I’ve been on over a dozen cruises, and have often seen large family groups cruising together, but never participated before – usually it’s just me and my husband, or me, husband and our kids. These big groups always seemed to be having a blast, and they are hard to miss because they often take up a lot of seats at the bar or pool.
In January, I finally had the opportunity to be part of “that group”. I cruised with 19 other extended family members, aged 19 – 88, on the beautiful Celebrity Edge. The ship and itinerary was chosen by the oldest of the group (“Nanny and Pop Pop”), who have limited mobility but wanted to find a way to spend time with their grandchildren that would be fun for all. We scheduled the trip just after Christmas, when several of the younger generation who attend college were on break.
Pros and Cons of Large Group Cruising:
I’ll get to my review of the Edge in a minute, but first I wanted to outline what I see as the advantages and disadvantages of cruising for a multigenerational group:
First, the positives of large group cruising:
- There are enough activities to interest everyone in the group
- If the group wants to break up and enjoy different areas of the ship according to interest, they can. When I’m with Husband, sometimes I find myself alone – he likes a sunny spot by the pool, I like a quieter spot in the shade, for example- that never happened on this trip. Similarly, if one of your party is tired and wants to rest in the room or sleep in, the other can still find things to do and people to do them with. And in our case, Nanny and Pop Pop didn’t need or want to visit the ports – they’ve seen them all before – but the rest of us could, and they still had things to do they enjoy such as the buffet and trivia.
- Once you’re onboard, transportation isn’t a concern (unless you visit a port).
- We all had the Beverage Package included in our cruise fare – so since dining is also included, there was no worry about splitting tabs.
- Unlike, say, a beach rental house, no one has to cook or clean.
- With set dining times, you are guaranteed seating for your large group at a specific time each night. In our case, we had two adjacent tables in the Cyprus dining room at 6:00pm.
- Because there were so many of us, you could always find someone in the group by checking a few specific areas: for us, the Pool Bar, the Martini Bar, the Casino, or the Club. When hitting the buffet, we always tried to stay in one area so we could find each other.
- You have an automatic cheering section whenever you play a game or sing karaoke!
Now, a few negative considerations / challenges with a large group:
- While set dining works, it can get a little boring, and it’s difficult to try out “select” or “anytime” dining (where you aren’t scheduled) or specialty restaurants unless you split up the group. We were able to try a couple of the other main dining rooms (the Edge has 4), but only with a very early 5:30 reservation time. It was important to Nanny and Pop Pop that we all come together for dinner, so 5:30 or 6:00 it was.
- We had a group text to communicate, but it was only partially useful as the Wifi on the ship was spotty (as I have found with virtually every cruise ship – it would be great if they figured this out once and for all).
- Outside of cruise sponsored excursions, it wasn’t that easy to explore the islands with such a large group. We did take taxis to a beach club in Cozumel, which suited everyone, but at other ports it was more challenging to find something of interest, within everyone’s budget, along with the necessary transportation. See below for thoughts on our ports and what we did.
Review of Celebrity Edge:
Market segment: On to my thoughts on the Edge! I haven’t sailed with Celebrity since before I had children so that’s…. a long time. Celebrity is positioned as a slightly more upscale sister to Royal Caribbean, a mass market line that in my opinion is one of the best for families with children. Royal’s ships usually include waterslides, climbing rocks, zippiness, bungee or ropes courses, and other family-friendly features. Norwegian Cruise Lines, on which we have also sailed a number of times, is very comparable to Royal Caribbean. Celebrity, on the other hand, seems to be geared to a slightly older clientele, with more lounge, bar, and restaurant space and fewer child-friendly activities. The other passengers on board tended to average a bit older.
Public spaces: The ship itself is beautiful and very modern, dominated by gray and tan decor and beautiful lighting throughout. Debuting in 2019, the Edge, like most newer cruise ships, features unique and original spaces designed to separate them from other ships. On Edge, one unique feature is the “Magic Carpet”, a moveable open deck that hangs off one side of the ship. The Magic Carpet is utilized as a bar/lounge during the day, and a restaurant at night. It was worth visiting, just for the intrigue of being “off the Edge”. We didn’t love the Home Depot orange color of the Magic Carpet, which made it seem like it was under construction – not what you want when you’re 14 stories above the water. Another space, “Eden”, is a multistory, windowed space on the back of the ship that is filled with plants and flowers. It’s a lounge during the day, and there are shows at night that are choreographed to take advantage of the multiple stories and decks.
Our group, which included a large number of young twenty-somethings, found ourselves often in the Club, where dance parties and karaoke were the evening norm. Even Nanny joined in the dancing fun. The Club is a two story space designed to look like a clubbing space in the city, with a large dance floor, dark lighting, and many places to lounge around a bar. The Casino was also a popular spot in the evenings – Nanny and Pop Pop love their blackjack and Texas Hold’em, and the relatively low table minimums meant even the young’uns could participate and learn. Best of all, the Casino is non-smoking – a huge plus for us.
Overall, this ship felt less crowded than others I’ve been on, particularly on the two Sea Days. There were 2800 passengers, but we generally found at least a few seats wherever we wanted, even during prime time.
