This was the first cruise that our family of 5 took together - my husband and I and our 3 children, ages 21, 19 and 17. Our daughter, age 21, has cerebral palsy so a cruise, we felt, was the best way to conduct extensive travel considering her physical constraints. We were determined to take the children to Europe, to expose and introduce them to as many iconic European cultural sights as possible. They had never left the mainland US. The Grand Tour of Europe of the Gilded Age was my beacon, but given that we have neither that kind of money, nor the time, and that a child who uses a walker/wheelchair to ambulate puts restrictions on the mode of travel, well, we settled on a Celebrity 11 night Mediterranean cruise and we are so glad that we did. We loved it so much that as a family, we did it again in August 2012, just different ports of call, primarily.
We arrived in Rome three days before the Equinox set sail. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Rome-St. Peter's, which was very nice, but we would never stay there again due to it's essentially suburban location. You can walk literally nowhere from there. They do have a very nice shuttle bus, which we used, but still, it is better to stay in the old city of Rome, if you can. Months before, we had engaged "Romelimostours" - Maurizio and Daniele Miglio - to take the 5 of us around, for 1 and 1/2 days of touring. They were spectacular. They got us past all lines at the Vatican and at the Colosseum. They gave us a highly personalized tour, very informative, and also extremely convenient, especially due to our mobility restrictions. We saw all of the essential sites of Rome for the first time visitor, including the Circus Maximus, Palatine Hill, the Forum, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and Raphael's apartments, the Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and on and on. We would hire them again, absolutely.
What can we say about the Equinox that is not ridden with superlatives? We absolutely loved it and the attention paid to our daughter was solicitous but not cloying. We brought her walker with us but Celebrity provided us with one of their wheelchairs for the duration of our sailing which we were able to use on shore as needed. We had the second seating in the Silhouette Dining Room - meals varied from excellent to very good although the lobster left us unimpressed - being from New England, only Maine lobster will ever do. Any other lobster simply does not measure up - sorry! Our table servers were top notch - capable, knowledgeable, and lots of fun. The entertainment was fantastic - the production shows, wow!!, so much talent!! - the Cirque du Soleil-style show as well as the individual shows, were top notch (I would pay big money to see these shows on the mainland) for instance the "Magical Mayhem of Neal Austin" and "Comedy and Vocal Impressions of Jonathan Clark", being real standouts! The singing guest was so good, Paul Baker, that he was going to be playing The Phantom, in Phantom of the Opera in London. We played lots of trivia games and had a few massages (however, BEWARE the HARD sell in the spa after the massages to get you to buy their lotions, etc!!); my husband was quickly on a best friend basis with all of the poker dealers in the casino, haha!; our boys frequented the gym and the pool, played in golf tournaments at the Lawn Club, as well as the late night DJ parties. Celebrity has so much for the age group of our children, as well as their parents.
Our first shore excursion was SO01, Village of Oia and Santorini Island. We anchored off shore and took tenders into Santorini. The ship's staff were super helpful with our daughter, giving her assistance to make sure she got safely into the tenders. We are a bunch of fit travelers, though - my husband and my 19 and 17 year old sons are quite strong, so our daughter had plenty of robust males to help her - nevertheless, the ships crew were always insistent upon lending an arm or giving a boost or a heave - all very kind! We loved the SO01excursion, though more time in Oia would have been nice. The line to get onto the cable car at Fira back to the tenders was extremely long, over an hour, but it was a pleasant adventure, nonetheless.
That night on the Lawn Club, was the first time that I personally got to experience what is my favorite thing on a Celebrity ship of the Solstice Class - the wine and cheese sunset party on the lawn. There is nothing like these events, anywhere! Imagine yourself on a blanket on the lawn, pillows under head, a small stool acting as a table as a server brings you your desired wine, along with a complementary tray of cheeses and fruits - as the sun is setting over incredible and unique beautiful cities!! So here we were, the sail out from Santorini, sun setting, the lights of Fira coming on in the island background, the classical quartet playing live - simply fantastic! Later in the cruise, the same event was held on the overnight in Istanbul!! So picture the blanket on the grass, the wine, the cheese, the music - Nestor, our Spanish guitarist, the sun setting, but this time, with the mosques in the background, alight as the night sky is darkening - amazing!! Truly magical!!
On our day in Athens, we booked shore excursion PR06, Athens Exclusive Tour. This shore excursion, I have to say, of all of the Celebrity shore excursions that we have taken (I am writing this review a year and a few months after the fact so my experience is broader than at the time we took this one), was the most disappointing of all of the shore excursions ever, for one reason, and one alone, but it was a big reason. It was the excessive time spent in the Benaki Museum. A lovely museum, lots of antiquities, very well run and organized, beautiful - but from the shore excursion description, we had no idea at all that we would be in there for 2.5 hours!!! OH THAT WAS WAY TOO MUCH for this museum, considering how much else was packed into this day - our guide was brilliant, full of information, but she felt that it was her primary duty in life to make sure that we knew everything that she knew, every last fact, by the time we would leave this museum! What this meant is that we had too little time at the Acropolis and almost no time at all at the Plaka to shop, which was very disappointing. Lunch at Dionysos Zonar's at the foot of the Acropolis was truly fantastic, a view that was almost unreal, multi-coursed meal, traditional but modernized Greek dishes, exceptional quality - BUT, too long at the Bernaki, way way too long, leaving not enough time for individual exploration of the Acropolis and almost no time to explore Plaka and shop there.
