On average, a cruise ship guest eats five meals a day," says Cornelius Gallagher, Michelin-starred chef and vice president of food and beverage operations at Celebrity Cruises, as we walk around brand-new liner Celebrity EDGE. "Around 100,000 meals get consumed on a seven-day cruise."
Whichever way you look at it, that's an absolutely gob-smacking amount of food. It's more than I will consume in my entire lifetime, despite my best efforts.
But gob-smacking is, I discover, par for the course on EDGE, the latest ship to join the Celebrity Cruises fleet, when I hop on board for a two-day voyage from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to The Bahamas.
Holding 2,918 guests and 1,320 crew, EDGE isn't the largest cruise liner in the world (Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas holds a whopping 6,680 passengers), but it more than makes up for it with the sheer scale of in-your-face glamour.
Four years in the making, it has 14 passenger decks, 1,467 rooms (most of them with a veranda), a bevy of hot tubs (two of them shaped like martini glasses, in case you wanted to be even more extra), a solarium, 29 restaurants and bars, a water-inspired spa designed by Kelly Hoppen, a theatre with four main stages, and plenty more besides.
She's filled with artwork – "we felt she deserved it", says Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Celebrity Cruises' parent company Royal Caribbean – there are launch boats that take you ashore, and there's also the Magic Carpet, a cantilevered balcony that moves up and down from deck two to deck 16, and can act as anything from a bar to a disembarkation point.
From facial-recognition boarding to immersive food and drink experiences, EDGE is ushering in a new era for cruising, one filled with boundary-pushing tech, sophisticated dining, a focus on sustainability, and a wealth of experiences that'll keep you occupied from dawn to dusk.
But underneath the glitz, how exactly does this entire village traverse the oceans, keeping everyone fed, watered and generally happy? I head below deck to find out what makes life on the Celebrity Cruises EDGE such smooth sailing.
Food and drink
The staggering amount of food required for a week's cruising is just the first hurdle that Gallagher has to face. I get an insight into his exacting standards when he says, "Anything that goes wrong can take you out of the dream sequence. Even if the guest didn't 'see' it, they saw it. It has to be perfect."
With his 700 hospitality staff onboard EDGE, Gallagher is working to turn the traditional perception of dining on cruise ships on its head. It's out with meals in the central dining room at set dining times; it's in with a plethora of options and flexibility.
On EDGE, there are four main dining rooms that you can eat in under the standard Celebrity Select plan – Tuscan, where all the pasta is made in house and pork belly gets cured and rolled onboard; Cosmopolitan, dishing up classics like seared scallops and braised beef short ribs; Cyprus, which celebrates Mediterranean seafood; and Normandie, where you'll get refined contemporary French cuisine. Each restaurant has dishes that change every day, although 20% (the 'Classics') stay the same, and are based on favoured dishes across the Celebrity Cruises fleet. Each restaurant has its own kitchen, and most of the team onboard have experience in Michelin-starred kitchens.
Elsewhere, there's a clutch of speciality concepts offering slightly more refined dining. There's RAW ON 5, an Asian-inspired raw bar that Gallagher introduced to the Celebrity Cruises offering, headed up by chef Yoshi, a third-generation sushi chef and sake sommelier; and Fine Cut, a steak joint serving in 28-day-aged USDA prime beef from Iowa and Nebraska. "We don't actually make a lot of profit on our speciality concepts," Gallagher admits.
There's also Blu, which changes everything down to the typeface on the menu every day; Le Grand Bistro, Luminae, Le Petit Chef, and Eden, the striking flower-filled immersive restaurant aft of the ship, where you can sample the ship's most expensive offering, a tasting menu for $65, as actors dance among the lush foliage.
Throw in feeding staff (there are three crew bars and multiple commissary kitchens below deck) and the sheer volume of food that's required borders on mind-blowing. What's even more impressive is that pretty much all of this is loaded on board before EDGE sets sail, and gets 'topped off' with minimal extras when it comes into port.
It's no secret that cruises don't have the have the best reputation when it comes to being environmentally friendly, but as a company, Celebrity Cruises is working hard to change all that. "The idea of modern luxury includes being more conscious of what you're consuming," says Nick Rose, Royal Caribbean's director of environmental programmes, as he takes me on a whistle-stop tour below deck while I take a break from all that eating and lounging.
