This was our very first ever cruise. We'd got married in October last year and pretty soon after starting planning the wedding we'd talked about doing a cruise for our honeymoon. But budget and timing conspired against us taking a cruise immediately after the wedding, so our guests generously gave us vouchers for a travel agent which we put towards the trip.
We had no real idea at all about cruises, which lines were best etc. I had spoken to my manager at work who has done a few but she's done small high end ones we knew were out of our budget. We'd also had an idea we didn't want anything too big, but that was more as we didn't feel a need for water slides, surf pools and climbing walls. At the ages of 53 and 47 we'd both brought up teenagers and done all the fun filled family holidays --we wanted a bit more grown up relaxation!
We chose the Eastern Med as we wanted somewhere without many days at sea. I now totally appreciate the whole days at sea thing but before sailing I think we saw that as almost a 'wasted' day. We did a 10 night, 7 port trip and that one fitted the bill in giving us a fair few places to visit, with a mixture of pretty busy and more relaxed, came in at the sort of budget we could manage and we knew we'd get good weather. We're Brits -- we need summer sunshine as we only get about 10 days of that back home!
It was only after booking that we cottoned onto the fact Celebrity is seen as more a luxury line, which made us feel even better about the deal we got (some nifty bargaining at the travel agent and of course the contribution from wedding guests). I will also say that as far as the ports go, our view may be slightly different from some others, especially from US people I'd spoken to. While we're not total cultural heathens, we're not history buffs either, and we've been lucky enough to have already seen some lovely old places; our main local shopping city is Chester and I grew up with frequent visits to family in the Roman town of Bath. So things that may make some folk across the pond go wow for a first visit are things that we're pretty used to, and we've also visited European cities before so that aspect wasn't new to us. The review of the ports I've given will reflect that viewpoint.
But as far as the ship and the whole cruise experience is concerned, yes we were in total 'wow' land at that!
EMBARKATION DAY: We had a 3 hour flight which got us to Rome at around 12.30. Even before we left England there were Celebrity reps at our airport checking we were OK with luggage labels and explaining what would happen at the other end. We had transfers booked through our TA and that went like clockwork. As soon as we stepped off the plane there were Celebrity people everywhere, directing us to the right carousel in baggage reclaim, and then where to drop our baggage off, then guiding us to our coach. We drove straight to Civitavecchia with plenty of information on the journey about the process for checking in at the port. The process was quick and straightforward, but we were just stunned at the numbers of people going through. Yep, we were in total newbie land!! It was all a bit of a whirl. We got our sea passes, enjoyed a glass of bubbly and were then finding our way to our room. To be honest a lot of that is a blank! I think we did venture round for a short stroll but we knew it wasn't long before the muster drill so we just set to unpacking the one case that had arrived (the other did appear a little later) and then our cabin steward came and introduced himself, he was really friendly and we started to feel a little more part of things.
Muster drill was held in the Equinox theatre and was impressively well organised. We didn't have to do anything other than watch a video for about 20 mins and answer a roll call.
After the muster drill we went back to our room where our other case had now arrived and we went out onto our balcony as the ship set sail. Then we set about checking out the ship properly.
OUR CABIN: 7138, category 2B, balcony stateroom. We'd no idea what to expect and must admit at first it did feel small compared to even budget hotel rooms, but soon realised just how much storage space we had. The bathroom (WC and shower) was really well fitted. The shower cubicle was a good size and there was plenty of storage space in the room. The main room itself has a good sized double wardrobe, main desk with ample top space, and a smaller desk at the mirror. Under the desk is the safe and below that the fridge/mini bar. Under the small desk is a drawer with hairdryer, and there were 5 drawers too. There's 2 large overhead storage cabins above the bed though they aren't so accessible for stuff you'd need on a daily basis. Power supply was by the desk in the form of one EU and 2 US sockets. They are quite close together so if you were using a large adaptor it could possibly block the use of the adjacent socket. There's a sofa which I don't think we used much and bedside cabinets. The bed was 2 singles pushed together, each having rounded ends. Personally I didn't find the bed that comfy -- it was OK but I've certainly slept in better. Our balcony had a small table and 2 chairs and was fine -- we didn't spend a huge amount of time on it and sadly on our 2nd day at sea when I would have loved to sit there in the sun as the pool/sun decks were crowded, we found our side of the ship in shade pretty much all day!
