Celebrity Ascent Review: How Is the Celebrity Cruises Formula Holding Up?
Celebrity Cruises' newest ship, the Celebrity Ascent, entered service at the end of 2023, bound for Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings through its first winter season, then heading to the Mediterranean for vacations out of Barcelona and Rome for the summer of 2024.
The ship's arrival was naturally heralded as a major breakthrough in cruising. "With each new ship, our ambition is to debut the ultimate vacation experience and Celebrity Ascent achieves this by raising the bar for premium travel,” said Jason Liberty, the president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, which owns Celebrity. “Her elevated design and new onboard experiences set her apart from competitors and serve as a new benchmark for the travel industry.”
But does it really? In a vacation market that's swimming with megaships—the Ascent became Celebrity's 16th ship afloat—cruise executives' marketing talking points always try to paint each new vessel as the pinnacle of the genre, increasingly by hyping minor details as if they were breakthroughs. While it's true that Celebrity Ascent is packed with 14 bars, because no modern cruise ship would dare attempt to function without selling alcohol, but does it truly set a new bar in cruising?
Frommer's was invited aboard so that we could tell you.
Celebrity Ascent facts:
Guests at full occupancy: 3,260
Crew: More than 1,600
Length: 1,073 feet
Restaurants: 4 complimentary venues out of 32 available "food and beverage experiences"
Maiden voyage: December 3, 2023
Initial territory: Caribbean (out of Fort Lauderdale) and Mediterranean (out of Rome/Civitavecchia, Barcelona, and Athens)
Celebrity Ascent is the fourth ship in Celebrity Cruises' Edge class of ships—and if that sentence makes little sense to you, you're not alone. People who don't take cruises often may not realize that in today's industry, most new mass-market ships are no longer individually tailored. Instead, the major lines come up with a pattern that groups of newly built ships will follow. In the Ascent's case, it's the fourth ship made that follows the pattern of the Celebrity Edge, which was launched in 2018. The Edge was followed by the Celebrity Apex (2021) and Celebrity Beyond (2022). After the Ascent, the final ship in the Edge series will be the Celebrity Xcel, which began construction in 2023 for a 2025 launch. Later, Celebrity will begin on a new group of vessels that will be similar to each other.
As an Edge-class ship, most of Ascent's standard oceanview staterooms are 201 square feet of living space, designed in calming (if conservative) putty tones that hide wear well. You'll find plenty of outlets and plugs (although oddly, not on the sea-facing side of the bed, which may affect your family's sleeping assignments). The TV has kept pace with technology, allowing for streaming from personal devices (Google Play only) and movies on demand, but like nearly all TVs at sea, you'll only get basic news networks, not the principal American networks.
Instead of a door leading to an outdoor space, Celebrity's Edge-class ships have what's called an Infinite Veranda, which is neither infinite nor architecturally a veranda but 42 square feet of laminate-floor space that extends from the room to the windows. When you're in the mood to take in the sea air, you can close off the veranda from the main carpeted area of your room with some accordion-style shutters and then press a button (on your veranda wall or on the thermostat unit) to roll down the upper pane only. It's a lot like rolling down the window of a car. The setup provides a degree of safety for guests with wandering children and probably makes washing the ship's exterior much easier for the crew, but even when the Infinite Veranda window is fully open, the height of the sash and the overall bulkiness still leaves you with a sense of separation from the ocean you purportedly booked your cruise to commune with.
All things considered, it's a boon to have those extra 42 square feet added to your living space instead of being on the other side of a balcony door, but its anyone's guess whether Celebrity will keep putting Infinite Veranda systems in its ships once the Edge class winds down.
Celebrity Ascent's staterooms score points for their extras, which include plenty of closet and storage space, complimentary bathrobes (a perk that a surprising number of supposedly upscale cruise lines no longer provide outside of their concierge-level price tiers), a personal safe, a mini fridge you can fill with your own food, and artful touches like the spot-lit coral tree (it's acrylic but looks real).
