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Celebrity Cruises’ new ship, built in virtual reality, boasts a floating outdoor bar and ‘infinity’ cabins

By CHABELI HERRERA | Miami Herald | Published: March 23, 2017

Inside Royal Caribbean Cruises’ new Innovation Center called “The Cave,” executives, designers and architects can walk through a virtual cruise ship, granted their 3D goggles are on, of course. The virtual reality technology allows them to fine tune new features as simple as where to place tables in the rooftop garden and as radical as redefining the skeletal structure on the 2,900-passenger Celebrity Edge, scheduled to launch in fall 2018.

That second shift facilitates a change especially important to Royal Caribbean Chairman Richard Fain: Bringing the sea closer to guests.

Borrowing a style found on some river-going ships, Celebrity has moved the ship’s skeleton from outside in, eliminating the thick steel balcony surrounds that block balcony views. With the balconies essentially inside the cabin, the space can be used for living indoors or as separate balcony, with an “infinity view” window across the entire space that slides down to create a glass railing and bi-folding French door to separate indoors and out.

“The beauty of this is what’s not here,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of the parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises.

The technology used to create the Edge, Celebrity’s first new class of ships since 2002, has all been used elsewhere, Fain said. But bringing those features together in a PortMiami space within walking distance of executives’ offices -- instead of a European shipyard -- has led to a design that Fain likes to call “transformational.”

Case in point: The Magic Carpet.

The ship’s designers were looking to solve a common guest complaint: That the process for boarding the launches required to visit some small ports was crowded and cumbersome. Led by Tom Wright, the British architect behind the distinctive sail-shaped Burg Al Arab in Dubai, the team explored a half-dozen iterations before deciding on an elevated platform the size of a tennis court that can serve not only as sea-level access point to the launches, but also as an oyster bar on the restaurant deck, a cocktail bar on the pool deck and a dinner venue on the top deck.

“It’s sexy as hell,” said Fain during a tour of a full-scale model of the Magic Carpet, so heavy that the bayside parking lot on which it sits had to be structurally reinforced.

Some of the other new features are less radical but will directly address guest requests, said Celebrity president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo: larger cabins with bigger bathrooms, beds and storage.

Balcony rooms are 23 percent larger than their predecessors in Celebrity’s most recent Solstice class, measuring about 21 square meters, or 226 square feet, without the balcony. (That’s about 43 square feet larger than most competitor staterooms). That allows for bathrooms that are 10 percent larger than on the Solstice class, double the amount of drawer space and king-sized beds, plus retractable desks.

Celebrity is also introducing 16 single suites that will have the same accommodations of a standard room -- including the king bed -- but for one person.

Because of the popularity of the suites, Celebrity is nearly tripling the number of its 400-square-foot Sky Suites, which include butler service, from the Solstice class, for a total of 146. There are 1,467 total staterooms on the ship.

Edge will also introduce new luxury suites, including a 2,500-square-foot Iconic apartment with 82 linear feet of panoramic glass, a 700-foot balcony, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a hot tub and a private cabana. The new two-story Edge Villas include private plunge pools. All suites will include access to a private Retreat Lounge and pool open only to suite guests.

The rooms were the first cruise project by noted London-based interior designer Kelly Hoppen, who has appeared on British TV shows, and designed for stars including David and Victoria Beckham. Thanks in part to the new room construction, rooms seem less like cruise cabins and more like rooms in a hotel or home, featuring a neutral color palate with a splash of teal, blue or green.

The pool deck is also getting a facelift, with two-deck all-glass walls, two martini glass-shaped hot tubs elevated 22 feet above the deck and a rooftop garden.

On the technology front, Celebrity is introducing a number of new tools that continue the trend of Royal Caribbean’s WOW bands that open rooms and pay for services.

Guests on Celebrity will be able to check before their cruise via an app, much like guests do ahead of flights, allowing them to skip much of the traditional check-in process at ports. They will simply drop their luggage off curbside and walk in through new security portals linked to the app, allowing it to recognize each passenger.

Another first will be key-less entry, where guests can enter their staterooms by just using a digital key on their smart phones, also available on the Royal Caribbean app. Geo-location in cell phones allows the room to detect when a passenger is near and unlocks the room for them.

A new virtual concierge features that harnesses the same location technology so guests can order a drink for example, and staff will be able to take it to passengers -- as long as they have their phones with them. Guests can also schedule activities on the concierge feature.

Staterooms themselves will be equipped with an automation feature that allows guests to adjust stateroom temperature and lights from a single touch pad.

And perhaps most futuristic of all, Celebrity guests will have X-ray vision.

That is, guests will be able to peek through closed doors or walls in select areas of the ship such as the bridge, the engine room and even the anchor, via a smartphone app. Markers across the ship will alert guests when they can use the X-ray feature.

The project follows several other technological announcement by cruise lines this year designed to enhance the guest experience.

In January, Doral-based Carnival Corp. became the first cruise line to incorporate smart technology with a sole focus on the experience, rather than stateroom upgrades or new architectural features. The company hired much of the team behind Disney’s MagicBand, a wrist band that unlocks features at Disney parks, to conceptualize a smart city.

The result: a quarter size medallion emblazoned with each traveler’s name, ship and sail date that is connected to a complex network of sensors, readers, interactive screens and an app designed to introduce a personal touch in the cruising experience.

The medallion will first be rolled out on Carnival’s Princess Cruises line aboard the Regal Princess in mid-November from Fort Lauderdale.

Last week, Geneva-based MSC, which a ship that sails from Miami, announced a similar technology to Carnival’s during a news conference in Berlin.

The line’s new MSC for Me encompasses 130 different technological functions, the result of a three-year project in collaboration with brands including Deloitte Digital, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Kodak and Samsung. The MSC iteration is a smart watch that also has geo-location (parents can see where there kids are at all times, for instance) and is attached to an app available for passengers and crew on mobile devices and stateroom TVs.

The MSC technology will debut in June on the MSC Meraviglia in Europe and in December on the MSC Seaside from PortMiami.

Wearing 3D glasses, Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited, right, chats with architects Paul Moreira, left, and Tom Wright of WKK Architects, inside the 3D cave which is part of the new ship technology Royal Caribbean unveiled on Monday, March 13.
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