Throwback Thursday: Celebrity Cruises When Run by Chandris and Beyond
Photo by Jason Leppert
My parents and I began sailing with Celebrity Cruises in 1996 aboard the then new Galaxy when the company was still operated by the Chandris family, and we’ve seen the premium cruise line evolve since under Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited.
Celebrity Cruises was founded in 1988 by the Greek Chandris Group, and, in fact, the line’s remaining “X” logo is based on the Greek letter “chi” standing for Chandris. The company began to sail when Chandris Fantasy Cruises’ Galileo was rebuilt to become the Meridian entering service in 1990. Next to come online were the larger sister ships, Horizon and Zenith, in 1990 and 1992 respectively.
During its early days, Celebrity had a reputation for fine service and dining offered at an affordable price, which gave it a unique value proposition for potential travelers, and my father took note. He was impressed by what the line represented under the leadership of Rick Sasso, who continued as president of the brand through 2001 before eventually moving over to MSC Cruises, where he remains to this day.
In 1995, Celebrity launched the Century-class of cruise ships with the Century that year and the Galaxy in 1996 and Mercury (pictured above) in 1997. Our first taste of the cruise line was especially defined by the fine dining of then executive chef Michel Roux. This was the pinnacle of Celebrity cuisine at the time. Also, the ships themselves were impressive, albeit architecturally boxy from the outside but beautiful on the inside, and the service was everything we had heard about and had come to expect.
Then in 1997 there was a major transition. Royal Caribbean International bought Celebrity Cruises and became the larger Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. corporation in the process. Sasso continued on for another four years as did Roux for another decade, but the personality of the line began to change.
Come 2000, the Millennium-class of ships was introduced as four sisters launched through 2002 with a hideous new color scheme. The signature navy blue was darkened and painted across the entire bottom half of the hull and it and the white superstructure were accented with tacky marigold and red highlights. Thankfully, the ships were repainted over time to take on the traditional livery of simple blue and white angular bands, and the impressive interiors have always made up for exterior treatments.
While there was a gradual decline in food and service quality after the buyout, the 2008 to 2012 Solstice-class has helped the line regain most of its former stature, and the hope is that the upcoming EDGE-class will continue the uphill trend beginning in 2018.
It’s been sad to see our old Century, Galaxy and Mercury move out of the fleet and start to bid farewell to the classic ocean liner-themed restaurants we so loved on the continuously “Solsticized” Millennium-class ships, but it’s a new day for Celebrity Cruises.
The future looks bright, especially as it expands with additional expedition ships in the Galapagos as well.
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