All in all, Celebrity's Edge-class ships have some of the most inviting and eye-pleasing mid-priced cabins on the market, and unlike some competitors' staterooms, they don't feel like they were stripped of comforts in order to push customers to spend more money on an upgrade.
The cabin bathrooms feel particularly spacious and well-balanced, and the shower stall (bathtubs are only available in a few premium-priced staterooms) is stocked with bulk bottles of upscale toiletries by the long-running C.O. Bigelow. There's lots of space to get dressed—again, that's not always a given on many cruise lines—and plenty of storage ledges.
Inside staterooms (181–202 square feet) look and feel much the same. They essentially delete the Infinite Veranda, but otherwise offer everything an ocean-facing room does.
(You won't get all those water bottles, by the way—they were only in the room on the day we took this shot.)
The enclosed Solarium (deck 14, midship) captures the rays of the sun, keeping the area warm even on a chilly day. The pool and hot tubs are clustered in the middle of the ship, away from sea views.
This area, which is adjacent to the much larger main, open-air pool (so there's lot of foot traffic through this space), is intended for adults only, and it looks almost exactly the way it has looked since Celebrity Edge was introduced, three ships earlier.
If you book a premium-level room in The Retreat, in a restricted area near the ship's bow, you'll also have access to yet another pool, one that's smaller than this, but outdoors.
The cabanas on the starboard (right) side of the main outdoor pool are concealed by this series of Tim Burton-esque toothy fins. It's a striking design feature that has proved to be a popular spot for guest selfies ever since the Celebrity Edge.
In fact, there are so many design elements carried over from the Edge that the Ascent essentially delivers the same experience. Rather than plow through dozens of pictures from the Ascent, and to learn about the "Magic Carpet" that lies beyond these arches, you might as well check out our review and gallery of the Celebrity Edge—all the major features are pretty much the same.
There have been a few visible tweaks, which we'll explain, but they are minor relative to the overall concept. In fact, if a person were to go to sleep at home tonight and wake up on any of Celebrity's Edge-class ships, they'd probably never be able to discern at first which of the four ships they found themselves on unless they were an extremely experienced cruiser.
That isn't a slam—it's precisely the brand predictability the cruise lines are going for now. By introducing five or six ships that are all cut from the same cloth, the major lines ensure not only a consistency in product, but they are also increasing the chances that a vacationer will be able to access the same product no matter which port they're sailing from or where they want to visit.
In fact, the design, in so many cases, is a slam dunk. A lot of the Celebrity Ascent, like all the Edge-class ships, has been crafted to the hilt, giving a distinctly luxury feel to a huge ship that's pitched to the upper end of the mass market.
The swirling, post-Art Nouveau hues and lines of the 50-seat Le Voyage Restaurant are a shining example of the Ascent's many stylistic successes. As the company pumps out ship after ship, Celebrity has to think of new ways to generate buzz, and one of its gambits is to hire well-known, land-based designers to oversee their public areas. This space is by KTGY Simeone Deary Design Group, but others were assigned to Paris-based design firm Jouin Manku and British architect Tom Wright.
Would you choose to vacation a cruise ship based on the firm that designed one of its interiors? Almost certainly not. Their designers won't even be there. But would you pick a ship because you think that, overall, it's attractive? For sure.
Not that you'll necessarily get to enjoy all the rooms like Le Voyage aboard the Ascent. A meal in this room costs an extra $75 per person (one appetizer, one main dish, one dessert), charged on top of your base fare. Typical of most mass-market cruise lines today, most of the better places to eat on board can only be accessed with the payment of an extra fee. Le Voyage is technically overseen from a distance by star chef Daniel Boulud. He won't be aboard, either.
On the Ascent, there are 32 "food and beverage experiences" available on board, according to Celebrity, although some of those are small-menu kiosks that are only open for limited hours each day. And of those 32 advertised venues, only 4 are available without extra charges. (Blu is the restaurant for people in premium-level AquaClass cabins, and people who booked exclusive staterooms in The Retreat have access to Luminae.)
