Greece is the word right now for cruise lovers.
The southeastern European country reopened to tourists on May 14, 2021, and not long after that date, the cruise industry, in collaboration with Greek government and health authorities, jumped at restarting operations, turning Piraeus Harbour in Athens, for one, into a beacon of hope for facilitating tourism recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Celebrity Cruises was among many to resume Greek voyages after months of coronavirus-related shutdowns – the team promptly announced that Celebrity Apex, the company’s second “Edge Series” ship, would make her world debut in Greece on June 19, 2021.
The 1,467-room, chic and modern Apex – which is practically identical to the first-in-class Celebrity Edge, which debuted in 2018 – was scheduled to sail in April 2020, but due to the pandemic, her debut, like many projects last year, was postponed.
So, you can only imagine how stoked Brenda Lynne Yeomans, Celebrity Cruises’ strategic market manager for Canada, was when she booked a two-week sailing for herself and her children on board Apex – first from Aug. 14-21 and then from Aug. 21-28 – to reconnect with travel, with Greece and the sea.
“You know how you feel when the sun comes up, and everything starts to shine and everything glows, and you feel warm and happy inside? That’s how it felt, along with a sense of peace,” Yeomans told PAX. “As soon as I walked on board, swiped my Seapass Card at security, the reboot and refresh happened immediately.”
Though she was on “vacation,” Yeomans still worked the room, and decks, on Apex, taking time in between visits to Athens, Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, and Dubrovnik to film video hits from various locations on the ship and share her experience on social media for all to see.
(See PAX’s exclusive edit of Yeomans’ on-location content in the video below!)
While it was important for Yeomans to show the world that yes, cruising is possible again, it was also meaningful to experience the sailing with her 17-year-old twins, Kate and Logan, who were celebrating birthdays, and “show them that we can enjoy life and travel and cruise in a safe and healthy environment.”
“When told them I was taking them on board our brand-new Apex to cruise the Greek Islands, it was an immediate mind shift of excitement,” Yeomans said. “As we know, having something to look forward to is good for our mental health.”
The "surreal" vibe on board
The minute Yeomans and her children boarded the ship, they were greeted by a round of applause from the officers and crew.
“They were so happy and grateful to be back onboard, doing what they love,” Yeomans said.
Social distancing was easy – Yeomans said there were just 300 guests and 900 crew on board the first sailing and then 500 guests on the second one.
(In normal circumstances, Apex can hold 2,910 guests at double occupancy).
Having access to the ship’s opulent amenities – from the “floating” Magic Carpet platform, cantilevered off the ship's side, to The Retreat (an exclusive space for suite guests) to Eden, an arousing, three-level dining and entertainment venue – with few guests on board, “was very surreal,” Yeomans said.
But no complaints. Staff and crew were in a position to give extra attention to everyone.
“And I really enjoyed having the swimming pool to myself for laps every day…and the running track as well!” Yeomans said.
Praise for "Muster 2.0"
Celebrity’s approach to COVID-19 testing, screening and prevention, cleaning and sanitization and medical care can be viewed here.
But among the many new procedures, “Muster 2.0” – the Royal Caribbean Group's app-based solution to muster (or safety) drills – was the best enhancement, Yeomans said.
“Being able to review the safety instructions on a smartphone and then check in with the Muster Station Crew member was so easy and efficient,” she raved.
The way staff now serve food and beverage items at venues like the Oceanview Café and The Spa Café is also something “I hope we keep in place,” she said.
Social distancing was practiced in venues like theatres and gyms and crew were always wearing masks, she said.
Guests are required to wear masks, except when sitting down to eat or drink, or while in the pool.
“Slick & simple" testing
Yeomans’ was impressed with Celebrity's handling of the COVID-19 testing that is required in Greece.
Antigen testing was conducted at the Pier before boarding the Apex and then again before debarkation (a local requirement).
“It was very simple, easy, and well communicated to guests,” Yeomans said. “We were notified in the pre-cruise info and then set up the Testing App on our phones, where we could see our results.”
Info desks were set up so guests could speak to the medical team about making appointments for testing.
“And for us Canadians, we can get our PCR test done complimentary of Celebrity,” Yeomans said.
A hard copy certificate, and digital copy, is provided – “slick and simple.”
Building on Edge’s success
Edge and Apex are the same as far as size and hardware is concerned.
The software on Apex, Yeomans said, is “where we have made some tweaks.”
F45 and Peloton gym classes have been added, for example (for an additional charge).
However: “If you are a fitness lover, then you should book in Aqua class because all of the classes are included,” Yeomans noted. “Plus, you get to dine in Blu, which is clean cuisine, but gourmet.”
Destination Wellness (locally-inspired spa menus) and Women in Wellness (a program centering on the emotional, physical and spiritual practices of some of the wellness industries’ top influencers) have also been introduced on Apex.
Updates have been made to Eden’s entertainment offering too.
“Every night is a different theme in the Eden lounge,” Yeomans said. “Night of Dreams and Caravan were my two favourites, but I love all of their evenings. It was ultra-cool, hip and relaxed.”
A great addition to the venue’s gymnasts and dancers is Paris Zepeda, an artist who interacts with the audience, does sketches of guests (without them knowing) and then gives them a special gift, Yeomans said.
While the cruise focused on sailing the Greek islands, Yeomans said her favourite experience was the food, shopping, beaches and old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“A close second,” she said, was Rhodes, Greece, and she rated Santorini as the number one spot for taking pictures.
“Whether you are on the ship, looking up at Santorini from the water, or looking down at our beautiful Apex from the cities of Fira or Oia, the views are breathtaking,” Yeomans said.
Tips for travel advisors
Yeomans’ advice to travel advisors? “Cruise with us now so you can reboot, refresh and recharge,” she said.
“We will spoil you with world-class service, delicious culinary delights and fabulous entertainment. You can share your experience with your customers and they will see that a Celebrity cruise vacation is just what they need too.”
Everyone should take advantage of Celebrity’s reduced capacity, Yeomans said, “because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Lots of agent-reduced rates and free cruise contests are also available right now, she said.
“There are so many customers who need your help to guide them in booking their Celebrity cruise vacation. So stay current and connected with all of the updates,” Yeomans added.
Celebrity Apex is sailing to the Caribbean in November 2021 through April 2022 and then sails back to the Mediterranean.
Yeomans’s advice to those who are about to cruise? “Be prepared, be flexible and smile,” she said.
“You’re going on a cruise vacation! Champagne, please!”
Watch Brenda Lynne Yeomans’ exclusive report from Celebrity Apex in Greece!