Celebrity Reflection, is a beautiful ship. The last ship built in Celebrity Cruises' Solstice class, Reflection has an upmarket contemporary décor, a wide variety of dining options, good features and amenities as well as nice accommodations.
But quality hardware does not necessarily translate into a good cruise experience. What then is the secret that keeps earning Reflection high ratings?
“Personalities” confided Captain Dimitrios Kafetzis.
“The smile, the personality it is what makes the difference in the whole experience. This is where we succeed, we have a very, very good crew.”
“We have the lowest turnover in the cruise industry. We treat them well” Hotel Director Niyari Korkmaz continued. “We give them benefits and we give them opportunities to grow with the company. Promotion is mostly in-house. In the restaurants, you see some of them have been with the company 29 or 30 years. That means we treat them well.”
Not everyone is cut out be a crew member on Celebrity Reflection. Captain Kafetzis explained that you cannot be “a person who happens to work on a cruise ship because all other options failed. You [have to be] the person who chooses to work on a cruise ship because that is your dream work.. That makes a difference in their work. Happy people, happy experiences.”
It must be a genuine desire, not one manufactured for purposes of holding a job. “You cannot fake who you are for eight months so you have to be yourself If you fall short of the expectations that the company has set, then you have to go.“
The need to have the correct attitude extends from the ship's top executives (known as the “Big Four” on down. “The big four is the captain, the hotel director, the chief engineer and the staff captain. When they feel like working with others the crew knows that and they play along.”
Visibility and feedback
Captain Kafetzis makes it a point to be a very visible presence on the ship. Not only does he spend time in the ship's public areas but he participates in activities such as the Liars Club game show in the ship's theater. In addition, his daily announcements are full of humor.
“I grew up within Celebrity Cruises and I thought the only thing that was lacking with the captains was the ability to be approachable. The more you keep an attitude and a distance, the more people don't want to talk to you. Humor breaks barriers, brings the guests closer, they talk to us we get the feedback, we do a better job.”
Mr. Korkmaz added: “We are running a five star hotel. We have to have to be approachable and listen to customers. Most of the guests on a cruise ship love to get to know you and hear from you the stories about the places you have been. Good communication, that's when you open up.”
In addition to providing a warmer, more pleasant experience for the guests already on the ship, good communication with the guests enhances Reflection's ability to provide a better cruise experience going forward.
“Celebrity is good at listening. [For example] we have surveys [at the end of each cruise]. As soon as you click, it is done and we all receive the feedback. We look at what the guests expect and we adjust things ourselves, anything we do onboard, any activities or events. We work on it right away. We want to make sure that we correct anything. We are very good at getting feedback from the guests and listening to them.”
Above: Captain Kaetzis on stage participating in a game show in the Reflection Theatre.
Above: Captain Dimitris Kafetzis, has been 25 years at sea with Celebrity Cruises.
Below: Hotel Director Niyazi Korkmaz has been working on cruise ships since 1990.
One example of where guest feedback led to a change was the decision to add another restaurant exclusively for guests staying in the suites. Along with this change, Michael's Club, which had been a public lounge when Reflection entered service, was converted into a private concierge lounge for suite guests and the top tier of Celebrity's loyalty program.
“It was very hard for us to sell the suites. Since we added Michael's Club and Luminae, they have always been booked. It is a great advantage.” Mr. Korkmaz said.
“If you are going to pay $10,000 versus $1,000 you want to get better service. We give them a private lounge and a nice quiet place where you can dine with your friends. The menu in Luminae is equal to that of any specialty restaurant.”
Guests staying in the suites can also use the rest of the ship. “You have a choice. You want to give them a choice. We give them choices like the big hotels.”
Both Captain Kafetis and Mr. Korkmaz are slated to work on Celebrity's next ship, the Celebrity Edge. A new class of ship, both the captain and the hotel director have visited the Edge in the shipyard where she is being built.
“ When I saw the Solstice class, I said I cannot be more amazed. And now the Edge is like wow, it is going to make everything else obsolete,” Captain Kafetzis confides.
“It will bring a totally different level of cruising. No one expected that level. The luxury and the beautiful design. It is a completely different level. I would say it is Ritz Carlton at sea.” Mr. Korkmaz commented.
The Edge has a silhouette that may be unfamiliar to many cruisers. Instead of a bow that is angled as on most contemporary cruise ships, the bow on Edge is perpendicular to the sea.
“It is not a design, it is economy.” Captain Kafetzis explained. “It comes razor sharp down and then ends up in a bulbous bow. It has been proven that this will make the vessel slide easier through the waves and so economizes fuel.”
Cruise ship interview - Celebrity Cruises -Celebrity Reflection - Captain and Hotel Director