Performance Architecture: Upstairs Downstairs on the Edge

When was the last time you experienced such extraordinary customer service that you wanted to tell everyone about it? Perhaps you posted on social media, shared your experience in conversation, or communicated about it in other ways. Did you also think about the underlying processes that must have been in place to enable the delivery of that great service?

As Performance Architects, we are always pleased to discover exceptional service. We usually find that it is enabled by customer-focused processes. These processes, combined with other factors such as leadership’s vision, clearly communicated goals and expectations, supportive training, and frequent feedback produce a recipe for success. And, it is easy to forget that great service that looks and feels effortless is often produced by an intricate structure that the lucky customer never sees.

Living on the Edge

The hospitality industry is a perfect venue for examples of exemplary customer service. And a cruise ship is a great vehicle for showing what passengers experience on the upper decks of a floating city and what the crew is doing on the lower decks to create that.

The Celebrity Edge is a billion dollar cruise ship launched by Celebrity Cruises in 2018. Perhaps you have sailed on it yourself or have plans to do so. Roger recently returned from a journey on the Edge and documented much of his experience as a passenger. He took ship’s tours, noted what he learned, and took the photographs you see here in so we could share his customer service experiences with you.

The Edge Basics

The Edge is 1004 feet long with a gross tonnage of 130,818. At launching, it was the largest ship in the Celebrity fleet. It holds 2918 passengers and 1320 crew members. Take a video tour of the Edge here and here.

It would be difficult to separate the passenger experience on the Edge from the spectacular, state-of-the-art components of the ship itself. With thoughtful design that integrates the working necessities such as lighting with features such as artwork that delight, the built environment of this ship becomes the foundation for the passenger experience.

Upstairs on the Edge

Upstairs on the Edge consists of decks 2-16. The lounges, restaurants, bars, entertainment spaces, pools and spas, staterooms and suites, along with other passenger facilities are located on these decks. The ship offers a range of accommodations to meet passenger needs for space and budget. Let’s take a look at what a passenger experiences Upstairs on the Edge.

Boarding Process

Great customer experiences should begin even before the customer encounters the product or uses the service. For Roger, the Edge’s boarding process was seamless, efficient, and much quicker than boarding other cruise ships:

  • Passengers are brought to the dock by van
  • Luggage is tagged for fast delivery to staterooms
  • When passengers line up to check in, staff work the line to identify and fulfill special needs such as wheelchairs and ensure that these are immediately fulfilled
  • ID photos are quickly taken and stateroom keys provided
  • Passengers then proceed to their staterooms where their luggage is already waiting

Stateroom Design

As on most passenger ships, the Edge offers numerous choices in stateroom accommodations, from a basic inside cabin through luxurious two-level, ocean view suites with personal butlers and endless amenities. The Edge introduces a new mid-range concept: the Infinite Veranda stateroom where the balcony is actually a flexible part of the room that occupants can configure several ways to suit their preferences. The Infinite Veranda is also a smart room with a passenger-controlled panel for heat, air conditioning, lighting, window operation as well as convenient locations for electronics outlets.

WiFi Connectivity

Unlike many other ships, the process for passengers to connect to the WiFi system is efficiently guided by knowledgeable staff. And, WiFi is available throughout the ship with strong signals in all locations including staterooms.

Food Service

Most cruise ships invest significantly in a wide range of food choices for passengers in a variety of venues. It is possible to eat any time of day or night. The Edge offers four restaurants that passengers can patronize as part of their cruise package costs. There are casual options as well as more elegant choices. There are also specialty venues that passengers pay extra for. Additionally, there is a restaurant exclusively for the use of passengers in luxury suite accommodations.

Magic Carpet

The Magic Carpet is a large, flexible platform on the edge of the Edge that is raised and lowered to different deck levels for various events. These include extending the size of the sushi restaurant, for use as another lounge and bar space, or for special dining events. It is also lowered to water level when passengers are embarking or disembarking on the tenders that take them to and from shore in some ports. The tenders also serve as lifeboats in an emergency.

Ambiance and Amenities

The ambiance and amenities offered by every cruise ship are a manifestation of an extremely competitive business. With larger, more elaborate and innovative ships designed to be unrivaled, at least until the next spectacular new one is launched, travelers can be very specific in what they look for in a cruise. Like a resort, a cruise ship is a floating hotel and more, with many comforts standard. The challenge is for each new ship to outdo all the others in innovation, style and convenience. The Edge does very well with elegantly designed spaces meant to delight passengers.

The swimming pool, hot tubs, fitness center, and walking/running trails are designed for the best possible passenger experiences. Passengers can relax in the and enjoy artwork, a rooftop garden, and special lighting that changes with the time of day.

The physical features of the Edge are exceptional. However, they would be much less impressive without the quality of the passenger service delivered on this ship. So what makes the Edge such a special passenger experience? Let’s explore Downstairs.

Downstairs on the Edge

Unless passengers have direct experience working for a cruise line or passenger ship company, they are not likely to know what it takes to operate the ship they are enjoying. A useful way to illustrate the differences between Upstairs and Downstairs on the Edge is with the Iceberg Model.

