Sunday 17 February 2019

Celebrity Edge: What's it really like on board the $1 billion cruise ship with its own 'Magic Carpet'?

Celebrity Edge will transform the cruising industry, its owners say. Pól Ó Conghaile boards the billion-dollar ship.

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

"Ooh, I love the Edenists," says the young man watching a nymph-like goddess sing Pink Floyd's Great Gig in the Sky as an aerialist coils into a crescent moon suspended from the ceiling and a contortionist with a snake tattoo bends his leg behind his head.

"They give you names!"

We're in 'Eden', a concept lounge and restaurant that feels like Neverland-meets-A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with a 20ft 'living wall' from which bartenders pluck garnishes for our drinks.

Events are playing out somewhere between Miami and the Bahamas. Were it not for the occasional, corrective tilts of our cocktails, you'd hardly know we're on a cruise ship. Around us, performance artists dance and slink and interact with punters - catching their eyes, serving whimsical meals and drinks and, yes, giving them 'names'.

All aboard! The Grand Plaza with its Martini Bar and LED chandelier
All aboard! The Grand Plaza with its Martini Bar and LED chandelier
Celebrity Edge on the seas
A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge
Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background
Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity EDGE - Celebrity Cruises
Inside The Spa on Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Le Petit Chef
Malala Yousafzai at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Malala Yousafzai speaks at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Celebrity Edge arrives in Miamia
Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Views from the Magic Carpet

Welcome to Celebrity Edge, a billion-dollar cruise ship designed "to leave the future behind". No, really. It's Celebrity's first new class of ship in a decade, and though I draw the line at being christened by Edenists, I take my hat off to the adult playground it has created. Walking from Eden through 'Avalon' (an immersive artwork of rose-gold trees) towards the giant LED chandelier flashing over its martini bar (pictured above), I have one word on repeat... "wow".

It's cruising, Jim, but not as we know it.

Is it worth it? Cruises start from around €2,000pp, so that depends on both wallet and taste. For starters, despite the fact that Celebrity is owned by Royal Caribbean, this one's not for kids. Of course they'll be well looked after, but there are no waterslides, arcades or rock-climbing walls on Celebrity Edge.

Celebrity's whole shtick is "modern luxury", and "chillful" night-time worlds like Eden are just the beginning. From Bulgari and Tiffany boutiques to Martini- glass-shaped hot tubs and rooftop garden, it looks and feels like a high-concept, floating five-star resort.

"You'd be amazed how many people book ahead," says Aisling McCarthy, a Corkonian and operations manager with onboard spa company Steiner.

Showing me around her realm, she takes me past plush treatment rooms, a pioneering crystalarium at sea, and a 'MedSpa' in which you can book cosmetic treatments like Botox and dermal fillers. A handsome doctor in a white lab coat breezes by.

A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
Views from the Magic Carpet
Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge
Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background
Celebrity Edge on the seas
Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
Inside The Spa on Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
Le Petit Chef
Malala Yousafzai at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Malala Yousafzai speaks at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Celebrity Edge arrives in Miamia
Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity EDGE - Celebrity Cruises

"Those back home will wonder how you got so fabulous," the ship's blurb says. "We won't say a word."

Celebrity Edge is "the ideal environment to relax and heal," Aisling tells me. "It's a gamechanger."

In changing that game, Celebrity turned to architects famous for land-based work - Kelly Hoppen, for example, or Tom Wright, designer of Dubai's Burj Al Arab. A guiding brief was to bring the ocean closer, blurring boundaries between inside and out - you see it in the planetarium-like ceiling of the Solarium, or staterooms with 'Infinite Verandas' (floor-to-ceiling windows allow for 23pc extra room space). Creature comforts range from eucalyptus-treated mattresses to air-con and lighting settings I can control via app from anywhere onboard.

The ship boasts thousands of artworks, from abstract pieces to actual Picasso ceramics. The art adds "extra oomph", as Royal Caribbean's chairman and CEO Richard D. Fain puts it. "Though, as it turns out, it wasn't cheap."

Views from the Magic Carpet
Views from the Magic Carpet
Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background
A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge
All aboard! The Grand Plaza with its Martini Bar and LED chandelier
Celebrity Edge on the seas
Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
Inside The Spa on Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Le Petit Chef
Malala Yousafzai at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Malala Yousafzai speaks at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Celebrity Edge arrives in Miamia
Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity EDGE - Celebrity Cruises

Nothing on Celebrity Edge is.

