Well ... I think I had better review our very recent Mediterranean cruise on the Equinox while it is still fresh in my head. We only flew back to the Bay Area from Rome three days ago and I am beginning to be on the right time zone again, which is a good thing since I started back at work yesterday.
First the ship:
This was our first sailing on a Solstice class ship; we had been avoiding them, I think because they seemed like they would just be too big. Our last four out of five sailings have been on the Century, in their famous top of the ship Sky Suites, and that has suited us well. We have also done a number of Millennium class cruises and enjoyed those as well.
Turns out, as almost everyone has said, that the Equinox is indeed a beautiful ship. Traditional elements at its foundation with a top layer of very beautiful and well appointed contemporary design. The fabrics are beautiful, the designs repeat on walls and floors and architecture. Really well done and I enjoyed it a lot. I also loved the art, new to me, and found the art book in my stateroom to be a really nice way of browsing what was singled out in the book to look at on the ship. Our Aqua Class stateroom, a first for us, was a guarantee and a brilliant maneuver, if I do say so. There are no bad AQ cabins so if you find a good reduction, don't be scared to go for it. They gave us a hump cabin, 1547, with a very deep balcony and only a small obstruction off to the left that is the window washing equipment. On a trip like this, with such an intensive itinerary, we didn't mind that at all. I loved having the large balcony, with the comfortable reclining chairs and stools, even if we weren't out there all that much.
The bad part of the cabin, also extensively reporting, is the paltry amount of storage. If I go on this class of ship again, and I will, I will pack much lighter because there just is not enough space. Instead of having the magazine rack on the side of the vanity, it would make sense to put it on the wall, like on the Century, and add some shelves to the end of the vanity. At least that. The space over the bed is functional to a point, but after a while I just heaved things up there and my neat little piles of clothing disappeared. I just couldn't reach it, at almost 5'5", without standing on the bed and I just couldn't be bothered. At this brings me to my other criticism of what is in general a very nice cabin ... the sofa! Hard as a rock! Cannot be used for seating, I don't think, by anyone but a child who doesn't care. It is only for storing more stuff and that just adds to the cabin's clutter. It is, in my humble opinion, a useful piece of large furniture that could at least have had storage drawers underneath it. They didn't do that because the itsy bitsy coffee table would then have to be moved and there is nowhere else for it to go. That too was just a place to throw a camera. It's too small to even put plates on unless you remove everything else and throw it on the sofa, which renders the coffee table a moot point because there is nowhere to sit. Lastly, the closet, with its sliding door, is very dark inside. I could never easily choose clothes from there because there was never enough light available to enjoy my choices.
Now that my complaints are over, I would like to say that once we unpacked and stowed the suitcases under the bed, the cabin became really okay. We were gone from it a lot and the bed was comfortable, the bathroom more than large enough, and the shower really very good. I never drank the infused teas but I did use their daily replenished water bottles every day for every tour. I liked that a lot. Very convenient. My husband always signs up for the Persian Garden on every cruise so he really liked its inclusion and went whenever he could. I went to the sauna once and enjoyed it. On the second, of three, sea days, my DH and I went to spend time and it was so crowded I couldn't get a locker to change in ... so I gave up and went to the gym. Too many people overwhelm a space not really much bigger than the smaller ships' Persian Gardens. I was irritated but it passed!
The ship itself was fun to walk around. Except when everyone had to do the same thing at the same time (e.g., tendering, muster drill), the ship was never crowded. We did go to one fabulous show in the theater ... acrobats and circus entertainers gliding overhead on cables and doing incredible feats of graceful acrobatics. If you get to see them, I suggest you go!
This brings us to Blu, the designated place for AQ dining. It is very pretty, with nice views of the water from almost every table, and I found a table for two, at any time we appeared, to be easy to get, most often in the same station so we got to know our waitstaff just like in the MDR ... almost. They are moving faster so the don't stay to talk as much. But they are also serving you lovely breakfasts in the morning so you do see them a lot. I missed the pomp and circumstance and people watching of the MDR but I did enjoy how nice it was to sit there. I also did not find the tables to be as close together as I feared ... I am a pretty private person at dinner with my DH ... and it felt fine.
