Celebrity Cruises review: a sun-drenched trip around Florida, Mexico, Belize and the Caribbean
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It was one of the many joyous moments we had during a wonderful week-long voyage with Celebrity Cruises, a holiday which offered some much-needed winter warmth in the sun-drenched climbs of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and Western Caribbean, all in one exciting, thirst-quenching round trip.
As well as being our first long-haul foray in three years, it was our debut cruise with Celebrity and an opportunity to check out the highly-acclaimed Apex, one of three new ships in Celebrity's new 'Edge class' series, adding a touch more luxury and some modern-day quirks to its already 12-strong fleet.
She's a real stunner too with her standout feature the iconic Magic Carpet, the world's first cantilevered floating bar and restaurant covering an impressive 13 storeys above sea level, giving guests the chance to literally 'hang out', sip on refreshing cocktails and tuck into delicious cuisine while enjoying the finest ocean views.
It's often claimed that one of the most exciting parts of a cruise is when you first step onto the ship and this was certainly the case for us as we entered Apex's nautical world of discovery, quickly getting our bearings during a self-organised tour of the decks and discovering the location of our stateroom.
Ours featured all the mod-cons you'd expect on a brand-new vessel with most things controlled by the push of a button including the Celebrity-unique 'infinite' balcony, accessed via trendy Mediterranean-style shutters which could be pushed back during the day, making it feel like an extension to the room. And there's no need to worry about being open to the elements as the button-controlled floor-to-ceiling window can be opened and closed at your leisure.
Before unpacking and with stomachs rumbling, the Ocean View Cafe buffet was calling, as was the obligatory 'first drink' glass of prosecco to celebrate the start of a journey which would take us from Fort Lauderdale, across the Gulf of Mexico to Costa Maya, Belize and Cozumel, with the final stop at Grand Cayman in the Caribbean before returning to Florida. A couple of 'sea days' either side would ensure the perfect balance between exploring, sunbathing and relaxation.
Setting off towards Mexico, the only decision left to make was on which restaurant we would be eating at after the opening theatre show, Charity Lockhart's spectacular Aretha Franklyn tribute.
Dining choices are endless with four restaurants - Cyprus (Greek cuisine), Tuscan (Italian), Normandie (French) and Cosmopolitan (Amercian) - all complementary. Our favourite was Tuscan, with standout dishes the delightful tuna fillet with gnocchi and sumptuous papadelli pasta with beef shin ragu.
The impressive list of specialty restaurants - Fine Cut Steakhouse, Le Grand Bistro, Le Petit Chef, Raw, The Magic Carpet, Rooftop Garden Grill and Eden - can all be booked at an extra cost. As seafood lovers, the exquisite sushi and sashimi at Raw on 5 came calling on our final night, but it doesn't matter where you dine as the Apex is a floating gastronomical dream which guarantees one of the finest culinary experiences at sea.
Keen to top up the tan, a spot of retail therapy in the shoreside shops of Costa Maya was followed by an afternoon of sunbathing and for me a chance whip on the trainers for a trot around the Apex's 'figure-of-eight' outdoor running track.
As well as keeping the 'food guilt' at bay, the unexpected burst of energy allowed me to suss out other parts of the ship, including the pretty Rooftop Garden with giant cinema screen and the plush surroundings of The Retreat, an exclusive hideaway for higher paying guests which has its own private restaurant, lounge, sundeck and team of attendants.
Despite the ship's capacity of nearly 3,000 people, there never seemed to be a shortage of sun loungers on which we could settle down with a book, soak up the rays and order our favourite Kir Royale cocktails from the attentive pool bar staff.
Poolside entertainment was never far away either as we took part in a fun aqua aerobics session and various brain-teasing quizzes, leaving the more competitive guests to battle it out in a game of volleyball against the Apex's senior crew members.
Onto Belize and its capital Belize City, where we escaped the hustle and bustle for a day to ensconce ourselves in the country's natural beauty on a river tubing and zip lining tour, before returning for the sail on to Cozumel and our tequila-inspired salsa-making session where we sang, danced and enjoyed time on the beach at the picturesque Playa Mia resort.
Back on board and as we were on Celebrity's 'Classic' drinks package (a 'Premium' upgrade is available), the beverages continued to flow, and why not after 48 hours of fun in two amazing 'once-in-a-lifetime' locations?
Like the restaurants there are a variety of bars to choose from, including the Grand Plaza's Martini Bar at the ship's atrium, the outdoor 'Sunset Bar' in a beautiful romantic setting and our number one haunt the Craft Social Bar, with its host of great beer options and relaxing atmosphere in which we could sit and play cards to our heart's content.
For a daily caffeine boost the Italian-inspired Cafe Al Bacio was the go-to place thanks to its superb range of specialty coffees and irresistible sweet treats, with the vanilla iced lattes and Nutella croissants proving a huge hit.
The final leg of the cruise took us into the Caribbean and George Town, Grand Cayman, which provided us with all the glitz and glam you might expect from a place known for its finance district, but also its sandy beaches, translucent blue water and laid-back island lifestyle.
Glamour was in abundance each evening in the Apex theatre thanks mainly to the ship's talented entertainment team of singers, dancers, acrobats and incredible violinist, who put on several stunning shows while also treating guests to special displays in the more-intimate and leafy surroundings of Eden.
Our voyage was coming to an end but the party continued as we danced our final night away at the silent disco, throwing all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes to a number of floor-filling hits, totally oblivious to our surroundings while immersing ourselves in the sounds of Latino, golden oldies and modern R&B.
It was the perfect finale to our wonderful cruise, but there was still one more excursion to enjoy after the inevitable disembark - the Fort Lauderdale Land & Sea Tour - which killed some time before our airport transfer and evening flight from Miami.
It was a real eye-opener seeing how the other half lived as we sailed along the New River on a Carrie B river boat, taking in the many breathtaking yachts and homes belonging to the rich and famous.
This tour had 'Celebrity' written all over it and it was a fitting end to a truly wonderful voyage.
A cruise to Key West, Belize and Grand Cayman on Celebrity Apex runs until into April next year and prices start at £798 per person. For more information and to book visit the Celebrity Cruises website.
When booking between now and 1st March 2023, travellers can access savings of 75 per cent for the second guest, as well as an onboard spend of $400 (approx. £326) per stateroom.