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Extreme Makeover: Celebrity’s Century

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 11 - 2006

The story of Celebrity Cruises‘ 11-year-old ship Century could easily be an episode of “Extreme Makeover.” This past spring, the ship was gutted and fitted with all the latest amenities that today’s cruisers demand. The revitalized Century emerged from its $55 million surgery in May with 314 new balconies, upgraded staterooms, a martini bar, a Persian Garden and other new public spaces that bring the ship up to date with Celebrity’s popular Millennium-class vessels. After seeing the ship up close, I found the makeover to be impressive, with just a few easy-to-fix wrinkles remaining.

The 71,545-ton Century entered service in December 1995 and carries just 1,800 passengers, making it a middle-aged, medium-sized ship by today’s mega-ship standards. I asked Celebrity’s President Dan Hanrahan why the company spent $55 million (the cost of a Boeing 757 aircraft) to refurbish the ship. Why not just build a new one?

“It’s in our DNA to revitalize and refurbish ships,” Hanrahan said, underscoring Celebrity’s commitment to building quality ships that last. But there are economic forces at play, too. In today’s big-ship, high-glitz market, it’s cheaper to refurbish a small ship than build a new one. “The shipyards costs are the reasons that cruise lines keep building bigger ships,” Hanrahan says. “Bigger ships are more profitable and cheaper to operate on a per-passenger basis.” In that economic climate, as in Hollywood, aging celebrities head for a makeover.

Extreme makeover results

The Century came to the makeover with one very serious problem: It needed balconies badly. The ship had only 49 balcony staterooms, the fewest in the Celebrity fleet. At a time when most cruise ships boast a high percentage of balcony cabins, Century’s lack of balcony space was certainly hurting business. Another reason to update the ship was to incorporate amenities found on Celebrity’s newer and popular Millennium-class vessels.

After five weeks of work, the results are impressive. The ship is now fitted with 314 new and 49 refurbished balconies — a huge engineering feat; moreover, all the balcony structures and furnishings are made from noncombustible materials, a safety measure enacted after the tragic balcony and stateroom fire last spring on board Princess Cruises’ Star Princess. Besides the new balconies, Century is sporting 14 new suites, 10 new staterooms and an increased number of Concierge Class staterooms. All staterooms have been upgraded with Celebrity’s new luxury bedding and flat-panel televisions.

The balconies have made the ship more passenger-friendly by opening up room and changing the traffic flow inside the ship. Despite a full passenger load, the ship rarely seemed crowded. The balcony work also resulted in upgrades to the public areas, a decision that evolved so the makeover wouldn’t look patchwork. Upgrades were made to the ship’s two-level Grand Restaurant; to all the clubs, lounges and retail shops; to the Internet area (which now has extended Wi-Fi hot spots); and to the art gallery. Many of the upgrades were also calculated to “maximize onboard revenue opportunities,” which Hanrahan sees as a strategic decision and a major trend in the cruise industry.

Indeed, the newest additions to Century’s offerings are already enticing passengers to spend more money. The Celebrity line is known for its excellent cuisine, and the addition of the specialty restaurant Murano, a popular feature from the Millennium-class fleet (and a moneymaker because it imposes a cover charge), now enhances that reputation aboard the Century. At Murano, guests can dine on the excellent offerings designed by Celebrity’s longtime food and wine consultant Master Chef Michel Roux. In another change, Century’s Lido Deck was reconfigured to include an expanded Casual Dining Boulevard, offering sushi, pizza and made-to-order pasta dishes and an ice cream bar, as well as buffet breakfasts, themed lunches and casual dining in the evening. The new Spa Cafe, adjacent to the Aqua Spa, offers light, healthy spa cuisine — the poached salmon is not to be missed.

The most popular and coolest addition on board is Century’s Martini Bar, the first “ice bar” concept at sea. The bar features a liquid wall that freezes to form a sparkling facade and a bar counter that freezes like an ice rink. Kinetic lighting throughout the bar constantly changes the room’s color and appearance. The best part is sampling some of Celebrity’s famed menu of more than 30 martinis (the chocolate martinis are to die for). Other new clubs and lounges on the Century include an updated Cova Cafe, the seagoing version of the stylish Milan coffeehouse, where guests enjoy coffee and pastries by day and a romantic, lamp-lit wine bar and live music after dark. Century’s outdoor Sunset Bar offers an assortment of fresh tapas and appetizers with cocktails and other beverages, in addition to sea breezes and panoramic views.

Celebrity generally caters to an adult crowd, but the growing popularity of family travel influenced a major upgrade to Century’s children’s facilities. The “Fun Factory” area was expanded for younger guests, and a new teen center called “X-Treme Lounge” was added, offering a video arcade, dance floor, juice bar, jukebox, karaoke and computers with Internet access.

The fitness center has been enlarged along with the Aqua Spa, which offers Celebrity’s Acupuncture at Sea, the only such program in the industry with licensed doctors of Oriental Medicine. Another change to the spa is receiving mixed reviews: the removal of the thalassotherapy pool, a powerful bubbling mineral massage bath. The pool was dismantled to make way for the new Persian Gardens, a quiet haven that includes a large steam room, saunas, tropical rain-style showers and teak lounge chairs with views of the sea. You’ll have to pay $10 a day for the Gardens; the therapy pool was free.

Extreme Makeover, next edition

Hanrahan says the Century upgrade is a “test” and the company is hopeful that the onboard changes, along with the ship’s new short cruises out of Miami, will be popular among cruisers. There are plenty of opportunities for passengers to experience the new Century as the ship is the only premium cruise ship to offer four- and five-day cruises out of Miami from November to April; in May, the ship returns to Europe for summer Baltic sailings.

I think the new, improved Century is a huge success, and it was a pleasant surprise to find a ship of this size offering many intimate areas to relax. I have just one complaint: The service was spotty. Service ranged from the best I’ve experienced on any ship (the waiters in the Grand Restaurant were terrific, and so was Sudi, the entertaining bartender in the Martini Bar) to the worst (many indifferent waiters at the Islands Café and at the Pool Bar, which had the rudest bartender I’ve ever seen). I’d say with a few facelifts this ship’s makeover would be almost perfect.

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