Iceberg Model

The Iceberg represents the organization. All the components below the waterline are critical to a successful enterprise and must be in place for employees to do their jobs and meet their goals. When all are in alignment, customers reap the benefits of the skills and knowledge employees have gained, shown above the waterline.

The Edge is an organization, albeit a floating one, and Upstairs, passengers reap the benefits of the crew’s considerable skills and knowledge. Downstairs, where passengers do not go, the true machinery that runs the ship is in operation. Roger ventured Downstairs on the Edge. Let’s see what he discovered.

Downstairs on the Edge

A well designed and well run Downstairs ensures an exceptional passenger experience Upstairs.

The Highway

No, this is not the Information Highway as we know it, but there are parallels. On the Edge, the Highway is the main thoroughfare—the transportation center for the ship. All operations are located off the Highway in corridors or rooms accessed by the crew.

Food Preparation

There are 14 restaurants on the Edge ranging from casual café to ultrafine dining. A large central kitchen located on the Highway stores all food and supplies for all the venues. There are vast cold storage and non-refrigerated storage areas similar to a supermarket that hold everything needed for the voyage. Dishwashing for all restaurants is also located here.

Each restaurant has its own staging area for the foods it serves and for storage of the specific cutlery, dishes, linens it uses.

One crew member is responsible for all the food and related items in this space, rather like a quartermaster in the military. The logistics are formidable and the supporting processes critical for smooth operation.

Laundry Room

There are laundry facilities for passengers Upstairs. Downstairs there is a central laundry for the ship that runs 24/7. Strategically placed laundry chutes Upstairs provide efficient transportation of linens from passenger staterooms and restaurants directly to the laundry room.

Linens are different colors for each food venue and for the different types of staterooms making sorting and distribution more efficient.

Control Room

Passengers usually consider a ship’s bridge the command center of a ship because the captain is there. However, the command center is really the Control Room, located on the Highway. Video monitors connect to all the operational parts of the ship for communication and security.

The Control Room is also connected to the Bridge and provides the captain with the information needed to run the ship.

Other Facilities

There is a bar for the crew on the Highway while their mess hall is located on another lower deck. The Engine Room that powers the Edge is located far below decks in the bowels of the ship.

Good Design is Everything

In The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization, Peter Senge asks what has become a famous question: “If people imagine their organization as an ocean liner and themselves as the leaders, what is their role?” Answers vary among the captain, the navigator, the helmsman, the social director, the engineer in the engine room. While all these are critical leadership roles, the one rarely mentioned is the designer of the ship. No one has more influence than the designer because without his or her careful thought and planning, and good design, the equipment used by the other leaders would not do its job and the ship could not operate.

Good process design is critical for an organization to achieve its desired results. In White Space Revisited (Rummler, p. 230) Geary Rummler elaborates:

“Process is the fundamental building block for defining and organizing the work required to create value. As such, it is the vehicle for articulating the Value Creation Dimension of an enterprise so it can be:

  • Properly designed effective, efficient performance and possible competitive advantage
  • Managed for optimum performance
  • Supported effectively (that is by IT and other enabling groups)

There are two dimensions to every organization – the value dimension and the resources dimension – that need to be designed and managed in concert for optimum organizational results.”

In your organization, who are the leaders and what are their roles?

  • Who are the process designers?
  • What results are they trying to achieve?
  • Who are the Architects for organizational success?


Customer-focused processes are a critical component of exceptional service delivery in any business. The hospitality industry provides a drawing board for creating processes that set a venue apart from its competitors. The cruise ship, Celebrity Edge, is a perfect location for the exploration of customer-driven processes in a beautifully designed environment.

Upstairs on the Edge consists of decks 2-16 where passengers enjoy their staterooms, restaurants, recreational facilities and all the wonders of ocean travel. From the boarding process through stateroom design, food service, exercise facilities, and all the other amenities, careful thought has been given to ensuring that customers are delighted throughout their journey.

The Iceberg Model illustrates how much work it takes the crew Downstairs to deliver everything flawlessly to the passengers Upstairs.

Downstairs are the lower decks where the extensive crew works to ensure a safe and pleasurable experience for the passengers. The Highway is the main corridor here where all ship’s operations are located including all food storage and preparation, laundry, the Control Room and other operational functions.

Most people think the ship’s captain in the most important person on board. As Peter Senge tells, us the most critical person is the designer who has the greatest impact on the ship and its passengers. Good design is very much in evidence on the Edge in the architecture, décor, technological innovations, and in the processes behind customer care.


Addison, R., Haig, C., Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer

Harmon, P. (1984). A hierarchy of performance variables. Performance and Instruction, 23 (10), 27-28.

Infinite Veranda –

Magic Carpet –

Rummler, G. (2009). White space revisited. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: the art & practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday Publishing Group, Inc.

Tour of Celebrity Edge –

Tour of Celebrity Edge –

PDF Version

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison & Carol Haig

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees’ performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture.


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