The first thing that occurred to us when we stepped on to the maiden voyage of Celebrity Beyond, a brand new liner from Celebrity Cruises (CC) which promises ‘a new world of wonder and luxury’, was how much it resembled Dubai Mall. This not only makes it a perfect choice for GCC travellers craving the comfort of pristine, white-marbled opulence – but means they will feel instantly at home (albeit, a home that happens to be moving across the sea).
Inspired by a vision to take the cruise industry into the next era of luxe sea travel, CC have gathered a dream team of household names to sprinkle star power across every deck. From interior design talents of multi-award-winning British designer and TV star Kelly Hoppen CBE and lead architect Tom Wright who designed the Burj Al Arab Hotel; culinary prowess of chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud – not to mention experiences and products from goop CEO and founder Gwyneth Paltrow, the brand’s new Well-Being Advisor.
Packed full of places to eat, drink, shop and be fabulously decadent – imagine 12 decks designed to fill every second with a sensory experience. This includes The Retreat, an exclusive resort-within-a-resort area for suite guests complete with a double-storey sundeck; rooms, suites and multi-floor villas for every budget and lifestyle choice; an expanded rooftop garden and resort deck with cantilevered float pools; the first-ever Daniel Boulud fine-dining restaurant at sea; the Magic Carpet, an engineering feat soaring cantilevered above the sea, offering guests uninterrupted vistas while sipping cocktails or having dinner; and a stunning theatre offering world-class shows to wow even the most devoted Broadway fan.
For those unfamiliar with any luxury cruise experience, let alone a CC cruise experience, you are not going to need a bigger boat. Putting the ‘VV’ in very vast, when we pulled up to Southampton Docks, one couldn’t help but gasp at the sheer scale of this living city on the sea. While our cruise experience on its maiden voyage simply sailed across the Solent and towards France; it was on its way to a 10-night Western Europe cruise visiting Bordeaux, Lisbon, Seville, Malaga, Palma de Mallorca and Barcelona. She will then offer a variety of Mediterranean journeys including nine-night Italian Riviera and France itineraries and 10-night Greek Isles itineraries until early October, when she heads to the Caribbean.
Greeted by an endless line of smiling crew members and the romantic glow of glittering chandeliers, tinkling piano and the bustle of elegant guests ready to get their cruise on, it’s immediately impossible not to get caught up in the spirit of a new voyage. While we haven’t been on enough cruises to compare, it feels like the CC team really working hard to nail the atmosphere – never wasting an opportunity to up the ante when it comes to good, old-fashioned fun.
One of the central themes of the boat is a dedication to art and it’s literally unmissable. As well as a boutique gallery featuring a contemporary blend of vibrant paintings and thought-provoking photography, there are eye-catching prints carefully placed across all 12 decks. From striking portraits to textured abstracts, each piece is worth stopping to appreciate – meaning we spent a lot of time lingering over the strong face of a tribesman or the blissful folds of a vibrant fabric on a fashion photo. Having spent years in luxury hotels with bland artwork designed to offend as few people as possible and inspire even less, the boldness of the pieces feels dazzling.
We loved our Stateroom, with its small but perfectly formed monochrome bathroom; its own mini balcony with retractable window for sea gazing and cheerful design splashes. Hoppen’s ruthless efficiency feels present in the finishing touches – from the stylish taps and butler sinks to give guests the feeling of being in a modern five-star hotel, to the addition of day beds so each guest can lounge, work, chat and sleep in stylish surrounds where every detail has been considered. Staterooms aren’t super wow and Middle Eastern cruisers with tastes for the region’s opulent hotels are likely to gravitate towards the range of Celebrity Beyond suites and villas, but at one-above-entry level they are chic and extremely comfortable.
As well as more space (and those with so much space you forget this isn’t one of Dubai’s super-luxe residential apartments), more design flourishes and outside balconies with better views – Celebrity Beyond’s suites and villas come with a range of additional perks. For example the AquaClass SkySuites offer access to all wellness amenities including the spa, fitness kits from Paltrow’s modern lifestyle brand goop, an onboard wellness programme and to chance to participate in the line’s new Women in Wellness initiative.
