This is (finally) the final post of photos from our February cruise marathon. Completed galleries can be found on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone wanting to see more.
Cruise ships have always had vast art displays on board. Even back in the early days of steamship travel, ships were known to have decor consisting of paintings, sculptures and murals. Modern cruise ships seem to be carrying this artistic theme even into their design. More and more we are seeing sweeping atriums, huge glass observation decks, and dramatic architectural features that are much more about form than function.
On our Celebrity Apex cruise, I tried to capture a bit of the flavor of t his art, as well as some of the design elements. Here is a small collection of what I saw.
I’m getting close to the end (you’re welcome) of the photos from our cruise marathon this past February. I’ve posted three galleries on my Adobe Portfolio page for anyone who just has to see more.
I get a lot of comments about the size of cruise ships, especially from people who have never sailed on one, or sometimes have never even seen one. So I thought I would post some photos and make some comments about this particular ship plus show a brief comparison of ship sizes.
Celebrity Apex is the second ship in what is known as the Edge Class that was introduced in 2018. The first ship of course was Edge (2018), followed by Apex (2020), Beyond (2022) and later this year, Ascent. There may be more in the pipeline but I’m not sure. Edge Class is the latest of three classes of ship, with the exception of some smaller specialty ships that sail exclusively in the Galapagos (they are on our long-term list but are quite pricey).
Cruise ships are generally compared in terms of Gross Tonnage (a measure of volume, not weight), length and passenger count. I’m using Celebrity’s ships for comparison, although there are many other ships with different lines, both larger and smaller.
We don’t usually sail on ships when they are fairly new, because in general they are more pricey than ships that have been out a while. But in this case, we were already in Fort Lauderdale for our first two cruises, so by spreading the travel expenses over another cruise we were able to bring the average cost down. And we got a pretty good price for booking fairly late, and it gave us a chance to try out a ship sooner than we might otherwise.
One of the recent trends among some of the cruise lines is to make the ships larger and larger. Royal Caribbean has the largest ships afloat, and will soon be introducing Icon of the Seas, which will carry 7,600 passengers. I’m sorry, but that is stupid big. Not to say we’ll never sail on her, but when our preference is ships 1/3 of the size, we aren’t going to be standing in line!
What always surprises us is that for the most part, the ships don’t feel crowded. Exceptions are sea days by the pool, and “lobster night” in the main dining rooms. Sometimes there is a special event going on in the central atrium (called different things on different ships) and those can get crowded. Other than that, Kathy & I have developed some routines that get us out and about before the crowds arrive (we call them “the nooners” although I’m aware that term has several meanings. 😉 ). There are often out of the way places where it is quiet and uncrowded, although that also means we have to walk a way to the bathrooms and retrieve our own drinks. 🙂
The great thing about newer ships, however, is that the decor and architecture are beautiful. The layout, styling and technology have come a long way since we started cruising in 2000. There are more dining choices, more entertainment options, the theaters have new technologies and even the staterooms have fancy gadgets like temperature and lighting controls. It’s even possible to adjust the shades, lighting and temperature of a stateroom using an app, from anywhere on the ship. Not terribly useful, but there are cases where it might be.
There were things we loved about Apex, and a few things that we didn’t care for. I won’t go into a lot of detail here, but overall we liked the ship, but for our money we prefer the smaller and slightly older Solstice Class like Equinox that we sailed on for the first two cruises.
After our visit to Key West, Celebrity Apex sailed to Belize. We had sort of visited Belize in 2020, but only to stop at Harvest Caye, Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island. This time we got to see the “real” Belize with a visit to Lamanai Archaeological Reserve.
From travelbelize.org: Lamanai (from the Yucatec Maya for “submerged crocodile”) was a city-state dating to 1500 BCE. Archaeological research has revealed that the site was continually occupied for 3,000 years until European contact. More than 700 Maya structures have been identified, but only a few have been excavated and studied, including a ball court, stelae, and principal structures like the Mask Temple, adorned by two impressive carved limestone masks over 13 ft. (3.9 m) in height.
The vast majority of the site remained unexcavated until the mid-1970s. Archaeological work has concentrated on the investigation and restoration of the larger structures, most notably the Mask Temple, Jaguar Temple, and High Temple. The summit of this latter structure affords a view across the surrounding jungle to a nearby lagoon, part of New River.
We were not able to climb the High Temple, as it was closed for restoration work. Instead, we were able to climb the Mask Temple. It doesn’t have the view of the High Temple, but it was interesting and fun to climb.
Getting to Lamanai involved a tender ride from the ship (there is no cruise ship dock in Belize), an hour plus bus ride to a boat, then a boat ride to the reserve. Once there, a lot of walking, then back to the boat and do it in reverse back the ship. Fortunately, between the return boat ride and the bus ride, we got lunch!
