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Cruise ship interview - - Celebrity Equinox - - Celebrity Cruises - -Gary Walker
INSIDE VIEW:

MOLDING THE FUTURE

A Conversation with Gary Walker,
Cruise Director, Celebrity Equinox


By

Richard H. Wagner
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EQUINOX on the CELEBRITY
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EQUINOX
CLICK HERE FOR A PDF VERSION OF THE ARTICLE
Celebrity Equinox is part of a new wave moving through Celebrity Cruises.  
She is the second ship to enter service in Celebrity’s Solstice class.  Not only
are these ships bigger than Celebrity’s existing ships, they have innovative
features including new entertainment venues and more dining options that
inevitably will change the cruise experience.

Equinox’s Cruise Director Gary Walker is no stranger to change.  He has
worked in the cruise industry for 19 years, not just for Celebrity but for
Princess Cruises and Holland America Line.  Indeed, he was with HAL when
it introduced its Vista-class ships, which were significantly larger than that line’
s existing ships.  Thus, he has a unique perspective from which to talk about
Equinox.

“For Celebrity, it is a bigger ship than we have been used to but the way it has
been designed really lends itself to more intimate areas - - the Cellar Masters,
the Martini Bar, the Ensemble Lounge.    Even with 3,000 guests, you can
walk around and find a lounge or a space where you are the only one. I always
think it is like walking through a chic, cool boutique hotel in Las Vegas. With
the creation of these new ships, we have really been able to mold where we
would like to see ourselves in the future.”


More Options in Entertainment and Programming

As Cruise Director, Walker is in charge of the onboard entertainment and
activities.  “I think what we are doing with our new programs and new areas,
really allow guests to relax and enjoy the ship more.”

With regard to entertainment, Equinox has venues not on prior Celebrity ships
that make it possible to offer more varieties of entertainment.   One example is
the comedy club called Celebrity Central.  “We have late night comedy five to
six nights a week with two comedians - - one comedian for the first half of the
cruise, one for the second half.  They fly in and out.  It is very popular.  The
room holds 230 people and it is standing room only every night.  It is an
intimate fun atmosphere for comedy.  That is something new and exclusive to
our Solstice-class ships.”

The flexibility afforded by the venues on the Solstice-class ships has allowed
Celebrity to develop entertainment programs, which it has subsequently
adapted to its other ships.  An example is interactive production shows in
which guests can participate along with the ship’s entertainers.  “We have a
production that we do in the Sky Lounge [the ship’s observation lounge]
called ‘Live at Sky.’  It is a swing, jive, big band-based theme night that
encompasses the big band, our singers and dancers, and the cruise director’s
team.  Live at Sky was designed for the Sky Lounge.”

For those who want less public entertainment, the ship has an advanced
interactive television system.   “With the interactive TV, you can book your
shore excursions, order room service, [watch] on demand free movies as well
as pay-per-view movies.  [The system has] 50 plus movies on demand, 24/7.  
They are the same movies that you would see in the movie theater on the
ship.”

Equinox debuted Celebrity’s new onboard programming concept Celebrity
Life.   Under this concept, programs are grouped into three areas reflecting
what have traditionally been pillars of strength for Celebrity - - enrichment,
spa and health-related activities and cuisine and wine.  “We have gotten away
from some of the more traditional shipboard games.  We are really trying to go
in the way of enrichment with our new Celebrity Life program.”

The programs in these areas have been further developed and enhanced
through various partnerships that Celebrity has formed.  “People are enjoying
that we are partnering with some big names out there - - Rosetta Stone for
language classes, the Smithsonian Institute for our guest speakers program.”
Celebrity is also enhancing the program through use of internal resources.  An
example would be the cooking demonstrations in the wine and cuisine area.
“We utilize our executive chef, some of our sous chefs and our pastry chef.  It
really is like a cooking show on TV.  Guests get involved.  It is a humorous
presentation as well.  We do three of these a trip, the last one being our
version of the ‘Iron Chef.’  Our executive chef hosts it.  Two of his chefs are
given a set of ingredients and they have to create.  The guests are the judges.”
“We still have some of what we call our ‘Celebrity Classics.’  We haven’t
gone away from all tradition.  There is a reason things become a tradition - -
usually because people like them.  So we have kept some of our regular events
and activities, which people enjoy.  People know that even though we have
these new events - - new cooking shows, the Lawn Club, Corning Museum of
Glass, language learning - - they can still depend on enjoying the more
traditional bits as well.”

