Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
You could say Maizy Alexander has gone above and “beyond” the call of duty in familiarizing herself with Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship, Celebrity Beyond – the third ship in the line’s high-end Edge Series.
Alexander, a travel advisor with The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), was on Beyond for 12 days last month on a transatlantic crossing from Barcelona, Spain to Cape Liberty, Bayonne in New Jersey, where the chic ship made its U.S. debut on Oct. 25.
The North Bay, ON-based professional was then back on board, some two weeks later, for the Beyond’s inaugural in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where a couple of two-night “cruises to nowhere” were held at the beginning of November for travel industry insiders.
READ MORE: On Location: Canadian “rock star” agents go above & “beyond” with Celebrity
Then, Beyond’s first Florida voyage for consumers set sail on a five-night Western Caribbean itinerary with stops in Costa Maya and Cozumel. Yup, Alexander was on that sailing as well.
Beyond overkill? Hardly.
For Alexander, an “Ultimate Iconic Advisor” – a prestigious honour Celebrity Cruises bestows on its highest-producing and most collaborative travel advisors – spending as much time as possible on ships is part and parcel of the job.
“Exploring and learning [on ships] will help you become successful,” Alexander, who resides in the community of Corbeil, told PAX on board Beyond during that consumer sailing earlier this month, which doubled as a conference at sea for 20 other travel advisors from TTAND.
“If you know the product, and your clients, you can sell it.”
All-included luxury at sea
Celebrity’s “Rock Star FAM” from Nov. 8 to 13 – which PAX covered exclusively – was the type of event that advisors like Alexander, and several others, benefitted greatly from.
In addition to having time to explore Celebrity’s glam new ship, which, at 17 decks high, is longer and taller than its predecessors Celebrity Edge and Apex, participants were given incentives for making Future Cruise Bookings while at sea, such as $100 deposits per person and up to $500 in onboard credits.
The perks worked – the group reported 52 future bookings, which is two more than the agents on TTAND’s last Celebrity FAM in August secured.
Alexander, impressively, secured three Future Cruise Bookings within an hour of the FAM starting, adding to the 23 groups she already has booked between now and April 2024.
READ MORE: "BEYOND excited” – Canada gets the Celebrity Beyond treatment in Florida
Her strategy involves targeting the all-inclusive market – Celebrity, after all, now has all-included packages that cover alcoholic drinks, Wi-Fi and tips.
“The one thing that market wants is not having to worry about a thing,” Alexander said.
It’s also the quality of Celebrity’s product and service that ultimately helps seal the deals, she said.
“When [clients] get off the ships, I don’t get complaints,” Alexander said. “The brand fulfills every expectation you would have.”
The launch of Celebrity’s first Edge-Class ship, Celebrity Edge, in 2018, and the fleet-wide modernization, dubbed “The Celebrity Revolution,” that followed, arguably propelled Celebrity Cruises into a new sphere of modern luxury at sea.
“Relaxed luxury” is the term Celebrity uses, and the grey-chrome mixed with pops of colour aesthetic on board the ships (conceptualized by British designer Kelly Hoppen) help solidify this.
But Alexander calls the onboard experience for what it is. “The brand is luxury,” she said. “It has come to that point.”
A "luxury resort at sea"
Celebrity Beyond, at 1,073 feet-long, goes “beyond” the limits of innovation.
In addition to 32 food and beverage venues, the plant, art and sculpture-filled ship has 179 more staterooms (1,646 total) compared to Edge and Apex, and can accommodate up to 3,260 guests.
Spaces have been reimagined, such as The Retreat, an exclusive “resort-within-a-resort” area for suite guests, which has more deck space and units due to high demand.
There are tweaks and additions, too. For instance: there’s a new bridge on Deck 5 overlooking the dazzling Grand Plaza, where the Martini Bar has been moved to the centre.
On Deck 15, near the Rooftop Garden, there are two new infinity pools made of clear glass, overlooking the ocean.
Some restaurants are larger and fitness spaces have evolved – the motion studios for F45 and spin classes now face the sea, allowing more natural light to pour in.
“This ship is all about the vibes – the emotions you get when you're on board,” said Brenda Lynne Yeomans, key account manager for Canada at Celebrity Cruises, who organized TTAND’s “Rock Star” FAM.
But it’s the Moroccan-inspired, Nate Berkus-designed Sunset Bar, that steals the show.
Compared to previous versions, this popular outdoor space on Deck 15 is 180 per cent larger and now has tiered levels.
“To me, it’s one of the coolest changes and is indicative of where the brand is going,” Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior-vice president of sales and trade support & services at Celebrity Cruises, told PAX.
