My husband and I left Seattle on May 16 to spend four days in Rome followed by an 11-day Mediterranean cruise aboard the Equinox. We are not very experienced cruisers, and my husband had serious doubts about signing up for this one, but we wanted to see Rome, Athens, Istanbul and the Greek islands so we decided to give it a try.
We spent four nights in Rome, staying at the Hotel Artemide. The room was small, with not much space for hanging up clothes, but it was clean and quiet, with a large buffet breakfast included in the price. It was a long walk or a short cab ride to most of the things we wanted to see, such as the Vatican, the Gallery Borghese and the Spanish steps. We almost wore ourselves out before we even started the cruise, but we did get to see some of Rome's major treasures.
We had a car service pick us up at our hotel on May 21, the day the cruise was to start. It all went smoothly -- we got to the port at about noon and were quickly processed through the cruise terminal. We went aboard and found a huge and beautiful sparkling ship awaiting us. The staterooms were closed off, but we found our way to the Oceanview Cafe on Deck 14 and sampled some of the buffet items for lunch.
Within a couple of hours we were able to enter 1520, our stateroom on Deck 11, and our home for the next 11 days. Elvis, our room steward, was there to greet us and was always most helpful and available during the cruise. The best thing about the room in my opinion: it is directly across from the entrance to the spa, accessed via a gleaming circular stairway. I quickly realized I could be up it and in the Persian Garden room, with its heated reclining chairs and steam bath, within seconds. Since we were in Aqua Class, we didn't have to pay extra to use this amenity but did have to exchange our room key card for another card at the spa desk when we wanted to use it. Also it was very close to the gym and the beautiful solarium, an adults-only indoor swimming area.
I loved the location of our stateroom. It had a balcony with comfortable chairs and a small table. Since we had warm weather most of the time, we were able to sit out on the balcony to read and watch the scenery. The room itself was on the small side with just barely enough storage space to accommodate most of our clothes. I stored the suitcases under the bed. We thought the canapes were a waste of time so we only got them he first day and didn't sign up to get them later. I did very much appreciate Elvis's coming in to tidy up twice a day -- usually in the morning when we were having breakfast and in the evening when we were at dinner. It's very hard to keep such a small space neat with all our clothes, swimming gear and the constant barrage of paper from the cruise line.
The bathroom was well organized with one of the best showers I have ever experienced. It shoots out jets of water directed at various parts of your body, with a rain shower overhead as well. Wonderfully refreshing after a hard day of touring.
On the food -- the biggest disappointment for us was Blu. We ate at Murano (named after an Italian island in Venice but it's French) the first night, which was excellent and maybe spoiled us for Blu. We tried it the second night and my pheasant was rubbery and my husband's lamb cold and overcooked. We went once for breakfast and were not impressed with the showy muesli table side preparation. I guess we just don't like that much fussing over us at breakfast. We loved all the speciality restaurants -- Murano, Tuscan Grille and Silk Harvest -- but we ended up eating most of our meals in the Oceanview Cafe. I especially liked the yogurt, granola, smoked salmon and pickled herring at breakfast and the freshly made sushi that started every day at 5:30 p.m. The Aquaspa Cafe was another favorite, especially at lunch time -- you could get cold poached salmon, shrimp with avocado and other lighter fare. As for the big brunch on the last at-sea day -- it was crowded I don't think I would even bother with it if I took another Celebrity cruise. The food was very similar to what was available in at the Oceanview Cafe.
The free coffee was really bad (weak and not very flavorful) throughout the ship. This alone would probably keep me from taking another Celebrity cruise. Thank heavens Cafe Bacio was there -- they made quite good lattes, cappuccinos and double espressos. I don't drink alcohol but was very pleased with my premium non-alcohol package. I could get all the Perrier and specialty coffee drinks and teas i wanted. My husband got the classic alcohol package, allowing him to get drinks up to $7 each, and probably did come out ahead. These packages also allowed us to request freshly squeezed juice at the Oceanview Cafe and not have to pay extra for it (like the coffee, the non-fresh juice coming out of the spigots was awful).
I did get a wonderfully relaxing spa treatment that included a massage and a facial. Also got my nails done once my pre-cruise polish began to wear off. These treatments are pricey but very enjoyable while cruising along on the at-sea days. I also took a ridiculously expensive spinning class ($12) one day and spent some time in the gym. Also liked swimming in the Solarium pool, which was usually not crowded, and walking on the jogging path, which was usually very crowded. Mostly we felt we got sufficient exercise during the strenuous tours of the ports, which I will review separately.
We did not go to any of the big shows but really enjoyed the quieter forms of entertainment, such as the guitar player Alexii Aizenberg, who played in some of the bars and the third-deck foyer, and the all-female string trio, who played at various locations throughout the cruise. My husband enjoyed especially hanging out at the Passport Bar, which was close to the dining rooms. He got into some games of Trivial Pursuit and met lots of interesting people.
We didn't spend much time on the lawn or the hot shop, but they were good examples of the "something for everyone" philosophy of this ship. We did enjoy looking at the amazing art collection on board, including wonderful Damien Hirst butterfly prints in the Passport Bar.
One thing I would warn anyone against is buying an Internet package on the ship. I got a package for about $200 because it's cheaper by the minute that way. But the Internet and e-mail never seemed to work very well on my iPhone so I would have to go to the sixth floor Internet cafe and get online using the ship's computers. It was maddeningly slow, and I ended up having a much easier time turning on roaming for a few minutes while we were in port to check e-mail. You do not get a refund for minutes you have paid for but not used on the ship, so I think I ended up with about $100 of unused time!
By far the worst thing on the entire tour was a guy named George (no last name given) who gave the talks on upcoming tours. He was constantly running down the idea of touring on your own and saying you had to take an excursion. He told us that in Santorini we would be much better off taking the ship's tour and taking the tram back to port because the donkey trail is so disgusting. Well, we did take a ship's tour that provided a ticket for the tramway, but the line for it was so long we ended up walking down the donkey steps anyway, and guess what? It was not bad at all, the steps are very wide and the donkey poop not that pungent. Took abut a half-hour (not 45 minutes as George said) and was great exercise (I am 66 and my husband 69, so if we can do it I think most people can). We also felt the Bosphorus boat ride excursion in Istanbul was a waste of time. Who wants to be stuck on a bus trying to get to boat that is walking distance from the cruise ship? The ship's excursions to Ephesus and Athens were quite helpful and would have been more difficult on our own.
Disembarkation was well-organized and efficient. We got off at 9:30 a.m. and were soon on our way to the Rome airport on the expensive but comfortable cruise ship transfer bus.