San Juan, Puerto Rico - colourful street. Credit: Shutterstock

Islands in the sun

Author: Deborah Stone

Published on:

Updated on:

Take a fun-filled Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Apex and you’ll discover blissful beaches, natural wonders and the world’s warmest welcome

What could be better than leaving a cold British January behind to enjoy seven days of fun in the Caribbean?

Well, I’m lucky enough to be on board Celebrity Apex for some midwinter sunshine and a welcome dose of island hospitality.

The sailaway party is in full flow as we leave Florida’s Port Everglades, and the fun continues for a full 36 hours before we next see land.

So there’s plenty of time to soak up the sun, catch some entertainment at the amazing Eden indoor venue, then dance the night away in the Grand Plaza (love that 80s vibe).

Launched in 2019, Apex is one of Celebrity Cruises’ newest ships so she’s state-of-the-art when it comes to sea day activities and evening entertainment.

I’m here for a seven-night cruise to Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts and Nevis, and after a day-and-a-half of recharging my batteries I’m ready to explore the 'gateway to the Caribbean,' aka Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan.

We dock overlooking the Old Town, where, apart from an unsightly Walmart (Puerto Rico is US territory), I’m surrounded by attractive colourful Spanish colonial buildings.

Still mostly enclosed by city walls, the Old Town is perfect for a self-guided tour, and I especially enjoy the Narrow House – bright yellow and only 54 inches wide – and the tiny but fortress-like Chapel of Christ the Saviour, from where I can see Celebrity Apex in the twinkling blue water of San Juan Bay.

Celebrity Apex is the second Edge-class ship from Celebrity Cruises. Credit: Celebrity Cruises

The scene is so peaceful that it’s hard to imagine Sir Francis Drake sailing in and attempting to snatch the island from its Spanish rulers in 1595.

But it’s a different story on the other side of this narrow peninsula, where the Atlantic crashes against a coastline flanked by two Spanish forts. Known as El Morro and San Cristobal, these are open daily (a reasonable £8 entrance fee gets you into both).

If you’re making the trip, there are several other museums and galleries along the road near
El Morro, and down a narrow lane overlooking the sea you’ll find the popular beachside shanty town of La Perla.

The next day we sail into Tortola, largest of the British Virgin Islands, where many passengers climb into open-sided minibuses at Road Town’s Pier Park for rides to the beach (£20 return).

Drivers hold up destination boards showing a variety of seaside spots, and after a couple of hours exploring the attractions of Road Town itself (a prison museum, botanical garden and the former Government House) I have to admit that a morning on the sugar- soft sand was probably the better call.

My ship’s excursion that afternoon, however, is fantastic. After a 40-minute catamaran ride to Virgin Gorda island, we’re driven to the Greater Baths National Park, where we stroll down a sandy path, flanked by massive granite boulders, to swim in the clear, calm sea at Devil’s Bay.

Say hello to the sun-soaked Caribbean paradise of the British Virgin Islands. Credit: Shutterstock

Then, squeezing between even bigger boulders — known as batholiths and created by volcanic eruption — we wade through ankle- deep pools for a welcome drink at a beachside bar.

Virgin Gorda Baths is the most visited attraction in the British Virgin Islands, and it’s easy to see why. In fact I’d say it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in the Caribbean.

At US$99 this isn’t a cheap excursion, but for me it’s the highlight of the whole cruise. That said, my evening back on the ship runs it close.

After a delicious dinner at Cyprus, one of the complimentary restaurants (mezze starters, then succulent lamb), I take my seat in the ship’s theatre for Rockumentary — a fantastic show that mixes live and filmed entertainment as the ship’s singers belt out hit after hit against a video backdrop of 1969’s Woodstock festival, Elton John in his sequins-and-feathers prime, the Who, the Rolling Stones and other legends too numerous to mention.

And that’s just one of three big entertainment productions that guests can enjoy during their week on board.

There’s also Crystallize, featuring aerial acrobatics and clever special effects, and Tree of Life, which uses the theatre’s vast LED screen to lead the audience through the seasons
in spectacular fashion.

The Club, a flexible venue used for quizzes, game shows and dancing (the silent disco is particularly popular) also deserves a mention for Caravan – a circus-style performance with a ringmaster and impressive acrobats.

Entertainment abounds onboard Celebrity Apex. Credit: Celebrity Cruises

The ship’s other must-visit entertainment space is Eden, a vast lounge and bar with a botanical theme and floor-to-ceiling windows three decks high.

There’s a sitting area for gazing out to sea, a small stage for early-evening acoustic sets, and a dance floor for late-night DJ sets.

It’s also home to one of the ship’s six cover-charge restaurants, this one specialising in experimental cuisine.

Other eateries elsewhere on board – many of them complimentary – offer just about every kind of cuisine imaginable, though my personal favourite is the Rooftop Garden Grill, simply for the fabulous sunset views as you enjoy their alfresco barbecue specialities.

Our last stop before heading back to Fort Lauderdale is the twin islands of St. Kitts and Nevis, with excursions including a rainforest trek, a ride on a scenic railway that once served the sugar plantations, and a sea-taxi trip over to Nevis to see the birthplace of US founding father Alexander Hamilton (also of West End and Broadway musical fame).

If you prefer to stay close to the ship, the port of Basseterre has some picturesque houses with latticework veranda fences around a central park, named Independence Square to commemorate the end of British sovereignty in 1983.

You can also catch a minibus to UNESCO-listed Brimstone Hill Fort (£3). Or you can simply stroll along the black volcanic sands, searching for sea glass, shooting the breeze with friendly locals and basking in the warmth of this lovely island in the sun.

Get onboard
A seven-night San Juan, St Maarten, St Thomas & Puerto Plata cruise aboard Celebrity Apex, round trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, via San Juan, Philipsburg, Charlotte Amalie and Puerto Plata (Dominican Republic), departs January 13, 2024 from £817 per person. To see this cruise deal click here.

Most recent articles