Architecture & design

To infinity and beyond

Celebrity’s Infinity and Summit ships are undergoing multi-million dollar refurbishments, adding new features and enhancements at Freeport, Bahamas, including the new “Rooftop Terrace”, inspired by the Lawn Club found onboard Solstice-class ships. How might these enhancements transform the ships? Abi Millar investigates. 

In October 2015, Celebrity Cruises announced that two of its Millennium-class ships were about to see major refurbishments, to the tune of $8 million each. Celebrity Infinity, one of the line’s oldest existing vessels, entered dry dock in the Bahamas soon after the announcement, whereas its sister ship Celebrity Summit followed suit between February and March 2016.

This was not the first time the ships had been revamped. Between 2011 and 2012, both vessels underwent what the line calls ‘solsticizing’ – in essence, bringing them into line with its newer Solstice Class. Each ship was fitted with spa-inspired staterooms, two new specialty restaurants, various bars and cafés, and the signature ‘Celebrity iLounge, billed as the ‘first Authorized Apple reseller at sea’.

As the then-president and CEO Dan Hanrahan explained in 2011: “The Millennium Class ships already have a large and loyal following… Their style, design and ambience served as significant inspiration for the design of the Solstice Class, and now, we’re bringing it full circle… incorporating what our guests enjoy most on the Solstice Class. It ties the whole fleet together in a very powerful way.”

While the word itself is something of a tongue-twister, solsticizing as a concept was easy to understand. Rather than harking back to some golden age of cruising, Celebrity has always positioned itself as a forward-thinking line.

The publicity machine

Just witness its recent TV advertising campaign, designed by the creative agency Venables Bell & Partners, which features Celebrity staff beckoning ‘like-minded travellers to answer the call of modern luxury”. Or the tagline: formerly ‘That’s Modern Luxury’; currently ‘Modern Luxury Lives Here’.

This branding, while attractive, effectively puts the kibosh on looking dated. And while ‘Millennium’ may once have connoted all that is new and exciting, any ship that bears a turn-of-the-century time stamp can only remain ‘modern’ for so long.

Solsticizing therefore ensured the Millennium Class did not remain tethered to early 2000s style. Four years later, with their latest refurbishments, Infinity and Summit continue further down the same trajectory. Nobody is likely to mistake their new finishes for a product of 2001.

As current president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said in a statement: “We want the suites to be so luxurious and comfortable that it’s difficult for guests to leave at the end of their vacation. We want the entire ship to turn heads.”

Within the ships’ Suite Class, every Penthouse and Royal Suite has received a facelift, in the form of new marble surfaces and luxury fixtures, along with new carpeting, drapes and bed linen. The ships now feature an enclosed portrait studio, a future cruise sales office, and a revitalised Solarium and casino.

Both ships have closed one of their key eateries – the SS United States Restaurant on Infinity and the Normandie on Summit – reopening it as the Tuscan Grille. Described as ‘an Italian steakhouse with a nouveau twist’, the Tuscan Grille is already a staple of the Solstice-class ships, suggesting that the steady creep of Solsticizing perhaps did not end in 2012.

That said, the movement is not all one way. The menu here is slightly different, with an Italian cocktail menu, fresh pasta made in-house and a number of new artisanal foods. After soliciting guest feedback, Celebrity plans to roll out the new items to its Solstice-class vessels.

By far the most striking change, however, is the introduction of a Rooftop Terrace on the 12th deck, a brand-new venue Celebrity is calling ‘the trendiest hotspot at sea’. While inspired by the Solstice Class Lawn Club – at least insofar as it encourages guests to head outside – this terrace contains a number of firsts.

During the day, it is simply somewhere to kick back, but at night it becomes an illuminated entertainment hub. Alongside the modular furniture, cabanas and sculptural elements, it features a large screen and soundscape intended for movie screenings. One recurring event, A Taste of Film, involves pairing a movie with food and beverage tastings curated to match the film.

Participants on a preview tour, for instance, watched a clip of a film about an Indian restaurant-owning family who move to France, accompanied by samples of poached shrimp and Indian samosas.

“The Rooftop Terrace is a brand-new way to enjoy the great outdoors on a modern luxury vacation,” said Lutoff-Perlo. ‘The popularity of our Lawn Club venues has shown us that some of the richest moments our guests enjoy are when relaxing in beautiful outdoor spaces. In creating the Rooftop Terrace, we wanted to create a hot spot where guests can kick back under the stars in the middle of the ocean, with amazing entertainment and food.”

Design for new life

Having spent three decades at Royal Caribbean, Lutoff-Perlo is no stranger to ship design. In her previous capacity as vice president of operations for Royal Caribbean International, she oversaw the launch of Quantum of the Seas, and before that she was integrally involved with the creation of Celebrity’s Solstice-class fleet.

Since been named president and CEO of Celebrity in December 2014, she has evinced a strong commitment to the brand’s promise – the continued evolution of modern luxury. In addition to the latest refurbishments, she is overseeing the launch of two new ships, due in 2018 and 2020. Developed under the codename Project EDGE, the new vessels will host 2,900 guests and weigh 117,000 tons, and are being built by STX France.

For the time being, Celebrity is remaining schtum about the details, but it seems clear that the two ships will be identical (or at least very similar) and that they will build on the model provided by the Millennium and Solstice-class vessels that preceded them.

As explained on a Royal Caribbean statement: “Our affluent guests want modern luxury vacations with destination-rich authentic experiences – and EDGE Class is the perfect size for this. Project EDGE will deliver small-ship itineraries with large-ship amenities, and we will bring our guests closer to the destination than ever before.”

This description might be taken as a summation of the Celebrity brand as a whole. While none of its ships could pretend to be small – the Millennium-class vessels, the smallest in the line, weigh over 90 tons following their 2012 renovations – Celebrity has always avoided the trap of merely wowing with scale and size.

Its modern luxury promise really comes down to experiential factors; in essence, ensuring the guests have a vacation worth savouring. That might mean something different to different guests (romantic getaway? family holiday of a lifetime?) but it is unlikely that many of them are looking merely to be overpowered by aesthetics.

After all, you wouldn’t opt for a Celebrity cruise if you wanted white-glove service, ostentatious décor or anything that might be termed grandiose. One of Lutoff-Perlo’s first moves as CEO was to get rid of ‘formal night’, replacing it with an ‘elegant chic’ night with no obligation for cocktail attire.

Rather, the Celebrity look is tastefully spacious, even to the point of understated, and is more likely to attract the simple epithet ‘cool’. The brand is working hard to position itself as energetic, approachable and fun, boasting all the sophistication you might expect from a luxury cruise, but without any of the stuffiness.

On the campaign trail

Discussing the brand’s latest advertising strategy, Lutoff-Perlo said the campaign brought to life some of Celebrity’s most important values: “curiosity, discernment and experience over possessions”.

What this will mean for the new fleet, time will tell; in the meantime, the revamped Infinity and Summit are already generating a buzz among reviewers and guests alike. Currently in its South America season, Celebrity Infinity will enter its Alaska season in May, whereas Celebrity Summit will shortly begin its summer season of seven-night cruises to Bermuda.

The makeover may not have been drastic, at least compared to the Solsticizing that preceded it. It has, however, brought two of Celebrity’s oldest ships bang up to date, not just applying consistency across the fleet but also going above and beyond what is found on the other vessels. And while the word ‘luxury’ may evoke a kind of timelessness to some, it is clear that Celebrity wishes to keep the focus on what’s new.

This article appears in the 2016 vol 1 edition of World Cruise Industry Review


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