The Line in a Nutshell
Celebrity is the most stylish of the mainstream lines, operating big megaships spiced up with above-average service and a cutting-edge sense of design and style. Sails to: Alaska, Caribbean, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada/New England, the Pacific Northwest, Panama Canal (plus Europe, South America, Galapagos, transatlantic).
Celebrity juices up the mainstream cruise experience with a touch of refinement and a dash of class, all the while keeping things fun, active, and within the price range of Joe and Sally Cruiser. Each ship is glamorous, exciting, and comfortable, offering sleek modern styles accented with cutting-edge art collections. The new Solstice-class ships are, bar none, the most elegant megaships in the cruise world.
An exceedingly polite and professional staff contributes greatly to the overall mood. Dining-wise, the dashing alternative restaurants on the line's Millennium-class ships outclass all other mainstream ship restaurants for presentation and gorgeous decor, and match the best for cuisine.
Like all the big-ship lines, Celebrity provides lots for its passengers to do, from enrichment lectures to shows, sports, talent shows, and pool games. The line's spas are among the most attractive at sea, decor shipwide is the most original, and the art collections are the most compelling you'll find on any cruise ships, anywhere.
Celebrity tries to focus on middle- to upper-middle-income cruisers and even wealthy patrons who want a great megaship experience (especially while nestled in one of the line's amazing upper-end suites), but its generally low prices -- more or less comparable to those of sister-line Royal Caribbean -- ensure the demographic stays democratically wider. For clients who choose their cruise based on more than just price, Celebrity is appealing because it offers a well-balanced cruise, with lots of activities and a glamorous, exciting atmosphere that's both refined and fun.
Most passengers are couples ages 35 and up. Many have cruised before and want something a little more hip and stylish than the cruise norm. That said, you'll still see passengers of all ages, with a decent number of honeymooners and couples celebrating anniversaries, as well as families with children in summer and during the holidays.
Celebrity's roots go back to the powerful Greek shipping family Chandris, whose patriarch founded a cargo shipping company in 1915. The family expanded into the cruise business in the late 1960s and by 1976 had the largest cruise fleet in the world. In the late 1970s, they introduced the down-market Chandris-Fantasy Cruises, which served a mostly European clientele. In 1989, the Chandris family dissolved Fantasy and created Celebrity Cruises, building beautiful, innovative ships that were immediately recognizable by their crisp navy-blue-and-white hulls and their rakishly angled funnels decorated with a giant X -- which was really the Greek letter chi, for Chandris. The company's rise to prominence was so rapid and so successful that in 1997 it was courted and acquired by the larger and wealthier Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd., which now operates Celebrity as a sister line to Royal Caribbean International and newer brand Azamara Club Cruises, which Celebrity launched before turning it loose as a stand-alone company.
In 2008, Celebrity introduced the first of its new generation of 118,000-ton, 2,850-passenger megaships: Solstice -- the loveliest new ship to debut in years. Sister ships Equinox and Eclipse followed in summer 2009 and winter 2010, and two more sisters are scheduled to follow in fall 2011 and 2012.
Traditional -- Though Celebrity started out with a reputation for truly exceptional cuisine, today the dishes served in its main dining rooms are really more on par with mainstream peers Princess, Royal Caribbean, NCL, and Holland America. Dining service, however, remains excellent. Dinner menus are likely to feature entrees such as veal shank cooked in an aromatic tomato velouté with orange zest, served with risotto; broiled sliced tenderloin with béarnaise and Madeira sauces; and boneless chicken breast with bananas and ham, coated with coconut flakes and served with curry peanut sauce. At every meal, Celebrity also serves lighter "spa" fare with calorie, fat, cholesterol, and sodium breakdowns listed on the back of the menu. Vegetarian options are available at every meal. There's also a good wine list that includes a line of proprietary wines called Celebrity Cruises Cellarmaster Selection.
In 2009, Celebrity joined the flexible dining club by launching Celebrity Select Dining, a program that allows guests to choose when they'd like to dine in the line's main dining rooms. It works like this: When you book your cruise, you'll decide whether you want to stick with traditional fixed-time dining or go with the Select option. If the latter, you can choose to dine either with just your travel companion(s) or with other guests on your cruise (for instance, family or friends who've booked the same sailing). You can also go online anytime up to 4 days before your cruise and make reservations for specific dining hours on a day-by-day basis -- 6pm one day, 7pm the next, 8pm the night after that, or any combination that suits your schedule. Reservations can also be made during your cruise with the main dining room's maitre d'. Note that if you do choose Celebrity Select, you're required to prepay gratuities before your cruise.
