Richard Fain, the chief executive officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises , is willing to bet $5 billion that he can take everything you know about cruising and flip it upside down. Or at least outside in.
On Monday, he and Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO of Celebrity Cruises-one of three brands in the Royal Caribbean family-announced a new category of ship that, among other transformational design moves, brings stateroom balconies indoors. With a push of a button, the floor-to-ceiling windows of Celebrity Edge-class staterooms retract like a super-sleek garage door, leaving nothing but a simple glass railing between your living room furniture and the crystal-blue sea.
"When I started [working in the cruise industry] in the 1970s, nearly zero ships had balconies. It was all portholes," reflected Fain on a phone call with Bloomberg. Since then, balconies have been the golden rule for hard-core cruisers.
But fast forward to December 2018, when the first of five Celebrity Edge-class vessels is scheduled to leave the shipyard, and both portholes and balconies will become a thing of the past. At least, that's what Fain and Lutoff-Perlo are betting on.
These balconies on-demand are just one of the first-to-market design features raising the price tag of Edge-class ships to $1 billion a piece. Here's what else to expect on these tricked-out ocean liners, which are packed with enough bells and whistles to make even the most fervent anti-cruiser consider a trip on the high seas.
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By redefining the balcony, Celebrity is able to expand cabins right up to the edge of the ship-almost like an infinity pool. As a result, stateroom floor plans are (on average) 23 percent larger than before, with bathrooms gaining an extra 20 percent of square footage. This is a feat of engineering much larger than meets the eye: Currently, balconies help distribute the weight of a boat, and bringing them indoors requires boatbuilders to redesign the vessel's support system. Making ships bigger isn't the answer if you're looking for increased square footage, either, as many ships are already too large to dock in popular ports. (They solve that issue by dropping anchor off shore and ferrying guests to land in smaller boats.)
"We have been reimagining shore experiences for a long time," explained Lutoff-Perlo, who says the glassed-in staterooms "let us transform how guests experience destinations when they're in port or out on sea."
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A Magic Carpet Ride
Imagine a mini-deck-it's the length of a tennis court-that hovers off the edge of the ship, moving up and down along a vertical track almost like an elevator. That's the Magic Carpet, a new public space that will serve different purposes at different times of the day. When it's positioned on Deck 2, it's a stylish disembarkation point. On Deck 5, it becomes a lunch spot with wraparound views. Up on Deck 14, it's an extension to the pool area, sometimes with a DJ. (Think of it as a pool party that comes and goes, explained Lutoff-Perlo.) And in the evenings, the Magic Carpet will anchor at Deck 16, where it'll become a fine dining restaurant that's cantilevered over the sea. Said Lutoff-Perlo: "Where else in the world can you get this experience, sitting 16 stories above the sea, dining by moonlight with a view of Barcelona?"
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Floating Villas With Private Plunge Pools
Suites have traditionally made up 5 percent of Celebrity's room stock; on Edge ships, they'll represent 12 percent of the accommodations. Included are six duplex villas that shed the traditional décor you'll find on, say, luxury cruise line Cunard's two-floor suites-instead, they have private plunge pools and direct access to the one of the ship's sundecks. Eucalyptus-treated cashmere mattresses from Italy, Bulgari bath amenities, butler service, packing and unpacking support, and a bar that's set up based on your own preferences: They're just a few of the signature amenities for suite guests. "They look like a beautiful hotel that just happens to float," said Lutoff-Perlo, who added that if you opt for the penthouse suite, you'll get a better view than the captain. "It's set right over the bridge," she said.
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The last big innovation in cruising dealt with RFID-enabled wristbands that let you scan in and out of the ship at port or charge drinks to your room. But wearables are a thing of the past, said Lutoff-Perlo. On the Edge ships, you'll be able to do everything on your phone, from checking in to unlocking your stateroom door or controlling your room's temperature and lighting. It all happens via a proprietary Celebrity app, which also puts the concierge, ship map, and daily event schedule in each guest's pocket. "We'll send you notifications for the things you've told us you're interested in and use it to reduce pain points across the entire experience," said Lutoff-Perlo. "It will help us personalize your cruise as we've never been able to do before."
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The Ultimate Adult "Playscape"
The so-called resort deck on the Celebrity Edge ships takes the adult pool concept to a whole other level. The pool itself is enclosed by a tessellated, glass-like dome for all-weather access-it's called the Solarium-that leads to a rooftop garden that one-ups the lawn clubs and rooftop terraces Celebrity has typically installed on its previous ships. The garden will be landscaped with sculptural trees and maintained by a dedicated horticulturist so that it can be used for jazz parties (think live music, wine, and blankets) or dinner-and-a-movie nights. It's all designed by Tom Wright, whose stamp is also on the iconic Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai.
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The Bottom Line
Lutoff-Perlo and Fain both talk about the Edge class as an evolution in modern luxury, capable of drawing more affluent younger travelers and converting them into cruisers.
"When you have to sign a contract for $5 billion, your hand shakes. But now that I've seen the design, my hand no longer shakes," said Fain. And Lutoff-Perlo indicated there's more to come. "Every new feature needs to be a must-see, must-have experience-that's true of all these additions, along with several more amazing things we'll be revealing later on," she teased.
Want to get a spot on the inaugural sailing? Bookings are officially open here for the first ship's maiden voyage, departing from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Dec. 16, 2018, for a week-long Caribbean circuit.
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Chris Palmeri contributed reporting to this story.