The Changing Face of Celebrity Cruising

Here is a photograph taken in Tallinn in June 2006 – the occasion of our first cruise with Celebrity – first cruise ever, for that matter.

And here is one from April 2015 on our latest cruise in Honolulu. Same company, but on the face of it a few things have changed.

We’ve done a fair bit of cruising over the past 9 years – all of it with Celebrity Cruises. We like their friendly service, good food, understated elegance of their ships, laid back cruise experience with no wet T-shirt contests or non-stop casino announcements.

It also helps to get the perqs of a loyal customer. We are now at the penultimate Captain’s Club level – the next one (Zenith) is beyond our reach I fear. We’d have to cruise 3X as much as we already have to get there. But we are doing OK – free Internet and laundry, a few free drinks, priority for embarking and disembarking. We’ll take it.

Celebrity lately though seems to be embarking on even more significant changes to the cruise experience –  basically a variation of the Royal Caribbean slogan of “We never stop improving.” They arguably are using “Break-It” thinking in a lot of these changes – and I’m not sure if this early 1990s approach will sit all that well with the long time Celebrity loyalists.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • Lose the Nautical Themes
    The Millennium class of ships featured a specialty restaurant with artifacts from some of the great ocean liners of the past. In the updates coming to Summit and Infinity, the SS Normandie and SS United States restaurants will be converted into another type of specialty restaurant – Tuscan Grill. The priceless nautical pieces that graced these restaurants will end up in the entrance to the casino.
  • Dumb Down the Formality
    When we first started cruising Celebrity we had formal (suit and tie or tux) informal (sports jacket and tie) and smart casual (golf shirt) evenings. Informal disappeared a few years ago, and now there are only about 3 formal evenings on a 15 day cruise. The result has been that formal now means some sort of jacket (tie optional.) I believe the next step will be to do away with formal nights altogether. Maybe that’s a good thing, given how little baggage allowance you get on the airlines today.
  • Push Anytime Dining Instead of a Fixed Seating Arrangement for Dinner
    This one really annoys me, as for years we have loved the idea of a fixed time and fixed table in the dining room. You get to know your own waiter and he gets to know you over the cruise. Great service that way.
    However Celebrity doesn’t care about this any more. They’d rather you pay extra for a Specialty Restaurant meal anyway. To pander to the few who want to have “Select Dining” they dedicated a whole section of the Dining Room to it, and then found it very much underutilized. Now when you make a cruise reservation, they default to Select and unless you pull rank on them with your loyalty status they won’t give you the Fixed Dining time you want. Definitely not an improvement in my view.
    To add insult to injury Celebrity now expects you to prepay your waiter’s gratuity because you’ll never have the same one with “Select Dining.” A wonderful part of the cruise experience is going down the tubes here.
  • Cater to the Suite Passengers and Emphasize Different Classes
    Time was when it didn’t matter if you had an inside cabin or something way more luxurious – Celebrity treated its guests pretty much the same outside their staterooms. No longer.
    Celebrity now has at least two premium class of passenger – Aqua and Suite – that have their own private dining rooms and don’t have to mingle with the plebes for meals. The once popular nightspot Michael’s Club is now exclusively a domain for suite passengers and any Zenith (top tier) customers whose wheelchairs might fit through the door.
    The majority of the upgrades to Summit and Infinity look to be increasing the luxury of suites. The rest of us will have to stay content with what they give us, I guess.
    These days it seems that the Celebrity “Modern Luxury” slogan really means “Modern Upsell.”
  • Emphasize a Younger Demographic
    I suppose it was inevitable that Celebrity start trying to attract younger cruisers. After all it didn’t want to be like the tobacco industry where your customers all die off.
    My daughter sailed with Princess a few years back and was impressed with their outdoor cinema. I believe the new outdoor space on Infinity and Summit will be similar, with comfy seating, food available (at extra cost) and a big screen. This might be nice for the younger set, but I don’t want to sit aft of the funnel, listen to the diesels thumping away and watch TV. Well at least they won’t be rigging a zipline or rock wall – yet.

After this rant you might be surprised to know we still have future plans to sail with Celebrity. Fortunately there are still quite a few things we enjoy about the line, and those perqs are hard to give up if you move to another one. Going forward we’ll probably cruise less, though. Goodbye Zenith level.

If we did decided to switch we’d probably go to Holland America I guess. Royal Caribbean or Azamara both have disadvantages – either too much activity or too small a ship – so we’d have to get out of the RCI family, sadly.

HAL might suit us after all. It’s passengers have been described as  “newlywed or nearly dead.” We know where we fit in.

 

2 Comments
  1. Peggy Yates 5 years ago

    Love this post, Ray. I am concerned about the move towards a class system in cruising. We were on Labadee where the top class of passengers were literally walled off from the rest of us. The other change we’ve seen is seating with just a single traveling party. We always enjoyed meeting new people at dinner–like you all!

    • raymac46 5 years ago

      On our last two cruises we were given a table for two in spite of expressing a preference for a bigger table. Fortunately we were seated next to a lovely couple from the UK – who were also at a table for two.
      Our waiter said they had a lot more setups for two these days because they could use them for anytime diners if available (say we went to a specialty restaurant that evening.)
      Another unwelcome development if you ask me. We probably would not have met you and Bob had they been doing this back in 2008.

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