Thank goodness for sea days!  I’m on vacation, and as fun as touring exciting new international cities is, I need a break.  I love sea days, and I’m not sure I’d mind at all if I spent 11-nights on Equinox entirely at sea.  This ship is simply beautiful.  Frankly, I’ve sailed on bigger, but certainly none better.  As great as the cruise has been, I’ve already noted a few areas in need of improvement on Celebrity’s party, but don’t think for a minute that any of that has spoiled my vacation.

Did I tell you that the ship is beautiful yet?  I know I did, but I wanted to make sure you heard me.  It’s gorgeous.  The glass balconies, the interior centrum, the staterooms, the Martini Bar, the pool area, the spa and the solarium, all are tastefully done, and beautiful.  Our Aqua Class stateroom is quite comfortable, functionally designed, and pleasant.  Storage is adequate, and the shower panels are a nice touch.  Stateroom service has been excellent.  Celebrity’s style doesn’t include towelie animals and chutzpah, but it is refined and elegant.  The pillow menu, the daily refresh of bottled water and iced tea along with fresh fruit are a nice touch.

While the specialty dining experiences have been wonderful, I’d be a little remiss if I didn’t offer a bit of constructive criticism to Celebrity.  Our first main dining room experience was for brunch on day 3 of the cruise.  The food was fine, but for whatever reason, the service was severely lacking.  I recognize that cruise lines of all shapes and sizes are adding emphasis to their specialty restaurants, and that if you want a truly special dining experience you are going to have to pay the upcharge to dine in one.  That said, I think the cuisine and especially the service in the main dining room should still exceed that of your average local TGI Friday’s. 

Sadly, that was not the case during our brunch, where dirty plates sat piled on our table, and “service” left a lot to be desired.  Our request for brunch mimosas were met with surly indifference by the waiter when he realized that the six of us at the table had purchased Celebrity’s premium all-inclusive beverage package.  (Something that I will write more about in my full review)  It was obvious that the waiter was more concerned with pawning off our service request on whatever junior waiter he could con into retrieving our drinks than serving his guests.  I can’t pretend to fully understand the mechanics of how wait/bar staff receive their pre-paid gratuity when serving a drink package holder.  However, I have picked up on a lot of tell-tale signs during our cruise that the bar staff has an “issue” with Celebrity’s drink packages.  My apologies to them for walking on board the ship the first day and immediately spending over $1,000 dollars plus a 15 percent gratuity for the 2 of us for the 11-night cruise.  I digress, but I will opine more on this after the cruise is done.

I do want to note that for lunch today, MrsMJonTravel and I dined in the main dining room, and the service experience was the polar opposite of brunch.  So hopefully, the brunch experience was a one-off deal.

Lodging in an Aqua Class stateroom means our primary dining venue is the specialty restaurant, Blu, and not the main dining room.  Dining in Blu has been a highlight of the trip, with fresh and artful cuisine, consistently splendid service, and a great atmosphere.  Our other specialty restaurant experiences have included Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest.  Both featured food that was out of this world, but our service experience in Silk Harvest left a bit to be desired.  It was obvious that the kitchen and the staff were overrun with business, a fact for which our waiter apologized for.  But suffice it to say that a little slowness in delivery did not detract at all from the wonderful meal.  Our table of 4 enjoyed numerous appetizers, sushi, and a mix of main course offerings that were phenomenal.  Tuscan Grille, the Italian Steakhouse, was equally enjoyable.  I went for the ribeye steak which was out of this world.  Our dining experience there was so great that our party of 6 has made reservations again for the last night of the cruise.  We’ve yet to try Murano, but don’t fear, we will in a few days, and I will report on that experience when I post my full cruise review.

Enough on eating.  Ports of call so far have included Santorini and Mykonos, Greece along with Istanbul and Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey.  Santorini was a true gem, a place where I’d like to return for an extended stay sometime.  Istanbul was exotic, exciting, and wonderful.  A city I’d love to return to again sometime for a short visit on another cruise.  But Kusadasi and the ruins of Ephesus are among the most wonderful spots I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.  Our visit was made so much more memorable by the experience of a private tour arranged through our fabulous travel agent, Michelle, of McCabe World Travel, in McLean, Virginia.  Our party of six was able to enjoy visits led by a private guide to Ephesus, the House of the Virgin Mary, and so much more, including a private lunch featuring fantastic Turkish cuisine.  We were transported between touring sites by private, air-conditioned coach.  I cannot say enough about our private tour, and how much more enriching our experience in Ephesus was because of it.  I’ll say more when I write my full review of the cruise, and will post some pictures too.  But in the meantime, if you are cruising to a unique new port of call, do yourself a favor, avoid the cruiseline mass tours, and make arrangements for a smaller tour.  You will be glad you did.

I will close for now.  I’ve got 4 more days of cruise to enjoy, and will look forward to posting a full review of the cruise shortly after I get back home.  But in the meantime, trust me when I tell you that I cannot wait to sail on another beautiful Celebrity Solstice Class ship again.