The ruins were very interesting, and our guides did a good job explaining the various pyramids and their uses. The Mayan culture has largely disappeared, although their descendants, including our guides, help keep the heritage alive.
After our stop on Bonaire, we sailed to the island of Curacao. Like Bonaire, we had visited previously but it was a number of years ago. Things hadn’t changed a lot, but there were a few obvious differences from our prior visit.
The cruise port on Curacao is the capital city of Willemstad. The colorful waterfront and the Queen Emma floating bridge are two of the main symbols of this beautiful island. Downtown Willemstad is an easy walk from the cruise terminal. Although we made the walk three times, and it got a little longer each time!
The Queen Emma Bridge is a floating bridge, hinged on one end with an engine and propulsion unit on the other end that allows the bridge to open, allowing ship traffic to pass in St Anna Bay. We were fortunate to be able to see the bridge open several times throughout the day, and from both sides of the water. When there is a lot of ship traffic and the bridge needs to stay open for more than a few minutes, there is a free ferry that will take pedestrians from one side to the other. We only saw that happen once, as a large cargo ship was escorted out of the bay, and the bridge stayed open long enough for the tugs to return. And yes, it is possible to stay on the bridge when it opens for a long time, and it is possible to get off, but only on one end. So be careful if you have somewhere to be (like the ship?)!
When our ship first arrived in Curacao, Kathy & I walked into town and spent several hours walking around. We walked all over, including through the New Market, a public market offering all kinds of items, from clothing to produce and beyond. The best part for me was all the color there and in the town. It made for some interesting photography, for sure!
After our walkabout we headed back toward the cruise dock, stopping for lunch at the “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar.” Yeah, it was a tourist trap, but it was close to where we needed to meet our tour, which was scheduled for that afternoon.
Our tour took us back into town, where we retraced a number of the steps from earlier in the day. This time we had a guide and narration, however, so we learned a bit more about the town, its history and architecture. After our walk, we boarded a bus for a tour through the city and a stop at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. Curacao liqueur is a bitter orange liqueur that can be enjoyed on its own, or used as flavoring in numerous cocktails.
After our distillery visit we were taken to a local restaurant, where we were served local cuisine, including baked chicken, plantain and rice & peas. Except for the fact that we weren’t too hungry after a big lunch, it was a yummy experience.
Our tour brought us back to the cruise dock in the late afternoon, and we debated whether or not to return to the ship. I really wanted to head back into town in order to photograph the bridge and the waterfront at dusk. We decided that if we went back to the ship we would likely not leave again, so despite being tired and thirsty we headed back into town. We found some bottled water and a place to chill while we waited the hour or so before twilight.
Our efforts were rewarded, as we not only got to witness another bridge opening, but we were treated to some really gorgeous light on the buildings as the sun set. Soon after, the lights came on on the bridge and I was able to capture the photos I had hoped for. We then walked back to the ship one last time, grabbed a quick shower and headed for drinks and dinner. My Garmin tracker recorded 15,672 steps for the day, so those drinks and dinner were well deserved!
‘Bon Bini’ means ‘Welcome’ in Papiamentu, which is the common local language on Bonaire.
This was only our second visit to this lovely island, as not too many cruise ships stop there, opting instead for the more popular Aruba and Curacao. We last visited in 2007, and while we knew we enjoyed the island, we hadn’t remembered a whole lot about it. I tried to set up a private tour, but we couldn’t generate enough interest on our message boards to make it cost effective, so we booked a ship tour to see the highlights.
The main industry on Bonaire other than tourism is salt. Yes, salt. There is a huge Cargill salt facility there, where they evaporate sea water in large ponds, scrape away the salt then move it out to container ships to be sent around the world.
The island is very dry and arid, and is probably best known as a diver’s paradise due to the shallow and clean water. We enjoy looking at water more than getting in it, but there is plenty to see and do for everyone. Flamingos are also very common on Bonaire, and while they are generally pretty shy, we did manage to come across a few.
Along several beaches are restored slave huts. These huts were used to shelter the workers that were brought here in the early days of salt production, before the implementation of heavy machinery. The huts are pretty to look at, even though they represent a less than pleasant past.
The Atlantic coast has several beaches with huge waves, and the prevailing winds make places like Sorobon Beach especially attractive for wind surfing and kite boarding. There is also a place on the island where you can rent go karts that are powered by sails.
The town of Kralendijk reflects the Dutch influence of the island, in the buildings and architecture. We spent a little time walking around the area close to the ship, which included a marketplace with locally made arts and crafts. A good place to pick up a flamingo souvenir!
