‘Celebrity Beyond’: The ‘Edge’ of a Sea Change in Cruising

photos by author unless otherwise noted.

The Celebrity Beyond is positioned by the brand to be part of a shift in the way experienced travelers think of cruise vacations. It falls snugly between larger cruise lines taking a middle-of-the-road “one ship fits all” approach (essentially taking the form of glossy malls at sea) and smaller, more exclusive ocean and river ships whose concepts, designs and highly specialized amenities mirror luxury boutique hotels that aren’t supposed to be for everybody. With a wave of Generation X and older Millennials emerging as the prime cruise audience, Celebrity’s “Edge” ships (including the “Beyond”) accomplish much in reconciling these diverse at-sea offerings.

While river cruises’ slower pace and smaller ships appeal to the traditional older cruise audience, it interesting to note that these lines are drawing younger, more active passengers with plenty of excursions involving challenging bike rides and rigorous hikes alongside familiar slower-paced walking tours. However, as multi-generational trips and business retreat cruises are becoming more commonplace, there’s something to be said about the “floating hotel” aspect of modern ocean cruise ships. Everything one could want or need is right at one’s stateroom door—restaurants, full-service spas, shopping, activities, boardrooms, special event space, and elaborately produced entertainment. And for family groups? Large swaths of space aboard the ship and staff dedicated to children and young teens. And days at sea? Art classes, cooking demos, spirits tastings, educational talks and more.

Like the other “Edge” ships, the Celebrity Beyond offers an upgraded version of all of these things. However, the maiden voyage in late April winding around the coasts of Spain, with stops in Lisbon and La Rochelle*, provided a real-time demonstration of how the line is further refining the ways to reconcile the demands of increasingly divergent travelers.

The top decks are occupied by The Retreat® and AquaClass sections, a ship-within-a-ship situation—think a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons nestled into the top floors of a JW Marriott or higher-end Hyatt—promising ultra-exclusivity and perks some are willing to pay extra for, including access to special spaces with markedly fewer passengers. They also have in-and-out privileges at the SEA Thermal Suite’s eight distinct spaces, including Mist Aroma Steam and Desert Infrared Sauna rooms, heated loungers with panoramic view of the ocean, and a Rainfall Water Therapy.

A suite inside “The Retreat” section. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.
The Spa’s lobby. Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.

The Retreat’s custom designed five-star hotel-caliber suites boast Cinescope-scale views, plush-yet-polished décor, and higher-end bathroom amenities (courtesy of wellness ambassador Gwyneth Paltrow and GOOP). There is also Luminae, a Retreat-class only restaurant (with dishes crafted by renowned chef and fellow star ambassador Daniel Boulud), an indoor lounge fashioned by noted U.K. interior designer Kelly Hoppen, hands-on concierge personnel, and a “Personal Retreat Host.” Retreat guests calso get unlimited premium cocktails, and extra credit in U.S. dollars they can apply to excursions and specialty restaurants including Eden, Raw on Five and Daniel Boulud’s global dining concept Le Voyage.

The AquaClass, conceived for wellness-driven travelers, feature rooms with a similar Scandinavian-meets-West Coast beach house aesthetic found on the lower floors. However, they are larger in size, scale and creatue comforts. AquaClass SkySuites, meanwhile, up the ante with more individualized décor schemes created by Kelly Hoppen, some with large outdoor verandas. There’s also access to special “members only” programs such as the “Women in Wellness,” incorporating yoga, meditation, strength, stretch and cardio workouts by top grade instructors. These passengers have their decks’ exclusive restaurant, Blu, noted for its “clean” fresh ingredient-driven spa cuisine.

However, lower deck staterooms are comfortable and have plenty of elegant form-meeting-function aspects worked into the design. While they are smaller, they are thoughtfully laid-out, enlivened with sunny pops of red, orange or yellow and adorned with sleek framed artwork and photography. Ocean view cabins have an indoor/outdoor feel, as the touch of a button transforms the sitting area by the floor-to-ceiling windows into a patio. Storage is abundant by cruise standards, with generous under-bed space for suitcases, sectioned closets, and plenty of drawers. Other “lifestyle” hotel-inspired touches include a good-sized marble-appointed bathroom, premium mattresses and sheets, and friendly housekeeping staff who oblige with a smile when a different pillow, more shampoo or additional bottles of mineral water are requested.

