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Cruising is cool again: NICK REDMAN boards the Celebrity Ascent


Outline Once there was old-school cruising – deck games, tea dances and early to bed after a nightcap.

Now younger generations are being prised from their hip hotel getaways and out on to the sea using martini menus, floaty club mixes and all-round designer good looks. Cue Celebrity Cruises’ new Edge Class ships. 

Or as it would rather we say: ‘cool, luxury resorts that just happen to float’. And so, on a blue January day, the glinty ’scrapers of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recede as my ship Ascent departs; destination Bahamas, Mexico, Cayman Islands.

Base line This ship is a biggie. It can carry 3,260 guests. But is it a cool, luxury resort? A first wander impresses: the Grand Plaza is a Manhattan-worthy martini bar with a biblical-length menu and galactic angular chandelier. 

The top-deck Sunset Bar also looks the part, all Moroccan-y lanterns and whitewashed arches, like a Mykonos beach joint. Madonna remixes pulse from a laptop DJ, the margaritas are moreish and the sky flames out, tangerine, over the Atlantic.

The beach-vibe sunset abar

The beach-vibe sunset abar

Party line Nightlife is innovative, sidestepping cheesy cabaret to dazzling effect. Against a psychotropic backdrop, diva N’Kenge fires out immaculate Whitneys in the kaleidoscopic Theatre. 

In the Club, ‘Discotheque with the Ascent Orchestra and Eze Cavoti’ works perfectly in a wedding party way – retro is always in style. While the ship sways and shudders gently, a 35- to 50-something crowd gets down to Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire.

Recline Designer superstar Kelly Hoppen’s accommodations are appealing slices of Scandi understatement. Entry-level cabins (‘staterooms’) are a slight squeeze but fresh, in snow and biscuit shades, and the comfort’s all there, the sheets cool and sweet. 

At the other extreme, suites ooze sex appeal, part of the Retreat – a low-rise resort within a resort. Here, minimalist two-storey Edge villas, private, glassy, with generous plunge pools, wouldn’t shame Architectural Digest.

Waterline The main pool is a giant central slab that gets frenetic at times with rows of loungers and DJs. On which note, there are zillions of activities, from bingo to art classes.

Horizon line Ascent docks in sweltering Nassau port. The milling cruise crowds are as loud as the café speakers and turtle-print shirts on sale. 

Yet beyond, drowsy streets of clapboard homes in chalky pinks and blues woo Instagrammers. And history lingers atmospherically around the Graycliff, an 18th-century mansion with a dusty fine wine cellar, serving faultless conch chowder and tuna tartare on frilly china.

Celebrity spot: Ascent sets sail

Celebrity spot: Ascent sets sail

Waistline This ship is all about food, glorious (and diverse) food – much (but not all) of it included in the fare. It is definitely luxury stuff. La Normandie restaurant is a highlight: a suave, high-ceilinged salute to cruising’s art deco heyday, in coffee and chrome with cinematically glam contours.

Fine line Special-occasion dining spots requiring supplements include intimate Le Voyage. With its metallic wall effects and caramel upholstery, it could be a giant exploded Ferrero Rocher. The Brazilian fish stew (moqueca) is the citrus-coconutty apogee of the menu, by NY old hand Daniel Boulud.

Down the line Next port of call is the island of Cozumel, Mexico. Here, again, hectic life jostles for tourist trade from the sea. This place may well not suit if you boarded Ascent anticipating the Caribbean of, say, Grenada or Antigua. 

Yet beyond the melee there are cool and shady bars in which to laze away a day swigging a bottled beer, or restaurant courtyards dripping with fountains and ferns, where live marimba rhythms play. Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach is a sand-between-the-toes treat.

Form a line Breakfast and lunch in the enormous Ocean-View Café is so busy it often brings to mind a wildebeest documentary – understandably, with its world of sizzling self-serve dishes, from Chinese to Indian, American to Italian.

Bottom line The Bahamas, Mexico & Grand Cayman cruises cost from £1,907pp, including flights, but do reckon on lots of extras. After April, Ascent debuts in Europe. Details at celebritycruises.co.uk.

Next week Topline Fitness: Wall Pilates 



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