Celebrity Apex stopped at four ports on our cruise – Key West, Belize, Cozumel and Grand Cayman. The only place we hadn’t visited before was Belize, so we booked a shore excursion on that island. I looked forward to shopping in the ports this time more than seeing the sites.
Having visited Key West numerous times, we strolled off the ship and roamed around Front St. and Duval. I picked up a few essentials at a CVS store. We found a Key West Aloe store and I bought hand creams and shower gel. It was very hot outside. I ate a super sweet, chocolate-covered Key lime pie on a stick. Who can go to Key West without eating Key lime pie? We were back onboard Celebrity Apex in time for lunch. If you visit this port and have never been here before, I suggest you do the Conch Train Tour. Otherwise, you can see the historic sites, stroll along the waterfront, and try the various restaurants.
We took the two-hour city tour in an air-conditioned bus for our shore excursion. At first, we drove along the coastline. Then we went inland and wove through the streets. We visited the rich side of town and then the more common side, noting a distinct difference. We also passed grocery and furniture and hardware stores, gas stations, and other commercial sites. Stray dogs roamed the streets that definitely had a third-world country vibe. The guide mentioned that the highest elevation was 4000 feet. They produce shade-grown coffee, and Mayan cacao farmers make chocolate. They also grow sugar cane on this island and make rum. We stopped at a rum factory store and at the Belize sign along the way.
Shopping by the port terminal was the best bet. There are plenty of shops and a couple of restaurants for lunch. The recommended Wet Lizard was crowded so we ate at a different restaurant with a water view. We bought bags of ground coffee and chocolate bars, which cost six to seven dollars apiece depending on the store. No gift boxes of fancy chocolates as I’d expected. It was fun shopping here for souvenirs.
Cozumel is one of my favorite shopping ports. We’ve been to Tulum and done the Mayan ruins, so we don’t have any need to go there again. We have shopped downtown and at their various docks, so nowadays we just shop around the port. These complexes have more than enough stores to keep you busy. We ate lunch in Margaritaville with our friends, Ann Meier and Pat Babcock.
We’ve also seen the sites at Grand Cayman and spent time on their famous beach, so this time we tendered into town and walked around the main shopping street which didn’t take too long. We headed back to the ship for lunch.
Celebrity Apex has an ultra-modern design with eclectic art works scattered throughout the ship. It has sweeping upward ramps and a movable bar on the side of the ship and potted plants in areas such as the Rooftop Garden and the Eden Lounge. One modern technology I appreciated was the lack of handles on restroom doors that opened with a wave of your hand. Here are random scenes throughout the ship:
Deck 14 holds the main pool and the solarium, which was my favorite since it’s covered. In between the two is a grill where you can get hot dogs, burgers including a turkey burger, and fries. The grill also has a soft ice cream dispenser. The spa café is at the rear of the solarium. Here you can get light snacks and cold drinks or coffee.
If you like expensive brand-name merchandise such as Coach, Cartier, and Mont Blanc, you’ll be happy. Effy Jewelers are on board but there’s no fun selection of fashion jewelry like on other ships or dressy tops or sweaters. The resort clothing is bland and so are the logo souvenirs including tee shirts, hoodies, baseball caps, mugs, etc. We’ve had better shops on other ships. Even the liquor store had big bottles, nothing small, no gift packs of little bottles or even gift boxes or bars of chocolate. There were the usual rum cakes at 2 boxes for $35 and no Caribbean rum balls. So while there were a number of shops to browse in, not many held our interest. There were also no blow-out sales like on other ships.
We missed having a selection of lounges midship compared to our past cruises. No wine bar, bellini or champagne bar. The martini bar on Deck 3 of the grand plaza had a band or guitarist and was always lively, although the side walls are painted black and there’s no view of the ocean from there. Here’s the sweeping grand chandelier.
Midship on Deck 4 is a coffee bar where I believe you could order drinks in the evening. Specialty coffees here cost money, but the pastries are free. This large area has seating with a view. Opposite on Decks 4 and 5 were the Bistro and the Steakhouse, respectively. These specialty (meaning additional cost) restaurants took up space that could have been nice lounges. We missed having a piano bar, a quiet spot where you could sit and get drinks and chat with soft background music.
