Celebrity is the cruise line that got my family into cruising almost 25 years ago. My husband and I took our then-little kids to Alaska and we had such a surprisingly great time, we followed up with Celebrity trips to the Mediterranean and, as they got older, Scandinavia and Russia.
Last year, my husband and I went back to Alaska on Celebrity Millennium – the same ship we were on two decades ago – and it felt like little had changed. It was very comfortable and we enjoyed it just as much as we originally had but I really wanted to experience the line’s newer, much-heralded Edge series with its added luxury and new technological features.
So when Celebrity announced the inaugural sailing of Beyond, their third ship in the series, I was immediately on board. Not only is Beyond one deck taller and 20 meters longer than the first two Edge ships but it’s helmed by Captain Kate McCue, the first American female captain of a major cruise line. She is a force of nature who is already making a difference as a role model for a whole new generation.
It takes a lot of confidence to name a ship “Beyond” and I worried that it wouldn’t be able to live up to expectations. But, having spent a week exploring its nooks and crannies — and its art collection; oh, its amazing art collection — I’m happy to report that the name seems to have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Here are just a few reasons why:
As people return to travel, The Retreat, Celebrity’s luxurious ship within a ship concept, has been selling out on every cruise. So, on Beyond, they’ve added 22 more Retreat suites than on their other Edge-series ships.
Everything about The Retreat, from the private restaurant, lounge and sun deck to the fact that Retreat guests get special access, reserved seating and priority for almost everything, definitely makes it worth the extra money.
I LOVED my Retreat Sky Suite on Beyond and can tell you it’s one of the best-designed staterooms I’ve ever stayed in. Not only was it very open and roomy and light but the bed faced the veranda – which is something I wish every cruise ship could figure out how to do. The bathroom also had a “window” which I kept open so I could enjoy an ocean view even when I was brushing my teeth.
Half the appeal of cruising is the focus on eating and Beyond features 32 distinct food and beverage venues, including four “main” restaurants. This in itself is an innovative, much-welcome change, offering guests four options for their included meals so they can eat at different restaurants without an additional fee. Although the menu is mostly the same, each restaurant also offers exclusive dishes based on its theme – American, French, Italian, Mediterranean – and has its own distinctive look.
I’m partial to the buffet on cruise ships and Beyond’s is stellar. In fact, the Oceanview Cafe is like a food hall, with literally something for everyone, whether you’re a meat lover or vegetarian. You can even have pizza made to your own preference. I didn’t miss a day (or a meal) at the popular ice cream counter.
Beyond also features a variety of specialty restaurants, including Le Voyage, Michelin starred chef Daniel Boulud’s first restaurant at sea. It’s a gorgeous, intimate space hidden in the Grand Plaza with brioche I still dream about but my favorite restaurant on the ship was the garden-y Eden, a delightful environment with an exciting menu full of surprises.
Let’s face it: Cruise ship shows can be on the cheesy side. It’s why Simon Cowell often told the American Idol contestants he rejected that they’d be better suited to singing on a cruise ship. However, that criticism may now become a compliment because Celebrity has totally raised the bar for cruise ship entertainment with a variety of shows that are worth rushing through dessert if necessary.
The three original productions I saw – Arte, Elements and Stage Door – were better than any shows I’ve seen on a cruise. The way technology was used to provide backdrops was brilliant. Brilliant. The shows were creative, beautiful and absolute crowd pleasers. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next, although I would be happy to watch all of these again.
The Grand Plaza
As someone who doesn’t drink, cruise ship atriums usually don’t do much for me. Sure, they can be beautiful but they’re where people sit on couches with cocktails, listening to often-generic live music and they’re not somewhere I’ve felt compelled to spend a lot of time. I usually just walk through them on my way to somewhere else.
The Grand Plaza on Celebrity Beyond is a revelation. Three decks high and smack in the middle of the ship, there seemed to always be a reason to head there – whether for a premium coffee drink and complimentary pastry at the popular Café al Bacio or dinner at one of the many specialty restaurants. Even when there wasn’t a reason, I found myself stopping – along with dozens of other enthusiastic spectators – to admire the juggling bartenders at the Martini Bar (how do they do that?!) or watch the choreographed light show from the impressive LED chandelier. People always seemed happy to be there and it was a joyful party atmosphere rather than a rowdy one, which I found irresistible.
I’ve never understood people who don’t take advantage of ship spas, especially on days at sea, and The Spa on Beyond is the perfect example of why I feel that way. Lying in a heated tile lounger overlooking the sea after a really great massage – and I had a couple of really great massages there – is such a gift and really makes you appreciate how lucky you are to be exactly where you are.
Beyond’s SEA Thermal Suite features everything from steam and salt rooms to Hammam and rainfall water therapy. It’s a treat for the senses and a lovely place to spend a couple of hours. The Thermal Suite is complimentary for AquaClass guests but is accessible to all guests for an additional fee.