The ultimate indulgence available to all passengers are the services available at The Spa. Its quiet, light earth-toned space has the feel of a stand-alone wellness destintion even as it is part of an enormous ship. Signature treatments (particularly the soothing, fragrant decadence of the Ocean Spa Wave Massage) are worth every penny, especially as the reservation also includes use of the facilities the AquaClass and The Retreat passengers enjoy on the day of your treatment. Beyond that, everybody has access to the ship’s expansive but tidy gym as well as a full calendar of workout classes. Higher-intensity classes involve extra fees for the general population (on a par with what gyms typically charge in larger cities). However, several complimentary sessions, such as the morning and evening low-impact stretch classes, offer as good of a workout as some of the paid classes as well as some of the same charasmatic instructors.

With a reservation and some extra cash, all passengers can experience the aforementioned “specialty” restaurants, including the just-opened Le Voyage (Daniel Boulud’s first premium-at-sea restaurant), which is generating the most buzz along with the vividly-decorated Eden. Other prestige eateries completing the lineup include Raw on 5, Fine Cut Steakhouse, Le Grand Bistro, Le Petit Chef, Rooftop Garden Grill and The Magic Carpet. The four all-access themed eateries (Cypress, Normandie, Cosmopolitan, and Tuscan, each with their own décor schemes), meanwhile, replace the sprawling main dining room with something closer to a true restaurant experience (including attractive seating for larger groups). Although 75% of the menus at these venues are identical, check out the “specialties” menus at each venue with its own customized “specialty” menu with three appetizers, three main courses and desserts. Several of these are on a par with the for-charge specialty restaurants.

The Sunset Bar, designed by Nate Berkus.
“Forbidden,” specialty restaurant Eden’s signature cocktail.
Le Voyage’s Greek-influenced main course.

As Celebrity’s wine program is a 12-time “Wine Spectator Restaurant Awards” recipient, aficionados will want to spring for the “Classic” or “Premium” meal programs to enjoy the acclaimed beverage selection more freely. These also include regular access to pressed juices and smoothies from the Spa Cafe (including a Paltrow-certified “GOOP” green smoothie) and craft coffee drinks and desserts from Café Al Bacio. While all bars on board offer beer, wine, and some mix of creative mixology and classics, some are not covered by the packages but are worth checking out anyway. Eden’s visually arresting cocktails are worth the splurge, especially when enjoyed watching a nighttime cabaret show. The Nate Berkus-designed Sunset Bar has a cool Moroccan ambiance. The Rooftop Garden, Resort Deck, and recently-introduced Magic Carpet impress thanks to architect Tom Wright’s gravity-defying, airy structures.

During the Chef’s Market Tour in Malaga, Celebrity Executive Chef Armando Fernan curates ingredients for that night’s feast.

Most of the Celebrity Beyond’s scheduled excursions (available for an extra charge) consist of the familiar history and culture-focused walking tours and winery visits (some requiring long bus rides to other cities), but there are several active options (hikes and bike tours) now available at several ports of call. That said, the spic “Chef’s Market Tours” are most likely to sell out first. What makes these more expensive excursions worth every penny is the opportunity to hang out with a top Celebrity Cruises chef and local guide as they lead a tour striking the perfect balance of tasting, useful cooking insights or instruction, and a healthy overview of the area’s history. The chefs (many of them with Michelin-star experience) at the helm are genuinely passionate about what makes a destination unique from a food standpoint (and worth returning to for a longer land visit later on).

After the first part of the tour (the market jaunt and a meal or cooking session), there’s time to explore the city or go back to the ship to recover. The second part of the market tour picks up late in the day with a behind-the-scenes galley tour followed by a lavish dinner made with everything the chef purchased in the morning. And how can you not love the experience of a private dinner with a Michelin-star chef? Alternatively, should all of the tours sell out, you can get useful tips from the excursions destinations desk crew along with Yelp or another similar app to put together your own itinerary where the ship is docked.

If you have liked ocean cruises in the past, chances are you’ll love the Celebrity Beyond’s classier bells and whistles. If you’re more of a river cruise type, you’ll appreciate what The Retreat® and AquaClass have to offer. Regardless of what deck you are on, you’ve got many options and beyond.

Celebrity Cruises
*Note: The Celebrity Beyond will be sailing Caribbean itineraries moving forward.