MrsMJonTravel and I recently completed an 11-night Mediterranean cruise aboard the downright gorgeous (IMHO) Celebrity Equinox.  There’s so much to say, and so much to write about that I just don’t think it’s possible to place it all in one post. Next time, I will blog each day of a cruise like this.

The Cruise

Our 11-night, July 5, 2010, sailing aboard Celebrity Equinox originated at the port of Civitavecchia, about 45 minutes outside of Rome.  The itinerary included stops in Santorini, Mykonos, Istanbul (2 days), Kusadasi (Ephesus), Athens, and Naples, along with 3 sea days.  We booked our cruise through our travel agent, Michelle, at McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia.  I can’t say enough about what a great asset an experienced travel agent can be on trips like this.  Michelle also arranged our private tour of Ephesus, which I will post about separately.

Embarkation

We arrived in Rome 5 days before the cruise to do some touring, and ultimately travel down to Naples where we would visit friends who were cruising with us.  We traveled with them by car back to Rome and Civitavecchia on embarkation day, so I am not able to share any insight into the transfer process from the airport to the port.  Arriving by car, you must park first, then take a shuttle bus to the terminal where you drop your luggage and accomplish check in formalities.  The terminal appears to be a temporary facility, basically a huge tent.  There was a confusing mish-mash of people and luggage at the drop off point, but we were ultimately able to figure things out in a couple of minutes, drop our bags and proceed towards security.

We arrived around 2PM, which is a little later than I normally prefer.  I know the cruise documents tend to always say arrive at 2PM, but my experience has been that ships are usually boarding by noon, if not before.  I like to beat the crowd.  For what it’s worth, 2 other friends of ours arrived in Rome the morning of the cruise, and were on board the ship before noon.  While things were a little chaotic in the terminal, we were through security and standing at the check in desk within 5 minutes.  I had completed online check in several days before our arrival, so the process at the desk was painless and quick.  One item of note: Celebrity collects your passport and holds them until the last sea day of the cruise.  This has something to do with Turkey not being an EU member according to the letter of explanation provided.  The whole thing worked out fine, but it is not something I’d experienced previously, so be advised that you won’t have your passport for most of the cruise.  And with that, we were off to board the ship.  The whole thing was pretty painless.

The Ship

Equinox was built by Myer-Werft in Papenburg, Germany and entered service last year.  I believe that this is the same shipyard that produced Royal Caribbean’s Radiance Class of ships, and call me crazy, but I think I can see some of the influence of RCL in Equinox.  Lots of glass, beautiful atriums, etc.

Celebrity Equinox
The Lawn Club

After boarding, we dropped our carry on bags in our stateroom and headed to the Oceanview Cafe for lunch.  The Oceanview Cafe was excellent.  Granted it’s a buffet, but Celebrity exceeded my expectations for food quality and presentation in this area.  Following lunch, we met up with our fellow cruisers and headed to The Lawn Club for a pre-sail away cocktail.

Muster drill took place around 5PM, and I have to compliment Celebrity.  Our muster station was Michael’s Club on deck 5.  No more dragging your life jacket to muster.  You proceed to your station where you will be provided a life jacket (if needed).  For the drill itself, we watched a very well produced video detailing the procedures we should follow in the event of an emergency.  Soon enough, we were on our way back up top for sail away.

Our Stateroom

Stateroom 1631 was an Aqua Class cabin on deck 11, port side.  I found the stateroom to be very well designed, functional, and comfortable.  Storage space was plentiful.  I appreciated the large 32″ television (by cruise ship standards) though I wouldn’t spend a great deal of time in the room over the next 11 days!

Stateroom 1631 – Celebrity Equinox

I appreciated the little touches that come with Aqua Class including daily bottled water and iced tea, as well as Hansgrohe shower panels.  MrsMJonTravel appreciated the pillow menu.  🙂  I think the highlight of Aqua Class was that it includes seating in the specialty restaurant Blu.  More on that later.

Around the Ship

I think all ships are beautiful, but Equinox is especially so.  The ship is simply a touch above others in design and appearance.  I wouldn’t say there’s a “Wow!” factor like you get when you first see a Royal Caribbean Freedom or Oasis Class vessel.  Equinox is simply elegant and impressive.