Specialty -- Though its Millennium-class ships have long been known for their single specialty restaurants, the new Solstice class is where Celebrity really went whole-hog into alternative dining. Each of the Solstice ships has four specialty restaurants in addition to the main restaurant and buffet. The Tuscan Grille serves specialty steaks and pastas in a high-style atmosphere -- sort of Napa Valley meets Tuscany. The European-themed Murano serves elaborate, multicourse meals in the style of the Millennium-class specialty restaurants, featuring table-side cooking, carving, and flambé. Blu, a restaurant for the exclusive use of passengers booked in the ships' AquaClass staterooms (plus suite guests based on availability), serves cuisine that emphasizes healthful ingredients and preparation without sacrificing taste. On Solstice and Equinox, the Asian Silk Harvest restaurant serves a mix of Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese dishes. On Eclipse, Silk Harvest is replaced by Qsine, a playful, imaginatively designed space serving food from an eclectic international menu.
On the Millennium-class ships, cuisine, service, and ambience are the draw at Celebrity's original alternative restaurants, each of which carries a $30-per-person cover charge and seats just over 100 passengers. Presentation is paramount: Decor is centered around artifacts from the historic passenger vessels that give the restaurants their names; there often seems to be more waitstaff than diners; Caesar salads and zabaglione are prepared table-side; maitre d's carve passengers' meat dishes with the finesse of a concert pianist; and a selection of excellent French cheeses arrives at the end of the meal. In addition to these restaurants, each of the Millennium-class ships also has a Tuscan Grille in the style of the Solstice class. The older Century, meanwhile, has her own version of the Murano restaurant.
Reservations for Celebrity's specialty restaurants can be made online up to 4 days before your cruise.
Casual -- Breakfast and lunch in the buffet restaurants are on par with those of lines such as Royal Caribbean and Princess, and include such features as a made-to-order pasta bar and a pizza station serving very tasty pies. On most nights, the buffet space is transformed into the Casual Dining Boulevard, with waiters serving entrees such as pasta, gourmet pizzas, and chicken between about 6 and 9:30pm. Reservations are recommended, though if there's space, walk-ins are accepted, too. During dinnertime, Celebrity also has a sushi bar in one section of the buffet restaurant, serving both appetizer-size portions and full meals.
The Solstice-class ships also feature Bistro on Five, a chic-casual restaurant with a menu of specialty crepes, sandwiches, soups, salads, and comfort-food entrees like baked ziti, quiche, and chicken pot pie. (Look for these, too, on the Millennium-class ships once their next refurbishments are completed, scheduled in 2011 and 2012.) There's also the AquaSpa Café, where you can get low-cal treats for lunch or dinner from noon to 8pm, including raw veggie platters, poached salmon with asparagus tips, vegetarian sushi, and pretty salads with tuna or chicken. Spa breakfasts include items such as bagels and lox, fresh fruit, cereal, and boiled eggs. For the opposite of spa cuisine, outdoor grills on all ships serve burgers and the like.
Snacks & Extras -- For coffee-and-pastry breaks, the Solstice-class ships (and the Millennium-class ships once they're renovated in 201112) have Café al Bacio & Gelateria, an upscale coffeehouse serving specialty coffees, teas, fresh-baked pastries, traditional gelatos and Italian ices, and other desserts. The Century-class ships have the Cova Café, serving incredibly good croissants (for free) and specialty lattes and cappuccinos (not for free), plus other items. An "after-theater" menu at each of these coffee bars lists sandwiches, savories, tartlets, hot brochettes, canapes, artisan cheeses, fresh fruit, crackers, petit fours, and napoleons from 11pm to closing.
The line also has afternoon tea at least once per cruise fleetwide, with white-gloved waiters serving tea, finger sandwiches, scones, and desserts from rolling carts. There's also an elaborate brunch in the main dining room once per cruise, with the kind of over-the-top spreads and ice, fruit, and vegetable carvings that used to be featured at midnight buffets. Room service allows passengers to order off a limited menu 24 hours a day and also from the lunch and dinner menus during set meal hours. You can get tasty pizza delivered right to your cabin between 3 and 7pm and 10pm and 1am daily, in a box and pouch just like the ones used by your local pizzeria.
