Celebrity's Touches of Class

| December 30, 2005
CruiseMates Consumer Affairs Editor

On the second day of my recent seven-night Celebrity Millennium cruise through the eastern Caribbean, I went for a slice of pizza. None of the toppings on the three pizzas already cooked and ready-to-go appealed to me, so I decided to take advantage of the sign offering individual pizzas in approximately five minutes. I ordered a thin crust pizza with tomato sauce and cheese along with shrimp and garlic. It was ready in just over five minutes, perfectly cooked. The next day I went back and had fresh tomato and onions. Other toppings offered included anchovies, mushrooms, peppers, pepperoni and sausage.

Lots of cruise lines offer pizza, but this is the first time I've come across custom-made ones like this. And for a pizza lover, it was nirvana. Lines were never long, not even during the height of lunchtime on days at sea. And pizza was available from noon until one in the morning.

Other Onboard Innovations

This is just one of the new offerings from Celebrity Cruises, a line seriously committed to upgrading an already well-rated premium cruise experience. Other improvements have been made, such as:

*The sushi area (open every evening from 6 p.m.-10 p.m.) has increased both the size of portions and the range of items offered. (Remember, it's not that long ago that uncooked fish wasn't even allowed on ships due to health rules.) It's amazing how many people seemed to go there for a snack before dinner.

*The shopping area has been improved in terms of variety and quality. Of significant note were the very upscale jewelry ship (shades of Rodeo Drive) and the $15 shop (all items one price). Inside the shopping arcade is a stage, with seats set up for seminars. Prices seemed fair; there was also a price guarantee, so guests who bought something on board and found the identical item for less money ashore would get a refund on board

*Up and running is a new Acupuncture facility with private treatment rooms and a range of services, from regular treatments to acupuncture facelifts. I indulged in regular acupuncture (no face lift) for the first time during this cruise. The cruise specialist was excellent in terms of explaining everything and tailoring a three-session program for what I wanted to correct. They seemed to work; weeks later the problems haven't recurred. If there's any downside to this new facility, it's that it replaced the music listening room.

*The ship's specialty restaurant, Olympic, still offers what may be the most romantic dining experience at sea. The menu is very international with decidedly French overtones, especially the post-meal cheese course. What has been added is a wine-tasting menu that serves appropriate wines with each course. The $30 per person charge for the meal is well worth it and the wine sampler at $27.50 is a very good value as well.

Concierge Class

A feature added in the last couple of years to Celebrity Cruise ships (except the smaller Xpedition) is Concierge Class. On this cruise, I had the chance to experience what is essentially a bridge between regular staterooms and suites. The line has taken a sizable portion of the outside rooms and upgraded their services and amenities. The number of rooms varies per ship but on Millennium, for example, most of the larger staterooms with verandahs have been reclassified to Concierge Class. This category is clearly identified in the line's brochure by name and by using purple for all deck plans.

Celebrity lists about 25 separate services and amenities as part of Concierge Class. Most are onboard but there are some shore-side benefits as well. When CC guests arrive, they get early embarkation, a dedicated check-in counter, and express luggage delivery. With so many people arriving to check in around the same time, this is a decided advantage. On the flip side, early disembarkation is also offered; this should really appeal to those guests who need to rush off the final morning. CC guests get dining seating preference and priority wait listing for shore excursions.

Once on board, CC guests get a fresh fruit basket daily; canapes every afternoon; fresh flowers in the stateroom (they're even replaced when they wilt); use of an umbrella and binoculars (during the cruise, not for take-home); a leather key-card holder which, along with the gold door/ID card, adds to the category's prestige; a welcome bottle of champagne; a complimentary -- and upgraded -- tote bag (to take home); and personalized stationery.

Of greater significance, for me at least, were some of the additional benefits: the bedding has been upgraded, so the mattress, sheets and duvet are really comfortable; there's a choice between excellent regular pillows and four special kinds (I really enjoyed the isotonic one); the toiletries are improved, so you no longer have to use the shampoo dispenser on the wall (not really befitting a premium cruise); the showerhead is excellent, especially the release button for higher water pressure; and the Frette bathrobes are thick and comfy, as are the towels. Additional benefits include special room service items (I did not order any; I had all meals and snacks in the regular dining venues), special invitations to onboard events, an upgraded hairdryer and a private bar with customized stocking (prices seemed reasonable). Verandahs have an enlarged table and nice cushions on the chairs.

All of these add up to a definitive difference between regular rooms and those in Concierge Class. The price differential seems to be about 15% or approximately $250 for a seven-night Caribbean cruise. This amount may vary depending on destination, availability and length of cruise. So it would be up to each travel agent/guest to determine if these benefits are worth it.

Celebrity is to be commended for its efforts to tweak their product, always looking for ways to improve the offering of "A Taste of Luxury."

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