With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, it would be easy to assume that this article is intended as just one of many stock journalistic responses to his death.
However, in a bizarre coincidence, it just so happens that I was already covering the Celebrity iLounge while onboard Celebrity Solstice these past few weeks. I just disembarked from this sailing from which I too heard the very saddening news. Below I pay tribute to this amazing man and explore the breadth of his influence as it extends to the sea with the Celebrity iLounge.
Steve Jobs was without question a remarkable pioneer who had the unique ability to harness the power of the left and right hemispheres of his beautiful mind. He was a creative visionary, a futurist really, with the knowhow to invent products that were often lightyears ahead of their time and their competition, and he was also a very savvy businessman with the acumen and personality necessary to bring people and corporations together to achieve the ultimate in synergy. Steve was a technological artist, a Mozart for the computer age. Even though he is now gone, it’s his DNA that remains at the core of Apple and will surely act as the heart and soul of the maverick company well into the future.
I even had the very rare opportunity to meet him in 2007 just before his health began to decline. The brief encounter was just long enough for me to express to him my appreciation for all he has contributed to our world and to my life personally. As a lifelong Apple user, since even before the Mac was introduced, this moment was very significant to me and has proven even more so since his passing. Steve, you will be missed. And now it’s my honor to report on where and how his creative influence reached the sea.
When the Solstice-class ships were first introduced, the onboard internet cafes, originally dubbed Online @ Celebrity, were very similar to those found on other cruise lines and ships. A slew of generic Windows-based PCs were scattered about for the usual use of email checking and airline boarding pass printing. To this day, competing cruise lines still promote their PC programs. Holland America touts its Digital Workshop powered by Windows which is staffed by Microsoft-trained employees.
Interestingly, even while PCs were originally prevalent on the Solstice-class ships for passenger use, the in-room TV systems were powered by Mac minis from the very start. And it’s an appropriate fit. Celebrity pairs perfectly with anything Apple. Just look at the geometric Solstice-class ships with their design emphasis on the whitewashed hull, large glass panels, and clean open spaces. These vessels look like floating Apple Stores. Also, both Celebrity and Apple believe strongly in environmental stewardship. While there is as of yet no Lawn Club to be found at an Apple Store, it would certainly fit right in.
The Eclipse was the first Celebrity ship to sport the iLounge, an Apple authorized reseller, followed by the Silhouette. On these ships, the internet cafes are aesthetically akin to the futuristic Apple Stores found around the world, but the one onboard the Solstice is a bit of a curiosity. Unlike the latest ships which included the iLounge from their launch, the internet cafe onboard the first Solstice-class ship remains aesthetically identical to the way it was first outfitted as Online @ Celebrity. The only differences now are the metallic Celebrity iLounge signs immediately outside the cafe, the MacBook Pro computer terminals, and the display case which showcases Apple products and accessories that are for sale during your cruise.
Even more than the unnecessarily dark furnishings, the biggest problem here is the extremely dim lighting. It could not begin to look any less like the open and bright iLounges found on the latest Celebrity ships. Also confusing is how the signage throughout the rest of the ship still reads “Online at Celebrity” (actually Online @ Celebrity according to the line’s website). And while Celebrity really does its best to inform passengers of the ship-wide wifi, I was amazed at how many fellow passengers were unaware and asked me if I was connected to the internet when I was out and about away from the iLounge itself, which indeed I was.
Staff and Guests
Any shortcomings are well made up for by the fantastic staff and programming at the iLounge. Sean Sassoon, the iLounge Manager onboard the Solstice, is a stellar representative of both Celebrity and Apple. He is passionate about the opportunity to share Apple products with and inspire Celebrity guests who may be previously unfamiliar with Macs. He says, “it’s kind of funny to see the reactions at first because many of our guests have been on the other ships, the Millennium-class and Century, and they’re used to seeing the PCs. They come, and they see the Macs. And they’re like: Wow! Okay! That looks cool!” And even the Millennium-class Celebrity Summit now includes an iLounge.
He continues to explain that, “a lot of people are like we used Apple back in the 80s, and then we had to go to PC since my work requires me to use PC. Then we have quite a few guests that are retired or retiring that know what an Apple is and know what the computer does, but they don’t know the functionality of the iLife stuff. And when they find out, suddenly they’re like re-inspired to kind of get to know that Mac again and use it for sharing the memories of their cruise and, of course, the memories of their children and grandchildren.”
While the MacBook Pro terminals provide the chance for anyone logging on to the web to experience the Mac, true exposure to the platform comes from the classes offered in the iLounge. While Holland America offers their PC courses free of charge, Celebrity charges $20 per class or $60 for unlimited Mac classes. The available training courses at the iLounge are focused on the iPad as well as the Mac operating system and iLife apps: iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and iWeb.
The iPad classes are the most popular offered, but if they ever fill up, additional classes are made available later on during the cruise to accommodate everyone interested. Aside from the main classes, the iLounge also offers the option of one on one personalized training in order for individual guests to delve even further into the Mac’s features.
I pride myself on my extensive Mac OS and iOS (the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch operating system) knowledge, but I still attended the intermediate iPad course to familiarize myself with the quality of the iLounge training. I was impressed. One of the other students exclaimed to the iLounge Manager, “I don’t want to miss any of your classes. You’re so wonderful.” Sean is indeed extremely knowledgeable and is proficient at speaking “PC” too, thus doing a fine job of not alienating Windows aficionados.
The course struck a good balance between being informative and interactive as he periodically asked questions of the students to assure they were “getting” it. Overall, the course covered app management, folder creation, and screen capture as well as provided a collection of very helpful tips, some of which were even new to me.
While iPads are not provided by the iLounge during this course, Sean says about 98% of people who attend the class already have their own iPad. He has observed that many guests purchase their iPads just prior to embarking to specifically use the device on their cruise. For those who do not have one, the ship offers a free iPad art tour which provides guests the chance to rent the device from guest relations and test its interface while learning about the ship’s art collection.
Sean is also a great salesman. During the course he pointed out how the iPad is a safe purchase as it clearly has the upper hand in market share versus competing tablet computers. Despite his sales skills, iPads are curiously absent from the list of available Apple products sold onboard. He went on to explain why Macs are also prudent purchases with Apple’s control of hardware and software resulting in legendary quality control.
Another well received sales point is the ability to additionally install Windows on new Macs. And according to Sean, many of those grandparents mentioned previously have even been known to purchase and bring back MacBooks for their kids. The iLounge sells MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, iPods, and accessories with the Air models being the most popular. Sales are tax free and are a particularly good value for European passengers thanks to the euro to dollar exchange rate.
As far as onboard iPod sales are concerned, I really believe there is a missed opportunity. Apple offers the ability for corporations to order iPods with their logo laser engraved on the back. It seems to me that Celebrity should really be selling iPods with their brand on them. I’d definitely buy one. You heard it here first.
The Legacy Continues
As Erin Rafter, Onboard Marketing Manager on Solstice, puts it, “I think people don’t always realize the enrichment opportunity that they’re going to have when they go in to sign up for their internet minutes. They’re just going to get online and then they realize that we offer all of these additional classes and courses and things that they can actually participate in and learn while they’re here, and it really gives them a whole set of skills that they can take home and use to enhance their business or their vacation slideshow.” And it’s Apple products that inspire such creativity in others. This is the legacy of Steve Jobs that will continue on.