THE REST OF THE SHIP:
Having nothing to compare it to we were pretty gobsmacked! The sheer scale of everything took us aback. And everything was immaculate and so clean. Even the lift areas (I'm a Brit and it's easier to type lifts than elevators!) were a source of wonder to us, with the really handy deck plans at each level, the huge plant in the centre of the lift area and the 'Here Comes The Sun' message down through the levels. There was a lovely feeling of space throughout and that remained the case for most of the trip. Occasionally it was busy for lifts at predictable times around dinner, and there was a lovely bustle round the foyer area and at the various balcony points when there was live music down in the foyer itself but for the number of people it just didn't feel as busy as we thought it might do. As well as space we were impressed by the whole decor and feel. Everything was attractively thought out to the point that I honestly couldn't tell you much detail about it as it was obviously subtle and not garish. There are pieces of art all over the ship, from photographs and paintings, to pieces of glasswork made at the Hot Glass show by people from the New York Corning Museum
I even remained impressed by the restrooms, with push button door access and so beautifully laid out, with constant supply of cotton towels. On many occasions they were staffed but even when they weren't they were usually spotless. It did take me a couple of goes to figure out which buttons to press to use the disabled cubicle and one lady nearly did have the door opened on her!
We soon figured out what was where on each floor
2nd floor was for getting on and off the ship
3rd floor houses a number of staterooms, guest relations and the shore excursions areas. These could get a bit busy depending on the time of day but the staff on duty were great and really helpful and friendly. Also on this floor were the Passport Bar and the lower tier of the Silhouette main dining room. The central foyer area on this floor was the venue for a variety of live entertainment -- musicians, singers, dancing and also auctions
4th floor at the aft end has the upper tier of the main dining room, the Martini Bar and Cellar Masters. There's the entertainment area, with the casino, Celebrity Central (a small theatre that hosted video presentations and also screened some of the European football championship matches when we were there) some of the shops, Quasar a nightclub and the main Equinox theatre at the forward end. The foyer area by here also hosted events such as dancing lessons and ping pong
5th floor is home to the speciality dining -- Tuscan Grille, Silk Harvest and Murano, and also the Blu restaurant for Aqua class guests. There is the Ensemble Lounge, Michaels Club, the Molecular Bar (Galleria Tastings), The Bistro on Five, and Cafe Al Bacio with gelateria. And away from food and drink there's boutiques and photo gallery, and the upper tier of the Equinox Theatre. There is a prom deck on 5 but for most of it the lifeboats are pretty hefty obstructions. Necessary but disappointing as it was lovely to pop out on deck after dinner or after coming out of the theatre.
Deck 6 is staterooms and also home to Online Celebrity. This is where guests can go to access the internet on PCs set up in the room, and get information on how to use their own laptops, iPads or iPhones onboard. The people were helpful though at times it could get busy there in terms of people wanting assistance, and sometimes by the time we were back from a day out and sorted for dinner, it was out of staffed hours. I took out an internet package which was around $25 for 38 minutes. I only wanted the internet so I could write my blog and I got the hang of typing offline then getting on quickly and off again to save time. If you didn't need actual staff assistance there was never any trouble getting access to the PCs on the ship, I never saw the room more than half full
Deck 7, more staterooms, was our home. It is also home to Team Earth, a small area by the lifts with a massive globe that my husband could've played with for ages. There are atlases to look at and 4 touch screens with ecological information. And some rather nifty seating!
Deck 8 is just staterooms
Deck 9, staterooms again but also home to a card room. We didn't visit this ourselves but saw people using this most days, some serious looking card players but some rather more light-hearted board games also in action
Deck 10 is home to more staterooms and also the lower floor of the library. This looked a lovely spot to just sit and relax but we didn't really do anything other than pop by for a nosey
Deck 11 has the Aqua Class rooms and also the top floor of the library. This deck is home to the Aqua Spa relaxation room but we didn't use the spa facilities at all so I can't comment on this
Deck 12 is the wet zone!! This deck houses the spa and gym which we didn't make use of at all. There is the Aquaspa cafe and the Solarium area. Although we didn't actually make use of this we walked through it several times and it's a lovely airy calm room with indoor pool, lots of sun loungers and also larger chairs and hammocks. This area could get quite well used but always seemed very calm and tranquil even when busy in terms of number of people in there.
