Walking up the short flight of steps outside a 169-year-old house at the southern end of Key West in Florida was a 40-year dream come true. No, I’m not a connoisseur of cast iron – at the top of the stairs, above a former stable, is the room where Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his most famous novels, including For Whom The Bell Tolls.
A simple chair sits next to a small, circular wooden table with his black typewriter and tray for storing his finished pages. There’s a recliner next to it for contemplation, a number of bookcases and some game-hunting and fishing trophies hanging on the walls.
As a 16-year-old I’d dreamt of visiting the home of Papa Hemingway and now I’d been in his lounge, bedroom, seen his kitchen and was standing where the great man had worked so hard to create that ‘one perfect sentence’.
Gary Edwards ventured on an eight-day Caribbean cruise on Celebrity Edge, pictured, departing from Fort Lauderdale. It launched in 2018 but Gary described it as ‘immaculate’
In a bid to escape the crowds, Gary checked into a Sky suite, pictured, and gained exclusive access to private areas
A peek inside one of the Sky suite bathrooms, complete with a double basin and vanity area
Hemingway lived in Key West at the southern tip of the US from 1931 to 1939 and his former home is now a beacon for fans and also a must-see on an eight-day Celebrity Edge cruise from Fort Lauderdale down to Mexico and back up to Grand Cayman in the Caribbean before returning past Cuba and Miami to Fort Lauderdale.
I may have been there for the literary history but many visitors to his home on an excursion from the ship are equally intrigued by the 59 cats that live there – curled up everywhere, from his bed and sofa to lazing in the gardens – as they are by Hemingway’s writing and turbulent love life.
The six-toed cats have an extra thumb and were bred by sailors to make them more efficient at catching rats on ships. Hemingway bought a white cat, named Snow White after the Disney film, for his sons and all the cats at the house are descended from her.
Afterwards, we head down the main drag, Duval Street, to Sloppy Joe’s, a huge bar where Hemingway held court and his memorabilia adorns the walls. The place was jumping on a Monday afternoon. Just round the corner, Capt Tony’s also claims to be an old haunt of the author and the inspiration for Freddy’s in To Have And Have Not, set in Key West. But if it was a favourite then, this dark, unwelcoming bar is losing out now to Joe’s.
Gary said his suite was a ‘large room with massive bed and views out to sea through the sliding doors’
A view of the Retreat sundeck on board the Celebrity Edge, which is only accessible to guests who are staying in suites
The Celebrity Edge has 29 restaurants and bars. Pictured here is the Luminae restaurant, which is only open to the suite brigade. Its menu has been overseen by French Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud
Key West was the first stop on The Edge – dubbed ‘living on the edge’ by my wife who, along with me, had never been on a cruise ship. It launched in 2018, and is immaculate.
Captain Kate, one of the first women to skipper a cruise ship – and her pet hairless sphinx cat Bug Naked – were at the helm, but even she couldn’t negotiate the next port of call at Costa Maya in Mexico where 50mph winds meant the ship could not dock.
It meant another day at sea to explore the 29 restaurants and bars, the high-tech theatre – we saw a very professional show featuring a night of Frankie Valli songs – the high-end shops (Bulgari and Cartier among them), a large spa and hairdressers, and a huge gym at the front of the ship.
Captain Kate, one of the first women to skipper a cruise ship – and her pet hairless sphinx cat Bug Naked – were at the helm, but even she couldn’t negotiate the next port of call at Costa Maya in Mexico
It also meant we could spend more time in our ‘very special places’ – the exclusive areas that had sold this cruise to my wife, who thought the experience would be too claustrophobic with so many on board. It was a point raised by friends who questioned whether we could have a ‘private’ romantic holiday surrounded by thousands.
Stay in a suite and you have exclusive access to a lounge called the Retreat, which is open 24/7 with free drinks and nibbles and the fantastic Retreat sundeck above. This spacious area is like a five-star resort, with huge sunloungers. There’s a bar and, like the lounge, everything is complimentary. Surprisingly, there were always a number of loungers available, even on at-sea days.
And to round off this exclusive enclave on a ship that was carrying about 3,000 passengers, is the Luminae restaurant – again, only open to the suite brigade. Like the Retreat lounge and deck, the restaurant was designed by Kelly Hoppen, and the menu has been overseen by French Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud.
Treats included roasted turbot, grilled filet mignon, Alaskan halibut and fennel-crusted grilled lamb chops in very unAmerican portions. The large room has a feel of a New York speakeasy and is open for breakfast and dinner – and lunch while at sea.
Our suite was a large room with a massive bed and views out to sea through the sliding doors that led out on to our balcony. There was a sofa, large TV and a bathroom with a massive bath/power shower, double sink and a dressing table area my wife loved.
One of the highlights for Gary during the cruise was visiting the home of his idol, Ernest Hemingway in Key West
Hot spot: Gary and his wife had an early disembarkation in Fort Lauderdale, which gave them time to head to Miami’s South Beach for a day ‘admiring the Art Deco buildings and bustling cafe scene’
She also loved William, the butler who came with the suite. Any problem was quickly ironed out by the cheery Honduran who organised everything with the minimum of fuss. Breakfast in bed was always piping hot and a luxurious treat on our floating hotel.
A surprising number of passengers had already been on this ship before, with most aficionados having notched up 20 or more cruises around the world. As such, we were a novelty and were bombarded with questions.
Indeed, cruise passengers turned out to be a very chatty bunch and we soon made new friends – hello Shellie and Craig from San Diego and Colleen and Cid from Toronto.
A surprising number of passengers had already been on this ship before, with most aficionados having notched up 20 or more cruises around the world
Our delayed introduction to Mexico, after missing Costa Maya, was at the island of Cozumel. Here excursions included visits to the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, the walled city of Tulum and the Mayan ruins at El Cedral.
Before we flew to Miami to join the ship we downloaded the Celebrity app and uploaded our pictures, which meant checking in was a breeze. The facial recognition – an industry-first – meant getting on and off in port was a case of flashing your Seapass card.
The app gave us daily details about everything on board. Before sailing you can choose a Sail Your Way package to either add $300 to spend onboard, take a drinks package, have unlimited wi-fi or opt to pay for all gratuities in advance.
Our final port of call was George Town in the Cayman Islands. We joined an excursion to the White House at Bodden Town, a beach resort where we could swim in the Caribbean and enjoy a lunch of grilled mahi mahi before returning to the ship and heading back to Fort Lauderdale for an early disembarkation. That gave us time to head to Miami’s South Beach for a day admiring the Art Deco buildings and bustling cafe scene.
So, is it possible to have a romantic break surrounded by 3,000 people? Absolutely, yes – if you are part of the suite set.
To learn more about itineraries with Celebrity Cruises visit celebritycruises.co.uk.