10 days and Beyond: Long live the long cruise

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The first view of the Celebrity Beyond after clearing check-in in Civitavecchia, Italy, is of its parabolic ultrabow.
The first view of the Celebrity Beyond after clearing check-in in Civitavecchia, Italy, is of its parabolic ultrabow. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

ONBOARD THE CELEBRITY BEYOND -- It's been a few years since I've been afforded the luxury of the so-called long cruise. Like many in the business, I've been on namings, intro cruises, shakedowns and prerevenue sailings aplenty, but it's a rare treat to wander in the space of a 10- or 12-day voyage.

But that's what these big, modern ships are built for: The time to actually try all the restaurants and sit at all the bars -- on the Beyond, there are 32 places to eat and drink. To pull up a deck chair at multiple pools. To stuff a suitcase and a carry-on full of clothes. 

Even on our recent 10-day cruise to Greece and Italy out of Civitavecchia, Italy, there were places on the ship I didn't get to. 

Celebrity Cruises' Beyond was an excellent place for me to reacquaint myself with the long-cruise format. For one, the ship is new, so it has all the bells and whistles of the most modern technology, the most recent partnerships and the latest in thinking about Celebrity's Edge class.

The verdant space of Eden, a lounge, entertainment space and restaurant.
The verdant space of Eden, a lounge, entertainment space and restaurant. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

For example, the ship has a parabolic ultrabow, which gives it that unmistakable profile. The bow design also enables the ship to cut through the water efficiently, the experts say, and this cruise was practically the textbook definition of smooth sailing.

For another thing, the ship has Capt. Kate McCue. I've never seen a ship captain do a Q&A in the main theater, but it was practically as crowded as if it were full of advisors getting ready for the Bob and Vicki Show.

And thirdly, it has a large and comfortable Retreat area. Suite guests have unlimited access to its dedicated restaurant, pool deck, lounge and concierges. 

Each day, I encountered something special about the cruise, so I've broken it down, in 10 increments -- with some editorial license as to which day was which. 

Day 1: Embarkation Day

The embarkation process was more than a little exciting and nerve-wracking. We still had to test negative for Covid (testing and vaccination rules now vary by sailing, but as of this writing, some still require a negative test). And my cellphone reception broke down in the terminal, so for a few minutes I couldn't access our cruise documents. 

But once we cleared all the hurdles, the relief and excitement of the vacation rushed down onto us, and I boarded the Beyond like a novice cruiser, ready to be wowed by everything. And also to have lunch -- let the vacation eating begin.

Day 2: Magic Carpet

The Magic Carpet, an Edge-class innovation, lowered to the waterline in order to serve as a tender platform.
The Magic Carpet, an Edge-class innovation, lowered to the waterline in order to serve as a tender platform. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

I'm convinced that all the best long voyages start with a day at sea, the better to explore the new environment, take a couple of deep breaths of sea air and put the prevacation life firmly in the past.

I was eager to explore the Beyond, and one space that particularly intrigued me was the Magic Carpet, the orange-colored lounge-slash-tender platform that glides up and down the starboard side of all Edge-class ships. The Magic Carpet even has its own button on the elevators, depending on which deck it currently resides. The elevator wasn't always accurate, but it wasn't hard to find the Magic Carpet, and it was a great afternoon spot to pretend to read my Kindle while actually people-watching and enjoying the sea views.

Day 3: Shore excursions begin

I understood that the Beyond's itinerary was a popular one: Six calls in Greece and one in Italy on a 10-day voyage. 

Two years ago, due to Covid, many cruise passengers couldn't disembark a ship unless they were on an organized group tour. I understood the concerns at the time, but I do love self-exploration in port cities. Sometimes you get the best of both worlds, such as the Athens-on-your-own shore excursion offered by Celebrity: Guaranteed transport to and from Athens center city from the port of Piraeus but then carte blanche to do what you like for five hours. I've been all over the world, but the Acropolis took my breath away like few other things I've experienced (and I mean that quite literally, since we climbed up the taxing back side of the cliff in the August heat). 

The expanded Sunset Bar on the Beyond's aft, a mix of yachtie haven and Med/Moroccan design.
The expanded Sunset Bar on the Beyond's aft, a mix of yachtie haven and Med/Moroccan design. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Day 4: Conversational design

Royal Caribbean Group ships have become adept at adopting the Deck 4 and 5 aft areas that were traditionally earmarked for the main dining room and using it as a multiuse zone: Lounge, bar, restaurant and entertainment, depending on the hour. On Edge-class ships it's wrapped in a verdant garden design with hanging basket chairs, live plants and plenty of quiet nooks for reading or relaxing.

Another well-designed aft hangout on the Beyond is the Sunset Bar on the top decks, which is a fusion of yachtie haven meets Mediterranean and Moroccan design. The Beyond excels in outdoor conversational groupings, perfect for the Covid era: See also the conversation pits and cabanas around the main pool, the infinity-edge plunge pools, Magic Carpet and the Rooftop Garden. The Sunset Bar also introduced me to a cocktail with olive oil-infused gin that, in my opinion, is not to be missed at the aperitivo hour.