”Celebrity Life is a program which can stand alone regardless of the
demographics.  But our Celebrity Classics allow us to bring in some of our
more traditional events depending on the crowd.”

Even with all of these innovations, Celebrity’s general style with regard to
activities remains as it was in the past.  “Our style has never really been an ‘in-
your-face’ style.  We are here if you would like to use us.  There are plenty of
areas just to enjoy being with your spouse, your family or friends.”

Who sails on Equinox

The new class of ship is definitely attracting a lot of first time cruisers and
guests who have tried other major lines and who think ‘let’s try something
different.’  We need our repeat guests; we need loyalty.  But it is also nice to
have guests who are cruising for the first time or are trying us after having
tried a few of the other major lines out there.”

“It is a very mixed group, which is great.  [The guests are] always
predominantly U.S.-based  but some cruises the total non-U.S. has gotten very
close with the total U.S.”

“We have had a lot of German guests onboard - - 300 Germans onboard every
cruise, bordering on 400 on some cruises.  The ship was built in Germany and
there has been a lot of press over in Germany and a lot of patriotism.  I think it
has been a great partnership between Celebrity and Meyer Werft shipyard and
that has led to a lot of positive press.”

“We have a lot of British guests.  I think Celebrity is beginning to ramp up its
marketing over there, particularly now with the Eclipse [is going to be] based
in Southampton [England] during the summer months.  We are getting a lot of
British people on Solstice and here based on that advertising [with people]
going back and booking Eclipse for next summer.”

“What we have seen is our Solstice-class ships definitely attract a younger
clientele, which lends itself to the way these ships have been designed - - a
separate disco, a separate martini bar area, more of a nightclub feel upstairs
[in the observation lounge] with a live band.  These areas lend themselves to a
more progressive, younger crowd.”

“Since Equinox has been over here in the Caribbean because of our itinerary
of 10 and 11 day cruises, the majority of our crowd has been in the 55 plus
age group.  But 45 to 54 is the second largest age group we have been getting.  
In the summertime on Solstice and on Equinox in the Mediterranean, the age
group was quite a bit younger.  [During] the holiday season, that 55 age group
isn’t the majority anymore.  The 25 to 45 group is.”
With a younger crowd, comes more children.  “This summer was very busy
with kids - - 200, 300, 400 children a cruise.  The holiday cruises - - 500 plus.  
We have a big teen center and youth facility.- - a huge staff.  The kids have a
bigger staff to look after them than we have to look after the other 2,500
guests,” Walker laughed.  “The program they offer is from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. for
everyone from 3 to 17 years old.   There are four different age groups, each
with its own area with its own counselors to look after them.”

Guest reaction

Equinox is clearly different but how to guests feel about those differences?  
“Our new guests and even those who have been with Celebrity a long time,
our repeat guests, are also enjoying the differences.  It shows that we have a
progressive group of guests.”

With the advent of the Solstice-class, Celebrity now has ships ranging in size
from the small Celebrity Xpedition up to and through very large ships.  While
all of the ships have common elements giving them a Celebrity flavor, the
different ships provide somewhat different cruising experiences.  Walker sees
these differences as being a plus because it gives customers  more choices.  
“Now, instead of going to a different cruise line because you [want a different
experience], guests can stay within Celebrity.  Depending on the class of ship
they sail on, they will experience not a different product because our [core]
pillars are there on all the ships, but a different type of ship.  [They can] pick
the class of ship to suit what sort of vacation they want to have.”
Gary Walker (Photo courtesy of Celebrity Cruises)
Celebrity Equinox Tour 1

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