Outside on this deck is the pool area. This was probably my least favourite part as this was the one place that really did feel busy. I never got to use a sun lounger by the pool area due to them always being taken. Even on days when we got back from excursions early, all the sunny beds were taken. The beds are laid out right next to each other so no feeling of space. On our second sea day I did manage to pop there for a short while late afternoon and get a brief session in one of the whirlpools. I'm not a huge fan of pools anyway so I don't feel I missed out but this was easily the bit of the ship where the numbers became evident
Deck 14 houses the Sky Lounge. We didn't actually go in here much but this is a lovely room. We didn't go there in the evenings when it was busier with the bar open and music/dancing going on, but in the day it was such a gorgeous peaceful place, with large chairs/beds by full length windows at the front of the ship. I wish now we'd spent more time just chilling out there, except I do like to be out in the sun when I can! We glimpsed in the conference centre which looked very smart and I wish my company would send me to a meeting there!
Moving outside brings you onto the jogging track which saw a fair bit of action from people far more dedicated to fitness than us! There is the Mast Bar and Mast Grill and this deck overlooks the pool area, with sunbeds all round, both in the sun and under shade. Again these are laid out close to each other with nothing between them so it felt very crowded when all beds were taken. My husband made a comparison to sausages on a grill -- not very flattering but I could see where he was coming from!
Moving back inside at the back end of the ship takes you into the Oceanview Cafe, which is the main buffet dining room, and then out the back from there the Oceanview bar has table seating looking out over the back of the ship.
Deck 15 aft is accessed from the lifts but also from stairs up from the Oceanview Bar. This brings you to the Sunset Bar, where there is live music (guitarist) in the evening. Walking from the Sunset takes you across the lawn area where there is the Hot Glass show. This show is amazing -- I've seen glass blowing many times and never cease to be in awe at what these guys do. Seeing it from a lawn on the top deck of a gorgeous ship is somehow slightly surreal! To get to the other end of this deck you have to drop back to the mast deck and then go upstairs by the Sky Lounge. This brings you to the area where the kids clubs are housed. Not anything we had any reason to even think about! Outside is more deck area with sun loungers and an enclosed basketball court, and up one more set of stairs beings you to the Solstice Deck, another sun trap. Again these areas filled up especially on sea days. It does seem like the sun loungers get snapped up quickly anywhere on the ship and although I have no idea how the Equinox compares to other ships I did feel that there was comparatively little outside lounging area for the number of people. There's plenty of table seating and benches round the sundeck but sometimes it's nice to have a comfy lounger. Having said that, the lawn area was often very underused so there was a nice feeling of space up there, but due to joint problems I couldn't sit/lie on the lawn. But maybe that's why the inside of the ship always felt so spacious as the majority of guests were up on the sun loungers making the most of the sunshine and temperature in high 20s/early 30s
FOOD AND DRINK AREAS:
We did set ourselves a target of eating and drinking in every bar/cafe/restaurant and didn't fall far short. These are the ones we did go to
Passport Bar: quite quiet on the few occasions we went there, though we never went down there when there was live entertainment in the foyer, which is when it would be at its liveliest. But even at quieter times there was often a live pianist in the corner
Martini Bar -- we loved this place, it's one of the most fun lively parts of the ship and we enjoyed several evenings here. The bar itself is almost always full of guests, sitting at an iced bar and watching the amazing tricks the guys behind the bar do. I have several videos of them to add to the many I've since found on YouTube -- the guys are such fun and it makes for a really good atmosphere. And if you can't get a seat at the bar there's plenty of soft seating in lovely cool looking booths around the area. And the cocktails they make are delicious too ?
