering, the final outcome is different,” he said. “But here, everything’s come out exactly as we expected it to.”
And some things got a revamp: Based on virtual reality depictions, the company changed the shape of the glass in one restaurant because it just looked wrong.
Fain spoke Monday in an area called the Retreat Lounge, a quiet getaway with cozy touches like blankets slung over the arms of couches. Fain said he remembered exploring the same room in virtual reality.
“I remember talking about the throw blankets,” he said. “The rendering showed them and it just gave the room a homeyness that softened what would otherwise be a fairly formal environment.”
Wright, a partner at UK-based WKK Architects, said the technology came with a level of granularity he wasn’t accustomed to.
“I have Richard Fain just walking all over the scheme telling me all the bad bits that I wouldn’t show him normally,” he said. “So in a way, it give the client really good insight about what they’re going to get — so much so we’ve now got virtual reality in the office.”