The Club is on Deck 4 next to the theater. No windows here so you feel closed in. This is the spot for game shows and other special events. The Casino is midship so again you lose space there that could have been a nice lounge. The Craft Social bar is adjacent, between the casino and bistro, but it’s relatively small and more like a sports bar.
Then there’s the bar that goes up and down the ship’s side. This was parked in place for most of the cruise. We were told it would only move twice during the week and you needed a reservation. Otherwise, it served as a lounge with a view if you could find a seat but wasn’t as cozy as other settings.
We took Shore Excursion CUR – 100 from the Royal Princess in Curaçao. Beautiful aqua water greeted us at the pier. On land, we met dry terrain with cactus, a civilized city with houses that looked like places in Florida, columned municipal buildings, a cathedral, and a swing bridge into town.
From the pier, you could walk to the right toward the Renaissance Hotel and follow the signs to cross the bridge into town. It’s a twenty minute walk, but it will seem much longer if you are carrying heavy packages. If I heard our tour guide correctly, the main industries are oil refining, salt, tourism, and producing Curaçao liqueur.
Our drive took us first to the Curaçao Museum in a colonial-style building dating back to the 1800s. The rooms held paintings and antique furniture with windows wide open and no air-conditioning. An airplane cockpit rests in a secured outbuilding. The shady grounds are pleasant to stroll while waiting to get back on the tour bus.
Next we toured Hato Caves, an above-ground cave. We had to climb a steep set of 49 steps to get there. Once inside, you had to duck and hold onto a hand rail to reach the various caverns. The usual views of stalactites, stalagmites, and calcite columns are present. Total blackness yawns from areas that are unlit, while bats hover overhead.
Outside, we caught an iguana on the grounds. A snack bar and restrooms are available. The natives like iguana stew, the “poor-man’s chicken.”
We visited the Chobolobo factory where they make the famous branded Curaçao Liqueur. It’s said the soil of the island changed the sweet Valencia orange brought by the Spaniards into a bitter fruit. But the peel contained an oil with a pleasing fragrance. The famous Blue liqueur comes from the peel of this fruit.
Inside a building, the distilling process is explained in a museum-like setting. Their famous liqueur comes in an orange-shaped bottle. If it’s in another container, the product isn’t theirs. It comes in classic original orange flavor plus chocolate, coffee, rum raisin, and tamarind. An enticing gift shop offers a wide selection of liqueurs and other souvenirs.
We crossed the Queen Juliana Bridge with vistas of the port city on our way back to the ship. At the port were a decent number of native huts selling souvenirs, hats, Curaçao liqueur, magnets, spoon rests, dresses and shirts, and Delft figurines. Waves crash onto the rocky breakfront by the pier where you can also enjoy tropical drinks at a bar.
Our tour was well worthwhile, although we did not make a photo stop at the salt flats as listed in the tour description. Nonetheless, we need to make a return visit to go into Willemstad and roam the city streets. A brief glimpse wasn’t enough.
Our Shore Excursion from Royal Princess was BON-105. It took us on a drive along the coast with gorgeous sparkling ocean to the left in aqua to navy hues. We passed a group of divers as one beautiful sea vista after another exposed itself to us.
Cactus in many varieties dotted the dry soil on this island. Tall trees were sparse, but plenty of bushy vegetation grew along the roadside. To the right rose a rocky cliff with caves. Eventually, we curved around and ended up on the other side of this cliff. Donkeys roamed free on an open plain.
At Goto Lake, we spotted native flamingos wading for food in the water. Having seen many of this species at Flamingo Gardens in Davie, Florida, I was impressed to view them in the wild.
In Rincon, the oldest settlement, it looked like any other Caribbean village with colorfully painted houses. We’d been driving nearly an hour and hastened to the single restroom at our stop. There wasn’t any toilet paper but there were paper towels. We were given a taste of cactus liquor that tasted minty. Snacks were available for purchase here at the Rose Inn courtyard. The stop seemed to benefit the tour guide more than us. We stood around waiting for her to finish her cold drink so we could head back to the bus.
