Celebrity Cruises boss talks Fain's departure, Apex, cruising's return

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T1115LISAPERLO_C_HR [Credit: Reeves Watson Photography]
David Crooks of World Travel Holdings and Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, the CEO of Celebrity Cruises. Photo Credit: Reeves Watson Photography

ONBOARD THE CELEBRITY APEX -- Celebrity Cruises president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo took the stage before the Apex's inaugural revenue cruise -- only 581 days past when it was originally scheduled to depart -- for a chat that included some candid comments on her boss, Richard Fain, and why she's glad Celebrity was the first big-ship cruise line back to sea from the U.S.

In what she called "a very big week for Celebrity," with two new ships joining the revenue fleet and six that have launched in the past eight weeks, Lutoff-Perlo welcomed onboard the crowd of CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc. travel advisors, who were holding World Travel Holdings' Together Conference onboard.

At the conference's opening session on Saturday, World Travel Holdings senior vice president David Crooks asked about her feelings on Richard Fain, who is departing his post as CEO of Royal Caribbean Group in January. "The number-one topic over the past month has been Richard Fain's hair," she joked, which started to grow long as he prepared to make his announcement.

"I'm so happy for him; it's time and he's ready," she said. "But it's bittersweet. The thing I love about Richard is his heart. I don't think any of you realize how concerned he was about all of you, about our employees and our crew and our travel partners. No one can hold a candle to him in this industry."

The best room on Celebrity Apex

She side-stepped the question asking for her favorite section of the Apex. "This ship is the sum of its parts," she said. "I was part of choosing every piece of fabric, every chair, the walls in the theater."

For travel advisors, "sell the Retreat," she suggested. "People have money; they can't wait to get away; they've been through hell. So use that to your advantage."

The first cruise line to return to cruising

And why was it so important to her for Celebrity to be the first line to sail when the CDC allowed it: "When we stopped sailing in March 2020 we were sure we'd be back in June," she said. "Richard led from the front working with the CDC.

"It took lots of money to get the crew back and get them vaccinated, and the whole world was watching. It took courage; it was a big risk. But Royal Caribbean wanted to be the first -- and I wanted to be the first."

She knew that was the right decision when she was in a Publix grocery store when her phone rang--and it was Crooks calling to say, "I just wanted to congratulate you. You gave us all a lot of hope."

When she asked how many travel advisors in the audience have cruised since the seas reopened, the vast majority had not. (But it's cruise No. 10 for Dave Johnson of Travel Yetis by Dream Vacations, a new franchisee in the audience. He is motivated to learn all there is to know about cruise ships the best way possible, by firsthand knowledge, he said.)

It was her seventh year at the helm of Celebrity in 2020 when she got off Apex's sister ship, Celebrity Edge, and flew home on March 8, 2020. "And that was it," she recalled, "from this amazing high to this unbelievable low.

"But every single day we thought about what it would take to get back."

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