Now that the cruise sector is bouncing back from the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, I sat down last week with Celebrity Cruises hotel director Andrea Muege during my first sailng on Celebrity Equinox.
We discussed her role, the ship itself and the state of cruising today — including how remarkable it is that the cruise experience hasn't been compromised in light of the restrictions seen in other travel sectors.
Following is the conversation between Cruiseable editor in chief JD Lasica and Andrea Muege, Celebrity Equinox's hotel director.
Q&A with Celebrity Equinox's hotel director
Can you tell us what the hotel director does on a cruise ship?
Sure. The job entails looking after the largest division on the ship. That includes everything from food and beverage, housekeeping and finance to IT, the spa and all the revenue departments. I'm doing everything with this amazing team except driving the ship.
We'll leave that to the captain. What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends on if it's a sea day or a port day. It might begin with welcoming guests to the ports. I try to do a walk every day from the top to bottom of the ship to try is to see as many guests and crew members as possible. Then there are a number of meetings and dealing with unexpected things that always come up.
So every day is different and this is what I love about the job, making sure that guests are having a good time. This is not a nine to five job.
Tell me a little bit about Celebrity Equinox and what's special about it.
It's the crew that creates such amazing, memorable experiences. It's so heartening seeing all the guests who are so excited about coming back to cruising after the pandemic and interacting with the the crew that we all love so much. It's the itineraries as well. For some guests, the itinerary is the most important factor — and Celebrity Equinox has great itineraries— while for others it's really the ship that's the main attraction.
Is there one particular hallmark of a Celebrity Equinox sailing that makes it stand out?
It's all about the experiences. For example, I took a hot glass-blowing class, and if you have never done that in your life, it's a blast. I now have my own piece unique glass piece. We cater to all sorts of guests — those who want to be entertained or those who just want to find a nice secluded reading corner. We're also known for our restaurants: Tuscan Grill with its Italian touches, Murano with its elegant European flair, Sushi on Five. There are so many culinary experiences to discover.
And Le Petit Chef at Qsine.
Guests are loving that. The first time you go, you're immersed by the 3D storytelling and the visuals right on the table, and then you're served the dish.
Who does Celebrity Equinox appeal to in particular?
At this current stage due to outside circumstances, it's predominately the American market, with our home port in Miami. We cater to all nationalities. When we sail in Europe we attract a lot of European guests. When we go to Asia, it's a mixed international crowd. In Australia, besides the Australians we get a lot of British and Americans.
And on this sailing at least, it's certainly a more senior crowd.
That's due to a number of factors. Many guests start cruising with Royal Caribbean, often with younger children. Then when the children get older you begin looking for different itineraries and experiences. And this is where you then start sailing on Celebrity. And it's our philosophy not to exceed 3,000 passengers, and that sets us apart from Royal.
On this voyage, Celebrity is still ramping up but you're sailing at about half capacity, correct?
This ship has a capacity of 2,850 passengers, and we're carrying 1,180 (41% of capacity). But the next cruise will have over 1,600 guests and the one after that will go up to 2,000. We're seeing the same growth trend with all our other ships as things begin to return to normal. So you see, cruising is back!
For those who haven't sailed since before the pandemic, how has cruising changed?
We have tried really hard to bring cruising back to almost as it was before. Have you noticed any differences?
I see more of an emphasis on health and safety. No more self-serve buffets, the crew serves you. The muster drill is done on your stateroom TV. As an additional precaution, the crew members wear masks, even though we've all been vaccinated.
This is what the guests tell us they always appreciate. The environment on the ship, which was the cleanest you can imagine before the pandemic, is now really amazing. Royal Caribbean (the corporation that owns Celebrity) brought together a health panel with experts from all around the world and took a series of steps to make the ships extra safe. Our chairman, Mr. Richard Fain, reported a few weeks ago that out of over half a million passengers who've cruised with us since the pandemic started, we've 0.02% COVID cases. This is unheard of. When we board the ship, we do a PCR test. And we require all guests and crew to be fully vaccinated.
Including the entertainers.
Yes. This is also one of the unique things about our brand — the diversity of live entertainment. Maybe you have experienced our classical guitarist or our guest band or our live production shows.
It seems like there are a lot of wellness options on the ship. Is that one of the things Celebrity is known for?
Yes. I think also we have seen a trend during the pandemic that well-being and healthy food have become more important to all of us. And this is also what Celebrity has focused on with our Aqua Class stateroom accounts. These guests have their own dedicated restaurant, the Blu restaurant, which specializes in healthier options. These guest can also order special wellness treatments like acupuncture, yoga mats, special weights so they can do the exercise by themselves on their own terms. And then the various offerings in our spa and fitness area and the Retreat lounge and sundeck for our suite guests.
People also seem excited by the new ships Celebrity has coming out.
I was the opening hotel director for our very unique expedition ship in the Galapagos, the Celebrity Flora. You should really experience that part of the world if you haven't. At the front of the ship you can really see the stars and they're incredible, including the Southern Cross. You can really sleep under the stars in a beautiful cabana with a duvet. You wake up in the morning, we serve you breakfast and it's a dream. It's priceless.
Next we'll have a christening ceremony for Celebrity Apex, and she will cruise in the Caribbean. And next year, Celebrity Beyond, which will be really beyond. I mean, the ship got extended by 22 meters, and it has even more restaurants and bars and lounges and experiences. So you need to come and try it.