We were supposed to stop at a cultural park next, but this visit never materialized. Instead, we drove past the port and beyond to reach the salt flats on the other side of the island. A brown pond stretched into the distance. At the roadside, salt crystals bubbled and burped by the highway. A mountain of salt rose ahead as the guide explained the salt-making process.
If I’ve gotten this explanation right, salt water is brought into the pond on the far side. This water is allowed to evaporate under the sun until it reaches a certain level of salinity. Then more water is added and the process repeated until it’s so concentrated that the salt begins to crystalize. We passed a freighter that might have been taking on salt, this island’s main export. It was fascinating to see the huge mound of salt and the crystals bubbling from the pond.
Then we stopped at a beach made from coral to view a cluster of slave huts. Slaves had to walk from there all the way to Rincon to go to church and receive provisions. It took them the entire day. With the low ceilings and cramped space in the huts, I don’t know how anyone could live there.
This tour was too long. The drive to Rincon, while scenic, needs more stops. Rincon itself was unimpressive. We didn’t see the cultural center mentioned on the excursion listing unless the itinerary had changed. If you don’t mind a long drive to see most of the island, this tour will work for you. Otherwise, I’d suggest a shorter trip to see the scenic ocean vistas while heading to the salt flats. Then go shopping in town, a short walk away from the port. This tour took 3 hours.
We took Shore Excursion GD-330 on our Royal Princess cruise port stop at Grenada to Spices of Grenada and the Westerhall Rum Distillery. This time we had an air-conditioned van, which is better than a bus because you have fewer people to wait on to get in and out. We passed buildings painted in colorful hues of lime, coral, lavender, and sand.
Right away, we got the impression of a more upscale island. We drove through crowded port city streets to our first stop, De La Grenada Industries. Here they package spices grown on this fertile mountainous island. Inside the single building is a view of the machinery. There’s a tasting area where we had a sip of rum punch that was very good. The gift shop has a decent selection of packaged spices, nutmeg liqueur, and rum punch bottles.
We drove on through lush tropical hillsides to Laura’s Herb and Spice Garden for a tour in the rain of a botanical garden. The knowledgeable guide told us about the medicinal values for all the plants grown there. As the downpour got heavier, our hosts provided umbrellas. We donned our ponchos that we’d brought along. I learned that onion boiled with sugar makes syrup that can be used as an emetic. This might come in handy for a story if it works. The outdoor path is made from nutmeg shells. Inside the lone building, there wasn’t much to buy at the small sales counter except for some spice packets or vanilla extract bottles.
Our drive took us through more mountain rainforests. We passed goats, cows, and graveyards that had white above-ground tombs. Houses appeared to be concrete. Roofs looked like tile but were sheeting of some sort.
At the Westerhall Rum Distillery, it was raining too hard for a tour. They took us to the tasting hut where we got straight rum samples while standing outside under cover. I wasn’t sorry to miss the tour. We’d seen better on St. Croix, and had better tastings too with mixed rum drinks. Here you could see rusted wheels and other implements littering the grounds. There didn’t appear to be any shop.
We sloshed back into the van for a drive through a wealthy gated community to view the impressive homes overlooking scenic views. Finally, we were dropped off back at the ship. This tour took about 4 hours.
One of the best places for shopping is Esplanade Mall right at the pier. I bypassed the jewelry stores to browse the spices, coffee, shirts, hats and souvenirs. It’s a great place to buy gifts for people back home and spices to use in your own cooking.
On the fourth day of our cruise on Royal Princess, we visited Martinique. This mountainous volcanic island boasts lush tropical vegetation and spectacular views through the rainforest. We docked at Fort-de-France, a big port town with narrow streets. From here, we boarded an air-conditioned bus for Shore Excursion FDF-100 to St. Pierre and the Depaz Rum Distillery. Our first stop was Sacré-Coeur de la Balata, a historic church on a hilltop. This was built in 1925. We drove up a curvy road with scenic vistas to the church.