Fortunately, the few complimentary outlets are decidedly good. This is the Oceanview Cafe, on the 14th deck aft, and it's the main buffet. There's a solid mix of world cuisines represented, so guests won't be stuck with a fully Americanized array. Many a kid has had the best part of a cruise vacation thwarted by a broken soft-serve ice cream machine, but the Oceanview has a section for hand-scooped ice cream, eliminating the possibility of such childhood trauma. The space is also a pleasure to visit: large, double-height, and replete with plenty of ocean-facing seating, including a section outdoors at the stern.
Royal Caribbean's CEO Liberty says that Celebrity recently began using AI to predict how much food its guests will eat depending on factors such as demographics and weather, and the technology has enabled the company to cut food waste by 35%, particularly at the buffet.
A few popular menu items have been omitted from the buffet, forcing guests to go to an upcharged venue—sushi, for example, can only be accessed below decks at Raw on Five, where it's charged to your bill à la carte. But on the whole guests who restrict themselves to the "free" meals at Oceanview will not want for choice. It's one of the better buffets on the mass-market lines.
Here's a little more of that signature, sometimes-experimental design. These florid chairs, located at the entrance of the multi-level Eden Bar at the back of the ship, seemed to attract more quick-hit Instagrammers than resting posteriors.
This furniture looked great when Ascent was new, but how will it age over years of nonstop wear and tear by sunscreen-oiled bodies? Celebrity Cruises has an excellent reputation for launching splashy high-design ships, but when it comes to updating them once they've been at sea for a while, the track record isn't so good.
Once the Edge class was introduced in 2018, the post-recession Solstice class seemed to fall off Celebrity's refurbishment radar, and many of those ships are in dire need of refreshing, as documented in this 2023 YouTube review of 2008's Celebrity Solstice. (Celebrity executives have hinted to the press that renovations of older ships is on the horizon, although the details have not been specified as of late 2023.)
For now, our advice for Celebrity is to take one of its newest ships.
Ascent differs from its 3 older Edge-class siblings in very slight ways. For example, the elevators now generate their own power as they descend, conserving energy.
But one of the more visible differences is in the Grand Plaza (pictured above), the heart of the ship where many of the bars, restaurants, and shops cluster.
Apparently it's a little larger.
Yes, discussing the differences between Edge-class ships feels more swapping trivia than documenting actual evolution. And considering how attractive the Grand Plaza is and what a pleasing place it is to order a martini, maybe that's a good thing. But is that enough to make you want to sail on the Ascent over its predecessor, the Beyond? Not really, unless it happens to be sailing somewhere you wanted to go anyway.
These Celebrity sisters don't need to quarrel for the attention of suitors. They're all pretty.
The Ascent also has a new virtual reality-equipped activities room that you can rent for simulated golf, karaoke, and the like. But by and large, what you got on the three previous Edge ships (here's Frommer's' gallery review of the Celebrity Edge) is what you're going to get if you book the Ascent. Everything's just a few years younger.
The Celebrity Ascent does differ from the Edge, Apex, and Beyond in one important way: entertainment. As of early 2024, all of its shows were exclusive to the Ascent.
Its most innovative contribution—one that Celebrity would be wise to promote more loudly and to roll out on previous ships—isn't exactly a show, but a group gaming system called Game On. Hosted during quiet hours in the ship's dance club/ performance space, Game On uses projecting mapping technology and body sensors to turn the dance floor into a giant, ever-changing board in which guests become the pieces in raucously colored animated party games.
When the Ascent debuted, Game On, which was developed and programmed by Celebrity, featured a half dozen fun, multi-player games. Most of them were as elegant and as easy-to-grasp as the early arcade favorites Pong and Breakout. Game On isn't just a savvy solution for putting a nighttime-focused space to daytime use, but it also represents a boost to the Ascent's family-oriented activities. Celebrity isn't a line that fills its ships with lures for young families the way its sister line Royal Caribbean does, so this addition is welcome. If you want to wear out some hyperactive children aboard the Ascent, send them here. On our cruise, few passengers seemed to have even heard about it.
