Can an avid and experienced spa-goer have a true spa getaway aboard a gargantuan cruise ship? That’s what I pondered when I accepted the invitation to sail aboard Celebrity Beyond—a billion-dollar build, it’s among the most expensive cruise ships ever built.
I was invited to experience the new ship and its new spa—and to also partake in Gwyneth Paltrow’s “goop at Sea” sailing on a nine-night cruise from Barcelona along the South of France and down the Italian Riviera to Sicily and finally back to Rome. How could I decline? Gywneth, award-winning actress and woo-woo guru, has been Celebrity’s Well-Being Advisor since spring 2021, though the curious collaboration between goop and Celebrity began in early 2020.
While I’m not much of a goop fan (though I do like that Goopglow Glow Lotion), I am a wellness watchdog—with fond memories of one of my very first cruises, an exquisite Baltic voyage aboard another Celebrity ship, Millennium. That was a lifetime ago, literally my 22-year-old niece’s lifetime. My traveling companion on that cruise was my youngest sister, a new mother in need of a break. I can still vividly recall the gleaming new spa, its thermal amenities, and its topnotch beauty treatments—not to mention the achingly beautiful historic cities of the Baltic.
“When Millennium launched, it was considered to be the best premium ship in the industry,” notes Arthur Sbarsky, cruise industry corporate veteran who at the time was Celebrity’s Senior Vice President of Marketing. “It had many innovative new features, including a much, much bigger and better spa.”
Big News in Cruise Spa & Wellness
Over the years, there have been huge breakthroughs in cruise ship architecture that have allowed large ships like the 1,071-foot Beyond to have vast indoor spaces and walls of glass that create spectacular spas and fitness facilities that rival anything on shore. Meanwhile, on smaller, more intimate cruise ships the competition for luxury service is really coming to a head. Last fall, aboard the elegant 698-foot Silver Muse, I test-drove “Otium,” Silversea’s new spa and wellness concept dreamt up and conceived by the brilliant Barbara Muckermann, Chief Commercial Officer; and this past March, I experienced Otium’s official debut aboard her sister ship Silver Dawn. A word from ancient Rome, “Otium” mixes pleasure and leisure, and Silversea interprets it as the “Original Art of Comfort.” The staff to guest ratio is about 1:1, the service is spectacular, and they’ve expanded the concept to include in-suite Otium experiences.
Speaking of suites, Norwegian recently launched Prima, the first of six state-of-the-art ships in its new Prima Class. At 965 feet, the ship offers the largest variety of suite categories available at sea, as well as a luxurious new Mandara Spa that features, among other things, a two-story waterfall and the first charcoal sauna at sea.
Meanwhile MSC Group and the Aponte family are preparing to launch Explora Journeys in summer 2023 with a new concept and spa dubbed “Ocean Wellness.” Julanda Marais, Senior Lead Spa Operations, explains it like this: “We’ve long understood the powerful effect of water and waves on body, mind, and soul. This is the inspiration for Ocean Wellness. We want to give our guests a feeling of refined simplicity, relaxed luxury, and complete mental and physical replenishment.”
Making smaller, albeit uber-luxurious waves, Four Seasons is launching Four Seasons Yachts, with the brand’s first 14-deck, 679-foot-long, 95-suite ship complete with Four Seasons spa, planning to set sail in late 2025.
“Wellness is the new expectation on cruise ships.”—Susan Bonner, CCO, OneSpaWorld
Not to be outdone, Ritz-Carlton recently debuted the 623-foot Evrima. The 149-suite-ship, available for private charter, is the first of three custom-built yachts from The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection. Its five-room spa offers a range of—you guessed it—sea-inspired treatments, along with a well-designed outdoor spa space.
And earlier this month, Spa L’Occitane launched the 947-square-foot SeaSpa aboard 423-foot-long World Traveller, Atlas Ocean Voyages’ elegant new ship.
“Wellness is the new expectation on cruise ships,” affirms Susan Bonner, Chief Commercial Officer, OneSpaWorld, a global leader in health and wellness that operates spas, salons, and fitness centers for cruise lines and select resorts. Bonner, who has over 20 years of topnotch experience in the cruise line sector had quite a bit to do with the spa and its Sea Thermal Suite aboard Beyond.
So, let’s go back to Beyond.