Next we went through the dense rainforest toward the Depaz Distillery, where rum has been made since 1651. The views along the road were spectacular. At the plantation, we trudged up a grassy hill to admire the owner’s mansion. We toured the distillery past machinery and rooms with barrels for the aging process.
Rain fell as was appropriate for the rainforest. Sugar cane plants stretched into the distance.
The gift shop looked interesting, but we didn’t have enough time to browse. Wares included packaged spices, bottles of rum, and souvenirs. We got tiny tastes of one sweet coconut rum drink that I liked. Another tasted like straight dark rum that burned my throat.
We hurried back to the bus for a drive to St. Pierre. At the foot of Mount Pelee, this village was destroyed in a massive 1902 eruption that killed 30,000 residents. The only survivor was one man in a stone prison. The town has narrow streets and ruins all around that had formerly been buildings made from rock. At the museum, we took a quick glance at the artifacts dug out of ash, a damaged bell from a cathedral, and photos of the town before and after the disaster. The air-conditioning was off, making it very hot inside. No photos were allowed. This museum is on the site of an old gun battery and has scenic views.
Outside, we climbed some stone steps to the ruins of a theater. We spied the jail down below on the side near the mountain. All was gone except for some stone walls and a domed stone prison where the single man survived.
I got hot and sweaty in the heat. We had periodic rain but not so much on this drier side of the island. We noted netting against the cliffs on this side to prevent rockslides onto the roads. We could also see cannon ball holes left in the rock walls facing the water.
This tour took 4-1/2 hours. A native market outside the pier held nothing interesting. The best shop was at the rum distillery. My advice for anyone going here would be to see the house and skip the distillery tour. Go straight to the shop. You could buy snacks there too and restrooms are available. Bring an umbrella.
Our first port call on the Royal Princess cruise was at Princess Cays for a beach barbecue. I always enjoy the serenity of this beach day. We took a tender to get there, which is an adventure in itself.
Once ashore, we scrambled to find a spot in the shade. Getting a rum punch became our first order of business. After finishing this drink, I trudged through the sand to stick my feet in the water. The temperature was cool but not cold. I could have gotten used to it, but I had no desire to wade in among the seaweed and get all wet. We have lovely beaches in Fort Lauderdale and our own pool at home. The barbecue offered an array of delectable items. I got a burger with accompaniments and chowed down in the covered picnic area.
Then we baked in the heat a bit more before deciding to pack it up and leave. We stopped in the few Bahamian shops on the way back to the tender. If you’re looking for a souvenir, you can find something here. The shops are not as plentiful as on the RCCL beach stops, though. It was a pleasant day on a beautiful sunny afternoon.
A rainbow greeted us as we approached the island of St. Thomas. The day promised rain, so we fortuitously brought our umbrellas that we’d packed when we went ashore.
As the ship docked by Havensight Mall, we took a taxi into town for $4.00 each. Here we roamed the main streets, glad to see most of the shops open for business after Hurricane Irma. Some places were still shuttered, perhaps with water damage or without power. But most shops were open and welcomed visitors, and I bought some items that caught my eye. It began to rain off and on, and water quickly pooled in the saturated streets.
We’d been here numerous times before, so we had no need to do a sightseeing tour or go farther afield. We went back to the ship for lunch, and then strolled around Havensight Mall. You’ll get a greater selection of goods in town, but this shopping center has representative shops for most of those places. You can find plenty of souvenirs, liquor, or jewelry items here as well. After a satisfying day, the ship sailed away to music from the steel-drum band.
The food in general on the Royal Princess tasted very good. Menu choices were average. For dinner, I enjoyed on different nights the prime ribs, filet mignon, tiger shrimp, and lobster tail. Vegetarian choices were available. We celebrated my birthday with a chocolate treat.
Thanks to our travel agent Adam Wolf at The Cruise Web, we dined at the Crowne Grille, one of the specialty restaurants. Here I had lobster cake appetizer, mixed greens salad, beef filet with baked potato. Our table shared creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, and freshly cooked asparagus. I had a lemon meringue tart for dessert.
