ANOTHER one pops. Champagne cork that is. It’s a Saturday afternoon on board Beyond.
I’ve taken up the invitation to celebrate with Celebrity Cruises as it launches its biggest cruise ship in the UK.
This is the cruise news of the year and a sign the industry is flourishing once again. You might remember that cruising suffered severely after outbreaks of Covid on board liners early in the pandemic with passengers stuck on ships which couldn’t dock.
When the travel industry shut down, this American company didn’t wait around, they kept afloat and got on with building its third ship in its Edge class, which is fresh out of the French shipyard Saint Nazaire in western France after more than two years in construction. We were lucky to be at the steel cutting ceremony in January 2020 just before the pandemic hit.
Today is a day of firsts and everything is brand new. Beyond is Celebrity Cruises’ first ship since the pandemic, and this is its first sailing with passengers, which means it’s a first for all crew, the chefs in the restaurants, and for the show performers. It is also making its maiden voyage from Southampton in a commitment to British cruise-lovers. Even its CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is on board.
It’s a day to remember. And as Celebrity marks its cruising comeback, they’ve made Beyond their most spectacular ship. Expectations are high as we board.
What does Celebrity Beyond offer?
I’m here with my shipmate pal Mike who has been with me on other sailings. He’s hoping to win big in the casino but first wants to go for a splash in the Martini-glass shaped pool. We are on a 48-hour trip, cruising the Solent and skirting the Isle of Wight.
We probably won’t reach the maximum speed of 22knots out on the high seas but we’ll be floating in the calm waters of the English Channel under clear blue skies.
Beyond is billed as having “more space, more luxury,” – this will be tough gig but someone has to go.
On arrival to the quayside we can’t miss the liner docked in Southampton – even from the train station you can see the smokestack on the skyline. Beyond is bigger than its two sister ships, Edge or Apex, coming in at a whopping 1073ft (327m) – about the size of an aircraft carrier. This allows more space for 3,260 passengers but on board this weekend will be just 1,750. It also comes with an extra deck (17 instead of 16 on Apex) and more rooms for single travellers. Plus there’s more sparkling five-star luxury.
Determined to keep Covid off the boat, we took fit-to-fly tests before boarding, showed our vaccine passports, plus all crew will wear face masks throughout the voyage, while passengers don’t have to.
We’re not leaving port until this evening so it’s on with a tour of this mega ship. Some of us have a job to do, whether we like it or not!
- To the back of Beyond, and the front, and all decks in between: Welcome on board Celebrity Cruises biggest ship as it launches from the UK!
- Forget heading into the great outdoors: Holidaymakers are booking cruises and trips to Vegas!
- What a Discovery! Life onboard a Tui cruise ship
Start in the Grand Plaza
Beyond has the same impressive entrance as a grand hotel with super-glam, glitzy decor. When we board, the mask-wearing crew look immaculate in their uniforms and welcome us with a round of applause.
As we step on deck, we’re in the Grand Plaza, which is the atrium and the hub in the centre of the ship. It’s a lobby, a reception, a meeting place and essentially a three-floor lounge. It caters to everyone’s needs and transforms into different spaces as day turns into night. It’s a large area with restaurants off to the side, an art gallery, and a Martini Bar at its heart with an impressive chandelier light installation above. Watch out for the light shows!
Our address for the weekend is Deck 9, Room 206. We are the first guests in this cabin. Our quarters are known as a stateroom Sky Suite on the Magic Carpet (more on this later), located in the middle of the ship. It comes with a king-sized bed, a spacious bathroom, any five star hotel would be proud of, with a large tub and fancy shower. The porthole turns out to be a floor-to-ceiling window with a balcony out on to the open sea.
In the wardrobe is a fresh robe and slippers which I try on. I feel like a celeb! And in the cupboard is a decent pair of binoculars. If you’re booked in here, and any of the other suites, you get butler service and access to the Retreat, which is an outside area at the front of the ship with its own sundeck, swings over the pool and restaurant Luminae – with signature dishes by French, American Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud.
Beyond is a ship within a ship, with private and exclusive areas for those paying more. Somewhere at the front above the bridge are six two-storey villas designed by Kelly Hoppen that come with their own plunge pool.
We find a copy of the days activities on the desk …and there’s a lot to pack in. Then we spot the bottle of bubbles on the table and decide to settle down to enjoy the ship.
Out on deck
In the hour before sailing, outside is bustling with people sipping cocktails and some even sunbathing. There are pools, sun loungers, and restaurants and bars stretching from the front to the back of the ship. The Roof Top Garden was created again by Kelly Hoppen and the trademark of the Edge ships is the Magic Carpet, which is a deck that moves, rather like a lift, up and down the outside of the ship. It’s a space with a bar and restaurant.
There’s also the Solarium and one of the main draws of Beyond is that they don’t allow children into this sun room. There are more pools in here and it’s a quiet space, great for a snooze.
In the gym, there’s something for all fitness tribes. We turn down the F45 workout and Peloton session this time. But in the spa we vow to return to try all the treatment rooms including the Hammam, steam room, rainfall therapy, and energy healing.
Food & Drink
This is a ship for foodies who love a challenge. There are 32 places to eat and drink. For a late lunch, we choose the Oceanview Cafe, which is the casual all-you-can-eat buffet-style dining with cuisines from around the world.
