My mom and I had been trying to get to Greece and Turkey literally for 21 years without success thanks to canceled tours caused by Middle East worries or personal health issues. Because Cruise Critic rated the Equinox so highly, we thought things would go well and they did. Even so, our sailing on the Equinox exceeded our expectations in many ways.
The ship is big, the second largest I've been on after the Carnival Magic. Celebrity is known for their ability to make crowds seem smaller and passenger flow more intuitive. That was largely true here although more true on the Celebrity Summit. The Summit has the advantage of being a much smaller ship, but my point is that the Equinox doesn't entirely give you a "crowd-free" feeling. Still embarkation and debarkation were incredibly fast. Both tour companies and airport transfers told us they were aware that the Equinox runs like clockwork to the point that everyone gets everywhere early.
The ship's size was really only a problem at certain meals because the Equinox had oddly short sit-down times for breakfast and lunch, meaning the buffet would be overcrowded. Also, Celebrity would do well to recognize that with limited sit-down times combined with the majority of their own shore excursions stretching through normal lunch hours meant that they needed not to close down buffet stations between 2pm and 4pm. There wasn't a big variety of food (pizza, desserts, a few pasta dishes, hot dogs) and a large number of hungry passengers. But overall, crowd management was excellent.
The staff was fantastic including our stewards, waiters, and guest services. We have sailed Princess once (the Grand Princess just before its refit) and have heard many times that Princess was once the equivalent Celebrity, but that Carnival had drained the money out of the line. While our trip on the Grand Princess was certainly nice, I now think the "rumors" are probably accurate as the crew on the Equinox seemed less stressed, happier, and far more numerous. For example, our steward on the Equinox had an assistant and we saw several other stewards in nearby "regions". Our poor steward on the Grand Princess had been visibly exhausted the whole trip and we never saw another soul helping him.
Our room was a special-needs/handicapped room although we hadn't requested one. For a standard interior stateroom, it seemed enormous. We'd been given a special-needs room on the Carnival Victory in 2009, and had been happy, but the layout of the Equinox's cabin had thoughtful advantages for someone in a wheelchair such as a door that opened with a push of a button and a second set of shelves for hanging shirts and pants that could be reached at wheelchair height or folded out of the way if passengers wanted to use the closet at "standing" height. The beds were comfy. Neither of us are good sleepers, and we'd heard the Mediterranean was rougher sailing than the Caribbean. Overall, we slept quite well and were very comfortable.
The ship's public areas varied from perfectly adequate to quite nice. The ship's design appears to mostly have a theme of "sea bubbles" combined with some representation of woods and trees to form an overarching theme of nature. As you'd expect, the sea bubble aspect is cheerful and attractive, but not loud or distracting. While some of the large installations seemed garish and the framed photography repetitive to the point it could be disorienting when trying to find your state room, there was also a large quantity of gorgeous art glass, and much of it made on the ship during their famous hot glass shows.
Noise levels were mostly fine, but could occasionally be raucous. Even a small band in the atrium could make the whole central core of the ship much too loud for periods and the same could be said for the pool area on Deck 14. (Our room was tucked away on Deck 8 - could not have been quieter. Check with others if you think your cabin might be closer to the atrium.)
On the other hand, the Solarium on Deck 12 is wonderfully relaxing, open to all adult guests, and a great place to watch the sea while reading or having a quiet conversation. I find the warm chlorinated air from hot tubs helpful for my breathing, but if that's not for you, you might prefer the Sky Observation Lounge which is also quiet, but where you would be more likely to be asked to buy a drink. I had a little trouble with the fumes of their disinfectant, Oxyvir-5, as I don't do well with the odor of eucalyptus, but that tended only to be in elevator areas. Other cleansers were more pleasant and citrusy. The smoke-free casino was truly smoke-free.
Food was mostly delicious in the main dining room, including many beef, chicken, and fish entrees. While the menu is not as clearly helpful as Carnival's for those on restricted diets, the waiters took my numerous allergies quite seriously, which was an unexpected and appreciated gesture. One special dessert they had made for me with gelatin, kiwi and raspberry was incredible. I also enjoyed the fresh fruits and vegetables at the buffet as well as delicious croissants. Lunch and breakfast menus were not as considerate of special diets, and that is an area for improvement.
Lectures and music performances were enjoyable. The cruise director, Damian, made a point of saying hello to me and amiably answered a few questions about himself and his background. Unexpected issues cropped up with onboard credits and disembarkation times, and the guest services staff resolved both more or less instantly. There were two plumbing problems with our bathroom, and that was a bit frustrating as we are experienced enough cruisers to take it seriously when advised only to put bath tissue in toilets. However, we were quick to report the issues, and the staff was quick to respond.
Some tips for potential Equinox passengers and first time Eastern Med cruisers:
This is the first ship I've been on where you can't launder or iron your own clothes in a laundry room, and laundry/dry cleaning services aren't cheap. Consider bringing a de-wrinkle spray (not a travel iron!) and some mild soap if you'd like to hand wash some items.
Passports were taken from all Non-European passengers at boarding, and Celebrity really should have prepared us for that in their "What to Expect at the Dock" form. It was very wise to collect passports as it apparently expedites entry into various countries, but a lot of passengers were unhappy they were not advised to bring other picture ID, so do bring at least a photocopy of your passport and carry it separately from your passport itself.
While the age range of this sailing ran the gamut from newlyweds to elderly, there were few people who had mobility issues. For example, we didn't see a single hoveround or wheelchair. I suspect this may be because Eastern Mediterranean ports do not lend themselves well to people who can't walk on uneven pavement, often at steep inclines, but it may also be that Celebrity did not do a great job of providing enough options for guests with trouble walking. While my mom (age 68) managed more or less without difficulty on these shore excursions (several of them qualified as "strenuous"), I have heard that Holland America does a better job appealing to older guests, so if mobility is an issue, I might look there even though this sailing was pretty close to perfect.
One aspect that I find makes quite a big impact on how nice a sailing can be is the amiability of the guests. Although this was an elegant ship and not exactly a no-frills itinerary, our fellow passengers were among the friendliest we've sailed with and not the least bit snobbish. On most of our sailings, we've met plenty of nice people, but on our one trip out of Fort Lauderdale, it was surprising how many people were bored with cruising and, crazily, unhappy with being on vacation. In contrast, I'm much more likely to want to trek all the way to Civitavecchia considering our fellow guests. It was a nice mixture of the globe -- Americans, Canadians, Europeans, Australians, Latin Americans, and Asians, and it seemed like just about everyone was having a wonderful time.