My wife and I cruised on the Celebrity Equinox March 16 to 26, 2012 () Caribbean cruise. Here's what we thought:
Hotel and shuttles: The night prior to the cruise we stayed at the Hampton Inn at 250 N. Andrews Avenue in Ft. Lauderdale. A $20 metered cab ride (plus tip) gets you there from the airport. The Hampton was clean, comfortable and well run with an attentive staff and good, free breakfast. Be aware: some will be put off by the area. While it's an easy10-minute walk from the Hampton to popular Las Olas Blvd., the hotel is on the outskirts of downtown and is very near a park that caters to the homeless. My wife and I actually walked through that park when we made a wrong turn. While that didn't bother me, it did her, and others will be disturbed as well. Beside Las Olas, there's nothing near the hotel, so you'll need a cab to get around. The Hampton offers a free shuttle to the cruise port, and the shuttle service will take you back to the airport after the cruise for $10 per person, plus tip. A cab costs about the same, and I'd recommend that route. We tried the shuttle and it was fine, especially since we had extra time. But we had to call for the shuttle, wait 25 minutes for it to arrive, and then make two stops before getting to the airport. That's not a big deal, but if I'm paying the same money I'd rather have the convenience a cab offers --- just for me and my wife, straight to the airport.
Embarkation: A snap. We got To Equinox at 11:25 am and were on board at 12:15 pm.
Mast Grill and Buffet: The Mast Grill on Deck 14 was already open, and that was the beginning of bad for my belly. Burgers and dogs were available, but no fries that early. The burgers and hot dogs were consistently excellent, with grilled onions and mushrooms, bacon, lettuce, tomato and raw onion available as garnishes. The Ocean View Cafe --- the Buffet --- was also open. It was consistently and surprisingly good. Though my wife and I ate mostly salads, we sampled a number of their other items. The pizza was chewy and a little greasy, but okay by cruise ship standards. The sandwiches were very well done, especially the chicken salad, which I ate most days. The hot stations --- stir fry, Indian food a carving station --- offered lots of variety. You could do an entire review based on the buffet alone. You just need to know you won't be disappointed..
Specialty restaurant discount: Celebrity offered a 20% discount at any of its specialty restaurants the first night and two other times during the cruise. We choose Tuscan Grille. More later
Cabin: We had Aqua Class cabin 1571, a balcony. Very comfortable. At first, we were concerned about storage space, but the large single closet, overhead storage and dresser draws we're amble for two. The spacious bathroom was easy to navigate. The shower rocked, with little massage jets that pushed water anywhere you want. Just fantastic.
We took Aqua only because the price dropped to less than a concierge class balcony cabin. From my perch, I'd pay a nominal additional fee for the few perks. The unlimited bottle water is nice --- especially for those, like us, who drink a lot of it --- and the daily fruit (apples, oranges, grapes) reminded us to eat something healthy. We didn't use the Persian Gardens --- tried it, and were "blahed" by the heated chairs and saunas --- but Blu, the restaurant, was more than worth it. I'd pay a little extra for AQ but wouldn't break the bank.
Blu: consistently fantastic. Nestled near the Tuscan Grille and Silk, it's like eating at a specialty restaurant every night. Among the items we ate: a succulent pheasant cooked to juicy perfection; squab; short ribs; frogs legs in a BBQ sauce; prime rib; lobster in an orange sauce. We had breakfast there most mornings, and the assortment of healthy fare food was a real draw. The egg white omelets were always spot on --- never overlooked, never runny. You can watch the ocean go by from most tables, adding a ambiance that's hard to find. The service was impeccable; from the third night on, the sommelier remembered what wine my wife and I liked best. The staff remembered my favorite dessert --- apple pie with ice cream --- and made sure I had it just about every night (and it's not even on the menu). This is the best daily restaurant experience I've ever had on a ship. But if you want a specialty place, try ...
Tuscan Grille: this was oh-my-lord good. And I don't mean just for cruise ship food. I mean for food anywhere. This was one of the best meals I've ever eaten, anywhere. The seafood stew was incredible, a delicious light broth filled with mussels, shrimp and calamari. My rib eye was cooked to perfection, and I had a side of the lobster alfredo ... Tender, juicy lobster in a cream sauce that coated the spoon --- not too light, not weighted down with too much of any single ingredient. My wife didn't talk as she ate her fillet. We were going to try Murano, too, but bagged that thought after eating here. And for $24 per person --- we had the 20% first night discount --- we paid chain-restaurant prices for 5-star fare. Do yourself a favor --- get ya some.
Molecular Bar: this, to me, is a strange place. They make drinks out of different ingredients (rose petals, nitrogen, guava foam) and my wife raved about it. So did the others who were drinking these George Jetson concoctions. Prize goes to Andy from San Diego, who ate the scorpion from the bottom of s rum bottle. He said it was chewy. So, if you want something really different, and the chance to slurp a scorpion, this is your place.
Me, I stuck to the bourbons, and I couldn't be happier with the variety and the relatively inexpensive prices. Bookers, bakers, Basil Hayden all could be had for less than $10 a pour --- and that's cheaper than in many bars in big cities across the country.