At this point it might be relevant to talk about Celebrity's inclusive-esque booking option. We had the premium beverage package, which meant any drink on the ship that was $15 and under was gratis. I don't think there's much better in cruise life than not having to sign a bar tab.

The scene at the Martini Bar in the Grand Plaza, where servers tossed bottles and shakers as they mixed drinks.
The scene at the Martini Bar in the Grand Plaza, where servers tossed bottles and shakers as they mixed drinks. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Day 5: Dining and drinks

Long gone are the days of set dining times and tables. Our party often showed up without reservations at the four standard restaurants, where the service was friendly and the food without fault.

The Beyond shines in its specialty restaurants, which do require reservations. I felt that Eden and Le Voyage, Daniel Boulud's new French fusion concept on the Beyond, were worth every dollar (provided the picky eaters go to Camp; see Day 7). Le Voyage, a sumptuous restaurant behind a mysterious, "Star Trek"-esque door off the Grand Plaza, clearly calls for a cocktail at the Martini Bar, where bartenders make excellent drinks and often put on a performance of flipping bottles and shakers.

We felt that the Rooftop Garden Grill was the one miss. Barbecue seemed to us to be too heavy for an alfresco meal in the Med, and wind cut across our table (our server said previous days were calm).

The Rooftop Garden was also a place where we spent very little time. It has a gorgeous design but is dominated by a huge TV screen, which many will enjoy but others may find distracting.

Day 6: Laundry

The Beyond doesn't have DIY laundry rooms. I was mildly concerned about how we were going to get through the cruise without resorting to the laundry service, which charges per item, but then I received a notice in our cabin: The Laundry Challenge. Stuff as many clothes into the provided bag and the ship will wash it all for $50.

Now, this might seem pricey, but I was grateful. Who wants to spend vacation time washing clothes? And I love a challenge. We filled our bag to the brim. 

Day 7: Kids' club

For those with kids: Do you want to spend an afternoon sitting in the Magic Carpet reading your Kindle or at the Sunset Bar sipping a gin cocktail? Do you want to have a relaxed dinner at Eden or Le Voyage and not have to fight over eating complex textures or raw foods? Camp at Sea is the answer to your prayers.

Both our kids went enthusiastically to camp. Our younger one was happy there during its set hours, which end at 10 p.m. before late-night fees set in. Our older one was able to check herself in and out of the camp, a privilege that starts at age 10. It made me a little uneasy at first, but I never ran into the small band of preteens who snacked at the Lido and hung out in Eden, so count me in as blissfully ignorant. Emphasis on bliss.

Capt. Kate McCue during a Q&A seminar with passengers.
Capt. Kate McCue during a Q&A seminar with passengers. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

Day 8: Captain Kate; team sports 

Days at sea are usually packed with special onboard activities, from wine tastings to spin classes. The Beyond's sea schedule had a special event: A Q&A session with Captain Kate. 

I was unprepared for McCue's onboard celebrity, which is unlike any other ship captain's I've seen. Through her social media accounts and approachable presence throughout the ship, often with her hairless cat, Bug, McCue has shown the fun side of seafaring life. Heck, I'm even considering a career at sea, on the chance I could join McCue's bridge team. 

The officers vs. guests volleyball game, which attracted a big turnout on the last sea day.
The officers vs. guests volleyball game, which attracted a big turnout on the last sea day. Photo Credit: TW photo by Rebecca Tobin

In the theater, guests hung on McCue's every word for an hour: How she caught the cruise bug, how she climbed the ranks and joined Celebrity, the technicalities of the Beyond and her advice to a hospitality-college grad in the audience ("the world is your oyster!"). 

The other can't-miss event on a Beyond sea day: officers versus guests volleyball in the Beyond's midship pool. It seemed like the entire ship turned out for the epic battle. Who was watching the match from the Deck 15 jogging track? Captain Kate. 

Day 9: A suite ode

Originally, we were booked into the Infinite Veranda category, which extends the cabin into the balcony and a pull-down window brings in the sea air. But at the last minute we were upgraded to a Sky Suite, a cozy, square room that neatly employs a trundle bed under the couch, and I found that four people can comfortably share the space. Of course, two of our four were kids, so we had to make room for stuffed animals, activity books, 18 pairs of shoes, water bottles, bathing suits, camera, tablet and phone chargers ... but somehow, it all fit.

The other big perk was Retreat access. In my opinion, it's worth the upgrade, as it unlocks a significant portion of the forward section of the ship, including the Retreat restaurant and the sun deck, where there was almost always a good chair. 

Day 10: Unplugged from the routine

The best thing about a 10-day cruise is that it's easy to break your routine one night or two. On our way back from a late call, we did something out of character: We skipped a sit-down dinner and spent the evening in the pool, lazing around and watching the sunset. 

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