The $1 Billion Celebrity Edge Has Gone Overboard Wooing Millennials

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- To open the door to your stateroom on the Celebrity Edge, you use your phone. When you eat dinner on Deck 4 at Le Grand Bistro, miniature cartoon chefs are projected on your plate in 3D. The top half of a wall-size window in your Kelly Hoppen-designed room lowers at the touch of a button, opening your space broadly to the sea breezes.

All the neat tricks on the 16-deck, 2,918-passenger vessel might have you considering yourself the world’s coolest cruiser. It can also leave you feeling like a fish out of water.

The ship is a $1 billion effort by Celebrity Cruises to convince skeptical young, affluent millennials that what they view as an outdated, unimaginative way of traveling really isn’t. And while it’s already a player in the premium cruise space as part of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., Celebrity seeks to steer further into the luxury realm. Three more such ships are planned.

On the first cruise for the public, a three-night sail from Fort Lauderdale last month, millennials ate it up. “I am just intrigued by everything they are doing,” said Lydia Rodriguez, 27, from Kansas. She’d just had a body scanner snap her photo as part of an augmented-reality experience at the disco, which was done up for the night in a wild carnival style, with fortune-tellers and acrobats.

“Having been on other Celebrity ships, I think the change was needed, and it looks really good,” said her friend Steven Gawanda, also 27 and from Kansas. He raved about the bar in the three-deck atrium, where $15-and-up cocktails included a vodka martini infused with jalapeño and pineapple.

The $1 Billion Celebrity Edge Has Gone Overboard Wooing Millennials

But for all the magic in its hat, the Edge doesn’t always cast a soothing spell. Take the proprietary mobile app, which unlocks your cabin door and lets you book activities on and off the ship. Rodriguez’s roommate used it to prank her, remotely flashing the lights and opening the blinds in their cabin. Celebrity’s clients “are used to an older way of cruising—it will be a shock when they get on board,” says travel agent Amber Smith, 28, who sailed in December.

Then there’s the Magic Carpet, a defining feature by Burj al Arab hotel designer Tom Wright. The open-air platform the size of a tennis court rises and sinks from Deck 2 to Deck 16 along a tangerine-colored track outside the ship’s hull. At its lowest point, just above the water line, it’s a smart and streamlined way for guests to board small boats to shore—a process that often bottlenecks on other ships.

The $1 Billion Celebrity Edge Has Gone Overboard Wooing Millennials

Its other functions feel superfluous. On the top level, it’s a crowded cocktail venue and not exactly the most peaceful place to watch the sunset (there are better ones). And when it’s parked on Deck 5, where it offers seating for a seafood restaurant, oysters and cocktails come with stiff breezes. The ship is moving, after all. Plus, you can’t actually ride the Magic Carpet—no passengers allowed as it moves.

Celebrity is most successful at merging high-concept innovation with mass appeal at Eden, a lush, three-floor daytime lounge that at night converts into a restaurant and performance art venue. The immersive evening production was created by the company that produced New York City’s popular dinner theater experience Queen of the Night and includes a talented cast of entertainers done up as dystopian misfits and goddesses. Mingle with them, watch them play didgeridoo and perform Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics on aerial silks, and you can’t help but wonder if off-Broadway now extends to the ocean. The five-course menu is also dazzling; sea urchin with shiso leaf arrives in a smoke-filled dome, and bonito flakes wiggle atop braised Mangalitsa pork.

The $1 Billion Celebrity Edge Has Gone Overboard Wooing Millennials

If the ship’s youthful energy is a key step toward overhauling the cruise industry’s retiree-centric reputation, it’s not quite doing the job: Most guests on the Edge’s first cruise were over 50. They may have liked certain generous amenities, such as the two-level outdoor jogging track or the six duplex villas, each with private decks and plunge pools.

But for those who wanted to unplug, the encouragement of mobile device usage throughout the ship proved a nuisance. Hoppen’s aforementioned “infinite verandas,” which replace actual balconies in the guest rooms, mean there’s no private outdoor space where you can step out and feel the sea breeze. (A week’s sail in one such stateroom starts at $2,499 per person.) And the art—the smokestacks are covered in graffiti—feels as try-hard as a baby boomer in Forever 21. In such instances, Celebrity doesn’t just miss the mark; it alienates its core demographic.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Rovzar at crovzar@bloomberg.net

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