Ensemble Lounge -- a very laid back elegant place, usually with live music (jazz mostly when we were there). Easy to relax and feel very chilled in here
Michael's Club is like a gentleman's lounge bar and was barely used it seemed. We did venture in there one evening with just one other couple and my husband ended up playing the piano there which he enjoyed! A bit of a shame that a very nice looking area seemed to get no visitors
Molecular Bar -- on passing through this several times it was pretty busy and lively, though we only actually went there once ourselves. This place offers the most amazing concoctions drinkwise and we found ourselves with cocktails topped with liquid nitrogen, that you just can't drink until the smoke clears
Cafe al Baccio became our regular end of evening stopping point, having a lovely coffee or hot chocolate before hitting the sack, and also indulging in some of the lovely little cakes/pastries that are free. Although we never got round to actually doing this, this area would be a lovely place to have a coffee and relax in during the day too. The gelateria has some lovely choices, though I only indulged here once, mainly as it was possible to get equally nice ice cream in the Oceanview at no charge
Bistro on 5 is lovely. For a $5 surcharge they do the most delicious crepes. This is great spot for lunch
The Mast Bar and Grill are by the pool area. The bar is ideally placed if you're lounging on the mast deck. The Grill does possibly the nicest burgers I've had. Freshly made and feel very indulgent. I am gutted I didn't discover them until more than half way through the trip as after that I'd just get one (they're free) and take through to join my husband eating healthily in the Oceanview
The Oceanview is the main buffet and varies from really nice to Ok depending when and what you have. The OK end was when I had pasta dishes a couple of evenings. There was nothing wrong with it but nothing special either. There is a good selection of different food -- pasta, pizza, sushi, hot meals, cold meats some of it depending on the time of day (eg sushi is after 5.30pm) There's a wide variety of fruits and salads, a good selection of breads and I was always able to indulge in delicious cookies and cakes. There's also the aforementioned ice creams with a variety of toppings -- it felt quite sinful going there! At breakfast there are the most gorgeous waffles with syrup or chocolate sauce, along with various pancakes, cereals, grilled food. There really is something for everyone though occasionally going at certain times can restrict your choice and I don't think it stays open that late (ie going there after late show). The buffet area was often fairly busy and sometimes (mostly at breakfast) we did have to look for a table (though my hubby likes to get tables for 2, he doesn't do sharing in the morning!) but we always did find one. Our favourite way of using the buffet was late afternoon getting something to snack on and sitting outside at the back in the sun, where we could also make use of the bar.
Sunset Bar is just brilliant, a great place to go sit as the ship sails away at the end of each day. Sitting in the sun, or down the shady bits beside the lawn, in comfy seats is a lovely way to wind down before dinner
Silhouette (main dining room) we ate in there on both formal nights and several other times. We were on Select dining and did go at a mixture of times from 6.30 to 8.30. Although they say you can just turn up anytime we did book each time, usually the day before. Sometimes they gave us an alternative time but it was never an issue for us. We always had a table for 2 and in the same area so we still got to know the staff. Considering the number of people going through there we loved the fact they took the time to show they remembered you, making comments about what we might like based on things we'd said before. The food there was lovely. I am quite a fussy eater and always go into slight panic mode when eating out as I like food to be quite simple -- I don't do sauces, spices, seafood, salad (it isn't just things beginning with S!) and any nice restaurant always has a lot of meals that I just don't do! But I always found something I liked. There is a part of the menu that's the same each night and I figured out that having found things on there I'd like I would at least get something but thought I may end up with the same dish each night! But the nightly menu also came up trumps for me. And I did try things I wouldn't have tried elsewhere, as I knew that I could always get something else if I didn't like it. The butternut squash soup was simply gorgeous and their chocolate cake is to die for! I've seen some people say the MDR food is nothing special. Well we don't eat out a lot so maybe we're not best placed to compare but we really enjoyed it every night we were there.