On Antigua I was pleasantly reminded of the joy of a pre-arranged private tour with a small group and a knowledgeable local driver/guide. Kathy & I have done this previously – we arrange a tour for just us or for two or three couples, then post on one of the roll call message boards for someone to share the tour with us, splitting the cost. We have met some lovely people that way, since, at least in our experience, people interested in this type of tour are travelers like us. Not photographers necessarily, but people interested in a little slower pace with more details.
In this case, we responded to someone else’s post, and ended up meeting Susan and John, a very nice couple from Indiana. We had lunch with them on one of our sea days to get acquainted. Unfortunately Susan was not able to join us for the actual tour, so there were just three of us plus Emelda, our guide.
We started our tour with a stop at Betty’s Hope Historic Sugar Plantation. We found the remains of an old sugar plantation, with two windmills, and the ruins of several buildings including a still house, where rum was once produced.
We then proceeded to Devil’s Bridge National Park, a place with crashing waves and a blow hole. The blow hole wasn’t blowing too much during our visit, which likely reflected the lovely weather we were having! We did get to see a few bursts, however.
After Devil’s Bridge it was on to Nelson’s Dockyard, another national park which is known for its marina but is much more. Included within the park is a number of historic sites, including forts, lookouts, beaches, hiking trails and more. We spent quite a bit of time in the various locations, since there was so much to see. It was quite windy at the higher elevations, which made it very pleasant without air conditioning – but hold on to your hat!
Our last stop was at St. Barnabas Anglican Church. The church is one of the oldest Protestant church buildings in the western hemisphere, dating from the 1670s. The church has a green color due to the high copper content of the stone, which came from a nearby quarry.
After the church it was back through town and to the ship to prepare for our return to Florida and the end of Cruise #1.
After our visit to Martinique, we traveled about 50 miles south to the island of St. Lucia. St. Lucia also has a bit of French influence, although not to the extent of Martinique.
St. Lucia is a beautiful, tropical island, featuring The Pitons, the twin mountains that are actually two parts of a huge, now-extinct volcano. The biggest issue with seeing St. Lucia is the continuously winding and undulating roads.
We started our tour sitting in the very back of the bus, and while I don’t usually have trouble with motion sickness, I got so woozy that I asked to sit in the front of the bus. I joked with the driver that if he needed me to help him with the driving I would (although I would be terrified!). 😉 The good part was that I was able to take some photos through the windshield, which was fun and a nice distraction.
We had a nice tour, however. Our stop in Anse La Raye reminded me of our first visit, back in 2000. The beach there always has some colorful boats, which make for nice photographs. The downside is the residents that pester you for money, offering to pose for photos. One guy was really annoying, until I told him I didn’t have any money. He walked away and didn’t bother me any more.
We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant with a great view of The Pitons. After lunch we visited a waterfall and a cocoa plantation, where we tasted some roasted cocoa beans and fresh coconut. Yum! On the way back to the ship we passed a parade celebrating St. Lucias 44th year of independence.
St. Lucia is a beautiful island, but I was reminded that the next visit we should take a boat, instead of a van on those winding roads! 🙂
After our rum tasting we proceeded to La Chaudiere Restaurant for a nice lunch. We had some tasty baked chicken with plantain, rice & peas and other yummy sides, along with some French wine and coffee with dessert. After that, we yawned our way to Jardin de Balata Botanical Gardens to walk the grounds and enjoy the tropical plant life. After that we visited The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Balata. The church reminded me a bit of some of the churches we visited in Italy.
There aren’t too many cruises that visit Martinique (yet) but we really enjoyed our time there. Next time I might plan a longer visit to the distillery and perhaps more time checking out the scenery and some of the small villages we passed through on our bus. The lack of flexibility being one of the downsides of a ship tour.
The next stop on our Martinique tour was the Depaz Rhum Distillery. Now this was pretty nice rum, and the facility has some very historic origins. There was plenty to see and photograph there. The taste of rum was good, but was pretty skimpy, however.
I didn’t end up bringing home any ‘liquid souvenirs’ from this trip. Unfortunately the cruise lines are strict about bringing liquor on board. And while I could have brought it onto the ship from the port on this cruise, the rules would prevent me from taking it on the next ship. Strange but there is no getting around it – I asked ahead of time!
Our stop in Martinique was our first visit to this lovely island, so we made the best of it by taking an all-day ship tour. Over the course of 8 hours we visited: the ruins from a 1902 volcanic eruption, a rum distillery, a local restaurant for authentic Creole-influenced island cuisine, a botanical garden, and to balance off the rum distillery, a church.
For length, I have divided the photo highlights from Martinique over 3 posts. The first one covers our approach to the island and our visit to the ruins and the Musée Frank A. Perret, memorial to the Catastrophe of 1902 in St-Pierre.