Along with sheer style, service is Celebrity's strongest suit, with staff uniformly polite, attentive, cheerful, knowledgeable, and professional. Stewards wear white gloves at embarkation as they escort passengers to their cabins. Waiters have a poised, upscale-hotel air about them, and their manner does much to create an elegant mood. There are very professional sommeliers in the dining room, and waiters are on hand in the Lido breakfast and lunch buffet restaurants to carry passengers' trays from the buffet line to a table of their choice. If you occupy a suite, you'll get a tuxedo-clad personal butler who serves afternoon tea, complimentary cappuccino and espresso, and complimentary pre-dinner hors d'oeuvres. If you ask, he'll also handle your laundry, shine your shoes, make sewing repairs, deliver messages, and even serve a full five-course dinner en suite or help you organize a cocktail party. (You foot the bill for food and drinks, of course.) Other hedonistic treats bestowed upon suite guests include a bottle of champagne on arrival, personalized stationery, terry robes, oversize bath towels, priority check-in and debarkation, express luggage delivery at embarkation, and so on. ConciergeClass staterooms -- a middle zone between regular cabins and suites -- provide some of the same perks but without the high price of actual suites (but no butler, sorry).
When it comes to tipping, Celebrity has gone the automatic route, adding a fee of $11.50 per person, per day to the accounts of guests in normal staterooms, with the figure going up to $12 per day for guests in ConciergeClass and AquaClass staterooms and $15 per day for guests in suites.
Laundry and dry-cleaning services are available fleetwide for a nominal fee, but there are no self-service laundry facilities.
Celebrity provides lots of options for those who want to stay active, but it also caters to those who want to vegetate.
In 2009, Celebrity repackaged its enrichment activities under the banner of Celebrity Life, a series of what the line calls "palate-pleasing, intellectually enriching, and life-enhancing programs." Basically, Celebrity Life takes three of the things Celebrity has always built its brand around -- dining, enrichment, and spa/wellness -- and expands them into categories of activities called Savor, Discover, and Renew. Savor activities include several different wine-tasting and education events, mixology classes, whiskey tastings, and interactive culinary demos and talks. Discover activities include computer classes, art tours, dance and language classes, basic astronomy lessons, and talks by guest speakers, who may include naturalists (on Alaska, South America, and Galapagos sailings), caricature artists (on weeklong Caribbean and Bermuda sailings), and occasionally actors, politicians, journalists, historians, and authors. Renew activities encompass exercise classes (including free step, abs, and tai chi classes, plus yoga, spinning, Pilates, and other fashionable workouts at additional charge, usually $12 per class) and seminars on health and wellness, some of which touch on topics like Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture. No surprise there, because Celebrity's spa program has long been among the best in the business, with beautifully appointed spas and a nice raft of treatments, from the exotic to the everyday-but-it-still-feels-good. In addition to the talks, the spas offer actual acupuncture fleetwide on all cruises, with professionals targeting their treatments toward pain management, smoking cessation, weight loss, stress management, and other ailments.
Other activities include horse racing, bingo, bridge, art auctions, trivia games, game shows, and arts and crafts lessons.
All the ships have a well-equipped Internet center and Wi-Fi capability in various public areas as well as the majority of cabins and suites for guests who bring their laptops. The line's newest ship, Eclipse, has a souped-up Internet cafe called the iLounge, created in collaboration with Apple and offering classes and a retail component as well as the usual online access. In cabins and suites, interactive TVs allow guests to order room service from on-screen menus, select the evening's wine in advance of dinner, play casino-style games, browse in virtual shops, and order pay-per-view movies.
Celebrity offers all the popular cruise favorites, such as magicians, comedians, cabaret acts, passenger talent shows, and Vegas-style musical revues. The overall quality of music and comedy acts is good, but on our last sailing the musical revues were poor. For something a little different, the line provides some nice, understated entertainment touches such as harpists, string quartets, and roving a cappella groups performing in various lounges. You'll also find karaoke, recent-release movies, active casinos, and late-night disco dancing, usually until about 3am.
