We're a couple in our late 40's and this was our 6th cruise. We booked rather late because our original intention was to vacation in the fall, however when we found a good deal on the Equinox, we decided to go for it! We have friends who love Celebrity, and since we'd never been, we wanted to give them a try.
We didn't know anything about AquaClass, but ended up booking it because of the cabin location and the small price difference from Concierge class. I don't think Celebrity does a very good job of explaining the benefits of the AquaClass. On paper, it doesn't sound that enticing -- however in practice, it worked out great for us!
Our cruise left from Civitavecchia (Rome) and we stayed a few days in Rome before heading up to the port. Since we booked late, there were no pre-cruise deals through Celebrity, so I started researching hotels. Rome has thousands! We were in Rome once before (2007) and stayed by the Termini train station. There are a lot of hotels in this area, and many of them are great. However, the area around the train station isn't the most interesting or scenic, so I decided we would stay in Trastevere - an area that we missed on our last trip. Some logistical benefits of this area are that there is a much smaller, more convenient train station (Roma Trastevere) that has trains both from Fiumicino (FCO) airport and to Civitavecchia (the port).
After scouring many hotel sites, I settled on the Relais Le Clarisse. It's small, convenient and the price was decent. In fact, as our departure date grew closer, the rates at the hotel dropped and I was able to rebook to a superior room for less money. So my advice is not to jump at the "discounted" pay in advance rate since you can watch the rates and often cancel and rebook for less money (as long as you abide by the hotel's cancellation policies).
The hotel, true to the reviews i read, was very nice. The room was clean and modern, the breakfast was tasty and the hotel staff was friendly and helpful. The room we had, however, was small, but that is typical in Rome. You just don't get a lot of space.
Travel to the Port
After touring around Rome for two days and getting over our jet lag (9 hours time difference), we took the train to the port from the Roma Trastevere station. Only 4.10 euro per person! Warning - you may have to drag your luggage up and down a couple of flights of stairs if the elevators aren't working. I would also suggest a backup plan in case a transit strike is scheduled, as the stress of wondering if you'll get on a train and get to the port in time for your departure is just not worth it.
Once we arrived in Civitavecchia, it was about a ten minute walk along the main street to the port entrance where we were greeted by free shuttle buses to the Equinox. The port is huge, so you really don't want to walk to the cruise terminal for your ship.
At the ship, we removed our luggage from the shuttle bus and dropped it off with the baggage handlers. Embarkation was quick, though we were surprised that they took our passports and "checked" them. The explanation was that as non-EU citizens, the staff may need to have these passports available for the authorities at our ports of call.
We were told that our cabin should be ready, so when we boarded the ship we went directly to deck 11. Our cabin was indeed available, and our luggage was already there! We dropped our carry-on bags, secured some items in the safe and then headed up to the buffet.
The Celebrity Equinox
The Equinox is a beautiful ship. The overall feel is elegant, though the various spaces vary from clean and modern (the Martini Bar, the Blu dining room) to old world and nautical (Cellar Masters, Ensemble, Michael's Club). The ship has many of things you'd expect, as well as some you probably wouldn't. The big lawn area is certainly unique, and was nice during crowded sea days when folks who couldn't find lounge chairs near the pool would lie on towels on the grass. A wine and cheese picnic on the lawn was also a nice event. One morning I joined the putting green challenge event (as the only participant) and while I really liked the idea, the lawn really isn't cut like a real putting green. On other cruises I have always liked to do a few laps around the outdoor promenade with my camera, however on the Equinox the promenade deck does not circle all the way around the ship -- it only spans the port and starboard sides.
The Passengers and Crew
I was impressed that every crew member stopped what they were doing and made sure to greet us. On previous cruises, I found that the crew would either be engaging but not so effective, or they were quiet and efficient -- almost invisible. On the Equinox, I learned that a ship could have folks that were friendly, engaging and able to do an outstanding job! I got the feeling that crew members felt they were all part of a team and each was responsible for ensuring that the passenger got whatever attention was needed. I felt entertained and enlightened by every conversation that I was involved in -- both with my fellow passengers and the Equinox crew.