This venue hosted a British pub lunch later on in the voyage. It was fun to eat my favorite cottage pie with a trifle for dessert.
The buffet seemed to have little variety and was very disorganized. Without any labeled station except for Pastry, you had to hunt through each aisle to see what was offered. The selections for breakfast or lunch didn’t seem to change much from day-to-day. We didn’t go here for dinner so can’t comment on that meal. Nonetheless, you could get plenty to eat whenever you came by. What I did like was that they opened for continental breakfast at 5am and breakfast at 6am. Since we’re early risers, this suited our schedules.
Outdoors by the pool, you could get pizza or hot dogs and hamburgers. An ice cream station offered vanilla or chocolate swirls, but I thought it tasted more like gelato than a creamy ice cream. Or you could dine at an Italian restaurant for free on one of the lower decks. The International Café was always a favorite. Coffee drinks cost money there, but the food was complimentary.
An annoyance was the lack of drink stations at the buffet. There were a couple of spots that offered coffee, tea or water. Otherwise, waiters circulated and took your drink order. You had to order lemonade. Sometimes we waited and nobody came by. On other ships, these waiters wheel carts around to offer refills. Not so here. They served you individually which made for less efficient service. These same wait staff had to continuously clean the tables to make them ready for new diners. The ship should offer more self-serve drink stations and include lemonade. Also, there weren’t any take-out cups available for coffee/tea. Only ceramic mugs were available.
Food in the dining room for dinner was very good.
The desserts were noteworthy, and I enjoyed fruit crumbles with vanilla sauce, fresh baked cookies, almond or chocolate croissants, Baked Alaska, and more.
This was our second trip on the Royal Princess. Here are my notes.
The lifeboat drill took place in a lounge, which is much more comfortable than standing outside in the heat. At least you can relax while listening to the safety spiel.
Besides the main swimming pool and deck area, there was an adults-only Retreat offering lounge chairs facing another pool. This is open to the air and not covered like the solarium on other ships. Or for a fee, you could enter the more exclusive Sanctuary enclave. Otherwise, it wasn’t hard to find a lounge chair somewhere on the ship. We prefer the shade so we would hunt down a quiet site. Being Floridians, we didn’t feel the need for sunbathing or sweating in the heat.
On deck 7, there’s an outdoor promenade but it doesn’t go all the way around for passengers. If you want to take a stroll, you can go inside at deck 7 or use the sun deck.
As loyalty members, we appreciated the free Internet minutes and the nightly appetizers (mostly veggies or cheese and crackers, except for a shrimp fountain the last night) offered in the Club Six lounge, but we missed the free drinks and more generous hors d’oeuvres from RCCL and Celebrity.
Shopping was fun here, and the shipboard shops offer a wide variety of affordable merchandise. They had sales every night, although the sale items didn’t differ much. There is a logo store with souvenirs, clothing and hats; a cosmetics store, liquor and chocolate stores, an Effy fine jewelry store, and a costume jewelry store with items from Swarovski, Brighton, and more.
The port talk lady pushed the onboard shops too much. I stayed at her presentation for twenty minutes and then left when she hadn’t even started talking about the ports of call.
We didn’t inhabit the casino, but it was a busy place. You could browse the photo gallery, attend art auctions, or stroll to the small library and pick up the Sudoku or trivia puzzles of the day. A selection of lounges gave us other places to go for a quiet drink or to listen to the music in the atrium. Plenty of other activities are available to keep you busy if you wish.
We had been upgraded from a balcony to a mini-suite cabin. The storage space was generous enough for all our belongings, and our luggage fit under the beds or upright in the closet. The closet was a good size with plenty of hangers. In this area was a tall built-in cabinet with a safe and more drawers.
Separated from the main bedroom by a movable curtain, the sitting room had a full-size couch, a small coffee table, a desk with drawers and shelving, plus a chair. The balcony itself was tiny, barely allowing for movement outside, with two chairs and a small table. It wasn’t very inviting being so small.
