Greg Fleming discovers the difference as a guest on the inaugural voyage of Celebrity's latest cruise ship.
You know that new car smell? Well, I can confirm that billion-dollar cruise ships have something similar — a mix of champagne, sweet perfume and gilt-edged expectation.
You don't name a ship the Edge by accident, and this one had much hype to live up to.
"Our guests don't want to just skim the world like a magazine — they want to feel a human connection with it," said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises in a pre-launch press release.
"Every element of Celebrity Edge is meant to make that connection intense and unforgettable. Our new class of ship will allow guests to experience their journeys with the uniqueness and sophistication that marks the rest of their lives."
So the Edge, Celebrity's first new ship in six years, comes with high expectations and for its inaugural voyage Celebrity invited hundreds of the world's travel media for a short two-night cruise leaving from Fort Lauderdale and sailing to the Bahamas.
And nothing was left to chance — before the inaugural voyage, one Celebrity employee had the onerous task of sleeping in every type of stateroom to ensure everything was just right.
That included the two-storeyed, US$30,000 a night (per person) Iconic Suite, one of the most luxurious cruise ship suites available. Both are positioned above the bridge and offer panoramic views from front to back. And if you thought that price-tag might be a barrier, think again — it's booked out for the next six months.
Too pricey? Well try one of the two penthouse suites — just US$15,000 a night.
The pre-launch press boasted that the 2918-guest capacity ship would establish a "new baseline" for the industry; and we were the first guests on board after the ship's 15-day transatlantic crossing from its French shipyard with 1400 hand-picked crew.
Thankfully the new age of cruising also took their needs into account, with upgraded crew quarters and facilities.
The crew I talked to throughout my stay were all genuinely excited to be working on the Edge, and that meant the service was exemplary.
As one told me as she showed me the way to the Sunset Room — a bar perfect for end-of-day pre-dinner lounging, but a little tricky to find — "we're lucky to be here. This is the best ship I have ever worked on."
The line's commitment to forward-thinking and diversity saw it choose Pakistani activist and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai, as the ship's Godmother. In addition, Kate McCue, one of the 30 per cent of female current crew, will be taking over captain's duties in 2019.
The new ship also meant a refurbished terminal in Fort Lauderdale, ensuring embarkation was a quick and pleasant experience. Within 10 minutes I was on board the world's most anticipated cruise ship with a welcoming beverage in hand, keen to see what all the fuss was about.
DESIGNED TO IMPRESS
While I waited for my stateroom to be readied I wandered through the Grand Plaza — a space which spans three decks at the heart of the ship, taking its cue from the glamorous days of transatlantic travel but updated for the 21st century. Think an Italian piazza inside a five-star hotel.
Designed by Paris-based duo Jouin Manku, the pair behind the plaza and Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, the space is also home to a stunning seven-ton chandelier that rises over the Martini Bar and changes colour depending on the time of day.
The plaza is also home to what is always one of my favourite spots on Celebrity ships— Cafe al Bacio on deck four — (finally a cruise line that serves good barista-made coffee); 12 hours later I'd watch from there while hundreds of guests danced below, as a DJ spun the tunes and a bartender juggled the cocktails.
That ability to transform spaces depending on use and time of day is integral on the ship.
In the main pool area an enormous ever-changing LED installation hovers over the bar, while the rooftop garden can go from a relaxed seating space to a outdoor screening area at night when a movie or an NFL game is shown live on the big screen.
Leading designers — Kelly Hoppen, Tom Wright and Patricia Urquiola among them — were called in to helm various spaces on this most Instagram-friendly ship.
The result is that the Edge is the best-looking, coolest and, yes, sexiest cruise ship on the seas.
You haven't seen a cruise ship like this — there's none of the sometimes garish, tired interior choices too common on some lines. Wandering around the Edge is an aesthetic experience — hot tubs shaped as martini glasses, surreal sculptures (a black horse on the rooftop deck) themed corridors that suggest its shipyard's construction, a remarkable curved staircase leading up to the spa.
