After taking more than 70 Royal Caribbean cruises, I thought it was time to try a cruise on sister-brand Celebrity Cruises.
Over the last few years, I think Celebrity has raised its notoriety among the cruise industry and its eye-catching Edge Class cruise ships have gotten a lot of people to reconsider booking a Celebrity cruise, myself included.
As someone who loves to cruise on Royal Caribbean, trying a different cruise line seemed a bit strange. I enjoy Royal Caribbean, and there's a reason why I love to cruise over and over with this line. But at the same time, I was curious what the experience would be like to cruise on Celebrity.
Unlike other cruise lines out there, Celebrity is within the same corporate umbrella as Royal Caribbean International, so it felt less strange to go on another cruise line.
Read more: Who owns Royal Caribbean?
After talking about it for a long time, I booked my family on Celebrity Apex for a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise over the Thanksgiving holiday.
I picked Apex because I wanted a new ship, and the Edge Class has gotten so much attention that I felt it would be a great first step forward to try Celebrity.
I was never concerned about having a bad time onboard, but I was curious just how much I would enjoy the experience. Would it feel exactly like Royal Caribbean? Would I fall in love and never want to go back? What would my kids think of it all?
Pre-cruise and embarkation
Everything leading up to the cruise and the check-in process for a Celebrity Cruise felt pretty much the same as Royal Caribbean.
Both lines use the same backend for its app. While there are two different apps, they look and work exactly the same but with a different color scheme.
I did a status match in the months leading up to the cruise with my Crown and Anchor Society status. Both lines will honor your status on either line, with Diamond, Diamond Plus or Pinnacle Club members getting Elite status in the Captain's Club. This is one tier below their upper most loyalty level.
Having Elite status in Captain's Club didn't really get me much value on my cruise, but it was nice to have it, just in case.
Celebrity Apex sails from Port Everglades and the cruise line has its own cruise terminal. It's a beautiful building, and set up efficiently. Certainly in-step with any of Royal Caribbean's newer terminals.
Infinite balcony cabin
In looking at which cabin to book, we went with a cabin category I never would have booked if not for a great deal on it.
Thanks to my friends at MEI Travel, they had a special agency rate on Concierge Class infinite veranda cabins that made it just as cheap to book those rooms as a standard veranda.
It can be a little confusing to understand what Concierge Class gets you, as the name seems to imply you get a higher level of service. Celebrity has sub classes of cabins that get special benefits, including the Concierge Class and Aqua Class.
In short, Concierge class gets you an infinite veranda cabin with some additional benefits. The actual cabin is very similar to a normal veranda, but there are some extra perks included.
The main perks of Concierge Class are:
- Priority Embarkation and Debarkation
- Embarkation day lunch
- Priority Dining Time in main dining room
- Canapes and sparkling wine on request
- Upgraded pillow menu
- Concierge Service
- Destination Seminar
- Umbrella and binoculars during the cruise in your cabin
- Complimentary shoe-shining service
- Extra hairdryer in the stateroom
- Upgraded Hansgrohe rainfall showerhead
- Embossed keyholder and tote bag
That sound impressive, but most of these perks will likely go unused. The best benefits are the embarkation day lunch, concierge service, canapes and champagne, and priority embarkation.
Because everyone cruises differently, how useful all of this is can vary and we barely used any of the benefits. The canapes were not the sort of food I liked, and I don't drink champagne.
The concierge team was very friendly and welcoming, and did assist with any issues we had, but we didn't have many problems for them. We booked a standard dining time every night pre-cruise, so priority times in the dining room didn't help. And the rest of the benefits either went unused or didn't factor much into the experience.
I think next time I wouldn't book Concierge Class if it cost more than a regular cabin.
When I told others I was cruising on Celebrity, so many complained about the infinite veranda concept, because they said it ends up just being a big window that sucks all of your air conditioning out instead of being a balcony experience.
As for our cabin itself, I really wanted to love the infinite balcony design. Unfortunately, they were right.
The infinite veranda is a great cabin, with plenty of space for two people. The balcony sitting area means you get more space to use inside the room when the balcony isn't "open".