From the two-story Celebrity Suites with signature cashmere mattresses and panoramic windows; to the Edge Villas offering 950 square feet of split-level splendour in a one-bedroom and two bathroom private oceanfront villas with terrace and plunge pools; all suites and villas give guests exclusive extras. These include the chance to hang out with other VIPs at The Retreat’s lounge and sundeck and the run of their own restaurant Luminae with menus crafted by superstar international chef Daniel Boulud.
Those without access to the spa will want to head there anyway if you’re anything like us, even if the price point is in the high range. As regular GCC-spa-goers, we know a thing or two about top treatments, so we were interested to see if this experience would offer good value. We can report it does (so good we immediately booked a second treatment after our first.) What makes a great spa is its practitioners and that is something the wellness team at Celebrity Beyond has spent time sourcing properly. Both the efficient and friendly reception staff and our masseuse, who delivered a stunning Swedish massage on day one and body melting hot stone treatment on day two) were faultless. Just make sure you book before you sail to avoid disappointment and note that entrance to the sauna, steam rooms and hydro pools are at an additional cost.
For those that want more wellness with their seafaring, CB has plenty to offer including twice daily yoga sessions, a running track, two pools (top tip, get up when everyone is sleeping off the unlimited cocktails and experience the steamy outdoor pool at sunrise without another soul in sight), an equipment-filled gym and a host of daily fitness activities. There’s also a cute cafe in the solarium serving healthy breakfasts and smoothies for those wanting to keep the cruise calorie excess eating to a minimum.
But who goes on a cruise to limit fun? Especially when CB’s range of restaurants, cafes, bars, chocolate shops and countless other eating emporiums are delivering to such a high standard. We took the excess approach and tempered a few brisk walks around the decks with a carb-filled breakfast at new American restaurant Cosmopolitan; the biggest lunch buffet we’d ever seen at Oceanview Café, afternoon tea at Café al Bacio and a few expertly blended tipples at The Martini Bar. Dinner really is the main event here though, and to fully enjoy it’s worth doing two things: save room in your appetite and dress up to the nines (when on sea).
On day one, we dived into Gaelic classics and modern French cooking at Normandie while enjoying the restaurant’s predictably chic interior (think drop crystal chandeliers, leather banquettes and art deco curves). We opted for the classic route with a sweetly rich French onion soup oozing with melted cheese and a perfectly pink plate of salmon with crunchy vegetables and a decadent sauce. Desserts – a many-layered millefeuille and a cinnamon-laced apple pie were a fitting end to a fabulous over-the-top first night at sea.
On day two we were invited to join Le Petit Chef, a secret supper club style dining experience unlike anything we’d tried before. Ostensibly a nice-looking but unremarkable bistro, guests are seated, told briefly what to expect and asked to choose a dining journey. From there the blinds are drawn to avoid outside guests getting in on the secret (plus presumably to stop any light from getting into the projectors) and suddenly dinner is taken over by, well, a tiny chef. Projected onto the table, this animated host takes you through the history of certain culinary dishes and tells a story of how he came to be. It’s whimsical, highly visual and hard to explain but imagine being in the Disney film Ratatouille (if the rat was a tiny chef) with the chance to break for live versions of the dishes in between. It’s mad, fun and clever enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The food was great too, particularly an outstanding tomato tart.
Talking of drama, let’s talk about our other CB highlight. ‘The Theatre’ is a vast two-level dome dedicated to giving cruise guests as much of a show as possible. Each sailing offers three performances – Arte, Stage Door and Elements – blending all-out show tunes, gymnastics, digital displays, brilliant music and dazzling dancing. Everything is delivered to a professional standard (unsurprising the entertainment teams did collaborate with casts of the major shows and call in talent from across the world). Our favourite was Stage Door, a medley of musical numbers that had us and the rest of the audience dancing in the aisles. Sixty minutes of unabashed joy and not to be missed.
From Broadway pizazz to a burlesque act straight out of Berlin at the nightclub to the bartenders flipping cocktail shakers Tom Cruise style underneath the LED-laced chandelier at The Martini Bar; for us the best bits of our first voyage with Celebrity Beyond were the most heavily laced in hedonism. Is it subtle? No. But does it deliver fun at every turn? Absolutely.
And for that reason alone, we are tempted to book another voyage…
GO: Visit www.celebritycruises.com for more information.