Even with its epic proportions, the newly launched Celebrity Beyond manages to reconcile the one-cruise-fits-all appeal of an ocean cruise and intimacy and elegance of a river cruise through a carefully engineered ship-within-a-ship. Through a collaborative approach to architecture, interior design and dining, the ship provides smooth sailing into the best of both worlds … or not, based on what a passenger with more to spend desires.
River cruise aficionados will appreciate how the top floors housing The Retreat and AquaClass are designed to provide an ultra-luxurious and unquestionably elevated Celebrity cruise that can be tailored to their tastes in some ways comparable to higher-end river cruises. Guests staying in either class have unlimited access to The Spa (no modifying adjective necessary, according to the planners).
In addition to roomy suites with Panavision-scale views and bathroom amenities devised by GOOP founder and tastemaker Gwyneth Paltrow, Retreat guests have their own private restaurant (Luminae, with dishes devised by chef Daniel Boulud), pool deck, lounge outfitted by U.K. interior designer Kelly Hoppen (also responsible for the top-tier Edge Villas), attendants, concierges and a Personal Retreat Host. Wellness-centric AquaClass travelers, meanwhile, have large suites with verandas and entree to Blu’s famously “clean” farm-to-table spa cuisine.
Among the seven “specialty restaurants” that involve additional charges, the just-opened Le Voyage, Boulud’s first premium-at-sea restaurant, sushi-centered Raw and the genre-defying Eden generate the most buzz and live up to it. Four themed outlets (Cypress, Normandie, Cosmopolitan and Tuscan) not only replace the cavernous main dining room but also deliver a much classier, restaurant-like experience. While about 70 percent of the menus are identical in all four venues, each one has its own “specialties” menu of three appetizers and three main courses. Among these selections, several of those are on a par with the for-charge specialty restaurants.
While all the bars on board have craft beers, wines, creative mixology and classics, there are several whose libations are not covered by the packages. Eden’s visually arresting cocktails (which complement the sometimes-outrageous cabaret shows) are a worthwhile expenditure, while the Sunset Bar (designed by Nate Berkus) offers cool big-city lounge ambiance with a sexy Moroccan vibe. The Rooftop Garden, Resort Deck and recently introduced Magic Carpet impress, thanks to architect Tom Wright’s gravity-defying, airy structures.
Given that the ship’s wine program is a 12-time “Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards” honoree, enthusiasts will want to spring for the Classic or Premium meal programs to enjoy many of the acclaimed beverage selections without encountering a huge post-cruise bar tab. These packages also include unlimited smoothies from the Spa Cafe adjoining the spa (complete with a signature GOOP green smoothie) and fitness center, as well as excellent Lavazza-based coffee drinks and desserts at Café al Bacio, a shipboard staple updated with a cool mint green and white interior. Hitting both places enabled me to enjoy a much-upgraded version of my regular everyday breakfast at home.
Celebrity Cruise’s buffet restaurant (Oceanview Cafe) is back open for business across its fleet — now complete with manned stations for a more civilized and sanitary touch. The pizza section’s food quality and location far from the main buffet leave much to be desired, and some international cuisines (Asian, in particular) will be fresher and more flavorful than others (as many of the cooks hail from that part of the world). However, the new format allows for passengers to request made-to-order items they can consume with confidence. The lunch selection is the most diverse and appealing among the meal services, and the dessert and bakery station is quite photogenic.
With its strengths and weaknesses taken into account, the newest ship in Celebrity’s lavish Edge fleet goes beyond what’s evolving into a new era of ocean cruise vacation … where passengers really can choose their own adventure.
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