We planned our trip without knowing anyone else on board, so we found the Cruise Critic roll calls to be a great way to meet folks before the cruise. When we got on board, we already felt like we were among friends. As it turned out, we had a great time during our travels with the folks we met electronically before the cruise, and have forged some great new friendships.
Good design extends to the cabins too. There is plenty of horizontal space, numerous mirrors and just enough room for two people to move around. The bathroom is spacious, especially compared to the bathroom in our Rome hotel and other ships we have been on. The shower is wider than the typical cruise ship corner capsule and the AquaClass cabins have extra body sprays. Our AquaClass bathroom amenities included cotton swabs, cotton balls and lip balm. These were much appreciated.
The shower, as nice as it is, does have one design flaw. Do not try to place anything above the shower stack as the top is open and the stack is hollow! In our case, it swallowed up a small tube of conditioner that we brought from home. We alerted Sim, our stateroom attendant, and he was at a loss for how to retrieve it. He called in someone from the maintenance crew who was also stumped. Luckily, a third gentleman knew how to dismantle the unit and after a bit of work was able to retrieve our conditioner, along with a bottle of the ship's conditioner that was lost by a previous guest!
I'm not a big fan of buffets. I like to be served. In the Ocean View buffet there are no trays and that seems to limit how much you take at any one time. This, I discovered, is a good thing. It took me a few days to get used to the organization of the buffet and eventually I learned the stations and decided which ones I really liked. The food quality was excellent, and I appreciated the cook to order stations -- especially the stir-fry. At breakfast, we ate in the outdoor patio and it was quite pleasant. My partner is a strict vegetarian, and while everything was labeled with its ingredients, you must read through them to decide if it meets your dietary requirements. It would have been nice if Celebrity used some visual symbol to indicate whether an item was vegetarian (i.e. contains no meat, fish or chicken). The ice cream/frozen yogurt station was also a favorite destination, especially in the late afternoon.
As members of the AquaClass, we ate most dinners in Blu. One night we joined some friends in the main dining room, and while the food was delicious, the atmosphere and service were no match for Blu. The staff in Blu gives an extra effort to treat you like you are a regular at a local restaurant at home. Even though you may not eat at the same time or have the same waiter each night, you are always assured of a wonderful dining experience. We ate late every night and basically closed down the place. One night we got a large group together and since we weren't all AquaClass, we tried the Silk Harvest restaurant. Two folks in the group were vegetarian so we couldn't justify going to one of the other specialty restaurants which seem to focus on steak. While the food at Silk Harvest was decent and we were seated at a nice big round table, I can't say that the experience was worth the extra cost. The vegetarian guests had to wait for their food as the vegetarian dishes were served after the others, and the flavors just weren't as memorable as I would have wanted.
Our Port Excursions and Activities
Our itinerary had a lot of ports, and as we didn't have a lot of time to research them all, we decided to only schedule one excursion (on Santorini) through the ship. There was some confusion about whether we would tender or dock in Santorini because the Celebrity website claimed we would be docking. Most folks on the Cruise Critic boards said that this was unlikely because the docks at Santorini would not accommodate a ship as large as the Equinox. So I went with the (correct) conventional wisdom and decided to book the half day Village of Oia & Santorini Island (SO01) excursion on the Celebrity website in advance. This way we would not have to worry about tender tickets and it would get us off the ship early. We really enjoyed the tour -- the bus ride to Oia was scenic and our tour guide, Georgina, was terrific. Unlike many tour guides, she is able to continuously provide information but not sound monotonous. She sprinkled humor and personal anecdotes throughout her presentation and that made the bus portions of the trip as interesting as exploring the towns of Oia and Fira.