Food: Food taste is very subjective, but Husband and Oldest son all agreed that this was the best cruise ship food we’ve had. We never dined in a specialty restaurant, due to the group size; on other ships we’ve found that’s where the better food is as compared to “Main Dining”. On the Edge, Main Dining is split between 4 restaurants, each with a different theme: Cyprus (Mediterranean); Normandie (French); Tuscan (Italian); and Cosmopolitan (New American). While each menu leaned toward the theme, there were also non-theme items available. And, the special menu changed each night, which made it easier to dine in the same place nearly every night without getting bored. We were told that it’s possible to dine in one restaurant and order from another, but I don’t believe any in our group needed to do this. As a comparison, on Norwegian, the main dining restaurant menus do not change night to night, which is meant to encourage passengers to try alternative (upcharge) restaurants.
We also found that the buffet, a cruise ship staple (I actually typed “stable”, which is adjacent to “hog trough”, which is what it is on some ships!). was of far better quality than we have experienced elsewhere. Instead of one long buffet counter, it was separated into stations, and at lunch time these stations changed each day. While there was always a deli, pizza, and grille counter, one day there was Indian food; another day Mexican, providing for plenty of variation. The “eggs your way” station at breakfast was crowded but they made an excellent poached egg. We never had a problem finding seating – something that can be an issue on other ships.
One small negative on this front: the bars were not well staffed. Nearly everyone on board as a drink package, so there was often quite a wait for drinks at the hotspots.
Cabins: Everyone in our group booked the same cabin type, an “Infinite Veranda”, and we were all near one another on Deck 7 near the main elevators. Deck 7 location was great – an easy walk down to the Martini Bar/ Club/ Restaurant areas on deck 4. I should also note that the Edge’s elevators seemed generally less crowded than we have experienced on other, larger ships. The only time there was a wait was on returning to the ship from port.
The cabins themselves are interesting. Typically, a cruise ship balcony cabin includes a sliding door to an outdoor balcony, which is partially encased by the ship’s exoskeleton above and below. On the Edge, there is no strict outdoor area, but the entire exterior wall of the cabin is glassed, and the top half can be lowered creating a “railing” like effect. There is also a room darkening shade for use at night, as well as a folding divider to close a balcony-sized area off from the rest of the room if you so choose – we never used this feature, but I can imagine that if one of the party wants to enjoy fresh air while the other is sleeping, it could be useful. The Infinite Veranda bathroom and shower were very well-sized, although I would say that some of the space was stolen from the closet, which we found small. There were plenty of areas in the cabin to store folded clothes, but the number of hangers and long-hanging space was limited.
I didn’t take any photos of our cabin, but here’s a great YouTube link showing how they work: Celebrity Edge Infinite Veranda Review
Activities: It’s impossible to take advantage of every activity on a cruise ship, even if you stayed on board all week. But here are a few that our group particularly enjoyed:
- Abba and Queen-themed dance parties, with song lyrics on a big screen for everyone to sing along
- Trivia – we came in 3rd!? how is that possible?
- Line dancing by the pool
- Watching the “pool olympics”
- Silent Disco – participants are given headphones which can be switched to one of three channels, led by DJs. Only those with the headphones can hear the music, so it’s funny to watch (and sometimes painful to listen). They created a kind of contest between the three channels, trying to get people to switch channels and sing along (imagine a large crowd, one third singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” another “Don’t Stop Believing” and the other third belting out “Sweet Caroline”).
- Shows: our group saw one of the musical shows and a comedy show, and were divided on the quality. We generally enjoyed spending evening time in places where we could talk (and sing, and dance).
A few things we missed: Wine and whiskey tasting, entertainment in Eden, Deal or NO Deal game, Newlywed game, behind-the-scenes ship tours, art auctions, acupuncture, footprint analysis, and a few of the shows. Note that some of these activities require an extra cost, or they are trying to sell you something (as with almost everything sponsored by the Spa).
Western Caribbean ports: I was the designated planner, and provided suggestions, but we arranged a teleconference to make some group decisions. We chose the following for each port on our itinerary:
- Key West, Florida: We wandered the downtown area individually and meet up at Hogs Breath bar. Some of our group ended up renting bikes too.
- Costa Maya, Mexico: This man made cruise port doesn’t really have a lot to do, other than the beach. We all met up at the large beach/pool/shopping area just at the end of the dock. This worked because we all arrived at separate times, some as early as 9:00am and others didn’t wander off the ship until noon.
- Cozumel, Mexico: Here we booked Nachi Cocom beach club, an all inclusive experience with a pool, beach, Mexican food, drinks, and optional water sports and massages. There were 8 (eight!) ships in port that day, so we were very glad to have a reserved place to go. We had no problem getting into the taxi queue and finding 2 van taxis for the group of 16 that attended.
- Grand Cayman: We had booked a cruise ship excursion to Sting Ray City, a well-known sandbar where the tame stingrays swim around. Unfortunately, we were notified the day prior that the excursion was cancelled due to weather concerns, as there was rain in the forecast. It actually didn’t end up raining, so this was a bit of a disappointment; our group made their way independently to Calico Jack’s on Seven Mile Beach and enjoyed the beach itself but found Calico Jack’s to be overpriced and crowded. All agreed that it’s an island we would like to revisit with better plans.
I’ve been to all of these ports before, so I can’t say I was either overly amazed or disappointed in any of them – they are all, unfortunately, a bit overrun with cruise ship passengers. It’s a conundrum for the cruise lines, because the large ships can only dock or tender at certain ports – if you want a more unique itinerary, take a much smaller ship.