Ritzenthaler said Beyond solidifies the fact that a ship of its size – a medium size, you could say – can still be luxurious.
“There's this hypothesis that in order to be luxury, it has to be small,” Ritzenthaler said. “But we're here to prove that the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons are not small brands. They’re luxury. This is not a small ship, but it’s luxury.”
The Retreat “ship within a ship” concept, for instance, offers that intimate and exclusive experience that luxury-level cruisers have, over time, come to expect.
But Ritzenthaler says Celebrity isn’t necessarily focused on competing as an entity that’s defined by differing levels of service and style.
There are sexy Edge-era amenities on Beyond that all guests can enjoy, such as The Magic Carpet (a cantilevered, floating platform), the Rooftop Garden (which has real shrubbery) and Eden, a multi-level concept café, restaurant and performance space with leafy art installations and panoramic windows.
“We really fit into a different category,” Ritzenthaler said, noting the investments Celebrity has made to uniformly enhance its ships “to make them beautiful.”
“We are a luxury resort at sea.”
A culinary voyage
Celebrity’s newest restaurant to debut on Beyond – “Le Voyage,” Michelin-starred Chef Daniel Boulud’s first signature dining venue at sea – drives the point home.
With a space ship-like entrance, shimmering rose-tinted interiors and multi-waiter service, the upscale experience puts the “special” in speciality dining, plating global creations, from Brazilian moqueca to five-spice duck pithivier to tamarind and peanut-crusted prawns, while serving divine wine parings.
Le Voyage costs extra ($75 for the basic menu; $125 for the added wine paring – in U.S. dollars), but rest assured, the post-dinner huddle will be all about the taste. Not the price.
You may even, for a moment, forget that you’re on a cruise ship.
Matching price points
From the restaurants and bars to staterooms “with discreet storage space” to a digitally-enhanced theatre, “everything is extremely well thought out” on Beyond, said Scott Waldron of Gravitate Travel, an affiliate of TTAND.
With cruises, it’s all about matching the client with the right brand and ship.
Beyond, Waldron said, would be suitable for anyone who enjoys a four-and-half to five-star resort experience with brands like Finest, Majestic, UNICO and even the Fairmont Mayakoba.
“This is a destination at sea and the price point is extremely similar,” Waldron said.
As for Alexander, her journey on board Beyond isn’t over.
The Ultimate Iconic Advisor will return to the ship for a fourth sailing in March 2023 as part of TravelBrands Encore Cruises’ “SeaU” seminar.
Let’s just say she’s “beyond” excited for that sailing, too.
“This ship is very, very nice,” Alexander said.
PAX asked Alexander, Ritzenthaler and Waldron to each share their own pro tips for boosting cruise sales.
Alexander strongly recommends group bookings as they pay the highest return.
“As soon as you have somebody who wants to book an individual reservation, take out a group,” Alexander said. “If you do that, inevitably, friends and family will want to go too. I get that all the time.”
Even if one person drops out, the reservation still receives group amenity points (onboard credits).
“I have repeats and referrals because of that,” Alexander said, applauding the merits of working closely with Celebrity’s BDM team.
Ritzenthaler recommends travel advisors follow four basic principles.
One: “Do not try to be all things to all people,” she said.
“Don’t try and sail 10 different cruise lines and be a jack of all trades and a master of none,” she said. “Really focus on the brands that share your values and really deliver on their promise.”
Secondly, “be an expert,” Ritzenthaler said.
“Learn ships from front to back, top to bottom,” she said. And know the difference between stateroom categories.
Three: Do things you’re passionate about “so it doesn’t feel like work,” she said.
Use that passion to develop strategies, like building groups of likeminded people, she said.
And four: “Always ask for referrals,” she said.
“When you make a booking, the next thing out of your mouth should be, ‘Would you like to bring a friend or family member with you?’”
For a luxe ship like Beyond, Waldron’s advice is to start from the all-included perspective “as opposed to the cruise only,” and then “work your way up to [upgrades] like The Retreat.”
Waldron has also found success in promoting cruises via social media using Celebrity’s media assets. And while social media is a task he outsources, he still incorporates his own voice into posts so that the message is relatable and authentic.
But “make sure you understand your demographic,” Waldron added, advising a “multi-channel” approach to advertising, in some cases, that goes beyond Facebook.
Gen Xers, Celebrity’s sweet spot clientele, still read newspapers and listen to the radio, so there’s opportunities to reach that market through those mediums as well, he said.
He also recommends asking other travel advisors for advice – the classic “I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine” approach.
“A lot of us on board have been feeding off each other,” Waldron told us during the FAM. “There's a lot of knowledge to share between 21 agents.”
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