In a darkened room at a restaurant table set with empty, shiny white dinner plates, a little man about the size of my thumb suddenly appears plate-side to prepare dessert. He is accompanied by a miniature sled, spoon, and igloo.
At each place on the table, the animated little man in red scarf and chef’s hat heaves a scoop of ice cream, flips berries with his spoon, shoots chocolate sauce from a firehose, and lights a celebratory candle before slipping away. He disappears into a patch of icy water near his igloo — to applause from around the table.
Le Petit Chef, as he is known in his animated culinary journeys at Skullmapping.com, is a key ingredient in what Celebrity Cruises is calling an immersive fusion of entertainment and dining on its newest ship, Celebrity Edge, set to debut in Fort Lauderdale in December.
The show “doesn't take itself really seriously,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Celebrity's president and CEO. “That's the way that technology feels good and right for our brand — where it's fun and really enhances a guest experience."
On the Edge, in his first gig at sea, Le Petit Chef will perform a couple of nights each cruise at Le Grand Bistro where he will prepare animatedly, with music, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert (and then the real dish, prepared in the kitchen, will show up). Both chefs, real and animated, previewed their dessert skills at a recent restaurant reveal presentation to media and travel agents in New York.
The preview, showing off elements of style and substance planned for Celebrity Edge’s 29 restaurants, bars and lounges, was a massive tasting of dishes that will be served aboard ship. The event was impressive, a strong indication that the latest round of the continuing food fight among the cruise world’s premium lines has begun.
Celebrity Cruise’s loyal fans and potential new-to-cruise customers are foodies, Lutoff-Perlo said during an interview in New York.
“We have found that busy people care most about food, both in their everyday lives and on vacation,” she said. “Culinary is our number one pillar at Celebrity Cruises. It’s all about delivery, doing it right. On Celebrity Edge we have an opportunity to reinvent ourselves.”
A French chef squirting chocolate from a firehose: Take that competing cruise lines — especially those who are always touting their food prowess such as Oceania Cruises, Windstar and Holland America Line.
Celebrity is making a run toward the top of the heap with far more than a new ship. The 2,900-passenger Celebrity Edge is the first of a whole new class of ships, following the highly successful Solstice class, which debuted in 2008, followed by four ships of various iterations through 2012. The coming of the Edge class is a significant event, and not only for Celebrity.
When a major new class of ships debuts, competing lines look to see where they have been one-upped.
“Our guests are ready for Celebrity Edge, just as they were for the Solstice class,” said Lutoff-Perlo. “People want a higher level, and, yes, it will cost more. The rates will be higher because of the premium nature of the product.”
Most of the hype about Celebrity Edge centers around its Magic Carpet, a movable platform used for access at sea level, sipping cocktails higher up, and dining al fresco on the top deck. Other innovations include a new design that allows the space on cabin balconies to be either outside or inside the ship.
But Edge’s biggest selling point, and key to success, will be its dining presentations.
Celebrity Edge, first of at least four ships — sisters are expected in 2020, 2021 and 2022 — will have four main dining restaurants, each with a menu that is partly themed but the rest of the dishes will be the same in all four rooms. It also will offer two exclusive restaurants based on cabin class and half a dozen specialty restaurants (with an extra fee). They include a steakhouse; a rooftop grill with BBQ; a raw bar; edgy dining on the Magic Carpet; Le Grand Bistro, where the tabletops often come to life; and Eden restaurant, where diners are taken to new and exciting places by performers known as Edenists.
Lutoff-Perlo said the cruise line approached specialty dining, and the entire ship design, with the same spirit.
"It is transformative,” she said.
Food is the star of the show on all top premium cruise lines. Passengers pay a premium rate — above the cost of vacationing on contemporary/budget ships — for what typically is a higher ratio of public space; a more sophisticated product; a higher level of service; and, most important, a better range and quality of dining.
On its new ship, Celebrity Cruises is looking for an edge in a world of trendiness. The little guy with the red scarf, hanging around my plate in New York, seemed edgy to me.