Cruise industry amenities war heats up

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The club-like atmosphere in Celebrity Summit’s new 54 Below Lounge evokes the atmosphere of the original and very exclusive Club 54 and one of New York’s major hot spots.Photo courtesy Celebrity Cruise Lines
The club-like atmosphere in Celebrity Summit’s new 54 Below Lounge evokes the atmosphere of the original and very exclusive Club 54 and one of New York’s major hot spots.

Starting in 1492 the hottest route in the cruise market was across the Atlantic and the Caribbean basin.  That’s pretty much the same today as it was 521 years ago.

Accommodations back then were somewhat sparse.  Bunks were either wooden racks or hammocks strung between two posts.  Meals—when they were served-gave passengers two choices: “yes or no.”

One of the most looked forward to activities was spending brief periods of the day above deck attempting to breathe in some fresh air and ward off sunlight deprivation.  The activities director more often than not was a burly man with a long, leather whip who encouraged crew and passengers to swab the deck, climb the masts to adjust sails and a wonderful array of menial chores.

Trans-ocean cruises generally lasted for a period of several months, thus giving those on board an opportunity to enjoy all of the available options.  Cruises of that duration often subjected ships to numerous storms that, since they had no stabilizers, caused them to bounce around like pool volleyball.

Back then there were only one or two ship lines and they had a total monopoly on the routes back and forth fromAmericatoEurope.  The main ports here wereNew York,Bostonand theCaribbeanbasin for sugar cane to make rum for the bar service.

Ships have come a long way in more than five centuries.  Builders no longer rely on stout timbers for the hull and cruise directors have traded in their whips for a smile and a handshake.

In fact, the last five decades have seen such tremendous growth in cruise ships and amenities that a comparison of then to now is comparable to comparing the wooden ships of yesteryear to the behemoths sailing the seven seas today.

Less than 40 years ago NCLs Starward was one of the hottest ships afloat.  Today it could be used as a tender for the huge floating hotels that tower over the water.  But more than size and materials go into the cruise experience today.

Until the past few yearsNew York Cityhad a virtual monopoly on cruise ships coming into the area.  That changed not too long ago with the development ofCapeLibertyinBayonne,NJ.  Celebrity Cruises saw the potential for a port without the traffic hassles incumbent in using aNew York Citysite and has home-ported its luxury liners inNew Jersey.

The location is no great a problem for those coming in from New York, Pennsylvania or New England.  It is only minutes fromNewarkAirportand a comfortable ride from LaGuardia and JFK.

But they know that convenience alone will not draw or satisfy passengers; they need to be fed and entertained.

Celebrity has teamed up with “54 Below” to bring Broadway caliber entertainment shipboard, enhancing the time between Port Liberty and Hamilton, Bermuda.

54 Below is of course located beneath the legendary disco, Studio 54, and is called “a throwback” to the hot clubs and milieu of the legendary disco era when Studio 54 was the hottest ticket in the area.

Celebrity’s Director of Entertainment, Eric Bohus, a man without a whip, called the partnership: “A unique theatrical experience,” that will bring Broadway talent in cabaret-style performances that complements the ship’s other new offerings.

Hot new offerings include (What happens inLas Vegas, stays inLas Vegas) Sin City Comedy.  OK, afloat theLas Vegasmotto may not hold water (pun) but it does add a great dimension to Summit’s offerings.

Simply offering new venues is hardly sufficient if they aren’t filled with quality.  The 54 Below experience will include Tony Award winners Faith Prince (Best Actress in a Musical for Guys and Dolls), Alice Ripley (Best Actress in a Musical for Next to Normal) and Donna McKechnie (Best Actress in a Musical for A Chorus Line).

Others have starred in Rent, Les Miserables, Jersey Boys, Godspell and a host of top shows.

The 54 Below experience teams with a glamorous night club that follows in the tradition of the great clubs of legend: the Copacabana, The Blue Angel and the Waldorf’s Persian Room.  These historic venues never offered anything but the most sought after names in entertainment.

Celebrity Cruises, easily identifiable by its iconic “X” on ships stacks, has been a pioneer in entertainment and shipboard amenities.  Its 11 liners, visiting ports throughout the world, puts equal emphasis on the cuisine offered to passengers so that the entire cruise experience is on a level plane.

For information go to www.celebritycruises.com.