Tuscan Grille: Hubby decided that it was worth paying the extra to be able to try the speciality dining. On the first night they offer discounts and we went Italian. This was probably our favourite meal on the ship. We ate later on, about 8.30 so it was quite quiet in there but not so quiet as to be dead. The staff were really lovely, giving us loads of information about the food without putting any pressure on us. This is the difference with speciality dining. In the MDR they are serving a lot of people and have to turn tables around. Food comes quickly one course after the other and then basically you leave when you're done. But in the speciality ones it's all so much more relaxed. We had a table right at the back of the ship with a window over the wake, watching the sunset -- it was heavenly. Hubby had a rib eye steak and said it was the best steak he's ever had...and he's had a lot. I stuck with pasta but the highlight for me was a wonderful tiramasu. If budget had been no object we could have happily eaten there every night
Silk Harvest: I'm not big on Asian cuisine so out of the three this was my least favourite, and I enjoyed MDR more. But I do acknowledge my eating preferences aren't conducive to being a food critic! I do have to say that the staff were lovely, and service was wonderful. The food was beautifully presented. Hubby tried sushi for the first time ever, and again it was nice to relax in gorgeous settings
Murano: This one scared me! I looked at the menu and panicked I really wouldn't like anything -- far too posh and fancy for me! The terror wasn't eased as we first went in -- as somebody unused to posh dining it all seemed way too grand and fussy. But while the service was absolutely first class the staff were brilliant at putting me at my ease. As everything is cooked to order I was able to let them know what I would and, more importantly wouldn't, like and everything was delicious. They do the sizzling flambe thing at the table -- while I really enjoyed my chocolate based dessert, my husband's strawberry crepes were an entertainment source in their own right! For every thing we ate we had all the details of how it's cooked explained to us. The staff were so knowledgeable it was really impressive. Considering how worried I'd been before going in, I am so glad we ate there and it was only a very close second to the Tuscan for me
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT:
Slightly ashamed to say we didn't really do any activities! We (or should I say hubby) aren't big on organised activities, and while for many people a cruise is all about the people and activities, we are quite happy doing our own thing and enjoying the places, and so our focus was more on the ports than doing loads on the ship. We did go to a number of the theatre shows, some of which we enjoyed more than others. The Cirque du Soleil style show was absolutely fabulous -- while some of the 'regular' dancers were pretty OK, the speciality acts were amazing, so slick and skilful. There was a great multi-instrumentalist we loved -- helped by hubby being a muso himself and the guy being British! The illusionist we saw was OK but just didn't really wow us. We missed a couple of acts on their main shows but saw a snippet of them on the last night's show and wished we'd seen more of them.
We love live music so were quite happy just to take in the various acts round and about the ship in the foyer or Ensemble lounge. There is a good selection to suit all tastes and the foyer was often very lively with people up dancing.
The one place that was a bit of a disappointment to us was Quasar, the nightclub. When there was older (70s, 80s) music on in foyer areas people were up dancing but we went to Quasar a couple of times when it was in full trendy nightclub mode...except nobody danced. It felt like they were playing music they felt a club like that should play but the audience was totally wrong. If the DJ had started playing some of the older stuff in there I'm sure the dancefloor would've been filled more. It was a shame as the place is quite funky with big hanging chairs in the middle of the room.
We saw the listings of events that covered talks and videos, cookery demonstrations, artsy stuff, dance classes, competitions of crew v guests but didn't do any ourselves. I would have been seriously tempted by the Wii classes but being a month away from hip surgery I had to sit it out :(
Finally I can't not mention the staff generally. Everybody was so nice and friendly. We were impressed at how quickly staff got to know us and remember names, but just generally there was a really lovely feel to any interactions with any of the staff at any time. From the cold towels on arriving back at ship after a day out, to the welcomes at any bar or restaurant, guest services and the cabin attendants. It all felt very warm and personal, and certainly made a hefty contribution to the feel-good factor.
We arrived in Rome early morning and as our flight home wasn't until the evening we booked a ship's excursion that took us into Rome and then onto the airport. We did try to find a private tour for this but were unable to get people to join us to make it viable. While we're often happy to DIY things, with having our baggage to take care of we felt we couldn't do that. The city centre is about 45 mins from the airport, and also about an hour from the port
So we had booked on the excursion.
We completed forms for disembarkation and for the excursion and received luggage labels clearly identifying what we were doing. In the morning we assembled at around 7.30. We got our baggage with no problems and went straight to a coach. There were numerous coaches around but we found everything well marked and no problems sorting what we were doing. Our baggage was secure while we enjoyed a few hours touring. Apparently there were some Celebrity staff at the airport but we were unaware of them (maybe as we arrived much earlier than our check in time?) and must say the airport experience was a very sad end to a dream holiday, but that is due to airline and airport issues that could warrant a whole review of their own!