If you thought the lighting in Game On was good, the evening shows will blow you away. Celebrity's entertainment division has turned its back on the boiled-down Broadway musicals and rehashed jukebox revues you saw last year on their national tours.
Instead, the company has been reaching out to young entertainment creators from the worlds of Super Bowl pre-game shows, fashion weeks, reality TV competitions, and Las Vegas residencies. Their recruitment has raised the caliber of the talent in meaningful ways. We attended four different shows across three venues, and the vocal talent was almost always top-notch, and a noticeable improvement over what we've seen recently on other lines. Can Celebrity maintain that vocal quality level as contracts expire and singers move on? That's the next big operational test.
The line is certainly showing signs that it intends to invest long-term in a fresher, more electric style of song and dance. Ascent has a performance space that's much more technically advanced than its rivals. The curved back wall of the mainstage is comprised of an enormous, 108-foot-long (33 m), 21-foot-tall (6.6 m) LED screen that can reconfigure itself, through hydraulics, in spectacular ways. Add to that a variety of trap doors and rigging for aerialists and acrobats, and the upgraded facilities have allowed Celebrity to expand its shows beyond standard song-and-dance revues and dip toes into Cirque du Soleil-style embellishments. (Awaken, one of three productions staged in the main Theatre, is pictured above.)
Despite the deep pockets that created and maintain the stagecraft, the shows are still essentially medley revues of popular songs. Perhaps cruise ship shows will perhaps always be cruise ship shows, no matter how fancy the LEDs. But rarely have they been assembled with such stagecraft and panache within the constraints of a seagoing theatre.
Ascent's Smoke & Ivories show turns the dance floor that Game On used into a sexy, high-energy after-hours cabaret of jazz standards and acrobatics. Crew warned us that audience members in the front might get sprinkled by sweat from the performers, and they weren't kidding.
The same troupe performs a different show in similarly snug conditions in the ship's soaring Eden Bar, a glassy space at the stern.
Without question, Celebrity's Edge-class ships know a thing or two about good lighting. These clear plunge pools overlook the ocean on one side, and Deck 14's Rooftop Garden on the other. That's the Ascent's common space on the main pool deck, where guests can read a book by day or watch a sports event on a huge screen by night.
Decorated with planters filled with live greenery, the Rooftop Garden gives welcome access to its crowning deck space to everyone. It also has a pretty, glassed-in barbecue restaurant venue that, on fine nights at sea, feels very much like a restaurant pavilion in a park.
Royal Caribbean's Oasis-class and Icon-class ships bury their "Central Park" green spaces at the bottom of a light well in the middle of the ship, and Norwegian's latest ships have taken to restricting desirable top-deck space to customers who cough up a cover charge for a faux "beach club," so it's pleasing to see Celebrity offer its guests this prime space so freely. In fact, the company says this area was enlarged slightly for the Ascent. The pools, especially, are new additions for this ship. (Just be aware, honeymooners, that there are seating areas beside them, so people will be able to see what you're doing below the surface.)
Behind the Rooftop Garden, situated on the extreme back end of the ship, is the multi-leveled Sunset Bar, which Celebrity says has been expanded in size since the Edge.
This is another lovely space that Celebrity has hired a famous designer to set up. In this case, the ambiance and soft goods are by Nate Berkus, who oversaw the same space on the Celebrity Beyond. Again, he won't be on board with you, and it's doubtful you'd book a cruise just to have a look at his textiles, which admittedly don't look very interesting in this Celebrity-issued image. The main appeal of this area is its location. Having a drink on these terraces as the ship's wake unspoools behind you will have to be enough for you.
But that appeal will essentially be the same on any of Celebrity's Edge-class ships. When you hear the name Celebrity Ascent, you might as well hear it as "Celebrity's assent," because this new ship is in pleasant agreement with its three attractive, upscale predecessors. When a formula is agreeable, it bears repeating.