Even by the cruise industry’s standard reaction to a new ship – cue million-dollar launch fireworks displays, live arias on top deck, and the likes of Dame Joan Collins rolled out as the champagne-bottle-smashing godmother – the latest luxury vessel to hit the high seas, Celebrity Edge, has seen the build-up go next level, including coverage by The New York Times and Bloomberg.
As the $US1 billion ($1.38 billion) Celebrity Edge sails from its shipyard in France to Florida’s Fort Lauderdale in time for its red carpet media float out on November 25, Celebrity Cruises’ parent company, Royal Caribbean, is hailing a new era, pointing to the ship’s unique features including an orange “Magic Carpet” – a long open-air venue cantilevered off the side that slides up and down between the ship’s 16 decks.
When positioned at the summit, the Magic Carpet becomes a specialty restaurant offering “Dinner on the Edge” for 90 guests.
Celebrity Edge also features “infinite verandah staterooms”, whereby the top half of your suite’s ocean-facing glass wall slides away completely, so you can enjoy full ocean, with the protection of a waist-high glass barrier.
In a nod to the increasing number of solo travellers, special single staterooms are thoughtfully sized and styled for those cruising alone.
Catering for almost 3000 passengers across a total of 1467 rooms, Celebrity Edge isn’t the most expensive ship ever built – that superlative belongs to its Royal Caribbean stablemate, Symphony of the Seas, which cost $US1.35 billion in 2016, and can carry a maximum of 6680 passengers.
However, Celebrity Edge is hailed as a record spend for its size, and will provide high-end cruising on a bigger scale than the mid-to-small size ships that have traditionally owned the luxury ocean cruising space, such as Seabourn, Silversea, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal and Ponant.
For a sense of Celebrity Edge’s look and feel, consider that the lead designer for the ship’s public spaces, UK-based architect Tom Wright of WKK, also did Dubai’s Burj Al Arab Hotel.
Celebrity isn’t alone in unveiling transformative new-era ships, albeit most of the action is in the smaller expedition cruising category.
Brand new $230 million Scenic Eclipse is expected to launch in late January 2019. Designed for just 228 guests in 114 all-verandah suites with a 1:1 guest/staff ratio, Scenic Eclipse is billed as the world’s “first luxury discovery yacht” and will sport two on-board helicopters and a seven-seat submarine.
In August 2020, Crystal Endeavour will unveil its $US195 million expedition yacht for 200 guests. It, too, will sport two choppers and a submersible craft.
Yet another innovator, French-flagged Ponant is in the midst of rolling out six new limited-capacity “explorer series” yachts, with just 92 staterooms and suites. Each will feature Ponant’s new underwater The Blue Eye lounge concept, with two large portholes through which to view marine life.
No doubt Australians will be well represented in bookings for all these lines. A recent Cruise Source Market Report issued by Cruise Lines International Association Australasia showed a softening in the sector’s strong growth over the past five years.
But the Australian cruise market still grew by 4.4 per cent year-on-year over the 2017-18 financial year – down from the spectacular 21 per cent growth experienced in FY 2016.