Since Covid, passengers are not permitted to touch any food and so we cannot serve ourselves, to even pick up a banana. Everything is served for us with tongs, which creates queues especially when Mike wants a side salad. We also get a glob of anti-bac gel offered before we eat. The cafe is filled with people – probably because the food is extremely good.
For dinner we dress up to eat at Luminae. I have the grilled filet mignon. It is gorgeous. The beef is succulent and the truffle puree rich and delicious. Mike has the Michelin-starred chef’s duck leg confit “char sui” with a sticky sauce. Our waiter tells us this is the first night the kitchen has prepared this dish and they were all excited when they tasted the menu earlier in the day.
Another gastronomic adventure on day 2 is at Raw on 5, next to the Martini Bar, where seafood is the speciality. There are glass cabinets filled with oysters, lobsters, crabs, and fish. Not being able to choose we select the seafood tower which comes with everything.
The drinks on board are like the ship: Beyond! In order to become an expert you must try, and try again. We did. There are different menus in all the bars from classics to new twists and others with flamboyant decorations. My favourite has to be the Ultraviolet in Luminae. It tastes….amaaaazing!
Cruise ship Captain Kate McCue – or “call me Captain”, as she says during her first announcement, “I’ve earned it” – is in charge of this mega ship. She is a big hit with the passengers and comes with a bigger following on Instagram where she calls herself a modern Mermaid. She says she had been sailing for 19 years before becoming a captain in 2016.
When she comes down to the Martini Bar on the second night she stands on the bar and pours drinks from a stack of cocktail shakers before being escorted away. Everyone has their phones up and the moment is soon all over Instagram. A crowd gathers, a photo with her is highly prized. Captain Kate is the celebrity on board Celebrity and is joined somewhere by her cat BugNaked, who I imagine is sprawled over all the controls.
Sailing: Day One
With everything ship shape, we get an announcement from Captain Kate we are about to sail. She gives the order to let go all lines. It’s 5pm and we are away. Mike and I go to the top deck for the best view. The pilot takes us out with the ceremonial jets spraying water, which creates rainbows across the harbour. A crowd on the dockside waves us off. And horns blare as we pass by rival cruise ships. Beyond is ruling the waves!
With a cocktail in hand (Mike has two) we watch as the English skyline slowly disappears. The temperature is 18C. I could stand here watching the view all day. The Isle of Wight looks fascinating from the ship but it’s time for a change and to refuel.
By evening the boat really comes to life.
Entertainment tonight is Elements in the Theatre. This is a sleek production with singers and dancers with impressive ballet and acrobatic skills. The choreography is tight – there’s no wobbling during the impressive lifts.
Next up is Decadence, which is on at the opposite end of the ship in Eden. By day this is a quiet space but has turned into a raucous, high-energy cabaret show, well-cast with more dancers and singers. All the action happens in the bar, not up on a stage, with the crowd all around, making us feel part of the show. It’s great fun. Now the party is really getting started. We don’t scrimp on the wine drinking tonight. We then hit the nightclub which is packed.
At 1am Mike heads to the casino and I’m back in the cabin, which is quiet and peaceful. I take a last look out the curtains: it’s pretty windy out there but at least the ship isn’t rolling. A few breaths of sea air and I close the doors. There’s a choccie on my pillow. I think I’ll sleep in my gown tonight. My first night I’m very happy. Roger and out.
Sailing: Day Two
By morning we are out in the English Channel. The TV screen in the cabin tells us we are travelling at 5.5knots – barely moving but we are cruising and that’s all that matters. The sea is flat and calm again. We return to the 14th deck, back to Oceanview Cafe.
Breakfast is freshly baked bread, yogurt, eggs Benedict, a blueberry muffin, banana and coffee. Already I seem to be eating more with each meal. I am generally behaving more like someone on a cruise.
The big event this morning is a talk in the Theatre with the three women in charge of Beyond, CEO Lutoff-Perlo, Captain Kate and managing director Jo Rzymowska for the UK and Europe, who officially welcome us and introduce the ship. Lutoff-Perlo says the success of day one was determined by what time everyone made it to bed – in the very early hours! “The ship was rocking last night,” she says, and they’re glad to be back cruising, doing what they do best.
She said 98 per cent of the crew had come back to Celebrity following the pandemic. “I’m so proud they came back after a very difficult time when they were not working on ships,” she said. Captain Kate added they have Ukrainian crew members on board, who they helped flee from the war-torn country.
We spend the rest of the afternoon out on deck, have a cocktail in the Martini bar and I want to stop in the shop to by a t-shirt with Celebrity Beyond all over it.
The climax tonight is the Silent Disco. It is beyond what I expected. Instead of one set of loud speakers, everyone is wearing headphones, tuned in to one of three channels. One is playing 80s hits, the next more up-to-date pop and the third is playing Reggaeton. Somehow it works.
It’s midnight and we’re still going – the DJ says they’ll extend it for another half an hour. Everyone whoops. A nightcap before bed and Mike goes to the casino. That’s too much of a gamble for me – not the playing – not being able to wake up after a few hours sleep.
Then it’s Monday morning. We are moored back in Southampton. Behind the curtains is the industrial dockyard and shipping containers. It’s far too early to be up and we’re back on dry land by 8.30am.
We’re waved off as we head for the hills and a train to Victoria. A huge thanks to Celebrity Cruises – that was Beyond great!
Celebrity Cruises Beyond sailed on Wednesday (27th April) around Europe, more here.