Its fresh look and sleek, curvy lines will appeal to new generations of cruisers.
If you want jigsaw puzzles and bingo on your cruise ship vacation — maybe this isn't the ship for you.
The ship also introduces many firsts for the industry — including an infinite verandah in staterooms that increases living space by up to 23 per cent. The technology here is a few levels up from other cruise ships I've travelled on.
When I got to my stateroom an hour after boarding I found I could operate everything — doors, lights, TV, temperature and the windows to my infinite verandah — from the app on my phone.
Essentially the infinite verandah is an idea so simple you wonder why had no-one thought of it before — bi-fold doors can be left open or closed creating a separate, roomier balcony area; lower the window to complete the balcony affect and feel the warm sea breeze flow in.
And at last here's a ship where the Wi-Fi is reliable and relatively fast. Guests have the ability to stream content from their device on to the TV screen (Wi-Fi charges apply).
In another first, there are 16 single staterooms for solo travellers — a growing sector in the industry, and ideal for travellers who want cabin privacy at a single stateroom price.
The most visible innovation however is the Magic Carpet — the world's first floating platform the size of a tennis court that reaches 13 storeys above sea level. It includes a full bar, seating, live musical performances and also operates as a tender station. The bright tangerine coloured deck was an engineering feat. It travels from deck 5 to deck 15 but doesn't move while guests are on it.
The location of the Magic Carpet is visible on the elevators throughout the ship, but you'll have to book a space. By day it operates as a lounge, by night it's a restaurant.
Construction-wise its French builders pioneered a parabolic ultra-bow as well as introducing other efficiencies.
This was by far the quietest and smoothest ship I've cruised on.
After a visit to Royal Caribbean's Symphony of the Seas — the world's largest cruise ship, which was docked at Miami the day I flew in — the decision to keep the Edge class to around 3000 guests seemed the right one to me. If the 6600 maximum capacity Symphony often resembled a gigantic shopping mall, with endless attractions, the Edge is another kind of cruise ship, still great for families, but one that doesn't need to rely on gimmicks.
"We like this ship," said Jackson, a 50-something regular cruiser who was being hosted on Edge — a small reward for the 20-plus cruises he and his wife had sailed on Celebrity ships over the years.
"It actually reminds us of the much smaller Seabourn cruises — where the ship has only around 500 passengers and the service is very personalised. "Oh and the big TVs in your stateroom are great! We'll definitely be back."
Although it doesn't have a library, the Edge has plenty of public spaces and nooks and crannies to retire to with a book or to just sit and gaze out to sea.
And it's a ship that's full of surprises — tucked away in one corner I found a display filled with Picasso's earthenware plates and jugs; and if the gym (yes of course it's state-of-the-art) sounds too much like work there's a great inclined walking track on the upper decks with superb views out to sea and inward to the ship's resort deck.
Alternatively if you fall asleep in your deck chair and miss dinner, the pizza and ice cream stations are open until 1am (and of course room service is just a call away).
Though our part of the world is ably served by the Celebrity Solstice, those wanting a cruise vacation on a new class of ship and destinations further afield should have the Edge on their radar.
It's a ship with cutting edge design and amenities without forgetting the everyday basics of cruising — fun, connection and openness to new experiences. Life on the Edge, it turns out, is very good indeed.
● The Edge helps limit single use plastic with the use of fully recyclable signature aluminium water bottles.
● 80 per cent of Edge's staterooms have an infinite verandah
● The Edge is the first of four Edge Class vessels that Celebrity has ordered for delivery by 2022.
● Want to shop — you're on the right ship with Tiffany, Bvlgari and Cartier on board.
● Travelling alone? In a cruise industry first there are 16 single staterooms on board.
● Do check-in before boarding via the Celebrity app, it will save you time.
A 7-night Western Caribbean cruise, departing November 24, is from $3039pp, twin share. Airfares additional.