The problem is you have to weigh whether would you rather have the veranda open and be able to look out and enjoy the breeze, or air conditioning in your cabin for the next hour. On a Caribbean itinerary where the humidity is quite high, this is a much more difficult conundrum.
As soon as you open the verandah, the air conditioning turns off, the cold air escapes outside and everything in your room fogs up almost immediately.
If it's not hot or humid out, then this works quite well. But in Puerto Rico, it was disappointing.
So we just kept our infinite veranda closed for the cruise and we managed to have a good time nonetheless. It was nice having views of the ocean, and the extra space provided by the balcony sitting area was nice to have.
I loved how big the cabin felt, especially the bathroom. The shower was extra large, and there was lots of vanity space.
Plus and enhanced feel
Celebrity's tag line is they embody "modern luxury" and it manifested itself in Apex's look and feel.
Coming from Royal Caribbean, you'll quickly notice drinks served in glasses and buffet plates that aren't made out of plastic. Chairs everywhere have extra padding, drinks are poured freely instead of using jiggers, and the entire experience feels more premium.
It's subtle, but I enjoyed having a more plush feel to it all, in the same way a luxury sedan feels compared to contemporary sedan.
There are a few areas this really stands out, such as the Oceanview Cafe buffet, the Cafe al Bacio, and the pool deck.
Oceanview Cafe is your standard cruise ship buffet, but the variety of food was quite impressive. There were panini stations, a freshly grilled meat station, more made-to-order cooking stations than I've ever seen, and overall more choices.
Cafe al Bacio is the coffee shop that not only has a variety of coffees you can order by waiting your turn, but there's tables and chairs you can sit at and get waiter service to take your order.
If you can imagine a Royal Caribbean pool deck with the Solarium's furniture throughout the pool deck, that's essentially what Apex's pool deck is like.
I never went on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship and wished for these sort of changes, but I certainly welcomed them on Celebrity.
Really good food, especially if you're a foodie
One aspect of Celebrity a lot of readers told me about was Celebrity's food game.
In short, you're going to find a wider variety of foods at any of the restaurants that go beyond what I might expect to find on Royal Caribbean.
I found a lot of these extra choices to lean heavily into the adventurous palate. If you aren't a picky eater, I think you'll find a lot more to consider on a cruise beyond a beef dish, a pasta, a chicken, or some vegetables.
It really shines with Celebrity's specialty restaurants, and even I was surprised to find duck leg confit, a tomahawk steak cut, roasted trout.
Of course, this assumes you actually would order these items, or you'd stick to similar fare that you'd find on Royal Caribbean.
In my opinion, it's better to have too many options than not enough. So I liked that it wasn't "more of the same" with the food choices.
We ate most nights in the Main Dining Room, which was very akin to the Main Dining Room on Royal Caribbean before its latest menu changes.
There are four dining rooms on Celebrity Apex and each serves the same menu, along with a subset of special dishes unique to that restaurant.
Our waiters gave us a secondary menu that had a copy of what those special items are in the other restaurants, in case we wanted to order off of them.
Moreover, the waiters were willing to substitute items and order things off the menu. When I asked about an Indian curry dish option, the head waiter arranged to have it every night I would dine there. When my youngest daughter just wanted pasta while dining at Rooftop Garden, our waiter ran downstairs to the Main Dining Room to get it.
Speaking of the menu, it's worth noting that Celebrity still has a Main Dining Room menu that has a classics section, where a subset of the evening menu never changes. This means you can get escargot, French onion soup, and a grilled chicken of every night of the cruise in addition to the rotating options.
Not as much to do onboard as Royal Caribbean
If there was one area of my first Celebrity cruise that made me wish I was back on Royal Caribbean the most, it was the daily activities.
There were activities, shows, and events offered, but far fewer than on Royal Caribbean. There were maybe one or two trivia sessions per day, and at night the offerings really slowed down.
I'm not a party animal or someone that goes from activity to activity on my cruises, but Apex skewed heavily towards a "let's sit down and relax" vibe. That's perfectly fine, but it made me realize how much I missed having a pub singer, Schooner Bar player, trivia host, or multiple shows to see.
