Ownership of Celebrity Century was transferred late last year to SkySea Cruises, the new joint venture between RCL, Chinese travel giant Ctrip and Shanghai-based asset manager Stone Capital.
Then the already elegant vessel, which had a clubby feel with dark mahogany wood fittings and other European styling, had to be quickly refitted and redecorated to appeal to the Chinese market.
It already had undergone major updating during a five-week dry dock in 2006, which added 314 new balconies.
Before its first voyage from Shanghai on May 19, the ship was rechristened with an evocative new name, SkySea Golden Era, after work crews met an extremely tight deadline with China-centric alterations to onboard facilities.
“It was a very stressful couple of months,” says Capt. Hernan Zini, Chief Operating Officer for SkySea Cruises. “We did this in no time.
“But the startup was almost flawless and we’re getting very good reviews from the market.”
The 2006 upgrade with its hundreds of new balconies was a major reason SkySea chose Celebrity Century to be adapted as its first ship, Zini explains.
Then, to customize the onboard common areas for Chinese tastes, paint schemes were brightened for a more modern feel, the Centrum was thoroughly renovated with a new grand staircase and a contemporary chandelier with LED lighting was installed to match new lighting panels on the guest relations desk.
To heighten the ship’s appeal to the rising middle and upper classes in China, the retail shopping area onboard SkySea Golden Era was expanded, including the addition of more open space to continue with the contemporary scheme. Many more table games were added to the casino to appeal to a Chinese preference for group play and interaction. Two new restaurants were installed – one focused on Asian fusion to present a range of food styles found in that part of the world, and one specializing in traditional, sophisticated Chinese cuisine – as was a traditional teahouse.
Zini says the ship’s spa was modernized with a new concessionaire, PhiSkin Medical Spa and Wellness Center, which offers a unique combination of medical skin care and fitness, including the use and duty-free sale of cosmeceuticals – cosmetics that claim to have medical anti-aging properties.
Overall, SkySea Golden Era and RCL’s other projects and plans in China are in keeping with what Chairman and CEO Richard Fain calls “the opportunity to define an industry.”
While efforts are made to appeal specifically to Chinese tastes, Zini says a guiding principle in that market is universal and timeless.
“I walk the streets of Shanghai quite a bit and I see how people enjoy themselves,” Zini says. “They are very happy just spending time with their friends. Things that come from the heart in a group – they love it.
“If you can provide environments like that, moments like that, they really enjoy the time.
“It’s very refreshing to see that, to be honest.”