With its highly anticipated debut unceremoniously shoved to the back burner for 15 months because of the global pandemic, Celebrity Apex and its crew were forced to patiently wait to hit the seas for its maiden voyage.
The ship, the sister to Celebrity Edge, is a similarly stunning vessel, both elegant and innovative. The sunny Greek Islands offered a spectacular backdrop for Apex’s inaugural voyage, and both the ship and crew shined.
Apex can carry up to 2,900 passengers, but it sailed with only 650 or so for its first cruise. We actually had 918 crew, and that ratio meant the level of service and attention was extra special. Sailing on cruise ships as they restart after the shutdown because of COVID-19 offers a unique opportunity to enjoy incredibly uncrowded venues.
In fact, it’s kind of bizarre. But these lower capacities are the first small steps on the road to a full cruise industry recovery.
If you have sailed on Celebrity Edge, you’ll have a familiar feel on Edge. The ship boasts dramatic public spaces both indoors and outside, and they are filled with attractive artwork and sculptures. The cuisine and entertainment are focal points of the programming.
The ship was the second that Celebrity Cruises brought back into service. Celebrity Millennium sailed from its homeport in St. Maarten in early June as the first cruise ship to return to the Caribbean, marking a milestone in the restart of cruising.
Celebrity Apex, like Millennium, requires that all adult passengers (16 and older) and crew members be fully vaccinated and get a negative COVID test result before embarkation. Unlike on Millennium, however, we were required to wear masks onboard Apex. Crew on all Celebrity ships are required to wear masks. The line also has launched Celebrity Edge from its homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Celebrity Apex is following the regulations set by Greece as it uses Athens (Piraeus) as its homeport for this season cruising the Greek Islands. While the masks were a definite nuisance at times, especially while outside on the top decks in the summer heat, passengers got used to the rule.
It’s also not as stringent as it might sound at first. While we were required to wear one while on the ship, this was only for when walking around and when we otherwise couldn’t keep distance from others. They are not needed once seated and eating or drinking at the bars and restaurants – or when at your lounger o the pool deck or in the pool itself.
Greece also has dropped its mask requirements for people outdoors, so when you go ashore, you can ditch the mask unless you go into a shop or restaurant. It’s much the same as you still see around the United States.
Other protocols we noticed onboard: You must make an appointment to use the fitness center, and capacity there is limited to 30 people who can work out for up to an hour.
At the Oceanview Café, crew members handed out the plates and cutlery and served passengers their food. There is no more self-serve at the buffet.
Elevator capacity was four per ride, and seats in the main theater were marked off to keep the proper amount of physical distance. With Apex sailing at just over 20 percent capacity, none of these restrictions were really noticeable or problematic to enforce.
Prior to boarding, upon arrival at the cruise terminal in Athens, passengers had to get a rapid antigen COVID test. This was performed in a dedicated area of the cruise port in a building adjacent to the ship, and results came in an email in about 20 minutes while you waited. Once we got the email with our negative test results, we were on the ship and in our cabin within 10 minutes.
Passengers also had to get another test at the end of the cruise as part of the procedure to travel back to the United States. All passengers and crew members tested negative. You could hear a cheer onboard as this was announced by the captain.
These protocols have worked very effectively on both my cruise on Celebrity Millennium and now Apex, and they show that fully vaccinated sailings are the way to go to bring back cruising.
The best thing we experienced was that the protocols did not dampen the energy and fun that all of the cruisers had onboard, enjoying all the shows, specialty restaurants, night life and bars. It was a wonderful kick off to an exciting new ship.