Our itinerary was modified during the cruise from what was originally published because of a scheduled private bus strike in Athens. Instead of visiting Chania, Crete first, we went to Athens. We didn't schedule any excursions, but simply got off the ship and walked about 20 minutes to the Metro station. We took the local train to Monastiraki and walked up through the neighborhood to the Acropolis entrance. By some luck the entrance fee was waived that day. We toured the Acropolis on our own (I had listened to Rick Steve's audio guide several times before) and left before the crowds and the heat got worse.
In Chania, we took the local shuttle bus (3 euro round trip) from the port to the town, and then hopped in a taxi to Agioi Apostoloi Beach (about 7 euro). On the way back we took the local bus to the town center (1.5 euro) and then stopped at a cafe on the Venetian harbor for a drink and some Cretan salad.
The ship docked right next to the Old Town in Rhodes, so it was really easy to walk off the ship and explore the area. The town is scenic with both ruins and modern shops, cafes and restaurants. There are no cars, and that makes it a lot of fun to explore the little alleys and get away from the crowded central area.
I was originally not planning to get off the ship at Kusadasi, Turkey, but some of my new friends on the cruise had arranged a semi-private half day tour of Ephesus, and since there was space on their minibus I was able to join them. The ruins at Ephesus are spectacular and educational as well. The tour was $44 and included a traditional Turkish lunch at the Turkmen Rug Gallery outside of town. Since we were a group of only 7 people, the rug pitch was short and reasonably low pressure, so we simply admired the rugs and the sales folks moved on to the larger bus tours. The minibus dropped us back at the port and we grabbed a coffee at one of the shops right by the ship. The port is quite new and there are many familiar stores here including a Starbucks.
There seem to be two main activities on Mykonos: going to the beach and partying. The all aboard time was 5:30 and we weren't that close to Mykonos town so our partying was limited. We took the $10 (round trip) shuttle bus from the ship to town. When we got in to town we rented a couple of small cars (25 euro each) and headed over to Elia beach. After enjoying the beach and having lunch at our lounge chairs, we drove over to Super Paradise to see that beach. It was still early and folks weren't partying yet. It was tempting to rent ATVs (15-20 euro), but we were glad we had cars since we noticed several couples pushing their ATVs up steep hills to get back to the main road. We returned the cars around 4pm and spent an hour exploring the narrow alleys of Mykonos town. The town doesn't really wake up until dinner time, so we just window shopped before returning on the shuttle to the ship.
We really enjoyed the company of the folks we met through Cruise Critic and on the ship, so we spent a lot of time in the bars and clubs having our own party! We didn't see any of the shows in the theater. The various musical groups around the ship were mostly good -- though the band by the pool had a couple of performers that just shouldn't sing.
At Kusadasi, a local dance troupe performed by the pool before we left the port (around 5pm) and they were very entertaining.
The 70's and 80's theme night entertainment was fun and we were able to enjoy it while hanging out at the Martini Bar.
The Quasar nightclub was a bit of a disappointment because the room seemed to be an after thought. The design and the layout did not match the quality of the other public areas on the ship. The DJ did not seem very good at figuring out what the crowd wanted him to play, even though he was taking requests. The Sky Observation Lounge is a more open and inviting space, so we spent some time listening to music and dancing there.
Getting off the ship after such a wonderful experience is not an easy task, but we got up early and enjoyed breakfast at Blu, then gathered our belongings and disembarked. Our luggage was waiting for us and the shuttle that I ordered (via RomaShuttle.com ) was right there at the ship with a sign. Our schedule was tight as you need to allow a lot of time to get through all the processes at Rome's Fiumicino airport to get to your gate. Luckily we didn't hit any traffic (8:30am on a rainy Monday) and we didn't feel rushed when we got there about two and a half hours before flight time.
This was a terrific journey and we enjoyed it thoroughly. I'm now convinced that our next cruise will most likely be on Celebrity and I feel like a walking advertisement for them. The level of service and comfort on this ship was exceptional and we felt it was an excellent value.