Its hull is blue. A 'Parabolic Ultra-Bow' gives it a boxy, dreadnought-like look, helping to boost speed and lower fuel consumption. A tangerine 'Magic Carpet' (above) is cantilevered over the edge - a movable platform working as a bar on upper decks and a tendering platform at sea level (though, sadly, you can't ride it). Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the ship's "godmother" is Malala.

Yes, that Malala. The 21-year-old Nobel Laureate must have taken some convincing to lend her peerless credibility to the brand, though Celebrity has not disclosed full details of its partnership with the Malala Fund.

As you'd expect from this line, food and service are at the top end. One evening, I step into an elevator to find a dapper gent in a tux. "You're in the right lift, with the right guy," he says. "Let me show you to the Sunset Bar." I follow him to find an elegant audience watching daylight dip over the ocean with cigars and apéritifs.

Four main dining options are included - with Italian, French, Mediterranean and American themes - though you can also pay extra for speciality restaurants like Blu, Luminae in the Retreat area (for Suite-class guests) or Le Petit Chef, where screens show animated characters preparing your dishes.

Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity EDGE - Celebrity Cruises
A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background
Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge
All aboard! The Grand Plaza with its Martini Bar and LED chandelier
Celebrity Edge on the seas
Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
Inside The Spa on Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Views from the Magic Carpet
Le Petit Chef
Malala Yousafzai at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Malala Yousafzai speaks at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Celebrity Edge arrives in Miamia
Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

"Hard to decide when everything looks so good, right?" beams one of the service staff as I tackle the Oceanview Café's giant buffet. There are excellent gluten-free and Indian sections, though I find the food variable in general - veering from super scallops on fennel in Blu to a bland paella, or hard poached eggs and overly sweet hollandaise, at the buffet.

Glitches? Attention to detail is excellent overall but occasionally slips - the thoughtful powerbox designed to hide stateroom cable clutter, for example, won't fit two of my European plugs side by side. I was also surprised to find bars serving plastic straws.

On a personal level, I appreciate the ship's dazzling luxury and Instagramability, but there's only so many taupes and greys I can take. At times, the Celebrity Edge universe feels gorgeous. At others, I crave more unfiltered, analogue, human touches - authentic experiences that don't feel quite so polished and produced (of course, shore excursions will provide a counterpoint here).

Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
Tuscan Restaurant on Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Edge
Books for sale on Celebrity Edge. Malala is the ship's 'godmother'
The Magic Carpet on Celebrity EDGE - Celebrity Cruises
A Sky Suite stateroom portside on Celebrity EDGE
Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background
Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge
All aboard! The Grand Plaza with its Martini Bar and LED chandelier
Celebrity Edge on the seas
Inside The Spa on Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Views from the Magic Carpet
Le Petit Chef
Malala Yousafzai at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Malala Yousafzai speaks at the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
Celebrity Edge arrives in Miamia
Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Maybe I should have surrendered myself more completely and let the Edenists give me a name.

But this is a 2,908-passenger ship. If you don't like one space, or class, or activity, or dining room, you can simply move to the next. A brave new world of luxury cruising awaits... and it's setting sail for Europe this summer.

Take three: Hi-tech hits

Le Petit Chef

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Le Petit Chef
 

On select nights, Le Grand Bistro transforms tables into hi-tech displays on which you can watch animated characters prepare dishes, before the actual meals arrive.

Future Fuels

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Instagramable arches on the pool deck of Celebrity Edge. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile
 

Celebrity Edge has a zero landfill policy and is 20pc more energy-efficient than Solstice-class ships. But yes, it's still a cruise ship guzzling tonnes of fuel a day.

Tech Theatre

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Malala Yousafzai christening Celebrity Edge in Florida. Photo: Pól Ó Conghaile

Forget Broadway shows. Edge's main theatre features four stage areas, rotating staircases and three moving, projected screen backdrops that change throughout shows.

What to pack

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Pól on board Celebrity Edge, with the ship's 'Magic Carpet' in the background

Download the Celebrity app to check in, book meals and excursions, keep tabs on expenses and operate your room controls onboard. Bring sunnies, hats and shades for upper decks, adapters for charging devices, and fancy outfits for dinners - Celebrity guests really do dress up.

Get there

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Pool Deck at Night - Celebrity Edge

Celebrity Cruises (celebritycruises.ie; 1800 932 611) has a 10-night Italy, Spain and Monaco fly/cruise on Celebrity Edge this summer from €2,128pp based on two sharing an interior stateroom, including flights from Dublin.

The price for Oceanview staterooms starts from €3,678pp, including meals, entertainment, a free classic drinks package and all taxes, but not gratuities or extras like Wi-Fi, spa treatments, shore excursions or speciality dining.

Pól was a guest of Celebrity Cruises.

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