All Aboard the Good Ship Self-Care

“We are our choices,” Jean-Paul Sartre is often credited as saying, which is remarkable considering Sartre never went on a three-day luxury cruise to the Bahamas. Cruising (a verb that means something entirely different on land than it does at sea) has long been about providing infinite offerings disguised as choices—restaurants, fine-jewelry stores, game nights, origami classes—to distract from the one choice you entered into willingly: to board a cruise ship in the first place.

Although I had read and reread David Foster Wallace’s hammer-dropping 1996 essay on “the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise,” the idea of relaxing in captivity still piqued my interest. After a year of back-to-back work trips, there was something appealing about powering down my brain. No maps, no rental cars, no guilt-inducing list of must-see sights—just an extensive menu of curiosities, such as a Poultice-Powered Muscle Release or a Hot Mineral Body Boost. Besides, a lot has changed since the nineties. Then, pampering—“that special mix of servility and condescension,” as Wallace put it—was an optional indulgence, not a cultural imperative. More than 20 years later, wellness has colonized seemingly every corner of America, from the foods we eat to the foods we turn into face masks. Now that it has reached the oceanic frontier, I wondered: Could a cruise help me sail into this individualized self-care moment?

The new Celebrity Edge, equipped with a first-of-its-kind spa meant to recalibrate body and mind, is banking that it can. As soon as I board the reimagined ship, which pushed off on its first Caribbean leg in December and heads to the Mediterranean this spring, I sense a deliberately serene aesthetic thumbprint all around me. An international design team, including Kelly Hoppen and Patricia Urquiola, has overseen the sprawling lounge areas and “staterooms”—a term I first hear on the safety video as the cruise regulars, armed with their lightweight cardigans, recite the lines. Later that night I find myself in a section of the boat called Eden. About as thematically subtle as an apple core to the head, Eden is accessed through a hallway of tree sculptures that leads to an airy annex with floral chairs and moss-covered walls. At such a scale, the effect is that of a Cirque du Soleil takeover of The Wing. Still, the effort to apply any design sensibility beyond “aquatic Vegas” is commendable.

My own room affords me a private sundeck, access to two upscale restaurants, and a butler named Vishnu, who received his degree in economics in India. I don’t even have a doorman in Manhattan, so I’m embarrassed for us both, thinking of Vishnu unpacking my socks and underwear as I explore the pool and solarium. Awash in purple and gray textiles, the room also comes equipped with wellness-oriented perks, such as aromatherapy diffusers and a “pillow menu.” I hoped that meant late-night snacks, but Vishnu informs me it is a selection of actual pillows.

Beyond amenities that seem to conflate top quality with inner peace, the real selling point of my quarters is its proximity to the highly curated spa. This is an impressive beauty haven even by landlubber standards. After a morning yoga session, I arrange to meet the spa manager, a spry and stylish British man named Luke. On top of the reception desk, a sleek sci-fi command center, is a bento-box sampling of the spa essentials: a lava stone to “release trapped energy,” a block of pink salt to “diffuse negative energy,” plus various creams and muds—all meant, as Luke explains, to spark intrigue in the uninitiated. One could spend half a day in the SEA Thermal Suite, which I do. A hammam gives way to a heated salt room, an oblong float room (hanging chairs), and a rainfall-therapy room (shower). The adjacent crystalarium (recommended time: ten minutes) comes with a hog-size amethyst geode. Seeing as how the effect is difficult to measure, it’s the least popular room, a sparkly respite from a boatload of strangers.