The tub shower came with a rubber mat so you wouldn’t slip inside the tub. However, the European-type hose contraption was annoying. We would have preferred a stall shower with a fixed showerhead. There’s ample space for a lady to shave her legs. However, the flapping curtain—instead of a glass door—was unpleasant and unsanitary. You never knew who it might have touched last. Also, the drain was on one side of the tub and in the middle. You had to be careful not to cover it with the mat.
There were hot and cold water faucets but no cold water. We couldn’t get cold water for showering or for brushing our teeth. Sometimes the water was too hot even to wash my hands. Try brushing your teeth with burning hot water. Not fun. My guess is that this is due to a heat pump that makes hot water quickly available for showers. The bathroom sink area had adequate counter space and shelving. Bar soap, albeit thin, was provided along with liquid soap and shampoo dispensers in the tub/shower. Hand lotion was also available.
The blackout drapes were good, although some light from the balcony seeped in. Also, LED lights on the TVs shed light at night. The cabin was quiet and the room temperature just right. The bedding was comfortable, although the pillows were overly large. Our bed faced the wall with one of the TVs. Two nightstands come with one shelf each and a couple of drawers.
We had two large flat-screen TVs mounted on the walls, but these had no closed-caption option. If you’re hearing impaired, this is a serious downside and disrespectful to people with this problem.
Our cabin came with a mini-fridge that was handy for holding drinks. Since the staterooms did not offer a coffeemaker, I would get a mug of coffee from the buffet and refrigerate it overnight. I like iced coffee anyway so this worked for me. In the morning, I would sip cold coffee while getting dressed. It helped to wake my brain up until we went for breakfast.
The musicians were excellent throughout the ship. In the atrium, you could hear a violinist, a talented piano player, or different bands playing either steel drum music or big band tunes for dancing. We enjoy a Caribbean band so appreciated their presence.
You could go to “Movies Under The Stars” that showed popular films by the pool. These same movies are available on your cabin TV the next day if you don’t feel like sitting out in the wind.
The main showtime theater is too small for the ship’s capacity. We had to get there a half hour early to get a seat. There are no second-story balconies like on some other ships. Seats are crammed in, and people ended up standing in the back.
The production shows during our voyage were blah. One was downright boring where the performers wore black and sang mundane tunes. The third show was cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances.” No razzle dazzle here at all. Shows on the other nights offered single entertainers. These included vocalists and comedians. Again, not much variety. The only performance that stirred our blood was Tom Franek, a pianist who not only played concert-level music, but did it while standing on his head and putting his hands on the keys backwards. That was the only show with a “wow” factor.
I needed to fortify myself with a good breakfast in preparation for shopping, so I ate another omelet with roasted potatoes, bacon, rye bread, and fresh pineapple.
St. Maarten is my favorite island to visit. I went out on deck to watch our approach.
We took the water taxi from the pier into Philipsburg, the Dutch side of this island. It costs $7 cash for a round trip. As you see, many other ships were in dock that day. We went into town early so as to beat the crowds.
The water is a vibrant jewel green. At the other end, you can shop, dine out, or lounge on the beach, all within walking distance.
The shops beckoned to us, so we picked up our freebies with coupons from the ship and couldn’t resist many of the other wares. We stopped in the Guavaberry liquor place but didn’t buy anything as we still had a supply from previous cruises.
We ate lunch at the Barefoot Terrace where I’d been before. I had coconut shrimp, which was six huge butterflied shrimp fried in batter, along with a choice of two sides. Mine were fried plantains and rice with black beans. Janice had coconut curry chicken. Now I have a craving to cook that dish at home.
By the time we finished shopping, we were tired and ready to return to our cabins. Having visited the island before, we’ve already taken the excursions to the French side and seen the sights. There’s a nude beach somewhere if you’re interested and it still exists. But why pay for a taxi to a beach when there’s one right there where you land in Philipsburg? My conclusion: I still love St. Maarten, and it remains a favorite port.
Dinner in the dining room that night was spinach and cheese turnover, roasted turkey with accompaniments, and a moist chocolate sacher torte. Are you hungry yet?
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