All the ships also have cozy lounges and bars where you can retreat for a romantic nightcap and some music, from laid-back jazz to music from the big-band era, spiced with interpretations of contemporary hits. The elegant and plush Michael's Club piano lounges, with their gentlemen's club style, serve several functions. Each day from 8 to 10am and 4 to 6pm, the rooms are reserved for "Elite" members of the line's loyalty program (folks who have taken 10 or more Celebrity cruises), with complimentary espresso, tea, and other items in the morning and drinks and wine-tasting events in the evening. Though the piano lounges are little used in between those events, they're a great place to snuggle up with a good book. At night, they're an excellent place for an after-dinner drink.
The Best Art at Sea -- Celebrity has been known from the beginning for its art collections, which are so far beyond the cruise ship norm that they're in an entirely different league -- truly museum quality when other lines' collections are mostly decorative at best, with a few standout pieces that provide marquee value.
The older Century-class ships were personally curated by a member of the Chandris family, and have modern collections heavy on names from minimalism, pop art, and other movements from the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Mercury alone features works by Richard Serra, Dan Flavin, Richard Long, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, plus an entire wall mural created for the ship by Sol LeWitt. The new Solstice-class ships feature exceedingly contemporary pieces from both up-and-coming and established artists, the latter including Damien Hirst, Ross Bleckner, John Baldessari, Robert Rauschenberg, and Alexander Calder. There's even a Picasso on Solstice. Equinox's collection takes its curatorial concept from the ship's name (think balance, harmony), and mixes new works with many rescued from Celebrity's old Galaxy before she left the fleet to serve with German line TUI Cruises.
Free handheld audio art tours are available on the line's Century-class and Millennium-class ships.
Celebrity pampers kids as well as adults, especially during the summer months and holidays when its Caribbean- and Bermuda-bound ships typically carry 400-plus children. Each ship has a dedicated youth staff of six or more supervising playroom activities practically all day long, and private and group babysitting is available in the evenings.
During kid-intensive seasons, supervised activities are geared toward four age groups within ages 3 to 17. Kids ages 3 to 5, dubbed Ship Mates, can enjoy treasure hunts, clown parties, T-shirt painting, dancing, movies, ship tours, and ice-cream-sundae-making parties. Celebrity Cadets, ages 6 to 8, have T-shirt painting, scavenger hunts, board games, arts and crafts, ship tours, and computer games. Your 9- to 11-year-old may want to join the Ensign activities, such as karaoke, computer games, board games, trivia contests, arts and crafts, movies, and pizza parties. In summer, these three age groups put on summer-stock theater shows, with Ship Mates and Cadets singing, dancing, and acting, and Ensigns directing and producing. There are also masquerade parties where Ship Mates and Cadets make their own masks and then parade around the ship, and Junior Olympics where the whole family is encouraged to cheer on the kids who compete in relay races, diving, and basketball free throws. Various activities and tours give kids a behind-the-scenes look at the ship's entertainment, food and beverage, and hotel departments.
Toddlers ages 2 and under can participate in activities and use the playroom if accompanied by a parent.
For teens ages 12 to 17 (subdivided into two groups, 1214 and 1517, during peak season, but all mashed together off-peak), the Celebrity ships have attractive teen discos/hangout rooms with Xbox, Nintendo Wii, and PlayStation games, and activities such as talent shows, karaoke, pool games, and trivia contests.
Group babysitting in the playroom ($6 per child, per hour) is available for ages 3 to 11 between noon and 2pm on port days, and every evening from 10pm to 1am. Kids can dine with the counselors most nights between 5 and 7pm (free on sea days; $6 per child, per hour, on port days). A V.I.P. Party Pass covers all group babysitting for your cruise at a 40% discount, and kids get to attend one big-screen movie, with free popcorn and refreshments, behind-the-scenes tours, and souvenirs. Prices vary by itinerary. On the last night of the cruise, a complimentary Parents' Night Out party is held between 5pm and 1am, and includes pizza and fun activities for kids while their parents step out. Female crewmembers provide evening private in-cabin babysitting on a limited basis, for $8 per hour for up to two children. Kids must be at least 12 months old, and the service must be requested 24 hours in advance.
The minimum age for kids sailing on Celebrity's ships is 6 months.