After more than four years in development, Celebrity Cruises' newest ship, Celebrity Edge, set out on an inaugural voyage Tuesday. Before plotting a course from Fort Lauderdale to the Bahamas, more than 3,000 guests, employees and crew members witnessed the naming ceremony, featuring Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, designated the vessel's godmother, on hand to "bless this ship and all those who sail upon her."
Celebrity Edge, with 1,467 staterooms, is the line's first new ship in six years, and Edge marks the debut of parent company Royal Caribbean's first new ship series in more than a decade. It's also a vessel with a broader mission: to improve gender diversity at sea and beyond, and to support equality in education for girls worldwide. The crew is 30 percent female, noted Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, significantly higher than the industry average of 17 to 20 percent. Of the guest-facing crew, 37 percent are female.
"Malala embodies our commitment to opening the world through education and gender equality," said Lutoff-Perlo. "Seeing her aboard our ship sends a powerful message to our crew, who represent over 70 diverse nationalities, and our guests who we sail all over the world. The ceremony today was both touching and symbolic of what Celebrity Cruises stands for."
Richard D. Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., wiped away a few tears while introducing Malala Yousafzai at the ceremonial event, referencing the brutal attack she survived as a girl in her native Pakistan, and her extraordinary devotion to working as an activist for female education worldwide.
Fain and Lutoff-Perlo sat with members of the media Wednesday to answer additional questions about Celebrity Edge. Following are highlights.
Mr. Fain, you've launched many ships over the years, but you were particularly emotional at this launch. Why?
Fain: I am supposed to be a crass businessperson, and I work hard to maintain that image -- not always successfully. I was -- and I am -- thrilled to have Malala as this ship's godmother. I have great compassion for all that she has gone through, and great respect for all she has done, and it's hard not to be emotional about that. What's also emotional is to see the culmination of all the hard work that went into this ship. What distinguishes our company, really, is passion, and part of our success is that our people have passion for what they do. If I dropped the facade a little more than I should have, I apologize for that. If you watched the crew members walk onboard last night, you would have seen that their shoulders got a little bit squarer, and I swear they all got a little bit taller, and I'm proud of each and every one of them.
What is your vision of what cruising will mean in the future?
Lutoff-Perlo: For us, it's Celebrity's vision of cruising into the future. We are in a very specific part of the market, which is modern luxury cruising. Our intent was to solidify what luxury looks like in the future for Celebrity. Part of that was design. We have a lot of designers in the room, most of whom have never worked on a ship before. The result has been incredible design, culinary experiences and even how guests are able to interact with the destination and the sea. We have people saying they were never interested in cruising before, and that they want to be on this ship. That's part of our intent: to redesign for Celebrity what cruising looks like.
Fain: In the cruise industry, most companies don't want to be clones of each other, and I think that's what we've accomplished here. Part of the reason the industry has done so well, and our company has done so well, is that we have offered highly individualized characteristics and experiences -- we are not one-size-fits-all. I continue to believe that offering individual cruises focused on a particular customer base is going to be successful for us and for others into the future.
How does this intent carry over to the other ships in the fleet?
Lutoff-Perlo: We have agreed to invest more than $5 million to bring a lot of the design elements of Edge to the rest of the fleet over the next couple of years. We have six "Celebrity Revolutions," or modernizations, happening over the next two years. One element of those plans is to re-create the Retreat Sundeck, to bring that retreat experience to other ships across the brand.
The design seems to have Millennials in mind. Was that part of your objective?
Lutoff-Perlo: Believe it or not, Millennials are not a factor in what everyone does these days! They certainly set the trend, don't they? I try not to bucket people into any one category. I think we are looking for people who share some of the same views we do and who want to experience the world. We are trying to bring like-minded new cruisers into the category, and I think Celebrity Edge is a great way to do that.
Fain: I always get confused by where these generations begin and end. I think that according to most definitions, Millennials are a group I don't fit into. But this ship does appeal to a wide spectrum. I have had a lot of people of all ages say to me, "This ship was really designed with people of my age group in mind." That, to me, is the ultimate compliment.
How do the ship's operations prioritize sustainability?
Fain: We are getting rid of plastic on the water, using aluminim and glass bottles, paper straws, and no disposable plastics for stateroom amenities. A lot more happens behind the scenes. You might have noticed that we go through a lot of wine bottles onboard, and on a seven- or eight-day cruise, there are relatively few places where you can recycle them. However, it violates public health rules to keep crushed bottles hanging around where bacteria grows. When we were designing the ship, someone pointed out that bacteria doesn't grow in the cold, so we built freezers to hold the rubbish. I like to say we have the coolest garbage at sea.
Celebrity Edge will begin her inaugural season sailing alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries before plotting a course for the Mediterranean with a range of seven- to 11-night sailings in 2019. Embarking and debarking from Fort Lauderdale, Celebrity Edge will set off on her official maiden voyage on Dec. 9, 2018. Joining the new series will be Celebrity Apex in 2020, and two additional sister ships in 2021 and 2022.