The Spa Purist’s Dilemma
If you are a spa purist, as I am, you may be skeptical as to whether or not you can have a true spa experience—and by that I’m referring to a true destination spa experience—aboard a big ship. The surprising-to-me answer is, Yes. But that comes with a huge caveat. Large ships like Beyond cater to more than 3,000 guests and offer a multitude of experiences from noisy casinos to karaoke to the grand buffet that are the antithesis of a secluded retreat—by design. So the essential element to a destination spa experience aboard Beyond is to book AquaClass—if not the much pricier Retreat.
The AquaClass staterooms and recently introduced suites, are a spa-goer’s must. In addition to the “infinite veranda,” cashmere mattress bedding, complimentary fitness classes, yoga mat, daily in-room bottled water service, and healthy in-room dining options, there is quiet, complimentary Clean Cuisine dining at Blu restaurant. More importantly, there is unlimited access to the Sea Thermal Suite. And this is where I spent two hours of every single one of those nine days. But first a word on the spa itself.
Run by former pro-volleyball player turned spa professional, Ivana Galic is an extraordinary spa director who oversees the 24-room spa and well-equipped fitness center. Her attention to detail and to everything that is going on around her at all times (and believe me, it is a lot) are remarkable. She doesn’t miss a beat. The opening spa director for Beyond, Ivana, who hails from Croatia, has worked aboard Celebrity ships for 19 years. From an extensive menu of 120-plus spa treatments, Ivana recommended a Biotec facial and the Hot Mineral Boost Massage that’s given atop a state-of-the-art Gharieni Quartz Bed. Both treatments were excellent, thanks to experienced therapists Hristina and Katerine.
A Spa Playground for the Senses
“The Celebrity brand is focused on wellness as a brand pillar, so it made sense for them to rethink the spa experience and provide the guest an even better reason to spend more time in the spa,” says Bonner, who was working for Celebrity as Vice President, Revenue when the Sea Thermal Suite was concepted. She still has the original drawing of the Sea Thermal Suite that she drew on a napkin. Bonner led its concepting, which then transcended into the services, treatments, and innovations that were brought onboard around the story of sea. The concept was forged around sea, earth, and air and can be evidenced in the specialized spaces throughout. For example, the heated tile loungers represent earth, the salt room conjures the sea, and the hanging basket chairs in the Flotation room invoke air.
A playground for the senses, the thermal suite offers eight specific spaces. There’s the hammam that was heated just right; the crystalarium; the steam room; the infrared sauna room with a wonderful floor-to-ceiling window; the float room with a handful of “floating” basket chairs; a salt room with a small panel of salt that I don’t think is really a bonafide salt room, but nonetheless a relaxing space; the relaxation area with panoramic views and heated tile loungers; and the rainfall water therapy path with simulated rain showers ranging from warm to cool and from drops of water to cascading showers.
I tended to visit the Sea Thermal Suite in early afternoons when it wasn’t busy, but I am happy to report that it was never busy to the point of being bothersome. The design of the space flowed very well, although it could benefit from a few discreetly placed hampers. The most popular spot for my fellow spa-goers was the relaxation room with its heated tile loungers.
Dedicated to Wellness
On day six of the cruise, Gwyneth made a fleeting appearance, which was unsatisfactory for many of those who had signed on for goop at Sea, but it didn’t really matter. You don’t expect her to be any more than she can manage. She is beloved by many, flaws and all. One shouldn’t rely on her to do anything more than to alight for a moment and grace us with her presence. In the end, goop at Sea did not deliver on the “transformative” and “exclusive wellness retreat” it promoted, but that didn’t really matter either.
Celebrity has had a longtime dedication to wellness, fitness, and spa–and it shows. Thinking back, the only time the spa aboard Beyond didn’t feel comfortable was the evening of the special goop get-together in the Sea Thermal Suite. It was a chaotic event that put a simple fact into sharp focus: Celebrity is way beyond goop.
The only other small block between Aqua Class and the best destination spa experience has to do with the place of robes. Given the size of the ship and the variety of guests, Beyond has rightly opted against formal nights for what are called “Chic Nights,” and the dress code proved to be comfortably relaxed throughout the voyage. But even though the in-suite spa robe was gloriously cozy and inviting, I didn’t feel comfortable wearing the robe between the stateroom and the spa, let alone wearing the robe for meals at Blu. And from what I experienced, nobody else did either.
That’s a shame—that might easily be rectified by a shipboard Robe Day—which would provide a light touch of spa for the casino-goers and karaoke singers as well.