On Board the Celebrity Apex, a Mega Ship With Martini Bars and Duplex Suites

The ship is sailing at 70 percent capacity due to the pandemic, but service is better than ever—here’s everything to know about the current experience. 
Aerials of Celebrity Apex Cruise ship in sunset
Michel Verdure

Cruise lines navigating the choppy waters of COVID-19 have implemented modifications to operate safely. The recently christened Celebrity Apex is no exception. The 2,910-passenger ship, which is currently operating at about 70 percent capacity, is the newest in Celebrity’s Edge-class fleet of ships, and it's turning heads wherever it goes.

Completed in early 2020, the ship’s debut was sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in early November, the ship was finally christened—581 days past the originally scheduled date.

Apex and the Edge-class of ships bring with them many firsts, including innovations like “The Magic Carpet,” a bright orange, cantilevered bar and restaurant that ascends and descends the side of the ship to the delight of diners. Apex also has a new craft beer bar serving rare brews, the first F45 high-intensity workout classes at sea, and the first-ever Montblanc boutique aboard a cruise ship.

Apex spent the past year sailing around the Mediterranean visiting ports in Malta, Croatia, and around the Greek islands before crossing the ocean to Fort Lauderdale. Its November 2 christening event was the debut of the ship’s Caribbean itineraries for the winter, when Apex will make visits to Mexico, Grand Cayman, Belize, St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts, and the Bahamas, among other ports of call. For summer 2022, it will return to the Mediterranean sailing around the Greek islands once again, and to ports along the French Riviera and Spanish coastline.

Mega cruise ships are fan favorites because of the plethora of amenities they bring, but future cruisers may be wondering how the industry's largest vessels have been affected by the pandemic. Here’s what has changed—and what to look forward to—based on a recent journey aboard Apex.

The onboard experience

Capacity limits are one of the first things travelers will notice, but these work in passengers’ favor, providing even more space to relax on the ship. You will rarely queue for food or service as fewer people are clamoring for staff attention. The pool and gym have plenty of space, too, and with so many outdoor areas to explore, like the rooftop garden and sunset bar, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one around.

In The Retreat, a special section of the ship reserved for those staying in suites, guests are pampered with complimentary drinks in a private lounge, and access to a separate pool deck with pool swings and cabanas. For those that want seclusion, even when the ship is back to full capacity, this is it. Some of the top suites even offer two floors with dining areas, butler service, and panoramic bathrooms, and all suite guests enjoy access to a private specialty restaurant. The two, 2,500 square-foot Iconic Suites (the largest in Celebrity’s fleet) come with the line’s bespoke cashmere mattresses, a fully stocked and complimentary minibar, and enormous balconies with private whirlpools.

Wherever you stay on the ship, fewer passengers has not translated to curtailed amenities. Apex continues to offer nightly performances like comedians, musicians, and dance shows, which are especially mesmerizing thanks to the 110-foot, curved 4K LED screen that wraps around the stage (it's unlike anything ever installed on a cruise ship before).

After dark, the nightclub thumps with activity, including the occasional karaoke show, while bars are back to their usual business. Bartenders at the Grand Plaza put on a performance each night, which is choreographed with the three-story, LED chandelier suspended above the martini bar. The casino clings and clangs; credit cards swipe at duty-free shops like Bulgari and Cartier outlets.

Be vaccinated—and flexible

Celebrity Cruises requires all passengers to be fully vaccinated (with only a few exceptions). As another layer of protection, all passengers above the age of two must show a negative PCR or rapid antigen test before boarding. This means that once on board, masks are encouraged, but not required (staff continue to wear them).

Going ashore presents additional challenges since the vaccinated bubble onboard the ship becomes less secure when people intermingle with non-passengers. While some ports allow travelers to visit independently if they wish, others require that guests stay on ship-organized excursions. These regulations are often based on current levels of infection and local restrictions.

During recent Apex Mediterranean sailings, most Greek island ports permitted passengers to roam freely, but on Mykonos, passengers were only allowed to go ashore via ship excursions and had to wear a mask. The planned visits to Israel were canceled altogether and replaced with a stop in Dubrovnik, Croatia, due to local government restrictions.

Like with other ventures in the current travel climate, a bit of flexibility is required as port visits and local regulations can change on a whim.

A plethora of dining options

Apex has 29 different food and beverage venues, most of which are not buffets. This means that while some modifications were required (like boosting staff numbers to handle service), most outlets remain the same with à la carte service. Diners can choose between a raw and sushi bar, poolside burger stand, spa café with custom smoothies, steakhouse, Michelin-starred menu at Eden, and Le Petit Chef, a French bistro with 3D entertainment displayed on the table. (Some of these venues have an additional cost.)

Oceanview Café is not your typical buffet, with many dishes prepared à la minute, like meat grilled to order and choose-your-own stir fries. Otherwise, staff serve guests from behind Plexiglass barriers. A pizza oven near the back patio of the ship is particularly popular. The new “served buffet” concept also significantly reduces food waste, which is a welcome change.

Notably, Apex exchanged its main dining room for four smaller restaurants, all of which are complimentary. Opulently designed, they have diverse menus that include Italian, Mediterranean, and French dishes, which adds variety for cruisers. Who could say no to escargot and French onion soup one night, and sizzling steaks the next?

Other safety changes

Gone are the days of donning a life jacket and crowding into a packed muster station during the mandatory life boat drill. These days, most cruise lines have taken the process digital by requiring passengers to watch a safety film on their stateroom TV before physically visiting their muster station to have their name checked off a list. It is a modification that both staff and passengers are sure to appreciate, and one that will probably stick around long after the pandemic.

On international sailings, Celebrity provides free COVID-19 tests to passengers requiring one to re-enter their home country. This takes away the hassle from needing to find a test at the airport or on shore. If someone tests positive, cruise lines have quarantine facilities in place to separate passengers until they can go ashore. Celebrity also will cover the cost of medical care, accommodations, and return travel for passengers who do test positive. The cruise line will also provide a pro-rated refund for cruises that were cut short, or a full refund if someone cannot travel at all.

No system is perfect, but the long-awaited return to cruising seems to be faring well. It is no easy feat to inaugurate a mega ship like the Celebrity Apex during a global pandemic. Luckily, the safety precautions on board don’t impede too greatly on the well-loved cruise experience.