Celebrity Equinox Tendered in Santorini
Atrium View – Celebrity Equinox

There was no lack of things to do on board.  I won’t mention them all because I can’t.  Some activities we simply did not have the time to enjoy.  I have heard that the hot glass show is not to be missed, but miss it we did.  No time.  Equinox is equipped with a very nice gym that I was able to make use of on a couple of occasions.  I didn’t feel bad for not going every day though, as all of our tours included a significant amount of walking, hiking, etc.  I think this may be the first cruise I’ve taken that I didn’t come back with “more of me” than I left with!

Of course, no vacation would be complete without a little cocktailing, and Celebrity did not disappoint.  Of the numerous bars and lounges on board, I would say that the Martini Bar and Molecular Bar were our favorites.  Check out this handiwork from one of the master mixologists at Molecular Bar.

A Molecular Bar Concoction

Dining

Dining is a highlight of any cruise, and Celebrity Equinox mostly delivered.  A great benefit of our Aqua Class stateroom was that we dined in the specialty restaurant Blu, instead of the main dining room.  Our service was top notch during the entire cruise, and the meals, while a little lighter than typical cruise fare, were uniformly excellent.  Two of our friends were not traveling in Aqua Class, and took many of their evening meals in the main dining room.  I’ll let them comment to the blog, but I believe they found their service disappointing, but it did improve after moving to a new table.  My own experience in the dining room only included one brunch buffet, and one lunch.  Service was disappointing during the brunch, but quite good during lunch.  I’ll have more to say on the brunch service later.

All six of us dined together at all of the specialty restaurants on board including Murano (French), Silk Harvest (Asian), and Tuscan Grille (Italian Steakhouse).  Heck, we went to Tuscan Grille twice!  All of them are unique and wonderful in their own way.  We tried every sushi roll at Silk Harvest, and the steaks at Tuscan Grille were fabulous (and the service was even better).  If I had to pick a favorite, I would have to say that Murano wowed me.  My filet was perfectly done, and finished on open flame tableside.  I’m sorry I didn’t take a picture!

Constructive Criticism

Celebrity offers a wonderful premium drink package.  I don’t remember the price, but believe it to be somewhere in the vicinity of $50 dollars per day per person (plus 15 percent gratuity), you have unlimited access to soda, specialty coffees, bottled water, wines by the glass, beers, and cocktails up to $12 dollars in value.  Suffice it to say we jumped on that.  I’m not sure what kind of issue that many members of the bar staff have with these packages, but it’s obvious that they do.  The pool bar even had a little handwritten sign for drink package receipts that had a “frowny face” written beside it in full view of guests.  I don’t think I’m imagining things when I say that well north of 50 percent of the bar staff I interacted with during the cruise seemed to be annoyed that I’d ordered a drink when they learned I had a package.  When ordering a Mimosa during the brunch service previously mentioned, you would’ve thought I’d offended the wait staff when they saw that I had a drink package.  Not sure what the problem is, but if Celebrity is going to offer the package, they need to fix whatever issue the staff has with it.

MrsMJonTravel and I are Celebrity Captain’s Club elite members, and we receive some really great benefits as a result.  A certain amount of complimentary laundry service, and 90 minutes of complimentary internet service are among my favorite benefits!  Celebrity also offers an afternoon cocktail party each day for it’s Captain’s Club Elite guests.  The only issue is that it’s from 4PM to 6PM.  I’d love to visit with my fellow cruisers, but that’s just too early.  I wish Celebrity would consider moving that to the 6PM to 8PM timeframe.  Just a suggestion.

Disembarkation

Getting off the ship is always a little sad, but Celebrity has really got its stuff together.  About 2 days before the end of the cruise, we received a letter in our cabin advising us where and when to meet for disembarkation.  We were assigned to the theater with a 6:45AM departure time.  We did as instructed, and upon arriving at the theater, were immediately directed to the gangway for departure.  We walked off the ship, collected our bags, and left.  Total time investment: 5 minutes!  Absolutely incredible if you ask me.  Customs/Immigration issues are handled behind the scenes between Celebrity and the Italian government.  Basically, you walk off the ship and leave.  I can’t imagine a better experience departing a ship.

In Summary

I can’t say enough good things about this beautiful ship.  My favorite things were our dining team in Blu, the solarium, and the Pool Bar staff who took great care of us, and we rewarded accordingly.  Celebrity Equinox is very well designed, easy to navigate, and overall seems like a “happy ship.”  I think you can book your vacation aboard Celebrity Equinox with confidence.  I’d gladly do so again.  Stay tuned for details about the ports of call.