The ship had a silent disco, DJ music, and other typical entertainment of the sort, but there were far fewer sessions. Many of the instrumentalists would play "coffee house" versions of the songs, which kept the pace slower.
Every cruise line has a stereotype about it, and Celebrity's has historically been that it caters to an older crowd than on Royal Caribbean. I can see some of the truth in how it's a bit tamer in terms of the ship's energy level.
That isn't to say there isn't anything happening onboard. You'll find events in the Royal Caribbean app, but there just isn't as much as on Royal Caribbean.
I can keep myself entertained in the daytime, but I love things to do after dinner and I was disappointed in the lack of options. We ended up in bed by 10pm on most nights because there just wasn't a lot happening.
Non-smoking casino was wonderful
Win or lose in the casino, the fact the casino on Celebrity Apex was 100% smoke free was fantastic.
On Royal Caribbean's ships, smoking is allowed in the casino, and it tends to become the indoor smoking lounge just as much as a place to gamble and smoke at the same time.
The fact smoking is allowed in Royal Caribbean's casinos doesn't stop me from going, but it was nice a nice change to have the casino smoke-free.
Considering the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates just 11.5% of Americans smoked in 2021, it's clear Celebrity has moved towards embracing 88% that don't smoke.
I'm not here to start a debate about the virtues of smoking, just point out the casino on Celebrity Apex was non-smoking and I really enjoyed it.
Always Included was disappointing
When Celebrity Cruises announced they would offer a cruise fare that bundled WiFi, drinks, and gratuities, I thought it was a godsend. In reality, not so much.
We booked the Always Included fare, which at the time included basic WiFi, drink package, and gratuities. The line has since removed gratuities from this option.
The wifi that's included is abysmally slow and useful for texting and not much else. For my kids, it's fine because they could use a break from the real internet. But for anyone else, it stinks.
Compounding the problem is how much Celebrity charges for their wifi packages compared to Royal Caribbean. To upgrade my WiFi package, I would have to pay an additional $230.93 for one device or $412.93 for two devices. That's on top of the cost of the Always Included package.
The classic beverage package adults receive with Always Included is fine, assuming you drink pretty basic options. I found it very limiting, and worse were the prices the cruise line charges for drinks if you don't have a drink package.
As a Pinnacle Club member in Crown and Anchor Society, I missed my daily complimentary drink vouchers and how nice it was to have that perk.
Celebrity has a happy hour for its top tier members, but it's only two hours and has a very limited drink menu.
More hits and misses
Here's more of what I liked and didn't like about my first Celebrity cruise, in addition to what I mentioned already.
What I liked
Magic Carpet: Essentially a bar that moves up and down the side of the ship, I liked the breeze, views, and seating.
Cafe al Bacio: The coffee house I always wanted on a cruise ship.
Theater with a protruding stage: The theater's stage and digital screen behind it were beautiful and really made the audience feel part of the show.
If Royal Caribbean is going to stop paying for musicals that need a traditional stage, this is something new ships should start borrowing.
Ship size & layout: Apex is 1,004 feet long, which makes it slightly longer than a Radiance Class ship but smaller than a Voyager Class ship.
It was easy to get around, and nearly all the public venues not at a pool were between decks 3, 4, and 5. It made getting around and between venues very easy and quick.
What I didn't like
Bar service was nearly non-existent: In most bars or lounges, it was very difficult to sit down in a chair and get a drink because no waiters ever came by.
On Royal Caribbean, if you sit at a bar, you'll be inundated by waiters coming to take your order. On Apex, it was the opposite.
It might have just been our sailing and some bad luck, but other guests I spoke with on the ship reported a similar experience.
Elite Perks: I status matched from Royal Caribbean to Celebrity and being at the second-highest tier didn't really get me much.
In practical terms, there was no reason to really use the benefits provided:
- Access to exclusive daily coffee house-style breakfast and Evening Cocktail Hour
- 30% off Wi-Fi package or Wi-Fi upgrade
- 15% off Drink Package or upgrade to Premium pre-cruise
- Complimentary access to Persian Garden (on one port day)
- One complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold) on every sailing
I did use the WiFi discount, but I did not find as much value as what I might get with Royal Caribbean.