In Istanbul, we booked the IB95 Complete Istanbul shore excursion. The ship docked overnight in Istanbul, and this allowed us to tour the city both days, in a very all inclusive way. We loved the tour (except for the included lunch, read on) and were not too annoyed with the mandatory carpet demonstration where it is hoped that we will spend big money on rugs. It was in fact interesting, and the salespeople were not pushy. We saw all of the first-time-in-Istanbul must see sites, at a measured unhurried pace, such as the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Spice Market, the AMAZING and not to be missed Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, etc. Our only complaint was the lunch. The lunch on the Athens shore excursion PR06 was so extremely wonderful that perhaps we were spoiled. The lunch included in this Istanbul excursion was something out of a 'bad movie' about a bunch of tourists on a bus on a shore excursion in an exotic city, where they are herded into a below par restaurant in which locals would never be caught dead. It was at the Best Western Citadel restaurant - uh, yup, that's right, it was at a restaurant in a Best Western, holy cow........the people that worked there were super lovely to our daughter, but other than that, the food itself was below par, and the banquet room where we were crammed in as if with a shoehorn along with several other tour groups, had weird decor, just not good overall.
When in Ephesus, Turkey, we booked the KD77 Ephesus and Sirince shore excursion. The Aegean Village of Sirince was a mega highlight of our entire trip. The excursion had a pre-arranged luncheon for the group at the Artemis Restaurant, where we ate fresh excellent local food outside under roofing, very open, gorgeous views - very quaint and authentically indigenous in feel. In the town on our free time, we purchased perhaps the best peaches, from a street vendor, that we have ever had. Since being back home, we often talk about the peaches we ate in Sirince, and also, this past August, in Aix-en-Provance - we have been unable to buy any US peaches, they just don't measure up in freshness, flavor, juiciness!
In Mykonos, we booked the MK10 Scenic Island Drive with Ano Mera Monastery. I think that many people miss this monastery, which is a shame, as it is quite beautiful and embodies the stereotypical image one has, or at least I have, of Mykonos. After the tour, our 3 children took the tour bus back to the ship, but my husband and I stayed on to explore Mykonos on our own and to hunt for the perfect "evil eye deflector" - you can't come to Mykonos without buying one! It is currently hanging in my kitchen, though I am not sure that it is deflecting any evil eyes, but, who can say! haha!
After we returned to the ship from exploring Mykonos, my husband got a massage in the Aqua Spa - which was terrific - except, he had a very unfortunate experience after the massage. His therapist pushed HARD for him to buy various lotions and potions - the sales pitch was deceptive, and he found that there was a $110 charge added to his bill for these lotions, which he did not want. The person at the desk removed the charge immediately but the whole experience was so unsettling that the stress which the therapist removed through her expert massage, nearly returned in full from her very pointed and persistent sales pitch, not to mention that she actually charged my husband for the lotions, which he did NOT want. On a positive note, my daughter got her hair cut from one of the hair stylists in the spa, and had a wonderful experience - and he did not try to sell her a single thing!
In Naples, we booked shore excursion NP08, Exclusive Amalfi Coast, Positano, Sorrento & Pompeii. Although this excursion is a hefty 9 1/2 hours long, we recommend it highly. We saw SO MUCH and we are so glad that we did, because this past summer on our cruise, Naples was a repeat port of call for us so we were able to see completely different things. That is the benefit of having some repeat ports of call as then, you can branch out and see other sights, things that you missed the first time around. The NP08 excursion was fantastic - everything that you see is a MUST (Positano, WOW!!!, and Pompeii, OF COURSE!!) and others before me have described it all, so let me focus on our lunch at the Grand Hotel Excelsior, Vittoria Sorrento. This lunch was pre-booked as part of the excursion. The hotel is lovely, situated on the cliffs in Sorrento on the water with a spectacular view of Mt. Vesuvius. The dining room was formal yet relaxed, with beautiful views of the Mediterranean. The food and included wine were outstanding. My husband and I spoke about returning some day in the future, not on a cruise, and staying in this hotel, as it was that lovely, tasteful, quiet.
I neglected to mention the Sunset Bar on Deck 15 of the Equinox and all Solstice Class ships - in fact, no, no forget I mentioned it at all, as I don't want it to ever be crowded! I must always have a table open for me, the back of the ship, open air, water on all 3 sides of me, the Spanish guitarist playing, the sound of the ocean, the feel of the sun, the lawn club just a bit toward the bow, servers that remember me and greet me with a friendly smile and ask about my day - ya, forget I ever mentioned the Sunset Bar, or the wine and cheese parties on the lawn at sunset, yes, forget those, too, as they are so utterly fantastic and relaxing, I don't ever want to not have a blanket on the lawn or a table at the Sunset Bar. I love the Solstice Class Celebrity ships!!