My big complaint about Blu, and I am told that Celebrity is reading and listening here, is its offerings for vegetarians. Oddly, for a restaurant billed as clean (California) cuisine, the vegetarian options are not nearly as good as the MDR, mainly overly rich and cheesy pasta dishes like my mother used to make me when I first became a vegetarian forty years ago because she didn't know what else to make besides lasagna. I started ordering baked potatoes and grilled veggies, which were very good, but everyone thought I was nuts. My DH loved the food. He eats most of it and found it really very good, olive oil rather than cream based, and delicious. I think it works well for most people.
The good news was Marius, our Maitre d'. When I explained my disappointment ... I too wanted creative clean cuisine ... he stepped up to the plate and started getting me really nice food. He ran it by me and I got to eat much much better somewhere in the middle of the cruise. Thank you, Marius. You made all the difference. Otherwise, as I told my DH, I would veto AQ in the future because I couldn't face the disappointment of yet another creamy risotto or lasagna each evening.
The advice I give, to anyone who needs something different from what is presented ... food or otherwise ... is to make your needs known. I find Celebrity to really try to make things right. It's what makes me a Celebrity loyalist. (And I am amply rewarded with free lattes in the morning, free cocktails in the evening, good internet discounts, and laundry done for free!).
The itinerary was fabulous and we lucked out with really nice weather. We tendered into Santorini, started walking but eventually took donkeys to the top of the hill (very messy walk behind 70 donkeys relieving themselves when they felt like it!) and took a taxi with another couple to the beautiful town of Oya. Lovely town with the blue domed roofs for which Santorini is known. The day before we arrived they couldn't tender because of winds, the day after the port was closed because of weather, so we were very lucky!
The next port was Istanbul ... two wonderful days in a world class city. Our tour with Halli, of http://www.toursinistanbul.com was as good as it gets. This is a great tour company with incredible guides. We spent ten hours, ten of us organized through cruise critic, with a woman who spoke five languages, was knowledgeable in art, history, religion and a lot more and was lovely and fun as well. We parked the very comfortable van in the old part of Istanbul and then walked for nine hours, stopping for a nice lunch somewhere Halli recommeded. Kagan Kosagan and his wife Lale (I think Halli is her sister) run this company and they do just a great job. We went through them in Ephesus, with the equally special and charming Taner, who also was fluent in a host of languages and made Ephesus just come alive for us.
Anyway, Istanbul is a world class city ... something I hadn't known ... and has incredible mosques with their minarets ... that are breathtakingly beautiful. On day two, a half day, we hopped a Celebrity bus and got off at the Spice Market. This was a great thing to do on our own. Then we got on a local tram and went five stops up the hill to the Grand Bazaar. In both venues people were really kind. No aggressive selling at all. Shopkeepers chatted with us and wished us a good day when we left without buying. People on the street ... incredibly clean streets, btw ... gave us directions kindly at all times. I would really like to go back to Istanbul. If you know what you are doing and what you are after, there are also some good buys to be had ... at least in the gold jewelry I was hankering after!
After Istanbul, we went to Ephesus ... from the port resort town of Kusadasi ... where Taner met the eight of us in another really comfortable van ... and spent the day taking us all around Ephesus, to the House of the Virgin Mary, to a Turkish pizza place for very interesting and delicious Turkish pizza, and lastly to a leather factory where I am sure there was some incentive for him if we bought jackets. And we did all buy jackets! Then we came back to the port with enough time to do a little wandering on our own.
I found the Greek, Turkish, and Italian people to be really nice. It was easy to travel and interact with people. We went to Mykonos, another beautiful island where we docked, and spent the day wandering the crooked charming streets. We had a fabulous lunch, with a glass of wine, and I have now realized, coming home, that it cost over $70.00! Beware! Europe is not so cheap for all sorts of things! But it was a really nice meal facing the sea!
Lastly we did Pompeii, Sorrento, and Positano on the Amalfi Coast together with other cruise critic couples. The van was much smaller and not as comfortable but we settled in nicely and had a good day. We toured with Rome In Limo, another nice company I would recommend.
Our trip ended in Rome and we spent a great day going from piazza to piazza, enjoying Rome's incredible architecture and ambiance. Then we paid the price of it all ... almost 24 hours from hotel in Rome to home, with eighteen hours of flying time. (Do not book flights that enter the US at Dulles Airport in Washington, DC. It took over a hour and a half going through customs and we missed our connecting flight. It was a silly zoo!)
End of review. I loved our trip. It was really special.