Interview: Leslie Peden, Celestyal Cruises

Interview: Leslie Peden, Celestyal Cruises

Sam Ballard talks to Leslie Peden, chief commercial officer of Greek specialists Celestyal Cruises, about their new ship Celestyal Experience which arrives in 2021

Celestyal Cruises is one of the jewels of the Mediterranean. The Greek line manages to encapsulate the joy of its heritage – whether that’s in the food served on board, or its brilliantly barmy entertainment.

Earlier in the year Celestyal announced that it was bringing in a new ship, Celestyal Experience – which formerly sailed for Costa as Costa neoRomantica – that would add more capacity and, crucially, more balconies. For October, the company is offering its guests free Covid-19 travel insurance as part of its new campaign. Cruise Adviser caught up with Leslie Peden, Celestyal’s chief commercial officer, to find out more about UK expansion, Mediterranean cruising and why the new ship is a such a big deal for the company.

Cruise Adviser: Would you be able to update us on the new vessel and what we know so far?
Leslie Peden: We acquired the ship a few weeks back, we’ve named her Celestyal Experience and we’re going to be debuting her on March 6, 2021. She’s actually going to be taking over the seven-night itineraries [The Three Continents cruise] and then the Idyllic Aegean for a season, followed by the Eclectic Aegean itinerary.

This ship is much larger than the two currently in the Celestyal fleet. What will it offer you?
It’s a complete game-changer for Celestyal. The quality of the vessel is second to none. She underwent a €90 million refurbishment programme in 2012 and, since then, she’s been kept in pristine condition. It’s as if the vessel has just come out of the shipyard and she’s going to offer many new facilities and innovations that have not been offered by Celestyal before. She’s still very much and very importantly a mid-size ship – that’s a differentiator for Celestyal because, being a destination-orientated cruise line, we want to ensure that we can still gain access to the smaller ports in order to deliver those unique experiences. However, there’s a very expansive spa and wellness aspect that we’re going to be able to offer with this vessel. The spa in itself is over 4,700 square metres. There are massage rooms, saunas, steam rooms and even Turkish baths and cryo-therapy ice room.

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I know so many people that are big fans of the Mediterranean way of life that you capture on board, will you face challenges trying to try to create that on a bigger ship?
I would say it’s going to be the opposite, it’s actually going to provide us with the platform to showcase many more aspects of authentic Greek life throughout the vessel. So, not only will we have the new wellness spa element, but we’re actually going to introduce four new categories of staterooms associated with the spa, a total of 38 staterooms that have unique and priority access to the spa, as well as dining. We’re also going to introduce some additional speciality dining with a spotlight on Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. And I think this is a really important aspect that we can support through the experience on board and introduce people to that very healthy Greek and Mediterranean diet.

We’re also going to be creating a Greek inspired beach club on one of the top decks of the vessel. It’s going to be absolutely phenomenal. It’s going to be an adults-only outdoor area dedicated to suite and wellness class guests. The vibe there is going to be similar to that found in the Greek island beach clubs – very modern, very contemporary. And it’s also going to offer some unique service aspects – for example, ice towels. There’s going to be cabanas and a Jacuzzi which is perched on the stern of the ship with uninterrupted views of the ocean.

How are you going to get the word out there about the new ship?
Celestyal Experience will operate as of March next year. And to coincide with that, this month, we’re going to be launching a brand new campaign. We’ll have lead-in prices on the new ship, or £519 per guest all-inclusive, which is phenomenal value. That includes classic drinks, gratuities, meals on board, as well as entertainment, and also two shore excursions. In the new wellness class, the Junior Suite is going to lead in at £1,379. So, again, it represents phenomenal value.

How important are agents to your vision going forward?
It’s very simple: huge. Travel agents and tour operators are hugely important to Celestyal and they always have been. We hired a country manager in the UK, Jo Reid. She’s also got a commercial assistant, Penny, as well. I’m delighted to announce that we’re going to be adding a business development manager – Emma Paxton – looking after Northern England, Scotland and Ireland. We’re also going to be launching a brand new online training portal for our travel agents. We’re just updating the portal with the new Celestyal Experience information at the moment. As soon as that’s completed we’ll be launching that online facility to help agents learn a little bit more about Greece as a destination and more about Celestyal Cruises and how different we are from the other cruise lines out in the marketplace.

We believe in cruising, we believe in the eastern Mediterranean as a destination. I think that’s really being borne out in the booking numbers we’re seeing. Our business for 2021 – and this is purely new business – is up 17 per cent versus the same time last year. People want to travel, you know. We’re seeing a new trend in multigenerational travel as a result of lockdown. I think that’s going to be a new trend that we’ll see as people return to tourism and travelling.

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