If you tend to think of cruises as being hedonistic holidays where people spend their days and nights eating and drinking while clinging on to the vague hope that they might meet the captain then it might be time to think again. Celebrity Edge is a new ship that, while not being the biggest cruise liner out there on the high seas, might be the best.
Gizmodo got to take a trip on the ship recently, along with a couple of hundred other journalists and around 2,000 travel agents. All had been invited to sample the delights of what the cruise ship had to offer. While we didn't cruise off to far flung places, instead doing a 48-hour loop up and down the Solent, there was time to take in the bright lights and big city feel of this experience.
While the experience might be a little different if you’re chugging across the Atlantic, our couple of days spent on board were so smooth it did feel a bit like we were on a land-based hotel. That, combined with the five star luxury did make it easy to forget you were actually floating, until you went up on deck where the brisk breeze was stiff enough to blow the froth of the top of your posh latte. Nevertheless, landscaped gardens, numerous pools and a couple of space-age carbon fibre jacuzzi’s soon made you forget that minor tragedy.
Celebrity Cruises, the company who runs the high-rise (we were on level 16) nigh on $1 billion cruiser had been quick to highlight the tech credentials of this uber modern ship. It’s certainly that. Boarding a cruise ship is usually one of the most tedious experiences you could ever have. However, boarding the Celebrity Edge at Southampton docks was done using facial recognition. More impressively for tech that usually goes wrong the first time you’re trying to show it off, the facial recognition actually worked.
That meant we got an express lane journey onto the ship while other passengers were playing it old school by shuffling along clutching armfuls of paperwork. Once on board we headed to our room, which while not being palatial was still nicely done and featured all mod-cons. There were mood lights that you could set, for example, to ‘Cinema’ mode if you fancied an evening in front of the telly, Alternatively, electric blinds and a powered window allowed you to sit on your balcony and admire the view instead – even if it was only a distant Gosport for the seventh time.
Being basically a jolly, the 48-hour fun-fest incorporated some restaurant experiences. While all were good there was a definite highlight in Le Petit Chef. This is probably the most fun you can have while stuffing your face and featured premium-grade nosebag. The ambience is all French Bistro, while the menu is a set offering. However, it turned out to be far from dull. What you get at this eatery is a combination of 4K projections onto your table and plate closely followed by the real meal itself.
It sounds weird and it’s a bit odd to get your head around. Within minutes though we were being wowed by the incredibly animation and clever storylines being projected onto our pristine plates. The idea was created by Belgian-based company Skullmapping and works like a downsized version of video mapping like that used to project animations onto the side of buildings.
Each course comes with an animated storyline featuring a cast of tiny Lilliputian characters, plus a cow, pig and other elements that are destined to feature in each dish. At the end customers get to vote for which of the animated chefs they think did the best job. What was really cool was the depth and clarity of the animations. Considering these are being projected from directly overhead the resolution was really good. Plus, the way the real food was served just as the animation ended was poetry in motion.
After that it looked like the rest of the excursion was going to be less impressive but it got better. We got the privilege of a bridge tour and it too was a high-tech treat. The actual ships wheel is small, kinda like a gaming version rather than some grandiose thing. However, the kit on the bridge is fascinating, with Staff Captain Mathaios (no surnames here folks) stating that Southampton, where Celebrity Edge was docking twice in the space of 48 hours, was a treat to visit. The worst places to dock? There were many he said with a slightly pained expression…
Celebrity Edge might be pretty big but it’s also one of the easiest ships to move around. That’s down to its drive train, which incorporates twin Azipods to push it up to nearly 22 knots. These work a little bit like large outboard motors, in that they can turn the ship on a dime and that means it’s way more agile than standard cruise ships with a regular propellors and a rudder setup. It’s also got four tunnel or bow thrusters that add to the maneuverability of the ship.
Another big deal for the people behind the Celebrity Edge is the Magic Carpet. This is a cantilevered deck that ‘floats’ on one side of the ship. Designing, engineering and subsequently building this standalone level was a challenge and it’s a first for cruise ships. While it looks pretty wild, the magic carpet also serves a practical purpose as it can be lowered to sea level to allow seamless arrivals and departures in locations where the ship can't dock.
It works in tandem with the agile steering system so that it's always on the calmer side of the water. That means cruise passengers can get on and off tenders without being thrown all over the shop. And, when the cruise ship is under way the magic carpet can be used as a ‘floating’ bar and restaurant that offers views like no other.
So, if you think the idea of a cruise sounds like a terrible idea then you might want to reconsider. Even we were sold on it, and we hate cruises!