"EDGE is 20% more energy-efficient than the last Celebrity boat, and the initiatives will be rolled out across the rest of the fleet," he tells me. This is no small undertaking, and he estimates that it will cost the company a whopping $500m.
As for Celebrity EDGE, it all starts with the design of the hull and bow. The ship has something that's called a parabolic ultra bow, which, in layman's terms, refers to the shape of the bow, specially designed to reduce resistance and means that it requires less energy to sail. To make things even more slick, EDGE boasts something called air lubrication systems, which expel bubbles under the hull and create a slipstream that enables the vessel to 'slide' smoothly through the water.
As for fuel, EDGE still burns marine fuel, but within five years it'll be using biofuel, and the engine is already equipped to do so. "Existing biofuels don't meet our standards,' says Rose in the engine control room. "They're actually currently made with palm oil, which is also unsustainable." Heat from the engines is used to warm the water for the swimming pools, and all the lighting has been switched to LED so there's less energy waste.
Even the State Rooms themselves have been made more efficient. If you have the window in your veranda open, the air con won't run. There's an eco mode on the control panel by the door, and they don't have key card slots like many hotels room do – because research shows that people leave their key card in and all the lights on.
As you'd expect from such a complex food offering, waste is a huge issue. Celebrity Cruises has a zero-to-landfill objective, which means that everything that goes onboard gets recycled. Pallets are steel instead of wood so they can be reused; wine bottles ("Yeah, there are a lot of those," Rose admits) are recycled – they're crushed to save space, but health and safety regulations dictate that you can't keep crushed bottles around, so the crushed glass get frozen, making it the "coolest garbage at sea", according to Royal Caribbean CEO Fain.
Steps have even been made when it comes to serving food: at the buffet-style Oceanview Café, you can no longer load up a tray and have to carry your meal to your table plate by plate instead; in the restaurants the portions are smaller; and a close eye is kept on the inventory to minimise food waste.
Whenever you ask for water, you get it in an aluminium bottle rather than plastic. They're reusable and 100% recyclable. Straws are paper and even the wrappers for the condiments can be recycled.
Deep in the bowels of the ship, I watch the crew picking through the rubbish, separating it all into different bins for recycling. They receive dedicated environment training, and are incentivised with a welfare fund for crew parties. What's more, Celebrity Cruises ships only dock at ports that offer recycling – which are surprisingly few in number.
Technology and design
From the moment that I step on board, it's clear that EDGE is packed with cutting-edge tech, and, it turns out, the slickest stuff is the things that I don't even notice.
"That's the whole point. The technology isn't the forefront – your vacation is," says Jay Schneider, Royal Caribbean's senior vice president of digital experience. "It's about completely removing any potential friction from your cruise experience."
There are heaps of new developments, but the most innovative is facial recognition boarding, an industry first that had only been up and running on EDGE for two weeks before I set sail in December last year. Some time before boarding, you take a photo of yourself and scan your passport. When it comes to embarkation, you simply stroll up to the specially designed cameras (you don't need to take out your phone or any documents), have a nice chat with the agent, and wander on board.
It's a seamless process, and so subtle I don't even think of it as a thing – until it's pointed out that boarding onto a cruise ship is often tedious and painful. "Our aim is to get you from car to bar in ten minutes," says Schneider. I don't actually test this out, but I have no doubt it's possible.
There's the Celebrity Cruises app, too, that lets you control your State Room from your phone: your lights, your blinds, your TV, heating and air con. That's where you book your meals, your shore excursions and activities, making it easier for you to get the most out of your holiday.
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If you think it feels like you're stepping into a robotic future, you kind of are. But the idea is to amplify the relationship between the crew and guests rather than remove it. "Instead of looking things up on laptops, the welcome agents are there to greet you," says Schneider. "We want to make sure the experience is warm and welcoming – it was never about minimising the amount of crew."
And as for the future? "We're piloting a feature called Bring Me A Drink. You hit a button in the app and your margarita will find you as opposed to you having to find it." I can definitely get on board with that.