True to its cruising DNA, the spa menu is longer than that of a New York City diner, offering fourteen types of massages, reflexology, rejuvenating facials, teeth whitening, eyelash thickening, and derm-level procedures like CoolSculpting and Dysport (a wrinkle-smoothing neurotoxin). Just in case you want to do injectables. On a moving boat. For fun. Left to my own devices, I select the Ocean Spa Wave massage, the most nautical-sounding option, during which a thin layer of water swishes in a custom bed beneath me. (Similarly tricked-out beds boast light therapy and “zero gravity,” to simulate the natural elements.) I add a body wrap, which means I am coated in a seaweed mask, folded into a foil blanket, and given headphones pumping music to slow my brain activity. I am in this sonic burrito when the ship hits rough water. It takes me a minute to realize that the onset of seasickness is more than a vague queasiness induced by the roiling waters under my torso. I pad my way to the shower, gripping the rails for balance. If I’m going to survive the rest of the trip, I’ll need a treatment that I swore I wouldn’t do in the middle of the ocean: acupuncture.

Luckily, nothing is terribly far from anything else on a boat. Within minutes, Dr. Arya, the ship’s registered acupuncturist, is putting needles in my stomach and taping tiny magnetic seeds to acupressure points on my ears to relieve my nausea. The holistic method works; Dramamine stays packed away. But once my stomach has settled, the restaurants strike me as out of sync with the sophistication of the spa. This is the land that oat milk forgot. I have to sweet-talk a staffer at the spa café into pouring me a full glass of green juice instead of the standard “tasting shot.”

On day three, I sign up for a microcurrent facial, a collagen-aiding reboot that forces my pores into hiding, and follow it up with a cellulite-reduction treatment, during which electrode panels vibrate at regular intervals—as if I have slipped inside the board game Operation. That evening’s Kérastase blowout is, well, a blowout. But the dryer’s roar comes with an ocean view, and afterward I feel as if I’ve stepped into a prescription-drug ad: We zoom in on a woman leaning on the railing of a deck at sunset. A cool breeze shifts her glossy hair to and fro. She looks content . . . even though she is 90 percent sure she left her key card in the spa robe.

Collectively, my spa appointments do provide a meditative respite from the terra-concerns of everyday life, but they are flanked by conflicting sensations—of being over- and understimulated, of being trapped yet lost, of the panicky insistence on total relaxation—which means I quickly burn through whatever Zen I accrue. Most of the time, I can’t escape the sense that I’m surrounded by natural remedies while strangely disconnected from the outdoors. A kind of natural appropriation.

Toward the end of my trip, while having lunch on the deck of Eden, I spot a giant sea turtle. “Turtle!” I scream, as if pushing out a word I have just learned. “Turtle!”

My fellow passengers look but quickly return to their paninis; even the children seem to shrug. How, I wonder, could they not be as excited? Here is nature in action, a rare sight from where we sit. But it’s hard to see the trees through the hallway of tree sculptures. The acupuncture has worked its magic and my skin gleams like a conch shell, but my true moment of genuine wellness arrives not in Eden’s annex but on my last morning at sea, before the sun comes up. I’m standing on my private deck, looking out at the vast expanse of the ocean, feeling the breeze kicking off the surface, watching the horizon turn from gray to pink until, at long last, a sense of peace washes over me.

How to Turn On, Tune In, Drop Anchor

To cruise or not to cruise? If you’re ready to set sail—and bask in the hydrotherapy circuit—here are the basics for livingyour best #boatlife.

Where to Go
Next month, the Edge heads to the Western Caribbean for 7 nights, followed by a 15-night transatlantic trip. May brings 10 nights around the Iberian Peninsula, then 11 to the Amalfi Coast and Greece, with summer cruises in the Mediterranean. Visit for more route information.

What It Costs
Celebrity Edge Caribbean cruises in November and December start at $1,149 per person; a late-spring peak-season trip to the Amalfi Coast and Greece starts at $5,039.

What to Book
The Ocean Spa Wave massage, on a swishing water bed, is an on-theme entry point to total relaxation at sea ($259 for 75 minutes), while the Kérastase Chronologist Caviar hair treatment ($99) gives top-down polish. If seasickness is an issue, try acupuncture (consultations are complimentary; a 50-minute session is $169). Research has shown that the technique can be effective in quelling motion-related nausea.